Author: tracyedwards80

Laying Down Shame.

shameShame.  “The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous et, done by oneself or another.”  Shame is painful.  Shame started in the garden when temptation slithered it’s slippery body into Adam and Eve’s perfect existence.  Adam and Eve said yes to the temptation and the result was immediate shame.  Out of shame, they tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves.  They tried to cover their sin by hiding among the trees of the garden.  But God came after them.  Just like he did every day, God came looking for them.  He knew what had happened and He came anyway.  There were serious consequences for the choice but God didn’t want Adam and Eve to walk away laden with guilt and embarrassment so he covered them in proper garments to hide their shame.  God never intended his creation to live in condemnation

The Samaritan woman knew shame. But after she met Jesus, her shame came undone.   Jesus met the Samaritan woman at a well and a life changing conversation took place.   It always happens that way, He always finds us smack dab in the middle of our guilt and shame and meets us right where we are.  The mid-point in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is what I am drawn most to these days.  Jesus begins to hint at who he is and the woman’s interest is stirred but then that conversation shifts from focus on who he is to who she is.  “Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”  The woman answered him, I Have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.  What you have said is true”.  (John 4:16) Before Jesus could take away her guilt and shame, he had to show the woman the true state of her heart.  When God uncovers sin in our hearts it is never to shame us.  It is to save us.

The most powerful shift in my own personal spiritual walk came when God tenderly started showing me the truth of my heart and I realized that I am truly and deeply broken without Jesus.   Left to its own devices, my heart is prone to wander.  It is hard and uncomfortable at times to name my own sin but there is freedom in the practice of true repentance.  As I learn how desperately I need him, I more willingly cling to his love and let go of the perceived need to protect myself by hiding my sin.

water-jugAfter Jesus shows the Samaritan woman the brokenness of her life,  “The woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, come see a man who told me all that I ever did.”  If the woman is running back to town and testifying that this man “told me all that I ever did”, she must have accepted the truth Jesus revealed and agreed with Jesus’ judgement of her life.   And what was the judgement?  Not guilty.    Despite all the ways she had fallen short of God’s perfect commandments, she was pronounced not guilty.

The same kind of freedom the Samaritan experienced is the same kind of freedom God wants you and I to experience.  If you are walking through life right now stuck in shame, please know that Jesus offers another way.  If you will allow him to show you the truth of your heart, accept his sin crushing grace, and move forward in joyful obedience, your shame will be undone, you will be unstuck and invited into freedom just like our Samaritan sister.  

Blessings,

Tracy

#greatestlovestoryevertold

Love.  Most people’s thoughts on love sort of irk me. (I know that sounds ornery, but hear me out)  It would seem that we’ve come to base our belief about love on two major ideas; shows like the Bachelor (Again ornery, I am probably the only female on the planet who refuses to watch that show, but be my friend and hang on) and our feelings.  This should concern you because this lack of knowledge is destroying marriages, families, churches and communities.  Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that Christian love is different from worldly love.

3774420-bible-heart-with-crownIf we are to become more and more like Jesus, who is the exact imprint of God, and less like our old nature, then 1 Corinthians 13 serves us well in that journey.  This passage might seem so common to some that it feels almost breezy.  But when we attempt to put these ideas into practice, it is anything but breezy.  In fact, this kind of love leads to a peculiar kind of death.  John 3:16 makes clear the death this kind of love demands.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son…” This Holy love led a divine man to endure the ultimate suffering for the sake of others.  The suffering of Christ tore the veil and the love of God was no longer hidden. We meet this great love at the brutal cross.   The cross represents the self-sacrificing point at which Jesus laid everything down in bloody horror for our sake and here we are invited into community with him.  To enter his death is to enter his love. We will find no greater friendship than that of Jesus, but that friendship came at a cost.  “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I am sure that Jesus didn’t feel like loving us as he hung in agony while so many he came to save mocked and denied him.  But he made the choice to stay and love us into

Cross-FScommunity with him.  And that is the greatest love story ever told.   I don’t see that kind of depth in the popular love of the day that is self-serving rather than self-sacrificing.

If we identify with Christ, then we cannot stop at simply receiving this love and move on unchanged.  Christ’s love begins a sanctifying work in our hearts and beckons us to begin to love others in the same way. The 1 Corinthians call to love is one that consistently dies to self for the sake of another.  This kind of love is patient when wronged, it is kind when insulted.  This kind of love celebrates another, instead of seeking attention for itself.  This love causes one to lay down his rights and standards for the benefit of another.   It’s a love that might not always “feel” easy but we love out of obedience despite the difficulty.

Jesus brought a paradigm shift to a very homogenous religion and taught that God’s love is so intense, so passionate, so consuming that it was never intended to be contained within one people but was meant to move through His people to transform the world.  The plan was for his love to reach every tribe, nation and tongue.  The plan was that His love would transcend all cultures, social class systems, and political associations.  That plan is still in place and it is this great love that is advancing His Kingdom.   Love is a powerful weapon but it is also a choice.  We can choose to love freely and wildly and allow that love to build God’s Kingdom or we can be stingy with our love by only loving those who agree with us or those who look like us and build our own kingdoms.  God gives you the choice.  But one of those kingdoms will crumble and one will remain.  What kingdom will your love build?  Let’s challenge each other to build wisely.

