Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I am a personal, Spirit-empowered witness of Christ's (Acts 1:8)

The senior pastor of my church has the true heart of a soul-winner, which is really refreshing.  A couple weeks ago at church he taught all of us to make a gospel bracelet (with different colored beads that provide prompts for sharing the gospel) during his sermon!  It was fun.  The idea was that each person attending the worship service would get a bracelet to wear, then, during the sermon, he or she would put together one bracelet for the church's mission to Peru and one to use here at home in sharing our faith.  I think the church attendees made around 500 bracelets for Peru!

I was excited to use the bracelet and so I wore it with a short-sleeved shirt on while flying out to California for one of our CFM University Practicums. 

Eagerly awaiting who would sit next to me on the plane, I saw a young lady...probably in her 20s or 30s...ambling down the aisle.  She had a funky hat and bright-colored scarf on, and she was carrying a tote bag that had a whole bunch of tiny skull-and-crossbones designs on it.  I said to myself, "She has got to be the one!"

She was.

She hoisted her bag into the overhead compartment and plunked down in the middle seat (I was by the window).  I noticed she was carrying two or three books, one of which looked like a Bible.

It was.  The other book was Crazy Love by Francis Chan. 

Almost immediately she commented on my bracelet, saying how pretty it was.

"It's a bracelet that helps me explain to people how they can know Jesus as their Savior," I replied.

She nodded and asked me what the different colored beads meant.  I was able to clearly explain to her the way of salvation by using the bracelet...just what our pastor had meant for us to do.  I was excited!

"It's really amazing that I am sitting next to you," she remarked.

"Oh really?  What makes that so amazing?" I responded, knowing the Lord was continuing to open the door to be a witness to her.

"Well, I have really struggled for a while with forgiving myself..."

Amazing it was.  As we flew west toward California, I was able to explain to her all about God's forgiveness and why, through His forgiveness of us we had the right and responsibility to let ourselves off the hook, too.  It turns out she was a follower of Christ but was stuck in this place of unbelief and unforgiveness.  I suggested she get Victory Over the Darkness and The Bondage Breaker and she said she would. 

I also explained to her that her sitting next to me was no coincidence.  My original flight from Asheville to Atlanta had been delayed, so I was put on another flight in order to catch my connection to Salt Lake City.  But the flight that I ended up on was delayed, too, so I missed my connection anyway.  They told me that I would have about a 9-10 hour layover at the airport in Atlanta and then would fly direct to San Diego.  I decided to go up to a Delta information desk and the lady was able to put me on an earlier flight to San Diego, with only a five-hour layover in Atlanta. She told me there were two seats I could choose from on that Atlanta-San Diego flight.  One was a middle seat and the other was by the window.  Guess which one I took?

Talk about a divine appointment!  And this is just one of a number of these kind of "chance" meetings that I have had on the plane and in a restaurant over the past couple of weeks.

What a privilege it is to be led by the Spirit to those who need to know Christ as Savior, Lord and Life!  Jesus said, just before His ascension, "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."

I am convinced that people around us are far more eager to hear the good news than we are to tell it.  Let's allow God's Spirit to empower us that we might become His bold, enthusiastic witnesses of the grace of God in Christ.  Jesus promised to empower us and we never know what exciting things He will do when we just open our mouths to speak.  Personally, I can't wait until heaven when we'll get to hear all the amazing stories of what God did when His people took the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit!  Let's fulfill our calling as personal, Spirit-empowered witnesses of Christ!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

I have been chosen and appointed by God to bear fruit (John 15:16)

I was in the middle of a two-week Practicum for my graduate degree in Christian counseling when the Lord decided to powerfully intervene in my life.

The presenter was encouraging us to ask the Lord to show us our "old name."  He was referring to any label that had been slapped onto our soul...maybe early in life...that had continued to dog our steps and keep us back from experiencing the full realization of our new identity in Christ.

I thought about people whom I had counseled and how they had been labeled as "ugly" or "stupid" or "can't do anything right" or "wish you had never been born" or...  Though I was very aware of the rejection that I had suffered as an adolescent, I wasn't sure what my "old name" might be.  So I prayed about it.

Several days later, it came to me.  My "old name" was outcast.  Boy, that really hit the nail on the head.  That's exactly how I felt for years.  I felt like nobody liked me; that I didn't belong; that people didn't want me around.  And so I retreated into my own world.  It felt safe there, I guess, but it wasn't fun.  And, at the core, I was pretty lonely.  Sadly, though I had some casual friends, my closest friend was my dog.  If I wanted anyone to hang out with, I had to call them up.  Rarely, if ever, did anyone choose to spend time with me unless I asked them.

After figuring out our "old name", the presenter then encouraged us to ask the Lord for our "new name."  He wasn't telling us to try and get a sneak peek at our new name written on the white stone in the book of Revelation.  He was suggesting we ask the Lord for a revelation of our new identity in Christ. 

What might my "new name" be?  The thought really intrigued me.

After some time, the Lord crystallized my thinking and told me my "new name" was chosen friend.

Today's Scripture in context (the words of Jesus) provide the biblical basis for that new name:

"No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you."  (John 15:15,16 ESV)

There it is!  Chosen friend.  All of God's children...including you...are God's chosen friends!  But it was particularly meaningful for me to hear that since I had been (and seen myself) as an outcast for so long.  The Lord even gave me a partial paraphrase of John 15:16, in light of how I always had to be the one to call people up to spend time with them or I would be alone.  God said:

Rich, you did not call me up but I called you up!

Wow!  Thank You, Lord!  You took the initiative with me to be my friend.  You didn't have to choose me, but You did! 

And what was God's purpose in choosing you and me?  So that we would bear fruit...kingdom results... through answered prayer.  What a privilege! 

God took an outcast and called him His chosen friend so that my life could count for His kingdom...to see people rescued from the domain of darkness, brought into the kingdom of Jesus, and set free to walk in fruitful newness of life!

And that's what He has done for you as well...in Christ!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I am a branch of the true vine, Jesus, a channel of His life. (John 15:1-5)

I painfully remember the day in college when the Lord first began to bring the wonderful truth of Jesus being the Vine and I being a branch home to my heart.  I was a senior at Penn State University.  I called it "State Penn" in those days and was later paroled after four years with a degree in meteorology.

I was an "on-fire" Christian by my senior year, having first placed my trust in Jesus as Savior in the fall of 1972, my freshman year.  Subsequent to that decision, I came face to face with my need to repent of running my own life, and by God's grace, I came to surrender to Him as Lord in the summer after my sophomore year.  That was a powerful work of God, but that's another story for another day.

By the time my senior year rolled around, I was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ; had been trained in how to share my faith; and was on a roll, zealously and relentlessly moving through my entire dorm floor (72 students), bound and determined to share Christ with everyone on that floor before I graduated.  It got to the point where I would walk down the hall, people would see me coming and they'd run in their rooms and lock their doors.  Undaunted, I would find another time to catch them off guard and share the gospel with them before they had the chance to escape!  I didn't take the time to get to know most of the guys...I didn't think I had the time.  I was just eager to check another person off my list and get the goal accomplished.

Somewhere along the line, the initially godly desire to evangelize my entire dorm floor evolved into the subtly ungodly goal of simply reaching my objective.  It became much more about me and what I wanted as opposed to God and what He wanted.

One day I was listening to a set of tapes on John 15 by the late Ron Dunn, and the Lord convicted my heart.  I realized that I had trusted Christ as Savior, was trying to submit to Him as Lord, but I had not come to see Christ as my Life. 

I believe that is a journey that all of us in Christ must walk...coming to know Christ not just as Savior; not even just as Savior and Lord; but as Savior, Lord and Life.

Some, by the amazing grace of God, come quite rapidly to all three.  Others spend decades in Christ before they move beyond the basic place of salvation and progress to surrendering to Christ as Lord.  Many...perhaps most...never come to embrace Him as Life.

Shortly before His death, our Lord wanted His disciples to make sure they knew where life came from.  He wanted them to know that the Christian life isn't "trying to imitate Jesus".  Good luck!  Give it a try for a while, if you think that is possible to do in your own strength.  You'll soon grind to a halt in frustration, guilt and weariness.  It is a futile endeavor, because the only One who has ever lived the Christ-life is Christ Himself!

What does the branch need to do in order to receive the strength and nourishment it requires to be vibrant, filled with fruit?  It needs to abide, to remain, to stay connected and yielded to the vine.  It is a place of trusting, not trying; resting not striving. 

