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Where Can I Find Joy?

Posted on September 1, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I think I do a pretty good job of hiding behind my sense of humor, but those that know me well know I'm--on the inside--a melancholy, introspective kind of person that thinks, cares, and lives too deeply. It's my nature as a "realist" not to look on the bright side of things but rather to think through what might happen if I were never to reach the bright side. I’m prone to depression; I must always be reminded that things aren't "so bad."


So, when I'm told to "choose joy," I wonder if joy is actually a choice. I wonder, how does one go about choosing joy?


I lived a very long time bound up in the chains of the law believing that I must do this or that in order to earn God's good favor. I was told that obedience led to joy, and the reason that I didn't have joy was because I wasn't being obedient enough. What a soul crusher for me; I just wanted to please a God I thought was angry with me. So, I began on a journey of reading my Bible more, praying more, serving more, striving for more obedience. Yet, still no joy.


I tried with all my might to live as the old hymn says, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." The hymn goes on to tell us that His favor and joy are only for those who are doing it right. I concluded: since I couldn't get it right, then I didn't deserve His favor and joy. Every morning brought a new opportunity to try to get it right and to earn His love; it became a tiresome, weary, cycle to be in.


Finally, the endless cycle of trying harder to do better so that I could be happy in Jesus ceased. (It sounded a little too self-serving anyways.)


You see, the law entices us with the words "do this and you will be happy" just the same way that sin does; either way we are being fed a big fat lie. It's not "do this and get that." It's: "He's done this and now you have everything."


Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that there isn't joy in obedience. There certainly is but only when it is TRUE obedience. True obedience doesn't come from a heart that is only trying to obey so that it might find joy. When our actions are fueled by fear of what might happen--instead of gratefulness for what has happened--we are merely trying to find a way to please so that we will not suffer under God’s wrath; this isn’t true obedience. True obedience comes from gratitude; gratitude comes from hearing the gospel of the justification of sinners. Gratitude springs from the gospel because in the gospel is real and true life, and therein is joy--true, everlasting joy.


Once I began to grasp the meaning of the gospel, my desire for life began to flourish. I began to see that although in the midst of pain and sorrow and in fear of both, there was one thing that never changes: Christ. His love, His grace, and His mercy, which He has poured out on me abundantly, will always continue to pour out on me no matter the circumstances (both good and bad).


God chose me to be the recipient of the gift of perfection by replacing my tattered, desperate self-loving record with Christ's perfect account of righteousness. A righteousness that is so incredibly undeserved that it makes me want to dance. It lifts my soul up, bringing lightness to my step, and gives me an unusual carefree attitude to my joy opposed tendencies.


When I wake up and face the mundane--again and again—it’s the Gospel that gets me through it. It frees me to love even though I might get hurt. It gives me grace to have dominion over my weaknesses and not let them dominate me.


God, through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, gave me life when all I was looking for was death. If God is for me, then who can be against me? (Rom 8:31); this is the light in the darkness; it’s the rest for this weary pessimist.

What Makes You Feel "Godly"?

Posted on August 25, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’?” Galatians 3:3-6


Paul was so protective of the gospel, and the young believers in his care, that he penned the explosive letter to the Galatians. Why was he so upset? It’s actually quite simple. False teachers had visited Galatia and began teaching the believers there that in order to be more pleasing to God, they had to do a few things—things God did not require. We learn in Acts 15:5 that this form of false teaching originated even among early church believers. They were so convincing that even the apostle Peter fell prey to their peer pressure (Gal 2:11-16). When you add requirements to the gospel (i.e. “you have to do x to be saved…”) the gospel of grace is killed. People are placed back in bondage to their own efforts, to other people, to the law. Eventually, what is required to save becomes blurred: are we saved by God’s righteousness and His activity toward us or our own righteousness and “doing.”


One evening after Bible study a woman pulled me aside to discuss some things she was confused about regarding my teaching that night on Galatians. She said: “I just feel more godly when I wear a dress to church. Are you saying it is wrong for me to wear dresses to church?” After listening to her, I asked: “Does it actually make you godlier to wear a dress to church? Does Scripture teach that? And who does it make you godlier than?” Her answers were clear: no; no; and, nobody.


