Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The "S" Word (No, Not THAT One)

Let's talk about sin.

I know, it's not popular. It's uncomfortable. It's awkward.

But sin is in all of us. It comes from within. It is not the result of some outward force invading our lives. We are not born inherently good. In fact, due to the Original Sin in the Garden of Eden, we are all born inherently sinful.

With all of the media attention on Ashley Madison and Planned Parenthood, I needed to take a step back. When I did, I found that at the root of both of these hot-button topics is one thing...sin.

We like to use the phrase "Love the sinner, hate the sin," but that is not actually based in scripture. It is based on a quote by St. Augustine "cum dilectione homium et odio vitiorum" which loosely translates to "with love for mankind and hatred for sins". 

The truth is, God hates sin. Sin separates us from God. Sin places a great canyon between our Heavenly Father and His children.


But there is hope, sweet friends! God sent His son so bridge the gap. God's grace through the sacrifice of Christ covers all of our sin and draws us back to Him. 
But wait. How does this apply to the issues currently at hand? Does this mean that the baby-murderers at Planned Parenthood get off scot-free? Does it mean that the adulterers on Ashley Madison do not reap the consequences of their actions?

In a word...no.

God has promised forgiveness for our sins. Christ paid the ultimate price for sin so that we do not have to. Our sins on this earth will not have eternal consequences if we confess them and ask God's forgiveness.

Just in case you missed it, that last part there, we must confess our sins and ask God's forgiveness.

Y'all. Sin is real. Sin is ever-present in our lives. God's promise of forgiveness and grace does not alleviate the consequences of our actions here on earth.  It also does not allow us to just believe and then behave however we desire. God calls us to accountability. He calls us to identify our sin, name it, call it out, and confess it.

We cannot receive His grace without first recognizing our desperate need for it.

And the way we do that is calling sin what it is...sin.

Adultery is sin. Murder is sin. Anything that separates us from God, anything that goes against His will...that is sin.

So what does that mean for us?

You may be thinking "I didn't have an abortion" or "I have never cheated" so these issues don't impact my life. But that is not true, dear reader!

There are no "better" sins or "worse" sins. Sin is sin. Plain and simple. Sin is ANYTHING that separates us from God. We are all guilty of sin.

So now that I have beaten you over the head with the club of "sin", I am going to tell you the end of the story.

God wins. Sin dies.

Just as God's grace through Jesus' death on the cross covers our sin, it covers ALL sin. Even murder. Even adultery. Because the story didn't end with death. It ended with life. Eternal life. Sin killed God's son. Sin kills us. But grace redeems. Jesus didn't stay on that cross or in that tomb.

Forgiveness can only come when we recognize that there is a need for it. Grace can only cover our sin if we know we are sinful.

Jenny Block recently wrote in her article "Here's Why It Makes Perfect Sense That Josh Duggar Cheated" in the Huffington Post:

"Can we please stop pretending that religion can somehow alter human behavior?"

As a whole, I was completely appalled at the article in which she calls humans animals and that abstinence and monogamy are against our nature and that "there is nothing wrong with sex outside of marriage between two enthusiastically consenting adults". However, she hit the nail on the head with this question.

Religion cannot alter human behavior. The process of following rules and jumping through hoops in an effort to be "good enough" cannot change our innate predisposition to sin. 

Only God can. Only God.

Blessings,
Meri

Monday, August 10, 2015

Study of Job: Misplaced Hope

Do you have that friend in your life that gives (what she/he thinks) is great advice? You know the one-they could probably write for a certain greeting card company. They always have something to say about what you are walking through. They mean well, but sometimes their "pop psychology" or even their pretty biblical references (usually taken out of context) are not quite what you need to hear. It may be what you want to hear, but it is not what God has for you.

In chapter 4 of the book of Job, we see Eliphaz frustrated and confused by Job's condition because he is of the belief that the innocent do not suffer, and to him, Job was an innocent. The suffering of Job has rocked Eliphaz's world and turned his belief system upside down!

In the beginning of chapter 5, Eliphaz is still coming to grips with this juxtaposition of his world view versus what he is witnessing with his very own eyes. Job 5:7 says "Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward". This is a reference to Eliphaz's belief that man reaps what he sows, there must be a cause, that was generated by Job, for the terrible tragedies he has suffered. "The sparks fly upward" is actually a reference to Resheph-the god of pestilence and destruction. Eliphaz clearly has not come to terms with what has befallen his friend.

As if he realizes that his somewhat harsh words may have been rubbing salt into Job's wounds, Eliphaz softens his words (and likely his tone) in the next few verses. He encourages Job to appeal to God to relieve him of his pain and suffering.

