Gospel Living

Have you ever felt it?

That awful moment when you're faced with a question, and you know the answer will make the other person feel horrible. They're waiting for the answer, and you've got to say something...and inside you're already feeling in empathy all the emotions you think you're about to inflict. And you find yourself thinking, 'I just can't do this to them.'

Or maybe you’ll know you’ll upset them, and that might damage your relationship with them.

So you temporise, you soften your language or you dodge the question.

Or is that just me?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's not just me. I see it in myself, and I see it in those around me. So what's the issue? Isn't it good not to hurt others? Isn't it loving not to upset them? Isn't it loving not to judge? Aren't we supposed to be 'nice'?! How can it be 'nice' and 'loving' to tell people that they're sinful and make them feel bad? Aren’t we supposed to preserve relationships?

Our emotions and empathy are a God-given and precious part of us. The ability to understand what someone is feeling helps to build deep connection and relationship. Where would we be without it?

It is good that we don’t want to hurt others. It is good that we hesitate before upsetting them. It is good that we remember that there are grey areas, and that there are many things that are complex and not clear cut. It is good to be humble.

There are times though, when God’s word is absolutely clear...and the application can be absolutely heartbreaking.

It is heartbreaking to sit with a young girl fathoms deep in love, and say ‘your life is going to be very difficult if you marry a non-Christian’.

It is heartbreaking to sit with a friend and see the pain and fear in their eyes and say ‘yes, I know you were lonely, and that’s awful, but sleeping with someone who is not your husband is wrong, not matter how right it feels.’

It is heartbreaking to sit with someone and say ‘You are sinning against God in that particular area’  when that area is making them happy, and fixing it is going to make them incredibly unhappy.

It's heartbreaking to sit with someone in pain over the brokenness in their lives and not be able to rescue them from the knowledge that their sinfulness caused it. Worse, it's heartbreaking not to be able to offer assurances that the consequences will go away...even though God offers forgiveness freely and removes the guilt.

It is hard to speak the truth in such matters.

As I said, the temptation is there to temporise, to soften the blow, to dodge the question. The temptation is to move the goal posts so that no-one ever has to be called a sinner, and no one ever has to face the awful moment of conviction of sin.

It is awful. There’s no two ways about it. I hate that moment in my life.

Here's the thing though. Jesus died to save sinners. Jesus died to save the lost.

If we never define ourselves as sinners...then He didn't die for us.

If we never define others as sinners...then He didn't die for them either.

What good does that do us?

If we never face the fact that we’re sinful, and never ask others to face it either ...we remain stuck in sin and bondage. At the end of our lives, we will still have to face our Almighty God, whose standards never change.

Isn’t it better to speak the truth now?

Isn’t it more loving to risk upsetting someone we care about now – no matter how hard it might be – than to leave them to face eternity without God?

I firmly believe that from that which we won't face, we can't be freed.

We can be scared and shift the goal posts so they feel better temporarily. Or we can take a deep breath, and reach out a hand and tell  the truth.

We can say in love 'sister...you screwed up, and it's awful. You sinned. I'm not going to lie to you. But I've sinned too, and I'm no better. Let me tell you what God has done for me, and what He can do for you. Let me tell you how you can get rid of that burden and be free and whole again. Let me tell you about Jesus.'

Isn't that more loving?

John 8:32 says ‘you will know the truth and the truth will set you free’. Owning the truth of who we are before God brings us to the cross in humility and repentance. There we find the grace and love that sets us free.

Let's not buy in to the 'we have to be nice girls' lie. Let's be loving and brave. Let's use our empathy to tell the truth in a way that doesn't condemn and shame them. Let's use all our empathy to show them we're all in same muck at the foot of the cross together. Let's help them work towards dumping the weight of their sin on the One who has paid for it all. Let's rejoice with them when grace removes guilt, and redeems their brokenness. Let's not let us 'being nice' stop someone else from hearing about Christ or from growing further in Him.

