Like Scarlet, As Snow

Isaiah 1:10-20 New Living Translation (NLT)

10 Listen to the Lord, you leaders of “Sodom.”
    Listen to the law of our God, people of “Gomorrah.”
11 “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?”
    says the Lord.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams
    and the fat of fattened cattle.
I get no pleasure from the blood
    of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to worship me,
    who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?
13 Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
14 I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
15 When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
    Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
    for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
16 Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
17 Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.

18 “Come now, let’s settle this,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
    I will make them as white as wool.
19 If you will only obey me,
    you will have plenty to eat.
20 But if you turn away and refuse to listen,
    you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!”

I love the first snowfall of winter. IMG_4319Tiny frozen flakes cover a multitude of branches, leaves, and blades of dormant grass. The earth is blanketed in white and I am immediately taken back to memories of childhood playing at our grandparent’s home in La Pine, Oregon. Snow drifts several feet high covered the landscape- along with our white poodle as he attempted to paint the snow yellow! Gone now is the little girl who bundled up from head to toe to play in frigid temperatures. In her place remains an adult-ish woman who now prefers to watch our children write their own memories in the snow as I sit beside the roaring fireplace with a book and hot beverage in hand.

Gone too is the spiritual little girl who first met her Savior when she was 9 months pregnant with our first little girl. In her place remains an adult-ish spiritual woman who now prefers an authentic, life giving relationship with her Lord instead of the religious ceremony that once devoured her.

I accepted and believed in Jesus in the final few months of the 20th century and was baptized with water the following year. However, my baptism with fire didn’t occur for several more years (see Acts 1: 4-5). Although my life was saved for all eternity, the abundant life that Scripture promised was not yet realized. I was a religious zealot. I sought acceptance and approval from church leaders to satisfy my ravenous pride. I made sacrifices of my time, talent and treasure. I paraded through the courts of worship auditoriums with religious ceremony. I brought meaningless gifts to the altar. I lifted my blood covered hands in prayer meetings in an attempt to look washed and clean. All the while, I refused to give up my evil ways.

I attended worship services, but I did not worship the Lord in Spirit and Truth. I heard the Truth, but I wasn’t set free. I acknowledged the Spirit, but I wasn’t filled with power. But just as He promised in His Word, the Lord poured out His Spirit on me while I was in the living room praying with my husband one day… and I began speaking in other languages! Shortly after, I began to prophesy, see visions and dream dreams (see Acts 2:17-20).

I was transformed.

How?

Grace.

Deliverance.

And discipline.

God’s Spirit released the gift of repentance in my soul. The warmth of His love melted my hard heart just as the sun dissolves the snowflakes from the earth when the sun rises. As solid gave way to liquid, my religious activity was exposed and the scarlet sin of rebellion was revealed beneath. I began to pray as Jesus taught His disciples to pray. I began to read His Word and do what it says. I began to confess my sins to the Lord- and others. I began to acknowledge that I did not love God. I began to grieve over my disobedience.

Then He caused wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below: this spotted sheep, who’s sins were like scarlet, were made white as snow.

All because the Lamb of God was slain.

And now, this white as wool sheep listens to the Shepherd’s voice… and obeys Him, instead of offering sacrifices.

Deep Grief

James 4:7-10 New Living Translation (NLT)

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

IMG_6986Although I was raised in a Christian home, attended Sunday school, church services, VBS and youth group, I didn’t believe in the Lord until I was 9 months pregnant with our first child. Feeling like a beached whale lying on our bed, waves of tears streamed down my face as the reality of my separation from God began to crash over me. I knew I was completely unworthy of being loved and forgiven. Yet, at the urging of my husband, I poured out my sorrow to the Lord, confessed my sin, and proclaimed His Kingdom come, His will be done in my life.

It was many years later that my soul experienced the deep grief James speaks of. Like a child, I had been sorry for getting in trouble with my heavenly Father. I was even sorrowful for my disobedience…but I never felt grief.

Getting past the obligatory “I’m sorry” takes a depth of humility that only comes through continual submission to the Lord. When we humble ourselves in the light of His glory, we choose to surrender our will so that we can come close to Him. When He comes close to us, the power of His living water begins to pour over our filthy hands and the intense heat of His all-consuming fire purifies our hearts. His truth exposes the lies that are hidden within the dark places of our soul, proving that we are divided between our worship of Him -and the world. When we SEE the object of our worship, we realize our sin nailed Him to that cross. Tears drip down our face, like the blood that dripped from the thorny crown upon His head. Sorrow pierces our soul like the spear that pierced His side.

