God sent His Son to warm our hearts. His warmth is all you need to have eternal life. This gift was given to all of us. Let God’s fire warm your life.
I love a good fire on a crisp cool night. The light of the fire dancing as waves of heat move over cool skin feels elemental and natural. The smell of smokey wood burning brings a flood of childhood memories washing over me.
My grandparents loved to go camping. We spent lots of time living out of their little camper. When I was in Girl Scouts some of my fondest memories are of the Jamboree where we would tent camp near the lake in Louisburg, NC. Now we spend time by the fire pit listening to nature, eating s’mores, talking and just being.
So, a few weeks ago while sitting by the fire, we were listening to “old school” songs. I pulled out an old Colin Raye song “What if Jesus Came Back Like That.” I remember the first time I heard this song. Lying in my dorm room listening to the CD I had gotten for a cent from BMG. Colin Raye had won Entertainer of the Year and I had recently gotten into country music. I listened to this song over and over again, intent on hearing and learning all the words. Tears streamed down my face because this song spoke to my soul.
Seeing God’s Fire
This song tore me apart. What if Jesus came back as anything other than the King? What if the homeless person on Franklin Street was how He came back? Or if he came from a drug-infested hovel? Didn’t he come so humbly before? Why would he come back differently?
He came to town on a cold dark night A single star was his only light The baby born that silent night A manger for his bed
What if Jesus comes back like that Where will he find out hearts are at Will he let us in or turn his back
Feeling the Warmth of God’s Love
As we race toward Christmas, I think we need to stop and consider the story. A young pregnant girl engaged to a man who wasn’t the father of her child. Talk about being out in the cold…
They were on a journey across rough roads to be counted for a government who held them in contempt. They finally made it to the little town of Bethlehem but found nowhere to stay. A stable full of animals was the best they could find. And it was in this situation that Jesus was born.
Mary wasn’t in a nice soft bed, attended to by nurses and doctors who were seeing to her every comfort. Smelly, dirty, cold conditions surrounded the newborn. God, our Father, allowed His only Son to be born into such humble conditions. But, His love for us through His Son kept everyone warm.
Spreading the Warmth of God’s Love
And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
Matthew 25:40, NKJV
God has given us clear instructions. He is in each of us and that is why we should love our neighbors as ourselves. Those who are in crisis need our help, not our condemnation. We need to pray for them and with them. Give joyfully of our resources to help others. And take it back to the old-school question: “What Would Jesus Do?”
Jesus came to bring fire to our spirit. To be a light in the world. He came to warm us from the coldness of separation from God. We need to take Him into our lives and love Him wholeheartedly.
It rises at one end of the heavens and runs its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth. The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is trustworthy, making wise the simple…
Psalm 19:6-7, NIV
I am in awe of your love. Help me to pay attention to Your warmth. Let me share it with others. You were humble enough to have your Son born in a lowly stable. Let me see you in others and remember to love others as you would.
As believers, we are pilgrims in the world but are not of the world. We must embrace this identity to truly follow Christ.
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.
1 Peter 2:11, KJV
Pilgrims in the World
Recently my sister in law made an intriguing comment. She was recounting a simple, yet profound statement that her pastor had made to their congregation. He told them that, as believers, if they do not feel out of place in this world, they could be headed for trouble. If they always feel at home in the world, perhaps they’re trying too hard to fit in.
Her pastor was encouraging them to live as Christ instructed His followers to live: as pilgrims passing through. Ultimately, her pastor’s point was that, as believers, we are called to be in this world but not of this world. So, if at times, we feel out of place, most likely we’re actually doing something right in our walk of faith.
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
John 15:19, KJV
A few years ago, I found myself in a situation where I truly felt out of place in the world, even among some believers. I had earned a Master’s degree in Social Work and had worked as a community organizer and advocate to empower people in poverty. My husband had a degree in economics and owned a small business as a general contractor for high-end residential projects.
By all accounts, we were doing pretty well in this world. We were establishing successful careers, building a large community, and just generally enjoying life’s pleasures. But our faith in the Lord was small. He was about to completely dismantle the safe, little life we had arranged for ourselves through our own pride and strength.
Just like the Israelites, little did we know that we were embarking on a pilgrimage out of Egypt into the wilderness. Over the span of about two years, our careers, our community, and really our entire life changed drastically. After having our first child, my husband and I prayed and asked the Lord whether I should go back to work or stay at home to care for our baby…
It became very clear that I needed to resign from my salaried position with a large nonprofit. There went a big chunk of our steady, reliable income along with our health insurance coverage and my professional identity.
About a year later, a number of times in prayer, my husband had heard from the Lord that it was time to close his small business. His company was our family’s only source of income. So, he was naturally resistant. And we had a second child on the way. These things did not make sense to our natural minds. And I had a lot of questions.
Why was the Lord calling us away from the careers we had been working so hard to establish? What would we tell our friends and family? How could He expect us to walk away from our only source of income? What about the mortgage? How would we feed our family?!
The Lord was trying to show us that our earthly provision was not secure. He was our provider and the source of our security, financially and otherwise. So, after a great deal of discussion, prayer–and quite a bit of fear and trembling–we decided to follow Christ’s instruction to close my husband’s business.
Pilgrims in the Wilderness
For the next year, we became pilgrims wandering in a financial, spiritual, and emotional wilderness. Stripped bare of all our earthly identities, we truly began to learn what it felt like to be outsiders. With a baby and a toddler in tow and no source of steady income, we were living in the world, but we did not have the means to be part of it. We could barely even explain what we were going through to ourselves, let alone to our friends–many of whom were not believers.
