Archive for the “God’s ways” Category

The message of yesterday’s blog was that in order to be obedient to the Lord, we must first hear what he says, and to properly hear him, we have to be listening. We want to be able to say like Peter said “Lord, because you say so, I will do it” (Luke 5:5). When Peter responded, Jesus turned a night of fishing with no catch into a morning of one last dropping of his nets and a boat overflowing with fish.

Ezekiel responded much as Peter did when He heard God’s instructions – instructions that were crazier than those He gave to Daniel. The results were crazier, too. And the whole story, although far removed from our lives, has application to it. God explained to Ezekiel that the prophecy was meant for the people of Israel, but I think we can look at the whole of it and apply it metaphorically to our lives. We can take the principles from it and apply them to each of our lives.

So let’s go to Ezekiel 37 and read about Ezekiel’s experience in a valley filled with dry bones. God grabbed me in the first verse!

The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones.
Ezekiel 37:1 (NLT)

I have a question for you – Are there dry bones in your life?

One of the commentaries I read about this passage described the scene this way: Ezekiel was taken “to a valley filled with many bleached bones, scattered on the ground, the skeletons of corpses long ago decomposed and devoured by carrion-eating birds and animals.” Are there areas of your life like that? I have some. Some dreams that have been waiting to be fulfilled for a long time. Some areas that I’ve neglected for so long that they are decomposing. Perhaps some relationships or disciplines that in the busyness of life I’ve left scattered on the ground in my haste to do the next thing on my list. The longer I’m away from the discipline, the more it dies and I die with it. It might be your prayer life or Bible reading or the practice of giving thanks or praising God. Are there areas of your life that feel brittle and wasted or wasting away?

“The LORD took hold of me…”

This first phrase got my attention. “The Lord took hold of me.” You are probably more accustomed to reading it in the NIV or King James Version, where it is translated “The hand of the Lord was upon me.” While both translations mean the same thing, the New Living Translation connotatively seems radically different. When I hear or read “The hand of the Lord was upon me” I think of my Father resting His hand on my shoulder and leading me somewhere. The phrase “The Lord took hold of me” implies that I have no choice, that He’s grabbing me by the collar or with both hands and forcibly taking me somewhere. And that’s truer to the meaning of the verse. The word translated “hand” in the NIV means hand, but it means “a hand with power” – which is consistent with the rest of the verse that talks about being carried away by the Spirit, Ruach, of the Lord.

So the first thing I heard the Holy Spirit asking me was “Have you allowed the Lord to take hold of you? Or are you resisting Him? Are you yielding only a little when He wants to take hold of you and take you places you couldn’t go on your own?” Lord, I’m listening…how can I obey?

Have you allowed the Lord to take hold of you? That’s the first thing God is asking you today. He is encouraging us to yield to His power. He is encouraging us to yield to His Spirit’s working. Ezekiel would not have had the experiencing of speaking to the dry bones if he hadn’t allowed the Lord to take hold of him and take him to the valley of dry bones.

One of the things I like about this passage is the interaction between Ezekiel and the Lord. Ezekiel doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. He’s just been forcibly taken and gently placed in a valley filled with bones. Imagine his confusion. Let’s read more about the valley:

1The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. 2He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out.
Ezekiel 37:1-2 (NLT)

Basically the Lord led Ezekiel on a tour through the dry bones. They walked among the dry bones. The bones were all around him.

I think we often avoid those valleys of dry bones in our lives – the valleys of decay and brokenness – because they were created by some kind of devastation. The valley of dry bones is a place of death. Something horrible happened to create that valley. Lord, I don’t want to go back there. Don’t take hold of me and take me there!

But if we listen to the Lord, the panic or depression that can take hold of us in the valley is held at bay as He speaks. When God takes us to the valley of decay and brokenness – it’s not to cause us more pain. It’s to bring us back to life. So let Him take hold of you and lead you to the dry places. Then listen.

It’s interesting that when God spoke, it was in the form of a question.

Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
Ezekiel 37:3a (NLT)

God often asks us a question simply to open our mind to possibilities. “Sandy, can this dream live again?” “Sandy, can this relationship be repaired?” “Sandy, can this spiritual discipline that has been long forgotten come back to life?” “Sandy, can our relationship be restored – returned to what it once was?” Maybe that’s where you are – feeling alienated from God. It’s a painful place to be. And maybe you’re feeling like you’re doing everything you can and still you’re far from God. “Can this relationship come alive again?”

“O Sovereign LORD,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
Ezekiel 37:b (NLT)

Ezekiel answers God’s question honestly. I don’t know. Only You know, Lord. I have no power to change the situation. But You do. Can this dream come alive again? I don’t know. Can this relationship be repaired? I don’t know. Hidden in Ezekiel’s answer is a question – the same question God asked him – can these bones come alive again?

