Tag Archives: love

Victory is a Person (God’s not out to change us, but to exchange us)

Victory, from the Old French word victor, means to triumph or overcome in a struggle. A personal victory might be losing weight, breaking a bad habit or making the dean’s list. There are team victories, political victories and victories in war. Most victories require tremendous strain and effort, but are extremely rewarding.

In Christian circles you hear of a “victorious Christian life,” a time when sin is conquered, fear is overthrown and love for God and other’s flows freely.

Our natural tendency is to think a “victorious Christian life,” is gained in the same pains taking efforts other victories have been won, giving it our all, trying as hard as we can to win. This could not be farther from the truth.

It is true, Jesus desires for us a life free from fear and sin, loving God and others in the same sacrificial way He has loved us, but He is not asking us to change.

God is not looking for a changed life. He is offering an exchanged life.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2nd Corinthians 5:21

Christ has exchanged His life for ours. Not only did He die in our place to rescue us from eternal separation from God, but He also imputed His righteousness to us. We have become the righteousness of God.

There is not trying hard to be righteous. In Christ we are righteousness.

But you say, “That might be true, but how is victory realized in my own life? How is sin defeated, fear banished, love unleashed and joy experienced?”

The answer is still the same. With His exchanged Life.

Consider the great summary verse Paul wrote about the Christian life:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20

The victory is not in trying harder. The victory is in embracing the death of our old nature on the cross and depending upon the newness of our life in Christ. Christ did not die so that we could be changed. He died so that we might die with Him and be raised with Him in newness of life.

Victory is in realizing our crucifixion with Christ and depending upon Christ in all we do. Yielding to His abiding Spirit, we bear fruit for the glory of God. Apart from His work in us, we can do nothing. ( See John 15:5)

We need to stop trying so hard to pattern our lives after what we read about Jesus in the Bible. There’s only one person who can truly live the victorious Christian life and it’s not us. It’s Jesus in us.

We have been made new. In Christ we have all the love, joy, peace, patience and hope we will ever need. Ours is to realize our newness in Him (counting as fact the death of our old self (See Romans 6:11) ) and yielding to Christ in us to love whoever get’s in our way.

Victory is not in trying harder. I’m pretty sure we’ve all tried that.

Victory is in remaining in the love of Christ and yielding to His Spirit.

The old has gone the new has come.

Challenge:  Consider an area of your life in which you feel defeated.  Trust that Jesus wants you to have victory in this area even more than you do.

Bring this area before the Lord right now:

Lord, you know  how discouraged I am in this area. I’ve tried so hard to be like you, but have failed miserably. I know now that victory is not in trying harder, but in resting in You. Open the eyes of my heart that I might know your great love for me. Teach me to remain in your love and yield to your Spirit in me as I allow you to become my victory in this area.

Lord, You are my Victory.

 

Death Row – A Good Friday Story

A man squatted in a dingy prison cell, his features hidden by the deep shadows of his dark imprisonment. Only a thin plane of morning sunlight penetrated the darkness, revealing countless dust particles floating around rows of disheartened men. The man was seated, away from the light, staring motionless into the darkness.

On a hill outside the prison stood the place of execution, where condemned men were put to death. Today would be this man’s turn.

 In a way, death was a welcome ending to his pain. But more strongly the condemned man felt the fear of death’s mysteries. His soul, it seems, had died long ago, but the fear of physical death consumed him.

As he waited in the cruel anticipation of a violent death, his mind raced across the span of his life. What would have made a difference? What could have changed his inclinations towards evil? The answers to these questions could only be tossed out into his universe of despair. Like always, he knew no answers would come. There was no hope.

Slowly and ever more increasingly, the  man became aware of the sounds of a great number of voices and footsteps. There were shouts and roars, but none of the words could be recognized. The noise increased and erupted past him like a huge ocean wave. An enormous mass of shouting people had passed just outside his cell and were proceeding toward execution hill. 

The time was near. He couldn’t remember so great a crowd ever gathered to witness a death before.

Just then the outside door of the prison was slammed open hard against the wall. Keys jiggled and the main security door was unlocked. Prison guards streamed towards his cell. The hopeless man trembled and recoiled in fear. Death was pouncing upon him.

The guards unlocked his cell and converged upon him like as many wild tigers. They seized him, and drug him out into the morning sun outside the prison. When they had cleared the outside door, he was slammed face down hard on the ground, sand and dirt exploding into his eyes, nose and mouth. 

