Is Loneliness a Sin?

Creepy Forest

Is loneliness a sin?

I found myself asking that question in prayer recently.  In retrospect, it sounds a little bit silly, but at the time it didn’t. It was a raw, serious question.  As a single, middle-aged Christian, loneliness is not an unusual occurrence for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total loner. I have a lot of acquaintances. I have some friends. But I have few deep connections, particularly with people who love and live for the Lord. I’ve found at my age it’s just plain hard to make real, authentic connections.

And last week was just one of those weeks I felt it.  Surrounded by people everywhere, yet alone.  (Make that a few weeks ago. I had to let this marinate and decide if I really wanted to go public with this one.)

We know that all we need we find in our relationship with our loving Father, right? He is our sustainer, provider, confidante. He calls us “friend”.  So when I do get lonely, I have at times felt guilty, like I shouldn’t.  Well-meaning people will tell you to just pray and it will all be okay.  I’ve decided that most of those people go home to their families and haven’t got a clue.

But does God desire us to live lives in social isolation, as long as we’re seeking Him daily?

So let’s start with the basics. Like, right back to Genesis basics. God didn’t really think making us for a solo flight was the best idea. He cracked a rib right out of Adam so that he would have a helper and companion. God could not find a suitable helper in all other creation for Adam. I’m not even getting at the whole male/female thing here. Just the people/people thing. If God felt like Adam needed companionship aside from himself (and mind you, this was in the idyllic, pre-fall, walking with the Lord in the cool of the day phase), then I’m pretty sure God doesn’t think life is meant to be lived in (relative) isolation from other humans today, either.

What about Jesus commanding us to love others as ourselves? Do you think that has any application to seeking community? How can you actually love others as yourself if it’s just you and God in your prayer closet, shutting out the world? No, God designed us as relational creatures.

So if you still aren’t convinced and think no, Jesus really is all we need, then loneliness could be a sin. Failing to trust in God completely and all that, right? So what shall we say, then, about King David? He dealt with his fair share of loneliness. In Psalm 25:16 he says “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted,” (NIV).  What about Elijah hanging out in a cave, believing he was the only surviving prophet? I’d be willing to bet he felt some loneliness. I guess if you think having feelings of loneliness at all is a sin, then they were guilty of it, and the Bible proves it.

I say loneliness by itself is not sinful. (Or any emotion, for that matter.) It’s what we do in that emotional state that has the potential to become a problem. Even sinful. Loneliness, or any emotion, brings us the opportunity to draw nearer to God or take us farther from God. In all because of unchecked, unbalanced emotions.

In the frenzy of my unchecked, unbalanced emotions, do I try to deal with them in prayer like David did? Do I cry out to God and lay that messy and raw, but very real, bucket of feelings at the cross and bring Him into the middle of it? Or do I just go straight into enemy territory (really, it’s the territory the enemy is just waiting for me to venture into) and let the emotions take over completely, dictating my next thoughts and actions, watching them tumble like perfectly lined up dominoes?

How many times have I not even paused before I suddenly realize I’ve given in, yet again, to the lies of my emotional state? And when I do that, I often go one step further and use something other than God to fill the void. Now my loneliness has turned into sin.

God knows me. God knows my situation. Everything about it. He also knows that we have emotions. He wants us to come to Him with everything.  Everything. And that’s a learned behavior, but it can be learned.  Thank you, Jesus!


Psalm 25

Who is the man who fears the Lord?
    Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
His soul shall abide in well-being,
    and his offspring shall inherit the land.
 The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
    and he makes known to them his covenant.
 My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
    for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
    bring me out of my distresses.
 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
    and forgive all my sins.


But Your Mess Is Messier Than My Mess!



Not too many days ago I stumbled across a comment on social media somebody had made about their repugnance for the choice of sermon prepared by the pastor that morning and how it was clearly not the best use of her time. The sermon’s topic? The Prodigal Son.

If you don’t know this parable, you can read it in Luke 15 (and please do, it’s a beautiful story), but here is a brief synopsis: A man has two sons, one is the good son, who does everything right-a real daddy’s boy. Then there’s the other son. This kid is selfish and demanding. He decides he doesn’t want to follow the rules, so he’s going to go out on his own and do it his way. Oh, and by the way, Dad, give me my inheritance now. Can you even imagine asking your parents such a thing? But the father gives it to him, and he uses it to get in all kinds of trouble. All kinds. Until the money runs out. Then he decides to go back home and see if  Dad will let him be a hired servant. Meanwhile, the other brother is back at home being the perfect and awesome son that he is.  But, when Dad sees the younger son coming down the road, the son who was took his money and squandered it, the son who was disrespectful in a time where disrespecting your parents was SERIOUSLY uncool,  he takes off running to meet his son. Terribly undignified for the dad to run, by the way. But run, he did! Then he tells the servants to start preparing a party. A massive blowout. Dad welcomed back his son, who the Bible refers to as the Prodigal, not as a servant, but as his son, just as though he’d never left.

And his older brother was ticked off. He was the one who stayed to help dad. He was the one who followed the rules. ALL of them.  He didn’t squander anything. And HE never got a party.

And so was the person who posted about the sermon being a waste of her Sunday morning. She wasn’t just arguing that her pastor was giving the prodigal too much air time, she had a beef with the Bible putting him in such a favorable light.  Light bulb moment here: the prodigal isn’t shown in a favorable light. He is a mess. But this parable isn’t so much about the character of the sons, it’s about the character of the father.  It’s to show us the character of THE Father, despite the character, or especially in light of, the character of His creation.  God is is overjoyed when we, the hot messes, make our way back after telling him we can do it our own way. So for my friend who made the post, I sadly think she has completely forgotten, or never really understood, the amazing grace of God that He shows through redeeming us from our mess.

But let’s go back to the older brother. We all have to be mindful of the Older Brother that has the potential to lurk within us. When we encounter people who don’t know Christ, living like prodigals, we have to remember that they don’t live by our ‘code of ethics’. So don’t place that on them and cast your judgment for how poorly they perform. Remember that we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and need a Savior. There are some messed up people out there, folks! We are living in times where people seem to be exchanging the truth of God for lies at a record pace. Evil is not idle. But there is still a God who redeems the lost and hurt, and He can reach the worst of them! Praise His name for that! So when they come walking through the door, instead of demanding your goat (read the story!), go help get the party ready for the prodigals who have come home. Welcome them in! Whatever is in their past, do not it compare to yours. Jesus’ blood still has cleaning power.

But what about what we do to each other? Or have you completely mastered the art of not judging and comparing yourself to anybody else? Don’t lie.

I had a very humbling moment a last week.  I have her permission to share this. A couple of weeks ago a young woman I know, Bethany, who loves the Lord with all her heart, announced via posting pictures on Facebook that she was expecting a baby.  She looked so happy in her pictures. But I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. She’s not married. In my mind, all I could think of was, ‘doesn’t anybody pursue holiness anymore’?  Every time I saw her post for about a week, this would go through my head. Folks, this is classic older brother. Her sin is bigger than my sin.  This one is often subtle. But after about a week, the Holy Spirit wasn’t so subtle with me. I was sitting in our Bible class at church and it hit me. She didn’t even know. But I knew. And God knew.  Even though she didn’t know I had sinned against her, I knew I had to ask her to forgive me.

