All posts by BethBac

An Acronym for LIFE

Why are we here?  What is this life all about?

Dan Kopp’s 4-3-16 message, “The Power of Now” focused on Matthew 22:36-40 where Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment: love God and love others.  Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a Christian, I’m guessing you’ve heard that commandment before.  In his message, Dan put an interesting spin on it: we can’t love someone that we’re not aware of.  Just as we can’t love those around us if we’re not paying attention to them, we can’t love God if we’re not aware of God.

Jacob felt that way in Genesis 28.  Verse 12 tells us that “As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven.  And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.”  God spoke to Jacob from the top of that stairway, telling him about his future, and reassuring Jacob that He would be with him, protecting him.  Jacob woke up saying, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”  (v. 16)  When Jacob became aware that God was with him, he called that place “Bethel”, the house of God and the gate of heaven.

Guess who else is spoken of as the gate of heaven and as a stairway between heaven and earth?  Check out John 1:51 (NLT):

“Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.””

That was Jesus speaking about himself.  And in John 10:9, Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.”

In Matthew 1:23 (CEB), an angel appeared to Joseph and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife saying, “Look!  A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel.  (Emmanuel means “God with us.”)”

Emmanuel.  God with us.  Jesus.  The gate of heaven.  The stairway between heaven and earth.  He is with us.  And what does this mean for us?

Dan went on in his message to quote what theologians have said about “The Power of Now”:

1) Greg Boyd, in his book Present Perfect, said “Over the last twenty-plus years . . . I’ve become absolutely convinced that remaining aware of God’s presence is the single most important task in the life of every follower of Jesus.”

2) Frank Laubach, known as “the Apostle to the Illiterates” and honored with his own postage stamp in 1984, said this in Practicing His Presence, “One question to be put to the test is this: Can we have contact with God all the time?  All the time awake, fall asleep in His arms, and awaken in His presence?  Can we attain that?  Can we do His will all the time?  Can we think His thoughts all the time?  Can I bring the Lord back in my mind flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind?  I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering that question.”

3) And Brother Lawrence, in his classic book, Practicing The Presence of God, said “If I were a preacher, above everything else I would preach the practice of dwelling in the presence of Christ.”

Dwelling in His presence.  Did you know that the name Beth means “dwelling” or “house of God”?  I love that.  The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,  “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)  My name is Beth, but even if yours is not, you are still a temple of the Holy Spirit, a dwelling place for God’s presence.

I completely agree with Greg Boyd, Frank Laubach and Brother Lawrence, but I didn’t know how to phrase it until now.  This is it:  “Can I bring the Lord back in my mind flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind?  I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering that question.”

So, back to this life of ours.  Why are we here?  I’ve been messing with an acronym for the word “L.I.F.E.” for quite some time now.  Listening to Dan’s message this morning brought it together for me:

Legacy
Impact
Focus
Emmanuel

Translated:

Our Legacy (later) and our Impact (now) depend on our Focus on Emamanuel (God with us).

You see, if God is with us, what have we to fear?  If God is with us, The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans:

“The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.  And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”  -Romans 8:11 (NLT)

LIFE to your mortal bodies.  But that LIFE starts with awareness.  Focus on Christ, Emmanuel, God with us.  And what’s the best way to keep our focus on Him?  Thank Him.  Praise Him.  Rejoice.  Once again, the Apostle Paul comes to our rescue with words that help us put this into action:

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

100_5741
I love these verses so much that I had them engraved on the back of my iPod.  🙂

Keep in mind that Paul didn’t instruct us to give thanks FOR all circumstances, but IN all circumstances.  No matter how miserable things get, we always have something to thank Him for.  This is God’s will for all of us.  If you’d like to read more on this subject, please do check out these blog posts:  Moment by Moment, Life that Really Matters, The Swivel Chair, Daddy’s Shoulders, to name a few.

And here’s how Dan ended his sermon.  Again, the Apostle Paul to the rescue, this time to the church in Ephesus (and to us!).  Couldn’t be more appropriate:

“May He grant you out of the riches of His glory, to be strengthened and spiritually energized with power through His Spirit in your inner self, [indwelling your innermost being and personality], so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. And may you, having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]. -Ephesians 3:16-19 (AMP)

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Daddy’s Shoulders

Special thanks to Pedroni Photography for this lovely picture.
Special thanks to Pedroni Photography for sharing this beautiful picture with us.

Take a moment.  Breathe.  Look at the picture above.  Imagine that you’re that tiny person on the shoulders of your Dad.  His strong arms have a firm grip on you and you’re heading out along the path.  The road ahead is blurry from your perspective, but your Dad knows what’s around every curve.  From your vantage point, you can choose to be a nervous wreck, or you can choose to relax and trust your Dad.  Relax and thank him every step of the way, knowing that this life is a beautiful adventure with your Dad who loves you more than you could ever imagine.  You’re a lovely little princess (or a strong, handsome prince) on the shoulders of the King.