Blessings,

Tracy

He Shall Be Called…Prince of Peace

Peace. A state of mutual harmony between people or groups. The normal nonwarring condition of a nation, groups of nations or the world. State of tranquility or serenity.

xmas-star-peace-on-earthThat certainly doesn’t describe the state of the world I see. War upon war, rape, genocide, the slaughtering of innocent men, women and children all in attempt to fill an insatiable lust for power. Aleppo. The images, too much for the human heart to bear. We were not meant for this. The prophet Isaiah prophesied that peace would come. The Jewish people longed for it. Jesus offers it. Our world is desperate for it. So, where is this peace, where is peace for Aleppo, where is peace for the abused, where is peace for the persecuted? Where is the peace for the average joe trying to provide for his family while taking financial hit after financial hit? Our desire for peace in a turbulent and violent world can leave us confused and frustrated. But God is always with us and he is faithful to help us walk with him and trust him when we are disheartened by the rampant evil around us. We will not find peace in the things that are seen. No, we find peace in the shadows of the things unseen.

There is a tension between the peace Jesus talks about and the lack of peace that is experienced in our broken world. This tension exists because our King is present but not fully crowned and only part of God’s peace is available to us in the present. By faith, because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, we have been made right with God. (Romans 5:1)  This is the peace that we get to experience on the present earth. We know that while things around us are not as they should be, it truly is well with our soul. But there is another element of Jesus’ peace that will be realized as God’s Kingdom advances and is fully consummated at some point in the future. This is the peace that promises a full restoration of all creation, a future time when the world will enjoy the harmony it had before sin entered.

In my own personal walk with Jesus, I am discovering another layer in celebrating Advent and Christmas. God is teaching me to celebrate the Incarnation as an event that marks the arrival of a Kingdom that is in the process of being fully consummated.  He is teaching me a hopeful anticipation of a coming Kingdom reigned by a Righteous Judge who will rule the nations justly. A time when nations will no longer war against one another, but will live in peace. (Isaiah 2:4) This Prince of Peace will not stop until justice prevails throughout the earth, even the most distant lands will wait for his instruction. (Isaiah 42:4) At this time, even the animal kingdom will be completely transformed and restored as sins’ curse is removed. (Isaiah 11:6) There will be no sickness and no more pain.  A glorious future is, indeed, in store and Christmas is the perfect time to reflect on this future. It is in these kinds of reflections that I find hope and peace for the refugee, the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, and hurting. Everything is not okay as it is right now, but I believe in Jesus’ promise that someBlueNativitySceneday, it will be.  This is part of the peace alluded to in the message of Christmas.

As we reflect on the name Prince of Peace, do not loose heart that all is not peaceful in our world but rather take courage and hope in the peace that will surely come. As Christ’s ambassadors we have a responsibility to advocate for peace in our own little corners of the world. I love the Jewish word Shalom. It is a packed word that has to do with a sense of wholeness, fullness, peace and harmony. Because of Christ’s power and love in us, our lives can be a healing salve of Shalom to a hurting world. As we near the end of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, take some time to slow down and savor the goodness of the Lord’s promise to bring peace. Let the reality of what is to come sink in a bit. If we allow that promise of peace to form how we invest our time, money, and hearts, we can join in God’s restorative work in the world. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the birth of Jesus than to commune with Him, enjoy Him and join Him. May you be blessed this Christmas season with His love and comfort. I pray that as you are filled with his wonderful Spirit, you would be moved to join God in his restorative work as you seek to bring God’s love and peace to those around you.

Merry Christmas

Tracy

 

The Path of Humility

The last few weeks we have been in a series called mind games. It has been a thought provoking series exploring how different attitudes affect the way we think and live. This week we’re exploring the attitude of humility and how it can lead us into a more abundant life. If we want to travel the path of humility, we must fiercely uproot the footing of pride. God’s view of pride is close at hand since he has so graciously revealed truth to us through His word for our good and His glory. Scripture tells us that pride is a trap (Psalm 59:12). Pride should be offensive to us, as it is to the Lord (Proverbs 8:13). Pride is a destroyer (Proverbs 16:18). Eventually, it will humiliate you (Proverbs 29:23). Pride is not a new temptation. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

humility

Pride begins as a small seed, almost completely undetectable, but over time, if it is cultivated and nourished in the heart, it will eventually hijack a life and forces it to dwell in the dirty, desolate shack of spiritual poverty. There is wickedness lurking in a prideful heart that will rip apart a life, shred a family to pieces, and devour anything sacred that gets in its path.

CS Lewis poignantly describes pride as, “…one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. […] There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves.[…]The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility.”

The antithesis of pride is humility. God is pleased by a humble heart. He is attentive to the desires and needs of the person who humbles himself. I believe one reason God honors the humble but opposes the proud (Psalm 18:27, 25:9, 138:6, James 4:6) is because humility leads to a place of unity and pride leads to disunity. You would have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the deep divides being spawned by political tensions. A mix of social media and dishonest journalism added to an already highly individualistic culture, with an increasing tendency to only “do life” in homogenous communities has only fanned the flame of disunity.

Followers of Christ are called to something very different. We are called to a life of love, humility, and unity as we engage with a very diverse world. We are called to freedom.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:13-15)

If we want to experience Chriimages-1stian unity, as God intended, we have to understand that, first and foremost, we are united by Christ. We are not united by race, social justice issues, national identity or political party. We are united by the blood of the one through whom and for whom all creation was brought into being. As Christian brothers and sisters, we have two life changing realities in common. One, we are all sinners in need of grace and two, our sin can lose its power through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. If we fully grasped our reality, maybe we would not “bite and devour one another” so readily and be more willing to seek freedom through living life in a community that is based on the common ground of Jesus Christ.

