Whose God?

“After this Joash decided to restore the house of the Lord. And he gathered the priests and the Levites and said to them, “Go out to the cities of Judah and gather from all Israel money to repair the house of your God from year to year, and see that you act quickly.”

– 2 Chronicles 24:4-5 ESV-

As I read about Joash in 2 Chronicles, one phrase stood out to me: your God. Those two words spoke volumes about the heart of King Joash. He began his reign doing what was right in the sight of the Lord, but once Jehoiada the priest died, he fell away from doing right to follow other gods. How could somebody who did right for so long suddenly fall away? I think the answer is found in those two words he spoke to the Levites: your God. He had good intentions, and repairing the house of the Lord was the right thing to do. Yet his doing right before the Lord was not because of his faith but rather the faith of the one counseling him.

Having wise counselors of the faith is definitely a very good thing, and for the years that Jehoiada was alive, Joash did right before the Lord. The trouble was once the wise counselor died, Joash did not have his own faith to stand on. The good things Joash had done were not based on his desire to please the God he knew personally. His choices were aimed to please the God those who were close to him knew personally. Joash lived his life in faith, but not in his own faith. God wasn’t his God; He was the God of the Levites and the counselors. Thus, when the wise counselor died, so did Joash’s faith.

In Matthew 7 Jesus told those who listened to him that there will come a day when people will come to Him and say, “Lord, Lord! I did all this in your name,” and He will say, “Depart from me; I never knew you.” Why? Because good works and good intentions and doing the right thing doesn’t give you a personal relationship with Jesus. Having a personal relationship with Jesus will help you do the right thing and produce good works, but it’s not the works which save you; it’s God. A personal relationship with God is what saves you. Not your parents’ relationship with him. Not your spouse’s relationship with Him. Not your friends or teachers or any other people in your life whom you depend on and look to for advice. As Keith Green once said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger!”

My kids and I watched the movie God’s Not Dead the other day, and the choice that one young man had in the story was to go along with his well-meaning family and girlfriend or to continue forward in what he felt God wanted him to do. Ultimately, he chose what he felt God wanted him to do because his relationship with God propelled him forward in that way. If he hadn’t had a personal faith—if he had had only the faith of his parents or the faith of his girlfriend, then he would’ve written “God’s Dead” at their request more easily. But he had made a relationship with Jesus his own, and because it was his own, he did the right thing, and that right thing changed the lives of many people for eternity.

So I ask you. When you do the things you do and say the things you say, are you like Joash? Are you only doing the right thing because of the faith of those around you? Or are you doing what you do and saying what you say because you have a personal relationship with the God of universe? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? Do you read your Bible regularly? Do you pray regularly? Do you go to church because of your desire to worship him? Or is your faith the faith of someone else? There comes a point in everybody’s life when they need to decide whether God is going to be their God or not. Proclaiming, “Well, I was raised in a church,” or “I went to a Christian school,” or “I attended church every Sunday,” is not what will get you to heaven. It will also not keep you steadfast in an ever-changing world. Only a personal relationship with the Lord will enable you to remain steadfast no matter the changes in your life. A personal relationship with Jesus is eternal.

Therefore, choose Jesus today. Make a relationship with Him personal; make it your own. Give your heart to Him. He’ll make your heart His home.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭7:24-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬


A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
(Psalm 95:1-2)

Today is Thanksgiving, the day we intentionally pause to express our gratitude for all the blessings we have. Many have actually taken the entire month of November to post on social media about the people, possessions, and circumstances they are grateful for in their lives. It has been encouraging and uplifting to read these reflections on a daily basis.

As I reflected on all the blessings in my own life this morning (There are many!), God brought me back to a post I wrote in 2016. The prior year had been a rough one—probably one of the hardest years of my life–but it was a year that God used to transform me in many ways

In addition to learning that sometimes the worst experiences in our lives can become the launching pad to a glorious future, I learned an important truth: God calls us not only to thank Him for what He has done, but also to thank Him for who He is.

Sure, thankfulness comes easily when we consider people, possessions, health, and favorable circumstances–when we consider the “things” in life that make life enjoyable.  To be thankful is to appreciate what we have been given, and on some occasions, what we have not been given. 