You see, this is how I feel about God, my Heavenly Father.  I’m up on His shoulders, His strong arms have a firm grip on me, and we’re heading out along the path.  The road ahead is blurry from my perspective, but He knows what’s around every curve.  From my vantage point, I can choose to be a nervous wreck, or I can relax and trust Him.  Relax and thank Him every step of the way, knowing that this life is a beautiful adventure with my Dad, Who loves me more than I could ever imagine.  I’m a lovely little princess on the shoulders of the King.  I hope you can picture yourself up on those shoulders too.  Your Heavenly Father hopes you can too.

He wants us to relax.  Trust Him.  Thank Him.  Moment by moment, every day.  Let Him guide you.  Take the next step.  This is not about trying harder.  This is about trusting and thanking our Heavenly Father.

Yoda says, “There is no try.  There is do or do not.”

I say, “There is no try.  There is Trust God and Thank God.  And then take the next step.”

Trust & Thank.  T&T.  TNT.

TNT is the abbreviation for the explosive compound used in dynamite: Tri Nitro Toluene.

But the root word of dynamite is from the the Greek “dunamis”, which is used 120 times in the New Testament and is loosely translated as “strength, power, or ability.”

GotQuestions.org put together a quick, easy read about “dunamis” and I highly encourage you to check it out:  What is the meaning of the Greek word dunamis in the Bible?  In that post, they reference several verses where “dunamis” is used.  Here’s my favorite:

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”  – 2 Timothy 1:7 (ESV)

So, what does this “dunamis power” have to do with that path we’re heading down?  The Apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to the Romans (paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in “The Message” version of the Bible):

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.  It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?”  God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are.  We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.  And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance!  We go through exactly what Christ goes through.  If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!”
-Romans 8:15-17 (MSG)

It’s true.  The path of life isn’t easy.  It isn’t all roses and sunshine.  It can be incredibly difficult, discouraging and frightening.  But it can also be really good.  And I believe that God wants every moment.  The good, the bad, the exhilarating, the terrifying.  Every little thing.  Every little decision.  Turn to God and say, “Daddy, what’s next?  What’s the next step in our adventure together?”  In my experience, He doesn’t show me everything that’s coming.  He just gives me the next step. The Psalmist said it this way:

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.”  -Psalm 11:105 (NLT)

A lamp only lights the next step or two, not the whole pathway.  If you want to see more of the path, you need to take another step.  God wants to guide every one of those steps.  And He gives us the power to take each step, as we trust Him and thank Him.  He doesn’t shine a light down the road so that we can see the destination.  He’s much more interested in the journey, guiding us step by step, walking with us, calming our fears, enjoying our presence.

Think back to that picture above.  We’re up on His shoulders.  He’s got us.  We have no need to fear.  We are His dear children, safe and secure in the arms of the Father.  Bethel Music wrote about this so beautifully in their song “No Longer Slaves”.  Listen and let the words sink in.  Trust Him, Thank Him and live in the Dunamis Power that He provides.  May our fears be drowned in His perfect love as we live this adventure called life.

“You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
‘Til all my fears are gone

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

I am surrounded
By the arms of the father
I am surrounded
By songs of deliverance

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I could stand and sing
I am a child of God…”

-Bethel Music, “No Longer Slaves”

Martin Lowenberg’s Story

On November 1, 2005, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution designating January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  I went to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan on a field trip with my 6th grade class in 1983.  I will never forget what I saw there.

When Joshua came home last year with a paper about a Holocaust survivor named Martin Lowenberg, who was going to come to speak to his 7th grade class, I knew I wanted to see him.  It was on March 6, 2015 that I met this extraordinary 87 year old man.  Here is the write-up that Joshua brought home about him:

“Martin Lowenberg was born in 1928 in the province of Hessen, Germany.  In 1933, when the Nazis came into power in Germany, Lowenberg lived with his parents and his siblings.  Initially, he attended public school, but in 1936 at the age of eight, he was sent to a Jewish boarding school and then transferred to a segregated school for Jews only in Fulda.  All attempts made by the family to leave Germany and remain together were unsuccessful.  It was virtually impossible for a large family, without relatives in foreign countries, to obtain the required affidavit of financial support necessary to obtain an immigration visa.

After the beginning of World War II, a decent life in Fulda became even more difficult.  Merchants refused to sell food or goods to Jews.  Beginning in September 1941, Jews were required to wear a yellow star patch on their clothing.  In December 1941, Lowenberg and his family were deported with approximately 1,000 other Jews to Riga, Latvia.  The train trip took four days.  From the train depot they had to walk in severe cold temperatures several miles on snowy and icy streets to a ghetto, called Moscow Suburb.  On August 16, 1943, Lowenberg, now fifteen years old and considered fit for slave labor, was sent to the Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga.  That was the last time he saw his parents and twin brothers who were at the time just nine years old.  

