Free for a Price

Romans 3:24 –“All need to be made right with God by his grace, which is a free gift. They need to be made free from sin through Jesus Christ” (NCV).

I am totally hooked on Bible journaling. I love the drawings in the open spaces, the swirls and curls, and all the fancy lettering to capture the scripture. I love combining the neon of gel pens and the softness of colored pencils to highlight God’s word. There is only one small problem, actually a BIG problem ….. I have the artistic skills of a one toed bullfrog. Actually, I should probably apologize to the bullfrog for the comparison. Imagine my delight to discover an online DIY site that offers page after page of “free” Bible journaling pictures. I can print these “free” pictures and trace them to make my Bible a colorful masterpiece of images and fancy lettering. I can use these “free” pictures to have my favorite verses jump out as I turn the pages. And its all “free” ….. for a starting price of $1.99. I recently upgraded my cell phone and was offered a “free” accessory …. for $10. A company specializing in storage containers offers a life time guarantee of free replacement. The container is free but there is a charge for placing the order, a handling charge, a shipping charge, and possibly even a replacement charge. There always seems to be a catch, something in the fine print, a loophole saying “I will give you this free gift but you will have to pay for it.” And we wonder why the world is skeptical about the free gift of salvation! Salvation is a gift to us with no hidden charges and no fine print. We don’t have to do anything to earn our salvation because it has already been done and is the greatest gift (free or costly) we’ll ever be offered. The words Elvina M. Hall wrote in 1865 are still true for us today – “Jesus paid it all.” When Christ spoke on the cross “It is finished” (John 19:30), He was using an accounting term meaning “paid in full”. Salvation is absolutely free, the true gift of God in Christ, and our only responsibility is to receive the gift by faith.

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Say “Cheese”

I recently read an article from The Gospel Coalition – Stop Photobombing Jesus – on a social media site and found myself identifying more than I’d like to admit. There have been times I was hurt because no one seemed to notice how hard I had worked and times I wondered “why her and not me?” and even times I gave more energy to impressing others than to serving God. I’ll have to confess — there have been times I photobombed Jesus.

The Main Thing

Haggai 1:2-7 – This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’” Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. (NIV)

How many of our fellow church members would say they believe God should be first priority in our lives? How many people in churches across our country? Around the world? The book of Haggai is written to people like many of us – people with busy schedules, people just trying to “make ends meet”, people who say “God needs to be first”, people whose actions did not match their words. Haggai 1:2 quotes the people as saying “the time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house”, but they were actually saying it wasn’t important enough to be considered a priority. The same people who claimed to put God first were living in luxury while the temple was in ruins. They probably had a running list of excuses (too busy, too tired, no time, needed the money for other things), but all of their excuses were proof that God was not a high priority. God’s answer was to tell them twice (verse 5 and verse 7), “Take a good, hard look at your life and think about it.” The people were eating but were always hungry. They were drinking but nothing could quench their thirst. Their clothes no longer kept them comfortable. They worked hard but could not budget or save enough to pay their bills. Their work was not productive and their possessions did not satisfy because their priorities were their own and not God’s. Haggai draws attention to common problems we face today – we are so busy juggling the immediate, the urgent, the right now that we have neither time nor energy for what is really important, for what should be the main thing. We get confused with our priorities, but as Stephen Covey puts it, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  Haggai 2:12 tells us the people took God’s advice, gave careful thought to their ways, and realigned their priorities. Haggai told the people to rebuild the temple. In 1 Corinthians Paul tells Christians to build our lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ (3:10-17) and that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (6:19). As you go about your day, ask yourself these questions:

  1. “Am I building a life that reflects my status as a temple of the Holy Spirit?”
  2. “Are my actions matching my words?”
  3. “Are my priorities bringing glory to God?”

It is so easy to allow our focus to drift.  Lord, I seek Your wisdom is setting my priorities. I pray that my main thing will be to acknowledge You as the main thing and keep You as the main thing.

Storms of Life

Luke 8:22-25One day He and His disciples got into a boat, and He told them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they were sailing He fell asleep. Then a fierce windstorm came down on the lake; they were being swamped and were in danger. 24 They came and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to die!” Then He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves. So they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?”

They were fearful and amazed, asking one another, “Who can this be? He commands even the winds and the waves, and they obey Him!” (HCSB)

I am listening to the thunder roll as the rain pounds against my window. It’s the season for hard storms where I live and no one can stop them from coming, much like the storms in life. Some people believe if your faith in God is strong enough you will be immune from life’s storms, but the Bible does not teach that. The storm in Luke 8:23 was probably what we would call “a raging storm”, the darkness only broken by lightening bolts flashing across the sky. I am not surprised the disciples were afraid; I’d be surprised if they weren’t! Storms can create panic that causes more damage than the actual storm, but in Isaiah 41:10 God tells us not to panic, that He has a firm grip on us. Storms force us to cry out to God for help and Psalm 34:17 tells us that God is listening and will rescue us. Picture the scene of Luke 8:23 – Jesus is so contently napping that He has a small smile and a soft snore; meanwhile the men are franticly pacing and wringing their hands in fear and confusion. I always picture Jesus in verse 25 like a daddy getting up from his nap because the children can’t play nicely together. He says to Storm, the child causing the uproar, “STOP IT” and Storm goes from teasing to contrite. Then the daddy turns to Disciple, the crying child, and says “Why do you get so overwrought when you know he can’t hurt you?”  The disciples were terrified in verse 24 because they had lost sight of verse 22 – Jesus had already told them they were going to the other side. In John 16:33. Jesus says we will have storms in life but assures us He has control over the storms because “He commands even the winds and the waves and they obey Him.”

