Recognizing God’s Blessing

iStock_000023441999SmallWe had just finished dinner when I asked my 5-year-old neighbor whom I was babysitting if he wanted to watch a video about Jesus. “I hate Jesus!” He declared with all the venom he could muster.

I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say and quickly asked the Lord for wisdom. Kneeling down and looking right into my neighbor’s eyes, I said, “Wow! You sure are mad at Him. What did he do?”

“He took my grandma.”

Sometimes on our journey of faith, we have a head-on collision when our circumstances do not fit our understanding of the goodness of God and we find ourselves living in the midst of disappointment, unanswered questions, and unmet desires.

We may not declare our hurt as my neighbor did. But we may ask:

  • God, can I trust you?
  • God, do You love me?
  • God, are You good?
  • God, are You just?
  • God, why did you allow this to happen?
  • God why won’t you bless me, like you’ve blessed them?

Why do we tend to question God’s goodness or doubt that He loves us when bad things happen? I think it stems from a misunderstanding of what it means to be blessed by God.

I had a paradigm shift when my young neighbor told me Jesus took his grandma. I understood his anger and confusion. Today, I want us to have a paradigm shift (a fundamental change in our underlying assumptions) about what it means to be blessed.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans instructs, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind….” (Romans 12:2a) We need our underlying assumptions to be based on God’s Word, not on our culture and not on our feelings. So rather than defining God’s blessing as the fulfillment of our dreams, we must look to Scripture to see how God defines His blessing.

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Psalm 32:1-2)

“Blessed is the man whom you discipline (yacar: to correct by words), O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law.” (Psalm 94:12)

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Through the Word of God, we come to see what the blessed life really looks like. It has very little to do with our expectations and aspirations, and everything to do with God’s loving-kindness to:

  • Forgive our sins
  • Correct us by His Word.
  • Allow us to take refuge in Him

May we have eyes to see how blessed we truly are.

 

Are you Jealous of Jesus?

iStock_000003913257SmallFor many the question will sound ludicrous or perhaps even blasphemous. But for some of you I’ve just touched on an unspoken gnawing in your soul.

You couldn’t put words to what was going on in your heart, but jealous of Jesus seems to fit. You may wonder, “How can I be jealous of Jesus? I’ve known him since I was a kid. I’ve spent my whole life in church. I’ve served Him in every way imaginable: Sunday school teacher, missions committee, choir, kid’s ministry, nursery ministry, visitation.”

Yes, like the Jews before you, you might have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Romans when he shares his ongoing prayer and desire that his fellow Jews be saved. (10:1) He laments that “they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (10:2)

This was his own testimony as he described who he once was to the saints in Philippi: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:4b-6)

Paul, like many of his countrymen, pursued the law as if it were based on works and not by faith. Unfortunately, we can do that, too, and it leads us to the same end: stumbling over Jesus.

Coming to Jesus is terrible for our pride. For we need to see ourselves as “unclean, and all our righteous deeds… like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6) I was challenged anew when my husband recently prayed, “There is no righteousness in me apart from Jesus.”

That is a hard thing to recognize, especially when you’ve been in church since your first memory: memorizing scripture, singing about Jesus, avoiding a list of sins, and generally seeing yourself as “a good person.”

Even believers in Christ can be tempted to desert the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ and turn to another “gospel.” God provided Paul’s letter to the Galatians in His Scripture to warn us of this type of turning from justification by faith to justification by works.

Paul declares, “…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” (2:16) And he asked the Galatians a pointed question, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (3:2) The answer, according to the Word, is that we receive the Spirit by hearing through faith, “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)

When we submit to this truth, we will be grateful to, not jealous of, Jesus and His righteousness.

Can This Be the Christ?

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Over the past several months, I’ve had a number of commitments that required more effort, time, and emotional energy than I initially expected.  Perhaps Christmastime is that kind of season for you.

Near the end of this demanding time, two friends came alongside me to ask if there was anything they could do to help. Now, I’m not one to turn down good help, but the things that I had left to do, I needed to do. No one else could study for the ladies retreat I committed to teach. No one but me could prepare the songs I agreed to sing, and I alone could spend time in the scriptures allowing them to transform my mind regarding some emotionally difficult situations. Only I could do these things, and they all seemed pressing.

Now that the songs have been sung, the retreat is a mere memory, and my thinking about my difficult situation has become more biblically grounded, I find myself reflecting on the Lord’s goodness to me as he led me through this season. My gratefulness was only enhanced when I began reading the passage about the woman at the well in Sychar.

