Accepting My Wings of Freedom

meme-pick-up-your-wings-photo-by-l-escareno(Suggested Reading: John 1:29-34)

When I first heard, I mean really heard, the Gospel, I responded with tears.

Accustomed to feeling unworthy and unlovable, I struggled to believe that Jesus, God in the flesh, died for me.

Why would He give His life as an atonement for my sin, as payment for the sins I once wore like badges of honor?

Why would God want to forgive me for sins I tried to deny or hide, sins I intentionally committed in an effort to escape personal pain?

I had a hard time understanding or believing that God would willingly and completely release me from the chains of guilt if I genuinely expressed remorse over my sin and asked for His forgiveness.

I played tug-of-war with the concept of atonement and feared the reality of substitution.

Why would Jesus choose to die on the cross, willingly serving as my substitute to pay for the sins I was responsible for?

Why would the only One who knew no sin, the One who never committed a sin, take the punishment for my sin and endure the agony of separation from the Father?

Why?

Because of His limitless love for me.

This simple answer boggled my mind.

Could it be that Christ’s great act of sacrificial love was planned from the beginning, declared in the Old Testament, revealed through the New Testament, and experienced every day on this side of eternity within the lives of Christ followers past and present and future?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And Yes.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)

The Lord cradled this verse with two astounding declarations of our privilege and responsibility as Jesus’ disciples:

(1) We are empowered to be ambassadors, imitators, representatives of Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:20)

(2) God’s grace came at a high cost that should be reflected in the way we live for Him (2 Corinthians 6:1)

Still, I battled doubt as the Holy Spirit continued to massage out the kinks of my imperfections.

I minimized the personal and sacrificial cost Jesus paid when He surrendered His life to save mine, by keeping a tally of accomplishments, failures, and sins as if they determined the measure of my worth.

Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection made complete forgiveness and freedom from sin possible.

Despite the ongoing war with our sin nature, God places wings of freedom within our reach.

Will we accept His offering, knowing we could never deserve or earn such a gift?

This abundant life of freedom begins the moment we profess Christ as our personal Lord, our Ruler, our Authority.

But will we have the courage to shrug off the comfort of complacency and the lies that keep us knee-deep in trying to prove ourselves or make ourselves feel good enough?

Through prayerful study of Scripture comes the knowledge of God.

Through personal acceptance of Jesus as Lord comes the freedom of God.

And through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit comes a life with full access to the power of God.

Every follower of Christ has this power, though many of us haven’t learned to access the power of His sweet Holy Spirit.

Though we’ve been pardoned, some of us continue to spar with guilt and shame when we think about our past sins or struggle with our present capacity to sin.

Though we’ve been cleansed, some of us wear cloaks of condemnation placed on our backs by ourselves and others, instead of accepting what Christ has done as completely final and intimately personal.

When Jesus declared His work on the cross as finished (teleō), He meant completed, fulfilled, accomplished, d-o-n-e, done.

The gifts of God’s grace and forgiveness are not passes to continue in our sin (1 John 2:1-6), yet it often feels easier to cling to excuses and wave the banner of weakness and timidity.

Will we struggle with sin? Yes. But we are no longer slaves to sin. Period.

The Lamb of God offers us wings of freedom−freedom from sin, guilt, condemnation, shame, and a powerless life.

His loving sacrifice frees us to become all He created us to be in Him and for Him.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16, NIV)

Yes, we’ll experience tough times and even want to quit.

Sure, we’ll fall short, slip up, and wonder why we even bother trying. But that’s the key!

When we’re focused on ourselves, we tend to draw from our own power, our own strength, our own wisdom, our own courage.

As we steady our focus on Jesus, we can recognize our complete dependence on His power and ask Him to help us live in full surrender to His Spirit.

Surrendered prayers are seasoned with desperation.

Lord, I need You. I can’t do this without You. Be my strength. Show me the way. Give me the courage to follow You. Help me trust You. I believe You, Lord! Help me with my unbelief!

These are the prayers I want bursting from my heart and out of my mouth, to slide down my cheeks as words escape me as easily as my tears.

