Category Archives: Church Sermons

Joy, Where Are You?

Some mornings I can barely find the energy to get out of bed. I’m exhausted and worn out and in pain and I simply don’t want to do anything but lay there. This morning was one of those mornings. My alarm clock (AKA, my children) started screaming in my ears and I had to get up and face the world. Before I could even get out of bed, the girls were already dressed for church and chattering in their fastest, most excited voices about what they might do at church today. So, begrudgingly, I got up, showered, and got ready for church.
And I’m glad I did. 

We sang some of my favorite Christmas songs, which immediately lifted my mood a bit.

  

“I rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel.”

Today’s sermon was titled, “Joy” and based on Luke 2:8-20. My first thought, from anxious and depressed mind was, “oh great, joy. That’s the last thing I want to talk about right now.” But that’s exactly why I needed to hear it. 

Luke‬ ‭2:8-20‬ ‭ESV

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 

“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

So apparently, joy is command. My pastor opened up the sermon with that and all I could think was, “great, we’re starting the morning off with something I suck at.” But as he kept talking, I understood it more. God doesn’t want me to have fake joy, like the fake smile I tend to plaster on my face when I tell everyone I’m doing great. But God wants me to a real, genuine joy – the kind that only He can give me; the kind that comes from being awestruck by an amazing God. 

  

Let me be real here for a minute, the last few weeks I have been stuck in a cycle of sadness and feeling sorry for myself. I’m having brain surgery in four days and I’m scared – really scared, about all the “what ifs” and things that could possibly go wrong. I really haven’t felt much joy at all. I haven’t been praying. I haven’t been reading my Bible. I’ve just been quietly simmering with anger at God for not making me healthy. But the more I’ve ignored God, the worse I’ve felt. The more I’ve pushed Him away, the angrier I’ve gotten. My joy has been nonexistent.

I feel like an outsider in this world, like I just don’t belong anywhere. I have some wonderful friends and great church family – but often, I just feel different, like I don’t fit in with anyone. I feel lost. My pastor’s first point today was that joy is for the outsiders. We explained how God sent His angels to the shepherds, of all people. He could’ve sent the angels to someone powerful, like a king or ruler, but He didn’t. He sent them to shepherds – to the outsiders. 

In the same way, in our current society, God doesn’t come only for the “insiders.” He doesn’t come just for the powerful and popular – He comes for the outsiders. But here’s the thing, if you really think about it – we’re all outsiders. None of us in this world are insiders; we are all OUTSIDE of Heaven. And my pastor made a good point, even the people who I look at and think have it together and appear to fit in so well – even they struggle with feeling like outsiders, it simply part of being human. And we all feel like no one else feels the way we do so none of us talk about it; but if we did, we would know we weren’t alone. 

  

So in acknowledging that others feel like outsiders as well and many of us never speak of it, how well do I reflect God to others? How well do I reflect God’s love to those who feel like they don’t belong?

The second point that my pastor made today was that joy comes from Heaven. We don’t create joy from within ourselves. I can be sad or depressed or going through a rough time and still feel joy in my heart. God is perfect and Holy and separate from us, but He is also imminent and close through Jesus. 

The glory and power of God reassuring, but it should also leave a healthy fear in us. When the angels came to the shepherds, they were scared because they felt unworthy of their holiness. But the angels told them not to be afraid, for they had new that would bring great joy. The birth of Jesus brings us joy by reminding us that even though we may be going through a rough time now, even though we’re scared, even though we feel lost, even though life is hard – a savior has come to save us. 
How much different would my life be if I believed, I mean rally believed deep in my heart, that Jesus came down from Heaven for me? 

  

Lastly, my pastor touched on having joy in the valley – this was, I felt, the most fitting part for me today. I’ve had “mountaintop experiences” – times where God’s love and glory are so apparent that I am in awe and filled with joy. The goal is to live out the joy from those mountain top experiences while we’re in the valley. God wants me to treasure His words in my heart and live my life in faith. It doesn’t sounds THAT difficult. But when you’re in the valley, it’s easy to get caught up in the negative – the fear, worry, pain, and anxiety. But God calls us to remember the things we know to be true, to remember the mountaintop, remember what His closeness feels like – those are the things that will bring us joy in the valley. 

Each day that God gives me in a gift and I should rejoice in every day – even the days when I’m in the valley. 

