Father Knows Best

6j739zb0pyoka7nwMy son, Noah, recently began running cross country. He loves it! It’s a rare opportunity for him to unleash his magnificent youthful maleness which, for the most part, usually must be contained or kept in check by rules, chairs, desks, and walls. He’s having a blast exploring the world by foot. In fact, Noah and his other cross country friends have campaigned for others to join in on the running fun. Their efforts must have been successful, because two other boys showed up to run for the first time last week.

Before they began to navigate the course, Noah and his friends warned the newbies to start off slow so they wouldn’t lose steam midway through the trail. However, this good advice was ignored. The newbies took off like gang busters (most likely trying to show off) and put quite a bit of distance between them and those who had already been running for a few practices. Predictably, about five minutes in, the newbies completely ran out of gas, and Noah and the other veteran runners passed them easily. Later on towards the end of the trail, one of the new racers actually passed out from overexertion!

Noah told this story in his usual animated cadence. He said in a frustrated voice, “We tried to tell them to start slow! We warned them! I don’t understand why they wouldn’t listen!” I nodded sagely as he vented. This was an obvious teaching moment that had been gift wrapped with a big red bow from Papa God.

I said, “Noah, what happened in practice is a very good analogy for all of life. When adults, like your mother, give you advice, most of the time we are giving it with the benefit of experience. We’ve already run the trail. We know what’s coming and know how to avoid the pitfalls.” I paused to admit that sometimes adults can be wrong if we are not listening to or following the Lord’s lead. “Obey God even before your parents,” I said. But then I concluded, “Most of the time adults’ advice can be trusted because we have already been where you are.”

Noah is used to my parenting style, so he responded to this impromptu counseling session with, “Yeah, yeah,” and we moved on to other topics. However, I continued to chew on the runners’ analogy long after Noah and I finished talking. I thought, “How many times do we question the Lord’s advice, or worse, ignore it all together in our ignorance, pride, or outright rebellion?”

Sometimes when God gives a command, we talk ourselves out of obeying because we rationalize that somehow our situation makes us the exception to the rule. In other cases, especially in the United States, Christians don’t obey the Lord because we have no idea what His instructions are. In other words, we don’t take the time to read the Scriptures to know what God actually says.

Unfortunately, when we disobey the Lord’s good advice whether intentionally or unintentionally, we will end up like those runners who lose steam midway through the race. We can even pass out and be taken out of the faith race altogether. The Bible says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6) This isn’t hyperbole. We really do decimate our lives and the lives of other people through our disobedience, which is sin.

God is the ultimate trail blazer. Jesus walked the faith road before us. He gave up everything to be our model, to go ahead of us, and to show us the way. Not only that, Papa God is the perfect Parent. He has the eternal picture in mind when He says things like, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” His ways are higher than ours and His love is limitless.

If Jesus is really Lord and King of the universe, then we must do what He says. We must recognize that we are clay and He is the Potter. Even if we disagree, even if we don’t understand… we must submit to His Word and trust that Father knows best. Because… He does.

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Building Forts and Tearing Them Down

Forgive

Today is the last day of school. It’s a pretty relaxed day in class. The work is done, grades have been calculated, and summer fun and relaxation are calling. To entertain themselves, my 5th graders are currently building forts out of blankets, desks, and chairs. It’s fun to see them work as teams and use their creativity to make little nooks around the room.

“These forts are good!” I say silently. As soon as I think this thought, I hear the Spirit whisper, “Not all forts are good.”

Sigh. No. No they are not.

Today I’d like to talk about of unforgiveness. It’s probably the single most important blog I’ve ever written because I’ve seen first hand how damaging unforgiveness can be. If our sin is the fire that burns down a house, unforgiveness is the lighter fluid.

To demonstrate, it’s best to lay out a very true to life scenario from its beginning to tragic end. Sadly, a tired version of this story happens over and over again.

1. Someone does something to you to cause offense. Your spouse forgets your birthday. Your boss doesn’t notice the hard work you’ve done. Your mother-in-law is overly critical of your parenting decisions.

I wish we could avoid #1. But we can’t. We all have offended or will be offensive at some point in our lives because we live in a fallen world with fallen people. The problem begins when we refuse to deal with the offense in a Godly way.

2. Instead of doing the hard work of going to the Lord to talk to Him about the offense so that He can walk you through it, you hang on to the anger and pain like a shield. In this stage of unforgiveness, angry rash words are said. Those hurtful words are like salt on an open wound. Rifts begin. The silent treatment and stalemates abound. (FYI: Anger is usually pain’s bodyguard.)

You may feel completely justified in refusing to forgive another person because the offender has repeatedly shown an established pattern of hurtful behavior that does not change. You think, “I’m never going to be vulnerable again! All she ever does is hurt or disappoint me!” This is when the first blocks of a fort called Stronghold are laid. Instead of remaining open, you begin to build invisible walls to protect yourself from being hurt again. However, what you don’t understand is that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

3. Self righteousness seeps in somewhere along the line. You forget how much you’ve been forgiven. You stand on top of the bricks you’ve laid and proudly pronounce, “I’ would never do that! She doesn’t deserve a second chance.” Meanwhile you forget that God considers gossip and slander grievous sins. Self righteousness is incredibly offensive to Jesus because we have all fallen short of His glory.