The Older Brother is made possible because of something called “comparative righteousness”.  It’s pretty simple, really. If you get any sense of righteousness by assessing how you stack up compared to somebody else, that’s comparative righteousness. (This also works in reverse–if you believe somebody, compared to you or another, is more righteous in their standing with God.) We do not earn righteousness in comparison to others.  There is only one standard of holiness by which we are compared and that’s God Himself. And every single one of us falls terribly short. Thankfully, Romans 3:22 tells us that for those who put their faith in Christ, we receive his righteousness. Whew! 

So after a week of lamenting about one girl’s choices that could have been time spent dealing with my own poor choices, the Spirit gave me a smack down (as he is apt to do once in a while) and said “Ahem! She is not your problem! YOU are your problem!”

Oh yeah.  All of MY sin. Worrying about another’s sin doesn’t do anything to help me confront my own. It just adds to my own with my judgments and harsh words.

We will never become more holy by attempting to mitigate the sin in our own life by putting a spotlight on the sin of another, or showing how farther on the scale of “bad” their sin is. It doesn’t work that way.  God deals with us individually.  And yes, there is room to approach a brother/sister with a sin issue (see Galatians 6:1-3), but that’s not really the issue we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing with good, old fashioned judgment and deflection.  It keeps you from giving grace to the one you judge, and it keeps you from seeing the need for grace in your own life.

Let’s take one last look at the story in Luke 15 for some perspective. It’s about a loving father. Okay, we know that’s representing God. And the prodigal is representing sinners. But since we are all sinners, why is there a good brother and a bad brother? Who does the older brother represent? The Pharisees. These guys felt entitled to the kingdom of God based on their own righteousness, through their actions. NOT through their love for God and others. Nope. By showing how good they were, by having all the right moves and making sure everybody knew about it. They were the kings of comparative righteousness!  They didn’t need grace, or so they thought.

How can we keep from falling into that trap? Be free with grace. When you are free in your grace towards others, there is little room for self-righteous judgment. And when we do that, we are open to the Holy Spirit to move in and work in our own lives. We can work on our own mess. And thank the Lord that He promises to keep working on our messes until we are complete!

Bethany was full of grace for me. I’m thankful for that. I am grateful for a God who has enough grace to lavish on anyone who seeks His face.  So the next time we find ourselves letting that inner Pharisee come out, seek His face in that very moment. Praise Him for his grace and mercy. I’m willing to bet that voice of judgment slinks away with nothing to say.




That was then, and this is now.

photo credit: Nick Thompson (Instagram: nat.ural_photography)
photo credit: Nick Thompson (Instagram: nat.ural_photography)


Everybody has a past.  When we come to Christ, we come with our flaws, hurts and stains from the burden of sin we’ve carried. We may look at ourselves in comparison to another and think we’re pretty good, but make no mistake, the only comparison God looks at is how you and I measure up to His standard.  Not how I do compared to you, or you to me.  And by the holy standard, we all have some pretty messed up pasts!

But at the cross, God arranged for an exchange for those who would take him up on this free gift of his grace. We can exchange that past, which with absolute certainly will lead us to condemnation, for righteousness–Christ’s righteousness.  That is a pretty sweet deal.  (If you have not taken advantage of this deal yet, please click here.)

But that past. Maybe it was bad. Maybe it brought you shame. Maybe you did hard time for it.  Maybe you think it’s so bad that even though God forgave you, you can’t get past it. Whatever it is, the past doesn’t seem to be staying in your past.

So first let’s look at a where your past stands with God.  Paul tells the Corinthian church, and all of us,  that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has past away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).  Our old selves, our past, is gone. BOOM. We’re new creations!  In Psalm 103 David tells us that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us”. That’s far enough away that God stopped keeping score. Finally, Colossians 2:14 says our legal debt (sin) was cancelled. The book in the ledger that was used to keep account of our sin? It was torn out, stamped with cancelled (in Jesus’ blood) and nailed to the cross.  Getting the picture yet? God doesn’t see that sin in your account anymore.

So if God, has stopped holding it against you, why do you hold it against yourself? You are not who you were. Remember, you are a new creation. In Romans 12, Paul says we can avoid conforming to the world by transforming our minds. That means it’s possible to transform your mind by how you think about things, including yourself and who you are. Start seeing yourself as the child of God and co-heir with Christ that you are.  Stop buying into the lie of “I was always, so I always will be”.  You don’t have to live in that past, no matter who would have you believe that, including the devil.  That was then, and this is now.

Now, one caveat before we move on. Sometimes our actions hurt other people. If you have something that God is leading you to go to that person to seek forgiveness for, that’s another issue.  If you feel doing that may actually do more harm to the other person, please seek wise counsel from a pastor or elder.

So now that we agree that once our faith for salvation is firmly placed in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins that our account is clear, we can walk free of the guilt and condemnation of that past.  Romans 8 is a great read for the freeing up from life in the flesh to life in the Spirit.

And that righteousness of Christ that covers our past sins? It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Why? Friends, have you ever felt burdened in your walk that you’re not doing enough,  not serving enough, not sanctified enough, not a lot of things enough? I know I have.  On more than one occasion I’ve lamented on how I’m just not “good enough” as a Christian.  Oh boy. I am not hanging out in this wire alone, either!

Somehow, the wires got crossed or there was a short circuit. We are more than down for trading our filthy rags for Christ’s righteousness when it comes to salvation and eternity, yet in this life, we revert back to thinking we’re on our own to work it out. Or was I the only one who fell for that?   That’s right, we have spent too much time and energy back in the power of “me”, haven’t we?  Have you tried to be “good enough” and just found you couldn’t do it?  This is exactly why! Because we slipped back into working our own way instead of letting it be the righteousness of Christ that defines our goodness and worthiness.  This really came to light for me when I saw a follow of Christ concerned that they weren’t going to be ready for Christ to return, and did they need to “do” more.  Actually, it woke me up like a bucket of ice over the head. Can you see if you break it down in those terms, though perhaps extreme, that “readiness” was became the responsibility of the redeemed, NOT the Redeemer? This is a works based salvation disguised as sanctification.

Our righteousness as believers is imputed from Christ. It is our only righteousness. If you’ve fallen into the trap of walking out your faith as a continued path towards righteousness, please realize you are walking outside of what Christ did for you on the cross. You’re adding to it. All we need is faith alone in, in Christ alone, “not as a result of works, that no one may boast”. (Ephesians 2:9)

If you ever feel like you’re not good enough because of, well, you fill in the blank, stop that too. You’re also overlooking the present and continuing covering of Christ’s righteousness. You don’t think you’re as pious as Friend X? That’s fine. You have the righteousness of Christ. You just can’t seem to have the heart to serve others the way Friend Z does? That’s okay, you have the righteousness of Christ. You weren’t perfect? First, welcome to the club. Second, that’s alright. You have the righteousness of Christ. The devil may try to drag you down and make you think you should be more, or be like somebody else. Whatever. You have the righteousness of Christ.

Whatever that past may have been, that was then. And this is now. Walk boldly!

Mocking Grace?


