Loving Well…A Continuous Call

Last weekend I attended the wedding of a friend. As each marriage between two followers of Christ should purposefully pursue, she and her husband have the desire to have a union that honors both God and each other. It is our call to continuously and increasingly desire the same, to intentionally seek after that pursuit, and to love well in the face of life as we expect it as well as life with its unexpected twists and turns.

It takes being deliberate about our choices personally and with our spouse, tenaciously choosing to submit to the Lord which includes loving and respecting our spouse more than we love ourselves and our own desires.

It’s one of the things I enjoy about going to weddings where I know the vows taken and the challenges given to the bride and groom are based on God’s Word; that I might continuously be encouraged and challenged in my own marriage. One thing Paul David Tripp has written in his book, “What Did You Expect?” is that many marriages that have lasted for years often forget the need to be intentional about nurturing – not just time spent with each other, which is vitally important as able; but also about heart issues – honest conversations, growing in grace, truthfully but kindly speaking to one another, among other things.

Tripp also reminds that every marriage needs “radical commitments” and the “regular rescue of grace” for the minor grievances and the major wounds. That doesn’t allow us to act badly or sinfully so grace will abound, but grace is needed to choose well and to rescue our stubborn but (hopefully) repentant hearts when we don’t.

Whether you are not yet married, have been married a short time or a lengthy one, we are all to be “mutually encouraging one another” to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” And our marriages, even more, are to be a reflection of the grace of God, the power of God, and the love of God.

As I listened from the balcony where I was taking some photographs for her, I was compelled to pick up my phone and write down some of the encouragements and challenges given by one of the pastors performing the ceremony. In light of Tripp’s book and my last blog, “The Dance,” I decided to share them here on my blog.

We never expect to “disrupt our dance” and, hopefully, neither do most brides and grooms so it is good to come back to the heart of the marriage vows again and again, good to come back to the heart of God for a man and woman making covenant vows and becoming one.

May these words of great joy be used by the Lord for you! (Where he used their names, I have replaced them with husband/wife, bride/groom)

It is evident you stand here in love with and in the joy of one another! Continue in that love and joy in the days ahead – the easy and the hard, the strong and the weak, and in those moments of temptation…

Guard and protect each other fiercely. Don’t trust yourself; keep your eyes on the Lord and His ways for your marriage. When you hit a conflict or wound each other, run to the Savior and work and walk through it in prayer…together. Don’t attempt to handle temptations, fears, and wounds alone; God did not intend for that – He gave you each other.

Be willing to dream and live for the desire to see your marriage be all God designed for marriage in general, your marriage specifically, and watch it grow (sometimes even through the hardest of circumstances).   Dare to believe He will do it in the two of you as you stand firm and are two who speak truth to each other and are quick to say “I’m sorry” (and mean it) and “I forgive you.”

Be intentional not to let hope and great expectations lessen. Honor God through your marriage in every way when you are together and apart, in public and in secret.

I now charge you both as husband and wife – but know that each charge can and should be applied to the other.

I charge you, as the husband:

-“Praise the Lord for all who fear God are blessed beyond expression, they find great delight in His commands!” (Psalm 112:1)

The beauty of your bride should call you to see the beauty of God and to listen to Him. Do not miss that beauty nor cover her beauty with your own sinful passions and so cover the glory of God.

Listen well to the Savior out of love for God and gain praise for His glory especially in the eyes of your bride.  Listen to God; don’t close your heart and mind to Him and to His truth. The increase of His glory and your delight will happen as you listen, act, and grow.

 -Darkness will fight to gain control of your heart that you might sin against her. Fight it in the power of the Holy Spirit; He is already yours in Christ and we have everything we need to fight and flee if necessary, but we have to do it; He won’t pluck us out. It’s our responsibility to put a guard on our mouths, our hands, our eyes, and our mind.

When you fail each other, sin against the other – learn to say “I’m sorry” out of true sorrow not a desire to get out of “trouble.” Learn to resolve conflict without dismissing the other. Give and receive grace freely.

You are each less than perfect so you need to FIGHT to keep light in your marriage – the light of truth, the light of grace, the light that keeps us from going down a dark path of sin and then secrecy, some of which will continue to damage as it is kept in the dark.

Your marriage is to be a reflection of the light of grace; she deserves to feel safe and secure with you!

 -“Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.” (Psalm 112:8)

Fight foes, of all kinds, together. Don’t try to fight your temptations, your fears, your concerns on your own. The Lord has given you a bride, a helpmate, an accountability partner. Let her be that and you be that for her as well; be her warrior and give her the freedom to be vulnerable and to share her concerns without critical pushback taking care not to build walls of prideful secrecy.

