Given Everything

Romans 8:32
“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

I just returned from a two week trip to visit my parents and help them move. While I was there, Dad asked me to participate in a phone call with his investment advisor and estate consultant. He and my mom extracted seventeen years worth of memories and not-so-memorable things that my sisters and I had collected in their basement, and then abandoned when we married and moved away. I helped them haul literally hundreds of pounds of “stuff” to the donation center. It was an all-inclusive attempt to take inventory of what they had, who wanted it “someday” and what isn’t worth anything anymore.

In the basement, I sat cross-legged with my mother emptying trunks of baby clothes, hand-made blankets and old Yahtzee games. Carefully, I selected the one dress I remember her sewing for me when I was about two. I chose two baby blankets and a stack of old letters that had been sent to me when I was sick for an extended period of time. Across the room, one of my sisters struggled to contain her tears; her sentimentality offended at the loss of anything sacred—even if that be an old church bulletin with doodles done during a boring sermon.

My parents are almost 60, and a move like this necessarily conjures the conversation of who will inherit what when they pass away. I know I want my mother’s ring with all her children’s birthstones. They have two paintings that I’d like to have. Other things my sisters want for their homes.

Romans 8 explains the full beauty of our relationship to God as Father, and our position as His heirs by virtue of our adoption through Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 1:13-14 says, “When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

Though our point of reference as an heir is our familial relationships, there is an important difference between what we experience on earth and the kind of inheritance we receive from our Heavenly Father.

My sisters and I are making choices, planning to divide my parents’ estate. We will have to take somethings and relinquish others. But the Bible says that in Christ, God gives us all things, and that every good and perfect gift is from above. And in the the Old Testament we are told that “no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” [emphasis added]

As if it were not enough to receive salvation and forgiveness of our sins, God has adopted us—made us His children—and given each one of us full share in His inheritance.

Jesus, I pray that you will open the eyes of our hearts, enlighten us in order that we may know the hope to which you have called us and the riches of our glorious inheritance through Christ.

 First posted on http://www.servantsisters.org.

How to be Served

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with beholding-his-splendor-111076-mGod something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Phil 2:6-7

Most of the time, when challenged to think about biblical servanthood, my mind charges into a list of opportunities: what can I do? Who has God called me to serve? What are my gifts and who is most at need of comfort, encouragement, prayer—anything?

Of course, I can list a myriad of ways that I fall short—things I’m not doing. And, I’m grateful the Lord allows me to serve others in many ways. But, as I mulled over being a SERVANT sister, the Holy Spirit trickled thoughts into my mind, like tiny cleansing rain drops, offering me a fresh perspective on servanthood. I distinctly heard Him say, Who is serving you? Whose kindness and generosity are you benefiting from?

He led me to a verse that I’ve skimmed over many times, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me: to the one who orders his way rightly, I will show the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23

Maybe there’s more to “ordering my way rightly” than simply doing as much as I can for other people—more to service than serving.

This last week, I went through my normal routine: cooking and cleaning in my home, volunteer work at the hospital, laundry, helping at church, praying for others. Occasionally, these things inspire me to pat myself on the back. Sometimes they even leave a little chip on my shoulder when I think I’m doing more than my share of serving.

But, what if biblical servanthood is equally expressed through a humility cultivated by knowing how well I am served? What if it includes gracefully acknowledging and receiving service?

I thought about who serves me:

My husband who works everyday to provide for our family

The kind lady on the phone who helped me work out a banking issue

The friend who texted back immediately when I cried of being lonely

The Starbucks guy who gave me my coffee for free after I waited in line

The man who came to fix my washing machine

The humorous cashier at the grocery store whose smile brightened my day

More than any of those and certainly more significant than any act of service I have ever performed, is the example Christ set in His service of me. Often, I forget to look at His sacrifice in that context. I fail to be grateful that He still serves me by continually cleansing me from my sin and always interceding for me before the Father.

Father, make me a servant like Jesus. Open my eyes to see and receive the goodness of others with gratitude and humility. And above all, thank you for Jesus’ willingness to be a servant and to save me. 

