Monday, March 30, 2015

I Still Believe

So, this week is Holy Week.  This week we remember that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, and we celebrate that He rose from the dead, giving us victory over death, and eternal life. This week is the Super Bowl of Christianity. No holiday is more important in a Christian's life than Easter.  Our salvation and our eternity were sealed by Jesus' work on the cross.

This is surely something to celebrate, but let's go deeper. Let's get a little graphic even. (Hang with me!) What, specifically, guarantees our salvation?  Well first, why did we need saving? You know. It started in the Garden of Eden when sin entered our world.  Adam and Eve chose to sin against God, thus allowing sin to enter the world.  Because of that, every person born since then is predisposed to sin.  We all do it.  A child doesn't even have to learn how to sin; it comes naturally! It took my youngest child no time at all to crawl over and hit her brother. This original sin created a huge problem.  Our God is holy and has no tolerance for sin.  We were faced with a divide.  We could never again be with our God as Adam and Eve were in the Garden prior to sinning.  God made a way, though, to allow us access to Him.  The system of sacrifice was created.

In the Old Testament, people and priests were able to offer sacrifices to atone for their sins and the sins of many. When presenting a sacrifice to God, blood had to be shed.  The blood served to wash away the sins so God was able to accept His people.  But, God had an even better plan!  Enter Jesus!

Jesus willingly came to be a final sacrifice, once and for all. His holy, perfect blood was spilled for all of us.  If we choose to recognize and accept this sacrifice, we are forever forgiven because of His blood.  Jesus said, "for this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many" (Matthew 26:28). We no longer are subject to the rules and procedures of the law requiring sacrifice after sacrifice. We have grace through Jesus' blood! To quote a Point of Grace song from the '90's, "There's a cross to bridge the great divide!"

Anyone with a church background probably knows all this. But, what else?  Yes, there's more!  Jesus' blood...
  • Purifies our consciences. "Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins," Hebrews 9:14.  We can boldly come before the throne of God to worship Him because we have been purified. We can walk with our God once more, like Adam and Eve!

  • Defeats Satan and the powers of evil.  In Revelation 12:11 it says, "They triumphed over him [the devil] by the blood of the Lamb."  If we accept Jesus' sacrifice, evil has no real power over us!  The evil in this world will not win in our lives.  Jesus also said, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). We can live in peace and without fear of what this world can do to us.  Claim that!

  • Heals us from the sickness of sin and makes us whole!  Isaiah 53:5 says, "But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed." Christ makes us whole when we allow Him to take away the disease that is sin. When sin is removed, we must fill that void with something.  The Holy Spirit enters in and makes us truly complete.  If we seek God, we will never be lacking in anything (Matthew 6:33, "Seek the Kingdom of God, above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.")

I know a lot of this is old hat to some of you.  A lot of you are very familiar with the symbolism and themes associated with Easter Sunday. But on the other hand, maybe some of you are not. And both are ok!  But I have a question for all of us: do you still believe?

I came across this song the other day, and it inspired this post.  It makes the statement that yes, I still believe that the blood of Jesus is sufficient for me.  In fact, that is the only thing that saves me! That is the only thing that puts me in right standing with God! And it is more than enough.  Let's remember these truths this Easter.  The precious blood of Jesus is enough.  Thank you, Jesus, for your awesome sacrifice!  I still believe, do you?

Still Believe - by Kim Walker-Smith 

I've linked up this week at Jennifer Dukes Lee's #TellHisStory. Check it out!

 


Thursday, March 26, 2015

But...Mercy!

I was on my way, alone, to take a test. This was a type of test that I had never taken before.  I'm good at tests.  I have a photographic memory, which makes memorizing facts and figures easy for me.  No, this test was not like that.  I was on my way to get my blood drawn to determine if I had the gene marker for breast cancer.  The same gene that had subjected my mother and my aunt to breast cancer at the age of 40.

Needless to say, my mind was not on the road.  On the outskirts of one of the small towns I had to pass through, I noticed those flashing lights behind me.  I was quite surprised.  A highway patrol woman pulled me over. I guess I was going a little fast.  After she ran my license, she also discovered that I had outdated tabs on my license plates.  Gee, thanks!  She asked if I had already paid them, and I said, "No! I haven't even seen the renewal letter yet!"  I had no good excuses to give her; I was clearly guilty of speeding and expired plates. 

