Shameless and Blameless

“Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, HSCB).

For many years I was driven by perfectionism and the feeling that I had to work successfully or perform well in life to be loved by other people…and to be loved by God. On the outside, I looked like I had it all together- high honors throughout school, hyper-involvement in extracurricular activities, serving in any ministry I was asked to be involved in, star of the high school plays and musicals, head cheerleader, first chair clarinet player in the band, and the list goes on and on. But on the inside, I was so empty and constantly searching for true fulfillment. I knew God was there for me, but somehow I thought I could be perfect in my own strength on my walk with Him. 

Because we are human, we fail time and time again. We make a mess of things more often than not. Guilt and shame can often push us further away from God, instead of closer. For so long as a Christian, I was allowing self-condemnation to take root in my heart, and it weighed me down as I walked around carrying all of the baggage of my past sins and failures, thinking that I had to continue to strive to keep God’s forgiveness. Thankfully, today, I no longer live burdened by a works-based mentality. I find my identity in the finished work of Christ, and I want to encourage you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, you should too. Grace is a gift that cannot be earned and you do not have to strive to keep it either.

In Romans 8:1, the Bible tells us that we do not have to carry condemnation in our lives when we’re truly in Christ. If you are a born-again believer, condemnation does not exist because the punishment for our failures and sins does not exist. 

“Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1, HSCB).

This means that when we embrace and believe what Jesus did for us on the cross, as He took the punishment for our sin that we deserved, are lives are now hidden in Christ. When we come to God with a heart full of repentance, resting in this glorious finished work of the cross, we can stand before the throne of God without any shame because Jesus bore all of it for us. The debt we owed has been paid in full- we are free from all bondage.

Jesus took all of your sin and your shame upon Himself and cast it as far as the east is from the west, friend. You no longer have to live with the weight of your failures. You can come boldly to the throne of grace, beloved, because it is grace that did the work for you. You can rest assured that God sees you as blameless and perfect because you are in Christ. I pray you see that you no longer walk around carrying the weight of your past and stop striving for perfection.

Remember, Jesus is blameless and perfect for you. If you struggle with condemnation, in your prayer time, take some time writing down the failures and mistakes that you have been holding onto and release them one by one to God. He wants you to walk in total freedom with Him.  

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Come Out of Hiding

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).

A few months ago, my eyes were opened to the stark reality that I was struggling with an area of my past…

… the pain of rejection.

This continues to be a battle for me, yet I realize that healing from the pain of rejection is a partnership and most definitely, a process. Thankfully, I am not alone in this fight.

One thing for sure is that the Lord fights for me and the Holy Spirit guides me into all truth, illuminating and highlighting lies that I was believing that are rooted in rejection.

Rejection had overwhelmed so much of me that I wasn’t being fully honest with people in my life. The lie I believed was that I would be rejected if my sin or wrong-doing was discovered. Therefore, I chose to either keep silent or tell a lie to keep my secret hidden so that I wouldn’t be a disappointment.

That lifestyle was keeping me from being fully transparent and honest with my husband and most importantly, with God. I believe this is why 1 John 1 reminds us of the importance of confessing our sin:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NKJV).

Hiding our sin causes us to hide from God, similar to Adam and Eve when the first sin entered the world. They felt ashamed, and shame made them feel rejected. Because of Jesus and the finished work of the cross, we are forever made righteous in our position as we stand before the Father and are forever forgiven, yet when we sin, it causes our fellowship with God to be hindered, and then we can very easily stray from Him. God’s love toward me never changes when I sin, yet I may still experience consequences and correction for my disobedience. Repentance, as a believer, is for our benefit to keep fellowship with our Father open and unhindered. Sin can often cause our hearts to grow callous, and we may not be as sensitive toward the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

The enemy wants you either in pride thinking you are better off doing life your own way or in isolation, bound in a pit of depression, unable to receive love or give out love, feeling like no one loves you or cares about you, especially God. But God’s love is unconditional and perfect, and nothing can stop His pursuit toward you. He wants us to be honest with Him so that we can see real transformation happen in our life, as He conforms us into the image of His Son.

Like I said above, positionally, in Christ, you stand before God forgiven and righteous, but experientially, sanctification is a process because our flesh is weak. Although as born-again believers, we continue to sin against God because we are constantly at war with our flesh in this life, the good news is that we have a great advocate, Jesus Christ, who is forever our righteousness. To be sure, our position in Him as declared righteous before God will never change, yet, we are still called to confess our sin, which purifies our conscious before the Lord.  Is there a particular sin that you have been struggling with? Pause and take some time to write it/them down and repent before the Lord, laying it all down at His feet. 1 John 1:9 says Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. Let us come out of hiding and rejoice in the truth that Jesus is forever our righteousness despite our shortcomings!

