Pleading Guilty

Back in February I got a speeding ticket.  True story.  I know you are shocked!!  I was so appalled and embarrassed that I could hardly tell my husband and my kids still don’t know.  I had absolutely no idea I was even speeding but I got clocked doing 62 in a 45.  My excuse that I thought it was a 55 wasn’t even remotely valid, as I would still have been 7 over.  Apparently, I failed to see the posted speed limit sign traveling in that direction.

I carried the ticket around in the fold out portion of my wallet so that I wouldn’t lose it and would be reminded to call about paying it.  Each time I would pull out my wallet to pay for a purchase, I was shamed again, thinking that anybody who saw it right there in my hand would know I was guilty of speeding.  The thing is I was guilty no matter if anybody else knew it or not.

I finally brought myself to call the parish office and find out how much and how I could pay.  As I went through all the questions with the clerk on the other end of the line, I realized why I had been dragging my feet…  Paying the ticket meant I was entering a guilty plea with the court.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like to admit I’m guilty of anything.  Paying a speeding ticket was one thing, but admitting, out loud to another person that I was guilty of a violation was another thing altogether!

Here is the amazing part of this, once I agreed to that condition and processed the payment, I was free.  I didn’t have that silly thing hanging over my head.   I didn’t have to carry the ticket around with me anymore, like a “Scarlet A” blazoned on my shirt proclaiming my guilt to everybody. I didn’t even have to give the incident another thought.

That’s how it is with God’s grace.  Once you plead guilty to your sin, you are freed up to be forgiven.  No more guilt, no more shame, and we don’t even have to pay the fine.  But just like I had to swallow my pride and pick up the phone to admit that I was guilty of breaking the law, we must humble ourselves before the Most Holy God and admit that we are sinners.

His grace is there for us just as sure as the freedom I felt from fulfilling my obligation to Vernon Parish.  But we don’t have to pay the fine and those sins don’t stay on our record for 1-3 years.  Jesus paid the fine for us on the cross once and for all.  Psalm 103 assures us that God removes our sin far from us when we acknowledge it before Him.

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins,

nor punished us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,

so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;

as far as the East is from the west,

so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

                                                                        Psalm 103:10-12

The prophet Micah wrote that “He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy.  He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities,” and that “[He] will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”  Micah 7:18-19.

God has required payment for sins since He instituted the law with Moses, “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission,” Hebrews 9:22.  This is why it was necessary for Christ to suffer and die for our sins.  Jesus Himself used these words in celebrating Passover with His disciples saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

Paul teaches Timothy that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”  Titus 2:11-14

God’s forgiveness through the shedding of Jesus’ blood is for all people and for all sins, but we must admit that we are daily, desperately in need of it.  It doesn’t matter if we don’t think we are sinning that badly, if we failed to see the signs or even if we actually got caught in our sins by anybody else.  The only way to overcome the guilt and shame that plague us is the call upon Jesus and His Salvation.  When we accept His sacrifice for us and believe in His Salvation, not only do we experience His freedom and forgiveness, but we are also made Children of God, heirs with Jesus of an inheritance in His heavenly kingdom.  So make the call and plead guilty.  You will be glad you did!

Cultivating Compassion

Ordinarily, I am not a very compassionate mother when it comes to missing school.  My boys know the rules are the same ones my Mom used to judge whether or not my sister and I would get on the bus….  At the risk of TMI, if they aren’t vomiting, don’t have a fever or diarrhea, off to school they go regardless of any unseen ailment they claim is plaguing them.

Last Monday and Tuesday I was struck down with probably the worst headache of my life.  You know the kind where it hurts just to blink….  I couldn’t stand for more than 10 minutes without fearing collapse.  I wanted all the lights off and curtains closed.  Thankfully that was before my husband left on his latest “business trip” and he was able to take care of me and the boys that evening.  The next day was marginally better, but of course in this crazy winter weather we are having this year, school was cancelled once again here in Louisiana, so I was home alone, feeling sick and still having to care for my two young children.  I’m sure just about all of you reading this have been there, and thankfully I am not ending my story on this pitiful note.

Friday morning when my otherwise perfectly healthy 8 year old complained of a headache, I relented my usually harsh rules on attendance.  Had I not suffered earlier in the week, I probably would have drug him out of bed, forced him to dress and eat and sent him on his way.  There would likely have been a lot of drama and perhaps even some screaming on both out parts.  Because of the pain I had endured, I was able to instead show him compassion.  I could have turned bitter and told him to suffer through it like I had, but instead, by the grace of God, I chose compassion.  Instead of damaging our relationship with harsh words and anger, I was able to strengthen our bond with love.

Our pain and suffering here on earth can lead is in two directions, compassion or bitterness.  By enduring our own hardships, we can either become more sympathetic toward the suffering of others and inclined to give them aid and support as we show them mercy, or we can harden our hearts and be inclined toward animosity with others because of it.  One is an act of love and the other a display of hostility.

In one of the most famous stories in the bible, we receive a lesson in compassion.  Samaritans of Jesus’s day were the people who lived in what had once been Israel’s Northern Kingdom.  They were essentially cousins of the Jews, but since they failed to keep Jewish law in its entirety, there was much hatred between the two.  Yet, it is the Samaritan Jesus chooses to highlight in the well-known story Luke relates in his gospel account.  In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus is bantering with a lawyer who attempts to justify what I assume are his own failings at keeping the requirement to love your neighbor as yourself, when he asks Jesus for clarification on the point of just who qualifies as his neighbor.  Jesus’ parable tells of a Jewish man who is attacked on the road by robbers and left for dead.  Two men most Jews would expect to stop and give this poor man aid, a priest and a Levite, passed right by, as if they hadn’t even seen him. Perhaps these two men hadn’t suffered in their lives, or maybe they had never known what it was like to need help.  Either way their inaction was far less than loving and if another man hadn’t come along, would have led to the injured man’s demise.  Then, came a Samaritan man, whose people were so despised by the Jews that they wouldn’t even pass through their land.  A man who had likely been rejected and persecuted all of his life by the Jews, a man who had most certainly known need and rejection in his life.  This man is the one most Jews would have expected to spit on the bleeding victim and keep on walking.  Yet this is the man who bent down and cleaned the Jewish man’s wounds, placed him on his own donkey, took to an inn and then paid for his stay while he recuperated.  The Samaritan man had cultivated a heart of compassion.

I believe that whatever we endure in this life is used by God to enable you to be compassionate and loving toward others.  Perhaps not as directly or as instantaneously as in my experience this week, but you will likely find a connection.  This life certainly provides us with plenty of experiences that can make us more sympathetic toward others: unexpected death, illness, injury, pain, loss of a job, depression, divorce…   Being an Army wife inherently adds a whole host of additional opportunities to develop compassion:  deployments, frequent moves, separation from loved ones, injuries, PTSD… I could go on and I’m sure you could add your own to the list as well.  We don’t get to choose what our experiences are, but we definitely make the choice about how we use them to relate to others who face similar situations.

When is the last time you had compassion on your neighbor?    If we do not allow our harshest experiences to give way to compassion, the tears, suffering and pain will have been for nothing.  Not only do we steal glory from God when we refuse to let our sad circumstances lead us to love others, we also deny ourselves the blessing we are called to inherit in the Kingdom of God.  “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this that you may inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:8-9

Take Flight

One carry-on bag packed for me alone.  Boarding pass displayed on my smart phone.  Moving at my own pace, not that of a 5 year old.  Choosing the healthy restaurant because my kids aren’t screaming for a burger and fries with a toy.  Reading a book or a magazine that doesn’t have pictures of toys or trucks or dinosaurs.  Resting my eyes with no worry of my children wandering off.  Thanks to the support of my husband, the generosity of my amazing neighbors and a couple of great babysitters, I was fortunate to  travel solo last weekend to celebrate the promotion of one of my closest friends and visit with family and friends who live in the DC area.

