Last Sunday morning I was encouraged by an elderly, white-haired, white-bearded, stooped-shouldered man on the front row of the church I was attending. He was very involved in the worship service, thoroughly engaged, hands raised for at least part of every song. We sang Graves into Gardens (He especially seemed to like that one), a song from a few years ago (don’t remember which one), and the hymn How Great Thou Art. During the preaching he had his Bible open, pen and notebook in hand, and again he was thoroughly engaged, fully participating in every aspect of the worship service. He was in my line of sight and as I watched him, I thought, “I want to be just like that when I’m old!”
WAIT A MINUTE! I AM OLD!
Which reminded me of a conversation I had with God several years ago. God doesn’t always answer me audibly. Most often He speaks to me by way of Scripture, or a message I receive from multiple trusted sources, or a deep sense of knowing in my soul. But occasionally I hear His voice when He’s addressing something about my character. This was definitely one of those times. I was talking to God about the kind of person I wanted to become as I aged – sweet, kind, engaged, someone able to see God at work in the old and the new. “Lord, I really want to be a sweet old person.” And then I distinctly heard the Lord’s voice, “Well, then, you’d better start now!” Ouch.
I realized in that moment that we don’t just wake up one day sweet, kind, and close enough to God to see His hand at work everywhere. The people we become depends on the choices we make in life:
It is a lifelong process, a stripping away of all that does not honor and glorify Him. We are forgiven and reconciled to God, and adopted into His family in a moment of time, but becoming like Jesus in our responses takes a lifetime of study, submission to our kind and loving Lord, self-discipline, and practice so that we can move every day closer to becoming that sweet saint of God that we desire to be.
Elisabeth Elliott said, “The will of God is not something that you add to your life. It is a course you choose. You either line yourself up with the Son of God, or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”
2 Peter 1:5-7 “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith, goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV).
Make every effort. We must be actively involved in the process, but, thank God, the results do not rest on our efforts alone! The Holy Spirit leads, guides, convicts, gives strength, honors our motives, and blesses our efforts!
I’m still working on becoming a sweet person “when I’m old!” Sometimes I’m shocked at my failures, but so thankful for the love and grace of God and His continued daily work in my life as I repent, submit, and walk closely with Him. I really do want to be more like Jesus.
I’m reading through Ezekiel, and if I’m honest, I have to say the OT prophets are not my favorite Scriptures to read. Every time I read through those judgment Scriptures I realize how close to the line our culture plays – hanging on to Christian traditions with one hand while partnering with those things that have no place in God’s kingdom.
I remember questions along this line from members of my youth group so many years ago. “Can you do THIS (insert activity) and still be a Christian?” OR “How many times can you do THIS and still be a Christian?” The retreat speaker would always say something like, “Why is your desire to get as FAR from God as you can get and still be “safe”? Why not rather desire to be as CLOSE to Him as you can get?”
I think it was Chuck Milhuff, Nazarene evangelist, who asked why someone would want to sift through garbage for a little piece of hotdog when God offers a banquet.
This idea came up when Michael and I were talking about the tendency of Christians to dismiss the Bible themes that we don’t like, instead of seeking heart change. We fail to ask, “Lord, what would that look like in my life as an American in 2021?”
Need some examples of these hard themes? How about Sabbath keeping? I heard a speaker ask why Christians think this is the only one of the 10 Commandments it is OK to ignore. Whoa. We agree with the ones about adultery, lying, stealing, but Sabbath keeping? That’s so Old Testament! Don’t want to talk about that one? How about submission (both women and men), blessing those who curse us, praying for those who mistreat us, tithing, the discipline of renewing our minds that we might be transformed, laying down our rights for the sake of others…
Here’s the part that distresses me these days. We know unbelievers are not going to follow the Word of God. Since they have not yet recognized His love for them, it’s unreasonable for us to expect them to see that God’s ways are good and to surrender to Him.
But what of those of us who have been forgiven, set free, redeemed, filled with the Holy Spirit? How can we say, I’ll follow You here, but not there, Lord? What You’re asking of me is unreasonable. Too difficult. Too outside of American culture in 2021. Too offensive. Too lonely.
Matthew 7:21 says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (NIV). The New Living Translation says it this way, “Only those who ACTUALLY do the will of my Father in heaven will enter” (my emphasis).