It’s Holy Week. Thursday, to be specific. This was the day Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples and then took the bread and wine, and told them to eat of the bread, his body, that would be broken and drink of the wine, that was the new covenant–his shed blood poured out for the sins of the world.  This sacrifice, this shedding of blood that had to take place if you or I (or anybody) could have atonement for our sins,  by the grace of the Father. That fact that we even have a chance at salvation is purely because of the great grace of God.  We sure don’t deserve it. But that’s what grace is–getting something you don’t deserve.

The sheer magnitude of this grace should overwhelm you. If it doesn’t just try to comprehend, though I’m not sure we can even scratch the surface of it, what it must have been like for Jesus to hang on the cross and take on the full wrath of God for your sins and mine.  I can’t even begin to imagine. Yet Jesus did it. The human part of him, mind you. The part of him that was flesh and bone. The part that felt physical pain and human emotion. The humanness of Jesus hung on that cross.  Yet in his humanness, perfect and sinless.

That day the world was ushered into the fullness of grace. We were freed from the law. We no longer had to try in vain (Romans 7) to uphold the Law that we just could not.  We have grace, through Christ Jesus. And this grace frees us! But to what? To live with reckless abandon and shout “grace” and know that God will cover all of our sins?  Paul may start off Romans 8 with “there is now no condemnation”, but he also says if the Spirit is in us (which it is in all believers), then we should not operate in the realm of the flesh.  In Galatians 5:1 Paul says Christ liberated us, so we should not go back and take up the yoke of slavery. This is to say, don’t go back to the old manner of life you lived, in bondage to sinful ways and  habits.

Here’s the deal. I’m a little saddened. Recently another big name in Christian circles has stumbled.  People stumble, I get it. I don’t hold that against this person. People make mistakes. People can be forgiven and people can be restored. But two things really got me, and I don’t think they are unconnected. The first was some pictures surfaced which show  poor judgment at best. I’ll leave it there.  The second thing is so many people on social media explaining away these behaviors either by 1) manipulating the word of God (i.e., it doesn’t apply anymore, that was so long ago and our culture is different) or; 2) playing the grace card.

Here’s what I’m going to say about the first. God doesn’t change, nor does his word. You can fool yourself into thinking he only meant it for some people but not you. You are being deceived, my friends. Make your choices based on the truth–the Word of God. Can’t really go wrong there.

As for the latter…the grace card. Yes, by all means our God is FULL of grace and mercy.  But he is also a righteous judge. He has also made some things clear about how we are to conduct ourselves SO AS to separate ourselves from the culture of today, whatever time period that may be. Are we always going to get things 100% right? Of course not! And that’s what grace is for! I submit to you, grace is NOT for you to live how you choose, thumbing your nose to the truth , all the while claiming grace will cover you. The theological term for that is antinomianism. It’s often called “cheap grace” or “hyper grace”.  And it’s wrong.  The apostle John says if we say we know Christ but fail to keep his commands, we’re lying–we don’t know him. Ouch. (I John 2:4).  But I saw comment after comment effectively saying “just do you”. NO! NO NO NO! We aren’t called to live like that. We are called to deny ourselves. Your flesh is still going to want to do a lot of things contrary to what the Spirit of God leads us to do. That is why we deny ourselves. That is why we must pick up our crosses and die to ourselves daily. And for a high profile person to be making choices that very much suggest impropriety, whether it’s happening or not, leads people to think it’s okay. Even if it’s subconsciously.  (Not to mention the witness this is to non-believers! Ugh!)

So if you even contemplate for a moment the concept of grace being a permission slip to live in any manner you choose, and you can even bring me back your doctoral dissertation why antinomianism is not dangerous, then I would submit to you for your consideration simply this: Let’s go back to imagining our perfect savior hanging on the cross, bearing the full wrath of God so that we might live. So that we might have freedom. Let’s ponder the magnitude of this Jesus, fully God but fully man in a human body, feeling that crown of thorns dig in to his head. The pain he took from the scourging. His hands and feet with nails driven through them. Every breath excruciating. But he chose that for you. And for me.

So I ask you, this Jesus who thought you were worth all that, is he worth more your mocking his grace?

Daddy’s Little Girl


Have you ever struggled with self-image? Or battled wanting to be accepted by others? Or just wondered how God really, truly sees you?  If that has never been an issue for you, I applaud you! Tell us your secret!  You belong to a rare breed.   Most of us, though, have dealt with these issues in varying degrees. For some it’s not been a big challenge, but for others, it’s been a stumbling block. I fall into that last category, and I know I’m not alone.  There are times when I go for pretty good stretches where the I tamp it down and keep it under control, and at other times, it seems to dominate too much of my thought process.

I haven’t written a post in a couple of weeks specifically because I fell right into that hole of self-doubt. But as it would happen, we just started the Armor of God study by the amazing Priscilla Shirer. It took just a couple of days to realize what was going on, and now the train is getting back on track.  As the study points out, and as any follower of Christ needs to not just know, but grab hold of and never let go, is that we must funnel everything through the filter of truth. TRUTH. Not what I think is a convenient truth. Not what the world is manipulating into it’s convenient truth, but THE truth. The unchangeable word of God.

Much of my life I have felt just plain not good enough. And I assume nobody else thinks I’m good enough, either. And it makes me want to just give up. God can’t use me! God wouldn’t want to use me! I actually had somebody, many years ago, tell me God would never use ‘somebody like me’.  Here’s the thing: he wasn’t authorized to speak for God, but I let those words knock me down as if God himself spoke them to me from the burning bush. Why? I never compared it against the truth!

This last week of contemplating all of this, and realizing all of the lies I fall prey too has made me come to one conclusion. That stupid devil managed to turn me into a weapon against myself! And I KNOW I’m not alone! Ladies in particular, we can be our own worst enemies with these battles we fight over self image.

And speaking of image…we all have a desire to be accept and belong. God didn’t create us to fly solo, we are meant to do life in fellowship with others. But as much as my own beating of myself is leaving me in defeat, so is spending a lot of energy worrying about gaining the approval of others. Of course it’s nice. Until it becomes something we are putting so much effort (including emotional energy) to get, and beating ourselves up if we don’t. Then it’s taken a position in your life that’s unhealthy and perhaps pushing the boundary of a little false idol?  Emotions can start to take on an unhealthy place in the order of things we worship, and it’s so subtle you hardly notice until the balance is so out of whack, everybody around you is noticing. That’s never good!

So we want to belong, and we want to be thought well of, and that’s all great. Until it consumes you. Until it robs you of your peace.  So how do we get the peace back when we aren’t getting the things we thought were going to give us the peace in the first place? Keep praying and begging God for them? I guess you can try that.  But let’s consider something else. Maybe He wants you to use that filter we talked about. Truth.

Maybe we need to stop striving for all of that for a bit and sit down at Jesus feet with our Truth and figure out who we really are? My self-image is not serving me well. Your need to get others’ to approve of you hasn’t panned out quite like you’d hoped. Somebody tried to make you feel small with hurtful words. But what is the TRUTH? Jesus said the truth (holding to his teaching) would make us free. I think if we can grasp the truth of who we are in Christ, how our Father truly sees us, and let that saturate into our hearts and minds, then we won’t need to worry about the approval of others. And when the enemy comes with the lies to make us believe we aren’t good enough, we’ll already know what our Daddy thinks. And stupid comments people make? The more we know the Truth of God’s word, the less those words will even penetrate our airspace, friends!

