November 12, 2018

Live Alive {Day 12}: The Family

Previous posts in the Live Alive series can be found here.

On Sundays throughout 2018, I have been reading through The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide, by G. I. Williamson.  It is divided into 52 readings, one for each week of the year.  Overall, I would recommend it, but there were some of the author's commentaries that I thought went more into diatribes than was necessary.  Reading through a Catechism slowly has definitely been beneficial for adding new knowledge and energy to my faith.  I would recommend doing so!

Yesterday's Catechism questions were about how Christ teaches us to address God as Father in the Lord's Prayer.  The Catechism says Jesus did that to awaken in us, at the beginning of our prayer, that childlike reverence and trust toward God ... . This serves as just another reminder of how dependent we are on God.  We come before Him in prayer and call Him Father, which reminds us how much we need Him and that He is in authority over us.  Calling Him Father also reminds us that we are now members of His family and that He is the kind of Father all fathers long to be and that all children desire.  He does not abuse His authority or neglect His children.  We can come to him with childlike reverence and trust.  Looking at Jesus enables us to do so without hesitation.

In the commentary, Williamson wrote something that struck me about how we can't reach God on our own, but Jesus is a sufficient mediator:  
The reason is quite simple: Jesus is both God and man.  Both the divine nature and the human nature are there in one person.  Because in his human nature He is our brother, and in His divine nature is the only begotten Son of God, he can reach both God and man and bring them together.  p. 213
I know Williamson was specifically speaking of salvation, but after some conversation in our Life Group last night, it got me thinking about how alive people connect with their new family.

When we are made new in Christ, brought back to life and called God's children, we are also adopted into a new family, the family of believers.  Jesus is our brother and our Lord and as such we are bound now and eternally to anyone else who calls on His name.  This can be super awesome, because we each have different gifts and abilities and can work together for the advancement of the Gospel in the world.  This can also be super awful, because we all have different gifts and can become divided and lose sight of the mission to share the Gospel with the world!

Amen?

Paul hits it all in Ephesians, guys!  He talks about this very thing, reminding the Ephesian believers, and those of us who read the letter today, that we are united in Christ and are headed somewhere with/in/through Him!
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. 
Ephesians 4:1-7,11-16


Alive people interact with their family in some specific ways:
  1. They keep the first thing the first thing!  Alive people fight to be unified with their family, remembering that we are all one under Christ. Alive people also remember that we have not attained "mature manhood" yet as a body, so they are patient with the process living in a manner worthy of the calling, like Paul says in the first few verses.  
  2. They know what their gifts are and use them to serve the family!  We are all different.  There is incredible diversity in the body!  Alive people know God has given them specific gifts to use to serve the family (the body or Church) to help maintain unity and to help the body grow.  They rejoice in how God has made them and pursue opportunities to serve with them.  They know the Church needs them to use their gifts - it's God's call on their lives!
  3. They help their brothers and sisters to discover their gifts and use them!  Alive people don't waste their time in jealous pride, they know that they desperately need the rest of their family. So they encourage other believers to know and exercise their God-given gifts, so they can delight in watching the Lord use them for His purposes.

Cynicism is easy.  We all know how hard it is to be unified with people who are different from us.  We still live this side of heaven and our sinful natures are still demanding dominance in our hearts.  We won't see the body perfected till Christ returns.  But alive people are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.  Hebrews 10:39

Living alive denies cynicism a seat at the table, leaving the space for hope.  Christ calls us to be unified; we will fight for that.  Christ calls us to use our gifts; we will use them.  Christ calls us to encourage our brothers and sisters to use their gifts; we will encourage and enjoy them.

We are family because God made it so.  Alive in Christ, we can have faith, press on, and rejoice together at what God does.

Not shrinking back,
Heather 💛

November 11, 2018

Live Alive {Day 11}: A Song - All Glory Be To Christ

We have been singing this one at our church this year.  The tune will be familiar, the theme fits with what I said yesterday:  We won't boast with pride, we'll burst with praise!




Have a blessed Sunday,
Heather 💛

November 10, 2018

Live Alive {Day 10}: The Fight, Con't

Previous posts in the Live Alive series can be found here.

It is a beautiful wintry morning here in Western PA .  A light dusting of snow covers the rooftops and an icy wind is blowing through the tree branches in my neighbor's yard.  Fall is cold today!


