Thursday, June 28, 2012

Where Are Your Eyes?

I'm unqualified. I'm not strong enough. I'm not good enough. I'm not like [fill in the blank]. I can't do this.

Do those thoughts ever cross your mind? To be honest, I have them a lot. I don't feel qualified to teach children about Jesus--what if I mess up and end up just teaching them to be good kids and fail to present the Gospel? I don't feel qualified to tell my friends about God--what if I just end up scaring them away? I don't even feel qualified to write for this blog!

You know what? I'm not. I'm not enough. I can't teach kids about Jesus; I can't tell my friends about Christ; I can't write these devotionals.

I heard a sermon this weekend about the 12 spies that we sent to take a peek at the Promised Land. If you don't know the story check it out in Numbers 13-14. Ten of these men came back with horrific reports, "We can't do it! It's too much! They'll squash us like grasshoppers!" However, two of them saw something different. The ten saw giants and enemies, but the two saw God. Joshua and Caleb never took their eyes off the LORD, and because of that, they saw His strength.

It's easy to have our eyes on the horizontal--it's here, it's right in front of us. But when we look at ourselves or the things around us, we will see our failure and how unqualified we are for the task that God has set before us. When we look at the [enemy] they'll be too big and we'll seem too small. God's will will seem impossible. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus. It is in Him that we find our strength. 

Philippians 4:13 says, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." 

We need to have our eyes on the vertical-- that is where we find the strength to live for Christ. It's nothing that we can do to be "good enough" to lead someone to Christ, or teach VBS, or whatever it is that you may be facing right now. Let's face it, as humans, we're not qualified to live up to God's standards. We couldn't even achieve salvation on our own, that's why God sent Jesus.

Jesus is qualified. Jesus is strong enough. Jesus is good enough. Jesus can do this.

And in Him, in His strength, He will give you the strength to do the impossible. He even gives you the strength to worship God--we can't even do that on our own. We're pretty weak. However, our God is so big, so strong, and so mighty. There's nothing my God cannot do. And in Him, we have that strength too! Keep your eyes on Him, focus on the vertical, and all else will fade away.

Luke 1:37, "For nothing will be impossible with God."

I tried to find a recording of one of my favorite hymns, but apparently it's not as popular as I thought. So here are the lyrics to "I Look Not Back":

1. I look not back; God knows the fruitless efforts,
The wasted hours, the sinning, the regrets.
I leave them all with Him who blots the record,
And graciously forgives, and then forgets. 
2. I look not forward; God sees all the future,
The road that, short or long, will lead me home,
And He will face with me its ev'ry trial,
And bear for me the burdens that may come. 
3. I look not round me; then would fears assail me.
So wild the tumult of earth's restless seas,
So dark the world, so filled with woe and evil,
So vain the hope of comfort and of ease. 
4. I look not inward; that would make me wretched;
For I have naught on which to stay my trust.
Nothing I see save failures and shortcomings,
And weak endeavors, crumbling into dust. 
5. But I look up--into the face of Jesus,
For there my heart can rest, my fears are stilled;
And there is joy, and love, and light for darkness,
And perfect peace, and ev'ry hope fulfilled.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What Kind of Love is This?

Love is pretty crazy thing, isn't it?

I've been thinking about this concept of love more lately with Ezekiel's entrance into our lives. Six weeks old in this world and I absolutely love him. He's cute, makes entertaining sounds, adds joy to our lives -- but he can also be a turkey. Explosive diaper content, staying wide awake when I so desperately want him to sleep (and honestly, that's the worst it's been). Even though his cuteness alone is enough to make us love him, Zeke's never paid us to love him; he's never paid us to feed him, change his diapers, and give him baths. Our love for Zeke has caused us to sacrifice sleep, forgo certain fun activities, and rearrange aspects of our lives for him. And where does that love come from? We love him because he's our son. We love him because the Lord has entrusted him to us.

