safe pasture

“Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
2 for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.

3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.”

Psalm 37: 1-6

What would you say is the most popular verse in this passage?

If you’ve been around church for any length of time, particularly if you’ve been involved in women’s ministry, the most familiar verse to you is probably verse 4 – “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” It’s one of those scriptures that we love to read, one that makes us feel good. I’ll admit it – I own a lovely calligraphy painting of this very scripture, created by a dear friend of mine at my request.

You’ve also probably encountered several sermons and devotionals that expound on this verse. In their expository, the teacher or writer will present the notion that this verse does not equate God as a gentle genie who will grant us our wishes, but rather a divine gardener who will implant our desires within our hearts as we delight in Him.

While that is right and true, it is incomplete. Yes, God implants within us new desires as we delight in Him – but He doesn’t let those desires go unfulfilled. He doesn’t leave us longing forever. He fills them, too.

He just might not fill them in our desired timing.

So, what should we do in the meantime? “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.”

Today, let’s examine this verse. While we wait for the Lord to fulfill our new, godly desires, we can wait with joy. We can enjoy safe pasture in the waiting. We would do well to ask the following questions: what is “safe pasture”, and what is it not?

Here are three spiritual, emotional, and mental states that are not safe pasture:

  • Comparison is not safe pasture.

The first verse in this chapter directs the reader to not envy the wicked. There is no need to envy them, for their reward is an illusion. It will not last. Ours will.

However, one of the biggest temptations for the follower of Jesus is to envy the woman sitting next to us who walks with the Lord. The one who got married young. The one who never takes off her smile. The one who works out regularly. The one who’s never struggled with what we’ve struggled with.

Why is this dangerous? Let’s go to the New Testament:

“14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

James 3:14-16

How tragic to get to the place where our desires are aligned with God’s will for our life, then never see these desired fulfilled – but instead, to let evil win by way of envy. We won’t allow it! We must confess of any lurking comparison and let the Lord heal our hearts so that we may enjoy the beautiful land He’s specifically given each one of us.

  • Fantasies are not safe pasture.

Real talk? This is my biggest struggle. My mind is a manic mock memory-making machine! Rather than dwelling in the land that the Lord has graciously given me, I will retreat to a fantasy land where my worship is wasted on my wants. It takes strict discipline to keep my mind, spirit, and emotions focused on safe pasture.

One of the most powerful passages on this is in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 10:

3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5

My fantasy is a pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God because it directly challenges His words in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you.” God’s knowledge of my life is not sufficient for me; and I don’t want to inquire of Him because I’m afraid of what He’s going to say – I’d rather not know the truth. I want what I want; so rather than wait patiently for His promises to come to pass, I choose to travel to the place in my mind where I always get my way.

Oh, what a wretched woman I am!

In Christ, we’ve been given the spiritual weapons we need to refute fantastical thoughts from creating discontentment and distracting us from God’s love and favor. But if we take captive every thought and make it obedient to ourselves, we’re not really doing much. Think of it this way – what if I was my own accountability partner? That wouldn’t make much sense, would it?

Instead, I must make every thought obedient to Christ. 

Christ is the power and the wisdom of God. Christ is the key to obtaining the truth in our inward being that the Father desires. If we submit our thoughts to Him, Christ will be faithful to lord over our hearts and minds and to demolish the stronghold of fantasy that so often holds His daughters captive.

We just need to let Him.

  • Regrets are not safe pasture.

When the Lord transforms our desires, then seems to leave us desiring, I wonder if our thoughts sound like the Israelites’ grumbles while wandering in the wilderness.

Why did we leave? The Egyptians fed us steak. Now, we’re hungry.

Why did I break up with him? He made me feel loved. Now, I’m longing.

Why did I decide to go to counseling? This is hard. Now, I’m more depressed.

Here’s some encouragement for you:

20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6: 20-23

Before the Lord changed our desires, we were able to get what we wanted without worrying about the controls or demands of righteousness. But, dear sister, what benefit did you reap in your sin and shame? How much more alive are you now delighting in the Lord, and allowing Him to craft your desires for your good and for His glory!

