Thrive

If you’re not familiar with the Christian band Casting Crowns, I highly recommend that you rectify this error immediately. Recently, while listening to KLOVE radio, I caught just a couple of the lines from their song “Thrive” and that was all it took to get me thinking deeper about the word thrive. Does this ever happen to you: you hear a word or phrase you’ve either never heard or maybe haven’t heard in long time, and suddenly, that word or phrase is everywhere? You’re hearing it constantly? That’s what happened as I began meditating on the word “thrive” after hearing those powerful lyrics. It stuck with me so much it even had me thinking back on times when I’d seen people put this concept into action.

One such recollection came in the form of an episode of Naked and Afraid. Calm down, kiddies, this is not porn. Naked and Afraid is a survivalist-style show where one man and one woman are dropped off into the worst outdoor environments with zero supplies and zero clothing. Their task is to survive for 21 days on their own and complete some sort of physical challenge to reach their “exit,” which is usually either a beat-up pick-up truck or a helicopter, depending upon where they were located.  Now, normally I refuse to watch “reality TV” of any kind. Truth be told, I’d rather sell every television in this house than watch anything involving a Kardashian, a housewife, or a rose ceremony. But for Naked and Afraid I make an exception. (Just to reiterate, don’t let that term “naked” fool you into thinking this is some racy, sexy show. It’s the exact opposite. Think hundreds of bug bites (per person!!), lots of vomiting, the eating of weird shouldn’t-be-eaten plants and animals–hence the vomiting, and horrifying, wild-animal noises in the dark.)

Okay, now back to my original point. One episode of Naked and Afraid featured a guy who was insanely resourceful. He had a long back-story of the many things in life he’d survived, and he came into this challenge with a determination not just to survive his 21 days in the wilderness, but to THRIVE during those days. I can’t remember all of the details, but I know that he spent a large number of those days alone (his female counterpart got hurt or sick or “tapped out” and left for the comforts of home). I also remember that he made a sign on which he carved the word “thrive,” and he hung this sign over his shelter. And, y’all, let me tell you what an enormous difference there was in his 21 days and the same 21 days of those whose goal was simply survival. It was unreal. I mean, at one point, Thrive-guy killed an alligator WITH THIS BARE HANDS and feasted like a king. Um, yes, I do believe that’s called thriving in the wilderness.

What I’m asking you to consider today is whether you’re going through life like this guy, determined to do what it takes to thrive, or whether you are just trying to survive your life?

Friends, our God is a God of thrival, not survival (guess who just invented a new word!). Our God wants to bless us and do so abundantly. He is so good, y’all, and if you were to ask Him which approach He desires for His children, simply surviving life or thriving at life, I’m pretty sure we all know what His answer would be (pssst, if you’re not sure, the answer is in the Bible).

You know those Casting Crowns lyrics I referenced earlier? I’d like to share those with you, and I’d like to spend a few minutes digging into what scripture says about this idea of thriving. This is the tiniest portion of their song, but it impacted my thoughts in such a powerful way; I’m praying it does the same for you, too.

We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives/ It’s time for us to more than just survive/ We were made to thrive.

Let that sink in: we were made to thrive. How many of you could take an honest look at your life (your marriage, your job, your season of life, your parenting, your church participation, your relationship with Jesus) and say, without a doubt, that you are thriving? Friends, that’s a tough order. I’d wager a guess that for most of us, while we might be excelling in an area or two, in many others we are simply trying to survive.

It’s important that we fully understand what is meant by the word thrive, so, despite the fact that all my English-teacher friends are sighing and eye-rolling, I’d like to present you with an actual definition:

thrive: 1. to prosper, fortunate, successful; 2. to grow or develop vigorously, to flourish

Whether you’re starting your college years or fully established in your career, whether you’re newlywed or have been married for years, are you flourishing, friends? Can you look at your choices and decisions, at the words you speak and the actions you take and say, without reservation, “I am thriving”? If you’re doing life and relationships without Jesus, without a personal, daily touchbase with Jesus, you are most certainly simply surviving. (Side note: if you go through the motions on Sunday only to move through the rest of your week without spending time with Jesus and in the Word, that is NOT doing life with Jesus. That’s called going to church. Those two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Watch out, toes, I’m comin’ for ya!)

But as Jesus instructs, take heart, my lovelies! There is hope. And like another great worship song says, “Hope has a name, His name is Jesus!” And all God’s people said AMEN!!

You know, we all go through seasons of survival, where we literally just have to take it a week or a day (or an hour) at a time. And you know what? That’s okay. But if you spend your every day of every week of every month of every year just slogging through so you can go home, go to bed, get up the next day and do it all over again, let me be the one to tell you, that’s not what Jesus died to give you. If what I just described fits you perfectly, I want you to do me a favor. Get yourself a Sharpie and about five notecards and write John 10:10 on them: I have come that they may have life and have it to the fullest. Put those notecards all around your house and your car and your office at work. Say those words out loud. Declare that promise from Jesus over your life, friend, because simply surviving, simply enduring life as though it’s a miserable affliction, is NOT why the blood of Jesus was spilled. You, through your belief in Jesus, get to experience so very much more.

Please take a minute to read and absorb these promises from your Heavenly Father:

The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of His bounty…to bless all the work of your hands (Deut. 28:12).

A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap (Luke 6:38).

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us (Eph. 3:20).

The key here, friends, is found there in the last verse, the one from Ephesians. Yes, y’all, God can do immeasurably more than ALL we would even ask of Him or imagine He could do. BUT. It’s all from the power of His Holy Spirit at work within us. You’re no dummy, friend–you know that you can’t keep running yourself ragged between home and work and eight different kids’ sporting activities a week and all your many other obligations and expect God to just make things happen for you. Sure, He can. He’s able to do anything He wants, but He’s not a wishing well and He’s certainly no genie. He’s a relationship, and it’s in the relationship with Him that you’ll go from merely surviving your life to thriving at your life. Wouldn’t it be so nice to look back at our lives one day and to feel like we really conquered life? Can you imagine? To be able to look back at the various seasons of our lives and see how God’s supernatural peace and joy was injected into each one? I don’t know about you, but I have zero interest in simply surviving my life here on Earth. When I walk through Heaven’s gates, I want to hear Jesus declare over me, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23), instead of simply saying, “Welp, you made it.” I want to thrive.

