Stand Firm

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:13)

Standing Firm.    There is such depth of meaning to this concept.  In fact, the idea of what standing firm really means has been rolling around in my thoughts and prayers for the past week as I’ve continued work through the Armor of God study by Priscilla Shirer.  Each time I would read “stand firm” in the study, God’s Spirit would ignite something in me–He kept igniting a desire to dig deeper.  So I began searching God’s Word for other verses dealing with standing firm.

And here is what I learned:  standing firm does not mean standing still.  Standing firm is both purposeful and powerful.  Standing firm is an action.

Explore this with me for a minute as I highlight a few of its uses I discovered as I searched God’s Word…

First of all, it was used by God in battle as a directive–a directive requiring action and obedience.  God would tell His people to stand firm–or to hold their positions with confidence–so that He could fight the battle for them.   In Exodus 14:13,  Moses encourages the Israelites to “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today…The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent”  And God did.  After Moses actively obeyed the command to place his staff in the water and begin walking, Moses and the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land.  Even more, the Egyptians were then overcome by the very same waters.  The very waters that parted for God’s children overwhelmed their enemies.

In 2 Chronicles 20:17, after Jehoshaphat  and all of Judah petitioned God for help, God spoke to them the following:  You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”  And the Lord indeed delivered them.  Jehoshaphat and his men did nothing but go to the place God directed them to go.   And when they got there, the enemy was dead and the spoil was theirs for the taking. The purpose of standing firm  in battle was similar in meaning to Psalm 46:10 in that “being still” allowed God to exalt Himself.  Yet being still did not mean to stand still; it meant to cease striving.  Standing firm in battle means to go forward as God directs knowing God has already won.

Another use of standing firm I noticed was one of being actively steadfast in our belief that God is God and more than able to do His will.  It is a standing firm in knowing God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).  If He has done it before, then He is more than able to do it again.  Below are a couple of examples of Scripture proclaiming God’s sovereignty and our need to stand firm in it.

 “Remember this and stand firm,
    recall it to mind, you transgressors,
    remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
    and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
    and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isaiah 46:8-10)

For the righteous will never be moved;
    he will be remembered forever.
He is not afraid of bad news;
    his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
    until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. (Psalm 112:6-8)

We can stand firm in our faith because we can trust God is God; He is “a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in Him” (Nahum 1:7).  We can “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23).  God is God.  God is faithful.  And we can stand firm knowing this.

A third use of standing firm I gleaned from my research is that to “stand firm” in our faith is to walk in obedience to God and His Word.  Joshua reminds the Israelites to “…be strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor the left…” (Joshua 23:6).  Colossians 1:23 encourages believers to “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” that they’ve heard.   We are also exhorted in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught.”  Furthermore, by standing firm in obedience, we will also be able to walk out our faith.   We will do all in love as we are encouraged to do in 1 Corinthians 16:13.  We will also walk “worthy of the gospel of Christ…standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side-by-side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).  This means when we stand firm in our faith through obedience, we will also find ourselves standing firm with our fellow Christ followers–and there is immense power in unity.

In general “standing firm” is rarely passive.  There are so many examples associating “standing firm” with deliberate, confident action.  Ephesians 6:11-13 reminds us to actively put on the armor of God so we can “stand firm.”  In Hebrews we are encouraged to “hold fast” our confidence and hope “firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:6, 14).  Hebrews 6 encourages us to be earnest, not sluggish, in our faith.  James reminds us be steadfast in trials, to resist the devil, and to establish our hearts (James 1:2-4, 12; 4:7; 5:8). First Corinthians tells us to be steadfast and immovable as we abound in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58).   And I believe Daniel 11:32 may say it best of all: “…but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.”

Stand firm and take action. Being steadfast and being active go together.

Yet please do not misunderstand me.   Taking action is not attempting to do things in our own strength.  Doing things on our own will inevitably lead to failure.   Rather, taking action means actively seeking God’s direction and wisdom.   Prayer is taking action.   Reading God’s Word is taking action.  Waiting is taking action. Listening for His still small voice to say “This is the way” is taking action.  Actively standing firm could mean taking the first step into the raging waters of an uncertain future.  It could mean keeping your mouth shut when you so want to say something (or speaking when you don’t!).  It could be saying no to something without a “good” reason except for the sense God is directing you to say no.  Standing firm in our faith is purposeful–whether or not we must stand still in our steadfastness or go forth in it.

So I end with an encouragement to you today to actively stand firm in your faith.  Fix your eyes on the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  Plant your feet on the firm foundation of Jesus (Matthew 7:24-27). Resist the devil knowing He will flee (James 4:7). And at the same time, draw near to God (James 4:8).  Ask, seek, and knock with full confidence that God will not only hear, but He will answer (Matthew 7:7-11).  And as God answers–as God whispers in your ear to stand firm in the faith–go forth with confidence. Yes, “Stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13).

 

His Grace. His Power.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

As I was reading a devotional this morning, I came across Spurgeon’s thoughts about the above verse.   Here is what I read: “The other evening I was riding home after a heavy day’s work. I felt very wearied, and sore depressed, when swiftly, and suddenly as a lightning flash, that text came to me, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” I reached home and looked it up in the original, and at last it came to me in this way, “MY grace is sufficient for thee”; and I said, “I should think it is, Lord,” and burst out laughing. I never fully understood what the holy laughter of Abraham was until then. It seemed to make unbelief so absurd. It was as though some little fish, being very thirsty, was troubled about drinking the river dry, and Father Thames said, “Drink away, little fish, my stream is sufficient for thee.” Or, it seemed after the seven years of plenty, a mouse feared it might die of famine; and Joseph might say, “Cheer up, little mouse, my granaries are sufficient for thee.” Again, I imagined a man away up yonder, in a lofty mountain, saying to himself, “I breathe so many cubic feet of air every year, I fear I shall exhaust the oxygen in the atmosphere,” but the earth might say, “Breathe away, O man, and fill the lungs ever, my atmosphere is sufficient for thee.” Oh, brethren, be great believers! Little faith will bring your souls to Heaven, but great faith will bring Heaven to your souls.—C. H. Spurgeon (Find it Here)


God’s Word is indeed living and active and powerful.  For years I’ve focused on the sufficiency mentioned in this verse, not the Sufficient One.  I’ve focused on the power mentioned in this verse, not the All-Powerful One. I think many of us have.  How many times have we heard or even said ourselves in that “have pity on me” voice (maybe even with a sigh for added effect), “His grace is sufficient for me.”  As if “sufficient” is just enough.  As if His grace barely satisfies my parched and weary soul.  When asked by a friend or acquaintance how I am doing, I might reply with “Life is really rough right now, but His grace is sufficient for me.”  Or “I don’t understand why all this is happening to me, but His grace is sufficient for me.”  As if making such statements  gives God the depth of glory He deserves.

