Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Best is Yet to Come: Keeping a Vision for the Future

"Where there is no vision, the people perish:  but he that keepeth the law, happy is he." Proverbs 29:18

I can't believe we are already on our next to last week of this study!  We've looked at the past and our present now this week we will be looking at what's to come.  It's easy to look around us today and the future looks rather bleak but (to steal a line from one of my favorite former pastors:)  "I have good news - I've read the back of the book and we win!" 

As a mom I worry about what the future holds for my children. However, the Bible tells me not to worry or be anxious about anything. So as the redeemed, how do we keep from being discouraged as we see what's happening all around us today? 

Helen Keller said, "The only one thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision."  I often find myself with sight but no vision.  Seeing all that's wrong, but not focusing on my Redeemer - the only one that can fix it.  When I look at my children and other children, I should realize more than ever there is still a cause.  My desire for them, more than anything, is to follow Christ.  What I'm doing today is affecting an eternity - and not just mine but theirs too. 

I absolutely love hymns and love hearing the stories that lie behind them.  One of my favorites here lately is "Be Thou My Vision."  If you aren't familiar with it, here's the first verse:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.


It was a hymn originally derived from lyrics from an Irish poet, Dallan Forgail.   Dallan was a blind man, yet he had vision!  In a world where all around him was dark, He had God as his light.  He is now known as the best Irish poet of the 6th Century and the words he penned are still comforting and bringing peace to us 1500 years later.  His desire was to see things through the eyes of God.  Can you only imagine what this life would be like if that was everyone's sincere desire?   

As we go throughout our study this week, we will be looking at some truths about our future as one of the redeemed:

  1. We are sealed until the day of redemption.  God's plan of redemption is perfect.  As evil as Satan is and as evil as this world may become - nothing can pluck us from His hand.  We are His - focus on that!
  2. We are a spiritual work in progress.  God is refining us and will continue to do so until the end of time.  Through the waiting, through the trials, through repentance we are growing closer to perfection through Him-focus on that!   
  3. We will go through some trials here - Christ did and we certainly aren't above Him - yet hang in there it's all going to be worth it in the end!   The sufferings we go through down here will not begin to compare to eternal glory - focus on that! 
  4. While it's great to think about the end - there's some good times ahead of us here too!  God didn't leave us alone.  We have the Holy Spirit with us to guide us and comfort us -focus on that!     
  5. We should be looking for the day when He shall return.  A day when we no longer have to worry about distractions, worry or separations - but our eyes will forever be on Him - focus on that!

Our challenge this week is to spend some extra time studying and meditating on what is to come.  I think in this era of information and technology we are living, perhaps Satan's biggest weapon is distraction.  We get so wrapped up in the frivolous things of this world, we forget eternity!  We spend our time focused on things that won't matter tomorrow.  Don't let Satan distract you from keeping the end in sight.  Let this be a week of refocusing our vision.  When we have a strong vision of our final goal, then we will be able to prioritize and accomplish what needs to be done today. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Let the Redeemed Say So!

Have you ever been pouring a drink but you aren't really paying attention and the next thing you know that cup has overflowed and the drink is everywhere?  Then you have a big mess to clean up.
That's kind of how we are with our own mouths sometimes.  We aren't really paying as close attention as we should be to what we are putting into our heads and into our hearts.  Before we know it, it's been filled up with negative statements, worldly issues, and tangible things.  So guess what spills out of our mouths?  Either offensive words or frivolous comments.
"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil:  for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh."  Luke 6:45
I'm writing this on Sunday afternoon and I imagine a good bit of us have spoken of Christ at some point today.  By the time you are actually reading this, it'll be at least Monday morning, if not later...what has our conversation been about now? 
We come in contact with our friends, colleagues and strangers everyday and we'd rather talk about our kids, their accomplishments, the latest sports scores, the weather, facebook statuses, any and everything but what really matters - Christ!
We look around and we wonder why there is so much hate and so little hope.  I believe it's not because Trump is our president; it's not because Obama was our president; I believe it's because we, as Christians, aren't showing Christ.   The redeemed of the Lord - aren't saying so!  Instead we sit quietly by-maybe out of shame, maybe out of being "politically correct", maybe because we don't want to hurt our friends' feelings.
This week our Bible study is entitled, "Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So!"  We will be looking at how we can share God with others, the attitude in which we should do so, and ways we can share Him even more with those right around us.
So as we go through this week, I pray that we all will slow down and turn our hearts and conversations toward Him.  May our lives reflect the hope we have found as one of the redeemed.   Let the redeemed say so! 