We tried to share our hearts with people in our church and fellowship groups, but even to them, the choices we were making seemed foreign. I often felt completely isolated and alone. Watching the world go on about its business, I felt as if I were orbiting just slightly outside of their circles. Despite the fact I was following the Lord and growing in my faith, a part of me was still desperately wanting to fit in. To re-enter the world’s normal orbit and simply go with the flow.
A Peculiar People
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1 Peter: 2:9, KJV
As believers, we are indeed a peculiar people. Pilgrims from a kingdom that is not of this world. Part of being a pilgrim passing through is following Christ, even when He calls us to say or do things that don’t seem to make sense to the world. And Beloved, this can be a tough and lonely row to hoe. The world might look at our faith and call us unreasonable, irrational, irresponsible, even crazy. Because faith is not their paradigm, reason is their religion.
I’m not saying that believers should not act according to reason. But sometimes what the Lord calls us to do can feel like it doesn’t make any earthly sense. Sometimes there are spiritual steps of faith that we must take in order to follow Christ. We have to learn to trust that even if those steps don’t make sense to our natural mind, they are still the right ones to take.
We can’t let our faith be swayed by what others–in the world or in the church–think of us. And if we’re faithful and obedient to follow His leading, we will see there is a rhyme and a reason to how and why He takes us in certain unlikely directions.
Honestly, our wilderness season was one of the most difficult and frightening times of my life. Yet during that pilgrimage, my faith in the Lord and my trust in His goodness grew exponentially. I saw Him move in miraculous ways on behalf of our family. We went without many things that the world calls necessities. But we never starved, and we always had clothes on our back and a roof over our heads. Ultimately, the Lord had taken us on a journey out of the worldly system and into the wilderness. And today we are living in what feels like a promised land where we can rebuild what was lost.
We are once again establishing our careers, but this time, we’re doing so according to the gifts and callings that He has placed on our lives. We’re building community, but now we’re doing it intentionally with other believers who are on their own pilgrimages. And we’re enjoying life again, but not just for the earthly pleasures that the world offers. Now we’re experiencing the true joy that only Christ can bring. I get the sense that this is only the beginning of what He really has in store for our life.
From Pilgrims to Citizens
Our pilgrimage made no earthly sense at the time. In retrospect, however, I can see how the Lord perfectly orchestrated each step of faith. I feel so thankful that He considered us worthy of having that experience. It made me realize that I do not need the world.
But it also showed me how desperately the world needs Christ. Now I can show Christ’s love to a world that is lost, even when they feel like they are at home. Somewhere deep down, they want and need to be found. They long to know that they are not alone. That there is a real, lasting place for them. That is the beautiful offer of the gospel: to be pilgrims in the world for a time but to belong for eternity.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.
Ephesians 2:19, KJV
When have you truly felt like a pilgrim in the world? How have you balanced living in the world but not being of it?
We are compelled to forgive not by our own strength or love for others, but by the staggering love of our Savior and His sacrifice on the cross.
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15, NIV
The emotions all collided in that brief moment and the result was an eruption of tears. I sat there with my soon-to-be in-laws trying to contain the turmoil and confusion within me. But to no avail.
With the bitter taste of loss lingering in my heart and mind, I tried to come to some understanding as to why my friend would seemingly erase me from her life in the matter of a week.
Memories of our last time together only confused and our future plans, now vanished, were like salt in an open wound.
In the weeks that have followed, I’ve found myself face-to-face with the matter of forgiveness more than once. From sitting across the table helping another gal forgive a deep hurt, to every verse in the Bible somehow pointing to the discipline of forgiveness. And then to my own personal wrestling with forgiveness in the middle of the night.
Though the situation goes far deeper than the visible consequences and aftermath of my friend’s decision, there is still something that can be said about forgiveness in the midst of personal pain and offense.
A Slap Across the Face
As I expressed my hurt and confusion to a dear friend, she offered a piece of advice. You know, the kind of advice that will stick with you for the rest of your life…
As much as our hearts are grieved when a friend walks away, think about how much more God’s heart is grieved when we walk away from Him every single day.
My friend’s decision felt like a slap across the face. Dazed and confused, I tried to collect my thoughts and as I sorted through the broken pieces, I was gently reminded that in this hurting, I was not alone; that my Lord and Savior was also slapped across the face.
John 18 tells us the story –
Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. ‘I have spoken openly to the world,’ Jesus replied. ‘I always taught in the synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.’ When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. ‘Is this the way you answer the high priest?’ he demanded.
John 18:19-21, NIV
Though the circumstances might vary, I’m sure we can all come up with at least one time when we have felt slapped across the face; when we have been wronged, accused, or slandered.
And in every case, we have done one of two things – reacted emotionally or responded gracefully.
If you’re like me, you can look back on the trail of emotional reactions you’ve left behind and regretted the words you’ve said. As we’ve grown and matured in our faith, we recognize how we could have handled certain situations better; how we could have responded with grace rather than with anger.
And in realizing this, I for one have found myself in a self-imposed solitary reprimanding over and over again to be better, to forgive quicker, and to never allow feelings of anger to consume me like that again.
Despite what we may think, this is not where being compelled to forgive comes from. We will never be able to muster up the strength to forgive within ourselves. We must look up from our magnifying glass focused on the molehill of offense, to see the mountain of offense that is our own.
Mountains and Molehills
The slap across the face that Jesus received might as well have been by my own hand.
Even when we feel deeply wronged by a brother or sister, the fact remains that we greatly wrong God every single day; slapping His Son across the face every time we act in sin and rebellion against Him.
