Prepared for Presence

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.

“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.

“Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’  Matthew 25:1-12

I have heard this passage preached in regards to being ready for the second coming of Christ.  I have even written on it several times in regards to end times and even procrastination.  Today as I read it, I thought about how it relates to actually being ready to enter into God’s presence daily.  Likely because I have been studying it, and my pastor has been preaching about the importance of God’s presence in our lives, this is where my mind turned this morning as I journaled.

For much of my Christian life, especially prior to the last two decades, I knew I was a child of God, but I did little to prepare for Him.  I was a part of the bridesmaid Church, but I was certainly one of the foolish ones.  I had a lamp, but it was usually running on fumes by the time I made it into God’s presence and I was expecting Him to refill it.  I was dry, embers smoldering, and not much of a light to those around me for the Kingdom of God.

wise opportunity.pngPart of being a Christian, is being prepared at all times.  The light not only identifies me as God’s bridesmaid, it also draws others to Him.  Those who were wise bridesmaids, had not only enough oil, the could replenish their own lamp when they started running low. They were prepared to enter into His presence and had something more to offer Him from their reserves.

Last night, as I prepared to go to our church’s Wednesday night prayer meeting, I felt so exhausted.  I had tried to talk myself out of going because I wanted to just go to sleep, but I hate to miss because I so enjoy just being in His tangible presence.  As I found myself sitting there, it was so hard to pray because I was just wore out.  I had spent little time preparing to enter into His presence.  Instead of entering with praise and thanksgiving, I just wanted Him to refresh me.  He did, and when I came home, I entered into restful sleep.

As I look back on it this morning, in light of this passage, I am repentant.  I don’t want to be the selfish or foolish bride.  I don’t want to be someone who is comes to God only looking for what He can and will do for me.  He gives me my heart’s desire, but I want to give back to Him the sacrifice of praise.  It wasn’t the sacrifice of my presence He asked for, but the sacrifice of prayer.  Obedience is better than sacrifice, and He asks for us to enter His gates with thanksgiving, and enter His courts with praise.  I want to bring pleasure to Him also, at every encounter.

I want to be prepared to enter into His presence when I walk through the doors of church, better yet, I want to bring Him with me.  Not just bring Him because of His omnipresence but bring His tangible presence because I am abiding in it.  I want to be fully prepared to praise and worship Him.  I want to be in continual thanksgiving to Him.  I want to be ready to be a tool for His use in voice and action.  I want to be a wise bridesmaid, fully prepared for the Groom, not just at His final coming but daily prepared to abide in His presence and prepared for every opportunity.

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Truth and Grace

There is a popular Christian song by Torin Wells called Known that has been really speaking to me. The chorus says:

I’m fully known and loved by You
You won’t let go no matter what I do
And it’s not one or the other
It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace
To be known fully known and loved by You

Hard truth. God has always spoken hard truths to me. I admit He is the only one that really takes that stance with me. There are people who will speak the truth, but most back down if I push back. God doesn’t. He knows when to be gentle with me. He knows when I need to be told “how the cow ate the cabbage.” He also knows when I need the truth to smack me across the face, which generally is how it must eventually come.truthgrace

It not easy to hear the truth in your own life. Listening to the song, I can see in my own life times where God has spoken hard truth to me.  I am getting better at hearing the truth from Him.  He used to have to use multiple signs and messages to get it through my thick head that He was talking to me.   I used to feel like every preacher I was listening to was reading from the same script.  I suppose in a way they were, because of the anointing on their life.  However, the reality was the television stations were choosing to air a pre-recorded shows.  It was more than a coincidence, it was a God thing.  He does whatever He can to get our attention, in ways that only He knows to do.  He speaks the truth, even when it is hard to hear.

His revelation of hard truth is met with His ridiculous grace.  God has never brought me to a truth in my life, that wasn’t met by grace.  It is ridiculous to see God meet me where I am and care enough about me to not leave me there.  His grace is freely given.  He gives me the grace to forgive.  Grace to accept.  Grace to change.  Grace to walk it out.  It might not be an easy process, but His grace has carried me through every time.  Sometimes His grace comes immediately.  Other times it carries me kicking and screaming until I am ready to accept His empowering grace.

