Holding It Together

Jesus Holds All Things Together

I am grateful for a small break in my classes to be able to write another post. Over the past several months, there have been many papers to write, tests to take, and an “Intensive” week where I was actually staying on campus in a dorm room with a roommate. Ah, just like old times!

I found myself in a true identity crisis last year when the expectations and plans for the empty nest period of my life suddenly evaporated. After taking a season to mourn my lost purpose, I started this blog to share what God has taught me, and continues to teach me, about His faithfulness, His trustworthiness, and His loving-kindness while remaining open to what God’s plan was for me. With the encouragement of my husband, I am now working on a master’s degree for school counseling. Going back to school after more than 20 years has been just a little bit intimidating.

During the months since, with each class and assignment, there have been times when I felt like I wasn’t able to do what was required in the time frame given. When moments of doubt, weakness, and insecurity take hold, it can be difficult to continue giving my best effort. Yet, I know I am not alone, and the only way to fail for certain is to give up. I can’t give up.

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Every adventure and challenge calls for perseverance. But this perseverance only comes when I believe that Jesus knows and provides what I need. And, when I’m only getting a few hours of sleep, isolated from my family and friends, dizzy from staring at the computer screen for hours on end, struggling to make a complete thought, much less an intelligent sounding one, it is easy to give in to the fear that I can’t do it. That this was all a mistake.

I remember having similar thoughts and feelings in my earlier college days. Back then, I didn’t have the level of faith and experience to fully trust God. My confidence, faith, and belief wavered, and while I got through school, I didn’t feel like I had conquered and achieved a victory.

This time is different. I remember and hold onto faith that this task is part of the plan God has for me, and I am able to get through it even when it’s hard – with an expectation of a battle won. He knows what I need, and He sustains me. He holds me together. Sometimes, it is just by the act of a simple prayer thrown up in desperation, and other times, it is in the sweetness of my husband, one of my children, or a friend encouraging me. But through all of it, I find just enough strength to press onward.

You also may be going through a difficult time where things seem to be falling apart or too difficult to manage. But, if you know Christ Jesus, you may allow yourself just enough faith to believe that the One who spoke the world into being is sovereign, and He holds all things together. His plan is bigger than what we can see right now.  He doesn’t show us the whole plan, but He will help us through today.

**I wrote the above last week, before everything happened in Virginia. It may seem our country is falling apart, but let’s remind ourselves of what is true.

John 1:1-2 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

1 In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.

Hebrews 1:2-3

In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son. God has appointed Him heir of all things and made the universe through Him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.

Colossians 1: 15 – 17

15 He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation

16 For everything was created by Him,
in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions
or rulers or authorities—
all things have been created through Him and for Him.

17 He is before all things,
and by Him all things hold together.

Not That Big of Deal

We’ve talked a lot here about why we should trust God and His love for us. This time, I want to address the holiness of God, especially in the context of obedience. Merriam Webster defines the word holy as “exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.”

We learn how to obey and respect authority first from our parents. I think it’s safe to say no one grew up with a holy parent. However, generally speaking, they did their best to teach us right from wrong. When I look back on my childhood, I see significant times when I disobeyed my parents and suffered serious consequences. In most cases, I didn’t think what I was doing was a big deal. For example, there were no laws about seatbelts and car seats when I was young. My brother and I both wanted to sit in the front seat while we went with my dad on some errand. My older brother and I are less than 2 years apart, and we were just a little bit competitive with each other. If he had something, then I had to have it, too. I wanted to be just like him, and I wanted the same privileges he enjoyed.

As we were riding along, I proudly leaned against the seat in the space between my dad and brother, standing so I could see out the window. My joy was disrupted upon hearing my brother telling my dad I should get in the back seat because the door wasn’t shut properly. I reacted as one would expect any strong-willed 3 year-old sibling. Speaking clearly, I told them I wouldn’t get in the back unless my brother had to also. My brother and dad were now both frantically telling me to get in the backseat. I thought a compromise would work better such as sitting down instead. Within a matter of seconds, my dad was reaching over to me, enforcing his command. I yelled, “NO,” pulled away from him, and promptly fell out of the car. Thankfully, my dad had already begun slowing down to pull over. I wasn’t hurt badly, but there were some scratches and bruises. It made such an impression on me; I still remember it to this day. I rebelled and got hurt.