We are beloved children of God! Do you know how much he loves you?  If you are following Jesus Christ, having proclaimed him as your Savior and Lord, you already know that God loves you enough to have given you the gift of salvation by way of sacrificing his own son, by his grace alone. We didn’t do a darn thing to earn that. That’s love!  (If you have not taken the step of faith and confessed Christ as your savior and lord of your life, did you know that God loves you SO much, that he gave his only son to pay the penalty for your sins and my sins? That penalty is death. But Jesus paid it for those who would accept the gift. Want to learn more? Go here. )

So how does God see you and me? Check this out. You and I are truly his kids. Not just because he created humanity. But because when we call on Christ as savior, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and the Spirit brokered our adoption as sons and daughters. (Romans 8:15). We are now co-heirs with Christ! (Romans 8:17). Co-heirs! That means we have are partakers of the divine nature. That means we will one day rule and reign with Christ. Colossians 3:23 tells us we receive the inheritance of the Lord as our reward. THAT is how highly God looks upon his children. But let’s not forget, this isn’t about how super awesome WE are so that we think we have reason to be prideful. This is ALL about how super awesome Christ is!

Let’s go back to verse 15 for a second, because this is really cool. Paul (the writer of the letter to the Roman Christians) says we cry out to God as “Abba, Father”.  Every major translation uses this word “Abba”.   This was an Aramaic word (the language spoken by Jesus and the apostles) which best translates to “papa”. It’s sometimes translated as “daddy”.  Can you think of a more tender way that a child refers to the father that they look to for their whole world? For unconditional love, provision, to chase away your fears?   Now I ask you, do you think of God that way? Is that weird to you to think of the Almighty God, perfect and holy, as your daddy? It was a little strange to me at first. I actually thought it might be slightly sacrilegious. I did run it by somebody much wiser than me to be sure I was not out of line when I was just starting on my walk of faith. (Thanks, Misty!) If it’s odd to you, know this: that’s the tenderness and affection with which God looks at you. You don’t earn it. You don’t have to scramble for it. You don’t have to prove anything to him. He just loves you like that. He is still a sovereign and just God, but He is a God of great love for us. I would encourage you, if you find this strange, to work on this in prayer time.

So that’s our first truth. No matter what, God loves us. Unconditionally. I can’t make him love me more as a follower of Christ by the stuff I do to serve him. I can’t make him love me less by the stuff I don’t do. His love for me isn’t going to change. He calls me daughter and I call him Daddy and I have an inheritance because of my adoption through Christ, not by anything I have done to earn the privilege. Truth.

Second truth: striving for the approval of the world/others and the approval of God is the same as serving two masters, and cannot work. Jesus said in the parable of the shrewd manager (Matthew 6, Luke 16) we cannot serve two masters or we will end up hating one. He was speaking specifically about money, but this applies to anything that would divide our loyalty from our master, Christ Jesus. If you are so busy pleasing other people and doing everything you can to get their approval, where is seeking God and his ways in all of that?  Paul tells us pretty plainly in Galatians 1:10 that if we are trying to please man, we CAN’T be a servant of Christ. He’s telling us right there it just doesn’t work.  James goes even further. He has some pretty harsh words, actually. He says “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)  Paul, James and Jesus are all pretty clear on whose opinion really matters.  So if you are living by the Spirit, loving and serving the Lord, loving and serving others and you aren’t getting the approval of others? So what! In the words of Princess Elsa, let it go. Your God in heaven sees you.

One other note on the approval of others. This also goes for the approval of other Christians. It’s nice to have it, but it’s still not what our motivating force is. Or it shouldn’t be. And to that end, may I just suggest we all check ourselves in light of this gem of a verse for some deep soul searching:

      Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by  them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,  so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4, ESV)

What is Jesus warning us about here? Are we not supposed to let anybody know that we do good deeds? No, not at all. The above scripture reference is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Also in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says to “let your light shine before others so that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16, NIV)  So which is it?  It’s your motivation, and it’s your method. Jesus is saying when we are letting our lights shine, naturally good things will flow from that. And people will naturally notice them. We won’t need to call attention to ourselves. And when they do notice, the glory, every last bit of it, goes to God and not us.  He is saying if you are doing anything to get noticed by people, you are also getting noticed by God and it’s NOT in a good way. If you’re going out of your way to make sure people know what great things you are doing for God’s kingdom (and it’s tempting, I know. Trust me, I know), I ask you to pray about it and ask God to reveal anything to you He would desire you to see about your motivation. As a recovering people pleaser and approval addict, I can share with you something I categorize as a “Holy Ghost Smack down”.  Are you familiar with crowns we have the potential to earn as rewards? Among other rewards we will get, there are five crowns available to believers mentioned in the New Testament. (Here is a good summary.) But here’s what got me. I heard somebody say recently they believed the only reason we are given crowns is because we will have nothing we can carry over with us to present to Jesus. (Think about the 24 elders in Revelation 4:10.) It really got me thinking about motivation for every act of service. Because I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to shower Christ with the adoration he is due. I want my works to be for his adoration.

Another truth? Jesus tells us pretty plainly: seek first the kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33) Seek first thing kingdom of God and then what? All things will be added unto you! So what is the truth here? If you are striving for the things of God, walking in his ways, sticking to his side, THEN all things will be added unto you. What kind of all things? Well, let’s with an easier yoke and a lighter burden. (Matthew 11:30). Sound good to anybody? How about life and one more abundant at that? (John 10:10).  Still not quite convinced? How about treasures stored up in heaven that cannot be destroyed? (Matthew 6:19).  Sisters (and brothers!) you can gain all the approval you want from this world and the people in it. You can have cars and big houses and best selling books and fame. And not a single lick of that is going to matter on judgement day. And none of it is going to cross over with you.

We can’t seek the approval of God and the approval of the world. Truth. If we seek first God and his kingdom (with undivided hearts), then he will add good things to us. Truth.

We have to learn to seek out the truth. Paul tells the way to avoid being conformed to this world is by the renewing of our minds! (Romans 12:2) How do we do that? By saturating ourselves with God’s truth! We thought we had it all figured out, that our ways were working, but they didn’t bring us much peace, did they? They didn’t bring us peace with God, that’s for sure! And when we fall prey to the lies of the enemy about our identity in Christ, or our need for the approval of anybody but God, that is a huge breach in our peace. So we follow the advice of Proverbs 3:5 and we “Trust in the Lord with all our hearts (forget our ways and negative thoughts) and lean not on your own understanding” (but lean on the truth of the word of God!) TRUTH!

Heavenly Father, thank you that you call us your sons and daughters and that we can call you our daddy. Thank you for your tender love for us. Thank you that as our earthly fathers do, your love provides not just love but correction. There is truly no God like you. I am so in awe that I love and serve you, the God of all creation who spoke all things into existence, the eternal God, yet I can cry to you and know you hear and love me with such great tenderness and care. I pray all who have been adopted as your sons and daughters through Christ Jesus would know and experience this love of yours.  In Jesus’  Name.

