You CAN Find Hope and Comfort in the Midst of a Calamity

My friend, Jason, lives in the Houston area and recently updated his Facebook status to these words: Isaiah 43:2. Why would he choose those words?

I can’t speak for Jason, but knowing what a strong believer he is, I suspect it is because he knows the context of the words. When we know the setting in which Isaiah’s words apply, we can see why someone dealing with the overwhelming aftermath of the flooding produced by Harvey would chose this particular verse on which to ground his response.

Questions Need Responses

If you are struggling with God right now because you look around and see so much destruction, suffering, and pain, I get it. Without the context of God’s character and his love for his rebellious and fallen creation, it would be only natural to have questions.

I saw an example of this very kind of inquiry on Twitter the other day. And the responses I saw to that question reflected a knowledge of context (and a personal knowledge and relationship with God).

Here’s the question tweet and one of the responses from a believer:

Now, I don’t know for certain God’s reasons for doing or not doing specific things. Why does he allow storms like Harvey to cause death and destruction? I don’t know.

But I do know God’s character as revealed in the Bible and in Jesus. And so, like my friend Jason, I can cling to the words of Isaiah and find comfort and hope. Yes, the storm waters seem to have the upper hand. They have claimed lives and destroyed homes.

Yet, I also see God present with those who are suffering and grieving.

I see him giving us perspective on our pettiness and selfishness.

I see him offering us opportunities to express love and self-sacrifice rather than hate and self-centeredness.

What is the context for Isaiah 43:2?

It is never a good idea to pull a verse out of its context. We run a huge risk of twisting the intended meaning and message. So, to understand why there is such hope and comfort in verse 43:2 of this very large and complex book, I want to share this amazing overview from The Bible Project. In around 16 minutes, you’ll understand the context, see the character of God on display, and be equipped to understand how these words are right at home in a seemingly hopeless scenario.

While the two situations (Israelites in exile due to a man-made disaster and Texans suffering from a natural disaster) are very different, the general context is similar: suffering people who are struggling to understand where God is in the midst of their ruin. What hope do they have when everywhere they look they see destruction and suffering?

That is the situation into which Isaiah’s words were initially addressed.

Watch these two 8-minute videos and you’ll see why Jason and other believers find hope for their situation from this ancient prophet. And why you can, too.

Part 1: Isaiah 1–39

Part 2: Isaiah 40–66

God is Here for You and So Am I

If you’re struggling, hurting, or questioning, I would love to come alongside you and offer you some hope and prayer.

If that sounds like something that would be helpful to you, select a time on my online calendar and we’ll have a short visit via phone or video chat. There is no cost for this call. I’m honored to have the opportunity to minister to you.

Don’t want to visit one-on-one but would still like to share and be prayed for? Feel free to leave a comment or reach out to me via email or social media.

Now, if you just want to argue for the sake of arguing, I’d rather spend my time and energy on more productive causes ministering to those hurting or searching for a closer connection with God or more peace and purpose in their life. So, if you sincerely want to dialogue about legitimate questions and struggles, I’m here for you.

And I’m always happy to pray for and with you. Let me know how I can minister to you. 

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

You Can Be There for Those in Need

Want to reflect God’s loving character to those who are hurting? You can join Making It Real Ministries, Main Street Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Huffman, Texas in providing practical and needed resources and support to those in the Houston area impacted by Harvey. Just click the button or image below to learn more or to make a donation.

Donate at http://www.lauranaiser.com/harvey

LEARN HOW YOU CAN HELP!

How to avoid doing what I did Saturday night.

I was a time-bomb waiting to blow. So when the lady started bossing around me and everyone else in the concession stand, snipping at us over the most trivial little things…Kaboom! She snapped at me and I snapped back. I should have been able to have more patience. I know it would have been better to take her aside and talk calmly and with grace. Yet, my claws came out.

At that moment, I felt as Paul described in Romans 7:19:

I know better. I want to act better. So, why didn’t I.

“Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” Romans 8:5

And in his letter to the Galatians, Paul reminded believers to live by the Spirit so they wouldn’t gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:16) He exhorted them to keep in step with the Spirit.

As the summer gave way to the new school year, I felt as if someone cranked up the treadmill to top speed.

via GIPHY

Since my Bible study class ended and and football season began, I’ve haven’t been regularly studying the Scriptures and nurturing my relationship with Christ. With both of my boys playing ball at two different schools and Matt on the Board of the Booster Club, my mind has been on decidedly earthly matters.

I’ve gotten out of step with the Spirit.

It’s easy to do. It is the pattern of the world around us.

But I’m not to conform to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2). And to avoid doing so I must renew my mind daily with God’s Word.

Scripture reveals to us God’s character and will. His will and mine are not naturally in sync.

So if I am to keep in step with the Spirit, I need to actively listen to Him and cooperate with Him.

There is a reason the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. We can’t possibly fulfill the second, “Love your neighbor as yourself” unless we are are actively doing the first.

