Archive for January, 2010

Resting at the River's Edge Logo 2010-2011

Have you been blessed by January’s reading?
I sure have – I’ve enjoyed January’s reading a great deal. Perhaps it’s because we’re reading a bit slower than last year. Both my husband and I sensed Jesus’ great compassion as we read the final chapters of John. The man who had just been betrayed by all his followers and crucified by his enemies built a fire on the beach and had breakfast ready when his friends who had worked all night came in. He asked them to put some of their fish on the fire – making them feel like they had contributed to the meal. He commissioned Peter, I believe as a way of assuring him that his betrayal had not disqualified him for ministry. Graham Cooke is fond of saying “Jesus is the kindest person I know.” This scene bears witness to that statement.

The Gospel According to Matthew
In February we’ll read another of the Gospels – the book of Matthew. It is told from a hugely different perspective, but it’s the same story. Matthew was writing to Jewish Christians and emphasizes that Jesus fulfills the Jewish Scriptures. The book is written in the style of an ancient biography. Interestingly, ancient biographies were often organized topically instead of chronologically, and that’s the approach Matthew took. You’ll find the sayings of Jesus organized according to topic, not in the order Jesus said them.

It’s also interesting that the book of Matthew, or one of the documents Matthew used as a source when writing the Gospel, may have been used as a training manual for new Christians. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Copyright © 1993 by Craig S. Keener) says this about the book of Matthew:

[Matthew] portrays Jesus as the epitome of Israel’s hopes for his Jewish audience, but also emphasizes missions to the Gentiles: outreach to the Gentiles is rooted both in the Old Testament and in Jesus’ teaching.

Sounds like good study material to help us become well-grounded believers. Jesus is not only the epitome of Israel’s hopes, He is the epitome of our hope as well.

Finally, you’ll find my husband’s life verse in Matthew:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:33

“All these things” covers a lot of territory! What a challenge to believe this and live it when things are tough!

From Genesis to Exodus
We’ll also finish the book of Genesis and begin to read through Exodus. Egypt, Moses, Aaron, Pharaoh, plagues, miraculous deliverances, manna, water from rocks, Jethro’s visit, The Ten Commandments – all this and more await us! What an adventure the book of Exodus is. Consider reading it with that perspective. Imagine yourself as one of the Israelites as you read through the book. How would you have responded in each situation?

There are certain passages that I just fall in love with every time I read them. Genesis 1:1 is one of them:

In the beginning God created…

I don’t know why, but those words are magical to me.(Magical in a good sense – in the sense that they inspire awe every time I hear or read them.) Another two verses are those that begin the Ten Commandments:

“I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in Egypt.
“Do not worship any other gods besides me.”

Exodus 29:2-3

Be prepared to be challenged! He has rescued us from slavery to sin and demands that we worship no other gods beside Him.

Enjoy your February reading! Experience the adventure!

The recommended reading schedule is below.

To download a PDF of February’s recommended reading plan, click here.

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God led me to write the last two blogs in our “Taking Hold of Our Eternal Life” series on being free from condemnation. (Here’s the first blog.) (Here’s the second blog.) As I finished the second blog, I became acutely aware that the blogs were full of encouragement and exhortation to believe God’s Word, accept His forgiveness and walk in freedom from condemnation, but short of practical ideas about how to do that. This blog seeks to give you some practical ideas for walking in the freedom you have been given.

1)  Speak and read God’s Word aloud.

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
Romans 10:17 (NIV)

If you want faith to believe that you are forgiven, speak and read God’s Word aloud so that you actually hear the Word as well as read it. There is something about God’s Word being spoken and God’s Word being heard that ignites our faith. My last two blogs contained many Scriptures you can use as a great starting place.

2)  Refute the arrows of the enemy with Truth.

Jesus used Scripture to fight the temptations of Satan – we can do the same thing and expect Satan to flee. For example, if the enemy begins to whisper in your ear that God doesn’t really love you, remind him that “God so loved me, that He gave His only Son to die for me.” (John 3:16) When the enemy whispers lies in your ear, respond with Truth.