So, here’s a challenge for all of us who call ourselves Christians. When we feel ourselves rejecting something in God’s word because we feel it’s impractical; it only applied to Old Testament times; it makes us angry; it’s too difficult – let’s instead ask our Lord to reveal His heart in the matter and to show us what it would look like to follow Him in this area – to ACTUALLY do the will of the Father. Maybe He will show us an area we need to repent of, or give us some action steps to begin moving in the direction He’s leading.
Let’s not see how close to the edge we can walk without falling off the cliff, but how closely we can follow Him.
Close enough to hear His heartbeat.
Close enough to make a difference.
Close enough so that others see Him when they see us.
The other day at lunch I bumped the table, spilling Michael’s drink. He grabbed his cloth napkin to clean up the spill, but instead of absorbing the water, the napkin just kind of pushed it around the table. How frustrating! What good is a napkin that doesn’t absorb? We had a whole discussion about things that are supposed to be helpful but really aren’t. Like the cell phone mount for the car that doesn’t stick, or holds the phone at a weird angle or interferes with the AC (I’ve tried all 3!) Or the software update that throws in a learning curve when you’re just trying to finish something quickly.
(As I’m typing this my computer wants to update – NO!)
What about the self-help books and videos that promise to make you smarter, slimmer, a better person, more at peace with the world, healthy, wealthy, and wise? These things absolutely have their place. I’ve learned how to crochet, practice Spanish, and operate my cell phone – so many things - by reading articles and watching You Tube videos, and I’m grateful for the help. But for the big things in life like figuring out how to go on when I’ve messed up, or receiving healing from emotional hurts, or becoming a kinder more gracious person, self help books and videos are not helpful.
They just kind of push the water around the table.
In 2 Timothy 2:1 we read,
“You then, my son [my daughter, my child], be strong in the GRACE that is in Christ Jesus.”
Don’t rely on your own strength, but rather on the strength that comes from a relationship with God based solely on His grace that “has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”
(2 Timothy 1:9-10 NIV).
Have you ever believed that after becoming a Christian it was up to you to live a Christian life by trying harder to be good? Maybe you haven’t actually thought about those exact words, but you lived that way. I know that I have. For example, have you ever:
Tried to discern direction or figure out the answer to problems
without talking to God about it and trusting His way?
Tried to be strong for others instead of sending them to Jesus?
Tried to forgive someone by ignoring the problem?
Tried to make ends meet without trusting in our Provider
and walking daily with Him?
Tried to become a better person by habit change and willpower
rather than by being transformed by a daily walk with the Lord?
Here is 2 Timothy 1:9-10 again:
“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
Working backwards through those verses I see that Jesus Christ, our Savior, has revealed God’s grace by destroying death brought about by sin, and revealing the way to life and immortality, so that we might be saved and live holy (good, loving, pure) lives. This has always been God’s purpose for us. Then He invites us to rest in that. To find our strength in that (2:1).
If His purpose has ALWAYS been for us to live holy lives – lives that display goodness, godliness, love and grace toward others – becoming our very best selves – if He went so far as to come in the flesh, identify with us (mankind), teach, heal, love, accept, sacrifice Himself…
Is it even conceivable that He would now just leave us to figure out how to be holy, good, loving people on our own?
In our own strength?
By trying harder?
Through self-help plans?
God’s purpose, even “before the beginning of time,” has always been that we would become our very best selves by finding our strength in a relationship with Him. Be strong in His grace. Lean heavy on Him. His grace is not just for our salvation, but also for each moment of our lives. Grace is a gift that, if accepted, makes us better people, provides for our needs, gives wisdom in challenging times, forgives our sin, corrects our mistakes, teaches us to forgive, heals us from past wounds, helps us deal with our inadequacies, makes us strong. Of course, we don’t deserve these things. They are given to us from the loving heart of our Father through our Savior Jesus Christ.
You then – Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus!
This is my dog Nikki. More on her later.
In Matthew 13 Jesus gives a very short illustration about the Kingdom of God:
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.
When He found one of great value, he went away
and sold everything he had and bought it” (v. 45-46).
Sometimes I have a hard time with this concept - selling EVERYTHING so that you might have ONE thing. In some ways it seems almost foolish, until you realize that THIS was what the pearl merchant had been looking for all of his life - and he would give anything and everything to possess it.
Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is that thing you have been looking for all of your life, and it is worth giving anything and everything to possess it.
So many of us have struggled with this concept when we realize it means surrender of our talents, money, rights, time - everything we have and are. Sometimes we bristle at the thought that God would ask us to give up EVERYTHING to follow Him.
In the UNSHAKABLE KINGDOM AND THE UNCHANGING PERSON,
E. Stanley Jones reminds us that Jesus doesn’t just call
us to a life of full surrender - He modeled it for us.
“Though He was God,
He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
Instead, He gave up His divine privileges;
He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form,
He humbled Himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 NLT).
He surrendered everything for us and He invites us to humble ourselves in obedience to God, to surrender all that we have and are, that we might gain the Pearl of Great Price - the Kingdom of God.
And what does that mean, exactly?
Forgiveness of sin, fellowship with God, inner peace, joy, love, life purpose, truth, heaven, a code to live by that teaches us how to be our very best selves - all this and so much more! Whether we realize it or not, this is what we have been looking for all our lives.
Nikki is my 9 year old poodle. She’s a sweetie.
You might think she looks ridiculous in her flower cone in the picture, but I don’t put it on her for looks. She’s allergic to grass (I know, right?) and when the grass is really healthy she chews her feet constantly.
We’ve tried medicines, ointments, herbal supplements, frequent bathing - everything we heard that might work, but this year has been the worst year ever for her.
So she’s wearing a cone so that her feet can heal.
The first time our grandchildren saw her in the cone they fell over in fits of laughter. She does look kind of silly - in a cute way. I was talking about it with our 7 year old granddaughter who is familiar with Nikki’s allergy. I’ve been so surprised that Nikki doesn’t fight me about putting it on her. She comes over, sits at my feet, waits for me to put it on, and hasn’t tried to take it off even once.
Our granddaughter said, “That’s probably because she knows you love her.”
A lesson in love and trust from my dog and my granddaughter.
When Jesus asks us to give up everything, we can trust Him because of His love for us. Anything He asks of us us for our good.
The analogy breaks down at this point because He doesn’t MAKE us submit to Him. It’s not something He does TO us like when I put Nikki’s cone on her, it’s a lifestyle He INVITES us to if we are interested in gaining
the Pearl of Great Price - the Kingdom of God.
He demonstrated His willingness to surrender everything that He might have a love relationship with us, and asks if we are also willing to surrender everything to have a love relationship with Him. There is nothing He asks us to surrender to Him that He hasn’t already surrendered for us.
Except, of course, our sin.
When I was a young woman, I had some challenges in my life that I couldn’t handle on my own. Inside, I was filled with anger and hatred and unforgiveness. Inside of me there was no light, only darkness.
Someone invited me to their church one Sunday morning, and there I heard about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He was a great teacher, but because He was the Son of God, He could also forgive sins and make light shine in the darkness. As I thought about this and asked questions, I found out that Jesus loves people who realize they have needs in their lives that they can’t handle on their own. So, I told the Lord I was tired of the shame and the darkness in my life, the hatred and the anger; and I asked Him to forgive me and let His light shine in my heart. And in that instant He took that broken and confused young woman that I was and transformed my life. He replaced the hatred and anger with love and forgiveness, and flooded my soul with His Light. People who knew me could see the change immediately on my face.
But He gives even more than forgiveness and light. To everyone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God, and repents of their past life, and determines to follow Him, He gives His Spirit to be with them always, and His Word to teach them the way to live.
What an incredible gift! Forgiveness of my sins, Light in my Darkness, the Holy Spirit to be with me always, the Word of God to teach me His ways. God wants everyone everywhere to know His love and the forgiveness that He offers through faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe you’ve heard about Jesus, but don’t really know what makes Him different from any other person who ever lived.
To answer that question, we have to go back to the beginning of time. In the beginning God created the universe. He created human beings in His image to live joyfully in His presence. The Scriptures tell us that God walked and talked with these first humans each day, and in the beginning they had a close, intimate relationship with God because they trusted Him.
But eventually, these first humans began to wonder if God’s way really was the best way to live. They began to believe that God was keeping something good from them; and they began to distrust God’s love for them. And so they disobeyed God, their relationship with Him was broken, and sin entered the world bringing both physical and spiritual death. We can’t blame the condition of the world on these first humans alone, because all of us have rebelled against God and, in consequence, we must suffer the punishment of our rebellion which is: death and separation from God.
