What remains?

bumper sticker

A few weeks ago, a couple of bumper stickers caught my attention. And I was disturbed. One, I didn’t agree with what was written. But more than that, I felt provoked. Because these were displayed on the window of the left side of the car. They were strategically placed so that when I turned to the right, there they were, staring right back at me. To me, it felt as if the driver was saying, “In your face!” And her messages… “Don’t believe in God? Join the club,” and “Good without God.” And so, as I sat there, I felt my anger rise. But not because of her belief – or unbelief – rather, because I felt attacked by the placement of those stickers. Because of their prominent position, I felt like the driver drew the line in the sand. To me, she came across as divisive and offensive. Simply put, I felt hate and not love. And when you stop and think about it, isn’t that what a lot of bumper stickers promote? Divisiveness and hate.

I have to admit, though, one sticker gave me cause to pause. The slogan Good without God settled on my heart for a week or two. Because in reality, there is good out there. And not just by Christians. Atheists and people of every religion do good things. So what about that, I wondered. That’s when I came across a letter written to the church of Sardis.

“I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God. Remember therefore what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent.”  Revelation 3:1-3

This is a letter written to Christians… believers in the message of the Gospel. And oddly enough, I believe they were practicing just what that bumper sticker proudly declared… Good without God. And so, today, I have to question myself and my actions. See, it’s a fact that I can do good things. And not just me, but every other being on the planet can do good things. However, personally, I just have to ask, “If God isn’t in it, then should I be doing it?” And what is God? God is love (1 John 4:8). In essence, if what I’m doing is not motivated by love (or God), then is it a God thing? If love (or God) isn’t driving me, then perhaps what I’m doing is no different than the empty works performed by the church of Sardis. Basically, if I find myself mindlessly doing things for God, but love is absent, then they’re incomplete.

Jesus said to “strengthen what remains,” and to “remember therefore what you have received.” And so, I remember… I received His word (James 1:21). And it’s the very words given to me that remain, for God says, “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God remains forever!” Isaiah 40:8. God’s word remains. His word is what lasts. And what does His everlasting word tell me, but…

Love never ends.
But as for prophecies,
they will come to an end;
as for languages, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
 For we know in part,
and we prophesy in part.
 But when the perfect comes,
the partial will come to an end. 1 Corinthians 13:8-10

Works without love are incomplete… fragmented… partial. Like a bumper sticker placed on a window to provoke rather than uplift. Works without love can so easily fall apart. But, love is the bond of perfection which holds these deeds together. Love is constant and never fails. And as I sit here and contemplate the truth about God & me, I think it’s pretty clear what I lack. I’m pretty sure love has been absent from my life as evidenced by the bad feelings I harbor towards a complete stranger who was simply exercising her freedom of speech. She’s the very one I should love. And on top of that, I see that some of the works I have accomplished in my own strength – devoid of love (or God) – are empty and incomplete in His eyes. These loveless works of mine will not remain.

You know… the church at Sardis had a reputation for being alive. From the outside, they looked good because they were doing good things. But Jesus said they were dead. Incomplete. And you know what I think? I think love was missing. I think that perhaps they were very busy people, but their works were futile. I think they were simply doing good without God. And I don’t want that. I want what I do here to matter… to remain. And so, clearly, love (or God) is what’s required to bring the work to completion. I believe there cannot be any lasting work… without God. There can be no true good that remains… without God.

As for me… I’m waiting for “the perfect to come.” And the good news is, He already has. His name was Jesus, and He was perfect. Through Him the law was fulfilled… completed. Because of Him, there’s really only one thing we need to do… love. We love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might. How do we know we love Him? We follow His commands. And what is His command? That we love our neighbor as ourselves (John 13:34-35). That we serve one another through love (Galatians 5:13-14). That we exercise our faith through love (Galatians 5:6). That we walk in love (Ephesians 5:1-2).

Oh, yes. We’re to serve Him and to have faith in Him and to walk with Him. But in love and through love. For it’s love that completes and fulfills and remains. And God is love. And it’s the One who remains that tells us to love. And we can do so because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in Him. In this, love is perfected in us…” 1 John 4:16-17

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=This+one+thing+remains&FORM=VIRE3#view=detail&mid=44ECC31EFF153E07363B44ECC31EFF153E07363B

It’s Enough

Baptism

Eighteen days ago, I had doubt about what I was doing. It came on the heels of writing about struggle, and an old friend’s comment gave me a moment’s pause. He said that he didn’t feel that he was at the end of his rope at all, and in fact, was very blessed and excited through the journey. And so, I had doubts about writing about all the struggle. Because the last thing I want to do is discourage someone, and so I questioned myself, “Am I doing the right thing?” But then I remembered… that was the whole point of the blog. I want to tell the truth about God & me, so that someone will know who needs to know, that it’s not all glory and light and beauty and roses and sunshine. There is struggle and hardship and darkness at times… but yes, there is light. After the darkness, comes the light.