To be honest, though, I am not sure Eliphaz is really "getting it" yet. The words of Job 5:8-16 do not strike me as spoken by a man (Eliphaz) who has an eternal perspective. He still seems to be seeking redemption for Job here on earth; and, while that is noble and does actually come to fruition, I have to wonder-what if it didn't? I know this is skipping ahead a bit, but what if Job was not redeemed while here on earth? What if his redemption did not come until he went home to heaven? Would we still be able to glean the joy from this story?

"So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth."
-Job 5:16

Every day, you and I see and hear of grave injustice around the world. Children dying of starvation, genocide in parts of the world, men and women murdered for their faith, families with no access to clean drinking water, families put out of their homes because of things beyond their control, soldiers returning from war to be forgotten by the very country the fought for. Where is the hope? Injustice's mouth seems to be wide open. 
In the book of Psalms alone, "hope" is mentioned 28 times (ESV). And each time hope is mentioned, it is in relation to the Lord or His word. Sweet friends, hope may be all we have sometimes, but please don't buy into the gospel of Eliphaz (otherwise known as "health, wealth, and prosperity doctrine"). God does not promise us a life of ease and wealth on this earth, but His promises are worth so.much.more.

1 Corinthians 15:18-19 tells us "Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied." 
Our hope is not in the things of this world. If it is, we are missing the best thing and are, therefore to be pitied. Sweet friends, place your hope in the One who created all things, the One who knows your innermost thoughts and knit you together in your mother's womb. Place you hope in God alone.

Blessings,
Meri

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Share if You Love Jesus

I know you have all seen them in your Facebook feed.

"Share if you love Jesus, keep scrolling if you don't"

"This person just had something terrible happen, share if you care"

"My prayers were answered, and yours will be too if you share this picture"

for.the.love.


Y'all. Jesus is not a Facebook post. You are not going to hell if you don't share every faith-related or heartstrings-tugging meme that appears on Facebook. This is not how we spread the gospel. This is social media bullying.

Recently, I had a sweet friend who was deeply hurt by someone who misinterpreted her post on social media. My friend admits that she probably posted before thinking it through. However, the "friend's" reaction was also blown entirely out of proportion, to the point that my friend is not even sure she can continue to worship at the same church as this person.

Cyber-bullying has garnered a lot of attention amongst the pre-teen and teen age groups, sadly because it has resulted in serious consequences-including several suicides of those young people that were the victims of the bullying.

When I think of this type of toxic conversation, I am reminded of Psalm 4:4.

The sermon today at my church was on this specific passage and I truly appreciated the way our pastor broke down this verse:

"Be angry about sin, but don't let yourself be driven to sin by anger"
-Andrew Hopper (paraphrased)

In Psalm 4:4, David was facing an angry population. It's not clear exactly who was persecuting and slandering him or what it was even about, but it was certainly sinful on the part of his enemies. But David does not lash out in kind. He does not return slander for slander, insult for insult. Instead, He directs them to be silent and think over their response as well as to "Offer the sacrifices of righteousness and put your trust in the Lord" -Psalm 4:5
Over and over throughout the Psalms, David turns back to God's word. And this is the example God wanted him to set for His people, including us. David knew he was sinful, an adulterer and a murderer. But He also knew that God alone has the authority to judge.

Sweet sisters, please think before you post. "Meditate within yourself on your bed" as David instructs in Psalm 4:4. Consider that your words may do more harm than good. Ask yourself, is what I am about to say edifying or destructive? (And remember that sarcasm-which happens to be one of my spiritual gifts-does not always translate on social media). 

And please, please, please stop with the "share this picture or burn in hell" crap. Just sayin'.

Blessings Y'all,
Meri

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Counting My Blessings

This morning I awoke to troubling news (of the financial variety-which seems to be a hot-button topic for my anxiety). But, last night God knew this was coming and He equipped me with the tools to overcome my fear and anxiety.

I am sure Philippians 4:6-7 is a familiar verse to most of you. It has been a verse I have clung to in times of trouble and worry.

But God wants better for us. He instructs commands us "Do not be anxious"! This has been such a struggle for me. I am a worrier. I desire instant solutions to my problems. I want to fix things myself. I give my burdens to the Lord only to take them back over and over.

I think one of the best examples of Philippians 4:6-7 in action is in the Psalms of David, specifically Psalm 56.

"When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?"
Psalm 56:3-4

David put his trust in the Almighty One. The One who knows how the our story ends because He has already written it, each and every day! I need not fear the future because it is but a memory to my Heavenly Father.