Thankfully, God initiated a rescue plan, He promised a Savior who could rescue humankind. This Savior would pay the price for their sin and bring reconciliation between mankind and God. God said that if the people would trust Him to provide this Savior, God Himself would forgive their sins and count their faith as righteousness.
In ancient times God chose the nation of Israel to display His glory in this fallen world. The Bible describes how God acted mightily on Israel’s behalf, rescuing His people from slavery and then giving them His holy law. But the law could not rescue them from the punishment their sin deserved. It could only teach them God’s perfect standard and show them how far away from that standard they really were.
Then, when the time was right, God Himself came as the Savior in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was able to perfectly obey the law given to Israel because He was without sin. Though innocent, He willingly allowed himself to suffer the consequences of our sin and rebellion by His death on a cross. He became the perfect, sinless sacrifice that was necessary to pay the price for our sin. But the cross is not the end of the story.
Three days after being crucified on the cross, Jesus rose from the dead, proving that He was who He said He was – giving authority to everything He taught and the miracles He performed. Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV) tells us about Jesus, the Savior:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus came to teach us about God, yes, but so much more. He came to offer forgiveness of sins to all people everywhere who repent of their sin and who trust in Christ alone for forgiveness. Repentance and faith in Jesus Christ restores our relationship with God and results in a life of ongoing transformation.
Only those who repent and believe in Christ will escape God’s judgment and live joyfully in God’s presence for all eternity. God’s message is the same to all of us whether we live in the United States or in some other country, whether we are male or female, young or old: repent and believe.
If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10: 9-13).
I heard one time about a man who did not believe that Jesus, the Son of God, would lower Himself to become human like us. He thought it was a ridiculous story. One day as a violent storm blew in, he saw a flock of chickens running here and there, afraid of the storm and trying to find shelter. The man had compassion on the chickens and wanted to help them find shelter and get out of the storm. He opened the doors, hoping they would notice and go inside, but they just kept squawking and flapping their wings and running around in circles. The man tried to lure them with feed. He tried shooing them inside. Nothing helped. The chickens could not be lured into the place of safety.
Feeling totally frustrated, the man said to himself, “Why don’t they follow me? Can’t they see this is the only place they can survive the storm? How can I possibly save them? If I could become like one of them they would follow me and I could lead them to safety.”
At that moment he stopped and considered what he had said: “If I could become like one of them, then I could save them.” At last he understood God’s heart toward humankind and why Jesus would humble Himself to become human like one of us.
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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever 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).
Some people believe that God could never forgive them for all the sins they’ve committed in their lives. But the Bible is full of stories of murderers and adulterers, people who worshipped other gods, betrayers, thieves, doubters – people whose lives were transformed by the forgiveness and the grace of Jesus Christ. The Scripture we just read says that “WHOEVER believes in Him” will have eternal life. “Whoever” includes men and women, children, people from every country, tribe and language, rich, poor, educated, uneducated. It also included murders, adulterers, liars and thieves. “Whoever” includes EVERYONE who believes that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for their sins. This is the gift of salvation.
The Christian life is a life of faith. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and nothing we can do to make ourselves acceptable to God.
God asks you only to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. You will be forgiven of your sins. Your darkness will be turned to light. Your life will be transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. Your relationship with God the Father will be restored. You will be adopted into His family and become His son or daughter. His Holy Spirit will come live in you and you will never be alone. His Word will come alive to you and give you direction for your life. And you will receive eternal life. A home in heaven when you die. Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.
I don’t know what kind of challenges you face in your life. But I want you to know that God loves you and would like to have fellowship with you. I invite you to allow Jesus Christ to change your life – forgiving your sins, bringing light into your darkness, being present with you at all times, and teaching you how to be your very best self. The way to do this is to simply acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Savior, the Son of God; ask Him to forgive your sins and come into your life; and then begin to follow Him as He leads you.
I’ve been posting a lot this year about the love of God because it seems as if Christians, even those who have served God for years, are so keenly aware of our own shortcomings and failures that we imagine God is disappointed in us. Sometimes we feel that this disappointment is so great He eventually will throw up His hands in disgust and turn His back on us. We read those judgment verses in the Old Testament and fear that God’s wrath is going to be poured out on us because we just couldn’t get our act together in our Christian life.