The impact dazed him. In a semi conscious state, he waited for the first sting of the lashing whip.

After awhile, he slowly opened his eyes, spitting dirt from his mouth. He tilted his head slowly, expecting his flesh to be ripped open with a whip at any moment. But he was alone. Turning his head, he could see the guards joining the crowds flowing toward execution hill. He was left unattended on the ground.

Slowly at first, but with increasing urgency, the freed man got up and made his way into a stable filled with livestock, across the block from the prison. Looking around as he fled, he expected his fantasy to end at any moment. 

Within the safety of the dwelling, he flung himself upon the straw and sobbed.

After awhile, the sounds from execution hill softened and the man’s curiosity moved him out of his safe zone. He left the building and circled around the back of the mountain of murder, called the “place of the skull”.

He came up upon the crowd and mixed himself safely among the masses. With much effort, he fought his way through until he could see what the commotion was all about.

Three men hung dying on crosses, pain etched across their faces. Two of the men he knew from his time in prison, but he didn’t recognize the man in the middle. This man seemed much weaker and closer to death than the others.

As he stood watching, he noticed the blood gushing down the wood of the middle tree.  He followed the trail of blood up to the man’s face. Though he was among a mass of people, the man on the middle cross was looking directly at him.  His  eyes were not desperate and frantic, but peaceful and loving.

After a few moments the freed man turned and walked away. As he fought his way back through the crowd, he overheard someone asking about the man on the middle cross, “Why are they killing him? What has he done wrong?”

“He’s done nothing wrong,” the answer came. “He’s dying in place of a man set free.”

Luke 23:19-20  (MSG)  At that, the crowd went wild: “Kill him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had been thrown in prison for starting a riot in the city and for murder.) Pilate still wanted to let Jesus go, and so spoke out again.

2 Corinthians 5:21 (NASB) He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Running to your Love

 The Lord your God is in your midst;  he is a warrior who can deliver.  He takes great delight in you;  he renews you by his love; he shouts for joy over you.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NET)

Can You Come Play?

During a recent trip to Walmart, I had a delightful surprise. I was in ”get-er-done” mode, wheeling my buggy toward the area I hoped I’d find camping chairs, when my Fitbit informed me I had a call. Looking down and seeing it was my daughter, I tapped my blue tooth and answered it. But it wasn’t my daughter, it was my four year old grandson. “Can you come play?” he asked.

If you’ve reached the stage in life where you’ve been blessed with grandchildren, you understand how his question made me feel. My heart absolutely over flowed with love for him.

There’s a different dimension of love I’ve experienced with our five grandkids. We don’t love them more than our children, just differently. Without the responsibility of direct parenting, I feel freer to love. In fact, in a very real sense grandkids help me experience the moments of life more fully and God’s love more deeply.

God’s Love

The next day in church, there was a phrase in one of the songs about running to God’s love. It’s a great concept, but understanding God’s continual open arms to us can be extremely hard to grasp. Speaking of Christ’s love, Paul prays we might comprehend its vastness and know this love which surpasses knowledge. With our limited minds, this picture of unending, unchangeable love can only be believed by faith, especially in light of our human failings.

When I think of how I’ve disappointed God, seeds of doubt creep in. Are his arms still open? Does he still desire our embrace?

Pop’s Love

What love I experienced when my grandson called me! If I wasn’t an hour and fifteen minutes away, I’d have driven straight there. And even with the distance, surprising him crossed my mind. Being “Pop” to my grandchildren has expanded my heart to measures I didn’t expect, but my love for them is a mere shadow compared to God’s love for me.

Expanding My Concept of love

When we think of our children or grandchildren, and really ponder our love for them, we can understand a deeper dimension of God’s love. Those closest to us can cause the deepest pain, but no matter what a child or grandchild does, would I ever refuse their desire to run into my arms?

Challenge:

Close your eyes and picture God holding out his arms to you for a running embrace.  Is there a hesitation? If so, what are you afraid of? Whatever it is, it’s a lie.

 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39 (NASB)

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for giving me a picture of your love for me, when I think of my grandchildren. Allowing me to be a grandfather helps me understand your love for me even more.

But sometimes there’s a “disconnect” in my heart. Your love is true. Like the Father in the story of the prodigal son, you have open arms for all your children. Whether we’ve been in the distant lands of false affections or striving to earn your love at home, your love never fails.

Your arms are always open and you delight in us running to you. In fact, when you see us running to you, because we are in Christ, you see your Son.