The song says it best, I am fully known and loved by Him.  God knew every sin I would commit.  He knew every failure.  He knew every time I would fall and yet He chose to save me anyway.  He knows everything about me – the good, the bad and the ugly.  There is nothing in my life that is hidden from me.  He sees the things I see.  He sees the things others see.  He sees the things that I have yet to discover.  He knows me fully.

The amazing thing about God knowing my fully, is that He still loves me completely.  His love never fails, even when I do.  It is never-ending, because He is eternal and He is love.  His love is unchanging, because He is unchanging.

I have just been meditating on the fact that God loves me enough to tell me the truth.  He is tells me the truth even when it is hard to hear.  God’s grace is big enough to meet me where I am at, but ridiculous enough not to leave me there.  He knows me well enough to know when to push, when to pull me kicking and screaming, and when to gently walk beside me  until I can accept His truth, love and grace.  I serve a truly amazing God.  How have you seen the Truth, Grace and Love of God in your life?

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Choices

It is pitch black as we drive the dark country highway, except for passing cars and sporadic street lamps. Occasionally we pass an old country church; I can’t see the name of the church, but the large cross let’s me know that it’s a church. At home, although much more brightly lit, stands a similar scene, but three crosses instead of a solitary cross.  I pause to think which is more representative of the church, a single cross or the three wooden crosses. Both have their place I decide, as if what I think about the subject really matters.

The single cross, that is the one the represents the Christian faith. I wear one around my neck. My home is decorated with them, each holding a separate sentimental value to my heart. But the single cross represents the price paid on Calvary by Christ. The blood shed for my sins, the redemptive restoration to God that only Christ could bring. It’s powerful. It’s humbling. It stands as a reminder of what I could never do, but what was done so freely and completely for me.

choicesBut then the three crosses, the cross that held our Lord, with a sinner on each side represent the choices made available at the cross and to each person going forward. The sinner’s cross represents a choice laid before each of us.

Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” 

But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  Luke 23:39-42

Do we accept our Lord with a humble and repentant heart? Do we ask, Lord remember me? Or in pride do we reject the one dying for our sin? Do we mock and test with words showing we have little revelation of what He is truly doing on that cross in the middle?

I can stand at the foot of either the isolated cross or the three crosses and find revelation. Ultimately, the Christian walk is about what I chose to do with the gift given on the single cross, the one in the middle. But the Christian walk leads me to the base of each of the other two crosses at some point. I have to reconcile for myself the response to the choice given to the two thieves. We all face the choice. Will you humbly accept the gift? Or mock and reject His gift? The choice is yours.

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Vertical relationship

I hadn’t gotten past the introduction in the current Audible book I’m listening to “Vertical Church” by James McDonald when I had the thought “Too often we allow horizontal relationships with others to be a substitute for the vertical relationship with God.”

Immediately one might think of spouse or children in this role, but my thought went a little bit deeper. My kids and spouse would be the first to argue that I haven’t put them before God. Sadly, too often in my life, I put everything else before them. While I have realized that and make every effort not to now, it is an area that I am quick to speak to with others.  It is easier to correct on the front side than undo the damage on the backside.  I know that from personal experience and professional education.

Along the line of substituting horizontal relationships, much of my Christian walk I put service to others before, not only my family, but often before God. It is so easy to fall into the pattern of “the ministry of service to others” and forget that the ministry is supposed to flow out of the relationship with God. I love serving others. I believe that is what God has not only called me to do, but blessed me with the resources, talents, and gifting to do so. It flows naturally out of who I am, because that is who God designed me to be.Vertical

There are times I am seeking God so much for myself that the overflow of that vertical relationship with Him, spills out into the lives of those I help. I see doors open, connections made, miracles happen that speak only to the glory of His manifest presence. There have been times that He has spoken through me, sometimes with divine wisdom and other times with human knowledge a word at the right time that brings revelation and transformation in another’s life.