And then we read Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (NIV) and wonder why the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament seem so different; we don’t understand how God’s love and His wrath fit together.
I’m reading through Jeremiah right now, and there are a lot of those wrath and judgment verses; but what I notice is that God is sending a message of warning and a call to repentance to those who ignore and disregard Him, not those who love and serve Him. It’s been approximately 850 years since God delivered Israel out of Egyptian bondage in response to the covenant He made with Abraham, a man who followed and worshipped God in a land and time where God-worshippers were hard to find.
God delivered Abraham's descendants, protected them, provided for them, demonstrated His faithfulness time and time again, and gave them a code of living that taught them how to be in relationship with Him and with their fellow man. He displayed His love, grace and mercy and poured out blessing on Israel, but though there were individuals who loved and served Him and tried to faithfully follow Him, the nation as a whole continually turned away from Him to seek their own way, to seek other gods, to blend in with the society around them, to practice lifestyles that eventually led to their own destruction.
Sometimes the nation tried to hang onto their favored nation status as “God’s Chosen People” by continuing to “worship” God while ADDING the worship of other gods to their lives. We see this in Ezekiel 8 when they set up images of other gods in the Temple of the One True and Living God. I imagine their thinking went this way, “Let’s have all our gods in one place so people can choose to worship whichever god they feel will best serve them.” Whoa.
Through all of these 850 years the Lord continued to call to them, express His love for them, demonstrate His faithfulness. Finally, Jeremiah records this message from God: There’s an enemy coming who wants to destroy you. If you repent of your sin and follow me, I will continue to bless you, provide for you and dwell with you, but if you do not repent and turn to me, “disaster you cannot escape” will come upon you (11:7-11). The nation of Israel ignored this message just as many people who hear this message today ignore it. Disaster did come upon Israel. The northern kingdom of Israel was invaded by the Assyrian army and completely destroyed. The southern kingdom of Judah, who had broken off from Israel years earlier, was later invaded by the Babylonian army who destroyed everything of value and carried off her citizens to a land 900 miles away. All because the people rejected the offer of a relationship with the faithful God of holy love.
“Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when He led you in the way?” (2:17).
This is how we understand these 2 aspects of God’s character, His love and His judgment. Through *Jesus Christ God offers His love freely to everyone, often showering even those who don’t yet believe with His grace, mercy, and blessing. He knows that His desires for our lives are what will bring us the greatest joy and blessing. He knows we find true treasure when we experience a daily walk with Him. But for those who continually say, “I’m not interested,” He will eventually allow them to have what they’ve asked for – a life without Him.
Many of God’s people have been praying faithfully for a revival in the hearts of God’s people and a spiritual awakening in the hearts of those who do not yet follow Him. We see so many parallels between the United States and the Israel of the Old Testament. America has been a blessed nation for a very long time, but in many areas of our culture evil is rampant. We fear for those who continue to reject Him, and His message to them is still the same: There’s an enemy who wants to destroy you. If you repent of your sin and follow me, I will continue to bless you, provide for you and dwell with you, but if you do not repent and turn to me, “disaster you cannot escape” will come upon you (11:7-11).
I read somewhere that there are approximately 8,810 promises in the Bible! Here are two of God’s promises to His followers: “I will never leave your nor forsake you … Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5, 9; Hebrews 13:5). And “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). This is the life we want others to know – a relationship with the God who loves us and promises His constant presence with us. This is what we pray for when we pray for Revival. We pray that people would know God. We pray for others and testify about God’s goodness so they will see what they’re missing, repent of ignoring and disregarding God, and embrace the One who is waiting for them with outstretched arms.
*In my next post: a simple explanation about how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and His offer of salvation fit in with the Old Testament story of God and God’s people.
A few weeks ago I heard a sermon about how we Christians often settle for “Counterfeit Fruit” in our lives instead of seeking the Fruit of the Spirit. This results in a counterfeit Christianity. It works like this:
Instead of love for everyone, loving like Jesus does, we settle for tolerance for those with different viewpoints. Tolerance might be a good practice, but it certainly falls short of love.
Instead of joy we seek happiness. It’s good to be happy, but it doesn’t sustain us in the hard times.