The Riga ghetto was closed on November 2, 1943.  The remainder of the ghetto’s inhabitants, including Lowenberg’s parents and his brothers, were taken to the freight depot and loaded on cattle cards and boxcars.  They were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where they perished.

In the Kaiserwald concentration camp, Lowenberg slept on wooden bunks without mattresses and wore striped prisoners’ clothes.  The food rations were barely enough to sustain life, consisting of one slice of bread and two bowls of watery soup per day.

In September 1944, Martin and his sister, Eva, were taken to Hamburg, Germany.  In Hamburg they were placed in the Fuhlsbuettel prison.  In April 1945, the Jewish prisoners were forced on a death march for four days and nights to the German city of Kiel, about seventy miles away.  

Near the end of the war, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler made an agreement to exchange truckloads of Polish women for the safety of his own family into Sweden.  Jewish prisoners, however, were substituted for the Polish women and Lowenberg and his sister, Eva, were liberated to Sweden.  They spent one year recuperating in three displaced persons’ camps in Sweden.  Three more of Martin’s siblings survived the war and they were all reunited in the United States.  All of his other close relatives perished during the Holocaust.  In 1960, Martin Lowenberg married U.S. born Carol and they have three daughters and fourteen grandchildren.

For more information on the Holocaust or on Mr Lowenberg, please visit the Holocaust Memorial Center website.”

When Mr. Lowenberg spoke to Joshua’s 7th grade class, he shared all of those details and so many more.  He stopped attending public school at eight years old because his teacher falsely accused him of sticking his tongue out at a picture of Hitler.  As punishment, his teacher had four boys beat him up and then his teacher pushed him onto a board covered with nails.  That’s why his parents took him out of the public school and sent him to a Jewish boarding school 150 miles from home.   This house was burned down, his synagogue was burned down, his father had served his country as an officer in World War I, but no one cared.  When they were forced to wear the yellow Jewish star with the name Jude (Jew) emblazoned on it, they couldn’t go outside without being accosted.  When they were forced out of their homes in 1941 to be “resettled” elsewhere, they were told to pack a bag and that it would be sent later.  Of course, the bags were never sent.  Yes, the train trip to Latvia took four days, but in old passenger, freight, and cattle cars where he was standing the entire time because there was no room to lie down.  Once they arrived in Riga, they had to eat snow for two weeks, as there was no food.

I can barely type these words, my hands are shaking so badly.  I urge you to read Mr. Lowenberg’s story on the Holocaust Memorial Center’s website:  click here for the full story.

In this interview, he was asked, “What message would you like to leave for future generations?”  His answer:

“Be kind to people, be good citizens, vote, be a religious person, and believe in the way you were brought up.  We were brought up as good decent people.  Love thy neighbor as thyself, this is the basis of everything, that everybody is equal, nobody’s different.

Do not hate.  Hate is such a terrible word.

The H stands for humiliation, horror, harassment, hunger.
The A stands for atrocities, anger, awful, abolishment.
The T stands for torture, torment, and trauma.
The E is for extermination, elimination, and evil.

Put a D in front of evil and you get the Devil.  That’s what I lived under, the Devil.  Hate is a horrible word.  Love is the most beautiful word.  Hate hurts, love heals.  This is my motto when I do my public speaking here in the United States as well as on visits to Germany.”

“Mr. Lowenberg has been a Holocaust educator for more than 25 years.  He is a regular speaker at the Holocaust Memorial Center as well as at community functions and schools. Uniquely, Mr. Lowenberg frequently travels outside of the Detroit area to give lectures for Holocaust education.  He speaks throughout the state of Michigan, including the Upper Peninsula.  In 2006, Mr. Lowenberg was honored by the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families for his dedication to Holocaust education and remembrance.”

Here is brief video clip of Mr. Lowenberg recorded on April 24, 2014 at 86 years old:

If you ever have a chance to see Mr. Lowenberg, or any other Holocaust survivor, speak, please go.  Please listen.  Please remember.  Let us never forget.

In memory of the eleven million victims of the Holocaust, the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan has waived museum admission on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  If you’re in the area, please stop by today or any day, Sunday through Friday.  There are public tours at 1:00 pm each day, usually followed by a Holocaust Survivor Speaker.

Money without Meaning

It’s official.  Our $1.5 Billion PowerBall lottery dreams are gone.  All of the hopes and plans for that money, or even just a small part of it, are no longer.  But it sure created a buzz while it lasted.  What would you do with all of that money?

