Peace With God is Not a Try Hard Thing

I grew up knowing the truth, or at least I grew up knowing part of the truth. I knew Jesus came to save sinners, and if you would just pray to Him for salvation you would be saved. I knew you had to believe He died for you, that you were a dirty, rotten sinner, bound for hell. I knew you had to confess it all and then, and only then would He save you. When He saved you, He made everything better, good, beautiful. He took all of your sins away. And then when you were mature enough in Him you would be expected to tell others about Jesus and His life if you were a man and your job was a pastor. 

What I didn’t know was it wasn’t the prayer that saved you. I didn’t know I had choices. I didn’t know I would still struggle with the flesh part of my life. I didn’t know how to hear Jesus, how to read His Word, how to study it. I didn’t know how to grow. 

I always heard, “Don’t get pregnant before you’re married. That’s a sin.” It’s funny to think back on it now, but I had no idea how one got pregnant and automatically assumed it was something you got like the flu. I was afraid I would be walking down the street one day and all of a sudden I’d be pregnant. 

Just as I was wrong about that, I was wrong about my salvation. I thought it was now all up to me to be perfect. Jesus saved me and now I took over.  I tried hard. Oh my soul, how hard I tried to be good. I worked so hard to be good, to be perfect, to never do anything wrong. 

And guess what?

I kept doing things wrong! I kept making bad, wrong, poor choices. I kept failing. I kept choosing the bad over the good. For many years I was convinced this was proof I wasn’t actually saved, that Jesus didn’t die for me. So I’d ask Him again and eventually I got tired of asking and just lived in abject defeat.

Maybe you’ve been there? Maybe you’re there now? It’s a horrible, nasty, painful place to be living. 

Yesterday I was using a Bible app and saw this:

Run away from the evil things that young people long for. Try hard to do what is right.

2 Timothy 2:22 (nirv)

My heart broke. There is no Jesus in this version of the verse. There is no “try hard” in Jesus. There is no “do your best” in Him. There is only the sweetness of surrender to His life.  

Dear sweet reader, please do not buy into this lie that you are saved by the Spirit and then you must perfect yourself and try hard to do what is right. You cannot do what is right in and by your own strength. You are not that strong. In yourself you do not have the power. 

But in Him is the power. In surrendering to Him, allowing Him free reign to be and do all that you need to be and do, that is how you grow and mature in Him. It’s in recognizing His sweet voice that whispers to your sweet soul, “You don’t have to try! Rest in Me. Abide in Me.” 

For decades I thought I had to do it all to grow. I thought my force of will was required to grow and stop doing the things that displeased God. In every temptation I had a choice and thought it required my absolute perfection. Every time I failed. And thought that made me a failure. I was a failure. 

Because in my own strength, in your own strength we are failures. But Jesus died to set us free from all of that trying and failing. 

So please, dear friend, shun the lie that says you have to “try hard to do what is right.” Give into Jesus, allow Him to do the right in and through you. Rely on His abundant, free life living in you to perfect you.  

Please know, I am not at all saying simply to “let go and let God”. No, I am saying, “Stop trying so dang hard. You’ll fail every time. Surrender to Jesus. Give in to Him. He will lead you, He will guide you. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll still battle an unseen enemy who wants to kill and destroy you. But you don’t have to give in to him. When you screw up, when you misunderstand, miss-hear Jesus, confess it and keep going.”  

That is the best gift you could give yourself and everyone around you this Christmas. 

Christmas through the Eyes of a Shepherd

                         Or He Found Me.

I still can’t believe it happened—at all or to me. I never thought it would happen, at least not this way, or that being the second born son of my family it would happen to me. I had better stop a moment to record what happened to me…the second son of my father—and just another shepherd on the hills of Judea.

“Get up.” Jesse grunted as he kicked my foot in his signal it was my turn to keep watch with the men. I liked the sound of that—with the men. I did not care so much for getting up in the middle of the night. I much preferred sleeping in my comfortable bed on the floor.