In fall there's a beautiful wave of death in the changing and falling leaves.  We enjoy watching it, despite the knowledge that what follows are months of grey!  But we rejoice in the spring, when the world comes back into color.  The changing of seasons often gets me thinking about what nature can teach us about the spiritual life.  In this case, the beauty in the dying, the waiting, and the renewal, makes me think about the role of death in the life of the person who is living alive.

I have some sorta bad news: when God makes you alive again with Christ, you aren't magically perfected.  Like, you're still gonna want to do bad things and not want do good things.  The fight is on not only against the devil from without, but against your own sin nature from within!  I find this to be a big bummer, because I so desperately want to be able to worship the Lord in spirit and truth, to treat people around me right, to no longer give in to my selfish desires all the time, and to be rid of my ever-present pride.  However, I also find this to be wonderful news, because as we learn to live alive even while the battle is raging, we get to experience what God is capable of doing in transforming us, we get to lean harder on the work and power of Christ, we get to be refined and shaped for the eternity that we will spend with the Lord!

My alternate title for this post would be Serious About Sin.  Alive people take sin seriously, and believe it or not, that is a GOOD thing.  What do I mean?  Well, Paul discusses this in many of his letters.  I was going to direct us to Colossians 3:1-10, but since our theme verse is from Ephesians, I'll post some verses from that letter for you here.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Here's how I have experienced this part of the fight - taking off the old self and putting on the new - and how it relates to the changing of seasons.  Every day, of course, we should remember we are new, confess our sins to God, accept the assurance of His forgiveness, and ask Him to help us live righteously.  That is the daily work of putting of the old and putting on the new. But there are seasons where God really wants to clean us up good in a specific area.  This can feel like death.  You're going along AOK in your Christian life, mostly just asking God to forgive you for your usual hiccups and hangups, and then BAM!  Suddenly the heavy feeling starts and seems to come from no where.  The weight of a particular pattern of sin becomes acute and you cannot shake it.


Go with it.


The Spirit is at work in you to move from one level of alive to another.  The leaves are starting to change colors and fall.  It might get grey for a while, but the green of spring is coming!

Living alive means we are at war against the devil.  It also means we are now at war against the sin within.  But are we not more than conquerors through Him who loved us?  YEP!  Nothing can separate us from that love.  God is love, and Love will see us through.  He longs to see us go deeper and higher into the alive life.  Putting sin to death is part of that incredible process!

And, boy, will we love thee Lord more as we let ourselves be pruned, refined, and restored!  Engaging in the fight against sin in Christ makes the Gospel explode with greater meaning.  We will feel and be more alive because the Good News will just keep getting good-er.  We won't boast with pride, we'll burst with praise!  We start saying things to God like, Really Lord, you knew all along about how deep I was in that and you still love me and refuse to give up on me?  Wow!  You are so good to me. Also, I think I need to tell a friend about this.

The fight will change you.

Fight on - the Lord is with you!
Heather 💛




P.S. All praise to God for the words He's giving me each day.  Guys, I rarely have much of a plan for where these posts are gonna go, but the Lord provides every time!  And, special thanks to my children who slept in so I could get this posted this morning. I think I'll go make them some pancakes.

November 9, 2018

Live Alive {Day 9}: The Fight

Previous posts in the Live Alive series can be found here.

God's love is so great!  Corrie Ten Boom, a woman of remarkable faith who survived the concentration camps during WWII, is quoted as saying, "No pit is so deep, that God's love is not deeper still."  Make no mistake, you are 100% disqualified for membership in the family of God.  Nothing you can do can put you back in His good graces.  The nicest person you know and the most heinous criminal you can think of are all in the same condition before their Maker; He will call each one of us individually to account, and we will not be able to defend ourselves.  Our only hope is to grab on to the way He offers through Jesus back into His family, made possible by a depth of love none of us can fully comprehend!  Those who take God up on His offer are made alive and become quite serious about His love.  Living under the umbrella of that love gives them comfort, confidence, and compassion, making them live more alive than they did before.  But it's not always a walk in the park!  Which brings me to something else about alive people: 

Alive people know they have an enemy
and that they are still in his territory.  