Instead, see how God wants to speak to you through your bride. Her differences are an expression of the mystery of God, the wonder. Learn to appreciate who she is; don’t let the differences become a stumbling block or an area of contention or frustration.

 -“They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” (Psalm 112:7)

Every day is an invitation to worry; don’t give in to that invitation. Take yourself and your bride to the cross, minute by minute and day by day!

The opposite of love is not hate but fear. Fear will wound love at best, kill it at worst. Be courageous in giving her a safe place. At various times, each will need to be the anchor of faith, stability, and confidence for the other – as the leader and as the helpmate. 

-“They give generously to those in need…” (Psalm 112:9)

Yes, be a marriage that sees the needs of others and, together, provides for them as able. Serve well together as opportunities arise where God has place you.

But also, be generous in your love for your wife! Be quick to protect her in every way – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Speak well of her in public and to yourself. Guard her dignity in public and private. Guard yourself when alone and, in such a way, cherish her.

 A Charge to the Wife

-You will not be the perfect Proverbs 31 wife, but in every way, determine to pursue it deliberately. “If you find a truly good wife, she is worth more than all the jewels” (and everything that “sparkles”). (v 10)

Help your husband to be all God desires Him to be. He needs your nurture and your care, your prayers and your encouragement. Helping your husband will cost you your life but will help your husband to be the leader God desires and intends.

Let him have full confidence in you and bring him good not harm all the days of your life. Let him have no reason to lack confidence in your faithful, respectful love. (v. 11)

Be clothed with strength and dignity, able to see the best in him and in the days ahead even when he struggles to see either. (v. 25)

Be a listener, a forgiver but also act and speak wisely; be compassionate. (v. 26)

Above all fear God and trust Him to work in your marriage and to change you and your husband. (v.30)

 -Trust God for your marriage.

Trusting God will be the measure of God’s work in your life. Trust God to fulfill and complete the good work He began in each of you and in your marriage. Trust God to fulfill the dreams you have for your marriage on this your wedding day (don’t forget those dreams, those desires, those vows).

 -Express your thoughts and desires, your fears and concerns!

Your husband will learn much from you (and vice versa) when each listens in humility and has an increasing desire to grow. But speak with humility as well and, as you express concerns and fears, do so in a way that reveals the heart of love. Caustic criticism will destroy the heart so be assertive in sharing what you need to but do so with gentleness and respect. Some things may be hard to share and hard to receive but Proverbs 31:26 says that when she speaks, her words are wise. Choose your words carefully.

-Be wise in establishing your home. Be used by God to bring direction to your husband your family.

Let your gifts be used with wisdom as you give your heart to your husband. Time with God alone in His Word and prayer will enhance your love for the Lord and so for your groom (and time with God alone in His Word and prayer, husband, will enhance your love for the Lord and so for your bride).

– Love your husband in a way that enhances his strength and courage. Love in a way that encourages him to love Jesus well.

There will be times he will feel weak; take him to the Lord daily, even more so in his hardest times.  Let him know you are beside him and love him well even when your own eyes can’t “see” and your strength is “small.”  Let him draw strength and  courage from you as you receive strength and courage from our Savior.

Again, let both hear the charges and apply them to yourselves as well as your spouse. Commit to love and protect each other. Commit to growing in grace. Commit to Jesus being the only firm foundation for marriage – everything else is shifting sand. Keep that foundation firm by keeping your eyes and your hearts on Him.

 

The Dance

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If you are married, you were born to dance. Not the “every man for himself” bobbing up and down with no purpose, running into whoever is in close proximity, roaming through the room with multiple dance partners in your view, but the steady, seamless cadence of being in step and moving as one.

You were born to dance in time with the one you love. When you dance in such a way, it is exhilarating; far better than the exhaustion that comes from dancing out of step.

Yes, we were born to dance but also to run the race. Not to win as in competing against our spouse; rather, as a team, coming together, side by side, cheering each other on.

In the past, dance marathons were a common occurrence. Two would begin and dance both fast and slow until the end…together. They didn’t change partners or walk away no matter how weary one of the two may have gotten, even if the other had to virtually carry that one.

We are called to lift our spouses. “Carry each other’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) Just, as at some points in a dance marathon, one or the other may be able to move with more energy or strength, in marriage we will have times where one or the other is stronger and can “carry” the other more easily. There is no shame in that nor is it to be a contention; it is a gift.