Conflict avoidance is not the same thing as peace – peace WITH God and our fellow man, and the peace OF God that can come even in the midst of conflict.
We have elevated self-improvement and ambition above patience, niceness above true kindness, and nostalgia for the way things used to be in the good old days for seeking how to be truly good in this present day.
Often we practice passivity instead of gentleness, self-fulfillment instead of self-control.
We are asked to be loyal to the company to the point of sacrifice rather than to be faithful to the things that are truly important.
There might not be anything wrong with these “counterfeit fruits” unless they keep us from seeking the real thing. For example, we certainly do want to avoid conflict and be nice, unless that keeps us from getting to a place of true understanding that results in real peace with others.
As I’ve been thinking about this subject I thought about my mother-in-law. She passed away a number of years ago, but she was a true example to me of someone in whom the Fruit of the Spirit was evident. She was the Real Thing. She was a gentle, kind woman who loved to do things for others and had a quick laugh. She welcomed me into her family from the first day that I met her, and I never felt anything but kindness and generosity from her.
After we had been married about 18 years or so, papa had gone to heaven and Mom B had come to stay with us for a while – She stunned me by telling me that she did not like me when she first met me but had come to truly love me through the years. Whoa. Well I knew WHY she had a hard time with me in the beginning. I was a 19 year old who hadn’t been a Christian long and didn’t have much church background. Her son felt called to ministry. I clearly didn’t know how to handle that lifestyle. In addition, I was from Ohio with a strong Northern accent. Mom and Dad Bearden lived most of their lives in Mississippi and Alabama, and we did have a hard time understanding each other sometimes – our accents as well as our customs!
But to tell you the truth, her “confession” didn’t hurt me at all because I saw in a flash what it meant to love someone with the love of Jesus; and I prayed in that moment (and many times since then) that I would be able to treat people with kindness and love even if we had differences, or if I didn’t particularly like them. As far as I can tell, no one knew except Jesus how she really felt about me, but because of her relationship with Him and her desire to be like Him, she surrendered herself completely to Him and just decided to love me like she did the rest of the family. She knew that God called her to a life of holiness that included loving others like He did, and I know she believed that He could help her live that way if she trusted Him to do the work in her.
There was no counterfeit fruit in her, no counterfeit Christianity, no faking it. She walked with the Lord every day, she read and studied her Bible to learn His ways, she trusted His work in her life, and she tried to follow Jesus’ example.
If we settle for the counterfeit fruit of niceness and tolerance and passivity instead of the higher virtues of kindness, love and gentleness our Christianity is also counterfeit – We’re just faking it. The Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – come to maturity as we surrender ourselves to the Lord, allow Him to work in our lives, and cooperate with that work rather than fighting against it, or settling for less than the Real Thing. This is called Holiness.
And why do we aspire to this kind of life? 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 through 7:1 reminds us that as believers in Christ
"...We are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people…I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.' Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God."
I find it interesting that the Bible tells us that it is love, not faith, that drives out fear. I have often thought that if I just had more faith I wouldn’t be anxious or afraid. In his book Christian Maturity, E. Stanley Jones tells us that this kind of thinking really focuses all our thoughts on ourselves, not God ("I just need more faith!"). But resting in the Father’s perfect love is the only thing that can drive away fear and anxiety. That puts the focus back on God instead of myself (His love, not my faith). We find that truth in 1 John 4:18 and it goes on to tell us that fear has to do with punishment. If we are afraid of an uncertain future, or rejection, or we’re afraid to speak up, etc., the thing we’re really afraid of is the “punishment” of rejection, or not having enough, or not being able to handle whatever comes.
Another more serious aspect of fear has to do with our view of God. We’re afraid because we don’t really believe God loves us and will care for us in all the uncertainties of life. If we have a hard time grasping the truth of God's love for us, we might instead believe He is just waiting for us to mess up so He can catch punish us. We might get this idea from incorrectly interpreting the Old Testament. There are, of course, multiple passages that speak of God's punishment, or His wrath. But if we read these passages in context we see they are directed toward those who deliberately disobeyed or turned their backs on God, not those whose hearts were set on following Him. Abraham, Moses, David, and others who loved and followed God made mistakes and even sinned. God did discipline them, but it was in order to restore their love relationship with Him, and get them back on the right track.