No Greater Love Than This….

dreamstime_m_61060211Today is February 14th. Valentine’s Day. The day we celebrate love for that special person in our lives. And if the marketers are successful, we’ve spent lots of money to prove it.

But what IS love, really?  And what did Jesus (and the Bible) say about loving others?

In Matthew 22, we see the Pharisees and Sadducees trying to trip Jesus up. One Pharisee asked him what of all the commandments was the greatest. Not because he was curious about Jesus’ take on it, but because he was hoping to catch him in a trap of words. As we know, He answered that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds. But he added, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. (Matthew 22:39).  I think that pretty tidily answers any questions about what Jesus says about loving others, don’t you?  And let’s note here, he does not qualify “others”.  He doesn’t say “others who look like you”, or “others who vote like you do” or “others who agree with you about things” or (hold on to your knickers, folks) “others who sin in a way you find acceptable”, or even “others who believe the same things about Me that you do”.  Nope, he said “others”.

So before I get any deeper in this, let me just be blunt here. JESUS SAYS LOVE EVERYBODY. That does not mean you endorse everything about them or what they do. Got it? Good.  Jesus says that is how we are set apart to be known as his disciples, by our love for one another. (See John 13).

How can we do this? Because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19).  The love of God abiding IN us isn’t supposed to stay there and stagnate. It moves you to action. Loving others is an action.

Let’s just pause here and talk about social media. I love it as much as anybody.  But it can be a minefield. I know I’ve stepped on some mines and I will admit to having set one or two. It will not take you very long to go find a site where people are fighting, bickering, or just being downright ugly in the name of Jesus (or religion). May I suggest this flies in the face of being known by our love? We may think we are tearing others down anonymously, but don’t think for one moment that God doesn’t have access to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and everything else. It’s ugliness and it turns off non-believers. They have every right when they see it to call us hypocrites. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations. He never told us to go win arguments.

Rewind back to love as an action.  I would hazard a guess that most folks are at least vaguely familiar with 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and the “Love” statements. But for those who aren’t, here is what the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

” Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  (English Standard Version).

Paul, by the way, is not sending the Corinthian church a Valentine’s Day card. Here is telling the church, who was getting a little bit worked up about seeking and striving for spiritual gifts, that while the gifts of the Spirit are great, there is one thing that they must have or the gifts are meaningless–love.

So look at Paul’s words. Paul isn’t saying that love is being nice to somebody who is nice to you. Or that love is when you get the fluttery feeling in your stomach. (That might just be bad sushi, anyway.) Love is action. Love is work. Whether this is love between spouses, parents/children, friends, or people you’ve never met, loving others is more than a feeling. It’s doing things you don’t want to do. It’s sacrificial.  It’s thinking of others more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It’s carrying each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:20).  It’s laying down your life for that of your brother. Jesus was our great example in that. But when you relinquish your need to be “right”, or have it “your way” and yield to another, that’s a way of laying down your life, too.  That’s the kind of love Paul is talking about.

The last verse in 1 Corinthians 13  says “love bears all things, love believes all things, love hopes all things, love endures all things.” Believes, hopes and endures are pretty self-explanatory. But I want to point out “bears”. The Greek word used here is stego (and that doesn’t have the right accents to write that correctly, so you can go verify it here) and it means “to cover” as in a roof, or thatch covering, or to cover with silence, or cover against something threatening.  Just think about that in the context of your relationships. Are you “covering” those you love and God has entrusted to you? I don’t mean just your close, immediate family. I mean something  you heard in a prayer request….are you “covering that with silence”? Would you want yours to be covered in silence?  I’ve got gossip and idle talk in my sights here. If you see somebody who needs bearing up, are you turning a blind eye and hoping somebody else will do it? Or are you getting your hands dirty and doing the bearing?

See, Hallmark and Hershey want you to think love is that squishy nice feeling that’s all nice and sweet and reciprocal.  The love Jesus says is second only to loving God? It’s dirty and messy and often comes with no rewards from the person your loving. But your Father in Heaven sees it. And when you love like that it changes you in a way no Hallmark card ever will.

Abba Father, thank you for your steadfast love for us.  Soften our hearts, Holy Spirit, to let love flow through us for everyone around us. Real, active love. Let us love like Jesus calls us to love, in whose mighty, matchless name I pray.


Follow Me


Last week we looked at the difference between cultural Christianity and actually being a follower of Jesus.  So for the next few posts let’s look at a few key points in a little more detail.  Today I want to talk about what Jesus meant when he said “Follow Me”.

On several occasions throughout his ministry, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Jesus’ words to Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew in Matthew 4:19 when he found them fishing on the Sea of Galilee. He said “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” We all remember that line.  But do you recall what Simon and Andrew did? The Bible says “Immediately the left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:20, English Standard Version).  And how about Matthew, who Jesus found at his tax collector’s booth. He simply says “Follow me.”  Matthew’s response? He got up and followed Jesus. No hesitation.  (Matthew 9:9). Another disciple asked if he could go bury his deceased parent, but Jesus told him too let the (spiritually) dead deal with burying the dead, and follow him right then.

But what about us? Do we drop everything and follow Jesus?  Certainly some people do. But I think for the vast majority, when we repent and receive the gift of salvation and ask Christ to be our Savior, we ride a spiritual high for a bit. We enter a honeymoon phase. It may last very short time or a little bit longer. But what happens when that wears off and you’re back to feeling the normal grind of the daily routine. You don’t feel super spiritual. You may not feel much of anything at all. (Feelings are all well and good, by the way, but the basis of your faith should not be on your feelings. Ever. The basis of your faith should be on the indisputable truths of our unchanging God. Feelings are fleeting and sometimes misleading. The heart can be wicked and deceitful, after all.) So now what?  Now is when we get serious about following Jesus. Without hesitation.

There’s another example of going all-in to follow the calling of the Lord. And this guy meant business. In 1 Kings 19:19-21 we learn about the prophet Elijah who is seeking out Elisha in order to anoint him to eventually take his place as the go-to prophet.  Elisha is in the field, plowing with his team of oxen when Elijah throws his cloak on him. Elisha knew that was the sign of something big.  He killed the oxen and burned the plows. He just removed anything to go back to. He was jumping full on into his calling and removed the safety net of a back up plan.

Does this mean Jesus wants us to sell everything we own so we can follow him? Well, unless you’re planning to go on a long-term overseas mission, probably not a wise idea.  But what he does want is for you to kill the oxen and burn the plows of your past and jump into your future in him. Don’t leave anything to go back to that will keep you from living in the fullness he has for you.  I get it, that’s not always easy. You may have to leave behind friends who influence in bad ways. These kinds of things are not cookie cutter, so it’s for you and the Lord to work out in prayer. I also highly recommend a mentor and/or a pastor or elder you can talk to for guidance. But know that God doesn’t ask us to give things up just to be a jerk. That’s not who he is. Personally, I had to walk away from the only friends I had that weren’t 2000 miles away. I was scared to death to have no friends. But God looks for obedience, and he rewards that with giving us better things in exchange for what we gave up. I know that was true for me.

