Love’s Greatest Gift (A Prayer)

MEME - John 3 v 16 - Alan's Cross Photo - Crosswinds Church - Feb 2017(SUGGESTED READING – John 3:1-21)

Father God, there are no words grand enough to capture the depth of our gratitude for who You are and all You’ve done . . . all You’ve done for the sake of Your love for all the people You’ve created in Your image.

Sometimes it’s easy to minimize, or just not think about, the magnitude of what You did when You chose to put on flesh and dwell among us.

Thank You, Father, for sending Jesus−fully God and fully Man, born as a babe, grown to manhood, and now reigning as the Risen King and the only High Priest who understands everything we could possibly experience in our human frailty.

Thank You for the gift of Your Holy Spirit, He who dwells in us when we repent, surrender our lives and accepting Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior.

Too often, we ignore the Holy Spirit when He nudges us toward Your Word.

We shy from reflecting on the immensity of Your suffering from the moment Your beautiful holy feet touched this dusty earth You created . . . to the moment You ascended back to Your rightful Heavenly throne.

You willingly took our place on the cross, paying the cost for our sins of yesterday, today, and even tomorrow.

Your love endured the punishment meant for us−sinners in need of saving−as You loved even those who beat You, mocked You, spit on You, and hated You.

Forgive us for the moments we whisk past the Good News as if it’s old news, Lord.

You, Heavenly Father, gave Your only Son−Love’s greatest gift−so that those who believe in Him will have eternal life.

Please don’t let us ever forget that eternal life begins now, with the privilege of knowing You personally, interacting with You intimately, and living for You abundantly.

Please create new hearts in us, hearts that love the Light, that love Your Truth, that live to love others like You love . . . because You first loved us.

We are Your beloved ones, Lord.

Do what You will, Father, and help us trust Your enduring love . . . yesterday, today, and forever.

In Jesus’s name, Amen

—–

Photo taken by and used with permission from my amazing husband, Dr. W. A. Dixon, Sr.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

—–

Facebook Twitter Email

Are You Talking to Me?

MEME - John 4 v 14

(Suggested Reading: John 4:4-26)

A woman rejected, her reputation scorned, changed forever by a scandalous meeting and an unexpected showering of redemptive grace.

Not only does this describe my life before Christ, these are the puzzle pieces that make up one of the most extraordinary God encounters in the New Testament.

On His way back to Galilee, Jesus led the disciples through Samaria.

Samaria, the place condemned by prophets in the book of Hosea (7:1; 8:5-7).

Samaritans, a mixed race seeped in idolatry and despised by orthodox Jews.

So, naturally, Jesus decided to swing through Samaria and chose Jacob’s well as a perfect rest-stop.

Scripture says the disciples went for food.

Were they grumbling about having to associate with the people they grew up learning to hate, as the Lord sat by the well, waiting to rock the politically correct boat?

The Bible says when the Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well, Jesus asked her for a drink (v. 7).

Wait. What?

Though first-century Jewish tradition considered women less-than and Samaritans were quite a few notches below less-than (v. 9), the attitudes of others didn’t affect Jesus.

He chose this particular woman for this particular encounter, knowing she also wore a badge of disdain stitched by a string of bad choices.

Her surprise at Jesus’s request resounded with each syllable.

She raised an eyebrow, adjusted the bucket on her hip, and rolled her neck as she spurted each syllable with a sarcastic tone: “Are you talking to me?” (XST, Xochitl’s Street Translation:)

What she actually said: “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (v. 9)

This woman’s armor held strong, though dented and dinged by past judgements and labels she’d accepted as her personal present-truth.

Did her shield of confidence hide a fear of being condemned again, for the past she couldn’t change?

Was she afraid this stranger would find out what her community wouldn’t let her forget?

I picture a gentle, but sad smile on the Lord’s face as He shakes His head slowly. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (v. 10)

Although Scripture doesn’t record her actions, I imagine this sister narrowing her eyes as she focused on what she could see, what made sense, what she could prove.