Both my older brother and my dad recognized the danger I didn’t. I was certain I would not fall out of the car, and I had no idea when I pulled away I was that close to the door. I reasoned if my brother could stay in the front without falling out, I could too. I didn’t want to be denied the pleasure and importance of sitting up front.

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How many times has God told us the right way to live,
and we have refused to listen? Perhaps we think this small act of disobedience doesn’t really matter. It’s not that big of a deal. Maybe we rationalize our choices and actions based on what we think is fair. Maybe we just want to have fun and think if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, then we can handle the consequences. For me, that could be sitting on the sofa playing just one more game connecting brightly colored candy. It’s not that big of a deal, until I realize I’ve been playing over an hour, my family has all gone to bed, and I’ve lost that time with them. Or, maybe we think we won’t actually be punished.

 

These thoughts are just the little ways we eventually find ourselves further from God than we realized. To our Holy God, even a little sin matters and separates us from Him. We can’t fully appreciate His perfect goodness and righteousness when we don’t understand it. When I try to fathom what it means that God is holy, and I am not, I feel intimidated. How can I approach the one, true, Holy God when I know how sinful I am? If we stop there, we allow fear to paralyze us. God is Holy, and God is love. It is because of His holy love that He offers grace to us. Remembering this allows us to approach Him with humility and confidence instead of fear. Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)

One day, all of us will stand before God – even those who don’t believe in Him now. Remember, God is not dependent on our belief or unbelief. He is real. God will judge each of us. Some will be found righteous and have eternal life, while those who refused His mercy and grace will perish. Our righteousness has nothing to do with our works, but with our faith in the grace He has provided through Jesus Christ.

Below I’ve listed verses for you to read about think about this week. I’ve linked each verse to biblehub.com, where you can see the verse in context or read different translations. These verses are from a list of scriptures used by an organization I’ve been part of called Moms In Prayer. I hope they guide your thoughts this week as you consider God’s holiness.

New Living Translation
No one is holy like the LORD! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. 1 Samuel 2:2

Holman Christian Standard Bible
God, Your way is holy. What god is great like God? Psalm 77:13

New Living Translation
But the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will be exalted by his justice. The holiness of God will be displayed by his righteousness. Isaiah 5:16

New International Version
Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” Revelation 15:4

Exodus 15:11           Psalm 99                    Psalm 111:9              Isaiah 57:15-16

Luke 1:49               Acts 3:13-15            1 Peter 1:15-16           Revelation 4:8

 

 

 

 

 

If You Love Me . . .

 

Last week, I included the verse, John 14:23. “Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NIV)

Some of you may be more familiar with the verse that came a little earlier in the chapter, “If you love me, keep my commands.”  John 14:15 (NIV) This is the kind of short, easy verse some of us may have memorized in Sunday School when we were young.

I have trouble with this verse because it sounds conditional. I’ve always been under the impression God’s love is unconditional, so why the ‘if . . . then’ statement? “If you love me” has always struck me as a manipulative phrase. I would never have trusted that coming from anyone without suspecting an ulterior motive was at its core or the person didn’t trust my love for its own sake. Is God trying to manipulate me? Do I have to prove my love to Him? Doesn’t He already know my heart? This just doesn’t seem right. I already know trying to be good doesn’t work.

Remember, if we don’t study scripture in context, we won’t understand it properly. What we have here is the record of a conversation between Jesus Christ and His disciples shortly before his crucifixion. Read the following with a little more context:

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Jesus is explaining to His followers that once He has died, been resurrected, and ascended to heaven, He will send His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to remain with them. He will not leave them alone in this world. Rather than a manipulative statement, John 14:15 is actually a cause and effect statement. If the love of Christ is in us, we will keep His commands – because we love Him. Each part of the trinity is at work for the unity of love. Keeping His commands is a direct result of the love of God alive in us. Here’s one more verse, again, just a little bit earlier:

11Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.

