Thursday, May 22, 2014

Grace Without Exception

Grace is one of the most difficult Godly concepts to not only comprehend, but also remember in our hearts when we are struggling.  I'm going to try to tackle it on a small scale!

Grace can be used in so many ways linguistically.  As a noun: elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion or action; favor or goodwill; mercy; a short prayer; consideration for others.  As a verb: to add elegance or beauty to...; to ornament or decorate.  As a Christian term:  the free and unmerited favor of God; the divine assistance and power given to us as part of our salvation.  

Let's look more closely at the grace that God bestows upon us.

Romans 11:6 "And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace."
     -Grace is offered freely to anyone and everyone by God.  There are no exceptions; no restrictions; no discrimination; no qualifications (works).  We have not earned this grace, nor do we deserve it.  But Christ paid the price for us; he died on the cross for us so that we would all be offered God's grace freely.

Ephesians 2:4-5 "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved."
     -God's grace has given us a chance!  We can ask, seek and knock.  We can repent and be saved.  We can declare that Jesus is Lord.  We can live as disciples and be fishers of men.  All by the grace of God.  Without God's grace, we would not have this opportunity.

Ephesians 3:1-13 "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly.  In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets.  This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.  I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.  Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.  His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.  I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory."
     -EVERYONE is given grace by God.  We are all heirs and members of one body of Christ.  When we accept God's grace, like the people of the first church did in Acts 2, we can be completely confident in our salvation; our redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ.  This was God's plan all along, which is heart wrenching and impossible to fathom all at once.  

God offers his grace freely to everyone, without exception, because he wants everyone to come to him and know the truth

1 Timothy 2:3-5 "This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus."

I absolutely love the new Natalie Grant single For All of Us.  Enjoy!

Oh grace without exception
How fortunate are we
That this love without measure
Is able to redeem
And without hesitation
Our sin is washed away
Unforgettable the moment
How glorious the day

Here at the cross
Your death, the price
Your agony means life
For all of us
You did it for all of us
Here at the cross
It’s finally done
Your victory is won
For all of us
You did it for all of us

The mystery of the ages
Unfolded on a hill
With the ringing of a hammer
Hope is now revealed
The very king of heaven
Comes a spotless Lamb
Holding all our guilt and shame
In His outstretched hands

Here at the cross
Your death, the price
Your agony means life
For all of us
You did it for all of us
Here at the cross
It’s finally done
Your victory is won
For all of us
You did it for all of us

Hallelujah, hallelujah
Worthy is the Lamb
That was slain

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Parable of the Lost Raisin

Parable of the Lost Sheep
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." Luke 15:4-7

We have been studying many of Jesus' parables during our Sunday services for the last few weeks. There are three parables in Luke 15 that all teach us the importance to God of just one sinner repenting.  The parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost son.  The parable of the lost son is my personal favorite; one that constantly reminds me that no matter how horrible of a person I think I am, how many bad things I have done or will do in the future, I am now a new creation and God will always welcome me back as long as I repent of my sins.

I wanted to share with you an experience I had recently with our son that reminded me of all three of these parables.  He showed me a perfectly sweet example of his version of the parables.  As we were driving to day care one morning, he happened to drop one of his raisins down by his leg in his car seat.  My poor little monkey couldn't reach it no matter how hard he tried; and he tried with all his might.  Then he whimpered a bit and started getting cranky.

Using my mommy logic, I told him to just grab another one out of his snack cup.  But no!  You would have thought I told him he could never eat another raisin as long as he lived!  He screeched and shook his head vehemently.  He pointed at the unreachable raisin and pouted.  "That raisin!"  I tried very hard to calm him down and encourage him to just eat one of the other dozen or so he had.  But he only cared for that one raisin he lost, and he didn't dare give in and eat one that was sitting safely in his snack cup for the entirety of our ride.

So humbling!  Have you seen the parables at work in your lives?

Parable of the Lost Son
...“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’... ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Humbly refined

"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

Being humbled is sometimes so much easier than being humble.  Whether by intention or not, when someone says or does something that humbles you (even if they don't realize how their action(s) or word(s) will affect you), you cannot avoid the emotional and psychological outcome it will have on you (positive or negative).  However, to be humble is a purposeful and intentional act.  Both are needed daily to keep us firmly on God's path.  

