Posted on September 29, 2013
My husband gave me a little silver stone-studded cross before we were engaged. It was a “promise necklace” symbolizing the love and commitment from the man I would soon marry. I loved it and treasured its beauty around my neck each day…until one evening I went to take it off and it was gone! The necklace was there but loop connecting the cross to the chain must have loosened, and the cross was nowhere to be found.
It wasn’t until more than a year later, it turned up again. I was unpacking a suitcase, and beneath all the clothes, suddenly there it was, the little stone-studded cross, shining brighter than ever. It hadn’t been lost after all, just buried beneath of heap of…stuff.
Basking in the joy of finding this precious treasure once again, it reminded me of how we can often experience a similar thing in our spiritual lives. The treasures once given to us in Christ — peace in our hearts, rest in our souls, joy in suffering, passion for God’s Word, a heart to serve Him, enthusiasm to share our faith with others, desire to spend time with Him, boldness to exercise His power through spiritual gifts — get buried beneath the busyness of life. Our jobs, relationships and responsibilities soon clutter our hearts which once burned for God. The fire, passion and desire for Him slowly die out and we think, Well, this must be how it is as you get further along in faith. But is it? Is this what God intended for His people: to be lit aflame by Him and for Him, only to have it die out weeks, months or years later?
When we look to the Bible, the short answer is: No! God desires for us to experience the fullness of Him and His riches — not part of the time, but all the time. The Apostle Paul prays fervently, that God’s people would be filled to the max with God in their daily lives. That we,
“… may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]! (Ephesians 3:19b, AMP)
Whoa. Let’s review: Filled through all your being with the fullness of God…Having the richest measure of the divine Presence of God…Living each day wholly filled and flooded with God Himself. Like me, you might be thinking: Gee, that sounds nice, but let’s get real — that can’t actually be a reality amidst the hustle and bustle of life.
The answer is, yes it can. We can be filled to the fullest measure of God each day. The question is, do we want to be? Part of it has to do with realizing that the richest spiritual blessings have already been given to us as a gift in Christ, by grace. But just like my cross necklace, the gift which was given to us in love, can get buried beneath the clutter of life. That is what Paul continues to preach to the believers in the church (that’s us) — that we have a part to play in keeping the clutter out, so that the treasures can shine ever brightly, as God intended them to.
If we’re honest, there are times along our spiritual journey where we feel “dry” and lifeless in the Spirit. Rather than being filled with God’s Presence, we feel like we’re running on empty — tired, weary and complacent. This is inevitable and part of living in a fallen world. But, when we recognize we are in such a place, we need not worry or fear, but simply bring it to God in prayer, asking: What is it in my life Lord, that might be covering up the treasures you have given me, in Christ? What might be blocking or hindering Your presence and power from flowing through me? I desire to be filled and flooded with Your love each day. Lord, please help me get back to that place!
I have found in my own life, that this sort of desperate prayer is the only thing that can bring me out of seasons in the desert. When we truly desire to experience the fulness of life in the Lord once again, we must be willing to pause, listen, and wait on God to show us the “clutter” that might be causing the fullness of His treasures –spiritual fruits, gifts, blessings and power — to be laying dormant and lifeless within us. They ARE there; they’re just covered up.
Here a few areas in my own life, which continue to have a huge impact on my life with God. I have noticed that when any of these things decrease, so does God’s presence and power in my life. Take a look and evaluate these areas in your own life as they relate to the health of your soul:
- Time with God. When I allow others things to get in the way of my time with God, my soul suffers. Keeping a regular practice of spending time with God, helps to keep us connected to God and His Holy Spirit. A good friend of mine always says we must “fight” for our relationship with God. This is so true, given all the distractions competing for our time and attention each day. Set a regular time to meet with God — to pour out your heart to Him, study His Word, listen to Him and allow His Spirit to fill you during this time. It’s a must!
- Investment in Spiritual Things. The things in which I choose to invest my time and energy absolutely impact my relationship with God. The Bible puts it this way: “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8). When we are intentionally investing or “sowing” into things that feed our Spirit like church, serving others, building godly friendships, sharing our faith with others etc., we are promised that God’s Spirit will bring life to our souls. We will be “alive” in Him. Who doesn’t want that?
- Quality of Worship. When I go through the routine of singing songs to God, but my heart is not really engaged, this only perpetuates dry land in my heart. But when we purposefully engage in worship regularly, even daily, focusing our minds and hearts on who God is and what He has done for us, oh how are hearts are re-filled and re-fueled with His Presence! God loves to touch hearts who worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Incorporate times of worship into your life, whether while driving to work, running, in your own room or wherever. Blast those worship tunes, sing your heart out TO God, and allow His Spirit to stir you to passion for Him once again. Nothing is more wonderful!