 This was first published on the delightful website http://www.servantsisters.org

Growing Wonderfully

acorn-nature-1432983-mGrowing up in rural Oklahoma, the ground was always slathered with acorns like thick butter on toasted, summer soil. Not so appetizing, most of them were infested with tiny, gray worms, but nonetheless, they provided hours of entertainment. My sisters and I collected them, drew faces on them, smashed them and, yes, even tasted one or two. However, we enjoyed the final, mature state of the acorns even more.

The monstrous oaks that ringed our acreage served many purposes. They were for climbing, hanging our homemade bird feeders, swinging in our hammock and resting under. They were home-base for tense games of freeze tag or hide-n-seek.

When I was young, it didn’t much amaze me, or really even occur to me that each mighty oak had once been a tiny acorn. It wasn’t until high school biology that I marveled at the seed’s transformation.

Easter just passed this year. In the weeks before it, I found myself pouring over 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter that encapsulates the entire Gospel message in 58 verses. Easter obviously calls to mind Christ’s body—his death and the resurrection of His physical body. But what tugged at my mind most, was Paul’s consideration of what we will look like after death. And like many other other Biblical analogies, he uses nature—specifically seeds—to do so.

1 Corinthians 15:35-44
“But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

Wondering about your body after death? Paul asks. Think of a seed.

My mind tripped back to those acorns. Mature oak trees bear little resemblance to their seed, the unassuming acorn. When an acorn falls into the ground, it is covered by dirt, baked by the sun and showered with hundreds of seasonal storms. Finally, when the Creator deems the right moment, a sapling cracks earth’s crust and reaches gangly arms toward the sunlight. The acorn takes on its final form, the body for which it was created, the shape for which it was always intended.

In the same way, Paul says, our earthly bodies will die. Most of us will experience much the same thing as an acorn—burial, the seasonal elements. And, like the mature oak tree, our Creator will give to us our final form—the full, glorious, splendid body that was always intended for us. This is the form, the spiritual body in which we will live forever in the presence of the One whose image we bear.

Can you see it? We will not lose ourselves or our essence any more than an oak tree forsakes its origin in the acorn. The tree is what an acorn was always intended to be; it really had no purpose (save entertaining children) than to one day become an oak! So too, you and I will become more fully ourselves, more complete, more useful and purpose-filled than we have ever been before.

The death of these earthly bodies is not so much a loss, as a metamorphosis. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by a limitless Creator who intends all good things for us. He cannot wait to see the full blossom of your wonderful maturity, the donning of your spiritual body. Then, we will never know fatigue, but sing incessant praises to The One who made us wonderfully.

This was first published on the Wonderfully Made Blog. I encourage you to visit their site and be encouraged!

How Much Do You Love Me?

This post is a follow-on, or closely related to this one from last week. I hope you’ll take the time to read both 🙂
Looking past your stated beliefs, what do your actions indicate you really understand about God’s love for you?

Have you ever asked someone, “How much do you love me?”

What did they say?

What did you want them to say?

What if Jesus asked you, “How much do you love me? Do you love me more than these?”

Such an uncomfortable situation happened to Jesus’ disciple, Simon Peter, shortly after Christ rose from the dead. Even though Christ had risen and appeared to the disciples on several occasions, Peter was having a hard time dealing with his own denial of Christ before the crucifixion. How could he ever prove his love for Jesus after that? How could he call himself a true follower of Christ?

Discouraged, he turned to his friends and announced, “I’m going fishing.” The wording here in the Greek indicates that Peter was resigning himself to the life of a fisherman, disqualifying himself as a fisher of men.

After a catch-less night, Jesus appeared on the shore, miraculously filled their nets with fish and called Peter and his friends to the beach for breakfast. There He posed the question, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?”

There are several ways we can interpret the word “these”, but I think Jesus was referring to the fish, or Peter’s occupation as a fisherman.

Put another way, “Simon, do you love me, will you choose me, over fishing?”

Peter responded to Jesus, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

What is your “these”? What in your life is competing for the love that only Jesus deserves?

John 21:15-16

Sampling Gratitude

I just dug into the sample.

I’d first tasted it at my parents’ house. Early one morning, in the same fashion as her own mother, my mom cracked open a devotional and read out loud to my father and me.

I felt so treasured, so uniquely special there, curled in the corner of their couch, no rules, responsibilities or places to be. Just the three of us, parents and their oldest daughter. And for a few brief moments, that’s what I was again–merely daughter.

