As long as I live there will be something worth fighting for, worth writing for, and worth dying for.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Joy Unspeakable

Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory I Peter 1:8

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. Psalm 16:11

These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. John 15:11

Happiness is dependent on circumstances; Joy is dependent on your Saviour.

I learned that little mantra in college. I have only just recently learned what it actually means. Before, for someone to tell me to 'have joy' was just about as effective as telling a five year old to 'have respect.' What you are really asking is for them to 'show' those things.

See, joy, respect, love are attitudes. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." Those are all attitudes.

When something is an attitude that means it originates not in the mind, but in the heart. That usually isn't something you can change in a moment. To tell a child to show some respect does not change the heart, it changes the actions. It is a temporary fix. A show.

Some thing with joy. Joy is not something you can just 'show.' Happiness is what you show. Joy isn't walking around with a Miss America smile and laugh that drives people nuts. Joy is an attitude, a spirit.

Definition of Joy: something or someone that provides a source of happiness.

So, joy is the source of happiness, not its synonym.

How do we have joy?
We focus on Christ. We focus on the work He has done for us. When we understand how great our salvation is, when we understand how good He is, that we are His children, beloved, accepted into His family, when we understand all of that our hearts can't help but be filled with joy. It doesn't mean our outer man will always express joy. It does not mean that we will walk around with a plaster smile. What it does mean is that our hearts will be constantly filled with awe and wonder, with love, with joy unspeakable which will, at times, pour out onto our face.

"But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy , and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God." Acts 20:24

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Selfish Salvation

I am amazed at 'Divine Coincidences.' Yesterday I was 'lit' to pursue God's dream for me, unabashedly. Today, two separate people in church asked if I would get involved with the youth group. I said something to the pastor about not being sure of how long I would be there. Apparently that didn't matter. Within 30 minutes I was officially a youth group leader and halfway through a leadership meeting.

With my book, I am at the point where I am putting the meat and bones on the study of the purpose of salvation.
This morning in service, what would be the Sunday School message? "The purpose of salvation"-no lie.
In church, what would be the message? "What is sin?"
Of all Sundays to accidentally leave my notebook behind :-P

I sat throughout the service, with eyes glued to the Word and ears glued to the preaching, my mind racing to process what I was hearing and first apply it to my own life. At this moment, this is what I have come up with:

Are we selling a selfish salvation?

When I worked as a Sunday school teacher, even when I was in Sunday school, salvation was sold like fire insurance. A class of simple-minded children were scared out of their pants by a fire and brimstone message and then asked if they wanted to go there. The obvious answer is no. I think this kind of 'salvation' leads to the apathy that we see today. All salvation is is fire insurance or (and I love this one) a 'free ticket to Heaven.'

I spent last week studying the crucifixion of Christ. That ticket is NOT free, just because it doesn't cost you anything doesn't mean that it didn't cost somebody else something. The church has a problem. Either we water down the Gospel, or we burn it. We either focus so much on Hell that we forget about grace or we focus on Heaven so much that we forget about holiness. There is a balance. The balance is to focus on Calvary.

To sell salvation as fire insurance makes it selfish. It becomes about me, making sure I can save my tail. There is no message of life change. If it's once-saved-always-saved then I can do what I want and never get in trouble. It's like a 'Get out of Jail Free' Season Pass. I get angry with this method of preaching salvation. When Christ came, He did not march around earth screaming, "If you don't believe in me, you are going to Hell."

He also didn't march around earth saying, "Believe in Me so you can go to Heaven." Those two results (saved from everlasting torment into everlasting life) are byproducts of what the REAL message of salvation is about. Calvary is not fire insurance, nor is it a free ticket to Heaven. Calvary is about grace. Calvary is about restoring a relationship, the relationship that we were created for.

In Sunday school, the speaker shared I Peter 1:12

Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

Can you imagine being an angel? To spend every waking moment in the presence of the Master of the Universe. Yet, something about God's relationship to us peaks the curiousity of these Divine beings. Grace.

Angels don't know what it is like to be lifted out of the pit of sin and into the family of God. They don't know the emotions behind the great hymns of the faith: Love Lifted Me, Amazing Grace, Joy Unspeakable. Sadly, most Christians don't know it either.

We get so focused on selling our fire insurance, on handing out 'free tickets' for the 'Glory train.' We bang people over the head with hell, fire and brimstone until they succumb so we can punch another notch in our belt and walk around with the misconception that our pride is actually doing the Kingdom any favors. We push for quantity and forget quality.

