Following God When the Stakes Feel Too High: Living Brave Series

MEME - We Can't Lose God - Pic by Begona Maier(Suggested Reading: Judges 6:12-32)

When I first became a Christian, I discovered relationships and my personal comfort were my biggest idols. My prayers were fear-filled plea bargains. I’ll follow You, trust You, obey You, Lord, but please, please, please have mercy. I can’t bear the thought of losing (fill in the blank).

As I think back on my whining-prayers, I realize I wasn’t prepared for the cost of discipleship. I still placed God below and behind the things and people of this world. Even my emotions became idols. I didn’t want to face fear, grief, sickness, pain, or worry, so I coveted easy routes.

My selfish cries for favor were poor attempts to sidestep pain and lessen the risk of loss.

My pleas for comfort were sad tactics intended to help me avoid giving up what I wanted, what I valued, what I thought I deserved, what I worked hard for, what I called my own and did not want to risk losing.

But as I continued to draw nearer to my Savior, He helped me understand that following Him wouldn’t always lead me down easy streets.

God gives us all we need to live in fearless faith, walk in freedom, embrace His grace, and follow Him . . . no matter how high the stakes.

None of the wonderful things God does in and through our hard days would be possible if we refuse to risk those high stakes, if we deny the Lord because we think we have too much to lose.

When God invites us to trust Him, He assures us we’ll face trials and troubles, as well as plenty of persecution and opposition. He also promises He’ll be powerful, patient, and present, as He empowers us to live for Him.

But when we believe God, when we’re ready to live brave we’ll face the idols that keep us focused on what we have to lose instead of all God has given us, all He promised us.

When the Lord asked Gideon to destroy his father’s idols, He wasn’t just asking him to clean house. Gideon had to rid his life of the fears and insecurities he’d placed on the throne of his heart, before he could follow God with courageous faith.

When Gideon doubted and complained about the rough road his people had endured, God didn’t make excuses or apologize. He told Gideon to go with the strength he had, the strength God had given him, and to remember God Himself was sending him so there was no need to fear or fret (Judges 6:14).

When Gideon focused on his own feebleness, the Lord didn’t console him or give him a list of all he’d accomplished in the past. He simply assured Gideon that He would be with him (v. 15-16).

When Gideon demanded proof of God’s faithfulness (v. 17), depended on his own works by offering a sacrifice God never asked him to give (vv. 18-19), the Lord met Gideon right where he was (v. 20-21).

Gideon trembled in the face of God’s might (vv. 22-23), and God’s comfort resulted in Gideon’s outpouring of worship in which he emphasized the peace of God’s presence (v. 24).

Peace, not just power.

Bowed before the Lord, Gideon was ready for the biggest step in his pursuit of honoring God.

But even in his obedience, the “mighty warrior” still displayed weakness when he chose to act under the cloak of darkness (vv. 25-27).

Gideon’s not the last of God’s children to slip into the safety net of life as an undercover, lukewarm, conditional, or compromising believer.

Still, despite Gideon’s weak-spots and mess-ups, it seems God used his obedience to influence his father. Joash became Gideon’s supporter. He stood up for his son against the hostile crowd seeking revenge for the destruction of Baal’s alter, declaring false gods have no power (v. 32).

And after having seen the One True God in action, Gideon stood against the enemy armies (vv. 33-35).

When we’re following the Lord, we’ll often face problems that feel insurmountable or adversaries that seem unbeatable. It’s tempting to cling to idols, which can include our works, talents, abilities, skills, or connections, as if they were more dependable than the God who gave them to us.

Insecurities and fear may even become idols that we place before God, idols that tempt us to want to make God prove His faithfulness, to assure us that we won’t have to risk defeat, pain, loss, or anything we might value more than pleasing Him.

As lovers of God, we’ll come to realize the great cost of discipleship includes risking great loss and facing high stakes. But we don’t need not be afraid because our unchanging God loves us unconditionally.

God remains faithful, good, and trustworthy as He assures us that no stakes are too high because we’ll never lose Him.

Lord, thanks for assuring us that we don’t need to depend on our own strengths or fear the high stakes of following You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Begonia Maier.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Believing God When It’s Easier to Doubt: Living Brave Series

MEME - Judges 6 v 12Suggested Reading: Judges 6:1-16

In January 2014, I asked God to help me be braver. I longed to follow Him, even when He asked me to try new things, hard things, and, yes, even scary things.

That commitment led me down unexpected, exciting, and excruciating detours and delays on the path God paved and used to challenge me, sculpt me, and deepen my faith.

