the blueprint

“My dear friends, you always obeyed what you were taught. Just as you obeyed when I was with you, it is even more important for you to obey now that I am not there. So you must continue to live in a way that gives meaning to your salvation. Do this with fear and respect for God. Yes, it is God who is working in you. He helps you want to do what pleases him, and he gives you the power to do it.”
Philippians 2:12-13 ERV

Many of you may be familiar with this scripture – but you might not be familiar with this particular translation. The wording that has been used most frequently for the third sentence in the passage is, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” This wording confuses many. I believe the ERV, or “Easy to Read Version”, provides a refreshing, practical perspective, while continuing to maintain an appropriate reverence and awe of God.

I also believe that this passage provides us with a blueprint to spiritual maturity.

Let’s break it down, shall we?

“My dear friends, you always obeyed what you were taught. Just as you obeyed when I was with you, it is even more important for you to obey now that I am not there.”

  1. The first step to spiritual maturity is to obey while no one’s watching.

While it is good and right to act in love and compassion while in the presence of your pastor and leaders, it cannot stop there. We must continue to pray, worship, read the Word, and love our neighbors while we are living our day-to-day lives. In fact, as Paul states, it is even more important that we obey Monday through Saturday than just on Sundays.

Here’s a practical example for all the mothers among us: which of these scenarios brings more joy?

  • Your child will only clean her room while under your strict supervision – one hand on your hip, the other on her doorway.
  • Your child cleans her room without you ever having to ask.

While I am not yet a mother, from what I remember about growing up with my own mom, I’d bet she’d choose the second option. Likewise, God values our obedience most when it is unseen – and unprompted – by others. Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew Chapter 6, verse 1:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.”

I don’t know about you, but this verse terrifies me. Yikes! Lord, purify our hearts!

Let’s continue.

“So you must continue to live in a way that gives meaning to your salvation.”

What brings meaning to something? Understanding.

2. The second step to spiritual maturity is to continue to ask God for understanding. 

Understanding is the difference between memorization and meditation. Think about a young child “reading” a book to you that has been read to her hundreds of times. She’s not reading – she’s reciting. Does she fully understand the concepts and context of the book? Not quite. She merely has it memorized.

God doesn’t want us to just memorize His word. He wants us to understand His word.

Psalm 119 verse 34 says, Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.”

Understanding brings true meaning and continued obedience to God’s word. We need understanding of God’s nature, love, and character to acknowledge and believe that His law is worth adhering to at all times.

Here’s one more.

“Do this with fear and respect for God. Yes, it is God who is working in you. He helps you want to do what pleases him, and he gives you the power to do it.”

Up until now, this whole thing has seemed impossible, has it not? How do we denounce the desire to display our good works? How do we obtain the understanding for continued obedience? What is the spiritual secret sauce that can help us out?

Here it is: You’re not the one doing the work!

3. The third step to spiritual maturity is relinquishing all control to the Holy Spirit.

For all you Enneagram geeks out there, I am a 7 with an 8 wing, otherwise known as “The Opportunist”. Some benefits to being “The Opportunist” include: high-energy and positivity, confidence and charisma, a love of life. One not-so-great aspect? I avoid pain at all costs.

Last year in July, I stepped down off a ledge; clumsily landing in a dip in the grass while wearing new, narrow wedges. I wobbled and fell. I brushed it off as a rolled ankle and continued to live life normally. But July turned to October…turned to January…turned to now May…and my foot is still in pain. I’ve tried wearing an orthotics boot, I’ve tried limiting physical activity. Still in pain.

Why God? Why? I know that You are more than capable of healing my foot in an instant. I’ve prayed over it many times in faith. I’ve seen you move miraculously before. Why aren’t You doing it now?

Here’s what I’ve been receiving from the Lord:

Yes, He could heal it instantly. But what is His purpose in the pain? Romans 8 says that God works all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose…not my own.

Could He possibly be teaching me that the presence of pain does not mean the absence of God? Could He possibly be showing me that the greater miracle is the miracle of a Gina who relinquishes all control and is brave in the face of pain?

Thanks to His understanding, I believe Him. And, thankfully, I don’t need to relinquish control on my own. The spirit of Christ works in me. He helps me do what pleases Him – He helps me sit in the pain and trust in the healing process. He gives me the power to do it.

Think back on moments of youth when you stood in the kitchen with your mother / grandmom / older sibling watching them cook. Which moments are more memorable? The ones when the other person did all the cooking, or the ones when they elicited your help and you cooked together?

