having faith in Jesus and showing favoritism are not compatible.

Most of us would like to think that the law isn’t black and white, but it is. Rules are rules! And we cannot choose which of the laws to obey and which ones to ignore. If I were to choose to follow the speed limit, but neglect to wear my seatbelt, then I would still be breaking the law. I do not get the luxury of choosing which laws to follow and which to ignore. In the same way, we do not get the luxury of choosing to follow only the parts of the Bible that we are like and the ones that fit into our lifestyles.

My community group has been going the Francis Chan study on James. And I am absolutely LOVING it. I have always enjoyed the book of James and the realness within the chapters. The book of James is a letter from Jesus’ brother to the early church in Jerusalem about the hypocrisy happening among Christians. Sadly, like a lot of us today, the people of the early church struggled with committing EVERY part of their lives to Jesus. Too often, we commit the areas of our lives to the Lord that are going as planned or that we don’t desperately want to remain in control of. The people of the early church welcomed Jesus’ teaching on grace and salvation, but seemed to be ignoring His instructions on how to treat others. Those who were wealthy and had titles were given special treatment, while those who were poor were easily dismissed. However, Jesus warns us against showing partiality and favoritism. James’ instruction is to fully obey the law and says to demonstrate the same level of love and mercy to others that we experience from God.

James 2:8 reminds us to “love our neighbors as yourself”. It did not come naturally to the early church and it doesn’t come naturally to most Christians today. Our natural disposition is selfishness. We often want to impress those we want to be like and brush off those who are different. In our society, people look to what they can get from others. Do they have nice things? Do they dress like they just walked out of a J Crew magazine? Will they get us more likes on social media? Do they take artsy pictures? Do they drive a nice car? Do they have a good, glamorous job?

While it makes sense to treat our bosses as we would want to be treated, what about the guy in the corner asking for help? I have frequently wondered, what does loving ones neighbor get us in return? The answer is simple, a life that better represents Jesus.

Jesus does not call us to follow the commands that are easy or the ones that we like; He calls us to follow them all. Our spiritual lives will progress when we listen to God’s Word and follow it wholeheartedly. Yes, with some, it definitely feels easier to judge rather than show love and mercy. However, God asks us to love them as He loves us. This might be as simple as saying “Good morning” to someone or saying a prayer for them.

To follow Jesus’ example, means looking beyond the prickly, dissimilar, or disagreeable person that we see to find the valuable, lovable person that He sees. Being a Christ follower requires us to make hard choices and we have to decide if the reward is worth the sacrifice. The Message reads, “kind mercy wins over harsh judgement every time”.

 

remove the mask.

Today at church I was reminded of a time in my life when I felt so much shame over decisions in my past. And I realized that we can give shame way too much control in our lives. If we allow it, shame has the power to make us feel unworthy and steal our joy.

I remember when I chose to open up about my past to one of my closest friends, someone I completely trusted- let’s just say, I quickly regretted it!!! I immediately felt their judgement, rejection, and disappointment in me. And it hurt. It was the worst feeling. It felt like a sandbag weighing on my heart. I felt so embarrassed, ashamed, and the need to hide my past. And so I did, for many years. I allowed my shame and my fear to control so many areas of my life, including my relationships with others. I was so worried that if anyone knew my past that that’s how they would define me. That they wouldn’t be able to distinguish my past from the person I have become.

My pastor today stated that “many of us wear a mask because we are afraid to be judged and condemned”. And immediately my heart broke for those who felt that way, because I was one of those people for SO long. Trapped in an endless cycle of isolation, shame, and sin. And having no idea how to stop that cycle.

We hide in our shame and fear because we don’t want to feel the weight of others judgement and rejection. I prayed for years to be surrounded by people who I could do life with. And He brought me to my current community group. They are amazing Christians who are living out their faith and who extend God’s grace and love. And THAT is the gospel. That is how we are called to love one another. Not with our expectations placed upon their shoulders, but with His grace and His love.

When we truly turn over our past and the shame we feel from our past to Jesus, we receive His compassion and a NEW life. Because the truth is that we are fully knownandfully loved!! It can be a HARD concept to grasp, I know.

I encourage you to take off that mask!