3)  Study what Scripture teaches about who you are in Christ and how much God values you.

You can’t speak Truth against lies unless you know the Truth. Stepping out from under the shadow of condemnation and accusations can be difficult. When you become convinced about who you are in Christ and how very much God loves you – how wildly passionate He is about you – your healing will accelerate.

4)  Surround yourself with positive, affirming people.

The enemy does a good enough job trying to tear you down. Don’t hang with people who try to help him. If you can’t avoid it, you’ll need extra positive people around you.

5)  Share your need for positive encouragement with a few good friends and pray-ers.

In other words, be willing to be transparent with a few friends. I’ve always found that once I get some good friends on my side, especially those who pray for me, the enemy has a lot harder time getting through the prayer net they put around me.

6)  Practice positive, biblical self-talk.

While this is similar to reading Scripture aloud and refuting the arrows of condemnation with truth, it has a slightly different slant. Make it a habit to regularly drown out the negative voice in your head with a new positive voice. Wake up in the morning and remind yourself “I’m a child of the king, and a co-heir with Christ.” Throughout the day remind yourself of things such as:

  • God has created me for His pleasure.
  • He has a plan and a purpose for my life.
  • I am created in His image and have eternity in my heart.
  • I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s plans for me are greater than my hopes and dreams.
  • God wants to use me today.
  • I am the apple of His eye.
  • When God looks at me, He sees His precious child.
  • Through Christ, I can do all things He calls me to do.
  • God has uniquely gifted me.

7)  Forgive yourself for past sins, inadequacies, imperfections and errors in judgment.

God already has. Unforgiveness toward yourself is fertile ground for the root of condemnation to take hold.

8)  As you begin to heal, minister to others out of your woundedness.

Condemnation shouts “Shut up! Sit down! You don’t deserve to be in the game!” But God’s Word says to comfort one another with the comfort we’ve been given. The truth is that some past situations gives us greater authority to help others heal in the same area. Additionally, many people will seek out someone who has already found victory in an area they are currently struggling. As you begin to heal, courageously step out in faith to minister to others. You’ll find that it helps your own healing to take hold.

We want to read articles or blogs and experience a changed life. It doesn’t work that way. It takes hard work to overcome unhealthy patterns, but your diligence will be rewarded! God is faithful. Begin to take steps that apply God’s Truth to your behavior, and He steps in with supernatural grace to sustain you and reveal Himself more fully.

One last tip: Don’t try to do all these things at once. Pick just one of these ideas and begin to implement it. Once you’ve got that one down, add another. Keep adding new behaviors as you become firmly grounded in each. Over-achievers may try to attack the whole list, but that usually results in none of them being implemented well and the over-achiever experiences even more condemnation from having failed to step out from under condemnation! Don’t let the enemy win this one!

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I had to re-learn a lesson a couple of weeks ago. It’s a lesson about…well, humility I guess. I don’t think of it as humility, but that’s what it was. Or perhaps lack of humility is a better way to express it.

You see, I sometimes fall into the trap of not wanting people know when I’m not doing so well. I’d be willing to bet that you’re a whole lot like that, too. We like people to think we’ve got it all together. Even when it’s obvious that things around us are falling apart, we want people to believe we’re handling it well. Perhaps it’s because we want to believe that ourselves. But the lesson I re-learned a couple of weeks ago is that the sooner you share your struggles with those who will pray for you, the sooner you’ll receive the spiritual boost you need to get back on track.

A Year Ago
In the middle of January my husband had some medical issues and they really threw me for a loop. When he had a major heart attack last February, I really handled the whole “died on the table” thing pretty well. What I mean by handling it well is that I rarely dwelt on “what might have happened,” or “what’s life going to be like in the future.” I had a confidence that God had been good to me in the past and He would continue to be good to me no matter what happened in the future. Since then, through the various ups and downs of recovery, I have maintained that confidence.

A Couple of Weeks Ago
Until a couple of weeks ago. That’s when Phil began to have some strange and serious symptoms. When he told me about them, I outwardly remained calm (because that’s what I do in a crisis). But from that moment until I came to my senses and asked for prayer, the enemy bombarded my mind with two words: widow and widowhood. I wasn’t dwelling on it – I wasn’t continually letting my mind go to “what if’s” – the words just continually popped into my head unbidden.

