Grace from God

graceTo choose life is to love the Lord your God, obey him, and stay close to him. He is your life. (Deuteronomy 30:20a)

Ponder It.

  • How close do you feel to God right now?
  • What do you long for in your relationship with God?
  • How has the experience of these devotions affected your intimacy with God?

Receive It and Live It. A relationship with God won’t automatically grow. No relationship will automatically grow. Any relationship will default to atrophy. Without intentionality, we’ll become distant. We’ll question the importance of the relationship. We’ll wonder why we were in the relationship in the first place and might even begin to reframe it in negative ways, justifying why we’re no longer in it.

Faith takes nurturing. If ignored, it will cease to grow at all or grow in unhealthy ways. We have to pay attention. We have to invest. And we have to remember the relationship is not just about us. Our relationship is with God, which means he has significant input. We have to listen to him. We have to become familiar with him. We have to respect him. He is God and doesn’t need to prove his trustworthiness and sovereignty, but his consistency proves it in time as we interact with and rely upon him. We pray, not just sharing requests but praising God and allowing him to pour his encouragement and admonishment into us. We study, not just for head knowledge but for heart knowledge, placing intimacy with God far above familiarity for trivia. We worship, not just during a weekend service but as a lifestyle, striving to praise and honor him in everything we do.

Live It. How is God challenging you to become more intimate with him today, pouring life-sustaining water into you? Don’t wait. Respond today. Small steps are fine. Inactivity is not.

Hope in God’s Promises

images (3).jpgWe have hope because of who God is. No matter what is going on in your life, your relationships, and your community of faith, you can trust God is working. He is fulfilling his promises. Of course, our hearts and our willingness to obey are involved in the fruit we will see, but God’s will is God’s will, and God’s promises are his promises. He will stay true to his word no matter what we choose, because he can’t be anything other than true to his word. He is fully and sovereignly authentic, consistent, and reliable.

We have disappointments. Our lives aren’t perfect as we see them. We struggle. We feel lonely. We think we’re insignificant or not enough. Or we think we’re more than we are, and our pride gets in the way. We look at God’s promises and wonder where on earth he is and why is he not saying what he said he would do! Sometimes we misunderstand God’s promises, but most of the time, we’re trying impose our own limited understanding or our assumptions and preferences onto God’s promises. He doesn’t promise we’ll understand everything. He promises to be who he says he is and do what he says he will do.

Remember, God has an eternal perspective. He’s not bound by time, and he’s not bound by the confines of life on earth. As Priscilla Shirer said in a simulcast event, “Exactly what God says is exactly what God means. We need to take God at his word.”

We have hope because of who God is, who he says we are, and what he says he will do. Need a reminder? Here are just a few from Psalm 119.

Lord, you gave your orders to be obeyed completely. (Psalm 119:4)

Lord, you should be praised. Teach me your demands. (Psalm 119:12)

Lord, teach me your demands, and I will keep them until the end. (Psalm 119:33)

Lord, show me your love, and save me as you have promised. (Psalm 119:41)

Lord, I remember you at night, and I will obey your teachings. (Psalm 119:55)

Lord, you are my share in life; I have promised to obey your words. (Psalm 119:57)

Lord, your love fills the earth. Teach me your demands. (Psalm 119:64)

Lord, I know that your laws are right and that it was right for you to punish me. (Psalm 1119:75)

Lord, your word is everlasting; it continues forever in heaven. (Psalm 119:89)

Lord, accept my willing praise and teach me your laws. (Psalm 119:108)

Lord, it is time for you to do something, because people have disobeyed your teachings. (Psalm 119:126)

Lord, you do what is right, and your laws are fair. (Psalm 119:137)

Lord, I call to you with all my heart. Answer me, and I will keep your demands. (Psalm 119:145)

Lord, you are very kind; give me life by your laws. (Psalm 119:156)

God doesn’t give you insignificant, uncommitted lip service through his promises. He lives them out to completion. How are you responding? Can he depend on your trust and obedience?

Un-Expecting Expectations

fillintheblank.jpgDo you prefer fill-in-the-blanks or open-ended questions? Which would best describe the way you live out faith?

