Unstained

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
‭‭James‬ ‭1:27‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The uniform my daughter wore in a recent tournament included a white shirt. The only thing not white about the shirt was the patch sewed on the sleeve; every other inch of that shirt was beautifully white when she first put it on.

And then she played several hours of softball….

Beautifully white is NOT how I’d describe that shirt now. It has been stained by the sweat and dirt that often accompanies summertime ballgames.

Now I am sure we all agree that stains are extremely frustrating. Stains can ruin clothes, furniture, floors, and so much more. If stains remain in conspicuous areas, they become perpetual reminders of what should not have been. We have a light green stain on our ceiling from the time the supposedly impenetrable wubble ball exploded. We have another stain on that same ceiling  from the time the red sticky hand was left up there for hours on end. We have a slime stain on our carpet after an incident in the art room. We have nail polish stains in the laundry room from those times the nail polish didn’t make it onto the actual nail. We have stains on our kitchen floor where the old adhesive started seeping through. And don’t get me started on the innumerable amount of shirts and pants that have been soiled by ketchup, grease, dirt, sweat, and blood over the years.

Stains are annoying to say the least. Yet there is one thing I have learned about stains: Most stains are easily removed if you catch them right away. For instance, soon after we moved into our new house, a child had a nosebleed on our white carpet. Cold water and compression made it disappear. While painting my kids’ rooms, I dripped some paint on the molding; a quick wipe with a damp cloth erased the mistake. We have had coffee spills, soda spills, tea spills, you-name-it spills at our house, but most of the time each accidental spot didn’t create a long-term stain because we caught it quickly enough to treat it before the stain set in.

Before the stain set in.

This concept is the key to keeping laundry clean, our house is clean, our cars clean, and as God reminded me through the above verse, it is also the key to keeping our hearts clean as well.

In the same way spills become stains when we allow them to sit too long, mistakes and mindsets become stains if we don’t address them right away. When James encourages us to remain unstained from the world, he is not saying we are never going to make mistakes. He’s not saying that no one is ever going to tempt us to do something against God’s will. Rather, he’s reminding us that as children of God and as doers of His word we must remain active in seeking God’s will and in not allowing stains to set in.

This world is not a positive influence. (Shocker, I know.) It encourages tolerance, favoritism, selfishness, and a whatever-feels-good-must-be-right mentality. Those of us who attempt to stand up for God’s standard of right and wrong are often looked down upon and ridiculed. We are like a toddler wearing a white shirt while  eating spaghetti: we are bombarded with temptations to stray from God’s best in both attitude and action.

But we don’t have to let those attitudes and actions set in.

I repeat: we don’t have to let the ways of the world set in. We simply must remain diligent and steadfast in our relationship with the Lord. How do we do this? By taking heed according to God’s Word. By asking God to give us the eyes to recognize the spots along with the wisdom and willingness to remove them.

Yet let me say this again: unstained does not mean perfect. None of us is perfect. None of us could ever fulfill God‘s standard of holiness apart from Jesus. When James tells us to keep unstained from the world, he’s not saying we will never sin. He is not saying we will never be tempted. Rather, he is reminding us to not allow those temptations and those sins to set in and defile our relationship with our Lord. We are to remain steadfast in recognizing the spots and treating them before they become embedded. We are to be quick to repent—quick to confess our sins before the only One able to wipe them away.

So what happens when God shows us a stain we’ve allowed to set in—a mindset, attitude, or action that eluded detection until it was well embedded in the fabric our life? Thankfully, the One who has shown us the stain is the very One with the power to remove it. God is the ultimate stain remover. No matter the stain and no matter how long it’s been there, when we confess our sins to Him, he removes them (1 John 1:9). He makes our sins as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). He removes our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). He clothes us in robes of righteousness–clean robes without blemish or stain (Isaiah 61:10).

Therefore, I encourage you in this way today: Have you been mistreated? Have you been the victim of favoritism? Don’t allow bitterness and hatred to set in. Rinse off that spot with God’s mercy and grace knowing His favor lasts for a lifetime (Psalm 30:5). Has someone disappointed you? Don’t allow discouragement and mistrust to set in. Set your mind not on the things of this earth but rather on the One who made heaven and earth. Trust in His sovereignty knowing His plans for you are more than you could ever hope or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Did you do or say something inappropriate and against God’s will? Did you mess up? Don’t let that mistake set in. Be quick to confess knowing He promises to cleanse you.

