My church is doing a memory project in which we, as a congregation, have been given 25 Bible verses to memorize through the Spring and Summer. We’ll then receive another 25 verses to memorize in the Fall and Winter. I am so excited to participate in this and intentionally learn and memorize scripture. The goal isn’t just so I can stand in front of someone and tell them a Bible verse. The goal is to connect the mind and the heart with the Word of God. In so doing, may God be glorified, and may I run to the light of His Word every single day!
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 ESV
There isn’t much to add now, is there?
If we confess our sins
Who remembers learning about Conditional Sentences in Language Arts class? I remember having to write several sentences that would show that I understood how to write these types of sentences. If a certain condition is true, then a particular result happens. But that result will only happen if the condition is true.
Christians must confess their sins. There is no way to get around it. There isn’t anything that God doesn’t know already. Some may question well, if God already knows everything, what is the point of confessing it? That’s just it. Yes, He knows, but He wants you to know as well and take the important step toward salvation – which is confession.
What does it mean to confess our sins? It means acknowledging our failures, our shortcomings, and our mistakes before God. We don’t try to justify or excuse our actions, but we openly and honestly admit to them. Confessing our sins is not just a ritual or formality but an act of surrender. It’s a way of letting go of our pride and admitting that we need God’s mercy and grace. It’s confessing any sin that goes against God’s commandments and how we are supposed to live.
Something that I have noticed in some church circles is the desire to welcome people in and want them to feel included – while remaining to live in their sinful lifestyle. In other words, there is no urgency for repentance or teaching them that they are living in sin. The urgency is focused more on wanting them to feel loved and welcome. However, enabling sin does not equal showing love. In fact, the greatest way we can love someone is by pointing out their sin and then directing them to the One who loves them the most and displaying that love in the most incredible way – by dying on the cross so that we may live!
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Twice, in the book of John, Jesus said, “Sin no more” (John 5:14; John 8:11).
We confess, and then we sin no more. Jesus is faithful to forgive us and to cleanse us.
What does it mean that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins? It means that His forgiveness is not based on our merit or worthiness but on His character and promise. He is faithful to His Word and His love, and He is just to forgive us because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
God’s forgiveness is not just a pardon but a cleansing. It’s a process of removing the stain and the guilt of sin from our hearts and minds. It’s a way of renewing our spirit and our relationship with Him. As we confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness, we also receive the gift of Holy Spirit who empowers us to live a new life of righteousness and holiness. We become children of God who walk in the light and fellowship with Him and one another.
Going back to my point about some churches excusing sin in order to make people feel welcome. As Christians, we are called to strive for holiness and to follow God’s commands. Sin is never condoned or excused. In fact, 1 John 3:4 says, Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. In 1 Peter, we are called to be holy.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:13-16
Yes, Jesus came to save us from our sins and offers us grace and forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean we should continue to live in sin. Romans 6:1-2 reminds us that What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
So sister in Christ, if you carry the burden of your sins, don’t despair or hide from God. You can’t hide anyway. Confess your sins to Him and receive His forgiveness and cleansing. And go and sin no more. Live a life that pursues holiness and rejoices in the extraordinary love of Christ!
My church is doing a memory project in which we, as a congregation, have been given 25 Bible verses to memorize through the Spring and Summer. We’ll then receive another 25 verses to memorize in the Fall and Winter. I am so excited to participate in this and intentionally learn and memorize scripture. The goal isn’t just so I can stand in front of someone and tell them a Bible verse. The goal is to connect the mind and the heart with the Word of God. In so doing, may God be glorified, and may I run to the light of His Word every single day!
As I memorize scripture, I don’t want this to just be words to say. I desire to truly dig in and learn more about each verse’s message. Sometimes it will be simple and straightforward. Other times there will be layers of amazing truth and wisdom. Since digging into the Word of God, I have noticed how it has changed me. Scripture humbles and expresses truth. It dispels any doubt I may have had and provides wisdom and guidance for daily life. The Word of God continually points to Jesus – the source of our Salvation. One of my favorite things to do is flip the pages between New Testament and Old Testament to see prophecy fulfilled and how connected scripture is. Context is so important! So I’ve decided to share what I learn with you! Let’s dig in together!
No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.
Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian LIfe
The first verse to commit to memory is John 14:6. I’m choosing the ESV as my translation of choice to memorize these precious words.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
(I typed that from memory, in case you were wondering. Ha!)
Jesus is the way. In Exodus 26, God gives instructions for how to build His Tabernacle. In verses 33-36, the instructions are given for blocking off the Most Holy Place, which would contain the ark of the testimony. Only the Levitical High Priest (Leviticus 16) could enter this part of the Tabernacle once a year, on the Day of Atonement. No one else was allowed to enter God’s Holiness. In Leviticus 10:2, we read that Aaron’s two sons entered and offered “unauthorized fire” or strange fire, which the Lord had not commanded them to do. Each of them was consumed by a fire that came from the Lord and died. Right there. On the spot! And now we have Jesus, who has come to fulfill the OT prophecy. And there is salvation in one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). The moment Jesus said, “It is finished,” and bowed His head to give up His spirit (John 19:30), the curtain that separated us from the Most Holy Place was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). Thus, there was no longer any separation between God and the people.
I encourage you to open your Bible and read Hebrews 9:11-10:18 for a more in-depth explanation of the significance of Jesus’ death on the cross. He IS the way!
Jesus is the truth. John 1:17 says For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 1 John 5:20 says, And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Jesus is the life. Believing in Jesus doesn’t just bring life to those who believe in Him and know His voice. It brings us eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16) and My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand John 10:26-27).
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
I’m going to be honest with you. After taking the time to ponder what Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 means to the believer, I became overwhelmed and at a loss for words. What an incredible gift from a loving Savior Who has given up His life for me – a wretch that deserves so much worse.
We are so much more deserving of God’s wrath and eternal punishment, but Oh! what a gift it is for those who believe to know that because of Jesus, we have received grace, mercy, and forgiveness and life everlasting with the King of Kings. Oh, glorious day!
These phrases appear all over these days. From social media posts to inspirational blog posts, magazine articles, and self-help books. You will be quick to find something pertaining to one of these sayings and it makes sense because our society is all about self-affirmation. I confess to saying one more of these and have humbly sought forgiveness and wisdom from the Lord. I’ve recently heard a friend say “you do you” in response to someone they know living a certain way they don’t agree with.
But is that how God wants us to live? Is this Biblical?
Our society, especially here in the U.S.A. is very self-serving. Everywhere you will see commercials, posters, billboards, and more celebrating individuality and encouraging women to “be themselves” and to “do what makes you happy”! In fact, a major beauty supply retailer launched a campaign in the Summer of 2022 celebrating women’s individuality, resilience, and strength. Included in this campaign were women who were from all different backgrounds and men masquerading as women. Yep, you read that right and I’m not going to describe it any other way. This campaign was embraced and celebrated by many celebrities and some I follow on social media. It was a bit shocking when I even saw self-professing Christians sharing the posts.
I don’t know why I continue to be shocked when this comes up but I am.
This idea of “you do you” is a bit crazy to me. First, the phrase can be used for a couple of situations. The first is when someone makes a decision for themselves that they deem is right for them. The second is when someone can’t seem to make a decision even if suggestions have been given. I’ve also heard the phrase used with an additional thought – it doesn’t affect me in any way. In other words, the decision the other person made has no effect on anyone else. Therefore, “you do you”.
This is such a huge contradiction to what the Word of God says. Sure, there isn’t anything wrong with having confidence in something you’re able to do. But that self-confidence needs to be accompanied by some other character traits such as humility and the fear of God. It’s imperative that we as Christian women take heed to the fine line that is drawn between a “self-love-you-do-you-believe-in-yourself” mentality and putting all our trust in the Lord and Him alone. There is also clear guidance in scripture for how we approach others who make sinful choices. It does indeed affect us.
When we use any of the phrases shared above, the focus is on the self. They point toward our own strengths and encourage placing our faith and trust in our own abilities. The implication is that we can trust ourselves and should “follow our heart”. Oh, sinner. This is so contradictory to what the Lord has to say about us.