This is our mountain of offense.
Our looking upon this mountain is not for the purpose of punishment, guilt-tripping, or shaming us. But it is for the ultimate goal of being consumed and compelled by the cross.
As we are convinced of our great need and that ‘though our sins are many, his mercy is more,’ we realize what marvelous freedom we have in Christ; that because He died for all, we are relentlessly pursued by grace rather than justice; that God’s righteous wrath was satisfied on the cross and therefore, we are daily pardoned of great offense.
Gazing at our mountain brings us not to a place of shame and cowering, but to a place of holy reverence; rejoicing in the great reality that our multitude of sins have been exonerated. We are found blameless before God Almighty and are at perfect peace with Him, in Christ Jesus.
In the past, I’ve believed that feelings of peace and joy are what indicated I had indeed forgiven someone ‘successfully.’ The messages that we receive today leave us with the impression that when we truly forgive someone, all the hurt, confusion, and pain will immediately dissolve. We will feel nothing but peace…
Compelled to Forgive
While I do believe this can happen over time, it puts across the false message that if we have yet to experience those feelings, then we haven’t truly forgiven. We must, therefore, try harder.
However, the reality is that it is not our own strength of motivation moving us towards forgiveness. It is the love of Christ that compels us to forgive. Through Him, we are compelled to forgive.
When the love we receive from Christ (made evident by the cross) and the peace we have with God (as a result of the cross) compels us – and trust me, it will compel us when we diligently and daily focus on the cross – the molehill of offense caused by a brother or sister comes into perspective. It becomes less significant and a lot easier to release into the loving care of our Savior.
We are compelled to forgive not by our own strength or love for others, but by the staggering love of our Savior. Our Savior who died for all so we no longer live for ourselves, but for Him.
So today, as you wrestle with forgiveness, I encourage you to take a moment and consider the cross. Really contemplate its implications, its meaning, and the weight of Christ’s anguish on your behalf.
Allow your heart to be broken by Jesus’ suffering. May you be filled with a love and a peace that compels us to care for and forgive others.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
What does life look like in total surrender to Christ? We can learn from our fellow Believers and gain fresh perspectives on living all out for Jesus.
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.”
Mark 8:34-35, NLT
Have you ever met someone and thought “I feel like I have known you for years?” Whenever I feel like this, I can’t help but think God orchestrated our paths to cross for a purpose.
I recently started my own business selling toothpaste on Facebook. I have found it to be such a blessing. I have met some of the nicest people this way. When God opened this door I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I decided to take it step-by-step and see what might come of it. Little did I know that Bill would come along.
Bill and I shared mutual friends on Facebook but had never met before, in person. When Bill saw my post about the toothpaste, he decided to contact me and soon joined my team! I was excited to see what all God had in store for him.
As time went on, we would speak often about the business and how to make more sales. His genuine positivity was very contagious. He also had quite a sense of humor and would often make me laugh. Bill became a good friend very quickly.
But I felt like there was something in his life that was difficult for him to explain. Instead of asking him about it, I just waited for God to reveal what it was. Once I found out, I couldn’t help but cry.
Bill decided to tell me his testimony one rainy afternoon. He called me and told me, with complete vulnerability, that he is gay. He told me he isn’t accepted in the gay community, though, because of his beliefs both religiously and politically. He voiced how difficult it has been for him knowing he isn’t and wouldn’t be accepted.
The shocker came, though, when he announced to me that he was fully aware it was considered a sin and unjust in God’s sight. He explained that the Bible clearly states it is not okay to act on lustful thoughts and emotions. With his voice shaking and fighting back tears he said, “knowing this truth is why I do not participate in any of my gay feelings or thoughts. I choose to not dishonor my Father in this way.”
My definition of surrender does not come from that of a dictionary, nor does it come from a person with an extensive vocabulary. My definition of surrender comes from that of personal experience. For me, surrender is the marriage of hope and faith.
It is a hope that God will take all of me, inclusive of the good and bad, and using it to bless someone. It is a hope knowing God will heal, knowing God will forgive, and knowing that God will use all of me for something. Surrender is having faith, through difficult and seemingly impossible times.
Surrender is giving all to God when there is nothing I can do, within myself. Surrender is knowing that God will, even when everything says it can’t be done. Surrender is knowing that people will see God’s love in me and not a homosexual when I walk into a church.
I sobbed listening to this sweet new friend of mine bare his soul to me over the phone. I felt the Spirit so much that I couldn’t hold back those tears even if I tried.
God showed me and blessed me with two things that day: 1) a new friend that I accept fully into my life and business without ANY hesitation and 2) what it means to fully surrender your life to God regardless of what the world seems to think. Bill’s discipline, self-control, positivity, faith, and friendship has taught me how to love God more, not judge others, and trust God’s purpose when certain people cross our paths.
So give yourselves humbly to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
James 4:7, TLB
Who has crossed your path lately? What blessing does God want you to have from that friendship? We will grow if we allow others in our lives to teach us. Bill is certainly someone I am thankful for crossing my path. His story strengthens my faith and prompts me to love God more than my own selfish desires. Not my will, but THY will be done. AMEN!
When we know Christ, He gives us a hopeful spirit. As believers, we are called to share the Hope of Christ with those who feel hopeless.
Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.
Last month marked four years since my mom passed away. When she died, she was at home, asleep in her own bed. I think when most of us picture the ideal way we’d like to go to our Maker, this peaceful scenario fits the bill! But what gave me the most consolation about Mom’s death wasn’t the peaceful circumstances alone. It was the fact that before my mom died, she had regained something of utmost importance: her hopefulness.
