Sawdust and Sugar

Do you remember back in elementary or middle school when you would learn a concept but you didn’t really know why you were learning it? As a concept it made sense, but it didn’t seem to have a place in “real life”? But then you get older and it suddenly makes sense as to why you had to learn it? Division, for example. As a kid I wondered why I really needed to know division – was I really going to need to figure out how many 7 lb. bags of potatoes were in a 34 lb. pot of mashed potatoes? But then, sure enough, there I am one day,  trying to figure out how many standard sized water bottles I drank if I had drank 60 oz of water because I was trying to start drinking more water and the app I was using to track it annoyingly didn’t count by increments of water bottles. It happened. I used the division (I’m sure I’ve used division way more than that in my practical life, but that is the only example I could think of off the top of my head). I understood why I had to learn the putrid skill of “seeing how many times something went into something else.” It now made sense.

I had one of these moments recently, not about math but about sin. As a follower of Christ, I understood that sin was missing God’s mark, disobeying, etc. But this weekend as I was snowed in at a cabin with some friends, we were having a discussion about what God had been doing in one of our friend’s life. She talked about how in deciding to let something go in her life, she was freeing herself for what God had intended for her in that something’s place. Hmm. That got my wheels turning.

Only a few hours later, I was sitting on the couch in our cozy quite chilly cabin reading Everyday Saint: Rejecting Sin, Choosing Love by Jim Hampton. I came across a passage that was talking about the very same thing. Jim says, “sin is a paltry shadow of real truth, beauty, and goodness, and that what God wants to give us is far more glorious and wonderful that the poor substitutes to which we cling.” Hmm.

Suddenly, sin not only meant missing the mark or disobeying God, it meant using our God-given free will to choose to, as Mr. Hampton said, cling to poor substitutes of something much, much better. It’s like wanting a cup of coffee and needing something to sweeten it with. You think to yourself, “Hmm.. I have sugar in the cabinet, but I also have a maple tree in the back yard. I think I’ll go saw off a limb and put the sawdust in my coffee.”

It. Makes. No. Sense.

So why do we settle for maple tree sawdust instead of sugar – an intended sweetener?  Why do we cling to worry when we’re intended to have peace? Why do we cling to any number of things when they’re a pale imitation of what we’re meant to have?

Sin is trading in Eden for a life of pain. It’s trading in gem stones for pebbles. It’s sawdust for sugar.

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Thoughts from my Devotional

Hello lovely internet people! I’m doing a really cool devotional called 52 Weeks With Jesus by James Merrit and I had a pretty cool realization this morning while I was reading so I thought I would share what I wrote in my journal.

“God wants our lives to be a masterpiece of His goodness and grace.” – James Merrit

I love that. Our lives are meant to be a testimony of God’s goodness and grace. That wouldn’t be possible if we were perfect! If we were perfect people, there would be no room for grace – so that takes some pressure off of us. We don’t have to be perfect because we never will be, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean we should walk around intentionally making bad decisions because we think God hasn’t had a chance to exercise His grace in awhile. What it does mean is that when we do stray from God’s best, His perfect plan (a.k.a. sinning), His grace will cover it because of His goodness. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s masterpieces. Think about how crazy that is:  God knew that the fall would happen from the beginning, He knew that we were going to be messed up people, yet we are still His masterpieces! Despite our shortcomings, God loves us dearly. We are not to let our flaws and struggles destroy us, we must let God mend us and work in our lives so that our lives are beautiful testimonies of God’s goodness and grace.

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Photo Credit: Anastasia Zhenina

Notes on Exodus 16

I thought I’d share my notes on Exodus 16 from my Bible Journal.

“Sometimes God delivers us but we are so short-sighted that all we do is grumble like the Israelites in the desert. We don’t see the big picture, how much better it will be for us once we are out of the bondage of sin – or even just a bad circumstance – even if we face obstacles after.