Take to heart today what James says in the above verse. Be diligent to keep yourself unstained from the world. Guard your heart. Guard your mind. Guard your lips. Pray Psalm 139:23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” And if He shows you a spot that is about to set in or has set in, be quick to repent. Be quick to turn around and keep moving forward in the direction of God’s will. He will cleanse you. He will set you free. He will keep those stains from setting in. For He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

 

Advertisements

Highest Calling

“James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…
‭‭James‬ ‭1:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Today I began a Bible study entitled Just James (written by Bethany Fleming and Bonnie Kathryn Hunter). Day one included taking a closer look at the nicknames of James. Although James was a leader in the church and the half-brother of Jesus, he didn’t introduce himself as such. Rather, he began with what you see above; he referred to himself as a servant of God. Other versions use slave instead of servant. Regardless of what word is used, however, it at first seems James has downplayed his importance. I mean, if I were related to Jesus, I think I’d start there when introducing myself to people. Just imagine the immediate admiration and attention that would come with such an introduction. I know if I had heard someone introduce himself as a half-brother of Jesus, I’d have been mesmerized and started asking all kinds of questions. What was he like as a brother? Were you jealous of him? I’d also assume if this guy is related to Jesus then he must know what he’s talking about.

But James didn’t throw that worldly weight around. After all, that type of introduction would have not been a kingdom focused one. And James was all about God’s kingdom, not his own. You see, while the world focuses on social status and all things seen, God’s economy thrives on the heart and the unseen. In God’s kingdom, it’s not about who you know on earth but whom you serve in heaven.

And James served Jesus. He served God and the Lord Jesus Christ first, before anything else.

So why is this important? Well, the study today asked us a question regarding James’ introduction: “Usually, we introduce ourselves by attaching the highest title we hold to our names rather than the lowliest, yet James did quite the opposite. Why might he have done that?” (Question found on page 7 of #JustJames Bible study)

God spoke to my heart the following answer: “because slave of God is the highest honor—it means the most.”

Think about it. Being a slave may sound menial in the eyes of this world, but being a slave of God is essential and the key to truly living. Why? Well, what we place first in our lives dictates the rest of our lives. Do you put yourself and your desires first? Then everything you say and do will reflect this. Do you want to be rich in the eyes of the world? Then your words and actions will stem from this desire. Do you hold the opinions of others as the indicator of your success? Then your words and actions will focus on what you think others want. Our first priority, whatever it may be, acts like an umbrella over our lives; everything else will fall under it. So I believe James started his letter with his first priority knowing that everything else that truly mattered had to start there.

Our highest calling is to be a slave. But not just any slave. Our highest calling is to be a slave of God.

Therefore, I encourage you to join me in a prayer today, a prayer asking God for the grace and strength to make James’ focus our focus as well.

My faithful Father and Lord of all,

Today I thank you first of all for giving me life. You chose me before the foundation of the world, and You knew my every moment before I was ever born. You fashioned me and formed me with intricate care and intention, and nothing You designed was without thought. You then sent Jesus, Your one and only Son, into the world to live a sinless life, die a cruel death, and then come back to life in order that I may be free from the penalty for my sins. You saved me before I ever knew I needed saving. Thank You.

Now, knowing who You are and all You have done and will do, I pray I may present my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing unto You as my spiritual act of worship.  I recognize that being a slave of God is my greatest calling and must be my highest priority, for nothing else I say or do will be eternally significant outside the servant of God umbrella. Wife, mother, daughter, sister, teacher, friend—whatever other role I may have in this life—none are as essential, and none can be truly successful, unless they stem from a heart set on serving You. Therefore, may I serve You first in everything today. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to You. May I take every thought captive to obedience of You. May I boldly declare that I am Your humble servant, and may everything I say and do reflect this declaration. And when I fall short of what You have called me to do, may I be quick to recognize the error, repent of it, and get back up to walk in Your ways once again. Apart from You I can do nothing, so may You give me the strength to serve You first in every way and in everything. Amen.

Oh how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Therefore, join me today in living a life that declares, “I am a slave of God.” Let’s come together as the body of Christ and serve the one true God, the Lord of hosts, king Jesus is His name. Let’s serve Him with full knowledge that being a slave of our Savior is the most humbling, highest, greatest, and best choice we will ever make both in this life and in the one to come.

“Now unto the King eternal, immortal,  wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
‭‭1 Timothy‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭KJV‬‬

 

As far as you

If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Romans 12:18 AMP

I can still picture her face; I can still picture her glare. And I can still hear the words of my department head commenting, “Wow! What did you do to her?!” For as that colleague had walked by me, the icy cold hatred was palpable–so evident those around me could sense the chill in the air even though it was not directed at them.