When we live out our faith with fill-in-the-blanks, we look for what we expect to fit. Sometimes we don’t even look at the context of the blank. We just know a blank is coming, and we sift through what’s coming into our lives to find what best fits. We know something must go there, and we don’t want it to be blank for long. We’d prefer the answers be handed to us on an answer key or shown on a large screen right in front of us. Fill-in-the-blank living can create a lazy interaction. Yes, we’re still engaged in doing something, but we’re jumping from one statement and blank to another, skimming what comes in between.

What if we lived out faith with open-ended questions that invite us to search? Open-ended questions aren’t as safe, because we can get off track without the structure of fill-in-the-blanks. We can easily meander down a rabbit trail or get distracted by a squirrel. Yet open-ended questions engage us. They invite us into experiences. As we learn through experiences, we apply what we learn. We feel a sense of ownership, because we’ve engaged in the process. We’re not just interacting with pen and paper; we’re interacting with the world around us. Open-ended questions lead to mistakes that seem a bit more significant than the fill-in-the-blank mess of crossing out a wrong answer. Just because we experience something doesn’t make our interpretation of what we experience or our perspective of what is accurate and what isn’t reflective of truth. The mistakes of open-ended questions can have lasting impacts, yet we continue to learn through those experiences when we’re seeking God’s truth over our own preferences and perspectives.

When we live by fill-in-the-blanks, we look for something specific. We expect something to fit, and when it doesn’t, we’re not sure what to do. When we live by open-ended questions, we explore what fits, and the answers we find through our experiences are richer and deeper.

Consider a few questions Jesus asked.

“Why do you notice the little piece of dust in your friend’s eye, but you don’t notice the big piece of wood in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:2)

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why are you thinking evil thoughts?” (Matthew 9:4)

“Why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

Knowing what they were talking about, Jesus asked them, “Why are you talking about not having bread? Your faith is small. (Matthew 16:8)

But knowing that these leaders were trying to trick him, Jesus said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me?” (Matthew 22:18)

Jesus knew immediately what these teachers of the law were thinking. So he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?” (Mark 2:8)

When Jesus turned and saw them following him, he asked, “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38)

Jesus had the answers before he asked the questions. He didn’t ask because he needed the answers. He asked because he wanted people to work through the answers. He wanted them to search for the answers, engaging in the experience of learning.

What kind of questions are you asking? The ones you can easily fill in the blank or the ones that take a bit more time, move you out of your comfort level, and sometimes create more confusion before creating clarity?

Engage in a relationship with God. You’ll find the answers you need.

Repentance

images (1)Repentance.

It’s a word we either don’t like to hear, don’t understand, or simply ignore. Repentance requires acknowledge of something being amiss, and we don’t necessarily like to admit we’re wrong. It seems to indicates weakness, and weakness is…well, a weakness!

But it’s not.

When we repent, we admit where we are, not to get stuck, settle into a place of defeat, or give up. We repent, because we’re willing to move beyond where we are. We acknowledgement where we are isn’t where we should be. It doesn’t mean everything in our lives is bad. In fact, as we grow in faith and let God consume our lives more completely, we realize he challenges us to repent of even the slightest details of our attitudes and intentions, pruning the tiny weeds before they grow into trees.

There are no limits on repentance. It includes the big and tiny, the ongoing and momentary, the obvious and well-disguised.

We often respond in faith forgetting the importance of repentance. We ask for blessings, we praise God, we expect God’s promises…but we haven’t done a heart-check first. We need to ask ourselves if there’s anything between us and God as we approach him, and since we work toward developing an ongoing connection with him, we need to be adamant about consistently asking him to identify anything that’s creating any amount of distance between us. That also means we have to be willing to listen as he reveals the distance. We need to be willing to respond.

A lack of repentance impacts personal faith, and it also impacts community. Each person is responsible for his/her own repentance. Each person is also able to ask for repentance for the community. It must be done with a pure heart. We don’t ask for repentance because “that person” did something wrong. We ask for repentance because we did something wrong whether we personally offended or not. Going to God in repentance for our community assumes our association among that community. (See Nehemiah’s prayer in Nehemiah 1:1.)