4. The fort called Stronghold is complete. With hardened resolve you declare, “I am never (never ever) forgiving that person again. I won’t be made a fool!” This is when you check out of the relationship. You shut the offender down and totally close off your heart.

At this point, the poisonous effects of unforgiveness in your heart are starting to show. The Bible teaches that unforgiveness is a bitter root. It takes time for that ugly root to burrow down deep and grow into an ugly warped tree. So, when the root of unforgiveness finally produces ugly fruit, you are in deep spiritual trouble. A small weed is easy to pull out of your garden. A fruit tree is hard work to remove.

And what is the fruit of unforgiveness? Bitterness. Resentment. Hostility. Anger. Fear. The fruit is the stuff that rips marriages in two and incinerates churches. As it does, our malicious ruthless enemy dances victoriously around the flames and rejoices over the carnage and ash.

Like I said, if sin is the fire that burns down the house, unforgiveness is the lighter fluid that speeds up the wicked process.

Stubborn Julie is sick and tired of being sick of tired of seeing Satan win in our relationships. Christ won 2,000 years ago at Calvary, and so we should win. It makes me madder than a wet hen when our enemy gets any lost ground back.

Good Christians, in order to keep the victorious high ground God’s Son gave us through His precious blood, we have to submit to God’s command to forgive. Obedience is hard- so hard- but the rewards are worth it. As we submit to God, the enemy will flee (James 4:7).

First of all, forgiveness is not optional for a believer in Jesus Christ. To demonstrate why, the Lord Jesus told a parable that can be found in Matthew 18. In the story, a servant owned his master ten thousand talents. This amount would be equivalent to several million dollars. Because the master was merciful, he forgave his servant’s debt. However, later on, the same servant who had been forgiven would not forgive another servant a hundred denarii- or a day’s wage worth approximately sixteen cents. The master heard about this and summoned his servant saying, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” The master then threw the servant in jail until his multi-million dollar debt was paid. Jesus finished the story with this warning,

“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Folks, we owe God a debt we cannot possibly pay. We have sinned and offended a holy God. We are law breakers who fall short of His perfected glory every single day. However, because our Master is merciful, He sent His Son Jesus to pay for the debt we couldn’t possibly pay on our own. Through Christ, we have been forgiven. Therefore, when we refuse to forgive another, we are like the wicked servant in the parable.

Matthew 6:15 contains the single most sobering warning in all of Scripture concerning unforgiveness:

“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Gulp. That’s pretty clear. Like I said, forgiveness is not optional! It’s a command. We have to forgive if we want God to forgive us. And boy do I need God’s forgiveness. I need it every single day. Furthermore, people who recognize how much Jesus has forgiven them have no problem with offering forgiveness to others. They give grace and mercy freely. Jesus said that those who have been forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47). Are you having a hard time loving people lately? You probably have unforgiveness in your heart.

I want to focus a bit on self righteousness because the Lord hates it so much. As item #3 on the list showed, self righteousness (aka pride) is always part of unforgiveness. Here are some examples of self righteous statements:

  • would never do something like that! How could you do this to me?” This is a self righteous statement. We all have our individual issues that may not be a struggle for someone else! Remember the pesky parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector? A refresher: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)
  • “I’ve forgiven you before, and you didn’t change. I’m not forgiving you again!” Golly! What if Jesus treated us this way? I’m so glad that He doesn’t!
  • “I’m right. She is wrong!” Self righteous people are unteachable and are usually unwilling to examine their role in conflict. Jeremiah 2:35 says, ‘Because I am innocent, surely His anger shall turn from me.’ Behold, I will plead My case against you, Because you say, ‘I have not sinned.’” Self righteous people don’t say sorry because they don’t see their faults. But guess what? God does.
  • “Well, I’m justified in acting this way (bitter, angry, resentful) because of what she did. She did this to me! She’s why I am the way I am!” Maybe this isn’t very nice to say, but this excuse is #lame. “Jesus demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”~Romans 5:8 God did not use our sin as an excuse to treat us poorly. Because we are in Christ, we have been given a new heart and have the mind of Jesus. We cannot use someone else’s bad behavior to justify our own. Ever.

If you hear yourself saying any of these statements, run, don’t walk, to the Lord in prayer to hash it out with Him. I guarantee you’ll walk away from that conversation humbled and with a different more heavenly perspective.

Finally, I cannot talk about unforgiveness without warning about the demonic activity it brings. I once spoke to a couple who have a deliverance ministry. They have prayed for many people experiencing great oppression and even demonic possession throughout the years. This couple found that the single common trait oppressed/possessed souls share is- you guessed it- unforgiveness. Scripture supports their findings.

Ephesians 4:26 says, “”In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Unforgiveness is an open door for demonic activity in your house. Is there strife and division in your family? The source is most likely unforgiveness. Some sicknesses have their root in unforgiveness.

Unforgiveness is the worst kind of poison. I exhort you with all I have to get it out of your heart! If for no other reason, forgive out of selfish reasons- it’s an act of self preservation to forgive!