It doesn’t.  In fact, it takes away the glory He deserves.  Said in the perspective above–a perspective that focuses on my weakness and my human understanding of grace–God is glorified very little.   Yet He deserves so much more than a shallow, misdirected gratitude and understanding.  The verse does more than merely proclaim that my weakness is not too big for God’s grace and power.  It proclaims that His grace and power are much too big for my human weakness to ever comprehend.  My view of grace is limited; His is eternal. He isn’t just enough; He is more than enough.   There’s a difference.   Oh how many times have I said and heard this verse from a misguided perspective.  It is not “woe is me” that I am weak.  It is not “lucky for me” God is stronger.  It is not even a “He is strong when I am weak,” as if God only completes what we cannot complete on our own. No. Rather, it is Glory!  Glory to God in Heaven!  He is God!  Me?  I am man.  It is not about MY weakness.  It is about HIS grace and strength–His complete grace and strength.  It is not about my insufficiency.  It is about His ultimate sufficiencyIt is all about Him.

This is why Paul could say I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  Paul knew the depths of this truth–the truth that God is.  He doesn’t need.  He doesn’t lack.  He is “over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6).  It is why John the Baptist declared, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  John the Baptist knew it was not about man; it was about God.  In fact, the more man is present, the less God is.  The more God is present, the more due glory He receives.  We must always remember man was created for God, not God for man.  We were created in His likeness, not He ours.  He is the Creator; we are the created.  So it’s not that I am weak; it’s that He is strong.  It is not that I can’t; it’s that He can. It’s not that I am merely man; it’s that God is fully God. And since God is fully God, His grace is as the great hymn proclaims: amazing!

I say it again: It is all about Him.

It reminds me of the story in John.   Upon seeing a man blind from birth, Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus who sinned to cause this man to become blind, as if it were man’s fault for blindness.  Yet Jesus responded,  “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).  It was not about the man at all.  It never was.  It was about God.  The man’s blindness gave God the glory.   God’s power was made perfect through this man’s weakness.  God’s grace was more than enough before this man was ever born; in fact, it was more than enough before the foundation of the world. More. Than. Enough. 

So I ask you now: Are you wrestling with your weakness, struggling with your lack of strength? Are you wondering if God is sufficient? If He is really strong enough?  Don’t wonder. Don’t fear. Don’t Fight. Focus. Focus not on who you are; focus on who He is. Cast your weakness before Him.  Surrender your strength at His feet.  Place your frail cup of human nature at the mouth of His unending well of grace. He won’t just pour in a little.  He won’t just pour in what you can’t.  He won’t even just fill it once.  He’ll keep filling it.  And the more you drink, the more He’ll fill–and when God fills, He fills to overflowing.

Go In Gratitude

As he [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:18-20)

Gratitude.  I’m not sure what this word means to you, but I define it as “that feeling of being so thankful and humbled by a word of encouragement or an act of kindness that I cannot help but long to show my appreciation to the one who sowed such love into my heart and my life and to tell others as well.” Gratitude is a thankfulness that produces action; gratitude has to tell others.

I pray you’ve had the pleasure of enjoying such a feeling.   Actually, if you have experienced the saving grace of Jesus, you surely have.  After all, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  Did you catch that?  God–the perfect, holy God–loved me (and you!) so much that even when we were in sin, even when we were actively running away from Him, He sent Jesus to die for us.  God freed us from the penalty of sin and death before we were even aware or even wanting to be free.

Now that produces gratitude–that produces the feeling of being so thankful and humbled at what God chose to do for you and for all those who choose to believe that your heart begins to overflow with the desire not only to follow Him and to please Him all the days of your life but also to tell others the good news as well.  Your heart overflows with such thankfulness that it is impossible to hold it in without fear of exploding.  After all, when you experience gratitude, you cannot help but want to share its joy.

And this is where the man healed of the demons comes in to the picture.   If you are not familiar with this story, Jesus came across a man who was so overtaken by demons “no one had the strength to subdue him” (Mark 5:4).  This man was not just possessed by one demon; he was possessed by many–by a Legion (Mark 5:9). Yet Jesus in His authority cast out those demons and healed the man.

Imagine witnessing such a miracle.  Imagine receiving such a miracle!  Now I’m sure that produced gratitude–deep gratitude.  In fact, the man Jesus healed was so full of gratitude for freeing him he begged Jesus for permission to follow Him.  He didn’t just ask; he begged.  His gratitude indeed produced action.

Yet what struck me about today’s reading is Jesus’ response to the man.  Jesus, the One who knows the beginning and the end, the One who was fully God and fully man, did not permit His newest convert to follow.   Jesus did not call for the man to follow like the other disciples; He did not desire for the man to physically follow Him out of gratitude.  Rather, He wanted the man to go and to tell out of gratitude.   Yes, Jesus told the man, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

Jesus could have easily permitted this man to follow Him as He traveled from place to place telling others the good news, but He didn’t.  Why?  I mean surely He could have used this man’s gratitude to demonstrate His power over sin and death.  Surely God would have been glorified as this man testified to all the Lord had done for him.

Yet as God always demonstrates, His ways and thoughts are higher and greater than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).  So although at first one might wonder why Jesus told the man he could not follow, I believe Jesus provided the reason in His command and in the subsequent results. For prior to the man’s request, Mark wrote,  “And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region” (Mark 5:17).  So instead of the miracle healing drawing people to Him, it made them afraid to the point that they begged Jesus to leave.   While the healed man was begging to follow; the people of the region were begging Jesus to leave.