Phil shared his symptoms with some friends and they prayed for him and asked me how I was doing. I sugar-coated how I was doing. “OK. Not great, but I’m fine.” I was not doing fine. If I had told the friends that night about where my mind was, they would have prayed and I have every confidence the enemy would have lost the territory he was staking out. But I didn’t.

I am so thankful that we had a ladies’ meeting planned that weekend. I so didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay home alone and eat cheesecake. We were going to watch the Chondra Pierce video “Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.” (Is God’s timing perfect, or what?) But I knew I had to go – it was a follow on to a retreat I had been a part of planning last November. I surely wasn’t going to share my struggles, though. I was going to go, watch the video, smile, prayer for anyone who needed prayer and come home. Have you ever been in that place? I’m guessing you have.

5 Days Later
After we watched the video, one of the leaders asked “have any of you struggled with fear since the retreat.” Silence. Long silence. I knew I needed to speak. So I did. And of course, the ladies were tremendously gracious. They prayed for me. A long prayer. And then one of the ladies suggested that someone agree to pray for Phil and I each day of the week for the next six weeks! As I sat there in the midst of them (not nearly as composed as I would have like to have been), I began to hear women say “I’ll take Tuesdays.” “I’ll take Fridays.” “I’ll take Wednesdays.” Until all the days of the week were taken. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. What a blessing!

It was about five days from the time Phil told me about the symptoms until I shared with the women, and that was MORE than enough time for the enemy to mess with my head. He got a bit of a foothold, planting a seed of fear that desperately wanted to take root. Even though I wasn’t dwelling on the issue, the unbidden thoughts that continually sprang up began to take their toll. Even though I would immediately (or almost immediately) arrest them and focus my thoughts elsewhere, they occurred so frequently that I was beginning to become paralyzed. (I took me more than a week to write a blog that should have been written in one sitting.) That was a week that I didn’t need to experience. If I had immediately called someone and humbled myself saying “I need prayer right now. I’ve lost my confidence that God will be good to me in the future. I’m afraid of what the future holds. Will you pray for me because I’m not very good at praying for myself right now?” – if I had done that immediately, God would have come to my rescue immediately. The enemy would have had to flee.

Some Battles Need More Warriors
Satan was overstepping his bounds and I was not able to stop him. That’s not a bad thing – it’s why God places us in families. Some battles need more warriors than others. Such battles bring the family of God closer together as we call on Him for another who needs their faith boosted.

It was foolish for me not to speak up sooner. I suffered needlessly, others missed the blessing of being a part of God’s victory and I missed the blessing of being reminded that I have friends who are quick to step in when needed. Fortunately, God provided another opportunity for me to be humble and the best part is…I haven’t thought about widowhood since that evening. (Except to write this blog, of course, and I’m GOOD – honestly, good – no enemy piercing my heart or spirit tonight.)

God is very good and God is very faithful. Blessed be the name of the Lord and blessed be His faithful prayer warriors!

Friends don’t be like me. Humble yourself and share your needs before seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt are planted and take root.

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Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:12 (NIV)

Clearly, taking hold of our eternal life means more than accepting Christ and looking forward to an eternity with Him. Paul exhorted Timothy, the pastor in Ephesus at the time the letter was written, to “take hold” of his eternal life. This series looks at the fuller application of that exhortation.

Last week’s blog addressed the complete forgiveness of sins that comes with our eternal life. If the Creator of the Universe has fully forgiven our sins, and he has, we ought to walk in complete freedom from condemnation. To accept condemnation from the enemy is to be deceived. To accept it from ourselves is to call Jesus a liar. Scripture is clear that

But if we confess our sins to him, he [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.
1 John 1:9 (NLT)

When we fully grasp that Christ has forgiven our sins, we can walk in the liberating freedom of being without condemnation. Such freedom is a wonderful thing, and it leads to a walk that carries with it a lightness of heart and spirit. Conversely, walking under condemnation is truly walking under condemnation. It’s like there is always a heavy weight on our heads and hearts.