Lord, help us to be women of empathy and strength. Help us to remember who we are before you, and be vulnerable enough to own our weaknesses before others, that they might own their weaknesses before you. Help us to show your grace, love and truth to those around us. Thank you for Jesus, and the cross which sets us free.

Amen

b2ap3_thumbnail_stars.jpg

I recently spent my first ever night in a tent (in the backyard). I know, I know, that's a little late in the game compared to most people, but that's the way it is! As I went to bed on the first night, I looked at the stars and was a little disappointed at how few stars I could see, even though it was a clear night. A few hours later, I opened my eyes and wondered what had happened.

There were so many stars! Far more than I could ever count, and so clear and close, even with the light pollution from the surrounding houses and town. I was absolutely awestruck by what I could see. It wasn't until the experience was repeated on the following night, and then the one after that, that it struck me. Nothing had 'happened'. The stars were the same as they had always been. There weren't less clouds in the sky. The earth hadn't suddenly moved into a section of sky with more stars in it. The stars weren't suddenly brighter. No...my night vision had fully developed, and now I could see and enjoy the splendour before me. And enjoy it I did!

As I lay there looking at the incredible spectacle, it struck me that the Christian life is often like that. Much like I knew the stars were there, we know God has a plan for us and that He works all things to the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28). And yet we look around and we can't see God's hand at work. Shouldn't it be more obvious? Shouldn't it look like (fill in your own blank)? Shouldn't it...?

And that reminded me of another star, the one the Magi followed to find the King of the Jews. You see, God doesn't work to our plans. He works to His. He'd promised the Israelites a Messiah many centuries before Jesus came. He'd promised them a Saviour and King who would rule forever. The problem was...when he came, he didn't look like they expected. He was born in a stable, in a manger. When he grew up and proclaimed that he was the Messiah, he still didn't fit what they expected. They wanted an earthly king who would get rid of the Romans. Here was Jesus, performing miracles around them, healing the lame, giving sight to the blind, walking on water, feeding 5000 from a few small loaves and fish, raising the dead...and yet they didn't recognise him. I'm sure there were people in Jerusalem looking around and saying "Where is God? Shouldn't He be doing something? Didn't He promise us a Messiah? Where is He? 400 years is a long time to be silent, Lord!"

The issue then was not that God wasn't doing anything, any more than the issue is that He's not doing anything in our lives today. The issue is...we simply can't always see, or recognise what He is doing. We don't have fully developed 'God vision'.

Sometimes that's simply because we're finite humans, who can't see or comprehend what our infinite God is doing. But sometimes, it's also that we're too busy looking at the lights of this world, and our own expectations of what we think God should be doing to allow God to develop our understanding of what He's actually doing.

So here's a challenge...what if we took some time out? What if we deliberately laid down our expectations of what our life should look like, and what 'God's plan for our lives' should look like? What if we went back to the Scriptures to see what God actually promises, not what we think He should promise? What if we based our world view and expectations around that?

Several years ago, in a moment of utter desperation, I prayed 'let me see through Your eyes. Give me Your perspective.' I've been amazed at the incidences of God's hand at work that I've seen since then. It wasn't instant, and I'll be honest - there are still plenty of things in my life, and the life of those around me where I still find myself saying 'Where are you God? How does this work? How is this part of your plan?' Sometimes I see God's hand at work and life still hurts. I choose to trust Him though, and I choose to keep praying for my 'God vision' to develop. God never promises this life will be easy. In fact, in John 16:33 Jesus says '....In this world you will have trouble...'

Ouch! Thankfully the verse doesn't end there. '...But take heart! I have overcome the world.'

Such encouragement! Our future is secure, no matter what twists and turns this life takes, and God is working it all to our good. And nothing can separate us from the love of God. 'For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, niether height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 8:38-39)

So, as a New Year is about to begin, perhaps you too will join me in praying to see the world through God's eyes. Perhaps you too, will deliberately lay down your expectations and seek God through His revealed word, rather than what we think it should be.

Lord, help us to see through your eyes. Help us to take every thought captive and submit it to Christ. Help us to structure our understanding of the world and our lives on the basis of your Word. Help us to trust You, even when we can't see Your hand at work. Thank you that You are at work in all things, and that You love us. Thank you for Jesus!