See, I never wanted to write, and I certainly never wanted to be a blogger… much less a blogger about God! And yet this past February I felt compelled to. And what I see is that within 42 posts I have painted the picture of a Christian woman fighting the fight of faith. Only, the woman is me and the struggle has been very real. Through this blog, I have been honest about the struggles and questions I’ve encountered in my trek towards Him. Through this blog, I have examined my heart, and found some things inside that don’t belong there. And it’s through this blog that I believe God has brought me full circle. Or at least brought it to my attention that I’ve come full circle. I’m right back to where I started… just a few years later and in a new locale. And today, what I see most clearly is that perhaps I am the very one I’m writing for. As I mentioned in the previous paragraph… I think I’m that someone who needs to know. Because through the comment from a fellow blogger, I think my eyes have finally been opened in a way they never have been before. See, the light does come after the darkness.

You know, if you want to hear from God, He’ll speak to you. However, you must be alert as His voice may come through the mouths of those closest to you. And if you’re not really listening, you may miss what He has to say. This is what happened to me this past week. Basically, I heard the same thing from three different people… “stop focusing on what you’ve not done well, and think about what you’re doing right,” and “you’re too hard on yourself,” and “you beat yourself up.” After the third occasion, I faltered and asked my friend if that’s what was coming across through the blogs. I feared they sounded like complaint rather than exhortation. And so, I once again doubted that I was doing the right thing with my very public struggle. I brushed it off mid-week, but after reading a comment from a fellow blogger on Friday, the light came on. He said, “Pretty rough on yourself.” Wow, my eyes snapped open then. Fortunately, God used another soul to get my attention, because I didn’t hear Him loud enough through my loved ones. It was after reading that comment that I felt it in my heart, “It’s enough!” And God meant enough on so many levels.

You know, I have been beating myself up, struggling through this journey with God. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be as much of a struggle as it has been. Despite the fact that there will always be obstacles and trials, the struggle I’ve had does not have to be a part of the fight. Because I’ve been fighting myself. See, I want to please God. I really do. I want to find Him… I want to be near Him… I want to hear from Him… I want to talk to Him… and I want to love Him. But I just don’t think some of what I do is good enough. I compare myself to the modern day greats (Francis Chan, Beth Moore, Billy Graham, Chuck Swindoll – and the list goes on and on and on), and I feel that I fall pitifully short. And so through works and trying to keep up with others, it seems as though I’ve been trying to save myself. But that battle was won long ago. And you know what else… God knows my heart. He knows that my striving has been in an effort to reach Him. He knows I’ve been seeking Him and drawing near to Him the best way I know how to. But what I’ve just realized this past week is, if the last thing I ever do again… for God… is to seek Him wholeheartedly through His Son Jesus Christ, then it will be enough. It’s enough.

There’s a lot we can do for God’s kingdom… especially if we belong to a church. There are numerous activities, a myriad of studies and fellowships and outings… and there are times we beat ourselves up thinking that we need to do them all. We feel like we have to be there every single time the door opens for every single thing… we feel we have to volunteer for every activity and donate to every cause. But if we feel we have to, then that may be guilt talking. That may be a works-based mentality creeping in on us. Because if we do something because we think we have to, then we’ve missed the big picture. Without that one essential piece, then every single thing we do for God will never be enough.

Do you know what that essential piece is? Do you know what God really wants from us? He wants a real relationship with us through His Son, Jesus Christ. He simply wants our hearts…

“So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.” Joel 2:13

The one thing we can do to please God is give Him our heart… a heart full of belief that God is who He says He is, and that Jesus is who God says He is. Believe in our hearts that God in fact sacrificed His own Son for our sins, and that He raised Him from the dead. Believe that what Jesus did for us is enough. He accomplished what we could never do. All our works will never, ever be enough for God. But Jesus… He’s enough.