A Whiskey Addiction…
You see, a few years before she died, Mom had descended into a terrible downward spiral of whiskey addiction. Now, I’m not an expert on alcoholism. And I can’t claim that when she died, she had completely sworn off all alcohol. She did still drink wine and beer, but she wasn’t hitting the hard stuff anymore. In short, she was no longer suffering from the severe hard liquor addiction that had stolen her hope and had nearly taken her life just a few short years before.
The following is an excerpt from a family memoir I’m writing. I want to use it to paint a picture of the utter hopelessness that I encountered when I arrived at my mom’s little, off-the-grid homestead in southern Indiana in the early summer of 2008.
The Hopeless Valley…
As I looked around the room, I quickly realized that in some ways, the pitch-black darkness of the night before had been a blessing. It had masked the complete pigsty that Mom’s place had become. What once had been a pleasant little one-room country cottage now looked like a hovel where a homeless person was squatting. Surveying the room, I saw trash everywhere. There were countless Styrofoam take out containers with little bits of moldy, rotten sandwiches strewn on stacks of junk mail topped with dried puddles of candle wax and dirty napkins.
And then I saw one of the most sobering scenes I’ve ever seen. Behind the large fireplace– where there once had been a small passageway leading up to a little ladder staircase—now sat a huge pile of large, plastic empty Wild Turkey whiskey bottles. Too weak and lethargic to tote all the bottles outside to the burn barrel, Mom had apparently resorted to chucking them from her bedside into the little passageway. It was not as if I needed any more proof, but there it was: a mountain of sad evidence rising next to the hopeless valley into which she had descended.
Low moans and groans began to emanate from Mom’s bed. Any teetotaler would have loved to tout those torturous telltale sounds of a hangover. The repercussions of the last evening’s escapade were making their obvious appearance. As Mom tried to sit up to throw up into a bucket beside her bed, she saw me. It was as if she were seeing me for the first time.
“Hopey! What are you doing here?” Disturbed, I answered, “Mom, I got here last night. Don’t you remember?” “What? You drove all the way up here from North Carolina?! Where are your friends?” “Mom, I told you. I came by myself.” “You mean to tell me you drove all that way by yourself?” “Yes, Mom. I did.” “Oh my goodness! But I told you not to come. You little piss ant! I knew you would though.” Despite its foul sound, ‘piss ant’ actually served as one of Mom’s sweeter terms of endearment. If only she had known the double entendre of that nickname, given the events from the night before!
A Hopeful Commission…
I can’t recall all the things that transpired that day, or the next, or the one after that. Perhaps because I’ve tried to block out some of the more unpleasant details! Suffice it to say that what occurred was an awful combination of a detox cleanse, an ongoing hangover, and severe withdrawal. I helped nurse Mom through this process without the advent of indoor plumbing. Oh, how a flushable toilet, a sink, and a washing machine would have aided the effort!
To fill in the most important blank: Mom got sober, at least from the whiskey. She admitted it had gotten so bad that she had begun to give up any hope of stopping it. She hadn’t been eating. And too weak to go draw up water from the well, she hadn’t had anything to drink for days, besides the whiskey. She said over and over how she had just about given up all hope. But now, here I was, her Hope! And she knew that the Lord had sent me to help her. At first, I wasn’t convinced of this divine commission Mom alluded to, but as the next few days unfolded, I began to hold that same hopeful belief….
Throughout that week I spent with my mom, I truly felt the weight of the name that my parents gave me: Hope. A relatively new believer myself, I was nursing my own mom back to health. And more importantly, back to hopefulness. Mom’s was a classic case of the scripture: “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick…” (Proverbs 13:12). Wallowing in years of regret, shame, and fear, Mom had reached for the bottle to drown her sorrows. But what she ended up drowning was her own hope.
Groping through the darkness in her pit of shame, she had lost touch with the Light. She had lost any hope of rescue. And as she clasped that whiskey bottle, her hope of ever being truly forgiven and loved slipped further and further from her grasp. I thank the Lord for bringing me to my mom’s bedside to minister to her, both in the natural and spiritual. To remind her of who she was and Whose she was.
A Tree of Life…
The second half of that verse in Proverbs—which is so often left off—reads: “… but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12). Slowly but surely, Mom got back in touch with her desire to live and to heal. And as she reconnected with that desire, I witnessed the small hopeful seed within her grow into a tree of life. Although the last few years of Mom’s life were by no means easy, I saw her transform into the happiest version of herself that I had ever seen. She became hopeful once again.
Beloved, we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth. Whether it’s our own mothers, our friends and neighbors, or complete strangers, the Lord has equipped us to help them see the Light. To help them know the hopefulness that is only truly possible in Jesus Christ. Because when we know Jesus, His hope is ever-present to help us. To rescue us. To raise our spirits back to life once again. He is the Hope that lives inside of us.
To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Have you ever found yourself in a pit of hopelessness? Is Christ your Hope? Are there people in your life who need to know that it’s possible to be hopeful?
As new creatures in Christ, we must turn over all areas of our life to the Lord. When we do this–in ways large and small–He becomes our All in All.
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8, KJV
“In Jesus’ name. Amen.” We hear these words so often. Typically at the end of a spoken prayer in church, at a Bible study, or around the dinner table. But what about in the rest of our day to day life?