Repentance isn’t a pit of guilt. It makes a way out of the pit of guilt. Get familiar with repentance. It’s a grace-filled gift from God.

God, be merciful to me because you are loving.
Because you are always ready to be merciful, wipe out all my wrongs.
Wash away all my guilt and make me clean again.

I know about my wrongs, and I can’t forget my sin.
You are the only one I have sinned against; I have done what you say is wrong.
You are right when you speak and fair when you judge.
I was brought into this world in sin. In sin my mother gave birth to me.

You want me to be completely truthful, so teach me wisdom.
Take away my sin, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Make me hear sounds of joy and gladness;let the bones you crushed be happy again.
Turn your face from my sins and wipe out all my guilt.

Create in me a pure heart, God, and make my spirit right again.
Do not send me away from you or take your Holy Spirit away from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation. Keep me strong by giving me a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:1-12)

Easier Said Than Done

mark-536“Don’t be afraid. Only believe.” (Mark 5:36b)

It’s easier said than done much of the time.

I walked by a sign the other day that said, “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.” It’s not that fear doesn’t exist. We can’t just wish it away. We have to have something bigger than it, something that keeps it in check, in context, something that absorbs and handles it well.

Belief in and of itself doesn’t get rid of our fears. Some beliefs exacerbate fears. If we believe in the wrong things, undependable things, the fears are only masked, and when things are masked, they can grow in the dark where we hide them. Fears can grow and become something that they’re not.

Fears aren’t just the things we tremble about. They are also the quiet ways we think we’re missing out on something, the insecurities, the desires spurred by “what if.” Without true belief, our “what ifs” become unmanageable. We can’t control them like we thought we could, and they begin to control us. We begin to make decisions based on fleeting assumptions and feelings. We might feel certain at the time, but when we’re on shaky ground, it doesn’t take long for insecurities, regrets, and doubt to move in.

Belief isn’t easy. It’s an unrelenting effort. But it’s worth the effort in the long run.

The (Un)Easy Path

downloadImmediately the Spirit drove (Jesus) into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12)

It happened right after Jesus was baptized. Off the the wilderness He was driven, and there He was for 40 days, with wild animals, being tempted by Satan.

And that’s how faith feels sometimes.

Vulnerable.

Tested.

Alone.

Following God doesn’t presume an easy path. When it gets hard, we want to run from the wilderness and find something that makes sense to us. We want comfort. We want something different. We often run to something, anything, that gives us temporary relief. We might find a path that is slightly easier, at least for a short jaunt, but in the long run?

In the long run, avoiding the not-so-easy path in the wilderness catches up to us. There are lessons we need to learn there, ways we need to reach out to and trust God. ways we can’t experience when we’re on the easy path, surrounded by what feels a bit more comforting to us. God gets to decide what we need and when we need it. When we avoid that, we avoid Him. And that comes at a great cost.

In fact, pretty much everything of great value in life comes at a great cost. Discerning the truth of the spiritual cost we’re paying takes effort and humility.

Where are you, and what is it costing you?

The Pursuit

f64c4ac5c778d0defb9840823fbf0db6Just then, a woman who had suffered from bleeding for 12 years approached from behind and touched the tassel on His robe, for she said to herself, “If I can just touch His robe, I’ll be made well!” But Jesus turned and saw her. “Have courage, daughter,” He said. “Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that moment. (Matthew 9:20-22)

A women who was vulnerable, weak, and devastated from a chronic health condition pursued Jesus with strength and faith. She trusted Him and leaned forward toward Him. She reached with everything she had.

I think of her often as I pursue God. No matter how I feel, do I pursue Him with a similar strength and faith? Do I stretch with everything I have to reach Him?

Jesus responds to the woman with power and sensitivity. He encourages her.

He knows our pursuit and our faith, which encourages me. I can’t physically reach out and touch Him, but I can reach Him. And He responds with power and sensitivity. Every single time.