Then death comes, followed by deep grief.

Confession, which is simply admitting sin, brings tears and sorrow. But, repentance, which is acknowledging that our sin produces death, brings deep grief.

Jesus died for our sin. He overcame death. By believing in Him, trusting Him, loving Him and obeying Him, we can have LIFE- eternally and in abundance.

Are you stuck in a continual cycle of confessing sin?

Have you been doing all the “right” religious things (Sunday school, church services, VBS and youth group) to try and stop?

Have you shed a few tears?

Have you felt sorrow (distress, disappointment) over your actions?

Then do you sin….again?

My fellow disciple,

Tears and sorrow won’t deliver you from evil. JESUS is the deliverer. You must confess and repent of the sin that is lurking deep within your soul. Trust me, God will give you the grace to do so, if you humble yourself (James 4: 6).

YOURSELF.

Humble yourself.

No one else can do it for you. Not your spouse, not your friend, not your pastor.

When you humble yourself, confess and repent, the Holy Spirit will enable you to resist the devil and he WILL flee! You will draw close to God and He WILL draw near to you! There WILL be tears and sorrow and deep grief for your rebellion! There WILL be sadness and gloom. But, God WILL lift you up in honor!

“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)

Prepare the Way

Matthew 3:1-3 (NLT)
In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.[a]” The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”[b]
 
11 “I baptize with[a] water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.[b]

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry. His message was simple: repent. John’s preaching cut through religion and pierced the heart: sin has destroyed your relationship with God. Repent! Be restored to God. John’s ministry tilled the hard soil for the One who would come to sew the seed of salvation.

I am John the Baptist. The ministry God has appointed and anointed me for is to prepare the way for Jesus.

You are John the Baptist. The ministry God has appointed and anointed you for is to prepare the way for Jesus.

The church is John the Baptist. The ministry God has appointed and anointed us for is to prepare the way for Jesus.

John 3:26-30 (NLT)
26 So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”
27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven.28 You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’ 29 It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. 30 He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

But sometimes sin blocks the way…

In my pride, I can believe that MY ministry is who I am. In a struggle for significance on this earth or a desire to be esteemed by others I can hold on close fisted to the ministry God has appointed and anointed me for. Over a decade ago, I was preparing the way for MY ministry. I had served faithfully in children’s ministry organizing resources, soothing crying toddlers, changing stinky diapers on infants, singing and dancing to kids worship with 6-12 year olds – I did it all. Focusing solely on MY ministry, I neglected my relationship with God, my spouse and our children. My fist was so tightly closed around my role in the church that no one, NO ONE was gonna take it away from me.

But God.

God.

The associate pastor hired a new children’s director who instantly became my superior. She was also one of my best friends. As I struggled to submit to her authority, I simultaneously struggled to hold on closed fisted to MY ministry. Rebellion, chaos and disunity ensued. Eventually I was fired- from my volunteer position.

Angry? Absolutely! And I made sure God and everyone else knew it. I vomited insult after insult about my rights being violated and the evil actions of my fellow ministers in the body of Christ.

But God.

God.

As a loving Father does, when a child finally returns He welcomed me into His everlasting arms and the tension of my closed fists released. He was becoming greater and greater and I was becoming less and less.

DSC_0419During my discipleship journey the Holy Spirit has continually helped me to humbly turn back to God. I’ve learned to be still. I’ve come to know Him. I’ve started obeying His commands. I’ve been washed in His magnificent love for me. I’ve repented. I’ve been forgiven. I’ve forgiven others. I’ve been delivered from evil. I’ve been redeemed from my rebellion. I’ve been restored in my soul. And as I’ve opened my hands to the ministry He’s appointed & anointed me for I have had the privilege of preparing the way for others to meet and know Jesus. He has become greater and greater and I have become less and less!

Dear child of God,

Release the death grip you have on YOUR ministry. Willingly open your closed fists to the Lord. Otherwise, He may need to fire you from your role to save your soul. He loves you. He wants you to know Him. He wants you to worship Him, not your ministry. He wants you to obey His commands so that you may have everlasting and abundant life!

Let go.

Trust God.

He will work all things for your good if you love Him.

Love, Me (& John the Baptist)