Psalm 53:1-3 (ESV) says: The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity: there is none who does good. God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
If you think this verse is just for the people of the Old Testament, it is quoted in Romans 3:10-12 by Paul to the Romans. As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
In Luke 18:19, Jesus is addressing a rich ruler who calls Jesus “good”. Jesus’ response to him is “why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Proverbs 3:5 tell us to trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Jeremiah 9:23, the Lord says, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, and that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” Follow your heart? Jeremiah 17:9 says, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Repeatedly, in scripture, we are reminded we are filled with sin and to believe in the LORD. In fact, we are told to look away from ourselves and not to rely on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). How much clearer can it be made that every single one of the phrases above are contradicting what scripture tells us? Are we the way and truth of our own lives? Absolutely not. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The next time someone says to “follow your heart”, you can say your heart is deceitful but God is faithful and sovereign. Psalm 115:1 is a beautiful reminder of where to place our hope and who to follow at all times! Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” God – alone – is worthy of our trust, our worship, and our loyalty. It is so tempting to allow our society to whisper the lie to believe in ourselves but when left to ourselves – we fail.
So, what about others? If we see someone else living a sinful life and making choices contrary to the Bible? What are we to do? Do we say, “Hey… you do you, sister…” because it doesn’t affect us? I believe it depends on the relationship and if one is a professing Christian. It also depends on how scripture tells us to live and scripture is pretty clear about that.
Matthew 5:14-16 tells us we are “the light of the world” and to “let your light shine before others“. Ephesians 5:8 says we are now “light in the Lord” and to “walk as children of light”. What does this mean? Well, what does a light do? It helps us to see, right? So, we are to be that light to help others see God and His truth! Is telling someone, who is living in sin, “you do you” shining the light of Christ to them? Absolutely not! Even if it doesn’t affect our personal lives, to excuse the sin and take the opportunity to show Pure Love is doing a disservice to the way we are called to live.
Of course, there is a loving way to do this. I do not recommend you declare fire and brimstone but what an incredible opportunity to share the gospel and not compromise what the Word of God says. Here is a spectacular perspective to take on being a light to others around us. We are all image-bearers of God. In Genesis 1:26, we read that God made “man” in His image. This is all men; Christians and non-Christians. All humankind is made in the image of God. There is no one on this earth who is not in need of the gospel. All of us on this earth are heading down one of two paths – eternal life in heaven or eternal life in hell.
What will you do to be a light to those around you who live in sin? Will you dismiss their choices with “you do you” or will you take the bold stance in sharing the life-saving truth that is the gospel? It won’t be easy. You’ll be setting yourself up for persecution and losing friends but what are you more concerned with? Pleasing man or the Lord? Obeying God or succumbing to the whim of society? Will you compromise your faith in order to be accepted by others or will you be courageous and rooted and build up in Him and established in the faith (Colossians 2:7)?
I’m not saying we need to go seek out other sinners in a coffee shop and ask if they realize they are living in sin and repent of their ways. Or maybe we should??? But, when we have an opportunity to instead of saying “you do you”, say something like, “let me tell you about my Jesus” – oh what an incredible gift and opportunity to share about the Living Hope we know of.
What about fellow Christians? These are our sisters who have declared Christ as their Savior. First, no matter if we are sharing with a Christian or non-Christian, we must have the right attitude. Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Colossians 3:12-13 and 1 Peter 3:8 give more direction on putting on the virtues of Christ. With a compassionate heart, humility, and patience, we can speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Paul tells us in Galatians 6:1 – Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. “Spiritual” are those who are walking in the Spirit in faith and obedience – it’s not a word to elevate anyone. The second part of this verse gives a warning as well – as we give gentle restoration we must also be aware of how easy it is – for all of us – to be tempted by Satan.
Always go to the Lord first, have an attitude of humility, love, and genuine concern for the other person, and commit to what the Word of God says.
Sometimes these conversations will result in the sister not walking away from her sin. Matthew 18:15-17 gives the process of confronting a sinning brother or sister and would be what to follow.
This is rarely an easy process but it is so worth it! When we observe someone repenting of their sin and receiving restoration from Jesus – it is a reason for a joyous celebration! It is an opportunity to remember how faithful and merciful God is and He fulfills His promises in scripture.
I’ve got some new phrases to leave you with.
Believe and trust in the Lord!
Do what pleases the Lord!
Don’t “do you” – lean not on your own understanding but in all your ways acknowledge HIS ways! (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Any additional thoughts? I’d love to hear from you!
The following is from a devotion I shared during a recent ladies’ Christmas party at my church.
