Our True Identity in Christ

Recently, I’ve started using a study Bible as I’ve read and studied Scripture. The notes, maps, and charts have greatly added to my understanding of what I’ve read. There have been a number of times where I haven’t understood a particular word or verse, but when I’ve gone down the page to the study note, I’ve snapped my fingers and said, ‘Oh, that’s what it means.’ So, they’ve been very helpful.

I read this morning’s devotion earlier and knew immediately I wanted to reference one of the charts I had seen in my study Bible. I didn’t remember anything about it except that I thought it would be a handy reference for this post, and it had something to do with identity. I thumbed through every page of the Gospels and saw only one chart that might have been what I was looking for, but I wasn’t sure. I thought about what to do next. I guess I could have thumbed through the rest of the New Testament or used the one chart I had found, but I was certain there was something better. Finally, I got the idea to check near the Scriptures that were referenced in the devotion. I found it! Near Ephesians 2. The title of the chart is the same as the title of this post, and I’m looking forward to writing about what some of these verses mean to me and compiling the information itself so I, along with all of you, will have it to reference.

So, our true identity in Christ. I’ve read all of these verses as I’m sure you have, but I’ve never seen them in one place, the verse references with simple, easy to understand explanations. (Yes, I need simple and easy to understand. 🙂 ) Quoted from pg. 1983 of the NIV Life Application Study Bible.

Romans 3:24 – We are justified (declared “not guilty” of sin).

Romans 8:1 – No condemnation awaits us.

Romans 8:2 – We are set free from the law of sin that leads to death.

1 Corinthians 1:2 – We are sanctified (made holy) and made acceptable in Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:30 – We are righteous and holy in Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:22 – We will be made alive at the resurrection.

2 Corinthians 5:17 – We are new creatures.

2 Corinthians 5:21 – We receive God’s righteousness.

Galatians 3:28 – We are one in Christ with all other believers.

Ephesians 1:3 – We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Ephesians 1:4 – We are holy and blameless.

Ephesians 1:5-6 – We are adopted as God’s children.

Ephesians 1:7 – Our sins are taken away, and we are forgiven.

Ephesians 1:10-11 – We will be brought under Christ’s authority.

Ephesians 1:13 – We are identified as belonging to God by the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 2:6 – We have been raised up to sit with Christ in glory.

Ephesians 2:10 – We are God’s work of art.

Ephesians 2:13 – We have been brought near to God.

Ephesians 3:6 – We share in the promise of blessings through Christ.

Ephesians 3:12 – We can come with freedom and confidence into God’s presence.

Ephesians 5:29-30 – We are members of Christ’s body, the church.

Colossians 2:10 – We are made complete in Christ.

Colossians 2:11 – We are set free from our sinful nature.

2 Timothy 2:10 – We will have eternal glory.

I especially like Ephesians 1:5-6 which references how we are adopted as God’s children and Ephesians 2:10 which is the verse directly after the two verses on the header of this blog. Here is a quote of this verse. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God’s handiwork, or even better, from the explanation on the chart, “God’s work of art.” I look at those words and think of a painting or a drawing or even a statue. God thinks of us like these amazing things we see in museums or hang in our homes, but with the capacity to change and become even better.

Can you imagine what would happen if we, who are believers, actually acted like we are worthy to have God in our lives? To come into His presence with freedom and confidence? To know without a doubt that we are forgiven of our sins because of what Jesus did for us on the cross? I don’t know about you, but those thoughts bring a lightness to my step and an excitement to my outlook.  It reminds me of how I felt when I first accepted Christ. Nothing was old; everything was new. I was having a renewal that God wishes for all of us as we seek to bring more people into His kingdom.

And now, for the final exercise that was in today’s devotional entry. I am significant because God loves me enough to send His Son to die on a cross for me! This impacts my life because I am His handiwork; I am complete in Christ; and I am set free from my sinful nature! All reasons for me to be brave as I seek to have a heart like His!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Advertisements

Hearing God

This June marks six years that I have been back in an organized church environment. I have learned so much about hearing God during this time and know definitely that I heard Him in the years before as we made decisions that brought us along the path God wanted for us.