Now for a people pleaser like myself, this was not the easiest experience to endure. It was even more difficult not understanding exactly what led to this break in fellowship (although you will read below what I believe was the turning point). I had poured so much into this colleague throughout the school year. She was not well liked and was contrary by nature, but I had done my best to encourage her. I had baked her goodies she could eat even though she had certain allergies. I actually even sat in on meeting between her and the principal as an observer when she felt she did not want to go in to the meeting alone. Looking back now, being a first-year teacher, that was extremely risky.

But then the tides turned; the seasons changed. This colleague one day made a comment which undermined our principal. So I “stood up for” so to speak the principal. My comments were not against her, but they were an affirmation of the principal in accordance with God’s command to respect those in authority over us. I wasn’t mean about it; I just spoke the truth I felt needed to be said.

But she didn’t take my words in the way I intended, for from that moment forward, our relationship went sour. I tried to be friendly. I tried to reconnect. As far as it depended on me, I tried to live at peace with her.

But it never happened. She left that school bitter–bitter toward me and toward the school in general. Even months later when I saw her in the grocery store and greeted her, she glared and walked away.

As much as depended on me, I tried.

But I couldn’t let her attitude toward me hold me back from what God wanted me to do. I couldn’t let her lack of love keep me from doing what was right. I had to keep moving forward knowing I had done what I could. The rest was up to her.

I believe sometimes people pleasers especially fall into the false idea that to live peaceably we must always give in, always get along, and always do whatever it takes to make everyone like us. But I don’t think that’s the intent of the verse above. Read with me the above verse in context.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Romans 12:16-‬20 ESV

Do you see the location of the living peaceably portion? It’s sandwiched in between not repaying evil for evil and not avenging ourselves. If living peacably means keeping peace at all costs, then why is it included with reminders not to be vengeful?

Because God doesn’t call us to control the thoughts and actions of others. He calls us to control ourselves. No matter how much we may love like Jesus, we cannot control the feelings, words, and actions of others. We can only control our own. With that coworker years ago, I couldn’t control her attitude. I couldn’t control her actions and decisions. I could only choose what I did and what I thought and what I said. So as much as I was able to, I chose life. I prayed for her. I spoke kindly to her. I avoided talking negatively about her. As much as depended on me, I tried to live peaceably with her.

But peace requires more than one willing participant.

And unfortunately, not everyone is willing.

Take a moment to reflect on our greatest example: Jesus. He spoke only what the Father told Him to speak. He did only what the Father told Him to do. Jesus valued every person He met. He loved everyone He met. Yet even His perfect words and perfect actions were not always met with perfect harmony and peace. As much as depended on Jesus, He lived peaceably. Yet not even Jesus would alter the free will of those He came to save. Jesus continually had the very people He came to redeem speak evil to and about Him as well as plot to kill Him.

Jesus was crucified for walking in perfect love.

So if the very Son of God had haters, we should not be surprised if we do as well.

Yet knowing others won’t always like us, doesn’t give us the excuse to stop trying. Jesus didn’t stop loving just because people didn’t accept His love. He just loved all the more.

And so should we.

However (read slowly as how–ev–er for emphasis), it is imperative to remember our willingness to walk in love does not mean everyone we meet will do the same. Furthermore, our willingness to “do what is honorable” does not mean we do whatever everyone else wants. Walking in God’s love doesn’t mean we do and say whatever it takes to make others feel happy. Walking in God’s love does mean we treat everyone as a person of worth–as a person who has value. But recognizing people as having value does not mean letting them walk all over us, nor does it mean letting them get away with doing whatever they want. Loving others means speaking the truth, treating them with respect, and doing our part to represent Jesus in how we interact with them.

Loving others should never cost us who we are.

Did you catch that? When God calls us to live peaceably as much as depends on us, He is not commanding us to let go of who we are for the sake of peace. On the contrary, He is telling us to always be who we are. We are to be who God has called us to be–and we are to do so with dignity and grace. We are to do what is honorable even if those around us are not. We are not to repay evil for evil. We are not to avenge the wrongs done to us. But we are also not to remain quiet for the sake of peace either. As much as depends on us, we are to live peaceably. Yet we must also understand that not everyone wants peace.