I picture my 6-year-old self standing on a kitchen chair helping my YiaYia by pouring a measuring cup of Uncle Ben’s rice into a pot of boiling water. I’ve forgotten the hundreds of times she made rice without my help – but I will never forget the moments when she asked me to cooperate with her. She lifted me onto the chair. She put the pot of water on the stove. She handed me the rice. She even held my hand as we poured it together.

That’s how God wants to work with us – an intense, deep connection formed by letting His life live through us. And as we continue steps 1-3 over and over again, I am confident in this: that He who has begun a good work in us will see it through to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.

Let’s pray.

Father, we thank you for the Holy Spirit. We thank You for sending Him to us to guide us into all truth. Holy Spirit, give us fear and respect for God. Help us continue to obey. Help us relinquish all control and let You live Your life through us. You are Worthy. We love You. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!

for freedom

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.) 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

John 9:18-23

How many of you are familiar with this story? It’s a fascinating one!

At the beginning of this chapter, we find Jesus going for a walk with his disciples. As they pass by a man born blind, the disciples asked Jesus a telling question about this man’s condition.

2“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Though that question may seem insensitive to the modern-day reader, it is revelatory of biblical history and culture. Jews historically believed that a physical disability such as blindness must have been caused by sin – and in this case, the disciples were curious.

Here stands a man born blind. Who’s fault is it?

Jesus, per usual, completely shifts their paradigm.

 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

In this statement, the Christ replaces the blame of man with the fame of God. He releases both the man and his parents from responsibility for the disability, and instead, offers an entirely new perspective.

What if this was no one’s fault? What if, instead, it was permitted to bring God glory?

What if?

See, the blind man sees this. Later on in the narrative, the blind man does not shy away from testifying about the truth of who Jesus is. He boldly makes his profession of faith in the assembly. He does not allow the Pharisees to pressure him into eschewing away the Savior. He is not paralyzed by fear of man – for once, he was blind; and now, he sees.

This God-man healed me, this man says. He is certain that Jesus is more than a man – so certain, that his faith comes back around to save Him. Jesus revisits him and allows him the opportunity to confess and believe in the son of man. Jesus saves him.

Not so for his parents.

Sadly, though his parents may have had faith in Jesus, their faith was not seen.

Put yourself in his parents’ shoes for a moment:

Imagine the mounting weight of blame for causing your son’s blindness. Imagine the cloud of guilt that hovers whenever he is seen with you in public. Picture the stares from folks walking by, men and women shaking their heads at you. Hear his parents’ thoughts: “We are bad. We brought a son into a world that hates him. Why did this happen? What evil could we have possibly done to bring this about? Will there ever be a way out?”

Yeah, there could have been.

Had they chosen to confess the Christ, they would be freed. They would have received a revelation of their situation that would completely alter their reality.

This perspective shift would say this:

No, your sin has not visited the next generation. God has visited His people.

Meet Jesus.

Jesus, the sinless man who meets with sinners. The word made flesh. The Creator entered His creation and chose their son, of all people, in whom to display His glory. Just as Mary, they had indeed found favor with the Lord, and were called blessed enough to be the recipients of God’s glory.

For, as mentioned earlier,

“3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

But they feared man, so they did not confess Jesus as Christ.

Their fear of man kept them from their freedom.

In what ways does our fear of man keep us from confessing Jesus as Christ, thus keeping us in bondage?

grace to the humble

The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’”

Judges 7:2

Today, I am convicted.

I am convicted of believing that I have outgrown the blood of Jesus. I have forgotten the depth of the pit which God delivered me from. I have failed to trust in God for His promises and have acted out of foolishness. I have found myself in friendships for selfish gain. I have forgotten that everything I have has come from His hand. I have begun to take credit where credit is not due.

I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

But what’s worse than sinning? The pride that keeps me from admitting my sin.

Gina, who are you? You are a sinner. You are but a vapor. You are you.

God knows you. God knows your sin. He’s not fooled.

Gina, God allows you to sin so that you can never say that your own hand has saved you. He will continue to strip down the army of your pride, as long as you live. Thank Him for this. Thank Him that only the Lord can turn beauty to ashes and can turn shame into glory. You can’t do that.

You never needed to.

That’s His job.

We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. Don’t take what is God’s. Let Him get the glory.

Even if that means it costs you yours.

 

 

leave tomorrow alone

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:34

We are in a season in which it seems that the only certainty is uncertainty.

