Peace with God

Doing a little devotional study on Romans 5, and thought I would share some of it. The whole chapter is spectacular. Seriously, if you’re feeling run-down or even just need to remember what it means to follow God and be a Christian…read Romans. Just sit down and read it, and let it soak in that this is all really true and really available to us! It’s amazing!

Romans 5 begins, in vs. 1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Side-note: sometimes we get discouraged reading Scripture because we think that we have to devour huge portions every day, understand every word, and memorize it all verbatim. There is merit in reading whole chapters in one sitting, or committing verses to memory. Absolutely! However, there is also a lot to be said in just one verse of Scripture, and we so often brush by the individual verses, forgetting how crucially they contribute to the whole. If we take time to meditate on one single verse and really ask the Holy Spirit to show us what’s being said and reveal Himself to our hearts, we will find ourselves being fed, and I believe over time we’ll develop a greater awe of the Scriptures. In addition, this often helps me to memorize larger portions of Scripture, beginning one verse at a time and really thinking about what each one is saying.

This was my prayer as I read through Romans 5:1 and looked up some commentary on it.

God, thank you for providing us with this Peace through Your Son Jesus Christ! Jesus, thank you for breaking down the wall of hostility with Your own flesh and blood. God, may we never take this lightly or forget that this Peace that passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds is only in Christ Jesus.

And it isn’t a passive peace, a casual acquittal that justifies us in court, and then lets us walk, unaware and unaffected.

This Peace in Jesus offers Relationship. It necessitates Abiding.

So help us, God…help me…to walk in Your Peace and never let it go by turning and going my own way, because apart from Jesus, I have nothing.

But in Him, I have everything!

 

Humanity can rejoice because God has made the way clear and has invited us to be His Friends.

Rejoice with me today, believers! We are Friends of God!

 

Advertisements

Perspective of Purpose

267

It is truly wonderful to sit in God’s Presence. He is always with me of course, but as a Christian, I have the delightful privilege of seeking Him, stewarding His Presence, taking time to quiet the distractions of this world and purposefully pursue Him. Thanks to Jesus and His finished work on the Cross, there is nothing stopping me from approaching the Throne of Grace to find Mercy and help in time of need. But more than that, I come to receive Him! I want to bask in greater measures of His Peace, probe the depths of His Love, and be filled with all His Fullness on a deeper level. I read once of a painting that depicted a waterfall, gallons and gallons of powerful water tumbling over the rocks, unstoppable and unquenched. The title of the painting was: “More to Follow.” God is like that. With Him, there is always more!

The other day, I was just sitting with Him. Some soft music was playing but other than that, it was just me and my Savior. I don’t do this often enough, but I’m always amazed at the result of getting still long enough to be enveloped in His Presence…to the point where all I’m thinking about is Him. How wonderful it is to be filled with this Being of Love and Glory, perfect Safety and genuine Power. There’s so much in this world that I cannot embrace, cannot endorse, cannot fill myself with. Even most entertainment sources have to be viewed through an inner filter. But to be filled with the One who created me…it’s pure bliss, because I can accept and receive all of Him, and be accepted and received completely in return. He’s the reason I love standing by the sea, or any large body of water. The sense of something so much bigger than myself, something staggering in its beauty and yet unsettling in its power…that’s the feeling I get when I’m with God. And I haven’t even come close to all of who He is. Everything about His Character shines with Love and His Arms are outstretched to embrace me. The natural response of my being is to serve Him, to be one with Him in everything He is doing.

How differently I feel when I take my eyes off of Him and look at the wind and waves of the world around me. When I look around through a fleshly perspective, I am daunted and even resentful of the challenges facing believers today. My American upbringing smarts under the injustice and unfairness coming against Christians in colleges, high schools, and places of business, not to mention politics. I have come close to resenting the fact that I have to be alive at a time when the world is so volatile, and I’ve been angry that I have to watch long-cherished freedoms eroding in America before my eyes. I have resisted, not wanting to raise a family in this kind of world.

Some of my desires are good. I want to see God’s Kingdom advancing in the world around me. I want to see Justice and Peace and Mercy reigning in the public arena, rather than the injustice, cruelty, and decadence that are exalted today. I want to see God move in power and draw many people to Himself, because there is no life outside of Him. These are all things Christians should want and strive after.