Dear Lord, thank You so very much that You have given me a life that includes a relationship with You so that I can thrive and not just survive the day-to-day. Help me, Father, cultivate a life that blossoms, a life that glorifies You and encourages others to want to know You for themselves. Forgive me, Lord, for squandering this time on Earth that You’ve given me by being so caught up in myself and my obligations that I haven’t even attempted to do more than survive. I want that to stop, Lord, and I want it to stop now so that I can THRIVE in all areas. It’s a big order, God, but I know You’re a big God who blesses those who come boldly before Your throne. I know that I don’t have to worry about doing or being anything because when I’m in a relationship with You, I can hand my life over to You. In Your all-powerful hands, Lord, it’s impossible for me not to thrive. I love You, Father, and I am so grateful to be Your child. It’s in Jesus’s powerful name that I pray. Amen.

Opposite Day

Who has two thumbs and actually managed to sit down and type a blog post? THIS GAL! I have had every intention of writing this for literal weeks now, but boy, does life interrupt my plans sometimes. I felt 110% confident I was going to get this written yesterday, but then I attempted to put some playroom furniture together and promptly lost my entire religion. Fear not–my attitude is better today and I no longer feel as though I might self-combust. Progress!!

Do y’all remember in school when kids would say and do things that were in complete contradiction with truth, only to declare “it’s opposite day!” and we’d all just act like that was real thing? For example, someone would say “I hate recess!” and after receiving dirty looks from his peers, he’d declare “It’s opposite day!” and we’d all laugh and laugh. Well as it turns out, opposite day kinda does exist after all. You see, God Himself operates on a very “opposite-day” system. Here, let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I was perusing Twitter and all its fussy discord (why do I do this to myself?!), and I ran across a post from a semi well-known evangelical figure’s feed. Her post really elevated my blood pressure; let me share it with you:

Today’s spiritual self-care looked like skipping church to drink an overpriced pour at a hip, L.A. cafe and stare existentially at the rain outside while attempting to finish a big project I’m working on (that I can’t wait to tell you about!)

Um, I’m sorry, what? Uh, come again? You’re telling me that you felt spiritually exhausted and overwhelmed, so much so that your soul was FED by being away from the house of Jesus? That your soul was healed to some degree by expensive coffee and working? I’m sorry but, like all the cool kids say, I just cannot with this. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Silly me, here I thought my Bible said things like 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

This tweet was just one in a long line I’ve noticed lately that push, push, push this agenda of “self-care,” of making sure I/ME is well taken care of. While making sure you’re not neglecting yourself is a valuable use of your time, it’s certainly not what our Bible tells us should be our focus. I began thinking about how socially we’re encouraged to think “Me! Me! Me!” and “First! First! First!” while never considering what God says about where we should place our focus.

So, I took a deeper look at God’s economy and compared it with what we, as a society, believe is important, and –spoiler alert!–things don’t line up. I would love to input a chart here so that this next part could be graphically displayed, but because my computer screen and your phone screen aren’t the same size, that just doesn’t work out. Instead, I’ll list these, one on top of the other and just apologize in advance for the lack of neatness in this presentation of information.

In the following groupings, the mentalities/concepts that we as human beings value are listed first, with the Biblically-supported, God-ordained mentalities/concepts listed immediately after. Left side: what we value and promote. Right side: what God values and promotes.

(Us) Strength/ (God) Weakness in our humanity (Is. 40:31, 2 Cor. 12: 9-10)

(Us) Being first/ (God) Being last (Matt. 20:16)

PrideHumility (1 Peter 5:5)

Being servedServing others (Mark 10:43-45)

Being rich/ Being poor in the things of this world (2 Cor. 8:9, Rev. 3:17)

Focus on the outer (appearance)/ Focus on the inner character (1 Sam. 16:7)

Busyness/ Stillness (Psalm 46:10, Exodus 14:14)

Self/ Others (Luke 9:23)

Give up…quit….move on/ Persist (Gal. 6:9, Col. 1:11-12)

Indifference/ Compassion (Col. 3:12)

Instant gratification/ Slow, deep, sincere progress (1 Sam. 13:8-14, Rom. 12:12)

Y’all, God declared “Opposite day!” on us a long, long time ago, and for some reason, we just move right on pretending like self-care and personal-progress and monetary success and “not my problem” attitudes are desirable. But today I want you to ask yourself what I’ve been asking myself lately as well: what about God’s economy? Am I living my life in a way that promotes God or promotes me? Am I intentionally finding ways to serve others, to put myself second, to do what I don’t want to do so that I can show God’s love to someone else, or am I buying what the Twitter-verse voices are saying and focusing on serving me, myself, and I?

There are so many, many things to say about each of these pairings. Some of these concepts I’ve discussed in previous posts; some I feel led to save so that I might focus more in depth on them in future posts. Overall, for our purposes today, I feel it best to remove myself and my words, allowing God to simply press upon you the one (or ones, plural, if you’re like me!) you can spend some time talking to Him about later. Therefore, instead of focusing on these individually, let’s consider them as a group. Let’s focus on what they, as a whole, show us about behaving more like Jesus.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I assume if you’re reading a scripture-based blog, you’re likely interested in becoming as much like Jesus as possible. If that’s the case and you are, the God-breathed fundamentals from the Bible that are listed above, along with a few additional verses can help us learn more about the character of Jesus so as to switch off the self-serving sermons. There is no one who exemplifies “Not me but You, God” more than Jesus.

Let’s explore these teachings as they appear in order of the books of the New Testament, starting with Mark.

**Mark 10: 43-45 But among you, it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever want to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many.

**Luke 9: 46-48 For he who is least and lowliest among you all, he is [the one who is truly] great.

**Luke 22:27 For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving?…But I am among you as the one who serves.

**1 Corinthians 1: 27-28 God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And He chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.

**Philippians 2: 5-8 (MSG version) Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Let’s recap, shall we? According to these scriptures, which are obviously just a mere sampling of those that show our subservient, humble, selfless Jesus, God is most certainly in the “opposite day” business. God’s economy doesn’t operate like our self-centered one. We can’t gain one bit of joy or peace by catering to our own fleshly desires and excuses. The value of our own personal convenience seems to be completely missing from scripture. Friends, quite frankly, as Jesus showed us again and again and again, our time on this Earth just truly is not about us.

God is our portion. Jesus is our peace. Prayer is our true self-care, and a relationship with the God of the universe is our reward. Don’t buy into this internet mumbo-jumbo (and yes, that’s the technical term). Sure, you can get your toenails painted instead of cleaning your house; you can drink your wine with your friends instead of attending that “triggering” family gathering; you can even spend your down time reading self-help books in an overpriced coffee shop. And you know what, that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you’re looking for long-term renewal of your spirit or peace that surpasses the logical, you won’t find it there.