Let us remind ourselves of the blessing it is to dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Safe pasture is to rejoice in the specific calling the Lord has given you. Safe pasture is to allow Christ to reign in your heart, your mind, and your spirit. Safe pasture is to strive toward the prize, forgetting what’s behind and pressing forward and onward in Christ Jesus. Safe pasture is ours, now!

With it, we have a promise of what’s to come. To quote Psalm 37 once more:

5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
6 He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.”

Father, help us commit our way to you. Help us trust you. Help us repent of any comparison. Help us to rebuke any fantastical thought that exalts itself above the knowledge of you, and to submit it to the obedience of Christ. Remind us of the gracious gift of eternal life that we now have in you. Open our eyes to the land of beauty and safety that we get to enjoy while under the secure covering of obedience and calling. We love you. Help us to love you even more. In Jesus’ name, Amen!

this is your answer

“Why, God…why? Why do I have to wait?!

Sound familiar?

“Why are you telling me so much about this when it hasn’t even happened yet? Why do I have to wait so long for this?”

“Here is your answer…so that you will know that He who is promised is faithful.”

At the beginning of 2019, you were positive – that thing that God had promised you would happen that year. You were so sure…until it didn’t.

And now, you are losing the faith and hope to believe that you will see it come to pass in 2020.

Don’t.

Why not, you ask?

Because He who has promised is faithful. If you didn’t see it come to pass last year, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

It means you are now closer to it than you were a year ago.

So rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Trust and believe that He who has promised is faithful.

And that is why He is making you wait.

So that you will see His faithfulness.

Amen.

same oven, same grave

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self[a] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free[b] from sin.

Romans 6:3-7

I love this passage.

I remember distinctly the first time it made an impact on me.

Unlike what you’d expect, it didn’t come from a sermon. It came from a book – a $2 torn paperback found at Hodgepodge Coffee Shop in East Atlanta, back when they were in their old space. I loved that space.

One sunny afternoon during my first Atlanta autumn, (not first Atlanta fall – that was something else…think “slip”…), I felt like reading something. So, feelin’ real cool, I casually let my eyes gaze across the stocked bookshelves propped up against the wall in the room where they had the toys and the trains for kids. One hand on my hip, one hand wrapped around an overpriced “Oh, Honey” latte, I let my eyes fall on the book that would change my life.

“The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee.

“Hm,” I thought to myself, “this looks good.”

And so, I grabbed it and began reading one of the most challenging yet liberating theses on what a “normal” Christian existence should be – according to the Word of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, the reality of what Jesus accomplished for us, and this incredible minister’s real-life experience.

Several times throughout the book, Nee stressed the importance of this Romans 6 passage in our understanding of our “death” – and thus, our understanding of this “normal life”.

If we believe we have been united in Christ’s death, then we have died to sin.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – what’s the difference between “dying to ourselves daily” and “being united in Christ’s death”?

One is made possible by the other – being united in Christ’s death gives us the power of new life needed to be able to deny our desires and die to ourselves. The body of sin is too strong, too powerful to allow us walk in obedience. The Word says it is hostile to God. It needed to die.

Confused?

Here’s a somewhat silly visual that I hope will help you:

Imagine that you desire to cook a meal. Your sustenance of choice is a frozen pizza and a bag of frozen green beans. Both require a rather hot oven at 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Because both items can successfully cook at the same temperature, and for the same amount of time, you don’t think twice about putting them both in the oven simultaneously. Green beans on the bottom rack, pizza on the top.

What happens?

The same heat that cooks the pizza cooks the green beans.

Now, imagine that oven as the grave.

In the same grave that Jesus was buried in…so were we.

Sticking with the visual, let’s pretend we’re the green beans and Jesus is the pizza…well, um, yeah…Jesus is definitely the pizza.

When we come to believe that Jesus is the son of God who bore our sins and rose from the dead with all power in His hands, we spiritually enter the same oven, er..grave..that Jesus entered.

Verse 4 says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Just as“. Both are equally real. You can’t have one death or resurrection without the other.