Being humbled by someone can very easily lead to encouragement.  When I look around at the amazing disciples of Jesus Christ that are in my life, I am so encouraged.  As I watch how my fellow disciples live, act, speak, love, reach out, disciple, worship, pray, read the Word, etc., I can't help but be encouraged (and in many ways to strive to be more like them).  Daily encouragement, even in the form of being humbled, will also help us all keep sin out of our lives (or deal with sin the right way if it's in our lives). 

"See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end." Hebrews 3:12-14

I obviously chose to write about this because I have recently been humbled and encouraged, and I'm so proud of the person responsible for this.  It's so easy to get caught up in life; to think that the level of commitment we are giving to God and his commands is enough.  That we are reading our Bible enough.  That we are praying enough and to the best of our abilities.  That we are reaching out enough and talking with others about our/their faith enough.  But it's never enough.  There can never be a measure that is indicative of us giving enough of ourselves to God, doing enough in his name, or glorifying him to our fullest extent.

"Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." Luke 9:23

It's also so easy to let life burden us unnecessarily, when we can so easily turn to God in prayer and look to his Word for the answers to our struggles and sin.  This is one area that I have fallen short in lately.  I have had a rough week and have been very quick to anger.  Instead of turning to God in prayer or getting into the Word more, I burdened myself and others.  I can't imagine how much better this week might have been if I had taken a different approach from day 1...  But I'm feeling pretty humble today and I am looking forward to being more diligent in my actions as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
 "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." Psalm 68:19

Friday, February 14, 2014


"His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:3-8

When we ADD knowledge to our faith (through the reading of His Word), we learn how to be more self-controlled. Self-control helps us persevere. When we win the fight, finish the race, hold to our convictions, etc., we are showing the world our Godliness. If our faith is built upon these pillars, mutual affection and love are so simple.

If you want to know what it looks like to have faith, to be knowledgeable, self-controlled, striving to persevere, Godly, and full of mutual affection and love, look to Jesus Christ. What better example of the embodiment of these characteristics than our Lord? 

"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." Colossians 1:15

Remember also, that godliness stems from humility. Jesus Christ was the most humble man to walk the Earth.

"Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus." Philippians 2:1-5

Being humble also means to be content. Content with what you have, with what you don't have, with your life as it is. God was content in all he did. He was content to leave his heavenly throne and walk the Earth as a humble servant.

"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death -- even death on a cross!" Philippians 2:6-8

As we go about our daily lives, we need to focus on all of the amazing things that God has given us; has made possible in our lives. We are all blessed in so many and differing ways. We have Him, the Word, a place to worship, families (crazy as they may be), beautiful children (even when they scream "NO!" at the top of their lungs, continuously for 5 minutes, and for no reason at all), friends, brothers and sisters, jobs, cars or someone to drive you where you need to go, places to go home to (even if the basement occasionally floods), the opportunity to attain an education (even if a BA takes 8 years and $80,000), and SO much more.

Ryan's message this past Wednesday night really opened my eyes. I haven't been very content lately. Not for awhile. Maybe not ever... Can you truly say that you are content with everything in your life? I'm sure none of us can say we are content with everything in our past... But Ephesians 1:3-13 tells us something amazing:

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit."

How can we NOT be content when we have all of this, on top of the other blessings in our lives? I plan to work very hard on learning to be content with my life; with my crazy family, spontaneously disobedient but beautiful, intelligent and loving son, my leaky basement, and my very expensive education. Because all of these things came from God, and how could I possibly NOT be content with a gift from God?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Kings of the King

When you think of a King, what do you imagine?


Or this:

"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir." Galatians 3:26-4:7

What a concept to wrap our minds around.  We were born cursed... slaves.  When each of us declared that Jesus is Lord, we were adopted by God into his kingdom.  We became brothers and sisters in Christ.  This adoption provided us with an inheritance; the most valuable inheritance EVER.  How does that make you feel?  Can you fathom that you're an heir?  A King? 
The worldliness around us can make it easy to confuse what God has truly given us.  In our more recent history (pre-nineteenth century'ish), a King was someone who wore glittering robes and a crown.  Who was immeasurably wealthy and still wanted for more.  Who lived in a castle and had everyone at their beck and command.  Who ate grapes off a platter (thanks Joel!) and summoned concubines at their pleasure.