At that moment listening to those teaching tapes, broken and reproved for my fleshly attempts at obeying God's commands, I chose to take my place as a branch trusting in Jesus, the Vine, as my Life.  I made the conscious decision to allow His love, His wisdom, His power, His direction, His Life to flow in and through me, becoming a channel of His life rather than simply an outflow of my own fleshly humanity.  It was a decision that completely altered the course of my ministry.

And it can alter the course of yours as well.

If what I have been writing is going over your head or maybe you're trying to wrap your mind and heart around it and it just isn't clicking, I encourage you to take the words of Jesus in John 15 and pray about them.  Think about them, asking the Holy Spirit to make real what our Lord was teaching:

"Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing."  (John 15:4,5)

Sadly, it is very possible to go through life thinking that we are doing what God wants and even seeing "results" but not bearing any fruit to God's glory at all.  Jesus meant it when He said that apart from Him we can do nothing.  He didn't mean that you can't get up in the morning, brush your teeth, get dressed, go to work or school, do your work, come home, have dinner, spend time with the family, watch TV and go to bed without Him.  People do that all the time.

What Jesus meant is that apart from Him you can do nothing that constitutes fruit that remains to the glory of God.  Apart from the strength, power, motivation and love of Christ, it will just be wood, hay and stubble to be burned up at the final judgment (see 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).  But the works that we do while abiding in Christ are gold, silver and precious stones that will be eternal.

I don't know about you, but I don't want to see much or even most of my life go up in smoke when my works are judged by the King.  How about you?

Won't you make the choice today to abide in Christ, allowing to be your all, your very life?

By the way, you may be wondering if I ever accomplished my goal.  Nope.  The Lord wouldn't allow it.  I reached 71 out of 72.  But I know He orchestrated another way...a better way than my fleshly efforts...to reach that final one!

No, I didn't reach my goal, but I was able to reach God's goal...to learn that I am a branch of the true vine, Jesus, a channel of His life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I am the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13,14) Part 2

In part two of this study, we return to Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount about how His followers were to live in this world.  He said in Matthew 5:14-16:

You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

In Scripture, we read that Jesus declared Himself to be the light of the world at least twice.  Interestingly, in John 9:5 He said, "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."  The implication of that statement is that when He was no longer in the world, someone else would take over as the light of the world.  And we see from Matthew 5:14-16 that the "someone" is us!

Jesus actually uses two metaphors to illustrate the truth that His followers were to be the light of the world.  The first was a city on a hill.  The second was a lamp in a house.  

I can remember times when I was driving in the desert Southwest late at night where the road was pitch black, the terrain on either side of the road was pitch black and the sky was pitch black.  Mile after mile after mile of lonely travel through lonely country, trying to make it to a town with a motel where I could finally stop and get some rest.  With eyes drowsy, I would finally see a slight brightening on the horizon and the mileage sign would tell me that my destination was getting closer.  As I would near the city, the sky grew brighter, there would be more lighted billboards and other telltale signs of civilization until finally I could make out the street lights and building lights of the town.  What a relief!

Isn't that what we are to be in a dark, lonely world?

God wants us to be a welcome sight, a place of rest, a beacon of good news in a fallen world to lost people, weary from the lonely journey in a desert land without hope...like a city on a hill that can't be hidden because it is shining so brightly in the darkness.

We are also to be like a lamp in a house.  I don't know about you, but I love lamps.  Forget fluorescent lights.  Give me a small lamp on a bookshelf or a brass lamp on a table with the warm glow reflecting on the wood.  Walking into a dark, cold room and turning on one of these lights changes my mood and the whole atmosphere of the room instantly.  It even feels warmer when there is light.  The uneasiness of coming into a dark area is replaced by the assurance that all is safe.  The anxiety of tripping over something or bumping into furniture dissolves into confidence and security.

Light is warm.  Light is welcoming.  Light brings safety.  Light exposes and dispels darkness.  Light shows the way to walk.  Light enables us to see others as they are.  Light is pure and clean.

Light, in fact, is one of the metaphors the Bible uses of God Himself.  1 John 1:5 says, "This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, in him there is no darkness at all."

And because we have been born again and smuggled out of the domain of darkness into God's kingdom (Colossians 1:13), we are "containers" of God, the Light, and are meant to radiate who He is to a dark world.  

Ephesians 5:8-11 says, "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them."

What a significant calling!  Now that Jesus has ascended to heaven, He has placed His mantle of being the light of the world on us!  And now we can let our light shine before men so that they will see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven.  When you allow God, who is Light, to fill you with His goodness, righteousness and truth, it will overflow in good deeds to people around you.  And you will so radiate the bright, warm, welcoming love of God that people will know that God the Father is real and that He cares.

So don't hide the light!  Tell people what a wonderful Father we have and demonstrate His love by meeting the needs of the needy around you and speaking truth into the darkness you encounter.  And you will shine like a city on a dark night or a lamp in a dark house.

The question is not, "Are you light?"  You are light in the Lord!  The question is, "Will you shine?"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I am the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13,14)

Today's Scriptural truths teach us a very important concept:  With God's blessings come expectations; with honor comes responsibility.  Let's take a look at what Jesus had to say about us in its context:

"You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.  You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16).

As you may recall, Matthew 5 is the beginning of our Lord's "Sermon on the Mount".  Prior to today's teaching, Jesus had declared (in Matthew 5:3-12) the character qualities of those in the kingdom of God and the blessings ("Blessed are ...") that result from those qualities...even though in this world, kingdom-livers are likely to be persecuted by men for those very same qualities God commends.

Jesus proceeds then to use two metaphors to describe what His people are to look like and how they are to act, including His expectations inherent with those descriptions...salt and light.  We will look at the first metaphor today and tackle the second next time.

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth.  Though you don't hear it much anymore, in bygone days people (especially men) that were looked upon as really good, giving, caring people were referred to as "the salt of the earth," as in, "Hey, there goes Jim, he's the salt of the earth!"  It was clearly a compliment.

Jesus's metaphor would have called a somewhat different, though related, picture to mind in the first century.  First of all, salt was a very valuable substance.  In fact, Roman soldiers at that time were paid in salt, called a salarium (Latin for salt).  That is actually where we get our English word "salary".  Pretty cool, huh?

So, when Jesus called us "the salt of the earth", He was saying we are very valuable!

Second, covenants or business contracts in the first century were sealed with an exchange of salt, signifying the binding nature of the agreement.  God makes covenants with us and salt beautifully symbolizes that God's covenants, including marriage covenants, are forever.  In a day (both then and now) where people find it very easy to break covenants, promises and contracts, salt reminds us that we are to be people of faithfulness and keep our word, like God does.

So, when Jesus called us "the salt of the earth", He was saying we are a picture, a reflection, of God's faithfulness to His covenants and promises.

Third, salt was used in the first century to preserve food (especially meat, like fish) from corruption, since there was no refrigeration.  Salted fish didn't rot.  And salted societies don't either.

So, when Jesus called us "the salt of the earth", He was saying that we have been placed in society as agents of moral and ethical purity that are to stem the tide of sinful corruption...in our families, places of employment, in our government...wherever we are.  We do that by how we live (and don't live!) and by what we say (and don't say!).

So, as you can see, when Jesus said that we are "the salt of the earth", He was saying a lot more than "he's a great guy".  He was saying that we are of high, high value to Him and to society and that we are to faithfully live as examples of God's faithfulness to His promises, stemming the tide of (or at least slowing down) the rotting of society due to sin!  

That is significant!  Our lives are clearly VERY significant in Christ.

Jesus, however, warned us that our identity as salt can go south pretty easily.  We can lose our saltiness.

How is that possible?  Salt by its very nature is...well...salty.  The only way salt can lose its saltiness is if it gets mixed with other stuff (as it did in the first century), like sand, dust,  and dirt.

Hopefully you get the picture.  When our lives become so infiltrated by the non-kingdom values and practices of the culture around us, we lose our saltiness.  We cease being a good representative of God and His kingdom faithfulness.  We cease being effective in stemming the tide of corruption around us.  We lose our value to God as an agent of preservation in society.

In the first century, such diluted, polluted salt was just chucked into the streets,where people walked all over it.  And isn't it true that un-salty Christians are ultimately devalued, disrespected and disregarded by the people around them, being viewed as hypocrites?

Brother or sister in Christ, you most certainly did not learn Christ that way!  If the Holy Spirit is showing you today that you have allowed the things of this life to dull your saltiness, there is still time to change.  Repentance...a change of your mind leading to a change in your life ...leads to restoration...a return to usefulness in the kingdom of God.   

So, if you are in Christ, the question today is not "Are you salt?"  You are!