So as Jesus was leaving, He could have allowed the man to follow. I mean, it would have made sense for Him to allow the man to leave his home–a region rejecting Jesus–to enjoy the pleasure of His company.  I’m sure I would have begged as well.  Why would I want to remain in a region rejecting the very One who healed me?!  Yet I believe Jesus knew doing so would also remove the opportunity to still share Himself with those in the region.  Think about it.  The people of the region knew this man before the man met Jesus; this means they would be fully aware of the before and the after.   They would have the side-by-side comparison. If the man had gone with Jesus, the people in other regions would have only seen the after.  Sure, this would still have been good news, but I believe God was most glorified by Jesus telling the man to go and to tell in his home region, for by doing so, Jesus was in effect continuing to make disciples in a region that had rejected him. Just look at the last verse:  “And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled” (Mark 5:20).

What happened when the man full of gratitude shared the good news?  “Everyone marveled.”  The region may have turned Jesus away, but it “marveled” at the testimony of one of its own. This means God used the gratitude–the extreme thankfulness–of one man to reach a region He was being sent away from. God used the testimony of one man–one grateful man–to reach out to many more.

Awesome.

So how can I apply this to my life?  How can you apply it to yours?   Well, I believe one lesson to take away from this is what to do with our gratitude: we are to act on it.  We are to be doers of the Word He has given us, not hearers only (James 1:22).  Are you grateful for what God has done for you?  Then go and tell.  Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. Tell your family.   Go.  Tell.

Yes, I believe there is a time and a place for returning to the One who saved you–a time and a place for resting at our Savior’s feet and humbly thanking Him for all He has done–but I also believe He wants us to then rise up in our gratitude and “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

But the key in our going and our telling is in the first two words of the above verse:  go home. You don’t need to go far to share your gratitude.  Start at home.  Start at work.  Start at the store.  Start sharing your gratitude for the great things He has done, right where you are.

And as you do.  As we all do.  As we go and share with others the good things He has done, they will marvel.  They will see the great things the Lord has done “and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

He Sent Me Ice Cream

What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

This afternoon as I was reading and writing God’s Word, God reminded me that in His Kingdom, a little goes a long way.   A little seed.  A little faith.  A little leaven.  What may begin as something little–once placed in God’s hands–becomes something magnificent.   Even when it comes to sowing and reaping, Jesus Himself reminds us Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much…” (Luke 16:10).  In God’s Kingdom, it is indeed the little things that matter most.

As I reflected on the significance of those little things, God reminded me of something I wrote several years ago. He has actually in recent weeks been bringing to mind a variety of things I have written in years past.  And as I have read my former writings, I am again reminded He is faithful–always faithful.

Below is an instance of His faithfulness I recorded over 12 years ago; at the time I was teaching high school English.  I thought I’d post it today because it is one of my favorite stories of His faithfulness to me His daughter–His faithfulness to give good (and tasty!) things to those who ask Him.


He Sent Me Ice Cream by Me

The little things in life are extremely important to me. Since I was young people have always commented on the unique tidbits of information I latch onto, especially when it comes to those things that make others smile. For instance, I have a friend who loves his toast cut on the diagonal. Many people get an inquisitive look upon their faces as they think, “Is that really important to know?” I say, yes, it is. It is because it is something my friend likes; it makes him happy. Therefore, I remember it, and if I ever get a chance to make him toast or a sandwich, I will be sure to cut it on the diagonal.

In the same way I as a person can encourage someone with the “little things” in life, God also encourages His children with the “little things” in life. Why the quotes around those two simple words? Because I believe that, with God, everything is important. He desires His children to be happy. What parent doesn’t? If it makes us happy and is not contrary to His Word, then of course God wants to bless us. It is this very aspect—God’s care for all things in my life—His faithfulness—that I write about today.

I love to read. I love novels. I love instructional books. Most of all, however, I love God’s Word. Since I became a Christian in 1995, I’ve always taken the time to read God’s Word. In recent years, this time has been in the morning. I am a morning person, so getting up early to read is easier than trying to stay up late. The few times I’ve tried to move my devotion time to the latter part of the day, my prayers have ended with . . . well, they’ve never really ended officially (unless I can call falling asleep good closure). About three weeks ago, however, God impressed upon me that He wanted me to do things a little differently. He wanted me to continue to read and to pray in the morning, but He also wanted me to read during my lunch at work and at night before I went to bed. Knowing God as faithful and more than able to give me the strength to remain awake, I began doing so.

The first day I implemented my new regimen, God demonstrated His faithfulness—even more, His faithfulness in the “little things.” While I read His Word during lunch, I snacked on tuna fish. Anyone who has had tuna fish will know that it does not last too long. In fact, by the end of fourth period (less than 55 minutes after eating lunch), I was starving. All I could think about was having a bowl of ice cream. Nevertheless, being a teacher, I could not leave my upcoming fifth period while I went to the store to buy some. God, however, being the faithful provider He is, and a rewarder of those who seek Him, found another way to bless me.

One of the little duties of my job as teacher is to stand outside my door and make sure my students get to class promptly and safely.   Therefore, during the five minutes between my fourth and fifth periods, I took my position to the right of my door and greeted students as they entered my classroom. As I stood outside my door (attempting to ignore my impoverished stomach’s grumbling), one of my first period students who has fifth period in the room adjacent to mine, came up to me with a bowl. This was not just a bowl, though; it was a bowl of ice cream! Even more, it was a chocolate brownie covered with ice cream and syrup and toppings! She held the bowl out for me to take and asked if I would like it. For a second I stared in disbelief at the delicacy within my reach. Once I realized that it was not a mirage but a real bowl, I immediately (not hiding my ecstasy) accepted the generous gift. All my student said when she handed it to me was that her previous class was having an ice cream party and something (I translate this “something” as God) told her that I would like a bowl.

I could barely contain the excessive joy permeating my entire being. I was extremely excited (and awfully stuffed once I devoured the delicious dessert). God cared so much for me that He brought me a bowl of ice cream when I needed the sustenance. Even more, He exceeded my expectations and added a brownie and toppings!

Since then, God has continued to reveal to me His undying devotion to the well-being of His children. Just as He clothes the fields with grass and provides food and shelter for the birds, He also ensures that the needs of His children are met. Yet, His faithfulness does not cease at the needs—the basics; He goes beyond. He cares about the “little things” in life. He cares about what makes His children smile.

That day He could have let me go hungry. He could have brought me an apple—to satisfy the stomach and nourish the body. But He didn’t. He brought me what He new I wanted—the “little thing” that would make me happy. He sent me ice cream.