Spiritually, there are times we each need the other to spur us on to look at the cross, to be challenged but oh to be encouraged! Yes, mutual love, mutual respect, mutual encouragement but, at varying times, each will bear the other’s burden more intensely. God specifically gives us our husbands and wives to do just that, not in a condescending way or with a sigh but in a joy infused way that is faithfully and tenderly restorative.

“Your wife is the accountability partner God provided for you. And, wives, your husband is the accountability partner God provided for you. According to Him, the two of you are one single entity (the two shall become one)…” (Matthew L Jacobson, “Who is Your Real Accountability Partner?”)  Again, it’s a gift, not a burden.

Part of keeping the rhythm is keeping all things that can cause us to stumble or create a gap between us cleared out from under our feet; secrets, hurts, weaknesses, fears, distractions from the outside pressing in. If we keep the ground clear, we can maneuver through them together; if we don’t, they will cause us to trip and sometimes fall and we can’t hide that from our dance partners no matter how much we try; we weren’t meant to.

Have you ever seen “extreme” dancing where the man spins the woman out, lifts her high, pulls her around? That takes trust. At times, we may feel like our dancing is “extreme” and, in those times, we have to know we can trust the one gripping our hand. Trust is built when we know we are holding each other up and when we begin to fall or do fall, we have a spouse that is there to lift us up, hold us close, show us grace, and restore the music.

The more we each seek to serve the one we love, even in the hardest moments – be it physical distance for an extended time, illness, the busyness of life, the temptations that bombard, or conflict– the more our desire to love and serve them will increase and the more God will chip away at our selfishness and cause us to love them rather than ourselves more deeply.

Additionally, the more we each set our intimate sights on our spouse rather than on others, the more attractive will the one we love be to us – not just the physical appeal but every aspect. He or she will captivate us and draw us in. Choose to remember what led you to them and intentionally be on the watch, even list out, those things about your spouse that are a joy to you and others! Don’t be distracted by “shiny things” but choose to be fascinated by your “one and only” once again. Guard and keep your eyes – literally and figuratively – only for them. Deliberately find ways to increase that wonder!

On the other hand, the more we look around and intentionally or unintentionally compare our spouses to unrealistic images and the deceptive pull of a situation or a person – be it in person on in media, the less content we will become and the more the enemy will whisper in our ear – “There is more that will satisfy if you just look for it, go for it; what will it hurt?.” Slam the door on that whisper! Don’t entertain the lie and don’t for an instant believe that it is true!

Most importantly, the more we take our spouses, our marriage, and our own hearts humbly but boldly to the throne of grace, the more our God does exceedingly and abundantly more than we could think or ask, first in us and then in the heart of the one we love! Whether it be as the dance is sweet and perfectly in time or at the first hint of the dance being interrupted, lean in and pull your bride or groom closer, even if they are far away physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Call out to the One who can battle for you and put a hedge around the dance floor!

Yes, some days and in some seasons, we will be out of sync; but we must never accept that as the norm or allow the enemy of our souls to make us think the music has ended and it is time to add lines to our dance cards or stop dancing altogether. That is not the melody of delight! In those times, we should be deliberately taking the hand of our one. Then, if we stumble over each other’s feet, it will be together.

Where there is a slow dance, there are two. But we should be dancing, walking as one; not stepping on each other’s toes or being afraid of the other’s next move but able to trust because grace has done and is doing a work in the lives of each of us.

Dancing with abandon because redemption has followed repentance and forgiveness in the small little irritations of life and the bigger, more hurtful situations.

Dancing with joy because we have “found the one whom my soul loves” (Song of Solomon 3:4) and we are growing in that love that is able to stand the test of time and the shifting winds that blow.

There is something beautiful about intentionally choosing each other again and again; there is something about keeping our affections for and on our one. There is wonder in rekindling desire with the one to whom we said “I do” when life has made us weary. There is delight in transparency made possible by grace. And there is great joy in picking up the beat of the music and the rhythm of their hearts, choosing once again to keep in step.

Hear the music and move as one. If the music has grown faint or even silent, be deliberate about making melody together again. You will be amazed at how your love, attraction, and desire for your husband or wife will rekindle and how refreshed your marriage can be.

But don’t stop there! Keep choosing! Keep pursuing! Keep fixing your gaze first on the Savior and, immediately thereafter, on the one with whom you walked the aisle and promised, yes even vowed, to love, honor, and cherish.