During these years, I have gone from the ages of 46 to 52. My children have been in middle school, high school, and now college. In fact, I will have an empty nest as of this fall because my younger son is graduating from high school. I’ve mentioned this before.

But, that’s not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about how I became and am becoming comfortable with who I am in God’s kingdom. So, back to six years ago. When we decided we wanted to stay at the church we’re at now, I knew I needed to become involved so I could exercise this spirit in my heart which had remained dormant for so long. (Holy Spirit) I wanted, no needed, to make friends, and I wanted to take my faith seriously for the first time in a long time. So, I attended every service and Bible study I could. I took notes on everything I was learning. I had coffee, lunch, or dinner with people I wanted to get to know. I took food to a place where college students gathered. I worked in Vacation Bible School. (This all happened over the first couple of years.)

I did get to know people well during these years. Found my tribe, as the expression says. Not only did we spend time together inside the church. We spent time together outside the church. I had the friendships I craved, and I knew I had people in my life who loved me for the complete person I was–daughter of God, writer, science fiction and super hero enthusiast, technologically comfortable, baseball mom, homeschooler, mother, wife, bread maker. The complete person. And I felt like I was making a contribution at church too.

But, then, the people in my tribe started moving on. (I don’t fault them. Life happens.) They either didn’t have as much friendship time as they used to have, or they moved on completely (to different churches, different jobs, different states). It hurt though. It hurt when getting together didn’t work out, and it hurt when I felt alone and didn’t fit in. I was at the age where I felt like I needed to look to older women for guidance, but none of it seemed to fit my situation. I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer to younger women either. I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer anyone.

Before everyone assumes I stopped trying, I didn’t. I still participated in church life. I decided to learn something new in an attempt to make friends. I wrote and wrote through my confusion. While the writing helped some, I still felt odd and wondered if there was something wrong with me. I wondered if people saw a big X in front of my face which I couldn’t see that denoted my worthlessness to God. Heavy thoughts, I know, but thoughts I was trying to work my way through.

This is when I started hearing God’s voice with more clarity. I had been working my way through things from my past and learning more about this Lord and Savior of mine. God had become a constant presence in my life despite the pain. In fact, I understood better that this life would have pain even though I was a Jesus follower. It didn’t stop me from trying to get rid of the pain though because, who among us likes pain. I can tell you I don’t. 🙂

Anyway, I had been working my way through all of this by writing, by praying, and by memorizing Scripture, Psalm 139 having become a particular favorite. God was preparing my heart to hear Him in a big way.

One morning, I was in a room with several women, and as women generally do, we were having a conversation. These were women I looked up to and tried to emulate as I respected them and the contributions they made to our church life. I don’t remember what led to this remark, but one of them suddenly turned to me and said, “I guess it’s okay for you, but baseball just bores me.” I looked at her in shock. I know I must have looked like a deer caught in headlights. I also know she didn’t know about my struggle to be comfortable with the complete person I am. They returned to their conversation, and I was trying to figure out what to say next. The sentences, ‘Well, football bores me.’ and ‘I hate politics.” floated through my head. I decided neither of those would be kind, and I wasn’t in the mood for the fight they would get me in. (I live in a politics and football loving state) I really was tempted to say them though. Very much tempted.

This all happened in a matter of seconds, and in the next moment, I heard another voice. ‘I know your heart,’ it said, ‘the non-typical church woman heart that you have. Remember, I made it.’ It was God, and He was speaking to me. In my head, of course, but still speaking. Psalm 139:23-24 came to mind. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” And that was what I had longed for. For someone to know my heart. To love the complete person that I was. I was almost overcome with emotion as I thought of what I had written a while back. God broke the mold when He made me. He wants to work through me and not around me. He wants me to serve where He chooses and not where I think I should serve just because it is in a certain place. These were all comforting thoughts to me, and I knew they were from God.