The man had nothing to draw water from the well.

How could Jesus offer her anything she couldn’t get for herself?

Talk about a great example of the insanity that we call self-help.

How many times have I insisted I could do what only God can do?

How many times have I determined this time would be different, if only I had more faith, if only I tried harder or made better choices, if only I denied my past, fixed myself, or changed my circumstances?

How often have I depended on my own abilities and strength, only to come up wanting more, wanting something different, or being stuck in the endless cycle of wanting something else as I search for satisfaction?

After Jesus whet the Samaritan woman’s appetite with the promise of eternal life (v. 13), He established His power was like none she’d ever imagined (vv. 15-18).

Still, she slipped back into the comfort of her limited knowledge (v. 19-20).

What happened when Jesus opened the horizon before her and allowed her to taste the sweetness of possibility (vv. 21-24)?

Our Samaritan sister lifted her chin in shaky rebellion. “I know. I know,” she said, desperately clutching to blurred expectations of God. She clung to the familiar suitcases stuffed with her past sins and the opinions of others, the judgements she’d grown accustomed to claiming as her true identity. (XST)

Hope requires risking disappointment, accepting rejection, and often surrendering our will because we dare to trust the goodness and faithfulness of the Giver.

Doubt paves a safe trail, a worn path that circles our fears and insecurities, like scavenging buzzards waiting to devour any thought that dares entertain the possibilities of that something more that would finally be enough.

What the Samaritan woman knew, or thought she knew, would feel safer than being stretched beyond the realm of her understanding.

So her actual talk-to-the-hand response, according to Scripture, was: “I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” (v. 25)

From other encounters recorded in the Bible, it’s not hard for me to imagine Jesus leaning toward the woman, lowering His voice, and placing His hand over the knuckled grip that secured her empty bucket.

Each syllable flowed from His mouth refreshing her parched heart.

“I who speak to you am he.” (v. 26)

Inhale. Exhale.

Could Jesus be the One she’d been waiting for, the hope, the peace, the way, the truth, and the life she’d been seeking for so long?

Jesus made time for her. He listened to her, cared about her. He extended grace and accepted her, even though He knew everything about her.

Jesus offered to give more than she deserved or even dared to dream of asking for, instead of take-take-taking from her.

The Lord loved her enough to reveal Himself to her, personally, intimately. And then, He used her to reach others, to spread His love and truth, to lead others to Him.

He wants to do the same for us.

No matter what our past holds. No matter what our present situation. Jesus invites us to drink deep of His compassion, His unconditional love, grace, peace, and forgiveness.

Jesus accepts us as we are, but through intimate love-encounters He transforms us into someone new.

When the Lord speaks to us through His Word, He illuminates His truth through His Spirit. He helps us interpret those words in the context in which He presented them, showing us how His truth applies to this life He’s entrusted to us.

As we prayerfully receive the God-breathed words of Scripture, we can believe the Lord is definitely talking to us.

Lord, please help us believe what You say over what we think, or what others think about us. Help us hear You clearly, believe You completely, and heed You courageously all the days of our lives. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

—-

Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon. The handsome model is my amazing husband. God has been good to us!

—–

Facebook Twitter Email

Get ‘er Done? Or Get Closer to God?

MEME - John 3 v 21

(Suggested Reading: John 3:1-21)

Last year, I invited women to join me in reading through the Bible in a year, something I’ve enjoyed doing since 2005. But when health complications impacted my energy levels, I had to make some changes.

After much prayer, God showered me with peace. Accepting my slower-than-a-tortoise pace, I started savoring each God-breathed word in Scripture by highlighting key words and phrases.

I focused on words I hadn’t realized I’d skimmed over, due to my familiarity with the text. And when I read one of the verses I’d memorized years ago, the emphasis I discovered as I highlighted the words brought me to tears:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV, emphasis mine)

How had I gotten to the point where these words landed with a thud in the empty well of my heart?