Actively listening and spending time with God doesn’t mean I need to sit down for hours and do an in-depth Bible study.

We can cultivate a deeper connection with Christ throughout our day using simple strategies.

I’ve made a checklist for you of five of my go-to methods (which I’ve reviewed and begun using again myself). Just click the button below to let me know you want it and I’ll email it to you instantly.

Yes! I want the checklist >>

Cultivate Connection Checklist Blog Image

How about you? How does being in or out of step with the Spirit impact your ability to love others as God loves you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Why We Can Count on God to Be Faithful

Waiting is hard but knowing who we wait for makes it easier to wait expectantly.

My prayers lately have been increasingly filled with intercession on behalf of many who are enduring illness, grief, uncertainty, and trials of many kinds. And as I look around at our world and the rampant chaos and suffering, I, like the prophet Habakkuk, cry out to God: “How can a holy and just God allow this suffering? How can you let the wicked prevail and let good people suffer?” This morning, God answered me by taking me on a tour through Habakkuk, Colossians, and Second Peter. In the words of Scripture, God answered my question. “Wait for it…”

God reminded me, as he reminded Habakkuk, that just because I can’t understand why God works the way he does, doesn’t mean I can’t trust God.

And just because God doesn’t work according to my time table, doesn’t mean he isn’t working.

Over and over through the history of God’s interaction with his Creation, he proved his ways and timing are good and just; that in all things he is working to restore and redeem. In all things, and using the most unlikely and even unseemly people and circumstances, God always fulfills his promises and reveals himself to be holy and just.

So when we struggle and face unfair suffering, we can call out to him and he will reassure us of his faithfulness, goodness, and justness.

When we can’t count on anyone or anything else, we can count on God to be faithful.

We Want Either; God is Both

Ironically, when we are the ones sinning and suffering we plead for mercy. But when others sin against us, in our humanness, we cry out for vengeance and swift justice. Depending on our circumstances we want God to be either merciful or just, but God is always both merciful and just.

God repeatedly warns his people not to confuse his patience with permission to sin. He shows mercy and long-suffering because he desires to see all redeemed (2 Peter 3:9). But he is just and thus all wrongdoing must be accounted for.

In fact, we know that he has poured out his wrath on sin. He poured it out on the cross.

Every sin, every injustice, every act of rebellion was met with God’s holy and just wrath poured out on Christ who bore all of humanity’s sin.

Our sin and the sin of those who sin against us were all covered by Christ’s blood.

Are You Offended by God?

Habakkuk was offended when God declared he would use a brutal, pagan people to bring his own covenant people to repentance (see Habakkuk 1-2).

Likewise, we can find it offensive to realize that the same blood that covers our sins is the blood that covers those who sin against us.

But let’s not be like the unmerciful servant who refused to forgive a small debt despite having his own massive debt forgiven (See Matthew 18:21-35).

Let us take to heart Paul’s words to remember what God has done for us:

Since you’ve been raised up to be with Christ, you must look for the things that are above, where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand. Let your thoughts be on things above, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. But when Christ is revealed—and he is your life—you, too, will be revealed with him in glory.Colossians 3:1-4

We have even more reason than Habakkuk did to trust in God. We have the Holy Spirit, the deposit that guarantees the fulfillment of God’s promise to make all things new in Christ.

And because we are filled with his Spirit, in our suffering, he will supply us with his strength to persevere. He will fill us with his Spirit so that we can join Habakkuk in declaring:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
Though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
Though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls.
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.—Habakkuk 3:17-19

Wait for It

We don’t have to know when and how God will fulfill his promise of making all things new. We know he will.

Peter, encouraged believers facing unimaginable hardship and persecution to persevere in their faith. He called them to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” as they waited for God to fulfill his promise to make a new heaven and a new earth free from sin, pain, injustice, and sorrow. Those ancient words are also for us.

So, I will lean into my good God and entrust to his grace and mercy those who are hurting and suffering. I will confess that I have mistaken his patience with permission and allow his discipline to restore me to his path. I will bring my confusion, sorrow, and frustration to the cross and trust God to redeem it all in his way and in his timing.

Will you join me in waiting expectantly for God?

Something to Help You Wait Expectantly

If you’re in a difficult time of waiting to see God act, I highly recommend my friend Wayne Stiles’ book, Waiting on God: What to Do When God Does Nothing. Want a sample of the rich Scriptural wisdom you will find in the pages of his book? Download the summary sheet I made listing my favorite “takeaways” or principles presented in Wayne’s book. Just click the picture or button below to get your free copy of this summary sheet.

Waiting On God Principles

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Your turn.... What helps you trust in God’s faithfulness when you face difficult circumstances or people? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

What Happens When We Bring Our Brokenness to God

Grab your copy of the FREE Step-by-Step Guide to Strengthening Your Relationship with Christ!