I took the thoughts I learned that day and decided God was leading me in a new direction. I signed up for a couple of new things He was leading me towards, and I became more comfortable in my own skin. To touch the person who is alone or who feels alone with God’s love is much more important than fitting into a crowd even if it is fitting into a crowd of Christian brothers and sisters. May God give us all courage and bravery to realize this truth!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Brave Day by Day

I resonate with Gideon’s story in Judges 6. He belonged to the weakest clan in Israel, and God wanted to send him out to defeat the Midianites. Gideon thought he was the wrong person for the job, and I guess, according to the world’s eyes, he was. He wasn’t big enough, strong enough, prosperous enough, any of the “enoughs” that we think are important in defeating our enemies. And he was hiding too! Definitely doesn’t rate as brave and courageous in my book. But, God used Gideon anyway. God used him though Gideon tested Him more than once, and God used him through the amount  of men Gideon had to fight the battle. (Hint, it wasn’t that many.) By the time Gideon and his men were done, it was very evident God’s hand was in their defeat of the Midianites.

So, how is it we read these stories in Scripture and think that we can’t measure up to what God wants us to do? Gideon didn’t, and God still used him. But we think, of course, God used Gideon. He’s mentioned in the Bible. We don’t think though that God would want us because of whatever reason. Think about it this way. Do you think God got tired of Gideon testing Him? God could have said, ‘Come on, Gideon, get with the program. It’s time to defeat the Midianites.’ He didn’t say any of those things though. No, God was patient with Gideon like He is with us. He wants to build us up each day so we will have greater courage and bravery than the day before. He wants to work through us and not around us.

That is the lesson I have had the hardest time learning. There are times when bravery comes to me easily, and I think I can do anything for God or in His Name, and then there are times when…I am not brave at all. I tend to give up completely during those times. It might have been a dream God had given me or a nudge to speak to someone about Him and His love. But, when I don’t do these things because of fear or the minutiae in my life, I tend to beat myself up over and over thinking I am a failure to God.

But, I’m not, and we’re not. What God is doing in our lives is happening over a lifetime, and we will never arrive at perfection during our lifetime. That comes later, when we are with Him. So, I don’t need to be intimidated by the person or persons who seem to have it all together at church. I don’t need to be intimidated by the Christian speaker or writer who appears to have nothing wrong with him. I am the person who God made me to be, and nothing changes that! As the author says in the devotional, “You are deeply loved and called to be courageous by a God who is perfect and perfectly trustworthy.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) Our God is also making us brave day by day. May we all realize this truth today!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Faith

There are some basic words in Christianity that can make us think we have it all covered and have nothing else to learn about a certain topic. Faith is one of those words. When I first saw that this was the topic of today’s devotion, I wasn’t sure I could think of anything to write I hadn’t already written, but, as usual, I was wrong. 🙂

One of the verses I first memorized was about faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” There have been times I’ve looked at that verse and said to myself, ‘Faith, yeah, confident, assured, yeah. Check, check. Ok, let’s get to the more important stuff.’ But, God doesn’t mean for us to brush faith off so quickly.

So, what does it really mean to have faith? Here is the dictionary definition. Faith is “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” There’s also a definition related to religion. Faith is a “strong belief in God or in the doctrine of a religion based on spiritual application rather than proof.” Sounds like the dictionary has it covered. But, what does it mean on a personal level to the Christian who wants to increase their faith? Let’s look at what the author of the devotional says. “Faith is being sure. And convinced.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) Sounds similar to the dictionary? It should be quite clear what it means to have faith.

But, we all have doubts and struggles at times. At least, I do. When things are going well, it’s easy for me to have faith. I can see God’s blessings all throughout my life, and I don’t have a problem talking about them. I equated blessings with faith, and as long as I could see the blessings, faith was not a problem.