- Sin Confession. No one, except Jesus, is perfect. Therefore, we all have areas of imperfection, weakness, flaws, mistakes –things that are downright ugly and unpleasing to our Lord. Getting in the practice of being aware of our own sin, confessing it, and repenting (turning away from it), are sure ways to keep the lines of communion with and communication to God clear and unclogged with life’s junk and gunk. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” My husband and I have started kneeling by our bed each night and confessing our sins before one another and God. Man has it made a difference! We feel our souls are cleansed each night and this helps us feel closer to each other and God. God’s life cannot dwell in its fulness when we have unconfessed sin. Confess and be healed!
These are just a few of the things, that when active in ours lives, can help to keep the clutter at a minimum, so that God and all His treasures can burst forth on a regular basis. It is possible! I pray that we would all desire and seek the greater things of God, refusing to be content with the dry, parched, desert conditions in our hearts. Jesus Himself says,
“Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”
May we all be filled afresh by the fulness of God this week as we go to Him and drink!
Posted on September 18, 2013
One of my favorite verses to recite from memory is Lamentations 3:22-23,
“Because of the Lord’s great love for us, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.”
Gosh I love this passage! It encourages us in God’s sure and constant mercy and compassion new EVERY morning. But what I didn’t realize before, was the context in which these words were spoken. Take a look at the descriptive and rather grotesque picture painted by the writer, “lamenting” over his dire circumstances (Lamentations 3:1-15):
“I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me walk
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand against me
again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and my flesh grow old
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded me
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot escape;
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of stone;
he has made my paths crooked.
Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path and mangled me
and left me without help.
He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, ‘My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.’”
Darkness…rejection…broken bones…bitterness…mockery…broken teeth?? Wow. This writer is “lamenting”, for good reason, the terribly painful, difficult and almost unbearable situation he is experiencing and seeing around him. All of Jeremiah’s warnings about Jerusalem coming to utter ruin and destruction were coming true. Lamentations records five poems of sorrow of the fallen city, as a result of God’s people turning away from Him. Reading them as a whole, they are weighty and full of emotion, giving vivid description of the darkness that befell God’s people. And yet…
There IS an “and yet.” Check it out, just a few lines after the dark and despairing laments above, you might think the writer is on the brink of suicide or absolute despair. It seems he has been deserted by God and seemingly lost all hope. BUT, he then comes in with this surprising YET statement:
“YET this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. ~Verses 21-23 (emphasis added)
I don’t know about you, but seeing this passage again — in context — adds a deeper layer of meaning and richness. It wasn’t like his situation improved and he suddenly was reminded of God’s faithfulness. No, he was still in the midst of the darkness — the physical and spiritaul pain of rejection and abuse — and he somehow had the wherewithal to believe beyond his circumstances, Nope, this utterly despairing situation is NOT reality. I refuse to believe it is so! Then, in his probably rather pathetic and feeble state, he recalls to mind the real truth about the situation, God loves me and his compassions are new to me even in this moment. I may fail, but He won’t. I may be faithless, but He is faithful. My life may not be good right now, but God IS good. He seems to be preaching these truths to himself, desperately hoping they’ll somehow bear witness and bring some light inside the dark prison of his own soul. He wills himself to continue:
“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” ~Verse 25
There is no evidence that the writer’s circumstances improved during or after he said these words. He was saying them as his circumstances remained the same. They didn’t change, but without a doubt, he did. This reminds us not to equate God’s goodness with things that are, well, “good” in our lives. We often do this. During difficult times, we wonder if God is good and why, if he loved us, we would be facing such difficulty. But what we can learn from this precious lamenting soul is that no matter how bad or dark or discouraging our circumstances appear to be, true faith lies in the unseen, as the writer of Hebrews so eloquently puts it:
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” ~Hebrews 11:1
We will inevitably face times when we cannot see or hear or feel or sense God in our circumstances. Those are the times we must follow the example of this lamenting soul by “calling to mind” truths about God revealed to us in His Word. We must remind ourselves, preach to ourselves even, the reality that exists in the unseen.
Before you go about your day today, pick a verse in Scripture that you can “call to mind,” which embodies a certain truth about who God truly is. The moment you face a challenging or difficult situation, no matter how big, small, messy, discouraging, or confusing it may seem, choose to call to mind that very verse that reminds you of the reality of His love, kindness, faithfulness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, security…or whatever it may be.
Finally, remember, as my pastor often says, “God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.” Continue to put your hope in Him and to seek Him in the good times and the bad, and you will most surely find — despite your circumstances — God’s goodness revealed to you, in the most profound and unexpected ways.
Posted on September 16, 2013
“…because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” ~Romans 8:2
I love this verse, and yet sometimes I don’t see it as a reality in my life. I know that through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, I am supposedly “set free” from the law of sin and death. But it leaves me to wonder why there times when I don’t really feel free.