However a few years ago, I realized that it was easier for me to quickly fall back on the resources God has placed in me to help others than to seek Him for guidance in best helping others. At first it came as a condemnation; as I allowed God to speak to my heart I could see it wasn’t a condemnation but a refining. Helping others in their need makes me feel good. The more people I help, the more other’s would praise the service. I was allowing the horizontal relationship of helping to fill a need that only God was meant to fill. I was seeking validation from man, when only God can tell me “well done, faithful servant.”

A deeper revelation came as I allowed God to work in that area in my life.  I realized, I was serving to “earn God’s approval.” At the time, I couldn’t see that motivation, but as I allowed God to search my heart He was able to show me. I knew God loved me without question. I also knew the life I lived and the people who were impacted by my witness when I walked away from God. I knew the failures I had, and deep down felt like I had to make them up to God. I served out of my heart’s desire, but I didn’t set boundaries in service because I needed God to see I had changed. I was using horizontal relationships because I didn’t feel I was worthy of the vertical relationship.

For a time, I had to allow God to work on my heart and step back from service. I had to let Him renew my mind and realign my heart before I could really step back into the plans and purpose and the desire He placed within me. I had to allow Him to show me where service has to originate, and that my help comes from Him before it can flow to others.  It is still a process not to fall back into old patterns, but a journey that I am willing to travel.

As I finished thinking about where God had brought me from, I thought about another area where I was seeking horizontal relationship (although not with others) over vertical relationship. I know God had to start me where He had already done the work before He called me on where I am now.

I have been doing some emotional journaling over the past few months, answering some truly soul-searching questions. One of the things that I am learning in the process is that I have allowed a very unhealthy horizontal relationship with food to be a substitute for the vertical relationship I am called to have with Christ. I have used food to comfort me when I am sad, sooth me when I am mad, and as a celebratory feast when I am glad. If there is something I don’t want to deal with, I have drowned out the emotions with food, even while dealing with the scenario I don’t want to face. Food has been my comforter, even through Comforter is a role of God. Food has been my first defense even through God is my Defender.  I now have to allow the grace of God to help me change that relationship and walk towards the vertical relationship that He called me too walk.

Maybe you can identify.  I think at times we all have a tendency to seek out a horizontal relationship.  Sometimes this is done because of insecurities, fear, ease, or because we are not ready to make changes in our life that we know will come from seeking that vertical relationship with God.  He loves us enough to accept us where we are, but He never wants to leave us there.  It can be easier to drown those feelings in horizontal relationships with people, activities, alcohol, drugs, food, television, exercise, fill in the blank.  If you are open to allowing God to reveal it to you, He will show you what you are trying to fill His space with.

God desires a relationship with every person.  He wants to be our go-to before anything else.  There re times I get it right, and many more that I get it wrong.  However, He keeps drawing and as I draw close to Him, He draws close to me.  It is a promise and available to all.  Seek the vertical over the horizontal, God can make all the horizontal relationships better when the vertical relationship is the primary goal.

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After the storm

afterthestormAs the dark clouds filled the sky, I could feel the disappointment start to settle over me.  I thought about my to do list and that things that would not get done on the Sunday afternoon because of the pending storm.  Hours later, when I stepped out into my garage, I scanned the sky and saw the brightness coming forth out of the darkness.

I went inside to grab my phone to capture the picture that was resonating with my soul.  “It’s always brighter after the storm.”  I have been in a season of storms, and just had so much hope welling up in my spirit.  It was unfortunate that the camera would not capture the hopefulness that I saw.

However, after I finished what I was doing in the garage, I looked back over and saw the rainbow over the trees.  And thought  “It is easier to see the promise after the rain stops.”  I can look back on my life and see the promises that came after the storm.  Even as the current storm in my life came to an end, I could see promises fulfilled.