Hello Silence my New Friend

New Time Travel Novel by the Author

Fighting for Silence

On a recent trip to the beach, I was alone for two and a half hours. Letting my Waze app chart my course to avoid traffic,  I enjoyed some rural scenery and small towns I’d never seen before. I fought the urge to turn on the radio or listen to a book on Audible and chose silence instead. I’m so glad I did.

In a devotional I recently completed, I was challenged to have a couple of minutes of silence before and after my times with God. It was extremely hard at first. I kept wanting to reach for my phone to check a text, mark a to-do or research an idea which popped into my head. Over time, I realized that God’s still small voice will fill the silence, but I have to wait on Him.

The Presence of God

As I drove through the low country of South Carolina, passing through Lynchburg and Lake City, people started coming to mind. Being concerned for their well-being, I began to present them one by one before the Lord.  This connection with God’s heart gave me a sense of his nearness.

Speaking about the nearness of God, David wrote of gazing upon his beauty in the temple. Asaph wrote that the nearness of God was his good and that apart from God he had nothing. Exodus compares the presence of God to bread. In the New Testament, we read of Rushing wind and Rivers of Living water when describing the Holy Spirit, God’s presence with us.

Love

What I was experiencing, started with love. All the lies which often block the knowledge of God’s love for me were held aside so that  I knew it in deeper measures. He loved me before I was born with a  timeless love which I can not change.

Peace

There was also extreme peace, a peace rooted in the Prince of Peace and not in any present circumstance. I understood what Jesus meant when he told us he himself is our peace and that we can’t expect it from the world.

Hope

There was hope, a firm hope anchored in Christ; a realization that regardless of what the future holds on this side of the grave, I know how my story ends. An eternity of experiencing even a greater measure of God’s presence awaits me.

Joy

And joy. There was no progression in the love, peace and hope I was experiencing. An awareness of God’s nearness came upon me quickly, as the sun emerges from a cloud.  However, it seemed to me that joy was the culmination of the other three. Could I experience this kind of internal glee if I didn’t have love, peace and hope? My heart said no.

More than Feelings

As I drove past a white country church against the graying sky , it occurred to me that what I was experiencing was more than feelings. Sure I felt good.  But I could’t imagine any great circumstantial news giving me any greater joy.

Nor could I imagine really hard news stealing the reality of his love, peace, hope and joy. At least, those were my thoughts at the moment. God is love. He is peace. He is hope. And in his presence is fullness of joy.

Lasting Impressions

Looking back on my solitary ride to Georgetown, South Carolina, I’ve emerged with a couple of huge realizations.

  • I would not have experienced the presence of God at the level I did if I hadn’t  chosen silence.
  • I don’t have to be alone on a rural road to experience God’s love, peace, hope and joy.

Since my trip, I’ve had similar awareness of God’s presence in the midst of life’s conversations and activities. And he’s just as present with me right this moment as when I passed that country church.

For me, choosing times of silence has become a necessity. I must preserve and fight for times of waiting on God. If not, I tend to carry on life without him.

And that’s never a good thing.

 

Being Loved by God is Who I Am.

At a recent men’s retreat at Camp Kanuga in the mountains of North Carolina, we sang the song Good Good Father.[1] It’s about God being a good Father and the fact that His love for us is our identity. I liked the song, but  had no idea how the Lord would use it later that weekend.

The weather was perfect when I ventured out during our alone time Sunday morning. A cool, musky breeze gently brushing my face as I tread on newly fallen leaves toward the labyrinth. I’d seen the circular maze the day before and at the recommendation of a cabin mate, wanted to experience it.

autumn-1072827_1280

A labyrinth is a walking path used as a tool for contemplative prayer. As I stepped onto the serpentine paths leading to the center, I did what the sign said and set aside my worries, asking God to make me aware of His presence, listening for what He might have to say.

labimages-2

As I walked to and fro, back and forth, I was progressing to the center, which represents the presence of God. The  center has semicircles resembling a 6 leaf clover. When I reached it, I paused, stilling my thoughts and breathed in the cool autumn air. In my heart I heard “It’s who you are,” then again, “It’s who you are.”

I moved and stood within one of the half circles and completed the thought, “Being loved by God is who I am.”

Being loved by God is who I am. No other identity needed. I could have told you that intellectually before that moment, but God wanted this truth to travel past layers of protection and false identities to the very core of my being.