So God answers his question:

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, …
Ezekiel 37:4a (NLT)

God says – “You, Ezekiel, you speak to the bones. Speak a prophetic message.” The word “prophecy” means “speak by inspiration of God” – Listen to hear what God has to say, then speak it!

4Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, LISTEN to the word of the LORD! 5This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
Ezekiel 37:4-6 (NLT)

God goes on – “Speak to these bones. Call the dry bones to attention even though they are dead.” What is Ezekiel to say to the bones – “Listen up!” The word translated “listen” also means “obey” – What did Peter say? “Because you say so, I will do it.” (Luke 5:5)

Broken dreams, LISTEN to the word of the Lord. Dead relationship…LISTEN to the word of the Lord.

“Dry bones, listen for the voice of God! The sovereign God says…”

Who says? The Sovereign God – Adonai Jehovah – the self-existing God who controls all things – Listen to what He says!

“The sovereign Lord says “I.am.going.to.put.breath.into.you.and.make.you.live.again!”

Read that passage again. “The sovereign Lord says “I.am.going.to.put.breath.into.you.and.make.you.live.again!”

God says we’re to speak to the dry bones in our lives: “Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again!” Do you believe He can do it?

Well, in case you doubt that it will be a full and beautiful life, let me be more clear God says – “I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you and you will come to life.”

You know, there’s life and then there’s life. There’s life and then there’s life abundant. Life abundant isn’t just life made alive, it is life adorned – with flesh and muscles and skin! It’s life with the breath of God inside us. It is knowing that He is the Lord. That’s God’s promise.

Let’s step back for a second. Who again was he making this promise to? The decimated Israelites who were nothing more than dead, dry, brittle bones because of their own disobedience! So you know what? I may have messed up big time and that’s why my dreams are unfulfilled or that’s why my relationship with God has gone stale or that’s why my relationship with my husband is distant or cold. But God…But God…offers grace and through that grace and His sovereign power, he offers life.

Scripture says that faith comes by hearing. In this passage, life comes by hearing – listening to the word of God and speaking it as He instructs. Faith and life are inseparable. They cannot be divorced from one another! God says “listen, speak and live…”

Let’s see what Ezekiel does:

So I spoke this message, just as he told me.
Ezekiel 37:7a (NLT)

Like Peter, Ezekiel is saying “Because you said so, I will do it!”

7bSuddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
Ezekiel 37:7b-8 (NLT)

And an amazing thing happened! God was true to His word! He caused the bones of each body to come together and attach themselves as complete skeletons.

Mr. T on the old television show The A Team? “I love it when a good plan comes together!” I love it when God is true to His Word.

As Ezekiel watched, God did what He said He would do….almost. He got all the way through putting skin on the bodies, but still they had no breath. What God did was amazing, miraculous. But it wasn’t finished. So He gave Ezekiel another task:

9Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man.
Ezekiel 37:9a (NLT)

Remember, we said that the word “prophecy” means “speak by inspiration of God” – Listen to hear what God has to say, then speak it!

9Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

10So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
Ezekiel 37:9-10 (NLT)

God gives Ezekiel a second assignment required to finish the task.

Too often we watch and are so amazed at what God has done that we are satisfied with a partial fulfillment of God’s promise. We’re satisfied with a partial healing or a partial restoration. “Then skin formed over them but they still had no breath in them.” Don’t settle for half of what God has promised. Yes, half of what He promised is amazing, but it’s only half. It’s not the glass that’s half full, it’s our life that’s half full. Don’t settle.

Speak again. Call on the Lord. Don’t settle for half healing. 

I’ve been watching our plants grow. They grow fast and I love it. Then they bud. Then they produce fruit. I mean, the process is amazing. But if we stop watering and nurturing at any point in the process, the plant dies. Words of prophecy are the watering and nurturing that our bones, our souls, need. So, we listen for His voice…and we speak as He commands.

Let’s finish the passage.

11Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ 12Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the LORD. 14I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!’”
11zekiel 37:11-14 (NLT)

That brings us back to our first question: Are there dry bones in your life? Let God “take hold of you,” have control, “carry you away by the Spirit.” Don’t give God just a little control, let Him carry you away. Yes, even to the place of the dry bones – because sometimes we have to visit those dark places to let God heal them. If we don’t give Him all the pieces, He can’t make us whole.

There is a line in the Christafari song in yesterday’s blog that I didn’t really hear until I listened to the song for about the tenth time. It’s during the extended “reggae speak” portion and they say “With God’s all seeing eyes you will see clearly that your day to day life it is just prophecy; to be fulfilled by God Almighty.”

Your life – the life God wants you to lead – is waiting for you to prophecy it so God Almighty can fulfill it.

“Speak a prophetic message to these bones” God told Ezekiel. Speak a prophetic message to the broken, dead bones, so that they might live! Listen up, broken dead bones – The Sovereign Lord wants to impart life to you.