I'm going to call it "a woman's intuition!"  The officer must have sensed that I was already rattled and stressed.  She let me off with a written warning and the advice that I could renew my license plates in the town I was traveling to.  The stop did not take that long, and I was not late to my appointment.

This woman showed me some mercy when I had clearly needed it. According to dictionary.com, mercy is "compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one's power; benevolence." I was the offender; the officer was the benevolent one that extended the underserved mercy. 

Don't we all need undeserved mercy? Haven't we all offended God? Don't our sins separate us from our Holy God? Without Jesus' blood to save us, aren't we considered enemies of God? But, "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation" (1 Peter 1:3, emphasis added).  We were dead in our sin, but we were born again by God's great mercy, freely offered through the work of Jesus on the cross. We were condemned, but! We were God's enemies, but!  Praise God!

Because of God's mercy and the salvation available through faith in Jesus, the last part of that verse in 1 Peter says, "Now we live with great expectation." This is the bonus!  This is what Jesus describes in John 10:10! "The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." We not only get eternal life, which is the best gift of all, but we get God living in us. Therefore, we have great power, joy, peace and strength at our disposal.  Tapping into these God-given resources is the key to a full and satisfying life.  Before God we were weak, sad, stressed, and alone.  But, God's mercy changed all that! We can turn to God and seek Him first, and then we can expect the blessings to come.  We can achieve abundant life through Christ! Amen!

Another Amen: God showed me some additional mercy that day.  It turns out that I do NOT have the breast cancer gene!  Thank you, God!

I'm linked up at tsuzanneeller.com  on #livefreeThursday today!

Monday, March 23, 2015

When you are "done" by 10 a.m.

This day started off well.  We received a healthy dose of snow last night, so my farmer was home, unable to run the chisel plow like he had planned.  I was able to linger in my bed.  My kids even came in and snuggled me.  It was so nice! 

Then, unfortunately, I left the safe haven of my bed.  There was an instant request to watch "Paw Patrol."  Evidently, it was urgent. I tried to patiently explain that we do not watch shows before breakfast!  My speech was ineffective, and I was countered by some intense whining.  It was downhill from there.  My kids could not get along.  I battled fighting, yelling, and name-calling as I tried to enjoy my first cup of coffee and the morning news. My husband had abandoned me to do the plowing in the snow.  Whatever. My oldest had been to time out twice before I gave in and took them outside to play in the snow, and hopefully, to send one in the tractor with Dad. 

If anyone has dressed even one kid in snow clothes, you know how exhausting that is!  I helped my two kids get bundled up and then bundled up myself.  We were able to have a good time outside sledding and digging in the snow.  We came in and had some hot chocolate and cookies.  I noted how tired I felt.  It was only 10:30!  Naptime was still two and a half hours away.  I thought, "How am I going to make it until then?"

Here's the kicker: I could choose to remain engulfed by my bad morning, or I could choose to turn it around.  I know we are all faced with similar decisions daily.  When we choose to turn our day around, we can ask God for help.  But, I'm wondering, what does God say about bad days?

1. He says He always cares for us.  1 Peter 5:7 says, "Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you."  This verse says that God wants us to cast all of our worries on Him.  Even the ones that seem silly, like in my case today, "My son is driving me crazy!" God already knows my feelings anyway.  However, when we cast all of our cares on Him, we release our worry and get His peace.  I'll make that trade any day!

2. He says He guides us, delights in us, and holds our hands. Psalm 37:23-24 is one of my favorites!  "The Lord directs the steps of the Godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand."  What a wonderful promise for us moms!  God delights in our seemingly mundane lives!  Even when we make a mistake, we will not fall, for He is holding us by the hand! 

So, we choose to turn it around!  God is on our side.  Wallowing in our bad days is not what God has in mind for us.  He wants to give us strength and peace.  When we make this choice, He helps us. His word is always there to encourage us. I'm finding out more and more that my own daily choices contribute to whether or not I experience life abundantly.  It is a daily choice.  Sometimes, it's an hourly choice! But, that's why I'm on this quest!  And that's why, today, I choose to not be done at 10 a.m.!