When my youngest son, Justin, was about 5, we bought him an Indiana Jones action figure set. He loved it and played with it all the time. But, one day I noticed he hadn’t played with it in a while. In fact, he had tried to hide it.

When I asked him about it, he hemmed and hawed and made some lame excuse for not playing with it anymore.

I knew something had happened to it.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I knelt down and looked in his sweet, chubby little face and said,

Justin, I love you, no matter what. And if something has happened to your toy, if you’ll bring it to me, I’ll help you fix it.”

He looked up at me with such relief and he ran and retrieved his little action figure out from under his bed.

He brought me Indiana Jones —like this:

Indiana Jones Story

Somehow Indy’s head had come off.

Justin knew what was wrong. He just couldn’t fix the problem himself.

But as soon as he was honest with me about his problem and brought it to me, I fixed it for him. And he was able to take his restored action figure and get back to using it for its intended purpose.

From Broken to Whole

That is exactly how it worked for me when I first came to Christ. I knew something was broken in me. I just wasn’t able to fix it no matter how hard I tried.

But God could and he wanted to. He wants to for everyone.

I didnt have to do anything except bring God my brokenness and trust that what he had already done on the cross was sufficient to redeem me and make me whole.

In that moment of initially getting real with God and accepting his grace, he gave me a new identity. I was now his child.

My new identity brought with it a new kind of security. Because I am his child he will never leave me or forsake me. Wow!

In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, John describes this transformation  in verse 12:

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God “— John 1:12 (NIV)

New Identity, New Security

Our identity as believers is that of God’s child, and our security is found in that relationship.

But it took time for that new identity and security to sink in, and for me to consistently live out of that new reality.

I had to grow in my understanding of him and his love for me. And as I grew in my relationship with God, I began to understand the implications of that relationship for all of the other relationships in my life.

Getting real with God, becoming his child, is just the beginning of the journey.

We have entered the gate and are secure in his sheepfold. (See John 10:1-18) But once we are in the gate, we are to follow our Good Shepherd, growing and maturing as we go.

In Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus described these two aspects of a relationship with him:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Did you catch that, he calls us to not only come to him but to learn from him.

As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, walking authentically with him and learning from him, we experience more and more the life he came to give us.

This new life as his disciple is a process, not something that we will master instantaneously.

If we are not nurturing our relationship with Jesus, we can quickly forget where our identity and security truly come from.

When we pull away from Jesus, we limit our ability to tap into our source for abundant living.

Our pulling away or ignoring him doesnt change the reality that we are God’s child, but it limits our experience of the abundant life he gives us.

Listen, we live in a corrupt, broken world, and it can take a toll on us.

  • It beats us over the head with messages that we are not good enough,
  • batters us with a never ending stream of trials and temptations, and
  • fills our calendars with so much busyness that it shoves us off track from spending time on the truly important things.

It isn’t enough to just go through the religious motions.

We must consistently bring that real self—the one that has been beaten, battered, and shoved off track—back into the presence of God and let him remind us of who we really are—his beloved child.

If we don’t go to God, we will end up going to the world and other people for our identity and security.

Get This Free Step-by-Step Guide

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If you need a little guidance as to how to

  • grow closer to Christ,
  • bring your true self to him regularly, and
  • find the peace, purpose, and passion for life that Christ intends for you to have, then…

Grab the FREE GUIDE I’ve made for you. It will walk you through some simple, practical steps to strengthening your relationship with him.

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Your turn...  What does it feel like when you bring your messy, broken self to God and let him put you back together and make you whole? What helps you do that? What makes it difficult? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

How do we ALWAYS Love and Not End Up a Gullible, Complicit Doormat?

FREE "How to Love Like God" Cheat Sheet

I recently spoke at an event about how we can love God and one another at all times, even the hard times, if we love with God’s agape love. And that brought up the question: If love “always protects, always trusts, always, hopes, and always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:7), then how can we love like that and not end up a doormat? That is a great question! So, let’s take a look at how we love like God and why his kind of love never fails! (1 Corinthians 1:13:8)

By the Power of His Spirit

Apart from God we can do nothing. In our humanness, we will never be able to love like him. It is only when the Holy Spirit lives within us and we cooperate with him that we can love the way the apostle Paul describes godly love in 1 Corinthians 13. So, if you want to love more like God, lean into him, worship him, be aware of your need for his Spirit to empower you to love others as he loves.

1 Corinthians 13_4-8NIV

In this post we will focus on the final two verses of that description. However, if you’d like to dig deeper into the other aspects, I’ve made you a Cheat Sheet that breaks down each element and prompts you with some questions to ask yourself when you are faced with loving difficult people or in challenging circumstances. Click the button below and I’ll email the Cheat Sheet to you instantly!

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Keeping the context in mind, let’s look at that group of “always” characteristics of God’s love.