All those people from different backgrounds with one thing in common – everybody is going somewhere.  Some are in a hurry racing off to their connection before the doors close and others have nothing but time on their hands as they endure a delay or an insanely long lay-over.  Some are grumpy and others find ways to pleasantly pass the time.  Some are dressed impeccably well leaving you with the impression that they will step right into a board meeting when they deplane and others have undoubtedly opted for maximum comfort during their travel.  Some are headed to the same destination and others to more exotic places, but you don’t know who is traveling with you until the boarding announcements begin.  Some are friendly, yet others can’t be bothered to expend the energy required to curl the corners of their lips upward when they pass.  Businesswomen, Soldiers, junior pageant queens, grandparents, vacationers, geographical bachelors, honeymooners, those celebrating their golden anniversaries, families, college students, foreigners, and citizens, athletes, authors, politicians, writers….

And there are choices at every terminal.  Walk or take the train.  McDonald’s or Fresh.  Sit down meal or take it to go.  Pampering and a nap room rented by the hour or a crowded seat at the terminal to watch the news or a playoff game.  Shoe shine or smoke break.  A seat near the charging stations or one by the windows to watch planes come and go.

As I walked down the length of the terminal I heard boarding calls for all sorts of destinations, some places I’ve already been and others I would love to visit someday…. Brussels, Colorado Springs, Los Angeles, Moline, Mumbai, Rome, Zurich.  From Atlanta, you could get just about anywhere in the world.  You just have to buy the right ticket.  No matter what choices you made on your walk through the terminal, you must simply pass though the correct gate to have a successful trip.

All the travelers in the airport have one thing in common, like the chorus of one of my son’s favorite songs, “All I know is I’m not home yet.  This is not where I belong” (Where I Belong by Building 429).  Not one of us is where we will spend eternity, we are all going someplace.    The songwriter wasn’t referring to any earthly place when he sang about “home.”  He was talking about leaving this world and reaching the kingdom of God.  In order to get there, all we must do is believe in Jesus.  In John 10:9, Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”

Once you step on that plane, you put your very life in the hands of the pilot and most of us breathe a huge sigh of relief when we finally get to our seat.  It is quite pleasant to sit back and be able to relax for a little while.  There are things you can do when travelling by plane that you cannot do while driving a car to your destination.  In my row alone, there was a man playing video games, a woman doing word searches and another a crossword, someone reading a book and I was typing this piece.  Two of the three people in the row in front of us were sleeping and another was eating.

We should all feel a similar sense of overwhelming peace when we accept Christ as our Savior, knowing that He is in charge of our final destination.  We are certainly told to make our requests known to God, but not to worry about them, so that “the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7  We put our lives in the hands of the pilots who fly us around the world, but often struggle to let Jesus navigate our day to day living.  Allowing Him to have that control is the only way to live in freedom from sin, from the need to please man, from worry about the future, and from futile attempts to earn our own righteousness.

To be in the pilot’s seat means to be in control of your destination.  Our society likes control.  It is hard for us to relinquish the tiller because we are so sure we know what’s best for us.  Unfortunately, we can’t see around corners or into the future, so we are really not best suited to pilot our own lives.  Only God knows the plans He has for us, “plans to prosper [us] and not to harm [us], plans to give [us] hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11.  We must train ourselves to let go and step on the plane with God in control.  When we do, he takes over all the worry of getting to our destination and frees us up to live, to love boldly, to rest in his saving grace, to worship Him.

I am always interested in the look of the people who fly first class.  As I trudge toward the back I try to figure out what sets them apart.  We are all going to end up at the same destination in the same amount of time.  They might get off the plane a little faster than I do, but we are all still landing in DC.  Still something about these people entitles them to better service, more leg room and complementary food and beverages. Because of what they have done or who they know or the job they do, they can afford to pay the higher fare for a better seat.  God doesn’t discriminate based on what you can pay.  In fact He knows that we cannot possibly pay our own fare.

Too often we long to pay for an upgrade in life, as well.  We make ourselves crazy trying to earn favor with God or man, attempting to control our own destiny, or make ourselves look like we deserve better treatment.  Jesus calls us to come to Him when we are weary and heavy burdened by the requirements falsely placed on us in the name of religion and find our rest in Him (Matthew 11:28-29).  The only way to ensure you arrive in the Kingdom of Heaven is to book a ticket for which the price was paid in Jesus’ blood and the only identity that matters is your title as a child of God.

There is no baggage to claim and our trip to our eternal home is done solo.  Are you prepared to enjoy the freedom of taking flight with Jesus?  Are you willing to say, “Take this world and give me Jesus”?  How are you passing the time with your fellow travelers?  What can you hand over control of to God today?  Are you working hard for an upgrade but failing to realize that once you are on the flight your destination is assured, that it’s the destination that ultimately matters, not where you ride in the plane?

 

 

Rotten to the Core

While I was visiting my husband’s family, my mother in law received a bag of tasty looking fruit.  One day at lunch time she was getting ready to cut some up for the kids, and we were discussing our favorite varieties of apples.  She is fond of the Gala and Jonathan, while my family is usually happiest with the Granny Smiths.   Neither of us particularly care for the red delicious as they are generally not very crisp, but we were certainly not prepared for what we found when she cut into that first apple….

It was completely rotten at the core.

Rotten Apple

Usually when fruit is beaten or bruised or broken on the outside, we steer clear of it.  But this apple looked nice and shiny and red with no soft spots or discoloration.   There were no outward signs of what lurked beneath.

People can be a lot like that, too.  We clean up pretty well, don’t we?  Put on some make up to accentuate our best facial features, dress in our most flattering outfit, style our hair just so and exhibit good behavior to make a good impression on others and appear desirable.  But what about our insides?  All too often we neglect what can’t be seen with the human eye.   Paul gave Peter some advice to pass on to the women of his church in 1 Peter 3:3-4 when he wrote, “Do not let your adornment be merely outward – arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel – rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.”  This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong about dressing nicely or being well groomed, but that what is most valuable to God is found beneath the surface.

Making assumptions about people based on their appearance is not a new situation.  Saul was the first king chosen by the Israelites because of his pleasing outward appearance. He was a strong, tall, handsome war hero and they thought he would make the perfect ruler.  Until that point, God had served as the King of the Jews, but the Israelites saw that the other nations around them had earthly rulers and they wanted one for themselves.  Unfortunately, Saul turned out to be disobedient to God, jealous, feeble and eventually went crazy.

Even before Saul’s demise, God sent the prophet Samuel on a mission to anoint his successor.  The search took Him to the town of Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse and his sons.   Samuel looked at the oldest son and thought he was the one, however God told Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him.”   1 Samuel 16:7.  In fact, God did not prompt Samuel to select any of the seven oldest sons.  Instead, he asked to see the youngest, David, who was called in from where he was tending the sheep.   “For the Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7.  God had chosen David as the one who would rule after Saul because He knew what was in his heart.  Luke relates God’s own endorsement of David in Acts 13:22, “He raised up for them David as a king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all my will.’”  David was a wise ruler and faithfully sought the will of God in his life.

To say David was a man after God’s own heart does not mean that he was free from sin.  On the contrary, his failures are well documented.  David did, however, understand that God was the author of everything good in his life and that his sin must be dealt with.

He “said unto the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’” Psalm 16:2 (NLT).  To acknowledge that anything virtuous, respectable, righteous, honorable, truthful or worthy in us comes from God is an act of humility.  Proverbs 3:34 says that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  I would rather acknowledge by own unworthiness and receive the grace and forgiveness of God than continue on in my sin under the impression that I know more than God or can be good apart from Him.  God is good and I am not.  He is holy and I am not.  But when I confess my transgressions and accept His grace, He sees the righteousness of His Son when He looks at me.

David also realized that trying to cover up his rottenness to make himself look good to others only led to more sin. David had an affair with the wife of one of his Soldiers who was away at war.  When Bathsheba became pregnant, David was desperate to cover up his transgression and devised a plot to have the Soldier stranded and left for dead during battle.  David’s first sin of lust and coveting another man’s wife led to adultery, lies and ultimately to murder.  That seems like a headline ripped from our news today!  Maybe times haven’t changed as much as we might like to think.  Chances are your sins haven’t led you quite so far down this slippery slope of depravity, but this should fill you with a sense of hope that no matter what the sin, every sinner can still be considered to be a person after God’s own heart. No matter what kind of rottenness lurks beneath your skin, God has the power to make you fresh and new.