Please don’t mistake what I am describing for a group of humdrum Christians all singing the same old song. God did not create a creepy group of clones, all living identical lives. He created a vastly unique group of people who he calls his own. In God’s economy there is room for differing opinions, there is room for conversations and room for processing through beliefs. Sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong. But here’s the catch. Jesus challenges us to not live and die in the disagreements but he beckons us to push through and find the place of unity that He has already prepared for us. This unity is not based on anything devised by human hands, it is based on what has been given by God’s generous, loving hand. Through His son, God has so richly blessed us in the heavenly places with every spiritual blessing, how can we not give our Father the gift of unity that is so precious in His sight? This is what Paul describes in Philippians 2 and I believe that this is what God longs to see lived out in the church. “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same lovåe, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Humility is a struggle because it involves trust. We have to trust that we will be okay, even if our position is not understood immediately. A spirit of rivalry can rear its ugly head in all of us when we seek to advance our own agenda. But as we become more conformed into the image of Christ, humility will call us to lay our own agendas down for a minute so we can listen and serve one another well. I pray that in my own life and in the life of White River Christian Church, we would cultivate a gentle spirit of humility that would be a sweet aroma and a most pleasant sacrifice to the Lord. Lord, may you bring a spirit of humility into our hearts to create a sense of unity in Christ and an intentional love with one another that cannot be broken.

Blessings,

Tracy

 

Integrity…Hope For A Lost Art.

Integrity. Who are we when no one is looking? How do the hidden scenes of our story actually play out in the theater of God’s drama? What seeds are we sowing in the unseen furrows of our lives? How can the practice of integrity change how we enjoy this life? Integrity is what will lead us to abundant life and a lack of integrity will drain us empty. A lack of integrity will eventually rip through the life of an individual, their family and any other innocent bystander who happens to cross paths with the offender. And the worst part is that I see these integrity issues in my own heart, and it scares me enough to cling to Jesus.

Integrity:

“Having integrity means doing the right thing in a reliable way. It’s a personality trait that we admire, since it means a person has a moral compass that doesn’t waver. It literally means having “wholeness” of character…”

Let’s think about a compass for a minute.  First, we know that the purpose of a compass is for navigation. Second, when we think about a compass, we should think about a magnet. In a most simplified definition, the Earth is a magnet that interacts with other magnets. The north end of a compass magnet is drawn to align with the Earth’s magnetic field. As we ponder this compass symbolism, we can think of our own moral compass as a magnet that interacts with the magnetic field of God’s cosmic activity. God designed the world to work in a very particular way, and the wise align their lives with God’s particular way. And third, a compass gets us to where we want to go. And for the follower of Christ, the place we want to be is an abundantly lived life as we wait for Christ’s final redemption. Ephesians 5:9 calls us to “walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true). Our moral compass should continually draw us to walk in the light.

But sin. Sin messes with our compass. As a follower of Christ, there is an overwhelming tension between the integrity we aim to practice and the sin that is constantly trying to reign in our hearts. This very real human struggle was not lost on our beloved Apostle Paul. He laments in Romans 7:18-22 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Paul is not trying to absolve himself from his personal responsibility to fight sin. He is emphasizing the power of sin. I cannot recall many people who have been more changed by the love of Jesus and more committed to the cause of Christ than Paul and if he recognized this internal war within his members, than we would be wise to follow suit and recognize the same war in our own hearts.

America is in an integrity crisis. I love living in America. I am thankful for all of the opportunities and safeties our family enjoys and appreciate those who have fought to protect that freedom. However, two concerning western attitudes are pragmatism and entitlement. Are these attitudes part of what is leading to this breakdown in integrity? Let’s start with our pragmatic ways. We are practical and productive. Our pragmatic ways have led to great success and fortune. As wonderful as that sounds, a danger lurks on the pragmatic road. When we become obsessed with being productive, integrity is at stake. The pragmatic sojourner will inevitably reach a fork in the road. A wide gate will lure such travelers. If the wanderer succumbs, he will eventually find that this well-worn trail that strays off the path of pragmatism leads to malfeasance, exploitation, and misconduct. How, you ask? Because of sin. Sin will take something that is in of itself a good thing, and corrupt it. To many of us pragmatism means profit, which is a good thing right. Nothing wrong with financial gain. However, when profit becomes the end itself, integrity is put on the back burner. Here’s how that might play out. A company produces clothing so the company finds a place where they can discreetly pay an appallingly low wage to children to produce clothing at an obscene profit to everyone except those producing it. Lack of integrity. A CEO who uses a legal method such as mark to market to hide losses and make the company look more profitable than it actually is, only to bankrupt the company and completely annihilate the retirement of its hardworking men and women who built the company in the first place. Lack of integrity. Unfortunately, corporate America and our government is riddled with such stories and the regular folk are the ones carrying the brunt of these scoundrel’s misconduct.  These examples involve the powerful and wealthy but the average joe is vulnerable to these temptations as well. If we could slow down enough to learn contentment, the risks of our pragmatic ways would contract.

What about entitlement? We have become so accustomed to our comforts that we forget that never before in human history have people enjoyed the luxuries we do. And it’s clouding our vision. Entitlement is dangerous because it feeds us the lie that we deserve to be comfortable, healthy and happy. But we don’t understand genuine happiness. We equate the adrenaline rush we get from material goods, new cars and bigger houses to being authentically happy. Our greed has become insatiable. We believe we are entitled to everything but the genie in the bottle never got that message and so we take matters into our own hands. Our spouse is not enough, so we take someone else’s. Lack of integrity. Our houses are not big enough, we mortgage more than we can afford, so we spend every cent we earn on ourselves, leaving nothing left to give to the those in need around us. Lack of integrity.  If we would spend less time thinking about what we want and more time in communion with the God who created us, we would be ushered into a place of peace.  Peace with God, peace with those around us and peace with ourselves.  True integrity is rooted in peace with God.

Integrity is not about maintaining appearances through a list of rules.  Integrity is about maintaining God’s justice when we have no worldly gain.