Whenever you ally yourself with someone, not only do you enjoy the benefits of that relationship, you also take on their enemies.  God's enemy is that serpent, referred to throughout Scripture as the devil, satan, or the evil one.  For whatever reason, Jesus coming and dying and rising again was just 'phase one' of the defeat of this enemy.  Jesus will be coming back for operation final destruction, when the time is right.  For now, the Lord, in His wisdom, has let the evil one still rule here on earth.  As such, those who believe in the Lord and enter His love also enter into battle.

Welcome to the war, friends!

It's kind of a relief to know, right?  I mean, don't you have moments every day where you think, Man, it sure doesn't seem like the world is the way it should be.  We can do better that this.  Or, I keep trying and I just can't seem to get myself together.  I should be able to do better.  There is a desire deep inside of us for righteousness, goodness, for life to triumph over death - and we sure don't see that happening around us or in us.  That is because the battle is raging!

Peter admonishes us:
Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  I Peter 5:8

And Jesus said:
[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  John 8:44

Living the alive life, however, means that we do not fear this enemy.  His defeat is certain! Living the alive life also means we stay on our guard: sober-minded and watchful.  His desire to trip up God's children is strong - he is murderous and still speaking lies!

In Ephesians Paul says, and give no opportunity to the devil. (4:27)  How do we do this?
  1. Remember our new identity: we are children of God, no longer slaves to the evil one.
  2. Rely on the Spirit to fight our spiritual battles, not ourselves.
  3. Practice, practice, practice!  Practice recognizing when the evil one is actively trying to destroy you and practice telling him where to go.
Dear ones, if you belong to God you have the Strength within you to resist the devil.  You do not need to fear this enemy because you are alive in Christ.  You can be on guard against his schemes in your life because you are alive in Christ Being tempted isn't a sign that you're failing - even Jesus was tempted.  Temptation is an opportunity to live alive by leaning wholly on God for your identity, worth, strength, and hope.  He will rise up to protect and defend you!  The enemy cannot win.

Fight on in faith!
Heather 💛



November 8, 2018

Live Alive {Day 8}: Serious About God's Love

Previous posts in the Live Alive series can be found here.

With a week of foundation posts under our belt, we're ready to dive into the specifics of what an alive life looks like.  Here's a quick review of what we know so far about people who live alive
  • They believe in God is their Creator and the source and sustainer of life.
  • They know they are God's image-bearers and were made for relationship with Him.
  • They believe their biggest problem is sin (rebellion against God) and that only God can fix it.
  • They believe Jesus is the Savior (God's rescue plan) and have accepted His gift of salvation.
  • They have an active and dependent relationship with God based on His mercy, the work of Christ's death and resurrection, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
That's the basics of what it means to be a Christian and what I have attempted to explain in the introduction posts of this series.  The bottom line is that we cannot know alive life without God, and He graciously but firmly makes and shows us the way out of our rebellion to be restored to right relationship with Him.  Good news!

As I sat this morning asking the Lord, So, like, where do I go from here?  He immediately "said," How about something about how alive people are serious about my love.  I didn't have that on my list anywhere, but wow, what a perfect starting point for diving into the details of living alive!


This was my favorite stamp as a kid -
even had it on a sweatshirt!

You see, that list up there could seem very academic and cold: assent to these things, sign on the dotted line, and you're in.  But let's take a look again at Ephesians 2:4-5.

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved --(emphasis mine)

Y'all, God didn't create the rescue plan begrudgingly, sending His Son into the world with a scowl on His face, arms crossed in displeasure.  He sent Him in love, like a parent desperate to be reunited with a wayward child.  In fact, the classic verse John 3:16 says, For God so loved the world, that He sent his only Son ....  You may not like God's rules or the way He wants you to live your life, but you cannot accuse Him of false motives or cruelty.

Alive people are serious about God's love.

They are serious about believing that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that He defines love (I Corinthians 13: 4-8a).  They are seriously amazed every day by the fact that God's love has been showered upon them and that they are, indeed and forever, His children.  They are serious about learning to live out that love in a world that desperately needs it.

