Category Archives: Devotions

No Church Ladies Here


Credit: Google Images

I had lunch with a new friend yesterday.

She and her family recently started attending our church and we are just in the early stages of getting to know each other.

At one point, she lowered her voice and her eyes and said, “I feel like a hypocrite walking into that church sometimes.”

When I asked why, she said, “Everybody there is so good. And I’m not.”

Oh honey. That is so NOT true!

Our pastor from our Florida days,  the incredibly gifted Tullian Tchvidjiian (here is a link to his sermons. Do yourself a favor and go watch some of them. His sermon series on the book of Romans was life-changing!), has taught me more than any other teacher about the miracle and wonder of God’s breathtaking and scandalous grace. 

Here are some of my favorite quotes from him on this subject:

God only saves bad people because bad people are all that there are.”

I know one thing: I am a great sinner and Jesus is a great Savior.”

“God’s message to the worn out and weary is this: ‘God’s demand: Be righteous.
God’s Diagnosis: No one is righteous.
God’s deliverance: Jesus is our righteousness.”

Once this good news grips your heart, it changes everything. It frees you from having to be perfect. It frees you from having to hold it all together. 

Because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak.
Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose.
Because Jesus was Someone, you’re free to be no one.
Because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary.
Because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail.

“Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver. It is one way love.”

Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return.”

Jesus came to liberate us from the weight of having to make it on our own, from the demand to measure up. He came to emancipate us from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves, find ourselves, and free ourselves. Jesus came to release us from the slavish need to be regarded, right, rewarded, and respected. Because Jesus came to set the captives free, life does not have to be a tireless effort to establish ourselves, justify ourselves and validate ourselves.”

When you read those words, do you sense the wind of freedom blowing into your life?!

For so many years, I lived as if all of this Christian life depended on me. I constantly felt the need to do more, to try harder, to perform, to pretend to be be something I wasn’t. And in the end, it left me feeling empty and hypocritical.

But then Jesus opened my eyes to the freeing fact of His incredible grace and I have never been the same!

He has done for me what I could never do for myself. My identity is no longer in external things: the size of my bank account, my looks, my possessions, my career. Rather my identity is in who I am in in Him.  Among other things, I am unconditionally loved, fully forgiven, chosen, beloved, free. That makes all the difference.

 I am no longer bound to “shoulds” and “oughts.”

I have made the choice to accept the free gift of grace that He offered me at the cross. (I just read a fabulous quote about what Jesus did at the cross for us from author Mark Batterson: “Jesus said, ‘I’ll take the blame for everything you did wrong and give you the credit for everything I did right.”). 

Grace is a free gift to us but it cost Jesus everything He had to be able to give it to us. 

When you live in the light of that kind of love, your life is filled with a joy that circumstances cannot touch and a liberating freedom that no one can take away. 

I had no interest in playing the role of Church Lady with my new friend during our lunch. I was very honest about the fact that I am as much of a mess as anybody else. I have my own baggage and struggles and trials and heartaches. I told her that every single person she sees in church on Sunday morning is dealing with their own stuff. (As Tullian likes to say, we are all train wrecks in our own way).

 There is not one person who would willingly volunteer to have all their inmost thoughts displayed up on the screen for everyone to see. None of us are perfect. That’s why we need a Savior who is perfect on our behalf. 

We are all broken people living together in a broken world.

Years ago, I may have wanted to leave her with the impression that I had it all together. That is the last thing that I would ever do now. I described how I used to be. She expressed amazement and proceeded to rattle off a list of lovely words that she would use to describe me now.

I smiled wide and said honestly, “If any of those things are true, that is Jesus who you are seeing. That shows you the difference He has made in my life. I’m not the same person that I was anymore. You can’t walk with Him and stay the same.  In fact, to quote Patsy Clairmont, ‘Without Jesus, I’m not even nice!!'” 🙂

Very true.

The last thing my new friend needed was to leave that restaurant thinking how great Susan is. 

She needed to walk out of there thinking, “Wow, Susan is a mess. Susan is broken. But Jesus has met her right there in that brokenness and He is making her whole. He is giving her beauty for ashes. He is bringing redemption and restoration to a life that desperately needs it. He is taking a rebel and transforming her into someone who loves like He does.”