Did you know that Jesus taught more on money than on any other subject?  There are more than 2000 verses in the Bible about money.  That’s more than prayer, more than faith, more than forgiveness, heaven, hell and the Kingdom of God.  Check out some of the “financial” words that God uses to describe His relationship with us:

1) we are redeemed (Is. 44:22, Lam. 3:58, Gal. 3:13),
2) we are reconciled (Rom. 5:10, 2 Cor. 5:18-20, Col. 1:22),
3) our debt is cancelled (Luke 7:41-43, Col. 2:14),
4) Jesus became poor so that we might become rich (2 Cor. 6:10 & 8:9),
5) we cannot serve two masters, both God and money (Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13).

And that’s just a small sampling.

There’s a hymn that describes the gospel of Jesus this way:

“He paid a debt He did not owe,
I owed a debt I could not pay”
He Paid a Debt by Ellis J. Crum

Let’s take that a step further.  What if Jesus is more powerful than PowerBall?  What if He died so that all of our debts would be forgiven, literally?  What if our mortgage was paid, our cars were paid, we had no credit card debt, no student loan debt, or any debt at all, and all of the food, clothing and shelter we would ever need were provided for us?

Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:24 about not serving two masters and goes on to say:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”
-Matt. 6:25-26 (ESV)

Our heavenly Father knows that we need food and clothing, and He provides them for the birds and flowers.  Why wouldn’t He provide them for us?  We’re so caught up in making money, saving money, spending money, moving money around, worrying that there won’t be enough money, trying to figure out how to get things without money (lotteries, loans, credit cards, getting you to give me something), anxious and distracted.

What if we never had to think about money again?  What if wealth and power and greed had no meaning?  What if I didn’t need to be concerned about what you had (envy, jealously, keeping up with the Jones’s), because I had everything I needed?  What if I were content down to my bones?  What would my life be about?  Would I go to work?  Would I strive?  Would I do anything?  What would define me?

The Apostle Paul says this in his letter to the Romans:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
-Romans 13:8-10 (NIV)

What if Jesus is the one who takes away the debt of the world?  What if believing in Him and receiving Him means that we get to see the world through His eyes?  Would our entire focus change?  Would we no longer be slaves to the “stuff that makes the world go round”?  Would we instead be free to love one other, because that’s what Jesus does and that’s what He wants to do through us?  Would that be Heaven on Earth?

The Eastside Vineyard Church started a new series on Heaven a few weeks back.  In Dan Kopp’s 1-17-16 message called Looking (and Praying) Down from Above, he asked two questions:

1) If someone from Heaven could talk to you, what do you think they would say?

2) If someone in Heaven was praying for you, what do you hope they’d be praying for?

Do you think they’d tell us that we should focus on accumulating more while we’re here (“whoever dies with the most stuff wins”?) or do you think they would pray that we would focus on what really matters?  PowerBall or the Power of God?  It’s only by His power that we can truly love one another.  We don’t have it in us.  But if He is in us, we have all we need.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” – Matt. 6:33 (ESV)

There is power in the name of Jesus
To break every chain
All sufficient sacrifice
So freely given
Such a price
Bought our redemption
Heaven’s gates swing wide
Break Every Chain by Jesus Culture

Thank you and Merry Christmas!

I wanted to share with you a video that we recorded at our new building a couple nights ago.  It’s a “thank you” video to all of our customers at Sportsmen’s Direct, but it applies equally to our employees, founding ProStaffers, suppliers, friends, family, really everyone who has supported us over the last 6 years.  It’s been a crazy ride and we wouldn’t have made it without all of your support and prayers.

I also wanted to wish all of my blog supporters a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Thank you for supporting me and my blog over the last 18 months.

Here’s our annual Christmas collage card:

2015 Christmas

If you see me live and in person, please ask – I have a hard copy version for you. 🙂

If you’re in the Metro Detroit area (or the Orlando, Florida area), please join us for one of 46 Christmas Eve services at Kensington Church (your choice of 7 different campuses). Free tickets are available by clicking here.  If you’re not in the area, I believe Troy will be live-streaming their services: click here to live-stream.

And, lastly, I wanted to pass along several blog posts that have meant a lot to me over the past year.  Feel free to check them out if they sound like they apply to you:

1) What in the world was God thinking when he created us?  Worth It

2) Does life feel like one problem after another?  Life That Really Matters

3) Ever feel like you’re too much and too little all at the same time?  Won’t You Be My Love?

4) What does true love look like?  Grace, Truth and Audacious Dreams

5) What does God see when He looks at us?  Through Heaven’s Eyes

6) How can we really “let go and let God”?  Moment by Moment

7) Can I brag on my kids?  My Kids (including K-Rock’s 2015 Star Wars production)

Merry Christmas to you and your families!
-Beth, John, Joshua, Jordan Rose & the Charlie dog

2016 Update:

Here’s a link to the 12-30-15 C&G News article on Sportsmen’s Direct: C&G News article

Here’s a link to the 1-14-16 Michigan Out of Doors episode, ice fishing on Lake St Clair with a visit to Sportsmen’s Direct and an interview with Justin Clark:  Michigan Out of Doors

The Swivel Chair

When you hear the words “sin” and “repent”, does it make you want to run screaming in the other direction?  That was me.  I was an atheist for the first 22 years of my life and I had absolutely no interest in anything having to do with God or Christianity.  Thankfully, that all changed in 1994 (you can read that story here: Joshua the Prophet).

