What in Heaven’s Name?

What in Heaven’s name?
What in Heaven’s name are we thinking? Since when has church attendance become this: “What can my church do for me?” Where is this attitude reflected in the Acts 2 Church? I don’t think it is. Recently, we had a discussion in our small group about what we should look for in a church when the time has come for us to seek out a new place to serve and worship. One of our members answered wisely “I think it’s wrong when we go into it asking what can the church do for us?” In other words, “I want…..a great youth group for my kids, or a thriving adult ministry; or the music ministry has to be just so-instruments or no instruments; a band or an organ; hymns or contemporary songs.” Yet sadly, denominational preferences and subjective criteria are often what guide us in placing “church membership,” or committing ourselves to a church body.

As Christians, we all agree (I hope) on the saving power and inerrant words of the bible and the gospel message. As Christians, we should also agree on the spiritual truth that we should allow God to use us where and when He chooses. (Deuteronomy 13:3-4; Matthew 4:19-22; Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 9:23-24; 1 Peter 2:20-22; Jude 1:18-20; Psalm 40:7-8; Psalm 48:14; Proverbs 16:3;) Then why is it, when it comes to church attendance, we don’t trust in the will of God? Rather, we consider only those churches that meet a certain set of criteria. Left to our own devices, we search for a church without fully considering God’s plan for our lives. Considering the passage found in Romans 9:20-21, how does the story about the Potter (God) and the clay (us) fit into this formula for church selection? I know some who refuse to consider churches outside their preferred denomination. How can you be so sure that God isn’t calling you somewhere else? I don’t know. I am just asking.

Say you are an affiliated Baptist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Non-Denom, Assembly of God, just to name a few. And as life would have it, you have found yourself in the position of having to find a new or different church to attend. But you automatically rule out any church that is different from the same denomination or affiliation you have been attending. I have a few questions. Is that because you know without reservation that this is where God wants you to serve? Or are you only comfortable in that religious persuasion? Or do you believe that God could not possibly use you anywhere else? Or is it because you think this church you have attended is more scripturally correct (the “right” one) and the others have it wrong? I don’t know. I am just asking.

Is it just me, or do we limit God and His power this way? What if we did this?
“Where does God want me to serve? Where can my gifts be used? Where can my family best serve? God, where do YOU want me to commit my time, my tithe, my spiritual gifts…?” Maybe we are afraid of the answer. I knew one family who did this, and God sent them to Africa as missionaries. No doubt about it, this takes the control away from us and gives it back to God.

I am not saying that Adult ministries, youth groups, and music programs, are not fantastic. But what I am saying is we have it backwards. Rather than asking ourselves what can this church do for me or for my kids, we should ask what could my family bring here? Yes, what could my kids bring to the youth program? What could we bring to small groups ministries? After all if our first ministry is our family (and I think it is) then I will trust God to stand in the gap for my family, as we navigate through the challenges and the differences in the place He has called us. For instance, if our children are getting truth and training in righteousness at home, first and foremost, then great youth groups should be considered a bonus, not a necessity. It is over and above what God has called us to do as parents.

Obviously, this devo isn’t really speaking to the non-believer or someone who has never walked inside the doors of a church, so much as it is Christians and those of us who, well, are very “churched.” I just don’t believe that the caliber of adult or youth ministries, instruments or no instruments, the dress code, or denominational preferences should guide our decision as to where we worship and serve. And isn’t that what being the church is all about? Worshiping God and serving others?

I know I am not going to make a lot of new friends with this devo. (I am hoping I don’t lose any.) But I can’t help but wonder what have we allowed to happen by judging churches based on a set of criteria that simply is not scriptural.

My husband and I and our children left a church where we had attended lovingly and faithfully for about 7 years, the denomination to which we were connected for 14 years. Had we only considered churches within that denomination, when we departed, well, that would have limited the options severely, and it would have been disobedient to God. It just so happens, He had an entirely different plan in mind for us. But to find that, we had to be open and willing to walk away from all that was familiar to us. It wasn’t without repercussions. There are people who no longer speak to us since making this decision. But that’s another story another day.

Lessons from that experience: (1) I am not indispensable to either my denomination or the church I attend. (2) God is so faithful and will go ahead of you. (Deuteronomy 31:8) And He will stand in the gap for you and your children. (3) God is transforming lives in many many grace filled churches with many different names on their front lawns. (4) My faith is not dependent upon the place I call my church home. It is totally and irrefutably dependent upon the cross and the mercy of God.

Go back and study the 1st century church of Acts 2. Not through your denominational lenses, or even the lenses of your pastor, or through the lenses of your church traditions. All of these, though they are all good things, can act as a filter for scripture. We simply have to look at scripture with a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17); and examine the truths for ourselves (Acts 17:11); in a way that pleases God and reveals his good and perfect will (Romans 12:1-3).