So let me rephrase my current thoughts and worries…

  

I’m having brain surgery in four days. I may be scared, but even if the worst happens – if I were to die, I would go Home to Jesus and have no more pain. If it’s successful, I will stop going blind and my vision will be saved. If something goes wrong and I come out of surgery with some type of disability, God will use that to glorify Him. I am scared and I really don’t want to go through with it. But just like He always does, God has me in the palm of His hand and whatever happens will not be a surprise to Him, He already knows and He will care for and provide for me no matter what.

I simply need to trust Him and find my joy in Him, not in this world.


The Author of My Story

Truth: I really didn’t want to go to church this morning. I got woken up early this morning and by the time it came time to get ready for church, all I could think was how much I didn’t feel like being around people. I’ve been in a slump lately. It’s been a crazy roller coaster of ups and downs and it has left my emotions feeling strung out and tired.

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So I went to church anyway. I sucked up my anxieties, packed the kids up in the car, and we went. I sat in the same spot I always do and I stared down at my phone in my lap in hopes that no one would try to talk to me. My motto: don’t make eye contact with anyone.

Then we started singing. Worship always softens my heart. It’s impossible to honestly worship God and NOT feel something.

“Lift us up, for we are heavy laden,
only need and brokenness we bring.
You alone can rescue us falling
We are weak, but You are strong
Lift us up.”

Those words rang so true in my heart as I sang them. I was singing out to a mighty God to lift me up. I often feel like I’m falling, like I’m going to crash and burn in the rubble of my sin and I know that only He can lift me up.

My pastor is doing this series through Galatians right now. Last week, if I’m totally honest, I didn’t go to church because I had read the passage that he was going to be preaching on and it was so very applicable to my life that I REALLY didn’t want to hear the sermon on it because I knew it would leave me feeling convicted about my secret sins. So this morning’s sermon was titled “God Centered Story” and one of the first things he asked was, what centers us and guides us? (I’m paraphrasing from my notes, of course). Clearly, the good, Christian answer to that question is God…and that’s what I wish my answer was. But if I’m totally honest, what centers and guides me in life is my desire to avoid dealing with or feeling my emotions. If I’m totally honest, I don’t really trust God with my life.

We all have different stories. We all come from different backgrounds and have different biases, but for believers in Christ our stories all share one very big similarity – we were wrong and God intervened. God is the author of our stories. He is writing a beautiful story from the ashes of my life.

My story began almost 27 years ago. My story has taken me through joy and grief, happiness and sadness, blessings and curses. My story has led me to do whatever I could do to find immediate relief from my pain. But one big lesson I have learned is that Jesus is WAY better than any of the immediate relief that I have searched for. Jesus is so much better than trying to bury my emotions deep inside my heart. Jesus is infinitely better than any of the “quick fixes” that I come up with on my own. Jesus is so much better and I am NOT the only one who struggles to trust Him.

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God knew me before I was born…I really struggle with this concept. I have always wondered, if God really knew me before I was born, if He really knew my life before it happened, then why did He give me life knowing how much pain I would experience. But I am not God and who am I, as the created, to question the Creator. He chose ME! Me, a broken and wounded sinner – He chose me. He knew that I would walk away from Him and deny Him on countless occasions, but He still chose me. He called me by His grace. I have nothing to bring to Him, just like the song says, “only need and brokenness” I bring. But somehow it pleased Him to show me grace.

You see, if you’ve followed this blog for very long or if you know me at all, I’m sure you know that I tend to shy away from asking for help. I tend to convince myself that I can make it through life on my own accord without God’s help…now, clearly, we all know I’m wrong. Doing life on my own leaves me dead and isolated in my sin. I get scared and trapped by the shame and guilt of my past. But in His infinite grace and mercy, He searches me out and saves me every time (see Luke 19:10).

I get frustrated with God quite frequently because I don’t think my story looks the way it should. I don’t like the way my story has been written. But God didn’t ask me for my editing suggestions.

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I am still in the middle of my story. Pastor Dave used the analogy of doing a flip-turn (as in swimming). Being that I am a former swimmer who loved doing flip-turns, I very much loved this analogy. My story is still in progress. God, the Author, knows how it will end. My choice at this point is to trust that He loves me. This is where I can make a flip-turn and trust His grace. This is where I can let the love of Jesus direct me through the rest of this story.