The above scripture is the words of Jesus, the words of the God-man himself. They have never been more applicable than they are right now.

Day after day, we are watching in horror as peoples’ worst nightmares come true. Naturally, this leads to worry. But for the sake of our sanity, we cannot afford to let our minds wander to worrisome “What if’s” – because right now, nothing is off the table. Any number of terrible things could happen. Therefore, we must be very diligent to remain focused on the present.

What is your present circumstance? Think on that. Do not allow your mind to wander. Stay thankful for the reality of your current situation.

Are you healthy? Thank God for your health.

Are your loved ones healthy? Thank God for their health.

Are you still employed? Thank God for employment.

Are you still breathing? Thank God for your breath.

Are you still alive? Thank God for your life.

Please, family: Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Stay focused on today. And if you are in need of prayer, please leave a comment on this post and let me know how to pray for you.

Love, Gina.

 

 

dwelling place

17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:17-22

I know I’m not the only one finding comfort and laughter in memes right now. One of my favorites features the fabulous Jim Halpert, with a look of disbelief. See below:

IMG_8267.JPG

Pretty crazy, huh?

In this time of isolation, I am finding myself meditating more and more on this reality: The early church was isolated, too. Persecution and prison often prevented Pastor Paul from gathering in person with his people. What did they do?

They prayed.

Over and over again, we read Paul begin his letters with I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy…” 

In this time of isolation, are you praying for your people? Do you truly believe that prayer works?

If you aren’t, it’s okay. But I would encourage you to begin praying regularly for the body of Christ.

I had an awesome dream this past week involving me and my good friend and fellow prayer warrior Megan. In the dream, she and I stood outside of a hospital. We were looking at a massive football field to the left of the building. This football field was filled with thousands and thousands of people lined up in single file lines.  Each line had a leader holding a poster board that listed that line’s assignment.

As I woke up and prayed, I believe the lines were representative of individual churches praying for the world and for one another. Megan and I were both simultaneously participating in the massive prayer network, being covered by it, and being able to see it from the outside. The Lord encouraged me – our prayers are working!

In these days, God is building the spiritual structure of His bride. This back on the scripture in Ephesians: “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” 

How can we be “built together” when we are all apart?

The dwelling place is a spiritual one. 

One of my key scriptures during this time has been Psalm 90:1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.”

We dwell in Him. And when we all choose to dwell in Him through prayer, the church is built

Today, I ask: where do you dwell?

vivid beauty

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”

1 John 2:28

I was out at a coffee shop with my friend Laura last weekend; the last weekend that the world felt safe.

As we sipped our overpriced almond milk iced coffees in West Midtown Atlanta, a young man approached us. Immediately, I assumed he was coming over to ask for money. I felt myself tense up.

He didn’t. Instead, he gave us a word.

He said, “Hey guys, I felt like I needed to come over to tell you that the Lord is leading you into a season of vivid beauty.”

Wow. Okay. I’ll take it!

As the days since then have quickly spiraled into uncertainty, I have held onto that word.

“Vivid Beauty.”

What does it mean? And how could that be possible in times like these?

Beloved, what is impossible with man is possible with God.

After spending some time in God’s presence, I believe He has given me further revelation; as this word is not just for me & Laura. This word is for the Beloved Daughters of God.

Daughter, believe this word.

The Vivid Beauty is the Beauty of His presence. In this season of uncertainty, we have been granted incredible, abundant access to the throne room of grace. Please, please, please – meet with Jesus. He is waiting to meet with you!

Get on your knees and surrender to His presence. As the verse in 1 John implores, “…abide in Him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.”

I believe that in this season, the Lord is teaching his daughters to abide. Abiding in Him is so crucial because as we are seeing now – He is all we have. 

Psalms 90: 1-2 says, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

For people of faith, the Lord has always been our dwelling place. That has never changed; and it never will change. I believe the Lord is stripping away our comforts so that this will be abundantly clear and so that we will be found in Him. Please, don’t forget – Jesus will one day come back. When He does, will we be shrink back in shame? Or will we run into His open arms, full of grace and glory, with lamps full of oil and hearts full of love?

Please, abide in Him. Make time to pray. Make time to worship. Get in the secret place. He is blessing us insurmountably with an overabundance of joy, strength, peace, faith, gentleness, holiness, love, wisdom, and HOPE. Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

And, with the promise of His presence, we have the beautiful words of our Savior Jesus in John 15:7-11,

“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

We will not be in this season forever. But while we are in it, we have the choice to either lean into the refining fire of His presence, or lean into fear, anxiety, fantasies, pornography, overeating, Netflix, you name it.