When going through tough times, it is hard to see that anything positive will ever come out of it.  I remember the fist time I came across a scripture of promise that taught me to look to the end of the trial instead of focusing on the circumstances engulfing me.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  Romans 8:18

That promise alone has helped me weather many storms.  To know that regardless of what I have suffered, it will not even compare to the glory that will be revealing in me is so encouraging when at times it feels like it is one storm after another.

I have learned to not allow the circumstances of  sufferings and storms to keep me down to long.  Yes, there are times my focus has to be redirected.  Yet, through the majority of storms, I can remind myself that there is something that I will learn through the storm.  Looking back I can not think of a single storm God has weathered me though that I have not learned something by the end of the storm.

I remind myself that storms come to bring growth, change, or to wash away things that shouldn’t be there.  Areas where I am planted, I see growth through a storm. Areas that God has been working on in my life, are often changed in a storm.  And sometimes, storms wash away things that no longer belong in my life.

I have been blessed to see many of the storms I have weathered, help other people.  As a social worker, I am in a unique position to use self-disclosure to help others where they are.  Seeing people’s lives transformed is such a blessing.  Often times is just a connection that they are not alone where they are, and a hope that there is life on the other side.  Other times it is the ability to cut through the red tape and dead ends to get them to a place where they can get the help that is really needed.  And every now and then, it is a true soul connection, where God uses the right words at the right time to help someone see the promise is for them at the end of the storm too.

We will all face storms in life.  We can allow the darkness to engulf us from the storm, or look at the promises to come.  It is more beneficial to look at what might be at work in the storm.  Looking at what good might come out of the storm or at least what we might learn from the storm can make the storm go by faster.  Ultimately, we can use the sufferings we face to help others in their time of need.  We will weather the storm, the question is “How will we be different after the storm?”

 

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Satan’s Tool

Revelation 12:9-11 (KJV) And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.  And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.  And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

I do not believe that Satan has access to God to accuse us any longer.  He was cast out of Heaven and Jesus overcame Satan’s lies when He rose from the grave.   I think Satan now accuses us to each other to create division.  Satan is equipped with the knowledge that we can take those accusations before God as His children or to create division in the body.  That is immediately where my mind went as I heard this passage.

My mind took me back to a time when a small group of people accused me before others. I won’t act like I did nothing that could have been interpreted differently, but three of the claims were 100% untrue. I thought quite smugly, “Lord, they were tools of Satan in my life.  They were suppose to be fellow Christians.” And then the still small voice “Don’t be so quick to pass judgement, you too have been Satan’s tool.”

SatanstoolTaking time to self-reflect, I realize it is so easy to voice my view on something that is happening without taking into consideration all the factors at play.  There are always at least two sides to every story.  Scenes of times that I have accused others without having the full story passed through my mind.  I started to question things that I should consider.

Do I stop and consider the other side before running my mouth about someone else?

Do I look at all the factors before complaining to someone else about another’s actions?

Do I take my complaints directly to the person for clarification or do I just allow myself to become a tool of Satan accusing my brethren to others?

How much division am I sowing?  It might not be intentional or even conscious, but if I am accusing a brethren, I am sowing discord.  Scripture tells me this is something that the Lord hates.

These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil,
A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren.

Proverbs 6:16-19

I admit that I have been Satan’s tool.  I can count too many times where additional information comes to light and I find myself eating crow.  I am learning to keep my mouth shut, but there are still times I fail.  I have scarcely thought about being used by Satan in accusing others and sowing discord.  I appreciate that God will open my eyes to areas that I still need work.  I am thankful for His grace that covers my failings, and His grace that can help me walk out the truths that are revealed.

 

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Abiding unity

Nineteen years of marriage has taught me many things about love, relationships, myself, commitment, God, and communication, to name a few.  Today my eyes were opened to another aspect that I had rarely considered.  I was journaling out of John 15:4 (CJB)

Stay united with me, as I will with you — for just as the branch can’t put forth fruit by itself apart from the vine, so you can’t bear fruit apart from me.

