If you struggle with grace and believe you must “work” to earn and/or keep your salvation, consider what the author of Romans in the New Testament of the Holy Bible preached about the matter…
Paul (formerly known as Saul of Tarsus) was a master theologian and one of the most prolific epistoleans of the New Testament after his conversion. He was born a Diaspora Jew, doggedly adhering to Jewish tradition, but also held Roman citizenship, which made him uniquely qualified to intelligently speak with Jews and Greeks alike. This former Pharisee and persecutor of the church was the student of Gamaliel, one of the most notable teachers of Jewish laws and customs in the 1st century.
He had participated in the stoning of Stephen, and had relentlessly tried to destroy the church of God because they believed Jesus was the Messiah. By Paul’s admittance, he had been just as zealous for “the traditions of Judaism” as those who were followers of The Way. It wasn’t until his blinding (literally) personal encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road that he was forever changed.
Paul’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity was so profound that he spent the rest of his life explaining the difference between righteousness based on the law, which he had sought in his former life and righteousness based on the death of Christ, which had true power to transform a life and set one’s standing right with God. The persecutor became the persecuted. The Pharisee became a humble follower of Jesus.
In Galatians he confirms that the Gospel he now preaches was not taught to him by any human, but rather a direct revelation from Jesus Christ Himself.
If there was ever a person who understood forgiveness and righteousness imputed to someone based on grace and not works, it is Paul.
I encourage you to read the entire chapter of Romans 4. We are blessed if we are forgiven, with our sins covered, never to be counted against us.
As I was reading today’s devotion from David Jeremiah’s Hope for Today, an interesting sentence stood out to me: “Jesus’ anger was righteous indignation at how God was being dishonored by the Pharisees, and how the temple was being used.”
While this specific story was regarding Jesus turning over the tables in the temple because of the people making it a marketplace, I can’t help but wonder if there’s an analogous meaning to this as well.
The Bible tells us that all humans were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Additionally, our bodies are the temple where the Holy Spirit dwells if we are born-again Christians (our bodies are not our own because we were bought with a price – I Corinthians 6:19-20), which got me thinking.
If Jesus would get that angry on one ocassion, how much more must God’s anger be kindled when he sees people dishonoring themselves and others? The obvious sins here would be rape, molestation, physical abuse, human and sex trafficking, murder, etc.
But what about the actions we enter into without even realizing that what we are doing is considered dishonoring or using ourselves or others? Are we frivolous in our sexual activity in the name of “my body, my rights?” Do we exasperate and/or provoke our children with our constant yelling and setting too many expectations in the name of “discipline” (Colossians 3:21; Ephesians 6:4 and 4:15-19). Do we manipulate people into doing things our way thus violating their own free will of thought and action?
And what about our places of worship? Are they truly a sacred place to seek God? Are they open and welcoming to all people? Are people allowed to struggle and question and doubt in an environment that is safe and free from judgement and disdain? Is it free from the commercialization of our society, or is it selling its own wares in the name of “ministry?”
What can we begin doing today to upset the dishonorable tables we have slowly, over time, allowed ourselves to setup in our hearts and minds? What can we do to pitch what we thought were “profits” from the wares on those tables and instead allow God to take his rightful place again on the throne of our lives?
HOPE – It’s a word we carelessly say in our every day communication without a second thought. “I hope that works out for you.” “I hope you have a great day!” “I hope my prognosis is good.” “I hope……”
I recently heard Tenth Avenue North’s new song, I Have This Hope, and it resonated with me so much that I felt compelled to send it to a friend who had been on my mind for days. She confirmed that my timing was perfect because she was struggling with so many life issues regarding family and career and loneliness and isolation. She said, “thank you for the text, for the song, and for listening to the Holy Spirit. You reminded me that I am not alone.”
The funny (or perhaps divine) irony of this story is that when I first heard the song, I thought the lyric was saying, “I have resolved in the depth of my soul….” However, the chorus lyrics are as follow:
I have this hope
In the depth of my soul
In the flood or the fire
You’re with me and You won’t let go
Definition and Characteristics
Hope is an interesting word. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary states hope is to desire with expectation of or belief in obtainment or fulfillment. There is a trust – a reliance – an anticipation attached to the desire or expectation.