When we do this, we can only concede that denominational segregation among Christians was never the intent of God, but rather over the course of centuries became the intent of man. (1 Corinthians 1:10-18)

If our faith is inextricably tied to the denomination or non-denominational church with whom we are affiliated, rather than to the One whose life was sacrificed that I might live, what does that say about our walk with Christ or the power of the cross? Is that really faith at all? And if we truly believe in our hearts that God cannot use us outside of this group or that God cannot exponentially transform your life, your marriage, your family, anywhere else, but “there,” then what does that say about the power of our God? How could God, the creator of the universe and author of our faith, be so small? We must not put God inside a little box along with the great plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

I know it is a scary prospect to change religious gears (so to speak) and to suddenly start looking outside your familiar circle as you listen for God’s voice in the journey. I know because we did it. And then just as we were rocking along in our new church serving and feeling like God brought us here for a clear purpose, well, He moved us to Germany. Here we found that we were “stripped” not only of the convenience of denominational choices, but also every “comfort” that goes along with that: buildings, leaders, staff, youth groups, and the list goes on and on. We joined up with another family hosting church in our homes (thanks LC Online resources). It has been so different for our children and us, but once emptied of all that is familiar, you only have God on whom to depend. And the One you serve is faithful.
(1 Corinthians 1:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:11-13)

God with a big "G"

Judy McCarver May 31 at 7:14pm
1 Consider the idea that unmet expectations are the root of our disappointments, sadness, and our unhappiness. The truth we find in scripture is that only God can truly meet all of our expectations and emotional needs. That we indeed “live for an audience of One.” Neither our spouses, our parents, siblings, or closest friends are capable of meeting our deepest needs. Only God.

To that end, we read Psalm 19:12-13

These verses illustrate the inability of others to do for us what only God to can do for us? After all, who but God can forgive us our sins, and who but God can see our hidden faults, our hidden hurts, those things that go unsaid? Only the One for whom we live and by whom we were created. No person can do this for us.

2 We then ask ourselves the question, “Do I serve a God with a capital “G” or a little “g?” Many people believe in God and even call themselves Christians, yet they have a very limited scope of what their “god” can do for them? Do we believe that we serve the God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Creator of the universe who is interested in all the details of our lives, or do we believe that we serve a “god,” who is not concerned with the details of our lives? Or perhaps a “god” who does transform the lives of others, but never mine?

1 Samuel 17:32-37 tells a great story of two men, one of whom served “God,” father of the Israelite Nation, the “Almighty God.” The other served “gods,” with a little “g.” The men were David, a young boy perhaps at the time not even 16 years old, and his opponent and enemy of the nation of Israel, Goliath-in David’s words, “The uncircumcised Philistine who dares to defy the armies of the living God.”

Reread this story. Start seeing yourself as the child of the Almighty God, the same one who was with David when he took down the Philistine Giant. Yes, the same one.

This is the God to whom we pray when we pray.

What God do you serve? “God” with a capital “G?” or “god,” with a little “g?”

3 Philippians 4:19 says that “MY God will meet all your needs according to His riches in Glory.”

Now we have come full circle-back to where we started! Disappointment and Unmet Expectations.

According to this verse, it is indeed God who will supply all of our need- and how? “According to His riches in Glory.”

So the next time you feel frustrated, sad or disappointed, look to the Almighty God who created you who meets all your needs, “according to His riches in Glory.” And remember when you pray, you are praying to the Almighty God. You can look at the world with all of its problems and with all the darts that are thrown your way, and you can say what David said “That’s all you’ve got?” (I love this) Literally he said to Goliath, “you come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” Essentially, he was saying to Goliath, “That’s all you’ve got?” The next time you enter into that holy place with your God in prayer, remember you are stepping into the arms and the wing of the living God and you are coming against the world’s javelins and spears with the presence and power of the Almighty God. We are more than conquerers.

Amazing, Uncontainable, Irrefutable Grace Part 2 Remove the Mask

Some weeks I really stink at parenting. I mean really I totally miss the mark. I yell. I am overly critical. I don’t pay attention when I should. There are likewise times when I really stink at being a wife. I miss opportunities to encourage my husband. I am not there for him at critical moments. I am overly concerned with being “right,” and stomp on his feelings in the process. I have to work on this daily. I must daily hand my spiritual and emotional struggles over to God, my creator, my Father, the one, who through a supreme sacrifice has extended me far more grace than I deserve. But when I do, oh the joy that God’s love affords me. 