After following Christ for about 20 years, I felt like God gave me some clarity on the words “sin” and “repent” and I wrote a very short post about them last year.  Have you read it?  If not, you can check it out here: Two “churchy” words

For the past year, every time I read the Bible, I read it in the light of what those words now mean to me.  And it’s brought such clarity that I want to share more with you.  How can I make it crystal clear?

The Swivel Chair in my mind
The Swivel Chair in my mind

How about this?  I have a swivel chair in my office.  I can choose to turn it in all different directions.  I can turn toward the computer, the printer, the file cabinet or the hallway.  It’s my choice.

Imagine that there is a swivel chair in each of our minds.  We have the choice of which direction we turn our thoughts.  But unlike the swivel chair in my office, imagine that this chair can only face one of two directions.  It can turn toward God or away from God.  And, just like in my office chair, we have the choice of which way we turn.

If it were up to God, there would be one moment in every human being’s life when we realize that we are not the king of our own universe, but that He is the King of the universe.  In that moment when we turn to God, acknowledging that He is our creator and the ultimate authority in our life, thanking Him for sending Jesus to take on our sin, we are what Christians call “saved”.  That decision is called “salvation”, when we are “born again” (John 3:3).

But it’s not up to God.  That’s not the kind of world He created.  Instead of creating robots,  He created human beings with free will.  Why?  Because He created us to be in a love relationship with Him.  If He demanded that we love Him, that wouldn’t be love.  Love requires choice.  And the choice is up to us.  He already made His choice.  He loves us no matter what.  But His desire is that we would choose to love Him back.

And when we choose to love Him back, accepting His love and forgiveness, we’re “saved”, as the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

But God speaks in the Bible over and over again about “repentance”; changing our mind and turning to Him.  Why do we need repentance if we’ve already turned to God?  Isn’t once good enough?  Are we unsaved and then we get saved again and again and again?

Nope.  Salvation happens one time.  But we are human.  The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 7 that our fallen human “sinful nature” draws us back to our own devices over and over again.  Probably a million times each day, our thoughts turn away from God and back to our own selfish desires.  And that is “sin”.  That is turning away from God.  That is “missing the mark”.

Think about that swivel chair in our mind.  There are only two directions:

  1. Sin (pride, “missing the mark”) = trying to figure out life on my own
  2. Faith (humility, repentance, “changing one’s mind”) = turning to God for His direction

Romans 14:23 says that “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

From the swivel chair, that makes perfect sense.  There are only two directions: Faith or Sin.  We can look to God and see the world through His eyes (Faith) or we can look at the world however we think is best (Sin).  “There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.”  Proverbs 16:25 (NLT)

God created us to have a relationship with Him.  Intimacy with Him is the goal.  Not following the rules, but following Jesus. Not perfection, but following the Perfect One.

In Beth Moore’s “Living Free” study, she quotes a friend who was far from God, depressed and broken.  Her friend said, “I thought I couldn’t come to God with this sin in my life.”  When I read that, my heart broke for her.  I wanted her to understand that not coming to God WAS the sin in her life.  Turn around.  Come to Him.  That is repentance.  That is faith.  That is humility.

In “Living Free”, Beth goes on to say that “prayer keeps us in constant communion with God, which is the goal of our entire believing lives.  Prayerless lives are powerless lives, and prayerful lives are powerful lives; but, believe it or not, the ultimate goal God has for us is not power but personal intimacy with Him.”

He loves us.  He created us.  He wants us, warts and all.  He knows we’re messed up.  He knows we’re broken.  But that brokenness is not sin.  That is part of being human.  Our sin is our turning away from Him.  Repentance is turning back, confident that He is waiting to receive us with open arms.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

Beth Moore continues her study with the question, “How is intimacy with God different from the goal of being good enough to be acceptable to God?”  Here is my answer.  And my prayer is that it can be your answer as well.

Intimacy with You, my God, is knowing that, because I turned to Jesus who took on my sin, my “turning away”,  and accepted Him as my Lord and Savior, I’m already good enough, covered in Your grace, reclining at Your banqueting table, resting with You, my creator, enjoying Your presence and knowing that You enjoy me, just as I am.

Go ahead.  Read that again.  In the swivel chair of your mind, turn to God, seeing the huge  smile on His face, and read those words to Him.  He’s so happy to see you.

“For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
-Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

Through Heaven’s Eyes

“If you looked in the mirror and saw yourself through God’s eyes, what are some things you can imagine He’d say about what He sees?”