Some of the most beautiful and passionate psalms contain the confessions of David and the joy he felt when his relationship with God was restored.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

And cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my transgression,

And my sin is always before me.

Against You, only You, have I sinned,

And done this evil in Your sight –

 

Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,

And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

 

Hide Your face from my sins,

And blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from Your presence,

And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,

And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,

And sinners shall be converted to You.
Psalm 51-2-3, 6, 9-13

 

Perhaps this is a lesson David passed on to his son Solomon who included it in his own wise sayings, “He who covers his sin will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”  Proverbs 28:13

There are plenty of ways we try to make ourselves look appealing from the outside, like a nice shiny apple but only one way to be desirable to God on the inside.  Jesus recognized this dilemma among the religious leaders when he told them, “So you outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  Matthew 23:28.  They tried very hard to appear righteous before men by adhering to their own interpretations of the law and condemning all those who failed, but it was the beaten, the bruised and the broken that the Son of God chose to spend His time with.  He called the Pharisees and scribes hypocrites, and called the dishonest tax collectors, the doubtful, the unloved, the outcasts, the sinners and even the one who would betray Him to be part of His inner circle, to be His disciples.  He chose to spend time in the company of people who knew they were rotten apples, because He knew that by having a relationship with Him, they could be saved, forgiven, made clean from the inside out.

Righteous Apple

The condition of our hearts is known to us and God alone.  It is fairly easy to convince others of our goodness.  Sometimes, we are even capable of deceiving ourselves, but never Him.  Eventually, the rottenness on the inside of that apple would have eaten away at all of the flesh and shown through the skin.  Left untended and unconfessed, the results of our sin will eventually manifest themselves outwardly, too.

My mother in law was forced to toss that rotten apple, because it wasn’t fit to eat.  Once our rottenness is exposed, we prove that we aren’t good for anything either.  There is nothing we can do about our core on our own though.  We are no more capable of purifying our own hearts than the apple is of changing its rot to crisp, healthy fruit.  The apple is a lost cause, but you and I are not.  Jesus alone can cure the decay and rottenness inherent in each of us, and we’ve all got some.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  1 John 1:9

Would you rather be surprised that an ugly-skinned apple has sweet, delicious, healthy fruit inside or be disappointed by a pretty looking fruit that is decayed inside?

Let’s not worry so much with our outward appearance, but rather place the focus on the inside.  Let’s give God the chance to restore and cleanse us so that we might be pleasing to Him.  Let’s learn to select friends, leaders, co-workers, or recipients of our goodwill based not on their outward appearance, but more for the condition and potential of their hearts.  Let’s share with others the love and grace of our heavenly Father who has the power to make us new from the inside out!

The Gift Part III: Conclusion

If you havent read the first two posts in this three part series, I do suggest you start at the beginning with The Gift and then read The Response before reading today’s post.

Part III: Conclusion

Whenever somebody asks me about my testimony, I get a little bit intimidated because I assume they are looking for that glorious singular instant that changed my life.  Sort of like that moment when a man produces a tiny little box and gets down on one knee in front of you, or if you found a small box of a certain blue color hidden under the other presents at the tree.  My story isn’t quite so dramatic.  Have you ever been sneaky and wrapped up a small prized gift inside many other boxes of increasing size to hide the real present within?  Even though I have believed that Jesus is my savior for just about as long as I can remember, I spent a good deal of my life wrapped in layers of entitlement, pride, disobedience, impatience and selfishness.   Gradually, I have found that the best way to unwrap myself is to respond to what God has given me in the ways I have just talked about -

by being thankful for all of His gifts and praising Him for who He is,

by doing my best to obey His every command out of love for Jesus and His sacrifice for me,

by using my spiritual gifts to accomplish His purposes, and by striving daily to love others as He has loved me.

That tiny gift under all those layers I will spend a life time unwrapping, is the prize I will receive in Heaven for accomplishing any of the good works He has prepared for me to do here on earth. I’m giddy with excitement each time a new layer is unwrapped because I know I am one step closer to being the woman He wants me to be.

It is our response to His gifts that determines the nature of our relationship with Him. Do we give thanks daily for all He has blessed us with, beginning with our Salvation purchased for us on the cross, and including all things… those as simple as waking up to another day on earth, or as miraculous as the birth of a child, the word, the law, our spiritual gifts and everything in between.  Do we show our gratitude by cheerfully sharing His gifts with others?  Do we make our faith known by teaching others, discussing His gift when we walk, lie down and rise up?  Do we study the story of His infinite love for us?  Do we repent and turn away from our sin?  Do we daily, or more frequently, ask for and accept His grace?  Do we allow Him and His love to rule every area of our lives?  Or are we guilty of shoving His gifts into THE closet… you know the one that you would never dare let anyone else open.  The process by which we are being made Holy and more perfect is accomplished through our response to the gifts we have received.  It is what builds or tears down our relationship with the Giver and with others.  This response is the process of sanctification and it determines our reward in heaven.  Not our entrance, but our reward.

A story about faithful and evil servants between Peter and Jesus was recorded by Luke in his Gospel.  Christ’s message is summed up with the following verse, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”  Luke 12:48.   Though the passage is about discipline being more severe for those who knowingly disobey God, I think we can apply the same principles to the idea that to whom much love is given, much love will be required.  Or the grace we who’ve been given to so extensively are to extend to others.  Or wisdom. Or our spiritual gifts.  Or any of our other blessings.  The more we are given, the more we will be expected to give in return.

A few years ago My mother moved into a much smaller retirement condo … imagine my surprise and pleasure when I walked into the guest bathroom and there on the wall was the gift, all done up with some lovely artificial greenery fitting in perfectly with her cottage themed décor.   When my mother hid my gift to her, I was hurt and saddened.  A little piece of our relationship was fractured.  But when she put it up on the wall for all to see and enjoy, that broken piece was restored.   When I shared my excitement with her she said she had finally found a place to put it.  Don’t passively wait for time or space to fit God’s gifts in to your life.  Make it happen.  Be deliberate in your response by giving thanks for all He has given us, praising Him for who He is, obeying His commands, serving all His children and loving Him and others.

I would like to say that after that one heart to heart, I became a perfect parent, but I doubt any one of you would believe me.  The truth is I got lazy and worn out, aggravated and short tempered after a couple of weeks.  I found that by going back to my kids and recommitting to our new system of clear standards and consequences I could be re-invigorated by their love.  God’s love is like that, too.  He doesn’t just pass it out as a one time gift.  It is the gift that keeps on giving, more prolific than a subscription to the fruit of the month club.  When we grow weary, tire of doing good, or stray from the path He has us walking, God stands ready and waiting for us to come to Him to acknowledge our complete dependence on Him, accept His love and forgiveness, and once again restore our relationship with Him.  There is no expiration date or maximum number of uses.

When I realize that I am not giving God all He deserves, that He isn’t getting the best I have to offer, or that I am not acting like someone worthy of being His ambassador, I have the opportunity to make it right with Him.  Just like I did with my children, I can beg Him to forgive me for all the ways I fail Him and then ask for His help in doing a better job.  And He is faithful to meet me right where I am, to dry my tears and point me back toward the cross where His love for me was poured out.

Each time we return to Him and respond to His gifts, we strengthen our relationship with Him.  When we pray, repent, meditate on or study His love letters to us, we will find ourselves recharged to respond to His gifts as we “reach forward to what lies ahead” so we can “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14.

My children showed me a symbol of their love with this token that I get to keep and it stirred my soul and motivated me to action on their behalf.  If my children can give me a gift that compelled me to respond, how much more should I respond to the perfect gifts from the Father of Lights.  Jesus is the gift that changed the world.  Will you allow Him to change you?

The Gift that Changed the World

 

The Gift Part II: The Response

If you didn’t read Part I of The Gift, I do suggest starting there before you read today’s post!