How had I forgotten the sacrificial pain endured by the One who died for me, rose for me, lives for me, as He forever guarantees my eternity in the presence of His loving grace?

When did I start focusing on slurping up the words of Scripture, instead of spending time with the Person who reveals Himself to me and affirms His love for me through each God-breathed syllable?

I’m not the first person in history, and probably won’t be the last, who has confused knowing Bible verses with knowing God intimately and personally receiving Him as ultimate Lord and redeeming Savior.

As a Pharisee, Nicodemus would have prided himself in memorizing the Scriptures. But his late night venture demonstrated a longing for more.

Proudly familiar with the Scriptures, Nicodemus came to Jesus cloaked by darkness and carrying a bag full of assumptions.

“Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2, emphasis mine)

Minimizing Jesus’s identity blocked Nicodemus from seeing that only God in the flesh could perform those miraculous signs that perked his interest.

The fulfillment of all those Old Testament prophecies pointed straight to Jesus as Messiah.

Still, Nicodemus clung to false-understanding.

It’s easier to believe what we think we know, what feels safer to say out loud, what doesn’t set us up for risking rejection, heartbreak, or the need to admit we need change.

But Jesus led this seeker to the familiar Scriptures that circled right back to the One who stood before Him.

Jesus didn’t stutter when He said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up . . .” (v. 14, emphasis mine)

Nicodemus had the story of Moses tucked into his bag of Bible knowledge. He could probably recite the verses backwards, with a smug smirk on his face.

But could it be true “. . . that everyone who believes in [Jesus] may have eternal life” (v. 15)?

Could Jesus referring to what happened with Moses and the Israelites in the desert, mean that He confirmed God’s plan was put in place before the beginning of time?

Could God love the world so much that He acknowledged all people deserved death and earned wrath, but still chose to offer the priceless gift of forgiveness through repentance and freedom through Christ, resulting in eternal life?

Yes. Yes. And, by God’s endless grace, Yes.

“But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (v. 21)

God saves us, because there is no way we can save ourselves.

The Father never altered His original plan as He paved the way for the Spirit to connect the dots that led to Jesus as the awaited Messiah and Savior of the world.

Death never stopped being a requirement for life to be received through the Risen King, our living and loving God.

Even today, in a world where evil glorifies people shrouded by sin, death remains a required part of the deal.

Death of self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, self-reliance, and self-centeredness. Death of our sinful nature.

As we foolishly grieve over the death of these things that prevent us from experiencing an abundant life in Christ, God faithfully waits for us to seek Him, to know Him, to love Him.

Like Nicodemus, we can become so familiar with Scripture that we miss getting to know the only One to whom Scripture reveals as the Savior this world desperately needs−Jesus.

Skimming through the Bible or neglecting the daily reading of Scripture, we risk missing out on the big picture God paints through His whole story.

Some important words can fall through the cracks when we dash through assigned readings in a foolish rush to get ‘er done, instead of to get closer to God.

But if we approach Scripture as living and active, asking the Holy Spirit to shed the light of understanding on each and every God-breathed word of truth, our personal love-encounters with Christ will changes us forever.

Lord, thank You for knowing us and inviting us to know You more. Please help us approach prayer and Bible reading as an opportunity to meet You face-to-face and bask in Your constant presence with absolute wonder, grateful praise, and a complete willingness to submit to Your authority in courageous obedience. In Jesus’s name, amen

—–

How does your approach to Bible reading change when you focus more on getting to know God instead of getting ‘er done?

—–

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

—–

 

Facebook Twitter Email

Do You Want to Get Well?

meme-psalm-6-vv-2-3

(Suggested Reading: John 5:1-14)

During my last procedure, medical assistants in blue smocks, shoe coverings, and caps bustled around the pre-op room as one of my favorite nurses led me to the middle of three gurneys. “I’ll bring you a warm blanket.” She handed me an open-back gown and clutched a fistful of curtain. Metal rings scraped on the metal bar as she swooshed the fabric walls closed.