Don’t be ashamed to tell your story—the whole story, not just the edited version. Don’t be afraid like I was- it literally consumed years of my life. Be honest about what you’ve been through. We need to hear one anothers stories to remind each other what our God is capable of carrying us through. We need to remind each other of God’s faithfulness, of His unconditional love, and of what it looks like to do life with other believers.

We need to share the brokenness so we can share the redemption.He can make us new, and better, and whole again, and that’s a story worth being proud of.

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giving God the pen.

 

From my own past struggles with singleness and with talking with many of my single friends lately, I have realized that the biggest fear that us single women deal with is that we believe that if we don’t take matters into our own hands, then we will miss every opportunity to be married. I know that might sound absurd- but it’s a real fear that we carry around with ourselves, believing it to be truth.

Today’s guys aren’t often times the most well-trained in the art of winning, pursuing, and cherishing the heart of a woman. But can we blame them? Look at all the modern movies where men are made to look weak, or the fact that women are taking the reins and being the ones to pursue the men. (It’s all very confusing). Continuously I hear women talk about how they feel that they’re playing a game “Survival of the Fittest”, in which the available men quickly get claimed by the most aggressive women, while the ones who guard their feminine mystery and focus on Christ alone get passed over. It truly breaks my heart to see and hear this!

And lets be honest, the modern voices and the urgent whisperings of the enemy don’t make this battle any easier. In the past I attempted to “give God a hand” in finding my spouse (not quite sure what I was thinking), but I was annoyed with the waiting process and believed that I could give God some assistance. Recently I have talked to many girlfriends who feel that EXACT same way; that they need to be strategic and assist God in finding their future husband.

So here is the hard truth…when we believe those things and feel as though the God of the universe who created ALL things needs our help, we are displaying how little faith we have in Him. We are taking the pen out of His hands and attempting to write our own story. But, and this is a big but, if and when the time comes for us to be married, God will orchestrate our love story.  And in the meantime, our focus should be on serving Him and pouring our life out for Him!!! It should not be wasted on desperately seeking a spouse.  Because ultimately, the timing is up to Him, not us.

Why am I so convinced that we are to remain fully dependent upon Christ in every area of our life, including this one?  Because throughout our lives, whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not, God has always been faithful. He sent Jesus to this earth to be a perfect example of living our lives with purpose, His purpose. Jesus did nothing of His own accord, but only did what God instructed Him to do, when God instructed Him to do it.

In John 5:19 Jesus said “most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” And it’s not that Jesus was actually helpless – rather, He deliberately chose to be completely dependent upon His Father for every word, every choice, and every action. What if our lives looked like that? How much different and more fulfilling our season of singleness would be, if we deliberately chose to be completely dependent on God with every word, every choice, and every action!!

Certainly there are steps we can take- I absolutely love praying for my future spouse, whomever it may be. And I’ve learned to focus daily on being obedient to God’s voice as He guides my steps in the process. In this season of singleness, our focus should be pursuing Christ and our relationship with Him.

So here’s the application piece: Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart!! Are you attempting to give God a hand in finding a guy and getting married? Are you trying to create a relationship with someone who you know is not who God has for you? Do you really believe that Christ can fulfill you at the deepest levels of your soul? And are you willing to make Jesus your first love?

These are difficult questions to face. I came face to face with them a couple years ago. I learned that God cares so much more about this area of my life than even I did. He desperately wants to be first place in our hearts, so that He can bless us beyond all we could think or ask. Our God is a loving, faithful, and awesome God! And a heart that is focused on Christ is a doorway into an abundant life, into the most glorious relationship we could ever imagine. I encourage you in this season of singleness to pursue a daily romance with the One who loves you more than you can ever comprehend. He tenderly cares about each and every detail of your life- and yes, that includes who you marry.

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“The Lord Jesus acted at all times on the assumption that His Father was handling the situation, and Jesus simply took care to obey His Father’s instructions.  Even when He was being reviled and tortured, ‘He left His case in the hands of God’ (1 Peter 2:23) By this submission to His Father, Jesus ‘learned obedience’ (Heb 5:8) as a Man, and the obedience was total; ‘He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death – even the death of the Cross’ (Phil 2:8)  Now, as God, He asks the same of you and me.”  Ian Thomas