I am sure it was the version, because I am used to reading “Abide in Me.”  “Stay united” spoke differently to me.  If I want the fruit of the Spirit in my life, then the most important thing I can do is to abide with Christ.  I will make time for Him daily; get into the Word, spend time in conversation with Him, mediate on the things of God.  I have to choose to stay connected to Him.

It is too easy, easier than it should be after so many year in my Christian walk, for me to set God aside and let other things take His place in my life.  It is easier for me to come home and just veg out in front of the television than it is for me to take time and press in to the things of God.  Christ has done His part.  He is available to me.  His Spirit lives within me.  Yet too often, I live so far from Him.

abiding unityLiving with Him, but so far from Him,  immediately made me think of times in my marriage.  I am united in matrimony to my husband.  Over the years, there have been times where our schedules didn’t match, our interests didn’t align, or we just didn’t take time to really work on the relationship aspect of our marriage.  Commitment was there, we stayed united; yet, we were basically living separate lives under the same roof for one reason or another.

During times when we seemed to be going in opposite directions, more than we were traveling together, I found myself often complaining to my husband  and God about how much I wanted my husband’s attention, affection, and time.  I wanted more than just his physical presence in our home.  I thought about my heart’s cry for my marriage during those times (and even when we are not experiencing that lack of unity).  It was that we would be together in true unity.  I don’t want us attached at the hip or unable to have separate interests; I just want quality time with my husband doing things that we are both engaged in and enjoying together.  I want us to share life, to do life together consistently.

This made me consider how God must feel when He is so physically available , but I am just doing my own thing.  He longs for relationship with His people.  Yet too often, I am not staying connected for more than a casual availability.  I have time for Him as an acquaintance, but not as Lord.  I am not longing to spend more time with Him, as God is longing for me to be with Him.  I am not making God a priority as He did for me, sending Jesus to pay the price for my sins so I could be reconciled to Him.  I am not drawing in for deeper relationship but giving Him the leftovers of my time.

That is not unity with Him.  I do not like it in my marriage when I feel that way, I don’t want that from my husband.  God doesn’t want to just have that level of relationship with me.  God wants me to spend time connecting with Him.  He wants time talking and listening.  He wants me to engage with Him throughout the day, not just for a short quiet-time and mealtime prayers each day.  He wants to be my priority consistently.

I am not trying to be presumptuous about what God wants, but marriage is our opportunity on earth to learn how as the Bride of Christ things will be in heaven.  Yes, it has been polluted by the world’s constructs.  Yet, I can believe that if I want something more in my earthly marriage, that God’s perfect bride would be so much more.  His desire is not a fleeting relationship but an abiding unity.

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Answered prayers

We were sitting outside enjoying a relaxing evening with our daughters and grandchildren when we got the news.  Maybe it was to be expected, but it really took us by surprise, to the point I asked my husband if he was messing with me.  I had stepped inside while he was on the phone, when I stepped back outside he said “I’ve been laid off.”  Who makes that call on a Saturday evening to someone at home?

I stayed pretty quiet about it. In part,  I knew it was a shock to my husband.  I didn’t need to add other’s inquiries to the hurt it caused him. The other part was because while my faith was in God to meet our family needs and open the doors for a new position for my husband, I didn’t have the strength to carry other’s worry and constant inquiries into what we needed or how the search was going.  I shared with my pastors and a few ladies to join me in covering him in prayer.  My job was to stand in faith and encourage my husband.  I asked my husband that week what he was looking for in a job.  Then I set my prayers to God giving him the desire of his heart and showing him just how much He cares about my husband.

That next week, I headed to California with my aunt and cousin.  Part of me wanted to cancel.  I reasoned spending money when we just lost the bigger 2/3 of our income was not a good idea.  It really was a battle to this girl who like to control things.  Yet, I knew if I cancelled, I was saying God couldn’t meet the need.  I had been planning the trip for months.  The flights had been paid for by my aunt and were non-refundable.  I know God knew in advance what we would face; so I took the trip in faith.