The question is, "Are you salty?"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18)

When our kids were little, I used a coin to demonstrate a crucial biblical truth, praying that the visual and tactile illustration would help plant the truth deep in their hearts.  I was teaching on John 10:27-30 (NASB) which records the words of Jesus:

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.  I and the Father are one."

First, I would take that coin and put it in the palm of my right hand and close my fingers tightly around it.  Then I would invite the kids to try and pry my fingers apart.  Of course, since they were only five or six years old, they couldn't do it, hard as they'd try.  Since they already had trusted Christ, I told them that they were in Christ and that no one, including the devil could take them out of Christ.

Then, I would wrap my other hand around the first, symbolizing the Father's hand around Jesus' hand and again their efforts to pry the coin loose would be futile.  "...no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand."

Finally, I would intertwine my fingers as a picture of Jesus and the Father being one.  A third time they would endeavor to pull my fingers apart and get at the coin, and a third time they would fail.

By that time they were a bit tired and a bit frustrated, but they got the picture.  We are safe and secure in the Lord.  Even the devil himself cannot take us out of Christ.

That is what today's Scripture also teaches, and it is interesting to note that it is by the same author, John.  He wrote in 1 John 5:18-20:

"We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who has been born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.  We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.  And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God and eternal life."

In John's letter, one of the essential marks of a true follower of Christ is that he doesn't sin as a lifestyle (that's what the first part of the verse above means; not that we never sin but that we don't practice it as a lifestyle).  Instead...John continued...Jesus, who has been born of God, keeps us and the evil one does not touch us.

What does that mean exactly?

Well, first of all, we know that it doesn't mean that the devil cannot touch us physically.  In Revelation 2:10 (also written by John), believers were warned that the devil was going to cast some of them into prison.  In the end times, many saints will even be martyred (put to death) for their refusal to worship the "image of the beast" (see Revelation 13:15), a human puppet of Satan.  So certainly the promise of Scripture that "the evil one does not touch him" cannot mean automatic protection from all physical attack and harm.

Secondly, we also know that the devil is the tempter, accuser and deceiver and that we need to put on the full armor of God in order to stand firm against the schemes (thoughts, mind games) of the devil (see Ephesians 6:10-17).  Every day we see sincere followers of Christ trapped in bondage, fighting a losing battle for their minds.  So certainly the promise of Scripture that "the evil one does not touch him" cannot mean automatic protection from all psychological attack or harm either.

So what does the Scripture mean when it says, "He who has been born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him"?  Basically, the Lord Jesus (He who has been born of God) keeps us from practicing a lifestyle of sin (because we are now in Christ and we no longer are under the power of the evil one like the world without Christ is) and the evil one (the devil) cannot touch us in the place of our new spiritual union with Christ.  In other words, he can't pry God's fingers open and yank you and me out of Christ and force us back into a lifestyle of sin!  We are "in Him who is true" and that is the place of complete spiritual safety...in Christ!

The apostle Paul was basically saying the same thing when he wrote (Romans 8:37-39 MSG):

"None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us.  I'm absolutely convinced that nothing -- nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable -- absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us."

You're safe and secure in Jesus.  Sleep well tonight, my brother or sister!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I can find grace and mercy to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

Boy do I need help.  And so do you!  If the truth be told, every moment in our lives is a time of need, because apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5).  The "secret" is coming to the realization that we need Jesus every minute of every day.  Ah, but that is another study for another day.

Today's Scripture in context reads:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  (Hebrews 4:14-16)

I don't know about you, but I am sure glad Jesus became human and took on flesh and blood just like us (Hebrews 2:14).  I realize that both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit know everything.  But there is just something comforting, I guess, in realizing that Jesus really knows because He lived as a human on a fallen planet among sinful men, just like we do.  Like us, Jesus was tempted.  Unlike us, Jesus never sinned.  Therefore, He always knows the path of victory over temptation, and we can discover it, too, at the throne of grace.

Recently my emotions have been all over the map:  anger; joy; satisfaction; exasperation; anxiety; triumph; aggravation; peacefulness; grief...you name it...I have been there.  Now, you may not have experienced all these emotions in as compact a time frame as I have, but over the course of your life you have experienced them all.

So did Jesus.  Jesus felt very strong emotions, but He never sinned.  He never let the emotions rule His spirit and thus rob Him of faith in the Father.  So Jesus can sympathize, because He has been there.

Our strong emotions are not necessarily sinful, but when we experience strong emotions (especially hard ones), we are perhaps most vulnerable TO sin.  We can easily cave into fear...or succumb to sinful desires...or wallow in self pity....or erupt in destructive anger...or...

Jesus indeed sympathizes with our infirmities (weaknesses) but He never sympathizes with our iniquities (sinful patterns from the faulty wiring in our souls).  True, "hurt people hurt people", but that is not the way it is meant to be.  Being hurt ourselves does not give us a license to hurt others.  Being sinned against does not grant us Divine permission to sin back.  Two "wrongs" never make a "right."  Two wrongs make two wrongs.

There is a place where we can go to avoid sin and defeat temptation.  It is the throne of grace.  We can go there confidently because Jesus, our great high priest, has already gone before us, bringing the necessary sacrifice on our behalf.  The sacrifice was Himself.

Run to the throne of grace today.  Pour out and pray out all that is on your plate and all that is on your heart.  Come with humility to receive grace, because God promises to give grace to the humble (James 4:6).  And you will find the help you need.

So don't waste a moment trying to figure out how to make life work by yourself, seeking to solve your problems on your own.  You were never meant to do that and you can't anyway.  But Jesus can.

The throne room door is open 24/7.  The Lord is there on the throne of grace, waiting and eager to show you the way out of temptation and into victory, to give you the grace and mercy you need in this time of need.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love and discipline (2 Timothy 1:7)

I have to admit, this Scripture is one of my all-time favorites in the Bible.  I have used it hundreds of times in teaching and probably quoted it a million times (slight exaggeration!) to the devil when he tried to stop me by fear and intimidation.  I'm sure Timothy found great strength through these words as well.

I know that Timothy, Paul's son in the faith, tends to get a lot of bad press from Christians about being timid and fearful, as if he was some sort of sniveling wimp.  But hey, let's give the guy some credit!  He pastored a church in Ephesus, which was like the spiritual warfare and pagan worship capital of the world (just check out Acts 19, if you don't believe me).  He stuck like glue to Paul and the apostle said of Timothy, "For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.  For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.  But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father" (Philippians 2:20-22).  And despite the horrors of the persecution under Nero, Timothy didn't bail.  He finished the course well.

I don't know about you, but I think I might have needed a little encouragement now and then if I had been in Timothy's sandals, ministering in such a hostile culture!  And so the apostle Paul, like the loving spiritual father he was, encouraged his son to continue ministering with the spiritual gifts he had been given with these strengthening words:

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity [or fear], but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline [or sound judgement or self control]."

Think about fear for a moment.  What does it do to you?  Well, first of all, fear robs us of power.  It makes us weak and we think ourselves helpless and are ready to run or we are paralyzed to do anything.  Fear also cuts off the flow of love.  Love is other-centered, but fear is self-centered.  Fearful people have no emotional energy to love; they are too consumed with survival and self-protection.  Finally, fear steals away our clear thinking (sound judgment) so that we are uncertain, anxious, confused or panicky.

But God hasn't given us that kind of spirit at all.  So when fear tries to take over, we know that it is not from God.  We can stand against that spirit of fear (and I do believe it is an actual spirit, because the Bible says it is!) and claim instead the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God the Father, and the sound mind of Christ to sustain us.  Yes!  I believe the entire Trinity...God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit... come fully to our rescue so that we can walk by faith and not by fear, even in the face of danger.

Have you been overwhelmed by fear?  Have you ceased to walk by faith and instead caved in to fear in some area(s) of life?  Feelings of fear are not sinful, but when we give in to that fear and no longer walk by faith, we commit sin, because whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

So, to begin your journey out of fear into faith, first confess and repent of giving in to fear.  Second, ask God to fill you with His Spirit of power, love and a sound mind.  Third, when fear-feelings strike, stand against them in the name of Jesus proclaiming something like, "I refuse this fear, for God has not given me a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and a sound mind!"  And fourth, continue to walk by faith knowing God...God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit... is with you.

Then you will be able to joyfully shout like King David, "I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:4).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I am hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

As you may recall, we are taking a blog-journey along a pathway that is leading us into a deeper understanding of our new identity in Christ and with it, increased freedom.  The first leg of our journey took us into truths about our acceptance in Christ.  We are now more than halfway through the portion of our trip that is grounding us in our security in Christ.  And soon we will embark on our travels to grasp our significance in Christ.