If there is to be hope for us, we must give the gift of integrity to the next generation. Perhaps this starts by changing our focus a bit. Maybe we teach our teens about the plight of the working poor, the widow and the orphan as much as we do about the dangers of alcohol.  Maybe part of the alcohol and drug crisis families are facing is happening because our young people don’t have a holistic picture of the redeeming work God is up to in our world. They have not received the invitation to the adventurous, purposeful, spirit-filled life God is calling them to live in order to bring that redemption back to creation. Along with presenting our kids a list of rules like don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal (all very valid requests, of course!), we teach them to use those energies to be a voice for the voiceless and protectors of the weak.  These are all integrity issues our kids have to learn if they are to walk in God’s ways.  I understand it is not that simple, but it could be a start.

Integrity is at the heart of the Christian’s call in this world and I hope that through the words on this page I was able to bring some less thought about integrity issues to your hearts. We are called be a people who love differently, serve differently and live differently than the world around us. A life of integrity should spring forth in response to God’s lovingkindness and grace. The world sends a loud message that we should live however we want, but God warns us “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) When we allow God to direct our moral compass, our life will be blessed by Him. It will not be easy or perfect, but He promises to be with us when we walk in the humility of His ways. And that is enough for me.

Blessings,

Tracy

A Peculiar Kindness

Kindness. When we are kind, we do good to one another. We look out for the interests of another. We take care of one another. We protect each other. Jesus was kind. But the reality is that Christian people are not perfect, we are still broken and messy, and kindness is not always evident in our lives. Christians have at times earned a reputation for being rude, arrogant, judgmental and hypocritical. Sometimes, they have deserved that reputation and other times, it seems an unfair accusation. Most of the people I know who are genuinely following Christ desire to live a life of kindness. They desire to leave a legacy of doing good to others. But the world we live in is one marked by a people that struggle with an inherited selfishness and oftentimes we do not live and love the way we want. Paul reminds us of our nature through the lament of Romans 7:15 “I do not understand my own actions for I do not do what I want but I do the very thing I hate.” Often times, I start out my day with the fullest of intentions to show kindness. To my husband, my children, my friends and strangers. But then I get tired. I get hungry. I receive unsettling news. My kindness turns to insult. By the time lunch rolls around I am done with kindness and have moved on to rudeness. But meanness is not a fruit the spirit produces and we cannot just settle for being in a perpetual bad mood. We are called to something higher, something holier. Through the stories of Jesus, we see that he is kind and we know that if Jesus is kind God also is kind.   Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s nature, according to Hebrews 1:3.

This week we are digging into John 4. It’s a story about the Insider offering kindness to the outsider, better known as Jesus and the woman at the well.

The interaction we read about does not explicitly point out the kindness of Jesus, but rather implies it as we watch the beginnings of a relationship unfold. As I moved through this story, I saw three very specific ways Jesus shows kindness to the Samaritan woman.

First, Jesus speaks to her. He moves towards her. He opens up space for her in his wearisome journey. This woman was not a friend. She was not a follower. She was not a Jew. In fact, for whatever reason, she was likely at the bottom of the social ladder and her only offering was to pull earth’s water to give him a drink. Her life has a cold feel of loneliness. She was alone during the day, she was alone at the well, and probably felt alone in room full of people. And yet Jesus met this woman in her loneliness and bid the risk of a trusting friendship. These two would be the most unlikely of friends. He was a Jew, she was a Samaritan. He was a man, she was a woman. He was a saint, she was a sinner. And yet, an uncommon friendship had started by the kind act of an invitation to conversation. The kindness of Jesus is fluid and bold. It extends from the most privileged and educated social groups all the way to the lowest caste.

Second, in His kindness, Jesus reveals himself to her. Even though Jesus knows that this woman is not yet able to grasp his truth, he tells her that he can offer her living water and that this living water that he offers is the path to eternal life. His kindness is powered by absolute truth. There is no hemming and hawing about what this woman needs to hear. He offers her truth and waits for her to embrace it, to embrace Him.

Third, Jesus sees this woman. He knows of her string of relationships, he knows why she is at the well during the day by herself without a companion in sight, he knows the harsh yoke around her neck and he also knows she is valuable and precious in the sight of his Father, so his kindness pursues her and he continues this offering of himself, of this living water. He sees her and he doesn’t look away.

And last, instead of judgement he offers pardon. This woman comes to the well as a captive to her sin, to own mind, to her life but she leaves a free woman. How does this grace not blow us away? Paul tells us in Romans 2:4 tells us that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. Yes, his kindness has always led me to repentance and through repentance my soul is beckoned to the well that does not run dry.

So what do we do with this kindness of Jesus? After we have experienced the benevolence of Jesus, we have to pour this kindness into others. In the book, Teach Us to Want, Jen Pollock Michel talks about being a have in a have not world. As I think about this idea, I remember how unkind this world can be. I think about how many people have not experienced true Christian kindness. The North American church is changing dramatically and it is not the powerful, culture shaping institution it once was. So Christians are often left baffled on how we can continue to influence the world around us for Christ. Well, start with kindness. Kindness is not complicated. Kindness does not mean we have to be doormats. Kindness is not just being nice. And kindness is not just reserved for those outside of our families.  Sometimes kindness simply offers friendship instead of competition. It offers grace instead of condemnation. It believes in the best qualities in someone instead of looking for the worst parts of them.  Christian kindness is a peculiar kindness.  It is distinct because it is grounded on the truth of Jesus Christ.  It stems from abiding in the love of God.  It is not something we can conjure up on our own and fake, but rather flows from a heart tethered to the One who continually woos us with His kindness.  Let it be said of us that we are a peculiar group.  That we are different.  That the peculiar difference in us, is that we are kind. 