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A few months ago our pastor preached about how we need to be “pickled” in the Lord –not just dipping a toe in the presence of the Lord, but being fully in it – spending long enough in it to be “pickled.”

Later in the day we went grocery shopping…and my husband had an unusual desire to buy…dill pickles! We bought them, only to find an unopened jar of them in the back of our fridge. Well, we opened this new jar and the pickles were gone in a week.

A few days later Phil and I were leading a Bible study and Phil started talking about pies. As he talked about pies to illustrate some point he was making, I began to think “pies. Yeah, that’d taste really good right now. We’ll have to buy a pie soon.” Well, we resisted the temptation to buy that pie, but God used it to make me aware of how strongly influenced I am by the suggestions and behaviors of others. Within a span of 4 days, hearing about pickles made us go out and buy a jar of pickles, and eat all of them and then hearing about pies made me crave pies.

And if it happens with pickles and pies, you know it can and does happen with other things. Being around people who complain a lot makes me more likely to complain. Being around people who are excited about and motivated to grow their business makes me likely to return to my office more enthusiastic than when I left it. Being around people who are eating a lot encourages me to eat more, while being around people who are being more careful about what they eat encourages me to be healthier in my eating habits. God is showing me how very suggestible I am. And I’m guessing you’re the same way.

Ephesians 5 has something to say about that:

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children
Ephesians 5:1 (NIV)

I’m to be an imitator of God, not those around me. It’s a good thing to be easily influenced if the One we’re looking to for influence is God.

Paul does end his sentence there. Let’s continue with verse 2:

1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  
Ephesians 5:1-2(NIV)

“Live a life of love” Paul writes. OK. Sounds like a great ideal. My question is obvious – How? What does living a life of love look like?

Paul answers the question in the rest of the verse – the way we live a life of live is by imitating Christ – by pouring ourselves out as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. When we live a life of love, it will be a life that is both sweet smelling and sacrificial.

  • It will be attractive to others, it will enhance their lives in some way, it will add a sweetness to it – that’s the fragrant offering. It’s beautiful.
  • It will also be a sacrifice. It means dying to self. It means pouring ourselves out for others – often, others who won’t return that love or who don’t seem to deserve that love. But we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide who deserves our love. Christ didn’t say “go and make disciples of those who deserve it…” If He had, none of us would have become disciples because we didn’t deserve it. And I’m guessing it took someone along the line showing us God’s love when we weren’t very lovable for us to truly comprehend and embrace the Gospel. That love is beautiful to the receiver – the fragrant offering. That love is sacrificial, hard work, for the one pouring himself out.

“Behold the kindness and severity of God” Scripture says (Romans 11:22) and I see that in living a life of love – in the sweet fragrance to the receiver and the sacrifice to the giver. Now if you know Scripture, you know that I just misused that Scripture, because in context it’s talking about how very kind God is to those who believe and how very severe His judgment is on those who don’t believe.

But see it applying here as well. God tells us to pour ourselves out – to sacrifice our lives – so that others smell the fragrant offering it is. Behold, the severity and kindness of God.

1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2  and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.    
Ephesians 5:1-2

We’re not only to be imitators of God, but we’re to become people that influence others to become imitators of God. We’ve already talked about how highly suggestible people are – you talk about pickles and pies and they (I) begin to crave them – we’ll let’s be such visible and strong imitators of God that we influence others, not to buy pickles and pies, but to become pursuers of God.

Ephesians 5 goes on with a long list of behaviors that should not characterize our lives…sexual immorality, any kind of impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking…behaviors that are an imitation of the world, not an imitation of God. Things that are not sweet smelling or sacrificial. But you know what? These behaviors come naturally to those who live in the world. Because we are highly suggestible people. So Paul continues in his letter…drop down to verse 15:

15Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:15-16

Live purposefully – be careful how you live – watch your influences and make decisions, don’t just follow the suggestions people put in your mind.

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Ephesians 5:17

What is His will? That we live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
Ephesians 5:18

Again, don’t let the world be your influencer, let God be your influencer. Be imitators of God, not the world.

19Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:19 -20

Need encouragement in living that sacrificial life of love? Follow the advice in verses 19 and 20. Let what God is doing be so much in the forefront of your mind that you easily talk about His blessings with other believers. Keep your focus on Him by singing songs of praise and thanksgiving throughout the day.

Living a life of love – being an imitator of God’s extravagant love and grace – will make you stand out in a world that is filled with hurting people. Allow your love to be the influence that others imitate.

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We’ve had extraordinarily high expenses this year. Thousands of dollars in car repairs. Unexpected medical bills.

We’ve had extraordinarily low income this year. Being self-employed means fluctuating income, but this year there’s been no fluctuation, it’s been consistently down.

We’ve had extraordinary pulls on our time and lifestyle this year. We’ve had many requirements that have eaten our time and gas money to provide unexpected support. We took a business trip (quite an expensive business trip) and got exceedingly sick essentially losing more than half of the benefit of the trip.