Each Scripture provides another stepping stone in this journey of moving us closer to the heart of God for us in Christ Jesus.  If you have just recently joined us on this journey, welcome!  I encourage you to go back down the path and catch up with past blogs.  Don't worry; we'll wait up for you!

In our last blog, we investigated the truth that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).  We talked about heaven being our destiny and that it is normal and healthy to be homesick for heaven!

Today's Scripture, however, adds to our understanding of our true homeland and we see that heaven is not only our destiny but our current reality!

Now, I know what you're thinking.  "Rich has finally gone off the deep end.  He's now so heavenly minded that he's lost his earthly mind!"  Well, that would actually not be so bad a thing, as you'll see in a moment, but let's first look at today's Bible verse in context.  And may the Holy Spirit illumine our hearts so that we can understand how today's truth applies to us as I sit here at my computer writing this week's blog and you sit at yours watching it...with my feet and yours firmly planted on earth!

"Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him."  (Colossians 3:1-4)

Now, there's a lot of really important stuff tucked in there, but let me try and sum it up.  Looking at Romans 6:1-11 will help.  Those verses tell us that when Jesus died on the cross, the old sin-loving you and me died there with Him.  And when He was buried, that old self was buried with Him.  And when He rose from the dead, we rose with Him into newness of life in Christ.  Well, in case you hadn't noticed, Jesus isn't living (in bodily form) on planet earth anymore.  He is in heaven and since we are part of His body...Jesus being the Head of the body...when Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, we went with Him!

So not only is our future destiny in heaven, but according to Scripture, our current reality is in heaven...in Christ!  God has us sheltered from all the junk the world, our own flesh and the devil himself can fling at us while we are temporarily residing on this planet.  Who we are, our spirits/souls are so safe...hidden with Christ in God...that nothing can ever separate us from God's love.  Nothing can ever take us away from Christ.  Nothing can ever yank us out of Christ.  We are alive and safe in God's arms in Christ.

Do I fully understand this great truth?  Absolutely not.  Do I believe it is true?  Absolutely!  Do I always live in accordance with it?  I wish!

You see, if we truly saw ourselves as present and not just future residents in heaven, it would dramatically affect the way we live, because Christ Himself is our life.  We would think more about the things of God.  We would set our hearts and our affections on the things of God.  We would live more like God.  Let's read on in Colossians 3:5-10 (and you can also get the same idea in summary form by also reading Romans 6:11-14):

"So put to death whatever in your nature belongs to the earth: sexual immorality, impurity, shameful passion, evil desire, and greed which is idolatry.  Because of these things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience.  You too lived your lives in this way at one time, when you used to live among them.  But now, put off all such things as anger, rage, malice, slander, abusive language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with its practices and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it."

You and I are new people...heaven-people!  The old earth-man is dead; the new heaven-man is alive, safe and secure with God in Christ.  Let's keep that old man and its ways buried and let's see the new man radiate with the life and goodness and holiness of God while we walk out the rest of our days here on earth.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)

Every once in a while people will ask me what my ethnic heritage is.  I'm sure you have laid awake at night wishing you knew...!  Well, toss and turn no more.  I am, according to the flesh, half German and the other half some mixture of English, Scotch and Irish...heavy on the Scotch (the drink, that is).  All that European lineage has, over a number of generations, swirled together to form what everyone around the world would recognize me to be...an American, or as they enjoyed calling me in Georgia, a Yankee (which is a somewhat suspect breed of American who happens to hail from "up Nawth")!

There's no question about that.  I look like an American, talk like an American, dress like an American, eat like an American, and so on...at least on the surface, at first glance.  But underneath there lies something fuller, deeper, richer, more meaningful, more permanent...a citizenship that outshines even the most ardent patriotism.  Paul wrote about it in Philippians 3:17-21 (NIV):

"Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."

Kind of strange, isn't it?  To be a citizen of a place where you have never lived!  Our daughter, Michelle, was like that for a little while.  She was born in the Philippines but was immediately, upon birth, legally a citizen of the United States of America.  Why is that?  Because her parents were (and are) U.S. citizens.

Every one of God's children is, upon spiritual birth, legally a citizen of heaven.  Why is that?  Because that's where our Father is from!  Isn't that cool?

Sadly, there are many who live with this world as their home.  And, apart from Christ, this is as good as it gets.  Now that's a scary thought!  They are enemies of the cross; we embrace it as the only means of forgiveness.  Their destiny is destruction; ours is eternal life.  Their god is their stomach, their belly, their appetite; our God is the Living Lord of the universe!  Their glory (what they boast about) is their shame (what they should be ashamed of); our glory is the Glorious One!  Their minds are on earthly things; our minds are set on the things of our homeland, heaven...or at least they should be.

Here's a radical thought:  Instead of turning on the tube tonight and absorbing the usual mind-numbing fare, why not spend some time with your Father, "eagerly await[ing] a Savior from [heaven], the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."

For the citizen of heaven, we have a choice:  We can either be earthsick or heavensick.  Earth sickness is a disease of the soul that makes you long for more of what the earth has to offer...stuff that won't last, doesn't give life and can't satisfy.  Heaven sickness is a longing for heaven and is not a disease at all; it is homesickness for the One for whom we were created, and is a "symptom" of supreme health of the soul.

We are in this world but not of it, just like Jesus was in this world but not of it (John 17:14-18).  Some might say, "He's so heavenly minded, he's no earthly good!"  I say, "It is only when you are heavenly minded that you are any earthly good!"

Friday, August 26, 2011

I am confident that the good work God has begun in me will be perfected (Philippians 1:6)

As I look back at my life, there are places where I can feel twinges of regret over things I started but never finished.  When I was about 10 years old I thought the theme song of "The Beverly Hillbillies" TV show was really cool and so I decided to learn how to play it.  My parents were all for my learning a musical instrument (my brother had started learning guitar), so they eagerly signed me up for banjo lessons and rented a used banjo for me to practice on.  After four half-hour lessons, I quit.  My fingertips were inflamed and sore and I still hadn't a clue how to play "The Beverly Hillbillies" theme song.  Imagine that!

My baseball career lasted longer.  In Little League I was a decent pitcher (I even pitched a no-hitter once, though I think I walked eight batters!).  I made an All-Star team though we were never good enough to make it to Williamsport and the Little League World Series.  One year I had progressed so well in my pitching that I was moved up to a higher level of play than most of my peers.  I got scared because most of the kids were older and bigger and stronger than I was.  I actually started developing chest pains due to the stress.  After a few weeks, I quit baseball.  Even though I got back into it a few years later, I had lost some valuable years of experience and so eventually dropped it altogether.

I used to paint.  I don't paint anymore.  "I'm too busy," I tell myself, and maybe I am...too busy.  There is this really cool painting I started probably 30 years ago of a grist mill by a stream with all these trees and sunlight shining through the leaves.  I never finished it.  I don't even know if that unfinished painting is around anymore.  I've lost track of where it is.

Probably all of us have those areas where we say, "I wish..."  I wish I had stuck with piano...  I wish I had kept on going and got that black belt...  I wish I had finished that nursing degree...  I wish I had worked harder on my first marriage...  And so on.

Even more painful, we may recall people that hung with us for a while but then dumped us.  People we thought were our best friends who suddenly stopped calling or didn't want to hang out with us anymore because...well...they found somebody else they thought was more cool.  Teachers who seemed to like us at first but who then later discovered another student-phenom onto whom they directed their efforts.  Coaches who paid attention to us and called on us in important parts of the game until an injury sidelined us or somebody else got hot.  Maybe even parents who lost respect for us and favored another sibling...letting us know in no uncertain terms that they wished we were more like our brother or sister.  The litany of disapproval, disinterest, disrespect and even disgust from those who we once thought were on our side goes on and on.

Is God like that?  Does He play favorites?  Does He hang with us for a while but when we are slow to "get it" does He move on to other, "better" Christians?  Does God ever get disgusted, throw in the towel, give up on us and bench us?

Of course, we would like to hope He doesn't do that kind of thing, but today's Scripture assures us that He won't.  Here are two renderings of Philippians 1:6:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.  (NASB)

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you will keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. (The Message)

Wow!  What a relief!  No matter how slow we are to learn, no matter how many times we blow it, God doesn't give up on us.  Never.  He keeps on keeping on with the good work of making Jesus shine through our lives more and more and more.

Even when we get scared and quit for a while, He doesn't.  He keeps on working on us and in us behind the scenes.  Later in that same book of Philippians, Paul wrote:  "for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).