 She needed to leave that place marveling over the fact that it is the beauty of His grace alone  that has the power to set her free. 

Give that same gift to those who come across your path today.

Show them Jesus.

His love for us does not depend on our loveliness. It goes one way. As far as our sin may extend, the grace of our Father extends further.”

(All quotes taken from Tullian’s book One Way Love: Inexhaustable Grace For An Exhasuted World. I highly recommend this book).

 

 

 

 

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Finding (And Offering) Mercy and Grace


Sandwich January-0045-1

Let us then fearlessly and confidently and boldly draw near to the throne of grace (the throne of God’s unmerited favor to us sinners), that we may receive mercy for our failures and find grace to help in good time for every need (appropriate help, well-timed help, coming just when we need it).—Hebrews 4:16, Amplified version.

Those words hit me right between the eyes this morning.

As a Christ follower, I have been given the unspeakable privilege and honor of being able to approach God’s throne, assured of a warm and delighted welcome from my Savior. The wonder of it is that that welcome is not the result of sappy, sentimental feeling. On the contrary, that staggeringly gracious  welcome is the result of Jesus giving everything He has in order to redeem my life and make me eternally His.

He then bids me to freely give as I have freely received.  (What was a free gift for me came at infinite cost to Him). He asks me to love others as I have been loved by Him. (He gave no thought to Himself as He literally poured out His life on behalf of others).

So, this question hit me like a thunderbolt: “Do I extend the same mercy and grace to people who come to me?”

How can I not?!

But yet I so often don’t.

My face burns and my eyes well up with tears as memories of unloving thoughts and unkind words rear their ugly heads. I want those things for myself, yet I can still be so unwilling to offer them to the unlovely, the ungrateful, the unrepentant, the foolish. All things that I can still be if I am honest with myself.

In the original Greek, the word mercy means: “kindness, goodwill toward the miserable and the afflicted.” 

Grace (is there a more beautiful word?!) means: “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness, goodwill.”

I have received these things from Jesus without measure…full, abundant, free.

It is my prayer that as I go throughout this day, that I will remember the constant grace and mercy that He shows to me every single second of my life…and that I will extend those same beautiful gifts to everyone who crosses my path.

Join me?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A New Motto


Several years ago, I saw a plaque in a Lifeway catalog that I have never forgotten.

Six simple words: Live As If Heaven Begins Tomorrow.

What would happen if we really believed that? If we really lived like that?

How would it change your daily life?

Would you stress about money and possessions?

Would you hold onto bitterness and anger?

Would you hold a grudge?

Would you worry about the circumstances in your life?

Would you neglect to pray?

Would you share the good news of the gospel boldly with the people in your life?

Really think about those questions…because Heaven could begin tomorrow for you.

We are all living on borrowed time and none of us know how long we have to live on this earth.

I have been living like this for the past week and it has been revolutionary. It is so much easier to let things like silly offenses go. To refuse to allow worries to occupy my mind.  To be kind. To be loving. To choose joy.  To not be fixated on tomorrow but to be fully present now. To keep short accounts with my God.

Lately I have been reading Randy Alcorn’s amazing book entitled Heaven. I highly recommend it. The Bible has so much to say about our heavenly home and it is glorious!!!

We spend far too little time learning about the place where we will spend eternity…and way too much time being obsessed with the things of earth.

In the years since I first saw that  plaque in the catalog, Jesus has continually opened my eyes to the wonders of His grace and I marvel in that miracle every single day. He has loosened my grip on the stuff of this world through trials that have forced my faith out into the light, to stand firm in what I say that I believe…and to experience the joy that comes from knowing that my faith is not just empty words or intellectual knowledge. It is the real deal.

This world is not my home.

I love my family. I love my friends. I love my life here.

But it’s all temporary and I can never forget that.

Living as if Heaven begins tomorrow has been a gateway to joy.

Try it.

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Bible Study & Tornadoes


Photo Credit: Arkansas Times

I heard a news story that caught my attention yesterday.