 

Blessings,

Tracy

 

Because He Bends Down to Listen

Prayer is a profoundly sacred and mysterious topic and it was hard to know which direction to take.  As I examined scripture and read through one of my workbooks from my Way of Life study,  I came across this paragraph. “Our contemporary fixation on tips and techniques has, when it comes to prayer, emphasized methods over mindset, and this has left many of us, when it come to our experience with God, “out in the cold.” Most of our frustration with prayer stems from issues of our mindset toward God….in this session we primarily want to focus our attention on a mindset; that of prayer as relationship with God.”

Lying within those few sentences I found my own frustration in writing this piece. Everything I wrote focused on methods over mindset. I was failing to convey prayer as a loving relationship with God. And without the relationship element, my words rang empty. God is a deeply relational God. He relates to Himself within the mysterious fellowship of the Holy Spirit.  He also relates to His creation. In fact, He values his relationship with His people so much that he calls us friends (John 15:15). This level of personal acquaintance with the God of all creation should stun us. And what is really interesting comes just after this verse where Jesus says “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. The proximity of Jesus making the declaration of friendship to his followers and this invitation to prayer makes me think that the key to asking the Father through prayer is a relationship with Jesus and that if you are in a relationship with Jesus prayer will be a natural outcome of that friendship.

Our verses this week come from Matthew 21:21-22. “And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”  Jesus intended to breathe fresh hope and energy into his disciples with these words but times have changed and imperfect people have gotten a hold of Jesus’ perfect words and these verses have been abused and misused so we need to unlearn a few things before we can really embrace what prayer as a relationship with God might look like. There are many things Jesus is NOT saying in these two verses. But I think it is best summed up by pointing out that Jesus is not talking about praying for desires controlled by the flesh. Romans 8 sets this up clearly. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit….For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” A heart that is constantly pursuing the ways that are in opposition to how God designed creation to work is a heart set against God. And a heart that is pridefully set against God will not be in authentic, deep communion with Him. And a person who is not in a genuine relationship with God cannot approach prayer as a relationship. However, a heart that is set on the Spirit is a heart that desires the things of God and that person can enjoy the gift of praying bold prayers with expectation! A heart set on the spirit enjoys the things of God and that will come through in their prayers. That is not to say we don’t have desires of our own. We absolutely do and we should embrace those things. God sets desires in each of our hearts for a purpose! It is when we idolize or pervert those desires that they become a problem. So how do we pursue a focus on the spirit so that we can enjoy bold prayer as a relationship with God? There are many ways to pursue this prayerful life with God and different people in different seasons will engage with God in different ways. The beauty of this invitation to a prayerful life is that there is no perfect formula or method. We can have a spirit focus by getting to know Him more through His word as we study it, meditate on it and memorize it. We get to know Him more intimately through the faces and stories of those he has put around us we enter into genuine community with others (and gasp…it doesn’t always have to be church people!). We also engage Him more through silence. When we pull away from all of the noise, people and demands around us, we open up space for God to move and speak to us. Certainly this is not an all inclusive list, we could include things like nature, music and work. All of which are gifts God has given us in order to know Him more. As we come to know Him more, our focus becomes more on Him, which will impact our prayers.

I don’t want to make this sound easy, because it really is one of the spiritual disciplines with which most people, myself included, seem to struggle. Prayer often involves waiting which is uncomfortable, unclear and sometimes painful. Our fast paced, productivity centered, highly individualized Western culture is not very conducive to waiting on God through prayer. Our most prominent forms of communication are short, require little thought and are sent with the expectation of instant feedback. But the sacred practice of prayer requires a different heart posture. Waiting on the Lord involves trust, surrender, submission and humility. During these times of waiting (and sometimes these seasons are very dark), we experience a level of self awareness that allows us to see what is in our own hearts and see our need for someone greater who can help us journey through this life. We also experience dry seasons in our spiritual life when praying feels empty. Prayer involves learning to push past those times until we get to the other side of it and can commune with God and share our life with Him in deeper ways then before.

God designed us to be communicators with each other and Him. God is so intentional in listening to our prayers that the Bible describes him as bending down to listen to our prayers. (Psalm 116:2) Because He is so willing to listen, please don’t hold anything back! When we pray with humility of heart and genuine love for God and others, we will be blown away by his power in our life. If your heart is heavy with the burdens of life, bring them to God in prayer. If you are heartbroken over the injustices of this world and long to see the day when all wrongs will be made right, cry out to God in prayer! If you have big dreams, ask God to give you wisdom in it through prayer! Pray for your kids, pray for your marriage, pray for your family. Pray for our country and it’s leaders. Pray for the church all over the world! Pray for the poor and hungry. Pray for lonely and lost. Give thanks and praise to God in prayer for who He is and what He has done. But don’t stop there. The two elements of a prayerful life that are oftentimes overlooked are listening to Him and simply enjoying Him. Just like any relationship, communicating with God is not just God receiving our words but it is also us receiving His words and enjoying his companionship. When forget those two pieces, we miss out on this friendship Jesus is inviting us to enjoy.

Prayer is a gift and it is essential to the Christian’s pilgrimage. My hope for the particular local body at WRCC is that we would be a people of prayer. That we would be a people who move the impossible mountains of our time through prayer. And that we would be a listening people. That we would not foolishly go our own way and assume we know what is best but rather that we would intentionally quiet our hearts so we can hear the voice of the Lord and that we would join Him where He is calling us. Be blessed today as you seek God through prayer. May you hear his voice and enjoy His love.

