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He Is Perfect

"Who is he, this King of glory?
    The Lord Almighty—
    he is the King of glory." Psalms 24:10

My Lord, my God, perfect in every way.  Awesome in power and in majesty.  I come before you your imperfect adopted daughter, grateful for the cleansing you completed in me through your Son, Jesus.  Grateful for the work your Holy Spirit continues in me so that I can bow before you blameless and faithful.  Amen

One of my daughters suffered for a while with perfectionism.  She once told me that she got that need to be perfect from me.  I had to admit I played a strong part through my own need to always do things just right.  And that need stemmed from a hole in my heart.  A hole that needed filling with love and grace.  I worried if I “messed up” then I would lose respect, lose friends, lose love.  I’m sure my daughter felt the same.  And it grieved me I had passed that along to her.  I’m so grateful she had the courage to share her struggle with me so that I could remind her how much I love her – no matter what.  Thankfully, she sought out God and the healing power of Jesus sooner in her life than I did.

I have finally realized the truth behind the flippant remark, “nobody’s perfect.”  Well, there is one “body” who is perfect and that’s the Triune God.  Other than that, we all fall woefully short.  Can I get an “amen?”

" When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless (“perfect” KJV)." Genesis 17:1

When God had this conversation with Abraham, He wasn’t expecting this man to be sinless – an impossible goal for us to reach.  In fact, the word “perfect” is translated as “single-hearted, without blame, sincere, wholly devoted to the Lord.”  It’s not to say we aren’t to strive to mirror God’s perfect will but as our Creator He knows our weaknesses.

"I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he."  Deuteronomy 32:3-4

In the history of our human existence there has never been another worshipped god that can claim this state of perfection.  The Greek gods fought amongst themselves and were jealous.  They required constant preening and begging to intervene in human lives.  And when they did, you didn’t know for whose benefit they would act.  The god of the ancients, Baal, also needed constant pleasing through child sacrifice and sexually immoral acts.  Fast forward to today and the gods we modern humans have created look a lot like ourselves.  We place our minds in the center of the universe and need to feed the god of humans through wealth and fame and accumulation.   All the while not being able to accomplish a tiny portion of what the One True God has done and will do.  

Yes, God wants our attention.  He wants our worship.  He wants our obedience.  But He doesn’t need any of it.  He is perfect without us.  That, my friends, is what makes His devotion to us and His love for us and His sacrifice of His Son for us all the more glorious!  What I say to that is thank you, Lord!  Thank you for your Holy Word, your promises to us, for justice and mercy and grace.  I give you all the glory you rightfully deserve!

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His Mercy

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” Proverbs 25:2

Heavenly Father, King above all kings, you know my sinful heart and yet you love me.  You know my sinful ways yet you love me.  You know my idolatries that I struggle to get out from under yet somehow you forgive me and love me.  I reach out to you Lord in all your mystery and glory and thank you for the mercy only you can give.  Amen

I was asked in a study to write down all the reasons why I pray.  I listed thankfulness, requests, intercession, praise and repentance.  I was then asked to circle the reason that comes up most in my prayer life.  I have to admit “repentance” wasn’t one of them.  Thankfulness is probably the most frequent expression I find in my prayer life.  And it’s usually related to blessings – not for keeping me from the fires of my sinful ways.

A few years ago, I finally grasped the concept of God’s mercy with this helpful saying, “Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve and grace is when you get something you don’t deserve.”  Boy, should I be constantly thanking God for His mercy!  

"Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions." Psalms 51:1

The problem is we sometimes lack of awareness of our destructive swaths we create through sin.  Realizing that, we should find it even more amazing that God gives us believers His mercy.  He doesn’t always save us from earthly consequences but we know that when Jesus returns to judge the earth we won’t be thrown into the fire.  What a glorious and loving God!

God has not asked us to wander bewildered by our transgressions and consequences.  From beginning to end He has set the stage for our success.  Through first giving us the Law, therefore defining sin, then sending Christ to teach us about God, how to live the Christian life and best of all, cleansing us of eternal punishment, He has taught us how to align ourselves with His ways.  The Holy Spirit, which He left to dwell in us, provides us a daily conduit to keep us on track.  