When we complain, we are complaining against God and the life He’s given us – or the situation we’ve put ourselves in due to sin. Either way, complaining doesn’t solve the problem. It just makes us bitter.

Moses told the Israelites not to keep food until morning – not to hoard. They needed to trust God because He was going to provide. We need to trust in God and His ability to provide for us.”

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Photo Credit: Omar Prestwich

A Letter to “The Sinner”

Dear “Sinner,”

I’m sorry that social media is filled with Christians screaming about everything they’re against rather than what they’re for. I’m sorry that Christians are more concerned with telling you what’s wrong with you rather than working on what’s wrong with them. I’m sorry that Christians ostracize you because you’re a “sinner” instead of giving you mercy and grace that God extended – and still extends – to them. I’m sorry that Christians beg God to forgive their pasts, but they can’t see past yours. I’m sorry that Christians point judgmental fingers rather than extend loving hands. I’m sorry that Christians are too caught up with being religious that they stop trying to be Christ-like. I’m sorry that Christians would rather scream at you that you’re going to Hell instead of showing you the loving, gracious, and merciful Creator. I’m sorry that Christians care more about their image than they do about loving others. I’m sorry that Christians call you by your sin rather than by your name. I’m sorry that Christians call you ugly when God calls you beautiful. Most of all I’m sorry that these things break my heart yet I still find myself guilty of them.

Love,

Another Sinner

God Says

My, oh, my. The Christian walk doesn’t always feel easy, does it? There are some days that I just get so fed up with myself and my inability to do what I know God wants me to do. Some days I am just too tired to be nice or to go out of my way to help someone. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by guilt and shame because I deliberately go against what God says. I feel like a dirty, broken sinner.

And I am.

I am a sinner with blood on my hands and lies in my heart.

But I am also so loved by God.

The other night I was talking to someone about letting go of guilt and shame and embracing the love of God. I remember saying something along the lines of, “When we wallow in the fact that we sinned, when we let the guilt chain us down, we are focusing on ourselves. We get this self-righteous attitude because we’re making it all about us. We ignore God’s promises in favor of our self-pity. It’s so hard to face God with blood on our hands rather than running the other way, but we have got to stop making it about ourselves. Jesus didn’t die so that we could get caught up in ourselves and our inability to live the life we are called to live. You see, it’s not about us, it’s not about what we can’t do, it’s about what He did. Jesus died to cleanse us, to free us. We need to take the focus off of ourselves and put it on the One who saves us, the One who set us free, the One who loves us despite our sin, the One who died knowing already every act of treason that we would commit against Him, the One who said ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’ as He was dying.” 

I finished speaking and I sat back. I said, “That wasn’t me. Those were not my words. I needed to hear that so much.”

God put words into my mouth to say to someone else that I desperately needed to hear. It’s not about me.

When I look at myself, all I is that I feel worthless, undeserving, broken, tainted.

But when I look at God, all I see is mercy, love, grace, forgiveness.

I stopped in the middle of writing this post to go to church. Tonight we sang – and I heard for the first time – “Who You Say We Are” by Steven Curtis Chapman. The song really resonated with me and paralleled so well with the message in my heart that I had been writing about just 3o minutes before; I smiled and praised God about how amazing His timing is.  While I was singing I just thought about the words, “Hallelujah! We are who You say we are.” God says we are His forgiven, clean, and loved children; hallelujah indeed

I encourage you to embrace God’s truth:

 God is calling you to live outside of guilt  (Hebrews 10:22  “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”);

He has made us clean (1 John 1:7 “but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”);

He gives us peace (Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”);

All because He loves us (John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”)

And wants us to live for Him (1 Peter 2:24 “‘He Himself bore our sins’ in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by His wounds you have been healed.'”).

My brothers and sisters, do not turn your face away from God, He loves you despite all you have done, all you will ever do; turn towards Him. He loves you so much.