He sent me ice cream.  Ice cream!  Ice cream to me as a young professional was like Starbucks is to me now: a love language.  This means God demonstrated His love for me by sending me His love in frozen form.  Sure, ice cream may not have meant much to some, but it meant the world to me, and God–God who knows my heart more than I know my heart–was well aware that something as “little” as ice cream (and a brownie!) would be just what I needed to keep on keeping on, to keep pressing forward, and to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world.

And if you know Jesus, then He who is in you is greater as well.  Even more, He loves you just as much as He does me, and is more than willing to demonstrate His love for you in ways both big and small.  So keep on keeping on, my friend, with full confidence that He who promised is faithful–yes, faithful in all things, especially the “little.”

Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8).

 

Beyond My Understanding But Not My Reach

The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
    even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Proverbs 16:4

Warning:  I’m going deep today, so bear with me.  I’m going to attempt with God’s help to explain something I know I will never truly grasp with my finite mind, yet at the same time, it is something God has been solidifying in me lately in a way most comforting to my soul.  And I am fully confident that one day my faith will be made sight, that For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

I pray now I may explain it in a way that is most comforting to you as well.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was praying for a friend and seeking how I may encourage her, God spoke something to my heart.  I’ve always known God as omnipresent, but I’ve always subconsciously limited it to being physically everywhere at once. So He is both with you and with me at the same time. Yet the other morning He reminded me He is the Great I Am. He exists. This means He not only can be everywhere at once, but also He simultaneously exists in the past, the present, and the future. So not only is He with each of us wherever we go, but even more awesome, He has always been with each of us, is with each of us right now, and is already waiting for each of us as we take the next steps on our journeys of faith. This means when He says He will never leave us nor forsake us, He truly means never.

Yet the past few days, as God has continued to write His sovereignty on my heart, He has shown me how His omniscience and omnipresence work together.  He not only exists beyond all time and space, but also He knows all that has, is, and will ever happen. It is the coming together of these attributes Jesus refers to when He replies to the Jewish leaders, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, before Abraham was born, I Am” (John 8:58).   It is why Peter encourages us, “do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” ( 2 Peter 3:8).  It is the concept behind Revelation 1:8:  “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” And it is the reason David can declare with confidence in Psalm 139,
“My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them. (vs 15-16)

Before God ever created us, He knew us.  He knew every moment of our lives–every word we’d speak, every thought we’d think, every action we’d take.  He truly knew us before we were born; He is indeed the beginning and the end.

And it is this idea of God’s ultimate omnipresence–God’s ability to transcend time and space–which leads me to the above verse from Proverbs.  At first glance, you may think to yourself, “Does God create evil?” or “Why would God create the wicked for the day of destruction?” Well, first of all, God is not evil; nor He does He create evil. He cannot.  He is holy.   Jesus Himself declares “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). James 1:13 reminds us “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”  First  John 1:5 proclaims, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”  First Corinthians 14:33 encourages us with the knowledge “…God is not a God of confusion but of peace.”

Furthermore, Romans 5:12 specifically states that sin came into the world through Adam.  God did not create sin; He created man who then chose to sin.  If God had created sin, then He could not have declared upon completion of the 6th day of creation,And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).  Very good–not very bad.  God cannot create evil, yet the man He created had the capacity to choose it.  And he did.  And each of us did as well. 

God does not sin, but man does.   And because we sin, evil exists.  It wasn’t created; it was chosen

Are you still with me?   Let’s review for a minute before I continue.   First, God transcends time and space so He knows the beginning and the end and everything in between.  Second, God did not create evil; we His creation chose it.   Putting those two thoughts together, God knew before the foundation of the world each of us would sin.  He also knew which people would choose Him as Savior and which people would not.   So before I was born, God knew the choices I’d make–both good and bad–yet He still chose to create me. He knew the choices–both good and bad–you’d make, yet He still chose to create you as well.

Why? Let’s look at some more verses to clarify…

“Remember this and stand firm,
    recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
    and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
    and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
calling a bird of prey from the east,

    the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
    I have purposed, and I will do it.” (Isaiah 46:8-11)

and…

“…we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. “(Romans 8:28-30)

and…

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

God as the great I Am knows the past, the present, and the future–and He exists simultaneously in all of them.  This means before God created the world, He already knew each of us by name, the choices we would make, and the ultimate end of it all. In other words, before He created everything, He also knew everything.  He foreknew the ways in which both the wicked and the righteous would come together to create His perfect story.  He chose to allow the good and the bad because He knew in the end He’d receive the most glory through it.  You and I may have chosen sin and wickedness, but then God in His sovereignty chose to use it all for His glory. He sent Jesus so we could victoriously proclaim, Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)

So how is knowing God is, was, and always will be comforting to me?  It is comforting to me knowing that God has me here for a purpose, a purpose I will not fully realize until eternity.  He knows my purpose even when I may not.  It is comforting to know my tomorrow has already been chosen by my God and Savior–my tomorrow has already passed through His sovereign fingers. It is comforting to know that while I do not know my future, while I may not ever fully understand why things happen the way they happen, I do know the One who created me knew before He created me every moment of my life.  He wrote my story before my story began, and He wrote it knowing my heart and knowing the glory He’d receive through it all.

God new before the foundation of the world the choices I’d make, and He still chose to create me and to use me.  And the same goes for you.  God knows you more than you know you.  He alone knows the thoughts and intentions of your heart (1 Kings 8:39).  He knows the words you’ll pray before you pray them (Psalm 139:4). He knows your future and holds it in His hands.  He knows each of us and He chose each of us “before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4).

So then what do we do knowing God knows it all before we know it all and will always know more than we could ever comprehend? What do we do knowing His thoughts and ways are not ours, for He Himself declares, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9)? Do we sit back and just let life happen? Do we cease praying? Do we sigh to ourselves and say, “It is what it is”? As Paul proclaimed again and again in Romans: Certainly not!  His ways may be beyond our understanding, but His presence is never beyond our reach. Knowing God is God, we must  pray with confidence and with anticipation believing with all our hearts He already knew, already knows, and is already working all things for His good pleasure.  We should come to Him like Abraham interceded for Sodom in Genesis 18, boldly asking God to move and to save and to heal.

