Give to God

“What can you give to God that He didn’t create and He wants from you?”

The answer to this question that John put before us on Sunday is our sin.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about giving God a gift–especially at Christmastime, when every gift is beautifully wrapped and tied with shiny ribbon–I don’t envision the box containing the ugliest thing I have. I think of things like time, gratitude, worship, love… Those are all things I want to give to my God.

But He already has those things. He created all of them. All of time-past, present and future-He holds in His hands. He has eternity at His disposal. And thanks and praise? He doesn’t need that from me either. I know He desires our praise, and loves a grateful heart but, if I don’t praise Him, the rocks will cry out. His created objects will praise Him if we don’t. He is the author of worship, too. And love? Well, God is love in its fullest form. We only love because He first loved us. He created love, He is love… so He doesn’t need that either.

But there is that one thing God didn’t create. That’s our sin. And while He doesn’t need it, I absolutely agree that He wants it.

Why in the world would God want our nasty, ugly sin? Our hidden addictions? Our monumental failures?

Because He wants to have a relationship with us. With me. With you. And that sin? It separates us from Him. It hinders our relationship. And I believe that it grieves the heart of God when there’s junk between us. Jesus already died for all the junk. If we are followers of Jesus, God has already removed that sin from us–as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12)

But sometimes we hang on, don’t we? We white-knuckle that sin and refuse to let. it. go.

Why? There are a lot of reasons…

Guilt. Shame. Fear. Unbelief that all of our sin really has been forgiven. It can be one of these things or a variety of others. We all have our reasons why we “can’t” let it go. But when we refuse to give God our sin, we are hurting ourselves and erecting a barrier between our hearts and the heart of the One who desires that we live abundant, fruitful lives in relationship with Him.

I read a quote a couple of weeks ago that came to mind while I listened to yesterday’s sermon. It’s from Martin Luther and it hasn’t left my mind since I read it:

“If you try to deal with your sin in your conscience, let it remain there, and continue to look at it in your heart, your sins will become too strong for you. They will seem to live forever. But when you think of your sins as being on Christ and boldly believe that he conquered them through his resurrection, then they are dead and gone. Sin can’t remain on Christ. His resurrection swallowed sin up.”

These words shook my world up a bit. More than a bit. If our sin was swallowed up in the grave when Jesus was raised from the dead, then hanging onto it is like trying to excavate 2,000 years of dirt and rock on our own, dig through the dust of sin that is long gone and attempt to find our particles and piece them back together. It’s not just a daunting task, it’s impossible. Our sins died with Jesus and stayed buried deep in the earth when he rose again. If we’re in Him, our sins are gone. But if we don’t hand over our guilty consciences and believe that that’s true, we’re building a wall between us and God. A wall that can’t be penetrated by any of the other gifts that we could bring Him. We can’t worship our way through our sin wall. No amount of thanks or praise will break it down. Our attempts at loving God won’t destroy it.

The only way to break our sin wall is to let the blood of Jesus be the gift wrapping that covers it. That’s the only way to give our sin to God anyway-wrapped in the blood of His Son who already paid for the gift with the only acceptable form of payment. His life. And when we boldly believe that our sin has been wrapped in the blood of Jesus, given to God and permanently removed from us, we receive a gift in return. The gift we want as much as God wants it for us, even if we don’t realize we do-a free, unhindered, everlasting relationship with our Creator.

Have you given God your sin? Your guilt? Your shame? Have I? What keeps us hanging on to what’s been buried in the grave? I hope and pray that, as this year comes to a close and a new one begins, we can all give God those things that keep us from Him.

–Laura

Like Laura, when I think about the answer to John’s question from Sunday–that God wants my sin, it causes me to want to push back. I, too, want to give Him my gratitude, my worship, my love, my life, and I believe that He is pleased with those offerings; however, if I don’t start at the cross, bringing my sin and allowing it to be wrapped up in the blood of Christ and offered to God, then the barrier between God and me because of my sin keeps me from being able to bring all of the other things that I want to bring. If I think about it even further, my gratitude, my worship, my love, my life are all responses to the fact that I can take my sin to Him, that He doesn’t turn me away, but he receives the “gift” of my sin, and makes me clean and whole in His sight.