I admit I fully believed that he would have a job before I got back.  Initially, my husband was getting calls letting him know that He was missed, his skills and abilities were needed.  When the call to bring him back didn’t come, he was discouraged.  When interviews didn’t pan out or he was told he had too much experience, I just had to come back and remind him that God had it under control and He would provide our needs.

answeredprayersAs the weeks turned into a month, and then two, God showed up as only He can.  My husband called me in the middle of the day to tell me some exciting news. He is not one to do that, but he was really excited.  He had won a contest, a random drawing with a financial gain.  Then an unexpected check came in the mail.  I have heard about that happening before, but was blown away that it happened to us.  The check covered the majority of our new home loan payment for the month.  Then I won dinner and a movie at a conference, and a friend gave me a gift certificate for no reason for gas.  A couple of our monthly expenses were lower than we normally budget.

When my husband got the call for an interview for a job he really was interested in, he texted me to be praying.  I forwarded it to my prayer warriors.  He had confirmation of the job within the week.

God not only met our needs during the two months between jobs, He answered my husband’s request to have a job in his career field, making more than he was at the time he was let go, and working day shift.    My husband started his new job this week and he really seems to enjoy it.  

I don’t believe that God is done working on this answered prayer, because I put some things in my prayer that are from my heart for my husband.  I am blown away when I see God answer and it doesn’t look like I thought it would.  As I looked back at my prayer request from June regarding my husband’s job, in my prayer I added what I would like to see, one of which is Godly influence. in his life 

Just after he lost his job, the church I attend started advertising a Run4God 5K program.  My husband used to run track in high school.  Although I have completed a 5K before I had never run more than a few steps in my life.  Regardless, I asked him if he would want to go.  He said yes.  We are in week six, and while the running is still a struggle, I have seen God moving.

From the beginning, the group has tried to embrace Tim.  We are both a type 5 in the Enneagram, so getting to know us or getting us to really connect is a difficult task.  Last week, one of the guys invited Tim to church.  I invite him often, and rarely with success, so I admit I wasn’t holding my breath.  When I asked him Sunday morning, I didn’t expect him to come.  I was so excited to see him walk in, my heart leapt.

We had a dinner after church, and I saw many men from the running group come up and literally embrace my husband.  I saw the look on my husband’s face, but couldn’t help but smile as I knew God was answering my prayer.  It was not through the avenue I expected, but in a place I have hoped for connection for so long.   To see men I know serve God, reaching out to him warmed my heart.

Walking through uncertain times can seem daunting, but God is never surprised by our circumstances.  Sometimes, there is something that needs to be learned in the process.  Usually part of the lesson is to depend upon Him more.  Sometimes things get really hard and deadlines get pushed, but one thing I know for certain, through it all God is in control.  Prayers often get answered a timing different from our own and in ways that are different from we expect, but my God still answers prayers.

 

 

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Met by Attitude

I was struck with the attitude in responses I heard in this passage this morning during my quiet time.

attitude

One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.” “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking. When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.” Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared. Then Jesus instructed him not to tell anyone what had happened. He said, “Go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.” But despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.

One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, “Who does he think he is? That’s blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!” Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat, and went home praising God. Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, “We have seen amazing things today!”

Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum? ” Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”

One day some people said to Jesus, “John the Baptist’s disciples fast and pray regularly, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?” Jesus responded, “Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Then Jesus gave them this illustration: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and uses it to patch an old garment. For then the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t even match the old garment. “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be stored in new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.”
Luke 5:1‭-‬39 NLT

Peter said, “It won’t work, but I’ll try because You said.”

Then the leper said, “I know You can, but might not be willing for the likes of me.”

The friends said, “Lord we had to get Him to you because You’re the only option He has.”

The Pharisees were like, “We’re too good for those sinners, and you say you’re the Messiah so you should be with us, not them. And your followers should act like John’s.”