My roles of being a devout Christian, loving husband and father, successful businessman, adequate provider, faithful friend,  or encouraging brother are not the core of who I am. THE ONLY IDENTITY I NEED IS BEING A LOVED CHILD OF GOD. My other roles and identities flow out of this most important fact about me. I’m loved by God.

How many times have I felt like a failure and doubted my worth because of inadequacies in my different roles?

In the center of the labyrinth, past failures and future fears seemed to be swept away in an instant, buried deep in a sea of God’s love.

As I made my way out of the labyrinth, I knew I was different.

I thought – if this is true

 quickly a correction came to mind –  because this is true, how I live my life outside the labyrinth will never be the same.

I’m still processing the impact, but days later I already see  I don’t need any of those other identities I’ve been fighting for. I’m at peace in who I am as God’s loved child and free to love others without needing anything in return for my validation and identity.

Challenge: Think of your biggest failure or inadequacy. How do you feel about yourself in this area? Do you ever find you identify more with what you say about yourself than what God says about you?

Now think of the thing that tends to cause you the most worry, that fear which seems to follow you around.

Being loved by God, even if you don’t respond to it, is the most important thing about you and overshadows by a million miles those things you had in mind. God’s love for you is eternal and everlasting.

Being loved by God is who you are, a fact which towers above and washes away, all failures, all inadequacies and all fears.

And when you know, truly know, God loves you, you can yield to His Spirit within to love the folks He puts in your way.

Prayer:  Lord, I know Your love for me is far beyond my knowledge. Nothing imaginable can snatch me from your great love. Open the eyes of my heart that I might continue to grow more and more aware of how very much You love me.

May the fact of Your love be the definition of who I am and the overflowing purpose for the rest of life’s moments.

Amen. 

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. I John 3:1a

 

[1] Good Good Father by the Housefires

 

The Missing Guitar String ( A story of simple Joy)

“for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”                   2 Corinthians 8:2

Arriving in Lima

When our group  arrived in Lima Peru, we took a bus ride past block after dusty, dirty block of thrown together wooden buildings where people lived and worked. Our destination was Scripture Union, a ministry dedicated to the service of abandoned boys and gospel outreach, located in downtown Lima. I was a chaperon for our youth group’s mission’s trip to the place known by its residents as the saddest city on earth. The evidence of this sadness would overwhelm us before the trip was done.

The Orphanage

Our focus would be to serve the boys in the orphanage known as street boys. A street boy can range in age from six years old to the late teens. These are boys who have been abandoned by their parents for economic reasons and left to fend for themselves in the cruel streets of Lima. Most live lives filled with theft, prostitution and glue sniffing. But some accept the help and rules of the orphanage and these were the boys we would love and care for. To our surprise, by the end of our trip, Peruvians, street boys included, would do more for us than we could have possibly done for them.

My Peruvian Friend

I met Saul Camarena while carrying sacks of sand to the roof of the orphanage. He’s a short man with glasses, dark hair and chocolate colored skin. He approached me on the stairway and introduced himself in English, inviting me to his accounting office to see his computer. He showed me his Spanish version of Windows and we chatted briefly about our families and faith. I felt an instant connection with him, amazed at how quickly a common faith in Christ can traverse cultural differences and connect hearts on a spiritual level. Our friendship has continued to this day.

As the days unfolded, Saul would occasionally translate for us as we worked beside the Peruvians on the roof, building more rooms for the street boys. On one occasion, I took a break and talked with him as we gazed over the half built wall, looking down on the dry, dusty streets below. Though it was July, since we south of the equator, we were experiencing the cool cloudiness of a Peruvian winter.

Though the buildings were smaller, Lima reminded me of a dirty, gray New York city; the constant sound of horns and motor rumblings with a pronounced smell of exhaust, trapped around us by the cloud layer.

Invitation to Dinner

As we stared down at the street, Saul invited me to bring a few of the boys from our youth group to his home to meet his family. I agreed and we settled on the Thursday night before we would leave to return to South Carolina.

The day before our dinner, Saul took me aside, his brow and forehead displaying concern. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but we are very poor.” At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant, but now I know he was concerned for the boys and me, that their poverty would affect us. His sorrow was that he couldn’t afford the luxury he knew we were used too.

Saul lived 50 kilometers from Lima, about an hours drive. Each day, it cost him a Peruvian Nuevo Sol coin (about 33 cents) to ride to and from work. As we boarded the bus, Saul insisted on paying our fair. I argued, but could tell not allowing it would have been against his deep desire and joy. It was very humbling, especially when I found out later that he made only $200 a month.