Blessings,

Tracy

Recklessly Extravagant Grace

This week we are focusing on Luke 15. There are three parables in this chapter that teach about God’s relentless pursuit of his people. The last story in Luke 15 is that of the prodigal son. It’s a popular story and often times a parent, whose child has strayed from the family’s wisdom to follow the path of fools only to be broken down by a harsh world, uses the parable to explain their own experience. And this is a fine way to relate to the story. But I think we can dig a little deeper into this text when we remember this not as just leaving a physical home and earthly father but a leaving of our heavenly Father’s spiritual home. We can think of this story as any person walking away from the loving care and protective refuge of a good Father, and we will soon see that there are more ways to wander from the Father then just physically.

A couple of years ago, I started thinking about the text more reflectively and I became aware that I didn’t truly know the story. I did not grasp the parable in a way in which the text illuminated things in my own heart while bringing me deeper into God’s heart. There is a quote that says “We don’t read the Bible, the Bible reads us.” We see evidence to support that statement in Hebrews 4:12-13. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart…” The reason this story has grabbed my attention over the past couple of years is because it has had a powerful way of discerning and reading my own heart that is so prone to wander.

The story of the prodigal son is really a story about the two kinds of people that surrounded Jesus during his ministry.  The outcast/sinner and the pharisee.  One person stays and one leaves but both hearts wandered. A person’s physical staying or leaving “home” does not indicate whether or not they are living a free life with the Father. The younger brother is the outward sinner. He is a spendthrift squanderer of his Father’s generous inheritance, a son who spent it all, lived a life of sin out in the open for the world to see. We see the elder son (or the Pharisee) as the one who played the part but harbored sin in his heart. When we encounter the elder son at the end of the story, it is clear that he is discontent and that his heart had strayed from his Father’s perfect love. It seems that there was a propensity in his heart to distrust that the Father was for him. There was a disbelief in the expanse of the Father’s love and a belief in his own perfection. In this wandering state, the son could not understand the Father’s radical forgiveness.

When we strip away the surrounding circumstances of both brothers, we see something to which we all can relate. What we have in common with these two sons is the subtle temptation towards the original lie which slithered it’s repulsive body along the dirt, coiled itself around our flesh and eventually penetrated our hearts. The lie is that we can become our own God if only we will bite the forbidden. Sometimes we bite into clear cut outward rebellion like the younger son. This son searched for wealth, power, attention, purpose and acceptance through reckless living and there came a point when he discovered that “there is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.” (Proverbs 14:12) He saw death approaching because of the choices he made and as he struggled through the suffering of being apart from his Father, God’s grace awakened him and strengthened him to stop destructive, prideful behaviors and turned his heart back to the wonder of his Father’s home. He saw the depth of his sin, repented and in humility began a journey back to peace with his Father. He is empty and humiliated but he still starts the journey back.

Sometimes we will relate more to the elder son. The bite we take will not always be evident because we are willing to go to great lengths to keep our sin hidden from the view of others. We would rather live in the miserable bondage of the perfect masks we so intricately weave then face the truth about the sin in our own hearts. We may bite the rotten fruit of pride, anger, jealously, self righteousness or lust. We harbor that toxic sin in our hearts and it begins to grow and impact everything we touch. Hidden sin impacts our health, relationships, finances and most importantly our faith. The elder brother harbored a bitter resentment towards his younger wayward brother and his father. While he may have kept it hidden for a time, his sin was eventually found out. The light finally shone on the dark corners of his heart as he angrily rebelled against his Father’s bid to come in and celebrate what was most dear to his Father’s heart. When presented with the opportunity to follow in his Father’s loving footsteps, the older son failed. The truth of the state of his heart was exposed. There he stood, outside the house, refusing to come in, all while accusing his father of not giving him enough.

The beauty of the story is that the father saw the truth of both son’s hearts but still loved them and invited them into His house. His grace is available to those outside as well as those inside. But receiving God’s love and grace is not the end of the story. In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen, shares a conversation he had with a friend. In their conversation, his friends says to him “Whether you are the younger son or the elder son, you have to realize that you are called to become the father.” I find this statement powerful and thought provoking. Fathers long to leave a legacy to their children. The legacy this Father wanted to leave his sons, was a way of life that was honest, generous, loving and forgiving. He approached people with a shepherd’s heart and I have a feeling that he desired to pass that along to his children.  Our heavenly Father does not want us to stay as the younger son or the older son, he wants us to grow more into His image.

Over time we are all being transformed into the image of God (1 Cor 3:18) and as that sanctification process is happening there should be growing in our hearts a desire to love more fully and live more freely.   I pray that we would all realize that no matter how “good” we’ve been, we have never really been perfect and we are all in need of God’s recklessly extravagant grace.  Jesus said, ” A thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.  I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)  I see that lived out in this story.  The thief came to destroy and steal life from the two sons but the Father was there waiting and willing to offer life and offer it abundantly.  Be on guard friends.  There is an enemy prowling about seeking to destroy us and lead us astray.  You can choose to wander along your own way or you can find your home safely in the Father.  I choose the refuge of the Father.

 

Be blessed

Tracy

My Mother-in-Law, My Mentor, A Legacy

I was a college student when I came to know Jesus. It was my husband’s mom (we were just dating at that time) who became my first mentor. At the time I didn’t realize this but now I understand that she was intentionally walking alongside me during this first phase of my formation as a Christ follower. This mentoring relationship looked most like a friendship. I would sit at her long kitchen table and watch her peel potatoes and listen to her talk about marriage. Other times, we would come back to the house to find her pouring over her Bible study, timeline in hand and all, and she would excitedly share what she was learning. Or sometimes, it just looked like sharing a meal and discussing college courses. Because I had come to trust her and respect her, I opened my life up to her and she could very easily speak truth and love into my heart. We didn’t go through a planned Bible curriculum. We were simply involved in each other’s day to day lives. And as she observed my life and I asked her questions about hers, she would always point me to Jesus and showed me how to apply his ways to my life.  It wasn’t that she had all the answers. In fact, if she were alive today, we would probably differ quite a bit on some things. But it was her own love for God that kindled my affections for Him in a way that drove me to find Him myself. What a gift she was to me and I will forever be in debt to her for leading me to know the One who created me.  My mother in law is no longer present in this world, but her legacy lives on through those she influenced.