Soft moans confirmed the pain of the patient in the make-shift room next to me. I understood how one wrong move could cause a flood of tears.

I prayed for my medical team and thanked God for the prayer warriors who were interceding for me through social media. I prayed for the hurting stranger on the other side of my curtained shack.

There have been days during my healing journey that I praised God for using my experiences to give me deeper insight and genuine compassion toward others who were hurting. There have also been days I begged the Lord for relief from chronic pain, for an end to my suffering.

I’ve cried out the prayer of David: “Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?” (Psalm 6:2-3, NIV)

I’m writing this post as I recover from one of the worst pain days I’ve had in months. Jesus’s words brush against my tear-stained cheeks.

“Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6b)

The Lord was addressing a man too sick to care for himself for almost four decades.

Four decades.

That man must have begged for relief. He might have cried for mercy. He may have wondered if it would be easier to give up.

So, why did Jesus ask if the man wanted to get well?

If this man didn’t want healing, he wouldn’t have been waiting at the pool near the Sheep Gate. He must have known he would never be the first one to the water with no one to help him. His wait must have felt useless and lonely.

Still, though clearly focused on his lack of resources and strength, the hurting one clung to a fraying thread of hope and waited on the Lord.

Would healing come today?

Jesus, in His all-knowing love, knew the man’s road to wellness wasn’t going to end near the Sheep Gate. The Lord reveals a bigger plan when He encounters the man at the temple in verses 14-15.

“See, you are well again.” (v. 14)

The man wasn’t always afflicted.

“Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (v. 14)

Some may suggest this statement confirms the man’s sin nature caused his suffering. But as we read Scripture, we’re assured God doesn’t punish His beloved children for sport. In these words, I recognize the same invitation the Lord has extended to me, the invitation He extends to all people.

Stop sinning. Obey Him, which translates plainly to love God. What is the something worse that may happen? Eternity separated from God.

Jesus gave the man a reason to believe without a doubt, a miracle that touched close to home, and then invited him to enter an intimate, committed relationship.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

The journey toward this man’s wellness required a first step of faith, so the Messiah said to the man, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

Get up! Believe. Take action.

Pick up your mat. Don’t forget past experiences, but accept the freedom God has granted.

Walk. Move forward. Believe the Lord with ongoing confidence and persevering faith.

The man responded to Jesus in loving obedience.

Christ could have chosen to say yes to a partial healing, and even no to healing on this side of eternity, but He chose to say yes to this man’s miraculous and immediate healing.

Because my Creator and Savior is God, He has the right to determine how He answers my prayers as I follow Him in loving obedience.

Knowing this truth doesn’t mean the wait goes without struggle, though.

Sometimes, I need to process through complete melt-downs, whining pity-parties, and full-blown-on-the-ground-face-down-sob-prayers.

As God’s Spirit kneads His truth into my mind, His Word affirms His deep love, His constant and mighty presence.

I hear the question Jesus asked the man as a personal invitation.

Do I want to get well?

Well (hygiē), meaning “healthy, sound, cured, freed.”

Do I want to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually well, even if my God-ordained steps toward healing include long-suffering?

The path toward wellness begins with a personal encounter with Jesus, and leads to His call for loving obedience through faith.

As Christ followers, our primary goal is holiness, which often requires traveling through painful valleys. But by God’s incredible grace, we don’t have to feel as alone as the man by the Sheep Gate.

When Jesus stirs our hearts and asks if we want to get well, we can answer yes.

We can rely on His timing and rest in the goodness of His character, as we rejoice in the perfection of His plan.

And, we can reach out to others and receive the support of His people, physically and through the priceless gift of intercessory prayer.

Lord, thanks for reminding us You are always with us, always working, and always enough. Your grace penetrates through the moments when weariness and discouragement overwhelm us in the wait. Please help us submit to Your purpose and Your plan, even when we can’t see the hope around the bend. In Jesus’s name, Amen

—–

How do you feel when God doesn’t choose to bless you or someone you love with healing or pain relief?