Is there something or someone heavy on your heart?  Pray!  Is your life not how you envisioned it?  Pray!  Do you have questions, fears, uncertainties?  Pray!  For indeed, God knows you and knows your thoughts and knows your heart.  It could be–it could very well be–He placed that person on your heart and in your path because He foreknew you would be the messenger of love, grace, peace, and healing.  It could very well be He allowed the trial to come because He knew you’d seek Him through it, that you’d walk out Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”  He knew you’d obey His Words in Joshua 1:9:  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

And as we pray, we must also read, meditate on, and memorize His Word.  After all, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). To know His Word is to know Him.  Furthermore, His Word is not only powerful , as stated in Hebrews 4:12 (“For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart”); but also, it is “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

And finally, we must believe His Words of encouragement from Jeremiah 29:11-13: “For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” As I wrote the other day, we must have faith, “for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).

In other words, we must trust that if God knows the future, then He has each of us where we are for “such as time as this” (Esther 4:14). There are no surprises and no mistakes.  So go forth with confidence knowing, The Lord is the One who will go before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid or discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).  Instead of wondering what might happen next, instead of wondering why things are the way they are, instead of harboring hurt, regret, or resentment for things done or not done, seek Him.  “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33).

You are where you are because God ordained it, and God ordained it because He knew you’d provide Him the greatest glory through it.   Again, He didn’t promise a life of ease; He himself told us, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).  But even though our life may not be easy–although we’ll have to suffer injustice sometimes–although we make poor choices sometimes–we can “…take heart; I [Jesus] have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

We overcome because He has already overcome.  We live because He lives. And since we know as Romans 8:28 states,  “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” and since we also know “in [His] book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for [us], when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16), we can in turn walk this earth with confidence–confidence that the One who made us will also sustain us (Psalm 55:22), and the One who knew us before the world began will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

God is with you, my friend.  He always has been and He always will be.  Although life may not be smooth, although there is pain, sickness, and heartache, rest assured He has already walked the path and ordained it for His good pleasure.  And one day–that glorious day–when we are able to see with clarity, we too, will join the angels in casting our crowns before Him and proclaiming,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!”
(Revelation 4:8)

 

 

Faith

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” – Hebrews 11:1-3

Faith.  It is not simply wishing that someday, somehow what we want will come to pass. It is not a dream, not a fantasy, not some whimsical fairytale we know deep down will never become reality.  No.  It is the substance of things hoped for–it is something we can grasp with all that we are. Faith is tangible, significant, and something we can cling to, something we can depend upon. Faith is knowing what we cannot see with our eyes is actually the ultimate reality.

When the above verse refers to faith as the substance of things hoped for, it is reminding us that with faith we can hold on to God’s promises expectantly.  We can “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). With faith, we can take the promises of God–the visions of hope He has given us in His Word–and walk in them, not doubting for a minute that they will come to pass. Faith doesn’t allow circumstances to dash our dreams or toss our hopes around like waves of the sea.   Rather, faith breathes in God’s “exceedingly great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4) and then walks in the assurance of these promises.

Faith finds assurance in trusting Him, for faith knows God will do what He says He will do.

Jesus Himself reminds us when we have faith, even faith as small as a mustard seed,  “you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).  Nothing will be impossible because our faith becomes our evidence.  Our faith is the evidence of things not seen. Objects falling to the earth are evidence of gravity. If I let go of my pen, it will fall to the floor; gravity pulls it down. I do not see gravity, but I know it exists, because falling objects are evidence of it. In the same way, I do not see oxygen, but I am breathing, so I know that it exists. Breathing is evidence of the existence of oxygen.  So if you take the basic structure _______ is the evidence of ____________, you can fill it in as follows: Falling objects are the evidence of gravity; and Breathing is the evidence of air. Now insert what is says in Hebrews 11:1 :   Faith is the evidence of things not seen. Our faith is the evidence of things not seen. Faith does not look at the circumstances, it looks towards God and what He promises.  Faith knows “the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

 Romans 8:16-17 declares, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”  Sure, I have not received the full inheritance yet–none of us has–but I know it exists. I can’t see heaven, but my faith tells me it is there. My faith is the evidence that heaven exists. In the OT, Abraham’s wife was beyond childbearing years when God promised him a son. The things that were seen did not give evidence that God would be able to fulfill the promises, but, as the Word says, we live by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Abraham’s faith was his evidence; he stood in faith that God would do what He said would do. Sure, he may have tried once to take matters into his own hands by going into Sarah’s servant, but he never doubted God would give him a son.  He just couldn’t fully understand God’s plan with his finite mind.  But praise be to God He doesn’t ask us to understand; he just asks us to believe. “All things are possible to him who believes”(Mark 9:23).

Abraham knew with his whole being  all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20).  In fact, No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ (Romans 4:20-22).

And Abraham was not the only man of faith in the OT.  Hebrews chapter 11 catalogues the numerous men of God who walked by faith, not by sight–who through God’s inspiration not only penned the prophecies but also stood on those promises of a savior; and they died in faith knowing God would fulfill His promise. They knew God’s promises are true. They knew their faith would one day be made sight, if not in their life time, then in eternity.  As Hebrews 11:13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on earth.”

In the same way the faith of Abraham–and the other men of the OT–was “counted to him” as righteousness, our faith is key to our righteousness through Jesus. It takes faith to please God.   Think about it for a moment.   Hebrews 11:6 states “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  The writer of Romans immediately included the following after his discussion of Abraham: But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone,  but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:23-25). One of God’s promises is, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  It takes faith to stand on this promise. If I do not have faith in this promise, if I do not have faith that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13), then Hebrews 11:6 is right–it is impossible to please God. After all, as the verse continues, if I come to God I must know who He is and what He promises.

And how do I know who He is and what He promises?  How can you know who He is and what He promises?  By reading His Word. By meditating on His Word. By praying His Word. For after all, it is God’s Word that enables us to grow in our faith.  Romans 10:17 reminds us “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”  Faith stands on the promises of God, and the more we read His Word, the more promises we can claim, speak, and walk out. Indeed, the more we know Him, the more we’ll trust Him; the more we seek Him, the more we’ll see Him; the more we hide His Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), the less we’ll sin against Him and the less we’ll succumb to the wiles of the devil.  For we must remember, “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Without faith–without God’s promises on which to put our faith–we would be like “a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” and should “not suppose that [we] will receive anything from the Lord” (James 1:6-7).  