Yet I believe God also calls us to go deeper; He often calls us to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving. What is the difference between being thankful and offering the sacrifice of thanksgiving? I believe it comes down to our focus.  When my  heart is thankful for God’s goodness evident  in my life, my focus is on what God has done.  When I offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, my focus is on who God is, regardless of any external evidence present in my life.

Let me explain. The other day as I got on my knees to pray, my heart was immediately overwhelmed with thankfulness.  The thankfulness, however, was not because of anything specific within my life.  There was nothing apparently new to be thankful for.  In fact, life was kind of crazy and overwhelming.   My thankfulness at that moment, however, was actually to God for–well–being God.  I just knelt beside my bed in adoration and thankfulness that He is God. Yes, God.  No matter what is going on in life, God is still God.  In 2015, even though I felt my life was at its worst, God was still at His best.  God was still in control–even when I was not.

God is God.  And as God, He calls us not only to thank Him for the great things He has done, but also to thank Him for who He is.

Look at Psalm 95.  The verses above encourage us to come into His presence with thanksgiving and to enter His courts with praise.  For what reason?

Health?  No.  

Prosperity?  No.  

Relationships?  No. 

Psalm 95 doesn’t call us to thank God for what He does for us; it calls us to thank God for who He is. Go ahead and read with me the reason we are told to enter His presence with thanksgiving:

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.
(Psalm 95:2-7) 

We enter His presence with thanksgiving because He is God–a great God–King of all gods.  He created the earth.  He created the sea.  He created me.  He created you.  We are to enter His presence with thanksgiving, not because of what is going on, but rather because of who He is.  Circumstances do not change who God is; circumstances may glorify God, but they are not the reason He is worthy of our praise.  He Himself is worthy of our praise because He is God.  I AM is, whether or not life appears to align with His goodness.  Regardless the place I find myself–regardless of the mountain that is before me–regardless of the pain, the grief, the sadness–God is good.  And God is God.

Man will never remove God from His throne.

And for this I am thankful.

You see, the sacrifice of thanksgiving is not about who we are or where we are; it is about who God is.  God is above all, over all, and in all.  Even in our darkest moments, God is there, and God is God. In 2015, when I found myself on the side of the road wondering what had happened to my life, God was there.   In 2016, when the house we thought we should get was stolen out from under us by no fault of our own, God was there. In 2020, when countless lives have been and continue to be affected by Covid-19, God is here, and God is still God.

God is not just there when life is good and things are going our way.  God is there through the darkness as well.  We may not understand the darkness. We may not understand the grief.  But we can know and be thankful for the truth–the truth that God is God, God is good, and we are His children.

So are things going your way and life seems to be going well right now? Then by all means, thank God for His goodness present in your life.   Yet I also encourage you to take a moment to bow before Him and just thank Him for being Who He is–for being God.  Because if He did nothing else visibly good in your life from this point forward, He is still worthy–still worthy of praise and thanksgiving.

Are things not going well?  Are you reading this and thinking to yourself, “What do you know?!  I am grieving! I’m struggling! I am hurt!  I am alone!  I’ve lost everything important to me!”

Let me encourage you today, dear friend. First, you are right in that I do not know exactly what you are feeling at this very moment.  But God does.  Every aspect of grief, every heartache, every pain, every struggle–God Himself experienced through His Son Jesus.  God knows.  He knows the path you are traveling.  He knows where this path will lead.  He knows.  And He cares.  And He is working all things out according to His ultimate plan.  As a good friend once encouraged me, God is working His “perfect plan in an imperfect world.”

So please remember this important truth:  God is God; you are His child.  He is orchestrating every moment, even the horrific ones, for His good and His glory.

So praise Him. Follow the directive of 1 Thessalonians 5:18,  and “Be thankful in all circumstances….”  Get on your knees this very moment and praise Him.  Thank Him for being who He is in spite of the circumstances you find yourself enduring.  Thank God for who He is even though what you are experiencing is beyond your understanding and contrary to what you thought would be.

And as you thank Him, trust Him. He is faithful. Trust that He sees you, sees your heart, and sees your sacrifice of thanksgiving.  And what God sees in secret, He will reward in the open–if not in this age, then definitely in the one to come.