I've linked up at Intentionally Pursuing the Heart of God and Titus2sDay

Monday, March 16, 2015

Alert and Thankful

Last post, I talked about little old ladies, and how I wanted to be one.  Well, I'm not quite ready to be old, but I am striving to pray like one!  The verse that inspired my call to prayer is Colossians 4:2. "Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart."  Those little old ladies have this devotion part figured out!  They know that prayer is all about being in God's presence and taking the time to pray. 

But what about the second part of this verse?  The alert mind and a thankful heart?  This part of the verse challenged me as well.  Here is how I used to pray:  I would lay myself down in my comfy bed, maybe I had just finished reading the Bible, and I would turn out the lights and try to pray.  Needless to say, I was not successful.  The warmer and cozier I became, the shorter my prayer.  My mind was no where near what I would call "alert."  Or, on a better day, I would be sitting on my couch trying to read and pray when, "ding," my phone would notify me of a new message. Or, in the midst of the quiet I would hear, "Mom! I have to go potty!"  Now, my mind was alert, but it was not focused on prayer.

What was keeping me from an alert mind toward prayer?  Distractions.  Whether it was my own choice to relax and fall asleep, or my phone or children distracting me, I was pulled away from my conversation with God.  I'm hoping I'm not the only one who has struggled with this!  Our lives are filled with so many distractions, some we choose and some that just happen.  How do we overcome them so we can pray with an alert mind, as we are urged to do?  We have to be intentional.  We have to set aside a time and a place where we can actually be alert and pray.  My time is when my kids nap, and my place is my couch.  I can't do it in bed because I would sleep.  Does this work out every day? No!  My four year old is gradually outgrowing nap time (tears!).  Sometimes, I do just need to take a nap so I can function for the rest of the day.  But more days than not, it works.  I can silence my phone and focus on God.  Whatever it is, it must be intentional.  The youth pastor at my church recently said, "There is no such thing as organic spirituality."  If we are not intentional about praying, our prayers will not be answered.  Imagine what we and others around us could be missing out on because of the prayers we simply do not pray!

This verse also says that we should pray with a thankful heart.  This is also a challenge that I am working on overcoming.  Is this you?   When we do find ourselves motivated to pray, its usually because we need something.  We find ourselves begging God for healing, comfort, peace, etc.  We are praying because we feel an urgent need.  This is not wrong.  We should present our needs and concerns to God; He wants to hear them.  But, is that praying with a thankful heart?  Also, I feel like being thankful is counter-cultural.  Instead of being thankful for what we have, we feel pressured to want more, to want bigger and better.  I would not consider most of society to be thankful, would you?

Now as I pray, I try to tell God what I am thankful for before I bombard Him with requests.  You know what?  It also helps me put my problems into perspective.  Once I have thanked God for who He is and what He has done, some of my urgent requests get a little smaller because I have acknowledged that my God is bigger!  I also find it easier to be thankful throughout the day.  It is easy to whisper a little prayer of thanksgiving to God when I see and beautiful sunrise, or when I hear my kids laughing together.  This keeps us in an attitude of thanksgiving all day.  And when we feel more thankful, we feel more joy.  Abundant life is a joyful life! I also like to pray scriptures that offer praise to God.  If we can't find the words, scripture is full of the prayers of others.  The book of Psalms is a great place to find these prayers. 

Something else I have found really helpful is to journal my prayers.  It keeps my mind alert because I actually write them out.  It keeps my heart thankful because I can look back and see how God has been faithful and answered my prayers!  It is documentation that God is good and that He really is enough.

Do any of you have good tips for staying alert and thankful in prayer?  I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Prayer...Warriors?