Part II:  Response

Now that we know a little bit more about the gifts God gives to us all, I want to talk about how we should respond to these gifts.

Several Christmases ago, I found this unique decorative plant holder in an antique shop that I thought my mother would really appreciate.   It had pretty metal scroll work and could be hung on a wall so that three circular pieces folded out to hold small potted plants.  It was done in a patina color that would go well in her home.  I was very excited to give her this gift, because well, let’s face it – she is tough to shop for.  I remember my sadness when we traveled back to Virginia perhaps a year or so later and while washing some clothes, I found what I had thought was such a special gift buried under a whole bunch of miscellaneous stuff (junk) up on a high shelf in her laundry room.  I was crushed.  But I didn’t say anything and vowed to stick to safe gifts from then on, like framed pictures of the grandkids.

When you give somebody a gift, how do you expect them to respond?  For me, especially if I have mailed something, I would like to know they received it.  Generally, I appreciate some form of thankfulness particularly from those who know how hard gift giving is for me.  Then, it is my most sincere wish that they will use what I gave them.  How would you feel if you gave somebody a book they never read? Or rules to your children they rarely followed – well, maybe that isn’t so difficult to imagine.  What if you gave a friend a GPS, but she continued to get lost?  What thoughts would run through your head if you taught someone a skill they never once used?  Have you ever been hurt by someone you love deeply whose behavior was less than loving or even downright hateful?

This isn’t just HUMAN nature, God desires a response to the gifts He has given us, too.   So, what are we expected to do with what He has given us?  It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the answer to this question is found within one of His gifts to us – The Word.  I would like to talk about four key ways we are to respond – with Thanksgiving and Praise, Obedience, by helping others, and in Love.

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The first response is thanksgiving and praise.

The art of thank you notes seems to have fallen by the wayside, but I still enjoy getting them.  Don’t you?  I once read that if someone gave you a gift that required at least fifteen minutes of their time or was worth $15 or more, you should send a formal thank you note.  How much more than that has God given to us?  How do you show your appreciation for the gift of eternity that cost Jesus His life?  That kind of gift deserves praise unending.  We can show our gratitude in many ways – simply by thanking Him daily in our prayers, by singing hymns of worship, by telling others about what He has done for us, and even by making good use of what He has blessed us with which we will discuss a little more later.

Thanksgiving is expressing appreciation for what God has given and done for us.  We praise Him for who He is, for His holiness and His unfailing love.  If my husband gives me an amazing gift, I will certainly thank him for it and show my appreciation, but I am probably also going to tell all my girlfriends how kind and thoughtful and generous and loving he is.  That is also how we should respond to God’s precious gifts to us.  We should shout for joy to anyone who will listen how awesome is our God.  Psalm 95:2-3  say “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.  For the Lord is a great God, and the great King above all gods.”  We should thank Him for all He has given us and praise Him for what His gifts reveal about who He is.  You could even write Him a good old fashioned thank you note…I think that would be a great way to start off the new year.

One of my favorite origins of the word praise is “Halal”.  It means to be clamorously foolish.  Think of the way David acted when he danced for joy at the return of the ark of the Covenant to Israel. Chronicles 15:29 says, He was “whirling and playing music.” His attitude was so outlandish that everyone noticed.   Not only did he personally respond with thanksgiving and praise, He also “appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God.”  1 Chronicles 16:4.   He implored the Israelites to “give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples, Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; Talk of His wondrous works: Glory in His holy name.” 1 Chronicles 16:8-10.

Let’s make it our mission to create such a commotion of thanksgiving and praise for God’s gifts that every one notices!

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Being obedient is the second response I’d like to discuss.

Rules may not seem like much of a gift, but receiving God’s love and salvation should make us long to obey His every command.  This is part of the sanctification process, as we learn more about His love for us, our desire to obey His every Command should increase, making us more holy. In John 14:15,  Jesus tells His disciples that,  “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”

I recently received a new techie device for my birthday and it came with a start up tutorial and an owner’s manual.  I admit I would like to skip over some of the more tedious instructions, but all of them are critical for optimizing performance, maximizing the capabilities of the machine and its proper function.  In life I have sometimes been guilty of selectively choosing the commandments I will and won’t obey or the situations to which they may or may not apply, and I have even tried to dismiss some of His rules as being out of date or no longer applicable to me.  Just like my new tablet, though, unless I follow ALL of the rules ALL of the time, I am not capable of performing at the peak of my abilities for God.  Sin will always come back with an error message and until I re-boot, or repent of it, I am not demonstrating my love for Jesus.

God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments because “through the law there is knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20.  He wanted to show them their sin, to teach them right from wrong, and in so doing, teach them how to be holy.  The Israelites were required to keep the law in order to receive their inheritance.  Moses pleads with them to respond with obedience and he says, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of you house and on your gates.”  Deuteronomy 6:6-9   Moses implored them to respond to God’s love with obedience.  But time and time again they failed, just like you and I do, to keep the commandments and tragedy came up on them and their land.

Unfortunately, the law was one of those gifts that literally got buried during the destruction of the temple and years of corruption in Jerusalem by kings who “did evil in the sight of the Lord.”  When we hear the word of God we should respond like King Josiah did in 2 Chronicles when the high priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord given by Moses during the temple restoration.  A great revival began in Israel after its reading. The King tore his clothes when it was read to him and “went up to the house of the Lord, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem – the priests and Levites, and all the people, great and small.  And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the Lord.  Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book.” 2 Chronicles 34:30-31.

The law is still a gift for us today, but He has now given us a more excellent gift – that of righteousness APART from the law IN Christ. Romans 3:21.  This doesn’t mean we don’t still need the law, but that through Jesus we may become righteous despite our inability to keep His commandments.  We obey His commandments as a response to His love.  I challenge you to begin your own personal revival by reading the word and allowing it to penetrate your heart and recommit to obeying the law as an act of love for Jesus.

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The third way we can respond to God’s amazing gifts is by using them to help others.

Please don’t take what I’m about to say the wrong way…I am not claiming any glory for myself when I say my son has a gift for math.  Believe me, It has nothing to do with me.  If an equation adds up to anything more than 20 I need a calculator and if it mixes letters with numbers you can forget about it as far as I’m concerned.  But my boy is great at math.  It certainly impresses me when he solves problems in his head or asks me to make him a math worksheet with the BIG numbers.  But what is most amazing to me as a mom is when I see him using his gift to help others.  When he teaches his brother something or I hear that he has helped another child at school it is absolutely thrilling.  Sure, math is a skill or a talent, not a spiritual gift, but the theory is the same.  When our Father gives us gifts it stands to reason that He would be most proud when we use them help His other children.

Paul told the church in Corinth that “since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.” 1 Corinthians 14:12 for “spiritual gifts are given for the profit of all believers.” 1 Corinthians 12:7.

I think it can be confusing for us to balance the call to be humble with the command to serve others with our gifts.  Nobody wants to sound boastful by shouting out how wise or hospitable or what a great leader they are.  Yet we are told with certainty that we have all been given gifts and we should put them to use for the kingdom of God. Romans 12:6-8 says, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives with liberality; he who leads, with diligence, he who shows mercy with cheerfulness.”  The key to maintaining your humility while putting your talents to use is acknowledging their origin and giving God the glory for all you achieve.

Before I even knew it to be one of my spiritual gifts, I was using leadership in my role in the Army.  But I wasn’t using it for His glory or for His Kingdom.  I was using them for me, my success, my pride.  Though I was quite good at what I was doing, I often felt unfulfilled at that time in my life.  After much prayer, discussion with my husband, and spreadsheet analyzing, we decided I would leave the military for a variety of reasons.  The desire to be in the Army and serve my country had been such an integral part of my identity for 20 years made it one of the hardest decisions of my life.  Hindsight being what it is, however, I can see that among other good reasons it allowed me the opportunity to reevaluate my gifts and my purpose.  Now, 7 years later, I have found a way to use them for kingdom work here at PWOC and that has been undeniably fulfilling.