In the Bible, the Greek and Hebrew terms used for hope also indicate certainty, “a strong and confidant expectation.” Bible.Org has an excellent article on the subject, and while I’m going to summarize it below, I encourage you to read the entire article when you have some time. There are several characteristics of hope to consider.
- Hope is dynamic, active, directive, and life sustaining
- Hope has results
- Changes how we see ourselves
- Changes what we value
- Affects what we do in life regarding our talents, time, and treasures
- Hope has rewards and blessings
- Gives us joy and peace
- Gives us protection
- Gives us strength, courage, and boldness
- Gives us endurance, comfort, and confidence in the face of death
- Give us confidence in ministry
- Hope, if placed in anything other than the Lord, will leave us ashamed, frustrated, disappointed, and in ruin
- God is the source of all real hope – he is called “the God of Hope”
- If you are without Christ, you are without God, and without hope. Hope depends on:
- Knowing the Word of God
- Knowing and resting in God’s grace
- A Spirit-filled life
So, was I “wrong” when I heard “I have resolved” instead of “I have this hope” in Tenth Avenue North’s song? I think the two go hand in hand. As a Christian, it is important for us to resolve in the depths of our soul that we have a “dynamic, active, directive, and life sustaining” hope that God Himself promises us we can hold onto for the rest of our earthly days as well as look forward to when we pass from this earth to be in eternity with Him as our Savior.
If you find yourself never having resolved the issue of what you believe, if God exists, if He loves you, and all the myriad of questions you may have regarding spiritual matters, I pray you will reach out to me or find someone you know who is the real deal with a relationship with Christ. Better yet, start praying and ask God to reveal Himself. He promises that anyone who seeks Him with their whole heart WILL find Him. Visit James McDonald’s website for more information on finding and knowing God.
- They fiercely loved people and actually invested in their lives, even at great personal cost.
- They met people and showed genuine interest in them. The first thing out of their mouth wasn’t, “So, what church do you go to? What do you do for a living?”
- They knew who they were in Christ and thus lived their lives free of guilt.
- They did not speak “Christianese.” They simply lived like Christ and spoke very plainly about Him, salvation, and how it was all relevant for our culture today.
- They did not preach a Gospel rooted in emotionalism, name-it-claim-it, or roses-and-tulips. They simply told the truth – being a Christian is not easy, and it will not solve all your problems.
James 1:27 isn’t just about orphans and widows. In the context of the chapter, James speaks about steadfastness, seeking godly wisdom, unwavering faith, humbly understanding our own physical mortality, understanding temptation, being doers of the Word, bridling the tongue, and being slow to anger.
Our little community who was seeking something beyond the weekly church programs and social gatherings were given opportunities to interact with and discover God in the mundane tasks of our daily lives. While the lessons were always backed by the Word, there was something about beginning to understand that Jesus came to this earth to walk among us, not be setup on some high pedestal to be worshiped as His end goal. His final command before His ascension wasn’t to “go find ways to worship me,” but rather to “go make disciples” (Matthew 28: 19). I find it interesting that when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied “to love God” (Matthew 22:37), but then further expounded by saying, “and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Essentially, Jesus’ priority for us above all other priorities is “Love God. Love People. Go Make Disciples.”
The Eye-Opening Return
When I returned to the “church buildings,” I saw everything from a completely different perspective. I visited various churches throughout the city and would sit on the outskirts towards the back as I needed an overall perspective of what I had been a part of for nearly half my life. And what I experienced and saw shocked me. I had been so wrapped up in the “culture” I didn’t even see what outsiders saw.
- Most people I had grown up with from childhood to current day were divorced (including myself) and/or on second, third, and fourth marriages
- “Three songs and a sermon” was still prevalent with strict adherence to “the time”
- “Worship” reminded me of my attendance at other music venues throughout the years such as rock concerts, karaoke and/or local musician nights at various nightclubs, coffeehouses, and bars (minus the alcohol, drugs, and profanity). People swayed to the music, eyes closed, hands raised, and all in a very dark sanctuary with nothing but the stage lights pumping with the beat of the drums and the riffs of the electric guitars. The band and lead singers led the crowd through each rise and fall of emotional states.