As much as I hate to admit it, I experience character flaw flare-ups from time to time. You know, those recurring nagging sins that you think you’re “over” only to have them come back again days, weeks, months or even years later? My most recent one was impatience. It’s something I have worked and worked on, prayed and prayed about and have even experienced God’s transforming grace over the years. But just when I think I am totally over the impatience thing, BOOM, it flares up again out of nowhere and I feel like I am back at square one. Whatever our flare-ups are — an angry outburst, a jealous rage, a quiet envy, a lust for physical affection, a paralyzing fear, a giving into too much food or alcohol — we all have them. So what are we to make of them, in light of the truth that through Christ, we have been set free?
Sometimes, when we are experiencing the recurrance of nagging sins, it’s easy to think we must not be “doing enough” spiritually or else we wouldn’t be struggling as we are. But as we go back to God’s Word, and hang out a bit more in Romans 8, it becomes clear: it really isn’t about us doing more in our relationship with God so that we can be more free. But it’s about letting the truth of what God did once and for all, through Jesus, seep deeper into our hearts and souls:
“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who…live according to the spirit.” ~Romans 8:3-4
Did you catch that? God did it. God. Did. It. All of it. It’s done. It’s finished. There is nothing we can do to change our right standing with God. We are no longer condemned by our own sin, as we were before Christ was sent to die in our place. See, before Christ came, the Israelites were given the law to live up to. But since they could not live up to it, thus failing to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law, it meant they had to be condemned. Without going into too much detail, the Law was basically given (by God through Moses) as a temporary solution to the human problem of sin, but it was never meant to be the permanent solution to sin. It simply exposed human sin, and therefore paved the way for a permanent solution: Jesus. Jesus was sent to take on all of the world’s sin — including ours — and receive the punishment that we deserved, so that we could be forgiven for our sins and enjoy a direct relationship with our Father…for eternity. Through Jesus then, we can see that we have indeed been set free…but from what? The punishment of sin, not sin itself.
So what does this tell us about sin in our lives?
It helps to introduce the “already…but not yet” concept here as it relates to sin. Jesus was sent to stand as a substitute for us, taking on our sins so that we could be forgiven and enjoy eternal life in the presence of our Father. That has already been done. It’s finished. We are free from condemnation (Romans 8:1). Rejoice!
It does not mean we are entirely free from sin itself. While we are free from the eternal punishment of sin through what Christ already did for us on the cross, the fact is, we still live in a sin-stained world.
But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. ~Romans 8:10
Our bodies are still awaiting total redemption when Christ returns. That is the “not yet” part.
...but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for…the redemption of our bodies. ~Romans 8:23
I don’t know about you, but I find this Romans 8 section extremely comforting. It somehow gives reason to the presence of nagging sins in our lives from which we so badly want to be free. It doesn’t mean we give into them, saying “Oh well, I guess I’ll have to live in defeat of this sin.” Heavens no! When we continue in Romans, we learn of a great gift we have been given to help us in overcoming the sin that so easily entangles us.
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his spirit who lives in you.” ~Romans 8:11
The very same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, is the very same Spirit living in us, NOW. Wow, think about that. We have access to that power to rely upon and call upon in our moments of struggle and weakness in overcoming our various sins and character flaw flare-ups. This is the promise that gives us our hope in overcoming the sin that still is at work in this world, threatening our mortal bodies, be it selfishness, pride, jealousy, anger. None of these things have the final say. Knowing this truth — that the Spirit will help us in our weakness — and believing it, means we must actively live by it, as Paul encourages the Romans.
“Therefore, we have an obligation — but it’s not to the flesh to live according to it. For if you living according to the flesh, you will die. But, if by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” ~Romans 8:12-13
Our obligation is to live by the Spirit, not our own flesh. Practically speaking, what does that mean? It means…
- Calling Upon the Spirit for Help. When we are facing moments of weakness or temptation, we can call upon the strength of our Father and the Spirit that has been given to us overcome. “Lord, will you help me respond to my husband with patience…will you keep me from turning to food for comfort…Lord, please help me in my weakness!” No thing can separate us from the love that is in Christ (see Romans 37-39)!
- Soaking in the Truth of God’s Word…Daily. When we are constantly soaking in God’s Word, the Spirit simultaneously nourishes, strengthens and feeds us with His Truth and fills us with His presence. This is one way to be “filled by the Spirit” and we will experience the “fruits of the Spirit” manifesting more powerfully in our lives as a result (see Galatians 5:22-23). Make it a daily habit of spending time with God and communing with Him through reading and meditating on His Word each day.
- Embracing the “Already…but not Yet” Tension. It’s easy to fret about sin and allow the especially nagging ones to get us down, discouraged and full of doubt. “Am I even saved?” Living by the Spirit means constantly thanking God for the work He has already done in Christ, and thanking Him also for the total redeeming work that has not yet come with Christ’s return. Allow your nagging sins to serve as little reminders that total redemption of our bodies and total freedom from sin is on the horizon!