What if we, as believers, were to apply these words to our entire lives? After the thoughts we think about ourselves and others? After the words we speak? When choosing the music we’re going to listen to or the movie we want to watch? When we’re considering whether to marry someone or start a family? How might our lives change if we were to apply these three words: “in Jesus’ name” to all that we think, say, and do?
All Means All…
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6, KJV
I looked up the definition of the word “all,” and guess what it means? All! Everything. The totality of a person or thing. The whole shebang! So if we are to trust the Lord with all of our heart and acknowledge Him in all of our ways, then every single aspect of our lives should reflect who He is. If we were to truly give Him our all, wouldn’t the choices we make look like His best for us in every situation?
Sometimes our choices feel small and of very little consequence. Other times, we face big situations that require very difficult decisions. But, as we commit to inviting the Lord into every choice–small or large–we make, we begin to see how His good and perfect will applies to all that concerns us. And, we don’t have to fret about the choices before us or worry whether we’ll make the right decision. If we’ll ask Him, the Holy Spirit inside of us helps us know the right thing to do at all times.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
John 16:13, ESV
Here’s a small example…
My husband and I have always loved watching movies together. Pre-kids, that meant late date nights at the movie theater in comfy reclining seats, replete with an entire barrel of popcorn doused with “movie butter.” Don’t ask me what was in that stuff, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t actually butter, and I’m also positive that it tasted delicious!
These days, movie nights look a lot different. Showtime is at 8:30 p.m., in our living room, in our pj’s, on our non-reclining couch. A movie requires a full, strong cup of coffee after dinner just to stay awake, and the popcorn is a slightly healthier version.
But the setting and the movie butter aren’t all that’s changed. The content we regard as entertainment has shifted dramatically. So much of what used to captivate and thrill us now disgusts and saddens us. If a film is full of foul language, gratuitous nudity, violence, and empty, nonredemptive plots, we just won’t watch it. In other words, if I can’t say “in Jesus’ name” to my choice, I can’t press play.
The check in my spirit simply won’t allow me to sit through two hours of anything that doesn’t somehow uplift, inspire, or motivate us to live a more full, joyful life. Friends, we have to be careful about the choices we make, even in things as seemingly small as entertainment choices. Because if we aren’t careful, we can allow in “little foxes” of sin and doubt that seek to spoil our faith.
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
Solomon 2:15, KJV
Now, choosing our entertainment is a relatively easy area to distinguish between dark and downright unholy and offerings that are good and wholesome. But there are other, bigger areas of our lives that hold much greater significance–like whom to marry, which job to take, whether to have children, how to respond to a health crisis, how to overcome an addiction, and such. In these areas, the “in Jesus’ name” litmus test applies to an even greater extent.
A number of years ago, I was struggling with a problem that falls into the big category. A drug addiction. As a relatively new believer, I had become a new creature in Christ, yet I hadn’t fully allowed all of my old, sinful habits to die. In other words, I wasn’t all in for the Lord.
Throughout high school, college, and through my 20’s, I smoked marijuana. I had wrapped so much of my identity as an artist into my identity as a pot smoker that I feared I couldn’t create anything good unless I was high as a kite. I recall many a late-night spoken word poetry and songwriting session punctuated by bong hits and coughing fits.
For years, I used this drug recreationally and never suffered a guilty conscience from inhaling ungodly amounts of smoke. Much less from flouting the law of the land! But once I asked Christ to come into my heart, I began to understand that what I was doing was wrong.
I knew that I was, in fact, sinning. Both by breaking the law and also by altering the chemical state of my brain–which was supposed to be a holy temple for the Holy Spirit. But for years, the pull and the desire to smoke weed held a very strong grip on me.
One day I was driving down the highway on a long road trip by myself. As I was singing the words of a new song the Lord was giving me, for some reason, my thoughts turned to the drug paraphernalia in my glove compartment.
Part of me really wanted me to do what I’d always done on road trips–pull out my trusty pipe and take a toke. But an even bigger part of me felt repulsed by the very notion. The Spirit inside of me was warring against the sinful choice I was about to make.
And in that moment, I had a realization. I wasn’t high, yet I was coming up with a new song! And in fact, I had a bunch of new songs that hadn’t come to me while I was smoking. Like a lightning bolt, the epiphany struck me: the source of the creativity inside of me was not the pot I was smoking. My creative gifts came straight from the Creator Himself. Buzzing from the excitement of this new realization, the Holy Spirit inside of me rose up, and I began to praise God.
Eventually, I did reach into the glove compartment. But it wasn’t to smoke a bowl. Instead, I grabbed the little embroidered bag that held my pipe, lighter, and weed, and I chucked it out the window. And I have never looked back. In retrospect, I guess I committed another sin that day–breaking the littering law. But I hope the Lord won’t judge me for that….or for my marijuana addiction!
Beloved, when we allow all of the old things–our old sins, old ways, and our old choices–to pass away, we can begin to truly live a life where “all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17, KJV). Earnestly trying to apply “in Jesus’ name” to all that we do, clears the smoke in our vision. It allows us to see that so many of the things that used to please us were really chains that bound us.
Before I quit smoking pot, I thought that life wouldn’t be any fun without it. Like the ashes from my bowl, I pictured my creativity just drying up and blowing away. But I can tell you today, I feel better than ever. I’m having much more fun and I feel more creative than I ever did during those years when my entire life was shrouded in a smoky haze!
All in All…
The enemy wants us to believe that the Lord is a divine killjoy who wants us to live boring, mundane holier-than-thou kinds of lives. But friends, nothing could be further from the truth! When we walk away from all the old, sinful counterfeits, we are able to see that we serve a good God who wants to give us all things for a full, joyful, abundant life in Him.