What I have done in these first few lines is essentially removed my “mask” for you. Not in a way that is offensive or tells you more than you need to know, but in a way that is real and authentic. Sometimes people just need to hear this from Christians. That is to say, we need to be willing, when it is appropriate, to self-disclose. In their book, True Faced, Trust God and Others with who You Really Are, the authors (Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch) offer a beautiful metaphor of our walk with Christ. This wonderful book illustrates two paths for Christians. One is the path of pleasing God. The other is the Path of trusting God. When we take the path of Pleasing God, our walk with Christ becomes all about Self-Effort. “The path of pleasing God becomes, what must I do to keep God pleased with me?” In short, this path hinders us from being vulnerable, and it precludes sharing with others our struggles, heartaches, and our sins. This path calls for us to maintain a façade of “I have it all together because if I don’t, I can’t please God.” The focus is on trying our best not to sin in an effort to make ourselves presentable to God. The other path of Trusting God leads us to “The Room of Grace.” Outside the room hangs a sign, which says, “Living out Who God says I am.” The difference between the two lies in the chasm between our own personal effort and God’s work in us. When we journey down the path of trusting God, we embrace who we already are in God. Genesis tells us that God created man in His own image. We are fashioned after our Creator. This completely agrees with John 1 that tell us we are children of God, “children born not of natural descent nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God!” We were born into a divine family of unconditional love and acceptance to begin with. We don’t have to earn that position any more than we should have to earn such a position in our earthly families. Yet, we pour our efforts into trying to make ourselves perfect so that we can be accepted by our Father. Yet Hebrews 12 is very clear that Jesus is “the author and perfecter of our faith.” Apart from Him, we cannot perfect anything. We can’t get it right on our own. This doesn’t mean that sin is suddenly of no consequence. It doesn’t mean that God is “soft” on sin. Just the opposite. Remember it means that we are “living out who God says I am.” God is the one who says we are His, that we are Holy, that we are set apart. It is for us to live these truths out in our lives-how? With exercising humility and trusting God that indeed we are who He says we are. 

Okay, so what is the harm of going down the path of “pleasing God?” Just this: First of all, it will always leave us discontented and disillusioned. Our own efforts will simply NEVER be good enough. The attempt will leave us empty and void of the joy that God intended for us. It only follows that our relationships with family and friends and neighbors will suffer in kind. Secondly, we lose people along the way. We lose others who need Christ. People who might come to know a God who is forgiving and merciful. (Psalm 103:1-17) People who might come to know a Father who believes that they are the “apple of His eye.” (Psalm 17:8 and Zechariah 2:8) But why would anyone want a Savior who is only interested in his or her performance? When unbelievers see us working so hard and so painfully to please our Father in heaven, it is far more likely that they will pity us than envy us. In the postmodern culture wherein we live, the art of self-deception and superficial living is in no short supply. Both unbelievers and new Christians need to see Believers who are mature in Christ. That is to say, believers who are the “real deal,” open and authentic. Believers who are “living out who God says they are.” So that “others being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3)

Remember my struggles I mentioned at the beginning of this devo? I will never ever forget years ago, I had been married for less than 5 years, and I had a big argument with my husband that morning (a Sunday.) I was really struggling emotionally. At church that morning, I spoke with a very matriarchal woman who I admired and trusted. I explained to her how I felt and the frustration in the discourse that morning between my husband and I. She immediately said to me, “Oh my husband and I have never argued. Over the years I have learned to…..” And I tuned her out after that. I vaguely remember my response to her being “congratulations.” And I walked away. She had a unique opportunity to mentor a younger woman in her marriage, to hold her accountable, yet also share personally with her in a way that might make that young woman (me) a better wife and mother. On the contrary, she chose to maintain the façade of the perfect wife. I didn’t believe it that day, and I don’t believe it today. Truly, rather than helping me through my trial, that encounter left me empty. When we are unwilling to be vulnerable as Christians, we foster the attitude in others, “I must be the only one who……” And certainly, this encounter did nothing to point me toward Christ. 

Well, there are a lot of things wrong with me (how long do you really have?) But God doesn’t make junk. He wants us to live out who we already are in HIM. And when we do this, we are compelled to remove the mask and show people who we really are. That is to say, we are not sinners trying on our own to stop sinning. Rather, we are sinners, “standing with God, with our sin in front of us, working on it together.” (True Faced). 

The author says, “We will never please God in our efforts to become Godly. Rather we will only please God-and become Godly-when we TRUST God.” And to this can I here a BIG AMEN? 

Misleading Theology?