Lord, thank You that even if I struggle with persistent nagging sins, I am not condemned because Jesus already removed the eternal punishment I deserved. Lord, though my body is still subject to death until the day of redemption, I will see it as an opportunity to wait on You patiently for what has not yet occurred. I gladly and eagerly await the day where my body will be totally and completely free from the grips of the dark and ugly forces of sin still operating in this world and lurking in my life. Until then, grant me hope for new levels of freedom as I rely upon Your strength, wisdom and power, not my own. Sustain me, o Lord, and give me grace where I need it most, enabling me to walk more and more in the beauty of Your holiness each day. Amen.
*For an more in depth and thorough explanation of meaning of the cross and why Jesus
had to die, I recommend John Stott’s Cross of Christ.
Posted on September 7, 2013
We used to play a game called “limbo” where two people would hold a long stick starting at a reasonable height and one person would try to bend their body to walk underneath it without touching it. We would say, “How lowwww can you goooo?” Every time a person made it through without touching the bar, it would be lowered closer to the ground. Whoever could bend, tweak and contort their body at the lowest level won the prize. Alas, I unfortunately, did not inherit the limber genes to beat out my friends in limbo, but it was always a fun game to play.
When it comes to our faith, the saying may not be how low can one go, but perhaps how deep. One of my favorite quotes is from the late priest Henri Nouwen who said this:
“The more you are called to speak for God’s love, the more you will need to deepen the knowledge of that love in your heart. The further the outward journey takes you, the deeper the inward journey must be. Only when the roots are deep can your fruits be abundant.”
As Christians, we are all called to speak for God’s love through the living of our lives. Therefore, we are all called to deepen the knowledge of that love, digging a deeper well in our inward journey, which will then lead to abundant fruits in our lives and the ministry the Lord is breathing through us. Richard Foster, in his book Spiritual Maturity also reiterates the need for depth in our spirituality:
“Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”
What does it mean to go deep? It’s not like we walk around asking each other, “So how deep are you today?” It’s a bit of an ambiguous term and difficult to define.
When we turn to the Bible, the Apostle Paul puts this concept of spiritual depth in terms of maturity. In Ephesians 4, he says:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Here, Paul gives us some clues into how we can pursue depth in our lives and faith, rather than settle for being surface people being tossed back and forth by the waves of other teachings and ideas. He says depth, or spiritual maturity will come as a result of:
- Pursuing unity and peace within the Body of Christ (verse 13a). This means working together and collaborating with brothers and sisters from other ministries and churches who may be different that you. Wherever there is division or dissension, or even apathy, God can’t glorify Himself to the world. Unity and peace are so important and we must pursue it at any cost!
- Increasing knowledge of the Son of God (verse 13b). Our knowledge of God increases as we spend time reading His Word and asking God to reveal Himself to us. Listening to sermons and reading Christian books can augment this process, but nothing can be a substitute for reading God’s Word for ourselves. Just as we would study a subject like economics to understand better the principles of supply and demand, so too must we study God’s Word to better understand who Jesus is and why he was sent to die for us. Increasing our knowledge increases our love for Him.
- Speaking the Truth in love (verse 15a). As we continue to seek to know God personally through his Word, His Truth–and how to live it out–becomes more clear. We have a responsibility to one another in our Christian community to hold each other to account and help keep each other on track. Often we are offended when people try and speak into areas of our lives that are not in line with God’s Word or we are scared to offend others by speaking the Truth in love to them. But Paul says this is a key element of spiritual growth and building each other up in our faith.
If you were to prayerfully evaluate your own level of spiritual depth through the principals above, where would you be at? Be honest with yourself and before God. Allow him to chisel the rough spots, discipline you where you need it, and remove the things hindering you from going deeper. The following are things God has called me to do at various points of my life to help me go deeper in my walk with Him :
- go to bed earlier so I can wake up earlier to spend time with God
- reduce the number of hours of tv and/or techno-surfing
- be regular in my attendance at church and small group meetings
- build intentional friendships with other Christians
- develop regular times of prayer, confession and repentance
Don’t settle for superficiality. Seek to go deep…to be a deep person in this surface world. It starts with your own evaluation of yourself and being willing to have the courage to ask God to help you to go deeper in your faith. It is from that deep place where you will experience all the fulness of God and the wonderful riches of Christ!
Father, forgive me for being content with comfort. Help me to see the value in growing and becoming more mature in my faith by pursuing peace in my community, increasing my knowledge of You, and speaking the Truth in love whenever necessary. Keep me lingering on the surface of life. I long to go deeper with You Lord. Help me, by Your great power, grace and strength. Amen.