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
    to one who orders his way rightly
    I will show the salvation of God!
(Psalm 50:23)

Free Indeed

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Romans 8:33‭-‬34 ESV

Raise your hand if you’re perfect.

Did you raise it? Probably not. After all, if we are honest with ourselves, we all know none of us is perfect.

Nevertheless, even though we may know deep down we’re not perfect, if we’re not vigilant, we can fall into the trap of trying to be perfect, trying to present perfect, or inwardly expecting perfect.  When we try to be perfect, we praise or condemn ourselves based on whether we fail or succeed at meeting our expectations. When we present perfect, we judge ourselves based on how we feel others perceive us. When we expect perfect, we judge others based on how they measure up to our often unrealistic and unfair expectations.

Yet we read in the above verse and throughout the Bible there is only one who has the right to judge; there is only one who can justify. And that’s God. God alone. No one on earth can declare us righteous, no one on earth can declare us unrighteous, and no one on earth has the power to alter our eternal destiny. No one. Not our friends. Not our enemies. Not even ourselves. That’s right, none of our personal opinions and judgments determine whether a person goes to heaven or hell. Our greatest enemy on earth does not have the power to condemn us, and our greatest ally cannot declare us free.

It’s what we do with Jesus that determines our eternal destiny.

Nevertheless, day after day we tend to go through life judging or being judged. We condemn or affirm others and ourselves based on things said, things done, and even things not said or done. How could that person say that? How could that person do that? How could that person let that happen? A Christian certainly wouldn’t behave that way.

Through our limited perspective, we associate people’s choices with their eternal destiny. We look at what they do and say and assume we know where they will go because of what we see. And although the Bible gives clear guidelines on how we should live our lives and reminds us Christians will be known by their fruit, the Bible also reminds us our sight is limited and we have no right nor power to judge. In fact, God’s Word continually commands us to not judge.

The only One with the right to judge us righteous or unrighteous is God. This means that even if we feel judged by the world, the judgment of man means nothing compared with what God says. Or even if we are enjoying the accolades of man, the praises of man mean nothing in eternity. Man’s judgment–good or bad–is faulty and temporal; God’s judgment is just and for eternity.

As we read above, the only One with the right to judge us–the only One with the right to condemn us for our unholy ways–chose to justify us instead. Wow. Think about that for a moment. The only One who had every right to condemn us, chose not to. Instead, He sent His own Son Jesus–the One who knew no sin–to take on sin for us. He loved us so much He sent Jesus to pay a debt we could never pay ourselves. And by doing so, He set us free.

God set us free. God. Not us. Not anyone else. Our good works didn’t set us free. Our good thoughts didn’t set us free. Our popularity, our possessions, or our place in society didn’t set us free. Jesus did. Jesus set us free. The reason we can’t judge or be judged by man is because our freedom from the penalty of sin isn’t dependent on man. Nothing we nor anyone else could say or do could ever satisfy the standard of holiness necessary to fellowship with a holy God. Even the greatest lawyer on earth could never present a case good enough to set us free from or condemn us for the penalty for our sins. No mere mortal is powerful enough to do or to undo what God has done or will do.

None. No one. Not a single one.

None of us could ever earn salvation. No matter how hard we try. It cannot be earned in our own strength because it cannot be achieved in our own strength. Salvation isn’t like earning good grades, trying out for a team, or working our way up the business ladder. It’s nothing like anything we may strive to attain during our lifetime. Because salvation is a gift—a gift bought for us by God, paid for by God, and only given by God. Yet it is given to whoever asks. And once received, it cannot be taken away.

Therefore, let me encourage you in a couple of ways today. First, if you know Jesus as Lord and Savior, then you are free. You are free from the law of sin and death. You are free from condemnation. You are free from the eternal penalty for your sins. He has taken you by the hand as he did the woman caught in adultery and said, “I forgive you; now go, and sin no more. Walk out the freedom I purchased for you.”