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Envy That Rots the Bones

"A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones” Proverbs 14:30, KJV.

A few weeks ago, I was in prayer and was having a difficult time letting some thoughts go regarding the direction of my life. Can you relate? Sometimes, the enemy seems to flood your life with distractions in order to cloud your mind, bring confusion, and cause you to question God. Eventually, if left unchecked, we can begin to grow bitter toward others (and God).

For me, because of the way I was raised and also the environment I spent a majority of my life in (theater/acting/performance), I am used to looking at other people’s lives and measuring my life with theirs, whether to make myself feel better or give myself a goal to work toward.

Sadly, this is how most people make decisions in life. They say, “Well, that’s how so-and-so did it so that seems like a good plan.” Or “So-and-so is just so successful in life and seems to have everything they want. I will just follow what they did so I can have that kind of happiness and have those nice clothes, car, job, house, spouse, etc.” Ultimately, if you follow this way of living, you grow resentful toward others and envy starts to grow in your heart. Envy will then cause you to look for reasons why you deserve what someone else has.

Comparison and envy give birth to ungratefulness and bitterness not just toward other people, but most importantly, toward God. The moment you take that step into comparing your life with someone else’s is the moment you will find yourself in a deep, empty pit surrounded by pride.

The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom on how we are to live our life and avoid such pitfalls. Let’s take a look at one of these pitfalls, envy:

"A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones” (Proverbs 14:30, KJV). 

You can forget about living in peace or feeling complete or whole if you enter into the land of envy or covetousness. Comparison that leads to envy has been a trap of the enemy since creation. The motive behind Adam and Eve’s disobedience was comparison, which lead to covetousness, which lead to pride, which lead to selfishness, which lead to ungratefulness for what God had already provided (all rooted in fear).

Are you in fear?

Then you are not in faith, believing God. Anything that is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

When we compare ourselves with another, we are saying we would do a better job planning out our lives than our Creator, the sovereign Most High, acting like Satan who fell and caused Adam and Eve to fall.

Whoa, that is a dangerous place to be!

We are all guilty of comparing our lives to someone else’s life at one point or another. The only way out is to repent and renew your mind with the Word of God.

The word “sound” in Hebrew is marpe, which means healing, remedy, calmness, wholesome, and yielding. We can only have a sound mind when our eyes are on Jesus and we are habitually in His Word. Cling to Him, abide in Him, and you will remain full of His love, joy, and peace- the only things that will bring true fulfillment. You won’t want anything else than what He has for you; His promises for you will be more than enough. You will begin to trust God with all of your heart and lean on His understanding, not your own. When we do that, He will direct our paths and He will never lead us astray.

Take some time and right down ten things you are thankful for. Gratefulness will fill your heart with joy and leave no room for comparison.

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The Father’s Embrace

For the majority of my life, I struggled to feel truly loved by my dad, who was an on-again, off-again recovering alcoholic. Because of that missing piece, I longed to find love and constantly sought out approval and attention from boys, giving myself away piece by piece- first becoming entangled by pornography, then slowly moving toward sexual encounters beginning at the tender age of twelve and going on until I was about 22 years old- a whole decade of my life.

I knew John 3:16 by heart, but I didn’t fully understand it. I couldn’t shake the religious upbringing that taught me only about a vengeful, angry God who would smite me down if I were not perfect. I still felt like I had to work for forgiveness and love. That performance-driven mentality affected all areas of my life. No matter how hard I tried to be perfect, I never felt good enough.

I reached a point where I stopped trying and just lived. In college, I made plans to run away to Los Angeles. I would be an actress and prove to the world my worth, talent, beauty and charm. But, one Sunday morning, only a couple months after I graduated, my eyes were truly opened to my selfish and sinful existence.

I hadn’t been to church in years, but one morning I went with my mom and sister. During the worship service, I began to experience this deep conviction that I was living a reckless and selfish life; I had been running away from God. Immediately, I knew I needed to repent start running toward Him, back into the Father’s arms. In that moment, I realized where I truly belonged. Right there, with hands lifted in worship, and tears streaming down my face, I repented of my pride and rebellion; I told God that I didn’t want to live this life on my own anymore, and that I wanted to surrender to His plan. 

But only a few short months after this change began in my heart, I received some traumatic news- someone murdered my father outside of a strip club. His lifestyle landed him in the wrong crowd, and it tragically cost him his life. Although I lost my earthy father, I discovered a Father’s love that is stronger than anything I’ve ever known.

Since that time in my life, God has completely healed me, transformed me, and shown me His overwhelming love as my Father, who will never leave me. The most powerful revelation I received once I started seeking God as found in the first chapter of the book of John.

“But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be[h] children of God, to those who believe in His name,13 who were born, not of blood,[i] or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man,[j]but of God” (John 1:12-13, HCSB).