Today I want to encourage you never to compromise who God created you to be under the false assumption He wants you to make peace at all costs. God calls us to live peaceably, but He also reminds us in this world we will have trouble. So today, as much as depends on you, live peacably: treat others with respect, pray for those around you, honor God with your lips. Do what is right in the sight of God. Yet also know not everyone will receive you with open arms. And that’s okay. Because God didn’t call you to make sure everyone loves you. He called you to make sure you love everyone, regardless whether or not they love you in return.

Therefore, love like Jesus today. Live like Jesus today, too. As much as depends on you, live peacably with everyone. And if those around you don’t want your peace, then that’s on them. You keep moving forward. You keep pressing on in the things of God. You keep being you. And let God take care of them.

Just Keep Growing

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.

Jeremiah 29:5‭-‬6 ESV

Many times when we talk of Jeremiah 29, we focus on Jeremiah 29: 11 (For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord , plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.) And this makes perfect sense since Jeremiah 29:11 is such a hope-filled promise. There is great peace knowing God has a good plan for each of us. There is immense comfort knowing God has prepared for everyone a future and a hope.

Yet one thing we must remember is the book of Jeremiah was penned during a time when not all of God’s children were following Him. They were following man-made gods and looking to everything and everyone else except the one true God. This is what led God to use Jeremiah to prophesy repeatedly about Israel’s sin and God’s coming judgment for that sin. Yes, the judgment would be followed by God’s merciful restoration and ultimate salvation through Jesus, but the exile was coming first.

Which brings me to the verse at the beginning of this post. The exhortation above was not spoken to God’s children when they were prospering. It was spoken to them as instruction during exile. God commanded them to build their homes and their families during exile. He commanded them to live life and to care about the place they were in. In essence, God didn’t want His children to huddle in a corner for 70 years doing nothing. He also did not intend to destroy them. God wanted the exile to demolish sin and rebellion while He simultaneously rebuilt His children. God did not want to wipe the Israelites off the face of the Earth; He wanted them to grow–to grow physically and spiritually. He wanted them to come back from exile better than how they went in.

And no matter the situations we may find ourselves facing, God wants the same for us. He wants our welfare, not our destruction. He wants us to walk in hope, not in despair. He wants us to bloom where we’re planted, not hide in the dirt hoping for better soil.

In a way beyond our ability to fully comprehend, God, in His ultimate wisdom, designed the plans for our lives with full knowledge of the good, the bad, and the ugly. He foreknew every sin. He foreknew the times of discipline. He foreknew the times of refreshing. God foreknew all the devastating circumstances in our lives just as much as He foreknew all the pleasant ones. And He saw it all working for His good and for His glory (Romans 8:28). He knew we would not sail through this life on smooth seas with a consistent tail wind. He knew there would be rough seas, strong head winds, and devastating storms. Yet none of the events written in God’s book were designed to destroy us; as God’s children, we were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand that we may walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). As God’s children, all the moments of our lives were ordained to bring Him glory. As God’s children, all the moments of our lives are also opportunities for growth.

I’m not sure what your life looks like right now. You may be singing from the mountaintop, crying out from the valley, or somewhere in between. Regardless, my encouragement to you today is the same: just keep growing. Yes. Just keep growing. Sing it to yourself the way Dory from Finding Nemo sings “Just Keep Swimming.”

Just keep growing. Just keep growing. What do you do? You grow!

Are your heart’s desires coming to life before your eyes and life is good? Be grateful, remember the One who is the giver of all good things, and keep seeking Him first in everything. Just keep growing. Don’t begin taking credit for the good things in your life; this will take your eyes off Jesus. And don’t begin taking your foot off the gas because you think you’ve arrived; you will soon slow down and eventually come to a stop.

Just keep growing.

Maybe you are looking at your life right now and thinking, “This doesn’t look much like a future and a hope!” Don’t despair! God knows you and He knows where you are. He also knows the purpose behind your placement. And no, not all unpleasant situations are a result of sin, so don’t begin beating yourself up or trying to figure out what you could have possibly done to deserve this, whatever “this” is. Sure, you may be where you are because of sin and disobedience, and if that’s the case, then repent. But you also may be where you are through no fault of your own. You could be where you are simply because we live in a broken world filled with broken people. Regardless, you can trust God has a greater purpose beyond your understanding.

And you can always just keep growing.

Yes, I am intentionally repeating myself. For no matter the situation you are in or the reasons behind it, God wants you to grow. He wants you to draw near to Him. He wants you to do everything as unto Him. He wants you seek Him, to serve Him, to love Him–wherever you are. God doesn’t have you where you are so He can destroy you; He wants to grow you. He wants to use you. He wants the world to see Him shining through you.

