Crossing the border…

There is much discussion of how to deal with Syrian refugees. Do we accept them or not? Why are we having this discussion? Because we have discovered that a Syrian refugee was one of the ISIS terrorists in Paris. Basically, we are afraid that allowing a Syrian refugee to cross our borders may allow another tragedy. We are afraid, plain and simple. Fear is driving our decision-making.

What’s another word for extreme fear? Terror.

We have allowed the terrorists to succeed. What’s worse than allowing them to cross our borders? Allowing them to enter our minds and control our decisions. And they have. Additionally, politicians are clamoring for votes and trying to get on the most popular side of this issue to garner support. Beware of anyone who tries to prey on your fear.

Instead, look at the big picture. Discover, as a follower of Jesus, how you can love the unloveable, touch the untouchable, and be a beacon of hope to a world so desperately looking for it.

After all, as a Christian, you and I are children of God, with Christ dwelling in us, and we live in the UNSHAKEABLE kingdom of God.

Resting in His Presence

A friend of mine and I are working our way through The Good and Beautiful God, a wonderful book by James Bryan Smith. It is framed around the premise that we have many false narratives about God, His character, and His nature that need to be replaced by the way Jesus saw and knew His Father. In essence, we need to renew our minds. Its subtitle is: “Falling In Love With the God Jesus Knew.” I highly recommend it.

We are on Chapter 4: God is Generous. At the end of each chapter is some homework: a “Soul Training Exercise.” The exercise for this chapter is to memorize the already familiar Psalm 23 and recite it as many times as possible throughout the week (two weeks in this case, since my friend and I meet every two weeks).

So here it is from memory:

The Lord is my shepherd.
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil,
For you are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I’ve meditated on those verses, on each phrase, and in most cases, on each word. I have mental pictures of each verse or phrase, such as “green pastures” and “still waters.” Those word-pictures are easy to envision. However, as I meditate on “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies,” I have trouble with that imagery.

As I conjure up an image in my mind, it is one of confident defiance of any enemy, or of the Enemy of my soul. It is a confidence of knowing that I am a child of God, with Christ dwelling within me, and I live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. There is nothing that the Enemy can do to ULTIMATELY defeat me. God is mine, and most importantly, I am His. No matter what lies ahead, even in the darkest valley, God is with me.

How is it that the Lamb of God, who died for me and you and who takes away the sins of the world, now is the Good Shepherd!?! My mind almost cannot comprehend that kind of love!

I can truly rest in that generous love. He DOES make me lie down in green pastures. I CAN rest beside still waters.

God Will Never Give Up On You

I recently saw this photo posted on Facebook and as I read the words and thought about it, the more and more I disagreed with those words. Although I am so thankful for my Savior and the work done on the imageCross, and know that I did nothing to deserve it, my disagreement with those words stem from how I now think of God.

You see, I spent years and years thinking that the more I did for God, the more pleased He would be with me. I think I projected what I thought about my earthly father upon my Heavenly Father. Achievement was highly valued in my family. I discovered this growing up, especially when I fell short of expectations or failed. I felt the displeasure when I failed and I felt the comparisons to the achievements of my older brothers. Even as a young boy, I grew to fear the anger and wrath of my father. Don’t get me wrong: He was an excellent provider for my family and taught a work ethic that seems to be lost on later generations. My point is: I projected these feelings upon my Heavenly Father; I felt the same way toward God. The more I prayed, studied my Bible, served others, and worked for God, the more pleasing I thought I was to God. I would suspect that I’m not alone in feeling that way.

If you or I feel that God could give up on us, based on what we’ve done (or not done), then we must not have faith that what God – through Christ – accomplished on the Cross was sufficient or that His grace is enough. If you or I feel that God could give up on us, then it says volumes about how we view God.

I (recently) discovered that God’s love IN NO WAY depends on me. His love was a “one-way” transaction, resulting in my salvation, deliverance, healing, and wholeness. That heart-knowledge has brought me tremendous freedom. That is what the Gospel does.

Now I am deeply rooted in God’s love, knowing that nothing can separate me from that love (Romans 8:38-39) and knowing that no one or nothing can snatch me from His hand (John 10:1-18; 27-30). There is nothing I can do to make God love me any less than He does right now or did when Jesus hung on the Cross. God delights in me, not because of what I do or don’t do, but simply because of who He is and the fact that now, by faith, I am His. I didn’t do anything to earn His love or delight, nor can I do anything to make him shun me. He loves me, not as I love, but as He is, because He is love.

He won’t give up on me (or you, Christian) because that is not His nature or character. His love is eternal. His love is unfailing. His love is enduring. His love never fails. (1 Cor 13:8)

If you are His, God will never give up on you.