According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.
2 Peter 1:3, KJV
Beloved, if we’ll let Him–just like the old hymn says–He truly will be our “All in All.” In Jesus’ name. Amen!
Is there a small choice–“a little fox”–in your life that won’t allow you to say “in Jesus’ name” afterward? Maybe a big area of your life where you need the Lord to make all things new for you? Is He your All in All?
Everyone faces struggles. Some things we can avoid, but others we must endure. This is how we are able to find hope from pain.
A few years ago there was a Target commercial that really ticked me off. It was this woman who got up, made her children this beautiful, healthy breakfast, got them dressed and off to school. Then she got herself ready for her professional job where I’m sure she was incredibly successful. And, of course, she then went to the gym and worked out while beautifully sweating, only to come home and spend the evening laughing and playing with her kids.
What a load of crap. It irritated me because this is the pressure put on women. It isn’t fair! I can’t compete with that, and trust me – I’ve tried.
Now, there is another commercial that is irritating me. It’s for migraine medicine. This woman (because she isn’t hindered by migraines while taking this medication apparently) is so happy to play dress-up with her daughter. But it isn’t just simple silly dress up. It’s pirates and princesses. And then this grown woman is dressed up as a robot chasing her daughter. Seriously, it is a box robot costume like I made for my son when he was three. But her’s says “mom bot” on it. It is so obnoxious.
I mainly hate this commercial because it makes me feel like I am missing something. Or I need to be a different mom. Or I’m ruining my children because I don’t want to play with them. I know lots of moms who do love playing with their children. At least I feel like there are lots. I feel like I’m the only one who doesn’t. I feel like I’m wrong because there are many times I honestly hate being a mom.
An Honest Struggle
The real struggle is that I don’t feel like I can be honest about this. Especially in Christian circles, where the role of motherhood is so honored. The moms who stay home are applauded for sacrificing for the needs of their children, but this attitude implies that women who work are selfish.
Honestly, I want to be a working mom. For years I was. I had my work-thing, then I came home and did the mom-thing. It was a good balance. Now I don’t know where I fit in. I’m home and I work which leads to constant distraction and aggravation. I want to be there for my children when they need me. I want to work. Sigh. I feel like I’m failing at all of it.
So here is my honest… I do hate being a mom at times.
I hate the constant noise, the disciplining, the toys and messes. And then I hate myself. I feel like crap because I know there are so many women who desperately want to be a mom. There are women who would love to work from home. There are women who would love to have a migraine free day to play dress up.
And so the downward spiral begins.
What can I do?
I can literally beat myself up. Numerous times I have left my legs bruised from hitting myself hard and repeatedly. I have punched a solid wood door – only once. That left me hurting for more than a week. I have hurled insults at my reflection I would never dream of thinking of anyone else.
I can distract myself. Typically it is work, but it can also be exercise or alcohol.
Or I can go to the Lord. And I do. Over and over. I pray, I read, I listen to encouraging messages. And still, motherhood does not get easier. I get angry, I get desperate, and I spiral around again.
Honestly, I hate writing about this. I would much prefer to talk about something I have already walked through and share how the Lord came through. I love those messages! But that is not this message. Because, let’s be honest, some of life’s messes take a long time to walk through. Sometimes God’s redemption seems a long way off. Sometimes we are hanging on by a thread. But I can’t just say “life is crap, good luck!”
What we do when there seems to be no end is ENDURE.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Romans 5:3-5, NLT
For me, right now, this is motherhood. I’m struggling in it right now. For you, it may be finances, or chronic pain, or in your marriage, or any other multitude of life situations that are difficult to navigate. But we are to rejoice? Y’all, I don’t know if I’m ready for rejoicing just yet.
I can totally relate to this; I know what it means to train. There are 19 marathons, 4 half marathons, and 3 triathlons on these legs. Believe me, I know how to endure so that I can become stronger and faster.
To endure is to continue even when we are uncomfortable. And half of the battle is in the mind. When running a marathon, you cannot think about the fact that you have 21 miles to go at mile 5. You will panic. Right now, I need to not think about the fact that my daughter is not yet 4. I have too many years to go for that to feel helpful! And when our mind begins to shut down, our body will follow.
Last weekend, my 11-year-old son was mowing. It was hot, he was tired, he wanted to quit. But he told himself that he would get the front yard done. And he did. Then he pretty much collapsed and had a complete meltdown which is rare for him. But he did it because his mind told him to endure. Even though he was miserably uncomfortable.
Endurance is when we don’t stop when it’s hard. It requires the mind deciding not to give up.
But how do we continue when our bodies and minds have nothing left to give. This is when we acknowledge our limitations, surrender, and believe God’s strength will get us through.
“Endurance develops strength of character…”
This is where we begin to put the fruits of the spirit into action. It is where we learn to love when we don’t feel it, to have joy in the middle of struggle, to have peace in the middle of chaos, to be patient when we are frustrated, to be kind when we are treated unfairly, to do good in a world full of evil, to be faithful when we don’t understand, to have gentleness when we are angry, and to have self-control when we are tempted. This is the Character of God, and we have the ability to live like Jesus when we have the Holy Spirit within us.
“Character strengthens our confident hope of salvation…”
When we live out this character, our confidence grows in who God says He is. We know we have received the ultimate miracle of salvation. To be rescued from an eternity separated from God. Everything else… is icing.
“For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”
Love. Over the past several years the Lord has taken me on a journey to believe His love for me. It is His love for me that has given me the confidence to take risks. To keep putting myself out there, exposing my vulnerabilities, pursuing the visions He has placed inside me. But it was not until earlier this year I began to believe that God actually likes me too.