I’m not complaining. For the first five months, I just considered it life. A bit unusual life, perhaps, but life none-the-less. This past month I’ve wondered if there’s an extraordinary spiritual component to it. Are we being targeted by the enemy? I’m not one to blame every bad thing that happens on the enemy working against me. Lots of bad things are simply a result of living in a fallen world and/or my own bad or sinful choices. But when extraordinary things happen, I look to the spiritual realm. Yesterday, when yet another extraordinary expense hit shortly after news of continued low income, I began to more seriously consider a spiritual element. (OK, some would say I’m coming to the party a bit late. That’s probably true.)

But last night I began asking “What’s happening, Lord?” And even more to the point “How should I be responding to these issues, Lord?” I’m already remaining positive, hopeful and trusting. OK, I admit it, worry is beginning to creep in (which, of course, is the antithesis of trusting). Still, I know that I am a blessed woman. An extraordinarily blessed woman.

Well, I don’t have an answer to my questions yet. But this morning’s Scripture came at just the right time. I love serving a “just at the right time” God.

1God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.
2So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.
3Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
Psalm 46:1-3 (NLT)

I am so encouraged.

God is ALWAYS ready to help. Lord, I need your help! Come quickly.

So we won’t fear – I WON’T FEAR – when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.

And then I love the defiant – confidently defiant – tone of verse 3:

Let the oceans roar and foam – because God is my refuge and strength; because MY God is always ready to help.

Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge – because God is my refuge and strength; because MY God is always ready to help.

Lord, help me.

Afterward:
Of course my husband is in the midst of all this with me. Last night was the first time we talked about this year’s occurrences having a spiritual source. This morning he saw that I was a bit off-kilter and we prayed. (I thank and praise God for my husband.)

As I just finished writing this blog – right up to the line “Lord, help me” – he came down from getting ready for the day in our bedroom upstairs. Always quick to share the goodness of God with him, I said “Want to know what my first verses were today?” I then read Psalm 46:1-3 to him.

Then he said “Want to know what my last verses were ? The last thing I heard on TV before I came downstairs was this:

“Don’t you worry about a thing. Cause every little thing is gonna be all right.”

I guess God speaks through Bob Marley, too. (No, I’m not endorsing his life or life message. God speaks through the ungodly.) Yes, every little thing is gonna be all right. Enjoy!

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Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich.
Be wise enough to know when to quit.

Proverbs 23:4 (NLT)

I worked quite late last night, so this verse got my attention this morning. We have a part-time employee who is moving on to a better opportunity and I’ve been wondering about replacing her or absorbing her responsibilities myself and/or handing them off to the few other employees we have. Business has been exceedingly slow this year, so it’s not an automatic decision.

Do I increase my workload (sigh)? Do I hire someone else when finances are so tight? Would I be able to make more money by offloading these responsibilities to some other person or am I saving money by doing them myself?

I don’t know the answer to those questions yet, but the Holy Spirit has been regularly nudging me to seek God’s wisdom on the issue. I’ve tried…but sometimes seeking God’s wisdom is easier than other times. I suspect you know how that is. His wisdom doesn’t always seem obvious, does it? I suppose if it was always obvious, it wouldn’t be wisdom because wisdom is something we seek out. At least that’s the theme of Proverbs, which we’re reading this month in our Resting at the River’s Edge readings.

So this morning, after I’ve read more chapters than I anticipated reading and when I was really planning on stopping, I thought “well, maybe I’ll read a chapter of Proverbs before I call it quits”…even though my stomach has been telling me to make lunch for about twenty minutes now. I give you this much detail simply as an illustration of how the Holy Spirit leads me. Many people say “I don’t feel led by God.” Often it’s that they don’t recognize God’s leading in everyday life. I am working through an issue and I’ve been praying about it, but I don’t have God’s clear leading. I am finished with my morning Bible reading yet simply feel a desire to read more. That “more” brings me to a verse that touches on the issue I’m working through. That’s God’s leading.

Do I have an answer to my question of whether or not to hire a replacement for our employee who is leaving? No, not yet. But I have a confidence that I have God’s attention on the matter – He’s working on it and He’s working on getting the answer to me. Of course God is always attentive to our prayers and is always at work in answering them and in changing us to conform to His son. It’s just that sometimes, when in the midst of indecision, I need to be reminded of that. That’s what God did for me this morning with this verse.

He’s also reminded me not to fret about it. I’m to do what I can each day and know when to call it quits. That doesn’t mean get it all done, then go home. That means being able to say with peace “I’ve done enough for today. I’ll leave the rest in God’s hands and return tomorrow.”

It reminds me of a line from an old Joni Eareckson-Tada song:

Each mile I put between the past
And the future in Your hand,
I learn more of Your providence
And I find out who I am.
from My Little Tune/Journey’s End by Joni Eareckson

Each step (or mile) that I put in God’s hands gives me the opportunity to learn more of how He cares for me and what my role in this world (and the next) is. Putting unfinished tasks in God’s hands is a tremendous way to learn those things. We tend to think that finishing tasks is how we learn/experience who God is and who we are. No, it’s really more about the journey.