Always Protects

This phrase can be translated several different ways, each capturing a little of the original meaning.  Listen to some various translations and see what I mean:

“Love bears up under anything and everything that comes” —The Amplified Bible

“Love bears all things.”—NRSV and ESV

The literal translation is  “Love all things covers quietly ” (The Interlinear Bible).

Now at first glance that may sound like love covers up wrongdoing, but since Paul already clarified in the previous verse love “rejoices in the truth,” we know he isn’t saying love always covers up sin.  Rather, love protects the dignity of the wrongdoer while addressing the wrongs they have committed.

I heard a pastor tell of how a four-year old in his congregation described how you know someone loves you. He said, “Your name is safe in their mouth.” When you speak of someone who has wronged, disappointed, or irritated you, is their name safe in your mouth? If so, you are exercising agape love. If you catch yourself gossiping or sniping about them, stop! Confess to God your actions and your struggle to love them and pray for them. Ask God to help you love them as he loves them.

You can, and should, speak the truth in love to someone who is engaging in behavior that is self-destructive or harms others. To stay quiet or cover-up wrongdoing makes you complicit in the sin. Just be sure you allow the Holy Spirit to direct your words and actions so there is an appropriate balance of grace and truth and your motivation is really love for the person.

Always Trusts

Love always trusts, a word that can also be translated “has faith” or “believes.”  So you will see this phrase translated variously as:

“Love believes all things”—NRSV

“believes all things [looking for the best in each one]”—The Amplified Bible

never loses faith” —New Living Translation

Obviously Paul is not saying that agape believes anything or is gullible because we’ve already seen how important truth is in the exercise of agape.

I think it is more like, love believes that in God all things are possible.  There is no situation or person beyond the ability of God to bring about change, healing and wholeness.  We can trust in all situations that our sovereign God is able to accomplish His will and purposes.

When we’ve been harmed, God commands us to forgive. Forgiving doesn’t mean we have to believe every promise made by an unreliable person. We, like God, can and should set appropriate limits as to what behavior we will accept and what we won’t. We need to have healthy boundaries that protect us from the choices and behavior of an unsafe person.

Forgiveness only requires our willingness to forgive the other person. Rebuilding trust in the relationship between us requires both parties to engage honestly and with love for each other. In other words, forgiveness takes one, restoration of a healthy relationship takes two!

When we speak of agape always trusting, we are saying we always trust in God’s ability  to work in the situation and people involved.

Always Hopes

In biblical language, hope is never about pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, it is a confident expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promises and the truth of his Word.

So when we love like God loves, we live and relate with others expectantly. We anchor our hope, not in the circumstances, but in God’s ability to bring to pass that which is best for us and which accomplishes his purposes.

Always Perseveres

Are you noticing how interconnected these “always” characteristics are? Because love is anchored in who God is and a confidence in his Word, we are able to trust him to be at work in the people and circumstances that cause us such pain and frustration. We can keep on keeping on when human common sense tells us there is no point – just give up.

When our hope is in God’s ability, not human ability, we find strength and motivation to keep cooperating with him and letting his Holy Spirit direct us through the hard times.

Love Never Fails

So, beloved child of God, lean in to him and let him strengthen and equip you to persevere. Worship him, talk to him and listen when he speaks, study his Word, engage with other believers and let them encourage you and hold you accountable.

Loving as God loves is all about relationship, first and foremost with God, and from the overflow of that love we will be able to love others—even the most challenging and in the the most difficult circumstances.

Don’t forget your Cheat Sheet!

Learn more about this godly love. Grab the FREEBIE I made for you that covers all the characteristics of agape love discussed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Click that button below and let me know where you want me to email it to you. Then check your inbox for some tips and insights that will help you love the hard-to-love people and bear up under the challenging circumstances you face.

Love Like God

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How about you? What do you find most challenging about loving like God loves? What helps you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Your Power Is NOT in Yourself But in His Spirit

FREE 4 x 6 Print to Encourage and Remind You

Even when we are excited, energized, and eager to pursue God’s calling on our lives, there are inevitably times when it gets scary. And if you’re not periodically frightened by the challenges you face, may I respectfully suggest you are probably living within your comfort zone rather than truly running hard after God’s purpose for your life. He rarely calls us to the safe and comfy boat and regularly beckons us out on the wild waves. So, for those moments when you feel in over your head, repeat the words of encouragement on the photo below.

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I’ve made you a free 4 x 6 high resolution version of the gorgeous photo by Roberto Nickson shown above. It includes the encouraging words from this post to remind you where your power comes from when you get discouraged! Click the button below and I’ll instantly email you a file that you can upload to your favorite photo printer (Shutterfly, Walgreens, Target, etc. or your home printer) and have prints made that will fit in a standard size frame.

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The Water May Not Always Be Smooth But Don’t Be Afraid!