As the dilapidated bus bounced along the mountainous terrain, I noticed that each hill was crowded with small wooden shacks. They were brightly painted as if in an effort to dispel the dismal aura of poverty. I was saddened when I thought of each family crowded together, struggling to survive.

Saul’s Village

When we got to Saul’s village, we stepped off the bus into what felt like a scene from National Geographic; the poverty,  the trash, the sickly looking dogs in search of scraps. The sadness of the place dulled our hearts as we followed Saul down a couple of blocks and across the cracked street.

We walked up to what looked like a concrete storage area between two other buildings, but when Saul took out a key and opened the door, I realized it was his home. We followed him in and waited in the living room area while he went toward the back. The house had a concrete floor with a wooden post resting on two wooden blocks as a support in the middle of the room. A blanket separated the main room into a living area and a bedroom area. There was also a kitchen bathroom area that had only a portion of a roof and a little storage section that may have served as an additional sleeping area.

Thursday Night Church

Though it was Thursday night, when Saul returned he surprised me by inviting us to go to church with him. Before the trip, my pastor warned me to have a short sermon ready because I might be asked to speak at a church. I’m so glad he mentioned this because this is exactly what happened. Also, since one of our boys played guitar, we were asked to sing a song we’d learned in Spanish, using their guitar, which was missing a string.

Missing Guitar String

Though a missing guitar string would be a big deal in a church I might attend back home, I began to understand it was very insignificant in this little Peruvian church. We Americans would have maybe even delayed the service until the string was replaced, but not in Saul’s church. Peruvians had learned the importance of putting missing guitar strings in the proper place, behind relationships.

Saul’s church would have loved to have had a nicer guitar, but they didn’t. So, they went ahead and gathered together on Thursday night anyway, focusing on worshiping the Lord and each other; this spoke deeply to my heart.

Simple Joy

There were about 12-15 people at the church, dressed in simple clean but slightly ripped or worn clothing, fully focused on what we had to say and on the sermon Saul preached. During the singing, their zeal and joy was contagious. Though many of them were missing teeth, the delight of their smiles was beautiful. Their joy had absolutely nothing to do with what they had or how they were. It had everything to do with their relationships with God, with each other and with us.

When the service was over, the people gathered around and made us feel very welcomed. We then went back to Saul’s house to eat along with several of his friends from church. They seemed delighted to get a chance to get to know us.

The Love of Christ Demonstrated

Saul’s wife served us a wonderful meal of chicken, potatoes and fried yuca, which is similar to a potato. We drank a clove drink called chicha morada. They could only afford to give us portions of napkins (a forth of a napkin folded into a triangle), but by now I knew that they would have given us napkins of silk if they could have.

I’m sure the meal was very expensive. They sacrificed so much to make us feel welcome. Again I felt the contrast of how a similar meal might be experienced at home. We would have surely worked hard at being hospitable and making  our guests feel comfortable, but would we have spent so large a potion of our monthly income to make them feel welcome? I doubted it.

When the meal was done, Saul’s countenance displayed concern. Looking at each of us, he said, “We’re sorry we couldn’t do more.”

At this remark, tears began to well up in my eyes and as I looked around the modest room I saw it had the same impact on my boys. How could he say this? He had given us all he could out of his poverty and now he wanted to give us more. That moment, in Saul’s concrete home, I received an example of sacrificial love. Saul and his wife truly loved us as Christ had loved them. I feel the impact of their love even to this day.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34 

As the conversation waned, I began to think about how we would get home. I was in the most remote place my life had ever carried me, yet I was responsible to get us all back to the orphanage. Earlier in the week, I heard someone say that the area we were staying was the highest crime district in all of Lima. I wasn’t even sure what bus to take and where to get off.

This turned out to be no problem because Saul informed me he wanted to ride back with us on the bus to insure our safety. I gladly accepted.

When the night bus pulled to a halt at the stop nearest our destination, we expected to get directions and say our good-byes. However, this was not the end of Saul’s kindnesses.

He got off the bus and accompanied us all the way to the front gate of our building, several blocks away. Then he waited for the security guards to unlock the gates. When he was sure we were safely inside, he turned to catch another bus and ride home. Looking through the bars, I watched his short frame walk off into the dangerous streets of Lima by himself; having once again given us all he had.

Back to the Rat Race

We returned to the States the next morning, back to busy duties and abundant prosperity and newer guitars with all the strings. As I write these memories years later, the impact of my visit to Peru remains fresh in my heart.

