A look at destiny

Much of what God has destined me for, I am really excited about. I am excited about becoming like God (Romans 8:29), being holy and blameless in His presence (Ephesians 1:4), being adopted as His son (Ephesians 1:5) and being for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:12).

I am a little less excited about 1 Thessalonians 3, which says I was destined for trials and persecution. Indeed Jesus Himself warns us constantly in the gospels that the life of a disciple will be one fraught with pain. We will have to lay down our entire lives (Luke 14:33); we may lose our entire families (Luke 12:51, Matthew 10:34); we may be called the devil (Matthew 10:24-25). The list could go on and on.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul reminds his readers that he warned them frequently in person that they would under go persecution and “it turned out that way as you well know.” He had sent Timothy to strengthen and encourage them in their faith, “so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them.”

It’s not a fun fact, but it is a fact. You and I will have many trials in this life. Jesus has a good way of cheering us up! “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

It’s true that we will face trials and persecution here, but it is just as true that we are seated in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6) We don’t submit to our trials. We don’t worship them. No, they are under our feet. We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!

Today as we face each trial and every unkind word, let us remember Romans 8:35-39

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God is not worried

Whatever the case might be, God is not worried about 2019. On Sunday I heard someone give someone else a word of encouragement. It really encouraged me too. God was not worried about this person, and He isn’t worried about us either.

Had I been asked, “Is God worried?”, I would be able to quickly say “no”. It wouldn’t be just an intellectual assent to a doctrinal truth, but it would be something I really believed.

However, if I was asked, “Is God worried about you?”, there may be a brief moment of hesitation. Sometimes I feel like there is disaster still lurking around the corner of my life. Right now life is going really, really well. So well that last night as I fell asleep I could not believe I was starting a new year on such good and joyful terms. My life is nearly perfect, and it is not hard to dance instead of walk down a street.

Yet even if God being in my life has led to such an abundance of the fruit of the Spirit as for me to confess a nearly perfect life (in which I still face daily trials and tribulations), I still can feel like an accident waiting to happen. God isn’t worried about me? Are you sure? because I can be pretty incompetent down here.

The good news is that He is down here too! I am not here alone, and neither are you! God has complete confidence in our safety and spiritual growth. He doesn’t put His trust in humans (John 2:24-25); but He does trust His Spirit within us.

Paul told the Philippians, “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:4-6

Today as we begin a new year, let’s rejoice that God is doing a good work in us! If you don’t know what in the world I am talking about or have the slightest clue how to begin a relationship with God, head over to the page on my blog called “What is the Gospel?“. There is some mighty good news there.

Let’s start our year filled with the fruit of righteousness! God has great confidence in His Holy Spirit. We can live with confidence and joy. We never have to fear a thing. God is not worried. As His children, we needn’t be either.

Grace, Grace, and more Grace!!!

Have you ever wondered how you can quickly tell the difference between a pastor that teaches the law and one who teaches grace? Listen for whether they teach you how you should act versus what you should believe about the identity of Christ and yourself.

In both Romans and Galatians, the Apostle Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5, which reads, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Later he (or the writer of the letters to Timothy) instructs the young pastor that “the law is good if one uses it properly.” (1 Timothy 1:8)

The law isn’t bad. Paul states in Romans 7 that rather it is holy, righteous and good. It simply needs to be used properly.

In Romans 10:5-13, Paul explains the difference between living by the law and living by faith. In this text, he once again quotes the Law of Moses, “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” (Deuteronomy 30:14) This verse, he says, refers to life lived by grace. He then makes the very famous statement, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

A life lived by grace is one that is lived by learning what to BELIEVE and not by learning what to DO. The two stand in direct opposition to each other. Many pastors and teachers disguise the law by calling it “wisdom teaching”. When someone has lives by what they do, they can live a very fruitful life. Moses states this, and Paul reiterates it as being what distinguishes the law from grace. (Romans 10:5, Galatians 3:12)

When we live under grace, we learn how to believe. We learn God’s identity as a Being who is loving, kind, just, patient, joyful, good, etc. We learn our identity as beings made of the same substance as God Himself.

When we are in a grace-based relationship with God, we also are loving, kind, just, patient, joyful, good, etc. It is the natural outflow of being “of God”.

In Romans 10, Paul goes on to declare that those who believe will never be put to shame by their belief. He quotes two more Old Testament passages as referring to this relationship with God that is based on grace and belief (faith) rather than on actions (law). He quotes Isaiah 28:16 (in the Greek translation) as saying, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” He also quotes Joel 2:32, which says, “Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Paul’s conclusion is, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.” (Romans 10:12) Once again notice that there is no racism in Christ.