One of my favorite passages is found in Matthew 14:22-33. This is the account of Jesus walking on water. Immediately after he miraculously feeds more than 5,000 people with five small loaves and two little fish, Jesus made his disciples get into a boat and head off across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus remains behind to dismiss the crowd and spend some time alone with his Father in prayer. Sometime between 3:00 am and 6:00 am, Jesus walked across the lake to catch up with the guys in the boat. They were battling waves and wind which can be fierce on the Sea of Galilee. Seeing what they thought was a ghost, the men were terrified. But Jesus said to them,

Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Then Peter does the most astonishing thing—at least I find it extraordinary. He asks Jesus to call him out on the water with Jesus. And Jesus says, “Come.” Then Peter climbed out of the boat and walked on water toward Jesus! 

It was only when he became distracted by the wind that he faltered in fear and began to sink. He cried out to Jesus who immediately reached out and caught him. Jesus chided Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt.” And when they both boarded the boat, the wind and waves calmed and those with Jesus declared,

Truly you are the Son of God.”

It is easy to head out on your mission when the lake is smooth as glass. It is much harder when the winds whip the surface into threatening waves. Yet, either way, getting out of the boat would not be my first inclination. So, I’m impressed with Peter’s faith and “out-of-the-boat/box” thinking. He has the right idea. He wants to be doing what Jesus is doing and be where Jesus is. I want that too.

May God give me and you the courage and faith to follow Jesus onto the crashing waves.

Take Courage2

 

Praying Scripture for You

The same strength that raised Christ from the dead is the the power God places in us by his Spirit to empower us to do what he calls us to do. Like Peter, we may slip and fall sometimes, we may let the doubt and distractions creep in and crowd out our concentration on Jesus, but when we cry out for help, he will be there.

I couldn’t remember exactly where in the Scriptures I had read that the power we have access to is the same power that raised Christ. So I looked it up (It is found within Ephesians 1:15-23, by the way). Paul mentions it in a section of his letter where he conveys what he is praying on the recipients’ behalf. It was so beautiful, I want to pray those same sentiments over you now.

Glorious Father God of our Lord Jesus Christ, may you give to all whose eyes fall upon these words the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that they may know Jesus better. I pray also that the eyes of their heart may be enlightened in order that they may know the hope to which you have called them, the riches of your glorious inheritance in the saints, and your incomparably great power for us who believe.

That power is like the working of your mighty strength, which you exerted in Christ when you raised him from the dead and seated him at your right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And you, God, placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. 

When we feel doubt or fear, remind us of the power that dwells within us. Help us fix our eyes on Jesus, grasp hold of his outstretched hand, and rise above the challenges to complete the work you have called us to. In the mighty and powerful name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen!

Don’t forget your FREE Printables

After making the second graphic above, I decided I wanted a 4 x 6 of that for you as well. So click either or both buttons below to let me know which photo(s) to email to you. Enjoy!

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Your turn... What causes you to become afraid or overwhelmed while trying to answer God’s call on your life? What helps you through the fear/overwhelm? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Why You Need to Stand at the Cross Before You Run to the Tomb

Holy Week invites us to deeply reflect on the cross and resurrection. However, the pain of the cross tempts me to skip right to Sunday morning and run with John to the empty tomb. Yet, if I will make myself stand with him at the foot of the cross I know the celebration of Sunday morning will be so much more profound.

The cross is difficult to look at. Not just because of the brutality, but also because we come face to face with our sin and its cost.

It Is Easier to Focus Outward than Inward

It is always easier to focus on the sin of others rather than our own. Those who waved the palm branches and shouted blessings and praise as they welcomed the Messiah to Jerusalem were likely doing just that.

The crowds thronged the city to commemorate Passover. In light of that Exodus theme on which they were focused, they praised Jesus as the Messiah who would save them from Roman oppression, inflicting the punishment Rome deserved. Their focus was on Rome’s sin and they cast Jesus as the bringer of death to their enemies.

As Jesus approached the city, he wept over it and the people’s inability to recognize their true need and his ability to meet it. He came, not to judge the world, but to save it (see John 3:17 and 12:47). Jesus was the Passover Lamb whose blood would protect them from the death they deserved.

They shouted Hosanna (a Hebrew expression meaning save) but had no clue of their true need for salvation from sin rather than from Roman oppression. Like them, when faced with our own sin, we scramble to project, rationalize, or minimize it.

Harmless Housecat or Lethal Lion?

Our culture of relativism has de-clawed and de-fanged sin. Or, rather it has given the illusion that our self-centered actions and attitudes are without consequence.

Defanged Sin

You can claim the cat has no claws, but as soon as the antagonized animal rakes his paw over your offending hand, you find the claws are very much still present. And it isn’t the cat who is at fault for the bloodshed; responsibility lies squarely on the one who committed the transgression against him.

When we ignore the path set out for us by our Creator and declare we will go our own way and do whatever is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:25), we deceive ourselves into thinking the paws of the Lion of the tribe of Judah have no claws. We couldn’t be more wrong.