God Isn’t Mad at You

God is not mad at you.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied,” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ ” (Matthew 22:36-37)

There it is: The greatest commandment is to love God with all that we are. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t come naturally for me. I suspect that it doesn’t come naturally for most. Since it doesn’t come naturally, I guess I’ll just be obedient and muster up some love for God because that’s what I’m supposed to do.

No. That’s not it at all. We can’t just muster up love… for God, for our spouse, or for our enemies (as Jesus tells us to do as well). No, we love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) We can respond with love for God when we realize how much He loves us and delights in us.

James Bryan Smith states in his book, The Good and Beautiful God:

“What if God… responds to us with absolute delight regardless of how we look or feel, or what we have or have not done? The only possible response would be to feel ‘absolute delight’ in return. If God is delighted in me — regardless of my performance -— then my immediate response is to feel love in return. And in so doing, I fulfill the greatest commandment.”

So many Christians are taught that God responds to us by how we respond to God. That is, many of us are taught that God will be more pleased with us if we would pray more, read our Bibles more, and serve more. Throw in a little fasting on the side, and you’ll have the favor of God.

But that is not the generous, giving, gracious God that Jesus tells us about. Remember the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard? (Matthew 20:1-15) No matter when they were hired, they received the standard wage. It didn’t depend on how long or hard they worked; they all received the same wage from their generous employer. Jesus says that the Kingdom of God operates the same way.

Smith goes on to say:

“Two of the most important verses in the Bible, in my opinion, are 1 John 4:10-11. They are the verses that began my own transformation by the renewing of my mind: ‘This is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.’ These verses became the bedrock of my dominant narrative about God. Our love for God does not determine God’s attitude toward us. God loves us first, and we see that clearly in God’s Son offering his life in order to reconcile us to God. And that love propels me to love God and others in return.”

God is not mad at you.

“A great battle…”

“Philo of Alexandria is quoted as saying, ‘Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.’ ” — James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God

Part of my responsibilities at Love In the Name of Christ (Love INC) include scheduling deliveries or arranging the pick-up of items that our “neighbors” have requested and are in need of. After an interview and verification process which begins building a relationship and determines the scope of each person’s needs, we gather the things needed from our warehouse of donated items. These may include appliances, furniture, clothing, curtains, dishes, and pots & pans. (By the way, we are always in need of good quality items)

Anyway, after the items have been gathered, my job is to contact the neighbor to arrange for a pickup, if possible, or a delivery. Deliveries are back-logged because, as more and more folks find out about us, the needs increase, and we have limited volunteers able to deliver items during the day. Therefore, if someone is able to pick their items up, they will receive them sooner. (By the way, we are always in need of volunteers at the warehouse, in the office, or to do deliveries)

Yesterday, I made a phone call, telling a woman that her items were ready and she could pick them up. She said that she had just come home from the hospital and was still in pain. She had no transportation. I told her that if we delivered, it might take longer for her to receive her items. She was angry and frustrated about this and begrudgingly said that she would call her god-daughter who might be able to pick them up for her. A few minutes later, her god-daughter called and said that she doesn’t have any transportation either and impatiently and angrily said that we should deliver the items. I then called the woman back, who was even more agitated by this time, seemingly ungrateful that we were meeting her needs. I could feel my flesh rising up within me when I somehow remembered the quote from the book above which I had read a year earlier. I remembered that this woman had just been discharged from the hospital and was in pain. It was the pain that was making her angry and impatient. She was indeed fighting a great battle.

I asked her how much pain she was in and she said she was in considerable pain. I asked if I could pray with her over the phone and she said that she needed prayer. We prayed together and when I said, “Amen”, her demeanor had changed totally. Her tone of voice had become more gentle and kind, and before she hung up, she thanked us profusely for helping her and praying for her.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

And be thankful…

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since as members of one body, you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:16)

From time to time I’ve seen posts on Facebook entitled “30 Days of Gratitude” or something similar, and each day the person posts something they’re thankful for.

I was reminded of that as I remembered the verse above. “And be thankful,” the apostle Paul says. Why? Why should we be thankful? Why do people post on Facebook something they are grateful for each day?

In his devotional book, Hidden In Christ, James Bryan Smith gives a couple of reasons why we should and some reasons why some folks believe they should.