Believe me when I say that I understand that forgiveness is hard when someone has hurt you repeatedly. Sometimes it is impossible to forgive in our own strength. However, with God all things are possible. If you are having difficultly obeying the Lord’s command to forgive, ask Him for help. Don’t try to do it on your own. When you do ask for help, Jesus’s power will give you the grace to forgive. Christ can uproot that ugly unforgiveness tree and stop its destructive fruit from ruining your life.

Tear down the fort of unforgiveness in your heart, and tear it down quickly, for it is certainly not good!

A verse to bring the point home:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

By saying we are to forgive those who sin against us seventy times seven, Jesus was not limiting forgiveness to 490 times. Jesus was teaching us that Christians are to never limit the number of times we forgive. We should continue to forgive with as much grace the thousandth time as we do the first time. Christians are only capable of this type of forgiveness because the Spirit of God lives within us, and it is He who enables us to offer forgiveness over and over, just as God forgives us over and over.

Bitter into Sweet

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In my previous post, I wrote about happiness and joy. I concluded that one must pursue holiness, not happiness, to find purpose and meaning in this life.

Today I want to explore the topic of pain and suffering. Fun, huh? Yeah… right.

Yet I’m choosing to swim in these dark turbulent waters because it is… necessary. I need to remind myself that there is purpose in pain. That God doesn’t waste anything. That He is working even when it hurts like literal hell.

Let me cut to the chase. These last few months have been some of the most difficult in my life. The daily responsibilities of life, the stresses of a new job, but most especially an unexpected splinter in my marriage- all these things have pulled me taunt like a cracked rubber band. To be honest, some days just getting out of bed has been a Herculean task. But when it would be so easy to succumb to the grief of a broken heart, I press on.

I press on because the Lord warned me hard days would come when He called me to Himself. Because He loves me, He taught me that He would use suffering to develop me into the daughter He has always knew I would become.

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” 1 Peter 4: 12-12

In this verse, we learn that trials will come. And when they come, Christ’s glory is revealed. In other words, when the world watches God’s people respond to hardships with love, grace, and faith, Jesus is revealed to them. As we overcome, Christ is glorified in our suffering.

The things is, so many of us bail out of the trial before the glory comes. We don’t want to wait on the Lord to do His work in us and through us. Instead, we seek retribution or vindication using our own clouded judgement. We get mad or become embittered instead of trusting God. We cut people off and sever relationships instead of waiting on the Lord to restore and heal. Believe me, I am talking to myself when I give these examples. I fail often. So many days over the past few months I have wanted to tap out and cry, “Uncle!” It would be so easy to run from the fire.

But I know through the truth of Scripture that the pressure of trials is vital to my spiritual growth.

James says, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

Count it all joy? I’m not sure I’m there yet. But I trust with all my heart that I will one day be thankful to Jesus for this season. Why? God’s Word says so. I also have personal experience. God has used suffering to teach me and perfect me before. I know He can do it again.

Between the years of 2005-2008, the Lord sent white hot fire to strip me of many things. I lost a teaching job due to district budget cuts. I foreclosed on a house and had a car repossessed in the middle of the night. I declared bankruptcy. I gained a bunch of weight despite my best efforts and lost my vanity. A close Christian friend and mentor moved away. In the midst of all this, I had an unbelieving husband and two children at my feet who needed to learn about and know Jesus too- proving absolutely that the world did not revolve around me.

In short, much of my pride was pulverized to dust.

I vividly remember one afternoon during these crazy three years when I was totally overwhelmed with the weight of it all. I literally crawled underneath the kitchen table like a toddler seeking shelter and cried soul wracking cries. I knew Jesus was responsible for what I was going through but also in total control of it all. I also knew He loved me more than I could comprehend. I could not escape His hand on my life. There was no where to run. No where to hide. Where else could I run to but to Christ- the Author and Finisher of my faith? My only choice was to look up to my King with anguished tears streaming down my face and hang on to His wooden cross for dear life.

I’m so glad I did hang on. Once the storm died down and I had the chance to let go of the splintered wood, I looked around and could not believe what God had done for me. I learned that God is my provider. I learned His Word and how to pray. I learned how to war in the spirit and gain victory. I learned that stuff and acquired things are meaningless and can blow away with the wind. I learned to hold on to the people I love loosely, even my own children. God taught me that we all ultimately belong to Him. In short, I learned that God is in control, and I am not. The trust I gained in Jesus to reign in my life during this season set me free of fear and foolish worldly thinking.

Remembering what God has already done helps me to once again crawl to the foot of the cross and wait for Jesus to move in another season of fire. Like I said, if He can use pain and suffering once to mold me and make me like Himself, He can do it again.

But you know what? I confess that on really really bad days, all the Bible knowledge in the world isn’t enough to keep me. Only His presence and the power of the Holy Spirit can do that. This Holy Spirit is the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead.

Jesus is my anchor on days when I don’t have the oomph to open up the Bible and think logically and rationally. In those moments when the rushing high tide of suffering threatens to take me out to open sea, I cry out with short yet fervent prayers that go something like:

“Help!”

“What are You doing, Lord?”

“I can’t do this anymore… I’m so tired.”

And again…

“HELP!”