God’s holiness and justice are incompatible with allowing sin to go unpunished (Exodus 34:6-7). The lion’s paws swipe out to eradicate sin. On the cross, blood drips from the wounds inflicted by our transgressions against God.

But instead of our bodies bearing the wounds, God himself steps into our place. His mercy and love compel him to pay the price on our behalf.

His back receives the stripes of the whip. His hands and feet receive the nails. He drinks the cup of wrath to the last drop.

He died the death due us.

The Rest of the Story… Mercy and Redemption

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end at the cross on Friday. But without his death on the cross on Friday, there can be no meaning in the empty tomb on Sunday.

His death on Friday brings about the mourning of Saturday. At the cross we recognize our poverty, our desperate need, and the cost of meeting our need for forgiveness. As we mourn for what our sin cost our Lord, we find comfort in his mercy and love.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.—Matthew 5:4

Transformational Love

As the truth of how much he loves and values us sinks in, we find comfort. We also find freedom and redemption.

Experiencing his forgiveness and mercy, transforms us.

Recognizing we deserved retribution but received redemption causes us to look upon our rebellious ways in a new light. The light of truth.

It is as if we have been stumbling along in the dark through the brambles and briers down in the ditch we have chosen as our path. As the sun rises and sheds light on the pain and struggle our way brings, we turn and joyously and thankfully accept God’s rescuing hand and allow him to set us back on his path.

And the forgiveness and mercy God showed to us fills us with compassion for others.

Instead of desiring retaliation for the wounds they inflict on us as they flail about in the mire, we offer forgiveness. We seek to cast light into their darkness and show them a better way forward.

Saturday’s mourning gives way to the celebration of Sunday’s Resurrection. The tomb is empty, he is risen!

Grab this FREE GIFT before you go!

Grab the free cheat sheet of Simple Ways to Connect with Jesus in Your Busy Life

I’d love to help you find some simple ways to connect with Jesus – not only during this Holy Week, but in your day-to-day life all year round. I’ve created a little cheat sheet with some ideas for how you can:

  1. Wake Up with Jesus
  2. Commune While You Commute
  3. Exercise Your Faith & Your Body
  4. Tie in Faith to Your Family Conversations

If you’d like me to instantly email you a copy of this cheat sheet, just click the button below and I’ll send it on its way to you!

Yes, send me the cheat sheet!

How about you? How do you prepare for Easter? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Do You Need Strength? Tap into the Ultimate Source!

Free Step-by-Step Guide

I’ve been feeling a little disconnected from my church family lately. I used to teach in both an adult Sunday School class as well as our Women’s Bible study group. Last year, I stepped down from both of those positions. It was the right time and it has been the right decision. But I have missed the blessings that only come from walking alongside others in a small group. So, as Lent approached, I decided to seek out a small group which would challenge my spiritual comfort zone. Last week I began participating in a spiritual formation class which is certainly stretching some spiritual muscles I haven’t exercised in a while. And one of this week’s exercises led me to pray a passage of Scripture specifically for you.

paraphrase of Ephesians 3:18

I’ve prayed Ephesians 3:14-21 for each of you who are a part of the Making It Real Ministries community before. It is how I closed the post How to Strengthen Your Relationship with Christ in Ways that Work with Who You Are and Your Season of LifeAnd this week, I did so again.

My Prayer for You

Using the words penned and prayed by Paul, here is what I prayed over and for you:

I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name and  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV)

Strengthened with His Power

While most of us like to think we can live life in our own strength, the truth is we can only live powerfully through the power of his Spirit dwelling in us. Our weakness allows God’s strength to be all the more apparent to us and others. (see 2 Corinthians 12:9).

Much like one is better able to see the stars illuminated in the night sky of the countryside rather than in the harsh glare of the city lights, one is able to recognize the capability of God when it is contrasted with our inability.

Flipping a light switch on and filling a dark gloomy room with a comforting glow can make us feel self-sufficient, while standing alone in the inky isolation of a rural Texas pasture gazing up into the heavenly lights brings to mind the Psalmist’s words:

Psalm 8:3-4, NIV (Psalm 8:3-4, NIV)

It is precisely in those moments where our unworthiness is most vivid that we find out how well rooted and established in love our faith is.

This foundation upon which our faith rests is not the Hallmark love of cards, candy, and fleeting sentiment, but the deep, abiding, never-failing love of God; a love so solid, so amazing that we can only grasp the breadth, width, height and depth of it by the power of God’s Spirit revealing it to us.

God’s self-sacrificing, redeeming, and transformational love transcends our human understanding. It makes no sense to creatures who naturally are self-centered. Yet it is the very manifestation of God’s nature. God is love. (1 John 4:8,16 NIV )

When Christ dwells in our heart, we are able to face the true answer to the Psalmist’s question: it is not because of who we are that God is mindful of us; it is because of who God is. It is not our worthiness but his grace.