- Some of the “ministries,” “Sunday schools,” and/or “small groups” were nothing more than a cliquish social club focused on the next outing, the next study, the next the next the next. Gossip disguised as “prayer requests,” activity disguised as “service,” and Bible studies disguised as “discipleship.”
- Young women were dressed inappropriately, with no apparent parental leadership to guide or educate them.
- Most sermons were delivered by very charismatic, motivational personalities forever speaking their Christianese, cliche phrases, which again led the crowd into the various emotional states I referred to in my comments about the worship music.
- One church I actually got sucked into for about a year before I realized it was teaching false doctrine (at which time I abruptly left). The focus was always on faith and healing and the gifts of the spirit and prophecy and “modern-day prophets” and “a word.” The same frenzied emotional states followed here as well.
In conclusion, are these churches filled with well-intentioned people? Absolutely. Do most even realize that the focus is on the weekly “ritual?” Probably not. In an attempt to be “relevant” and “seeker-friendly” and “accepting of all people,” well-intentioned leaders have fallen “down the rabbit hole” so to speak in a desperate attempt to keep up with the 21st century and all its technology and remarkable paces.
But remember, absolute truth is absolute truth – it never changes regardless of what century we live in or what is going on in the world around us. Sure, it’s ok to repackage truth in a way that a new generation can understand in their own language and culture, but we must be careful we don’t turn the repackaging itself into teaching people WHAT to think (which is according to OUR social engineering). How do we get back to learning how to think? How might we use God’s Word and the various gifts He has given His children to exercise our brains? Are we teaching our children and congregations how to consider other perspectives without compromising truth? Do we encourage questions? Do we listen to others for the purpose of truly hearing them, to understand them, rather than to quickly answer them? Do we check out the facts of a situation before we blindly believe them? Do we even know WHY we believe what we believe, and is it the truth or are their elements of deception woven throughout it?
Jesus told us that if HE was the One setting us free, we would be free indeed (Romans 8:36). Are we trusting in Him to set us free, or are we trusting in our weekly religious activities? These are hard questions, and while the answer at first seems to be easy, when you begin your own journey of really searching your heart, you may find there are some things you have been blindly following most of your life.
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne (old times sake, or days gone by)….love, love, love this version. As I was listening to this song, it struck me…not only am I in mourning for the shocking personal betrayals I have experienced, I am in mourning for the absence of auld lang syne.
They say 2016 was a turning year in American history (and even our world) and life as we knew it will no longer be. Civil rights battles, terrorism, technology super hacks (among other things)…are our reality now…it is no longer happening “over there” or to “those people.” These things no longer surprise and shock us…it fact, we expect them.
Life has become a game of Russian Roulette. We are not safe in our malls or sports arenas or nightclubs or churches or schools or small towns or quiet neighborhoods. It matters not the venue. People can no longer point a finger to judge a group of people for being “there,” because the “there” might just be where the pointed finger is.
Life has also become a challenge to know and be known. We no longer see each other face to face but through small 3″x5″ screens (sometimes larger if you FaceTime on a laptop). There is a certain fascination with this, however, as entire nations have been brought together in one community via the Internet. Viral challenges seek to bring all of humanity together. Airtime is no longer reserved for the “elite” Hollywood and music icons. A YouTube video of an unknown person from an unknown town can go viral within a matter of minutes and reach millions of viewers and end up on Good morning America or Ellen or The Tonight Show or Oprah or Saturday Night Live. This too reminds me of Russian Roulette in that you never know which antic will make you an instant celebrity overnight.
There is no longer mystery or awe or wonder or shock or surprise. It is slowly being drowned out by all the chaos and the noise and the chatter.
Be still…and know that I am God. This verse resonates with me as I mourn for auld lang syne.