On my own I am nothing, I have nothing. But with God, I need nothing. With God, I am much stronger than I think I am. I can quit turning to those things that have kept my secrets hidden. I can bring my secrets into the light and let God use those as a part of my story. He can, and He will, use my story to bring others to Him.

Like Joseph said Genesis, what you meant for evil, God will use for good. God never wastes a hurt. He is spinning all the ugliness and hurt in my life into a beautiful story centered on His grace, mercy, and love.

I’m not perfect. I struggle daily. But the Author of my story knows what He’s doing and I will trust He knows more than I do.

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Drowning

Life as a Christian is not all sunshine and roses. There are definite struggles. Just because I have a deep joy and hope that I am saved through the grace of God, I still have very real and very hard issues in my life…and quite often, I feel like I’m drowning.

“Drowning”…that was the title of the sermon at church today. Today’s sermon was one of those where I personally felt like my pastor was speaking directly to me, like God put every word he spoke into his mouth because I needed to hear it…it was actually a bit eerie.

The past few weeks I’ve felt like I’ve been drowning – like I’ve been crying out to a God who hasn’t been listening – like no matter what I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to get my head above water to catch a breath.

Psalm 69:1-3 –  1Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.

Drowning should drive me to prayer. It’s weird, sometimes when my life seems to be falling apart and the control freak inside of me is panicking because I can’t hold it all together, sometimes I don’t want to go to God because I am angry or frustrated with Him because I don’t understand my circumstances. But in reality, that’s when I need to run to Him most. He wants me to bring my doubts and questions to Him. He already knows that I’m thinking them, I might as well be honest with Him about it instead of just holding onto it and letting it fester inside of me.

One thing I’ve realized about myself is that when I go to God with my doubts and my questions, when I actually form my thoughts into words, I realize how childish and selfish I’m being. I realize that I’m usually just acting like a child who isn’t getting her way. Not to say that my circumstances can’t often be frustrating or discouraging, but that I often have a bad attitude about the circumstances because they’re not how I want them.

Psalm 69:16-18 – 16 Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
17 Hide not your face from your servant;
for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.
18 Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
ransom me because of my enemies!

Drowning drives me to consider my purpose. My purpose in this life is not to just be happy and live an easy life. In fact, as a Christian, it is the exact opposite. Although I will receive blessings in my life as a result of obedience to God, God also promises me that I will experience struggles and suffering – what matters is how I choose to respond to it. Am I willing to move beyond my own narrow view of myself to use my suffering to help someone else? If I will allow God to use me, if I will follow where He leads, I can turn around and use my affliction to serve others.

This is something I’ve seen mostly within Celebrate Recovery. I enjoy serving others around me and reaching out to other people who are just as broken as I was when I first came to know who Christ is. Whenever I think that God cannot use whatever my current circumstances are, he throws me into so ridiculous situation where He reminds me that I can serve others using my greatest weaknesses and struggles.

Psalm 69:32-33 – 32 When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33 For the Lord hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.

Drowning will be reversed. God will redeem me from my pain and brokenness, Jesus died to save me from my own sin. He has a plan for me and for my life. Yes, there will be struggles and suffering, but He is still there with me. He still hears my prayers and catches my tears. I simply have to trust Him.  

One of the things my pastor said this morning that really stuck out to me was: when I feel alone, like God isn’t hearing my prayers, think of my baptism and what that resembles. In baptism, the old me had to die so the new me could have life…the old me has been drowned and the new me lives.


Self-Contempt in the Body of Christ

As an outsider, looking in to the church, it can be hard to feel like you belong anywhere. It can, so often, seem like everyone has it all together and like you’ll never fit in, so why bother even trying. I know, for me, that was a big obstacle for to overcome. That is one of the many reasons why I love the Celebrate Recovery ministry so much; it’s a place where other Christians are open and honest about their brokenness. Celebrate Recovery has opened my eyes to see that everyone, even the people who I would’ve thought had life all figured out, struggle with life in this broken and fallen world.

Fellowship, though, is an important part of the Christian life. God did not create us to go through this life alone. He made us to be a part of a community of fellow believers, to be connected with a group of people to encourage and love each other, to pray for and with each other.