Friends, we were meant to be like Jesus. Not once have I run across a scripture where it says that when Jesus was tired and overwhelmed with the multitudes CONSTANTLY needing something from Him, He shut it all down so that He could do a little self-care. Instead, He said repeatedly to God, not My will but Yours. All I do for Your Kingdom. As a Christian, I so desperately want to get better at this. I want to set my goals on heavenly concepts; I want to learn to die to self daily, hourly, even by the minute if that’s what it takes. I want to serve others first and myself last. I want to learn to care for others in the name of Jesus and with the love He’s given me, relying on HIM to take care of me, to restore my soul. I want to be less worried about myself and more worried about what I’m doing on a daily basis to show Jesus to others, to serve others in His name. I want to say, Here I am Lord, send me, without worrying if it’ll be convenient. I just want to be able to live in a way that makes it obvious He who lives within me is FAR GREATER than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Dear Lord, I thank You so very much for the guidance provided in Your Word. I want to live my life, God, according to Your economy, not the world’s. I want to focus on what You say is important, on what You describe as being worth my effort. Lord, this world is confusing. Everywhere I turn there is new and different advice about how to be happy or at peace or more content or more joyful. I recognize, though, Father, that without You, none of those things is even possible. I fully understand that all peace, all joy, all relaxation, all contentment come from You, and I fully understand that unless I live my life more in line with how Jesus lived His, I cannot achieve anything for You. I want to be useful to You, Lord. I want You to use me to share Jesus with others, so I ask sincerely and earnestly, Father, that You help me recognize when I’m serving self so that I might immediately switch it off and serve others instead. Work with me, please, Lord, so that I can become still, compassionate, persistent, and more interested in making progress for You than instantly gratifying some human need I’ve conjured up. I love You, Lord, and I am so grateful that I don’t have to stay as I am. Rescue me from myself, Lord. In Jesus’s mighty and holy name I pray. Amen.

 

Whatever He Says

So is May just struggle-bus month or what? I’m not even in the classroom anymore, but May showed up and now I’m struggle-bus riding (driving, perhaps?) all the same. Here’s the deal: this blog is messing me up! Two years of blog posting, and suddenly I’m all up in my head about it. I have a notebook full of topic ideas, and relatively often, I’m still able to come up with new ones. However, when it comes to putting pen to paper–er, fingertips to keyboard–I get all convoluted in my noggin. My biggest problem is that I am so concerned with not repeating myself. But because it’s been long enough, I’ve written way too many posts for this old broken-down, mom-brain to remember what I have and have not said. So, struggle-bus. Then, just when I thought I was feeling better about it all, I read a well-meaning devotional about how important it is for any message you share to be God-breathed because if you share a message that’s not, you can ruin everyone forever. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite so severe, but you get my point: it did NOT help.

You’ve probably already noted what it seemed to take me a long time to understand: I’m focusing on myself, on my own abilities and power, not God’s. I’m not taking into consideration that God can make any message fruitful; He can breathe fresh new life into my words, even if I do repeat myself. With that truth in mind, let me step out from behind the struggle-bus steering wheel and turn your attention to the lessons and promises of God, brought to us today by Mary. Given the recent celebration of Mother’s Day, I thought learning a valuable lesson from the mom of our almighty Savior was a useful way to acknowledge motherhood.

Many of you likely know the story of Jesus’s first miracle, when, while attending a wedding, He turned water into wine after the bride’s parents miscalculated their party supplies. Maybe it’s a story with which you’re very familiar (maybe I’ve even written about it before. Who knows? Not I, said the brain-dead blogger). But even if Jesus’s actions are well-known to you, there’s much to be taken away from Mary’s words and actions in John 2:3-5.

Upon hearing that a near-catastrophic event was at hand (The hosts had prematurely run out of wine, and for some of you, this is a terrifying thought.), Mary knew exactly where to turn for help: Jesus. At this time, Jesus had performed zero miracles, and He even seems–dare I say–hesitant, telling His mom it’s not yet time. Does she listen to Him? Of course not. Like all good mothers, Mary recognizes that although Jesus is holy and a set-apart creation, He is still her son, she’s still His mom, and she’s asked Him to help. Guess what…Mary wins! Moms: 1; kids: 0.

Mary provides an additional example of excellent mothering. After taking her problem to Jesus, drawing His attention to the issue and asking for His help, Mary doesn’t hover and prod and provide possible solutions for Him to consider. Instead, she walks away, confident that He’ll figure it out and handle it. In fact, she’s so secure in her son’s ability, she goes to the servants and directs them, “Whatever He says, do it” (vs. 5). And there you have it folks, one of the greatest pieces of advice to be found in God’s Word. A life-altering piece of advice that you and I would be wise to take to heart and return to over and over and over again.

Whatever He says, do it. Sure, that sounds simple enough, but is it? Let me gently and kindly and without judgement ask you this question: If you’re not in a close relationship with Jesus (not talking to Him and not listening to Him) and you’re not spending time in the Word, how can you know what Jesus is telling you to do? How can you be obedient?

Within a personal relationship with Jesus, sometimes the instructions we receive are personal; they’re answers to prayers for guidance and direction regarding our own unique set of circumstances. As important as it is to hear God and do whatever He tells us to do in those moments (and we’ll come back to this), we also possess many direct instructions from the Creator of the Universe Himself throughout the Bible. It’s these expectations of true Christians I’d like to discuss first. And like all good little Type A’s, I now present you with a numbered list (woot! woot!) of the things we are called to do in obedience.

1. Repent–true, honest, never-intentionally-turning-back-to-that-behavior-again repentance (Matthew 4:17)

2. Follow Jesus (Matthew 4:19)

3. Be joyful/rejoice because of what God’s done for you–be the kind of person who’s so full of Jesus that others desire to be in your presence and to know Jesus for themselves (Psalm 126:3)

4. Glorify Jesus with your life–see number 3 above (Matthew 5:16)

5. Keep your mind like Jesus’s mind–think on the things He thinks on (Philippians 4:8)

6. Forgive EVERYONE always–no exceptions, no exclusions (Matthew 18:22)

7. Love EVERYONE always–no exceptions, no exclusions (Matthew 22:39-40)

8. Seek God, His will and His voice, above all else (Matthew 6:33)

9. Judge NO ONE ever–no exceptions, no exclusions (Matthew 7:1-3)

10. Do not fear (or worry)–this instruction is listed 365 times in the Bible, one for each day of the year. As a favor to you, I will not list them all here (you’re welcome) but if this is your area of struggle, please Google a few

11. Serve God and others (in that order) above self–Don’t neglect your own needs, but your own convenience and appeasement shouldn’t be a top-of-the-list concern. (Matthew 20:26-28)

12. Pray–Duh. (1 John 5:14; James 4:2)

13. Share the gospel! Share the message of Jesus with others and bring the unsaved into salvation–When was the last time you directly talked about Jesus with someone? What about the last time you did so with someone you knew wasn’t a Christian? As scary as it is, we will one day be held very accountable for those times we could have spoken up and shared Jesus but gave in to pressure and fear. (Matthew 28:19-20)

14. Tithe–Because every good and perfect gift is from above, and it’s our job to glorify God with EVERY part of our lives (Psalm 3:9)

Obviously it’s impossible and unfair to summarize what being in relationship with Jesus means by concocting a list of actions to complete, but as James 2 states, if we declare to be believers but our actions don’t support that, our faith doesn’t count. And God doesn’t want us to stop with just these “typical Christian behaviors;” He’s interested in our full obedience.