Elijah did not find God in the wind, earthquake, or fire…but in the still, small voice. This verse reminds me God wants me to come away to a quiet place to commune with Him.
I will never leave you or forsake you. I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. These verses remind me that no matter how noisy my world gets, no matter who betrays me, no matter how lost I may get in the present state of my life, no matter if I am rejoicing or in mourning, Jesus Christ will never leave me because I am His. And HE IS my Auld Lang Syne, my Ancient of Days. And no matter where I find myself in this life of Russian Roulette, HE knows my destiny and my appointment to meet Him face to face.
This old world can pull the trigger over and over and over again, but I am safe because my security and my peace and my hope and my salvation all lie within Christ, the One who has forgiven all my sins and made me His forever child. HE decides when the final round is fired, and I have nothing to fear because when it is, I will be with Him and will no longer mourn or be in pain or see death.
So during this intermission we call “time,” between “forever past” and “forever future,” I will give and take a cup of kindness yet for auld lang syne.
“Before the service, talk to God; during the service, listen to God; after the service, talk to others.” These words were the first thing I read as I opened the Christmas Eve program at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Signal Mtn. last night. I asked myself, how often do I do that at a church service? What has my focus been?
Today has been very contemplative for me. I read for myself the beliefs, doctrines, and catechism of the Episcopal Church. As I read through each line, I realized that somewhere along the way, I have had preconceived ideas about many “denominational belief systems” in accordance with the teachings of my own Christian background.
Last night as I sat in silence during the service, it struck me that the holiness and awe and wonder of God can often get lost in the modern trappings of today’s church trying so hard to “be relevant.” Don’t misunderstand me – there is a time and place for many different worship styles, but I came to the conclusion last night that perhaps in my search to be relevant and remove God from the proverbial “box,” that perhaps I myself have fallen for some watered-down worship that centers more on me and us, rather than God Himself.
Consider the following verses from the Amplified version. Psalm 47:2, “For the Lord Most High is to be feared [and worshiped with awe-inspired reverence and obedience]; He is a great King over all the earth.” Deuteronomy 7:21, “You shall not dread them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God.” Psalm 91:1, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will remain secure and rest in the shadow of the Almighty [whose power no enemy can withstand].” II Samuel 22:14, “The Lord thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice.” Revelation 20:11, “And I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them [for this heaven and earth are passing away].
What struck me as I read these verses was that while God loves us so much, desires a relationship with us, and is not willing that any should perish, He is the Most High God. He commands reverential fear. As we worship, love, and serve Him, we must be careful not to deduce Him to being our pal, buddy, or a dude in the sky. Think about it – if even earth and heaven will eventually flee at His very presence, why do some of us (perhaps unknowingly) presume His human experience among us trumps His holiness, majesty, and power?
What has struck me the most in a few different denominational visits this year is the fact that while some are fighting over the issues of the current state of the world and trying to prove how “right” they are, others remain focused on “loving God, loving people, and making disciples.” The churches that others consider to be “in error” are more concerned with keeping God holy and righteous and One to be honored in all areas of life. They extend the invitation of God’s gift of salvation to all people and have stopped focusing on the self-righteous behavior that many others display these days.
My final takeaway from last night’s service was that I enjoy being in a place where I can be removed from all the pomp and circumstance and distractions of trying to be “relevant.” There are plenty of times and days throughout the week I can be that, but I want more days of silence and solitude and reflection to remember and honor the Most High God and to invite others to do the same.
With the holidays upon us, there are many who suffer the most through these days. They go unnoticed because, well, it may have never been “our” experience. Most of you reading this “probably” grew up in at least a semi-normal situation, complete with family and friends and presents under the Christmas tree. But for some – this was never the case – they are the silent sufferers you interact with every day, but you’d never know it because they are too proud to let anyone in on their pain.
Perhaps they struggle with addiction as a result, or perhaps they are workaholics so they don’t have to face their past. Perhaps they have moved beyond the everyday pain, but they still are pierced every time they hear a Christmas song or see twinkling lights. Do not assume they are the exception because in reality, the “normal childhoods” are the exception. I have learned over the years that we have many many people in our midst who suffer in silence, who are addicted, who have rocky relationships, and who go from job to job simply because there is no one there who really sees them.