What does that look like?  I believe it plays out practically in a few ways.
  1. Childlike Faith - Because God says He loves them and has proved it by sending Jesus, they trust Him, taking Him at His word.  Every. Day.
  2. Confidence - Because they are no longer orphans in this world, driven constantly by fear or self-preservation, but adopted and beloved children of the Father with a new family and future, they live in peaceful soul-security.
  3. Compassion - With the awareness of their dependence on and confidence in God's love, they are free to extend compassion to their neighbor, no matter how different, bedraggled, or proud.
I want to be full of faith, confidence, and compassion.  I want God's love to sustain and motivate me throughout all my days.  I want to live alive like that.  Don't you?  My hope is that writing this series will encourage all of us to consider ways the Lord is calling us higher and deeper.  We each have a long way to go, but we can also all look at our lives and see the fingerprints of the Lord in ways we already live more alive than we did before we He rescued us out of rebellion.

In the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:17b-19, my prayer for you, whenever your read this is:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Amen.


Heather 💛

November 7, 2018

Live Alive {Day 7}: Power to Live Alive

Previous posts in the Live Alive series can be found here.


 In preparation for this series, I made a long list of things mark the life of a person who is living alive in Christ.  The list is a wonderful collection of characteristics and behaviors of a faithful believer.  But if I rush to sharing those with you too quickly, you might get the impression - as I did for years and years of my young Christian life - that Jesus saves you from your sins, then you spend the rest of your life tying really hard to pull yourself together and be a "good Christian."  Let me tell you, that is NOT what the Bible teaches, NOT what living alive is, and NOT the life God calls us to pursue.

I am a card-carrying member of the  RPC: Recovering Pharisees Club.   One of the select many who think they can behave themselves into the Kingdom of God but find that it is so very hard to keep one's inside desires in check, even if their outward behavior appears pious.  Living like that is exhausting, and hopeless.  I know; I've tried.  So here's the truth bomb:

Living alive the way the Lord intends begins, continues, and ends in complete and utter dependence on Him.

Look around you.  Anything that is alive is utterly dependent.  A tree doesn't exist on its own.  It thrives only with roots drawing in nutrients and water, air to "breathe", and the sun shining down from above.  Take even one of those things away and the tree will cease to flourish.  The same goes for animals; they need food, water, air, and shelter.  All of those things they must seek and use to live.  We human-folk are no different.  We need water, food, and shelter, too.  With those things we will keep existing.  But we all know there is a big difference between being alive and being ALIVE.  You can tell the difference between a plant, animal, or friend that is just getting by versus one that is prospering.

In this series' theme verses in Ephesians, when the word alive is used it is in the passive reflexive, meaning that the being brought to life was something done for us not by us, i.e. we were made alive through no doing of our own.*  It is translated: when we were dead God made us alive together with Christ.  God alone has does the work of saving!  We are dependent on Him to come alive.  No amount of good behavior, penance, groveling, or right family connections can bring a dead man back to life..

The Bible also tells us not only are we helpless to save ourselves, but we cannot live for God without His constant assistance.  God the Father sent the Son; the Son sends the Holy Spirit.  Now, the Spirit doesn't get much press because He's even more mysterious than the other two members of the Godhead, but the Spirit is the secret ingredient that will save us from pursing a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps life that will suck the life right out of us.  God makes us alive with Christ and then gives us His Spirit!

Friends, as His image-bearers the Lord wants us to thrive, flourish, and prosper in Him!  And He has given us all we need to do so by placing His Spirit in us when we repent and believe the Good News.  We begin to live alive by acknowledging our daily need for Him and remembering He has provided for us.

The Holy Spirit is our guarantee:
In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee (or down payment) of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His glory.   Ephesians 1:13-14

The Holy Spirit is our Helper:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Advocate or Counselor), to be with you forever ...  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  John 14:15-16, 26
Knowing, remembering, meditating on the truth that God has given us His Spirit gives us hope to press on in faith and the ability and strength to live alive until Jesus comes back.  Like a tree fully supplied with nutrients, water, air, and sunshine, we have the Holy Spirit with us always to help us flourish, even in the most trying of circumstances.  The alternative - trying to live independently of the Lord - will prevent us from ever knowing the alive life He has for us.

I am reminded of the words of Jesus a little further along in the book of John:

Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:4-5

The most humbling thing for me in considering what an alive life would look like, is that I need to let go of my independence, and throw myself COMPLETELY into the arms of my Creator, Savior, and Helper God.  With all of His promises and power, with all He's already done for me, it seems so silly that it is hard.  But I have decades of independent habits to overcome and my sinful nature is always close at hand (check out Romans 7).  That is why the Spirit is so important!  We cannot live alive without Him.