Listen – you would never question whether both the pizza and the green beans would successfully cook. If the oven is working properly, you can confidently believe that both foods will cook.

Guess what? The grave worked.

You cannot say you believe that Jesus died, and yet you did not. 

You cannot say you believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, and yet you are not.

After all, Jesus didn’t die for himself! He had no business dying if it were not for us.

He died for us! While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us – so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin, but raised to new life in Him.

Please, please…do not worship Him for raising from the dead without also worshipping Him for raising you to new life.

For that is why He died.

Oh, one more thing.

Once the pizza cooked, it was cooked. No need to cook it again.

Once the green beans cooked, they were cooked. No need to cook them again.

Once we died with Him, we died. No need to die to sin over and over.

It happened once and for all.

Now, believe that – and live!

perspective shift

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.

Matthew 8:1-3

I lead a song this past weekend at church called “Refiner”. It’s on the Maverick City Music album, Volume 2. It’s incredibly convicting.

Here is a snippet of the chorus:

“I wanna be tried by fire, purified

You take whatever You desire,

Lord, here’s my life.”

And here’s a snippet of the bridge:

“Clean my hands, Purify my heart

I wanna burn for you, Only for You”

As I meditated on these words this week, I asked myself: When I ask the Lord to “take whatever You desire”…what does He take?

This week, as I continually prayed this prayer through song, the Lord took my perspective. He took my limited understanding of His grace and power and brought me up to His higher ways. His higher thoughts replaced mine.

I saw my situation in a new way.

Picture this with me for a moment: Imagine you are standing up straight, facing one direction, when someone comes from behind you and puts their hands around your face and neck. They gently swivel your head to the right, so that your head now runs perpendicular to the rest of your body.

What is left to do? Surely, you cannot stay in this contradictory position. In order to move forward, you must align your body with your new perspective.

That’s what God does.

When we answers our prayers for wisdom, He gently turns our heads on a swivel to be able to see our situation the way He sees it. This leaves us with no other choice but to align all other aspects of our life to match His heavenly perspective.

How did my perspective shift this week? Well, let’s look at the scripture mentioned above.

The leper traveled a long and painful road to get to Jesus. Once he arrived, notice what he did not say.

He did not say, “If You are able, You can make me clean.”

He said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

The leper came with full confidence in God’s ability to heal. He just wanted to know if the Lord was willing.

Let’s take it a step further.

Some read this line as, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean,” as if the leper is giving the Lord permission to heal his body and his soul.

I prefer to see this as a declarative statement of sound theology.

“Lord, If You are willing, You can make me clean.” That’s what God can do.

He can make us clean. Period.

And that’s the perspective shift we need. When we come to Jesus in confidence, we must come knowing that He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly all that we can ask, think, or imagine. He sees that faith – and He responds in kind.

Hear the Lord say to you today:

“I am willing – be clean.”

 

new faith

New mercies.

New faith.

I know your ways are higher,

But they’re also wider

And deeper

And don’t always look like what I’ve seen before.

Now faith is the evidence of things not yet seen…things that are new.

I’ve seen you physically heal me and others miraculously.

I haven’t seen myself make regular doctors appointments.

I’ve seen you make manna out of nothing.

I haven’t seen myself budget my money responsibly.

I’ve seen a demon flee at sound of the the name that is above every name.

I haven’t let you teach me to lean into others’ pain.

Let me see the glory of God in new ways.

And let my faith

Be seen.

Amen.

now faith

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abel brought God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.”

Hebrews 11:1-4

Let’s break down this passage together. Read it out loud with me.

“Now faith…”

Now faith. Not then faith. Not the last time you heard a preacher say “Now faith”. That was then. This is now. Now faith.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

What do you hope for now? What are you sure about now that you do not yet see?

Is it God’s righteousness on this earth? Is it God’s provision in your life? Is it God’s healing and restoration in your family? What do you believe in so much that you are willing to sacrifice by faith now in order to see it come to pass?

Do you even have that kind of faith?

This the the faith that the ancients were commended for – their now faith in God. Their now faith is being commended now, even though they had it then. By faith, the ancients, like Abel, still speak.