Why say all this? Why know the difference between a grace-based life and a law-based life? Well, it is very important! Note that a grace-based life is lived from the inside out while a law-based life is lived from the outside in. Jesus has something to say about those who live from the outside in.

Jesus said, “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.” Matthew 23:25-26

A consistent theme in the teachings of Jesus is the importance of what is inside us.

Note how this same teaching of Jesus is described in Luke. “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” Luke 11:39-40

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus ties generosity with the poor to having a clean inside (heart)? It ties back to what I said yesterday about there being no classism in Christ.

Today as we go out, may we live from a place of grace and acceptance. May you come to know and understand the difference between living in condemnation and living in freedom! May you know that you know that you know that you are PERFECT, HOLY, RIGHTEOUS, LOVED, PRICELESS, A REFLECTION OF GOD’S IMAGE, A VESSEL OF GOD’S GLORY, ACCEPTED, CREATIVE, BEAUTIFUL, KIND…..

For your own sake and for the glory of God, BELIEVE!!!!!!!!

No racism, classism or sexism in Christ. Period.

Anytime I write something brilliant, it is usually something that I never knew that I knew. It came through my finger tips as I simply wrote the next thing that I thought the Spirit wanted me to say. Such was the case on my church history final where I observed a list of the three greatest divisions in society which are listed clearly in Scripture as abolished in Christ.

Jesus Christ abolished racism (Jew or Gentile), classism (slave or free), and sexism (male or female). In Christ Jesus, these separations do not exists.

The Apostle Paul teaches that believers are all children of God and clothed with Christ Jesus. In Galatians 3:28, he declares, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Unfortunately these divisions still exist in His body – the church of Christ. We, as His sisters and brothers, have not stepped into the freedom that He died for us to gain. Instead the rich are often against the poor and the poor against the rich. The uneducated find the educated clueless and vice versa. We like to hangout in churches with people of like ethnicity, and we often create Jesus in our own image through art, music and worldview. (Consider Jesus as a white European male with blue eyes rather than as the Jewish man that He actually was.) While Jesus and the early New Testament writers called women to a position of freedom, by the second century the church was busily putting them back into the place where paganism, religion and fear had bound them. Jesus saw her as a daughter of Abraham; but by the middle ages, the church didn’t even view her as created in the image of God.*

Today I want to challenge us to step into the freedom Christ has for us. It is most certainly a freedom where “isms” don’t exist!

If you are part of an oppressed race, gender or class, I encourage you to know your value is equally as great as the most exalted race, class or gender on this earth. YOU LACK NOTHING. You are complete in Him. You are as valuable as it is possible for a human being to be. You do not need to become a different color, sex or obtain a different economic status to find your value. YOU ALREADY HAVE YOUR VALUE. You are created in the image of Christ. In Him you are completely complete. YOU ARE PERFECT.

If you belong to a privileged race, class or gender, I challenge you to become aware in your interactions with those who do not share the same privileges. Many of these privileges are subconscious, and most people have no idea that they are even receiving them. I am white. White people are privileged in American society. This is a truth that I know and experience everyday. I am well-educated (with a background as a bit of a redneck). Educated people are privileged in Jersey City, NJ. I am also a woman. However, women are in no way privileged or free in most of the evangelical church.

How do we advocate for ourselves without being so aggressive that we are tuned out by those who don’t want to lose the privileges that society has given them?

How do we advocate for others without patronizing them? (Patronization as defined by helping others because we think we are more capable, valuable, intelligent, able, pure, etc. than they. are)

I propose the solution to the problem is simply in seeing Christ in those around us. Seeing them as having INFINITE VALUE. We will not condescend in our interactions with a homeless person if we see them as PERFECT, BEAUTIFUL, AND COMPLETE. When we give to someone in need, it is a necessity for us to realize that we are giving to an EQUAL.

Today be ONE in Christ. Let the “isms” fade away, as you worship His holiness, meeting all His children in perfect harmony of mind and thought! The blood of Jesus and the power of the Spirit unite us!

*General historical references about women taken from my reading of Her Story: Women in Christian Tradition by Barbara J. McHaffie. It is available for purchase on Amazon here. The reference Jesus makes to a daughter of Abraham is found in Luke 13:10-17.