But... God tells us what a King is to be.  A King does not bask in his wealth and laud it over his kingdom.  A King does not take multiple wives or possess concubines.  A King must read the Word everyday and live by the scriptures.  In biblical times, a King was actually required to write on scroll their own copy of this law and keep it with him always.  

These commands can be applied in so many ways to our present day lives.  Quite obviously, we must be disciples of Jesus Christ and follow the commands of our Great Commission.  We need to talk to God and be in the Word daily.  We need to go and make disciples.  We need to be humble and never once consider ourselves any better than the Lost because we have been adopted into His kingdom.  If we are to be true Kings of the one true King, we must act like it.  I, for one, don't want to give up the throne.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Who is in control? You or God...

My sister Crista gave an amazing and moving message last Wednesday during our breakout midweek session.  There were so many concepts and practicals to take away from the night, but I will try to pinpoint the ones that I felt spoke to me the most.

First of all, we all need to recognize what it means to truly be self controlled.  If we have asked Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, then 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that we possess the spirit of self control.  It is so amazing to think that God has given us the means (his Word) to learn self control.  Being in control means that we are effective and productive.  Titus 2:11-12 tells us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.  We have to deny ourselves, just as Jesus did, if we expect to ever display the level of self control that God has made possible in us.

I have always thought of myself as being very self controlled, and I never would have considered myself to not be self controlled until I heard Crista lay it all out for me.  The good thing is this: I can get things under control with hard work and dedication.  Sounds simple, right?  Like one of those cheesy weight loss programs you see on the infomercials at 2:00 a.m. when you should be in bed (if you were more self controlled).

Two things that Crista focused on were being self controlled enough to stop our negative thinking and to stop our worry.  While worry is my BIG weakness, I really love some of Crista's analogies on negative thinking and so I'm going to start there.

When you think about a person/place/event/situation/memory, do you fixate on the good and growth, or the bad and failures?  Do you look at the glass half full or half empty?  Being realistic isn't bad, but it isn't always good either.  God calls us to see the good in others, in situations, in life.  Philippians 4:8 tells us to think of whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy.  If we are regularly fixating on negative thoughts, regrets from our past, or taking for granted everything that God has given us, we are not thinking the way that God tells us to in Philippians.  

Crista had a great little diagram that showed us how our thoughts turn into our actions.  It went a little like this:  negative thoughts turn into negative beliefs, which turn into negative feelings, and thus into negative actions.  Let's take a look at how God's thoughts compare to Satan's:

  • True
  • Noble
  • Right
  • Pure
  • Lovely
  • Admirable
  • Excellent
  • Praiseworthy
  • False
  • Dishonorable
  • Wrong
  • Impure
  • Ugly
  • Worthless
  • Unsatisfactory
  • Worthy of curses
I would much rather have Godly thoughts!

Now how about those worrisome thoughts?  They get me every time!  I especially hate the "What if...?" ones.  I used to regularly worry that our house would burn to the ground while I was at work.  Did I leave the flat iron on?  Or maybe the stove (even though I hadn't used it)?  Or somehow an electrical outlet would spontaneously combust.  Yup.  That was definitely going to happen.  Now that I am a Momma, my worrisome thoughts have morphed into ridiculous and terrible thoughts that no parent should have... but I'm sure we've all been there once or twice.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 gives us a simple way out from under the burden of our crazy worry.  We need to take control and make our thoughts obedient to God.  Trust in God.  Trust in God's plan.  But how do we do that?  Crista's practicals are so simple, but we really have to make these a part of our everyday life in order to show obedience to God.

1.  Confess
  • Is sin getting in the way of your negative thoughts or worry?  Confess to a sister.  Confess to God.  And obviously... stop sinning!
  • Get real about your negativity.
  • Get your friends involved.  Have them hold you accountable with your thoughts.
2.  Pray
  • What better way to overcome negative thoughts or worry than to pray.
  • Ask others to pray for you.  That's what we are here for!
3.  Read
  • Read about self control in the Word.
  • Research disciples who exhibited self control (Abigail, Ruth, Paul, etc.)
    • Personally, I loved reading about Hannah in 1 Samuel.  Since I'm currently struggling with the length of time it's taking us to get pregnant, Crista actually suggested that I read about Hannah and her patience and trust in God.  I love her self control!
  • Memorize scripture.
Good luck and much love!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A walking temple

So... how has your worship been lately?   