Hebrew 10:24-25 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

But for the new believer, especially the new believer with a scary past, it can be hard to connect with other Christians. It can be hard to bear your soul, exposing the deepest, most vulnerable parts of yourself, to people who, in your mind, have it all under control. This is a lie though; a lie that the enemy uses to keep us bound in the silence of our shame. No one, not the gracious Sunday school teacher, not the pastor’s wife, not the seemingly perfect looking family sitting next to you in the pew, has it all figured out. Every one of us carries around our fair share (and then some) of baggage, pain, guilt, and sin. We ALL fail to meet God’s standards. Yes, our sins may look different; but that doesn’t matter, we have still ALL sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

For me, it was a struggle to get connected with a small group. I was terrified out of mind at the thought of these people, people who seemed to love and accept me but who I thought had it all together, finding out about my horrific past and rejecting me because of it. But it’s funny how God places just the right people in our paths at just the right time. As I got to know these people better, I learned that maybe, just maybe, they were just as human as I am. I told myself I would probably never open up and be honest with them, quite frankly, I was just scared. I knew in my heart that they would love me and accept me no matter what, but because of the self-condemnation I had carried from my past, I often doubted it. I knew that God didn’t condemn me (Romans 8:1), but for some reason I couldn’t stop condemning myself; which left me with an irrational fear that others would condemn me also.

But something miraculous happened when God gave me the courage to be open and honest, these people still loved me and still accepted me – and I think it was better than before because I was now free, free to be me (even though I’m still not totally sure who that is).

So now, I am a part of this wonderful small group, it’s like I have another family. These people have prayed for me and with me. They have helped me through some rough times. They have just loved me. And I continue to be in awe of the love God shows me through them. But here’s the problem that I still have. I am still ridiculously socially anxious. Because I care so much about what these people think of me, I often find myself not knowing what to say and wondering if I am ever saying the right thing. I over analyze EVERYTHING I say and do. Does it have anything to do with them? No, absolutely not. But it has everything to do with me. You see, more often than not, I don’t know how to interact with people who come from a different background than I do and sometimes I feel like we have absolutely nothing in common. Then I get worried and start thinking, well if I am thinking this way (and I’m the messed up one), what’re they thinking? I’ve recently realized that, quite frequently, I don’t know how to accept the love that others show me. I’m afraid to ask for help because I don’t want to appear needy (which, by the way, I really am). I am weak, emotional, tired, restless, doubtful, and confused. And all too often, I sugar coat this because I’m just scared of what people would say (even though I know in my heart that everyone else feels this same way).

I’ve been struggling with this for a while now; with the condemnation of my own thoughts. But in the last week or so, God has been shining His light into the darkness in that area of my heart. He’s been gently reminding me (in a persistent kind of way) that He loves me and my brothers and sisters in Christ love me, so why won’t I love myself? One thing God has really been harping on me about lately is my contempt for myself. I need to give myself a little grace – but for a perfectionist who isn’t perfect, that is easier said than done. When I am filled with self-contempt, it is impossible for me to love other people with the love of God.

Romans 12:3 – Don’t think you are better (or worse) than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

So today, while sitting in church and listening to the sermon, something my pastor said really stood out to me – It doesn’t matter what I have in common with anyone regarding our personal lives, where we’ve come from, or our experiences; the point is that we are now on the same page. The only thing we need to have in common is Jesus Christ. We are all striving to follow Him and be more like Him and share Him with other people. If that is our common goal, then nothing, absolutely nothing, else matters.

Romans 12:4-5 – Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

We are different parts of the body, but our mission is the same. We each function in our own unique ways, but that’s what makes us so great. If we were all the same, the church would be boring and watered down.

I have a value and a purpose and I am loved. It’s time I start recognizing that and telling that ugly voice in my head to be quiet. I am not who I once was. I am a new creation in Jesus. Love God, love others, love myself – I think all of those need to be in line before we can really get it.


Who am I: A Child of God

Leaving church yesterday, I couldn’t help but think: “Really? Did that just happen?” That was the perfect sermon for what I was feeling and I felt like the pastor was speaking directly to me.

One of the first things my pastor said in his sermon yesterday was, “We all have a ‘father wound,’ even if you had a good dad.” I know I have “father wound.” My dad wounded me deeply by his absence. Nearly everyone who knows me knows my story about not knowing my dad. Just before my 24th birthday I met the man. It was the first time I realized just how much his absence in my life had hurt me and how angry I was with him for not being there. But that’s not what this post is about.

What I guess I never really realized or thought about was that other people have that wound as well, whether their dad was there or not. I’m not alone in this one. We all have one thing in common: our earthly dads were not perfect and have failed us. But we also have a Heavenly Father who wants to show us that He is the perfect Father that we’ve always longed for. He is the only Father who will never fail us.