Friend, He thought of everything because He is our Glorious God!  His mercy is our safety net.  He knew we would struggle, and boy do we ever!  Maybe you, like me need to tune in better to the Holy Spirit before we pray today.  Ask Him to search our hearts and minds, like only the King of Kings can do.  Have Him show us those corners of our life that seem blind to us.  Let His glorious light shine to cleanse you.

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Open Communication

“Then Moses said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded you to do, so that that the glory of the Lord may appear to you.” Leviticus 9:6

Holy God, it amazes me that you, in your infinite and powerful ways wants to talk to me.  That the God of the universe wants me to come to you each and every day with my needs and my fears.  Today I come to you with praise and thanksgiving that you love me so much.  Amen

I heard a description of an early  “church service” the other day.  The first half was open to anyone and featured scripture reading and the teaching of the gospel.  Then the pastor would call out, “the doors, the doors” and it was the message to those who were not baptized or confessed believers to leave.  The doors would then be closed and the second half of the service commenced.  This is when the holy gift of communicating with God began.  The church membership would have an “upper room” type meeting with breaking of bread and prayer to the Most Holy One.

What I like about this is that shows reverence to the second greatest blessing God bestowed on us (the first being Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins) – a loving, two-way path communicating with God.  A gift given to believers by Jesus and spurred on by the Holy Spirit that lives in the children of God.  I’m not suggesting only believers should pray, it’s just an acknowledgement of the seriousness of this gift we’ve been given.

In the Bible verse today, we see the seeds of God’s desire to communicate with us in the priestly ministry of the ancients.  God spoke through Moses on how to address Him through sacrifices and other holy activities.  He tells the priests in training that when they take these steps, they will see God’s glory revealed to them.  The same is true with the gift of prayer.  

“One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1

The disciples, just as in Moses’ day, desired to learn how to communicate with God.  How to open up the heavens so they could see the glory of the One Almighty.  And so Jesus taught them the prayer I mentioned yesterday, what we call “The Lord’s Prayer.”  It starts with reverence, placing God in our hearts and minds rightly where He belongs.  It moves on to acknowledging God as the provider of all our needs and our submission to Him.  We then ask for forgiveness and to forgive others.  And finally for daily guidance.

The gift of prayer is God’s message to us that we are not believers of a god who is unable to do all things, or a god who can’t be trusted, or a god to whom we need to beg to hear us.  Before we pray we need to be fully informed of how we view Him.  If we don’t believe He is merciful then we might believe He will punish us if we bring our sins to Him.  Our prayers should always include a request for wisdom about Him so that when He answers our prayer – which He always does – we will understand the answer and see the glory in His ways.

Today, I want to leave you with this beautiful prayer from King David showing us how to glorify and praise God in all His magnificent ways.

Psalm 63

You, God, are my God,
    earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
    my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
    where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
    and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
    my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
    and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
On my bed I remember you;
    I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
    I sing in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
    your right hand upholds me.
Those who want to kill me will be destroyed;
    they will go down to the depths of the earth.
10 They will be given over to the sword
    and become food for jackals.
11 But the king will rejoice in God;
    all who swear by God will glory in him,
    while the mouths of liars will be silenced.
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Our Father

“ In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” Ephesians 1:11-12

Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen

Awhile back I was listening to a podcast that broke down how and what to pray.  They started with what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” (Luke 6:9-16) the beginning of which was my prayer for today.  They looked at the use of the word “Father.”  Our Christian faith is so unique in this view of our most Holy God.  We don’t pray to some mysterious, unattached, non-relational being.  In fact, one of Jesus’ missions while on earth was to show believers this new relationship – that of a loving father.  