Once you have taken the first step and identified your spiritual gifts you should know that He intends for us to use them to serve His people and glorify His Holy Name.  In Paul’s first letter to Peter, he reminds his protégé that “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”   To stifle these gifts behind a veil of humility cheapens them and indicates to God that you don’t want what He has offered you.  What if our praise and worship leader tried to hide her gifts of worship by saying she didn’t think she was good enough or didn’t feel ready to sing and play in front of us – we would all be denied the amazing time on Tuesday morning where she helps us draw near to God and prepares us for the day’s study.  Now that you have an idea of what your gifts are, I urge you to think of a way to put them to good use in your home, your neighborhood, the church you attend, even to serve your sisters in Christ at PWOC or any other bible study group you belong to.  Find a way to use what God has blessed you with to point others toward Him and His love for them.  Acknowledge Him as the giver of your gifts at every opportunity and maintain a humble heart by glorifying His name.

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The final response is one that trumps all.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:2 “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”  Love is the response that He desires above all others.  It is the greatest gift we can receive or give.  Anything we do for others should be done in a spirit of love.  No matter what your spiritual gifts are, or how you use them to minister to others, if we don’t offer all we have in love it lacks eternal value.

If God’s love expressed through Christ’s death on the cross for our salvation is His greatest gift to us, leading others to accept it is the most awesome way we can express our love toward them.  We love because He first loved us. And “if God so loved us we also ought to love one another” 1  John 4:11 .   When we receive His gift of love, we are called to share it, to pass it on, to regift it to ALL.  This response is how we will be known as His disciples, by our love for one another.

Love is also the fulfillment of the law because if we do all things in love we will avoid sin. If we love others with a pure heart, we cannot help but keep the law.  If you “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength” Deuteronomy 6:5 and you also “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37) you will keep the Law completely.

Why do I bother with the stress of gift-giving for holidays or birthdays or special occasions?  To show people that I love them.  God’s motive for giving to us is the same, but His love is perfect, not motivated by any reward or His own gain, but ours alone.  It is a selfless love and it goes against all human nature and cultural norms to a place where we put the needs of others before our own.  Loving this way is HARD.  It is the kind of love Christ showed for us when he freely took the punishment for our sins upon himself.  The kind of love that offers an only son up to be the savior of the world.  And Jesus tells his apostles that “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”  John 15:13 And He goes on to say that we will be His friends if we love one another as He commands us.

When you are motivated by His love to act, you will find that giving of yourself, your time, you talents doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice.  If we allow ourselves to be so led by God’s gift to us of the Holy Spirit that we can’t possibly think of doing things any other way than in, by and through His love, our sacrificing and loving and giving to others won’t seem burdensome.  Don’t let “Walk Forward in Love” simply be a catchy slogan for our theme this year.  Instead, strive each day to move closer to the cross by loving others as God would in response to His gift of love to us. Be patient, kind, generous, humble, polite, seek good for others, rejoice in the truth, hope and endure all things knowing God’s power is sovereign.

That’s Ingenious

We’ve all heard phrases like, “Why mess with a good thing?”, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”, and “Maintain the status Quo”.  In the Army a popular one is, “Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Let’s face it, most of us enjoy sticking with the norm and we’d be happy with very little change in our lives, unless of course that change involves winning the lottery.  Yet we often read about how survivors use everyday items in less than ordinary ways In order to make it out of harrowing circumstances.  This is why ingenuity is one of the twelve characteristics I’ve been studying.  How can we as Eternal Survivors apply this principle to our daily lives?

In the days of Moses, God gave His people the Israelites The Law.  It was an incredibly detailed list of do’s and don’ts filled with requirements and stipulations that must be kept in order for His chosen people to enter heaven.  There is a reason that most people shy away from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.   However, to gain some perspective on the Jewish culture and their resistance to Jesus as the Messiah it is a fascinating read.

The Israelites were never able to keep up their end of the covenant.  Punishments for infractions and failures to abide by the commandments God gave to Moses were and still are severe, “for the wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23.  In the time of exile from the Promised Land, the Israelites were suffering the punishment for centuries of sinful behavior and their failure to repent and believe what was prophesied.  God knew that without proof of their own inability to keep the covenant, without proof that He was faithful to His promise by upholding their punishment, without of His mercy by saving a remnant to tell the story, without numerous displays of His mighty power of deliverance, His people would be unable to grasp their desperate need for His most ingenious idea, a once and for all sacrifice that all might live eternally, His Son Jesus.  Only it wasn’t new to Him, it was God’s plan from the beginning of time.

The Jewish people expected their Messiah to come as a powerful King and to dominate over and deliver them from their enemies.  What they got was a man mostly like any other who simply died to save the entire world from the enemy – sin.

When He began teaching, much of what He spoke seemed contrary to their traditions, cultures and The Law.  For these people, it became very hard to understand that Jesus was fulfillment of the law.  That believing in Him and His sacrifice on the cross was enough for them to be viewed as righteous before God.  That loving God and others was all that was required, not sacrifice, circumcision, or ceremonial cleanliness, not religious festivals, what they ate or the amount they tithed, not even their family lineage, cultural affiliation or adherence to the interpretations of the law by religious leaders of the day.   But that loving your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, and loving your neighbor as yourself was enough.  It is still a hard concept for us to grasp today as we sometimes wrestle with the idea of works based faith.

If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you have begun to think outside the box already, but to live a life worthy of the title of Eternal Survivor, you must continue to break the mold we humans have been set in.  The attitude of the heart supersedes any and all works we perform both in secret and before men, both good and evil.  Unfortunately, the natural attitudes of our sinful nature are unworthy of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  So we must deny ourselves and our nature if we wish to draw closer to Jesus.  This goes against most of our cultural norms today.

Much of what Jesus preached was highly controversial during His lifetime.  He threatened the Jewish leaders of the day by calling them out as hypocrites.  He challenged the idea of social status by serving those who were sinners.  He defied a works-based mentality by preaching love as fulfillment of the law.  Though the bible is the most widely read publication in history, many of His teachings still cause deep controversy today.  In some cases however, something much more dangerous is happening – a complete disregard for the truths held within.  We, as Eternal Survivors must not disregard The Word and the Wisdom God gives us through it, we must live it out daily… and that means living our lives in a way that is set apart from how the rest of the world lives.  We must live with the ingenuity of Jesus.  Eternal Survivors are called to give our lives to Jesus, to love our enemies, to be humble, to pray according to His will, to give thanks for our trials.

The world teaches us to look out for number one and that we have to take care of ourselves first.  We generally feel like we are entitled to certain things in this life.  That we deserve the best the world has to offer – friends, family, money, possessions.  Jesus tells His disciples that, “whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” in Matthew 16:25.  There is no life apart from Jesus.  God created each and every one of us and we are blessed with our very breath at His pleasure.  At any moment our earthly life could come to an end and it will be the attitude of our heart toward Jesus that determines our next step.  To give anything less that our whole life for Him, is to deny Him His due.  If we love our own life on earth so much that we fail to live for Him, we will lose out on the eternal life Jesus bought for us on the cross.  If we enjoy our riches so much that we fail to give to the poor, we are proving that we love our own life more than Jesus.  If we enjoy our friendships so much that we never stand up for Jesus to those around us, we are holding on to life as we want it.  If we delight in our position or status, but fail to recognize God as the source of all our success we demonstrate how much we value our earthly life.

Yet if we let go of all we hold dear in this life for the sake of Jesus, we will truly find a life worth living eternally in Heaven.  What is this life without the promise of the next?

The world is typically governed by a system of justice that demands retribution.  The Hammurabi code dictated that an eye for an eye was suitable punishment.  In parenting we are told that the punishment should fit the crime.  Jesus however teaches us to love our enemies, to pray for those who have wronged us, to turn the other cheek if we have been slapped once, to willingly go the extra mile for those who have demanded our service.  He demonstrated grace and mercy by dying on the cross while we were yet strangers to Him and sinners.  He loves us even when we are our most unlovable selves.  By imitating Him in this, we will show the world that we are different.  By forgiving those who sin against us and allowing God to provide our justice, we show our enemies that He is greater than any hurt we face.   Those who harm us, sin against God and He says vengeance is Mine.