How does the Lord comfort you during the wait?

—–

Photo taken and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon

—–

Facebook Twitter Email

Discovering a Miracle for Christmas

meme-john-2-v-11

(Suggested Reading: John 2:1-11)

After another week of suffering with chronic pain, the Christmas lights on our tree didn’t seem to twinkle as bright as I thought they should. I recounted the year I’d spent battling health issues, dealing with broken relationships, praying for hurting loved ones, and wondering how God would meet our financial needs when the numbers didn’t seem to add up.

I focused on the unpredictable waves of my circumstances and sank deeper into discontent, discouragement, and despair. My weary heart begged for deliverance, a breakthrough, or at least a break.

During a fuss-my-way-to-submission prayer, I asked God to forgive me for succumbing to pessimism. I needed a miracle to shift my attitude, so I went to the source of my hope−Jesus.

As I read the historical account of the Lord’s first miracle−turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana−its familiarity tempted me to skim through the God-breathed verses. I almost missed the five faith-building truths revealed in the details.

  1. Surrender paves the way for God to move in miraculous ways. (John 2:1)

Mary’s response resounded with assurance when Jesus denied her request. She could have demanded her way or fussed about His answer. Instead, she accepted His words and trusted Him to do what He thought best. Confidence blanketed her tone as she encouraged the servants to simply obey Jesus.

  1. God uses the ordinary to perform extraordinary and intimate miracles. (v. 6)

Jesus chose to use the six common water jars that were already being used at the banquet. He transformed plain water into high quality wine. He invited the servants to witness His power in the middle of their average work day. Through this miracle in the midst of the mundane, the Lord blessed the unspectacular servants who were willing to trust and believe.

  1. Obedience prepares us to recognize God’s wondrous works. (v. 7-8)

When the servants followed Jesus’s instructions, they claimed front row seats to witness His power in action. Their quick submission displayed a willingness to believe in Jesus. They obeyed and waited expectantly. They didn’t try to figure out what Jesus would do, or tell Him what they thought He should do. They simply followed His instructions and remained at the ready. And they weren’t disappointed.

  1. Miracles reveal Jesus’s personal touches that often go unnoticed. (v. 9-10)

The master of the banquet failed to recognize the miracle that happened right before his eyes. I don’t judge him, because I know how easy it is to minimize the wondrous works God accomplishes through prayer closets. I know how easy it is to ignore the extraordinary moments God shows up in the ordinary days that make up the transformed life of a Christ follower. Those intimate exchanges when the Lord intervenes in our lives don’t often make the front page news, but each one is a miracle of His power, His love, His mercy, and His grace.

  1. Miracles are evidence of our living God’s active role in our lives. (v. 11)

The disciples placed their faith in Jesus when He demonstrated His glory, His majesty, His splendor, His divine might in action. They didn’t demean the Lord by placing expectations on Him. Instead, they encountered His majesty face-to-face and responded by making life-transforming decisions to trust Him by following Him in bold faith.

Though the Messiah’s first miracle wasn’t a life-shattering or life-altering event, we tend to expect modern day miracles to be extravagant displays of His power.

A miracle is simply defined as an effect or event “considered as a work of God.”

Through our trials and through the moments when things are going so well that we’re tempted to be bored or ungrateful for God’s peace and provision, we can be sure the Lord intentionally orchestrates events according to His perfect plan. He knows how we’ll respond in our given circumstances and is ready to use those responses for His eternal glory.

Even when we refuse to acknowledge Him, the Creator of the world, Almighty King and Savior, Redeemer and Provider, our Deliverer and Good Shepherd invites us to accept His love and forgiveness.

The miracle of Jesus didn’t start or end in a manger. From the beginning of time, Jesus was and is and always will be Emmanuel−God with us.