Recently, an acquaintance made an innocent post on FB that said, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will.” I think this could be misleading. Okay, I think in some cases it could even be bad theology-depending on what the writer is referring to-our preferred outcomes OR God’s power. I think faith IS indeed believing that God can– even when He does NOT. Faith is believing in the power of God even when the outcome is not to my liking. If your life doesn’t turn out the way you planned, does that render your God powerless? The short answer to that is “No.” But how often do you unconsciously act this out in your life, “My faith will be strong when_________” “I will believe in the power of God when I see this happen:_____________” Well, let’s see, When I meet the perfect man or woman and get married. When I have a baby. When I get that great job. When I see my children to adulthood. “ OR I will believe in the power of God as long as ____________ (fill in your own blank) Really? Is God’s power contingent upon our preferred outcomes? The bible says that God’s plans will not be thwarted. (Job 42:2, Isaiah 14:27) It doesn’t say the same thing about our plans. In fact, it says just the opposite. (Psalm 33:10; Isaiah 8:10 and Proverbs 19:21) Many Christians are missing great opportunities to serve God and cheating themselves of the abundant life promised us in John 10:10- because they are still waiting on that perfect marriage, that perfect church, perfect children, perfect job and ministry, and well-a perfect life by a standard that perhaps for years has been propagated by false theology, “Faith is not believing that God can but that God will…” (Fill in the blank) make my marriage perfect; Save my children from disastrous outcomes; give me the perfect job with the perfect boss with the perfect salary.

Another way this might manifest itself: Well, maybe, rather than talk about problems in our marriage with a close and trusted Godly friend (of the same gender,) we keep it to ourselves. After all, if my marriage is in trouble, it must mean I don’t have enough faith, or the faith I have isn’t strong enough to ignite God’s power. It couldn’t be that sharing the daily issues of anxiety and strain and seeking out Godly counsel might put my marriage on a different path. Or, maybe rather than join a small group, I would avoid investing in deep intimate relationships, and not expect a small group experience to help me grow into spiritual maturity. If I need the help of a small group for that, then my faith must not be strong enough. Remember, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will…” I think this theology possibly leads us to thinking that as a “Christian,” we must have it together at all times and always have the answer to our problems. If this were true, then Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, David, Esther, Ruth, Paul the Apostle, Peter, and a host of other Godly biblical men and women were the wrong people for the task at hand. Christianity would most certainly have died in the 1st century. It wasn’t perfect marriages, or perfect ministries, perfect leadership or perfect children that caused the glory of God to shine forth through these men and women. Rather it was their imperfect lives and God’s perfect Son that made all the difference.

I love love love the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Look at Daniel 3 with me. Okay, are you there yet? (Humming my favorite song.) Giving you time to go to Daniel 3 in your bibles, you version, or Biblehttp://www.facebook.com/l/8567dlsO80M2230Sx9K16cmBw7A;gateway.com. Okay got it? Now read verses 13-18. What do you see there? Some of the most powerful words in scripture you will ever read about 3 of the most faith filled God followers you will ever know. The Pagan king Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw the three youths into a hot fiery furnace if they did not bow down to him. This was there reply. And no matter how often I read it, it always gives me goose bumps. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is ABLE to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

They knew and believed that God was way more powerful than that fiery furnace. They trusted 100% in the power of God to rescue them from that furnace, but they also knew that God’s plans would not be thwarted even if their desired outcome was different. “But even if he does not choose to rescue us from death, we still believe in Him.” (paraphrase)

Okay, we know the end to that story. God did indeed save them from the fiery pit that day. If He had not, then the three faithful followers would surely have joined him in heaven. But similar accounts did not always end this way. During Nero’s reign as Roman emperor from 54-68 AD, he arrested and tortured all the Christians in Rome, before executing them with lavish publicity. Some were crucified, some were thrown to wild animals and others were burned alive as living torches. This included men, women, and children. We also know from scripture and history that all the disciples of Jesus (not including Judas Iscariot) met with violent martyred deaths, with the exception of John. One might ask, “Was their faith not strong enough for God to show His power?”

God is always faithful. God is always good. God will always prevail. How do we know this? The lesson was borne out on the cross. The empty tomb reminds us that the One to whom we raise our hands and voices is King over all. The Creator of this Universe is more powerful than anything we could hope or imagine 1st and foremost. This power PRECLUDES our existence! Grappling with this truth will render us hopeless and “fruitless,” as we expend our energy waiting and hoping for someone or something to fill in all the missing blanks of our lives so that our faith can “prove itself.” On the other hand, grasping this truth will free us from a stronghold of futility and hopelessness and position us to grow in the knowledge and joy of Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8) Are you grappling or grasping this truth?

Amazing, Uncontainable, Irrefutable Grace part 1 why can’t we give it away?

Amazing, Uncontainable, Irrefutable Grace  Part 1 why can’t we give it away?