God loves us because of His love alone and not because we are lovable. Think about that one for a minute and just let that sink in. Even though I know it, when I heard that yesterday I was kind of taken aback; we need to remind ourselves of that from time to time because we ALL often fall into thinking we can earn His love.

Ephesians 1:3, 6 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

We don’t bless God to win His favor, God blessed us and we bless Him in return. He loves us and praises us as His children, not because of anything we have done.

I think the idea of being loved and blessed by God, without being able to do anything to earn it, is a hard concept for us to grasp. We, so often, get it backwards, thinking that if we praise Him enough and live lives that are holy enough, if we live lives that are pleasing to Him, only then will He bless us and give us grace (I thought this way for a LONG time and had all but given up on being a “good enough” person because I knew I could never measure up).

He doesn’t love us because we are lovable; He loves us because we are His.

1 John 3:1 – See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.

It seems that I have come across this subject in a few places in the past week. It is something I think I need to really meditate on. I can’t earn God’s grace. A sweet friend told me last week of something that she had heard stated by Tim Keller (and that has been said by many others); that we can’t be joyfully obedient to God before we have experienced grace. Experiencing God’s grace gives us the desire to change and to follow Him in obedience.

We only live holy lives because of His grace. This might sound cold and close minded, but it doesn’t matter how good of a person you are, whether you are a murderer or a loving, kind person who helps other people, if you haven’t accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior and haven’t placed your faith in Him, you are not going to have eternal life in Heaven with Him.

Ephesians 1:4 – even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

If our identity is in Christ, we are holy and blameless before God, ONLY because of Christ, not because of anything we have done on our own. He didn’t choose us because we were righteous, He chose us to make us righteous.

Before we experience grace and His transforming power in our lives, all the law can do for us is point out what sinners we are. In my experience, that’s one reason why I never thought I could ever be a Christian, because I could never as good as “those people”. I now know that “those people” are just a bad as me, the only difference is that they had experienced God’s grace in their lives. Once I experienced His grace, the Holy Spirit began transforming my life. My desires that were once hurtful and angry turned into desires to help others and do what was right. I started wanting to share the grace and love that He had given me.

I need to remember though that the change is ongoing. I will not become perfect overnight. I am a continuous work in progress and I will be until I am home with my Heavenly Father.

I think that many of us fall into the line of thinking that once we are saved, everything will be perfect. But we are wrong there. There are MANY, MANY verses that talk about suffering and that you will suffer and experience pain in this life; what’s important is how you deal with that pain. Salvation is punctiliar. It happens once by making the choice to trust in Him. However, it doesn’t end there. Just because you accepted His grace for your salvation doesn’t mean that you have to then start earning it.

We have to trust in His grace for our Salvation but we also have to trust in His grace to continue to get us through the rest of our lives. We need to trust what He says about us, that we are His children and He loves us in spite of ourselves. But at the same time, we can’t ignore that the sin is there. We need to let Him guide us through it.

You cannot heal from sin by focusing on the sin, but by acknowledging that God still loves you through it. Don’t work on your sin to get to God, but let God in and work on your sin with Him.

Whatever my problems are in life, whether they are personal, physical, spiritual, marital, emotional, etc. I need to always come back to the same point: the Gospel. I need to come back to His love for me and focus on that. From there I can learn things I didn’t know or understand that can help me; but without the basic understanding of how much He loves me, I will never be able to produce and lasting transformation.

Ephesians 1:5 – …In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

We have all chosen rebellion, but He still chooses to adopt us as His children. He knows our past, present and future. He is in control of it. My life is about what God has done in me, it’s not really about me.

John 6:44 – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

It’s almost eerie to think that we don’t even have control of our own salvation. We only come to salvation in Jesus Christ to begin with if God draws us in that direction. Apparently, the word used for “draws” in this verse is the same word used to describe dragging someone off to prison. That made me literally laugh out loud a bit because I feel like that is how I came to trust in Christ. I really didn’t want to and I fought, kicking and screaming, the whole way. I questioned everything and tried to find all the reasons NOT to have faith, but God had predestined me for adoption as His child and He wasn’t letting go. And I thank Him that He didn’t.

The purpose of predestination is adoption as His children.

Sometimes, I am still shocked by the knowledge that I am His child and He loves and delights in me. As someone who, until recently, never knew the love of a father, that is the main thing that He used to draw me to Him.