I had decided to pray for guidance daily and say “yes” whenever the Lord led me to serve. It wasn’t always easy discerning when it was God leading or other people insisting He’d put me on their heart so the task must be my responsibility.

As I continued seeking Him, drawing near to Him, and asking Him to show me “the next step” He wanted me to take, He increased my discernment and blessed me with the strength and courage I needed so that I could obey Him.

I had no idea saying “yes” to God would require me to say “no” to some good things, that following His lead might land me in some incredibly physically and emotionally difficult seasons or seemingly endless waiting periods.

Obedience to God often thrust me into painful in-your-face-moments that revealed how much I needed His life-transforming love to penetrate every aspect of my life.

But over the last few years, I’ve discovered one thing I needed to do before I could serve the Lord as He intended.

I needed to believe God.

I needed to believe what He said about who He was, is, and always will be and who I am because of Him.

I needed to believe Him, especially when it felt easier to doubt.

As God helped me know Him, He helped me believe Him, which helped me to trust Him as He slowly, patiently, lovingly stripped away the doubts, fears, and insecurities that kept me from following Him with courage.

Focusing on my limitations, my lack of qualifications, my shortcomings, my uncertainties, and my past failings kept me from living for God.

How could I serve Him and fulfill the purpose of sharing Him with the gifts He’d given me, when my greatest naysayer and biggest adversary discouraged me and mocked me every time I looked in the mirror?

It seems obvious that Gideon fought his inner-critic, too. He seemed to have a hard time believing the LORD would consider him a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:11).

But the angel of the LORD got close and personal with Gideon. He came alongside this ordinary steward who was doing ordinary tasks, using the gifts and fulfilling the purposes he’d already been given.

The divine messenger assured Gideon of God’s promise to be with His people. He labeled Gideon with a badge of strength, a role of persevering courage, pointing out the potential God had placed within him (v. 11).

Still, Gideon’s thoughts flipped back to the times when he didn’t get his way, when God didn’t meet his expectations, when his circumstances felt too hard, when life seemed uncomfortable, unfulfilling, and unjust (v. 13).

I don’t blame him. It often feels easier to keep our attention on the difficulty of the task at hand, the unfairness of our journey, the disappointments of our shattered expectations, and the ways we feel God let us down.

When we cast blame on God or others for the tough times in life, we can almost feel justified when we avoid trying, when we reason our way out of obeying, when we convince ourselves we can’t risk trusting the Lord again.

If Gideon’s “But Sir-speech” could prove God untrustworthy, maybe he could still end up looking like a good guy, a reasonable, wise, and safe guy. Or maybe he could just avoid being hurt, scared, disappointed, weary . . . or maybe he could avoid losing.

Who hasn’t wanted God to promise a risk-free road of obedience?

Fortunately, Gideon’s story assures us that the Lord understands our weaknesses.

The LORD turned to Gideon. Talk about an intimate vote of confidence.

“Go in the strength you have . . .” (v. 14)

Gideon didn’t need anything extra to accomplish what the LORD asked him to do, and neither do we.

“Am I not sending you?” (v. 14)

The LORD simply reminded Gideon that he was not alone or without purpose.

When God sends us down the pre-ordained path He planned for us, He remains with us, providing all we need to do all He entrusts to us as we follow Him, rely on Him, and surrender to Him every step of the way.

Yet, like Gideon, we can be tempted to turn our gaze to our limited resources and lack of status, listing the many reasons we aren’t qualified for the job (v. 15).

Of course, we’re not qualified! God doesn’t need us. He wants to use us to spread His truth and love to the ends of the earth, to serve Him by serving others, and to bring glory to His name by simply doing what He asks with what he provides.

We can go wherever God leads, in the strength we have with the gifts we have, because God is the one sending us.

When Gideon obsessed over his lacking, the LORD didn’t flatter him with words of affirmation to help him feel better about himself.

He simply confirmed He would be with Gideon and fight on Gideon’s behalf (v. 16).

God will help us surrender to Him, depend on Him, and trust Him to carry us over and through every obstacle He intends for us to face.

He doesn’t ask us to save the world, change the world, or carry the world on our shoulders.

He simply asks us to listen to Him, to look to Him, and to live for Him as we believe Him, even when it’s easier to doubt.

Lord, thanks for assuring us You’re with us. Please help us to be brave, as we seek You, obey You, and share You with every gift and every opportunity You’ve given us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Is God asking you to try something new, something hard, or something a little bit scary?