Enthusiastic Fans

Deuteronomy 11:19 – “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (HCSB)

My husband is an avid sports fan. Me not so much. My favorite sports were whatever my husband and son were playing at the time, and as hard as I tried to care, my interest was limited to their personal time on the field. Occasionally, my husband will share some sports trivia – news, I meant news — with me. I listen because what he is saying is important to him. One day at a church function we were divided into groups to play a game matching sports teams to their team names. I was flying through the answers, and our group finished in record time. One of our group members thought my speed was the result of invented names and quit over Nittany Lions (Penn State by the way). Another of my teammates was amazed and wondered how I knew them all. My answer was “My husband talks about sports all the time.” In Deuteronomy 11:19 God says to talk to your children about Him all the time. Talk to them with focused Bible and prayer time, with casual conversation, with bedtime prayers, with daytime conversations, with the way you live. God wants us to be interested in Him, to know His Word, to call on Him, to live a life that shows Him to others. If you do these things, your children will listen. They will listen because they know it is important to you. They will listen because you live what you say. They will listen because they will see God at work. Webster’s Dictionary defines sports fan as “an enthusiastic devotee of sports”. I wonder what would happen if Christians became defined as “enthusiastic devotees of God.”

Hope

We all need hope. We all need assurance that there is more. Something to look forward to. Without hope, our day becomes empty, our future dark, our present moment terrifying. Hope gets you through those moments we aren’t sure we will get through at all.

In the midst of tragic loss and grief of someone we love – the hope of eternal life and seeing them again in heaven gives us peace. It makes that pain a little less, because we know this is just temporary.

Any situation you face, or are going through is just a moment. Oh I know it can feel like it will never end – but it will. You will look back on this later and be able to see differently. It won’t hurt so much, it won’t make you feel desperate or alone – you will get through this. And you will be stronger…

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A Bully Named Fear

Joshua 1:9 –  Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (HCSB)

Fear can give a quick jump in heart rate that soon passes or fear can be paralyzing. Fear can be amusing or life altering. Fear can take control of a moment or control of your life. Recently I realized I have allowed fear to become my idol, giving it more power than God in my life. Several years ago I felt God giving me a directive, but instead mimicking Isaiah’s “I’m ready to go” (Isaiah 6:8), I was more like Moses with “I can’t do that.” (Exodus 3:11). God answered me much like He answered Moses – “I’ve taken care of everything. Don’t worry about it.” (Exodus 3:12), but I allowed Fear to build on the foundation of my low self-esteem to create a wall of panic and doubt. Some of my fears proved to be true, which made the wall even more substantial. Time after time I was Gideon asking for a sign (Judges 6). Time after time God answered, but Fear told me I needed more. When I should have been fierce, I was frightened. I continued to question God and continued to point out the flaws in His plan. I was so focused on the “what if” my eyes lost sight of the “I AM”.  In Judges 6:15 Gideon asks “How can I save Israel?” and then went on to explain his shortcomings. Instead of being electrified, Gideon was terrified. He used the words “how can I”, but he was saying “I can’t”. In verse 16 God answers “I will be with you.” Instead of thinking, “Well, that changes everything!”, Gideon is thinking “yeah, but” and begins to ask for proof that it really is God talking. Often, like Gideon, I feel that I need to explain things to God and give Him a clear picture of the situation. God answers and I ask for a sign ….. and another sign ….. and another. I may begin to march out with self-confidence and tenacity but Fear blocks my way and I become shaken and timid. I knew that I could not accomplish anything on my own, and I was right about that, but He never even hinted that I was on my own. Isaiah 41:10 says I don’t need to be faint-hearted because He is God and He is holding my hand. Peter was able to walk on water until he took his eyes off Jesus and then Fear took over (Matthew 14:29-30). Fear kept Gideon’s eyes focused in the wrong direction, but he had to turn his eyes away from himself to see God (Judges 6). When my eyes are on Fear, I am focused on people’s criticisms, comparisons, and even my own opinion of my abilities. When I turn my eyes to God those things are no longer in my line of sight. To paraphrase Paul in Romans 9: 31 “since God has my back, what difference does it make about what people think or do?” Fear is a bully waiting to pounce, but God says “Don’t worry. I’m with you and nothing can take Me away.” (Romans 8:35-39)