I’m not promoting a laissez-faire or “what will be will be” attitude. Trusting God is much different from that. Trusting God is intentionally putting things in His hands and then resting in the knowledge that He has them under control. It’s an active thing. It’s a placing and resting – a putting life into God’s hands and learning more about Him and ourselves.

What situation do you need to place in God’s hands today? Let me encourage you to do so, then rest while you wait for His wisdom.

Need some help? Check out this video of Joni’s song:

 

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“…all who believe in him are made right with God.”
Romans 10:4b

As I read this passage morning, I was struck by the phrase “made right with God.” It seemed to stir an old memory that is only half there of my mom telling me to “make it right.” It seems that was something she would say after we kids got into an argument. As I said, it’s only what I call a “half memory” – I don’t know if it really happened, but there’s something stirring in my mind.

We would go from fussing and fighting about something to saying we were sorry and hugging each other. Now I’m sure that good feelings didn’t abound at the time, but there was a degree to which we were reconciled.

When we believe in Jesus Christ, God brings complete, full and perfect reconciliation between us and Him. He doesn’t harbor those residual ill feelings we had as children toward our siblings (or we have as adult toward those who offend us). No, he promises that He will “never again remember [our] sins.” (Jeremiah 31:34) “He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” (Psalm 103:12, NLT)

This is not a small thing. We have been made right with God. The Creator of the Universe whose majesty surpasses anything we can imagine, whose justice is perfect and whose righteousness is a standard that none of us can come close to meeting has made us right with Himself.

That reconciliation is made possible through our faith in Jesus Christ and his substitutionary death on the cross for us. It’s not made possible simply by believing in God. Let’s look at the verses that lead up to our key verse:

1Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. 2I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. 3For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. 4For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.
Romans 10:1-4 (NLT)

Paul makes it clear that one can have great zeal for God without knowing Christ. He calls it “misdirected zeal.” He makes it clear that we can pursue God in our own way – cling to the way that we want to be forgiven instead of accepting God’s way – and that it doesn’t lead to our salvation. Accepting God’s way leads to salvation. God’s way is believing and embracing what Christ has already accomplished – accepting His free gift, His substitionary death as fulfilling the payment or penalty required for our sin.

When we do that, we “who believe in Him are made right with God.”
Thank You, Lord. For making me right with You!

The Apostle Paul wanted to make sure everyone understood what he meant by that first paragraphs in Romans 10. A few sentences later he wrote this:

9If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.
Romans 10:9-10 (NLT)

Have you been made right with God? If not, I urge you to take Paul’s advice – confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. Believe it. Make Jesus the Lord of your life. Tell someone about it. Leave a comment on this post or email me – sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com.

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Christianity in America tends to major on love and minor on obedience. We seek intimacy and try to avoid obedience. We like the soft, feely stuff but hate the hard, uncomfortable stuff. Leviticus 26:14-15 got my attention when I read it a couple of weeks ago.

14“However, if you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, 15and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, 16I will punish you….”
Leviticus 26:14-16a (NLT)

Don’t get me wrong. It was coming into a greater understanding of God’s overwhelming love for me that set me free to be the person God wants me to be. It was understanding how outrageously passionate He is for me that changed my mental image of Him. I used to see God as always standing in heaven shaking His head at me wondering when I’d ever get it right. Now I know He’s my greatest cheerleader, my greatest encourager, and the proudest Abba Father you can imagine. It’s the over-the-top pleasure He takes in me that brings joy to my life.

That great love frees me to take risks for Him. I know He will always love me, even when I get it wrong.

But that doesn’t mean He is pleased with wrong actions, and embracing His love must not come at the expense of embracing His righteousness and justice. It must not come at the expense of His holiness.

I admit it – I don’t know how and when and where to draw the lines. But I know that our churches are filled with people who praise God on Sunday mornings yet live unholy lives. And that grieves me. Because we, the Church, could have so much more impact. Yet I also know that it is not my place to judge another man’s servant (Romans 14:4). So perhaps the place to start drawing the line is with myself. I must be diligent to embrace obedience and God’s holiness. I must put into practice what I read – which means I must read with the intention of responding.

Apprehending the grace God has for us each day is done in many ways – by seeking Him every morning, by taking what He offers by faith, by receiving His love and by obeying His commands. Obeying God’s commands – that is, making daily life and lifestyle choices that are consistent with God’s Word – is just one way of bring more of His grace into our lives. It pleases Him. Even when we don’t get it all right.

Conversely, disobedience displeases God and brings punishment. He is our heavenly Father and He disciplines us as a father.