It is easy to love those who love us, but even those who don’t know God care for those that care for them, so this does not set us apart.  Living out the life of an Eternal Survivor demands that “you love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use your and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:44-45.

There is more at stake that our pride when we hold a grudge against who have wronged us.  Jesus says that “if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”  Matthew 6:15.  In failing to show mercy, we will bring judgment upon ourselves, for we are all in need of forgiveness from our Father.  If we show this love and mercy toward our enemies, we open the door to share the love of our Savior with them.  If we demand retribution, however justified in our own eyes, we perpetuate evil.  Paul tells the Romans, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:21.  This is thinking ingeniously!

The world chases after people who are confident, independent, ambitious, upbeat, charismatic, but this is not what God desires.  He blesses the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted, because in the Kingdom of Heaven they will find comfort, fulfillment, mercy, their inheritance and the very face of God.  Matthew 5:3-10.  Followers of Jesus who are reviled, persecuted and accused falsely by the world for His sake are to rejoice and be glad for they will have a great reward in Heaven.  Matthew 5:11-12 Eternal Survivors must be more of what God seeks and less of what the world looks for.  We are to take what the world sees as weak and ordinary and allow Jesus to use us in an extraordinary way for the Kingdom of Heaven.  We are to be humble.

The world does not usually reward humility, especially in the work place.  If you aren’t tooting your own horn, you are usually overlooked.  This was certainly true when I was in the Army but even now as part of the stay at home mom crowd, I see a lot of one-up-manship fueled by the need to validate ourselves by what we are doing for our children and our communities.  When we do good deeds or make sacrifices we are not to call attention to these actions in a way that brings honor to ourselves.   Jesus warns his disciples not to do their “charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them.”  Matthew 6:1.  He tells us that those who appear miserable to show the world they are fasting already have their reward found in the approval and admiration of man.  Matthew 6:16. If we received our reward on earth from men because we boast about our good deeds and draw attention to our sacrifices, we will be shortchanging ourselves the opportunity of receiving a far greater reward from our Father in Heaven.

In both cases Jesus refers to those calling attention to themselves as hypocrites, because even though they may profess to do good for God, the attitude of their heart is seen by the Creator as they relish the accolades of man.  For those of us living like Eternal Survivors, we should have an eternal perspective on our rewards as well.  Sure, it is nice to be noticed by those around us, but the reward in Heaven will always trump anything earth can offer.   So instead of tooting your own horn, sing praises to God.   To combat the world’s idea of success we should “let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

The world finds is easy to pray prayers of petition, asking God to do what we want, to bless our desires and plans.   As Eternal Survivors we are certainly welcome to ask, seek and knock, but must temper our own desires with a true thirst for the will of God in our lives.  Jesus taught us to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10.  The world wants what it wants and if it doesn’t get it often sees this as justification to accuse God of being unloving.  We must instead recognize that what God wants is what is best for us, even when it is painful, difficult or heart wrenching.  So, to pray “Your will be done” is an act of submission to God with the full belief that He has our best interests in mind.

Jesus didn’t just teach this principle in empty words, he modeled it in His own prayers.  As He prayed in the Garden before He was betrayed, He asked His Father “if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me”  Matthew 26:39.  He was asking that He not become the object of God’s wrath.  Jesus did not want to be separated from His Father.  He did not ask just once, but three times using the same words.  Each time following up His request with a commitment to God, stating, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”  Matthew 26:39.

So, when we pray and ask God for a bigger house or a better job, a more loving husband or the blessing of a child or we beg Him to end to a difficult situation or to heal our loved one, we must ultimately accept that if He doesn’t answer the way we want it doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us.  It simply means He loves us too much to remove the benefits of sanctification brought about by answering it in His own way.  Eternal Survivors must constantly fight the urges of our own desires and learn to want what God wants for us instead.

Giving thanks, praising God and worshipping Him in times of plenty is fairly easy for most of the world.  We might even be practiced at counting our blessings as a way of consolation during tough times.  Who among hasn’t been told to “Look on the bright side,” or “Look at all the blessings you do have”? But Eternal Survivors should strive for more meaningful worship.  We should give thanks for our struggles, knowing that it is through these that God is sanctifying us.  Instead of being such good complainers, we should learn to look for the manifestation of hope which comes from holding fast to our faith in trials.  Paul tells the Romans to “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Romans 5:3-4.  Each time we endure a trial holding on for dear life to the promise of God, we are encouraged that His they are true.  There is nothing better than growing our hope based on the unfailing love of Christ.

James even goes so far as to tell us to “count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have it perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”  James 1:2-4. Living like an Eternal Survivor requires more from us that just praising God for giving us what we want; it demands that we worship Him when we don’t feel like it, that we find joy in the trials that produce spiritual maturity, that we glorify Him for counting us worthy to endure hardships in His name.

Jesus freely gave up His life, knowing what suffering He would endure.  He called Peter who vowed to protect Him from death Satan and told Judas to go quickly in His betrayal.  He knew saving His own life on earth would mean giving up eternity in Heaven.

Jesus loved and forgave His enemies, even those who placed Him on the cross and pierced His side.  He loved them so much He died to give even His murderers eternal life.

Jesus was humble despite His true deity.  He came to earth as a carpenter and a teacher.  He caroused with sinners – murderers, tax collectors and prostitutes.  He never once laid claim to the privileges or honor I often associate with those who have power and authority.  He was certainly the most powerful creature walking the earth, but He never once used it for personal gain as many of us would be tempted to do.  Instead, of a crown of jewels, He chose a crown of thorns.

Jesus exemplified submission to the Father’s will.  He asked three times to be spared from suffering and separation, but insisted that the will of His Father was more important than His own desires.

Jesus gave thanks for the cup which represented His blood that was to be shed during his punishment and death for our sins when He shared the last supper with His disciples.  My translation says He “blessed” the bread which symbolized His body that would be broken as He paid the price for our eternal salvation.  Matthew 26:26-27  I cannot think of any greater example of praising God for the very harsh circumstances necessary to bring about one’s spiritual completion.

Certainly, Jesus’ life is an example for us to follow, but the lessons about how we should live out our days on earth as His remnant are found quite ingeniously in how He approached His death.  So, be different than the world.  Don’t allow the way everybody else has always done it be good enough for you.  Live the ingenious life of an Eternal Survivor – give up your life to follow Jesus’ example, love your enemies to multiply heavenly rewards, humble yourself so you may be exalted by Christ, find the glory of eternal hope in your trials.  How will you think outside the box today?

Cast Your Burdens

I was reviewing the weekly planner I have on our kitchen counter this morning and was struck by the fact that there is one event listed for tomorrow that is completely out of the ordinary: Biopsy 3 pm.

Tomorrow I am having a core needle biopsy done on a lump I found in my right breast.  I discovered what felt to me like a squished ping pong ball located in between my breast and arm pit while laying in bed the first Saturday in June.  More accurately, I should say the lump in question is actually hiding behind what I felt.

I spent about four days, compulsively feeling the lump to see if it was changing, praying that it would go away and googling the possible diagnoses.  As a woman in her late 30s who’s mother’s sister is a breast cancer survivor, who carries a little more weight than she should and has on occasion partaken of more than the recommended amount of alcohol, I didn’t particularly like how my risk factors added up.  When I finally decided to have it checked out, after advocating for myself and my desire to not wait a week for an appointment with my PCM, I was seen swiftly.  The doctor did his exam and then told me the last time he’d seen a lump this big it was in fact late stage cancer.  Not exactly what any patient wants to hear.  I was quickly referred for a mammogram.  As I waited for the next appointment, I realized that the Great Physician wasn’t going to take this from me, that this, whatever it was, was something He had somehow planned for His glory.