I have read other people change the word “Father” to “Daddy,” and that seems to go a bit far as the pastors on the podcast also agreed.  It’s almost too familiar, without the reverence God deserves.  While others who have been terribly hurt by fathers or father figures may go to great lengths to dismiss even using a father reference at all.  But God is always seeking to realign us with His kingdom – not the world of sin.  Jesus draws us into this new relationship showing us what God’s glorious Eden will look like when we arrive.  And it is full of love, kindness, grace and forgiveness.

20 “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

I’m not sure if there’s any better story in the Bible to describe God’s role as “father” to His adopted children than the one told of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  When I heard a pastor speak on it, especially verse 20, it transformed me.  You see, the father didn’t meet his son halfway, he didn’t make him come all the way to the house.  He didn’t even first require repentance or repayment.  “While he (the son) was a long way off…”  When word came, probably from people on the outskirts of town, that this wayward son was coming home, his father lifted up his tunic so he could run. He ran to his son – filled with compassion and love.  

God seeks us.  He yearns for us to believe – without needing us at all.  How beautiful and glorious is that?  I recently read in a study that we aren’t all God’s children.  Yes, you read that right.  We are all made in the image of God; but can’t all call Him “Father.”   We must at least start that journey back to Him as the prodigal son did.  He realized he needed the protection and blessings of his father. 

Friend, the day we told God, “I believe in you and I believe you sent your Son to free me of my sins” we received our adoption papers.  He wrote us into the will for the inheritance.  Whatever type of father you’ve had on the earth pales in comparison to the one who has adopted you into His heavenly kingdom.  I, for one, count that the most glorious blessing of all.

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Promise Keeper

“Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40

Faithful Father, you have never lied and you never will.  I believe you.  Amen

I had a Christian woman tell me this once: “I know God has forgiven me.  But it’s hard for me to believe it.  It’s too hard for me to forgive myself.”  That’s why I nodded along when I heard a Christian teacher once say that there’s too many of us out there that have accepted our Lord as Savior but we just aren’t living our lives like we believe His promises.  It’s even hard for me sometimes when I look in the mirror to see what God sees.  To believe He loves me, blemishes and all.  It’s hard to believe He will take care of me without my striving and worrying.  But He will.

“You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3

He has never, ever lied my friend.  He never, ever will.  What might happen, however, is that He will fulfill a promise in ways you didn’t expect.  Or in ways you may not agree or understand.  In fact, when I was doing a bit of research about God’s promises I found a blog that refuted God fulfilling promises.  In truth, the person sounded very wounded.  He also sounded poorly educated about God’s character and His ways.  His first example was of Genesis 2:17 when God admonishes Adam and Eve not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, “…for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  The blogger explained that not only had they eaten the fruit but they went on to live for more than 900 years.

What he missed is 1) their immediate death was a loss of the close spiritual relationship with God and their sinlessness and 2) they did, in fact die.  You see, when we look at God’s promises without a knowledge of Him and through our own broken lenses we can miss God at work.  If we, instead, believe that God is the only perfect being to exist and His ways are always right then we ask better questions and submit to Him in trust.  

I recently had a conversation with a godly woman about women as pastors.  Having become more educated about scripture I felt confident in holding my own – as she said the Bible has conflicting lessons about this topic.  My first comment was this: “God’s Word is never in conflict.  If you see conflict you are either misunderstanding context, historical meaning, or having translation issues.  Understanding that parts of God’s will and God’s promises may be difficult to accept also helps us to realize our sinful desires rarely line up with God.

Friend, if you are struggling to accept that God will not back out of a promise to you, turn back to His Word.  He is faithful.  More faithful than anyone will ever be in your life.   And for that we can celebrate with glory to Him!

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A Bigger Kingdom

"Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him.  Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness."  1 Chronicles 16:29

“Holy LORD I am so grateful there is You.  You who are above all, above all kings and leaders.  Above my need to be ruler of my own kingdom.  Your Kingdom is full of the glory of your majesty and nothing, absolutely nothing is better than that!  Amen”

I kept hearing today about the glory of God’s kingdom, His presence being above all with nothing greater than Him.  Through songs, scripture and even the sermon from church.  “No one, no one, no one, no one but You LORD is higher or greater” is the song verse that happens to be playing right now as I write this. 