Of course, blessings are not always present. In fact, bad times come more often than not. What happens to faith then? This is where the struggle is for me. My mind and my heart struggle to hold onto God’s presence when I can’t readily see Him in my life. The devotional I’m reading had new thoughts about how to get more faith. (Don’t ever think you can’t learn anything new about a topic.) I had always thought faith was just there. You either had it, or you didn’t. There were no levels of faith or no way to get anymore if you lacked it. No, that’s not what faith is at all. We can pray to God for more faith when our faith is lacking. Wow! That thought had never crossed my mind, but I can see the truth in it. God will fill us with faith if we just ask. Faith in Him, in His goodness, and in His promises.

We can use the assurance we get from those prayers to fight off the lies of Satan who is interested in impeding what we do for God as much as possible. It’s not easy, and it won’t be easy. Sometimes, I think I’m fighting my doubts about God and His promises all of the time. But, Jesus died on the cross for me. He suffered an agonizing death so I could have the choice of believing in this big and wonderful God of mine. The least I can do for Him is be willing to fight the battle for faith when Satan shoots his arrows of doubt and anguish at me. And I will fight it by praying for my faith cup to be filled by my Lord and Savior. May we all fight that battle well!

Praying God’s blessings for you all today!

 

Prayer

I’ve had times when I’ve tried to do a series of posts that I hit a brick wall. Writers block, so to speak. I hit the wall and then miss the achievement of my goal of writing so many days in a row. But, not today. I decided to just start writing and see if enough words would come out that would eventually hit my topic. And, like the title says, today’s topic is prayer.

The author of the devotional talks about her complicated relationship with prayer. I’ve had one too. There are many verses in Scripture that say if you pray in faith, you will get what you’ve asked for or some variant of those words. In the early years of my faith, I thought that meant I would get whatever I asked for, and when I didn’t, I was told I didn’t have enough faith. That’s hard for someone to hear especially when the people saying it seemed to be continually blessed when all that was happening to me was bad times which included sickness and financial downturns. It also hurt when those same people implied they were better than me because of their blessings.

As I’ve gotten older though, I’ve come to know better. Prayer doesn’t exist so we can get all our wants and desires met. Like the author says, “Prayer is this amazing opportunity to connect directly with the greatest Being who has always been.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) It is a way for all of us to connect directly with our Lord and Savior. But, here is what I didn’t realize before. When we begin to pray about a situation, we usually don’t know all of the particulars and we definitely don’t know what is going to happen in the future. In other words, we don’t know what God knows. God wants us to come to Him in prayer as it says in 1 John 5:14. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

But, He also wants His very best for us and not what we think is best. He also doesn’t want to give us the same thing as the church member who lives down the street. So, this is where I need to have courage and confidence. Courage that God will take my prayers and use them for His glory and confidence that I am in the palm of His hand no matter what happens.

I am so thankful that we have this vehicle of prayer to connect with God and that He is always available even if no one else is. I am also thankful He knows what’s best for me even if I sometimes don’t. May we all connect with our Lord and Savior today in this glorious thing called prayer!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Reading Scripture for Ourselves

Now, we’re starting to get to the nuts and bolts of becoming brave in our faith. Yes, today’s topic is reading Scripture for ourselves and not just listening to what the preacher says or what the Sunday School teacher says. We shouldn’t just read the verses they talk about either although that’s a good start. I remember when I was a new believer. I read through the New Testament several times and memorized verses–verses about Jesus and the words He spoke. It was eye-opening for a young teenager starting to learn about her faith. I read the Old Testament too, but not as much. The stories were harder to understand, and I wasn’t able to see the connections with Jesus.

Both parts of the Bible are connected though, and God does want us to read each part of His story. We can see this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Thoroughly equipped. I like that. All the continuing education I could have ever wanted in Christianity rolled up and contained in one place. God has used different verses to speak to me as I’ve read Scripture which wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t opened my Bible first.

I will admit there are parts of the Bible which are difficult to understand. And, as we all know, we tend to avoid things we don’t understand. So, I wanted to mention some tools that have been helpful to me as I’ve read the Bible for myself. The first is to have a Bible with study notes. There have been so many times that a study note has made a verse clearer to me which made the entire passage clearer. A study Bible is worth its weight in gold.