A New Identity

When you wear a mask, you’re not trusting in God’s grace. When you accept Christ into your life as your Lord and Savior, you are given a new identity and no longer have any reason to wear a mask. This is what the sermon at church was about yesterday and it really encouraged me. So here I am to share my notes (all five pages) and some of my own thoughts with you.

Whether you are a Christian or skeptic and whether you are 10 years old or 100 years old, no matter where you are at in life, you’ve struggled with putting your identity in the things you’ve done and not in what has been done for you. But when we become Christians we become new creations,

2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

You are not defined by the thing s you have done, but by what Christ has done for you. There is an awesome song that describes that: Tenth Avenue North – You Are More.

Because of Jesus death, we are given a new identity so that when God looks at us, He doesn’t see our ugly sinfulness – He sees Jesus’ righteousness. Often, we look around and see other Christians whose lives look immaculate and struggle-free. But we can’t see their hearts and we don’t know what kind of sins they are hiding. I’m only fooling myself if I think that no one else struggles the way I do.

I’m a sinner, but because of my new identity through Jesus Christ my sin isn’t standing between God and me, God has his arm around my shoulder and is walking through it with me. God is good.

So what does it mean to have a new identity – it means an authoritative identity, a noble identity, and a loved identity.

Authoritative Identity
Ephesians 1:1a – Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

I think it is really interesting what the word ‘apostle’ really means – sent one. In the first century the word apostle was used to describe cargo that was sent with an official purpose. So Paul is an apostle, one who was sent with an official purpose, by the will of God. It’s important to note that the One sending is more important than the one being sent.

God has given you and me the same authoritative identity that Paul had. We may not be apostles in the sense that we are called the write books of the Bible, but as Christians we are still sent one “official business” to share the Good News that we are only new creations because of what Jesus Christ has done.

I think Paul’s testimony is an awesome one. He was killing Christians until God “knocked some sense into him” and showed Paul that he belonged to God. My story may not be as dramatic or as obvious as Paul’s, but I was headed in one direction with my life until God stopped me and said, “No, Jacquie. You belong to me.”

So ultimately, it comes down to a choice – will I decide to accept the authoritative identity and the powerful message He has given me and take it to make a difference in the world? Or will I choose to keep the message to myself and ignore the authority I have?

Noble Identity
Ephesians 1:1b – To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:

Saint means holy, set apart, sanctified.

Have you ever thought of yourself as a saint? I know I never have. I always thought that saints were these holy people who were WAY better than me. But once you put your identity in Christ, you are a saint.

As a child of God, I am set apart, He has made me holy. But being holy doesn’t mean I don’t sin, it simply means that He is with me and we are walking through my sin together. It’s nice that I don’t have to go at it alone.

God wants me to do great things, that’s what He made me for. He has set me apart for a beautiful purpose. Often times though, I find myself wishing that my life was more glorious than it really is. I want to be “awesome” for God. But I have to remind myself (quite frequently) that if I think that I am of any use to God, He can’t use me. But how wonderful is it that He wants to use me anyway. Even if He is using me in ways that I don’t see or understand, He is still using me for His glory and His greater purpose.

Loved Identity
Ephesians 1:2 – Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace is unmerited favor and peace is reconciliation, and God gives both of those. Both of which we don’t deserve. If we believe that our identity is found only in Christ, then we should see God as our Father. God is a perfect Father and He loves in a way that we can never really comprehend.

We have an internal thought of how things should be; what shalom is like. The only reason we have that is because God planted that in us. I had a horrible dad growing up, he just wasn’t there. But how did I know that he was a crummy dad? I knew because, in my heart, I had a knowledge of what a perfect Father should be like (whether I knew that or not). God is that perfect Father. And while my dad and I are on good terms now and we have been reconciled, he’s still not perfect. God is the only perfect Father.

God loves me to a point that I can never understand. I mean, He sacrificed His Son for me…it still blows me away. I am a sinner, and yet He still loves me and gives me so much grace. Without His grace I couldn’t make it through my life. Thank God for grace!

If you don’t believe that God loves you, you’re not a Christian. So come on in. It’s nice in here. Let God love you, it’ll be the greatest thing you ever did.