In this verse, Jesus says at the very least, His good work is evidence of the Father in Him. By comparison, our keeping the command to love God first, and loving others, is evidence of our knowledge and belief in Jesus Christ. Our obedience comes from the love God Himself gives us and empowers through the Holy Spirit.

There are some conditional statements by God throughout the Bible. Mostly, those have to do with promises. Even the covenant between Abraham and God was dependent on the Israelites keeping their side of the agreement.

Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:5 – 6 (NIV)

Much of God’s promises depend on our being faithful or obedient. We make choices. In the Old Testament times, they had the prophets, laws, and sacrifices. Today, we still have the law, which let’s us know of our need for redemption, we have salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and we have the Holy Spirit to help guide us into truth.

God does not need to manipulate us. Manipulation occurs when someone needs to cause another to do something that serves a selfish purpose. God doesn’t need anything from us, and He certainly isn’t selfish.  Think about this:

12if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; 13if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.14Remind the believers of these things, charging them before God to avoid quarreling over words; this is in no way profitable, and leads its listeners to ruin. 2 Timothy 2:13 (NLT)

Let me encourage you. I write about this because I want you to trust God’s love for you. I want you to understand the truth. The truth is God is love. Love is patient. So, God is patient. He does know you, and He wants a relationship with you. God is not dependent on any of us. He’s trustworthy. He’s also forgiving. That’s the whole point of the cross. Our obedience is derived out of our love for Him.  Living things grow.  The more our love grows, the deeper relationship we have with Him, and the stronger our desire is to obey Him.  It takes time.  Let it grow!

Blind to Love

We cannot love without trust, nor trust without love.

This is true in friendships, marriages, and our relationship with God. I may say I know God loves me, but there are times when it doesn’t seem true. His love doesn’t seem real when things are bad and prayers are unanswered. Often, this mistrust shows up in my ignoring Him, acting in ways contrary to His law, or refusing His will and grace. John 14:23 says, “Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (NIV) If I disobey, does that mean God doesn’t love me? Or, will He love me less? How do I know? To clarify things, let’s ask the primary question: Do I trust God’s love for me?

For me, the answer is – sometimes. There are times when I feel so secure in God’s love for me that I believe I can do and go anywhere, and I can feel His Spirit right there with me. Other times, I feel like I’m in the dark, hidden, and forgotten. I just can’t see it.

When I was about 12 years old, it occurred to me the only time my mom called me was to do some chore. I decided to test it. I hid in an out of the way place to see if she missed me, or to see if she only came looking for me because she wanted me to do something. After a while, she did come searching for me – because she had a chore for me. The thought stuck in my head, “See, your mom doesn’t really love you. She just wants you to work for her. That’s the only good thing your mom sees about you.” Now, I know that is a brazen lie. I knew it then, too, but I was angry and let the thought fester and grow. Requests for help after that were an echo and reinforcement of that lie. I like to help. The lie undermined our relationship for a while and stole the joy I should have felt at being kind and helpful.

Coincidentally, I believed that God showed favor on people who served in the ministry more than those who didn’t. If I really loved God, and He thought I was good enough, He would call me into church ministry. He didn’t. I came to understand God’s love for me was obligatory. Generally, as in For God so loved the world, and I was part of the general world.

Maybe you also believe lies about the love God has for us. It’s a lot like the doubt the serpent put in Eve’s mind. “Did God really say . . . . ..” (Genesis 3:1) The things that make us doubt God’s love for us and keep us from trusting Him can come from places of real pain and hardship. It can be prayers spoken year after year before seeing an answer, if at all. It can be rejection from someone who is supposed to love you; cutting you to the quick. It can be circumstances that seem impossible to overcome like health issues, financial needs, and broken relationships. Or, it can be things you’ve done you think are unforgivable. How do we know God loves us when things are so hard?