Following the initial read of the mammogram, I was imediately whisked away still wearing the “gown” (I use the term loosly….it is was little more than a transparent paper vest without closures) and cluthcing my shirt and bra to my chest in an attempt to retain my modesty to the ultrasound room through some secret passages hidden in the radiology department.  That was a pretty scary moment, as was the one when the head radiologist came in to look at the black and white images of my breast tissue on the computer monitor while he and the tech pointed at “questionable areas” that “come and go”.  When the arm I had been holding over my head for what felt like an eternity was finally going numb, he gave me his interpretation…That I had a couple of cysts and what appeared to be a fibro-adenoma hiding behind one of them, and I should come back in three months to see if anything changed.  Honestly, this was a huge relief to me at first, because there are quite a few things that a lump in that area could be caused by that are even scarier than breast cancer.

Then, I began to question his dismissal of the finding behind the cyst.  Who wants to hear that something is “probably” anything?

When my PCM followed up with me a few days later, he recommended that I be referred to a breast surgeon despite the radiologist’s lack of concern for what he’d seen and I consented.  I became a patient of Breast Care Specialists in Shreveport, LA in mid-July with a rushed appointment and ultra-sound that seemed to confirm the diagnosis of a fibro-adenoma.  I can’t say I was overly relieved to be told again to come back in three months to see if it had changed.  I did however give up caffeine in my coffee and (almost entirely) in chocolate.  I began taking the recommended evening primrose, vitamin E and advil to reduce swelling of the tissue around the cysts.  It felt good to be doing something, even if I couldn’t notice any change in what I was feeling.  I was checking a little less compulsively than before, but still more than most average women explore their breast tissue.  I abstained from searching on the internet about my condition and even started to share this part of my life with some women I knew would be faithful to pray for me.

I am not always the most patient person and prefer to be doing something rather than just waiting.  So for me, the typical protocol for a BIRADS-3 classification to check questionable areas with mammogram or ultrasound every three months for up to two years, seems like torture.  I prayed more often that God would reveal His glory to me in this situation, rather than just cure me.  I asked Him to carry me through whatever I was unable to bear.  It was in these prayers that my heart became less burdened and my stresses were relieved.  He was faithful to guard my heart and mind between apointments as I could only wait.

Throughout this process, I have felt the urge to write about what I was going through, but kept hearing God tell me, “Not yet.”  It wasn’t until last week that I truly felt I had something to say.

On Monday I went for my three month follow up with the breast specialist.  In the two and a half hour ride up to her office, I spoke with my Aunt and prayed fervently for guidance from God, for Him to give me peace with the situation, to lead me to push the doctor with the right questions, to make it apparent if simply waiting was what he wanted me to do.  She did a quick ultrasound and verified that the questionable lump had indeed not grown, which she took as a good sign.  I agreed, no growth certainly indicates that what I have is not cancerous.  She was “comfortable waiting another 6 months to see if it would change.”  However, I after having just endured Breast Cancer Awareness month, couldn’t shake the fact that I wasn’t comfortable waiting 6 more months.  So I asked, “What if I’m not comfortable with waiting?”  She said then we biopsy.  She validated my concerns by admitting that she had been wrong before and confirming that the only way to be certain was to look at tissue under a microscope.  I simply don’t want to waste even a second of the next six months wondering or even praying about this.  Though I am confident God would have continued to carry me through the waiting, I believe He provided me a way out of this trial.

I am certain biopsy is the right decision and that God guided me to it by prompting me to ask questions.  I have very little additional information than I had before I walked in to her office last week, but I have peace.  I could still have a very slow growing tumor or pre-cancerous cells lurking under my skin, or it could in fact be perfectly harmless fibrous tissue that will likely dissipate after menopause.  I still have questions that will only be answered at my follow up appointment next week, but I know my God is with me and nothing can stand against His promises.

The moment I knew I had something to write about came on Tuesday when our prayer coordinator for PWOC led an exercise where we were asked to write our greatest burden on a 3×5 card and place it on the altar.  She urged us just as David does in Psalm 55:22 to “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.”  You might think this very real, very present threat to my body, my health, perhaps my life would have been the burden I needed to let go of, but in those quiet moments of contemplation I was struck by the fact that I had already laid this one at the cross, I no longer wrestle with it.  Even as relief washed over me in my peace with this, I became buried under the weight of the realization that I am still bearing the entire brunt of other burdens.  Ones that are less dramatic, less significant, less potentially life-changing.  I was at once encouraged that I am fully willing to cast my cares for my very life upon my Lord and yet shamed that I still allow myself to be encumbered by a load of other cares of this world that have no eternal significance.

God is guarding my heart and my mind in this situation that I (and so many others on my behalf) have prayed about.  In this I am experiencing His peace that surpasses all understanding for what is certainly one of the scariest things I have faced in my life, but I won’t be satisfied until I am able to lay all my worries confidently at the feet of Jesus.

Do you have a heavy load to cast upon the Lord?  Are you carrying so many small worries that their combined weight is holding you down?  Is there one burden you keep taking back from Jesus and attempting to conquer on your own?  I urge you pass it off, give it up, lay it down and enlist the help of a few faithful friends to pull you out from under it!  Just wait and see how He will sustain you with His peace!

Interference

I just asked Jesus to come interfere in my life.  This is quite different from my usual prayers that ask Him to sustain me, support me, help me get through my day as I have planned it.  It was part of a journaling exercise for the bible study I am doing this semester from the book “not a fan” by Kyle Idleman.  This is a book that will shake you up no matter where you are on your faith journey.  For the last two months, it has been challenging, upsetting, angering, convicting, and inspiring all at once, but this exercise from the Journal today brought me to tears.  The instructions were to repeat ten times out loud the phrase:

“Lord Jesus come interfere in my life.”

I know it may sound a little silly, but it was powerful.  Each time I repeated those seven words, my mind raced with thoughts as I subconsciously emphasized a different word each time.  I was filled with so many emotions that by the third time I had to get up and find a tissue as they spilled out in my tears.  But even as the tears flowed, I was reminded of the promise that we all have in Jesus.  It was in that promise that I found the encouragement to pray these words with my whole heart.

Lord…. 

Jesus….

Come….

Interfere…

In…

My….

Life…

 

Lord….  King, Ruler.  I am your servant.  A slave for you.  Once under the bondage of my sin, but set free by you.  I am now a bondservant, a slave for you by my own choice.  You are just and righteous and holy.  Knowing that is what makes me want to follow you.

Jesus….  Savior, friend, teacher, intercessor.  You gave Your very life for me that I might enjoy eternity with You.  Perfect in every way though tempted just as I.  Once human now seated at the right hand of the Father.  You are coming again to judge and I will only be found worthy by Your blood.

Come….  Come down to me, send your Holy Spirit to guide me.  If you are with me, who can stand against?  You said if I would seek, I would find You.  I’m seeking, Lord, meet me here right where I am now.

Interfere…  Mess with it.  Shake it up.  Change my plans because You have perfect plans for me.  Plans to prosper me, plans for peace and for hope.  There are things in my life I don’t like…change them for your glory.  Make my every move glorify Your Holy Name.  Make Your plans obvious to me.  Protect me from Satan’s attempts to bring doubt about Your plans for me.

In…  Be IN my life in all its messy ugly sadness.  Be in the moments of joy and happiness. Be IN my home, my car, IN all the places I go.  Be IN my interactions with my husband, my children, family, friends, strangers.  Be IN my heart, seal it with Your Holy Spirit.

My….  Not mine but yours.  All I think I am, all I think I have are not my own.  I do not rule any part of the life I live no matter how hard I try.  My life is Yours.  My moods, my attitudes, my speech, my actions, my thoughts, my expressions…they are all Yours make them glorify you!

Life… Any life I enjoy is from you.  You created me.  And I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  This life on earth is temporary.  You give life and You can take it away at any moment.  Your promise of life is eternal.  What I do with this life should all be for your Glory, for Your Kingdom.  What do you want for my life here on earth, Lord?

 “Lord Jesus come interfere in my life.”