Amen

 Just one more thought...I've been told that the stars in the outback, away from the light pollution, are absolutely incredible. How much more incredible will it be to look back and see all the ways God has been at work that we aren't even aware of?

 (Image courtesy http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/Skyscapes_g115-Stars_In_Night_Sky_p66856.html  )

In my last post, I wrote about how sin has made us become worthless, and about how trying to answer the question ‘why am I worthwhile?’ by looking within ourselves is the wrong approach. It’s important to start there with our sinfulness, because that’s the only way we’ll ever understand grace. It’s not until we have the courage (or desperation) to stand before God and say ‘I am a sinner, completely unworthy of salvation and completely unable to save myself’...it’s not until then that we can even begin to grasp how amazing is God’s love for us. The more I think about it, the less I have words to express it. It is unfathomable.

 

Some of us, though, have no issue in believing we have become worthless, because we believe we are inherently made that way. We’ve had circumstances and people and our own interpretations of things that make us believe and feel that. And that, my friends is just plain wrong. It is just as wrong as thinking that we are loved because we are worthy in some way.

 

The verse I shared with you last time from Romans said we have ‘become worthless’. Not ‘we are worthless’. God does not make worthless things. Oh yes, sin ruins everything, but that’s been dealt with by Jesus dying on the cross. Think about it. Really think about it for a moment.

Just on sheer logic alone; if sin makes us become worthless, and then that sin is paid for, for all eternity – surely we’re not worthless any more?

When we believe that we are inherently worthless, and stay in that regardless of our declaration of faith in Jesus – isn’t that the same as saying His death was not sufficient? That it wasn’t enough to cancel out our sins?

If God says it’s enough...why do we question it? Who are we to contradict Him?

Sometimes, our souls have been so wounded by the world, and our own sinfulness that we have to deliberately remind ourselves of the truth, in order let it sink into our minds and hearts.

Here are some truths...ponder them and pray over them. Be awed at the mercy and love of our Father.

1) Our sin makes us become worthless...but we were not created that way. We carry the image of God, and when God created mankind, He said that His work was ‘very good’.

 2) When we believe in Jesus and put our trust in Him, our sins are dealt with. Forever.

‘For as high as the heavens are above the earth,

    so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,

    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’

Psalm 103:11-13

You can’t get much further than the east is from the west! When our sins are gone, the thing that made us become worthless is gone too. Yes, we continue sinning at times, and need to continually repent, but it has been dealt with.

3) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:1

It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. It doesn’t matter how bad we feel about ourselves and our choices...if we are in Christ, there is NO condemnation. We don’t need to live in guilt and shame any more.

4) When we believe in Christ we are a new creation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. (2 Cor 5 17-19)

That means that Christ is continually transforming us into his likeness and the people we were created to be. Those areas of ourselves that we struggle with, and don’t like can come under the transforming power of Christ. When we allow the Spirit to work in our hearts, we can change and grow.

5) Unconditional eternal love –

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Such fantastic words. Nothing can separate us from this love.

N-O-T-H-I-I-N-G. Love that will never fail, never be taken away and never abandon us. Love that restores and redeems us; this love is ours forever. That is the desire at the centre of every person’s heart...and its fulfilment is offered to us in Christ.

I would encourage you to spend some time in the word and in prayer. Really think about what the Bible says, and then bring your thinking in line with that. Ask God to show you yourself through His eyes, and help you to be the woman you were created to be.

My challenge for you is this – find the verses that speak the truths you most need to hear, and write them out. Stick them up somewhere prominent and be aware of what you are thinking. If you catch yourself thinking something in contradiction with those verses, pray and ask God for help.

Father God,

Thank you that you love us, and transform us. Be with each person who reads this post, and show them who You created them to be. Transform them, as You are transforming me.

In Jesus' name,

Amen

Following some recent discussions, I have been trying to write a post on self-worth or self-esteem for some time now, and have gotten absolutely nowhere. A couple of days ago, it dawned on me. I’m asking the wrong question.