What kinds of traditions have you had throughout the years during Christmas? Do any special memories stand out to you when this time of year comes? For me, there are so many! Decorating the house with Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald playing on the record player, hanging up the green and red chain made of construction paper above my bed to count down the days until Christmas, going to the fabric store to pick out a pattern for my mom to make my fancy Christmas dress for the church service on Christmas Eve, Wednesday evening Advent service at church with soup dinner after, practicing for the Christmas pageant every Sunday after church and wondering who would be chosen to play Mary or one of the angels, going over the river and through the woods to Grandma and Grandpa Elsner’s house for Christmas Day dinner and presents. Yes, we really did go over a river and through the woods to get there. Going through the Montgomery Ward (did anyone else call it monkey ward?) Christmas catalog and Sears catalog, circling all the things I wanted for Christmas and then writing my list for my mom to give to Santa. I could go on and on and on but there is one special tradition that stands out the most. And that was baking the famous Elsner rolled Christmas cookies. Okay, they aren’t (weren’t?) really called that but everybody looked forward to our Christmas cookies. My mom would be in the kitchen making the dough, and I would help cut out the shapes with the cookie cutters. In the oven, they would go, and the fragrance of freshly baked cookies would fill the house. Then on to racks, they would go to cool off for my dad and me to decorate with frosting and sprinkles. It was quite the assembly line of prepping, rolling, baking, and decorating. Soon, there would be tubs of cookies ready to be packaged up and given to friends and family. Each year was a bit different for me – sometimes I was excited to help in making them and then there were days when I could think of a gazillion things to do. But I sure do treasure the memories of something that brought my family together for an entire weekend (sometimes longer) to make these cookies. I loved watching my dad purse his lips together as he frosted each cookie to perfection. I wanted to help sometimes but that was HIS job. So, I got creative with the sprinkles. To this day, these cookies get baked every year and they are just as delicious now as they were over 40 years ago. While we work away baking and decorating the cookies, we would listen to Christmas music on the record player. Even when we upgraded to the 8-track and cassette player, the record player was my favorite way to hear this music.
In addition to all the traditions listed above, I also loved listening to Christmas hymns. One that has become a favorite of mine is the hymn Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. As a child, I loved picking out the harmony line in the hymnal but never totally paid attention to the lyrics. It was just one of those hymns we sang every year at church and, whenever it came on the radio, I had to turn it up to practice that beautiful harmony line. This leads me to ponder something that seems to happen when it comes to traditions. The rituals we do and songs we sing every year because “it wouldn’t feel like Christmas if we didn’t” can easily lose their purpose and meaning. A common result for many of us is we lose sight of why we celebrate this time of year. When these traditions were birthed, what was the reason? And I think a wise response is to truly stop and ponder that question.
Yes, traditions are a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday, but I have wanted to be intentional about remembering why we have and celebrate Christmas. This includes the days leading up to Christmas which is known as the Advent season. At first, I thought Advent was just an old-fashioned tradition, but I have learned there is a really special significance to Advent. And, I promise, it relates to the cherished Christmas hymn I mentioned above. Advent is anticipating Jesus. In the Old Testament, it was the waiting for the Messiah to arrive as prophesied by Isaiah, Haggai, Jeremiah, and God Himself. In the four weeks leading up to Christmas, I love to read from the major and minor prophets, like Isaiah, as they foretold Jesus’ coming. The miraculous birth of God, as a man, from a virgin. I mean, can we just take a moment to ponder that? This is actually what I love about the Advent season – taking a break from the hustle and bustle and taking the time to understand the significance of why we celebrate Christmas.
Back to the Christmas Hymn. As mentioned earlier, in my youth, I wasn’t so much aware of the lyrics, even though I sang along but it was the melody and harmonizing along with it that I just loved. Now, as an adult, these lyrics have become so very meaningful, and the hymn is my #1 favorite to listen to and sing during the Advent and Christmas seasons.
Something that I love to do is learn more about who wrote a hymn and why. Of course, I did just that with this hymn. It was written by Charles Wesley and first published in 1744. He originally wrote a prayer that was inspired by a verse in Haggai.