See ya tomorrow!
Heather 💛



*Special thanks for this to my pastors, Rick and Joe, for their knowledge of Greek and their willingness to answer my Bible language questions.  One of them also directed me to https://www.blueletterbible.org/ - such a cool resource.  Thanks, Joe!

November 6, 2018

Live Alive {Day 6}: Because Jesus Lives, I Can Live

Previous posts in the Live Alive series can be found here.

Jesus is a pretty well known and well regarded fellow.  He did amazing things (miracles, anyone?) and hung out with undesirables.  He challenged the religious authorities and touched lepers.  But when you read the Gospels (the four books about Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) you quickly pick up on something about Jesus.  While things he did were revolutionary and new, He had a very specific mission from which he never deviated.  His primary purpose wasn't to do cool miracles to gain notoriety, make the Pharisees feel stupid, or even to uplift the downtrodden.  Nope.  The one thing He did everywhere was preach.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  Matthew 5:17

Jesus came with a message-based mission that was centered on bringing rebels back into God's Kingdom.

The fact that Jesus came with a word to preach makes me think of the beginning of the book of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  John 1:1-4

Which also makes me think back a few posts to Genesis 1: God creating the world with His word and God as the source and sustainer of all life.

You see, according to the Bible, Jesus is God.  He has been from all of time, just like God the Father, and He had a very specific role in the rescue mission.  He became a man to dwell among us, not only to show us what God is like (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3), but also to defeat the power of death that entered in at the infamous eating-of-the-fruit.  Jesus brought the kingdom of heaven into enemy territory, and He never backed down from His role in changing the game: to set people free from death so they could live alive again!

But that would cost Him a lot more than enduring the sneers of the Pharisees and being regularly misunderstood by His disciples.  For the mission to be accomplished, Jesus needed to be the sacrifice of all sacrifices:

"The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.Luke 9:22

For us to have an opportunity to be restored to right relationship with our Creator, someone needed to take the punishment for our rebellion.  Jesus did that.  And He was able to do that because He lived an un-rebellious life in perfect harmony with the Father, just as Adam and Eve did before they rebelled.  Then, after taking our punishment by dying on the cross and declaring the work "finished," He rose from the dead.  He was victorious not only in atoning for the sins of all those who would believe in Him, but also over the power of death!  Because Jesus is alive, we can be, too!

I love when the women show up on the first Easter morning and don't find Jesus in the tomb, the angel present says to them:

"Why do you see the living among the dead.  He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how He told you ... " Luke 24:5b-6



Friends, we can live alive because Jesus is alive!  He could have simply atoned for our sins and left it at that.  But God, in His infinite wisdom and by His power, raised Jesus back to life, so we too could know and have life!  God the Father never does things halfway.  He extends mercy far beyond what we deserve or can even comprehend most of the time, because if we're honest we know how unworthy we are.  This Jesus-is-alive thing is really important!

With so much focus on the cross in Christian circles, it is easy to miss the significance of the  resurrection.  Yes, we are dependent on the blood of Christ every blessed day until we are glorified and with Him eternally.  But we are also dependent on the LIFE of Christ every blessed day!  Listen to Paul in I Corinthians 15:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. ... For if they dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. ... If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact, Christ has been raised form the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fall asleep.  For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive!

Jesus came, preached the message of repentance and faith, then made the way for the dead to be brought back to life: sins forgiven, life restored.  You see, the power of life rests in God alone.  I have wondered as this truth as I've thought about this series.  There was no other way for us to have real living life as sons and daughters of the King, not just existing life as orphaned rebels, than for the Life-Giver to take drastic measures.

Because of His great love and mercy, in His perfect timing, He took those measures.  Those measures can change our lives if we will but respond to Jesus' first sermon: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Are you ready?  The message and the mission were for YOU.  The door is open.  Repent of your rebellion.  Believe the Good News that the message and mission were accomplished for you.  Your sins will be atoned for, the rule of death in your life will be overthrown, and the King will lead you into a new alive life.

And that, my friends, is where we head tomorrow and the rest of the series: what are the hallmarks of this alive life?  The Lord has so much he wants us to know, embrace, and enjoy in the new life He gives.

Till tomorrow, and every day thereafter: Repent and believe the Good News,
(It's not too good to be true; it's too good to not be true!)
Heather 💛