See the beauty! See the holiness, the sacred delight of dancing with the one you love… all the way to the end!

We Will Dance   Steven Curtis Chapman

I’ve watched the sunrise in your eyes And I’ve seen the tears fall like the rain You’ve seen me fight so brave and strong You’ve held my hand when I’m afraid

We’ve watched the seasons come and go We’ll see them come and go again But in winter’s chill, or summer’s breeze One thing will not be changin’

We will dance When the sun is shining In the pouring rain We’ll spin and we’ll sway And we will dance When the gentle breeze Becomes a hurricane The music will play And I’ll take your hand And hold you close to me And we will dance

Sometimes it’s hard to hold you tight Sometimes we feel so far apart Sometimes we dance as one And feel the beating of each others hearts

Some days the dance is slow and sweet Some days we’re bouncing off the walls No matter how this world may turn Our love will keep us from fallin’

And we will dance When the sun is shining In the pouring rain We’ll spin and we’ll sway And we will dance When the gentle breeze Becomes a hurricane The music will play And I’ll take your hand And hold you close to me And we will dance

The music will play And I’ll hold you close And I won’t let you go Even when our steps Grow weak and slow Still I’ll take your hand And hold you close to me And we, will dance

His Rescue is My Reward…and My Joy!

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Is our God not so gracious?

We are “half-hearted creatures,” as I quoted C.S. Lewis in my last blog post, “My Only Boast is You.”  But the God who has redeemed His children is a “wholehearted God,” a God who rescues and restores from beginning to end!  Even as His stubborn sheep often run from His protective care, He promises and we can be confident that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus!” (Philippians 1:6)

Is there any greater joy than to know that on our most faithful days and our most defiant, He is the God who pursues us!  No, He doesn’t allow us to stay in our rebelliousness and will permit whatever it takes for the blinders to come off our eyes, the scales to come off our hearts, and the humility before Him to restore our spirits. Yes, that is authentic love that dares to rock our world and to rescue us from ourselves and our propensity to rationalize our attitudes and our actions.

How sweet the peace when we surrender to His correction!

We can trust Him to do that because He has been doing just that throughout time.

We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…sent His Son to die in our place giving us freedom from the penalty of sin but also the power of sin in our lives.

We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…invades our self-satisfied souls and leads us to repentance. He is not calling us to perfection but to pursuing it as we grow in our knowledge of and love for Him and increasingly desire to follow more faithfully. That’s not legalism, that’s the grace of sanctification!

We are sinners. BUT God in His mercy…takes our messes and redeems them for His glory!

“Redemption happens once we leave our ‘stuff’ behind! God meets humility and repentance and does the work of transformation. Repentance doesn’t keep pressing under and forward with sin, it doesn’t continue in it and hide it but, rather, exposes it to the light of God’s saving and sanctifying grace.” (Joseph Wheat)

As we gaze into the Word of God, we come face to face with “messes” who also humbled themselves before the Lord. He used even those to complete His story of redemption in Christ. But He didn’t leave them as they were.

Though Rahab was a prostitute, she was obedient to protect the Israelites then turn from her false gods, as well as her way of life, lived in defiance to the one true God.  Ruth left her homeland and her Moabite gods as well and faithfully, obediently followed the one true God as she honored and followed Him through Naomi’s directions and she was redeemed. When David was confronted with his sin by Nathan, he didn’t lash out in anger at him, deny his sin, or make excuses for it; God softened His heart and he was humble before the Lord as he repented.

Against You and You only have I sinned, Lord, and done what is wicked in Your sight…

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.

…My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (from Psalm 51)

And that is why David is known as a man after God’s heart; not because he was perfect, not because he wasn’t a mess. But because, by God’s grace, He didn’t stay in his mess. David didn’t continue in his sin. He laid it at the feet of God, confessed it, turned from it, asked God to give him that willing spirit to sustain him in continuing that obedience, then opened himself up to be used by God to turn others away from sin and back to the Lord.

We have a tendency to want to hold onto certain sins in our lives while doing lots of “good things” for God, to make “atonement,” even barter with Him, for what we don’t want to let go. But David, whose chaos God used in the lineage of Jesus, laid it all down and knew it wasn’t any “good works” or “burnt offerings” God desired – it was repentance, a “broken and contrite heart.”

God knows our hearts and He knows our greatest temptations and our greatest propensities to give into them so He doesn’t call us to go into battle alone. When we humble ourselves before the Lord and come to a place of letting go, God promises His faithfulness in the battle, “…He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape…” (I Corinthians 10:13) and then He equips us to take that way out.