So back to that aforementioned comment about doing whatever Jesus says to do with regard to our own unique situations. What’s God been pressing upon you to do, my friend? Help a neighbor? Talk sincerely with your spouse about that issue you’ve both been avoiding for far too long? Or what about one of these: seeing a therapist, returning your grocery cart instead of leaving it for someone else to worry about, engaging someone in conversation, letting someone go in front of you in traffic or a checkout line, getting your spending under control, slowing down your life/schedule, taking that new opportunity, staying where you are and learning to fix yourself/your own attitude, eliminating the “victim” mentality you tend to readily adopt, making Jesus more of a priority, putting your phone down…and the list goes on and on. Y’all, there is not much in life that’s super easy. But we’re not here to do it all on our own. Let me give you a little advice that I once got from a pretty smart, godly lady: Whatever Jesus says, do it.

Dear Lord, thank You so very much for the life of Mary and all that I can learn from her. Help me to be like her when difficult, even seemingly impossible circumstances present themselves. Help me to turn to Jesus, to ask for His help, and to walk away from that encounter confident in His ability to provide and care for me. Father God, I ask for Your help with my obedience. I want to stop trying to figure it all out on my own, but more importantly I want to get my direction from You and to be immediately obedient instead of creating justifications and/or excuses for why I can’t possibly do what You’re asking. I love you, Lord, and I pray that I become more and more like Jesus so that my life, too, can glorify You in every way. May my own personal convenience be the last thing I worry about so that I might better care for those around me. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen. 

Praise The LORD For Your Soul

Recently, for another blog post, I began researching the multitude of questions Jesus asks throughout His time in the New Testament. While so many are poignant (because that’s how Jesus rolls…loaded questions were His jam!), one really caused me to stop and seriously ponder what a truthful, heart-based, personal answer would sound like. I want to share this same question with you, and I ask that you genuinely pause and reflect upon your response as well. The question from Jesus comes from Matthew 16:15 (the emphasis is mine).

But who do you say that I am?

To me, not much else arrows straight to the root of our personal relationships with Jesus like this direct (and loaded!) question. And given the season that is upon us, the incredible celebration of Easter, I feel that it’s of utmost value (of necessity even!) that we truthfully, authentically, prayerfully answer this question for ourselves. Not to steal Christian comedian John Crist’s catchphrase, but let this question prompt us to check our hearts (and our lives and our thoughts and our words and our actions), to reorder our schedules /priorities/lives so that when our sacrificial Savior asks “But who do you say that I am?” we don’t have to answer back to Him things like “an obligation,” “unimportant,” “not worth my time,” or “someone I don’t ever talk about.”

I’d like to go ahead and warn you upfront (although maybe warn is a bit too strong) that for most of you, this particular post might not be for you. In fact, it might not apply to you much at all, especially if your relationship with Jesus is flourishing and mature. To be honest, it’s that fact that’s kept me from writing this post for several months now. Have y’all ever been there before? Have y’all ever sensed God lead you to do a certain thing, one about which your incredibly wise human brain said, “I don’t think that’s really all that necessary”? Yeah, well. That’s pretty much how I’ve reacted when God’s placed this blog post on my heart: Ya sure about that, God? I mean, like, fully certain? I’m sure You aren’t so I’ll just circle on back around some other time if that’s swell with You. The Holy Spirit did lead me in other (hopefully useful) directions with my writings, but this nudge never went away completely. And I don’t if it’s because God needs to use it right now or if it’s because it’s Easter or what, but apparently ’tis time.

You see, I pushed this idea to the side because I felt like it wouldn’t apply to many of you, as I mentioned before. However, after careful consideration of that biblical question from Jesus, I felt that it was too important to pass up. Besides, God works in ways that I can’t (hallelujah!), so I know that if only one person reads this post today, or in the coming days/weeks, and it touches his/her heart, it was so very worth the rest of us reading a message that may not apply to us.

Friends, while it’s my goal through this blog site to share Jesus in a real-world, relatable way, it’s all pointless if you don’t know Jesus on a personal level, as your very personal Savior. So let me very gently and in a very non-judgmental way ask you a critical question to go along with Jesus’s: Are you saved? Have you declared to God through your words that you believe Jesus is the Son of God, that He came to earth to save us from ourselves and our sinfulness and death by taking our shame and punishment up on that cross? Have you verbally declared that you believe Jesus died on the cross, was placed in the tomb only to defeat death (for good!) by raising from the dead three days later, eventually rising back up into Heaven to stay until He comes back for us one day? If not, if you’ve never made this life-changing declaration, how about today? Dear Beloved by God, how about right now?

Romans 10:9 promises this: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

John 10:9 says it this way, from the very mouth of Jesus: Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.

Acts 4:12 uses these words: There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.

And Ephesians 2:9 helps us understand that, Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done…[God] has created us anew in Christ Jesus.

So what’s the commonality here? Jesus Christ. We make it legalistic and complicated, but it’s really very simple. Do you believe Jesus is who He says He is, who the Bible says He is? If so and you feel led to follow the biblical guidelines to salvation, I ask that you just pray this prayer with me (out loud if you are comfortable with that).

Father God, thank You for Your Son–for Jesus Christ. Thank You for His death on the cross and His resurrection three days later. Thank You, Lord, for Your Word which I believe with my whole heart. I accept Jesus as my Savior, Father, and I thank You that all the goodness of Jesus and the guiding force of the Holy Spirit now reside within me. In Jesus’s holy name I prayer this prayer for salvation. Amen.

CONGRATULATIONS! Don’t you feel lighter already? You just signed a covenant with the Maker of the ENTIRE Universe, who loves you, desires you, and is so proud of you! (Be sure and check the bottom of this post for the “Now What?!” section to help you know where to go from here with your newly-accepted salvation.)