And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts. Haggai 2:7
The footnotes of my ESV study Bible say this about this verse:
God promises to shake all nations (as well as “the heavens, and the earth,” v. 6). The result of this shaking will be that the treasures of all nations will be yielded by the nations to adorn the temple; but the result will also be more than this, for the Lord will fill His house with glory – that is, with his own presence. The focus of Haggai’s oracle in its context is specifically on the immediate fulfillment of this prophecy. In addition, from a NT vantage point, many would see a foreshadowing of events unfolding in the incarnation of Christ and ultimately in His second coming at the of the age (e.g., when Jesus spoke of His body as “this temple” in John 2:20-21; and when the book of Revelation speaks of the day when the whole city of Jerusalem will be filled with the presence of God, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb…and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it,” Rev. 21:22, 24).
The prayer that Charles Wesley published had the following words:
The prayer was turned into a song, by Wesley with the intent for people to remember Advent and Christmas as commemorating the birth of Jesus and preparing for the second coming. In 1855, Charles Spurgeon made the hymn more well-known in a Christmas sermon, when he was 21, and included parts of the hymn to illustrate his point that very few are “born king” and that Jesus was the only one who had been born king without being a prince.
Knowing the history of this hymn makes it even more meaningful. In fact, each line of this hymn is a reflection of scripture. When we read scripture, our focus is turned to the One this time of year is all about. The reason we celebrate!
I’d love to go through each line of the song with you and show how each word and stanza relates to scripture.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
When Jesus was presented at the temple and the prophetess Anna met him her response in Luke 2:38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Born to set Thy people free; From our fears and sins release us,
Hebrews 2:14-15 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood (humans), He (Jesus) Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Hebrews 4:3, 10 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘they shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. Quoted from Psalm 95:11 – rest is enjoying God’s presence forever.
v. 9-10 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Speaking of Simeon who was watching for the Messiah when Jesus was presented at the temple, in Luke 2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.Consolation is the hope that God would come to rescue and comfort his people.
Joel 3:16 The Lord roars from Zion, and utters His voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the LORD is a refuge to His people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. (amid the cosmic and military confusion, the people of God are held secure and spared destruction.)
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Isaiah 42:1-3; Matthew 12:18-21 after Jesus heals the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees went out to conspire against Him. Jesus knowing this, withdrew from the synagogue and continued to heal those who followed him ordering them not to make him known which fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 42:1-3 Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon Him, and He will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets; a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not quench, until He brings justice to victory; and in His name the Gentiles will hope.
Dear desire of every nation,
Haggai 2:7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts.
Joy of every longing heart.
1 Peter 1:8-9 Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a King,
Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace, there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it. With justice and with righteousness from this forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
John 18:37 Then Pilate said to Him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
Born to reign in us forever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
1 John 4:9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.
Revelation 11:15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.”
By Thine own eternal Spirit Rule in all our hearts alone;
Jeremiah 31:33 when God is speaking of the new covenant (Jesus) For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my new law within them, and I will write it on their hears. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
By Thine all sufficient merit, Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
Ephesians 2:4-7 But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
This is a beautiful hymn for Advent that expresses deeply the two-fold purpose of the Advent season – we remember the birth of Christ, and fiercely desire His coming again. Perhaps more than some Advent hymns, this text especially expresses our longing for Christ’s second coming.
After crying out and naming our concerns and heartbreaks before God, how beautiful to close with this simple prayer of longing that also speaks of our hope. Even as we express our need for consolation, we do so in the knowledge that our God is a God who consoles.
I find it fitting that we sing this song together and truly ponder the words, and the prayer and enter into this Advent season with hope and faith in Jesus who has come to set His people free and will come again in glory.
*As a group, we sang this hymn together. But you can find several versions of this song on YouTube and streaming services like Spotify. My most favorite arrangement is by Shane and Shane which you can find at the link below.
If you’ve reached a point where you only attend a church because of the relationships you’ve built there and not because of the sound doctrine/teaching that’s actually feeding your soul, then maybe it’s time to evaluate whether you’re attending a sound biblical church.
Well isn’t that just a snap in z formation to the face if I ever read one.
Where to even begin on this topic but what I do want to start with is the intention behind this post. It isn’t to call out any one person or church in particular. There are many people I cherish from past churches and while I have every intention of sharing truth here, it is never my intention to bring hurt or pain. What I do want to bring are accountability and awareness. In fact, the reason my posts have morphed over the past two years is that I have realized there is no time to become complacent or “seeker-friendly” with what I have to share. If what I share from scripture offends anyone, it isn’t me you need to come to terms with. It’s the Lord. He wrote those words through faithful believers.