Don’t Give Up
Therefore, because of these struggles, I have hope. Hope that one day, I can rejoice with my children and celebrate all of the traits God has given them, and enjoy them.
Endurance is deciding in the mind to remain faithful even when we don’t feel it. Christ endured in obedience, and ultimately gained victory in defeating death.
It is ok to struggle in your struggle. It is not ok to give up. So endure on, dear sister. There is hope for victory in perseverance.
True repentance happens in turning away from our sins and turning back to the Lord. Once we are in right standing with Him, we can face any battle.
I had had enough. I was at the end of my rope, and I was angry. A root of bitterness was taking ahold of my heart, and I was blaming anyone and everyone–my kids, my husband, even God–for my situation.
There were too many bills and not enough money to pay them. Too many hours in the day with the kids and not enough activities or patience to fill them. Way too many frayed nerves and not enough peace to calm them.
In this perfect confluence of stressors, I was overflowing with anger and frustration. And my husband was bearing the brunt. Instead of turning to the Lord and asking Him to forgive and help me, I was turning my back to Him. In doing so, I was making everything even worse.
Turning Our Back…
What is it about turning our back to someone that makes us feel powerful? When we refuse to engage with someone, we don’t hold any true power over him. And we surely don’t have the upper hand.
In fact, in an actual physical fight, the most vulnerable position one can assume is turning his/her back to the opponent. Self-defense 101 cautions to never turn your back to your attacker. When you do so–unable to see what he’s doing– you render yourself defenseless against his attack.
And, what’s worse, as believers when we turn our back on our own ally, the Holy Spirit, we weaken our defenses against our true enemy: the devil. The Holy Spirit’s role is to comfort, counsel, and empower us to face any challenge we encounter.
So, by turning away from Him, we expose our weak side, making us even more vulnerable to our enemy’s attack. And we know what the devil’s sole intent is:
The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy…
John 10:10, KJV
A Hard Heart…
Part of me knew what I needed to do, but my heart was hardened to the point that I refused to pray to the Lord and ask for help. And I’d begun to feel justified for feeling the way I was feeling and for acting the way I was acting. Even though it was getting me nowhere, and actually setting me back, I stubbornly refused to pray.
Because of your hardened and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed.
Romans 2:5, CSB
By refusing to pray, in essence, I was doing the devil’s work for him. I was fighting against myself. Beloved, when we turn away from the Lord, we side with our own enemy. But my hardened heart had blinded me to this reality.
Thankfully, the Lord does not take any delight whatsoever in watching us suffer as we play into the enemy’s hand. In fact, He wants nothing more than for us to turn away from our sin, to turn our back to our real enemy, and to turn again to Him–our very present help in time of need.
Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
Ezekiel 33:11, ESV
Luckily my husband has pretty razor-sharp spiritual discernment, so he understood the state that I was in. Even though my mouth was hurling fiery darts at his heart, he was deflecting them with patience and lovingkindness. And he kept encouraging me to pray with him and to ask the Lord to help me. I thank God for giving me a husband who is a true man of God, who can recognize when he needs to fight for me in the spirit. Even when I am trying to fight against him in the natural!
It took me awhile–way too long in fact–but eventually, I agreed to pray. I wish I could say I repented quickly, but honestly, it was a pretty slow, forced, and ugly process. But as I began to pray, the hard shell on the exterior of my heart began to crack, then soften. And before I had finished praying, all of the stony parts of my heart seemed to melt away, leaving trails of hot tears streaming down my cheeks.
Repent ye therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.
Acts 3:19, ASV
When we turn away from our sin–in my case, frustration, bitterness, anger, and fear–we can turn back to the Lord. And that is what repentance simply is: turning back to our Savior. Turning back to the One who loves us, and forgives us, and washes us clean. And when we are in right standing with Him, we will be able to face the real battles in our lives.
No matter how far along we might think we are on our spiritual path, we never outgrow our need for repentance. I think too often we as believers view repentance with a capital R. Like it’s a one time, one of a kind thing that we do only when we’re first saved. When the Lord first forgives us.
But repentance begins with a little r. It’s just a regular, daily thing that we have to do as believers. Turning our hearts back to the Lord has to be a common, daily practice because unfortunately, sinning and falling short of His glory is a daily, ongoing challenge.
But thankfully, the Lord has made a provision for this continuous problem: repentance. Any time we feel disconnected or out of sync with the Lord, we can ask Him to search our hearts and reveal any areas where we have strayed. And when we humble ourselves and turn back to Him, fully repenting for our sin, He softens our hearts and erases our slates. He continually takes away our hearts of stone and gives us hearts of flesh.
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalm 139:23-24, ASV
Is there an area in your life that you need to turn back to the Lord? Do you treat repentance as something that begins with a capital R or a small r?
We are new. We are in Christ. This means we are heirs to the Kingdom. Rich beyond measure. How then can we continue to dwell on the empty wealth of this world?
Joy or Cash?
Money. Yikes. Man’s best friend and the root of all evil. As someone who loves stuff, I find money to be quite convenient to have. Besides, in a world where everything costs an arm and a leg, why not rack up on cash? As I begin to learn the ways of the world (and money), I’ve definitely fallen to the stigma of “more is better” and most of the time don’t even realize it.
Why is it that we’ve been given everything we need, even a lot of what we need, yet we’re constantly looking for more stuff and more things? At the root of it, at least for me, personally, it’s that I am discontent with what the Lord has given me. I think I know what’s best, therefore, I strive for it; all my energy wasted.