2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Think about that for a moment. What kind of beautiful craziness is this? Jesus takes my sin, he receives my gift, and I get to be made right, no longer guilty in the eyes of God.

Romans 8:1 tells us that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  God doesn’t require penance for our sin, He doesn’t disqualify us from His kingdom or His service because of our sin, instead He embraces our sin, lays it upon Jesus and stamps it “paid in full”. In other words, it is taken care of and we don’t have to live with guilt. What kind of love is this??!!

My part is to bring it to Him, to confess my sin, and to trust that what His word says about me is true. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1st John 1:9). There it is again, we confess, we bring it to Him, and He purifies us. The original word “confess” in the Greek is omologomen, which actually means “to speak the same, to agree”, and it is important to note that the original verb form of the word “confess” is a continuing action. I love that definition. It means that I can bring my sin to God, acknowledging it and agreeing with Him that my actions, my thoughts, my words, whatever it was, were not in line with what He desires. It is not an action of self-loathing or of self-shaming, but of agreement that brings me back into fellowship with the God I love and who loves me more than I will ever be able to comprehend, AND it is ongoing. Daily confession is a great practice. Sitting in the presence of God, asking His Holy Spirit to search our hearts and show us areas that we need to confess keeps us in close fellowship with God.  I don’t know about you, but I have a running dialogue with God that goes on all day long-and there are many moments of confession that happen during the course of the day.

I could go on and on about this, because when we “get it” freedom in Christ becomes a reality, and life is never the same. Bringing the gift of my sin to God is actually the most beautiful gift I could give to Him. He paid a high price for that gift. Why? Because He loves us. That’s it. Let that sink in deep. You are loved. You can approach God with the “gift” of your sin, without fear of condemnation, because it has already been paid for in full. It is no longer yours to carry. Give it to Him, and receive fellowship with God in return.

“My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul!” (It is Well With My Soul; Horatio Spafford)

Thoughts?

-Luanne

 

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Bow Your Knees

Psalm 96: 6-7  “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God. We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care.”

As I ponder Sunday’s sermon, and I ponder what it means to kneel before God in adoration, in pursuit, in submission, and in confession, I am struck by the open and outward expression of each person or group of people that John highlighted on Sunday.

The wisemen bowed down and worshiped him. (Mt. 2:11) The humility of that action–grown men bowing to a toddler–it must have looked strange, but they knew that He was God-sent. They knew that He was special. They knew that He was worthy of reverence, of honor, and they used their physical bodies to demonstrate their heart attitude. Do I? Do we?

The rich young ruler chased after Jesus in pursuit of the answer to his questions. John pointed out that he knew how to walk in a religious way, but not in a relationship way. The young man knew enough to know that Jesus had the answers that he was seeking. And he, like the wise men, knew that Jesus was special, different, so he knelt before him in reverence.  Even though the young man chose not to sell his possessions and follow Jesus, he received the answers to his questions. (Luke 18:18-23) The answer wasn’t what he wanted, so he chose religion over relationship, and comfort over sacrifice. Do I? Do we? Do we continue to take our questions to Jesus? Have I transitioned from pursuing answers to pursuing Jesus no matter what the answer is? Have you?

Jesus is the perfect model of submission. His submission was not without wrestling; however in his wrestling, he moved toward God and not away from Him. I love that Jesus is completely honest and totally transparent. He expresses his desired outcome, and then surrenders it all to the will of the Father. To truly follow Christ means to live a life of submission. I think honest wrestling is often involved. The bottom line is, am I secure enough in His love to trust Him? And from that place of love and trust, am I going to choose His will over my own? It’s not always easy. I had a situation last weekend where God brought a need to my attention. I had the means to meet that need, but meeting that need meant giving away an item that I had some emotional attachment to. I knew that the right thing was to give, and I did give; however, I wrestled, and even cried over letting go of an inanimate object that no one in my house is using or will use. I heard Levi Lusko on K-Love later that same day talking about how being obedient to God often goes against our feelings. Learning to trust God and obey Him over what we feel is true submission. Sometimes that’s hard for me. Is it for you?