What do you think of when someone says "worship"?  Some of you may think of the singing you do at church on Sunday morning or Wednesday evening.  You're not wrong...  but that's not all.  What else?  Do you raise your hands in the air while you are singing at church?  Do you clap along with the rest of your fellow brothers and sisters?  How about when you listen to your favorite Christian radio station or CD when you're in the car?  Do you sing with all your heart and dance in your seat, even if you know other drivers are watching you?

Do you talk to new people at church even if it makes you feel uncomfortable?  Or do you talk to the people you are closest with?  Do you reach out to new people?  At school?  Work?  The grocery store?  Do you share your faith?  Do you pray for others?  Do you ask others for prayers?  Do you fellowship with brothers and sisters outside of church?  Do you reach out and bond to disciples outside of your immediate home groups?  Do you participate in discipling activities?  Do you disciple to others or humbly receive discipleship?

Worship isn't just singing.  It even isn't just adding a "Hallelujah!" or "Amen!" after a good song.  Worship is sacrifice.  Worship is an unbending, unending willingness to love God through joyful acts of sacrifice to always be a temple wherever you go.  You are the church, 24/7, everywhere you go and in every capacity.

Deuteronomy 12:4 & 12:31 both say that we are not to worship the Lord our God in our way.  We have to realize that there is a right and wrong way to worship.  We must not worship other Gods or idols.  Deuteronomy 13:4 says we must only follow God.  We must keep his commands and obey him.  We need to be careful to not bring our problems and any worldly issues with us to worship.  You can't let your sin ruin your worship.  Let me give you an example of how perfect this worship message was for me today:

As we left for church this morning, I noticed Ryan was out in the street poking at something by the curb.  I hollered at him and he pointed out that a pond was forming in the street.  Keep in mind that it had been snowing through the night, it was 9 degrees outside, and everywhere else was covered in a nice thick layer of snow.  But a large portion of the street next to our house was covered in wet, brown mushy slush.  The kind you encounter when the snow melts very quickly after a heavy snow.  

We determined very quickly that a water main must have broken.  As we looked closer, we could see water gushing (no exaggeration here) from the yard and into the street.  It wasn't clear to us yet whether or not the pipes had frozen and burst or if some other oddity had occurred.  It also wasn't clear whether it could be our personal pipes coming from the house, or if it was the city main (and thus, not our financial responsibility).  Considering our luck since having moved into this house, we were frustrated and worried (and a wee bit angry) that it could be the former.  So Ryan decided to stay home to monitor any potential basement flooding result and I called in a "water emergency" to the Lansing Board of Water and Light.

When I arrived at church, I texted Ryan for a progress report.  A truck had shown up, took a quick look at the situation, then drove off.  Service started and I sang, but not with all my heart.  My mind was elsewhere.  Ryan texted and said another truck had shown up and put cones in the road; then drove off.  I sang a bit more, but not with my usual vigor.  I was so out of sorts when it came to raising my hands during the "praise" chorus and I was so off beat.  Another text: now the important people had shown up with big trucks and back hoes and lots of other important looking devices.  I started taking notes during the sermon, all the while wondering if we were getting water in our basement, or if I was going to come home to a big mess in the street, or if somehow we were going to have to replace all of our plumbing (a total irrational though, I know).

Then Joel got to the point in his sermon where he talked about preparing for our times of worship.  I had come to church with a mind full of anxious thoughts.  I wasn't worshipping God sacrificially nor with all my heart, and he (Joel) was calling me out!  He manages to do that with so many of his messages...  As service came to a close, I was definitely more humble.  Just like we need to be wary that the sin in our lives can clog our mind and heart and prevent us from worshipping sacrificially, so can the normal everyday bits and pieces of our lives.

But that's what makes worship a sacrifice.  We must put aside these things and show Him the honor he deserves.  So get out there with that awesome temple you've got and worship your butt off this week!