I have had this exact conversation many times with many different women, discussing the various things women do to compete for the title of “godly.” Is it godly to wear dresses? Clean our house spotless? Have various industrious hobbies? No. We have got to stop calling certain things “godly.” It is never what we do that makes us godly but only the declaration of “Justified, Sinner” by God to us received by faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we are free to wear dresses to church, free to clean our house, free to knit and crochet miles of scarves and blankets, but they are, at the end of the day, just works; I am as justified and righteous at the end of the day packed full of good works as I was at the beginning of the day, the moment before my feet hit the floor.


Here is an excerpt from my book, Grace is Free, on this subject:


The lie that etiquette and self-discipline equal godliness has crept into many churches that are otherwise biblically solid. When I teach this concept to groups of women, I get the same objection all the time: “But Marci, we have to obey!” They think I am teaching that we don’t have to obey God, that we should just feel love for Jesus and do whatever we want.


Obedience is not the debate—we all agree that we must obey the Lord. But what exactly should we obey? This has become confusing because people have added their own rules—things God does not require—to the gospel.


At the heart of the gospel is a recognition of weakness. The Lord saves both the disciplined and the undisciplined alike—the disciplined from trusting in their capabilities and the undisciplined from their sloth. Older Christians somehow forget their own sinfulness. Younger Christians feel like they will never attain the level of spirituality they see in others. Everyone wants a formula for godly living, but a formula too easily becomes calcified into something that looks like law. To both the disciplined and the undisciplined the Lord says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . .For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, 30)


This simple gospel is a gift given to those who believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection—not our own righteousness. Abiding in Christ is not only the secret to being used by God it is knowing his joy more fully. It sets us free to focus on one purifying ambition rather than on a list of rules. That one purifying ambition is to draw near to the Savior. It is basking in the freedom of what he has already accomplished for us. Abiding in Christ is the key to our purpose in life, to lasting joy and godly relationships. It’s the good news for believers.


My desire is to show Christian women (one at a time if I have to) that we have done the same thing as those false teachers in Galatia. We have added countless rules to the gospel that our God does not require. Many of these things are universally accepted as “godly.” Some are insinuated and communicated through guilt and pressure. All of them have blurred our vision for what a godly woman really is—someone whose “righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:22).



This post was written by Marci Preheim.

Priest the Halibut

Posted on August 14, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Listen to this sermon by Rev. Curt Benham from The Village Church at Vinings in Atlanta, GA.


Priest the Halibut: 

http://villagechurchvinings.org/priest-the-halibut/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+VillageChurchVinings+%28Village+Church+Vinings%29




Beggar to Beggar

Posted on August 11, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

It was one of those driving mistakes where you find yourself on the wrong road, headed in the wrong direction, adding an additional 20 minutes to your drive. I was already running late to pick up my boys from Nana. I didn’t need this. I made the necessary exits and turns to get back to the right road. As I pulled up to the intersection leading me back to the right road, the light turned red. He caught my eye standing on the corner with his sign, “Homeless, Need work, Happy New Year.” I reached into my purse and pulled out some money and rolled down my window; he came near. I said to him, “I don’t have work to give you, but I do have this,” and handed him the money. He looked at me and said, “Thank you, you are kind.”


Those words hit me hard. I looked at my steering wheel briefly and then back at him. “No,” I said, “I’m not kind. I’m just a fellow broken human being.” He looked down at the ground and then back at me, “Wow,” a pause, then, “Thank you.” “God bless you,” I said and rolled up my window. The light turned green and I drove off.


My husband teases me that I can’t let things be, that I can’t stop myself from correcting incorrect statements. This often leads me into muck and mire—often better if I had just let the statement stand and walked on. I could have just said “Thank you, God Bless” to the man’s “You are kind,” rolled up my window and waited for the light to turn green.


But, the fact is, I’m not kind. I’m selfish and self-centered—I initially resented the man for standing there and burdening me with his suffering. I’m not innately kind; this act of charity, this act of kindness came from something unnatural, from something given to me. The kindness from me came from God’s kindness towards me. I gave because God has given. My gift (of a few bucks) flowed from the new eyes and the new heart that God has given me through the proclamation of the gospel: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).