And then dear Peter, kneeling in confession. (Luke 5). Peter was doing his daily thing. His normal activity. Jesus showed up in the middle of a normal day and all of a sudden the normal day was a sacred, life-changing day. Peter let Jesus use his boat. Peter was willing to cast his fishing net again, despite not catching anything all night, and when the miraculous catch happened, Peter was able to see that Jesus was no ordinary man. Just like the wise men, he was compelled to fall to his knees. He recognized his own sinfulness in the presence of Jesus, and asked Jesus to leave him. He knew that he did not deserve to be in the presence of God. Yet here it is, the beauty of our God–He would not leave. Instead, he issued an invitation. Our sin is a reason to kneel before Jesus–not pull away.  Our honest confession draws us closer to Him. Jesus shows us that our worth is far greater than what the voice of shame whispers to us. He assures us that He’s not going to abandon us, and He issues an invitation that leads to life. Real life. Am I willing to kneel and confess? Are you?

The presence and person of God in our midst, in our lives, is an awe-inspiring miracle. May we not be afraid to outwardly express our thanks, our reverence, our worship. “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord, our God, our Maker…”

–Luanne

“To truly follow Christ means to live a life of submission.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Luanne’s assertion above. Becoming a follower of Christ-beyond simply believing-is all about surrendering our will, this daily dying to self that Jesus spoke about and modeled so perfectly.

Luke 9:23 (NLT): Then he [Jesus] said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me”.

If we truly want to follow, we must choose the way of submission. But we don’t like the sound of that, do we? Somehow, we believe that submission implies weakness. Is that what comes to mind when you hear the word submit? One of the definitions of the word “submission” is: “the act of accepting the authority or control of someone else”. I think sometimes when we hear and use this word, it is with the idea that submission is something that is forced on us. But the definition above uses the words “the act of accepting”. This clearly shows us that submission is a choice. An action, even. We can absolutely choose not to accept the authority or control of someone else. But if that someone else happens to be God, we will find ourselves in a place that can be very dangerous for us. I think of the warning from scripture that John used in the conclusion of Sunday’s sermon:

“But be careful. Don’t let your heart be deceived so that you turn away from the Lord and serve and worship other gods.” Deuteronomy 11:16

See, we can choose not to submit, not to bend our hearts and our knees before God. But we will bow to something. We are built to worship. We will worship and bow and submit whether we’re aware of it or not. My kids’ Advent devotional said this last week:

“Now every heart beating in every person is made and wired to worship something. You might not be able to tell from the outside, but every one of us is bowing down to something. And if you don’t choose to bow to the one real God, you’ll bow down before a fake God–some Baal. See, Baal isn’t just the name of one fake god; it’s the name for anything we set our hearts on besides God. There’s the Baal of bigger toys and the Baal of more stuff and the Baal of me, me, me. It’s always our ugly Baals that keep us from the unstoppable, unfailing love of God.” (Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp)

“The Baal of me, me, me…”

I don’t always want to take up my cross and follow… because I don’t always want to deny myself. Self always gets in the way of living a surrendered life. Because a life lived on bended knee has to begin with bending the heart. And, “the heart is deceitful above all things…” (Jeremiah 17:9)

So how, then, do we turn away from the little “g” gods of self, of stuff, of all that distracts?

Let’s revisit John’s points about kneeling, but this time, let’s go backwards.

We know we are sinful, that our sinful hearts don’t want to bow to our God-so we kneel in confession, like Peter did when Jesus’ holiness magnified his own sinfulness. Once we kneel in confession and we find that the love and forgiveness of God meets us there, we will find the choice to kneel in submission much easier-because we’ve experienced the love of the One we are submitting to. And when we confess and submit and we begin to see just how great our God is, we will long to kneel in pursuit of Him, to ask the hard questions and seek to follow Him as He takes us deeper. And once we have experienced God in these ways, kneeling in adoration comes naturally. Because we’ve been wooed to our knees, not forced there.