We have only lived in Germany for 1-½ years.   However, even in that short time, it has become apparent to us that generally speaking, Germans are guarded, protective of self, and rather isolated within their network of family and very close friends. We have been greatly privileged to become very good friends with two of our neighbors and even closer friends with a family who lives just a couple farm roads away. We hang out together a lot, and our kids play together.   You might be thinking, “Well, they have reason to be so guarded and reserved.”  After all, we did endure two “great wars” on the opposite side of each other.  And their sins have followed them ever since.  When we first moved here, I was encouraging one of my friends to visit us. This friend happened to be Jewish. She said she wasn’t sure if she could do that.  I also know that often times when our German friends travel abroad to bordering countries, they are treated disrespectfully and discriminately.  Finally, their schools also play a role in reminding these precious children over and over of the sins of the past. History and education are important. Self-deprecation is not.  Sad or as we would say in German, “Sharda.”  Pity.  So what part has the church played in Germany in not only removing that stigma, but also spreading the message of grace, forgiveness and joy? I would humbly submit that the “state church,” as it is so referred-has not done so well in its 500-year existence.  Why do I say this? Because when the church is transformed, so are the communities.  When the church is transformed, then they shout from it from the rooftops, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us.”  And when the church believes that about itself, then so can those outside the church. If those of us IN the church have not bought into this message of grace, then we can’t expect those outside of the church to do that.   

So you can imagine how utterly emotionally moved I was this past weekend when I sat in an arena filled with 8500 people worshipping God together.  With the exception of a few hundred Americans, Dutch, and French present, the remaining 8000 or so attendees-all German. Germans who are sold out for Christ. Sisters and brothers in Christ who have “received the message with eagerness,” (Acts 17:11) and are Christ centered. German Christians saying emphatically “Here am I, Send me.”  My heart was so speechless, stunned, and utterly impressed.  Young, middle aged and older folks all present at this Leadership conference praying and listening for new ways to reach the lost of not only their communities, but also churchgoers themselves all over this beautiful country.  

You know we think we are so different.  USA evangelical churches have spent decades trying to convince other evangelical churches what they are doing wrong.  We have done this at the expense of our next-door neighbor’s lost soul, at the expense of single parents who can’t feed their kids, and alas, while violence and addictions continue to destroy families.  Yes, while I am in a debate with another churchgoer over contemporary versus traditional, or while I am up to my ears with trying to reconcile the coexistence of dinosaurs and Christians, thousands of human souls are paying the price for my ego driven spiritual quests.  Last weekend John Ortberg made a very bold and courageous statement,  “There are too many undiscipled disciples-too many who think spiritual growth is trying to follow rules in the bible.  We have held up the wrong people as spiritual examples for so long, we have produced churchy people, but not transformed people.”  Here is the thing, I wouldn’t agree with Ortberg’s statement just for the sake of believing it, if it were not for the fact that I have experienced this first hand. For most of my life, my own spiritual examples have been Pharisees in form, fashion, speech, and demeanor.  They have been so in every way with the one exception of what they believe about the Messiah.  It is only in the last decade that this has steadily changed for me. And it certainly has had a great impact in my marriage, my parenting, where we serve and worship, and what we believe about the infinite, incredible, uncontainable grace that Christ offers us. 

This is a Part One Devo. Because I think this is important.  Next time, I am going to talk about removing the masks that we wear and stepping into not only God’s incredible grace for our lives, but also into the journey, the joy, and the mission that He purposed for us even before we were born. 