God’s word is a leveling force—it equalizes the rich and poor, the strong and weak, the capable and incapable, those with a home and those without. Through his law, God destroys the illusion that any of us are better off than our neighbor; through his gospel, God brings to life a new heart beating with compassion and gives a new way of seeing our neighbor: as ourselves.


What I saw standing on the corner wasn’t just a poor, homeless person. I saw a fellow human being, loved by God, one for whom (like me) Jesus was born, died, and raised. I saw my neighbor, my brother. God has given Jesus to me; and so I gave: beggar to beggar, beloved to beloved.



Originally posted at liberatenet.org.

1 John 4:7-21

Posted on August 7, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

"The core of Christianity is relationship, an experiential knowing of God." 


Listen to this sermon by Adam Breckenridge, pastor at Redeemer Fellowship in Kansas City, MO.

http://redeemerkansascity.org/sermons/1-john-47-21/

The Guilt Hangover

Posted on August 4, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

A friend of mine a while back made the following Twitter-confession:


Sometimes it's really hard to accept being loved. Sometimes, my husband makes me get out of bed, and then cleans the kitchen and makes me coffee while I'm in the shower. And I still have to tell myself "he's not mad at me for oversleeping; he doesn't think I'm lazy; he's not impatient with me to finish here." He's never like that. Ever. He's consistently tender. [why is my head so messed up?] I call this "guilt hangover" and it's just stupid. God isn't mad at me. My husband isn't mad at me. So why am I afraid?


This situation isn’t unique to my friend, it is something that we all suffer from. I can name countless interactions with my husband and dear friends that, when boiled down, are me asking, “Really? Do you really, really, really love me?” while simultaneously making the statement, “I just don’t believe you…”


The phenomena of hearing judgment when someone intends love, is actually very common. My friend, in the midst of being one-way-loved (legitimately, in my opinion) is still convinced her husband is mad at her. Even when historically his actions toward her have been consistently loving (her words), she still just can’t believe it’s real, just can’t hear the I truly and really do love you for not other reason than I just do.


Why?


Because there are great depths of shame that reside in our hearts and we know just how abject and miserable we often are and can’t believe that the other person could actually love us; in fact, most of us have stories about people who have walked away when we’ve been at our worst. Each of us can probably recall the look of horror on someone’s face when we've shared that deep, dark secret. We can doubt love, because, in reality, others’ actions toward us have given us proof that it’s doubt-worthy. Even when we’ve been truly vulnerable, a similar response from the other is not always elicited. Of course, sometimes there is mutual vulnerability, and those special (rare) moments make all the difference. Unfortunately, sometimes those moments are more like emotional-one-night-stands. In truth, being vulnerable for me is, if I’m honest (vulnerable!), a shameful thing to do: because I’m opening my self up to rejection, and I’ve been rejected before.


What I need is not only mutual vulnerability, but (conjointly) immovability. Where the rubber meets the road is at the point of will you leave…even now? Will you reject me like the others? Will you stay with me here, in this mess that I am, and if it gets worse?


But Jesus looked at them and said 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' Matthew 19:26


Humans are a fickle bunch, but the good news is that God’s isn’t fickle. And we/I need to constantly hear, over and over and over again, just how un-fickle he is. Martin Luther writes in him commentary on Galatians, that we are so prone to disbelieve the activity of God toward us in Christ, in the Cross, that we need to be perpetually told that God truly, and unconditionally loves us--that we are truly justified by faith apart from works.


For if we lose the doctrine of justification, we lose simply everything. Hence the most necessary and important thing is that we teach and repeat this doctrine daily, as Moses says about his Law (Deut. 6:7). For it cannot be grasped or held enough or too much. In fact, though we may urge and inculcate it vigorously, no one grasps it perfectly or believes it with all his heart. So frail is our flesh and so disobedient to the spirit (emphasis, mine).