Yet with faith–with the shield of faith Paul describes in Ephesians 6–we can, in all circumstances, “extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)

Hallelujah! Faith enables us to come to God and find assurance in trusting Him, to know that we know He will do what He says He will do. In Psalm 73, David’s faith reminds him that while things around him look wrong–the evildoers are prospering–he can stand on God’s promise to do away with the wicked and provide for His children.  David’s faith allows him to proclaim,

” Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:23-26)

David stood on who God is and what He says He will do; he did not stand on circumstances.

And neither should we. People, feelings, thoughts, circumstances, and anything else we may encounter during our earthly lives will come and go, but God and His Word are forever.  This is indeed an important key to our faith: God and His Word are forever. Forever. Or as Peter quoted from Isaiah “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25).

I’m not sure what you may be facing today.  I’m not sure what struggles, temptations, or storms are threatening to knock you down, to take your eyes off our Savior and leave you sinking in the sea of doubt and uncertainty.   Yet one thing I am sure of–He who promised is faithful.  I will say it again: He who promised is faithful. And if you have believed on Him, if you have recognized your sinfulness and desperate need for a Savior, then you have faith–a faith that can overcome the world–a faith that one day will be sight.

So keep on keeping on, my friend. Keep the faith.  And “according to the riches of his glory…be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” (Ephesians 3:16-17).

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, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21)

What to Wear

 So the Angel of the Lord spoke to those standing before Him, “Take off his filthy clothes!” Then He said to him, “See, I have removed your guilt from you, and I will clothe you with splendid robes.” – Zechariah 3:4

Clothes. In my opinion they are an unfortunate necessity of life, one I wish we did not have to worry about. But alas, Adam and Eve chose to disobey, so now we must wear them. And although I do not place a high priority on the clothes I wear, I do dress according to the plans I have for the day. Going out with friends? Jeans and a nice shirt or sweater. Exercising? Breathable pants and moisture-wicking shirt. Church? Dress pants, skirt, or dress. And regardless of where I’m going or what I am doing, what I wear had better be comfortable.

Since clothes are not a priority to me, I tend not to think about them too much other than for the reasons I just mentioned.  That changed the other day, however, when my daughter made a comment regarding what I had on that gave me a moment of pause.  For God connected her comments to my spiritual walk.

Now, she did not say anything profound. All she did was guess that I was going to be exercising because I was wearing my exercise clothes. I did not need to tell her I was going to exercise; she could tell by the clothes I had on.

And this is what got me thinking. What do I spiritually put on every day? Does it convey to those who come in contact with me that I am God’s child? Can people tell I know Jesus by what I put on spiritually?  Do my clothes reflect  the truth that even though “by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).

Does the devil know I mean war by what I put on? After all, whether or not we are dressed for it, we are in a battle every day.  It is why Paul exhorts us to “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).  It is why he says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4, For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

Although Jesus encouraged us while He walked the earth to  “…take heart; I [Jesus] have overcome the world” (John 16:33),  and although the ultimate victory indeed is ours, we still need to fight.  And if we are going to fight, we need to wear the right clothes.

So what should we wear?

Nothing says it better than God’s own words:  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:14)

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am currently walking through the Armor of God Bible study by Priscilla Shirer.    This week we are discussing the breastplate of righteousness. Within this discussion, I have come across many verses referencing “putting off” the old self and “putting on” the new.  We are told in Colossians that as believers in Jesus we have  “put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10).  We are reminded in Ephesians our old self “is corrupt through deceitful desires” but we are “to  be renewed in the spirit of [our] minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).  It’s the familiar adage “Out with the old; in with the new” applied to our hearts. 

But the key is we cannot wear both.   We can’t put on righteousness and unrighteousness together.  I’m certainly not going to wear a long, flowing dress while running a marathon, so why would I want to wear my own righteousness, which is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) to “run with perseverance the race marked out for” me (Hebrews 12:1)?  That’d be insanity; that would be sin.  After all,  God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth…. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1: 5-6, 8)

Jesus compares such practices–such attempts to keep our old righteousness while also trying to walk in the newness of life provided by salvation–to putting an unshrunk cloth on an old garment or new wine into old wineskins.  If we try to combine the new with the old, “the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made” and “the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed” (Matthew 9:16-17).  In other words, trying to walk this life in fleshy, man-made righteousness is futile.

Nevertheless, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).  Therefore, if we have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus, then we must put Him on.  We “must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:17-19).  For as we are told in Romans, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Romans 5:21).

So when we get up in the morning, and as we put on our physical clothes, we need to dress spiritually as well. And dress accordingly.  We must put on the armor of God as Paul describes it in Ephesians 6:10-18. In doing so, we will also “put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Colossians 3:10).

I encourage you, leave those old, man-made righteous rags in the closet and put on His righteousness.  Allow Him to clothe you with “garments of salvation” and cover you with the “robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10).   Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)

And as you put on Christ, as you surrender your every moment and pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10), you will not only “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Ephesians 6:10), but also you will be confident knowing  “the victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). 

 

 

 

Free Indeed

.31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”  34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:31-36).

I’ve always loved the truth.   Even before I knew Jesus, I had no taste for dishonesty or deception.  I didn’t do fake.  Either be real with me or leave me alone.   And yet I recently found myself to have built my life on a foundation of sand–deceptive, sinful, slippery sand.  I had been deceived and in turn had become a deceiver.  I had lied to myself, telling myself my value was in the things I owned, the people I knew, or the ministry in which I served.  I lied to others by “holding to the form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).   In other words, I confessed salvation, but I didn’t live it.  I didn’t “work out [my] own salvation with fear and trembling” as Paul encourages us in Philippians 2:12.  I, in effect, denied the very righteousness God provided for me through the cross, for even though I knew the truth, I did not align my life to it.   I’d praise God for forgiveness, yet I wouldn’t forgive myself.  I’d praise God for saving me from sin, yet I continued to live as if still chained to sin.  I knew God had in effect made me whole, yet I still considered myself broken.

It is this very concept of knowing the truth but not living it that led Paul to pen the following: Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness…” (Romans 6:16-18).

I don’t want to be a slave of sin.  I want to be a slave of righteousness.  In fact, the beautiful paradox of God’s saving grace is that there is freedom in being a slave to righteousness.   Eternal life–abundant life–only comes when I lay down my own, selfish life at the foot of the cross.  And leave it there.