A gift to reflect me and a me to reflect God

A few days ago, someone gave me a Christmas gift. “It reminded me of you,” they said. My interest was immediately piqued. I was about to gain insight into how this person saw me by studying the gift they gave me. Some people view me as a person entirely broken, incompetent and unable to survive life. This person didn’t. Her gift spoke of love, joy and fun. It was truly beautiful.

As I reflected on the experience, I realized that there is a slight commonality between this gift-giving experience and our relationship to God. We have been made in His image. However, I propose that we do not seek to discover who He is by studying ourselves; but rather discover who we are by studying Him. Before the universe became broken through the disobedience of humanity, one could learn about God by studying the goodness of the human race. Now studying humanity may entirely confuse the student of God as to the actual nature of His character.

Jesus calls the attention of His opponents to the fact that Psalm 82:6 calls people “gods”. As Jesus challenges the way these religious people thought, He notes, “If he called them ‘gods’ to whom the word of God came – and Scripture cannot be set aside – what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?” (John 10:36)

If you find this saying of Jesus offensive, never fear! So did many of those who heard Him say it the first time!

What does it mean to be made in the image of God? What does it mean for God’s Son, Jesus Christ, fully human and fully God, to quote such a Scripture while noting that Scripture CANNOT be set aside. We are not to ignore anything it says!

What does it mean to be called Jesus’ sister or brother? (Hebrews 2:11)

What does it mean to be called God’s daughter or son? (Galatians 3:26 and many other Scriptures)

What does this say about your essence?

What does it say about your potential?

What does it say about YOUR VALUE?

Today as we go about our day, let us rejoice that we are created in the image of God! Capitalize on your creativity! Lean into every good choice that you can! When presented with the opportunity to choose between something good and bad, choose the good. When presented with a choice between the good and the excellent, choose the excellent. Reflect the character of God and rejoice in communion with Him. Come to Him through Christ and dance your way through this day with Him leading the waltz!

Radical joy

A few days ago, I saw a countdown to Christmas on Facebook. I liked the photo as I momentarily judge humanity as entirely ridiculous for counting down to this day. Children understandably have this right, but why would we ever continue to do so as adults?

Yesterday I discovered a reason to do so. It isn’t the presents under the tree. It’s not the sometimes amazing and often dearly loved carols that are sung. It’s not a church service. It’s not any one single event. It’s the incredible excuse to randomly bless strangers in Christ’s name.

It started for me yesterday at noon when I went to eat at a fast food restaurant with about 15-20 people from my church. No big deal EXCEPT that my church has an annual tradition of “randomly” tipping someone $1,000 + what would be a normal tip. It’s a Christmas Eve tradition. (It doesn’t come out of the church budget, but each individual gives what God has put on their heart to give.)

This year they played with the tradition a little bit, and we went to a fast food restaurant where tipping isn’t the norm. The workers in the restaurant were carefully counted. Then after the meal, we called each worker from their task and gave $250 to those in the front of the restaurant and $125 to each cook. (In case you wonder why we discriminate against cooks. We don’t, but a late worker came in after we started giving the gifts, and we had to find a way to have enough money for everyone!)

Six workers radically experienced God’s love yesterday as some of them accepted gifts equal to a week’s take-home pay (if they are paid minimum wage). When we left that restaurant, the entire staff was smiling, cheerful and happy. Undoubtedly it will be an event that will not soon forgotten.

As for us, we were $1,250 “poorer”, yet infinitely more filled with joy!

Yesterday ended for me with Christmas caroling. The good old-fashioned kind where you walk down a street and stop at certain buildings to sing
over them the riches of God’s amazing love for the world. Because we have been doing this for three to four years, the awkwardness is gone for most of us. Now all we have is amazing joy and love to give away. The bells on my hat tinkled as I moved to the happy music. A homeless man pretended to conduct us as we serenaded a McDonald’s. It was an amazing evening of once again blessing random strangers.

I pray that each of us will take every opportunity possible to bless random strangers this Christmas season! We have a few days left. Let’s bless the unexpecting with a radical demonstration of God’s love!!!

Jesus wept

It’s okay to cry. Today I want to remind us of that simple truth. The same man who wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice always!” cried as he wrote part of the letter. (Philippians 3:18) He also cried every day for three years when he served as a missionary in Ephesus. (Acts 20:31)

Part of following Jesus is NOT turning off our human emotion. Jesus wept. (John 11:35) He became so angry in one instance that He whipped people out of the temple courts. (John 2:13-17) Jesus as the image of the invisible God wept and was angry. (Colossians 1:15)

The reality is that until Jesus comes a second time and restores peace and perfection to the whole earth (all its inhabitants, creatures and creation), there will be things to legitimately cry about here. There will be reasons to be righteously angry. It is only after the coming of the new earth that this changes. (Revelations 21:1-4)

If you have something to weep about this Christmas season, I encourage you to give yourself permission to do so. Jesus cried. It is okay if we aren’t laughing every moment of every day. It doesn’t make us any less godly or Christ-like.