I rose slowly, rubbed the sleep from my eyes and waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I willed myself to stay awake as I surveyed the sleeping forms of my family about the room. I stood and staggered sleepily to the door, once outside I could hear the low murmur of the other shepherds.

I noted with relief and great satisfaction the full moon that hung suspended in the night sky. It is much easier to keep watch over the sheep when the moon is full. When there is no moon it is very difficult to see the wild beasts that would devour the sheep until it is too late.

“Judah, so nice of you to join us tonight.” The men joked at my arrival. It is no secret I’d rather be sleeping at night. But somehow I think after this night I won’t mind so much.

I hadn’t been out there long—just long enough though to realize this was just an ordinary night. I soon lost myself in looking at the stars. “As numerous as the stars of heaven, so shall your descendants be.” That is what God told my ancestor Abraham. I have tried to count the stars but have always given up. There are just too many of them.

As I watch the flock, I dream of adventure. King David had been a shepherd and he became one of our greatest kings, and he was a great mighty hunter. His life was full of excitement and adventure. So far though nothing remotely bordering on an exciting adventure has touched my life. Night after night I sit out here watching the sheep, while I dream of rising up and throwing off the Romans and somehow being big enough, man enough to get God to talk to us again.

Our last prophet died 400 years ago. Since that time we’ve heard only silence from the heavens.

I ponder how I can rise up like David when he killed Goliath—only I would rid Israel of all things Roman. As I am planning my battle strategy when suddenly I am blinded…and terrified.

I fall face down in terror, I assumed all the men did the same because I hear a voice from the area of the most brilliant light I have ever seen, saying, “Do not be frightened.

“If I wasn’t so scared I would say, “Who are you kidding?” But I’m too afraid. I can’t remember ever being this afraid in my life. The disembodied voice goes on, “I bring you great and joyous news. Your Messiah has been born. You’ll find Him swaddled in clothes and sleeping in a manger in Bethlehem.”

Just as quickly as he appeared a whole multitude of angels were singing: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to men on earth.” Then just like that they were gone. And we were left to find it out for ourselves.

We ran as though our life depended on it all the way to Bethlehem. It didn’t take long once we arrived in Bethlehem to find the right manger. He looked like a baby, but not just any baby. There was just something about him, something…just what I don’t know—I’m just an ignorant shepherd boy longing for adventure.

And I think I found it—or rather He found me.

I couldn’t help running through out the town telling everyone I met, “The Messiah! The Messiah has been born! Come and see.”

Oh yes, I might have been longing for adventure but He found me!

© Virginia Garrett 12/23/07

This is another work of fiction, re-blogged for your reading pleasure.

That Sweet-sweet Spot

Yesterday our pastor opened up the service for people to share how they have found sweetness of life in and with Jesus. As those around me shared their thoughts, I cast about in my mind for one. What would I say was the sweetness I have found because of Jesus?

I was in a near panic when nothing really came to mind that I deemed worth sharing. Everything sound like a trite, pat answer. It sounded like I knew all the Christian-ese to make me look superior to everyone else.

But not only that. I’ve been attacked on social media and in my own personal life on planet earth. I’ve been walking a bit wounded and angry. Mostly wounded but the wounds come out in anger. I did not want to open myself up to anymore hurt, anymore angry feelings. I didn’t want to give anyone a chance to tell me how wrong I am about everything.

So I kept quiet. But I also kept praying. Because I really wanted to know and I really wanted to hear it straight from the lips of Jesus. I needed to know like I need coffee in the morning and like I need sleep at night. I needed to know He really loved me and we had a sweetness of relationship.

Because some relationships–dear relationships—relationships I love and need like air—-are still in difficulty. They are still broken. There is a still a very painful, misunderstood silence to them. The sweetness has for a time seemed to go out of those relationships, there is just an almost bitter sweetness to them. Sweet because of what they were and bitter because of wondering if we’ll ever get back to that.

There is one particular relationship that is broken, not beyond repair but still broken. This relationship was, no IS, so very dear to me. In this relationship I found a sweet place of acceptance.