Have you been wondering lately if God is doing anything in your life?  Have you had this gnawing suspicion that He may be a bit weary of your wanderings or frustrated with your failures and that He might be close to saying, "I've had it with you!"?  Are you worried that He might just trade you for a fourth round draft pick and a player to be named later?

No worries, mate!  You are not a partially finished painting that God has lost interest in or forgotten its whereabouts.  You are His precious child and He is eternally committed to making you like His precious Son until the day of His return.  Paul was confident of that truth and so am I.  I hope you are, too!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I have been established, anointed and sealed by God (2 Corinthians 1:21,22)

I love how the NIV renders 2 Corinthians 1:21,22:  "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.  He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."

Did you catch that?  It is easy to read something REALLY profound but not stop long enough to drink in its significance.  Let's look at the first sentence of that passage again...

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.

Who is it that makes you and me stand firm in Christ?

Is it you?  Is it me?  Is it our good behavior?  Is it our staying away from sin?  Is it our hard work of reading the Bible, praying, fasting, hoping, pleading...?  No, no, a thousand times, NO!

It is God.  Period.  God is the one who put us in Christ, and it is God who keeps us in Christ.  That reminds me of 1 Corinthians 1:30 (NASB):  "But by His [God's] doing you are in Christ Jesus..."  

It is God's grace that puts us and keeps us in Christ, not our efforts.  It is God's power that puts us and keeps us in Christ, not our hard work.  It is God's faithfulness that puts us and keeps us in Christ, not our faithfulness.

So if it is not our good works that keep us in, then our bad works will not take us out.  We are in Christ because God has done it and God will keep doing it until we are safely brought to Him in heaven (see 1 Peter 1:3-5).

So where is fear?  Gone!  Where is anxiety?  Bye bye!  Where is uncertainty and doubt?  See ya'!  Where is drivenness to perform to keep God's favor?  Outta here!

Now, just in case you and I might be tempted to take God's grace for granted and party hearty here on earth (though Romans 6 makes it clear that a true understanding of grace would NEVER bring that result!), God has also anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us and given us the Holy Spirit as a down payment of what is to come.

God's anointing sets us apart from the darkness of sin into the kingdom of light and teaches us what is right and wrong (see 1 John 2:20,27).  His seal of ownership...which is currently invisible but will one day be visible (see Revelation 7:3; 9:4)...basically tells those who would harm us, "Hands off!  This one belongs to Me and the enemy cannot touch him!"  And to seal the deal, so to speak, God has given us His Holy Spirit as a down payment of what is to come!

A down payment!  The presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit is the DOWN PAYMENT!!??!!  If God Himself is the down payment, what could the rest of the gift possibly be?  It blows your mind!

What an incredibly giving, generous, abundantly lavishing God we have!  He has taken care of everything.  He saved us and placed us in Christ.  He anointed us, and protects us with His seal that tells the entire universe of evil..."Don't you dare touch the Lord's anointed!" And as if that weren't enough, He seals the whole deal by placing His very presence in our hearts as we await the final consummation of the ages when God bestows our full inheritance as sons on us in heaven!

And yet some believers still want to mess around with sin and the cheap, counterfeit stuff the world has to offer?  Come on!  Let yourself be swept up in the grandeur and the wonder of Christ and who you are in Him!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I cannot be separated from the love of God. (Romans 8:35-39)

As I write this blog, I am sitting in my parents' sun room, with the sunshine thawing the chill out of the air on a tranquil late summer morning.  Right now there are no major hardships threatening my peace of mind, though I know that could change at any time.  Yeah, finances are really stretched right now (so what else is new?), but otherwise things are okay.  It's easy to feel a bit guilty at times like these, because, as an elder in our church, I am aware of some really deep needs in our congregation.

There's a dear lady with maybe only days to live, because of a liver saturated with cancer.  And a man who is struggling to keep his failing eyesight even as he wrestles with God  over nearly three years of unemployment.  Add to that a church leader agonizing over his grown daughter as she succumbs to alcoholism and all the poor choices that go with it.  And another leader who hasn't had a decent night's sleep in years and who is desperately scrambling to keep from being sucked down the black hole of depression.  And there is much more...

Chances are that today either you are at the end of your rope with your sweaty hands starting to slip, or you know someone else who is right there right now.

What does God have to say at times like these?  "Don't worry; be happy"?  Hardly.  Today's Scripture looks suffering straight in the eye and provides solid encouragement when life decides to play hardball with us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."   (Romans 8:35-39)

There you have it.  No promises of an easy life, are there?  That wouldn't have cut it in first century Rome when torched Christians were being used as street lights by Nero.  Nor will it cut it today or in the future when things will really get hot for followers of Jesus.

True, God sometimes does intervene to spare us from life's greatest pains.  Praise God when He does!  Cancer is healed.  Blind eyes see. Jobs are provided.  Prodigals come home.  Joy and rest are restored.  But He doesn't always work that way...not always.  So we seek the Lord and pray and wait and hope for God to come through miraculously.

But what if He doesn't?  What if His plans are not to take us out of suffering, but to take us through it?  What is the anchor for our souls when hellish hurricanes threaten to shred our lives?

Here it is:  God and His love will never bail on us.  Never.  The worst that the world and the devil can throw at us do not...not even for an instant...endanger our secure standing in the love of God in Christ.  In fact, through His love, today's passage reveals, we are more than conquerors!  Even when we as the sheep of God's pasture are captured, skewered and roasted alive, we are more than conquerors.

How can that be?  Because...in the end...we win.  God's love remains with us, sustains us, comforts us, strengthens us, emboldens us, and safely carries us into eternity with Christ...with our spirits and souls unscathed, and with new bodies to boot!

But those who hate Christ...both His invisible and visible enemies...the ones who seek to destroy us...they lose big time.  And one day you will get to see it.  God's love will make sure of that.

So, for today, no matter what you are going through, let God's love fill up all the wounded and worried places.  He lives in you and so He can do that and He wants to do that...time and time and time again.  Nothing...absolutely nothing...can ever cut you off from the flow of God's deep love in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And that is enough.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I am free from any condemning charges against me. (Romans 8:31-34)

Do you ever notice how, when we are waiting for news from someone or are awaiting a response to a text or email we have sent or a phone call we have made...and that response is delayed...that our minds tend to create worse case scenarios?  I do that all the time.  Our kids are out late at night and Shirley and I get no response to a text inquiring as to their whereabouts, so "worst-case-scenario-itis" kicks in big time.  I don't imagine that our kids are busy leading a whole group of friends to Christ.  No way.  I am imagining some gruesome car wreck and already trying to figure out how I can live life without them when the return text finally arrives:  "Still at the party.  Will be home soon."  What a relief!  And how foolish we feel...again...to have allowed our minds to be taken for a ride.

So how are we supposed to navigate the rough waters between when our kids leave to when they return?  We have to look back at their track record of faithfulness and trustworthiness (and if there isn't much of a track record, we probably DO have cause for uneasiness!) and ultimately have to entrust them to the Lord's care.  "Don't worry; pray instead!" is great...and biblical...advice (see Philippians 4:6,7).

Maybe you don't have kids or grandkids that worry you at the moment, but all of us are right smack dab in the middle of a time between when the Son of God left and when He finally returns.  As far as exactly when we'll see Him, we don't know...though we have all sent Him tons of "texts" encouraging Him to come "home" soon.  But He's not answering back when we ask Him when.

So what do we do?  We rely on His 100% faithful track record of faithfulness and trustworthiness, entrusting ourselves to God and what He has said.  He WILL come back.

Maybe you are a bit anxious as to how your eventual reunion with Jesus will go.  Will He recognize you?  Will He be mad?  Will He be ashamed of you?  Will He accept you or will He dredge up all the junk you've ever done in your life, throw it back in your face, and go back to heaven without you?  If you don't watch it, you can find yourself in a real mental and emotional pickle, succumbing to a very bad case of "worst-case-scenario-itis"!