To submit, to bow, to kneel-it is always a choice. But not a choice of if we will do things things, because we will. The question is, to what will we submit, bow down to, kneel before? I want my answer to always be Jesus, the One true King. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s family, lists, expectations, control. Often it’s plain and simply: me.

What about you? What do you find yourself bowing down to? What makes it so hard to choose to bow before God in your life? I hope we will all engage in the “honest wrestling” Luanne described earlier, and find ourselves as true followers of Jesus as a result.

–Laura

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“Come to Worship” 12/11/16

Psalm 142: 1- 5 I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. I pour out before him my complaint, before him I tell my trouble. When my spirit grows faint within me,  it is you who watch over my way…Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me.I have no refuge; no one cares for my life. I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” (NIV)

I don’t know that I can even begin to comprehend what Mary must have experienced during her pregnancy and on her way to Bethlehem. What an honor to be chosen to bear the Messiah. How very difficult to be chosen to bear the Messiah. Thank God for her temporary “city of refuge” when she went to visit Elizabeth who didn’t doubt for a moment that the child within her had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. We can only imagine what she had experienced in her village before and after that visit. And then came the decree that she and Joseph would have to travel…third trimester, on foot, on a donkey, aching back, aching feet, concern for where Jesus would be born, concern about food and water for the journey, where they would sleep on the way, would she make it to Bethlehem before the birth—so many things on her mind. Did she pour out her heart? Did she lament? We know that after the shepherds visited the stable that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) Webster’s Dictionary says that the word ponder means “to think or consider especially quietly, soberly, and deeply.”  Was the visit of the shepherds as much for her as it was for them? Was this the moment that God showed up after her honest lamenting, the moment that He reminded her of his faithfulness in the past, of His goodness in the present, and of His power in the future?  I don’t know, but I think it is possible. Did God choose her because she had an honest and authentic relationship with Him?  Did God choose her because He knew she would move through the pain in her lament, or because He knew that she would worship in both the joyful moments and she would worship through crying out in the darkness? Did He choose her because she loved Him deeply and therefore was “real” in her relationship with Him? I know that God desires “real” from us. It’s the only way to have an authentic relationship with anyone, God included.

I believe with all I am that we can pour out what is going on inside of us to God BECAUSE He is our refuge. He is our safe place. He is safe. The words “save” and “safe” come from the same Latin word; therefore we can safely pour out our hearts to the safe God who saves. Let’s not be afraid to let  it out and find our peace in Him.

-Luanne

Aside from where we are told that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”, her only other words regarding her pregnancy that are recorded are found in her song. Her song begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord…” and continues in a tone of praise and adoration of God.  There is nothing recorded of her lamenting…yet, there must have been moments where she “poured out her heart like water” (Lamentations 2:19) in the safety of the presence of the One she so glorified. I say “must have been” because I don’t believe we can get to a place where we pour out praise and glorify our God to the extent Mary was able to do without first traversing the valley of lamenting. Mary’s words in her song bubble over with joy, humility and gratitude. Luke 1:46-50 reads:

“Oh, how my soul magnifies the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me. He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.”

These are not the words of a heart that is lamenting but, rather, the words of one whose heart had lamented. The words of a woman whose soul found rest in God alone and came out of the refuge of His Presence with unshakable hope and the belief that her salvation and honor depended solely on Him.(Psalm 62:5-7).

Mary knew what it meant to trust God. To rely on Him as her place of refuge. She had to. Her situation was impossible, frightening and dangerous outside of the promises God had made to her. She had a choice. Would she trust her God with her life and her future? Would she believe Him over the voices around her that must have been loud and accusing? Would she continue to run to Him alone for refuge? She made a choice to say yes to the God who chose her. And out of the depth of her trust, we see a richness in her faith. I can only imagine the intimacy of relationship Mary shared with her Father… as a result of her willing yes. And, I believe, a willingness to be what she already was: vulnerable and real.

