Sunday, February 28, 2010

Honest Before God

I would like to stray from my usual path and speak to you from my heart. No lesson in the word today, no bible passage to explore and unfold for you. Just me getting really honest before God. An honest admission of where I am at this moment in time and the gripping truth of the reality that is unfolding around me.

In the last year I have come to the place of being laid bare and completely naked before God. I have to say that it is not a comfortable feeling and at the same time there is relief in it. I am bare. I am raw. I am full with emotion. No pretense, no unrealistic visions of who I am. Just standing here stripped of all things that made me think more (or at times less) of myself.

So.... what does that tell me? What have I learned? Who does that make me?

I see clearly now who I fall into being so easily. I see who I am in my flesh. I see who I am without the Spirit. I see God's vision of me and how far I have been from it. I see the wretchedness of my own humanity.

I can see clearly the "me" I do not want to be. I can see that person He is trying to mold out of me. The one He took out from the world and has gracefully, tenderly been remaking.

That woman called "me"; self adsorbed, prideful, selfish and unkind. A breaker of commandments. Not one commandment of the ten did I keep. Having other Gods, Lying, coveting, stealing, adultery and yes, even murder. I have broken them all, so much I have done wrong. I have no pretense or false view of what lies inside me.

I deserved nothing from God. Nothing but his disdain did I deserve. But I got none of that. Instead, mercy was placed at my feet. Mercy so full of love and blessing that I can't even grasp the magnitude of it. I was so lost and full of my own wanting. Yet, God chose to save me. Why? Why save me, Lord?

He must have seen something in this wretched heart of mine. Even in my sin He saw something He wanted to save. I can not grasp the love that does that.

In contrast, I can now see the glory of God! I see who He can make me. I see where He can take me. I see where I can go under His wing. I can reach for stars. I can find goodness and become clear, so His image can be seen in me.

Empty of myself now. Naked. I am ready to be remade. So I sit at His feet in wait. Patiently, I wait while praise rises up from my lips. Holy, Holy, Holy, my lips continue to utter. Mold Lord, as I praise You. I will stay at Your feet until You finish Your work. Submitting to Your will I stay till Your done.

Keep changing me Lord. The nakedness now has become a relief. I need nothing when You give it all. I only need the filling of Your Spirit to raise my heart to joy. It takes away the sting of this world and brings peace in return.

Keep remaking me Lord. I want what You want in me. I am Yours by the price You ransomed. Bought by a price that I could never pay. So I will not try. Instead, I will humbly yield so Your will can be done in me, in my life.

I am Yours and You are mine. That is enough for me. It is all I need while here on this earth, no matter what the road holds ahead of me.

So naked I will walk with my soul transparent before mankind. No mask to hide behind or false identity to feel safe or protected with. Only You shining Your glory through me for the world to see. Knowing that my sin and failures will scare some but bring hope to others. I will live to show that hope You bring.

It has taken much work for You to strip me bare. I held so tightly to the security of self doing that it made the task more difficult. The pruning was painful but I am looking forward to the buds in the spring. Like a flower that opens to the rays of the sun, I will watch Your glory revealed through me with awe.

In the end, after all has been said and done, my journey is worth just one moment with You. But that’s not all I get, just one moment. I get a lifetime, an eternity, that is my gain instead. For all of this, I am thankful.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Beauty of Grace

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me....
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
T'was Grace that taught...
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear...
the hour I first believed.

Amazing Grace, remember the old hymn? I can’t sing this song without it sticking in my throat from the emotion it creates in me. Grace, unmerited favor from God, it is truly amazing. I can’t imagine what would cause a Holy God to show favor on a wretch like me. But I’m grateful He has.

I love the second verse. T’was grace that taught my heart to fear and grace, my fears relieved.

Grace, it teaches us the fear of the Lord and then not to fear anything. The fear of the Lord means to stand in awe of the greatness of a Holy God. To be humbled in His presence because you understand His magnificence. But then grace allows us to fear nothing because we are loved by the very same God that we awe. We need not be afraid because He has covered it all, just for each of us.

Yesterday, we looked at the pain of great failure and how it affected the disciple Simon Peter. Today we get to see the kindness of a God that cares for us even when we fail. His grace is more than we can ever fathom. Let’s see how the grace of God restored Peter after such a serious transgression. Peter, who had denied Jesus three times and deserted Him, is restored the same amount of times.

John 21:15-17 - So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs."
He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep."
He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" An he said to Him, "Lord, YOu know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus sai to him, "Feed My sheep."