While I’m beyond excited and happy to potentially help someone make such an important, life-changing decision, I don’t want to skip past those of us who might be caught up somewhere in the middle. Maybe you prayed a similar prayer for salvation once upon a time and followed it with a relationship with Jesus. But maybe life has happened since then–maybe A LOT of life–and in an effort to keep your other relationships afloat, you’ve let yours with Jesus dissipate. First, before anything else, let me say this very seriously and sternly: GOD IS NOT MAD AT YOU. Zero upset on His part. He misses you. He loves you, and He anxiously awaits a renewing of that dedication to Him and a life full of Him that you once had. All it takes is for you to get tired enough of feeling Satan yank you around, speaking lies, that you change your course. My friend, you cannot do this on your own. It takes you in partnership with God, with Him at the reigns. How do you get there? The same way you get anywhere and everywhere: prayer. And I invite you to say this prayer with me to re-solidify your relationship with your Heavenly Father (again, out loud if you’re comfortable with that):

Dear Lord, I miss You, and I recognize that the distance between us isn’t because You moved away from me. Father, I recognize that I am not meant to do life without You, and I ask for Your help in returning to a right relationship with You. I desire for You to be at the forefront of my life, Lord, but I’m not even sure where to start. I ask today that You please move in my life; forgive me, please, for my choices and my distance. Help me to return to You. I rededicate my life to You, Father God, and I’m so grateful for the open arms with which You greet me today. Thank You for Your Son Jesus, whose death and resurrection make this possible. In His name I pray. Amen.

I trust that within at least one heart a small opening was created, one in which God has shown Himself. I pray that regardless of where your maturity falls with regard to your relationship with Jesus that you spend some intentional, prioritized time this Easter to study the precious Word of God for yourself, instead of letting someone spoon-feed it to you. I pray that during this time, you’ll be reminded of the incredible, unmatched love that He has for you. What a mighty God we serve indeed! Happy Easter, my friends! May you fully encounter Jesus this holiday weekend.

So…..now what?!

If you prayed that prayer with me earlier and accepted Jesus into your heart, you’re probably wondering where to go from here. Biblically, our acceptance of Jesus, our being saved, is a 2-parter. Part one, we have to pray and ask Him into our hearts…so check mark on that! Part one can be done publicly or privately; it counts no matter what. But part two is definitely for public consumption; part two is baptism. If you’ll reach out to a local church or a friend with a home church (or come go to church with me!), you’ll find it’s filled with fellow believers anxious to help you celebrate the private decision you made with public baptism. Trust me.

Afterward–or in the waiting while you’re building up your courage to get your face wet in public–get yourself a Bible, a highlighter, a notebook, and a pen. Set aside time on a DAILY basis to talk to God, to listen to God, and to read His Word. He’ll do the rest. I mean it–He will do ALL of the heavy lifting.

If at any point I can help you, pray for you, or encourage you, you can find me at lindseydt@gmail.com. Please reach out.

I mean, I am so excited! I hope you are, too. Praise the Lord for your soul; it is of UTMOST importance to Him. Now go celebrate Easter like never before. 🙂

Did God Really Say…

To start this blog post, I’m going to need a little class participation, umkay?

When I say “Girl Scout cookies,” you say “of the devil”! Got it? Let’s go!!!!

Me: “Girl Scout cookies!”

You: “Of the devil!”

Me: “Girl Scout cookies!”

You: “Of the devil!”

{clap!clap!clap!clap!clap!}

Y’all, what is it about those things? I have a sneaking suspicion that those sweet little Girl Scout pushers know their products are crack-infused and are purposefully keeping it a secret. I literally can not even like a particular type of Girls Scout cookie, but if that flavor is sitting on my counter (I’m talking to you, Tagalongs!), I will eat it anyway. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! And you know what’s even worse? I will sometimes eat the first one, think to myself, man, that wasn’t as good as a I wanted it to be, then eat another dadgum cookie like they’ll miraculously get better with a second one! Believe it or not, in most situations, I’m an intelligent person! Ugh, so stupid.

But, friends, isn’t this exactly how temptation works? We are such smart people. We make smart decisions in our lives; we understand how cause and effect works; we fully realize when foods/people/relationships/thoughts aren’t healthy for us, but you get us around any of those, and suddenly we are partaking of said temptation like it’s suddenly become a great idea.

Luckily for us, God knew we were weak. He knew that we would give in, that we would struggle to hold strong and steady when faced with something–big or small–that we really wanted but that we shouldn’t have. Remember that whole “And lead us not into temptation” part that Jesus taught His disciples to pray? Yeah, there was a reason for that. He knew that for His children temptation was going to be a big issue.  In fact, just like 99.9% of everything else we’ve discussed on here, God made sure to give us guidance and insight into temptation and how we’re expected to handle it within His Word.

There are a couple of scriptures I’d like us to examine, so let’s first start with James 1:13-14: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” If God is not the source of our temptation, then who is? We are! Y’all, James is so good about coming right out with it, telling us the truth about our actions without sugar-coating it for our tender egos. In these verses, I imagine him pointing his finger in my face and telling me to stop tempting myself; stop putting myself in situations where I’m likely to face temptation and then blaming God for the temptation I face. It. Is. Not. His. Doing. Thank you, James, duly noted.

Fortunately, like all earthly roads, we aren’t expected to travel this one alone. Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 with these words on temptation: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” This verse is a little denser than the one previous, so let’s take a minute to unpack it.

First, Paul wants us to rest in the fact that regardless of the temptation we are facing–no matter how many, no matter how serious–we aren’t alone. There exists not a single temptation that hasn’t already tried its hand on someone else.

Second, GOD. IS. FAITHFUL. (I say “God!” You say” Faithful!” HAHA! Kidding! We did that already.) In all seriousness, though, God isn’t going to suddenly decide you don’t need Him. He created us to need Him. He desperately wants us to recognize our need for Him. If you reach out to Him in the midst of temptation, He literally cannot be unfaithful to you. It’s not possible.  Being the God of abundance, He’s going to go even one step further. Not only will He make absolutely certain that you don’t topple over into this temptation, but He promises to provide for you a way out. I love how His saving of us is described here: “He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Friends, we will not be crushed by our temptations. We will not be defeated IF we make sure God’s facing off against it with us.

In the face of temptation, you and I have essentially two options: choose the temptation or choose to walk away. Let’s state this another way, though, that really drives home the fact that our choice in the midst of temptation is truly about whether or not we opt to let God be God. In the face of temptation, we have two choices: Trust (believe God and His promises for deliverance) OR Doubt (believe Satan and his lies that God can’t save us from whatever pulls so strongly on us).