How often do we forget this?  We have our tiny kingdoms that we work so hard to protect and maybe even rule over.  Our schedules, our bills, our children, our stuff, our opinions – all things so much lowlier than what God’s kingdom has to offer us.  And we too frequently forget to look above our kingdom walls toward His holy skies and fall on our knees in reverence.

"For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him." Colossians 1:16

I just got through reading this verse in my current study about God the Son.  Yet another poke at me to remember who made it all and who is fully in charge.  And even more shocking to some – who it is all for.  

Look around, none of this is for your kingdom or mine.  It’s all for His glory.  Which, because God loves us so much, His kingdom is also ours – for those who believe and obey His commandments.  He wants so much more for us.  Not just our little kingdoms.  Yes, He wants us to take care of all He has gifted us but for the greater kingdom.  That means each time we have the opportunity to teach our kids about Him, we do.  Each time we should show love and forgiveness to our spouse, we do.  Each time we see the chance to use our financial gifts to glorify Him, we do.  Each time we can show hospitality in His name, we do.

Friend, the Kingdom doors are so wide, welcoming and beautiful!  Drop to your knees and give thanks to God He is so much bigger than this small world we have built. And turn yourself into the only offering He has ever wanted – you. 

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To God Give The Glory

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Revelation 4:11

Holy Father, Loving Jesus and Ever Present Spirit, today I will exalt you; I will praise your name forever.  Great are you, Lord!   You are worthy to give all glory and praise!  I will speak of your glorious splendor and majesty.  I will tell of the power of your wonderful works and I will celebrate your abundant goodness and proclaim your great deeds. Amen*

A few years ago, I started a prayer project.  I had no problem asking God for things to happen in my life.  I also didn’t struggle with asking for forgiveness.  And I always added others to my petitions.  What I had a difficult time doing was praising God.  Not just thanking Him for what He has done for me, but praising Him for who He is.  It seemed silly and flowery.  

As my faith has progressed, I’ve realized how important it is for us believers to acknowledge God’s magnificence, power and well, just plain awesomeness.  It helps to put our whole lives into perspective.  It reminds US who really is in charge.  So, I started the 30 Days of Praise series.  Eventually I went on to write 30 More Days of Praise and then 30 Days of Thanksgiving.  

Recently, I kept seeing the word “glorify” in the study I’m doing about the Trinity.  I started looking into the differences between praising God and giving God the glory due to Him.    I found this helpful description of praise and glory:

Praise (ἔπαινος; epainos) means the excellence of a person. Glory (δόξα; doxa) means splendor and greatness. Honor (τιμή; time’) means respect and high status or value. 

Dr. Thomas Clothier

And it got me thinking how I need to up my praise game.  God isn’t just excellent in the ways He shows up in my life.  He, without anything to do with me, is full of splendor and awesome in power!  Jesus’ every move was to glorify the Father.  The Father loved and glorified the Son.  The Holy Spirit came to live in us to glorify Jesus’ act of salvation and to continue the work of the Father.  The Trinity uses us to glorify the work of creation – it’s beauty and mystery.

We glorify him when we care more about what he wants than about what we want. Even better, we glorify him when we want the same things he wants. 

Peter KrolKnowable Word: Helping Ordinary People Learn to Study the Bible

I’m not sure I can fully describe the glory of God through words but I’m going to make an attempt to show how our everyday lives can be lived to give Him the glory due.  Please join me on this 30 day prayer journey of glorifying God and watch as His love for us unfolds into a beautiful story.

*This prayer was taken from parts of Psalm 145, “David’s Psalm of Praise.”

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The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Lessons from Cherith

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18:21

He’d been a drug addict and alcoholic for at least the 35 years I knew him.  In fact, this lost uncle was my husband’s main reason for why he never touched drugs in his college days.  My husband saw the path of destruction his uncle created throughout their family.  This uncle, my mother-in-law’s youngest sibling, took the road so many addicts follow.  They demand help, make others feel guilty for not rescuing them, promise to do better then start the cycle over and over again.