After the horrible denial in the courtyard of the palace of the high priest, while Simon Peter warmed himself on the coals of a fire, he left his commission behind. He had done the unthinkable; he had denied he was a follower of Jesus Christ. Now we see him by the Sea of Galilee, once again warming himself by the coals of a fire. This time he is sitting with the resurrected Christ when the conversation between them takes place.

Not once does Jesus ask Simon, Son of Jonah but three times. “Do you love Me?” Three times denied, three times restored. His commission was restored not once but three times, just as many times as it was denied.

Jesus knew Simon Peter; He could look in his heart and see that the denial wasn’t because of a lack of love. Jesus knew that Peter’s denial had come out of fear. He could have just let it go, but He didn’t. Why? Why would Jesus bring it up and make Peter reconfirm his commitment to Him?

I’m stretching a bit, but allow me a little leeway here. I think Jesus did it for Peter’s sake not His own. Peter would carry around that denial and mistake with Him where ever He went. Without Jesus clearing it up, Peter would probably ponder on it and it would torture him internally.

How often have you done that yourself? Have you carried your past failures around with you like a stone around your neck? Weighing you down and keeping you stuck?

God wants us to live in his grace not our failures. His grace is previous. It’s there even way before our failures. It was there way before Peter ever failed and it’s the same way for us.

Looking back at the first time Jesus met Simon Peter we see grace (the unmerited favor of God) bestowed.

John 1:41-42 – He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone).

Jesus announced it to Simon Peter the moment he met him. ”You are mine; you will be the rock that builds my church.” Jesus knew Peter would fail him, even then. He knew way back then that Simon Peter would deny Him not once but three times. He knew all that and still pronounced His favor over him. The grace of God was there from the moment Jesus first laid eyes on Simon Peter.

We see the same previous grace with King David. We saw his failure with Bathsheba in our lesson yesterday. Now let’s look at the grace that was provided even before David saw Bathsheba.

2 Samuel 7:1-2 - Now it came to pass when the king was dwelling in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies all around, that the king said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains." Then Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you."

If we continue and read the rest of the story we see that night God give Nathan a different decision. The word of the Lord comes to him to tell him to deliver the message to David not to build a house for Him. Instead God tells David that he will instead build him a house, an eternal house that would extend all the way to Jesus. He would have a son and that son would be the one to build His house. That son was Solomon.

Before David sinned with Bathsheba. Before he killed her husband. Before he took her as his own wife. Before Solomon was born to them. Before David even knew he would sin, God knew and extended grace. Solomon would be the son chosen to build the house of God. Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba would be the one given to David to bless him with.

Grace was there before the sin. Grace was there even though God knew David would fail. Grace was always there.

So it is for us also. Grace is there before we fail. When we place our life in His hands, the very moment we do that, we have the unearned, unmerited favor of God. We are saved by grace but we also have it to live in daily. Grace doesn’t save us then go away. It is there with us to live in and carry us each day.

Lord, give us this day our allotment of grace. We need it. Every day. Every hour. Every minute.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Pain of Great Failure

Have you ever had a time in your life you wish you could turn back time or take back what just happened? Maybe something you said to someone. Maybe something you did caused you or someone else pain. Simon Peter felt that way once. Let’s look at his failure with Jesus.

Mark 14:27-30 - Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night," for it is written: 'I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' "But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee. " Peter said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be." Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that today even this night, before before the rooster crows twice you will deny Me three times."

Mark 14:66-72 - Now as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came. And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, "You also were with Jesus of Nazareth." But he denied it saying, "I neither know nor understand what you are saying." And he went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him again and began to say to those who stood by, "This is one of them." But he denied it again. And a little later those who stood by said to Peter again, "Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it." Then he began to curse and swear, "I do not know this Man of whom you speak!" A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him. "Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times." And when he thought about it, he wept.

Peter failed Jesus just as predicted. Once he realized his failure, he was filled with deep regret. So much so that he wept. Have you ever felt like you failed Jesus?

If we were truthful, we would all probably have countless times when we failed to be all that He requires of us. We all fail to live up to the standard that is set by Jesus. We fail our family, our friends, ourselves and our God probably more than we care to admit.

Some people would look at the times of their own great failures and decide to throw in the towel. Sometimes it’s an accumulation of small failures that make us believe we’ve just messed it up way to much. Some people do throw in the towel. They pack up their heart, and slink away believing they have done too much to be forgiven for.