That’s the attitudes I read, and realize I hope I am like the friends, but I can handle being the leper, but have certainly been like Peter and the Pharisees.

The friends and the leper both approached with desperation. All in faith, the friends expecting, the leper humbly hoping. Jesus met both requests, a touch of His hand, a touch of His Spirit. Immediate miracles for all to learn about and witness.

Peter answered in doubt, but obeyed. Jesus met him where he was. Miracle performed and Peter was humbled. Jesus spent 3 years helping Peter truly overcome his doubt-led obedience. When Peter was filled with the Spirit, all doubt left.

The Pharisees were filled with judgement and comparison. Jesus met them where they were too with words of counsel and wisdom. They were not willing to be humbled or listen. They saw no change to their circumstances – Jesus continued to eat with the sinners and those in need.

God will always meet us where we are. A touch, a word, a miracle, or council. We determine where we are at. Will God be met by attitude of expectation, a humble hope, doubt filled obedience or with judgement and comparison from you?

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I am

I am a native of my community. I was born and raised in the same local place. Then so moved away and spent a little more than a decade out of state before finding my way back home. That also describes my relationship with God and church. I grew up in church, from the time I was two until I hit my teenage years. Then I moved away from God and church for about a decade, until I made my way back to first church and then God.

There’s a song that we sing here at Ignite, Reckless Love by Cory Adbury and Bethel music. It says

“O, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

O, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine

I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, you give yourself away”

Everytime we sing it I know that there’s other people who feel that applies to everyone but them. I relate because that’s that’s how I felt so many times. GOD CAN NEVER LOVE ME. HE CAN NEVER USE ME. He might be able to save me, but that’s probably better left until later and I would start listing my labels from the past. How I saw myself. How others saw me. What I had done or not done and what had been done to me.

I am downright viciously mean.

I am promiscuous.

I am a teen parent.

I am divorced.

I am homeless.

I am the child of a sexual offender.

I am a rape survivor.

I am the one that walked away from God.

I am an alcoholic.

I am a drug addict.

I am a bad wife.

I am a terrible parent.

I am not important.

I am unequally yoked.

I am an orphan.

I am an outsider.

I am not good enough.

I am unqualified.

I am not smart enough.

I am not talented enough.

I am alone.

I am ….fill in whatever keeps you from receiving God’s love, grace and forgiveness.

Those are just a few of the things that kept me bound. Things that if I felt too convicted I would toss up to God as a reason He couldn’t cover me. Or things that would play over and over in my mind if I started feeling that maybe God could love me.

God’s reckless love can reach you, regardless of your history or your current circumstances. There is no mountain too high no obstacle to big. God puts up roadblocks trying to steer us to Him. He spends decades trying to get us to do things His way. He uses subtle things that whisper His loving care, even when we have walked away. He places people in our life to be His hands and feet to love us and support us so we can find our way to Him.

It hasn’t been an easy road, but it has been every bit worth it. I still have areas in my life God is working, but that’s okay. I have been completely clean from drugs for over 17 years. God restored my marriage, and we will celebrate our 20th anniversary next year. My children dont rember being homeless, but even now as adults they know where home is. I have a job and career where I enjoy helping people who are walking through difficult times. I have seen reconciliation and restoration in my family in all five generations that were living.

This year my two daughters and I got a tattoo with the simple words “I am” The only one who can complete that sentence for any of us, is our creator, the great I AM. And for most of us, that sentence will be rewritten many times as God refines us. And it is a sentence that can already be filled with so many truths from God’s Word.

The truth is, none of us deserve what Christ did one the cross for us. Not Mother Teresa, not the Pope, not Billy Graham. Not me and not you. We can not earn His love, His forgiveness, or His grace. But it is given as a free gift for us to take, receive, and put to use.

God offers the free gift of eternal life. You only need receive His forgiveness, and allow His grace to be used to transform your life. It may not happen overnight, but if you learn that His ways are for your benefit you will end up with a testimony like mine, which is “I am forgiven, I am loved and I am blessed.”

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