Please, please, please – let us choose to let Him love us. If we do, we will emerge from this refining fire a purified, powerful people! Let it be so!

 

favor goes both ways

“Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake!
Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Let the avenging of the outpoured blood of your servants
be known among the nations before our eyes!”

Psalm 79:8-10

The more I read scripture, the more I realize the importance of context.

Take this scripture, for example. Psalm 79 is not one of those “feel-good” scriptures. According to the ESV Study Bible commentary, it is a “community lament, which was occasioned by a great disaster that fell upon Jerusalem.” It is the peoples’ plea for mercy, penned by the psalmist Asaph.

Picture it in your mind: A great disaster, most likely a wartime invasion. The holy temple laid in ruins. The blood of the saints poured out like water. God’s people are taunted; they are mocked. They are no longer regarded as God’s people. They no longer bear His mark.

In rage and despair, the Israelites cry out: You love us more than this, God. Save us! We are your people! What happened to favor? What happened to protection, anointing, calling? What happened, God?

Well, well, well. Sound familiar, doesn’t it?

We must be very careful how we read this text. Like going grocery shopping when we’re hungry, we might put more into the cart than we should. Reading this from a place of hurt or pride might led us to blame God for this tragedy. But if we read with a humble and contrite heart, we notice a teensy very important detail in verse 8.

The people of Israel aren’t so innocent after all.

“Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low.”

The ESV Study Bible elaborates:

“Running through the psalm is a recognition that, just as by reason of the covenant, Israel expects God to treat them differently than he treats the other nations, so too Israel should live faithfully to that covenant. The disaster came because Israel did not embrace the covenant in true faith; the psalm confesses that, asks for forgiveness, and pledges renewed faithfulness.”

How many times have we done this? How often do we live as friends of the world, yet expect to be treated as a friend of God? We adulterous people! Do we not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?

Friends, favor goes both ways. If we want the favor of the Lord, we must also favor the Lord. We must favor Him above everything else. We must follow the law of the New Testament: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.

But…what if we just, don’t?

What if we want to love the Lord our God with all we are, but we find ourselves continuing to fall in a particular area? What if, like Paul in Romans 7, we do not do the good that we want, but the evil we do not want is what we keep on doing?

If so, we are not alone.

What might be this evil we keep on doing?

It might be a secret habitual sin. It might be a dangerous thought pattern. It might be hurtful words we say or actions we inflect upon ourselves or others.

Whatever it is – you know.

May I suggest that you let someone else know, too?

Accountability is a gift. It is not chains – is freedom. As my dear friend says, the narrow road leads to wide open spaces. We won’t learn to favor the Lord above all else without the help of our sisters in Christ. We must cut off our pride and let others in.

Beloved, there is no shame in needing an increased level of support in a particular area. He loves you just the same, no matter what sin you struggle with. But when you passionately pursue freedom, it reveals just how much you love Him.

For…“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice 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 cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Father, we need You. We need your favor, your grace, your anointing, your blessing. Let us live in the light of your love in obedience to all that You command. Bring the appropriate accountability partner into our lives, and protect those relationships by the power of your spirit. You are worthy of all that we are. We love you. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!

 

trial by fire

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

James 1:2-6 NIV

I once heard a sermon preached on this passage that stressed the importance of understanding the difference between trials and temptations. Temptations…those, we run from. But trials, we run through.

Today, I want to talk about trials. I want to talk about this: I know what God’s word says about trials…but why can’t I surrender to God’s perspective?

Many of us have heard this passage in passing. We know what it says. But in order to progress, we need to not merely listen to the word, and so deceive ourselves – we must do what it says.What action steps does this passage direct us to take?

First things first:

1. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”

Pure joy? What is that?

It’s the sweet-smelling smoke emanating from a refining fire. It’s a nourishing meal cooked by the heat. It’s the warmth felt from the flames.

The Expositor’s Greek Testament elaborates: “The writer is not to be understood as meaning that these trials are joyful in themselves, but that as a means to beneficial results they are to be rejoiced in.”

Plainly, beneficial results that bring tomorrow’s joy can only come through the trials of today. We must consider them in this way – and thus, rejoice. What is one of those results? “…because you know that the testing of your faith producesperseverance.”

Just as only the blood of Jesus can bring redemption, only the Lord our God can produce perseverance through a test of faith. We know this about our God.