We march out into the streets protesting this and that. We preach damnation to all who are sinners. Ironically, we avoid the alleys where we know the hurting live. After all, they 'deserve' Hell or 'we don't want them in our church.' I wouldn't want you in mine.

Calvary was meant to change lives. In church, Pastor shared the story of the prodigal son. The context of this parable is that Jesus was responding to the Pharisees. They were ticked that He was not only talking to sinners but He was eating with them too! How dare He have fellowship with them?!!?? Praise the Lord that He does.

That, above all else, is the message of the cross. It isn't, believe on me to save your skin or to spend forever in paradise. To make it that belittles the cross if not excludes its severity altogether. The message of Calvary is, "believe on me and be transformed. Let Me show you life abundant, with joy unspeakable here and now. Let Me wrap my arms around you, even when you are still covered in the myre of sin. Let Me cleanse you from it. Let Me take your rags and clothe you in My righteousness. Let Me make you a new creature. I know that you are not perfect, that is why I am here. Let Me free you from your chains. Let Me call you My child. Let Me love you with an everlasting love. Everything you have ever hoped for, everything that you are searching for is here. Look at Me. Look at Me, and believe. I did this for you."

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Words of Christ) Matthew 5:13-16

We've all heard sermons on this before. Sermons about letting our light shine so others can see it. Let's go back one step. Before you let your light shine, before others can see it, you have to be burning. Even in a light bulb, what you see as light is heat, nigh unto a fire. The sun is big ball of fire.

We can never expect to make a difference, we will never shine if we are not passionate. We have to have a passion, a burning for Christ, for His love. If we are not 'on fire' for God then we, simply, won't shine for Him either.

I spent a few years of my young life in my grandparent's home in the suburbia of Northeast Ohio. Both of my grandparents were raised on forms, my grandmother actually on a vineyard, and when they were married they raised their children on a farm. They moved when my mother was 18, but some of the 'heritage,' for lack of a better word, has stayed with them. They own a one acre parcel of land with a decent -sized garden and a barn. In that barn is all of my grandfather's woodworking and mechanical equipment as well as two unfinished helicopters and an engine hoist that you can raise up to the ceiling. Let me tell you, that makes for some fun times with the siblings.

The home is heated by wood. In the basement of my grandparents home is a big black wood-burning stove. The only way to know that stove is working is to feel the heat in the house, to smell the smoke in the house, and to see it from the chimney. If none of those exist, you can pretty much be assured that the stove isn't burning. Some Christians are like that with their lives. They burn, but it's hard to tell. You have to get close to feel the heat or you really wouldn't know.

If we want to make a difference, we not only must burn, we must radiate. To radiate means 'to extend, spread, or move like rays or radii from a center,' 'to glow.'

The world has to see the fire. The heat will only touch a few, the light will touch many more.

In my home, at present, we have a fireplace. There is no questioning when there is a fire; you can see it; it is evident through sight, smell, touch and even sound.

That is how our lives should be: visibly on fire for God, for all that He has done for us, for the testifying of His grace.

How do we do that? Fires take time to build. Certainly, the embers start right away, but without dedication and upkeep the fire will die. How do we maintain our spiritual fire? We spend time with Him. I know it's cliche, but it's the truth, so I can't change it. That is simply how it is. If you want to burn for God, then you must burn for God. He has to consume you.

Spend some time in His word. Soak up all that He is, try to comprehend all that He desires for you. Search after His heart. Then, allow the fire of His own love for the world ignite your heart for the same, and burn.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Take off your shoes...

This is nothing new. It's original 'publication' was back in August 2007. Recent events have called it to my memory, and I felt led to share it here.

This is something I've been struggling with but found great encouragement last night and wanted to share for those of you that might be struggling with as well. It blessed me, may it do the same for you.

When I put on a pair of shoes, it usually means I intend to go somewhere. I have direction; I have a purpose. If I put on shoes, I have a plan to do something.

Lately, I've been struggling with where exactly my shoes should go next. I stand here and look at all the opportunities in front of me. They are vast, and many are bright. Others are darkened, clouded, and the path unsure. Others are more bright and bustling then I had hoped for, too much for my tastes.

My biggest problem is I think too much. Before I do anything I analyze how it works and why on earth I'd even want to do it. I weigh the risks and benefits and then, and only then, make my decision. I have logic and I have follow through. Logic is the arch enemy of faith. No, logic is not bad, too much of it drives faith into the water. The substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen becomes "analyze everything and don't believe it till you see it." I frustrate myself. My shoes want to have the route mapped out first.