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Redeemed: Living Free

Ok, friends-it's about to get real this week!  We've been studying about the past:  about God's redemption plan through Christ and about the children of Israel's redemption story.  Now this week - we're going to look at the here and now.  We're going to see what all this means for us today.  Are we living the abundant, free life God has for us?

As I started preparing for this post and this upcoming week,  I knew there were are some sins that are holding me back from living out the life God has for me.  There are some things that hinder me from being completely and totally free.  So because I am a list maker and a planner, I started creating and searching for a "form" of how I was going to "do better" this upcoming week.  Maybe a checklist I could check off?  Well...nothing was really coming together.

Then as I started actually writing this blog post - in a complete different direction - it hit me.  I was trying to figure out a way I could overcome these sins when in fact - Christ already has! 

Freedom comes only through Christ.  It can't come through a case of "do betters".  It can't come through a check off list.  It comes through knowing and surrendering to Him.  My lists are no match for Satan but my God is!

Paul tells the churches of Galatia:

"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled with the yoke of bondage." Galatians 5:1

Our freedom has been won; that's in the past.  All we have to do today is "stand fast" in it.  We've been released from the bonds of sin - so don't get tangled back up in it!  Sin is a price far more than we want to pay.  It's is a heavy load to carry.  It'll weigh us down and cause us to live far below the life God has planned for us. 

So, if you find yourself worn out from trying to overcome sin on your own, just give it to Him.  He's got this guys.  Whatever it is - big, little or in between - He's already conquered it.  We just need to quit trying on our own, declare the victory through Him, and rest.  

Don't believe me?  Take His word for it:

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  Matthew 11:28-30 

Rest...easy yoke...light burden - now that's living free!  How do we get there?  By coming to Him, by resting in Him.  That's  our part of the redemption story.  

I started out dreading this week.  I thought it was going to be a lot of work for me.  However, I was going about it all wrong.  It's time to stop fighting a fight that's already been won.  Now, I'm looking forward to a week of seeking His truth, repenting and then resting in Him. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Redemption Exemplified Through the Children of Israel

You can't really have a study on redemption without looking at the children of Israel.  So that's where we'll be this week!  They were in bondage and it continued to get worse.  Then the redemption price was paid and the blood applied to their doorposts.  Pharaoh finally said "Let them go!"  After over 400 years, they were finally free- free from being enslaved to the Egyptians.  God had freed them for a purpose. For the same reason we are freed, to fulfill their part in His story. 

But here's the thing, He didn't let them take the easy route, but he took them through the wilderness. He still had some work to be done before they reached their final destination. So they set out, but they didn't get far before Pharaoh and his mighty army were hot on their trail.  God was, once again, already ahead of them. He was leading them, providing ways, and even parting waters.  They had to take those steps of faith though and walk through. Even then God didn't force them.  

Does any part of this redemption story sound familiar?  Can you see yourself in the children of Israel? 

Maybe you're still in bondage?  Satan's hold much too strong for you to free yourself. 

Maybe you've been set free but Satan is right on your trail? 

Maybe you've made it to the Red Sea and God's showing you the way, even clearing the path for you but you're looking back wondering if you should return to complacency or take a risk of faith? 

Maybe you've made it through the Red Sea and a few other trials, but somewhere you've lost your way and now you're wondering aimlessly in the wilderness without the goal in sight.

I can remember when I was younger reading about the children of Israel and thinking, "Did they just not ever learn?  How could they forget God's power so quickly?"  After all, it was only a short time between being set free and reaching the Red Sea.  Then time and time after that, they questioned God's power and provision.  Yet, the older I get the more I realize how much like them I really am.  (Ouch!)

God had redeemed them, and set them free from the Egyptians.  They were His chosen ones, the ones on their way to the promised land.  Likewise, God redeems us, we become one of His-no longer a servant to sin but an heir to the kingdom of heaven!