How about you?

Are you slipping into sin because it feels easier to give up than risk failure?

Are you damaging current relationships because you can’t let go of sinful behaviors you practiced in past relationships?

What hinders you from receiving the wings of freedom offered by the glorious Lamb of God?

Thank You, Lord, for knowing we could never do for ourselves what You have done for us. Please help us live in the freedom of knowing Your grace is sufficient, Your power is made perfect in our weakness, and Your sacrifice was and is and always will be enough. Reveal Yourself to us more and more each day, so that we’ll be able to see ourselves and others in light of Your truth, cradled in Your grace, and wrapped in Your perfect love. In Jesus’ name, Amen

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Thanks for joining me for this week’s installment of “Meeting Jesus Face-to-Face in the Gospel of John.” If you don’t know Jesus, yet, or if you want to know Him and trust Him more, I encourage you to join me next week for “Come and See,” asking God to meet us where we are and transform us from head to heart.

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Pick Up Your Wings! – Photo used with permission from photographer L. Escareno

Meme Created by X. E. Dixon

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The Law in Jesus’s Hands is Love

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Alan and I got married before we surrendered our lives to Christ. We hired a reverend we’d never met before, a decision we’d come to regret and laugh about for years. One moment during our special day remains ingrained in my mind, mostly because my father-in-law snapped a timely photo of my unforgettable expression. Unfortunately, that snapshot reveals much about the condition of my heart at that time in my life. (You can see the scanned photos by following the links at the end of this post.)

screenshot_2016-11-29-01-35-02-1With wide eyes, I reluctantly repeated the reverend’s phrase: “I take this man as my lawfully wedded husband . . . to love, honor, and . . . gulp . . . obey.”

Obey?

My husband smiled, leaned closer, and whispered, “I bet that was tough to say.”

He knew me well. Stubborn pride refused to see any positivity in the words obey, submit, or authority. This negative attitude caused unnecessary problems in my marriage and in my relationship with Christ.

 

Believing the depth of love God had for me, helped me learn how to love Him and others without fear.

But that journey didn’t start until I surrendered my life to Christ and started to get to know this Almighty King on a personal level.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, NIV,emphasis mine)

As I witnessed God’s glory−the magnificence and radiant splendor of His unchanging character−grace replaced my selfishness, pride, criticism and thoughtlessness with true satisfaction, heart-deep peace, unexplainable contentment, and overwhelming thankfulness.

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16-17, NIV, emphasis mine)

screenshot_2016-11-29-01-34-40-1The more my relationship with Jesus deepened, the more I viewed myself and others through His grace. I grew to love, trust, and respect God, and eventually that love trickled into my relationships, especially the loving and respectful relationship I desperately wanted to share with my husband. Even though he still chuckles when we remember my blooper on our special day in 1994.

Though I still struggle with practicing obedience, surrender, and submitting to authority, I no longer tremble in fear when at the mention of these necessary displays of loving trust.

 

Falling in love with Jesus changed the way I viewed His command to obey His Word.

When I started seeing the Father as the first Person, the Son as the second Person, and the Holy Spirit as the third Person in the Trinity, I stopped seeing the Law as a list of limits.

No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” (John 1:18, NIV, emphasis mine)

Through Jesus, through knowing Him and growing to love Him as He lavished me in love, I discovered the freedom and the abundant life available only under the covering of God’s grace and fully manifested through a life surrendered to His Holy Word.

The Law in Jesus’s hands saturates us in love, molds us in love, and penetrates our hearts in the wake of His life-transforming love.

In God’s loving sovereignty, He established the Law to protect us and affirm our need for Christ. Because our sin nature separates us from our Holy God, Jesus came to fulfill, to uphold, and to carry out the Law, not to abolish it or replace it or change it (Matthew 5:17).

A quick skim through current events affirms that not much has changed. Man continues to rebel against God. But, rebellious spirits don’t change truth, the reality of sin, or our need for being saved.