Are you listening?

Let’s listen…now.

He’s worth listening to – after all, God commended him as righteous. Why was God pleased with his offerings? Because he brought them by his now faith. The text says that by faith, Abel brought God a better sacrifice.

Thinking about your now faith…what is a better sacrifice to bring now?

What is worth giving up to the Lord in order to see something much better? Don’t forget – sacrifices expire. Some things we sacrifice to the Lord in one season lose their power in another. Whats a better sacrifice for you now?

Before you begin to think whether about it’s harder for you to give up coffee or wine, look at verse 2.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

“By faith we understand.” This clause alone is worth meditating on.

We do not walk in faith by our own understanding. But rather by faith, we understand that the better sacrifice is only better because God says it is better – not because we say it is.

You see, God’s commands don’t just inform. They form.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”

Let God’s commands form your frame of mind to understand what is the better sacrifice in this season.

Then, obey.

Now.

Oh, one more thing.

God gave the best sacrifice of all – He did not spare His own son. And the blood of Jesus speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Jesus speaks the best word. He is the Word.

His word saves us, for we could never speak enough of our own words to see salvation.

Therefore, approach the throne of grace boldly – knowing that our great high priest has gone before us. Through Him, we sacrifice ourselves.

After all, Jesus sacrificed himself then.

We are to sacrifice ourselves now.

Galatians got me like…

We do things to get things.

We do difficult things for the promise of being rewarded with something good.

Sometimes the reward is immediate.

Most of the time, it’s not.

What happens if we change course

before we get to claim our prize?

What if our preferred prize for obedience is not what God has in mind?

You were running this race well, Gina.

Who hindered you?

Did you think that what you once soared through by the Spirit you may now coast by in the flesh?

The battle hasn’t changed.

But your will to fight has waned.

Though you no longer see your sin through the eyes of shame, you give in more this time. You let it win.

You’re indifferent. You’re different.

In a bad way?

Depends. You’re thankful for the freedom from feeling dirty.

But if you use that freedom to freely roll around in the dirt, others can’t get clean from watching you.

My freedom isn’t for me – it’s for those still in shame.

Loving others,

Serving others,

Leading them to freedom in Christ…

That’s why I’m Free.

How do I do this? I’m still human…I want what I want…

Walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Let the Spirit lead you – take His route. You’ll stay holy, stay strong, stay singing psalms and praises. You’ll bypass the byways of desire, striking a blow to your body and showing it who’s boss.

He knows the way. And don’t grow weary in doing good – for in due time, you will reap a reward.

You will.

what does Paul say?

“”All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

If you’ve been in church for any number of years, you’ve heard these words or some other words of Paul quoted. Before the verse, in the context of a conversation about right doctrine for the believer, the Christian will often say, “well, you know what Paul says….”

What does Paul say, dear Christian?

Here, Paul very clearly declares that he will not be dominated by anything. Sure, he has the freedom to do whatever he wants. But if the situation in front of him could lead to addiction, or could compromise his self control, he doesn’t do it. He refuses to be dominated.

Here’s the scary thing:

We quote this scripture. We can explain this scripture. We even agree and believe in the truth of this scripture.

But we don’t actually live it.

I believe the epistles (Paul’s writings) are often regarded as an authority of sound biblical doctrine – and this is not untrue. However, we must not lose sight of the continual inclusivity of Paul’s writings. His writings do not merely lay out doctrines of the Christian Faith – they are invitations into the experience of the Christian life.

There is nothing that Paul had that we don’t have. If you believe that Jesus is the savior of the world, the same spirit that raised Him from the dead and lived within Paul lives within you and me.

Do we believe this? Do we read the convicting and challenging book of 1 Corinthians and actually believe that Paul’s expectations of that ancient church apply to us today? Do we believe we can live like that?

I don’t. But I’m learning how to.

I’m learning the meaning of the verse, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I may not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)

The Lord has gifted me with a spirit that soaks up the word of God like a supernatural sponge. I will read scripture and receive revelation soon after. My songwriting colleagues reference me as a concordance; as I can very quickly find a scripture to match the melody. It’s a gift. I’ve never really thought about it much – or asked Him why He gave it to me in the first place.