We are wounded and doubting creatures and need to be told things repeatedly: This God, this very God, the creator of heaven and Earth, loves you so much. But not only that, but also this: He will never leave you, nor forsake you no matter how dirty your past and how wounded or skeptical you are of Him. Thus the importance of the preacher proclaiming this very message every Sunday; to do otherwise is to starve the congregation, the hearers (both old and new) of this word of life. Even our own testimonies are important for demonstrating God’s activity in our life, less in terms of how impressive we’ve become since the initial encounter with Christ, and more in terms of the evidence of how far God will go to rescue just one, how willing He is move into the darkness of our heart and life. And, in this confession, see how far he’s gone for me, we are not only caused to be truly vulnerable with others but also immovable, there is nothing you can tell me that will make me leave you; I will sit with you here, in the depths.


It takes time to actual comprehend this truth from God and from those who do truly love us; the only solution I've found is to keep listening to the good, good Story about God’s unconditional, one-way love for us in Christ.



Originally posted at www.mbird.com: http://www.mbird.com/?p=23919

The Power of Your Story

Posted on July 31, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Listen to this sermon by Jesse Winkler, lead pastor of Westview Church in San Diego, CA.


"The Power of Your Story": 

http://www.westviewchurch.com/media/the-power-of-your-story-acts-2137-2229/

God's Grace for a Strip Club Manager

Posted on July 28, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

One of the fun things about being a cop’s wife is that you know when your husband comes home from work, there will be plenty of interesting things to talk about. Especially when they work in a big city like my husband does. It’s interesting though, as fun as the stories are about his actual arrests, high speed chases, and drug bust, the majority of the truly fascinating stories that he shares are his everyday conversations with people on the streets. Recently, He was telling me about a relationship he formed with a strip club manager whom he sees each day on his way to the bus stop.


On one particular day, the man asked my husband about his weekend. My husband replied, “It was great! I spent Saturday at home with the family. And Sunday we had a church picnic.” Just that simple answer prompted the man to ask my husband about church, which gave way to an interesting discussion on religion.


The man shared that when he was in the Air Force, he used to hang out in the chapel as a place of reprieve from the drill sergeants. He said that while he was there, he would think about God. So he started investigating the different world religions. He said he eventually came to the conclusion that they were basically all saying the same thing. My husband replied kindly to him,


“Well, actually, they’re not.”


My husband went on to explain to him that the difference between Christianity and all of the other religions in the world is that every other religion is a “do” religion. You must DO something to be made right with God. Christianity is a “done” religion. Christianity says: you haven’t done enough. But it doesn’t stop there. Christianity goes further, explaining that there’s nothing you can do that will be good enough to make you right with God, which is why Jesus had to come. He explained to the strip-club manager that Jesus lived the perfect life for us, and bore our sin on the cross, taking the punishment we deserved for our rebellion against God. And right before Jesus died on the cross, he said, “It is finished.” It was a victorious statement! Telling us he did it all for us. It’s “done.” We are now free to love and enjoy him forever.


The only thing required of us is that we see our need for him.


As the conversation ended the man said to my husband very thoughtfully, “Hmmm… ‘do’ religions….verses a ‘done’ religion….that is really interesting. I think I am leaning towards ‘done.’”


My husband then said to him, “I tell you what, let me take you out for lunch. We can talk more about it then.” And the man smiled and said, “I think this could be the start of something great.”


When my husband shared this story with me, I was reminded how dangerous grace is. It lives on the edge. It’s not comfortable for some people. It can make some of us squirm. How do I know? Well, I started thinking…am I really okay with my husband taking this strip club manager out to lunch? What could possibly come from this? Will I have to start inviting strippers over to my house for dinner soon? And I must admit…a part of me squirmed a little at the thought of those things happening. But then, a part of me got really excited, too.


Because this is Jesus’ territory. These are HIS people. These are the people he came for. He came for those who need to be rescued.


Just like me.


And there’s something very exciting, yet sobering…about knowing you are entering into God’s realm. It’s holy. It’s a battle ground. There’s spiritual warfare going on where God is at work. And you get to be a part of it, getting to see people as Jesus sees them despite their works, their professions.


It’s so easy to get all ‘churchy’ after we become Christians. We avoid associating with certain types of people…not realizing we are those kinds of people. We spend our energy and time keeping ourselves and our kids away from things, places, and people that what we look upon as ”bad,” forgetting that the people and places we are hiding from, are the very places Jesus would go.