How can focusing on His faithfulness, His power, His grace, His goodness, and His constant presence make us brave, even when it’s easier to doubt?

I hope you’ll join me for my new blog series “Living Brave.” I look forward to drawing closer to God, trusting He’ll empower us to try those new things, hard things, and, yes, even those scary things as we serve Him and share Him with courageous faith.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Gina Latta Kelly.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Radical Forgiveness Requires Us to Accept God’s Forgiveness First

MEME - Forgiveness Frees the ForgiverThe first day I had the courage to step into a church, I came prepared for battle. Masking fear with my angry scowl, I shifted in my seat, picked my cuticles, and hoped no one would notice the too-huge-to-hide scars of my sinfulness.

As I heard the Gospel preached, the Lord patiently peeled back layers of my self-imposed guilt and shame. He knew my tender heart desperately needed His grace.

Still, I struggled. How could Christ, in all His perfection, forgive me for all the bad things I’d done, for all the times I’d rejected Him, for all the ways I’d hurt Him and others?

With loving gentleness, the Lord drew me deeper into His story.

The Father painted a perfect picture of mercy . . . Christ’s arms stretched wide, heart overflowing with undying and unconditional love for the very ones who hated Him.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

At first, I viewed God’s lovingkindness as a reason for me to hang my head in disgrace and stamp my passport with endless guilt trips.

I had no idea how to process or accept the completeness of God’s forgiveness possible through His grace.

I longed to feel forgiven.

But as I continued to focus on myself, I tightened the chains that bound me to guilt, shame, and feelings of unworthiness.

How could I forgive others when I hadn’t truly received God’s offer of forgiveness?

The Lord extended undeserved mercy, but I insisted on the self-imposed penance which hindered me from intimacy with Christ and others.

It wasn’t until I gazed closely at the cross that I began to realize that me being undeserving was the reason Christ offered forgiveness as a gift.

I didn’t have to, and couldn’t possibly, deserve it, earn it, buy it, or work it off with good deeds.

After I rejoiced and eventually received His priceless treasure of salvation, I understood why I couldn’t hold others under condemnation.

If I didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness, how could I demand others to deserve my forgiveness?

If I didn’t earn God’s grace, how could I insist others earn my grace?

If God didn’t force me to pay off my debt of sin with good works, how could I expect others to keep trying to make up for hurting me or others?

If God didn’t condemn me, why did I think I needed to live under the weight of guilt and shame after I’d repented, turned away from my sin, confessed and received His forgiveness?

King David racked up a list of sins when his idleness thrust him into a downward spiral into a pit of sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-4). Soon, the consequences of his sin couldn’t possibly be hidden (v. 5).

Instead of repenting, he dug a deeper ditch of deception that led to the murder of Bathsheba’s husband and the death of their son, who was conceived through their adultery (2 Samuel 11:6 to 12:19).

Though David begged God for mercy, he couldn’t choose the consequences of his sin, limit the reach of those consequences, or prevent more innocent people from suffering.

Yet, he didn’t blame God, either.

David couldn’t change the past or fix what he’d destroyed, but he could repent and worship the Lord he trusted.

The king did his best to comfort his grieving wife, refusing to nullify the power and extent of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness by clinging to guilt and shame (vv. 20-25).

David and Bathsheba accepted God’s forgiveness and forgave themselves, as well as one another (vv. 24-25).

“Forgiveness is worthless to us emotionally if we can’t forgive ourselves.” (Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall, p. 52)

Once we’ve received God’s forgiveness personally, accepting the completeness of His gift, the Holy Spirit can empower us to live in peace and freedom from guilt and shame.

Forgiveness frees the forgiver.

If we forgive as we’ve been forgiven, we won’t feel the need to shame our offenders or demand they feel guilty.

Radical forgiveness requires us to release our desire for punishment, which Kendall refers to as evidence of our own fear (p. 52).

But when we’re prone to making others feel bad when they’ve failed or hurt us, it may be a sign that we’re living in a cage of self-imposed condemnation.

Once we’ve repented and embraced the freedom of God’s forgiveness, we can experience the elation of being guiltless and loved by Christ, the hope of being saved and renewed by grace. We can begin to see our smallness in light of God’s majesty.

Repentance is an expression of gratitude and love for God and all He is and always will be.

If the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe loves and forgives us, who are we to hold ourselves or others under the wrath of guilt and shame?