"And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." Galatians 4:6-7

However, living so long in bondage can have some strong holds.  Just as the children of Israel had the wilderness to make their way through, we have this earthly life.  This week as we walk alongside the children of Israel, I pray you'll see a little clearer where you are in your own journey.  Our challenge is to spend some extra time in prayer and reflection.  Are we living a life as a servant to sin or an heir to Christ?   


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Redeemed: His Plan from the Beginning

"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:  old things are passed away; behold all things are become new."  2 Corinthians 5:17

It's a new day, a new week, a new year and a new Bible study - yet the same God and the same plan of redemption! 

As we begin our study this week, we will be looking at the past and how God's plan of redemption was in place before the world was even formed.  How from the very beginning He loved us enough to send His son as a ransom for our sins.  As we study on what Christ did for us this week, 0ur challenge is to really meditate on the word "redeemed" and what God's plan of redemption has to do with your life. 

Let me introduce you to a dear friend of mine, Angie Martin.  Angie and I met through a mutual friend and she has been in our GMG Bible study group for several years now.  Angie is a wife,  homeschooling mom of two, and one of the redeemed!  She has been a huge blessing to me over the last few years.  Last night she shared with us what being redeemed meant to her.  She has such a powerful testimony of redemption that I asked her to share it here too.

*Redeemed - ransomed (rescued from captivity, bondage, or punishment by the payment of an equivalent); delivered from bondage, distress, penalty, liability, or from the possession of another, by paying an equivalent. ~Webster’s Dictionary 1828

I could so easily be a statistic right now. I grew up in a very broken home. By the time I graduated high school, my mother had been married 10 times to 8 different men. The most recent, she actually met and married while he was in prison. I’m not sure any of them were any better than the others. Whether their poison was alcohol, marijuana, crack cocaine, or whatever else, they all had some type of addiction. My mother’s addiction? Men.

My father was in prison from as early as I can remember until I was 12 or 13. He was busted with 20 kilograms of cocaine and over $25,000 in cash. At that time (25+ years ago), he was running one of the largest trafficking businesses that had ever been busted in Alabama. He was sentenced to 15 years, but only served 8. He apparently didn’t mind it too much because nothing really changed. The first time he was ever able to get unsupervised visitation with us, he made a drug deal with me sitting on the sofa next to him. I guess he thought we were too young to know what the “white stuff” was. I should have been, but, at that age, I had already experienced what many adults never have to.

My sister was pregnant at 15. She’s now a METH addict with a severe man addiction as well. She bounces from one man and/or halfway house to another. We’ve gotten her into more programs than I can remember, but it’s never long until she’s back on the streets again.

My brother was an alcoholic before he was legally able to drink. He’s moved on to bigger things since then and currently struggles with drug addiction among other things.
With our background, my sister’s and brother’s stories are not surprising at all. They’re really quite typical. I guess more surprising is the fact that I’m not where they are, but I assure you, it’s by NOTHING I am and/or NOTHING I’ve done! It is simply God’s grace! I have been redeemed!

My grandma got saved when she was 50 years old! She completely surrendered to God, and it showed in every aspect of her life. I began spending more and more time with her, and I’m very thankful for the prayers she prayed on my behalf! We lived with her during my Senior year of high school, and she & I shared a room. As I was getting ready for school or work in the mornings, I would hear her call my name as she started her day in prayer. I wasn’t living a life to be proud of at that time. I was headed down the road to being a statistic myself, but my grandma continued praying, and not long after, I met my husband, Bret. From that moment on, I know his Mom began praying for me as well.

I know I’ve said a LOT, but my story of redemption is as much physical as it is spiritual. Redemption to me means freedom from not knowing who I’d be living with from one day to the next and whether or not I’d be safe, freedom from a life of sexual impurity and promiscuity, freedom from a life of drugs, alcohol, and addiction, freedom from passing on the brokenness I experienced as a child to my children. It means I’ve been ransomed from my past, physically and spiritually!  I’m so very thankful that God gave me eternal life with Him, free from hell and damnation! I’m also thankful that He didn’t stop there, He gave me something better on this side of life as well!

"Redemption to me means freedom..."  So true Angie!  And that was God's plan from the very beginning.