Thanks for reading

An old Friend Revisited

An Old Friend Revisited

If someone said to you  “who is your favorite author in the whole world,” what would you say?  Would you say Stephanie Meyer, Stephen King, or maybe CS Lewis?    There are truly some great authors out there, and some equally great books.  Reading is assuredly one of my greatest pastimes.  So many classics, so little time is how I feel.  Whenever I pick up a good book, I always feel like I am basking in the company of a dear old friend.  So how do we feel about the bible?  What allure does it have for us? Does it have any?   Is it too complicated or overwhelming for you?  Are you too busy to delve into it with the fervor that you think you should?  There are many reasons why we don’t read our bible with the same intensity we might another book.  But did you know that the authorship of the bible is God himself? Yes, it is true there were many who wrote and recorded the truths we find there, but according to 2 Timothy 3:16, these men were all chosen and inspired by God himself.  This passage tells us “all scripture is God breathed.”  There are other places in Scripture where we see the breath of our Lord giving life.  Genesis 2 tells us that the “LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”  The same breath that gave us life also gave us the Word of the Living God.  In John 20 Jesus is anointing the disciples with the Holy Spirit. We read there “And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  Wow, so when we see that our lives were borne out of the breath of God, and the Holy Spirit was given by the breath of Christ, does this give us new insight about the bible which is “God breathed?”  The same breath that has given us life has given us the words to live that life. This is indeed “life with God.”  According to Richard Foster in his book, “Life with God, Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation,” we often read the bible for two main reasons, (1) to gain knowledge and information, even information to affirm what we believe and used to admonish others or (2) to address a specific issue in our life in an attempt to “solve whatever the pressing problem” in front of us.  These two reasons are not inherently wrong.  But Foster goes on to say, “But what we must face up to with these two objectives is that they always leave us or others in charge.”  Foster goes on to say that if we truly read the bible for spiritual transformation then we must be prepared to “call into question our dearest and most fundamental assumptions about ourselves and our associations.”  In other words, start reading the bible with a clean slate. Many of us have had churches, parents, grandparents, and pastors who have taught us for years from scripture, and Praise God for them. But when was the last time you read the bible without any pre-conceived notions or prior associations? (Acts 17:11) Just read; listen with your heart, and soak in God’s teaching, his comfort, his peace, and the love of his Son.  Only when we approach the Word with this attitude of humble submission, can personal transformation truly happen.  It is the inside out approach that God uses to change us with his Son-the Word of God. (John 1:1) Not the outside in approach with which we often employ in our bible reading.  So the next time you have a moment, revisit an old friend-your bible.  In the words of Richard Foster, “It is the loving heart of God made visible and plain. And receiving this message of exquisite love is the great privilege of all who long for life with God.”
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When the Wall Came Down

When The Wall Came Down

Recently on a trip to London, a sweet employee in a bookstore engaged me in conversation.  She asked me where I was from.  I told her “Oklahoma.”  She innocently replied, “Is that in Ohio?”   Caught off guard by her confusion, I sputtered briefly before explaining to her that indeed Ohio and Oklahoma were two different and independent states.  “Oh,” she said as she nodded in new understanding.  Later I got to thinking, it is true that our knowledge of US Geography is different, but there is something else that unites us: we are both children of the living God.   

This year is the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, a defining battle in WWII, that cleared the way for victory for the Allied forces over Germany.  65 years later, my husband proudly serves along side many Germans.  We eat dinner frequently with our German friends.  Moreover, this year marks the 20-year anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down. The wall had been a rigorous and hostile barricade separating the East Germans from the West Germans.   There were actually families divided on either side of that wall.  

But long before this, there was another wall that was destroyed almost 2000 years ago.  The words of Ephesians 2 are so timeless, powerful, and evident in humanity today. But for all of us, it is paramount to our faith that we understand what Christ did for us-Gentiles and sinners.  When He died on the cross, He once and for all, destroyed the “barrier” between the Israelite nation and us.  We should see ourselves in this scripture, and for sure we should see our fellow man.  We should understand that because of this, as God’s people, we are “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”  

Who do you need to share the gospel with this week? Is there a “dividing wall of hostility” between you and a loved one or a co-worker or a neighbor?  Remember what Christ did for you.  

Ephesians 2:14-22
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
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The Land of Plenty

THE LAND OF PLENTY
After 9 months of being in Germany, we made our first trip home to the States. (If you are reading this, and saying, “hey, we didn’t see them while they were home,” just know I am SORRY! Feel free to register your complaints.)  Speaking of “home,” when we stepped off the plane in Dallas, I am a little embarrassed to say that the first thing we did was go to Sonic.  The next thing we did was arrive at our friends’ home eager to visit. Well, first things first right?   Our friends have been back from Brazil for only a few months. In Brazil, they lived as missionaries for the last 10 years.   Having just arrived from another country, we had very stimulating conversation about the challenges of sharing our faith abroad.  The truth is, coming back to America is like getting a great big hug.  It’s sort of like going home at the end of a long day at work and being greeted by your family.  America is indeed “the land of plenty.” In fact, convenience is dispensed on every corner in nearly every town in America. 7-11s, restaurants, Kinko’s, medical facilities, shopping, churches, and the list goes on and on.   After being gone for a while, the vast and immediate availability of “everything” can be overwhelming.  I never realized before just how much it is the land of “educational freedom” either until moving overseas.  And believe it or not, it is still the land of “religious freedom.”  The problem is most Americans simply don’t realize that they live in either the “land of plenty” or the “land of religious freedom.” 