How awesome is that!

I appreciate the way Trevin Wax describes it, “God understands our temptations. He knows our hearts better than we do. He sympathizes with our ignorant attempts to find joy apart from him. But in his great love, he refuses to affirm us in our misdirected ways. To do so would be to abandon us to the leash and lamppost, where we would strangle ourselves.” (C.S. Lewis Talks to a Dog About Lust*)

God forgives and gives us the power to defeat sin in our life but never to excuse it. Some choices have greater consequences for us and for those we love and we need to ask God for the ability and the will to battle them more intensely and purposefully; yes, not just to set them aside for a time but to kill those areas of our lives for good. I have watched men and women be completely freed from devastating sins; not necessarily from the temptation at first but from the power those temptations have on them. And, over time as they battled in the power of the Holy Spirit, the intensity of the temptations lessened as their “self-control muscle” was strengthened with use.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)

What “gods” of our own making (those pet sins we coddle or those good things we make the “ultimate things” that we pursue with our all heart, soul, and mind), do we need to leave behind so “times of refreshment might come?” What areas do we hold on to that are a hindrance to our walk with the Lord and our most intimate relationships as well as other interactions?

It’s so easy for our eyes to be blinded by and to our own “old man” desires that we too often allow to set up residence in our souls, that we justify them as “part of who we are.”  We rationalize that since we won’t be perfect this side of heaven, we can actually have sins we don’t address. But when we keep allowing the same sins over and over (God never gives us that latitude and there are some with greater consequences to our souls and the lives of others), we make light of that amazing grace; in essence, we mock God and make less of His mercy.

Repentance is a miraculous work of God because it is He who calls us to it and equips us for it and, when we are humble enough to submit areas of “sin entrenchment” to His surgical hands, we are given the freedom in Christ not just from the penalty but also the power of sin. Sadly, we often think that letting go of a pet sin will be a loss to us – that is a lie from the enemy of our souls! Rather, when we trust God, true belief and true repentance will bring us satisfaction from soul hunger.

Yes, we run hard into the arms of our Savior when we fail!  And God can and does use our failures, but He won’t leave us in them and He doesn’t intend for us to grow comfortable with them. Out of love for us, He will rip them from our hands by whatever means possible, as He allowed Nathan to “expose” David not to shame him but so that “godly sorrow would lead him to…repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10); even if it means revealing them to others who will love us enough to give grace but not to give us a “pass.”  Will we respond with the same humility?

God is the God of new beginnings; He is at work putting the “old man” to death. He is the God who makes us “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17) – first, in our position before Him because of Christ’s death and resurrection but, then, as we view Him and our sin in a completely different way; and, finally, as he softens our stony hearts so that truth reigns in our relationship with him and others.

As with David and so many more, repentance is an opportunity of great praise because it is in this that the power of God is made perfect in us and so evident! He can destroy the chains of choices that drag us down so we can increasingly live faithful to Him and with those in our lives…not perfectly but a little more intentionally and “seamlessly” with every day we walk in His Truth instead of according to our passions and desires (Galatians 5).

At times, the initial step is hard but oh the joy of letting go!

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

“Grace often grows strongest where conviction of sin has pierced deepest.” (Sinclair Ferguson)

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins…But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen!” (2 Peter 1:3-9 and 3:18)

My Only Boast is You!

“Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!..

So Lord, I would be Yours alone and live so all might see,

The strength to follow Your commands could never come from me…”

(Sovereign Grace Music)

Indeed, that ability to follow the Lord’s commands could not come from me; it is the power of the Holy Spirit convicting the heart and enabling me to love the Lord my God more deeply so that I can increasingly hate what He hates and love what he loves; a great portion of that is the sin in me and those I love that veil our vision of the Savior and leads me to say, “My only boast is YOU!”

When God puts an exclamation point on all He has been emphasizing through various means over a period of a couple of weeks with a sermon that both challenges and encourages, it is like a child climbing onto his/her daddy’s lap while He gently exposes his/her heart all the while revealing His own.

God is the God who redeems sinners, those who decimate the “Plan A’s” of this world, the perfection. That would be me. That would be you.

Time and again I have thanked God that He takes our broken stories and uses them for His glory. I have thanked Him for redeeming not only my greatest failures but the greatest hurts that have come from others’ choices. And I continue, even in the midst, to say, “I know You are able, God! Do exceedingly and abundantly more! Show me my sin and cause me to hate it as much as you do! Then do the same for others that I love.”