John, the beloved disciple, tells us of her conversation with Jesus. In all likelihood shame brought her to Jacob’s well in the noonday sun, a time when no one else would be there. But today she wasn’t alone—that was surprising. But when Jesus requested a drink from her, she simply couldn’t believe it. Not in a feministic, “get it yourself” way, but in an incredulous, “I can’t believe a Jewish man is talking to me and willing to drink from the same jug as me” kind of way.

The fact that he wasn’t despising her— neither for her heritage, “for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (4:9), nor for her gender “[his disciples] marveled that he was talking with a woman” (4:27)—was truly unbelievable to her.

Yet Jesus wasn’t looking down on her He was offering this shame-filled woman new life.

With the invitation, “Woman, believe me,” Jesus clearly told her what kind of worship God sought and who He was: “I who speak to you am [the Christ].” So why, when she leaves her water jar and goes into town, does she ask the people “Can this be the Christ?” (4:29) He had told her he was. Did she not understand?

Oh, she had understood, for He told her all she had ever done. But she also understood people, and wisely invited her neighbors to decide for themselves if Jesus was the Christ. She knew the evidence was on His side.

There are some things we must do ourselves, and allow others to do for themselves. One of those things is to decide if Jesus could be the Christ. This Christmas share Christ’s story. Invite others to consider “Can Jesus be the Christ?” Then let the Spirit do His convincing, convicting work.

Receiving Jesus

iStock_000000893223SmallThe spotlight of the world was on Cleveland, Ohio when news broke that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight had been found—alive. Each of the girls were allegedly kidnapped, over a decade ago, by Ariel Castro, and enslaved in his Seymour Avenue home as their childhoods passed.

When faced with the reality of such wickedness many ask, “Where was God?” “Why did He allow this?” “Doesn’t He care?” Yet we know from Scripture that God is not absent. He allows things we don’t un

derstand, and He cares very, very much about how children are treated.

God knows every detail of every minute Amanda, Gina, and Michelle were enslaved by this stranger, and He knows each child who is sinned against in the middle of night in the “comfort” of their own home.

In the face of his own oppression, the psalmist David cried, “Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous—you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God! My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart. God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.” (Psalm 7:9-11)

According to Merriam-Webster.com, indignation is “anger aroused by something unjust, unworthy, or mean.” Our God feels anger every single day!

David warns, “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.” (Psalm 7:12-13)

If you are the one out of four women, or the one out of six men who was abused before your eighteenth birthday, God knows, and His indignation burns. Trust that in time He will judge the unrepentant—those who never place their faith in Jesus Christ. But until then, take comfort in the truth that what your abuser meant for evil, God intends to use for your good when you find your rest in Him. (Genesis 50:19, Romans 8:28)

As teachers or clergy we must recognize that most children will never tell us what is happening to them. But by knowing the potential indicators of abuse and neglect, we may hear their silent screams for help and rescue them from a childhood of abuse. We can receive a child in Christ’s name, knowing we are really receiving Him.hose who never place their faith in Jesus Christ. But until then, take comfort in the truth that what your abuser meant for evil, God intends to use for your good when you find your rest in Him. (Genesis 50:19, Romans 8:28)

The battle is spiritual: Satan hates children. He is the thief who wants to steal, kill, and destroy. But Jesus loves kids, and the light of His Word brings hope and healing to those oppressed by sin.

God forbid if you are abusing a child—Repent! The evil you are perpetrating is not hidden from His eyes. He knows, yet He is choosing to offer you forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ. Will you receive Jesus today?

Declaring Independence

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It is “a date which will live in infamy,” the day man—male and female—declared their independence and sought freedom through sin.

Their “declaration of independence” produced an aftermath beyond what they could have ever imagined.  Sin always does.

In her book, Holiness, Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes this caution about sin: “Before you yield to temptation the next time, try reminding yourself of these consequences.

  • Sin will disappoint you
  • Sin will deceive you
  • Sin will dominate you
  • Sin will destroy you.”

Regrettably we often don’t recognize sin’s devastating qualities. We are tempted to reason that our sin is not a big deal, or not even sin at all.

Often we rationalize our sinful behaviors and attitudes with the justification “it’s just the way I am.” Sin is such a deceiver.

It’s easy to want to deny the existence of sin in our lives, but Proverbs 20:9 questions, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin?’”

It’s impossible for us to purify ourselves. But the gospel, literally the good news, is: “if we confess our sins,” God, because he is faithful and just to see Jesus’ sacrificial death as full atonement, will “forgive us our sins and…cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Confessing our sin can be difficult, because it demands that we recognize that we aren’t as good as we’d like to be or think that we are.

The psalmist pled, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

God will cleanse us, but first we must rip up our declaration of independence by confessing our sins and believing in Jesus. Then throughout our lives as believers, the grace of God will continue the process of training us to turn from sin and eagerly await our glorious Savior’s return. For He is our blessed Hope.