Last night though, I found encouragement in the story of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus. Moses is minding his daily business and sees this bush burning. He is curious, so he says to himself, 'I'm going to go over here and see what on earth is going on' (paraphrased). God notices that He has Moses' attention so He calls to Moses. Moses responds, "Here am I." The next line in this script is what caught my eye:

And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet , for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

So many meanings carried in that one sentence all pointing to the glory of God. The one I applied to me, "Jessica, take off your shoes, you are dealing with Me now. Don't come to Me with an agenda. I am God. I love you. I have a plan for you. I have a purpose for you, but you have to get rid of your own plans, purposes, and intentions first." Ouch.

Along with being logical, I am selfish (aren't we all). If logic is the arch enemy of faith, selfishness is the arch enemy of obedience, and pride, which I know is mixed in there somewhere, is the arch enemy of service. All in all, I'm not scoring too well.

Take off your shoes.

I love the rest of this story because God tells Moses what He wants him to do and Moses isn't exceedingly thrilled. I could tell you what my reaction would be/is: "Ahem, excuse me, I'm sorry but I really think You have the wrong person." Which, if you really focus on the majesty and the sovereignty of God, is a very foolish thing to say. I know I say it... alot.

Further into the story of Moses: Exodus 4. Moses is to go before Pharoah and give the "let My people go" speech. AFTER, talk about being thick-headed, after God shows Moses all these miracles, Moses is afraid to speak. God has changed a piece of wood into a snake and back again. He has given Moses a two minute bout with leprosy and tells him of a third miracle if Moses should need it.

You would think, if you were Moses, that that would be enough. To know that you have the power of an Almighty God behind you would be enough to go blazing into Pharoah's palace without fear and demand that he release the children of God. Yet, Moses' response is, "But God I'm not a good speaker." So, God reminds Moses of exactly Who it is that is calling him.

And the LORD said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.

I call these Almighty two-by-fours because I know sometimes I just don't get it and I need to get hit with one.

Moses still doesn't get it and asks God to use someone else! Next verse:

And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses
and God picks Aaron.

Not a good spot for Moses. Not a good spot at all. I tremble to think how many times I have been in the same spot though. If God wants something done, it will get done; that's how it is. We can choose to be vessels for His power or we can choose to run our own course and miss out on the blessing of being used.

It's time to take off our shoes.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

...and follow me

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. Luke 9:23

We humans love planning.

We want to take the most direct and the shortest distance from point A to point B. No sightseeing, no rabbit trails.

In high school, we are encouraged to developed five-year plans, ten-year plans and retirement plans.

They call it 'being resourceful' to set a course and stick with it.

What happened to following God?

When Jesus called His disciples, He didn't say, "I want you to do this, this, this, this and this. We are going to go here, here and then here. I'm going to use you to change to world. People are going to hate you. Then you'll do this and this..." He simply said, "Follow me."

I think planning is great. I think it is wise, and I think it is Biblical. However, too much planning or exclusive planning (charting a course and pursuing it at the forsaking of consideration of detour) may just be unBiblical.

God doesn't give us a ten-year plan. He has it; He just doesn't choose to share it with us. I can have goals, but I can, in no way, shape or form tell you exactly where I am going to be and what I am going to be up to ten years from now. Some people spend their lives worrying about that. The only thing I know for sure is now.

Eventually could God call me overseas? Certainly. All I know is now.

I read this prayer in a devotional once. For the life of me, I can't remember where:

Slow me down, Lord. Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time. Give me, amid the confusion of the day, the calmness of the everlasting hills. Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory. Teach me the art of taking minute vacations-- of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to smile at a child, to read a few lines from a good book. Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life's enduring values, that I may grow toward my greater destiny. Remind me each day that the race is not always to the swift; that there is more to life than increasing its speed. Let me look upward to the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.

We get so caught up in planning tomorrow, that we forget about today. We set goals for the starting block instead of the finish line. "Oh, when I get married..." "Oh, when I graduate school..." "When I have the money." "When I have the time." You are never promised any of that. Maybe it's time you start living now.

I'm not talking about the 'eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die' life. That isn't for the child of God. I am talking about waking up every morning and finding ways to make today count. How do we do that? We make sure our focus is on Christ, not us. We have to 'deny ourselves' and follow Him; follow Him wherever He leads us. When our lives are lived with glorifying God as our focus, then every day is a chance to live a fulfilled life.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Clinging Tight to Promises

"It isn't making a promise that is exceptional, it is keeping the promise." ~unknown

What truth is held in that statement. We throw around the word "promise" about as much as we throw around the word "love." It has lost the weight and responsibility it once bore. Now, "promise" is used almost as a form of trickery, to convince someone to trust but never intending to do what is "promised."