We’re spending time in Titus this week. This letter was written by Paul to Titus, his “child in a common faith.” The purpose of Paul’s letter was to instruct Titus on how to continue to develop and lead the churches he had established in Crete. Tucked away in the second chapter we find a few verses that have become a portrait of Christian mentoring. Often times, Titus 2 is associated with women’s ministry. However, we do a huge disservice to Paul’s writing here if we leave it there. Ultimately, this instruction was meant for the building up of the entire church.

Listen as Paul instructs Titus, with gentle authority, to “teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned

Paul outlines what needs be taught and that it should be taught by example, so how can we actually make this teaching happen in our culture? We start by understanding that the aim in mentoring those in the family of God is to teach people to treasure Christ above all else so that they can discover who God  is and His ways in this world. Through life on life mentoring relationships, we can stir the affections for Christ in the hearts of those around us and help them live into who God created them to be. As that happens, this becomes less of a list of do’s and dont’s and more of a response to living out of who God created us to be.

Mentoring seems to be a bit elusive.  This kind of relationship can be difficult to weave into an individualistic culture, such as what we experience as North Americans. The most ideal way mentoring happens is by observing another’s life and letting them observe ours, which can be difficult when our doors are always closed. There are personal choices we can make, even though we live in a culture that so highly values the needs of the individual over the needs of the group as a whole. We can train ourselves to value dependence instead of independence. We have to learn that it is okay at times to be subject to others as opposed to autonomous. We have get out of our comfort zones and risk letting people into our life. As we venture down this path, which is the most life-giving path for the Christian pilgrim, we will find other wounded and hungry souls to connect with, to learn from and with whom we can be vulnerable. And there is a very good chance that it is through those deep friendships that God will bring healing and health to our hearts.

Titus 2 is not about some sort of buddy system, as Susan Hunt says. It is about being our brother’s (or sister’s) keeper. It’s about walking with others, caring for their souls and continually pointing them to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. It is more about being a wise and loving presence then an advice dispenser.

As we are coming to the end of our Legacy series, let’s think about how mentoring can impact our families. All parents mentor their kids. We ask them things like how hard is it to remember to brush your teach (teaching hygeine), please stop licking the table (have you ever heard of manners?), we help them study (you’re not living here forever), or we do baseball drills like make them put on catcher’s gear and throw baseballs at them and argue that “yes, this really is a drill!” (now that is just a parenting perk). We also teach them more serious things like how to be a loyal friend,  serve others and handle disappointments. However, as Christian parents, we have the responsibility to mentor our children in the ways of our Lord and Savior. We must not neglect this spiritual element. The paths of the wayward are open and easy so it takes a discerning and committed parent to constantly guide our kids back to God’s path of truth and wisdom.

I came across this quote the other day from the book “Deep Mentoring” by Randy Reese and Robert Loane. As we consider our development, the influence of our family must not be underestimated. Families pass on to their children a way of seeing and being in the world. What we were not taught in the everydayness of our lives, we caught along the way. And it is not until well into our own stories that we realize the particular blessings and hazards of what was passed on to us.”  As parents we are our kids first and most important mentors. Our kids are learning from us everyday.

We start out this whole parenting gig with the best of intentions. We record every feeding and dirty diaper, we plan to read to them for hours a day, and you better believe there will be no screen time ever and they will know the whole book of Proverbs by the time they are 6! But then… life. We get tired, they get older and the demands and time available are obscenely disproportionate. We’ve got one baby crying, one toddler playing in the toilet and a kindergartner setting booby traps of water buckets and string around the house. Or maybe you are through that season but have a job that never gives you a moments rest, a teenager who slams the door more then looks you in the eye, and a parent who has fallen ill. And we succumb to weariness and let the most important things fall to the wayside. Falling to the wayside is what the enemy of our souls offers us.  However, God offers another way. He offers us His grace in our weakness.  He will help us accomplish the tasks He has ordained for us.

There is no manual to follow, no rules we must die by. Discipleship looks different for every family. The healthiest mentoring of our children will happen as they see their parents loving and knowing Jesus more and more. Life organically offers opportunities to share what we are learning about God. Don’t close your children out of your love for God. They need to see a real person love God and live obediently to Him. What a privilege it is to disciple our families to know and follow the One who loves them the most, the one who substituted himself for their sins and the only one who can bring healing to our broken world.  Mentoring is a gift and I pray that our church would answer the call to a life that is willing to meet people where they are, walk alongside them and point them to Christ.  Blessings to you as you seek to leave a godly legacy.

What Does Marriage Have to do with Legacy?

I was really thankful that I was given the opportunity to write about marriage this week. Not because I am so awesome at marriage but because it is the area of my life that is the easiest to neglect and I needed to remember that marriage is a special, one of a kind gift. This topic has forced me to slow down and do the difficult work of processing through my own thoughts about marriage, what the culture tells us about marriage and about what God says about marriage.