For instance, are you among those who believe that God is mad at you if you aren’t thankful? Smith gives the example of how we raise our children. When our children receive something, we say to them, “What do you say?” At times, we transfer that thinking to our God, believing that He is looking down at heaven screaming at us, “What do you say?!?” As Smith points out, God is complete in Himself. He doesn’t need anything. He loves us genuinely and with pureness of heart. He requires nothing in return. After all, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Secondly, Smith says, sometimes we mistakenly believe that thankfulness is the “secret ingredient” to prayer, which sways God to answer. We are told to “enter His gates with thanksgiving…” (Psalm 100:4) and “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) However, if we think we can manipulate God, we are missing the point.

No, as the folks who post on Facebook would probably tell you, when you count your blessings, when you find things to be thankful to God for, and when you look at life closely and discover little (and big) things to be grateful about, life begins to come alive, so to speak. Your attitude changes. You begin to savor every day, not taking anything for granted, as you and I sometimes do.

As we see every day through the news and elsewhere, we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Life can change in the blink of an eye. Our loved ones here today can be gone tomorrow.

Savor this day. And be thankful.

The Natural Response…

Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13b)

In his devotional book, Hidden In Christ, James Bryan Smith makes a thought-provoking statement, in essence saying that many Christians think that God’s forgiveness depends on us forgiving others, or that we will be forgiven by God in proportion to the extent we forgive others. He points out that is simply not true. While we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) Before we even knew God, Christ died for us. Before we had a chance to forgive others, Christ died for us. We forgive as a natural outpouring of what Christ has done for us. In Smith’s words…

“So what is Jesus telling us when He instructs us to forgive others? And why does He connect it with the forgiveness of God in Mark 11:25? He gave several illustrations, through parables, about the necessity of forgiving others because we ourselves have been forgiven (See Matthew 18:21-35). We can easily make the mistake of thinking that divine forgiveness is determined by human forgiveness — in other words, to think that God only forgives me if I forgive others, and in the exact measure that I forgive others.

“We cannot say, ‘I accept God’s forgiveness for my sins, but I refuse to forgive others.’ This is actually impossible, not just theologically but psychologically. If we truly know – in the depths of our being – that we have been completely forgiven, then we naturally forgive those who have harmed us in some way.

“When we do find ourselves struggling to forgive someone, we should not grit our teeth and merely try harder to forgive them. Instead, we should dwell on the fundamental reality that we ourselves are people who need forgiveness, and then set our minds on the reality that God, in Christ, has forgiven us completely.”

For me personally, this is the essence of forgiveness. And I need to be reminded of it constantly. It is understanding how flawed we all are. It is understanding how depraved we all are. We all have baggage. We all have issues. We are all broken. We all have sin. As Smith says, “We are all fighting a great battle.”

And we all desperately need the healing touch of the Savior.

Especially Chosen…

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…” Colossians 3:12a

In his devotional book, Hidden in Christ, James Bryan Smith tells the story of Tim and Lori Gillach, who were sitting on the couch one evening when a thought came to Tim and he asked Lori, “What do you think God has put us on earth for?” After thinking, Lori answered, “To be parents.” Tim agreed. They are exceptional parents of two children, Smith relates, but that night, felt led to do more. At this stage in their lives, being a parent again would involve adoption.

So Lori began the research. After much searching, she discovered that baby girls in China were being abandoned to orphanages in large numbers. She did her research, which led them to plan the adoption of a little girl. Lori made the long journey to China, taking various forms of transportation, lasting a number of days. Finally, Lori met her little girl, which she and Tim had already named Chloe. Chloe had a shaven head because of lice and was thin. Lori immediately took Chloe into her arms and began the journey home. When Lori and Chloe reached their home airport, Tim and the other two kids were waiting with a sign that read, “Welcome Home Chloe!”

Chloe is now a grown young woman, and she knows, as many adopted children know, what it really means to be chosen. She is cherished and she knows it. She was in a dark place devoid of hope, and is now in a place of virtually boundless blessing.

In the verse above, when Paul says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people…”, he refers again to what God has done for us in Christ. We were in a dark place, without hope and destined for death, but are now alive in Christ. We were ALL chosen by God. “For God so loved THE WORLD that He gave his Son…” (John 3:16) He went to extreme lengths to demonstrate His love. We are loved with a boundless, undying love, and as I said yesterday, there’s nothing we can do about it! We cannot sin enough to stop it. We cannot run away from it. And we did nothing to earn it or merit it. God loves us because that is who He is. We are chosen, plucked from a world of darkness, and brought into the light of His Son… a world of hope and boundless blessing.

As Colossians 3:12 above says, we are holy and dearly loved. We are holy not because of our behavior (certainly not!), but because we are chosen. If we are Jesus-followers, we are children of God, with the Spirit of Christ dwelling in us. We are sacred. That is what holy means: sacred, uncommon, set apart for special use. You may have a family heirloom that is very special and you treat it differently than your other possessions. And just as you wouldn’t throw it into a mud puddle, a life full of sin isn’t befitting us either, since we are sacred, chosen, and dearly loved children of God. It is beneath us.