“Hey! We fight like we’re brother and sister – awesome!”
“Why is that awesome?”
“Because it means we feel comfortable enough with each other to be real and argue.”
“I’m sorry I fought with you.”
“And me you.” 

That is also one of my sweet places of life with Jesus, or rather the sweetness of having His life living in and through me. Finally my heart finds a home, it finds the acceptance and place of belonging it has always looked for and eternally needed. I am fully heard, completely seen, always accepted, and so lavishly loved.

It means I have a family. It means I belong to someone. It means I don’t have to look to myself to meet my own needs. It means I don’t have to be in control. It means I’m not at fault for every sin since Eve ate the fruit in the garden. It is that I no longer have to feel condemnation because I can’t and don’t do it all.

The sweetness is this abandoned, abused little girl gets to belong to someone forever. It is knowing fully that even if everyone left me I would still have Jesus and He is enough, even for that.

That luscious sweet spot that says my needs are met fully by someone else and I don’t have to work and manipulate to get them met on my own and in my own strength.

It means I have a whole new life. The old is so completely gone. It means everything is made new. Old attitudes? They’re made new. Old thought patterns and heart attitudes? They don’t affect me anymore. They are dead and I’m, I’m more alive than ever.

The sweetness is I am free. I am free from; death, sin’s consequence, sin, sin’s power, the grave. But I am also free to live! To love. To have joy, peace, kindness.

LIFE IS OH SO MUCH SWEETER WITH JESUS. 

Why You Are Not A Mess

A few weeks ago I was browsing my Twitter feed somewhat mindlessly reading when I saw another one of those tweets. You know, those tweets that sound spiritual but they just hit you wrong. They might be a true statement at first glance but there is just something not quite right about it.  You’ve seen the statement before, you might have believed it but now it’s sitting on your heart like bad pizza.

There’s something wrong with that tweet. You might not know what, but it’s just not right, not right at all. You try to read further but you just can’t get past it, you find yourself scrolling back up to it and nope, it’s still not right.

You might do this a time or fifty before you distract yourself by doing something else, like the church bulletin for example, or maybe scrubbing the toilet. As you’re scrubbing away this message keeps taunting your mind, you’re mulling it over and over. Your mind is mauling it like a dog mauls a bone.

Then when it hits you, you sit back wondering why on earth it took you so long to realize that the reason the statement seems wrong is because it IS  wrong?

“I am a {hot} mess, yet deeply loved by God.” 

It’s wrong because it is a lie.

It’s like one of those questions on a personality quiz, “are you this and/because of this?” Your answer might be yes and no, or no and yes. One part is very true, but the other part is not even remotely true.

The only part of the sentence that is true is “…deeply loved by God.” That part is truer than true.

As believers in Jesus we are so adept at Christianizing lying to ourselves. We say things about ourselves to ourselves and others that sound really, really good, but are, in fact, really, really bad.  We lie to ourselves because that is what we hear from others. They lie about who they are and who we are. We believe them and so we perpetuate the lie with our own mouths.

People! This should not be.

You might be wondering why I don’t like the statement, “I am a mess, yet deeply loved by God.” I mean, it sounds good, it sounds right. It sounds humble. It sounds holy. It sounds true.

But it isn’t. You see, “I am a mess” is an identity statement. You are telling everyone who you are, and who you are is a mess.

No. Who you are is not a mess.

Why do I say that and how can I say that? I don’t even know you. That is true. But I do know Jesus. I know His nature.

I know He is not a mess. Not even close to a mess. He is the furthest thing from a mess.  And to call yourself a mess is a lie and it denies the power of the cross and the power of the Blood of Jesus that was shed for you.

I know you are not a mess because I know Jesus is not a mess. If you are in Him, His Spirit, His nature, His Life dwells in you. In your flesh, in your sinful state before coming to His cross to receive His grace and His nature freely bestowed on you, you are very much a mess. You are without help and without hope.

But you are not. Because you are in Him.

Do you want to know what else you are?