We don’t have any proof that Mary lamented. But based on the way she related to her God, I believe she did. Sometimes the evidence is in what was recorded and not what wasn’t. I believe Joseph had to be pretty great at lamenting, too, but that’s a thought for another time…

-Laura

“The radicals and the revolutionaries and the reflective-they are the ones on the road, in the fields, on the wall, pointing to the dawn of the new Kingdom coming, pointing to the light that breaks through all things broken, pointing to redemption always rising and the Advent coming again. Brilliant people don’t deny the dark; they are the ones who never stop looking for His light in everything.”

I came across these words in my Advent devotional this morning. The whole four pages of today’s entry were captivating. I knew as I read it that there was something in there that connected to what we heard preached in church yesterday. But I couldn’t put my finger on it until this evening. When I returned to the devotion, the words about jumped off the page at me:

“Brilliant people don’t deny the dark; they are the ones who never stop looking for His light in everything.”

Isn’t that what pouring our hearts out authentically before God is?? When we honestly pour out our hearts in the safety of God’s presence, we are not only not denying the dark-we are acknowledging it. We are acknowledging the darkness around us-AND!-the darkness within us! Right? And when we do this-when we honestly acknowledge the dark and pour it out, what are we doing? Aren’t we looking for His light in everything?

If we bring all of our stuff to our very safe God who saves us–all of the ugly, all of the dark, all of the time–His light tears through our darkness, through the dark clouds of our soul, and we come away from our pouring out, our lamenting, brilliant. Brilliant because His light always overpowers our darkness. But we have to be willing to bring our darkness to Him before He can overpower it.

Brilliant people aren’t the independent, the self-made, the exceedingly intelligent ones. We are brilliant when we take our tarnished souls to the Light. When we let the dark clouds let go of their rain and “pour out [our] hearts like water in the presence of the Lord” (Lamentations 2:19). We can’t drive out our own darkness. We can’t brighten what’s tarnished on our own. Only the Light, the Truth,  the unconditional Love we experience as we pour out our hearts can make us shine-can make us brilliant.

—Laura

I love what Laura wrote. It reminds me of my favorite Martin Luther King Junior quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  

 “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”  We must learn to bring our darkness to The Light. John’s sermon on learning to pour out our hearts, our lament as a form of worship was powerful. We don’t often think of lamenting as worship, and in our western Christianity mindset, we have a tendency to think that in order to be a good Christian, we need to have our act together and be “happy” at all times. However, if we look at the beautiful example of lamenting in scripture, we realize that what God truly desires is for us to bring our true, authentic, messy selves to Him. Only then, can we have a real relationship with Him. Anything else is just pretense.

And, in order to bring our true, authentic, messy selves to Him, we have to KNOW that He is our refuge, our safe place (Ps 142:5)…we have to KNOW that “He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.” (Ps 102: 17). We have to trust that He included lament in His word to let us know that He wants to meet us in that place.

In my own story, there was a time that I was certain that God did not want my messy self, so I tried to pretend like the darkness, the complaints, the discontent, the pain didn’t exist and did my best to bury it within. Well…darkness cannot drive out darkness, so it stayed within. I became numb to my feelings, I became critical, negative, and I became self-destructive. The darkness was not going to be driven out. As I grew in my relationship with the Lord, and realized that I don’t have to pretend (truly, He knows it all anyway), and I began to bring my pain, my questions, my wrestling to Him–that’s when He began His real work of transformation in my life.

Even as I write this, I can picture myself lying on the floor in the dark with worship music playing in the background, pouring out my heart to the Lord, sometimes with sobs, sometimes with fists pounding on the floor. And the beautiful thing–The Light comes. He meets me there. And then, the most incredible thing happens…gratitude. The realization that I am not alone, that He is with me, that He is faithful, that He cares. I don’t always get a “quick fix” or the answer that I desire, but I do get peace and an awareness of His presence, a closeness that is hard to find anywhere else. Like Jeremiah, I can pour out my “19 verses” of raw and real, and then say “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:21-23)

What about you? Have you experienced His great love, His brilliance in seasons of lament?

–Luanne

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