But another part of me is selfish. I want to live undisturbed, even unaware. There’s a part of me that would not really mind what is happening in the world as long as it didn’t affect me or cost me anything. The change that takes place in my heart when I’m focused on God, letting Him renew my perspective, is considerable.

In Scripture, we are told not to be surprised when trials come against us as believers.

1 Peter 4:13-16 tells us: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His Glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the Name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of God’s Glory and Power rests upon you….let him not be ashamed, but glorify God in that Name!”

As an example of this, look at what the Bible says about Moses in Hebrews 11:24-27:

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the People of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.”

One of the results of being filled with God’s Spirit and spending time in His Presence is an increased oneness with His Heart. It is only in His Presence that we cultivate a heart that desires His Will and is pained over the things that grieve Him. He is absolute gentleness and tenderness personified, and yet when you come close enough to feel this, you can also sense the power of His Righteous Anger against sin. It’s not condemning. It’s understandable. His Righteousness cannot tolerate sin and darkness, and His Love burns to see people not swallowed up by it. When we spend time with Him, we are armed with the same kind of passion.

As I was sitting with Him that day, I was freshly awestruck by how people are changed through interaction with Him. Think of the people in Scripture: Abraham became a father of nations, Jacob became a prince (Israel), Joseph became a ruler, Moses became a shepherd-deliverer, Gideon led an army to conquer Israel’s enemies, David became a giant-slayer and king, Esther became a queen who helped save her people. It never ceases to amaze me. The more I thought about it this time, though, the more I realized that when these people came face to face with God, they also came face to face with His Purposes—and always through difficult, even unfair circumstances. I’m sure Joseph wasn’t happy about going to Egypt in the first place. Moses resisted leading the Israelites out of Egypt. And Gideon was hiding from his enemies when God sent an angel to recruit him.

We often tend to focus on the glory surrounding the lives of biblical figures, and the success their lives represented. But what happened right after these biblical heroes had an encounter with God and were sent off on His assignments? They saw evil. Their eyes were opened to wickedness and they couldn’t stand silent anymore. They felt God’s Holy Indignation against evil and were sent out in God’s Power to stand against it. God’s assignments looked different for each of them, and they will for us too. We can only stand in God’s Power, but the point is we were meant to stand.

We were not meant to hide out, hoping to preserve our personal comforts, while ignoring what God is doing in the world around us. Sometimes God spends time preparing us in places with little conflict. (Moses and David both spent time as shepherds before being sent out by God). But like Moses and David, we were meant to move beyond the “wilderness seasons” and embrace the destiny He is calling us to. Again, that will look different in practice for each of us. But when I draw near to God, I realize that there is a bigger picture and God wants me in it. I realize that God chose me and appointed me to go and bear lasting fruit that will impact my generation. I understand that God set me where I am for such a time as this. And the more time I spend with Him, the more I see that it is a privilege to stand with Him in His Purposes.

 

(Above photo: Beth-Shean, Israel, 2013).

More than it seems, these dreams…

Sunset 1The world we live in continually exalts achievement, finding your impact, and living your dreams.

As a Christian, I delight in the same possibilities, believing that God has plans for my good and has specially designed me to make a unique mark on the world, a mark that bears His Name and makes Him known! However, life doesn’t always seem to play along. Why do we often come to seasons of life where our dreams don’t seem like they’ll ever be realized? Why do we not get certain things we prayed for? And specifically for Christians, where does the concept of “dying to yourself” fit with the idea of fulfilling our God-given dreams and aspirations?

I’ve been seeing a recurring theme around these questions lately, not just in my personal Bible study, but also on social media and in books I’ve read.

It is a biblical reality that in order for Jesus to be King of our hearts and lives, we must die to ourselves—to our way of thinking and living before we accepted the Lordship of Jesus. However, in light of this reality, there is something very important we have to keep in mind: the purpose of this “death.” Remember, God is the Author of Life and all life flows from Him. He is the Fullness that fills all in all. God never allows something to die just for the sake of death. Recall that He didn’t allow Jesus to stay dead. Death on the Cross was not Jesus’ whole story. And it isn’t ours either!

After being resurrected from the grave, Jesus sent us His Holy Spirit so we could live through Him! And this new life isn’t just indicative of heaven. It is a new life that begins here and now! Needless to say, dying to ourselves is not the whole story!

So what happens when it feels like our dreams have died or we find ourselves scrambling to keep up with or make sense of a life that doesn’t look much like we planned (or prayed for)?