Age can sometimes be irrelevant. I would have sat with perked ears and my knees tucked just so whether I was four, fourteen or thirty-four as I am now. Listening to the warm, familiar voice of my mother, I was truly thankful.

So, per her suggestion, I downloaded the Kindle sample on my iPad of 1000 Gifts Devotional: Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces.

But I didn’t read it.

1000 things piled high on my plate. Not the least of these was packing and moving. Mixed into my daily mess was finishing one Bible study, starting another, saying indefinite goodbyes, pet therapy, writing obligations, book marketing, cooking, cleaning, bills, wifely duties–you get the picture. My to-do list probably looks a lot like yours. And your to-read, bedside-stack probably looks a lot like mine.

I didn’t read it until…

One bedtime when I was between books and dreading the next one in line. I opened the sample and read the tantalizing first 10 pages, only to find myself salivating for more.

Strangely, I was starving for more conviction, more Holy Spirit shoulder squeezes and humbled squirming. All the same, I pined for more. I bought the book.

Who’da thought I was so ungrateful?

I wonder how long God has been trying to convince me of the utter redemption of gratitude? I wonder how long He’s been waiting for me to realize that my own joy, my own hope, my own happiness and self-awareness and all the jazz we pedal for in this world, was on the tip of my tongue? If I would only open my mouth and express thanks for all that God IS, for all that He HAS done and promises TO DO, I would realize how favored I am!

But even though my nightly reading has been refreshing thankfulness, I tend to forget my lessons by morning. Just a few days ago, I opened my journal and scribbled the words, “Father, there’s so much going on. My mind can’t be still and I don’t know what to say.”

His response?

Abby, you will never be wordless while thanks remains. 

And so I started:

Thank you for colors and limits to perfection even in the most exquisite prism. The scope finite here on earth, such that discovery remains. While nothing under the sun is new, so much remains new to me.

As we move Lord, give me fresh, childlike eyes in our new home–an innocence and willingness to bend to different, to embrace it. Fill me with no disdain for the past, but open hands to release it and grasp for an unforeseen, fresh, cusp of waking tomorrow.

I need you to do this within me. For this not me–a creature of variety of change. To forsake routine and safety is no relief to my carnal self.

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

How Do I Love Thee?

“Peter, do you love me more than anything, do you choose me over everything?”

“Yes Lord, of course you’re my best friend.”

“But Peter, do you love me more than anything and choose me over everything?”

“Yes Lord, I think the world of you.”

“Peter, do you really like me?”

That’s a paraphrase of the last conversation Jesus had with His once bold disciple, Peter. Repeatedly, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him using the word, “agape”. This Greek word refers to perfect love, like God has for us. But Peter hesitated, unsure if he was capable of agape love. So he responded to Jesus using the word “phileo”, the Greek word for the love of a close friendship.

Peter was having a crisis of faith. Just a month earlier he had told Jesus that he loved Him enough to die for Him. Then, everything had gone wrong. Not only had Peter been unable to save His Lord from crucifixion, he lost control of his emotions and actions and denied that he even knew Jesus.

How could he be sure that he really loved Jesus now? How could Jesus love him?

Finally, Peter burst out, “Lord you know all things, you know that I love you!”

The Bible tells us that we love God because He first loved us. Jesus also commanded us to love others as He loves us. God knows us completely. He knows and loves us even when we doubt Him and even when we aren’t sure if our faith is real.

Jesus accepted Peter’s words and said, “Feed my sheep.” With this instruction, He gave Peter the responsibility of accepting that love and sharing it with others.

Do you believe God has agape love for you? Are you sharing it?

first published at http://www.swagga4christ.com

Love for the Lawless

A few weeks ago my dog ran away.

It was a perfect, sunny Sunday. We were leaving the house through the garage, so I pressed the button to open the big door, then turned back to grab his leash from the hook on the wall. In less than 10 seconds, he spied two stray dogs across the street and took off. Suddenly, my normally well-behaved dog was deaf to me. As you might expect, happy to be part of the game, the two strays led Brave on a wild game of chase through the neighborhood.

Within moments, they were out of sight. The last tail ducked into the woods at the end our cul-de-sac. Unreservedly, I charged through my neighbor’s yard and into a mass of thorny vines. I plunged toward a small clearing and then scanned the horizon for Brave. No dogs. Anywhere.