Two analogies:

  • You’ve seen the pictures of men and women in third world countries carrying their wares to market or purchases from the market in baskets on their heads. What a difference they must immediately feel when the heavy basket is put down and they can walk without the weight and without fear of causing the basket to become unbalanced and fall to the ground. That’s what it is like when we are set free from condemnation. We no longer walk under the heavy weight of accusations and we no longer fear that every misstep will lead to more guilt being piled in our baskets.
  • My mom had a pacemaker put in last night. After surgery, they had a heavy, cold compress on her chest to stop any bleeding, reduce swelling and limit her movement. The cold, heavy compress reminds me of the weight of condemnation always pressing down on our hearts and spirits. Its coldness saps us of our passion for God and our strength. Its weight limits on our movement in ways that Christ has not limited us.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

Christ has set us free from condemnation by forgiving our sins and declaring us righteous. The Galatians had forgotten this and Paul calls them “foolish.” The Galatians had forgotten the powerful grace that led them to repentance and faith in Christ. They had fallen back to relying on their own works for eternal life. Read what Paul wrote to them:

1You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? 5Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

6Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 7Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.
Galatians 3:1-7 (NIV)

When we carry a spirit of condemnation on our heads and on our hearts, we are truly not believing that we are forgiven. We fall back, as the Galatians had, to believing we must do better, look better, or be better for Christ to truly accept us and forgive us. Foolishness! God gives you His Spirit because you believed that Christ died for your sins. “Believed” in the biblical sense means you accept it as truth and you rely on it – you trust it even more than you trust the chair you are sitting in to hold you without breaking. God gives you His spirit because you believed that Christ died for your sins.

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the [Old Testament] law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the [Old Testament] law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:1-4 (NIV)

The conditions for your righteousness have been met if you believe in Christ. “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1, NLT) And because there is no condemnation, there is no need to accept any heavy baskets on your head or cold compresses on your heart.

Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, he gives freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17 (NLT)

The Spirit of the Lord gives freedom. Friends, receive God’s gift of freedom and walk in it. Or skip and jump in it! Or dance in it! Or shout “hallelujah” in it! But most of all, receive it and do not receive any condemnation that comes from external or internal sources. Condemnation be GONE in the Name of Jesus. And daughter or son of God, be encouraged and set free in the Name of Jesus.

Well, I thought this blog was going to be about being willing to take risks for Christ because He has set us free. I guess we needed to hear the message of freedom again. I’m certain a message about risk taking is coming, but I think God may have even another blog on freedom from condemnation first! Thank You, Lord, for directing my pen (computer keyboard) in Your direction, not in mine.

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12The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

14So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the LORD is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

15With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

16When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them. 17As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

18But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! 19Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. 20Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”

21He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. 22But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.)
Genesis 19:15-22 (NIV)

As I read about Lot’s hesitation to leave Sodom, I couldn’t help but compare myself to him! I wonder if I sometimes miss God’s best for me because I want to hold on to the familiar – even when the familiar has become quite uncomfortable. Even when the familiar is about to be destroyed!

Not a Friendly Place to Be & Scheduled for Destruction
You remember what happened just before this passage – the men of the town tried to break down Lot’s door to rape the men (angels) who had come into town and were staying at his home. They threatened to do worse to Lot (v. 9). The angels had to intercede:

10But the men [angels] inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. 11Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.
Genesis 19:10-11

You’d think Lot would be in a hurry to leave after that. But he hesitated.

It’s clear from Lot’s words in verse 14 that he believed Sodom was about to be destroyed. “Hurry and get out of this place!” he said to his daughters’ fiancés. Yet when dawn arrived, Lot was still in the neighborhood.

The angels urged him to leave. Still he hesitated.

Finally, the angels had to grab him by the hand and usher him out of town. The New Living Translation says the angels “rushed” him out. The picture that comes to my mind is that of a mother and father holding on to their children’s hands while they run down the hall as their airline gate is about to close. Their children’s feet barely touch the floor as their parents pull them along.