In my visits to my husband’s hometown, we’d have infrequent contact with his uncle.  But we would hear of his begging his own mother for money and complaining of how “lucky” and “privileged” everyone else in the family were because they weren’t always so down on their luck.  To be fair, this man bore the brunt of being the youngest child of an alcoholic philanderer.  As for my in-laws, they gave money, moral support, food, and more for much of his life.  But after a number of run-ins with the law and intolerable behavior toward my husband’s grandmother, the uncle found himself eventually with backs turned.  Enough was enough.

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:22

Let’s face it, we are only human.  We get our feelings hurt.  We often seek to protect ourselves from harmful relationships.  We don’t want to be taken advantage of and have our kindness thrown back at us with vitriol.  Like many of Jesus’ expectations of us the concept of forgiveness is not so easy for us sinful humans.  We get to the end of our rope.  We have no more tears to shed.  

I remember when my loving, caring mother-in-law said to me one day a few years ago, “I’m done.  I’m tired of being blamed for his problems.  I’m tired of being taken for granted that we will always help.  I’m angry how he treats our mother.”  And really, could anyone fault her?  But the thing is, I knew deep down she didn’t mean any of it.  I knew if her brother came again with hat in hand she would help.  Because she knew that Jesus would do the same for her.

25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:28

We can be thankful we haven’t been assigned the task of God’s prophets to administer final judgements like Elijah had to (although one day two of us will be called to do just that). In the Old Testament, we see time after time the people turning their backs on God after so many warnings. And he sent his prophets to speak truth and judgement. His final truth-speaker was His Son, Jesus. But this prophet came to tell us when we seek forgiveness and to forgive we receive eternal forgiveness from God, even when we mess up over and over. You see, Jesus doesn’t just want the one who needs forgiveness healed, he wants us, the forgiver to be healed.  Because when we place our own lives under God’s microscope, we each have a heck of a lot that needs forgiving.  We each are blessed with the incredible gift of coming with our own hat in hand to the Lord and asking, “One more time, please Lord.  Forgive me.” And He does.  

I’ve been fortunate to witness the healing power of forgiveness in a few people’s lives.  My friend Andrea will forever be changed simply by forgiving a family member for past hurts and asking for forgiveness for how she has hurt others.  My own relationship with my parents has required me to forgive them.  And although the situation can still be painful, I now have the healing strength which forgiveness affords to help me pray for them each day.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32

I started this message about a man so broken from addiction.  A man who most would say was without hope, without the peace from God.  But God is a miracle worker as we all know.  So, after another stint in prison about a year ago, my husband’s uncle finally said, “Enough is enough.”  He turned to God for forgiveness and healing.  When he got the news that his oldest sister was now riddled with cancer he came immediately to be by her side.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have the same opportunity to watch such a beautiful miracle unfold before my eyes.  To see God’s hands work like no other.  To experience the full promise of God’s grace and love descend upon a room.  We met in the lobby of the hospital, just the uncle and I.  His mind and eyes were clear. He looked so healthy!  His demeanor was clearly different.  I took him up to his sister’s room and we sat and chatted.  I felt like I should leave the room and give them some alone time when suddenly he took her by the hand and with tears streaming down his face he asked for forgiveness.  He asked to be forgiven for the destruction he caused, the pain, and for all the lost years that could’ve been different.

My mother-in-law thanked him immediately.  She said, “I needed to hear this.  It hurt so much when you blamed me for your troubles.”  And they wept.  For the next two weeks I witnessed this man stand guard outside her room, praying and participating in her last days.  I listened as he asked the rest of the family for forgiveness.  And saw them weep from the healing love of God.  I watched as he helped lift his sister’s lifeless body onto the gurney for her final road toward home.  He was in pain but was healed.  He was washed in sorrow but cleansed from forgiveness.  And he knew he was loved.

Who do you need to forgive right now?

Who do you need to ask for forgiveness?  