And how can you do this? How can you let God’s light continue to shine even in the darkest of nights?

Just keep growing. Just keep growing. What do you do? You grow!

(For those who may not be a Finding Nemo connoisseur, here is a link to a clip of Dory singing: Just Keep Swimming)

His Reflection

Whether I look at my reflection in the bedroom mirror , the bathroom mirror, or the living room mirror, my reflection doesn’t change. Who I am doesn’t change, regardless the location of the mirror. Sure, the background reflected in the mirror may differ, but who I am does not. Even more, what I’m wearing, how I style my hair (aka try to tame the frizz, in my case), or how much make-up I wear (if any) doesn’t change my identity.

Because who I am is not defined by the world or the things of the world. And what happens to me or around me cannot change who I am in Christ. Read with me 2 Corinthians 5:16-21:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:16‭-‬21 ESV

Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. As a new creation, we must no longer define ourselves using definitions of the flesh, for we have been spiritually transformed. God has given each of us a new identity–one defined by His righteousness. It’s not an identity we earn; it is one we were given. For free. Out of love.

And once we’ve been transformed, our reflection is no longer one of the flesh or determined by the flesh; rather, our reflection is the image of God. As children of God in Christ, we become His ambassadors–His representatives in this life. Think about it this way. A US ambassador represents the United States. Whether he’s an ambassador to France or to Italy, he’s still a citizen of the United States. His location doesn’t change his citizenship. In the same way, when Paul calls us Christ’s ambassadors, he’s reminding us our life’s circumstances don’t negate who we are in Christ. Who we are in Christ becomes what’s reflected in all circumstances.

As God’s children, who we are–God’s image bearers and God’s reflection–does not change because of what we do or don’t do for a living. Who we are is not defined by the things and people of this world.

Remember this today: You are God’s child. He created you in His image. And if you’ve received His free gift of salvation, then that image is one of righteousness and reconciliation. It is one of beauty and of grace. And it’s one the world can never take away.

Therefore, wherever God has placed you today, ask Him for the understanding that location and vocation don’t define you. Whether your “mirror” is in the home, at school, behind a desk, on a construction site, or a combination of many places, you are not defined by any of it. And you most certainly are not defined by the opinions of those around you. You are who God says you are. And God says you’re His.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2:8‭-‬10 ESV

Little by Little

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Philippians 3:12‭-

Our identity–who we are–is the motivating force behind all we do. Who we think we are can give us the confidence we need to try new things or make us afraid to let go of what we know.

God reminds us throughout the Bible that we are not our own–we were bought with a price–and we are children of God. And as God’s children, we are to walk in the identity Christ purchased for us. We are not to walk in our own righteousness; we are to walk in His.

Go ahead and re-read that first verse.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

First of all, the “this” refers to the previous verses, in which Paul is talking about righteousness. He points out that he doesn’t want righteousness through the law; he wants it through faith in Jesus. Even more, he wants to strive to know God, God’s power, and the fellowship of suffering. Paul longs to be exactly the man God intended him to be.

Which leads into the verse we just read. So what is it saying? First of all, none of us is perfect. None of us has reached the finish line. None of us will be perfect or finish until Jesus returns to take us home. Paul never claimed nor expected perfection. And He often reminds us the only perfect one is Jesus. But being imperfect should never stop us from striving to be righteous.

Second, the point of pressing on is not to reach perfection. Striving for absolute perfection on earth is a recipe for disaster, for if we press on with the belief we can be perfect, we will continually fail, become discouraged, and eventually quit trying altogether. The point of pressing on is to identify with what Jesus has already done for us. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. We don’t have to try to obtain perfection because the Perfect One already achieved that for us. But we are to try to make it our own. We are to try to live a life set apart and holy because that’s what Christ bought for us. We could never achieve salvation on our own, but since Jesus bought it for us, we are called to press on in identifying with it. No amount of good works could ever do for us what Jesus did for us, but we sure can press on in making the salvation He bought for all the salvation He specifically designed for us.

How do we do this? Well, one way is to keep stretching. Keep reaching forward. Keep being willing to try new things.

If we want to become more flexible physically, we must start stretching, and stretching regularly. We must commit to work at it. The first time we stretch, we may not be able to stretch much; we may feel like becoming flexible is an impossible task. Yet if each time we stretch, we try to go a tad bit farther, and if we don’t stop working at it, after some time, we’ll find what was once difficult now easy. We will become flexible.