Yes, God gave me a word this past week. Oh so patiently, He said, “That’s enough, Pam.” Yes, it’s been a struggle, but it does not have to be. And it’s time to depart from the valley in which I’ve been dwelling, because I’ve spent enough time there. God says enough. See, He knows all about my striving and my works. But He also knows my heart. And that’s just it… He knows me because my heart belongs to Him, because through His grace He saved me. At the very least, I have been washed by the blood. And God says, “It’s enough.”

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

I am what I am

When I was a new Christian, my focus was on the doing. Because James 2:26 really tripped me up. When I first heard, “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also,” I panicked. Because in the beginning, I had no works to accompany my faith. And quite honestly, a time or two, I doubted my salvation for this very reason. Because my thought process went something like this… Why, oh why, if I am a Christian, do I not feel like everyone else? Why don’t I burn inside with a fire for the cause of Christ? Why don’t I burn because there are souls separated from Him? Why don’t I go out daily to feed the hungry, house the homeless, visit orphans and widows, and evangelize on every street corner? Where is the love? Why, oh why, don’t I exhibit the works that should accompany faith? Because James 2:18 states, “I will show you my faith by my works.” Quite clearly, if there were no works evident, then I wasn’t really His, right? These are the thoughts that have plagued me off and on for years. Even as recently as this past year. But today, I am beginning to understand the truth. And the truth is, we don’t know what we should do. At least not by our own power.

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” John 6:28, 29

First comes belief. We simply must believe God, and everything that He says through His word. But after the belief is where so many of us mess up. I’m saying so many because I cannot believe that I am the only one who has lived in this manner. I first believed in 1997. But then, I got busy. I volunteered for something before I even knew His word because I thought I had to. And then I moved away. In 2004, when I found a good church, my faith was deepened… but I got busy. I volunteered for some stuff because I thought I should. In 2008, upon moving back and rejoining this good church, my faith was established and my prayer life took off. But then, I got busy. I volunteered for more than I should have. I do not say this to deter anyone from volunteering… certainly not. But, I do wish to caution those new to the Christian faith. Because we must get to know God before we will know what His work is. If we don’t take the time to know Him, then our works will crumble away and leave behind an embittered, angry soul. I am proof of that.

But here’s the good news. We don’t have to do anything that we don’t feel moved to do. When we are ready, God will move our hearts. We will know when we are supposed to do something, because Jesus will call. Just like with the apostles as they were fishing along the banks of the sea. He said, “Follow Me…” and they heard Him and followed. Just like Moses who was tending sheep. God appeared to him, and Moses heard and was used by God. And just like the apostle Paul, who was formerly known as Saul. Saul persecuted the early Christians and he consented to their deaths. He was actually breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, when Jesus came to him on the road to Damascus. And there was Saul, an anti-Christ, but he heard Jesus. Because Jesus selected him. He said, “for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Acts 9:15, 16. Jesus chose Saul, and Saul heard Him when Jesus appeared. Jesus said, “I will show him…”

Later in his life, Paul proclaimed the gospel. It’s what Jesus had appointed him to do. Paul said, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain…” I just love what he said. “I am what I am.” And that is the best news for me today. “I am what I am.” I am what He created me to be. I will do what He created me to do. And I will know when He so moves me. As long as I am spending time with Him, and soaking up His word… and as long as I have an intimate relationship with Him, I’ll know. There will no longer be the question, “To be, or not to be,” or “To do, or not to do,” because I’ll just know. I now see that not every work is for me. Because I am a chosen vessel, and I bear His name. And at the right time, He will call me for what He has planned for me to do.

There’s no question about it. If we are His, then there should be works. Just not forced ones. And the good news is, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). Bear with me… just one more visit to the dictionary… workmanship means, 1) that which has been made 2) a work a) of the works of God as creator. He made us for a purpose… His purpose. We’re His handiwork. And as we are transformed daily, we begin to naturally walk in the works He created just for us. We will fulfill our purpose here on His earth as we walk in Him.

So for now, I will rest in that knowledge. I’ll stop beating myself up when I don’t feel moved like the next person. Because whatever it is that person is doing may not be for me to do. Rather, I will embrace what I am today… a child of God, created by Him and for Him, and created for those works I shall walk in… in Christ Jesus. Because who knows what tomorrow will bring. Who knows who I will be tomorrow. Because every day is a new day with God. And every tomorrow holds promise.

… and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2

Human Doings

Human Being: noun, a member of any of the races of Homo sapiens; person; man, woman, or child.