Mostly, though, I have prayed these words over and over again: “Jesus, I love You.” I sing them with my eyes closed at stop lights. I doodle “I love You, Jesus” on scrap paper during meetings. I write “I love You, Jesus” in the condensation on the door during a steamy shower. I pledge my love to Christ over and over because I am just. so. grateful. that I’m not alone.

My precious Jesus is a man well acquainted with grief and suffering. He is not a High Priest that cannot understand what we go through down here in the dust. The Lord willingly walked down the road called Suffering because He wanted to be there for me when I was in pain. King Jesus wanted to carry me on the days I couldn’t walk in my own strength.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

I need Him, every day. I so desperately need Him when my flesh rises up to want to take my life back into my hands- when I want to usurp His throne. I need Him when my foolish worldly thinking clouds the wisdom found in God’s Word. I need Him when I want it my way after I’ve already pledged myself to my Lord. I need Him to enable me to extend His grace to others, especially grace for those who have the power to hurt me the most.

I just need Him. I need my Jesus so desperately in seasons of trial and pain.

The Apostle Paul was a man also familiar with suffering. He was beaten. Starved. Shipwrecked. Imprisoned. Yet through all this he was able to say,

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-19)

There is a coming day, dear one, when this world and its troubles will pass away. Until then, the Lord promises that the troubles we endure now will not be worth even comparing to the future blessing and wonder that awaits us beyond the veil where God’s presence lies. And I can’t wait.

But until then, I close my eyes, breathe a deep cleansing breath, and vow to stay under the weight of His loving hand when He brings the rain. I choose to stay in the fire. Let the fire burn burn burn away all that is not Him. Because one day, through God’s master workmanship and relentless patience, I am going to look like a gleaming beautiful diamond. I am going to look like Jesus.

Happiness and Joy

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Several years ago when Noah was still swishing around in diapers, I used to love to watch a show on TLC called A Birth Story. The show’s premise was to document an expecting couple’s experiences as they prepared for and finally delivered their child. I was drawn to the program because I loved to “meet” different couples from all walks of life and discover how bringing a baby into the world unites us all. Plus, the babies were just too cute to resist! At the end of every episode, the producers would inevitably ask the new parents what their hopes and dreams were for their infant son or daughter. Almost 100% of the time, the new mom and dad would answer with something along the lines of, “We just want our child to grow up to be happy.”

Though the parents were obviously loving and well-intentioned in their response, my head would fall into my hands in frustration and sadness. Yet another couple and consequently another beautiful child were going to miss the purpose of life.

Which brings me to the purpose of this writing…

Just what is the point of it all? Why are we here?

I can assure you that the purpose of life is not personal happiness. Through His grace, the Lord has helped me to realize that chasing happiness is an entirely selfish pursuit. When we pursue happiness, we put our wishes, hopes, and dreams first. This is the very definition of selfish living. Predictably, when our entire motivation for life is selfish at its core, we end up disappointed, disillusioned, and yes, even angry when our wants and needs aren’t met exactly how we had hoped. The current divorce rate, the rise of Pfizer stock, and the ever increasing length of the self help aisle at the local bookstore prove my point.

There’s a better way to do life! Wise Jesus tells us how to find life fulfillment in Matthew 6:33:

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

In these simple words, the Lord defines our purpose. First, God instructs us to seek His Kingdom. What is the Lord’s Kingdom like? In Jesus’s Kingdom, love and service to others reign. Papa God works tirelessly to heal and restore broken relationships. Christ’s mission on earth was to reconcile our broken relationship with God. So, as Christ’s disciples, we too should be about our Father’s business of love, service, and reconciliation.

Secondly, Jesus teaches His disciples to seek His righteousness. We are to thirst for Christ’s goodness. His purity far surpasses any good that can be drummed up through mere human effort. It’s holy. It’s magnificent and white hot in it’s beauty. When I look around this fallen, damp, and chaotic world, boy do I ever wish for Jesus’s purity of heart. Oh that I would be like Jesus! My heart burns in my chest when I think about the wonder of my Savior. He is altogether lovely and beautiful. I yearn to be daily transformed into the luminous creature that He has called me to be. I passionately pray to stick out not because of a bad attitude or because of the things that I have acquired and accomplished in life, but to break forth like shocking lightning in a black sky because He has molded me into His image. Full of grace and truth.

In short, we are to crave holiness, not happiness.

Incredibly though, when we seek Christ’s kingdom and His righteousness before all things, something miraculous happens. Contained in the final part of Matthew 6:33 is a promise. When we give God primary position in our lives, the Lord is faithful to give us what our sanctified hearts wish for. Because Abba is a good Father, He delights in lavishing His love and blessings on us. However, just as any good parent on earth does not want to spoil their children, Papa God does not want spoiled sons and daughters. So, we have to learn selfless love and righteous living before He can give us the desires of our heart.

We can’t leave God out of the equation and expect to find happiness. We. just. Can’t. This was why I was so saddened by the couples’ answers on A Baby Story. They missed it. They failed to realize or understand our purpose for being and were setting up their lovely children for lives of emptiness and oftentimes misery.