I am currently working through the Priscilla Shirer study Armor of God.  It is truly an amazingly powerful study regarding the armor of God and the importance of specific, focused, prayer.   During this week’s video (focusing on the breastplate of righteousness), Priscilla reminds us that we can live a righteous life because we are righteous through Jesus.   Yes, my righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), but when I accepted Jesus as Savior, He removed my rags and clothed me with righteousness; He clothed me with Himself (see Galatians 3:27, Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10, and Romans 13:14).   Walking out this truth–this truth of God’s righteousness, not my own–truly sets me free.  For by choosing to align my life with His truth, I am allowing His righteousness to reign and to rule my life.  As I choose to align my life with His truth, He leads me in paths of righteousness for His namesake (Psalm 23:3).  His Light and Truth become my “treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God [and not from me]” (2 Corinthians 4:7). 

This morning when I awoke, I felt the weight of sadness attempt to invade my heart.  I immediately knew this wasn’t of God but rather a temptation of the enemy to thwart the progress God’s amazing grace has provided in recent months.   Recognizing this, I went to my knees in prayer.   And as I exposed myself to His Light and His Truth, God gave me a vision.   I am not sure if you have every pretended to be caught and in jail while playing with children, but I have.  Even though I could easily escape this pretend entrapment, I go along with it for the sake of play and act like I am chained and unable to escape.  The kids get a kick out of mommy being in jail.

Well, in the spiritual realm, Satan keeps pretending he has me bound in my sin and shame.  He keeps trying to put chains on me.  But I am free.   I will say it again: I am free!   All I have to do is get up, shake off the chains, and align myself with God’s Truth–with His righteousness.  All I need to do is tell Satan I will no longer play his game, a game my Savior has already won anyway.

Isaiah paints this picture beautifully:

Awake, awake,
    put on your strength, O Zion;
put on your beautiful garments,
    O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for there shall no more come into you
    the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Shake yourself from the dust and arise;
    be seated, O Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion (Isaiah 52:1-2).

And this is what I must remember.  I am free.   I am not chained to sin.  I am not a slave.  I am a daughter of the King.   And the daughter of the King must act like it.   I know my position in Christ; now I must live it.

While teaching me exactly what He has done for me, God gave me a story, which you will find below.  As you read it, I encourage you to remember that what God has done for me, He has done for you as well.   He promises “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).  Everyone.  This means you.  God clothes you in righteousness in the same way He clothes me. If you are still living as if chained to your past failures, remember as you read on that in actuality all you have to do is get up, shake off the dust, and “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, … press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).


Free Indeed
by Me

 As the doors opened, I prepared myself for the confrontation.  I knew I’d be facing my enemy, my nemesis, my accuser.  What would he bring up?  The betrayal?  The lies?  The shame? The doubt? The mistakes?  The weight of the world rested upon my shoulders, and I sagged under the load.  My hands and feet were in chains, preventing me from doing my heart’s desire….to flee.  Flee from this place.  Flee from everyone and everything.  Yet I couldn’t flee.  I was bound…chained to my sins—both past and present—chained to my pain, to my shame.

I slowly shuffled into the court room, fixing my eyes to the floor.  I didn’t dare look up.  I knew I’d see the eyes of my accuser, glaring at me, diminishing what little of me still existed.

I cautiously sat down in my chair, hoping it wouldn’t splinter under the weight I carried inside.  I could sense someone next to me, but why look?   I couldn’t bear to face another accuser.

Sensing my weakness at its peak, my accuser attacked.  He accused me of my sins, my doubts.  He poured on the shame and the pain.  All the details of my dark deeds were played out in that courtroom.

I wept.  I was broken.  I was ashamed.

With the knowledge he’d broken me, my accuser finished.  He had made his case before the judge—the holy, perfect judge.

Silence ensued.  Its very essence continued to smother me.

What could I do?  What could I say?  My accuser had nailed every aspect of my life.  I was ashamed.  I deserved death.

And then I felt it: the hand on my shoulder.   The warmth of its touch conveyed strength without condemnation, compassion without judgment and sent shivers down my spine.   Who could possibly want to touch my filth, my ugliness, and my shame?

I felt compelled to see the man behind this living, loving touch.  I cautiously lifted my eyes up.  He met my gaze.   The same compassion, strength, and love that were in his touch now emanated from his eyes.  He loved me.   This man who had just heard the accuser—who knew all the darkness within me–loved me.

With his hand still on my shoulder, the one who knew me and loved me turned to the judge and spoke. “My Father.”

My Father?!  He was the judge’s son?!

He continued, “I present to you Katie:  righteous, holy, and worthy of acceptance.”  His words penetrated my heart.   Righteous?  Holy?  Worthy?  But how?  Didn’t he see me as I saw me?!

Apparently not.   He turned back to me, his intense love piercing the darkness in my heart, and reached out his hand—his nail scarred hand—inviting me to take it, to join him in fellowship.   My heart was broken again—a good broken, a necessary broken.  As I reached out to take His hand, I knew I was reaching out to my Healer, the One who was going to pick up the pieces of my heart and mend them into His image.

The moment I grabbed his hand, the clank of the chains hitting the floor resonated throughout the courtroom.  My chains were broken.  I was free.  I was clean.  I was forgiven.

I heard the accuser groan.

With my hand in my Savior’s hand, I turned to face the judge with a new confidence.  There was no condemnation.   No fear.   There was no death sentence.  Just love.  The judge was pleased—pleased with me.

“My precious child, before the foundation of the world, I knew you,” He declared.  “I created you, Katie.  I formed you with value and with a purpose.  Marvelous are My works and you are one of them.  You are Mine.  I love you.”

Three words—I love you—again cut through the darkness.   I crumpled to the floor.  How could it be that the Holy One could love me?

Knowing my thoughts, He continued. “Because I love you, Katie, I sent my Son, my beloved Son, to save you.  He paid the penalty for your sins.  He died in your place then rose again in order to give you life—a new life.  You are justified and free, Katie.  You have been redeemed.  You are a new creation.  You are my precious child whom I adore.  Come.  Have fellowship with us and be free.”