What a powerful reminder for us! Jesus died so that we could have unending fellowship with the Father. When you fully embrace Jesus, the Father embraces you. Jesus gave us the privilege of being called God’s child, and He made a way for us to have access to the Father. No what matter what you have done, you can never outrun His love. You are never too far gone for His reach. He will rescue you and use you for His purpose in the earth. Receive Jesus and the work of the cross and learn to stand in the most important position you will ever hold in this life- a child of God!

Father, help me learn to be satisfied with Your love above all else. You are the only One can satisfy my longing to find love and acceptance. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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The Peace Found in Contentment

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

This song is ringing through every store, in every restaurant, and following you on your drive home from work. Oh, yes, the holidays are upon us. This can mean many things for you depending on what has your focus. As Christians, we can get caught up in the hustle and bustle of this time of year and even if our intention is to keep Christ at the center, especially if our family celebrates Christmas, we can be lead astray very easily with the spirit of consumerism that can often come with this time of year. 

As Americans, our culture seems to have a desire for more, more, more, especially when it comes to material things. Even if we don’t need it, if it is on sale, often times, we feel drawn to purchase the item. This mentality seems to be magnified in our society during the holidays. Unfortunately, the infamous Black Friday sales have taken over the entire month of November, and Thanksgiving, a time where we should be reflecting on what we are grateful for, is beginning to take a backseat in our culture. We are becoming consumed with consumerism. 

Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves, if we are always seeking and reaching for more, are we truly satisfied in Christ alone? Are we looking to material things, people, or great circumstances to find peace or joy? Are we content with what God has already provided for us?

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he begins to share with the church at Philippi encouragement about learning how to rejoice no matter what is going on in life and gives the people direction in what they need to focus on.

In Philippians 4:8, he exhorts:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

ESV

If they would put this into practice, they would experience the peace of God.

As Paul nears the end of his letter to the church at Philippi, he reflects on God’s perfect provision:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

Philippians 4:11-12, ESV

He ends that thought with the famous verse, proclaiming that he can do all things through Christ that gives him strength (Philippians 4:13).

What is most encouraging about this verse is its context, contentment.

The secret to finding contentment regardless of circumstance, having plenty or being hungry, that Paul is talking about is Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the One who gives us the strength and ability to remain content no matter what we are experiencing. True contentment is knowing that Jesus alone can satisfy our souls.

When we search for fulfillment in things, people, or even our circumstances, we will always come up short. All of these things we try to fill our lives with aren’t necessarily bad things, but when they become the end goals, and the reason for our being, they become idols in our life. We end up being discontented because those things were never meant to fulfill us. Jesus is the only One who can bring true contentment into our life. And

What makes this time of year the most wonderful for you?

Take some time to reflect and journal and express your gratitude to the Lord. If you are feeling discontented, ask the Lord to help you find satisfaction and peace in Him alone. 

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Count it all joy!

2016 was a hard year for me and my family.

While juggling with babysitting a friend’s son who was a full-on ‘threenager,’ I walked through a really difficult mothering season with my own son who seemed to always protest sleep since he was born.

Every few months, he went through major sleep regressions in which he would wake up multiple times a night. Occasionally he would sleep through the night, but the night wakings always seemed to continue for weeks leading into months at a time, night after dreadful night. About a month before he turned two, He began waking three-five times a night. This routine continued every single night for six solid months straight. We prayed (and cried), we had other people pray, we tried a sound machine, essential oils, added extra cushion to his bedding, and followed all of the pediatrician’s advice and tips.

Nothing worked.

Needless to say, sleep deprivation was my constant reality and it hit me hard in 2016. 

From all of the hormonal imbalances and added stress from the severe, chronic sleep deprivation, along with taking on a part-time job in retail around the holidays, I experienced a chemical pregnancy and battled depression on and off for months. Our marriage was also under so much strain because I simply was not behaving like myself whatsoever and was on edge or emotional all the time.

Feeling depleted and defeated was an understatement. 

As a Christian, it felt like such a fight to hold onto peace, hope, and joy. Knowing that true peace, hope, and joy are not circumstantial, I really had to lean on God’s grace to get through every single day unlike any other time in my life.

I knew the Bible told me that I needed to “count it all joy” in the midst of these trials, but I needed God to give me eyes to see the why behind that and empower me to the how as well. 

We find in the opening of James’ letter to the tribes of Israel, after his initial greeting, he immediately begins exhorting and encouraging God’s people that the storms of life are not for no reason at all; there is purpose within the pain. 

James 1:2-3 says,

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces [a]patience.” 