Some would say that Lot was reluctant to leave his property and position in the city. Again, it’s clear from verse 14 that Lot believed the city was going to be destroyed. That would include his property and there wouldn’t be much position left when all were incinerated.

I think Lot didn’t want to leave what was familiar.

Lot’s resistance didn’t end with being reluctant to leave Sodom. Once out of town, the angels tell Lot to “flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” (v. 17) Lot balks at the suggestion. He begs the angels to allow him to live in a nearby city.

“OK, if I can’t stay where I am, can I go someplace as similar to it as possible?” That’s what Lot is really saying. Do you hear the fear in Lot’s voice? “No, my lords, please!…I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die.” (v18b, 19b)

I suppose he could mean that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah would overtake him before he got to the mountains, but if you look at the words of the angels, the city he wanted to go to would be included in the destruction unless they prevented it from being so. And I’m pretty sure the angels wouldn’t rush him out of town only to direct him to a place where he would be destroyed in the upcoming firestorm! (That’s sarcasm – I’m absolutely sure of it!)

Lot’s fear of the unknown nearly paralyzed him in Sodom, and now it was causing him to plead for something other than what God had for him.

I want to live my life looking for the adventure that God has for me, not seeking the familiar that brings me comfort. I want my comfort to come from the relationship I share with Christ, the fellowship I have with the Holy Spirit, and the unswerving faithfulness of God my Father. As I get older, such a desire is harder to hold on to. The call of “comfortable” and “familiar” grows ever stronger (I like travelling with my own pillow now and Phil likes to take his own tea with him. We used to be happy to travel with a toothbrush and change of clothes.)

Lord, keep me flexible and willing to continue following closely after You!

And that’s a perfect devotional to lead into the next blog in our “Taking Hold of Our Eternal Life” series. Watch for the next blog later this week.

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So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.
Genesis 19:29 (NIV)

God remembered Abraham and protected Lot from catastrophe! Did you catch that? God was about to destroy all of Sodom and Gomorrah, but then He remembered Abraham and he protected – saved – Abraham’s nephew Lot (and his family). I read this verse last week it has not stopped reverberating in my brain. The implications are staggering! And encouraging!

Lot was living in a city that the Lord was about to destroy because the outcry against it was “so great and [its] sin so grievous.” (Genesis 18:20) Lot was living in a city in which ten righteous people could not be found. It’s the place he chose to live. Some purport that he was a leader in the city because when the angels arrived, he was sitting at the city gate, a place where leaders often sat. For whatever reason, Lot liked living there. We’re not going to go there. But he liked it so much that when the angels sent to destroy the city urged Lot to flee, Scripture says he “still hesitated” and the angels had to physically grab him by the hands and rush him out of the city (Genesis 19:16). (More about Lot’s reluctance to leave in tomorrow’s blog!)

Put yourself into the scene. Imagine yourself in God’s place. (I know, we’re a poor and paltry substitute, and thinking we could become like God is at the center of this whole sin issue, but for just a moment, consider the story from God’s perspective.) The stench of Sodom and Gomorrah had reached the Lord and He sent angels to destroy it. On the way He and the angels visit Abraham. Abraham negotiates with God – God agreed not to destroy the city if He could find ten righteous people living in it. Obviously He could not, so the process that would lead to the destruction of the two cities began. What seems to be holding up the whole thing is this man Lot’s reluctance to leave. It’s a good thing I’m not God because I’m afraid I would have said something like “OK, then. Stay here. I’ll just destroy the city with you in it.” (Or at least I would have thought it. My sanctification is clearly not complete!)

But God didn’t do that. Scripture says that God remembered Abraham and kept Lot safe. What was it about Abraham that God remembered?

Perhaps God remembered the covenant He had made with Abraham. Undoubtedly, God had a special relationship with Abraham. God also has a special relationship with me. I may not be the father of many nations, I may not be the one to whom God said:

2 “I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”

Gen 12:2-3

But I am the one about whom God said …..