The question at the bottom of the self worth, and self esteem question seems to be ‘what makes me special?’ ‘What makes me worthwhile?’ And the answers the world gives vary from success to looks to qualities like kindness and intelligence. Stripped down to the basics though, the inherent idea is still me. There is some quality about me that makes me worthwhile. There is some quality about me that outweighs the negative parts of my character.

Is that biblical?

What does God say about us? Is there some quality about us that outweighs the negative? Is there??

Romans 3:12 says

“All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”[a

  1. ..all have turned away...all have become worthless. There doesn’t seem to be much wriggle room in that does there? Self worth? Really?

So there’s some cheery news. We’re all worthless.

But let’s look at that a little closer. ‘Become worthless’. BECOME. That means at some stage, we had worth. At some stage we weren’t worthless. That’s better news!

Let’s go back to the beginning. When God created the world and everything in it he looked at his creation and said that it was good. Then he made man and woman...in His image...and what did God say then? He said that it was very good.

When God created mankind, He didn’t just speak Adam into existence. He formed him from the dust of the ground, breathed life into his nostrils, and He made him His image bearer. And then He formed Eve from Adam’s rib, and gave her His image as well. He took care in creating mankind, and he made us for a purpose – to be in relationship with him, and with each other and to have dominion over the creation.

As the descendents of Adam, those qualities are true as well. God created us for a purpose. He created us to have relationship with Him, and with each other.

And then it all went horribly wrong. Sin entered into the world, and ruined everything. At bottom, that’s where the issue really lies. The problem with most of the ‘self esteem’ and ‘self worth’ stuff the world offers is that it is designed to make you feel better about yourself – to get rid of that secret sense of not being good enough. The reality is though that that we’re not good enough and no amount of trying will make us so.

Chasing ‘self worth’ for the sake of feeling better about ourselves is doomed to failure before we start, because it doesn’t deal with the truth – we have become worthless because of our sin.

So what’s the solution?

The good news is...God has dealt with that already, at the cross. What happened at the cross gives us the power to say ‘Yeah...I’m not perfect. Yeah, there are things in my life I’m not proud of. Yeah, there are dark places in my soul, and yeah...without Jesus I am worthless. But guess what? It’s been dealt with!’

There is an incredible freedom in being able to acknowledge the worst about yourself. So often, I think Satan uses our knowledge of our own sinfulness to separate us from God and from others. Sin does separate us from God – that’s what the Fall shows us – but that’s not where we have to stay. Satan, though, whispers in our ear ‘if anyone really knew what you were like...no one would love you. If anyone could really see what you were...they would run away and never look back.’

Guess what? It’s a lie, plain and simple.

We are known and loved by the God of the universe. He sees us inside and out. He knows how many hairs there are on our heads. He knows all our inside being. Who does Satan think he’s kidding when he whispers ‘if anyone really knew...’?! We are seen by the God of the universe...and loved.

Seen in all our guilt, all our shame, all our pride, all our sin, in our state of having become worthless...and yet we are loved. Profoundly loved. Loved with an everlasting love, that reaches to the heavens, and a faithfulness that stretches to the skies (Ps 36:5)

Romans 5:8 says, ‘But God demonstrated his own love for us in this; that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’

Do you get that? ‘While we were yet sinners’. God doesn’t love us because of anything we do. He doesn’t love us because we are worthy. He just loves us.

So the next time you find yourself wanting to find some good quality about you that makes you acceptable...remember that’s not what it’s about. Trying to answer that question will never make you happy. You will never find any quality that will lastingly make you feel good. You just won’t...and trying to distracts from the need of a Saviour.

If the wrong question is ‘what makes me worthwhile?’, perhaps the right question is ‘God, how can I live secure in the knowledge that You see me and love me?’

Here’s a thought...what would our lives look like (and feel like) if we stopped trying to be ‘worthy’? What would happen if we consciously decided every day ‘God knows all of me, and loves me anyway...and that’s enough’?