Being: noun, the state or fact of existing; existence

Doing: noun, performance of an act

Be: verb, to exist or live

Do: verb, 1. to perform (an act, duty, role, etc.) 2. to execute (a piece or amount of work) 3. to accomplish; finish; complete. 4. to put forth; exert: Do your best. 5. to be the cause of (good, harm, credit, etc.); bring about; effect.

Everyone knows these words, I’m sure, and understands their meaning. So why the grammar lesson here? Why should I take the time to type out definitions of words that everyone is familiar with? Well, quite simply, I was blown away after reading two separate blogs – two separate sources – and both referenced the same Scripture. I respect both writers, and I was immediately captured by their subject matter. Because although each style is totally different, and both blogs were about different circumstances, both writers essentially said the same thing to me. Their questions? “What do you love to do?” “If finances were not an issue, what would your dream be?” “If you fulfilled God’s command to love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind, what would you look like at that moment?” Basically, what did God create you… to be.

Please don’t take offense, as I am definitely talking about myself here, but I think we completely miss what God wants for us most of the time. Because we’re human (noun, subject to or indicative of the weaknesses, imperfections, and fragility
associated with humans). We’re human, and so we’re subject to imperfection. One of our imperfections? I think we get caught up in the doing more so than the being. What does God’s word say… For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). This morning, I paused at “being,” and pondered just what does that mean for us. And it struck me that God in fact created human beings. We’re not called human doings. But I believe, most of us spend our lives existing as human doings… not as human beings, which is what God created us to be.

Which brings me back to the questions I read this morning… What do I love to do? What are my dreams? What do I look like when I am, in fact, completely wrapped up in Him? And these are questions for us all today. Because God created each one of us to be something… a being… for Him. Unfortunately, us humans are quick to act. We want to get busy… we want to do… because that’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Do you know what struck me about the definitions for “do” and “doing”? The word performance. Especially, “to perform and act, duty or role… and to execute an amount of work.” That’s it in a nutshell. So often we get caught up in the doing… we perform or act in a certain way that we feel is expected of us. By who? People! We perform for people, not for God! So often, the work we do is not God’s work… it is to be seen by men. And you know, Paul captured the essence of this in Galatians 1, “Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Speaking for myself here, I set out to be a servant for Christ, and yet, the work gets skewed. Because my human nature kicks in, and it becomes more about the people. They’re the ones who stand right in front of me, and so, I begin to “perform or execute,” for them!

So what does God want from us? See, He had a plan for each one of us from the very beginning. And by beginning, I’m talking about when the world began. Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” God knows our substance. He formed us in our mothers’ wombs. He knew when He breathed us into being, just what He had in store for us. And then there’s Jesus the Christ. He is in fact the author and finisher of our faith. It was He who said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Get ready for another grammar lesson… I just had to look up “make.” Do you know, I found two parts to the definition (Blue Letter Bible). I found 1) to make and 2) to do. And what I see just blows my mind (again).

1. to make: a) to produce, construct, form, fashion, etc. b) to be the authors of, the cause. c) to make ready, to prepare. d) to produce, bear, shoot forth.

2. to do: a) to act rightly, do well. b) to carry out, to execute, and e) to perform: to a promise.

Do you see it? Let Him first make us. Let Him fashion us and to be the author of our lives. Let Him make us ready and prepare us. Because once we do this… and by do, I mean simply soak up Jesus and let Him make us… then our doing will naturally follow. As we truly follow Jesus, we will naturally become what He wants us to be. And then it will happen… the transformation. Because we follow Jesus, and because we let Him make us, we will act rightly and do well. There will be no performance or play acting on our part… no seeking to please men, because what we do will be real. It will be natural because it will be who we are. We will become “human doings,” because we first became “human beings.”

Last grammar lesson here… I just have to go back to one of the definitions. Do: verb, to accomplish; finish; complete. We try so hard in our limited capacity to do works for God. We strive to please Him. But we really don’t have to strive. Because ultimately, the work has been done… one time on a cross at Calvary so long ago. Jesus did it. He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. Bear with me as I share the meaning of “it is finished”:

1) to bring to a close, to finish, to end, and 2) to perform, execute, complete, fulfill.

Jesus did what we could not. He fulfilled His purpose when He died on that cross. And so, in honor of Him, and the work He accomplished on the cross, may we pause this week and give thanks. Because of Jesus, we don’t have to do a thing. As He said, “It is finished.”