So in an effort to make my faith bigger than my fear, I will count my blessings-one by one.
  • My Savior who died for my sins so that I may have eternal life in heaven
  • A husband who seeks God's face daily
  • Children whose names are all written in the Book of Life
  • Parents who love me, my husband and my children and pray daily for us
  • Friends who press in when life gets tough
  • A church that seeks to spread the gospel through community
  • So many more things that I cannot possibly list them all!
Blessings Y'all,
Meri

 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sugar Detox: Week 6 Complete

I posted a little late last week about completing Week 5 of the 8-Week Sugar Detox Challenge, so we have now completed Week 6 (reduce consumption of "quick breads").

This past week has been challenging and our entire clean eating was slightly derailed due to the move. We ate out a few times and it is a real challenge to eat clean at most restaurants. So today, now that we have the bulk of the moving behind us, I am getting my clean-eating train back on the rails and chugging ahead.

I believe in any lifestyle change, there will be setbacks-the key (at least in my opinion) is to keep moving forward, despite the setbacks. Give yourself some grace!

So onward to Week 7!

Goal for this week: reduce or avoid breads and starchy foods.

Now, I love my carbs. Pasta, rice, bread, rolls, biscuits....I could go on and on. But as a diabetic, I know I cannot consume these on the scale I have been in the past. When meal-planning, I almost always include a meat, green vegetable, and starch. I think this is what most Americans consider a standard meal. So this week I will be working to replace that "starch" with other, healthier alternatives.

We will also be continuing the clean eating habits we have developed over the past 6 weeks:
  • Avoid high fructose corn syrup-entirely if possible.
  • Eat only whole grains.
  • Reduce consumption of sweets and desserts.
  • Cut out all soda.
  • Stick to natural sugars.
  • Reduce consumption of "quick breads"
  • Limit natural sugar consumption (goal: <2 b="" day="" per="" tsp="">
Just to give you an idea of what this looks like in action, I will share what a typical meal plan for a day looks like:

Breakfast: 
Smoothie (I love my NutriBullet) consisting of greens (usually spinach or kale), frozen or fresh fruit, plain Greek yogurt, almond milk or water, and sometimes nuts (usually almonds) and/or seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, flax-seed). If I don't have a smoothie I usually make an egg scramble with spinach, onions, and cheese.

Lunch:
Salad with plenty of dark greens, fresh fruit (apples or strawberries), seeds and chicken or a hard-boiled egg.

Dinner:
Tonight we are having slow cooker chicken with broccoli and stuffing (yes, I know that is a starch-but I am currently limited on groceries due to the move!).

Because I am diabetic, I try to eat smaller portions at my meals and snack every 2-3 hours. Snacks consist of veggies and homemade ranch dressing, sweet-potato tortilla chips and salsa, etc. I also usually have a smoothie at night which includes ingredients that aid in restful sleep.

Blessings Y'all,
Meri


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Redeemed

I have always understood the term "redeemed" as it applies to my redemption through Jesus' death and resurrection. I understand the concept that my redemption from a life of sin and an eternity in hell is entirely a gift of grace from my Heavenly Father-something I cannot possibly hope to earn, but is mine in spite of that fact.

However, I have never seen redemption in action in a real and tangible way in my life.


First and foremost, to experience redemption, you must first experience loss-usually a significant loss. Until recently, I had not experienced that type of loss. For the most part, I have led a fairly privileged life, especially compared to most of the rest of the world (most Americans don't realize the level of privilege we experience here). I had a stable and generally happy childhood, excellent opportunities for post-secondary education, married my high-school sweetheart, had 3 healthy children. Fifteen years into our marriage, both in our mid-30s, we had built our dream home, had good-paying jobs, 2 cars, 3 kids, and a dog. Life was beautiful and amazing. And I did not appreciate what we had the way I should.

Then, in the course of about 18 months, we lost our jobs (both of us), a car, and our home.

It was like my entire world came crashing down around me all at once. But, in the midst of this storm, God was still in control. Since the "great crash" last winter, I have been refined, molded, pruned and loved by my Heavenly Father in ways I could not have ever imagined. Oh, there has been pain and suffering. But there has been great joy and peace as well. Because my peace and joy are anchored in Christ, not my current circumstances.

Don't get me wrong-I felt pain, I cried (a lot), I cried out to God, I questioned, I prayed like I have never prayed before-but I knew these circumstances were temporary. So mostly, I just believed. I believed in El Shaddai-the Lord God Almighty. He who is capable of all things.

We went through a period of loss and grief. But God provided in the most amazing and tangible ways. He provided jobs for both of us-jobs that were far better than the ones we had lost. He provided a new place for us to live, even after we ended up in a living situation that was less than desirable-He redeemed that situation as well, giving us a new home where we feel safe and comfortable. He has drawn our family together during this time. He has restored and improved our marriage. We have been redeemed.

Friends, don't think of redemption as some abstract concept that only applies on a spiritual level. Redemption is as real to us today as it was to Job or to Ruth. Redemption is real, current, and tangible.

Blessings Y'all,
Meri