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Steven Curtis Chapman – Who You Say We Are

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Photo Credit: Christopher Campbell

Before my Feet Hit the Floor

The other night I was reading in The Spirit-Filled Life by Charles F. Stanley, when I came to a section that literally has changed my life.

“We don’t need to wait until we are in the thick of the battle to claim the promises of God.  By that time it’s too late.  Certainly, there is time to express faith in the Holy Spirit when you see things building.  But even better, go ahead and exercise your faith before the struggle begins.  And when it does, you will think, I’ve already dealt with this. […] If you begin every day with a declaration of victory over the specific giants in your life, you will experience victory.  Begin tomorrow morning on your knees.  Think through the temptations you will face, the pressures you will feel, and the rejections you are likely to encounter.  Item by item, thank God for the victory.”

Right after I finished reading, I got in bed and read my devotional for the night which lead me to Psalm 119:147: “I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your word.”

The next morning, I awoke bright (well, dark) and early at 5 a.m. and as I was going to get out of bed I remembered what I had read the night before.  I said, “God, before my feet hit the floor, I’m giving my struggles to You, I’m crying out to You first thing in the morning like the psalmist.”

And that’s what I did.  I told God the struggles that I knew I would face that day, the ones I face every day, and I claimed victory over them.  I spoke boldly in faith knowing that when Jesus died on the cross, He broke sin’s hold on me, I am no longer a slave to my sin; in Christ, I have victory.

When I came to the situations, the giants, that I knew I would face, I did exactly as Charles said, I thought, I’ve already dealt with this. Then I thanked God for His grace and His strength.

Sure, I wasn’t perfect, I never am, never will be, and never will claim to be, but I faced my giants like David did, armed only with what I could do, and I let God do the rest.  And let me tell you, I stood victorious then and today over way more battles than I ever did trying on my own. It’s not because of what can do, or how I try to be better, it’s because I’ve surrendered to God and His Spirit that dwells in me. 

I challenge you, before your feet hit the floor, give your battles to God, claim victory in Christ.

Photo Credit: Mark Solarski

The Most Important Choice

Our lives are built around the choices we make.  We choose what to wear, who to associate with, where to go to school, what car to drive, who to be in a relationship with, where to live, what to do in our free time.  These choices shape our lives, some for the better, some for the worse.  But in the end there is only one choice that matters, and it’s not anything I listed above.

The beginning of Isaiah chapter 5 sets the scene: God’s Vineyard that should have flourished yet has yielded only bitter fruit – this is in reference to God’s people, not God’s grapes.  Between Isaiah and God we get a picture of what this looks like: the people are hoarding wealth and are overcome with love for material things, they are living life to what they think is the fullest yet ignoring God, they are confusing good with evil, they are drunks, they are corrupt.  I’m sure the list could have went on and on (in chapter 3 they’re compared to Sodom – ouch).

In verse 24, Isaiah says that “their roots will rot, their flowers will wither and fly away like dust, for they refused to accept the law of the Eternal, the Commander of Heavenly armies.”

These people chose to have great estates and to entertain themselves with all the pleasures of life, but in the end none of it mattered because they failed to make the most important choice of all: following God.

Through the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ we are no longer bound to the law like the Israelites were, but we still have the same choice to make: whether or not to follow God.

When Jesus hung on the cross, He didn’t hang alone, with Him hung every sin you and I would ever commit; He payed our ransom.  And when He rose again, He gave you and I the chance to be created in a new life through Him, to be brought from death to life.

Accepting Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life is the most important choice you will ever make: it’s the difference between life and death.  Life following God won’t always be easy, there will be trials and there will be storms and you will have to make the decision to go against the culture on many issues, but on your side you will have the One who loved you enough to die for you and everything you’ve done to offend Him, the One who conquered the very chains of death itself so that we – mere humans – could spend Eternity with the One who created us and loves us. You will go through life knowing you are never alone, that you are loved, that you were worth the God of the universe sending His Son to die in your place.

He chose you. Will you choose Him?

Photo Credit: Aaron Burden