In Matthew 10:38 (ESV), Jesus said “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” So what He is saying here is not that you are not supposed to love your mother and father, etc. He’s saying be careful not to love them MORE than you love him. And that goes for spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, children, money, cars, fame…you name it. He wants your WHOLE HEART.  The greatest commandment starts with loving God above all things.  He continues to say “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Mathew 10:39). Does that have you scratching your head?  No worries.  It’s simply this: when we hang on with a white knuckle grip to our old self, wanting do everything like we always have, and basically retaining the lordship over our own lives, we haven’t gained anything. And he says we aren’t worthy of Him. (Now, I’m not going to suggest you need to have a lot of expertise in Biblical interpretation, or do hermeneutical hopscotch to figure that one out. And I’ll let you decide how you wish to interpret that. But in my limited training in hermeneutics, it means “we aren’t worthy”.) But, when we let go and surrender ourselves completely and let Jesus be Lord, following His ways, we may have lost our old life for his sake, but hallelujah, we will find a brand new one in him. And it’s SO MUCH BETTER.

This surrendering, by the way, is a daily thing. Sometimes more than that. It’s an intentional handing over the control and saying “not my way, but Yours”.  On paper that might sound easy, but the flesh we still carry around makes it a challenge. Get in your car in rush hour. Or the slowest checkout line at the grocery store when you’re in a hurry. Or on a three hour flight with the person behind you kicking your seatback every two minutes. Jesus’ way says patience and grace. Your flesh says something entirely different. Luckily, we are given the fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22) to help combat the flesh. But it’s not an automatic response at first. We have to develop these good habits of yielding to the Spirit and not the flesh. Just like building a muscle by working it out.

We also have the great gift of the power to transform to be more and more like Christ through the renewing of our minds. Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that we are not to behave like the rest of the world, but be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Part of following Christ means we strive to become more and more like him.  So how, exactly, can we renew our minds?  READ THE BIBLE!!
“Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” (John 17:17, New Living Translation).

Following Jesus means things are going to change. You’re going to change. And that’s a good thing. We all came to Jesus because we needed a Savior. If we were completely fine on our own, then there would be no reason to change.  But we come to him broken, or with a yearning in our soul for something we’ve tried to fill with any number of things the world promised us would satisfy that desire, but never did. If we agree that we all ended up at the cross because we need Jesus, then can we agree there is no shame in admitting that it’s time to stop trying to live this life by our own rules and plans?  What have you got to lose by jumping in the deep end of the pool and going all in, and completely selling out for Jesus?

Sweet, sweet Jesus! I am eternally grateful to have heard your voice, the voice of my shepherd, calling me to follow you. I am grateful that as a shepherd gently tends to his flock, so you tend to each sheep in your flock. You guide with a sure, steady hand. You keep your flock safely in your arms. You are Lord of all of my life. Remind me, nudge me when I start to take over. Thank you, above all, for your steadfast love. I pray all who call you Savior will also call you Lord.  


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An Open Letter To Desert Dwellers


An Open Letter to My Dear Friend T and Anyone Who Feels Stuck In The Desert:

First and foremost, you are not alone! I know what the enemy would have you believe, that you’re stuck out there by yourself, all on your own. That’s a lie.  The best way to weaken somebody’s resolve is to isolate them. Separate them from the pack.  Once you do that, it’s easier to get your victim to believe your lies. The first lie you have to refuse to listen to is that you are alone.  You have friends and family that care about you, and more importantly, you have Jesus Christ walking alongside you, each step of the way.  The comforter, the Holy Spirit, is there for you. You are etched into God’s hand and he is not letting go.

Feelings are feelings, but they are not always reliable. Remember when we studied Philippians and talked about Joy? Remember that happiness is based on a temporary situation, but for the Christian, true joy is based not on a feeling, but on the facts. The fact that we are assured salvation when we receive Christ as our Savior, that his death was payment for our sins once and for all. The fact that it isn’t based on our performance or ability.  That fact that even if we feel stranded in the desert and God is far away, he is not. The fact that over and over the Bible tells us He will not leave us, that if we seek him, he will not turn away. (Isaiah 42:16; Psalm 94:14). The fact that if we lean into him, he will lean into us. (James 4:8).  The fact that Jesus promises us rest in our weariness (Matthew 11:28).  That fact that even if we don’t feel anything, it’s all still true.

The truth hasn’t changed. All the things you believed before you entered this difficult season remain the truth. God doesn’t change. (Malachi 3:6). His word is still the same truth you have believed and held close to your heart.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8). All the promises you held tight to and believed before, the promises you used to guide others through their own deserts, they are still there and are still true for you.

What put you in your desert could be any number of things. A financial crisis, a terrifying health scare, family problems that seem beyond repair, infertility issues, addictions, depression, and on and on.  While the root cause may be different, the highway to the desert is almost certainly the same. Somehow, you’ve let the voice speaking to you the loudest be the one telling you you’re alone, it’s hopeless, you have to handle this by yourself, and you should probably just give up.  That is a pack of lies straight from the devil himself. But because those messages keep getting more and more airtime in your mind, the voice of God starts fading away until you eventually stop hearing him altogether.  And that is exactly what your adversary was hoping for. He “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 English Standard Version).  (And sometimes the devouring doesn’t happen to those in the extreme desert seasons of their lives. Sometimes it happens to those who simply give in to accepting to chose to live a life in the “meh” zone, not really that happy or sad, nothing is really that terrible, but nothing is ever very good. He just devours any real positivity from your life.) Once he’s got your attention off God’s truths and promises and refocused onto his load of poop, he moves in for the steal, kill, and destroy phase. He’s going to steal your confidence in God, kill your joy, and destroy your hope. Welcome to the desert. 

So how do you get out of the desert?