There’s really a truth in “Blue Christmas,” and I love the article written last year of an Episcopalian rector who offered a blue Christmas service to reach out to those in his community who struggle the most during the season (see link below).
While I personally love the music and lights and snow and excitement that comes with what I consider to be a beautiful season which celebrates the birth of my Savior, I realize that doesn’t mean my neighbors or friends feel the exact same way. I choose to not expect them to. I choose to allow them to feel the way they feel. I choose to honor their choice in not celebrating. I choose to meet them where they are and just be present (no pun intended).
Allowing someone to be blue without trying to change them and manipulate them into your own joyous plans is perhaps the greatest gift you could give them. Do not lay guilt trips if they choose not to attend your holiday party or church candlelight service – it’s not about you and it’s not a reflection of how they feel about you as a person. When all the holiday buzz has come and gone, reach out to your friend, grab a cup of coffee, and ask them what they’d like to do that brings them joy – then join them in their adventure.
Another moment of rambling thoughts from the mind of Ginger……
I love C.S. Lewis. He explains things so beautifully. I’ve been mulling over this quote on vulnerability all morning. I have been guilty of being vulnerable and I’ve experienced the heart being wrung and broken. I have also been guilty of not being vulnerable, and I was “safe” in my own dark existence.
I am also guilty of being afraid of those who decide to open up to me and make themselves vulnerable because it requires me to do the same. I am guilty of pushing them away. I am guilty of going numb and motionless and leaving them to wonder if I even care.
I have also experienced profound grief, and I am trying to learn the delicate balance between grief and avoidance and the rebuilding of a broken heart, misplaced trust, and remaining vulnerable despite the huge possibility that we all will still fall from our pedestals and will still disappoint.
At the end of the day, I suppose that is why God is love – He is the only Being with capacity to love us always despite ourselves. Now if I could just allow that love to penetrate me, heal me, and reach into the darkest places of fear and anger and loneliness so that it shines out of me and splashes onto the people I really do love – now that just might be some accomplishment.
If you know me, you’ve likely been affected by me at some level – friend, lover, parent, sibling, kinfolk, associate – whatever your role has been – you’ve likely experienced a plethora of emotions and actions associated with love from me: loyalty, fondness, respect, encouragement, wonder and laughter, and the not so good emotions associated with fear, despair, rage, anger, grief, numbness, loss, and yes, even absence. In fact, I’ve probably been downright impossible at times and you’ve been left wondering, “who is this girl???!!!!”
I’m all of those things wrapped into the beautiful heart and mind I was created to be. I’m human, redeemed, forgiven, yet I fall so short of having the capacity to get it right all of the time. I will likely say things I don’t mean, even hurt your feelings on occasion. But I will also say I’m sorry, although you may have to bring it to my attention at times (I’m guilty of not always seeing that I’ve hurt you). But I also forgive quickly when the tables turn, and I really will be your biggest fan during this journey we call life.
People, we are all beautifully broken. Spend time with those who get that and who understand the meaning of “love covers a multitude of sins.” Trust me, we’re all going to need it.
As I start this New Year, I reflect on just how much God has been weaving so much love, care, and provision into my life. He has been faithful to allow me to pursue an education that will be worthy of His calling on my life; He has allowed me to be married which through this experience has taught me much about the relationship God wants with us; He continues to provide me with work experiences which arrive right on time and help me continue to gain the knowledge I need for His greater purpose; and He surrounds me with friends who encourage and love this girl and who continue to delight her with the truth about how she really has and continues to change their world for the better.
This year I’ve been given hope that a few life changing events are in my near future. They will stretch me and grow me and allow me to experience the journey as each one unfolds to reveal more of the dream God has for me and my husband.
It will be an interesting and challenging journey but one that will likely change my life course forever as I move closer and closer in step with my Savior. He is my ultimate Dream Weaver, the Captain of my soul, the One who stands on the shores of delight and wonder and freedom with arms open wide, smile on His face as my own eyes behold His majesty and glory as I look around at just how far he has brought me.