In the aftermath of the horrific tornadoes that ripped through the southern part of our country on Sunday, one reporter was filing a story from Mayflower, Arkansas.

He stood in front of a church that had been destroyed. All that was left of the church was one wall, which had been the front of the sanctuary.

The reporter declared that a Sunday night Bible study at the church had ended at 7:00. By 7:30, the tornado struck and in a matter of seconds, that church was no more. Thankfully, he told us, the church was empty at the time.

I thought about that story long afterward.

As those people met to study the Bible, how many of them honestly considered that they could be meeting the Author Himself in less than half an hour?

The term “Bible study” is so incredibly bland.

Invite an unbeliever to a Bible study and I imagine that they would rank such a thing right up there with taking the SATs or visiting the dentist. It sounds so boring and unappetizing, does it not?

When I read the following description of Jesus, the truth of who He is takes my breath away:

He is the exact likeness of the unseen God…it was in Him that all things were created in heaven and on earth…all things were created in Him and for Him…He Himself existed before all things and in Him, all things are held together…

In the beginning, before all time was the Word (Christ)…all things were made and came into existence through Him…in Him was LIFE…and the Word (Christ) became human and lived awhile among us, full of grace and truth.

For out of all His fullness (abundance) we have all received one grace after another, spiritual blessing upon spiritual blessing, favor upon favor, and gift heaped upon gift.

He was a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief…He was despised and we did not appreciate His worth or have any esteem for Him. Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows and pains…He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and by the stripes that wounded Him, we are healed and made whole…we had all wandered  away like sheep. We had gone our own way. And yet the Lord put all our guilt on Jesus.

Those who saw the living, resurrected Jesus described Him as follows:
*His eyes flash like a flame of fire
*His voice is like the roar of rushing waters
*He was sitting on a throne made of beautiful blue sapphire stones.
*From His waist up He seemed to be dazzling like fire and from His waist down He seemed to be entirely flame
*There was a glowing halo like a rainbow all around Him

“I am the First and the Last. I am the Ever-living One. I died but see, I am alive forevermore.”

THIS is the One who we get to know when we open the pages of the Bible!

We don’t study the Bible like we study for an exam, to learn a bunch of dry facts.

We read the story..HIS Story..within its pages so we can have the immense privilege of getting to know this Glorious One who authors all of our stories and offers us the beauty of redemption!!!

He is our Rescuer who  saves us from death.

He is the Restorer who gives us beauty for ashes.

He is the Healer, who makes us whole.

He is the Hope in the midst of the mess.

He is Peace in the turmoil.

He is your Creator, who knew you before He made the world.

He is the blazing Light that forever shatters our darkness.

He is the Author of our faith that moves mountains and slays giants.

He is our Courage in the face of heart-melting fear.

He is the Savior of the world.

He is the perfect Judge and He will execute  divine vengeance one day on all those whose sins are not covered by the blood of His perfect sacrifice on the cross.

He is the Singer who joyfully sings over His own.

He is our Joy that surpasses  and triumphs over the very worst this fallen world can dish out.

He is the ultimate and perfect Lover of our souls.

He IS LIFE itself.

So, my question is, do we believe this?

When we open the pages of our Bibles either at home or in a formal Bible study, do we approach the treasure inside those pages with expectancy and excitement because we are getting ready to hear from Jesus Himself???

Do we realize how tenuous our life is, how truly fragile we are? None of us are promised tomorrow, not even the next minute. Eternity is just a breath away and then we will all see Jesus: either as Savior or  as Judge.

When those dear ones in that church in Mayflower, Arkansas gathered for that Bible study Sunday night, what if that tornado had struck  at 7:00 and carried them into eternity? Would they have been prepared to see the face of the One they were reading about just moments earlier?

Are you?

Are you simply collecting facts? Checking off a “quiet time” box? Treating the Bible as if it were any other book rather than the living Word of the living God?

Rather than inviting someone to a Bible study, why not follow the example of the disgraced woman at the well? (John 4:1-42)

Jesus met her right where she was: married four  times and living with a fifth man,  ostracized by the people in her community, and living daily with a sense of suffocating shame and broken dreams.