Personally, John chapter 15 is my most treasured chapter in all of Scripture. Christ’s last words to us before He suffered and died are so precious, elegant, impassioned, and important. For the record, my paltry commentary on these verses seems trite. Therefore, I would lovingly advise you to read Christ’s beautiful Words without my thoughts interrupting them and then bask in their profound perfection through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Soak in John 15 in its entirety when you can.

However, for the purposes to this writing, I want to point to a particular portion of Jesus’s beautiful speech:

In John 15:11-13, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”

Here Jesus is speaking of joy. His joy.

What is joy? Joy is something that transcends happiness. Joy is strength in troubled waters. Joy sustains us through pain and disappointments. Joy wraps around our bones and sinews to buttress our body in the wind and heartbreak. Joy helmets our mind so that seasons of doubt cannot capsize our faith. Joy is shining steel in the rain. Joy is knowing Christ’s love and the power of His resurrection.

How do we find joy? Christ tells us in John 15: by loving each other as Christ loves us. We find precious solid joy, not flimsy fleeting happiness, through selfless living.

3 Words

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Last August, I began editing sermons for radio. This means that I’ve spent approximately 15-20 hours a week listening to the Word of God.

The past 10 months of listening and editing has been quite an experience. The Lord has sat me atop His wings and taken me on a wild ride in the heavens. I’ve gotten a wholistic view of what He’s done throughout the ages. It has been a radical view. I’ve cried. I’ve pounded my fist on the desk. I’ve shouted. I’ve temporarily slinked away from the voice coming through my headphones, too convicted to continue listening. Most of all, I’ve learned. Let me say with all the fierceness I can convey through weak human words: Jesus. Is. Beautiful.

I could stay right there for the rest of this post- writing about the loftiness that is my Savior. The greatness that is Christ. The glory of my King. But alas, that is not today’s purpose.

What I want to talk about today is the wholistic heavenly vision I’ve been given the privilege of glimpsing through radio edits. The most important takeaways I’ve gleaned from hours and hours of listening and learning can be summed up in three words: brokenness, sufficiency and dependency.

Brokenness

Those that say, “I’m a good person” are deceived by their own hearts. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. To these folks I would say this: “Yeah- you’re a “good” person according to man’s standards. But God doesn’t judge according to man’s standards. He’s not broken like we are. He doesn’t make mistakes. According to God’s holy standard, we are all a hot mess.” The Bible puts it this way: our righteousness is filthy rags. Those that foolishly self justify have not gotten a revelation of the glory, majesty and holiness of Jesus.

Many skeptics read the Old Testament stories and accuse God of being harsh or even malicious. They are wrong. WE are the ones that are harsh and malicious.

I have visited the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky a couple of times. Guests begin their tour with creation exhibits and then walk through others that portray the timeline of Biblical history. When I arrived at the flood exhibits, I could barely continue. No, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the horror of the world wide disaster (although it is admittedly upsetting). What completely tore me apart was God’s grace.

Before the flood, the Bible says that “people did evil all the time”. Can you even imagine what that must have been like for our Lord? (What do earthly fathers feel when their children do awful things? How much more did our Abba feel hurt and grief!?) Nobody called upon their Creator for help. No one cared about God or His will for their lives at all. Nobody except for one: Noah. Noah was a righteous man living in an unprecedented evil time. So, God gave Noah plans to build an ark and patiently waited for Noah to finish it. While Noah built that big boat, the Bible says that the earth “was filled with violence”.

As I walked through the flood exhibits that day at the museum, I thought, “Father, how do You endure us? Why didn’t You just throw us out and start again? That’s what we, humans, would do!” I understood that God has absolutely no obligation to put up with rebellious humanity. In fact, because He is God (and we are not), He has every right to zap us into oblivion.

But the Lord doesn’t destroy us, because He loves us. God is so long suffering and patient that it defies human understanding. So, when those skeptics say that the Lord is malicious or vengeful, they are merely showing how foolish and ignorant they are.

Unfortunately the flood is just one of the many stories in the Old Testament that demonstrate our utter brokenness. We are disobedient, lustful, vengeful, prideful, envious, and full of hatred. We even selfishly inflict pain on those we love. Personal “countries” divide because of the hardness of our hearts. Husband and wives separate. Children disobey their parents. Parents cut off children. We war with each other just as countries war. National divisions are larger demonstrations of our individual brokenness.

Much blood, sweat, and tears has been shed in an effort to “fix” our brokenness problem. It’s no use though. Whenever we try to fix it ourselves, do religious works, or act piously to cover up our hard hearts, we eventually fail. We make promises and promptly break them. We pull up our boot straps in determination to do good but then give up when the memory of our moral resolve fades or temptation calls.

The simple truth is this: we aren’t good and we can’t be good. All have failed. All have fallen short of God’s perfection. No matter how hard we’ve tried throughout the ages, we have never been able to cross the gulf that exists between God and man.

What’s more, we stand guilty before the Lord. We deserve punishment. Because He is a good Judge, He has to punish us for our rebellion- the same rebellion that was there before the flood, the same disobedience that has always been since the fall. Our destination in the next life is hell because we’ve broken God’s laws over and over again. We are broken and powerless to do anything about our brokenness.

Sufficiency

The good news is that there is hope for all of us who admit we are irrevocably broken.