It’s time for healing.

PS: Happy Birthday to my amazing, handsome, loving, forgiving husband 🙂

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A Useful Servant

If you ever talk to a non-Christian and they give you the line, “The Bible is just some old book written thousands of years ago and society has evolved since then,” you might want to share the story of a slave named Onesimus, which means “Useful.”  Not the Onesimus in the book of Philemon – we’ll get to him later.  No, the Onesimus of 1716.  It shows God’s total sovereignty over this world and how He weaves His way throughout all time.  He works through all of us to complete His plan – whether a believer or not.  The story of the black slave Onesimus shares striking parallels to the Bible’s slave written of in the New Testament.  

Puritan minister Cotton Mather of Boston was gifted a slave by a parishioner in 1711. It’s believed Mather changed the slave’s name to Onesimus. And like Philemon’s slave, Onesimus was considered a liar and a thief by his master.  But in 1716, Onesimus told Mr. Mather something he did believe: That he knew how to prevent smallpox. He shared with his master how in his home country people would rub pus from an infected person into an open wound on the arm.  This would cause mild symptoms and would inoculate the person against smallpox.

Mather was fascinated. He verified Onesimus’ story with that of other enslaved people.  Mather, while attempting to spread this great news during the smallpox epidemic, was vilified.  How dare he take the word of a slave? A black slave at that? But Mather pressed on. Combining efforts with physician Zabdiel Boylston, the two inoculated their children and enslaved workers.  They then began inoculating other willing Bostonians.  Of the 242 people they inoculated, only six died—one in 40, as opposed to one in seven deaths among the population of Boston who didn’t undergo the procedure.

While history doesn’t give much credit for Onesimus being a key part of the development of immunizations, he can be found in the story.  Like Naamans’ Jewish slave girl, his desire to be useful and seeking a better relationship with his master saw him sharing a cure for so many.  

"It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me." Philemon 1:9-11

How useful are we to God?  How are our new beginnings lived out for the world to see the glory and gifts of God?  For the Boston slave Onesimus, he appeared to never have accepted his master’s Christian religion.  He did, however, buy his own earthly freedom by giving Mather enough money to purchase a different slave.  But for the Bible’s Onesimus, who stole from his master and ran away to Rome, his freedom was purchased for him.  Once by Jesus, when he, after being discipled by both Philemon and Paul, accepted the Lord as his savior.  And his earthly freedom was paid for by Paul who stated, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”  (v 18)

Paul exhibited a great lesson of our faith in Jesus, to stand for those who cannot stand on their own.  And in doing so, lived out an example for Philemon to follow.  If Philemon believed in what Jesus taught, not just believed “in” Jesus, he knew he must live out the fruits of the spirit – kindness, compassion, forgiveness, grace, etc.  This was no small feat.  Just as in the world of the 1700s, slaves were a valued commodity.  And allowing a slave to run away without punishment was bad enough, but to allow a thieving slave (like both were) to do so was unheard of.   Mather suffered public humiliation by accepting his slave as an equal partner in curing a deadly disease.  Philemon was certain to suffer the same fate from other slave owners if he accepted Onesimus back as an equal in Christ.

But what about the Bible’s Onesimus?  Where does he fit in God’s plan?  Notice that our worldly sins and crimes are not erased without any repercussions.  Paul did not say Philemon should just welcome Onesimus back with all debts forgiven.  A crime had been committed and it needed to be repaid by someone.  

Onesimus took a number of steps in his life to become useful to God.  He first sought out Paul in Rome when his life had become a mess.  He accepted Jesus as his savior.  And like the first 3,000 Christians, he sat at the feet of a great teacher to learn about Christ and his expectations of us.  He then, apparently, asked to go home and face Philemon, his old master.  