Jesus was not repulsed by her sin, nor did He sidestep it. It grieved Him to see her selling herself short. He loved her. He honored her and treated her with dignity. He revealed Himself to be the awaited Messiah  and then He offered her forgiveness and freedom.

She took it. And joy  and life rushed in and overflowed a heart that was at one time bruised  and sad and battered and dead.

She then left us all a wonderful example to follow. She ran from the well into town and gleefully said, “Come see a Man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out! Could this be the Messiah?”  So the people left the town and set out to go to Him. (John 4: 29-30).

Think of the lost who populate your world.

Rather than inviting them to a Bible study, invite them to come see a Man in the pages of Scripture. Let Him speak to you and reveal who He truly is. And be forever changed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Beauty Of Easter


Each year, our church hosts a sunrise service at the parsonage on Easter morning.

Easter 2014-0006There is such a sense of excitement as we climb the driveway. The birds are singing and the sky is just beginning to lighten.

The long Saturday has given way to Sunday…and the world feels new!

We greet each other joyfully. Smiles abound and faces glow.

Just as the sun begins to peek over the mountains, we begin to sing.

Easter 2014-0099The people in the valley below have grown accustomed to being awakened every Easter by  the sound of our voices ringing through the morning air.

Once the singing is finished, our pastor takes his place in front of the crowd and opens his Bible.

Easter 2014-0079
Easter 2014-0106
Easter 2014-0127Easter 2014-0118Hearing that familiar yet astonishing story of the empty tomb never fails to move me to tears.

Because of Easter…

*there is eternal hope.

* EVERYTHING we will ever need was secured for us.

* we have access to God Himself and can call ourselves the Bride of Christ.

* JOY reigns.

*we are totally secure, regardless of our circumstances.

*light triumphed over darkness

*death was forever conquered

*Jesus offers us the beautiful and awe-inspiring invitation to walk through this life with Him, every moment alive with divine purpose, sacred mystery, fierce love, and magnificent, breathtaking grace!

HE IS RISEN!!!

Easter 2014-0087

 

 

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Crown Of Thorns


I walked into our empty house yesterday morning after attending Bible study and saw this sight: Crown Of Thorns-0004 Apparently, my mom had placed this crown of thorns against the shades in our living room while I was gone.

My eyes immediately filled with tears.

On the  drive home, my thoughts had been filled with thoughts of so many earthly concerns that they had temporarily drowned out the knowledge that this is Holy Week. The week of Christ’s suffering and shame, betrayal, beating, crucifixion and ultimately His triumphant resurrection.

How easy it is to forget the eternal in the midst of the daily mundane.

The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head. They clothed Him in a purple robe and went up to Him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck Him in the face. (John 19:2-3).

This, of course, was done after Jesus had been beaten nearly to death by Roman soldiers with a flagrum whip. This whip consisted of multiple leather cords that were weighted with lead balls and pieces of sheep bone. The bone was designed to reach into the skin, latch onto it, and rip it out.

Jesus had been tied to a flogging post while the whip was used repeatedly (at least 40 times). This was an extremely bloody and painful process that was designed to humiliate and inflict maximum damage. Sometimes people would not survive this torture. They would often bleed to death as their arteries and veins were laid bare (sometimes their intestines would fall out, so severe was the beating) and the skin on the back would be left in ribbons.

Of course, Jesus did survive this brutality…only to have a painful crown of thorns pressed into his head. The Roman soldiers did not delicately place this monstrous crown on his head either. They would have pressed it deep into his skull so that it pierced and tore into his skin, causing blood to run down his face. After mocking Him and hitting Him some more,  they dragged him out in front of the crowd for all to see.

They did this to God in human form.

In his book A Violent Grace  (highly recommended), author Michael Card sets the scene: “Could that be Jesus?” one person whispers to another. Look! The hands that had healed them were bound. The head that bent over their children is pierced by spines. The face that lifted up thanks before feeding them by the thousands is streaked with blood. 

Jesus will carry that twisted crown of shame into the wasteland of our sin. He will become lost there and forsaken. 