  • You are chosen. (1 Peter 2:9, John 15:16, Colossians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 1:4)
  • You are holy. (1 Peter 2:9, Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 1:4)
  • Loved and beloved (1 Thessalonians 1:4, Romans 5:8, Jude 1)

This list is by no means exhaustive. You are so much more than you think, so much not a mess. You’re chosen, you’re adopted, you’re declared Holy, blameless, you’re sealed in Him and with Him.

This is your identity! And your identity matters. Because you will walk out whatever you believe about yourself.  So choose now to believe the truth.

And the truth is; in Jesus there are no messes, only messengers with messages. Don’t give the wrong one, to yourself or to others.

Your Identity.

In a recent post I wrote the following words: “I am not my thoughts. I am not my sin. I am not my temptations. I am not my past reactions.” (You can find the whole post here.) I was chatting with a friend the other day and this post came up. I want to clear up what could possibly be some misunderstandings and misinterpretations of my words. I can only say those words because the life of Jesus lives in me. He is in control of my life. 

If you are not indwelt with the Life of Jesus, if He is not living in you doing all the doing through you, you are your thoughts (“as a man thinks in his heart so is he.” Proverbs 23:7), you are your sin. You are your temptations and you are your reactions. Those are all components of your identity. 

It pains me to no end to say this, everything you believe about yourself, all the things you’ve been told are true if you are not indwelt with Jesus. Everyone of them is true about you, it is who you are and it is what you are. As long as you choose to stay there, rejecting Jesus and the power of His life, they will be true.

Dear reader, there is hope though! There is freedom. There is life, free and abundant in Jesus. There is forgiveness. You could have a whole new identity. Based not on what you’ve done, or thought, but because of what Jesus has done for you.  

The only way to ditch fear, say good-by to strongholds is in His power. It is in surrendering completely to Him, allowing His life to live in, through, and out of you.  The only way to change your identity, change who you are, is to submit to Jesus, lay down your weapons, accept His sacrificial death as payment for your sins, and walk in His steps. His life in you changes you from the inside out.

It is only because of His life, and His Spirit living in you that those things said about, your past, your thoughts, and your sins are no longer true. They become lies of the enemy, whispered in your mind to keep you chained. Jesus sets you free from all of that.

The Peace of Advent

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

The Prince of Peace brings peace because He is Peace, and where He reigns, peace reigns. The fruit of His life–of His presence–is Peace. Those who are in Him have peace, they might not always recognize it, might not always feel it, or appropriate it, but they can never be without it. 

Because they can never be without the Prince of Peace. 

Grace and peace are so often linked in Scripture. Those precious souls who are indwelt with the Life of Jesus are drowning in both. His grace rains on us and His Peace rules in us, both draw us to Him wild, wonderful ways. 

The life of one indwelt by Jesus is marked, not with times of peace, but the never-ending, always there, Presence of Peace.

The child of God is never without peace and never in darkness. There is no “fake it until you make it” with Jesus. We don’t walk as children of light until we are, or until we feel we are children of light. We are children of Light, now walk like it. It is your identity!

It’s who you are just as much as your name is. The lies of the enemy keep us from realizing that we are no longer darkness and in darkness. 

For He delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His Beloved Son.

Colossians 1:13

This isn’t a “slap a band-aid over that gaping wound of your soul so no one will see it” peace. This isn’t a “chant it until you believe it” peace.  This is a Believe It! No options. You either choose to simply believe it or you don’t. You can argue with it, but that is just arguing and not believing.  Arguing won’t change your life, believing will. Believing His never-ending, always on, always there, peace is for someone else but not for you is not believing it. 

Please, dear reader, hear my heart, you need to–no, you must–ditch the stronghold of “I am full of darkness!” or “I am darkness”. Admit and confess the lie of believing Jesus did not bring His Light and His peace to you. Then ask Him to speak His Truth, shine His Light on the stronghold and set your captive heart free. 

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me…to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners.

Isaiah 61:1

Now walk in the freedom and truth of who you are, A child of Light.