Now apply this to our walk with God. If we want to go deeper in our relationship with God, and if we want to become more bold in our faith, then we need to be willing to stretch. We need to be willing to take steps forward, even if those steps are scary. We need to be willing to step outside our comfort zones, no matter how awkward it may feel at first. It may not be easy. Our first step, and maybe all of our steps, may be tiny. They may be filled with trepidation. But any step is better than no step, and we will never move forward standing still. Yet if we keep taking those little steps–if we keep inching forward–slow and steady–we will one day look back and be amazed with how far we have come.

Let me give you an example. I used to greatly fear praying aloud in front of people. I would avoid it like the plague. I was the one who, when the leader asked for volunteers, would look everywhere but in the direction of the leader. And oh, please don’t make me get in a prayer circle or partner me up with someone! That was horrific for me. I just couldn’t get over the fear of praying in front of others.

Until God stepped in and not only encouraged me to step out, but He also showed me the first steps to take. For me, the root of my fear of praying aloud is I am a writer, not a speaker. I can convey my thoughts well when given the chance to express them on paper, for paper allows me to read, reread, and edit as needed. Speaking, however, is a different story; it’s a one time event. I may be able to verbally correct a mistake I make while speaking, but I cannot erase it. Words spoken cannot be taken back. And did I mention that my mind often runs faster than my mouth, so often things can come out jumbled up and awkward? Nevertheless, in exhorting me to step out, God also gave me a way to do it: His Word. Each time I had to pray out loud, I’d ask Him for a verse to pray. I’d then pray that verse. And since I was praying His words, not mine, I was more confident.

Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that my growth in praying aloud was not instantaneous. It came with sweaty palms, increased heart rates, and the “please don’t let them ask me” silent prayer whispered many times. But little by little every day, I took baby steps. And today, I enjoy praying out loud. Sure, I still get that tinge of fear sometimes, and I still jumble up my words sometimes, but knowing how far I’ve come motivates me to keep pressing on. And I have learned that prayer is not about perfect words but about the attitude of the heart. God doesn’t ask for a well spoken presentation; He seeks genuine, heartfelt surrender.

Paul’s encouragement to keep pressing on in the things of God is meant to stretch us. It’s God’s reminder through Paul to keep moving forward, little by little, step by step. And if we slip, then we must get up, dust ourselves off, and keep pressing on. Most importantly, we are not to go back; to the degree we obtain, we should maintain. It’s easy to go from flexible to stiff; just stop stretching. It’s easy to go from an active, intimate relationship with the Lord to an ineffective, distant one; just stop seeking. Stop reading His Word, stop praying, and stop stepping out into what He calls you to do and you’ll soon find yourself spiritually stiff.

So I encourage you today in two ways. First, stretch. And keep stretching. God cannot fit into a box. And as His followers, we must not put Him or ourselves in one. We must commit to keep pressing on in the things of God. We must run the race set before us with diligent determination. We must seek to be the person God saw when He redeemed us on the cross. Second, know that striving after the things of God isn’t easy, success is rarely instantaneous, and you’ll never be completely perfect here on Earth. But oh what a glorious day it will be when Jesus returns to find you pressing on in Him–when He returns to find you faithfully striving to be what He called you to be. Oh what a glorious day it will be to one day hear our Lord and Savior say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

Little by Little
(Not sure the original songwriter)

Little by little every day
Little by little in every way
My Jesus is changing me
Since I’ve made a turn about face
I’ve been growing in His grace
My Jesus is changing me

He’s changing me, my precious Jesus
I’m not the same person that I used to be
Some times it’s slow going
but there’s a knowing
That one day perfect I will be.

Who you are is who you are in Christ.  So walk in this truth today, friend.  And keep walking.  Keep pressing on. Keep moving forward.  For one day, perfect you will be.

Giddy Up!

Read the list of action verbs below.

  • Stir up
  • Spur
  • Incite
  • Provoke
  • Motivate

At first glance, with the exception of “motivate,” one would think a riot was about to ensue. Yet in reality, these words are used in the context of encouragement, more specifically the encouragement to love and to do good works. Read with me Hebrews 10:24 from some common translations:

New International Version
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,
New Living Translation
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.
English Standard Version
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,
New American Standard Bible
and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,
King James Bible
And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
Holman Christian Standard Bible
And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works,

Strong’s Lexicon defines the original meaning of the bold words above as follows: “Stimulation, provocation, irritation, angry dispute. From paroxuno; incitement, or dispute.”