That was Dan Kopp’s sneak preview to his 9-6-15 message at The Eastside Vineyard Church called “The Lying Mirror“.  In that message, Dan quoted Leif Hetland’s book, “Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes“:

“We all have a need for significance.  Besides survival, it is the strongest drive we have.  We need to know that our life matters, that who we are and why we are here counts for something.  So… who are you?  And why are you here?

You are God’s crowning achievement, His masterpiece.  You were fearfully and wonderfully made.  You were also purposefully made.  You are here for a reason – to bear God’s image and to establish His heavenly Kingdom on earth.  You are a co-creator with Him, a co-ruler with Him, and a co-lover with Him.  He has chosen you to dance in step with the Trinity . . . In this vast and expansive universe, you matter.  You!  You are loved beyond comprehension.  You are precious beyond words.  You are valued beyond measure.”

Then Dan did something beautiful.  He took that quote, line by line, and gave us God’s Word for each part (click on the red references to go to each verse at Biblegateway.com):

You are God’s crowning achievement (He saved the best for last):  Genesis 1:26-27
You are God’s masterpiece:  Ephesians 2:10
You were fearfully and wonderfully made:  Psalm 139: 13-14
You were purposefully made:  Ephesians 2:10
You were made in the image of God:  Colossians 3:10
You are here to establish God’s heavenly Kingdom on earth:  John 14:12
You are a co-creator with Him (He has given you gifts):  Exodus 35:30-31
You are a co-ruler with Him:  Genesis 1:26
You are a co-lover with Him:  Galatians 5:6
You get to join the dance with the Triune God:  John 17:1-5 **(see below)
You matter!  You are crowned with glory and honor:  Psalm 8:5-6
You are loved beyond comprehension:   Ephesians 3:17-18
You are precious beyond words:  Psalm 116:15
You are valued beyond measure:  Matthew 6:26

God is not mad at us.  He’s not disappointed in us.  He loves us.  He likes us.  He delights in us.  He longs to see us blossom into who He sees we can become.  If we could look in the mirror and see what God sees, would it change the way we live?  Would we stop wasting energy beating ourselves up and instead put that energy into receiving God’s love and passing it along to those around us?

“When you need comfort, I love to enfold you in My arms.  I enable you not only to feel comforted but also to be a channel through whom I comfort others.  Thus you are doubly blessed, because a living channel absorbs some of whatever flows through it.”
– Sarah Young, “Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence“, October 16th

I want to be that living channel.  I want to absorb God’s love as it flows through me to other people.  But in my own strength, I can’t do it.  And it’s not a matter of trying harder.  It’s a matter of trusting Jesus.  I need to turn to Him, thank Him, and breathe in His gift of life, moment by moment, day by day.  Rest, receive and pass it on.

“My calling is outside of my ability to fulfill it.  Only Jesus living through me can do it.”
– Beth Moore’s 2015 Living Proof Live Simulcast

“Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You”

– Matt Maher, “Lord, I Need You

**If you’ve ever wondered why God created us and why He is Three Persons in One (the “Triune God” or the “Trinity”), check out Dan Kopp’s message from 8-30-15 called “Dancing with the Triune God“.  Dan paints an incredible picture that you need to see with your own eyes.  Take 30 minutes to watch.  You’ll be so glad you did.

Grace, Truth and Audacious Dreams

Beth Moore’s new book “Audacious” was inspired by two questions:

1) What is your dream?
2) What is your vision for the future?

Those two questions lead me to a statement by Pastor Tim Keller which I’ve heard quoted over and over again:

“The gospel is this:  We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” 

I completely agree with that statement, but at the same time, I feel very condemned by the first half of it.  Yes, I know that I am sinful and flawed.  I get that.  And I get stuck in it.  But when I read the book “The Cure” this past April, I was overwhelmed by the amazing grace and love of God.  I felt like I might actually be able to live in the second half of Tim Keller’s statement that I am “more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ” than I ever dared hope.

But some will read that “The Cure” is about God’s grace and immediately the flags go up.  You can’t teach people to live in grace!  Won’t they:

  1. Have permission to sin?
  2. Stop praying, serving, giving and reading the Bible?
  3. Get lazy and stop striving for excellence?
  4. Treat God like their “buddy” instead of the Holy Creator of Everything?
  5. Lose their drive to “be all they can be”?

However, the “grace police” need not be concerned.  God’s grace is not a “get out of jail free” card because living in grace is not complete without also living in truth.

Chris Zarbaugh did a beautiful job explaining how Grace and Truth work together in our “Christian Redefined” series back on March 8, 2015 in a message called “The One Two Punch” (unfortunately, there is no video for this message, but the audio is posted).  Here’s the picture and explanation you’re missing without the video:

High Grace + Low Truth = Enabled

Low Grace + Low Truth = Unloved

Low Grace + High Truth = Judged

High Grace + High Truth = Loved

Grace + Truth = Enabled, Unloved, Judged or Loved
Grace + Truth = Enabled, Unloved, Judged or Loved

Chris quoted John 1:14:  “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  And Chris was very specific that “full of grace and truth” doesn’t mean that Jesus balanced grace and truth, but that He was the full measure of grace and truth.  So, what does that mean?  Here’s how Chris put it:

Grace says “you’re forgiven”.  Truth says “you’re accountable”.