Daughters of the King
When you think about it, we’re all richer than we could imagine. Heirs to the biggest kingdom there ever was and ever will be. We need not ask for anything because we have already received eternal wealth.
But let me ask you this, as daughters of the one true King, what has God given us and what makes it so much better than anything earth could offer us? My darling we can’t even imagine…
And God will open wide the gates of heaven for you to enter into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 1:11, TLB
Rich in Christ
In heaven, we receive love. Not circumstantial love that can only live off of what we do for it, but true, unconditional love greater than we could imagine.
In heaven, we receive peace. Not the peace we find when we lay in our bed after a long day, not a peace we have to work for. But a peace for the soul. No more restlessness, no more tossing and turning. I honestly can’t imagine that peace, but I am sure as heck willing to give everything I have to be with the One who gives it.
How do I do that though? How are we supposed to be poor in spirit so that we can be rich in Christ? And how do we non-reluctantly give up every singlething we have and know and pursue Christ? What does that even look like?
Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
James 2:5, ESV
Many of us have heard 2nd Corinthians 5:17. We are told that in Christ, we are new creations. While reading over this, I thought in the context of my questions… new creation can be taken literally. New. Not what we were. Not what I was. This means there must be a change. A change so vast that the word new can be applied to us.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV
When I look at my life since I’ve given it to Christ I honestly don’t look a whole lot different. I still find myself caught up in a lot of what I used to do. For me, I believe living for Christ will start by no longer living for myself. I can’t continue living the way I was. I am new in Him; rich in Him. I know this, but what am I doing to change it?
My encouragement to you is to find what you’ve been holding on to, or what it is you refuse to change. God I pray, please help me rid me of myself. Help me live for you and not the world.
Jesus calls us to peacemaking, which we should not confuse with peacekeeping. Our actions should spread the peace that God has given us.
I’ve always thought of peacemaking as kind of my thing. I like everyone to be happy, and I want things to go smoothly. My mom and I often say we prefer a boring life because we equate a boring, smooth life with peace. We often quip that it is much better than the alternative. It’s better to keep the peace, keep things steady in our lives.
Looking More Closely
If, however, you look up synonyms for the word boring, some results include dull, humdrum, stale, and lifeless. Lifeless. Synonyms for “full of life” include bold, courageous, resolute, and passionate. The latter sounds more appealing. I would like people to describe me as courageous and resolute, but dull and humdrum are easier to maintain. True, I would like to never experience joblessness again, lose another person I love, or fight with a friend. At the same time, I know how tremendously I grew through my unemployment, how the lives of those I’ve lost have impacted my life and character, and how rewarding it is to fight for a friendship that is important to me.
Still, it’s easier to shoot for boring. Stay silent. Keep the other person content while you bury your hurt or resentment. Just let the status quo remain.
Peacekeeping is an Illusion
This is the very picture of peacekeeping. You keep everything the same, even if growth needs to happen. You keep everyone happy at the expense of your own emotional well-being. Kept things, however, aren’t very useful. If you keep the new television you bought in its box, how will you watch it? If you keep a dog in a kennel, how will you enjoy playing with it?
As humans, peace seems like this ultimate ideal objective that is unfeasible. We joke about the stereotype that beauty pageant contestants answer questions about what our society needs most with “world peace.” The mom memes suggest that we can find some peace either locked behind a bathroom door or at the bottom of a glass of wine.
Peacemaking According to God
What if we examine what God says about peace and peacemaking? I think it’s safe to say we know that God doesn’t expect us to make peace on earth by isolating ourselves or finding a little relaxing “me-time.”
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
John 16:33, NLT
The world would have peace to be an idyllic beach vacation alone or with your husband, where there are no limits. Just take the famous slogan, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” and apply it to your vacation locale of choice. There is nothing wrong with getting away from your everyday life once in a while, but you have to know that you will return to it at some point, and all the constraints, stressors, and responsibilities will be waiting for you. If that’s the case, if the peace is so temporary and passive, then it’s likely in opposition to the more kinetic idea of peacemaking.
His Gift to Us
In reality, we do not have to search for peace. Jesus told us in scripture that He has already given it to us, and it is actively ours whether our day is moving forward at a leisurely amble or at the full-speed pace of a hill sprint.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
John 14:27, ESV
We are to find peace in Him amidst our circumstances, not find peace in the circumstances He gives us because it is already with us.
Daniel found peace in the lion’s den because the Father was with him. Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego found peace in the fiery furnace because God was with them. Stephen radiated peace as he was seized, and had the peace to ask God to not hold his very own brutal death against his perpetrators because God was beside him the entire time.
In each of these examples, the men in question could have easily kept the peace by quietly loving God, but outwardly following the desires and commands of others. They, however, chose peacemaking over their own comfort. At risk of their own peril, they knew that the gift of peace can only be provided by the one true God. It was more important to make peace in a volatile world than keep the illusion of peace to themselves. They knew peacekeeping would keep people from experiencing the infinite gift that faith in the God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit gives us.
Authenticity of Peacemaking
Ultimately, to experience the peace that Jesus left us with, we have to stop searching for a peace defined by lack of conflict, busyness, and stress. These are all conditions of living among other people in a demanding world. Do not avoid conflict if you are also avoiding shining God’s light or spreading His Gospel. Embrace the peace He gives you. Make peace by drawing others closer to Him — show His light in your life through peacemaking.
Let us strive to be that light on a hill that shines outward and downward, driving the darkness away, making peace in a dissident and tumultuous world.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’