I bowed before my Lord and my Savior—grateful to be alive, grateful to be free, grateful to be loved.   His Son again took my hand and lifted me up from the floor.  My accuser fled.  I stood there in that courtroom a new person.  My Savior had won.  His love had filled the void and vanquished the lies.  I was whole.   I was free—free from condemnation, free from shame, free from pain, free from the chains.  I had been set free by the son, and I was free indeed.


Be free, my friend.  For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). What He has done for me, He has done for you. So join me now in laying “aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Not My Words, But His Words

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).

Words. Gotta love ’em. Gotta hate ’em. One day they lift you up; the next day they plunge you into deep despair. They can heal; they can hurt. They can encourage; they can discourage. It is no wonder God’s Word talks about our use of words so much. No wonder Proverbs 18:21 reminds us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” 

The above passage from Ecclesiastes relates to the promises we make to God.  We are told the foolishness of using our words to make vows to God.  He is the ultimate promise keeper; we are not.  After all, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent, has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19). God always speaks truth.  God always keeps His promises.

Always.

Man…not so much.  Oh we may mean well many times, but we are by nature people of unclean lips.  James reminds us, “…we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body” (James 3:2). 

Can you bridle your whole body? I know I can’t. I can’t even keep my hand from reaching into the cookie jar for the third (or maybe this is the 4th?) cookie! And before you, yeah, you, the one nibbling on your healthy carrot stick like a good little bunny, get all holier than thou on me, I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret. No one is perfect. Sure, you may be able to say no to cookies (although I don’t know why you’d want to), but I can guarantee you’ve succumbed at least once, if not many times, to the tantalizing sin of unwholesome speech.  For as it is written, “None is righteous, no, not one…” (Romans 3:10).  And anyone who thinks he does not sin, “we make him [God] a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). 

According to the Oxford Dictionary website, “The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words” (see full article  here ).   That is a lot of words.  Yet throughout the Bible–which is God’s Word–we are encouraged to let our words be few.  Jesus Himself tells us we will be held accountable for every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:36-37).   Proverbs reminds us in the multitude of words, sin is not lacking (Proverbs 10:19) and “the fool’s mouth is his ruin” (Proverbs 18:7).   James spends a chapter warning us about the power and unruliness of our tongues.   He also reminds every person to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).

Basically, God’s Word continually reminds us to limit our words. Really limit them.  This can be a difficult pill to swallow for those of us with a propensity for prolific writing. Yet the One who created each of us, the One who knows well our sinful tendencies, fills His Word with apt reminders that it is better to remain silent than to speak and regret what we’ve said.

During a breakfast conversation with a wise woman of God, the godly woman commented she is careful what she does and says because she doesn’t want to have to say she’s sorry.   She did not mean this in a prideful way–like she just doesn’t like to say she’s sorry even if she’s wrong.  Rather, she knows if she does overstep her bounds, God’s Holy Spirit will surely let her know, and she’ll surely have to make amends. Indeed, the best way to prevent having to apologize is to be careful and wise in what we do and say from the get-go.

We need to let our words be few for our ears to hear what His Spirit is saying.

Now even though you are probably chuckling to yourself by now at the plethora of words I am subjecting you to as I discuss the importance of our words being few, I must continue because God did reveal to me another aspect of this passage in Ecclesiastes.  Here it is: in addition to being careful how much we say, I also believe we need to be careful with the words we use when we choose to use them.

Since I am a writer, I love to use words, words, and more words. And I love variety. I actually recently compared my use of words to a waterfall–I can pour them out–lots of them–all at once.  Some people I know, on the other hand, use words more sparingly, like a bubbling brook. Of course, both the waterfall and the brook are majestic, refreshing, and display God’s creative beauty, for God uniquely designed me to display His beauty one way, and He uniquely designed you another way. Yet regardless of whether our words are fast, furious, and overflowing like a waterfall or slow, methodical, and bubbling like a brook, I believe God still asks that our words be few.

Think about it. It’s not that we are to keep our mouths completely shut. God gave us words. Speech is an aspect of His creative character. God Himself uses speech. He spoke us into being! We must speak if we are to share God’s Truth to a world in need. We must open our mouths in order to encourage one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16).

Nevertheless, as I said, the key is our words must be few. Our words. Not His Word.

What makes a waterfall a sight to behold? Is it not all the fresh, clean water cascading over the hillside, causing a refreshing mist of water to rise up? Then when the sun hits the mist, a beautiful rainbow appears.  Even the sound of the waters pouring over the banks and crashing into the rocks below allows the observer to drown out the cares of the world for a moment.

The same goes for the brook. The sight of the glistening water invites me to take my shoes off and sink my bare feet into its shallow depths. My soul is revived as I observe the peaceful ripples of the water meandering over the stones and pebbles.

But what if that water were polluted? What if the water were brown, dirty, and emitting a foul odor? Not so majestic, huh?  I’d be running from the waterfall, not basking in its beauty. And there is no way I’d ever consider sticking my feet into a murky mess.

So I believe this verse in Ecclesiastes reminds anyone (yes, anyone) who uses words to use our words–our human, broken, dirty words–sparingly. Instead of using our words based on our finite human nature, we are to speak God’s eternal, life-giving Word.  After all, God’s Word alone is pure. His Word. Not my words. Not your words. If we want to reflect God’s wonder and majesty on this earth, if any of us want to truly honor Him, then we indeed must let our words be few. Our words must decrease so His may increase.

Now how do we do this? How do we use our words less and His more?

Well, first we must know His Word. We cannot use what we do not have.  We must read it, meditate on it, memorize it, speak it, and pray it. We must “treasure” His Word in our hearts that we may not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). We must pray like David for God to “set a guard…over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! (Psalm 141:3). 

God’s Word reminds us, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Therefore as we fill our hearts with His Word, we will find ourselves speaking it as well. We will discover God’s words pouring forth, “building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). We will find our speech becoming “gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6).  We will see the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His Name because what will be flowing from our mouths won’t be dirty, human wisdom but pure, godly wisdom (Hebrews 13:5). Our words will indeed be few, but God’s Word will be in abundance.

And we know where God’s Word is, there is power, there is life, there is hope, and there is promise.  So join me today in asking God for the grace not only to speak less and listen more, but also that when we do speak, we won’t speak our words, but His Word–His powerful, life-giving, soul-changing Word.

   “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven 
 and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  (Isaiah 55:10-11)