Maybe this is you right now. Maybe you are the one still sitting in the pew but you have removed your heart from the game. Maybe you have completely removed yourself from the pew and left the church behind. Are you thinking that you have messed up so badly that Jesus could never take you back or He could never forgive you? Are you saying these words to yourself? “This could never be made right in God’s eyes.” “I could never be forgiven for this terrible thing I did.”

Many people say these things to themselves after they have failed. Not only do they say these things to themselves, they believe them. Then they live in their pain and failure for years.

Maybe your the one that has let so many small failures happen that your heart just feels cold and distant. You are going through the motions but your heart is removed.

Today, I want you to know something. You are not alone. You are not the only one that has failed God. You are not alone in your failures and your pain. The truth is, everyone alive has failed. Every person that has taken a breath on this earth has experienced some kind of failure in life. Some may have only experienced small failures. But too many people to count have failed God greatly.

I am one of the many, one of those that have failed God greatly. And yet he has still chosen to use me. Like Peter, I denied Jesus. I said I never knew Him. For eighteen years I walked away from the faith and forgiveness I was given. I lived life my way, and denied the saving power that He had bestowed on me. I failed to understand the gift He had given me. In the process I made many mistakes and lived a life steeped in sin.

For many of those years I believed my sin had become too great to be forgiven. I believed that if I were to come back and be with Jesus I would first need to clean up all the mess I had made of my life. But Jesus didn’t need me to clean up my life. He said to me “Just come home, I’ll do the rest.” You see, you and I are not alone in our failures. We have a Savior that understands our weaknesses.

The bible shows many examples of those that have failed in their service to God. There was David, the one considered to be after Gods own heart; he failed in a huge way. We have always heard so much about his heart being one that sought after God. What we forget about him is his flesh nature and how it led to his failure with Bathsheba.

II Samuel 11:1-4 - I happened in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Isreal; and they destroyed the people of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king's house. And from the roof he saw woman bathing, and the womans was very beautiful to behold. So David sent and inquired about the woman. And someone said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam,the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" Then David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house. And the woman conceived; so she send and told David and said, "I am with child."

David goes on to try and cover up his sin. He calls for her husband to be brought back from battle. Plotting, he tries to get Uriah to go home and sleep with his wife so the child will be thought of as his. But Uriah will have none of it, loyal to the King, he will not take pleasure while others are still in battle. In the end, David has Uriah strategically place in battle so he will meet his demise.

Through out this story David has one failure after another. He fails greatly just like all of us do. His first failure was being content in his success. Instead of going out to battle with his men like he always had, he decided stayed behind. Next thing you know we see him up on the roof lusting after Bathsheba. His sin could have stopped there but instead, he follows his fleshly desires. He sends for her and sleeps with her.

What consequences resulted? Bathsheba gets pregnant. At this point, David could have come clean with his sin but he doesn’t. He tries to cover the whole thing up and sends for her husband. Maybe if her husband sleeps with her, he will think the child is his. Then when he won’t go to his wife, David plots to kill him in battle. He sends him out to be slaughtered.

Whew! The deed is done, all has been covered up. Right?

Wrong. You hide from the world but you can't escape the eyes of God. His failure was not to man but to God. As much as he tried to cover up his sin, it could never be done. It was all there in the plain sight of God.

You would think after a horrible failure like this, God would have nothing more to do with David. In our mind, a failure like this could never be redeemed. God sees it different though, He forgives those that love Him.

Asa, the King of Judah was another of those we see in scripture that loved God but failed Him.

2 Chronicles 14:2 - Asa did was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.

Asa too had a heart that loved God. But it still didn't keep him from failure.

2 Chronicles 14:11 - And Asa cried out to the Lord his God and said, "Lord, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!"

2 Chronicles 16:1-3 - In the thiry-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. Then Asa brought silver and gold from the treasuries of the house of the Lord and of the king's house, and sent to Ben-Hadad king of Syria, who dwelt in Damascus, saying, "Let there be a treaty between you and me, as there was between my father and your father. See, I have sent you silver and gold; come, break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel, so that he will withdraw from me."

Asa was a man after God. He had sought God for direction. When he was up against an army many times larger than his, He sought the Lord for deliverance. Only to do the opposite later in his reign as King. The King of Israel comes up against him and instead of turning to God, Asa turns to neighboring countries. He sends word to the allies of his father to stand with him in battle. God could have provided what Asa needed, but he failed to even consult Him.

So often we do the same. We fail in small ways everyday. We fail to allow God to be there for us. We fail to trust Him. We fail to have just the smallest amount of faith.