Today's Scripture, I believe, provides a beautiful antidote for fearful, doomsday thinking.  Listen in:

What shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?  Who will bring a charge against God's elect?  God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.      (Romans 8:31-34)

Pretty good news, eh?  Let's sum it up:

  • God is for us.  He's on our side.  We're on His team.  He is rooting for us.  He wants us to win. It doesn't matter what anybody else thinks about or says about us.  GOD is for us.
  • That same God already showed how much "for us" He is by sacrificing His only Son so that we could have life.  If God did the biggest, hardest thing for us already, can't we trust Him for all the rest that life throws at us?
  • Nobody will dare to try and condemn someone that God has declared innocent (everyone who is in Christ!).  Sure, Satan may accuse us (like a really nasty prosecuting attorney), but he can never condemn us.  Condemnation is up to the judge and the Judge has already said that "there is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus"! (see Romans 8:1).
  • Jesus is in charge; He died, rose from the dead, and is enthroned just to the right of the Father
  • This same Jesus is praying for us right now.  Do you think God the Father hears Jesus' prayers?
So relax, breathe a sigh of relief, if you are in Christ today.  True, Jesus isn't answering our texts as to when He's coming back, but He IS coming.  And when He does, all those who are in Christ Jesus will be warmly welcomed, without one ounce of condemnation.  By the grace of God, I can gratefully proclaim today in Christ, "I am free from any condemning charges against me."  I hope you can, too!   

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Abba! Father!

Next week I will go back to blogging from the Who I Am in Christ statements, but this week I want to share some more thoughts on what it means to be children of God.

1 John 3:1 says, "See how great a love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are!"

Incredible.  Simply incredible...that sinners would be smuggled out of the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13), then adopted into God's family (Ephesians 1:5), and even counted as heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).  All by the Father's gracious heart of love!

To the abandoned, this means family.  To the abused, this means safety.  To the fearful, this means security.  To the anxious, this means serenity.  To the rejected, this means belonging.  To the aimless, this means purpose.  To the addicted, this means hope and freedom.  And to all of us, this means new life.

Zephaniah 3:17 paints the vivid picture of a strong, valiant God who is also a victorious warrior, coming home from battle to dote on his kids.  He plays with them, heartily laughing and singing.  He cheers them on in their life challenges.  And He gently, tenderly calms and soothes them, bringing comfort, peace and rest.

What a beautiful portrait of our heavenly Abba!  Daddy!  And the only expectation of the child in this scenario is to receive...to accept this Daddy-child relationship as real and to rest in the reality and trueness of it.  For some, this is not easy at all, for in their thinking the term "father" or "dad" drags with it a load of explosive baggage.  There is, therefore, a process of grace and healing that God Himself must activate before the child of God can let go of that baggage and take the hand of his or her heavenly Dad instead.

Our God is so patient, isn't He?

Though there is no hurry or rushing with God, and His primary agenda is always that we trust in His character of gracious love as well as His faithful, truthful promises, there is more.

The Lord desires our love in return.  No, He doesn't need it to be complete; that would make Him like the creation rather than the Creator.  But He does request it...even requires it...of His children.

For some of you reading this blog, a shift just took place in your mind.  Involuntarily you moved from a place of grace to one of law, of duty, of performance, of jumping through religious hoops to maintain God's favor...of subtly thinking, "Oh, now I get it.  God just changed the rules.  He acts like Mr. Nice Guy to bring us into His family, but once we're "in"...oh boy...you better toe the line!"

Honestly, that is not what we are talking about at all. Not even close.  Maybe an illustration will help.

My wife, Shirley, and I are raising four teenagers (well, actually one just turned 20 a month ago).  Anyway, we love our kids deeply and would do anything for them.  But we also are seeking to help them develop godly character and wisdom so they can faithfully represent Christ and live responsible lives in this world.  Part of their place in our family involves doing chores around the house, treating their siblings (and parents!) with respect, and when they are not at home obeying the laws of the land and seeking to do good.  When we tell them to do something...like walk the dog or come home by a certain hour...we expect them to do what they are told.  We expect them to obey.

This obedience does not grant them an upgraded membership in our family, nor does it purchase a guarantee that we will love them for another day.  Being loved members of our family is a "given."  But they do communicate to us as parents their love and respect for us by doing what they are told, even as the assigning of these expectations expresses our love for them by serving to help mold and forge godly character in them.  And they discover that obedience brings greater freedom; disobedience brings about a cutting back of freedom.

In Romans 8:15 (echoed in Galatians 4:6), it reads:  "For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba!  Father!'"  As the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are God's kids (v. 16), there is an "Abba!" element to that relationship and a "Father!" element as well.  The cry of "Abba!" speaks of God's tender love and affection and comfort and care.  The "Father" speaks of His authority and worthiness to receive our worship, respect, reverence and obedience (see 1 Peter 1:17).

Rather than our spiritual childhood being a place of entitlement (as too often our American culture fosters in a far-too-lengthy adolescence), it is a place of empowerment.  "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance," 1 Peter 1:14 tells us.  Indeed, we are to be holy as God is holy (v. 15,16), not doing what we just want and think will be fun, but doing what God says is right and good.

Obedience is not a dirty word in the world of grace.  Not at all.  It is part and parcel with being children of God...as much as is the acceptance that we enjoy in Christ.  Let me explain.

If the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all we have and to love others with all we are (Matthew 22:37-39), how do we show that love?  Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15).  Pretty straightforward, isn't it?

We show that we love God by obeying Him.  But that kind of love is not a drudging, grudging, grin and bear it, dry devotion to duty.  It is doing what God says to do out of a deep love and respect for Him.

Let me change metaphors for just a moment and give one final illustration.

Imagine a college football coach who has been around for decades.  He is a winner and highly respected.  Being a Penn State grad, I can't help but think of Joe Pa (Joe Paterno).  The guy loves his players and would die for them.  He spends endless hours getting to know them, helping them work through the struggles in their lives, urging them on to academic excellence.  They are far more than football players to him.  They are human beings.  I imagine quite a few of them he grows to love like sons.  Picture Joe telling his players that they are going to practice late one day because they have a really tough opponent coming up...or his asking them to go visit kids in a local cancer ward on a Sunday afternoon...or even doing extra laps for being late for practice.

It is unimaginable for those players to say, "Naah, I don't think so.  What have you ever done for me?  I'm outta here."

I think you get the point.  Joe Paterno's love is far from perfect, but God's love is perfect, shown to us through Christ's shed blood and death on the cross as payment for our sins.  Such sacrificial love on the part of God through Christ for us ought to generate such a deep love, devotion, gratefulness and respect for Him that the most (super)natural response is to show love to Him back by obedience.

1 John 5:3 sums this up beautifully:  "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome."

Disobedience is burdensome.  Rebellion is burdensome.  Self-centeredness is burdensome.  But obeying God in His power out of love for Him is not burdensome.  It is exactly what we were made for.

So, go ahead and crawl up in Abba's lap and let Him love on you.  He yearns for that closeness with you and you (and I!) need it desperately.  But when, as your Father, He tells you it's time to get up and visit a sick neighbor or show love to an unlovable spouse or spend time with a really obnoxious kid...do it!  You will experience an "invasion" of the love of God into your soul like you had never imagined.

"If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.  These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full."   -the words of Jesus (John 15:10,11).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I am assured that all things work together for good (Romans 8:28)

Donnie Boyer Crotty was a great kid.  My son, Brian, remembers him when he was younger as being really hyper and really loud.  That was because Donnie was so full of a zeal for life and fun that joy simply could not be contained inside him.  He loved hugs...and baseball (he was a catcher)...and football...and everybody...and Jesus.  Donnie had a smile that could light up a room and he lit up many lives during his 15 years.

That's why all our hearts broke when he was accidentally run over by a Gator (ATV) at a football camp not quite three weeks ago.  Donnie's funeral was Monday of this week.

The entire squad of the local high school football team he played on was in attendance.  So were all the players and coaches of the area baseball team as well as the church youth group he was a part of.  During the funeral, the football player who drove the ATV apologized to everybody for all the pain he had caused, breaking down in sobs before the huge crowd of those paying last respects.

While Brodderick openly grieved in front of us all, a lady moved quickly to embrace him in his overwhelming sadness and guilt...the only woman who could possibly console him at such a moment...Donnie's mom, Susie.  She had been sitting by that stricken young man during the whole service.  Not knowing quite how to respond to such a display of unselfish empathy and forgiveness, the whole audience rose to their feet and applauded.  I was one of them.

Our family knows Susie as well as Donnie's dad, Don.  They came to our home fellowship group during a season of their lives when Don had difficult health issues.  We had the privilege of watching Don's health improve.  There was never a dull moment with the Crotty's in our group.  Susie was never shy about expressing her heart directly to God, even when she thought He was being unfair or unreasonable.

I know Susie has had some very raw, honest, and painfully hard moments with the Lord over the past three weeks.  But she is going to make it.  No, she will do more than "make it", she will make something out of it...something out of all the pain and suffering and anguish and loneliness...because she loves Jesus, too, just like Donnie does.