No, accepting the gift of salvation doesn’t make you perfect. You and those around you will mess up—and you’ll probably mess up quite a bit. Yet you are free from condemnation, for you have been justified. Not because you deserved or earned it. You are justified and free because the only One with the right to judge you chose to justify you. Even more, as a follower of Christ, the freedom you possess is a freedom no one can take away from you. So if others (including you) are judging your life, fear not. None of their judgments affect your freedom. No one can take away what God has already bought for you.

Second, treat others with the same grace you’ve been given. Though your eyes and ears may see and hear things contrary to what you deem righteous, remember that there is none righteous; we have all sinned. We have all gone astray. None of us is without sin. So instead of throwing stones and condemning those around you as though your approval or disapproval determines their destiny, drop the stones and choose life. Encourage them. Pray for them. Pray with them. Show them the truth in love. Yes, you read that correctly. You can point out sin without being judgmental, for I am in no way implying you should keep silent when sin is prevalent. It is Biblical to point out error when it’s contrary to God’s Word. Paul reminds us in Romans we are not to use our freedom as an excuse for doing evil. But the key to showing truth in love is the motivation behind it. Judgment points out sin as a means to destroy; love points out sin as a means to restore. Judgment says, “I can’t believe you did that”; love says, “Let me help you get back up.”

Remember this: only God knows the heart of man, so only God can judge it. Your job today isn’t to justify or to condemn; your job is to walk out your own salvation as you encourage others to walk out theirs. So walk in freedom. Encourage freedom. And celebrate freedom. For he whom the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36).

 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans‬ ‭8:38-39‬ ‭ESV‬‬



Praise ‘Cause I Want To

It’s my birthday and I’ll praise ’cause I want to,
Praise ’cause I want to, praise ’cause I want to!
You should praise, too
Because God created you you!

Have you ever heard the song “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore? The above is a twist on the chorus of the song. I made up and started singing this altered chorus to myself this morning, and it made me smile. Which is perfect, because today is indeed my birthday. And I want to praise today. I want to take this day to thank God for me. No, I’m not being prideful; I’m being grateful. God created me in an amazingly unique way. As Tigger would always proclaim about himself, I too can say , “The wonderful thing about Katie, is I’m the only one!” (ooh-ooh-ooh!)

I’m the only me in this world. And God loves me. He loves everything about me. For He created me! He formed me while I was in my mother’s womb, and He knew me completely before the foundation of the world. Yes, before God ever said, “Let there be light,” He had already secured my spot in this world.

That. Is. Awesome.

God doesn’t make mistakes. I’m here for a purpose; His purpose. I’m here to glorify Him in every way every day. Do I always do so? No, but He’s created me to do so. He’s placed me where I am at this moment for such a time as this. Everything about me has purpose. Yes, every character trait He has given me, even those quirky ones, He has a use for in this world. He uses all of it.  Yes, all. of. it.

So what is my job as His one of a kind creation? To seek Him. To serve Him. To allow Him to lead me through every moment of every day. And when I fall? (For we all stumble in many ways.) When I fall, I must not stay there. I must ask His forgiveness for falling short of His will, thank Him for sending Jesus to cover my sins, get back up, and keep moving forward.

So it’s my birthday today. And I choose praise. I choose life. I choose love. I choose to live this life, not as one who seeks the approval of man, but rather one who kneels before her Maker, the Lord of all, and humbly cries out, “Here I am, send me.” I choose to present my body a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, as worship. I choose Him knowing He chose me.

He chose you, too, you know. He chose you before the foundation of the world just like He chose me.  He created you uniquely beautiful.  He formed you and fashioned you with a plan to use you for His good pleasure. He loves you.  So join me in praising God today.  Join me in thanking Him for giving each of us life–life on this earth and eternal life in heaven.  No, life on this earth will never be a piece of cake (birthday pun fully intentional), but our hearts can be at peace when we walk this life knowing He who created us has plans for us far greater and far more impactful than we could every hope or imagine.

God loves you, my friend. Just like He loves me.  And you are not a mistake.  You are a treasure.  You are a gift.  You are needed in this world.  And God loves you so very much.  So even if it isn’t your birthday, and no matter the circumstances surrounding you right now, take a moment and praise.  Praise God for creating you you.  Praise God for giving you life.  Praise God.  And smile.  Because the wondeful thing about you, is you’re the only one!


“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).


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.