9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9-10 (NIV)

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
1 John 3:1a (NIV)

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Romans 8:32 (NIV)

These verses, and others like them, convince me that my relationship with God is as special to Him as His relationship with Abraham. I have every confidence that when God remembers me, He does so with as much pleasure as when He remembered Abraham.

Could it be, then, that God might remember me and protect my family members who are near danger?

Perhaps God remembered Abraham’s faith. Twelve of the forty verses in Hebrews 11, that great “Fathers of the Faith/Great Cloud of Witnesses” chapter, are dedicated to Abraham and his faith. Yet we know the stories of Abraham’s failures – times when he failed to live by the faith for which he was commended in Hebrews. These stories demonstrate that Abraham was as human as you and I, and his faith could be as weak as mine sometimes is.

Scripture says that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3). If you have accepted Christ, if you believe that He is the son of God who came to earth and died on a cross for the forgiveness of your sins, God puts the righteousness of Christ upon you. What Scripture says about Abraham can be said about you – “[Your Name Here] believed God and it was credited to him/her as righteousness.”

Could it be, then, that God might remember you and protect your family members who are near danger?

Perhaps God remembered Abraham’s prayer. While unorthodox, Abraham’s negotiation with God can be seen as a prayer. He was asking God to spare the city. Some translations render Genesis 19:29 as “God had listened to Abraham’s request” (NLT) or “heeded Abraham’s plea” (TLB). I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but I don’t see anything in the text that should be translated God remembered “Abraham’s request,” although I suppose it can be extrapolated from the context.

James writes “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16b, NRSV)

We’ve already established that God credits Jesus’ righteousness to believers. Our prayers, then are powerful and effective. If it was Abraham’s prayer that God remembered, I have every confidence that He will remember mine as well.

Could it be, then, if I pray diligently for family and friends who are at risk, that God might remember me and protect them from danger?

Perhaps, just perhaps, God will show mercy and will extend His protection to my loved ones because of the relationship He has with me, because of my faith, and/or because of my prayers.

Such a thought makes me view my life differently. It’s not just about me. My relationship with the Lord (and the condition of that relationship) affects those I love. My relationship with the Lord somehow extends a degree of grace to them. Wow!

Of course I’m not saying that my relationship with the Lord extends salvation to my loved ones. Everyone must choose that for themselves. Everyone must decide for themselves to yield to the One who stepped out of heaven, leaving all He had there, to live on this earth and then die on a cross. It’s that yielding of our will to His will that brings (or gives) eternal life.

Still…God remembered Abraham and saved Lot. What a gracious God we serve!

Thank You, Lord, for extending the umbrella of grace over my life to offer protection to my loved ones.

Be encouraged, friends! God may just remember you and save your loved ones from catastrophe! Hallelujah!

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Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:12

As I said in the first blog in this series, I want to take hold of the eternal life to which I was called. I have accepted Christ and seek to give Him full authority in my life. Yet I know that I often limp through this life not taking hold of all that He has for me here and now.

One of those things is living my life free from condemnation. When thinking about this, your mind probably goes to the same verse you’ve heard so many times:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus
Romans 8:1

We all say “Hallelujah” when we hear this verse, and we should – there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus – none – nada – zip – zilch – zero. There is none.

But I doubt that we live like that. I know that there are many times when I don’t.

It’s interesting to note that the writer of the book of Romans is the Apostle Paul. If ever there was someone who would be tempted to feel condemnation it would be Paul. We first see him in the book of Acts. As Stephen was being stoned to death for proclaiming Christ, Acts 8:1 says Saul, who would later become Paul, “was there, giving approval to his death.” Acts 8 continues:

2Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
Acts 8:2-3

Paul had a history and his name was Saul. As Saul, he persecuted the church. It’s not a history I would want to have. I think I’d be tempted to feel lingering (or strong) condemnation as I sought to live out my new life in Christ. Yet Paul wrote “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Hallelujah! If Paul can be forgiven so fully that there is no longer any condemnation associated with his former life, surely I can be forgiven, too.