 When I finished, I was so ready to let Jesus mess with my day that when the phone rang I was almost convinced it was Him calling with some major change my whole game plan.  I jumped up and answered the phone with a big grin despite the fact that the caller ID screen said “customer service”  I was so ready to tell the person on the other end of the line about Jesus, that I was disappointed to hear a pre-recorded message.  Even if He isn’t calling me to some major change to my life, there are thousands of little ways I can let Him interfere.  When we allow Him to rule the little things in our lives, we become witnesses to His great faithfulness and love for us.  These are the building blocks of a faith able to respond to His glory when He interferes in major ways.

So, I will start the rest of this day looking for ways that my Lord Jesus might come shake up my life.  By His power, I am ready and waiting!  Will you ask Him to interfere in yours?

Holding on for Dear Life

I was surprised to find that the definition of tenacious found in Webster’s discusses the idea of holding fast or clinging to something.  This idea conjures up a picture of a 2-year-old at day care drop off who refuses to let go of his mother.  Maybe you never had a child behave like this, but both of mine have and still do under certain circumstances though they are well out of their toddler years.  Holding on for dear life, afraid of the unknown, afraid of being abandoned, afraid of meeting new people or perhaps being left out at play time, they wrap their arms around what is familiar and safe to them.  Even though this can be somewhat frustrating or embarrassing for me, I am still honored to be their source of comfort.

What brings you comfort?  To what do you cling?  What are you holding on to for dear life?

When I first wrote about the characteristics common to survivors, I referenced the article that said tenacity was the ability to take the pain and keep going.  While I still believe the ability to Just Keep Going is vital for survivors and that perseverance is one key aspect of getting through difficult circumstances, but that to which we cling when the going gets tough is at least as crucial.

I recently attended a bible study where the book of Ruth was the topic.  In the days since this study, I have pondered the inspiring tale of this tenacious survivor.  When I re-read the story the other morning, I picked up on something I had missed in the translation read during the study.  Ruth 1:14 says that “Ruth clung to her.”  Ruth clung to her mother-in-law after having lost her husband.  Ruth was a Moabite woman who married one of two sons of an Israelite family who had fled to her country in search of food during a famine in their land.  Both sons and their father died and the book began as the mother, Naomi, was about to return to Israel.  The Moabites were the descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew.  During the conquering of the Promised Land, contentions arose between the two peoples because the Moabite king feared the Israelites, who were peacefully encamped in his territory.  King Balak called upon a pagan prophet to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22), but the one true God foiled their plans.   Enmity ensued despite the failed attempts to bring destruction upon God’s people and the Moabites were forbidden to the 10th generation to enter the assembly of God (Deuteronomy 23:3-6).

Yet, we still read that Ruth clung to her Israelite mother-in-law and departed her home and all that was familiar to her to return with Naomi to Israel.  Ruth willingly left her home, her family, the gods of the culture in which she was raised and followed her mother-in-law to go to a land where she would be an unwelcome and widowed foreigner.  She makes a heartfelt plea to Naomi not leave her in which she says, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”  Ruth 1:16.  She refused to let go of the faith in the one true God she had come to through her association with this Israelite family, and held on to it while letting go of all else she had ever known.  Despite the hardships ahead, she chose to cling not just to her mother-in-law, but to Yahweh.  By so doing, she was taken to be the wife of a distant relative of her husband’s family and was ultimately placed in the lineage of not only King David, but Jesus himself (Ruth 4:13-22).  She chose to live like an eternal survivor and cling to God in a terribly troubling time, and was rewarded with a prestigious role in the salvation of all mankind because of her tenacious faith.

Could you do it?  Would you be able to leave your home, your family, everything you had ever known to follow and seek God’s will for your life, even if you knew there would be hardships?  Jesus called His disciples to do this very thing.

He repeatedly told those He was calling to follow Him and leave behind everything, to let go of all that brought them comfort, their family and friends, freedom, their belongings, their professions and homes, even their dead and dying.  There is some evidence that many of these blessings were restored to them, but I cannot overlook their willingness of those early few to drop everything and follow Jesus.  They learned quickly that you can only hold on to so much, but there is just one thing to which you can cling that will enable you to say, “it is well with my soul.”  Deuteronomy 30:20 says we should, “cling to Him for He is your life and the length of your days.”

One of my favorite hymns, “It Is Well With My Soul,” is a perfect example of clinging to Jesus while letting go of what you hold dear.  Horatio Spafford did not simply piece together a beautiful composition full of empty words.  This is a song born of gut-wrenching loss and deep personal pain. In 1873, he wrote the hymn while on a ship to England where he would comfort his wife in the aftermath of a tragic ship-wreck that killed their four daughters.  Two years earlier, their son had died in the Great Chicago Fire.  Even as his ship sailed close to the point where his precious daughters drowned, he was still able to cling to the cross, and know that all was well with his soul despite the profound loss he had suffered on earth, that “The sky, not the grave, is our goal.”

I know Jesus was speaking of the end times when He said, “He who endures to the end will be saved” in Matthew 24:13, but I find great encouragement in these words for even my everyday trials.  If I continue to cling to the cross, no matter what happens until I reach my earthly end, I am saved.  Jesus knew the pain and suffering He would endure to ensure that salvation for all of us, but he remained true to the word and the will of His Father.  Jesus, being fully human, asked, just as we would, if there was any other way for the Father’s will to be done, but He says, “Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.”  Luke 22:42.  Knowing that His betrayal, abandonment, brutal beating, crucifixion and separation from His Father was the only way to fulfill the word and the will of God, His final words were, “Father, into Your hands, I commit my spirit.”  Luke 23:48.   In other words, “I’m letting go of all that this earth holds and clinging to you and your will, Father.”

Jesus predicted his suffering and death to his followers several times during His ministry.  When one of His well-meaning apostles attempted to correct Him, he was seriously rebuked.    Peter simply said, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You.”  Matthew 16:22.  Surely many of us would react the same way if one of our friends or role models was to make a similar statement.  Just like Peter, we likely react with unbelief and probably want to protect them from harm, to take away their pain.  Instead of hugging Peter and being thankful for his concern, Jesus had a very different response.  He said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of Men.”  Matthew 16:23  Peter was more concerned with comforting and saving Jesus, than the purpose to which He had been called, which was to endure the punishment for all of humanity’s sin so that we could all be saved.

As Eternal Survivors we are called not to simply endure the trials that come in this life, but Paul reminds us that “we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Modern day tribulations can come in any number of ways, but I believe it is when we suffer the loss of something to which we would ordinarily find hope in this life that we are being pointed toward the true source of our life.  When we lose our health, a person close to us, our livelihood, familiar surroundings, a home, or our security, we must act like the Christian Paul describes in Romans 12:9 and “cling to what is good.”  Jesus tells us in Matthew 19:17 that, “No one is good but One, that is God.”  We have His word, His will, and His purpose to cling to when all else falls away.  Christian survivors are tenacious; they may feel the pain of this world, but still find the glory and hope in the love of God for us.  When we are able to set aside our own personal pain, our comfort, our selfish desires and earthly possessions and commit ourselves to the will of God for His purposes and glory that is when we will begin to live with a tenacious spirit.

Military spouses are familiar with letting go.  We let go of familiar places and routines when new orders come, we let go of friends who move away, we let go of places we have made our homes for a few precious years, we let go of things we don’t have space for in our new quarters, we let go of our husbands for weeks or months or even a year or more at a time.  It is in this letting go, however that we are given an opportunity to grab hold of and cling to Jesus for all He has done and wants to work in our lives.  If you aren’t living at the whim of Uncle Sam, or you aren’t up for a PCS any time soon, you can still take some steps to let go of anything that might be holding you back from all that God has planned for you.  Start with some of your time, just give Him 5 minutes today, and maybe a couple more than that tomorrow.  Build a relationship with Him and soon you will find that He is exactly what your heart has been longing for, that He is capable of filling all the voids where you have let go of something, that He is the only one to whom we must cling for the assurance of our status as an Eternal Survivor!  So, I challenge you to let go of everything else and cling to the cross, to live with the tenacity of an Eternal Survivor and hold on for dear life to the only thing able to give us eternal life!