5And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. 6For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

10For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
Hebrews 12:5-6, 10-11 (NLT)

In the midst of celebrating God’s great love, it’s critically important to remember that He is also a holy, holy God who disciplines His children. When things go wrong in our lives perhaps sometimes we are too quick to give the enemy credit for hassling it – perhaps we should be asking if God is punishing us.

At the risk of diluting the message of obedience in this blog, I want to provide balance. There are people who haven’t embraced God’s passionate love for them. There are those who see Him as I used to – as the One who always sees the flaws in their actions and whose standards are so high I can only feel condemned by them. Condemnation is from satan. Conviction is from the Lord. You can read about the difference in this Apprehending Grace blog about how very much God loves us.

If you fall into that category, I highly recommend that you read books by Brennan Manning. The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out is a great place to start. Brennan Manning died just a couple of weeks ago. This blog by Steve Wiens captured Manning’s message. Check it out and don’t miss the compilation video at the end.  It’s long, but it’s worth listening to. You will be inspired by God’s message of compassion and love spoken to and through his servant Brennan Manning.

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In his Monday Morning Memo on April 15th, Alan Weiss of Summit Consulting wrote this:

Every day we write the story of our lives, a continuing autobiography. I suspect that if we took the time to read it regularly, we might choose to change the plot. I suspect that if we took the time to read it regularly, we might choose to change the plot! Some of us are rooted in a poverty mentality, as if we’re trying merely to survive; some are in stability, feeling alive; some have an abundance mentality, feeling it’s good to arrive; and a few are in self-mastery, believing they can thrive. As we ascend, the key is to avoid sliding back, and to create water-tight, closed doors behind us. How interesting is your story? You can still change it.

I don’t know if Alan Weiss is a Christian. His Monday Morning Memos are directed to the business community. I couldn’t help but recognize the spiritual implications of his memo, however. As Christians, we know that God has created us for a purpose and that He works the circumstances in our lives to bring us into those purposes…if we pursue Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

The enemy, however, has one goal – to derail us from the path God has created for us. His first tactic in achieving that goal is to keep us from spending eternity with God. When he fails at that, his tactics change from keeping us from heaven to minimizing the impact we can have while here on earth – to keep us from accomplishing God’s purposes for our lives. He does that by convincing us to believe lies about who we are and who God is.

  • He gives us a poverty mentality, when the truth is that our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10).
  • He makes us comfortable in a stability mentality – we’re alive and enjoying our Christian culture…and we’re happy to settle there. That’s enough. No, it’s not. God calls us to more. In 2 Timothy 4, the Apostle Paul write to Timothy “I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season…for the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine…But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge your duties of our ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5, NIV) Paul wrote this shortly before his death. He wrote just a few verses later that he had fought the good fight, he had finished the race, and because of that, there was a crown of righteous waiting for him – a crown that would be presented to him by the Lord. Wow! You may not be a preacher. You may not be an evangelist. But Paul’s message to Timothy applies to you. Whatever God has called you to do, continue in it. Discharge the duties of the ministry God has given you. Don’t become complacent.
  • He gives us an abundance, and with that comes the temptations of  “pride in our achievements and possessions.” But “this world is fading away… But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:16-17)
  • He distracts us with pursuing success for the sake of success and the temptations of personal glory. This is what I take from Weiss’ description of “self-mastery.” As we pursue success by the world’s standards, we can easily in our own ability to achieve our destiny. We no longer depend on God for all things, but are confident in our own ability to thrive. We’re to do all things as if unto God (1 Peter 4:10-11), which means we ought to approach all things with excellence, but we’re to rely on Him in the doing. We’re not to rely on our own abilities, our own wisdom, our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Friends, God has gone to tremendous lengths to save us. He works continually in our lives – and that means in our circumstances – to work all things together for good if we continue in our love for him and in pursuing the purposes He has for our lives. Let’s make the story we are writing every day bring glory to Him and echo through eternity long after we’re with Him.

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12When [Peter] realized [that the angel had released him from prison], he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. 13He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. 14When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” 15“You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” 16Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed.
Acts 12:12-16 (NLT)

This passage tickles me. I’m afraid I always make fun of Rhoda when I teach on this paragraph. That’s wrong of me. There’s a better lesson in the passage.

As I read it last week, I first was surprised that Scripture includes the name of this girl who recognizes Peter’s voice and then runs away from the door instead of letting him in. Her name is Rhoda. There are many nameless people in Scripture. For some reason, Rhoda isn’t one of them. I don’t have any insight into why her name is included here, but it gave me a greater degree of respect for her (as I should have). God saw fit to include her name in Scripture.

Now I’m still stuck on the foolishness of hearing Peter’s voice and then running from the door instead of letting him in. Imagine the scene.

Rhoda hears Peter’s voice on the other side of the door and turns away from the door to run screaming through the house “Peter’s here! Peter’s here!”

“Rhoda, you’re crazy! Peter’s in jail. ”

“No! Peter’s here! He’s here!”