He knew before he even created us that we would need his forgiveness and redemption (see Ephesians 1:3-10). And in his mercy, he planned to sacrifice himself to meet our need.

Christ Dwelling in Your Heart

Christ dwelling in our heart can bring about more than we can ask or imagine. As we submit to him and cooperate with him, we will stand amazed at what he brings about.

In my own life, I’ve seen him transform messes into messages, cynicism into hope, and division into unity. I’ve tasted the fruit produced from abiding in his presence. It is glorious. And it leaves no doubt as to its divine source.

Strengthening Your Relationship with Christ

If you are not feeling rooted and established as deeply and strongly as you would like, maybe, like me, you need to step a little further out of your comfort zone and let him reveal himself to you in fresh new ways. Or, maybe you need to find ways to relate with God that are more in line with your current season of life.

Whatever the reason, if you desire a stronger, more intimate fellowship with God you might find it helpful to go through the process outlined in this free step-by-step guide.

()ptimized_Strengthened-With-Power

I pray God will use it to guide you to meaningful ways of abiding in him and him in you. Just click the button and request your copy and I’ll email it to you instantly.

Yes, send me the guide!

How about you? How is your relationship with Christ? What do you do that helps you abide in him and keep you aware of his presence in you? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Surveying the Wondrous Cross and the Cost of Grace

Request the free 4x6 images featuring the lyrics of this great hymn!

This past Sunday in worship we sang one of my favorite songs, The Wonderful Cross. This is a modern adaptation of the hymn written by Isaac Watts in 1707. A couple days prior, my pastor and I had been talking about the importance of seeing in the cross both our need for forgiveness and the cost paid by God to forgive us. As I sang the words of this ancient hymn, I contemplated how God, who needed nothing, gave everything to rescue me from estrangement from Himself. Humility, repentance and gratitude all mingled together and seemed an appropriate attitude in which to begin this week.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross - verse 1

On Wednesday, the Christian calendar transitions into the season of Lent. In this season, we are invited to reflect on our great need for the cross of Christ and reality of the suffering it cost Him to meet our need.

During the forty days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and the Saturday before Easter, we remember that high cost and the freedom from sin and to approach God that it bought for us.

The forty days of Lent recall Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. This experience followed his baptism as he prepared to embark on his public ministry (see Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:9-13; Luke 4:1-13).

During this time of preparation, Jesus fasted and was tempted to part from his path of obedience which would lead to the cross. He met and overcame each temptation by depending on God’s truth revealed in the Scriptures.

And in Jesus’ wilderness experience we hear the echoes of the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness. Whereas Jesus met each trial with faith in God and obedience, the Israelites chose a much different path. What a difference faith and obedience make!

Spring is a time of renewal of life. And it is fitting that Lent, derived from the Old English term for spring, lencten, provides a time to reflect on the necessity of the cross in making possible our new life in Christ.

Meditating on Costly Grace

Yes, it is tempting to skip right over the suffering of the cross to the glorious resurrection. Yet, I suggest to you that much insight, humility, and gratitude is gained when we take time to dwell on the high cost of God’s grace.

Make no mistake: salvation costs us nothing except a willingness to humbly recognize our need and accept by faith God’s provision. But never think that grace costs nothing. It cost Jesus everything. 

Traditionally, fasting is one way of meditating on the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus.

As with any tradition, there is a danger we humans will lose sight of the beneficial aspects of the traditions in favor of legalism and self-righteousness.  If we begin to think that how we observe the tradition adds anything to our salvation, we have lost sight of the Gospel.

This season is intended to draw us closer to and make us more aware of our dependence on Jesus. It isn’t a time of making a show of one’s piety or thinking one’s works can add anything to what Jesus accomplished on Calvary.

As Paul said in Galatians,

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.“—Galatians 6:16

When I Survey The Wonderous Cross-Verse 2

 

Whether you observe Lent or not, I invite you to spend a few moments reflecting on the words of Watts’ hymn. I’ve set the lyrics of each verse in these graphics. May they help you meditate on the intersection of our need and God’s merciful provision.

Our sin is real and the suffering and sorrow that result is real. In forgiving our sin, God didn’t wink at it and say it didn’t matter. On the contrary, justice demanded the debt be paid.  

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

But we matter to him so much that he was willing to suffer in our place to settle our account. The King of Kings bore our punishment.

When I Survey The Wonderous Cross-Verse3

Take in the love reflected in that sacrifice! We can never “pay him back” and he doesn’t ask us to. He asks that we accept his gift and share the good news of it with others.

This Wednesday, you may choose to participate in an Ash Wednesday service. Or, not. Either way, I hope and pray you will respond to the amazing love God pours out for you by accepting his gift and offering him your repentance, love, and praise.

When I Survey The Wonderous Cross-Verse4

FREE 4 x 6 Printables

I’ve made you a set of the images used in this post that are sized and formatted to fit in standard 4 x 6 frames. Just print the PDF and cut the images out and pop them into frames. I pray these help you reflect and meditate on just how much our Savior loves you!