Not so with God and His promises. God cannot lie, so we know that His promises are true and available freely to all of His children.

He's taught me so much about this lately. In just over a month, at the rate we are going, my mother and I will literally be homeless. That is a thought that strikes quite a bit of fear into my heart. We crunched numbers last night and it seems near impossible to get by. We humans do that. We try to put God in a box, make faith conform to logic, bind His power within our numbers. When He doesn't fit, we get discouraged and basically throw in the towel, forgetting all that He has promised.

Hebrews 13:5 "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee."

and the one I really clung to last night and still do:

Matthew 6:25-34

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things . But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

He doesn't promise us a 3 story home with brand new appliances, a 2 car garage, inground pool and healthy retirement fund. He promises to take care of us, however He sees fit. There is no maliciousness with my God. It isn't as if He is sitting up in Heaven, watching us scramble around and finding amusement.

I told a friend yesterday, that I wish God just gave us all of the answers. I wish He just dropped a scroll from Heaven that said, "Do this." If He did that though, I don't believe there would be room for faith.
Heb 11:1 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. " If we had all the answers, we wouldn't have faith. Faith is not having the answers, not seeing an answer, not seeing the possibility of an answer and trusting that there is one. Trials such as this, are meant to strengthen our faith to increase our dependency on Him.

Just because He is with us, just because He is all-loving does not mean that we are spared from struggling; He did not promise that. It does not mean we are spared from hurt or trial; He did not promise that. What it does mean is that He is with us- as a comforter and companion. What is does mean is that what is happening to us, somehow, someway works into His plan. Many times, I have a hard time grasping it. His promises are true. They are constant. He is God and I, simply, am not.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head."
Mark 14:3 (KJV)

I just had a 'light bulb' moment reading this. Maybe it was more of a 2 by 4 moment, but either way it was a moment. I was discussing on a Christian forum with some teenage girls about longing to know God deeper and was talking about 'reckless abandon' which is the kind of life I want to live. I was sharing this story with them as an encouragement to love God with their everything and I realized something.

If there is oil in the box, there was a way for oil to go in the box. There is a neck with a lid, a cork, something that allows people to pour oil into the box. Therefore, one can assume logically that there is a way to get oil out of the box- by removing said lid or cork. But this lady didn't. This precious woman broke the box .

The box of alabaster was like a woman's dowry in Biblical times, it defined her status. The oil inside was valuable as well. The whole package was valuable. It isn't any wonder that the people in the house with Jesus were saying, "What on earth is she doing! Why would she do that! Such a waste. Jesus, how can you let her do that? Do you know who she is!?" (Very stupid question)

She gave it all. She held absolutely nothing back. She poured every last drop on him and assured that by breaking the box. That just hit me tonight.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sin and Shame

Not exactly the greatest way to start off the New Year, but when reading through the Bible in a year, one inevitably begins in Genesis. This morning was Genesis Chapters 3 and 4...the great "Fall of Man" chapters.

As I read through, I began to think of redemption. I began to think of what was and what wasn't before 'the fall.' As Christians, we have been restored to fellowship with God, as was true before 'the fall.' But here is something I had never thought of before. Shame. Shame did not exist before the fall. Therefore, it can be assumed that shame is a product of sin.

"And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." Genesis 2:25

"And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?" Genesis 3:9-11

Before the fall, there was no shame. Before sin, there was no shame. If you notice, it is Adam's shame that keeps him from fellowshipping with God.

How many times do we, as Christians, live with shame? We commit a sin, we do a wrong and go running from the Lord fearing His chastisement and the Holy Spirit's conviction. We don't feel worthy to fellowship with God. Then, when we finally ask forgiveness, we find the serpent a loyal companion continually hissing in our ear, "Look what you've done. How can you dare fellowship with God? How dare you try and disciple people! Hypocrite."

Redemption is God restoring us to our pre-fall fellowship with Him. We will not be perfect until we are rid of our bodies, but the opportunity of that fellowship, of that meaning is there. Shame keeps us from it, even as blood-bought, forgiven children of the King. Redemption trumps shame. There is no place for shame in our relationship with God. Maybe that is why many times God emphasizes His forgiveness as all-encompassing and 'forgetful.'

"As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us." Psalm 103:12

"Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." Psalm 51:7

"...though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. " Isaiah 1:18b

There is no place for shame in the life of a child of God. If God has forgiven you, consider yourself forgiven completely. Do not hide from Him, run into His arms of grace and rejoice in His shelter. Continue to live your life for His honor and His glory. He doesn't use the perfect vessels; He uses the willing ones.