God knew that we could never be good on our own. So, in a calculated move so compassionate and astounding that the angels watched in amazement, God emptied Himself of glory to become a man named Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life and then took our just punishment upon Himself as He hung on the cross and died. For God so loved the world that He gave His One and only Son. Then Jesus rose again to prove once and for all His triumph over sin and death.

Folks… Jesus’s sacrifice was sufficient. He covers us and makes us righteous. We cannot be righteous on our own. History proves that we can’t be right or good. So, Jesus was right and good for us. HE DID IT. His shoulders are broad enough to carry us all into heaven. His blood is enough to erase all of our mistakes. His grace surpasses understanding. His compassion and mercy are beyond anything you or I have ever known.

Oh what a Savior. What a magnificent, triumphant, glorious Savior.

Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to make you and I righteous. All we need to do is trust in His righteousness to be saved. That’s it. No human effort at all- because as we’ve learned- human effort fails every time. However, God’s effort on the cross is enough. It’s MORE than enough!

Dependency

So what is our response to such a sufficient sacrifice? The New Testament teaches people who have put their trust in Jesus’ sacrifice to be totally dependent upon God. Christ is the only One Who can save us. Furthermore, just as we couldn’t save ourselves from our sins, we also cannot make ourselves more holy on our own. We need Christ’s power to save us just as we need His power to sustain us each day. As we depend on Jesus, we become more like Him. This process is called sanctification. Becoming like Jesus is a lifelong process, and it is a work that God promises in great faithfulness to complete.

The Bible warns us not go back to trying to work to earn God’s favor. The moment we slip back into the old pattern of trying to earn our way to heaven is the very moment we will fall. Again, the Old Testament and all of history prove that we can’t be good on our own. But, glory to God, Jesus is good… so we trust in His goodness and obey Him. There is nothing else that we need to do!

We simply must depend on Christ’s sacrifice like little children depend upon their parents to care for them. God can be trusted, and it is His joy to provide for His children.

My days editing sermons are coming to a rapid close. I recently got hired to teach a 4th and 5th grade split classroom at a small little Christian school here in Alabama. It’s a dream job! The school days are from 8-1:30 (yes!), and my children will matriculate there next year- every mother’s dream. We all start next fall.

While I was excited to accept the job and knew it was God’s will, I was also extremely nervous. I’ve never taught elementary kiddos before (well, with the exception of homeschooling my own 5th grader, Noah). My degree is in secondary education- high school is my specialty. However, I haven’t taught in years. Before moving to Alabama, I was an administrative assistant for 3 1/2 years. I was a nurse’s assistant before that! So, like a brand new teacher coming out of university, I knew I’d have to create each day’s lesson plans from scratch, learn all new curriculum, buy room decor, decorate my room to make it engaging and inviting, etc. etc. etc. Whenever I stopped to think about the amount of work I’d just inherited, I was a little overwhelmed. It prompted me to pray! I was also confessing this truth: “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.”

Last week I went to the school to chat with the current 4-5 teacher before she left. I wanted to get my barrings and peruse the curriculum for the first time. Within 10 minutes of meeting this teacher, I was almost in tears and quite literally jumping for joy.

The lady is retiring, so she is leaving everything to me! Hundreds of novels and books. All of the room decorations. Because this person is very organized, she has a binder filled with lesson plans and detailed assignments from every single day of the 2015-2016 year. The worksheets are even there for me. Jackpot!

How could I have doubted God’s provision? Of COURSE He would provide for me! He always has. He always does. Time after time after time. As I drove home from the school, I could almost hear the Spirit whisper to me, “Oh ye of little faith!”

Dependency is a good thing- even if it feels a bit unfamiliar. We need Jesus. He’s not a crutch. He is life itself!

So- to sum it up:

*We are broken.
*Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to fix our brokenness.
*We need only to depend upon Jesus to be saved and live holy lives.

This is the Gospel. It is God’s plan for salvation. It is the only salve for our ravaged souls.

So, dear one… what will you do now that you know… now that you’ve heard the story of all stories?

I love presents!

Presents

A few months ago, I got the opportunity to work for New York Times bestselling author, Mark Tabb. He was working on writing the story of Kenneth Bae, a Christian missionary who spent 18 months in a North American prison because of the Gospel. My job was to transcribe recordings of Ken telling his story.

I spent maybe 40 hours listening to Ken speak. As my fingers struggled to keep up with his quick speech, I grew to respect and love this stranger who is my brother in Christ. I rejoiced in Ken’s victories. I cried when he suffered. Many times I was forced to stop the tape so I could take time to really ponder what Ken was teaching me about Jesus. Because of Ken, I fell in love with the North Korean people, agonized in prayer for their salvation, and begged God to cause a swift and mighty fall of their current evil regime. In short, my faith was strengthened by Ken’s harrowing story. (The book is now out for purchase at Amazon, and it is aptly titled Not Forgotten.)

A few weeks after my transcription was complete, I got a check in the mail for my work. I expected the check to come from Mark Tabb. However, when I opened the envelope, I was shocked to see that Ken had written me a check in his personal handwriting from his own checking account.