In my living room,  my gaze wanders over painted walls, lovely pictures, soft furnishings, a color television set and my daughter’s guitar. Yet as I think of Peru, joy fills my heart.

I pray God will give me a heart like Saul’s and his family, and like the people in his church; even like the Street boys, who delighted in giving us simple multi-colored bracelets to remember them by.

We had the audacity to think we were going to love and serve a few people in Lima, Peru. And by God’s grace, maybe we did. But far, far greater was the lasting ways they loved and served us.

Victory is a Person

Victory, from the Old French word victor, means to triumph or overcome in a struggle. A personal victory might be losing weight, breaking a bad habit or making the dean’s list. There are team victories, political victories and victories in war. Most victories require tremendous strain and effort, but are extremely rewarding.

In Christian circles you hear of a “victorious Christian life,” a time when sin is conquered, fear is overthrown and love for God and other’s flows freely.

Our natural tendency is to think a “victorious Christian life,” is gained in the same pains taking efforts other victories have been won, giving it our all, trying as hard as we can to win. This could not be farther from the truth.

It is true, Jesus desires for us a life free from fear and sin, loving God and others in the same sacrificial way He has loved us, but He is not asking us to change.

God is not looking for a changed life. He is offering an exchanged life.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2nd Corinthians 5:21

Christ has exchanged His life for ours. Not only did He die in our place to rescue us from eternal separation from God, but He also imputed His righteousness to us. We have become the righteousness of God.

There is not trying hard to be righteous. In Christ we are righteousness.

But you say, “That might be true, but how is victory realized in my own life? How is sin defeated, fear banished, love unleashed and joy experienced?”

The answer is still the same. With His exchanged Life.

Consider the great summary verse Paul wrote about the Christian life:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20

The victory is not in trying harder. The victory is in embracing the death of our old nature on the cross and depending upon the newness of our life in Christ. Christ did not die so that we could be changed. He died so that we might die with Him and be raised with Him in newness of life.

Victory is in realizing our crucifixion with Christ and depending upon Christ in all we do. Yielding to His abiding Spirit, we bear fruit for the glory of God. Apart from His work in us, we can do nothing. ( See John 15:5)

We need to stop trying so hard to pattern our lives after what we read about Jesus in the Bible. There’s only one person who can truly live the victorious Christian life and it’s not us. It’s Jesus in us.

We have been made new. In Christ we have all the love, joy, peace, patience and hope we will ever need. Ours is to realize our newness in Him (counting as fact the death of our old self (See Romans 6:11) ) and yielding to Christ in us to love whoever get’s in our way.

Victory is not in trying harder. I’m pretty sure we’ve all tried that.

Victory is in remaining in the love of Christ and yielding to His Spirit.

The old has gone the new has come.

Challenge:  Consider an area of your life in which you feel defeated.  Trust that Jesus wants you to have victory in this area even more than you do.

Bring this area before the Lord right now:

Lord, you know  how discouraged I am in this area. I’ve tried so hard to be like you, but have failed miserably. I know now that victory is not in trying harder, but in resting in You. Open the eyes of my heart that I might know your great love for me. Teach me to remain in your love and yield to your Spirit in me as I allow you to become my victory in this area.

You are my Victory.

 

Don’t Postpone Joy

Martha had enough. Her sister Mary did it again, left her to do all the work while she just sat there. Martha was distracted by all the preparations. And though the very source of Joy was with her, she was focused on what she had to do.

Sound familiar?

“But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

But how can life really be about one thing? Without Martha, no food would have been served.

On a slow morning, sitting on a dock facing the intracoastal waterway in Wilmington, NC, I’m once again pondering how to be a Mary without neglecting my responsibilities.

The mid-morning sun warms the steady breeze as it massages my face. I look across the gray blue waterway and see white caps ushering the tide to my right. The rhythmic waves lap upon the shore only interrupted by the rubbing of the floating docks along the pile driven wooden poles, the squawking of sea birds and the distant sound of a dog’s bark.

I have sought my own answers to this quandary for years, but this morning it all seems clear. No profound answers are given, only His strong hand outstretched; inviting me to give Him my concerns, so I can be with Him. Together, He will show me how to live a Mary life in a Martha world.

My cares are safely sealed, waiting for His commands to be revealed.