“Right and wrong are not determined by the voice of society but by the voice of God. The Ten Commandments declare the broad principles of God’s moral law.” (Green, p. 381)

Yes. Through God’s moral law, God’s people become aware of the sin that separates us from God. But, it’s through God’s grace that we’re invited to enter a right relationship with God by believing and receiving Jesus, the Truth (John 14:6), as our personal Lord and Savior.

When Jesus was crucified, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)

For that moment, when God in the flesh hung on that cross and willingly took my sins−the sins of the world−upon Himself, the all Holy Father could not bear to look upon His one and only Son.

Imagine the pain of the Father, the anguish of the Holy Spirit, and the heartbreak of the Son as their perfect communion was broken because of God’s irrevocable love for you, for me, and even for those who reject Him.

Not once does Jesus ask us to feel guilty. Not once does Jesus make us feel ashamed. He doesn’t demand repayment or ask us to try to work off our insurmountable debt of our sins. Jesus simply invites us to accept His love and . . . simply and completely love Him back.

We show our love through our obedience, obedience that He empowers through His Spirit and by His grace.

Yes. The Law in Jesus’s hands is love, through and through.

“This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is that that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:3-5, NIV)

Hallelujah!

Lord, we are so thankful that the Law is in Your hands and we’re covered by Your immeasurable grace. Help us believe You, trust You, and obey You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Reflection:  Why do the words submission, authority, and obedience seem to have such negative connotations in the world when the Bible clearly teaches those words are positive, freeing, and life-giving?

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To see a full sized photo of my expression in response to the reverend asking me to “love, honor, and obey,” click this link: did-he-say-obey-wedding-photo

To see an up-close-and-personal sized photo of Alan’s delight after the ceremony, regarding my response to the reverend’s request, click this link: did-he-say-obey-yep-wedding-photo

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Thanks for joining me for this week’s installment of “Meeting Jesus Face-to-Face in the Gospel of John.” If you don’t know Jesus, yet, or if you want to know Him and trust Him more, I encourage you to join me next week for “The Lamb of God,” asking God to meet us where we are and transform us from head to heart.

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Works Cited

Green, K. Zondervan All-In-One Bible Reference Guide. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008.

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon

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Harmonizing Voices

 

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God blessed me with an opportunity to share my devotion, “Harmonizing Voices,” on the Deeper Waters website today.

Hallelujah!

I’d love to hear how the Lord has helped you embrace your special voice and experience contentment and joy through the specific job He’s given you to do for His glory.

I’m looking forward to connecting with you through the comment section on the Deeper Waters website.

Click here to read my story in “Harmonizing Voices,” and to share your story so that others can be encouraged to celebrate God’s sovereign and purposed creativity.

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Meme created by and used with permission by Denise Hughes, originally featured on the Deeper Waters website to accompany the article, “Harmonizing Voices,” the day 17 devotion written by Xochitl E. Dixon for the Word Writers Ephesians study.

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“You Don’t Look Sick”

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“You don’t look sick!”

Whenever someone threw those words in my face using an accusatory tone instead of a grateful amazement, which happened more often than I’d like to admit, I bit my tongue and prayed.

Would people would be happier if I walked around in mourning clothes and wailed at the top of my lungs whenever I felt pain?

Trust me. I’ve been tempted to do just that, especially during my all-too-familiar fall-apart or pity-party moments.

In the beginning of my healing journey, shortly after one of my many procedures, a woman I hadn’t seen in a while approached me while I sat on a bench and waited for my husband to bring the car around. My day had started out great, until severe back spasms and nerve pain cut my outing short.

The woman greeted me and opened her arms to give me a hug. I raised my hand to stop her from getting too close, smiled politely, and explained I couldn’t hug her because I was in pain. Though she insisted she would hug me softly, I apologized and declined her kind gesture.

I-Want-A-Hug frowned as the lady who sat on the bench joined our conversation. With a scowl, she said, “If you stopped smiling so much, maybe people would believe you’re hurt.”

She walked away before I could respond. That was probably a good thing, especially since I still struggle with sin and could have easily said something I regretted later.

My husband pulled the car up to the curb and got out to help me into the car. I cried and ranted, as he listened, all the way home.