“Where is he!”

“Uh…Uh…he’s standing outside the door knocking.”

“Well, let him in, girl!”

And we return to the front door where Peter stands knocking.

Rhoda is near the top of my scale of ditziness in this scene. But as I imagined this scene and thought about it more, I began to think about Rhoda now being in heaven. The scene changed dramatically. Yes, she’s known in heaven for leaving Peter standing at the front door – I can see the saints there gently teasing her for running off in a tizzy. But the scene is heaven now, so the conversation is much different…

“Remember the time you left Peter standing at the door?” a friend says with a smile on her face.

“Oh, my, yes! I was so shocked and excited to hear his voice, I just lost my mind for a minute! What a fun night that was!”

Those around laugh together, perhaps bringing Peter over to share his side of the story. Or perhaps Jesus is part of the conversation and they here the whole thing from His perspective.

These imaginings took me to thinking about the different personalities God has created. I’m sure Rhoda was really good at some things. But she was clearly not a shining star in this situation. But what is the hallmark of God’s Kingdom? Love. So I see Jesus loving Rhoda for the woman she was and I see the saints in heaven loving her for the women she was and is and I see her totally enjoying the woman she was and is. And I’m a little pricked in my spirit, reminded that my job is to reveal Christ to others – and that means not thinking less of them when they aren’t shining stars, but enjoying the person God created them to be.

There is a second hallmark of the Kingdom of God – its variety and uniqueness. Our God is the God of infinite creativity. He created Rhoda to be excellent at some things and created others to be excellent at the things which aren’t Rhoda’s strong suit. Why? Well, there are a number of reasons, but one of them is so that we would all have a place in His Kingdom to serve the King. I’m thinking they’re not making Rhoda the doorman in heaven. But who knows! Maybe she was heaven’s doorman in training when she went to the door that Peter was knocking on.

What position has God uniquely and specially gifted you for? Love yourself for the gifts God has put in you. Don’t despise yourself or put yourself down for the gifts God has not given you – He’s given those gifts to others so they can also have their place in the Kingdom of God.

Likewise, love others – especially those who might be difficult to love because they are so radically different from you. Love them for the gifts God has put in them. Don’t think less of them or put them down for the gifts God has not given them. The gifts they lack are gifts God is giving others (perhaps you!) so that each of us has a perfect place in the Kingdom of God.

Thanks, Rhoda, for the lesson in love. And forgive me for making fun of you in the past!

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Last Sunday our pastor preached about the importance of obedience. Obedience – immediate obedience – opens the door for the opportunity to worship. Disobedience, on the other hand, brings about destruction – ours and those around us. I’ll be picking up on that point as I preach a resurrection message this Sunday. The first thing that happened when the women found the empty tomb on that first Resurrection Sunday morning is that they were given an assignment. “Go quickly and tell the disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead’” (Matthew 28:7b, NIV) the angel said.

Scripture records their obedience:

8The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. 9And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him.
Matthew 28:8-9 (NLT)

The women were very frightened – not just a little afraid, they were very frightened – a synonym for the word translated “very afraid” would be “in terror.” Yet they were immediately obedient. They rushed to respond. And as they went, they met Jesus. And they worshipped. If they had not been obedient, would they have met Jesus? Would they have had the opportunity to worship at His feet? Honestly, we have no way of knowing what God would have chosen to do but what we can say definitively is that they were obedient and in their obedience, they met Jesus.

That’s a preview of my Sunday sermon.

Today, I’m reading Acts chapter 10. (I’m a couple of days behind in my Resting at the River’s Edge reading.) God sent an angel to give Cornelius an assignment – send some men to find Peter and bring him to your home. Verses 7 and 8 reveal Cornelius’ immediate obedience.

7As soon as the angel was gone, Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier, one of his personal attendants. 8He told them what had happened and sent them off to Joppa.
Acts 10:7-8 (NLT)

That’s immediate obedience. And it opened the door for tremendous blessing.

So Cornelius’ men set off for Joppa and arrived there about noon the next day, just as Peter was going to the rooftop to pray. As Peter prayed, God gave him a vision and a command that went against everything he had been taught as an Israelite. Then the Holy Spirit then told him to go with the men who were arriving at his door. This also would have gone against all he had been taught. You see the men coming to Peter’s door were Gentiles and they were servants of a Gentile.

Peter describes the situation and his response upon meeting Cornelius and the people he had gathered in his home:

[Peter] said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.” Acts 10:28-29a (NIV)

Peter was immediately obedient when He heard God’s voice – even when it contradicted the earthly teaching he had received. And it opened the door for tremendous blessing.