What’s even more interesting is the context in which Paul wrote the verse. Let’s look at the verse in context:

21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Romans 7:21 – 8:4

In making his declaration that there is no condemnation, Paul wasn’t even referring to his persecution of the church before he came to know Christ. He was referring to his life after Christ – that even after coming to know and serve Christ he found himself continually tempted to sin. He is so remorseful about this that he writes “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” But you have to  love his proclamation in response to his own question –“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

It seems to me that Paul’s focus of being set free from condemnation related to his sin nature and his current proclivity to sin speaks loudly in what it leaves out – it’s as if he’s so free from condemnation from sins related to his former life that they’re not even on his radar any more! That is, if he is free from condemnation of his sinful nature even after coming to Christ, if he is free from condemnation of the sins he does to this very day, how much more so is he free from condemnation for sins committed before coming to Christ?

Paul embraced his new-found freedom in Christ and found himself released from the Law, which required regular blood sacrifice for the atonement of sins. Released from the Law of sin and death, he lived according to the law of the Spirit of life. Living under such a law means living free from condemnation.

Potential Sources of Our Condemnation

It seems to me that condemnation can come from one of four sources:

  • Ourselves
  • Others around us
  • Satan
  • God

We’ve already shown that God does not condemn us, so we can rule Him out, but just in case you are still in doubt, let’s look at one more passage. You probably know the first verse, but do you know the two that follow it?

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
John 3:16-18

If you believe in Christ, you are not condemned by God. Period. He accepts and forgives you. Unconditionally.

Satan doesn’t want you to believe that, of course, and he will hound you with accusations for past, present, real and imagined sins. Follow the advice of Peter:

8Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith.
1 Peter 5:8-9a

Stand before Satan’s onslaughts saying, “I am a forgiven child of God. Christ died so that I might be saved, not so that I would be condemned.” Repeat as necessary!

Perhaps it is the condemnation of others that hurts the most. It does for me, anyway. Especially when it comes from people I respect and/or have had a close relationship with. Earlier today God brought me face to face with an old insecurity of mine. As I wrestled to determine the source of the insecurity, God reminded me of an incidence from my long ago past. Being reminded of the incident, I asked God, “Lord, do you have anything to say to me about that situation?” What I sensed was that the accusation – the condemnation – that was brought against me was brought out of the other person’s insecurity. I also sensed that the entire situation brought pain to both of us, causing us both to walk with a limp for a period of time. These were not limps that God desired us to have.

In Christ Jesus, there is now no condemnation! Accusations that have been waged against us, accusations that we have taken into our hearts and spirits, accusations that we have allowed to grow into cancerous tumors with fingers that choke out our life – Be gone in Jesus Name!

Ask God for healing of past wounds where healing is needed. What He said to me about that long-ago situation brought healing to my heart and spirit. A sadness in understanding the long-lasting affect it has had on both of us, but healing nonetheless.

Don’t let others throw condemnation onto you. Take the condemnations immediately to God and ask Him to remove even the smallest speck of the accusation that might take hold in you.

Finally, we are often our own worst enemy, aren’t we? I have worked diligently over the past several years to change the way I speak and think. There was a time when I would quickly condemn myself for even the most minor failing. When I catch myself in such a thought or word, I immediately speak the opposite. “I am an intelligent, thoughtful, capable woman of God. Even if I wasn’t, God would be passionately in love with me. Who am I to think so wrongly about someone (me) of whom the Lord thinks so highly? Am I calling Him a liar? Am I dissing the forgiveness that He has given me so freely and at such a great cost? I surely hope not! Lord, forgive me, and I will know that once forgiven, I am not condemned.

Scripture is clear: We are not condemned by the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Creator of the Universe. “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) That’s a rhetorical question – the short answer is that many people may be against us, but none will prevail unless we give up the ground we’ve been given. Friends, take hold of the eternal life to which you’ve been called – a life that is free from condemnation by God. With that freedom, release condemnation that might be thrown your way by Satan, other people, and yourself. Let your shield against these fiery darts be your knowledge that you stand forgiven by the One who has all power and authority to forgive and that you do not stand condemned. Walk in freedom!