Prayer warriors.  This almost seems like an oxymoron to me.  Prayer seems like such a peaceful act.  Sitting silently, talking to God in your heart or in a whisper.  Warriors are generally strong and brave, quick to fight.  The two don't seem to go together.  Furthermore, why are the prayer warriors in our lives little old women named Mildred, Rose, or Ida? (All of those ladies are actually prayer warriors in my life, by the way.) How can they be warriors?  What do they have that makes them prayer warriors?
James Tissot, The Taking of Jericho

As I was thinking about warriors, my mind was drawn to the story of Jericho in the Bible.  The Lord had told Joshua that the city was the Israelites, but the city was surrounded by impenetrable walls.  The Lord had a plan though.  He told Joshua to march around the walls.  He did not tell them to start fighting.  But, the men armed themselves and obeyed God.  They marched once a day for six days.  In Joshua 6:8, they "started marching in the presence of the Lord."  On the seventh day, they marched seven times and then blew their horns and gave a loud shout.  Those of you with any church background know what happened: "and the walls came a-tumbling down!"

No fighting was required to take the city.  What was required? Obedience to God.  God wanted the battle to be about Him and His power.  What else was crucial to this victory?  The warriors marched in the presence of the Lord. 

We all know that prayer is talking with God, but when I looked up "warrior" on dictionary.com, I found a definition beyond that of "soldier."  The second definition reads, " a person who shows or has shown great vigor, courage, or aggressiveness, as in politics or athletics." I'm going to add prayer to that list!

God hears all prayers. Then why are some people prayer warriors?  This is the key that I think the little old ladies have discovered: Prayer isn't about them, its about God.  They have experience to know that God is faithful and that He does hear and answer prayers. And, they pray with vigor and courage and aggressiveness.  How do we get there? Does it take a lot of life experience and time to be a prayer warrior? 

In Colossians 4:2 it says, "Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart."  Notice it does not say "little old ladies, devote yourselves to prayer..."  This urging is for all of us.  And ladies (and gentlemen, if you are reading!) if we are not devoted to pray for our families and our friends, who will be?  I think we can do it!  The secrets are to be obedient to God and pray, and to be in God's presence. As for it taking time, we are always in God's presence because His spirit lives in us. We can talk to Him anytime.  We don't have to be kneeling with our Bibles open (although that works too!)  I'm learning how to be devoted in this practice. We just have to do it! It is so important!   We have to know that He is more than big enough to make our walls come down!  So, I'm learning.  I want my name to be added to the list of prayer warriors.  Mildred, Rose, Ida, Kristen, _______________(that space is for you!)
 
 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Just a little piece...

This past Sunday, we celebrated Communion at our church.  In our church we pass the plates around and wait until everyone has been served, and then we partake together.  So when the plate got to me I reached for my piece of "the body."  Do you do this?  I always like to take a big piece!  I try to take the biggest piece I can without touching all of the other pieces so as not to spread germs.  I have no idea why!  Is it human nature?  To want the biggest and the best? I don't know, but a big piece of bread is what I usually go for.

Now, on this particular day, I felt rushed.  Plus, we were sitting at the back of the church so the larger pieces had already been taken (see, I know some other people like to go for the biggest too!) In order to keep things moving, I just grabbed one.  It was little.

I held it in my hand, kind of disappointed. It was hardly enough to chew!  I stared down at it, waiting for the moment that I could eat, and I realized, "isn't a little of Jesus enough?"  He totally is!

In a story in Mark 5, a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years tries to get to Jesus.  He is engulfed in crowds of people, but she thinks to herself, "If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed." (Mark 5:28) And guess what? She was immediately healed as soon as she touched His robe. 

What's more amazing is that Jesus knew someone had touched him and been healed. He had felt the power leave Him. Once he found out it was this woman, He said, "Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace. Your suffering is over." (Mark 5:34).

Can you imagine?  How satisfying would our lives be if we just reached out for a little piece of Jesus?  Or, if we fully accepted the gifts He offers? He is enough!  One touch from Him is enough to save us!  How much better would it be if we got to know Him more and found out all that He has to offer us?  He is the key; just a little of Jesus is the key to an abundant life.  In James 4:2 it says that we have not received because we have not asked.  Why hold back?  Ask for power!  Ask for healing!  Ask for strength! Ask for peace!  I believe He is longing to give us these good things! Let us have the faith like that woman, who knew that just a piece of Jesus would be enough. 

Shared on the #livefreeThursday linkup and #fellowshipFridays linkup.