We also know that we need perseverance. We need it. Jesus said it himself: “In this world, you will have tribulation.” How could we ever stand against inevitable tribulation without perseverance?

Furthermore, this perseverance is bred, not born. We have a part to play. James teaches us:

2. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 

To let perseverance finish its work means to stop opposing it. Let it happen. Let the Lord carry you through tonight, and tomorrow night, and tomorrow’s tomorrow night. Let Him dry your tears. Let Him strengthen you. Let Him pray through you. Let Him help you rest. Let Him.

We often pray, “Lord, let your will be done,” without actually letting Him do what He wants to do. Let perseverance finish its work. Get out of the way.

Now, it gets good:

3. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

What does this have anything to do with the trial?

We cannot consider our trials as pure joy without God’s wisdom.

Are you stuck in a victim mindset? Are you bound by bitterness? Ask the Lord for wisdom. He will give it to you.

4. “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”

We must ask from a place of confidence in the goodness of our God. We must echo the prayer of the distressed father in Mark 9, pleading with Christ to deliver his demon-possessed son, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

Do you need God’s wisdom to illuminate your trials as the things that will one day bring pure joy?

Let’s go before the Father now.

Father, thank you for this word. Thank you for Your word that cuts between bone and marrow – for Your word that never fails, that never returns void. We commit ourselves entirely to what You say. We ask for more Heavenly wisdom – give us more, give us more, give us more. You give it generously to all. Let us begin to consider our trials as pure joy. Help us to let perseverance finish its work, that we may be mature and complete. Let our faith grow stronger and stronger as we trust in You. We love you. In Jesus’ name, AMEN! 

 

a gem in jeremiah

12 Go, proclaim this message toward the north:

“‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord,
    ‘I will frown on you no longer,
for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord,
    ‘I will not be angry forever.
13 Only acknowledge your guilt—
    you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
you have scattered your favors to foreign gods
    under every spreading tree,
    and have not obeyed me,’”
declares the Lord.

 

Jeremiah 3:12-13

I am beginning to love the Old Testament.

It’s taken me some time to read it, mainly because I haven’t really tried. The thickest section of the book is also the heaviest. I always figured I’d get to it eventually – for now, I’ll just reread the rest of the Bible.

I’ll sit cross-legged with Mary while Jesus feasts on Martha’s famous lamb, over and over again. I’ll harmonize with Silas to hymns about Christ as Paul prays in prison. I’ll even listen to crazy old Uncle James as he stares straight into my soul and speaks words of wisdom that both cut and heal.

But the Old Testament? I don’t even know where to start.

For one, the books that comprise the first three quarters of the Word are far lengthier than the letters and gospels of the New Testament, making them harder to digest. I often listen to the Bible app on my phone to fall asleep; and the number of books read differs drastically depending on where I first push play. If I start at Psalm 1, we’ll wake up somewhere in the middle of Ecclesiastes. But if I start at 1 Corinthians 1, we’ll plow straight through to Revelation – a fairly disorienting first discourse for the morning.

Anyways.

We all have excuses. We just have to admit them.

Recently, I asked my small group for advice on how to chew on the meatiest part of life’s manual. They gave me a few great pointers I’d love to share, in case you relate to anything I’ve written thus far:

  • Keep the overarching narrative in mind – God creates, man sins, God pleads with man to return to Him, God restores. Repeat.
  • As you read, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the following: “What does this passage teach me about who God is?”
  • Get an ESV Study Bible. Helps tremendously with understanding historical and cultural context.
  • Camp out in one book for a while to really let it soak in your spirit.
  • Read Old Testament laws in tandem with New Testament letters. Enlightening to see the way Christ truly fulfilled it all.

Why do we do all this? Because it’s worth it.

As I’ve begun walking through the Old Testament, I know I’ll continue. It’s wonderful. There’s a gem in Jeremiah that has brought me more life than I thought it could. Here are the verses once more:

12 Go, proclaim this message toward the north:

“‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord,
    ‘I will frown on you no longer,
for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord,
    ‘I will not be angry forever.
13 Only acknowledge your guilt—
    you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
you have scattered your favors to foreign gods
    under every spreading tree,
    and have not obeyed me,’”
declares the Lord.

 

Jeremiah 3:12-13

When I read this, its simplicity strikes me. What does God require for Israel’s restoration?

Only acknowledge your guilt – you have rebelled against the Lord your God.