Lord, thank You for the gift of forgiveness and grace that You offer freely and generously. Thanks for empowering us to repent and receive Your forgiveness, and in turn forgive others. Help us trust You to remain good, just, merciful, and loving to all. May You be glorified and Your power magnified, as You help us truly receive Your grace and extend grace to others as an expression of gratefulness and love for You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Radical Forgiveness Diminishes the Power of Hate

MEME - 1 John 4 v 20As I watched the news reports about the violent, racist attacks in Charlottesville with tears in my eyes, I cried out to the Lord.

I’d started my Radical Forgiveness series as I struggled to forgive a few people who had hurt me deeply but showed no remorse, a few others who minimized, justified, and excused their actions while continuing to wound my heart through their surface-apologies.

My personal problems seem so small today.

Yet, the Lord has perfectly timed this study to prepare me for the overwhelming emotions I’m processing as I witness hate infesting communities across the world, the riots in Virginia being one more checkmark on evil’s scorecard.

What are Christ followers to do in the wake of such senseless violence?

We can start by living up to the name we claim.

Christians are, by definition, Christ followers, empowered by the Holy Spirit who dwells within each believer and purposed to live as representatives of the King of Kings.

The Bible clearly states that God’s servants cannot claim to love Him while hating others.

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

The hatred and ignorance that instigated the racist terrorist acts of violence in Charlottesville stem from evil that cannot be minimized, justified, or ignored.

Christ does not condone hatred, racism, injustice, discrimination, or violence. Neither can we.

As Christ followers, we cannot be content with cowering in our comfort zones, hiding behind apathy, indifference, or approval through silence, in order to avoid conflict or criticism.

Faith in Christ should embolden us, empowering us to speak truth in love, with gentleness and respect.

As we place our hope in Christ, we can persevere in love, making a difference because our loving Lord did not give His life so that we could be indifferent.

Jesus Himself said that loving Him is synonymous to obeying Him. He also clearly declares the greatest commandment.

“Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Truly loving God results in Spirit-empowered obedience, which would make loving our neighbors our top priority.

This love requires us to pray for those who are hurting and those who hurt, to rely on God for guidance, wisdom, and strength, and to stand in unity against the evil that feeds racism, which is rooted in a false sense of superiority.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus affirms that indifference is sin. He commends the Good Samaritan for having mercy on his fellow man and commands His disciples to “go and do likewise” (v. 37).

Loving our neighbors is showing mercy, a commandment not an option, if we follow Christ.

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” (James 2:8-9)

Ambassadors of Christ can . . . must speak out against injustice with courageous faith.

Through forgiveness and unity, we can begin a wave of healing that begins within our homes and extends into our communities, in person and online.

Radical forgiveness diminishes the power of hate.

As we’ve explored over the last four weeks of this series, it’s important to understand what forgiveness is and isn’t, as we move toward healing in the power of Christ’s life-transforming love.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are intimate exchanges between us and God, requiring a process that doesn’t always lead to the restoration of relationship or guarantee an offender’s change of heart.

But as we pray for our offenders, asking God to overwhelm them with His life-transforming love, and yes . . . asking God to forgive them . . . we can be freed through forgiving, as we’ve been forgiven by Christ.

We can place the offenders in God’s trustworthy hands.

We can rely on God’s just and merciful love to work in and through the most painful circumstances, and even change the most hardened of hearts . . . just as He continues to change our often stubborn and hardened hearts through His loving grace.

Once the Lord helps us process our emotions and rise above resentment and bitterness, He can empower us to pray for those who persecute and hurt us, as we battle hate with love . . . knowing love prevails because God Himself is love.

Grief comes in waves, and the road toward change and healing will not be easy or short.

But as we stand together, we can celebrate the beautiful diversity of those God created and loves, even those who do not love Him.

Besides making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20), this is our mission, our purpose as Christ followers:

To pray continually and depend on the Lord completely, as we love Him and all people with our words and actions, regardless of how we differ or disagree in beliefs . . .

To love all people as Christ loves us, because He first loved us . . .

To love all people by speaking up and inciting peace as we refuse to tolerate or ignore any act of injustice, violence, hate, racism, or discrimination . . .

And yes, even by embracing radical forgiveness as we forgive those who have not yet been forever changed by the love of Christ.

Lord, thank You for loving us, forgiving us, and empowering us to love and forgive others.

As we watch the atrocities unfolding right before our eyes and grieve over the blatant hatred destroying lives, it is ever apparent that we cannot get through this without You, Lord.