I also do my best to regularly attend Bibles studies and classes at my church. I read what we’re studying before I go, and I talk with the other participants about the words we’ve read. It’s helpful to get other perspectives on the meaning of a passage or a verse. We might disagree on nuances of meaning, but I know I have a better overall understanding of the Bible when I study it with my Christian brothers and sisters.

Finally, I find it helpful to journal when I’m studying a particularly difficult passage. When I write my own words about the words of Scripture, they make God’s words easier to understand. God also speaks to me through them–through the words of the passage and through situations in my life that might be related to the passage.

As I end, let me encourage you in your quest to read the Bible for yourself. It has helped me in my quest to be brave in my faith, and I know you will be strengthened and encouraged in your faith by reading God’s word!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Never Alone–How Does that Work in Community?

At the beginning of my fourth week in writing these reactions to the devotions in 100 Days to Brave, I come to a topic that brings up an unresolved tension in me. It’s a question many of you may have. Let me explain. Scripture says we are never alone, and yes, I firmly believe that. In what has become known at the Great Commission among Protestant Christians, Jesus states this in the final verse of the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The author of the devotional also defined one of God’s names in this entry. Immanuel. God with us. He is always with us through every trial and through every praise. He is with us when we have people in our lives and when we are living in a new town and know no one. It is such a comfort to know I am never alone.

But, what about the other part of my title? What about the community God wants us to form with other believers? It was important to the believers in the first century. Shouldn’t it be important to us? Then another voice asks, ‘No, no, we should be able to survive on our own in this world, right? God is always with us. We don’t need anyone else as we navigate this world.’ As you can see, an unresolved tension, at least in Western culture with its heavy promotion of individualism.

It goes back to what I termed as messy. Many years ago, my husband and I left the church because of a messy situation. I’ve spoken of this before. We got to the point where we couldn’t take it anymore, and we stepped out on our own. We said we were still Christians, and I believe we were. I also believe God was still with us. But, we didn’t talk to Him as much, and we definitely didn’t have fellowship with other believers or let ourselves be vulnerable with other believers. Why should we have? Isn’t that how we had gotten in trouble before?

God still spoke to us in the quiet places during our time away from the church though. He spoke to us through our decision to homeschool our sons, through the homeschoolers I met online especially one who would lead us to a place several years later where we would meet God again in a more personal way, and through our decision to move back to South Carolina to care for my mother-in-law. God spoke to us through it all–sometimes so softly that I didn’t realize it was Him, but still, He spoke.

I look back over what I just wrote and think that just having God as a constant companion and not having a community of other believers during this time seemed to work out pretty well for me. It did, to a point, but before I go any further, I do want to mention a realization I just had. No, we weren’t attending a brick and mortar church during this time, and no, we didn’t have a community of other believers around us through said brick and mortar church. But, I did have believers around me–through my homeschool website. It was not the same as having them in person, but I did have them.

Anyway, back to my point. Between our time away from the church, the moves we made, and the losses we experienced, I started to realize something was missing from my go-it-alone approach. Something I wasn’t even aware of until my older son asked his faithful question almost six years ago. And that was what brought us back to a brick and mortar church and to a bigger community of believers and friends than I possibly could have imagined. God had always been with me, of that I had no doubt, but, for the last almost six years, the practice of my faith has been fuller and richer than it ever was before, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

I spoke in my first paragraph of this post of the tension between going it alone with just God (since He is always with us) and having a community of believers to live life with. Even though I have had a richer and fuller experience of practicing my faith with a community over the past few years, I believe there will always be tension. Why? Because community is messy, and it can cause hurt and pain. We are human, and we are fallen, and sometimes, we don’t know how to navigate this hurt and pain. I find myself not wanting to be vulnerable in front of my community because I’m afraid of being hurt again, of letting my walls down. I will probably be working on this fear until the day I die, but it is worth it for me to keep trying because I know practicing my faith with God and my community in my corner is in God’s best plan for me. May we all want God’s best plan for us as we practice our faith!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!