15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. Philemon 1: 15-16

We can only imagine the scene of Onesimus and his fellow travelers arriving at Philemon’s door.  Hat in hand.  A posture of humility most likely.  Asking for forgiveness.  He became God’s instrument to help others learn how to forgive, how to love, and how being a Christ follower transforms us.  My friend Andrea has been the person in my life to model forgiveness.  I’ve watched how she has forgiven well-trod hurts and has been eternally grateful for receiving forgiveness.  By seeing her transformation, it has helped to transform my heart.  She has been very useful to God!

Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 steps are well known by many.  And placed in a Christian context may help some of us to follow in Onesimus’ footsteps to being fully available for God’s purposes.  To be “useful” in our new beginning.  With a few minor edits, those 12 steps are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over (sin)—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe that (God) is greater than ourselves and can restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God (forgive) all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove(/forgive) our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to (all sinners), and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Jesus paid the price to be our intercessor, our kinsman redeemer.  We are accepted by Him in full.  But it’s now up to us to do the work to live out being acceptable to Christ each and every day with our new beginning.  

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After Eden

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

During December of 2020 many people kept announcing that “next year will definitely be better.”  I could understand the longing, the hope and desire.  Let’s face it, 2020 was rife with fear, loss, despair, and worry.  I told people around me to be careful romanticizing the turn of a calendar.  Who knew what 2021 would bring – floods, fires, more plagues, death, political uprisings? And it certainly didn’t disappoint.   A short walk through say, the book of James or Jude, reminds us that trials of many kind befall us each and every year.  It’s our response to those trials that set us apart from the world.

So often when we think of “new beginnings” we can think of them as an adventure, something exciting to embark upon.  Probably something God will guide you through to success.  But what if your new beginning is a result of a terrible trial?  A loss?  Will you still seek God and see Him at work in the midst of it all?

If there’s one man whose new beginning exemplified having to start all over, having lost it all, it was Adam.  He had everything you and I could ever want.  A beautiful home, plenty to eat and drink.  No worries except what to name the next animal.  His yoke was light.  He was to be the way maker for all of us.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  Genesis 2:15

And when Adam failed to honor his end of the covenant he did what so many of us do when we fail God – he tried to hide.   Instead of running to God asking for forgiveness He compounded his sins by acting shamefully. But God.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Genesis 3:9

Millions of Christians and non-believers know the story that took place in the Garden of Eden.  But when we look at God’s actions we see His loving care for humans, His unique creation.  He knew Adam had failed yet notice He didn’t let him go.  He sought Him out with a gentle question.  He could have immediately wiped the slate free of humanity after the betrayal.  Instead, God clothed Adam in new garments and gave him new skills then sent him off on a new beginning.  A chance to be the first step in the long path toward the new Adam – Jesus.

And Adam, by all accounts accepted the results of his sin and moved forward into his new beginning.  A life outside the walls of Eden but one in which God was fully present.  Adam and Eve didn’t step outside the gates, plunk down and give up.  They didn’t choose to live in shame and despair.  No, they knew God.  They knew God still loved them and cared for them. So they took the new direction God gave them and made a new life.  I love the last few lines in Genesis 4 in which Adam and Eve are mentioned:

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.  Genesis 4:26

Adam and his family never stopped worshipping God and talking with Him even though they had suffered a great loss.  They brought their first fruits to Him and stayed close to God.  And their work, their new beginning, brought others to God as well.  If not for their commitment to God’s new beginning laid out for them there wouldn’t have been their son Seth.  And Seth led to Noah. Without Noah there wouldn’t have been a righteous man left to continue humanity.  God’s plan at work.  God’s plan working even when it comes out of sin or loss.  It’s our job to keep trusting Him and accepting Him at His word.

I’ll be honest, for most of my life I’ve been an avowed pessimist.  It’s taken a lot of work by our triune God to help me see Him in my trials.  To see how He is working a good, new thing in our lives.  When circumstances go wrong around me my new attitude is that God is in my midst.  He does want all things to work for good.  I may never know how my commitment to Him will affect the Grand Plan.  But I do know He never left Adam and He will never leave you.

Have you been tempted to give up on God after a trial or loss? God is still working in your life. He’s asking you to trust Him. Call on Him today for strength to live in your new beginning.