Why?

To re-create and redeem this cursed world. Sinful man, who brought the kingdom of thorns down upon his own head, was helpless to save himself. But praise be to God! The One who wore those thorns like a crown DID conquer the curse. The writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus is now “crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9). —pp 88,90

We all know the rest of the story.

Jesus wore that crown of thorns on the cross where He died the most horrific death known to man.  He died the death that you and I deserve because of our sin. He took our place. He paid our fine.  He wore our shame so that we could know dignity. He took every single drop of God’s wrath against sin so that terrifying wrath would never fall on us. He was deserted by the Father so that we would always know His Presence and His love.

He wore that crown of thorns for me.

He wore that crown of thorns for you.

Yet how often we forget.

How often I forget His awe-inspiring sacrifice, His fierce, eternal love that reaches beyond the grave.

I needed to see that crown of thorns.

It is a vivid reminder that out of the worst horror, the greatest beauty emerged and death was conquered forever.

I had to end up moving the crown because it was poking holes into the shades.

My husband suggested that I place it on the mantle, in the middle of our JOY sign. Crown Of Thorns-0006

I think that is the very best place for that crown of thorns.

If Jesus had not worn that crown on Good Friday, we could never have known the Author of true joy.

I am unspeakably grateful.

May we never lose sight of the beauty of the Cross.

On one hand, the cross is a mirror held up to my sin that shows me, through the price that was paid, just how thoroughly lost I am:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)

On the other hand, the cross is a window held up to my Lord that shows how greatly loved I am:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

The cross of Jesus gives the gift of that great love to you and to me.

And there is no greater love.” —Michael Card, A Violent Grace, p. 181

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Invincible


 

Moriah's Party-0034-1

This morning, I read this  in Oswald Chambers’ famous devotional, My Utmost For His Highest:

“NO power on earth or in hell can conquer the Spirit of God living within the human spirit; it creates an inner invincibility.”

The word invincible means:
 *incapable of being conquered, defeated or subdued in any manner
*unyielding
*a position that cannot be taken by assault or seige
*having an unyielding spirit or stubborn persistence in the face of opposition or difficulty

My human spirit is certainly not invincible…but the Spirit of Jesus who lives in my heart is ALWAYS invincible.

My choice is, which one will I allow to prevail?

On a rainy, stormy day that matches the storm swirling  around me right now, I CHOOSE to be invincible in Him.

In Him and His strength:

I am incapable of being conquered.
I am incapable of being defeated.
I will not be subdued in any manner.
I am unyielding.
My position in Christ cannot be shaken by any assault or seige that the enemy might try to bring against me.
I am fearless in the face of opposition and difficulty.

If I listen to my feelings, none of that is true. But I have learned (through painful experience) to ruthlessly relegate tyrannical, ever-changing feelings beneath the rock-solid truth of God’s Word.

And through His Word, Jesus tells me this:

I give power to you when you are faint and weary and when you have no might, I increase your strength, causing it to multiply and making it abound…My grace, loving-kindness and mercy is enough for you. It is sufficient for any danger and enables you to bear the trouble…for My strength and power  show themselves most effective in your weakness…when you are weak in human strength, then I make you truly strong, able, and powerful in My divine strength. (Isaiah 40:29; 2 Corinthians 2:9-10, Amplified version).

My circumstances will not defeat me. Questions will not deter me. Doubts will not stop me. I will not believe the lies of the enemy and I will not allow my fickle feelings to have the final say.

There comes a time in every Christian’s life when Jesus requires you to walk solely by faith in His Person and His promises. I am in such a place right now.

But rather than bemoan my fate and whine about how difficult life is, I will allow this season to be a platform in which I show the watching world around me that I treasure Christ above all things this world has to offer.

I will allow the winds of adversity to fan His flame inside my heart and burn brighter than it ever has.

The darker things get, the more I will praise Him.

I refuse to be defeated.

Jesus cannot be conquered and as long as I take refuge in Him, I can’t either.

If you are a Christ follower and are going through a rough time, what about you?

What choice will you make?

Dare to believe your good God.

You are invincible in Him.

 

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