Hysterical, I ran the three blocks back to my house. I screamed at my husband, “Brave ran away! He is chasing some strays that were in the yard across the street!” Without waiting for a response, I grabbed Brave’s leash, which I had dropped in my panic and took off again, with no idea where to go.

Because God is good, I didn’t have to look very far. There was Brave, just across the street again, stand stupidly in someone’s front yard. This time when I called, he ran straight to me.

It’s funny when God decides to drop little lessons in our hearts. As I secured Brave to the end of his leash, a recent sermon came to mind. The pastor compared Christians struggling to live “good” lives and follow all of God’s rules to a dog on a chain.

A Christian cannot experience true freedom in Christ while trying desperately to be righteous on his own. Paul talks about this in Galatians 5. But often, we’re afraid that if we break the chain, or unleash ourselves from the bondage of the law, we will lose our closeness to, or relationship with God. At the same time, we often feel frustrated and bitter about having to be “good” all the time.

In my runaway dog story, as soon as Brave realized he wasn’t on a leash, he took off after the other dogs excited to experience the same freedom they had. Similarly, when we understand our freedom from the bondage of the law, there’s a chance that we’ll stray. But it’s vitally important that we grasp what this freedom really is. Otherwise, we cannot fully appreciate what Christ did for us on the cross.

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” Galatians 5:1

Now here’s where it gets really good! Brave came back! He was only missing for about 10 minutes. He knew that life with me was so much better than anything else he could experience in the big wide world. It’s the same way with believers in Christ. Jesus is so much better than anything we can experience or have or become.

Romans 2:4 says, “ Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”

When Jesus died on the cross, He removed the chain of the law. Romans 7:4 tells us that when we believe in Christ, we are no longer slaves to the law. We no longer have a long list of “do’s” and “do not’s”. And yes, there is the freedom to run away.

But just like Brave knew that I am good to him, that I feed and brush and care for him, those who have trusted Christ know the lovingkindness of the Father. And His kindness draws us back to Him. In fact, Psalm 63:3 tells us that God’s love is even better than life.

“Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.”

Book Review: Impervious by Heather Letto

It’s like a long shadow recoiling, slowly releasing it’s prey to reach toward ever-present sunlight. That’s how Impervious, the new book by Heather Letto, feels.

The heroine initiates readers, dragging them along through dank tunnels stretched beneath the city of Impervious. Fran is a Rebel, staunchly Unaccountable to the oppressive Council. She, and many like her, took to the city underground when The Council’s abusive arm became too long. Lifespans shortened, like blind sheep many surrendered their lives to the elitist Council, every move of every living being was monitored and the sky closed in.

Four generations after The War, merely a fact in the history books to fifteen-year-old Fran, Impervious has become a sealed city. The earth was destroyed in The War and humanity built a protected city, safe from the hostile environment that took over earth.

At first, the human leadership, overseen by Marcus, sought the best interests of all people. But power went to their heads. Over time Marcus, and those he deemed worthy, tightened their grip on the captive audience. Once, the people had hoped to return to a restored earth, but now, it seems impossible. Marcus closed the portal, the only escape from Impervious. Most have forgotten it even existed and accepted that they will never live on earth again. Meanwhile, people are declining faster and faster, dying younger and younger. Fran wonders, is life worth living like this?

From the dingy underground tunnels of Impervious, Letto, withdraws the mystery with tantalizing skill. At the close of each chapter, she dangles a morsel so tempting that the reader can barely put the book down. Hence, my description of a shadow. The story line arcs slowly; for moments I felt in the dark—what on earth is happening? But with great skill, Letto brings each question to light then presents the next one.

The best reference I can give for this book is Hunger Games meets the Gospel. Letto never throws religion in the reader’s face, but the subplot is unmistakable. From the destruction of earth, the pseudo life of men in their walled-off city of Impervious, to the hope of restoration to a new earth, everything is there: the fall, redemption and the new earth of Revelation 21:1.

Without Letto’s imagination, it’s impossible to portray this story adequately and not spoil the ending. Suffice to say, every element of an excellent story is there: mystery, an endearing heroine, multi-dimensional characters, unique description, empathy and a satisfying conclusion. Everyone will enjoy this book; science fiction readers will discover their new favorite author.