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What is This “Eternal Life?
By guest blogger, Phil Hovatter

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:12

I’d guess that most Christians think of eternal life as life in Heaven — you know, “pie in the sky in the sweet by-and-by.” I believe that if we think of this eternal life only as a future thing, we miss much of the blessing it offers us for the here-and-now.

In John 11:25, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Taken in the context that it was spoken (the resurrection of Lazarus), He means that this eternal life starts right now. Yes, Lazarus will be raised to eternal life on the last day, but Jesus also brought him back to life the very day He spoke these words. Eternal life is something we can take hold of here and now. It doesn’t start when we die. It starts here and now for all those who trust in Jesus for the life that only He can give.

So what is this “eternal life?”

  • Eternal life is the Jesus-authored life. Scripture says that Jesus is the author of all life. In John 14:6, Jesus told us that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He went on to make a significant statement: “No one comes to the Father but by me.”
    • Eternal life, then, is a life lived through Jesus that gives us access to God the Father and the heavenly realm. Access to God is not possible without Christ.
  • Eternal life is the Christ-centered life. As we focus on Him, we gain His eternal perspective on the events and situations that come our way.
    • Eternal life is all about living out, experiencing, walking in all that God has for us. In this earthly phase, that’s going to mean times of suffering and pain as well as times of joy and pleasure. But James instructs us to take a different view of these things and to count the suffering and pain as pure joy because it builds godly character into us which helps us to draw closer to God (James 1:2).
  • Eternal life is also a cross-centered life. The cross is the means by which Jesus purchased eternal life for us. Because our sin was great, the price He paid to redeem us was great.
    • The challenge for each of us is to walk worthy of the price Jesus paid to be able to offer His eternal life as a free gift to us. Part of the life He is calling us to is to die daily to ourselves. It’s a paradox that our eternal life involves dying daily, but there you go – it’s true nonetheless.

In this present earthly life, there are only two things that last forever: the Word of God, which will never pass away, and human beings, all of whom are created in the image of God. So those two things must be our focus – they must be priorities for us as we walk out eternal life.

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11But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6: 11-12

As I read this passage a few days ago, my attention was captured by one phrase: “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” What a great exhortation to consider as we look forward to 2010. I looked up the word that is translated “take hold” and found that it is a cousin to the word from which gets its name.

The word katalambano is used by Paul in Philippians 3:12, when he says “I press on to apprehend that for which Christ has apprehended me.” (For more on how the blog was named, click here.)

The word used by Paul in 1 Timothy is epilambanomai. It means to take hold of, to seize or to take possession of.

I want to do that with my “eternal life.” I have claimed Christ as my Savior. I have asked Him to forgive me of my sins. I seek to give Him full authority in my life. I want also to fully take hold of the eternal life to which I have been called. To me, that is much more than the eternal life I will some day live out with my Lord. It means living this life differently from those who do not have the promise of eternal life after this life is over:

  • It means living this life with freedom from condemnation from myself, others or Satan.
  • It means living this life with a willingness to take risks that I might otherwise be too timid to take because Christ is in me and has made many promises in and for my life that have yet to be fulfilled.
  • It means aligning my priorities with the priorities of God.
  • It means constant dependence on a God who has promised to supply all I need for life and Godliness (2 Peter 1:3) and has promised to never leave or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6, et. al.).

Our first series of blogs this year is going to focus on what it means to take hold of eternal life. I know, I wrote a blog earlier in the week in which it looked like God had given me a theme for 2010 –

“Learning to hear God’s Voice more clearly and regularly. Of course that requires listening for His voice, as it says in verse 3 – ‘…the sheep listen to his voice.’ It also carries with it the implication that I will follow His Voice after hearing it.”

The two subjects dovetail quite nicely – living the eternal life means living ever attentive to God’s Voice. And I think combined He has given us a great theme for 2010. I don’t have a nifty catch-phrase or title, or a perfectly gift-wrapped paragraph that defines it yet. But God is developing it in my heart as I type. I’m sure it’ll fall into place soon.

In the meantime, come back regularly as we “flesh out” what it means to take hold of the eternal life to which we have been called. Our next blog in the series will be by a guess blogger, my husband Phil. Watch for it early next week.

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