Freedom comes in every size and color. Freedom to eat, drink and be merry, and the freedom to be whatever you want to be.  Freedom to tell your child, she can be whatever she wants to be.  Freedom to home schools your kids (illegal for German citizens). Freedom to go back to college at the age of 80 to change your career field.   Freedom  freedom freedom!  (Can’t you just hear Aretha belting the song out?)   No doubt about it, the “land of plenty.”  The question is what do we do with this freedom?  My focus is not what the unbeliever does with this freedom, but what do Christ followers do with this incredible gift they have been given?   Many believers in churches all across America are exercising their “freedoms” in negative ways. Their growth is happening from within, not without. Furthermore, Christians are often fighting amongst themselves about how to get it “just right” in the Sunday morning service.  (In Galations 5, this argument was about circumcision or uncircumcision, but now it often surrounds how, when, and where we worship; or the methods with which we deliver the gospel; the old or the new; the traditional or the contemporary) It is indeed true that you have the freedom to debate such useless arguments.  But do you have the time?  Buildings and steeples all too often take the focus off of the lost and place that focus on us.  The truth is, in other countries, reaching the lost takes on a whole new meaning when you are trying to overcome language barriers and cultural differences that have absolutely no regard for whether or not we have 3 songs, a prayer and an invitation or just two songs and a prayer.  Differences that have no regard for wooden pews or metal chairs, but are very skeptical about a church that meets in someone’s home.  Shameless dependence on our God, the only one who can bridge the gap between our neighbors and us, is what runs the show around here. We don’t have a staff, a steeple, or a building.  We don’t have baptismals, fellowship halls, or jungle gyms.    And we don’t have an endless selection of upscale restaurants to choose from for lunch on Sunday after church.  But we have the Creator of the Universe, God, revealing Himself to us and going ahead of us on the journey. As we returned to our home and our life here in Germany jet lagged and disheveled, but also energized and refueled from our visit with friends and family, (and all of our favorite restaurants,) I had a message on my home answering machine. It was a new couple that just arrived here from the states, wanting to attend our church.  And actually, a few weeks ago, we had our first German family join us. I don’t know if there will be more to follow, but I am trusting that God will resource and equip us to bring more. 

I am grateful for all of my freedoms in America and these who have paid such a great debt of sacrifice for me to have them. I am grateful and thrilled that we have buildings to congregate and worship in and kitchens to cook meals for the needy.  I am grateful for places to fellowship together. I am grateful that we have passionately devoted staff members who daily sacrifice their personal time and agendas in order to spread the gospel to so many. I am grateful for all the wonderfully equipped children’s’ ministries at churches all across America.  I am deeply grateful for the Internet campus and the incredible resource they are in helping us be a part of the LC vision in bringing the gospel to folks all around the globe.  And also for our local chapel who lends us support and encouragement.  I am simply saying this with regard to all of the “haves” you have in the “land of plenty.”  It “ain’t” like that everywhere else.  How do you exercise your freedoms? How do you spend your time sharing Christ? Are you the gloom and doom Christian political activist convinced that Christians will start behaving the way they should when all is as it should be in American politics?  Are you the one on a personal mission to see that the order of worship is identical to the New Testament church (hmm, good luck with getting that exactly right!) Maybe you are the “people server patrol” (whether in an official or unofficial capacity:) who will lead the singing, who can participate in the worship service, who takes up the offering, or how often do we serve communion?  I realize that there are tons of logistics to cover and master in order for the church body to run smoothly, of course.  But when our agenda becomes more important than the lives of God’s people, then we have exercised our freedoms recklessly and without considering what else God may want us to see in the situation right in front of us.  If it has done nothing else for me, moving to a different country has indeed given me a different perspective on what really matters.  Sometimes all you have is a plate of cookies and an encouraging scripture.  Or sometimes it is just a smile and a few awkward words “hello, my name is…and I live just down the street….”  “Greater is He that is in me…..”

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galations 5:1

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. (Judy’s insert:  in other words you cover the logistics, the outward commands of the law, but……) But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. Matthew 23

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  2 Cor. 3:16-18

What are you so afraid of?

What are you so afraid of?  