Time and again God has been faithful to show me my “messes” so that I am not blind to them, so I can leave them at the cross! It is He alone that gives me the will to do just that for it is not His desire that His children remain enraptured with any “pet sin,” anything that sets itself up against the holiness of God; rather, that we get a greater view of His glory and a more abiding love for Him so our attraction to the empty baubles lessens with time. Then, tenderly He says…and now “about this…let me do a little chiseling…” It’s not always comfortable nor without pain and sometimes He has to pry our fingers away from that which we hold so tightly, that which we think satisfies, forgetting that sin never does. But that pruning is always accomplished through the fingers of the loving Father who never fails.

That’s what God did with the lives of men and women in the Bible; He took their messes and brought forth miracles! Just as He does for us.

As our pastor taught out of the book of Ruth, the people of the Bible were not perfect but, indeed, sinners just like us for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). When God breaks through in our lives, I call it a HALLELUJAH moment! Literally, a time to stop and give praise to the God who is at work in this world and in His people! This HALLELUJAH moment is two-fold. Because it doesn’t end with the failures of God’s people then or now! HE did and continues to do the work of wooing men and women to Himself, redeeming them not because of how “perfect” or “lovable” they are, but because of His great mercy through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus! He provided the way and redeems us for His own, but He never intends that we stay where we are. He uses our messes as He has His people across generations and always does so hand in hand with repentance!

Somehow, along the way, we have, at times, chafed at that word. When someone is offending us, we long for them to repent. When we see someone we love running hard in a dangerous direction, defiant even to God, we pray for them to repent and be redeemed, restored. But, too often, when it is used in conjunction with a sin we love so well, we sometimes squirm and try to brush it off as unnecessary, even legalistic. We have forgotten that repentance is a command but it’s also a joy; that repentance is an integral part of salvation but also our continuing walk with Christ, and it is freedom! “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” (Acts 3:19) and “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…’“

That is something to celebrate! Who doesn’t want to be refreshed? Who doesn’t want rest and strength, quietness and trust? Who doesn’t want an unhindered relationship with the living God and those we love? The reality is if we are pushing back against God’s call for repentance, we are missing what He delights to give us. We are, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “…half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

If we are honest, don’t we sometimes tend to think His commands are “burdensome” when they collide with our desires and what we have already deemed “acceptable?” Don’t we sometimes continue to coddle certain sins, living as if we think God is trying to withhold something so amazing from us? But, if we would see with His eyes and respond in “quietness and trust,” we would find that our desires are far too small, they are cheap imitations of the beauty waiting in obedience. Because in repentance and obedience, we see Him as He is and we find that all we were trying to substitute with was actually less than delight and was making us restless, more dissatisfied, and more blind to what God has wanted to give us all along!

It is not about perfection in and of ourselves; it is about seeing our Savior more clearly, loving our Father more deeply, and pursuing the likeness of Jesus more intently, being re-fashioned by God’s spirit to be image bearers as we were designed. “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” I John 5:3

We lay down our pride and He takes over our messes and empowers us to leave them behind, making them and us beautiful and useful for His glory, our good, and quite possibly the restoration of someone else who needs to taste and see that the Lord is good and completely possible God’s redemption and transformation actually is! And, in so doing, we find that even the good things we have experienced encumbered, with the blinders are off, can be enjoyed fully as God intended.

He calls us to “throw off those things that hinder and that sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1) not to rob us but to free us! He is not a capricious God who gives us commands that we cannot fulfill or just because He can! If He commands it, it is because it reflects His character well, it allows us to experience His gifts with joy, and He will equip us to do it. And often, in the most difficult areas, he will bring another to race alongside us, cheering us on and reminding us to keep our eyes on Jesus as we throw “it” off so that we are able not in our ability but His! If we are married, God intends that first cheerleader be our spouse, as the two are one. Repentance is a gift just like the gift of salvation; His work that enables our response.

We aren’t to make light of sin nor fear we cannot win against it. Sin is dangerous; we have to acknowledge that instead of giving it so much room to nest in our lives. BUT God…He is more than able! His strength IS made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

“God’s grace IS overcoming! God’s best doesn’t come through perfect, plastic people but through ordinary sinners who trust God, repent, and believe!” (Joseph Wheat)

Won’t you join me in asking God to take the “messes” that we are and transform us as He delights to do?  And will you then, with me, joyfully boast only in Him?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts.  See if there be any grievous, offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”  Psalm 139:23, 24