Today's Scripture can seem canned, cliche-ish, even callous unless it is seen in the light of how "a very present help in times of trouble" God is.  Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Not some things or even most things.  All things.  Even the tragic death of an only son.  God works good out of all things.  Not that all things are good.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  Some things are unspeakably evil, or in this case, almost unbearably tragic.  But God weaves good out of the drops of our hot tears.

Sadly, not all are the beneficiaries of this goodness.  It is only guaranteed to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  But it is guaranteed to them.  That means all of us who are in Christ.

Tragedy will come to all of us.  It is inevitable in a fallen world.  When it comes, will we despair and give up hope?  Or will we watch for God to bring good out of it all?  He's already doing that with Donnie and his family.

A grieving mother has received strength to comfort a guilt-stricken young man sobbing before a funeral audience.  A whole city has been reminded of how frail and fragile life is and how we need to rush to embrace one another in love while there is still time.  And about 45 people at the funeral said they wanted this same Jesus that Donnie had.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I am free from condemnation (Romans 8:1)

I am convinced that thousands upon thousands of God's saints would be set free instantly if they truly believed Romans 8:1:  "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  Paul goes on to write, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (Romans 8:2).

The law of sin and of death stated simply is:  If you sin, you die.
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus stated simply is:  If you, by the Spirit of God, are in Christ Jesus, you are free!  You are alive!

This is a statement of truth...a fact of life in Jesus the Messiah:  If you are in Christ, you are alive and you are free forever from condemnation for your sin.  Period.

Recently I have taken two young men through The Steps to Freedom in Christ.  Both of them struggled to wrap their faith around this liberating concept.  Why?  One believed he had sinned too greatly and too frequently to be forgiven.  The other saw "signs" in nature that he was condemned. 

Since both of them were clearly in Christ, they could not be more alive, free and delivered from condemnation than they are right now.  But they battled with surfacing through the muck of their past to break through and gulp in the fresh air of joy.  Their guilt and shame were like quicksand dragging them down.  Maybe that's where you find yourself today...wishing you could break free into the truth.

Let me remind you:

God's word is true about you...regardless of how you may feel about what God says.
God's word is true about you...even if there are mysterious "signs" that point the opposite way.
God's word is true about you...no matter how many times you have sinned.
God's word is true about you...in spite of how bad your sins were.

Will you take God at His word?  He cannot lie.  Feelings can lie.  Signs can be false.  Guilt and shame can overwhelm us if we let it.  But God is throwing you a life preserver.  No, He is diving into the quicksand to pull you out.  Will you let Him?  You say your faith is small.  That's okay.  His arms are big. 

You can do it.  You can claim today that in Christ "I am free from condemnation."

Friday, June 10, 2011

I am complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10)

My personal opinion is that all our problems and all the world's problems ultimately stem from our trying to meet some perceived need in our lives the wrong way.  There!  Now we can all go out and work hard to make the world a better place, right?

Not so fast!

Today's blog centers around Colossians 2:10, which declares that we have been made complete in Christ.  Let's take a quick look at how the New English Translation renders Colossians 2:9,10 so we get the context of today's Scripture:

"For in him [Christ] all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority."

Okay.  Here's my paraphrase of the NET:  Jesus is completely God in a human body and you have been completed as a human being if you are in Christ, who by the way, is in charge of everything.

You see, our desperate and vain efforts to meet our own needs our own way are doomed to fail, because what (actually who) we need is God !  And when you are joined to Christ you get all of God and you are therefore...complete!  You are filled.  And once you realize that and begin to find your life, meaning, value, purpose, acceptance and security in Christ...you are truly satisfied at the deepest core level of your heart and soul.

Money won't fill you.  Stuff won't complete you.  A certain job won't meet all your needs.  Even people and all they can bring into your life won't ultimately complete you...though once you are rooted and established in the love of God in Christ, He will use human relationships to supplement (but not ever be a substitute for) the riches that are yours in Christ!

So NOW you can go out and make the world a better place...not looking for something to fill the emptiness in your soul and somehow make you feel like a whole person...but because now that you ARE complete in Christ, you have something to give to a very needy world that is looking for love in all the wrong places.

Friday, June 3, 2011

I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins (Colossians 1:14)

"I can't get to the cross," the young man I was counseling sadly told me.  During a follow-up to our freedom appointment "Mark" confessed that he was still carrying a heavy load of guilt over his sin that was suffocating his soul and squeezing every bit of joy and hope from his heart.

"Yes you can," I responded.  "Christ is waiting for you.  His arms are wide open to you.  Your sins have already been nailed to the cross, but you need to take this list of sins that still haunt you to the cross and nail them there and leave them there forever."

It was agonizing watching "Mark" struggle with receiving the forgiveness that was already his in Christ.  After a long time and a lot of prayer, he finally looked up from his list with a smile on his face that lit up the room.  By his own testimony, this was the first time he had ever experienced real joy in 21 years!  "Mark" tore up his list and we started singing hymns of praise to God.  He had made it to the cross and discovered that he was already completely and totally forgiven and cleansed.  The burden he had carried all these years had been a lie, for "Mark" had been a follower of Christ since his childhood.

What about you?  Can you relate to what "Mark" went through?  Are you carrying a burden that is choking out all the joy and hope in your life?  Do you think that God is a forgiving God...to others...but somehow your sin is too great or too habitual or too...that you are disqualified from being truly forgiven in Christ?  Let me encourage you to think about the following Scriptures, asking God to open your eyes:

"For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."     (Colossians 1:13,14)

"When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the written code with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross." 
                                                                                                      (Colossians 2:13,14)

In Christ, how many of your sins have been forgiven?  All!  Where is that sin list that was against you and which stood opposed to you?  Nailed to the cross!  Have you been carrying around a "photocopy" of that sin list, allowing the enemy to beat you up and haunt you over that which has already been forgiven?  Then perhaps, like "Mark", you need to take that phony list and nail it to the cross once and for all and leave it there...forever!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18)

During those tumultuous pre-teen and early teen years, I wasn't sure I wanted to live.  Though my childhood could be described as "normal" (as "normal" as life can be, I guess, without the Lord!), puberty struck like a tsunami.  My height shot up and my weight missed the memo and stayed the same.  I was about 6' 2" and 120 lb. at one point.  With a skeleton for a body, acne on my face and braces on my teeth, I was the butt of jokes, a convenient target for ridicule to take the spotlight off other insecure youth.  I didn't feel like I belonged and so suicide became a pleasant mode of fantasy, though I never actually attempted to take my life.

Years later, I realized that a good summary "name" or "label" for how I was viewed (and how I viewed myself) during those awful years was outcast.  Looking back on those days, if someone were to come to me now with one of those "Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes" checks for $1 million and told me, "This can all be yours...on one condition:  You have to live out your junior high years again!", I would tell them, "No thanks!  Keep your money!!"  Maybe you can relate.

Before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, the Jewish people were "in", the Gentiles were...well, largely outcasts.  Not so much in God's eyes, but in the eyes of the Jewish nation.  But Jesus changed all that.  His death broke down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile as it was breaking down the dividing wall (the veil of the temple) between man and God.

So now, in Christ, there is no distinction in terms of acceptability to God or access to the Father.  That's what Paul meant when he wrote, "Here there is no Greek [Gentile] or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:11).  As Ephesians 2:18 says, we all have direct access to God...into the very Holy of Holies...through the Holy Spirit, because of what Christ has done for us.

Ever feel like an outsider?  Ever feel like an outcast, like you don't belong?  Maybe you have even felt that way as a Christian...that somehow the church is for others, but not for you.  Not so!  You have as much right to come to God as Billy Graham or Charles Stanley or any other Christian leader you see as "worthy."  You...yes you...have direct access (you don't have to go through anyone but Jesus!) to God the Father through the Holy Spirit.  You have the right to come into the presence of God along with all your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Why don't you take advantage of that direct access today and go spend some time with your loving heavenly Father who delights in you?  His scepter is extended toward you today, warmly welcoming you into His presence. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I have been adopted as God's child (Ephesians 1:5)

All five of us held our breath as we waited for him to emerge from the crowded, noisy cafeteria.  Our four-year-old son, Lua (later named "Luke"), soon came bounding out, full of energy, eyes bright with joy.  "There he is!" I kept saying as I held the video camera, seeking to capture every movement he made.  Our other kids giggled as they watched their new brother chase a ball we had given him as a welcome present.

Within an hour or so he was sitting in a minivan, driving away from the Rangsit Babies Home, leaving forever the orphanage outside of Bangkok, Thailand where he had spent the previous few years.  He never looked back.  Although there were still official documents to fill out and sign, from that moment on, Luke was our adopted son...part of the "Miller" family.  By law, all the rights and responsibilities of being Luke's parents were transferred to Shirley and me and his former family could never again claim him as their own.