As our verses from James told us, temptation isn’t from God. It’s from us, from our own inherently evil desires. And guess who ALWAYS has his nasty little serpent hiss right in our ears when our ungodly temptations get amplified. This isn’t new. In fact, this is the very oldest strategy of the enemy’s. You don’t even have to turn many pages in the Bible before you see Satan first whispering lies into the ear of Eve as she faces the first ever temptation. In Genesis 3:1, we are warned that “the serpent was more subtle and crafty than any living creature of the field which the Lord God had made,” and we see his plan for creating doubt begin with four simple yet life-altering words: “Did God really say…” How often I’ve fallen for this strategy. How often I’ve thought I was a believer only to realize, when the going got tough, that maybe I believed in God but didn’t believe God would do what He said He would. That’s exactly how Satan likes it. He knows that if he can plant that doubt in our minds, our temptation will sound out louder than the still quiet voice of our Father who offers so selflessly to help us through the fire.

My dears, let me share with you a list: doubt, confusion, anger, immaturity, resentment, lust, greed, unforgiveness, gluttony, depression, isolation, loneliness. Do any of these encompass what you’re feeling/facing today? Here’s a little secret…not a single one of these is from or of God. Not. One. However, every single last one–plus a whole bunch of other, equally awful ones–is straight from Satan himself. Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you fed up with deciding to stand strong against a temptation, caving, feeling awful about yourself, struggling with your shame, deciding unequivocally never to find yourself in that spot again…only to end up right back there time and time again? I am. I want to stop this cycle and tell Satan once and for all that YES, God really DID say that!

So how? When staring temptation in its dangerous eye, how do we ensure success over failure?

1. KNOW GOD–I mean, personally. Daily. Know Him well enough that your first knee-jerk reaction in the face of trouble (of any sort!) is prayer. Know Him intimately so that you can shut that devil up the second he comes at you with that “Did God really say…” nonsense.

2. KNOW THE WORD–Know what the Bible says about God because that’s the only way you’ll learn what His character and His heart are all about. Know what precious, faithful promises God includes in the Bible. Declare those at your temptation! Talk back to it and that jerk of a serpent! Let them both know that God won’t let you fail. You will NOT be sucked in this time. Stand on any and every promise that points you straight past failure and on to success.

3. KNOW YOURSELF–Know when you are most tempt-able. Is it mid-day when you’re home alone? Is it late at night when everyone else is in bed? Is it while you’re out running errands? Know your areas of weakness, be they physical, sexual, spiritual, mental, or a combination. Friends, it is imperative that you know yourself, because let me tell you this, you can bet Satan knows you. “Satan is the counterfeit god of perfect timing.” I recently ran across this statement by my other BFF Beth Moore, and I could not get that quote written down fast enough. Such truth. And we are absolute fools if we think otherwise. Know yourself and do something with that knowledge to protect yourself.

One last thing before I close us out with a prayer. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s another little dose of fabulous word selection and point-making from Mrs. Beth. “No weaker house exists than one that lacks authority. Lack of authority is a breeding ground for untold recklessness and sin.” Yes, this quote was written about our literal houses, but isn’t this also very true for our bodies? Friends, we have to let God have authority over our bodies and our minds, our hearts and our desires. We have to let His Word be law in our lives so that temptation and its pusher know their place. “And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). Know it. Declare it.

Dear Lord, thank You so much that when I am faced with a temptation of any sort, I am not alone. Thank You that You have promised to walk with me past that evil desire and to provide for me a way out. Help me, Father, to learn all I can about You, to develop such a closeness with You that Satan and his lies have no power over me. Help me to know Your Word so assuredly that I can declare it (out loud!) against the evil strategies of the enemy. Thank You, Lord, that You have already ensure my success if I simply hand my life over to You. I love You, and I am so thankful that You hear my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s name that I offer it. Amen.

Look For Wrinkles, Find Wrinkles

Years ago, I devoured every single issue of Us Weekly within hours of its arrival in the mail. I couldn’t get enough of the celebrity scoop (that’s a cute little euphemism for gossip, you see). I also liked seeing how all the celebs dressed, what their hairstyles looked like, and I even enjoyed those pictures captured when the men and women of movies and television looked atrocious: bags under their eyes, puffy no-make-up’d faces, baggy, wrinkled clothes, and messy hair. This segment of the magazine always made me feel better because it made these superstars seem more relatable. That was it did, until I realized those unflattering photos were posted in a section Us Weekly called, “Stars–They’re Just Like Us.” Not cool, Us. Not cool.

Needless to say, after looking at this trash week after week, I noticed that there was so much appearance emphasis, so much body talk that I didn’t feel very good about myself. Despite my love of all things celebrity, I decided that I needed to break up with Us Weekly, and (surprise!) without all that comparison, I started feeling less focused on myself. I can’t say that I felt altogether better, but it just took the focus off the external…if that makes sense.

I have (mostly) maintained that mindset over the years until just recently. You see, back in January I turned 38, and while that’s certainly not old (y’all know what they say: 38 is the new 25, amiright?!), turning 38 brought something along with it that I’d not really been anticipating: the 20th anniversary of my having graduated from high school. I’m sorry, what?! It’s been HOW LONG since I graduated from high school? Clearly a mathematical error has occurred.

Well, with this tragic realization, I found myself returning to my focus on external appearance. I’ve mentioned on here before that I have a weird friend situation: they all look WAY younger than they are. They’re all vampires who do Lord knows what to maintain wrinkle-free skin and thick, luxurious hair. Frankly, it’s disgusting. I, however, haven’t met a face-crease I didn’t let move in permanently. So, needless to say, I’ve spent much more thought-time and mirror-time inspecting my aging self for signs of those 20 years that have passed since high school.

This is going to seem way off the point, but just keep it to yourself and stick with me for a second….

On the wall in our bedroom I have a horizontally-hung antique door, on which my super crafty and dear friend Jennifer Marie painted–at my request–the following scripture: Ask, and it will be given to you; Seek, and you will find; Knock, and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7). (I’d post a picture so you could see for yourselves, but I obviously don’t pay a large enough per month fee  for this website because that’s not an option for me. Dust off those imaginations! You’re welcome!)

From the sink in my bathroom, I can see this door and scripture, and one day, after more close examination of all age spots, sagging skin, and various other sordid facial changes, this scripture spoke in a different way to me. You see, I felt like God was telling me, Lindsey, if you keep looking for wrinkles, that’s exactly what you’re going to find, because that’s what you’re determined to find. If you looked for good, though, you’d find good. It’s your call.