Maybe it’s silly, but I was completely star struck. I experienced what I think others might feel meeting the Queen of England or Brad Pitt. I, Julie, held in my hand a check written by someone who was truly a hero of the faith. Ken had endured great persecution for Christ’s cause and had survived to tell about it. It was unbelievable that I should be paid to help tell Ken’s story. I almost felt guilty cashing his check (you better believe I tithed that sucker!).

Only Jesus could be so good to me. He is the giver of the best gifts.

If I had to pick just one book of the Bible to take with me on a deserted island, admittedly it would be difficult to choose just one. However, if you pinned me down, I’d take Ephesians. I simply love this powerful letter penned by Paul. The Apostle begins Ephesians with a greeting full of truth and joy, and then says this in verse 3:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.”

Here Paul introduces the reader to the ecstatic theme of his letter: we who are Christian have been blessed with every heavenly blessing. Then the Apostle gives a little history lesson to swiftly and soundly prove his bold declaration. That lesson goes something like this (Julie’s paraphrased version):

  1. All people are born rebellious and selfish. This is a big problem because God, being holy and good, cannot allow law breakers into His presence. We deserve punishment for our rebellion. Death, sin, suffering, and decay abound because of men’s poor choices.
  2. The Lord could have justly done away mankind because we are all sinners and law breakers, but instead He chose to patiently endure men’s rebellion. Why? Because He inexplicably and irrevocably loves us. He also had a plan for men’s redemption.
  3. Eventually God chose and then set apart for Himself a special people called Israel. The Jews became the people of the Covenant Promise. They received the Law and the promise of a Messiah Who would save them from their sins. God’s faithful heart was on display when He said to Israel, “You will be my people, and I will be Your God.” (Exodus 6:7)
  4. What the Jews did not know was that God’s plan was bigger than they could have possibly imagined. When the Messiah came in the Person of Jesus Christ, salvation would not just be for the circumcised Jew, but also for any uncircumcised Gentile who would believe. Through the Holy Spirit, our hearts are circumcised, or set apart, to God. People from all over the world are brought together in unity in One Body of Believers Whose Head is Jesus Christ.
  5. God didn’t stop giving with the gift of His One and only Son Jesus. He continued to give us every spiritual blessing. We have been given the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit indwells us, we are given gifts to testify of our betrothal to our King. The gift of the Spirit acts as a seal until the consummation of all things on the Last Day.
  6. We have access to God the Father through the blood of Jesus. We can take our request and petitions to God whenever- no more sacrifice is necessary.
  7. We have peace. We have joy. We have power. We have life everlasting. We are co-heirs with Christ, brothers and sisters of Jesus, adopted into God’s family forever!
  8. Finally, and most staggering, we have been given the power through the Spirit to understand the height, depth, and width of God’s limitless reckless love.

Paul says we have been given every spiritual gift through Christ in Ephesians 1:3, and then proves it for the rest of chapter 1 and then in chapter 2 by naming those blessings listed above. Isn’t Paul’s list staggering? It is absolutely mind blowing!

Paul ends Ephesians chapter three with this declaration in verses 20-21:

“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Uh… yeah amen, Paul! Context is everything, right? God is able to do more than we can ask or think. While Israel was thinking that God’s plan was for them only, the Lord revealed that His salvation was for everyone. When we thought that we would be mere servants in God’s household, Papa God calls us sons and daughters. When we feel powerless, the Spirit shows us that we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.

A-MA-ZING. Amazing. The only way to comprehend such staggering blessings is to know the One from Whom the blessings come. I hope you know Him! 

So… back to that check I got. Given that I’m Abba’s daughter, I guess I should not have been so surprised to be given such an abundant blessing through the gift of a wonderful job. Only my generous Papa could have orchestrated such a task for me. I was and am His awed daughter.

God is so big. Jesus is the giver of the very best presents, and His plans for me and you are just that good.

Just Keep Swimming

Just-Keep-Swimming
You know those weird people that laugh at funerals? Yeah- that’s me. I have inappropriate reactions to stress. It gets worse than laughing at a funerals though. For example, several years ago, I was selected to serve as a juror in a murder trial. After two days of testimony, arguments, and deliberation, we, the jurors, entered the courtroom to deliver a verdict. As I walked towards my seat in the jury box, I could feel the stares from the friends and families of both the victim and the accused on both sides of the aisle. The tension was palpable. Suddenly, my eyes locked with those of the lead defense attorney. I could tell he was trying to “feel” me out- trying to gauge what decision the jury had reached based on my observable body language. Quickly I turned my gaze away and bit the inside of my cheeks to quell the nervous laughter trying to bubble out. I could actually hear Perry Mason music inside my head, and the whole thing seemed too utterly ridiculous to be real. But it was real.

Although my thoughts were jumbled that day, if I could have verbalized them, they would have gone something like this: “How can this be real? I live in world where lovers actually kill each other?! Someone wake me up from this nightmare, please!”

Often I’ve wondered why I am like this- why I laugh when I should be somber. I guess it’s easier to smile than it is to cry.