  1. Ask God to meet you there, right in your desert, and help you. If you have already put your faith in Christ as your savior, God will meet you there. He is not going to abandon you. He is waiting for you to ask him to be with you in this thing that you’re facing. Let him in. You have to do your best not to hold back any of it, but that may take some time. Just keep at it. If you have not put your faith in Christ, please hop over here real quick, then come back.
  2. Choose your lenses and how you use them.  You have in your possession two figurative lenses, one convex and one concave. One makes items appear smaller when you look at them through it (concave), the other lens (convex) makes objects appear larger. STOP USING THE CONVEX LENS TO VIEW YOUR PROBLEMS! Just throw that one away. You don’t even need to use the concave lens too look at God. He IS bigger than any problem you face.  No trick lenses needed. Grab a piece of paper and write your problem(s) in the center of it. Now in big giant letters, write GOD over the top of that problem. Put that paper up as a visual reminder where you can see it. Friends, you absolutely must change your perspective. We’re talking about the plague sending, Red Sea parting, manna from Heaven providing God. And that’s just Exodus. Will God instantly remove every problem? No. He might, but he might not. Probably, he won’t. But that’s for him to decide. He will give you the grace you need to get through this rough patch. (2 Corinthians 12:9). His grace is sufficient for everything. More than sufficient. It is all you need. 
  3. Stop believing there is no hope and start believing you are an overcomer. This goes back a little to looking at our issues with the lens that makes them look bigger. And we all do that, we tend to let things loom large over us like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. (And if you know who that is, God bless you doubly for being old like me!) In my last post we read about Paul encouraging the new believers by telling them trials and tribulations are how they enter the kingdom of God. Folks, we are refined in the fire. But just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, we have somebody standing with us, even when the heat gets turned up. (Daniel 3:16-28).   In all things we are MORE THAN CONQUERORS through Christ. 1 John 5:5 says we that believe Jesus is the son of God will overcome the world.  But we are not conquerors or overcomers as believers by our own power. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11, English Standard Version). The same Spirit of him who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us! Tap into the power of the Holy Spirt, y’all!  You are not a victim. You are not an addict. You are not a diagnosis. You are a child of the Most High God and that makes you an overcomer! CLAIM THAT or you might as well pitch your tent in the desert.
  4. Lean into Me and I will Lean into you. I already shared that from James 4:8.  When you’re in the desert feeling alone, and all you’re hearing is the voice of the enemy, I’m guessing little by little your time with God has slipped off into nothing much, if at all. Or perhaps it didn’t exist with any consistency in the first place (no judgment here). Now is the time, friend, to lean in. Grab the hem of Jesus’ cloak and don’t let go. Grab that Bible and get in it. Look up verses that may speak to your specific situation, but if you’re alone in the desert, get yourself into the Psalms.  Almost half the psalms are called psalms of lament. These are cries of despair to the Lord. Folks, you are not the first to walk this path. Read how even King David cried out to God when nothing seemed to be going his way. But always, in the end, he know God was for him.  Get yourself in the word. This is God’s primary way of speaking to us. Make daily Bible reading a habit. Make daily prayer a habit. (These two things are quite helpful for avoiding deserts in the future, by the way.) Tell him everything. He already knows, but he wants you to share it with him. Feel like he’s left you? Tell him. Feeling lost and need help? Ask him. Not sure about anything or what to do? Lay it before him.  Getting out of the desert is going to be pretty tough if you do it by yourself.  Get God in this with you.  Rest in him.
  5. Don’t be an island. God made us for community. There are people that care about you. Be discerning, of course, but don’t be afraid to ask for support. Talk to your pastor. Don’t have one, you say?  Sweet child, please go find a community of fellow believers. Once again, the enemy will try to silence you, telling you there is too much shame in admitting you have this issue going on. Just another lie.  Use discernment for sure, when you chose which friends to share with. But you are not alone.

I have lived through long desert journeys and short trips. There is nothing worse than feeling like you’re on your own, nobody cares, and you found the end of the rope. I’ve been there. But God.  God will show you there is hope, and not just life, but abundant life. He will show you that not only are you not alone, He has always been with you and never left your side. He will bring great, loving people into your life if you open yourself up to it. And he’ll take that rope and show you not only is there a whole lot more you didn’t see, but it’s long enough for you to use it to lead others out of their desert, too.

Father God, tonight I do pray for the hurting, those that feel hopeless, those that feel their burdens are so heavy they cannot take another breath. You are our loving Father, you redeemed us not so we could live under the oppression of the things of this world, the fear of the future, the uncertainties of life. You promised us not just life, but a life more abundant. I pray for each person reading this that you would touch them right now, where they are, to not just meet their needs, but exceed them in the way only you can. Father, let each one see your hand stretched out to them and stir their hearts to grab on and never let go.  In Jesus Name.

How far are you willing to go?


   Pastor Saeed Abedini, released January 16, 2016. Praise the Lord!

This morning, as the technician was at my house installing my new beefed up home security system, I started sobbing and couldn’t hide it. When he asked what was wrong, I said “Nothing! Saeed is free!” And Pastor Saeed’s imprisonment provided an opportunity once again to bring God great glory!  What a day to rejoice!

If you aren’t aware, Pastor Saeed Abedini is an Iranian born, now American citizen, former Muslim now preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He and his wife Naghmeh were responsible for starting over 100 house churches in Iran, however he was arrested for this and changed his efforts to starting an orphanage in Iran. On his last trip he was arrested for no apparent crime and spent the next three-plus years in Iranian prison, subject to abuse, lack of necessary medical care (stemming from the abuse), solitary confinement, and more that I’m sure we will find out in the coming days. Say what you will about Iran and this mish-mash of a deal that’s been agreed to, broken, more negotiations, etc. But today, I praise God because Saeed and three others are free.

So let me ask you, how far are you willing to go for the gospel?  Do you think Pastor Saeed was operating on the fringe and should have known something like that would likely happen and therefore avoided it?  Let’s be honest here, what he did was risky.  But he was dangerous for the cause of Christ, and Christ calls us to be risky.  When was the last time you were even BOLD for Christ?  Not everybody is called to travel to distant lands to be a missionary. Not everybody is called to be a street preacher. Not everybody is called to be a pastor or church planter. But everybody, every last one of us who made a real confession of faith in Christ as our savior and Lord is called to live for him. To die to self and live for HIM and HIS cause. Not to sit meekly in the shadows and hope nobody notices where we go on Sundays.

There are some who would have you believe that being a Christian is all about getting your physical needs met (health, monetary gain) and place far less emphasis on your spiritual needs. Way too many who would have you believe that’s what God wants for you.  Now, no, God is not desiring that we all walk around in sackcloth and ashes living miserable existences. But never once is there are promise that by giving your life to Christ and follow him will you get all your little heart desires. And don’t try and argue Psalm 37 as proof of that or we can meet under the bleachers for a hermeneutical smack down. 🙂 No, what we are told repeatedly is to expect trials and tribulations.  When Paul and Barnabas were traveling around doing the equivalent of church planting, after having met when plenty of pushback themselves for preaching the gospel, we learn in Acts 14:22 the two men spoke to the new converts  and “strengthened the souls of the disciples  and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “We must enter the kingdom of God through many persecutions.” Now THAT’S a pep talk!!!  I dare say you aren’t going to hear that on TBN anytime soon. But Paul and Barnabas were not saying anything that Jesus hadn’t already said. He told us if the world hates us it’s because it first hated him, and we are not greater than our master. So if the world persecuted him, it will persecute us, too. (John 15:18-20).

So let’s revisit Pastor Saeed for a minute and talk about being bold for the faith. He’s already in prison for his faith, subject to beatings and poor treatment all the way around. By the way, if you weren’t aware, as a Muslim if you renounce your faith you are subject to being put to death. Saeed was threatened with that at one point. So did he keep his mouth shut? Nope.  When an opportunity arose, he shared the love of Christ with those around him.  According to his wife Naghmeh, his heart was so sold out to Christ, it was more a compulsion to share that saving grace with people in dark places. And he was surrounded by lots of people in a very dark place.  One can’t help think of Paul, writing from jail to his beloved church family in Philippi, when he said “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.” (Philippians 1:12-13). Paul knew, as I am convinced that the Abedini’s know, that God doesn’t let a opportunity slide by wasted. The take away from Paul’s words and Saeed’s example, is no matter what circumstance you find yourself in, no matter if you planned it all out or it’s a giant life-altering change in course, comfortable and easy or the bleakest, darkest of circumstances-if you are willing to be used for the cause of the kingdom of Christ, you will be used. But not if we cower back in the shadows, wringing our hands and questioning why God is doing this TO you.