Really grasping the love of God is a game-changer for me. Knowing that I please God and that He loves and accepts me has changed me. I don’t have to try to earn God’s acceptance. I don’t have to clamor to please people. I am a child of God with Christ living in me and I live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. I know my identity. I know who I am. I know whose I am.

And I am chosen, holy and dearly loved.

So are you.


You used to walk in these ways in the life you once lived. (Colossians 3:7)

Once. Once upon a time. Used to. Past tense.

I’ve heard a lot of dramatic conversion stories: folks who’ve killed others or been destitute, deep in drug addiction, radically changed by God in an instant. It happens. All the time. Praise God.

For me, it wasn’t that dramatic. I had tried virtually everything to try to satisfy the emptiness in my heart that only God can fill. I had used almost every kind of drug available during my formative years. I had been with women. I was motivated to climb the ladder of success and would do most anything to get there. Been there, done that. I used to walk in those ways in the life I once lived.

Then one day in a church service, I heard an old man’s story about what it meant to live in a community of followers of Jesus. I heard about the things that God hates and I was guilty of them all. I gave my life to Christ that day.

I was changed but I wasn’t sure how or why. I didn’t long for the things I once did. I had a different mindset toward life and people. It wasn’t because I decided to be different, turned over a new leaf, or decided to follow a set of rules or guidelines. I was different. Period.

As I was memorizing my verses in Colossians 3 this morning and reading the accompanying devotional, the author, James Bryan Smith said,

“Being an apprentice of Jesus is not about rules and laws, it is about identity and place. Christian life is not an if-then obligation (‘If I do this, then God will do that.’) It is a because-therefore opportunity (Because I am one in whom Christ dwells, therefore I will…”). The better way to encourage change is to remind people who they are now, in contrast to who they once were… we should say to ourselves, ‘I am a Christ-inhabited person. What does that look like in the world I live in?’… Simply put, I am called to live differently because I am not the person I once was… It is not a matter of salvation. It is a matter of being authentically who we are.”

I used to follow my own indulgent, selfish desires. But now I’m not the same person. It’s the lifestyle I used to walk in. Not anymore. Don’t get me wrong; I still struggle just like you.

But I know who I am and I know whose I am. Currently. Present tense. Now and forever.

Starvation Diet

As I’ve mentioned, I’m memorizing a Scripture passage, Colossians 3:1-17. In doing so, it has me thinking about the meaning of certain words and phrases, prompting me to dig deeper.

In verse 5, Paul says,

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (NIV)

As I was reading and reciting this verse again, I wondered what he meant by “Put to death.” How am I supposed to kill whatever belongs to my earthly nature? The devotional book I’m reading that partners with the memorization explains it well this morning.

James Bryan Smith in his devotional “Hidden In Christ” explains that the phrase “put to death” is translated in the King James as “mortify”. It has the same root in Greek (and Latin) as mortgage. “Mort-” means death. A mortgage is the slow death of your home’s debt. When we mortify or put to death our earthly nature, it is a slow death. It is not done overnight. It takes time. It is intentional. It takes purposeful planning.

I’ve often heard that our spiritual nature and our earthly nature (our spirit and our flesh) are like two dogs. The one we feed is the one which survives. If we starve the earthly dog, our flesh, it will eventually die off. This takes planning and intent. It takes time.

There are sins that a few of us struggle with every day. We’ve struggled with them for years and they keep tripping us up. You would consider them “besetting” sins. These are the sins that have been “fed” over and over again, and to be free, now require intentional planning. Will power never works. But doing your part by planning to avoid the situations where they begin tempting you is the beginning. Avoid the temptation and you avoid the sin. (See James 1:14-15)

In our strategy, in addition to starving our flesh, we must also feed our spirits. We have the Holy Spirit inside us and He desires to show Himself more and more. However, He is a gentleman and won’t force Himself on you. You must invite Him into your life by prayer and reading His Holy Word, the Bible. The more you “feed” your spiritual nature, the more your spiritual nature will grow.

Something else to remember: If you are in Christ, then you are a child of God who has Christ dwelling within you and you live in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. You were bought at an extreme price, by the death of Jesus, God’s Son. You are priceless in the eyes of God.

Frankly, sin is beneath you. Kingdom living is your right and inheritance. Walk in it. Revel in it. Experience the joy and wonder of eternal life right now while participating in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Abundant living is waiting.