Sounds a little violent, right?! Not many people think of encouragement as something harsh. Yet the use of such a word bears phenomenal wisdom! As believers, we have to stir each other up. Human nature is selfish. Our first instinct isn’t to love a neighbor or to do good works; it’s to serve ourselves. By human nature we gravitate towards the “What’s in it for me” principle. A simple sweet reminder isn’t necessarily going to snap us out of our selfishness; we need more.

Which leads to the above strong choice of words. My favorite word used to translate the original text is “to spur.” When I think of a spur, I picture those round pointy things used by cowboys to get their horses moving forward. The sharp jab doesn’t hurt the animal, but it certainly stings enough to get it moving forward.

And isn’t that what each of us needs? A little “ouch” spoken in love by a fellow believer to get us back on track, to get us moving forward in love.

Proverbs 27:6 states, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” How can wounds be faithful? Because true friends don’t coddle each other and allow each other to walk in self-centered oblivion. True friends throw the cold water on your face to say, “Hey! Snap out of it!” True friends pop your “My way or the highway” bubble to remind you your perspective is not the only one. True friends incite that desire within you to do God’s will.

Now in all honesty, does truth hurt sometimes? Yep. Can truth be spoken too harshly sometimes? Yep, again. So do we have to be wise in the what, how, and when of our words? Most definitely, for when God calls us to spur one another on, He doesn’t want us to be hateful about it; He calls us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Let me encourage you with this today: If you see a friend heading down a path contrary to God’s way, don’t be afraid to say something. If you see a fellow believer beginning to get off course or getting distracted by the things of this world, which are here today and gone tomorrow, speak up.   Stir them back up to love and to good works. Remind them of what God has called each of us to do:  to love Him and to love others.   Most certainly ask God first for the wisdom to know the what, the how and the when, but don’t just watch in silence. Don’t just smile and sugar coat the truth for fear of offending someone.  And certainly don’t begin whispering to others in self-righteous judgment.

God calls us as His children to incite one another, to provoke one another, to motivate one another to keep pressing on in the things of God. The truth isn’t always easy to speak or to hear; it may sting a little on both ends. Yet words spoken in love with the purpose of encouraging someone to love and good works will never be wasted. And they are necessary more often than we’d care to admit.

So spur on, my friend. Spur on!

And if today you read this and realize you haven’t been doing what God has been asking you to do–if you’ve been ignoring the truths of God’s Word–if you’ve felt the jab of the loving spur of a friend–then giddy up! Get into His Word and bow before His throne. Ask for forgiveness and then move forward in the way He has chosen for you. Don’t ignore the jabs. And don’t mourn them either. Don’t beat yourself up because you needed to be spurred on. Be grateful! For we all sin. We all make mistakes. We all go astray.  None of us will make it through this life without having stumbled several times.  The key is with Jesus, we can get back up (Proverbs 24:16).

God doesn’t ask us to do what He doesn’t think we need.  So if He is telling us to stir one another up, to motivate one another, to provoke one another, then He knows we need it. So let’s do it. Let’s walk in His Truth today. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

God’s Masterpiece

I’m not an artist, but I serve the Greatest One.  As you read this poem and the rest of the post, remember God doesn’t make mistakes.  Everything He does is intentional and right, and this includes creating you.

God’s Masterpiece
by me

Before the world began,
God created you.
He formed the lines of your life
with accuracy and precision,
with love and tender care.

He created you with purpose.

When God drew the lines of your life,
He was intentional.
For God knows the plans for you:
plans for a future
and a hope.

The outline and the colors of your life
were fashioned before the world began.

God knows the masterpiece
He’s designed you to be.
He knows every hue–
the rainbow of experiences necessary
To make you
you.

He knows the shades–
the lighter and darker colors
created by the pressures of life–
necessary to create depth and lasting beauty.
Each stroke of your life
is fashioned according to His plan.
For His glory.

Allow God to display you
for the world to see.
You’re His handiwork.
His creation,
etched on the palm of His Almighty hand.

He’s proud of you.
You are not a mistake.
The lines He drew,
the colors He chose,
are deliberately unique,
designed by a loving God
for His child
For you.

 

Today I encourage you to trust God’s care in His creation of you and in His sovereignty over every aspect of your life. Don’t try to draw a new picture; God already drew the perfect one for you before the world began.

Don’t fret if you color outside the lines sometimes. All children do. That’s why God sent Jesus, His one and only Son, into the world to die for our sins. As a strong eraser can wipe away the color outside the lines, so Jesus wipes away our sins to make us clean again.

God will make all things work as part of His plan. Blemishes won’t ruin the picture God intended. Misstrokes won’t alter God’s ultimate design. Nothing you could ever say or do could alter God’s ultimate plans for your life.