Two light yellow butterflies dart across the rolling tide. Above the water flow, there is a lime green strip of land below a line of emerald trees, couching white, multi-storied buildings in the distance. Above the tree line, a cloudless sky rises in deeper shades of pastel blue towards the heavens.

Wow! This is joy, this trusting, this resting, this enjoying His presence. Is this abiding? Is this what Jesus means when He tells me to remain in His love?

So, what now? I could regret millions of distracted moments in my past when I labored without a thought of His nearness.

But I won’t.

I will go forth with a deeper understanding of what Jesus means when he tells me not to worry, but to seek His business, His Kingdom, His supremacy in my life.

All that other stuff, the things I seem to focus on, what I’ll eat and what I’ll wear and what I’ll drink – He’s got that. He and I  have more important things to do, like enjoying this moment together.

And by the way, when I am doing that (Enjoying moments of life with Him) I will naturally love the people I meet along the way. When, like Mary, I’m in tune with my Lord’s nearness, when I’m yielding to His Indwelling Spirit, His love flows through me to others. My number one concern now is to love others as He has loved me. This  starts with resting in His love.

Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

“Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.” John Piper

In His Presence is fullness of Joy (Psalm 16:11)

What is Abundant Life?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10

It’s Saturday morning in South Carolina. Though it’s before 10 am, it’s already hot and I have a fan whirling. I sip my coffee and watch the birds visit the three bird feeders we’ve placed beyond the reach (at least for now) of relentless squirrel visits.

I love Saturday mornings. Unless I’ve packed my schedule too tightly, there’s time to sit and relish God’s nearness.

This morning I read John 10:10. I pause at the promise of abundant life.

Abundant Life. What does it really mean?

Through our country’s eyes, abundance has a lot to do with possessions. Yet we know this kind of abundance doesn’t produce abundant life.

Statistic show that half the world’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population. Can these 1% say their possessions have given them abundant life? History is dotted with sad stories that say no. Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes and Earnest Hemingway are just a few who lived in abundance of possessions, yet their lives ended sadly, not reflecting the abundant life Jesus is referring to.

In fact, it can be argued that abundant possessions inhibit abundant life. Stuff can drain much time and energy, leaving little margin for true abundance.

By implication, abundance can also be associated with success, good health and overall good circumstanced. There is certainly nothing wrong with desiring all these things,  but we know that circumstantial happiness does not translate directly to abundant life either.

The abundant life Jesus refers is not tied to possessions or circumstances. In fact His abundant life is exponentially more satisfying and stable than either.

Years ago, during a two week missions trip to Lima Peru, I was deeply saddened by the living conditions I saw.  Poverty forced mothers to do the unthinkable, releasing their young sons to fend for themselves on the streets.

Our group served at Casa Hogar, an orphanage designed to feed and educated these children. But many of the abandoned children were already steeped in a life of glue sniffing, stealing and prostitution. Chained to this life, they  refused the long term help of the orphanage. Some were adopted, however, and shown the love of Jesus.

In spite of all the poverty and sadness in Lima, there was a quality of love we saw in the believers which I had not experienced in the United States. The folks who worked at Casa Hogar seemed to be refreshingly free from the pursuit of possessions and smooth circumstances.

We all experienced such a depth of the love of Jesus during our two weeks in Peru that many of us dreaded to return to the  “rat race” of the American culture.

We had the audacity to think we were traveling to South America to “minster” the love of Jesus to folks in dire straights. But we were the ones who were deeply touched by the love of Jesus flowing through the Peruvians, even the children.

As I take another sip of coffee, and notice a squirrel repelling down a wire to once again help itself to our bird seed, I write the following words:

Abundant life is not abundant possessions or smooth circumstances. Abundant life is Abundant love.

The Bible is saturated with remarkable language about God’s love,  but there is no better demonstration of abundant love than what Jesus did for each one of us on the cross.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.[1]

 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)[2]

As I watch the squirrel wrapped around the feeder, spilling seed everywhere, I conclude that  the kind of abundant life Jesus promises us has everything to do with His love.

But how does God’s abundant love translate into an abundant life for us on a day by day basis? In other words, what is our part in God’s story of abundant love?

I believe the answer is in John 15.

In verse 9, we get a such an astounding definition of abundant love that only the Spirit of God can fully reveal it to our hearts. Jesus tells us “Just as the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you;”

Pause a moment. Jesus loves us as much as God the Father loves Him. This is stunning!

Allow this truth full access to your heart, penetrating every hardened sinew  of protection and blowing away every argument of self hatred.