No matter what our current circumstances may be, our Lord Jesus Christ remains constantly present and consistently involved in our lives−that is and always will be a miracle worth celebrating on Christmas and every day.

Lord, thank You for the opportunity to celebrate You this Christmas. Please help us recognize Your fingerprints evidencing Your work in our lives. Give us confidence in Your abilities, as You empower us to trust Your motives. Please help us live with courageous obedience to Your Word, as we wait expectantly to see Your miraculous works in and through the ordinary days of our lives. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

—–

How have you seen God miraculously working in and through your life over the last year?

—–

Photo taken by and used with permission from Begona Maier.

Meme created by X. E. Dixon

—–

Facebook Twitter Email

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

—–

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.

—–

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

Meme Created by X. E. Dixon

—–

Facebook Twitter Email

The Law in Jesus’s Hands is Love

meme-1-john-5-v-3

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.

—–

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?

—–

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

—–

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.

—–

Works Cited

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

—–

Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon

—–

Facebook Twitter Email

Believing and Receiving

meme-john-1-10

“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

—–

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?

—–

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.

—–

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

—–

Facebook Twitter Email

A Witness to the Light

meme-john-1-v-8-photo-by-cynthia-ruchti

“There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:6-9, NIV)

I’d done it again. I’d failed to be a good witness testifying about “the Light” who had given me a new life, a life that proved no one was out of God’s loving reach.

Why should God keep welcoming me into His grace when I couldn’t always tame my ornery tongue? Why should the Lord give me more opportunities to serve Him when I struggled with controlling my temper, holding onto bitterness or unforgiveness, or slipping into old sinful attitudes?

Why? Because receiving God’s love and grace don’t depend on my earning ability.

I’m not the one people are supposed to be focused on. I’m not the one who began God’s good work in me. I certainly can’t be trusted with the ongoing process of changing my life so that I will reflect Christ.

I can’t change myself, or anyone else.

This truth becomes more evident and freeing the more I learn about God’s incredible love and grace, the more I surrender to His Spirit, and the more my Life Changer corrects my thinking and surprises me by helping me obey Him, a little bit more each day, even when my first response is to be stubborn, selfish, or self-reliant.

Determined to give God glory for what He’s done and is doing in and through my life, I long to point to Him without trying to run away from the testimony He’s given me, without trying to hide my failings or deny my weaknesses.

I have a new life in Christ and I want the world to know His hope is accessible to all who believe, all who repent and turn away from sin, all who confess Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.

As I ask God to help me be a bold witness for Christ, I look to the apostle John who shares the story about John the Baptist, a man chosen and devoted to pointing people to Christ, the Messiah.

When I think of witnesses, I picture people who see something and share the details of what they saw with others. But the Greek word used in this verse is the same word from which martyr is derived. Martyria is a noun that means testimony and evidence.

In this New Testament context, to be a witness to the Light seems to require a personal encounter and sacrifice, not a second-hand description of an event that doesn’t impact the storyteller on an intimate level.

It’s clear John the Baptist had a defined purpose, too, a purpose shared by all followers of Christ. He testified “concerning the light, so that through him all might believe” (John 1:7, emphasis mine).

The Greek word used in John 1:7 incites a deep commitment.

Pisteuō means “to put one’s faith in, to trust with an implication that actions based on that trust may follow” (Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance, emphasis mine).

Christ followers are called to action, to live like we believe what God says in His Holy Word.

But first, we must personally submit to the authority of the “true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:8).

The moment we profess Jesus as Lord, repent and turn away from our sins, and receive Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, every believer is given the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Through Him, we will be able to live by the power of the Spirit and attest to the Light, who is and always will be Jesus.

Unfortunately, we often choose not to tap into God’s power in us.

It feels less risky, less weird, and certainly more acceptable and comfortable to rely on our own strength instead of God’s supernatural strength.

It seems more reasonable to muster up our will power and try to make changes in our thinking patterns, or to make better choices.