As you express your emotion as part of a very real human experience, I pray that you will experience God’s comfort. For Jesus promised, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Good things for the hungry

“And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” Acts 17:25

This verse was in my morning time of meditation. I love how as Paul is talking to the then-heathen world, he flips their understanding of the supernatural, spiritual world on its head. The culture of the time sustained their gods with sacrifices and worship. Their gods needed much to survive. Paul proclaimed to them a God who needed nothing to survive. Rather He was the source of all life. 

How refreshing this advent season that we do not need to bring anything to God! It is enough to approach Him with humility while understanding that He is the only source for everything we need. Should we approach Him in any other way, He will simply send us away empty. We will leave with less than we had when we came. 

When she visited Elizabeth, Mary sang, “He has filled the hungry with good things,but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:53)

This advent season, let us approach God hungry! Perhaps fasting will intensify our hunger for Him. Maybe other spiritual disciplines such as extended times of prayer and thanksgiving or meditation or Bible reading are more appropriate for stimulating your hunger. 

Whatever the case, I beg you not to be sent away empty this advent season! Come hungry, and leave full. He is the only Source of life! Let us approach Him as such!! 

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:13

The goodness of wine

How did Joseph, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, think God thought about wine? 

Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, answers this question in the middle of his telling the story of Joseph. According to Josephus, Joseph told one of his fellow prisoners that: 

  • God gives wine to men to do good. 
  • The sharing of wine is a pledge of faithfulness and mutual confidence among people. 
  • Wine puts an end to quarrels. 
  • Wine takes passion and grief out of the minds of the drinkers. 
  • Wine makes people cheerful. 

This at least is what I make of the following paragraph in the writings of Josephus. “God bestows the fruit of the vine upon men for good; which wine is poured out to him, and is the pledge of fidelity and mutual confidence among men; and puts an end to their quarrels, takes away passion and grief out of the minds of them that use it, and makes them cheerful.” (ebook location 2569)

Apparently Joseph felt it necessary to tell the cupbearer this information before he interpreted the cupbearer’s dream. If you are familiar with the story in Genesis 40, the cupbearer would soon forget Joseph’s kindness, leaving him in prison for two years before Joseph would be brought before Pharaoh to interpret the king’s dream and then made ruler of Egypt. 

Today I want to encourage us to enjoy the good things God has given us and to always use them for good. Today and throughout this holiday season, may you enjoy an abundance of the good of the fruit of the vine and all other blessings which the earth produces!

In doing so, may we always keep in mind that Solomon warns us: 

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. Proverbs 20:1 NIV

Or in the version in which I first learned it: 

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. Proverbs 20:1 KJV

(As a side note: I continue to make a choice to abstain from all alcoholic drink, yet I recognize that there are truly righteous uses for alcohol. My story is not your story. Nor is my calling yours. They are mine. You have your own. Live out your story and calling well.)

The book quoted is The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, which can be purchased on Amazon

The compliment of presence

The greatest compliment you can give someone is to love to be in their presence. This thought came to me last night as I was praying with a group of believers for all of us to receive a greater filling of the Holy Spirit. 

When it was my time to pray, I gave that compliment to God and invited Him to come and be with us because we loved spending time with Him so much. It was a sweet moment. We were worshiping in spirit and in truth. 

It was only on the way home that it occurred to me that God had also given me this compliment. He wasn’t satisfied with simply sending Jesus to earth to spend time with us and show us who God is. He took it a step further. The Spirit, the third Person of the Godhead, would live in everyone who believed in God. Some would argue that He communicates with everyone on earth through the tool of their conscience – whether or not they believe in Him or even know about Him. 

God doesn’t only love me; He likes me. He likes me and wants to be with me so much that He developed a way to be with me and enjoy me forever. 

Long before I longed for His presence, He longed for mine. 

Today as we go throughout our day, may we be greatly encouraged that God does not only dwell among us, but He dwells within us! Listen carefully for His voice. When He whispers in your heart to testify to His goodness, speak up and share the amazing love God has shared with you! 

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. John 14:16-17

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