The momentous change to Luke's life that commenced at that moment was far beyond what he could comprehend.  He had a new name, a new family, a new father and mother, new brothers and sisters, a new home, and a new nationality.  He would learn a new language, wear new clothes, eat new foods, experience a new climate and new surroundings, including plant and animal life, and attend new schools with children who looked much different from him.  In reality, Luke had a completely new life, though habits learned in the orphanage would still travel with him to America.

Scripture says that God "predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:5).  God knew long before we were born that one day He would give us a new name, a new family, a new Father, new brothers and sisters in Christ, while preparing a new home for us as citizens of a new "country", heaven.  We would learn a new language of faith and wear new clothes of righteousness.  In reality, we would have a completely new life...the old things passed away...though He knew we would still battle the old ways of living life in the "orphanage" of life without God.  But, praise God, our old family...in Adam...governed by the father of lies, the devil...can never claim us again as his own!  We are welcomed members of God's family, adopted as sons!

"For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons [sonship].  And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father."   (Romans 8:15)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I am a saint (Ephesians 1:1)

The apostle Paul opened up his letter to the Ephesians by saying, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God to the sinners in Ephesus..."  Hmmm?  What did you say?  Oh, you're telling me he wrote to the saints in Ephesus?  Okay, so he was writing to the super-spiritual people in that city who performed miracles and were eventually recognized by church authorities...  No?  Okay, so Paul was obviously writing to the pastors and elders in that church, right...?  No?  Well then who was he writing to?

You're right!  Paul was writing to the rank and file, those who sat in the "pews" every Sunday morning, believers in Christ, followers of the Lord like you and me.

Most people don't see themselves as saints, so I like to have fun at the conferences I do.  I encourage people to take off their name tags and write St. in front of their name, if they are sure they are one of Christ's followers, and then I have them put their name tags back on.  I jokingly caution them not to put the St. after their name, or they'll become a street!  After wearing that name tag for a day or so, it is exciting to see people become more comfortable with viewing themselves as saints...even calling themselves St. Melanie or St. Frank or whatever.

So what is a saint?  A saint is a holy one, one who (as Colossians 1:13,14 tells us), has been "rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought...into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."  A saint has been set apart from sin and set apart for God.  Saints have been bought out of slavery to sin.  Saints have been forgiven.

Saints, however, aren't perfect (just ask your spouse or a close friend!) but saints do have a new nature and a new identity.  Saints have become partakers of the divine nature (see 2 Peter 1:4), which doesn't mean we become gods, but it does mean we have the capacity to become godly, more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ in our character.

So the next time some well-meaning preacher in a sermon shouts to everybody at church, "Well, we're just dirty, no-good, sinners saved by grace, headed to heaven someday!" you might want to say to yourself, "Well, I was a dirty, no-good sinner.  I have been saved by grace.  But I am now a saint who still sins, but doesn't have to.  And that's the truth!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I am a member of Christ's Body (1 Corinthians 12:27)

All of us play a vital role in the Body of Christ.  You may not think you do, but God knows you do.  When you are operating in your giftedness by His power for His kingdom, the world (and the Church) is a better place!  When you don't, all of us are diminished in some way.

When I look at the Body of Christ, I am reminded by the apostle Paul that we are like a human body, with Christ being the Head.  Those who have a passion for prayer are like the knees.  Those who care for the wounded, hurting and needy are the heart.  Those who serve behind the scenes are the hands.  Those who take the gospel to unreached peoples are the feet.  And so on.

So what part of the Body of Christ does Freedom in Christ Ministries correspond to?  I see us as like the digestive system of the Body of Christ.  We enable the Body to process spiritual food so all the cells can be healthy, and we also help the Body eliminate waste.  Doesn't sound all that glamorous, I know, but have you ever experienced a time when your digestive system wasn't working too well?  Not healthy, and certainly not fun.

And without pressing this analogy too far, I can honestly say that in my observation, there are sure a lot of bloated, constipated Christians out there!

Sadly, many of God's people do not see themselves as playing a significant role at all in Christ's kingdom.  "Oh, I'm just the dirt under the little toenail of the Body of Christ," they lament.  Oh no you're not!  Whatever gifts and talents the Lord has given you, He has ordained them and chosen you to function as an integral part of the Body of Christ.

If you are unsure of how you fit in (and you do fit in, by the way, if you are in Christ!), ask the Lord to show you.  Take the opportunities to serve that He brings your way.  Watch for the ways God blesses the works of your hands or the words of your mouth.  Pay attention to what brings you deep down, godly joy.  Take note when other brothers and sisters in Christ commend you for something you do for Christ.

And if you already know your place in the Body of Christ, go for it with the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit!  We're all the glad beneficiaries.

I am a member of Christ's Body, and so are you...an essential part of Christ's Body...if you are in Christ today!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I am bought with a price; I belong to God (1 Cor. 6:19,20)

Everybody has a deep need to belong.  I remember how devastated I was when I got cut from the high school baseball team in 10th grade because I had mouthed off to the coach.  Not smart.  I had been part of the varsity squad in junior high school (9th grade), and I figured I was a shoe-in for at least the jv in high school.  Being part of that baseball team was my sure ticket to respect, dignity, identity and friendship...or so I thought.   I remember the head coach's words to this day:  "We have 17 guys trying out for pitcher and you don't need to worry about coming back tomorrow."  And that was it.  It was over.  I had made it very easy for him to reduce his squad by one.

I couldn't quite bring myself to totally exit stage left, so I became one of the assistant managers.  I would have been better off just leaving, because at that school at that time, managers were viewed as the lowest creatures on the feeding chain.  Kind of like slaves.  We did what we were told and were not shown any respect.  I had hoped that at least being connected to the team would give me a sense of belonging.  It didn't.  All it did was make me feel more like an outsider and foster resentment toward what could have been mine...being actually on the team...but wasn't to be...either that year or in the years to come.

Whether it is being part of a team, a club, a band, a work crew, a gang, a group of friends, or a close-knit family, we are social creatures by nature and all have a deep need to belong.  Isolation from meaningful relationships is a killer and can drive people to hostility, bitterness, rage, insanity and even death.

That's why I am so grateful for our rescuing Father who sent His precious Son to pay the bloody price of a cruel death on the cross so that we could belong to Him and to His family.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude for that sacrifice made on my behalf, and on yours as well.  People may reject us and probably will.  But in Christ, God never will.

He bought us.  We are His.  We belong to God.

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."   (1 Peter 1:18,19)

Monday, April 11, 2011

I am united with the Lord and one spirit with Him (1 Corinthians 6:17)

I can still remember that moment nearly 22 years ago when Shirley Grace Koch walked down the aisle toward me.  God knew I surely needed a lot of grace and He gave her to me as my wife on August 12, 1989!  At that point, Shirley Grace Koch ceased to exist.  She became Shirley Grace Miller.  And at that point, Richard Edward Miller, the bachelor, ceased to exist.  After that ceremony and after the honeymoon, we were legally married before God and men.  We became one flesh.

On that hot summer afternoon in Lawrenceville, Georgia, we were husband and wife and were as much husband and wife as we would ever be.  But what began on that day, we will spend the rest of our lives learning to live out.

At the moment you and I received the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior, crying out to Him for forgiveness and trusting Him to save us and surrendering our will into His hands, we were united with the Lord and were made one spirit with Him.  Jesus became our Bridegroom.  We became eternally joined to Him in our spirit.  And we will spend the rest of our lives learning to live out this incredible union with Him.

Unlike an earthly marriage, where both parties need to grow to know and love each other more deeply, in our relationship with Christ, He already knows and loves us perfectly.  Regardless of how we may think He feels about us, His love is perfect and will never change.  But we do not know Him, love Him or even trust Him perfectly.  That is a growing process that He tenderly yet unwaveringly leads us into.

Do you not know that you are joined in spirit to Christ?  You are one with Him!  As the Head is joined to the body, and the body to the Head, you are joined to Christ.  As the Vine is connected to the branches and the branches to the Vine, you are connected to the Vine, Jesus.  Won't you move in a little closer to Him this day?  Won't you freely open yourself up to your perfect Bridegroom to love on you, provide for you, guide you and protect you?  Do you remember the day you said "I do" to Jesus?  Maybe you need to be reminded of that moment and how much He meant to you at that time.  He hasn't changed in His love for you.  You still mean the world to Him.