Please help us place hate-filled offenders in Your hands, praying for them to be so impacted by Your love that they will be forever changed, like Paul, who once persecuted the Church then became a mighty advocate of love and forgiveness as He followed You and shared Your truth wherever You led him.

Yes, Lord, help us forgive first, so that we can be freed to make a difference in our world by refusing to be indifferent.

As we rest in the peace of Your constant presence, please empower us to seek peace, celebrate diversity as we stand in unity, and love selflessly and generously, like the Good Samaritan . . . all the days of our lives, starting today.

 In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken and used with permission by Begona Maier.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Radical Forgiveness is Possible

MEME - Radical Forgiveness Trusts God to Pour Out JusticeI started this blog series as an act of obedience and a search for guidance, discernment, courage, and healing. God’s been working in ways that haven’t led to paths I expected to walk.

I’ve chosen to forgive, though reconciliation wasn’t always possible.

I’ve forgiven offenders who continued to excuse and deny their wrong actions, who chose to cast blame rather than take responsibility for their hurtful behaviors.

Through my studies over the last few weeks, I’ve come to realize radical forgiveness is an intimate exchange between God and me that has nothing to do with my offender.

When I truly trust the Lord, I believe He will work all things out for the good of all who love Him . . . all . . . not just little ol’ selfish me.

“We all want mercy for ourselves but judgement for others.” (Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendall, p. 102)

The retribution principle‒demanding payback when wronged‒is evident in the psalms.

But Jesus turned that natural bend toward seeking vengeance upside down and inside out when He commanded us to pray for those who persecute us, to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.

Radical forgiveness requires us to go against our instinct and release the hurt and let God handle the judging and everything else.

When I first read the parable of the prodigal son, I ignored the part of the story that demonstrated the importance of letting go. I zeroed in on the running away, related to the wicked young man who demanded his inheritance because he wanted to gratify his sinful nature (Luke 15:11-16).

I’ve been there, not literally, but stuck in the mud and surrounded by the slop I’d created by my sinful choices.

Scripture says the son “came to his senses” and returned to his father, humbled and ready to repent. The image of the father running to his son exemplifies God’s grace in action (vv. 17-20).

I’ve been there, too, ready to repent and return to my heavenly Father. He met me with open arms. He didn’t shame me, demand explanations, or force me to live a life of penance.

So why do I and many others struggle with letting our offenders off the hook, even when they sincerely apologize?

When the prodigal son severed the ties with his family, his father let him go without trying to change his mind. Even though the father was hurt, he gave his son what he wanted and released him into his heavenly Father’s hands (v. 12).

Scripture says the father saw his son when he was “still a long way off” (vv. 20-21). He was looking out for him, waiting for him, probably praying for him, and most likely missing him.

Even though his child had wounds that needed healing, bad habits that needed breaking, behaviors and attitudes that needed changing, the father simply rejoiced in his son’s decision to return to his house and submit to his authority (vv. 21-24).

Without hesitation, the father wiped the slate clean and welcomed his wandering child back into his loving arms. The son hadn’t lost his place in the father’s heart or home (vv. 22-24).

Radical forgiveness. What a gift worth celebrating!

When we’re hurt by the poor decisions of others, especially when the offenders are people we care about, we often try to hold on, refusing to place them in God’s hands, which hurts more than helps.

Radical forgiveness often begins with letting go, giving God the chance to do the great work He has planned for us and our offenders.

As we discussed last week, reconciliation is not a requirement in a life devoted to radical forgiveness.

Sometimes it’s better and safer for us that relationships are severed, even if it’s just for a short period of time. Sometimes the prodigals don’t return. Sometimes the people who hurt us don’t repent. Sometimes offenders don’t seem to get the punishment we think they should receive.

Sometimes, we forget God’s sufficient grace is offered to all people because He wants none to perish.

It’s still hard for me to want forgiveness for those who commit atrocities against innocent people, especially children. But I’ve learned my responsibility and my ability to control don’t extend past my personal space. This boundary frees me to let God be God.

I don’t need to lose sleep when others hurt me or choose to remain in sin, because God will remain true to His Word and His character. He will make all things known and bring all things to account in His timing and in His way.

Radical forgiveness is trusting God to do what He promises, believing His grace is sufficient, and depending on the surety that His mercy and justice are His to pour out as He sees fit.

Yes, radical forgiveness is possible . . . because nothing is impossible with God.

Lord, thank You for loving us in our frailty, for giving us the courage and faith to trust You and rely on You, so we can experience the freedom of forgiveness, whether we need to forgive or we’re the ones who need forgiving. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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