I suspect there’s a follow up post to this – but for now, perhaps you’ll join me in prayer.

Lord,

Thank you that you know every last detail about us. Thank you that you see all our secret thoughts and deeds and love us anyway. Forgive us for our sins, for they are many. Help us to live secure in the knowledge that you love us and forgive us. Help us to stop striving to be ‘enough’ and be accepted. Fill us with your love, that we may overflow that love to others.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

(photo credit: http://kcruss.deviantart.com/art/Romans-5-8-299532656)

It’s not often I find the newspaper inspiring, but I came across a heart-warming story in The Age today. A woman in King Island, was walking along the beach after a storm. She was lonely and heartbroken after the breakdown of her marriage, and was feeling utterly unloved. She spied a bottle with a message in it, and when she took it home, she discovered three words on the paper inside it.

‘You are loved’.

The message also had an email address. And so the story came out, that the captain of a ship, having experienced loss in his own life, and seeing a world full of hatred and anger around him, decided to write a message of hope to counterbalance that hatred. He wrote his three simple words on a piece of paper, and dropped them into the ocean in the hope that they would reach and encourage someone. And so they did, six long years later.

What I love about this story is that we have a man in pain, who decides not to dwell on that pain, but to use it to help others. I have no idea whether he is a Christian or not, but there’s a concept there that is definitely biblical.

As I read the story this morning, I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 1:3

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God”

We each of us have our own personal message in a bottle – the Bible- which tells us we are loved. We have a God who loves us so much that he is not willing for us to perish for our sins, but rather sent his only son to die in our place. This is a God who shouts “I love you” from the mountaintops. And not only that, but we have a God who draws near to us and comforts us in our times of trouble. He comforts us by his words, He comforts us through prayer and music, and He comforts us by the people He puts in our lives. Often the people around us are His way of saying ‘You are loved...by me’.

See, the message the washed up on King Island simply said ‘You are loved.’ It begs the question - ‘loved by whom?’

The world cannot answer that satisfactorily.

We can.

We are loved by God, and we, because of that love, in turn love those around us. We love because we have been loved, and we ought to love in the same way as we have been loved.

So the challenge, and privilege, as Christians is to share that love and comfort we have been given with others. It is our privilege to share what God has done for us and point others to Christ. It is our honour to be able to walk alongside others who are hurting and struggling, and say ‘I know you are hurting, and I know this is rough...but God is faithful. Let me walk through this with you a bit.’

To do that, though, we have to be willing to be real. We have to be willing to drop the mask that we wear to pretend everything is alright and we’ve got it all together. We have to be willing to be vulnerable, and expose our brokenness, so that God’s love can shine through. We are not the ones who fix the pain. We are not the ones with the answers. We are simply the bottle bobbing along, carrying the message, ‘You are loved...by God.’

I think, often, people feel alone in the world. They look at people around them and see people smiling and happy and wonder what’s wrong with them, why they are the only people in the world who are struggling.

So here’s the thought I want to leave floating in your minds. To whom can you be a ‘message in a bottle’? To whom can you convey the message ‘you are loved’, in a world that so desperately needs it? How can you use your brokenness, to pass on the comfort that you have received, so that God’s love shine through?

I’m refraining from giving suggestions here, because the reality is – I don’t have them. Every situation is different. God will use you in the way he sees fit. He will equip you, and put people in your path. All you have to do is to be willing and listen. He will wash your ‘bottle’ ashore in many different places. The only suggestion I have is that you might join me in prayer...

Father,

Thank you that you love us. Thank you that you are a personal God, who has walked through all the trials of this life, and knows what it is to be human. Help me to be real with others. Help me to be willing to share my life and my brokenness with others, that they may see You and Your love in my life, and want to know You. Help me to convey the message ‘You are loved’ to those around me. Direct my ‘bottle’ where You will, to where it will do the most good.

In Jesus name,

Amen

(original story source http://m.theage.com.au/national/message-in-a-bottle-carries-a-missive-of-hope-to-a-distant-shore-20130921-2u6p8.html)

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