The Lord's love is similar -- except on a much grander, magnificent, awe-striking scale. We've never done anything to deserve the Lord's love. We've never paid Him to provide for our every need, let alone for our salvation. In fact, we probably do more things to make the Lord's heart heavy - our sin is not cute - and yet, He still loves us. Despite every selfish thought, every self-righteous action, every angry word spoken, He loves us.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." - John 3:16 (emphasis added)
"For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." - Romans 5:6,8 (emphasis added)
"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitation for our sins." - 1 John 4:10
To be honest, I really don't understand God's love. Why does He love us when we do so much wrong? Perhaps it's similar to Jordan and I's love for Ezekiel . . . the Lord loves us because we are His creation. Despite everything we do, He loves us. What an awesome, incredible truth.

Praise the Lord we don't have to understand it in order to receive it. Praise the Lord that His love is not dependent upon what we do. Praise the Lord that His love never fails!

(I know I've posted this song many times before . . . but can it ever get old?) 
"He is jealous for me . . . I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me . . . We are His portion and He is our prize . . . Oh, how He loves us!"

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Holy Conversation

"But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct," I Pet. 1:15 (ESV)

Holy in all manner of conversation...holy in all manner of conversation... holy in all manner of conversation. ("Conversation" here also meaning, 'manner of life, conduct, behavior'.)

What a tall order! And certainly one I fail at hourly. Why would God call Christians to such a high, such a perfect standard? The text answers this question in the very next verse-"Because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy." We must be, because He is.

And yet, man cannot accomplish such holy living. It is impossible. Paul, in Romans 7:18 agrees, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out."

We cannot fulfill the perfection God demands. But Christ has provided a way! Himself. He is our righteousness. "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." If Christ, the embodiment of holiness, lives in us, then we can indeed be holy! He is our holiness.

Dear Christian, what area of your life have you not crucified with Him? Put to death self that He might LIVE in every area of your life? Only then, only as He lives in every dark place, will you be 'holy in all manner of conversation'.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

God is Like Bleach

"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever."-- Hebrews 13:8

Last night at Kids of the Kingdom our leader started out the night with a demonstration. He had two cups, both clear, with a clear liquid inside. On one was written the word, "me", and the other, "God". Then he had a can of grape Crush, representing sin, that he poured into each cup. The sin poured into the cup representing us suddenly turned purple. However, the sin poured into the cup representing God stayed clear. I think I was even more so baffled than the children! He then went to describe how sin changes us--how everything changes us. We are constantly changing (even us good Scandinavians that like to pretend we're bitter towards change!) But nothing changes God. Not time, not our sin, nothing. God stays the same. 

I later found that it was bleach, which now makes sense. But still, how cool!

I've been thinking a lot about the nature of God lately. I know He's good, He's faithful, He's all-powerful, He's always present, He's loving, and the list goes on. But I never really think that His goodness never changes-- it was the same as it was when He lead the Israelites across on dry land through the Red Sea. I don't stop to ponder how His love is the same love today that He has for me that He had for mankind when He spared Noah and his family with the ark. I don't think about such things. 

But God doesn't change. He is the same God that created to world, the same God that sent His Son to die on a tree, the same God that is working in the world today. He was worthy to receive praise and worship then, and He is just as worthy now. It was easy to see Him working in the world in the days of Scripture, but nothing has changed now. He is the same God--same Father, same Son, and same Holy Spirit. The One that created the universe is the same One that loves you infinitely more than you could ever imagine. He is the same One who is worthy today.

"Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created."-- Revelation 4:11. 

And just as our sin changes us--so as in the demonstration with the grape Crush--our sin does not change how God feels about us. The color did not change! With Christ's atoning sacrifice, redemption (my favorite word!) was made. God bought us back, bought us out of our sin. He no longer sees our sin, but sees Christ's sacrifice. 

At the end of this demonstration he then spoke of how God poured Himself into us on the Cross. Then he took the cup that represented God and poured it into us, and the purple liquid once again turned clear. What a picture of the cross. God saved us on the Cross, and God sees Him.  

God never changes. Whoa. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

What Will You Do?

This past week, I had a small encounter with single parenting. Jordan took for the AFLC Annual Conference for four days, leaving Zeke and I to fend for ourselves. The good news: we're both still alive!; and visits from family and friends made the days I thought would last forever go quickly. Needless to say, I'm glad I am not a single parent and that Jordan made it back safely.