HOLD THE PHONE! Boy, does this apply to our everyday lives, too, not just superficial skin inspection. In order to better understand the lesson I felt God had placed within my heart, I spent some time with that verse in Matthew, and I had a few thoughts. What’s that? You’d like me to share them? Why, how kind of you to ask. Here you go.

Basically, here’s what I believe is 100% the truth…and clearly, I’ve not exhausted what could be an incredibly lengthy list:

Look for wrinkles, find wrinkles.

Look for negatives, find negatives.

Look for love, find love.

Look for Jesus, find Jesus.

Let me explain. While I know I just mentioned this verse earlier, let me draw your attention back to what the Bible states very specifically in Matthew 7; this time let’s look at verses seven and eight: “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Although these verses definitely work to explain that anyone who seeks God repeatedly and steadfastly will INDEED find Him, couldn’t they also work in the reverse to help us understand the critical importance of a godly mindset?

Friend, if in your marriage (or significant-other relationships) you constantly look for reasons to be upset with your spouse or you are always posed and ready to jump down their throats to prove just how much you do and how little they do, guess what you will always find? Yep, a reason to do exactly that. And if at work you’re always seeking to catch your coworkers or your boss in a mistake or to prove that he/she doesn’t work as hard as you do, guess what you will always find? Right again. Y’all, whether it’s with your friendships, work relationships, marriages, or relationships with pastors, neighbors, or in-laws, if you seek the negative, YOU WILL FIND THE NEGATIVE. If you knock long enough at the door of discontentment, upset, bitterness, anger, or resentment, that door will be opened to you. The Bible guarantees it.

After feeling like I understood this concept in a way I had not before, it begged the question, how do I change what I seek? And like a good Type-A nutball, I organized my thoughts and the insights God provided me into a few main suggestions. I hinged these ideas on a favorite saying of mine from Joyce “We’re Gonna Be Best Friends One Day In Heaven” Meyers: Think about what you’re thinking about. In other words, our though-life MUST be intentional, and since our thoughts spring from our heart, it’s best that we start there. So, without further ado, in an effort to change what we seek from negative to positive, from resentment and frustration to love, let’s hit our Bibles!

The Heart

In Matthew 12:34, we are told that, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” and this truth is punctuated by Proverbs 4:23: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” In fact, our heartitude is so important to God that it’s what He chooses to focus on. “All deeds are right in the sight of the doer, but God weighs the heart (Proverbs 21:2). Bottom line: whatever is in our hearts will flow out from there into our minds and our speech. It’s of utmost importance that we check our heart to make sure it’s full of God and His love to ensure that that’s what flows from it.

Our Thoughts

As we all know, it’s really easy to think about how irritating someone is, how much we do and how little they do, how unhappy we are, how unfair life is. However, it’s literally a sin to spend time in that mindset! Let me repeat: focusing on the negative goes against biblical teaching! Here, let me prove it. Philippians 4:8 instructs us very clearly to think ONLY on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praise-worthy. Full stop. No excuses, no exceptions.

Our speech

And, y’all, the trickle-down from what’s in our hearts and our thoughts is shown in our speech. You can seek negativity verbally, just like you can mentally. Do you talk frequently with your coworkers about that other coworker? Or your boss? Do you and your mom or you and your sister spend time verbally building up your spouse or tearing him down? What about with your kids? Do you and your spouse speak life into the challenges of raising them or do you wallow in your circumstances and current trials? Ephesians 4:29 makes no bones about it; it states, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up…that it may give grace to those who hear.” God is really speaking to us here, friends, because He’s letting us know that not only does our speech affect those involved, but it directly affects anyone who even happens to overhear it! Anyone who has ever heard us talk negatively…boom! They’re affected.

But all is not lost. Why? LOVE <–the answer to all of this! Over and over again in the Bible it teaches us that God’s love for us, when accepted into our hearts, will flow forth from us into and onto others. It teaches us that without God’s love in our hearts, our thoughts and our speech become dangerous, both to us and others. Check out this repetition.

Romans 12:10–“Outdo one another in showing honor.” (AKA love!)

Ephesians 4:31-32–“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Luke 10:27–“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

And one last verse before we close and pray, one that reminds us we must purposefully and diligently seek good to find good, and we must purposefully and diligently seek Jesus to find Jesus (especially in others): “Eagerly pursue and seek to acquire love [make it your aim, your great quest]…” 1 Corinthians 14:1. Did ya notice that word “seek” in there? Yet again we’re given the promise that whatever it is we seek, we will find. Let’s seek love, life, goodness, and most importantly, let’s seek Jesus.

Dear Lord, thank You so much that You clearly direct us into a way of thinking and speaking that helps us show You to those around us. Father, it’s certainly not always easy to find the good, to seek good over bad, but I know that if I’ll bring my struggles to You, You will help me turn around my thinking. Help me to fill my heart, Lord, with You and Your love so that when it overflows, it’s You getting passed on to all I encounter. I choose happiness and contentment, and today, Father, I want to move forward only attempting to find the good in those around me and the circumstances in which I find myself. Be with me, Lord, so that I bring glory to You with my heart, my thoughts, and my speech. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.

 

Judas, Peter…and I

Do you ever have times when you’re tootling along, minding your own business and doing just fine, feeling content and okay about everything, only for your thought-life to go totally wonky? Where suddenly you’re questioning your decisions, maybe even how others feel about you (despite knowing they feel favorably and nothing has happened to change that)? For whatever reason, this is where I’ve lived lately, right smack on the corner of Insecure Circle and Self-Doubt Drive.

Here’s the deal. I guess because of age and experience, these days when feelings like these hit, I recognize them for exactly what they are: Satan’s attempts to thwart the vision God’s given me or to distract me enough, shifting my focus inward toward self so that I’m less effective in my job of sharing Jesus.

A few days ago, while in the midst of these less-than-uplifting feelings, I happened across guys from the Bible who definitely felt the weight and torment of the schemes of Satan. In truth, I’d previously judged these two rather harshly. One of them is likely in the top ten of most recognizable characters in the whole Bible; his name is Judas. The other guy, Peter, is fairly infamous himself. Continuing my full disclosure, I have always felt so scornful toward Judas (for obvious reasons) when reading his story, and toward Peter, too, to some degree, even though I do mostly understand why he chose to deny Jesus in the moments when he did.

This particular day, however, I read these stories with new eyes, I guess, because suddenly I realized that, although I love Jesus like these two fellas, I, too, have sold Him out and denied who He is. Breaking News: Judas, Peter….and I can be real jerks.