In the book Warfare Praying, Mark I. Bubeck assures us that "God does not pour His anger on His own children. He does not inflict punitive hurt upon us. Yes, the Lord chastens or disciplines His own to correct them, but He does not judge or punish His servants. The punishment of sin was settled at the cross of Christ. Now all believers are justified. As a result, we all [believers] have peace with God" (122). What Good News!
Since I began drawing a heart in my Bible next to every verse that speaks of God's love, I see His love everywhere! Here are just a few places that remind us how much He loves us:
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. ~Deuteronomy 7:9
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! ~1 John 3:1
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
~1 John 4:9-10
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” ~Zephaniah 3:17
But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love. ~ Psalm 33:18
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~Romans 8:35, 37-39.
When I am struggling with fear or anxiety I'm learning to remind myself how much the Lord loves me, that He will never leave me, and that nothing can separate me from His love. I'm learning to allow the Scriptures that speak about His true nature to wash over me and take root in my heart. I'm realizing that His discipline is for my best, bringing my attention back to nurturing my relationship with Him. If you are struggling with fear or anxiety these days, I invite you to join me. Trust in His love, His goodness, His faithfulness. Remember, it's His love, not more faith on our part, that casts out fear.
I was a teenager and a new believer when I sensed God calling me into ministry – to care for God’s people in the role of the pastor’s wife. At that point I had not yet met the specific pastor God had in mind, only that His plan for my life included marrying a pastor and working alongside him in ministry. My particular calling was to take care of the pastor and to minister to God's people. I remember my excitement at the time, and also my response: Whatever You ask of me, Lord, I’ll do. Wherever You send me, I’ll go. Whenever You speak, I’ll obey. God reminded me of those words years later when He spoke to me about pursuing ordination – becoming an ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene.
There have been times through the years when I have wrestled with hearing clearly and understanding correctly the what, where, and when of God’s voice, but I’m so glad I said “yes” to Him so many years ago. I have definitely been an imperfect servant. In fact, ANYONE who knows me could easily list my weaknesses and failures (please read on – I’m not fishing for compliments here).
I tried really hard, especially in the early years as a pastor’s wife, to be and do what was expected of me. That’s exhausting and full of pitfalls! As a fairly young Christian at that time, I didn’t really understand that “Trying harder” does not make someone a more loving person, an effective leader, or a humbler servant. It took me many years to learn that God already knew I was imperfect, immature and wounded when He called me. His calling was not based on my ability to get my act together so I could do the job He had assigned me. Rather, He knew I needed to learn to lean heavy on Him when life was hard, when I had failed, when I had no idea how to proceed, and when my own wounds and insecurities would trip me up; and it would be in this place, walking out this calling, that I would have many opportunities to learn about leaning on Him. In fact, this “calling”, this vocation, was probably more about what He wanted to accomplish IN me than THROUGH me.
You see, He calls ALL of His children to a life of serving Him by loving and caring for others and pointing them to Jesus while we learn to trust Him in all areas of life. As we humbly serve Him in the business world, the classroom, the arts, the home, the hospital, the church, etc., He works IN us: teaching us how to love, to lean on Him, to trust; giving us wisdom or creativity to do His work in the world; opening our minds to truths we have yet to understand. Our “calling” or vocation includes what God wants to do THROUGH us, as well as what He wants to do IN us to make us more like Jesus. The how and the where may be different for each person – the classroom, the business world, the arts, medicine, etc., but the WHAT is the same for all (loving, caring, pointing to Jesus, and learning to trust).
A popular question for interviewers to ask is: If you could somehow send a message to your 20-year-old self, what would you say?
Here are some things I would say – in no particular order of importance:
1. God loves you, yes, but He also likes you. (This knowledge, learned not so long ago, could have saved me lots of heartache in my life.)
2. His love is not condemning, but kind, gracious and nurturing.
3. The Lord knows all about your inadequacies, insecurities and brokenness. They are not a surprise to Him. That is why He invites you to lean heavy on Him and trust Him.
4. God’s call to be holy as He is holy is an invitation to cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s transforming, redeeming, healing, restoring work in our lives and in the world. It is not a harsh, negative command full of judgment and the threat of punishment.
5. Many times, the people who are the most critical of and harsh with you are dealing with their own wounds and feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.