Thankfully, it doesn’t end like that. We don’t have to sit in our failures with no way out. God always provides a way for us to be restored. In my next post, we will look at how God does that. But for today, know that you are not alone when you fail. The bible has seen many that failed in small and great ways. God understands and shows mercy on the repentant heart.

Don't let your failures keep you stuck in discouragement. Take heart because there is a God that will come to restore you.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Given a New Name and a New Identity

John 1:41-42 – He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Now when Jesus looked at him, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas” (which is translated, A Stone).

Can you imagine? You walk up to Jesus and his first words to you are “You are Simon the Son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas.”

My reaction would have been simply “huh?” with a confused look on my face. You know the kind of look you get where one side of your lip turns up slightly and you cock your head to one side. It’s that look you get when you’re completely dumb founded.

I guess we can’t say for sure how Simon reacted to Jesus’ statement, but surely he was perplexed to say the least. Maybe he had that same look on his face I would have, wondering what exactly this new name meant for him. What ever his reaction, we know that this was an unusual statement to hear from someone he had never met before.

So what do Simon and his brother Andrew do after this encounter with Jesus? We can’t be sure of the timing or what they did immediately after, but they did eventually end up back home. The next time we see Jesus approach these two young men they are back home fishing.

Matthew 4:18-19- And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Simon Peter’s response was to drop his net and follow Jesus. Later on as he is walking with Jesus he is asked a question “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus responds to Simon Peter’s answer with another declaration of who Simon Peter will be.

Matthew 16:15-18 – He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

In the period of time that Simon Peter walked on this earth, a name meant more than it does today. Back then you were given a name to describe who you were. Jesus called Simon the “rock”, meaning the foundation of the early church. He would be the solid one that built the church.

When Jesus called Simon Peter by a new name He wasn’t just wishing or predicting what would come. He was instead giving him a new life, a new purpose and a new destiny. Jesus was not a prophet telling a future prophecy. He was and still is the son of God, fully God himself. He needed nothing or no one else to help make this change happen in Peter. It was spoken. It was done. Destiny changed.

Our destiny also changes when we become a disciple of Christ. We are no longer the old person we were before.

2 Corinthians 5:17 - Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Ephesians 4: 22-24 - That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Colossians 3:3 - For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:9-10 - Do not lie to one another, since you have put of the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.

When we are in Christ we are born again, changed into a new creation. Old things have passed away, meaning they are to be gone from our everyday life. All things are made new. We are given a new name; He calls us His child, His beloved. All that we were, is forgiven and washed away, a new day has begun and the slate has been wiped clean. Because of this change we are not to hang onto the old self that we were before. That old person is corrupt and is driven by the lusts of this world. Instead we are to be renewed in the Spirit and put on the new destiny that has been placed before us. We are a new man/woman.

The Greek term for “new man” used in Colossians 3:9-10 depicts an individual, male or female, who possesses a “new nature” or a “new humanity”. It characterizes a metamorphosis in our conduct. That means a complete transformation takes place from a life of sin to one of righteousness. That metamorphosis is the same as being reborn or born again. I liken it to the complete metamorphosis of a caterpillar as it changes into a butterfly.

Jesus places His Spirit within us so we can walk the new life of the righteous man. Not that we will always do everything right or we won’t still struggle with sin. We will always struggle as long as we are here on this earth. It’s our character that God is concerned with. Our life should no longer be shaped or look like it used to look. We should be seeking to be more like Jesus everyday.

The process of changing is just that, a process. We will not wake up tomorrow and think every thought perfectly righteous. It takes a daily renewing. We are to hide the word of God in our heart, to fill ourselves with it so it can do the renewing process of changing who we are.

What we can be sure of that comes instantaneously is an assurance that our final destiny is secured. If we are truly one with Jesus Christ our final destiny is with Him in heaven.

We can also look forward to a different life. Since our life is no longer lived for ourselves, it is pretty safe to say that we won't end up where we thought we would before we met Jesus Christ. If you are seeking God on where to go in our life and what to do with your time and talent, chances are He will guide you where you never thought you would go. This seems to scare some people. I’ve heard some say; I’m not giving everything over to Jesus because if I do He might send me over to the rain forest where there is no running water.

Maybe that’s true. He may send you out to be a missionary. But I promise you, if He does call you to the mission field, you will want to go. Before He calls you to go He will place such a burden in your heart that you will go gladly. He will make you fall in love with the place He is sending you. In the end it will be you saying, send me Lord. Send me, I’ll go. Just like Simon Peter, we will be given a destiny for our life. Some of us will stay here. Others will go. What ever your calling is, you can be sure that Jesus will equip you with what you need to succeed.