Jesus loves us beyond our comprehension and He demonstrated it by dying in our place on the cross

The second part of  John 15:9 is a command:

“Remain in my love.”

Remain where God has placed us, in the love of Jesus.  We did nothing to earn this love, ours is to not move from where we have been placed.

Verses 10 and 12 tell us how.

If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love. (10)

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. (12)

We remain in Jesus love, by loving like Him; by being willing in every situation to love sacrificially. This is what we experienced in Peru; folks being freed up from chasing possessions and smooth circumstances to love like Jesus in spite of their poverty and difficulties.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to not have the burden of the “rat race” facing us every day; to rather ask God each day, by the Indwelling Spirit of Christ, to love the people He brings our way; to yield to the Spirit in us to allow Him to love as us.

This is abundant life. Allowing the abundant love of Jesus to flow through us.  ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:38

If you don’t see already that abundant life is abundant love, allow me to seal the deal.

Couched in between verses 10 and 12 in John 15 is the following verse:

These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. John 15:11

Abundant life is abundant love.

 

[1] Romans 5:8

[2] Ephesians 2:4-5

 

Sentenced to Die

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him Second Corinthians 5:21

What would it feel like to find yourself in a prison cell, sentenced to die? Yet, being released at the last hour for another to die in your place; a man free of wrong, willing to die for you.

Exchanged Life

A young man squatted in a dingy prison cell. His features were hidden by the deep shadows of his dark imprisonment. Only a thin plane of sunlight penetrated the darkness, revealing countless dust particles floating around rows of disheartened men. The man was seated, away from the light, staring, motionless, into the darkness.

Outside the prison, upon a hill, stood the place of execution, where condemned men were put to death. Today would be this man’s turn. In a way, death was a welcome ending to his pain. However, more strongly, the condemned man felt the fear of death’s mysteries. His soul, it seems, had died long ago, but the fear of physical death consumed every fiber of his being.

As he waited in the cruel anticipation of a violent death, his mind raced across the span of his life. What would have made a difference? What could have changed his inclinations towards evil? The answers to these questions could only be tossed out into his universe of despair. Like always, he knew no answers would come. There was no hope, never had there been hope.

Slowly and ever more increasingly, the young man became aware of the sounds of a great number of voices. There were shouts and roars, but none of the words could be recognized. The sounds increased and erupted past him like a huge ocean wave. An enormous mass of shouting people had passed just outside his cell and were proceeding toward execution hill. The time was near. The man could not remember so great a crowd ever gathered to witness a death before.

Just then, the outside door of the prison was slammed open hard against the wall. Keys jiggled and the main security door was unlocked. Prison guards streamed towards his cell. The hopeless man trembled and recoiled in fear. Death was pouncing upon him.

The guards unlocked his cell and converged upon him like as many wild tigers. They seized him, and drug him out into the bright sunlight outside the prison. When they had cleared the outside door of the prison, he was slammed face down hard on the ground. The impact knocked him into a daze. In a semi unconscious state, he waited for the first slapping sting of the lashing whip.

After awhile, he senses returned and he slowly opened his eyes, spitting dust from his mouth. He tilted his head slowly, expecting his flesh to be ripped open again at any moment. Amazingly, he was alone. People were flowing in masses towards execution hill, but he was left unattended on the ground.

Slowly at first, but with increasing urgency, the freed man got up and made his way into an old warehouse, across the block from the prison. Looking around as he fled, expecting his fantasy to end at any moment. He made it to the abandoned building and flung himself sobbing to the ground, filled with emotion.

After a long while, the man’s curiosity couldn’t be contained. He left the building and circled around the back of execution hill. He came up upon the crowd and mixed himself safely among the masses. With much effort, he fought his way through until he could see what the commotion was all about.

Three men hung dying on crosses, the pain etched across their faces. Two of the men he knew from his time in prison, but he didn’t recognize the man in the middle. This man seemed much weaker and closer to death than the others. As he stood watching the dying man with blood gushing down the wood of the middle tree, their eyes met. A strange magnetism drew his soul, locking him in on the suffering criminal.

Their eyes met. Though he was among a mass of people, the man on the middle cross was looking directly at him. The dying man’s  eyes were not desperate and frantic, but peaceful and loving.

After a few moments the freed man turned and walked away. As he fought his way back through the crowd, he over heard someone asking about the man on the middle cross, “Why are they killing him, what has he done wrong?”

“He’s done nothing wrong,” the answer came. “He’s dying in place of a man set free.”