God wants a relationship with us more than good works. His level of love is not determined by whether we are good enough, our circumstances, or any of the other trials we face. Instead, trusting God’s love increases as we spend more time getting to know God and understanding His ways. This helps us get through trials with greater confidence and peace. When we trust God’s love, we can serve Him in obedience, whether it’s in church ministry, at home, or elsewhere. Trust also helps us accept His grace and run to Him when we mess up.

Don’t let yourself be blind to the love God has for you. Determine to find ways to spend time getting to know Him. His love for you often shows up in scripture, prayer time, music, acts of kindness or service through other people, and even displays in nature. If you doubt God’s love for you, allow the Holy Spirit to show you what is causing the doubt. Then wait and see. Listen. Be still. He is faithful. You may find He’s been showing you He loves you all along.

Here are some places to start.  Because God made you, He knows everything about you. He will meet you where you are if you are willing.

New Living Translation
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:16

New Living Translation
But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8

English Standard Version
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

New Living Translation
May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:5

Berean Study Bible http://biblehub.com/context/1_john/4-15.htm
15If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16And we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love has been perfected among us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment; for in this world we are just like Him.  18There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because He first loved us.

What is love?

Hi Friends,

I missed posting last week due to an exciting development I want to share.  I’m pressing forward with going back to school for a master’s degree in school counseling.  I had to take the GRE with very short notice and took all the time I could to prepare for it.  The test has been taken with some measure of success.  It’s another part of moving forward while I’m waiting.  It won’t be an easy or quick undertaking, but at least now I’m putting the dream to action.  It’s kind of funny.  I was spurred to talk to my husband more seriously about it by a number of events; one of my former co-teachers encouraged me in that direction, a late night phone call, and  . . . the music and theme in my exercise class, Body and Soul.  The theme being, “What’s Next.”  Really.  My husband provided the final push to set it in motion.

One more thing, in my last post, I invited you to join me with doing the Entrusted Bible study by Beth Moore.  It’s a 6 week study on 2 Timothy.  Because I live where the big snowstorm came through, we didn’t get to start it.  Our first session will be this coming week.  I would love to know if you are participating with me by leaving a quick comment.  Even if you can’t do the Bible study with a group, you can still read the scripture, contribute to the discussions, and benefit from sharing in the experience.  Depending on your response, I may do a separate post for 2 Timothy on Wednesday’s or Thursday’s for the duration.

In the meantime, I want to continue with the purpose and theme of this blog:  inspiring others to grow in faith and love.  Or in other words, help each of us become healthier Christians.  I’ve been thinking about what makes a healthy church and  a strong Christian for a while.  One of the challenges we face is learning how to love properly.  We may say the words, we may love to a certain degree, but do we understand what it means to truly love?  I sincerely believe growing in faith, having healthy relationships, and getting closer to God, is learning how to love well.

The first commandment is, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:5 (NIV)  We are also instructed to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Then of course, there is 1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 8.  (ESV)

eLove is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  8 Love never ends. 

I know I can’t love like that with all my prejudices and self-centeredness.  I can’t love others, much less God, in my own strength.  More importantly, do we believe God really loves us like that?  If not, therein lies some of the trouble.  If I don’t trust that God really loves me in the way love is described in 1 Corinthians 13, how can I love Him with my whole heart, soul, and strength?  Not to mention loving other people.

We are told God is love, “The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8 (HCSB)  Also, throughout Psalm 136, the constant refrain is, “His love endures forever.”  Of course, there is also John 3:16, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (HCSB)

English is sadly inept in describing all the different values and degrees of what we call love.  The kind of love here is agapaó; from Greek.  There is a book called, “The Four Loves,” written by C. S. Lewis, in which you can read more about the different kinds of love.  If you are someone inclined to want to know more, I recommend reading this book.  I think you will find it enlightening.

Spend some time this week thinking about who,what, and how you love.  My prayer for you is that not only will you be inspired to love better, but you will also be reminded, personally, of the extent of God’s love for you.  May each of us abide in the love of Christ!

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Next week, I plan on focusing more on what happens when we accept God’s love for us.