Grace says “it’s gonna be alright”.  Truth says “you’ve got a lot of work to do”.

Grace says “I love you just as you are”.  Truth says “please change”.

I’ve always heard, “God loves you just as you are, but He loves you too much to leave you that way.”  But that always sounded like a back-handed compliment to me, until I read “The Problem of Pain” by CS Lewis.  Here’s how he put it in the chapter called “Divine Goodness”:

“We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest “well pleased”. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities — no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack. What we would here and now call our “happiness” is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.”

Living in the full measure of God’s grace and truth allows us to mature into who God sees we can become.  For God to say that we’re fine as we are and that we can stay that way would not be loving.  That would be enabling.  Yes, God loves us immeasurably.  He could not possibly love us more.  But in loving us, He sees our potential.  He sees the beauty that is in store.  And He longs to see us blossom into that beauty.

“Consider the caterpillar.  If we brought a caterpillar to a biologist and asked him to analyze it and describe its DNA, he would tell us, “I know this looks like a caterpillar to you.  But scientifically, according to every test, including DNA, this is fully and completely a butterfly…. The caterpillar matures into what is already true about it.”  –“The Cure” Chapter Three

As human beings loved by God, we, like caterpillars, also have the potential to mature into what is already true about us.  Living in a continual state of false guilt, thinking we “gotta do more, gotta be more” (remember “Dead Poets Society“?) is paralyzing.  I know I can’t do it, so feel like my only option is to give up.  Living in a continual state of God’s Grace, knowing that He loves me and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and that He’s not waiting for me to get it right and be perfect, frees me to be who He created me to be.  That’s the Truth part.  Taking personal responsibility for the gifts He has given me.  Being a steward of this body, mind and soul that He’s allowed me to borrow for a little while.

So, what about those two questions that inspired Beth Moore?

1) What is your dream?
2) What is your vision for the future?

So many non-Christians feel that their lives are “just dandy” without Jesus, not realizing that they’re living outside of their full potential.  And so many Christ-followers, paralyzed in our fear that we don’t deserve Jesus, don’t realize that we’re also living outside of our full potential.  So no one acts.  Passivity reigns.  The result?  Look around.  Too many people live ineffective lives and the world goes to hell in a hand-basket.  That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

My dream and my vision for the future is two-fold:

1) That those who don’t yet know Christ could fully grasp and act upon the first part of Tim Keller’s quote: we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe. Truth: we need Jesus.  

2) That those who do know Christ could fully grasp and act upon the second part of Tim Keller’s quote: we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.  Grace: Jesus needs us.  

If every person in the world lived in the full measure of the Grace and Truth of Jesus, what could this world become?

Branches, Vines and Grapes

Jordan Rose was unpacking her lunch box the other day and showed me the empty branch from the grapes she had eaten that day.  She said, “It’s gotten all dried out because the grapes are gone.”

Was she right?  Is that why the branch was dried out?  Of course her logic was faulty, but I know I’ve made the same assumption.  When I’m not being productive, my life feels “dried out”.  But my logic is backwards.  My life isn’t dried out because of my lack of productivity, it’s dried out because I’m no longer connected to the Vine.  Jesus said it this way:

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Galatia, said it this way:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

Dr Bill and Anabel Gillham built a whole ministry in response to that one statement.  Here’s what they had to say about “dried up lives”:

“The Christian life is not difficult to live; it is impossible. Jesus Christ is the only one who has ever really lived the Christian life.  He is the only one who can live it today, and that is exactly what He wants to do – through you.”

When Jesus walked the earth 2000 years ago, was He expecting us to “try harder” to make this life work?  Does a grapevine have to try really, really hard to produce grapes?

Let’s look at the words of Jesus in Luke 11:1-13.  He packs so much into those 13 verses.  First, he teaches the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father, Who art in Heaven…” you know that one).  Then he teaches us to be shamelessly persistent in asking for what we need:

“Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.”  Luke 11:5-8 (NLT)

Then he continues with the following:

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Luke 11:9-10 (NLT)

And if you’re someone who doesn’t know if Jesus is real, if God is real, I believe those words were spoken especially for you.  Ask for what you need and keep on asking.  Be shamelessly persistent.  Ask Him if He’s real.  Ask Him to show you evidence that, not only did He come to this planet 2000 years ago, but that He is alive today.  Ask Him to show you how much He loves you.  Ask Him to show you what it means to be a branch connected to the Vine.  Ask Him to show you the fruit He wants to produce in your life.  Ask Him to overwhelm you with His presence.  He will.