Fear has a way of entering into the deepest recesses of our minds. There it sets up camp and occupies a lot of space.  We can be fearful of little piddly things like learning how to use a new camera, or you can be fearful of much bigger issues like marriage and commitment, moving, sharing your faith, fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of this, fear of that.  In 2 Timothy 1:7 we are told “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.”  Wow. That kind of puts a crimp in the fear camp.  
I have found that often times we are most fearful of what we don’t understand and fearful of people or situations that are different than we are.  Recently, I was shopping in the Netherlands and happened upon a very friendly woman who is Dutch, but lives in Germany.  So she is fluent in her native language Dutch as well as German and English.  As we spoke, she said that she loved meeting new people and often was praising of God for that opportunity. She asked me with curiosity if I was American (politely I am sure since I know my voice had long since given this away.) She then admonished me somewhat, and pleaded with me to be sure and talk to my neighbors. She added that she had some American neighbors who hurried into their houses and pulled their shades down when they got there. “Get to know others around you, and mingle she said. This is so important for you and for your German neighbors.”  Her English was very good, but the message she was sending me was even better. Don’t be afraid of someone who is different than you.  In the same manner, on many occasions, I have known of churches of different denominations that simply refuse to come together for a community mission or purpose, or even a potluck meal.  Why? What in Heaven’s name are we so afraid of?  If we go out of our way to speak kind words to our German neighbors, is that going to make us “un-American?”  If we have a fellowship meal or a ministry project with the other local churches, is our faith or our witness going to shrivel up and die?  Are we less of a Christian for joining hands with other church bodies or are we better for it?  I know that my faith is contingent upon the blood of Christ, not on me or any other person I come in contact with.  Let “us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”

What about you?  Are you afraid of something or someone who is completely different from you? Does it render you helpless in some areas of your ministry? Maybe for you, it is a fear of commitment to a person or a ministry, or failure, or rejection.  There are at least two kinds of fear spoken of in scripture that are worth addressing here. One is found in Deuteronomy 10:12 “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

Here the original Hebrew word for fear is Yare which translates to revere; be dreadful or to be held in reverence. And we know by reading this in context that this was a healthy fear, a fear that embraces and acknowledges God’s power and omnipotence.

On the other hand the original Greek word for fear in 1 John 4:18 is the word Phobos that translates “exceeding fear, terror, alarm or fright.”   As we read this in context, we see that this fear is not connected to God or to His Son, but rather has a different source.  Satan undoubtedly loves to inflict Phobos.  (Yes, you can see where we get our word “Phobia.”)

1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 

So while it is true we are commanded to “fear the Lord” with a Yare or reverent fear, we are also taught that God is not the author of Phobos fear, a fear that holds us in terror and fright, a fear that renders us helpless and hopeless.  Truly, this is the “fear of timidity” that as Paul stated in 1 Timothy God has NOT given us.  

Finally, I want to add that your faith is not defined by what you know, but rather by your trust in the Savior.  Your faith is not contingent upon knowing the outcomes of every venture, event, ministry, or other journey you undertake in this life. Our faith compels us to believe in the power of God working through us in all things as we DO his will, as we do what He has called us to do. At the same time, we understand that even though I don’t know how it all will turn out, God does. Fear, which we allow to set up a stronghold in our minds, will set up camp, and relegate our faith, our Hope in the Creator of the Universe, to a spectator position.  We should be so bold as to ask God to remove this “Phobos” from our hearts and minds and replace it with “Yara.”  For so it is true:  “Greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world.”
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Which is better? To be driven by guilt or to be driven by conviction?

Which is better? To be driven by guilt or to be driven by conviction?

Recently, a very good friend of mine exclaimed to me, “I was doing so good on my bible study, but then I just quit. I feel so guilty.”  I challenged her to channel her “guilt” in a different direction. Perhaps as believers, we should acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s nudging in our lives: His counsel John 14:26; His conviction John 16:8; His discernment John 15:26; and His teaching John 14:26. Just as I suggested to my friend, I would humbly submit to you that guilt paralyzes us while conviction compels us.  Guilt all too often renders self-deprecation, apathy, and passiveness; a “no can do” spirit.  On the other hand, spiritual conviction renders repentance, a love for Christ, and in essence, spiritual conviction renders purpose and meaning.  Paul said in 1 Timothy 1 “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst…”  But he did not leave it there. He did not wallow in the very guilt from which he had been saved.  No indeed, in verse 16 he says “But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”  In fact in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul wrote “And Christ’s love compels us…..”  Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) He loves to get a stronghold in our lives and render us ineffective for Christ. And what better way to do this than by guilt?  But wait, what is the good news anyway?  The Good News is that we were found guilty, but Jesus rendered that verdict innocent by His death on the cross.  So the next time you feel guilty, read this scripture that you have posted on your bathroom mirror (Colossians 2:13-15) and understand that as believers, we have this confidence that God has taken away our guilt “once for all.” Therefore, if we allow guilt to be our guide, then we are abdicating the gift that God gave us through the sacrifice of His son. Moreover, it is the love of Christ that should “compel” us, not guilt.  If we falter or sin or fall short on some of our responsibilities as Christians, than let’s acknowledge the conviction and counsel of the Holy Spirit in our life when we feel sorrowful for that and so repent, and so be renewed with passion and purpose.  In other words, move on and do the “next right thing.”  But don’t allow guilt to be the one that prevails.  Don’t give Satan such a stronghold. Colossians 2:13-15 “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 canceled 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. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
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