Allow 2014 to be a rekindling of your dreams, your purpose, and your relationship with your Creator who desires nothing more than to be your everything. Learn to say no to the things that distract you from your purpose. Learn to take chances on the things that line up with your purpose and trust God with the results.
For those who are struggling to see purpose, start with a thankful heart, even if all you can be thankful for is the ability to say thank you.
For those who are bound by besetting sins, look up and ask God for the ability to take just one step towards freedom.
For those who assume you’re on the right track and that all is well, step back and eat a slice of humble pie. Give more than you take. Listen more. Smile more. Exude gratitude. Be aware of arrogance and pride. They are sneaky little devils.
Finally, rather than resolutions, perhaps revolution is in order. If your resolution won’t bring about revolutionary ideas and changes in the world around you, perhaps reconsideration is in order.
Happy New Year friends. Keep Jeremiah 29:11 close to your heart: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
As some of you know, I’m eye deep in research for a school project. I’ve chosen the topic of why the younger generation (mostly Millienials, but also some Gen X&Y) is leaving the traditional church as we know it.
I’m reading a book by Paul and Carson Nyquist entitled “The Post Church Christian.” Wow! What an eye opener. I’ve been on board with my good friend and pastor John for several years now that we’ve been experiencing a culture shift within the church and if we don’t educate ourselves on what’s going on, we will find ourselves frustrated and behind the times when it comes to the current generation’s thoughts and attitudes about church and God and our relationship to both.
Back to the book I’m reading…Carson is a Millenial and Paul is a Baby Boomer. The book provides an inside look into the heart and mind of both generations and the blog post below by Dineen resonated with something Carson said in the book. He explained that the Millenial generation (those born between 1982 and 2000) is one that has the need to create. They aren’t going to be mini versions of their Baby Boomer parents. And Paul acknowledges this as he realizes his kids are growing up in a completely different society.
As the church, we need to be willing to set aside the preferences and old way of doing things to allow for the creativity that God has given this generation to expand His kingdom. Dineen’s blog below resonates with that creativity and I thought it would be helpful for us all to be reminded that because we are created in God’s image, we too are born with the capacity to create and do great things.
I encourage you as well to begin your own research on why the church is shifting and why things aren’t going the way you think they should be. There are many great resources. Books like “unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, and Why it Matters,” “Already Gone,” “Ethoshift,” “You Lost Me,” etc are presenting the reality of what people really think about Christianity.
We all have had the conversations about what is happening and why this and why that. Educate yourself. Be willing to let go of your past traditions (or at least don’t impose them on others), and allow this generation’s creativity to blaze the trail ahead of you. Be willing to jump on board with these younger ones and get out of your comfort zone and your box and be open to how God is using this generation to proclaim his love, grace, and forgiveness to our post-christian America.
I like Carson’s attitude…be willing to just engage the world as it is. Quit trying to “win America back to Jesus.” Instead go be Jesus to your neighbors. Live among them; engage them in conversation; be their friend. That is what produces long-lasting change. Remember, Jesus didn’t try to “win Jerusalem,” he came to “make disciples” who in turn turned their world upside down.
What can you do today, tomorrow, and this year to be creative in your approach to sharing the gospel with the small corner of the world God has given to you? What can you do to move beyond “what you’ve always known” to step out in faith into the unknown? What can you do to move past your neatly packaged christianity (it’s “supposed” to look like “this”) to see and be a part of the reality of what God is doing in the messy details of the reality of everyday life? What can you do to take the timeless principles and truths of God’s Word and make them relevant for this generation?
This generation craves social interaction, brutal authenticity, and a place where they can feel safe to be authentic without being handed some spiritual cliche’ to answer the reality of their lives. What are you doing to create that kind of place which will give you the “right” to engage them in the spiritual conversation? You’ll have to earn that right in this generation by befriending them first. Then and only then will they hear what is important to you. We must get creative about going to them. They won’t be coming to us any time soon.
Be creative! (Don’t forget to read Dineen’s blog post HERE).