Every evening as Ezekiel chows down on milk, Jordan and I do our devotions together. Once we've finished that, Jordan reads a couple of chapters out of a Boxcar Children book to Ezekiel. Since I was alone last week, I did some reading to Zeke on my own from a children's storybook Bible that we have. Interestingly, the story of Jonah was portrayed a bit happier than the actual account we find in Scripture. Instead of bringing a message of destruction to Ninevah - "Yet 40 days and Ninevah will be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4) - this version records Jonah telling the people how much God loved them. Which, no doubt, is true: the LORD loved the people of Ninevah and he does indeed love each one of us. But isn't it interesting how that love is often what we focus on? What we hear from the pulpit, in books, and on TV? It's a lot more comfortable, isn't it? And it's definitely an easier message to bring to the lost.

A few days ago, during my devotions, I was struck by these words spoken by the LORD through the prophet Jeremiah:
"'An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophecy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?'" (Jeremiah 5:30-31)
The LORD says that those whom He placed in authority over His people brought false messages and made decisions as they deemed appropriate. False messages instead of the truth - which was no doubt difficult to hear (who wants to hear that judgement and destruction is coming?). Ruling on their own authority rather than seeking the LORD's guidance, recognizing His authority over them.

What really struck me, though, was the challenge laid down by the LORD: what will you do?

As we draw nearer each day to the return of Christ, I believe false messages will continue to abound - and unfortunately, many of them will come from leaders in the church.
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths." (2 Timothy 4:3) 
So, what will you do? Are you prepared? Do you know the truth? Are you ready to speak it, regardless of the cost?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Afraid to Fall

I’m currently in the process of teaching one of my six-year-old nanny girls how to ride a two-wheeler bike. However, she keeps putting her feet down as I let go. She stops. She’s afraid to fall. It’s frustrating.

I love roller blading, but I’m living with my brother and sister-in-law for the summer and the neighborhood they live in is made of about as close to gravel roads as you can get. Between the rocky road, the cracks in the “tar” (you have to look even where you walk!), and hills, it’s not very fun to use my roller blades. I stop. I’m afraid to fall. It’s frustrating.

I realized this is a lot like my real life. When things get difficult and I can’t see the outcome, I stop. I’m afraid to fall. I try to take things into my own hands, change course, or put the brakes on completely when something out of my control comes, because I’m afraid to fall.

Are any of you like that? Are you afraid to fall too?

Last night at Kids of the Kingdom (check us out on Facebook—a new ministry started by Corey Berge at Grace Free Lutheran Church in Maple Grove, MN) we taught about Naaman, the man who had leprosy. (Read about it in II Kings 5:1-9) His wife’s servant knew of Elisha, and he instructed Naaman to dip himself in the Jordan River seven times and he would be healed. At first frustrated, he finally listened to the words of the servant girl and was healed. We talked about how God works in unexpected ways, but that’s what walking by faith is all about.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This chapter continues to speak of men and women of Scripture who had exceptional faith.

You know what I find incredible though? They may have been afraid to fall. These were men and women just like you and me. They had their doubts, their struggles, their fears. They may have been tempted to question God—think of Noah, how easy it would have been to question a flood coming in the middle of the desert! But faith is more than just believing, it’s acting. Walking by faith implies that there is movement. It means one cannot stop. Walking by faith requires trust, but it also requires obedience.

Now when I say, “requires”, this is not something that is law—something we have to do. Christ did everything for us on the Cross, and it is now Him who works in us to trust and obey. Obedience is following where God calls you, even when it doesn’t make sense. But hey, our God works in mysterious ways!

Walking by faith does not mean that all of our fears are suddenly gone. How nice that would be! However, we are still human. We still doubt and we still sin. The old man will constantly rage war against our new nature in Christ until the day that we pass into glory. But it does mean that God empowers us through what Christ did for us and through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives now to trust and obey. I still may be afraid to fall, but I know that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). And that if I fall, I know the One who is always there for me.