When I was four and living in a foster home, I used to stand at the top of the stairs each morning shivering in fear at the prospect of facing another day. Some days my teeth would chatter in terror as I gazed down at the stairway. I used to stand at the top of the stairs for many minutes most days silently willing my right foot to take the first step down. I don’t know how this happened in my four-year-old creative mind, but somehow the stairs became representative of the real enemy that was my loveless, hopeless life. I knew that if I descended the stairs to join the world below, I had to face another day. Thus, going down the stairs became a battle- a daily valley to be traversed. Sometimes, I would take two or three steps downward toward the reality awaiting me, but then I would chicken out and run back to my bunk bed to hide away under the covers for a few more minutes. One time I hid so long upstairs that it was after lunch before I was finally brave enough to come down. Nobody checked on me to see if I was okay in all that time. Such was the nature of my life.

To cope, I built invisible walls inside. Mostly, I detached entirely.

Later on after I was adopted, most who observed me would have called me a happy child. They would have been mostly right. I smiled easily and did well in school. However, the hurts inside were always there lying dormant, just waiting for the right set circumstances to make their appearance.

And appear they did. During my senior year in high school, I finally let someone in- a boy. I loved him so. He made me feel wild and beautiful. But also scared and vulnerable. I clung to him with all I had. When he suddenly moved mid-way through my senior year, my worst fears were realized. I lost him and then most of my mind for a few months. The pain and grief I experienced is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. I still carry the scars.

My mother took me to a therapist around this time. A middle aged professional doggedly asked me questions for an entire hour in a feeble attempt to get me to open up. I smiled mutely, brushed him off, or redirected the conversation throughout the appointment because I refused to let him see who I really was. I walked out of his office towards the elevators feeling smug. Julie 1, Counselor 0. Mom never took me back to that poor guy again.

Why am I writing all this depressed stuff? I hate doing it. I prefer the happy stuff, right? Walls are my MO.

Recently, I got an email from a friend. She is an extremely private person, so I’ll just call her Ann. Ann wrote to let me know that she has cancer and does not have long to live. When I read the news, every cell inside my body ceased moving. I stopped breathing. Then the walls that I work so hard to hold up crumbled. I laid down, hugged my pillow, and cried. Ann is one of the very few people I’ve managed to let in. She is a beautiful Christian lady, so I know I’ll see her in eternity. I also rejoice for her because she is going to meet our King Jesus soon. But… she’s my friend. She’s a guide and mentor. Ann is my lovely, beautiful, wise, quirky, insightful friend. Oh I’m going to miss her.

Grief. How could anyone put good in front of that word? It scrapes at your outsides. It rots your stomach. Brokenhearted isn’t the right word for grief, is it? How can the heart be broken when it is the organ that keeps you alive. Instead, acute grief feels like a vice grip around your heart. When grief is at its maximum intensity, a broken heart would be a mercy over the pain of a very real and pumping restricted heart. Grief is manic panic and sluggish sadness wrapped up into one ball of hell. I have worked my whole life to avoid it.

God won’t let me get away with that anymore. Grief is a part of the human experience. My Savior can attest to that.

I edit sermons for radio at home. Predictably, I began editing a sermon series in the book of Job after hearing Ann’s news. Job is not exactly joyous reading. Poor Job. When I read and heard the pastor describe just how much Job went through, I really had no idea how he was able to continue and remain faithful. He did though. I suppose that’s why we keep telling his story. 🙂

I am a good student of the Bible because of my memory. I can retain information fairly well. However, the Lord usually speaks directly to me with quick, simple bursts of truth. It only takes one or two sentences from an entire message to stick to my insides and change my life. I’ve been directed to travel great distances to hear one sentence in an entire message. One sentence is all it takes though. That is the power of the Word.

Do you what sentence changed me in this latest sermon series based in Job? (It is a little embarrassing because it is so cliche´.) It is this: Just keep going.

I’ve learned through Job’s story that grief is something that is universally experienced. Even when we feel alone in our pain, we are not. We live in a fallen world, and as such, we must grieve. We must cope.

What do we do when a wave of unrelenting grief comes crashing down on us? In those moments, we can only cry out to the Lord. This is a recent conversation I had with Jesus just two days ago when one such wave of grief threatened to drown me:

Me: “Lord, I just want to be where You are. I am tired of this pain. I want to be with You!”
Jesus: “I am with you.”
Me: “I know, but You are not right here WITH me. I miss You. How can I miss Someone I’ve never met in Person? But I do!”
Jesus: “I missed my Father too (when I was on earth).”
Me: Silent sobs.

Jesus was gently reminding me that there is no pain that I could ever experience that He has not already walked through. In fact, Christ willingly drank my grief just so He could hold my hand today.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:8)

Jesus is with me.

What I haven’t told you about Ann that I want to tell you now is that God gave me a gentle heads up about her health last summer. One day as I was writing her, the Lord gently whispered that the time with my friend was coming to an end soon. Immediately understanding what the Spirit was saying, I swallowed past the lump in my throat and continued to write. I never mentioned a word of what I heard to anyone, but tucked it away.

When I got Ann’s news, I was immediately comforted. The Lord had told me this was coming. He was with me. He would walk me through it. And somehow, because God is God, I knew I would look more like His Son when I made it past the wave. That’s the only way grief can be good.

I have no choice but to keep going. To descend the stairs and join the real world. To silence the Perry Mason music and face harsh reality. If brother Job could do it, I can do it. I can do it because Christ is with me.

Just keep swimming. Seems like Dory was on to something.