NKJV

We know that as children of God, our Heavenly Father is allowing these trials into our life to strengthen our faith in Him, knowing that He is always working things for our good (Romans 8:28). James 1:3 reveals that this sharpening or testing of our faith ‘muscles’ will produce a patience in us, which is a fruit of the Spirit. God will often use painful, uncomfortable, and stressful situations to sanctify us. We can have joy knowing that these storms of life and difficulties are molding us into looking more like Christ. 

Ultimately, we must remember that our joy is not anchored in this life, but most importantly, in the life to come.

When our lives are filled with trials, we must be able to look to the future—to heaven—to find the joy that can soothe our weary hearts. Our joy must be based on looking to God and to the inheritance we will receive in heaven. This is exactly what Jesus did. He was able to endure the cross because of the joy that was set before Him (Heb. 12:2). We, too, must realize that the suffering we endure in this life cannot compare with the joy that is laid up for us in heaven.

To be able to count all suffering joyful, we must be able to trust God.

Are you struggling with that kind of confidence in God’s goodness in all things and finding comfort in His sovereign hand in your life, even in your suffering? Ask God to help you find joy in Him alone and to give you a heavenly perspective when you are tempted to allow the present circumstances to consume you.

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Created for Greatness

One of the hardest things about living in this world as a Christian is not letting your mind conform to the earthly/carnal/temporal surroundings. The longer you are separated from Kingdom ways, which can be found in the Word of God, the easier it is to begin to think and act like the rest of the world who know so little of God’s ways. We become less and less heavenly-minded and begin to lose our focus on the eternal life that awaits us.

Paul urges us in Romans 12:2:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

NKJV

The Word of God will transform our carnal way of thinking that we are naturally born with, and once we are born again by receiving Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we must continue in our transformation process because we aren’t “home” yet. Although we are citizens of heaven, we still have a temporary residence here on earth and because of that we are subject to its environment. We have to renew our mind daily with God’s Word.

I’ve personally experienced instances where I have been pulled into following society’s timeline or approval process, measuring the way I lived my life with the world’s standards and regulations.

One instance, in particular, is measuring success or accomplishment by popularity and quantity when using the finances, time, talent, or drive that the Lord has so graciously given us to use on this earth. Often, we use them to make sure we advance in this life for ourselves, but God’s perfect will is to use them to bring Him glory and reach people for His Kingdom. To the world, the more people hearing about the accomplishment, the greater the success and the more difference your life just made by contributing your gifts, time, or finances. The world is all about outward appearance, how something looks on the outside. But the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

If the world saw a story in the newspaper about a shepherd that left 99 sheep to go after 1 that had gone astray, they would consider it absolutely foolish! “You could have lost even more! Think of all of that business you could potentially lose!” I hear. Or what about King David (who was anointed the next King of Israel and awaiting his throne) who faithfully served King Saul even when he sought to kill him? “Honor his authority?! That throne is rightfully yours! Tell King Saul to take a hike!”

Or how about a man from Nazareth who changed the entire world forever with just twelve people who gave up their entire lives to follow Him? “You have HOW many followers on Twitter…TWELVE?! I have 6 MILLION…I’m WAY more influential than you!”

Now, I’m not saying that the Lord can’t use someone to advance the Kingdom who has 6 million followers of Twitter, but why do we think that He chooses to use that person over the one who only has twelve Twitter followers (in the context of influence, of course)? 

My point is that we must break ourselves free from the mindset that your life only matters when people hear about your accomplishments or contributions to society. God is looking at the motive behind our drive to do great things and this change in mindset requires us to not be conformed to the way the world thinks. We must seek His truth so that we may find His perfect will.

But we must ask ourselves:

As Christians, is our drive to do great things becoming about us, or are we pointing others to Jesus? Are we content with being an “unknown” to the world, but known by God Almighty?

John the Baptist began to lose disciples when Jesus came on the scene, but John knew His purpose on this earth: to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming; to point others straight to the King of Kings so that they can enter the gate of salvation. “More of Him and less of me,” John declared in John 3:30. This should be our mindset too as we live our life for God’s glory alone.

It is our nature to be self-centered, to long for recognition, to be applauded for our efforts, etc. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting credit for a job well-done, but we should always remember that “we are not our own. We’ve been bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). 

Anything we do, we should always give the credit and the glory to the One who gave us the ability to accomplish it and want nothing more than for others to grow and mature into a strong, healthy relationship with their Heavenly Father and Creator.

He sees each life as precious and doesn’t weigh one life more important than another.

So to the stay-at-home mom raising those little ones in the admonition of the Lord, you are doing great things for God! 

To the CEO of that multi-million-dollar company who gives all the glory to God, you are doing great things for God! To that youth pastor with a group of ten kids who you minister to week in and week out, you are doing great things for God! 

Just remember that success is to advance the Kingdom by sharing the gospel to one person at time! Give God the glory He deserves, not only with your words but with your heart…He created you to do great things for Him!

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