But eliciting our own life-transformation sabotages our relationship with God by sucking us into an insane cycle of self-destruction, aka self-help.

That crazy-train-to-nowhere-good thinking deceives us into believing we have the power to change ourselves by ourselves, if only we just try harder or work smarter, if only we muster up more than one mustard seed of faith, if only we use the “right words” in prayer or surround ourselves with the right people.

But when we admit the depth of our need for Christ, not just for the promise of eternal life but to live as His ambassadors and join His work each and every day on this side of eternity, we can invite Him to change us forever.

The Holy Spirit will help us trust God’s unchanging character, so that we can believe every God-breathed Word of Scripture taken within the context of His whole story.

Faith sprouts from our testimony, as we boldly share evidence of God’s grace in our lives, proof that we can be confident in God’s abilities, motives, faithfulness, and boundless love for us.

When we bow down in reverence to our Lord, admitting our weaknesses and accepting our total dependence on Him, He is the One who raises us up.

He cinches us to hope in this world until we meet Him face-to-face in eternity.

Through the Holy Spirit’s life-transforming power, we can submit to Him with loving obedience and live as His witnesses, His representatives, His worshippers, His servants, and His beloved children.

We can keep right on pointing to Jesus, grateful that our salvation and our success as His witnesses are not dependent on our strengths or weaknesses, but on His power, His goodness, and His endless love and grace.

Hallelujah!

Lord, thank You for assuring us that we can’t possibly do Your job. Please help us allow You to be our Savior, instead of trying to save ourselves or others. Help us share the ways You’re working in and through the ordinary and extraordinary moments that make up our testimony, so that You can magnify the power of Your Holy Name. Thank You for the peace and hope that come from knowing we can do nothing apart from You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

—–

Why is it is sometimes difficult to admit our total need for Christ?

How has God used someone else’s testimony to help you believe in Him and His life-changing power?

—–

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 “Believing and Receiving.” Together, we can continue to ask God to meet us where we are and transform us from head to heart.

—–

MEME created by Xochitl E. Dixon with photo taken by and used with permission by author and speaker Cynthia Ruchti.

—–

Facebook Twitter Email

Life in the Word

 

MEME - John 1 v. 4

Tears streaked my cheeks as my husband drove me home. I tuned out his words of encouragement, struggling to swallow the discussion we’d just had with my doctor. Slipping deeper into a pit of discouragement, I offered my spouse a chance to opt out. He hadn’t signed up for a lifetime of caregiving. And that’s exactly what I could be facing.

Four years after my doctor diagnosed an injury in my upper thoracic back that originally occurred in 1992, years of over compensation resulted in damage to both shoulders and my neck. After multiple procedures and multiple “second opinions,” the doctors suggested a string of procedures to help manage pain. Nothing more, at this time.

Though my mobility has improved over the last four years, and I’m able to serve God through writing (Hallelujah!), during that drive home my hope lost its foundation.

I focused on dashed hopes for a cure, the risks in surgery outweighing the possibility of relief, facing the fact that this could be my life.

I didn’t like it. At all.

My husband comforted me until he had to leave for work, leaving me alone to process the stages of grief.

I processed like a psalmist.

I cried, pouted, pleaded for mercy. I asked God why, how long, and even begged Him to take me home.

I continued to throw a hissy fit, snuggling up with self-pity and drowning in despair. But by His wonderful grace, the Lord waited patiently.

The Holy Spirit tugged on my heart, gently turning my focus from the god of comfort to my God and Creator.

When I finally opened my Bible, prayerfully seeking to meet my Lord face-to-face in the Gospel of John as a string of praise and worship songs played in the background, God wrapped me in His truth.

Jesus is the Word (John 1:1).

“In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:4-5).

In Jesus was zōē, both physical and spiritual life.

In him . . .” Not apart from Him, beside Him, or around Him.

Jesus is the life, the source of life, the maker and sustainer of life, not just an example of the way Christians should live.

There is no life apart from Him.

Yet, I pouted.