“I know that when I come to the edge of all light that I know and am about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, I know there will either be something solid to stand on or I will be taught to fly”

Monday, June 11, 2012

Making the Most

Babies are incredibly powerful. They cause grandparents to travel hundreds of miles -- sometimes in back to back trips -- to visit them. They cause family and friends who otherwise might not travel hundreds of miles to visit to do so. But there's another kind of power that babies hold; a power dealing with individuals not known by their parents. They cause neighbors whom you have never met to quickly become friends. They cause little girls one sees while on an evening walk to ask if they can see your baby. This power possessed by babies has become evident to me in the last four weeks as Ezekiel has given us opportunity to speak to individuals we may otherwise not.

Often times when we're stopped by strangers we meet on the walking path, in the grocery store, or even by our own neighbors who want to admire Ezekiel, conversation quickly ensues. Questions about how old Zeke is, how much he weighed, how well he sleeps at night. And also stories: stories of these individuals own children and experiences; wisdom and advice that worked when their now-grown kids were wee things.

Last week, after being stopped by two ladies in the grocery store, I was convicted to take all these opportunities we've been given and use them for the glory of the Lord. To use those conversations as springboards to begin relationships or to use that exact moment to share the love of Jesus with those who have stopped to ask about Ezekiel.
"Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Conduct yourselves with wisdom towards outsiders, making the most of every opportunity." - Colossians 3:17, 4:5
Being convicted is one thing. Putting into practice is another. Unfortunately, it's all too easy for me to let the conversations stay focused on the little tyke in the car seat. I pray that the Lord would give me words to speak as these opportunities present themselves and that I would be faithful with the time and opportunities He places before me.

How are you going to use the opportunities the Lord gives you for His glory? May we all be faithful, not wasting even one chance to point others to our wonderful Savior!

Monday, June 4, 2012

On Trial

Heartbreaking events are never non-existent, are they? Despite the abundant blessings and joys we experience, there are others we know walking difficult paths. Or maybe we ourselves are walking in the midst of difficulty. The other day, as I learned of a family friend's devastating loss, tears came to my eyes as I wondered, "Why?" And as I consider the battles others are facing - newborns struggling for life in the NICU, a son turning from the family and living in rebellion, an intense battle with cancer, the fearful reality of discovering cancer cells at a young age - my heart can't help but wonder what the Lord is up to. Trials are everywhere.

It's easy for me to read verses in Scripture that use the word "trial" and immediately think mostly of persecution for being a believer. Perhaps because that was something the early church faced much more regularly than we do here in America. Maybe it's because throughout the world, Christians are killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. But the other morning as my heart ached over the pain experienced by another and I found myself reading the first chapter of James, I realized how broad the word "trial" is in Scripture. James writes to the believers:
"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials . . ." (James 1:2) 
Uffda. All joy. In various trials. James knew those he was writing to were experiencing a vast array of trials, of difficulties, of heartaches. The same is experienced by us today. But how do we consider those heartaches and trials as joy? How can we rejoice in the midst of persecution, of heartbreaking losses, of excruciating struggles? To be honest, I struggled with this exhortation for a couple of days . . . and I by no means claim to understand it now.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog regarding Israel's captivity in Babylon and the Lord's promises to be faithful to them during those 70 years. What the Israelite people experienced was not fun - I'd definitely label it as a "trial" - but the Lord had a plan and a purpose for it. He wanted to draw His people back to Himself; He wanted glory to be given to His great name (see Jeremiah 29:1-14, especially vs. 10-14). I'd venture to say that He wants the same for us in the trials we face. Though we don't understand why, though the pain is intense and the trial difficult, though it seems never-ending and without purpose, the Lord is in control. He's got a reason for what He's doing. Sometimes the biggest struggle for us is to simply let Him work, letting the Lord use our pain for the glorification of His great name.
"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:2-4)  
"In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in the praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:6-9,emphasis mine)
Although it won't come naturally, it is my prayer that whatever trial you are facing, you will find joy in the Lord. Rest in His strong arms, knowing that He isn't far from you. Let Him use your struggles to bring glory to His great name. May your testimony in Him during this time bring others to saving faith in Jesus Christ.