For an example, I think of George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s famous character in the black-and-white film It’s a Wonderful Life. You’ve probably seen the movie at least once around Christmastime. George is a talented, charismatic, likeable man with big dreams and a strong moral compass. However, his attempts to live out his convictions seem to continually steer him away from all the things he dreamed of doing…going to college, traveling the world, becoming an engineer. George becomes increasingly frustrated until the pivotal point in the movie when, faced with utter ruin and bankruptcy, it seems as though he has sacrificed all of his dreams for nothing. It takes an act of God, literally, to show him that his life has not only been worth something, but has actually fulfilled much—a truly wonderful life. But moments before he will start to realize this, George is standing on a bridge, contemplating suicide. This is a harrowing picture of where the enemy wants us when our plans go awry: defeated, despairing, believing that it was all worth nothing and God doesn’t have a plan for us.

Hence one very important truth that we have to keep in mind: God is NOT a dream killer. He’s not a killer of anything, for that matter. He is Life itself. Everything in our lives hinges on His utter and constant Faithfulness. The Bible says that He planned things for us to do before we were even thought of…not works to earn salvation, but talents and gifts, good things to do throughout life, ways to partner with Him during our lives and bring Him glory. Many Christians know the all-time favorite verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

But consider the verses immediately following that one. “Then you will call upon me, and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek Me and find Me. When you seek Me with all your heart, I will be found by you, declares the Lord…”

The ultimate goal in finding our life’s work, the fulfillment of our dreams, is to connect with God. Our dreams and aspirations, our talents and gifts, are all conduits through which God can display His Glory and bless the world. But, like all of life, they must be given to Him first. And often, in the course of our lives, we see certain dreams fade for a season or take on a new face that we don’t recognize. It’s hard not to feel lost when this happens. It’s hard not to paint a picture in our minds of what our lives should look like or how our dreams will be fulfilled. And there’s nothing wrong with having plans. But if God redirects that plan, do you come undone? Was your hope and trust in that plan or in God?

These are tough life questions, but the way we respond to them will determine the quality and impact of our lives.

So what is happening when we start to feel like George Bailey? (I realize that sometimes we get to certain places in our lives due to poor choices we made, but God is the ultimate Redeemer, and He is never caught off guard or struggling to keep up with our lives.)

What I am mainly talking about here is that point where you feel like your life is just not turning out the way you wanted, like your dreams have been put on hold. (And this seems to be a fairly common place for people to come to. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people describe their lives this way.)

At this point, we must first remember the character of our God. We have to seek Him in order to discern His will, but He is not trying to hide it from us.

If our dreams seem on hold or out of the picture for a season, one of two things is happening.

Either God is fazing a particular dream out of our lives completely in order to make room for something better, something we might not have thought to choose, but something He intended for us to do in His Strength,

Or God is allowing a dream to “die” in the sense that we thought it would be accomplished, in order to raise it up again in the right time to be more than we could have ever fathomed.

Think Joseph in Genesis. His dreams of power and position seemed to die when he was sold into slavery, but God used him and his gift of interpretation to bless not only his family, but the whole known world and the future of Israel…something Joseph would never have pictured on his own.

The point is that dying to ourselves is only half of the equation. Colossians 3:10 continues with the other half. “You have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.”

Remember, the gifts and talents inside you were placed there by God and can best be used by God. Everything you desire in life can be traced back to God, and finds its fullness in Him. God has not forgotten you or your dreams. Don’t give up on them. Bring them to Him. Seek Him and you will find yourself in the process. The goal is to delight in God, finding your purpose and your hope in Him. And holding fast to His Promise: that as you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you, and will give you the desires of your heart.

 

*****Disclaimer*****

In these Christian-living posts, it is never my intention or plan to become a preacher or point fingers at any particular person. These posts simply reflect what God is teaching me in a particular season or something that I came across in Scripture that impacted me. They are meant to encourage readers to turn to the Scriptures for new perspective in their own lives. This kind of sharing is part of what it means to be a Christian. In Colossians 3:16, we are encouraged to celebrate the truths in Scripture and spur each other on to focus on the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, for me, these posts represent part of what it means to be a writer. As Sheila Walsh puts it: “I’m not one who writes as an expert on a subject. I’m one who writes out of a hunger to understand.”

So please feel free to comment if you have any questions or need clarification on anything, but know that I’m writing from the middle of the journey.