But here’s the next part of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Think about this when you see stories of those people who are being martyred and jailed and brutally treated for their faith. And I’m not talking about wedding cakes.  Paul’s next line: Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.  I pray that when you hear of these things it gives you courage to go speak the word of God fearlessly.

Because friends, particularly my American friends, we sit in a such a comfortable world of easy Christianity. We go to church where, sadly, for the vast majority of us, we are mere consumers. We put on our Christianity on Sunday morning, go in for a good sermon and a some fellowship (maybe), go home and probably take our Christianity off before we pull in the driveway.  This is not denying yourself and picking up your cross to follow Christ.  This is “having it your way”. We are going to give an account one day, you and I, of what we did with what He gave us.

I challenge you, no matter where you are in your walk with Christ, to think about how far you are willing to go. Pray to God and ask him to show you where he would have you go next. Deny yourself this week in order to follow Christ. How, you say? Here’s an easy one: sleep a little less, pray and study the Bible a little more.

Father God, we thank you today Lord for the deliverance of Pastor Saeed from the physical chains that have held him, and pray continually for your healing work in his body and mind as the chains that may still hold him there will fall at your hand. Lord we pray for your mighty hand in the reuniting and restoration of his family, that your healing work and abundant peace be ever-present through this transition.  Father, I pray that we all seek you and ask that we open our hearts before you and ask you to search them and show us those places we hold back from living 100% sold out for you. You are a good, good Father!  In Jesus great and glorious name!

To keep and bear arms….or not.


Two caveats…

First, this post is a little bit outside the norm. This one is my personal muddling through an issue I never thought I’d be muddling through.

Second, in no way whatsoever am I attempting to tell or suggest what YOU should do in this particular matter. There is no black or white here.  It’s certainly caused some lively debate lately, and I have no problem with sharing of opinions in the comments. I encourage that! Please just be courteous and remember. your opinion is your truth, and another is their truth. Be respectful.

It’s no secret the media wants to play up the “fear” angle of almost everything they can, and the Syrian Refugee crisis has seemingly played into their hand. This has brought up a lot of gun talk in the scope (no pun intended!) of defending yourself and your family, due to the possibility of terrorists sneaking in with refugees (and terrorism in general).

But none of that made me think for even a moment about the need to defend myself or get a weapon.  Prior to last month, the only time I ever considered it (for about ten minutes) was when I moved from California to Texas, because everybody in Texas has a gun. (That’s not really true, but almost!)

But just about 5 weeks ago, my comfortable, safe, routine world was shattered.  I’ll try not to take too much time on this, but I have to give God all the glory He deserves here.  I live alone, with two cats who think they’re humans. I was sound asleep when I was awakened by a loud noise that I couldn’t describe. Then nothing. This woke me from a dead sleep, so I was a little dazed.  Within maybe 20 seconds my cats (who were on my bed with me) FREAKED OUT so I grabbed my phone and dialed 911 and within 5 seconds there was a man with a flashlight standing in the doorway of my bedroom saying something to me which, to this day I cannot remember, except it ended with “b*tch”.  And I pray regularly that God continues to block that from my mind. But just at the moment the 911 operator picked up and I screamed into the phone. He left. As it turns out, the police told me, there were two people, based on two distinct footprints on my front door. That was the noise, the door being kicked in.   I have NO DOUBT that God protected me. I have dealt with some crazy anxiety since then, but God has been SO FAITHFUL I can’t even tell you without taking an hour. He has brought people to minister to me,  my church family has been amazing, and He keeps speaking peace into me in a time when my head wants to believe anything BUT peace.  So that sets the stage.

You can imagine after that how many times people told me I needed to get a gun. (Did I mention I live in Texas?!) I couldn’t get away from it.  I would spend a lot of time thinking about it, researching them, playing out scenarios in my mind. I went to a gun range to shoot (I’ve done it before, I’m not anti-gun), but all of that just wrapped me up in knots. As time went on, those you’d think they’d get looser, but no, they just tightened up every time the gun topic came up.

Now, again let me say, this is MY conclusion for ME. Not you. This is based on MY time with the LORD. Not what I think scripture says is black and white.  It’s what, in my quiet time with God, I believe we have decided is right for me.

I’m not going to get a gun.

Here’s my main reason.  I don’t know if I can take a life.  Even if I’m being threatened.  I know there are some who will think that’s the dumbest thing they’ve ever heard.  But I don’t know that I can take a life under any circumstances. We, all of us, are His image bearers. Even those jerks who broke down my door. Even the people who sit on death row. Even the tiny humans some consider an inconvenient pregnancy to just deal with. Every life is valuable to God. I just don’t know that I can take one.

I still have some PTSD-like symptoms I deal with and when some intrusive thoughts come on, one of the things I sometimes remind myself of is what Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  That’s comforting to me, even when I think about my life being taken in a violent way. (Hey, Paul wasn’t looking at riding off into the sunset to die at the old folks home of old age, either.) I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about (but more than I used to, to be perfectly honest)  confronting death at the hands of another.  (Welcome to my new world!) As with all of the anxiety based responses my brain is throwing at me these days, I have two choices. One is to give in immediately to what the flesh wants to do and think, and the other is to run to Jesus and hold on. We can talk about anxiety another time, but I choose Jesus, even when that means I’m running to him while the anxiety is tearing through my brain. So if I’m choosing Jesus, I choose to rest on his promises. And he promises that all of this world is going to pass away. My house, my safety zone, all the things that make me feel safe and secure. And it’s nothing, NOTHING compared to what’s to come. Including this life I have now.  So if I say this too nonchalantly, it’s just my trust in that promise when I say, I’ll take my chances and leave the rest to God.

I also know that every life, no matter how corrupt it looks, is not beyond the redeeming power of the shed blood of Christ. What if I took that chance away from somebody? What if I could be planting a seed?

Do you know the story of the missionary Jim Elliot and the Huaoroni tribe of Ecuador? Jim and team of missionaries were determined to bring the gospel to this unreached tribe deep in the jungle. They had met with the tribe peacefully, but on one meeting, for reasons unknown, something went wrong. Now the missionaries were armed with guns, but when confronted with the angry tribesman, they chose not to use the guns in self-defense. All five were killed. Why, do you suppose, they chose not to defend themselves when their very lives were clearly on the line? I have a pretty good guess. These gentleman had gone in laying the groundwork and sharing the gospel of the love of Christ. Had they shot their attackers. there would have been little chance the gospel would be preached any further to that tribe.  (As an aside, two of the missionaries’ wives, Elliot’s and another, eventually made peaceful contact with the tribe, lived among them for a couple of years and converted many to Christianity. God has a plan for everything, boys and girls. Everything.)

One final thought, and then I have church bulletins to fold. In the aftermath of my incident, I just wanted to feel secure and comfortable in my space again. I thought a gun would do that. Along with increased security and several other things. And one day the LORD reminded me that HE is the only absolute safety and security we have, and anything else I do, while good and helpful, is not the ultimate security, HE is, and I need to put my trust in Him. The same for my comfort.

I have purposely left out scriptures to back up my decision because I’m not trying to win arguments or plead a case here. Again, this is not about that. You do what YOU feel you need to do. Just please do it responsibly! But I will leave you with this:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.               (Psalm 73:26, 28)