I want to be so caught up in my heavenly Father’s love for me, that his people, become my people. That the people I am the most attracted to are the ones the world looks right past; the ones whom the world looks upon as too far gone.


Lord, get my eyes off of me. Let grace so saturate my being, that I become a magnet for the messiest kinds of sinners.



This post was written by Kimberley Suchta.

The Gift of Repentance

Posted on July 21, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

One of my favorite verses in the bible is Isaiah 30:15 because it tells me the truth about myself.


“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”


It’s those last seven words that describe me to a tee. I like the idea of repentance. I just don’t like doing it.


The word repentance literally means “to turn around.” In his book, The Wounded Heart, Dan Allender describes repentance as a “profound internal shift in the perceived source of life.” To repent means I lean into grace while turning away from the things that have distracted my heart from the source of grace: Jesus Christ. It means truly resting in His finished work on the cross.


Easier said than done.


As I write this I am really struggling.


How can I write about something I am not any good at? How can I describe something I am not really familiar with? How can I explain something I am just beginning to understand? My day to day life exposes that I don’t know much about repentance.


But I do know that repentance looks different from what we think it looks like. Sometimes repentance is loud and messy, and sometimes it is just a quiet letting go. I remember one night in particular when God got my attention. David (my husband) was out of town, and I was at the end of a long week of caring for our three kids by myself. We were muddling through the bedtime routine. At the time our youngest son, Kyle, who was three years old, asked for a cup of water; when I brought it to him he complained that the cup was the wrong color…


Let the games begin!


Too weary to fight, I dumped the water into a different cup and returned to his room. He took one look in the cup and asked for more ice. I begrudgingly left and returned with more ice. He then--sweetly--informed me that there was too much ice and now the drink was too cold. Time to start over. This interaction continued for quite awhile. When he was finally satisfied and he was tucked into bed, I collapsed on my bed, exhausted, and murmured, “I quit.”


Immediately in my heart I heard a response: “You quit too late.” At that moment I knew God was talking about more than that bedtime fiasco. He was showing me how independent and stubborn I am. How I cling to my plan until it absolutely doesn’t work and then I cry out to Him. It was clear. My problem is that I quit too late. Always.


After that I felt like God nudging me to begin each day with a new phrase running through my head. “I quit, Lord; I can’t do this without you.” This was a huge turning point and a baby step in the direction of learning to live a life of dependence on Him.


That was years ago. That three year old is now about to graduate from high school. Time flies, but the issues in my heart are still the same. For me, my “perceived source of life” will always be that which puts me in control and keeps me from leaning on God. I cling to control and, consequently, my repentance is typically going to involve letting go and leaning on Him.


When all is said and done, repentance is a work of the Spirit. It’s a gift He gives to us to restore our relationship with Him and bring healing. It’s not something we produce as a way to manage our sin or a tool we wield to fix ourselves. It’s a radical internal shift, caused by the Holy Spirit, which sets us on a different path.


Repentance is impossible without surrender, without the “I quit.” Getting to that place of complete dependence and need will make you feel like you are dying. It will smell like death. Because it is. Repentance is a dying to self. The uncurling of your fingers from trying to squeeze one more drop out of what you thought would bring you life will feel like it will undo you.


But it won’t.


Repentance reminds me who God is and how much He loves me. It takes me to the Cross, straight into the arms of Jesus, and that is where the party begins; this is what the prodigal son experienced when he returned home, and it’s the same thing He invites us to experience daily. I am forgiven, restored, and loved! His kindness leads us to repentance and it is a sweet gift indeed!



Taken from Ruth’s book: Craving Grace-Experience the Richness of the Gospel and the website is: http://www.cravinggrace.org/

Law & Gospel in the Life of the Christian

Posted on July 17, 2014 at 9:00 AM Comments comments (0)

"You will be inspired to quit looking at what you have done wrong and get back to the only One who can get you out of it: Christ."


Listen to this podcast by Rev. Dr. Matt Richard: 

http://www.pastormattrichard.com/2014/07/law-and-gospel-in-life-of-christian.html?m=1


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