 

Personally, I thought it was bit intense that an entire sermon could be created from two verses…and a powerful sermon at that. This sermon was just one of many things that really blessed and encouraged me yesterday. I was encouraged by attending the baptism for my church and watching a few of the kids from my Sunday school class get baptized. It blows me away to see these young kids making a profession of faith in front of a bunch of people. I was encouraged by the support of a few great friends whose support and prayer is priceless.

I get caught up in my old identity so much. I get stuck thinking I am not as good as my Christian friends because I am sinner, but the truth is, I only sin differently than them. We all have a new identity in Christ that removes our old identity. And yet, we all still truggle with letting our sins define who we are. That is one of the many reasons that we need each other – to remind each other where our new identity comes from.


The Challenge: BE REAL!

The past month or so has been a month of incredibly convicting sermons. Today’s sermon was Submit to the Bible in Community. It was so good, I went back to hear it a second time ;). This sermon made me aware of an issue in my life that I knew was there, but that I think I have been a bit blinded to.

In life we are confronted with two communities – the community of the wise and the community of the foolish. As we grow, we must choose which community to join.

Proverbs 13:20 – Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of a fool will suffer harm.

When we’re upset, need advice, or are going through a hard time, we turn to our friends. However, our friends may not be able to advise us if they are of the foolish kind. Our friends may advise us down a harmful path, away from God. Which is why we need wise community. We need wise friends who aren’t afraid to share the truth with us, even if it’s not what we want to hear.

We are influenced by those who we associate with, so why would anyone choose to associate with foolish people? They’ll simply become foolish.

I know from my life, this past year (since I became a Christian) has been one of great inner turmoil for me, in terms of trying to find a community where I fit in. I have my non-Christian friends who I was friends with before my Christian life began and I have made new, wise, Christian friends who have been supportive and encouraging. Now, here’s where I stumble. Wise community is harder; it requires more honesty and vulnerability. Wise community is REAL! Foolish community on the other hand is easier, but still rather difficult; it requires masks, lies, and quick fixes for sin. Foolish community is shallow while wise community is deep.

A few days ago I posted a blog about my venture into vulnerability and finding friendship since I’ve been a Christian, so it’s kind of ironic to me that this would be our sermon today. Clearly, something I am struggling with and need to address.

I’ve often rejected wise community, feeling not good enough or like I just don’t fit in. And I’ve gone running back to my foolish community because it’s safe, guarded, and predictable.

Proverbs 12:15 – The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Fools will fail to realize what the wise know, listening is the way to learn.

Small groups are a place for us to connect with one another and share our triumphs and struggles, a place where we can pray with each other and for each other, a place where we can be open and honest, a place where we focus on the truths of the Bible.

The whole honesty in small group thing is something I’m just starting to understand. My small group community is made up of amazing, wonderful people. When I first started attending I felt a bit out of a place, and actually quit going for a little while, making up excuses (some legit, some not) about why I couldn’t make it. I was afraid of them. I was afraid, if they only found out who I really was, they would kick me out in a heartbeat. But that’s where I’m wrong, they’re not concerned with who I was because now I am in Christ and I am a new creation.

But back to the point, we need to listen to the Biblical wisdom given to us from our community and respond to God’s Word. Just because there is a Bible in the room, doesn’t mean you’re listening.

The Word is out there and we need to pay attention.

Proverbs 24:11 – Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

Being in community with others isn’t just about friendship, although that is a part of it. But it is also about discipleship.

Part of being in a community is to be missional. Be a disciple and lead others to be disciples. Care for other people, even those who are messing up their lives.

There is nothing like a common interest or task, a mission, to bring people together. We often think that we must bond with people and create strong friendships before we can do a hard job with them. But in actuality, it’s the exact opposite, doing a hard job together or being on mission together, even with strangers, bonds people together in a way that nothing else can. I’ve seen this first hand in Guatemala.

Proverbs 27:10 – Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away.

If you’re in a crisis, it’s better to have nearby assistance from a friend than to have to drive hours to get to family

Although our birth families are important, so is our spiritual family. Jesus said in Mark 3:35 – For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother. We are all a part of Jesus’ family because it is our mission to do the will of God.

My missional community, my small group, IS family. We’ve all been adopted by GRACE into God’s family.

Proverbs 28:13 – Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

I hate admitting when I am wrong. There’s something that is totally just unnatural about it. But I admire those who are. I admire those who can lay all their sins and wrongs out for all to see, and still be happy. I’m working on being one of those people. The first step toward forgiveness is confession. BE REAL!!