Later, I asked God to help me forgive the woman’s thoughtless comment. I knew that that she didn’t mean to be hurtful. I knew she didn’t understand the Lord was holding me up, often one breath at a time. I knew she couldn’t know His loving presence was more than enough reason for me to keep smiling.

It’s a blessing when people say “I don’t look sick,” as long as it’s said in a tone that celebrates God’s grace.

I praise the Lord that I can smile, as He gave me opportunities to keep sharing Him and trusting Him. I’m thankful He empowers me to pray for others, encourage others, and even use writing to minister to others.

Still, that comment stung. And it wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last time, a person’s thoughtless words hurt or discouraged me in the midst of my battle with chronic pain.

It’s not that I didn’t want to hug that woman. I’m known as a hugger. But I have damage in both my shoulders that have been repaired by surgeries and are being treated by injections and physical therapy.

I endure constant pinching of my nerves and a joint jammed between my rib and spine in my upper thoracic back. Because of the area in which my injury occurred, the surgery to remove that rib has been deemed too risky.

So, this is my life, until God decides to heal me or give me more relief.

A simple movement, sitting too long, standing too long, walking, and even taking a deep breath, can trigger debilitating spasms in my back and trapezius muscles. Sometimes, those spasms and nerve pinching pain lead to headaches similar to migraines.

So, no, I don’t “look sick.”

And by God’s immeasurable grace, even when I’m experiencing pain, He empowers me to smile, to love, to serve, to praise Him and encourage others, for His glory!

During a trip to Michigan, that I was able to participate in by God’s incredible mercy and might, my beautiful sister in Christ, Jami McKelvie Amerine contacted me and asked if she could include a portion of my story in one of her heart-touching articles, “You Don’t Look Sick.”

I am excited about what the Lord is doing in and through her writing, so of course I agreed.

As I read her words, I grieved. Jami doesn’t “look sick.” She smiles and encourages others. She doesn’t wear mourning clothes or wail every time she’s hurting. So, I never noticed the pain in her eyes. All I noticed was her radiant smile and her loving heart.

I was just as guilty as the I-Want-A-Hug lady, and any other person who had hurt me with critical looks or an accusatory and condemning tone when they said I didn’t look sick.

I’m asking God to help me be more aware of the hurting, to see beyond the smiles, even if they are genuine Spirit-empowered joy in Christ.

I’m asking Him to help me pour out compassion not criticism to those who don’t understand how hard it is to live with chronic pain when your suffering isn’t always physically apparent.

I’m thanking God for being my strength, my peace, my joy, and my hope.

I’m grateful that His loving grace is so wonderfully sufficient that I don’t “look sick.” I want to keep it that way.

Hallelujah!

“A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)

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Please take a moment to read and share Jami’s post, and to pray for the hurting, especially those who don’t “look sick.”

Please also join me in praying we will all be more understanding and compassionate with one another.

We never know how much physical or emotional pain is hidden behind a smile empowered by God’s sufficient grace and life-transforming love.

To read more about my healing journey, click here.

To learn more about Jami and what God is doing in and through her life, please visit her website and encourage her at Sacred Ground, Sticky Floors.

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon

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Believing and Receiving

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“He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:10-13, NIV)

Over the years, I’ve been learning there’s a huge difference between believing in God and living like I believe God.

This truth has reached a too-close-for-comfort personal level during my healing journey. There have been days when dealing with the physical or emotional pain and battling frustration, discouragement, fears, and doubt felt unbearable. There have been days when my attitude and my response to life’s circumstances have been less than desirable, and far from godly.

I’m choosing to surrender to Jesus because I’ve been given a glimpse of His glory, His goodness and His grace. I’m choosing to submit to Him because I know I can’t save myself, change myself, or carry myself through times of suffering or affliction.

But I can’t depend on Christ, I can’t know Him or love Him or obey Him, if I haven’t received Him as my personal Lord and Savior first.

The Bible tells us simply believing that Jesus is God isn’t enough. During Jesus’s earthly ministry, the demons recognized Jesus and knew the magnitude of His power. Though they did not honor Him as their personal Lord, they couldn’t deny or escape His might or authority.