I will be married to my husband Jake for 13 years next week. We started dating in 1999, right before Y2K, the year our technology would shut down and everyone’s jam was Prince’s Party Like It’s 1999! (And you are welcome because now the lyrics “two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time” will be going trough your head for the rest of the day) Can. You. Even. We have seen each other through college, the passing away of dreams, each of us losing a parent, and our own roles as parents. I have spent half my life with this man and the last 17 years have been a gift, not always easy, but a gift nonetheless. Marriage sees so many seasons and requires so much work that it can be difficult to remember that being called into marriage has a holy purpose. So I hope that through these next few paragraphs, we can remember together the sacredness of this calling as we prepare our hearts for the message being taught this weekend at WRCC.

As Christians, we believe that God created the idea of marriage and that He has blessed it. The very first human to human relationship that was created was that of a husband and wife, Adam and Eve. And since that time, families have been the building blocks of God’s world. Through the union of a man and a woman, children are created and the world is filled. Today we are seeing more and more reliable research indicating that healthy, thriving families create healthy, thriving cultures. We don’t know why God has chosen to work this way but He has made it clear that He works through marriage and that it is close to His heart. (Hebrews 13:4 “Let marriage be held in honor among all…”)

I love the book Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. It has formed much of how I approach marriage. The book can be summed up in this one sentence on the front cover. “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” He goes on to tell about his brother asking him what marriage was like and this is how he replied “If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there’s no question-stay single. Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can’t imagine any better thing to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you’d never have to face otherwise.” What wise advice! Marriage is not about sappy Facebook posts or romantic fairy tales. Marriage is not about completing us or making our dreams come true. If we put ourselves at the center of our marriage, it will fall apart but if God is at the center of our marriage, it will have a firm foundation that can withstand the toughest of storms and through those marriage storms our own sanctification is taking place.

So, going back to Adam and Eve, we might stop and question why did God create two to become one? What is really so significant about a piece of paper that legally binds this covenant? We only have time to scratch the surface here but I would encourage you to dig in to this topic. If you do so prayerfully, I promise God will blow you away with the richness of His truth! The Bible indicates that marriage is a powerful foreshadow of Christ’s union to his Bride, the Church. It symbolizes something holy that is coming.  We are looking at Ephesians 5:21 but if you glance down to Ephesians 5:31-32, it says “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” God has a holy purpose for marriage and through our marriages we can pursue God and his mission. A marriage centered on Christ as the foundation has a sweetness to it that shows the world a new kind of love, a new kind of devotion and a new kind of hope and a Christ-centered marriage is a beautiful reminder to those inside the church of those very same things. So often we want to make everything about ourselves, including our families. But we have to stop that thinking. We have to realize that while marriage is an incredible gift from our very good Father, marriage is not just about us. God created it so that through it we could bring glory to His name and together, with our spouse, pursue an eternal mission.

Anyone who has been married for more than a day understands that marriage can be hard and pursuing any mission with another person can be a difficult and maddening task. There are sure to be fights and disagreements and periods of time where it is difficult to get along, so how can we protect this sacred covenant? I believe we find it hidden in the short verse of Ephesians 5:21. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Husbands and wives protect their marriage by submitting to one another. Here Paul is offering us a way to move past our desires to control and get our own way. We are only looking at Ephesians 5:21 today but I encourage you to continue reading the rest of Ephesians 5. Paul walks us through the different family relationships in his culture and gives very specific advice on how to submit to one another. Notice he doesn’t assign cultural gender roles. Submission is not about the wife having to stay at home for the next 60 years or about who pays the bills. We cheapen God’s design for marriage when we try to make cultural norms God’s perfect truth. Submission is about putting the needs of someone else above your own. It is about saying no to your own flesh so you can serve another. And husbands and wives submit to one another in different ways and it is a beautiful thing! God’s created design is absolutely fantastic. I know from first hand experience that submitting to God first and my husband next has helped me flourish spiritual, emotionally and physically in a way I never could have done otherwise. I have begun to see my submission to my husband not as me following orders but as recognizing my husband has been put into my life to help care for my soul.  He has been faithful to that task and I hope I have been faithful as well.  But here is the thing, I fail all the time. And that is okay! I am growing and learning and relying on God’s grace to help me.

Submitting to one another is not some grandiose idea that only happens in the bigger moments of life. It is the day to day, mundane activities that creates a heart of submission. For my marriage it looks like stopping what I am doing so I can help my husband find his keys for the 19th time in 5 minutes, it’s making him breakfast when I would rather be doing something else because he is rushing out of the door to get to a meeting, it’s my husband taking all three kids to batting practice, even though he is bone-tired from work, so that I can go to a meeting that is important to me, it looks like him putting aside his favorite hobbies so he can spend more time with his family. It has looked like me saying no to a career for a time so I can stay home and manage the family. But it also looks like my husband supporting and encouraging me in my desire to reenter the work world sometime in the future. These are just small decisions we make daily but it is these smaller decisions that create the culture of our family.

Since the theme over the next 5 weeks is Godly Legacies, I will leave you with a final thought. Now, I understand that not all marriages result in children but children are still watching your marriage and you can influence the next generation whether or not you have kids of your own. So, the question is what kind of legacy do you want your children to see through your marriage? How do you want your children to remember your marriage? Do you want them to remember quarreling and bickering and constant power struggles? Or do you want them to remember a marriage where both parents flourished and grew into the people God created them to be? I want my kids to remember a marriage that was marked by selfless acts and generous hearts towards one another. A marriage that had inside jokes and lots of laughing. A marriage filled with depth of conversation and one where each person was challenged to become more and more like Christ. Is it an imperfect marriage?  Yes.  But I am okay with imperfect because I know that through our weaknesses my children will see the power of God’s grace.  I believe that submission is spiritual and can only be done by the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit that lived in Jesus as he submitted to the Father, lives in us. By His power and in His name, we can submit to one another and build a healthy family culture that brings God glory. And through that we can leave a legacy that will impact our kids, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren for years to come.

 

Blessings,

Tracy