Some advice for my 20-year-old self:
6. Always try to be gracious and kind rather than always trying to be right. Extend grace to all those imperfect people, including yourself.
7. Do not try to do the Holy Spirit’s work in someone else’s life. Trust Him to convict, convert, heal, and make holy.
So, when you boil it all down, it’s taken me most of my life so far to learn that God is so much kinder and more gracious than I realized when I was 20, that His love is not just for the “world” (God so loved the world…), but it’s for each individual – it’s personal. I’m realizing that He’s not most concerned with all of the times I’ve failed or fallen short; but that He delights in my heart’s desire to follow Him – even when I’ve failed or fallen short. He keeps lovingly, kindly, and graciously working in the lives of His children who continually seek His Presence and desire to walk in His ways.
When Paul pleaded with the Lord to take his weakness from him, the Lord didn’t berate him or punish him for his weakness. Rather He told Paul not to focus on his own weakness, but to focus on God’s strength: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Another translation says, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” Paul’s response? He began to boast in his own inadequacies so that God would get all the glory for anything good that happened. “So now I’m glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). This is the testimony of a man who knew he served a kind, gracious and loving God.
I wish I had known these things earlier in my life. However, I’m grateful for the journey, wondering what other wonderful truths I have yet to learn about my kind, gracious, loving Lord.
For years my mom kept an art project of mine from the 6th grade. If you know me at all, you know I am not very artistic. We were working in clay and for some unknown reason I decided to try to make a man’s head. Really, what was I thinking? Well, I had lots of help from the art teacher, but he sort-of turned out looking like the pictures we see of prehistoric man. And the glaze I used was mislabeled, so instead of brown he was shades of purple. Strange.
I think we resemble God about as much as that 6th grade first-attempt-at-sculpting resembles me. We both had hair, ears, nose, and mouth. You could tell by looking at it that it was a little like me; but to say that I was like it? Well, no.
But the amazing thing about our God is that rather than dismissing us because we are so unlike Him, He came down to where we are and invites us to know Him and BECOME like Him. That is truly astonishing! As we get to know Him as He truly is, we realize that ALL of His attributes are infinite. We can trust that His love for us will never run out. His wisdom is available to us at all times in every situation as we walk with Him. We can always trust his goodness even in situations where it seems the darkness is winning. Because He is infinitely holy, we know and can trust that there are absolute standards of right and wrong that will never change. And we know that His ways bring life, not only to us but to the world. As the Self-Sufficient Creator of the universe, He has everything at His disposal to meet every need I have, every need of my family, my country, every need anywhere in the world. And this God, who has no need of you or me or anything we can offer Him, invites us to join ourselves to Him. To get to know Him as He truly is. To allow Him to remake us so that our character becomes more like His - good, loving, righteous, wise – as we walk with Him, trust Him, and lean heavy on Him.
We would never be able to truly understand these things about God if it were not for Jesus who showed us what God is like. His love for us and hatred of sin and its destructive effect on every aspect of life drove Him to sacrifice Himself on our behalf. His resurrection and His gift of the Holy Spirit for every believer proved that He was no ordinary man, but God in the flesh.
This past year has been difficult for many to stay encouraged and be hopeful (hope-filled); but the eternal God is still in control, still inviting us all into a deeper relationship with Him, still inviting us to trust Him. While typing these words I was reminded of this old gospel song (Jenny B. Wilson, c. 1906):
Time is filled with swift transition, Naught of earth unmoved can stand,
Build your hopes on things eternal, Hold to God’s unchanging hand.
Trust in Him who will not leave you, Whatsoever years may bring,
If by earthly friends forsaken Still more closely to Him cling.
Hold to God’s unchanging hand, Hold to God’s unchanging hand;
Build your hopes on things eternal, Hold to God’s unchanging hand.
Covet not this world’s vain riches That so rapidly decay,
Seek to gain the heav’nly treasures, They will never pass away.
When your journey is completed, If to God you have been true,
Fair and bright the home in glory Your enraptured soul will view.
Hold to God’s unchanging hand, Hold to God’s unchanging hand;
Build your hopes on things eternal, Hold to God’s unchanging hand.
Beth Marie Bearden gave her heart to Christ when she was a young teenager and soon after felt God calling her to ministry.