To better explain my newfound attitude, let’s focus on Matthew 26, and let’s look specifically at verse 15. Speaking to Jesus’s persecutors, Judas says, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?” Their answer: 30 pieces of silver, which, shockingly, is the equivalent of approximately $21.60 today. Let me type that again just in case you missed it. Jesus Christ was sold out by someone who claimed to love and honor Him for a measly $21.60. I can’t even make this compute in my broken brain.

My knee-jerk, gut reaction here is judgement and scorn. (Loathing, perhaps?) How dare you, Judas!! It’s not like any amount would be okay, but seriously, that puny sum?! I judge Judas’s choices, question his character, and reserve ZERO understanding or compassion toward this traitor. And just when I’ve gotten my own sense of self-righteousness good and inflated, God pokes a stick-pin in it, and I suddenly realize Judas and I aren’t so polar opposite after all.

You see, Friends, I, too, have sold Jesus out for a small price…and I’ve done it more than once. I mean, of course no one has ever paid me money to literally hand Jesus over, but I have turned my back on Him in an effort to gain other, worldly things:

*money

*human recognition or praise

*likes on social media

*personal comfort

*convenience

*appearance

*popularity/acceptance

And the list continues. I’ve even sold Him out because I wasn’t brave enough, because I let fear speak louder than He did. Can you identify with any of these yourself?

Jesus addresses this sort of behavior in Matthew 26:24. His words apply not only to Judas, but also to those of us who consider ourselves Christians while attempting to gain the things of this world. Jesus warns us, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better (more profitable and wholesome) for that man if he had never been born!” Yikes! Hard truths followed by exclamation points, so you know it was something about which Jesus felt very strongly.

Judas sold out Jesus with false devotion for a pathetic price. Turning Jesus over, Judas “embraced Him and kissed Him with [pretended] warmth and devotion” (Matthew 26:49). Sounds awful, right? Sounds horrendous and hurtful and unimaginable. But, y’all, we do this. We go to church (many of us even go twice a week! And all the good Christians said, Amen.). We raise our hands in worship, we serve, we attend small groups or Sunday school classes, and we wear our devotion to Jesus externally, making sure everyone knows. Then, we go home, and the rest of our lives and our behavior–at work, within our marriages, within our households–is void of Jesus and His love. You and me and Judas…we’re all sell-outs.

And let’s not forget our other comrade, Peter. Most of us are probably pretty familiar with his story. Convinced of his own unwavering loyalty to Jesus, he openly scoffed when Jesus predicted he would deny knowing Him, not just once but three times. And because it’s a familiar story and because (spoiler alert!) everything Jesus says is right, we know that’s precisely what Peter did. Upon Jesus’s apprehension, the Bible tells us that Peter was so eager to distance (and save) himself, he denied Jesus simply (verse 70), he adamantly denied knowing Jesus (verse 72), and he even threw in a few swears and curses to make it abundantly clear he was in no way associated with that King of the Jews guy (verse 74).

And at the sake of being repetitive here, y’all, we do this, too! Like Peter, we are so eager to prove our likeness to those around us, to do whatever necessary to avoid being excluded or “unfriended” that we, too, adopt behaviors we might have once sworn we’d never do. Peter, like his friend Judas (and like us), sold out his Savior because he was caught in a desperate desire to separate himself from the taunting, the whispering, the persecution, the shunning that can sometimes come from being close-knit with Jesus. Peter wanted to stay free. Peter wanted to stay alive. Peter wanted to save himself in the face of the popular crowd, and he sold Jesus out in an effort to do so. Ouch. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Being a “Jesus freak” is all fine and good and cool…until it’s not.

But like Peter’s, our story doesn’t need to end at our sell-outs. Friends, Jesus knew what Peter was going to do ahead of time, remember? Notice how He kept Peter around, nurturing His relationship with him anyway. In fact, Jesus was so not mad at Peter that after rising from the dead, Jesus chose to meet one-on-one with Peter, taking time just for him. I once heard a pastor say that had Judas asked for (and accepted) forgiveness instead of killing himself out of shame, he, too, would have been welcomed back into the fold of Jesus. Because I know the character of Jesus, I truly believe that’s 100% accurate. And it probably would’ve happened with no questions asked.

My dears, our God is a God of compassion, a God of love, and because of those dominate traits, He’s also a God of forgiveness. By zero accident, if we rewind back before Judas’s betrayal, back before Peter’s denial, all the way to Matthew 18, we’ll happen upon a VERY interesting conversation (hindsight being 20/20 and all that). Our old buddy Peter asks Jesus about this topic, which he’ll come to experience so personally. “Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? Up to seven times?” (verse 21)

Consider how much like Peter we are, even here. He’s interested in doing the right thing. He’s actually seeking Jesus for guidance, and he’s even stretching himself into forgiving this same repeat-offender of a friend seven whole times. I feel like he’s kind of expecting Jesus to say, “Wow, Peter, look how kind and forgiving and awesome you are!” but instead, Jesus replies, “I say to you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven” (verse 22). Not that I don’t feel his pain, but I get kind of tickled picturing what must have been Peter’s speechless jaw-drop at Jesus’s exceedingly high expectation of forgiveness. This exchange between Peter and Jesus, however, served to teach Peter (and us) a much larger lesson than some simple multiplication.

Return now to Peter’s epic screw-up, his selling-out of Jesus. It’s obvious he’s aware of his sin, but it’s also clear by his actions afterward that Peter believed Jesus was a master of forgiveness. He had seen it, and he was now personally experiencing it in a magnificent way. Friends, you and I serve this same Jesus. He loves you! He is anxiously awaiting the chance to forgive whatever sin you and I have committed so as to eradicate ANYTHING standing between us and Him. Listen carefully: you have never done anything nor could you ever do anything bad enough that Jesus can’t/won’t forgive you. He wants desperately to spend time with you, just the two of you, because it’s so often during those purposeful moments that you’ll get the outer noise quieted down enough to hear Jesus’s love-filled whisper: It’s okay. You might have messed up, but I forgive you. I love you.

Dear Lord, thank You for sharing with me the stories of both Peter and Judas. Thank You, Father, that I can come to You, ask sincerely and with a repentant heart for Your forgiveness, and You will remember my screw-up no more. Thank You for loving me exactly as I am. Thank You that Your compassion never fails, and I am never too far gone for Your reach. I’m sorry for times, both intentional and unintentional, when, like Judas and Peter, I’ve sold You out for the things of this world. Help me, Father, to be more concerned about pleasing You than others. I love You, and I am so grateful to serve a God so full of second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances. May I never ever take Your forgiveness for granted. It’s in Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.