Not sure how?  Here’s how Plumb asked:

“I can’t do this by myself
I can’t do this,
I can’t do this,
Oh God I need Your help”

-Plumb “I Can’t Do This”

Inspired by “The Cure”

Two days ago, I received an email asking if I was still writing blogs because she hadn’t seen any lately.  How sweet of her to ask.  She was right.  I haven’t written since April 11th (Won’t You Be My Love).

I realized yesterday that my blog’s one year anniversary is today, July 16th.  “If they asked me, I could write a book…” was that first post where I said, “I keep writing and writing, waiting for a book to pop out, but it never does.”  But now, looking back, I know that it finally did “pop out”.  If you’d like to read it, this is My Story.

It even had a sequel, a series of posts that expanded on that story:  Moment By Moment.

So, what have I been doing since that last post on April 11th?  Well, another interesting story has begun.  It all started on March 28th, when I realized that I wasn’t going to have something written in time for Maggie’s birthday party.

You remember Maggie.  She’s the young songwriter featured in the original Moment By Moment post.  If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve most likely received that post as my birthday present to you (written on my birthday last October).

You see, Maggie’s amazing parents were putting together a one-of-a-kind birthday party for a one-of-a-kind 16 year old girl.  They wanted to tell the story of Maggie’s life, honoring the God who made that life possible, and share the day with friends and family who had impacted Maggie’s first 16 years.  I was honored to be on the guest list.  And those on the guest list were asked to write something to bring to the party to share with Maggie.

But my brain wouldn’t cooperate.  I wanted to encourage Maggie with words of wisdom, something akin to Bart Millard’s “Dear Younger Me“.  I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, but it just wouldn’t come together.  I always say that I need a lot of “space” in my brain to write, and I was seriously lacking in space.  I sobbed as I told my dear husband that I couldn’t do it.  And I almost decided not to go to the party.  Thankfully, John encouraged me to go anyway, even without something written.  I’m so glad I did.

The party was incredible.  I would have gone if only to be able to watch Maggie’s mom tell the story of her life.  It was beautiful.  And then friends and family shared and their stories added to the beauty of the day.  We all joined hands and prayed over Maggie.  I prayed that Maggie and her friends would never cancel their plans because they felt inadequate.

I cried as I prayed those words, because I knew that God wanted me there and I knew He wanted me to pass along that message.  I didn’t want them to ever miss an opportunity like that because, in engaging with others, we are in fact engaging with God.

Here’s how God engaged with me that day.  I sat with two friends who I hadn’t seen in years.  We spent some time catching up on each other’s lives.  I shared with them about my blog and about the miracle that God performed on September 13 & 14, 2014.  That was the beginning of my story: Redeemed – Part 1.  In that post, I wrote about seeing MercyMe in concert.  Bart Millard, MercyMe’s lead singer, had “been on an amazing road to transformation over the last couple years and it was exciting to hear his story.”

What if God isn't who you think He is and neither are you
The Cure: What if God isn’t who you think He is and neither are you

One of my friends said, “Do you know what started all of that?  He read a book by John Lynch called The Cure“.  She and her husband “just happened” to have been on the “MercyMe at Sea” cruise in January 2015 where they got to hear first-hand from Bart Millard about the book and why it was so impactful to him.  In fact, you can hear about it, right from the authors themselves, in this 11 minute podcast:  Sailing in the Dark.  MercyMe’s Welcome to the New album was directly inspired by this book.

Well, I went home from Maggie’s party and ordered the book.  And when it arrived, I devoured it.  Many times throughout the book, I literally laughed out loud as I read.  I could not believe what I was reading.  So many of the concepts I’ve written about in this blog are IN THIS BOOK.  Bart Millard never mentioned “The Cure” at the concert last September.  How huge is God that He was able to communicate all of this to me through MercyMe’s album, never having read the book that the album was based on?

If it was that important to God that I find this book, then I needed to know more.  I’ve since bought several other books by the same authors and listened to many podcasts on their website, TrueFaced.com:

Bo’s Cafe:  “The Cure” for marriage (devoured that one too)
The Ascent of a Leader:  “The Cure” for leaders (currently devouring this one)
On My Worst Day:  John Lynch’s story (this one is next on my list to devour)
Podcasts:  “Bo’s Cafe” informal chats with the authors, each only about 10-15 minutes long

And I’m blessed to be working through “The Cure” Small Group Study with two dear friends this summer.  We’re about half way through and it’s been wonderful.

But, first and foremost, if you’re intrigued, get The Cure.  And if you’re inspired too, please share.

And what ever happened with Maggie’s birthday present?  That 50th post, Won’t You Be My Love, was for her.  And this 51st post?  This one is for everyone.  After all, when you find the cure, don’t you want to share it with the world?