Trust both the heavy and the light strokes of your life, for neither is forever. And remember, the pressure of those dark times adds depth and enhances the contrast of the lighter moments of life.

Don’t worry about the color. God knew every hue before you were ever conceived; He fashioned every day of your life before you were ever born. Even the “ugly” colors of life God will use to enhance His masterpiece.

Be proud of who God made you to be today. Share it with the world. That’s what God longs for you to do. God doesn’t want you to hide. He wants you to be you. Because you being you enables all the world to see Him through you.

“To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Philippians 4:20 ESV

Ministry Material

They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.
Galatians 1:23‭-‬24 ESV

Paul–the great missionary who penned many of the New Testament letters–was there at the stoning of Stephen. Yet he wasn’t there as a supporter of Stephen; he was the condoner of Stephen’s execution. Yes, Paul, the one who was greatly persecuted time and time again for declaring the message of the Gospel was once an opponent of that very same Gospel. And not just an opponent; he relentlessly pursued the followers of Jesus with the intent to destroy them.

But then God.

I love this part: but then God. Yes, God got a hold of Paul’s heart…and his life was never the same.

We have probably all heard of Paul’s great conversion, how God appeared to him on the road to Damascus. How God guided him to Ananias, who in turn spoke God’s words to Paul.

Again, if you have spent any time in the New Testament letters, you have heard the story. And do you know why we have all heard of it? Because Paul was not ashamed of where he came from; He was proud of what God had done.

In his letters Paul repeatedly reminds the early churches of his past. Yet he doesn’t recall his past with a woe is me, I am so ashamed of what I have done and could never forgive myself, mentality. He doesn’t share only when forced to do so–but instead he shares openly and often.

Why? Paul new his past was part of his testimony. Paul new God had plans to use that past to spread the Gospel. The above verse from Galatians reveals this. Even before people met Paul in person, they had heard about what God has done in his life and glorified God.

So here’s the lesson for today: Don’t look at your past as a source of shame and regret. See it as God sees it: evidence of His grace and ministry material. Yes, be not ashamed of things you have said and done before, but rather be encouraged knowing God can and will use that past to draw others to Himself.

If you allow Him to do so.

I encourage you today: allow Him to do so. Be willing today to share what God has done in your life. Be willing to share the mistskes you have made in the past. Your testimony may be the very thing God uses to provide hope to the one who has found himself where you once were. Or your testimony may be the very thing that keeps someone from landing where you once were.  When we allow God to use all aspects of our lives, even the far from perfect ones, the possibilities are endless.

We all make mistakes. We all have a past. So instead of being chained by it. Instead of hiding from it. Let’s ask God to use it–use it for His glory. Let’s pray that when people hear our story they don’t see all we have done but how far we have come. May they, as those who heard of Paul, glorify God because of us.

 

Faith to See it All

In recent days I’ve been reading and praying through The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson as well as using a journal that accompanies it. This morning God brought to mind the following story…

A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbour came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with God. Ushered into God’s throne room he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”

“Yes you did my child” replied the Lord. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.”

Here’s what God reminded me through this story: the way God answers our prayers is as limitless as His power to answer them. 

The prophet Isaiah declares:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

If God’s ways are beyond what our finite minds can fully fathom, then the way He answers our prayers will not always match the way we think He will answer our prayers. The answer may arise from the most unexpected circumstances. The answer may be well outside that tiny box we placed Him in. That little opening in front of us we want to ignore because it doesn’t match our expectations may be the very door that opens the floodgates to the deepest longings of our heart.

Ephesians 3:20 does not promise God is only able to do exactly what we ask in the way we ask it. No, God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. He can drop the 3 million dollars we need in our lap in an instant, or he can provide the 3 million dollars one small donation at a time. He could also require us to do a little legwork and apply for grants or scholarships and host fundraisers. Being active in the pursuit of what we are praying for is not a lack of faith; it is a willingness to understand that God answers prayer in more ways than we could ever imagine.

Therefore, I encourage you today to take God out of the box you may have put him in.  Then ask Him for the eyes to recognize the little and unusual ways He is answering your prayers. Remember, faith is not just the ability to believe God can provide the big, it is also the willingness to realize that God can answer the big through the little as well. Yes, God has the power to answer your big dreams in the blink of an eye, but He also has the power to answer them one step at a time. So join me today in praying for the faith to recognize not just the big and the small ways God answers prayer but the unusual and unexpected ways He answers them as well.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20‭-‬21