I allowed the possibility of living with chronic pain to determine the value of my life.

I failed to acknowledge that the quality of my life is not, and never will be, determined by my circumstances or my feelings.

I forgot that, as a follower of Christ, the life I should desire is rooted in Christ, devoted to Christ, purposed for Christ, and abundant through Christ.

“. . . and that life was the light of men.”

My life in Christ, by His power and mercy, could be a light for others, a shining example of hope for others.

Why? How?

Because my hope remains secure in the Light of the World, even as I process my emotions and endure the sufferings and afflictions that can affect life on this side of eternity.

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: ‘God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.’” (1 John 1:5-7, NIV)

My sin had me walking in darkness. My sins?

Pride and idolatry.

Pride, thinking God owed me comfort and relief.

Idolatry, placing my wants over God’s purpose.

Pride, believing I deserved a life without suffering.

Idolatry, believing a good God would never allow me, his precious daughter, to endure pain.

Pride, actually believing my measure of faith is based on my power, or that my ability or inability to trust Him could ever determine God’s limitless power and abilities.

When I allow pride and idolatry to lead me, I live as if God’s goodness is determined through how many times I get my way, or how often He saves me from pain, grief, struggle, and even the consequences of my own sins.

I had been treating God like a vending machine, a tool to make me happy or satisfy my flesh, a servant I called Father, only if I could manipulate Him to get my way.

I’m so sorry, Lord!

Our loving God weeps with us when we grieve (John 11:35). He empowers us to live with an eternal perspective (John 16:33). He wants us to know Him, intimately, so we can trust Him implicitly (John 17:26). He is able to do above and beyond all we can ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

But His purposes do not revolve around our desire for instant gratification or pain-free existence on this side of eternity.

He loves all of His children. His plan includes all of His children. We are interdependent and totally dependent on Him.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

I can hardly wait to explore more about His purpose, and how we all play special parts in His perfect plan, as we continue to seek Jesus face-to-face through eyes of John−the disciple He loved.

When I started this series a couple of weeks ago, I never imagined the Lord would be using it to carry me through another tough season of transition. I know God can heal me in an instant. I also know He’s good and faithful and worthy of all my praise, even if He chooses not to heal me on this side of eternity.

I just needed the reminder that there is no way our suffering could ever compare to what Christ suffered on the cross for those He loved, for those He called to become children of God.

Yet, in the midst of suffering and affliction, it’s so easy to take our eyes off the Light and give darkness too much attention, too much credit, too much power.

All things were made through Jesus and by Jesus and for Jesus (John 1:3), so we can trust all things have been purposed for God’s glory, including our times of obscurity.

When we’re tempted to fall apart or give up, the Light of Christ seeps into our circumstances and destroys the darkness that threatens to overtake us, if we allow Him to do His work His way and for His glory.

When we see through the light of His perfect love, even in our most painful seasons, we can look beyond ourselves, beyond our current circumstances, beyond our fickle feelings, and beyond our sinful tendencies to place self on the throne of our lives instead of allowing God to reign.

As we share His love and His truth, Jesus shines in us and through us. We can support and encourage one another, experiencing the beautiful ways His Light becomes the light of men.

Yes, even when life hurts, even as we process like I’m still doing, Jesus−the Light of the World−illuminates our minds and secures our way, because He is and always will be The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

Hallelujah!

Lord, thank You for loving us, guiding our steps, and fueling our faith with the light of Your truth. Please help us live in You, with You, and for You, in and through all circumstances, fully dependent on You and devoted to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen

REFLECTION:

Why is it often hard to accept personal suffering as a part of God’s loving plan, even though Jesus Himself chose to suffer so that He could give us Life in Him?

 

—–

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 “A Witness to the Light,” asking God to meet us face to face and transform us from head to heart.

—–

If you’re new to the series and would like to see what God has been doing, please join me for “The Invitation.” I look forward to growing with you.

—–

Facebook Twitter Email