Believing in God the Father is an important step. Believing in God the Son is a vital step that can’t be skipped. But God requires and offers so much more when He invites believers into a personal relationship through the Person of Christ, not the concept of a Savior, by the power of the Spirit.

When we simply stop at believing, we can unintentionally settle for lives stunted by the habit of walking by half-faith.

This is not a new obstacle faced by God’s people.

The Old Testament Jews believed in the promise of the Messiah and fully expected God’s prophecies to be fulfilled. The religious leaders boasted about their pious lives. Strict in tradition and ceremony, they diligently memorized and espoused the Law. One would think their knowledge of God would have increased their ability to recognize and submit to the promised Messiah.

God enabled some of the Pharisees to acknowledge how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. But believing Jesus was the Messiah wasn’t enough then and it’s not enough now.

Many self-proclaimed Christians, who truly believe in God and acknowledge Jesus is God in the flesh and Savior of the world, haven’t received Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior and aren’t living as people who’ve been given the power of the Holy Spirit.

If we miss the crucial step from believing to receiving, we can become modern day Pharisees.

It’s dangerously possible to believe in God and not know Him, to serve in ministries faithfully while remaining self-reliant, self-centered, and self-serving.

When Jesus is our personal Lord, He is the only One allowed to rule, which means we ask Him to empower us to obey Him not our fleshly desires.

When Jesus is our personal Savior, we acknowledge He is the only One capable of saving us, which means we depend on God’s power, not will power or self-help.

Total dependence on and surrender to God does not mean we won’t struggle or suffer on this side of eternity.

The Lord knows our flesh is prone to wandering onto the path of pride, disobedience, and self-indulgence. He knows we’ll be tempted to insist on relief from pain or hardship. He knows we’re vulnerable to physical and mental sicknesses. He knows we’re susceptible to returning to the shackles of sin.

Our many weaknesses only confirm our desperate need for our perfect Savior.

When we believe in Jesus, we’re given the gift of the Holy Spirit. But we have to personally receive the Holy Spirit in order for us to be empowered by Him.

We access God’s power by asking to receive His power and believing we’ll receive His power to obey His Word.

My healing journey has helped me grasp this concept on a more personal level.

I can believe the medicine my doctor gives me works. But if I refuse to take that medicine into my body and follow the instructions the physician orders, the medicine can’t do what it was designed to do.

I can believe God exists and even believe His plan is perfect and His power is limitless. But I don’t have the ability to live like I believe His words, His love, His grace, and His promises are meant for me personally if I don’t receive His Spirit. I must submit and surrender to the Holy Spirit if I’m going to allow Him to help me follow His instructions.

Here’s the catch. I can’t submit or surrender to Him in my own strength. So, I ask Him to help me do this on a daily basis, sometimes on an hourly basis.

Believing begins with the knowledge of the facts transformed to faith through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Receiving is a commitment to an ongoing love dance with the Holy Spirit, letting Him lead as He enables us to live for God no matter how costly the personal stakes.

God remains true to His faithfulness, even when our humanity proves us faulty.

All we have to do is ask and He’ll help us believe and receive Him. But we can’t skip the step of receiving God’s power through the Holy Spirit, if we want to live in accordance to His will and trust Him to keep His Word, because He enables us to understand and believe that His Word is infallible.

Father God, thank You for making Yourself known through Jesus and the power of Your Holy Spirit. Please reveal when we’re stuck at believing in Your power instead of receiving Your power. Please help us stop trying to control our circumstances and our spiritual growth, instead of asking You to help us believe You, submit to You, and live for You as You change us and make us more like You. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Reflection: In what ways have you been blessed when you allowed the Holy Spirit to transform you, empower you, and deepen your faith in God during difficult times?

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Thanks for joining me for this week’s installment of “Meeting Jesus Face-to-Face in the Gospel of John.” If you don’t know Jesus, yet, or if you want to know Him and trust Him more, I encourage you to join me next week for “The Law in Jesus’ Hands,” asking God to meet us where we are and transform us from head to heart.

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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