The Lord’s words remind me of the moment I first believed in the beauty of the gospel. I confessed my sin and believed that I had been fully justified by faith. Yet, now, in the name of knowledge and maturity, I seek to understand the complexities of my sin as an attempt to rationalize my falls. This will not please the Lord.

While healthy self reflection is great, we must not neglect to reflect on who we’ve sinned against. In Psalm 51, David writes:

“Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.”

When we sin, we sin against God. Sometimes, we sin against other people, too. But the Word is clear – when we sin, we’ve sinned against God.

Here’s the good news: He asks us to only acknowledge our guilt and return to Him – that’s it. Doesn’t matter what we did. He’s faithful; we’re not.

And the beauty of being an A.D. believer is that all our past, present, and future sins have been atoned for by Jesus. We don’t need to wait for God to speak words of life through a prophet. We can walk daily with the living Word.

The Word who’s blood speaks a better Word than the blood of Abel. The Word who is our great High Priest, who enables us to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Jesus Christ, our Savior, bore the guilt we must acknowledge. Jesus grants true repentance when we allow His spirit to completely change our mindset about sin – for at its core, sin is a rebellion against the Lord; the Lord who loves you. And once we believe this, through Jesus, we return to the Father.

Do y’all realize what this means? When we sin, acknowledge it, and return to Him, we can be completely free from that sin forever. 

Our guilt is gone, our minds are changed, and we are free. So free. Freer than free.

And He is faithful. Faithful forever.

Let’s let His word continue to wash over us as we delve into its depths more and more.

Lord, thank you for your Holy Word. Thank you for all of it – even the parts that are hard to read. Holy Spirit, illuminate your Word so that we may truly know the one true God. Let us not return to our sin – let us return to you. You are faithful. We love you. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!

 

i hope so

24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Romans 8:24-27

The first time I visited 1775 Water Place, I felt like I had been there before.

I recall standing in the carpet-covered corridor feeling kind of creeped out. Something strange stirred in my Spirit as Pastor Léonce stood in the archway of the children’s wing entrance and spoke. The sound and sights of my surroundings seemed to flow in slow-motion as I cautiously attempted to comprehend this conundrum.

“Where do I remember this from?” I asked myself.

Once we got to the stairs, it hit me.

“I saw this place in a dream.”

When you first walk into the building, there are two ways to get downstairs – a staircase on your left, and one on your right. The one in my left was in my dream.

I know this because in the car on the way back to 120 Ralph McGill, riding with two of my worship team brothers, I curiously scrolled through the notes app on my phone to find the moment my tired fingers typed out the contents of the dream I thought I had.

Sure enough, on August 11th, 2018, I wrote this:

“Renovation was in a new building. It was a combination of a gym, theatre, and church.”

And now, after arriving for worship team rehearsal on Saturday mornings, I deliberately take the stairs on the left. They’re my favorite. They feel familiar. They remind me of God’s faithfulness. They are proof of His prophetic promises.

But while walking and praying throughout the building on the last Saturday of our fast, the Lord convicted me.

As I anointed the beloved bannister of my favorite staircase and began to thank Him for His faithfulness, He stopped me. I felt His spirit speak:

“Gina, if you stay fixated only on what I have done, You’ll never get to see what I will do.”

In that moment, I believe the Lord illuminated my eyes to see the two staircases in a new light: one as the things He’s done, and one as the things He will do. For just as we remind ourselves of the ways we’ve seen His faithfulness, we must also maintain hope in the new things He is doing – things we have not yet seen. This is where hope is born.

For, as the above scripture reads, who hopes for what he sees?

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

I begrudgingly walked over to the bannister not of my dreams. Praying over the staircase I always avoid, I wanted to cry.

Father, I don’t know how to pray for what I haven’t yet seen. I think I know what You have in store, but maybe I don’t. You’ve spoken over me before, but now, barely believing in the balance, will it ever come to pass? Will I be able to one day say that the burdens bared by this bannister have become the blessings of the other one?

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Holy Spirit, thank you for interceding for us in the places where we struggle to believe, the places where we we must stand & believe in hope and faith of what You will do. Thank you for interceding for us according to the will of God. We let You take over. Speak through us. Pray through us. Give us faith from Heaven that enables us to maintain hope, confidence, and expectancy in your promises. Father, give us eyes to see that both staircases never end – for the staircase of your faithfulness extends beyond the clouds, and the staircase of your promises are all “yes & amen” in Jesus Christ. Let hope overflow in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!