The blessing that Cornelius and Peter received as a result of their obedience is described in the last verses of Acts 10:

44While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. 46For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, 47”Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.
Acts 10:44-48 (NIV)

The obedience of Cornelius and Peter opened the door for faith to arise in the hearts of those in Cornelius’ household. They believed Peter’s message:

36“You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all…39We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen…42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Acts 10:36, 39-40, 42-43 (NIV)

Cornelius’ obedience, Peter’s obedience, even the obedience of others in Cornelius household who came to hear the man of God preach – their obedience led to the sending of the Holy Spirit and the rising of faith in their hearts.

Going to the home of a Gentile, eating with him and definitely sharing the Gospel with him got Peter in a lot of trouble with other believers. Read about it (and the resolution of their conflict) in Acts 11.

Obeying God may get us in some hot water, but it is always the right thing to do and it always has blessings attached to it. May it include suffering along the way? Yes. But there are blessings attached to obedience. Blessings for those who obey and for others in their sphere of influence.

Embrace obedience. Even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when it means hardship. Embrace obedience out of love for God. But know that because of His love for us, there are always blessings that will come from that obedience.

Do you have a story of blessings following obedience? Share them with us here or on our facebook page.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9 (RSV)

Our part in the equation of this verse is that we confess our sins to God. In our first blog about a repentant heart, we learned that repent means to “think differently” about our sin. The word translated confess in the above verse is very similar – it means “come into agreement with” God about our sin. When we confess our sins, we are no longer thinking about them in a positive light, but rather coming to God saying “Lord, I agree with you that what I’ve done is wrong. Forgive me.”

After we’ve done that, the heavy lifting is all up to God. This verse promises us that if (when) we confess our sins:

God is faithful – He will do what He says He will do. He does not change His mind about it. He doesn’t look at our sin to determine whether or not it is forgivable. Instead, when we confess our sins, God is faithful – to His character, His Word, and to the promises He’s made to us.

God is just – It would not seem to me that a just God should forgive all my sins, but He does. He forgives all my sins because the required punishment has already been given and received. He forgives my sins because the required price has already been paid. To not forgive the sin would be requiring more than what God has already said is required. Romans 6:23 states clearly that the penalty for sin is death. It goes on just as clearly to explain that the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23 (NLT)

Christ died as payment in full for my sin. Paid in Full! Punishment has been already been given and received. God is faithful to His Word and God is just. To require more of me today than God has already defined as the set penalty or punishment would be unjust.

God will forgive our sins – With the penalty already paid, God fully – fully – forgives our sins. Any residual guilt we may feel is one of two things (or both): A lie from the enemy that we are believing or a refusal to believe God. You may wonder “why would anyone ever refuse to believe God – especially about something so wonderful?” It’s a fair question. But I suspect that if you think carefully you can identify times in your own life when you chose to hold on to guilt instead of receive God’s forgiveness. Perhaps you felt that you didn’t deserve forgiveness; perhaps you were enjoying wallowing in your guilt; perhaps you were just being rebellious or stubborn. In the light of day that sounds horrible, but we do it. At some point (or at many points in our lives), we must choose to believe God in this area – believe God that if we have confessed our sins, He will and has forgiven us.

God will cleanse us from all unrighteousness – I am so glad that God added this last phrase! It says that not only will He forgive the sin that I’ve confessed, but that He will cleanse me from all unrighteousness. We don’t have to worry that we may have forgotten to confess some sin and therefore have not been fully forgiven. God cleanses us from all unrighteousness. And as I suspect you’ve heard many preachers say – all means ALL! When we live with a repentant heart, we confess our sins as God brings them to our attention. He then immediately forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

As I’ve meditated on this aspect of God’s faithfulness and justice over the past few days I’ve had two thoughts:

  • First, what an awesome, mind boggling thing it is that Jesus did for us. He took all the sin we have committed and ever would commit upon Himself as He hung on the cross. In that moment when God looked away, in that moment when Jesus and God were separated by the blackness of my sin, Jesus didn’t condemn me, He forgave me and He cleansed me. He made it possible for me to exchange the blackness of my sin for a pure heart.
  • Second, sometimes we feel unclean because of sins against us. When we confess our sins, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness. When we have been sinned against, even if our response has been pure, we feel unclean, just as we might feel unclean when we visit a garbage dump. It’s not our fault and we are not condemned for having visited the dump, but upon leaving we feel unclean. When we come to the Lord, He cleanses us of all unrighteousness. If you are struggling with feelings of unrighteousness – feeling that you have been sinned against and will never be clean – go to God. Confess your sins (read that carefully – confess your sins, not those sins others committed against you) and know that God will cleans you from all unrighteousness. Believe it! Live it! Holding on to feelings of unrighteousness are unnecessary.

When we confess our sins, God is faithful to His Word and His promises to us. When we confess our sins, God is just – not requiring a greater penalty than His Word says is required. When we confess our sins, God forgives them – we can live in freedom. When we confess our sins, God cleanses us from all unrighteousness – he exchanges the blackness of our sin for a pure heart.

A repentant heart leads to a pure heart. And living from a pure heart is living in freedom and joy.

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