He is gently showing me that the purpose of this gift is not to become puffed up in pride...it is to grow in humility and holiness.

As I read this convicting passage in 1 Corinthians Chapter 6 over and over again, I pray that my spirit man would swallow its truth – not to grant me an admiration of Paul’s discipline, not to boast of my intimate knowledge of the text…

but that I might not sin against Him.

if….

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.

But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me!

Psalm 66:18-20

The Lord never changes – but our understanding of Him does.

How do we grow in the knowledge of our Creator? By swimming deeper and deeper into the waters of His word; letting the Holy Spirit wash us with wisdom and weight as we worship Him.

I love this passage. Though it might make some scared, it makes me feel safe.

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.

How deep His love for me that His kindness would not let me sit in darkness, sold to a sketchy scene of “grace” that does not save. He saved me to Himself.

And in order for me to stay with Him, I need to know who He is.

He is love. He is grace. He is holiness. And His grace opens our eyes to both the sickness of our sin and the saving power of His life in us, that which enables us to inhabit His holiness.

Reverend Charles Spurgeon says, “Grace is the mother and nurse of holiness, not the apologist of sin.”

Grace says, “Gina, my beloved daughter. I see that iniquity clinging to the crevices of your heart. Set it free. Don’t cherish it. I do not change, but you do. Let me into your heart, that I may listen to You.”

And so, I pray, “Lord, help. Help me shed light on this iniquity with my fellow sisters. As I delight in you, turn my desires towards you. Strip me from this sin; for I need you to hear my prayers. Living without your help is not an option. Do not turn your servant away – for You have been my help.”

That’s a prayer He will not reject.

more wisdom, please!

“Meanwhile, brothers and sisters, we must be patient and filled with expectation as we wait for the appearing of the Lord. Think about the farmer who has to patiently wait for the earth’s harvest as it ripens because of the early and latter rains. So you also, keep your hopes high and be patient, for the presence of the Lord is drawing closer.”
The book of James in the Passion translation is a wonderfully convicting book of poetry. The words both cut and heal. And gosh, are they beautiful.
Take just these two verses for example.
While earlier in the passage, James chides the rich who live without fear of God in their hearts, he now likens the believer in Jesus to a patient farmer, waiting for the early and latter rains. Waiting for something that he cannot control.
How do you wait for something that you cannot control? Moreover, how do you wait both expectantly and patiently? Doesn’t expectance negate patience?
At first thought, expectance conjures up a soft image of a smiling mother sitting beside her young children on the sofa on a wintry night; shaking her head as they beg her to let them stay awake, in hopes of catching a glimpse of Santa Clause on Christmas Eve.
We can say with certainty that those children are expectant. But we can say with equal certainty that they do not personify patience.
How do we display both, as James commands us to?
The answer is found elsewhere in the book of James – Heavenly wisdom. God’s wisdom glues patience to expectancy. In Chapter 1, James teaches that God gives His wisdom freely to those who ask for it; and in Chapter 3, James teaches that there is a humility that comes from wisdom. I believe that with it, there is also a patience.
How does wisdom marry patience and expectance?
If my hopes are high, that means I am not expecting something mediocre. I am expecting something amazing and wonderful from my amazing and wonderful Father. Wisdom tells me that this thing needs time to become what it must be.
And so, patience comes, birthed from wisdom.
But what if I lose expectation and let my hopes hang low? Must I have expectation to have patience?
Yes.
If my hope falls, I have no need for patience. Without hope, I am indifferent – and indifference is not the same as patience.
Patience precedes a promise fulfilled. Indifference doesn’t care either way.
Our God is far too good for indifference.
So, like the farmer, let’s live in a manner pleasing to our Father, for without faith it is impossible to please Him. Let’s expect good gifts from His hand; all while knocking on Heaven’s door for His wisdom, wisdom that teaches us to be patient…
…and to trust in His coming.
For truly, He is coming.