When I Survey The Wonderous Cross-FREEBIE

To request your copy, just click the button below and I’ll email yours to you instantly!

Yes, Send me those images!

 

How about you? Do you observe Lent in any special and meaningful ways? I’d love to hear about those! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Grow in Your Understanding of Jesus with These Reading Plans

Last week, I shared Five Benefits You Can Expect When You Follow the Christian Calendar. Based on how many readers requested the copy of the calendar, many of you want those benefits.  So, this week, I want to provide you with an introduction to the current season as well as point you in the direction of some reading plans that will help you in your quest to reap the rewards we discussed in last week’s post.

Free Reading Plans and Free Calendar

Count on Growing During Epiphany

Epiphany, which was on January 6, celebrated the arrival of the Magi to worship Jesus. Matthew’s account (See Matthew 2) highlights the message that all who are willing to recognize who Jesus is are welcome to come and worship him. This King of the Jews is Savior of all who would receive him.

Depending on denomination, the time from January 6 until Ash Wednesday, is known as the season of Epiphany or Ordinary Time (as in ordinal or order of things). The Sundays are referred to by their order after Epiphany (for example, Second Sunday after the Epiphany).

In some traditions, this season is referred to as Growing Time. Whatever we call this season, the emphasis is on the manifestation of Jesus as God Incarnate and the long-awaited Savior.

An epiphany is an appearance or manifestation of a deity. And the term can also refer to one’s gaining insight into the reality of something extraordinary through something commonplace. The counting of days as the season progresses emphasizes the concept of progression or growth.

During this season, we follow the story of Jesus growing in wisdom and stature from the infant worshiped by the Magi to the pre-teen sitting among the teachers in the Temple astounding all who heard him (see Luke 2:40-52). One of the highlights of this theme of growing in revelation and understanding is the account of Jesus’ baptism (see Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:31-34).

Our understanding of who Jesus is continues to expand as we read of his miracles and teaching throughout the Gospels. And the season of epiphany reaches its climax in the account of the Transfiguration (see Luke 9:28-36; Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8).

Try it!

No, really. Try it right now! Pray for the Holy Spirit to help you better understand Jesus as you read the Scriptures. Then, click on those links in the previous two paragraphs and read at least one account of each portion of Jesus’ life. As you read, pay attention to what is revealed about who Jesus is.

By focusing our Bible reading on this motif of growing in our understanding of who Jesus is, we are better prepared to reflect on our need for him. We are also better equipped to see just how uniquely and completely Jesus meets our need to be reconciled with our Creator.

Helpful Bible Reading Plans

If you haven’t focused your spiritual growth and Bible reading around the Christian Year before, I invite you to give it a try and see how enlightening it can be. There are a multitude of reading plans which will help you do this. Here are just a few you might consider:

  1. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL)

The RCL is a three-year cycle of Scripture readings structured upon the seasons of the Christian Year. It is used to varying degrees by the vast majority of mainline Protestant churches in the United States and Canada. The list of readings was compiled by representatives of nineteen different denominations. The RCL differs somewhat from the Roman Catholic lectionary, primarily as to the feast days that are specifically observed by the Roman Catholic Church.

  1. The Book of Common Prayer Bible Reading Plan on the YouVersion App

This plan follows the Daily Office Lectionary found in The Book of Common Prayer (1979) used worldwide by Anglicans and Episcopalians. But one doesn’t have to be a member of those denominations to benefit from the reading plan.

  1. Daily Reading Plan by the American Bible Society.

The American Bible Society has created a nice printable 2015-2016 Christian Year reading plan. It provides daily readings corresponding to the various seasons of the Christian year in a simple format that could be tucked in your Bible.

FREE Seasons of Faith Calendar

Many readers downloaded a copy of the Seasons of Faith calendar I made for you. This calendar describes each season of the Christian year and gives the 2015-2016 [Updated: 2016-17] dates for each season.

If you want to develop your own reading plan, you can review the descriptions of the themes for each season and use a topical Bible to find relevant passages to read. (That’s what I’m doing this year.)

If you haven’t requested your copy yet, it isn’t too late. Just click the image or button below and I’ll email your copy instantly!

Send Me the Calendar!

Help Choosing the Right Study or Plan

If you need a little more help selecting which Bible study or reading plan is best suited for you, check out my guest post over at Life Letter Cafe.  llc-blogger

At the end of that post, be sure pick up the free step-by-step guide to choosing the plan perfect for your learning style and schedule. The post is called How to Enjoy Reading the Bible and Get More Out of Your Time In It. It will help you evaluate those three plans above or any others you might be considering. It will also give you some ideas for where to find reading plans and Bible studies that are best suited for your needs.

How to Enjoy Reading the Bible

How about you? What type of Bible Study or reading plan are you using? You can leave a comment by clicking here.