Proverbs 10:8 – The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

I’ve got to admit “submissive” isn’t a term that I like very much. In our society, being submissive is equated with being weak. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to come across as weak.

So my pastor showed us a picture of a dog lying on his back, legs in the air, submitting to his master. This is how God wants us to submit. He wants us to submit joyfully, waiting to receive goodness from Him.

Being submissive to God, His Word, and community is needed in order to grow. We need to continue to grow.

The only way we can see God as good is through the Gospel, and if we are convinced God is good, then we will also be convinced that His plan for my life is good. God became man and gave Himself up to give us His righteousness. If we believe that about God, it is easy to submit to Him.

I struggle with picking a side – wise or foolish. I seem to have a problem with bouncing back and forth. So here’s my decision: I want to be in community with the wise. I want to invite the foolish in so that they may experience the greatness of God, but until they make the decision to enter on their own, I will continue to love them and pray for them.

So now that I pick the wise, I struggle with being honest about who I am and where I am in life, although recently I have made great progress in this aspect. I struggle with following God’s will in mission instead of my own. I struggle with submitting to God’s Word instead of the words of the foolish people around me.

Will you take the challenge with me, to remove your mask and let people see who you really are? To be vulnerable and open? The pursue God’s will over your own? To trust God’s Word above all else?


The Words You Say

This morning I was taught a lesson about the words I say, from the sermon at church. I hope my pastor doesn’t mind that I often blog about his sermons. Here’s some of my notes from the sermon, with a few of my own thoughts thrown in there 🙂

“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.” I think that is a lie. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that while I was growing up. But it’s not true. Words can hurt more than any physical pain because the damage of words can’t be healed as quickly and easily as physical injuries.

Proverbs 18:21 – Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

The Power of Words
Our words have the power to hurt people or heal them, it depends on how we use them. Our words don’t have to be eloquent or Shakespearian, they just need to be honest and loving.

Proverbs 12:18 – There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Words have the power to break a heart and inflict an unspeakable amount of damage, but words, if used wisely, also have the power to heal the most shattered of lives. Words can be used like a machete, leaving a mess of destruction in their path or like a scalpel, being used to specifically and precisely heal wounds.

Proverbs 27:6 – Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy

Proverbs 12:25 – Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.

Many of us fall in to one of two categories when it comes to the nature of our speech. We speak the truth, not paying attention to how we come across, the effect our words have on people, or without love and kindness. Or, we speak with kindness, trying to show love and protect those we are speaking to, but never really speaking the truth (this is the category I fall in to). But the problem is, we need to speak with truth and kindness in our words.

Our words should be direct, but also gentle.

Proverbs 15:1 – A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Words have a unique kind of power that can increase the intensity of a situation or they can have the power to calm and restore order to disorder and chaos. How will you choose to use your words?

Proverbs 10:11 – The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. 

The Beauty of Words
Proverbs 24:26 – Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips.

I like the imagery portrayed in this verse. There’s a certain type beauty that is seen/felt in a kiss that is nearly impossible to explain. I mean, sure, you can explain about how a kiss happens, but in that explanation, the beauty of a kiss seems to get lost. So it also is with honesty – the beauty of honesty is hard to explain, but once you’ve seen/felt the beauty of it, you’ll never forget it.

Proverbs 25:11 – A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver

We need to be thoughtful about the words we speak and chose our words carefully. Using the “right words” doesn’t mean that they have to be big $10 words that make you sound like you are the most educated person on earth; the right words and words that are spoken with truth and kindness. 

The Source of Words
Proverbs 15:28 – The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

Do you think before you speak? I know I REALLY struggle with that. I have a huge problem just saying the first thing that pops into my mouth without thinking about the consequences of the things I say. Just because we think/feel something, doesn’t necessarily mean we have to say it. I don’t think most of us would ever intentionally speak words to wound the people we love, but we all do it – too often I think, because we don’t think about our words before we speak them.

Proverbs 4:23 – Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

The righteous man who’s guarding his heart recognizes that he is sinful to the core, and that all the things that originate in his heart don’t need to be spoken. (I wish I had taken more notes during the sermon about this section.)

 

 

When we consider the words we use, we need to think, do we really understand The Word?

John 1:1-3 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

Do we understand that Jesus came to the earth speaking the truth with kindness in his words? He spoke the truth of God, grace, love, and hope. He spoke those words with gentleness and kindness because He loves us more than we can ever imagine. Glorious!

 


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