There is so much that I have compromised for the sake of not offending others or to be “known”. I have lost opportunities to be bold all for the sake of being afraid to lose friendships. Historically, I embraced the “seeker-friendly” mindset that so many churches do. What do I mean by “seeker-friendly”? These are churches, or ministries – not all but most – that are more focused on bringing new people, mostly unbelievers or the curious, into the church. They are adamant about communicating that they want to provide an atmosphere that is welcoming to all. The sermons don’t get too serious or in-depth but are just enough to skim truth in such a way that is “understandable”. Worship trends toward produced and carefully curated for the purpose of not being a distraction or hindrance for others.
When I was ripe in giving my life to the Lord, I loved and appreciated how easy it was to get connected and volunteer. Many will hear the story of how my mentor interviewed me for teaching Sunday School and essentially told me I was the right one for the position immediately. It was only five minutes into our conversation and she just knew. I remember walking out the door feeling empowered, excited, and nervous all at the same time. The notion that I would be volunteering with like-minded, believers in the Lord had me so excited. But, I was also nervous because I didn’t feel equipped enough to teach these young kiddos. Thankfully, everything was scripted and it was super easy to teach the lessons. It was mostly just helping the kiddos pay attention and diffuse little spats.
As the years went by, I would become more and more involved in different ministries including choir, worship team, international missions, and the after-service prayer team. It was incredible to feel needed, known, and, at times, sought after. Friendships were blooming and I just loved that these friends were fellow believers.
In my mid-30’s I moved to Chicago and wanted to find a church similar to the one I had “grown-up” in spiritually. I found one! Or so I thought. At first, it was wonderful. The teaching seemed to be the kind I related to and the worship was pretty amazing and well-curated. The production was what I was used to, if not a little better because hey… we’re in Chicago folks! I have shared in past posts how things started to change for me when I realized how naive I had become when it came to assuming all Christians would agree on various social issues and sin. To me, these were all pretty clear in scripture but my eyes were opened to the fact that not all who called themselves Christians thought the same thing. At the time, I didn’t know how to refute or debate or find the scripture to support what I believed. So, I ignored and justified it all because there were so many other things I wasn’t willing to give up – like the relationships.
Fast forward to April 2022. Two years have gone by since the shutdowns prompted by the “C”. (Yep, I’m speaking in code on purpose. You know what I’m talking about though!) Up until this point, I had gotten really good at avoiding the things that were bothering me when it came to the church I was so committed to. I LOVED and ADORED the people I served with and I hated the thought of what would happen if I spoke up. I shouldn’t put past tense on those two words “loved” and “adored” because I currently love and adore these same people. And it is because of that love I am so desperate to share what I do via this blog and any other written forms. I’m not going to hold back for fear of what others think of me. And man is that hard because, in the past, all my decisions were filtered through what others thought of me.
The only One I am attempting to please is my Lord and Savior. As it should be for you dear sister in Christ. I truly believe we are at a place in time where it is even more important to stand firm in the Word and not to conform to the ways of this world. Arm yourself by reading scripture and digging deep. If your current church does not go deep into the Bible, find one that does. Pray for discernment and wisdom in your conversations that will likely happen. When relationships end, lean on the Lord for what those relationships provided. He will supply more than you could ever ask or imagine! Be prepared to celebrate when those same people reach out for reconciliation.
The important thing to remember is to never compromise the Word of God, simply to win people to church or to maintain relationships. Scripture tells us that many will have itching ears to hear words that conform to their own ideas and thinking. (2 Timothy 4:3). I love how the Amplified Bible states this verse:
For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine and accurate instruction [that challenges them with God’s truth]; but wanting to have their ears tickled [with something pleasing], they will accumulate for themselves [many] teachers [one after another, chosen] to satisfy their own desires and to support the errors they hold.
2 Timothy 4:3 (AMP)
This permeates into the leadership of the church as well and influences the mindset I mentioned earlier when it comes to “seeker-friendly”. If the church you attend skips over scripture or skirts around important issues in order to not create “controversy” or to avoid appearing in the newspaper for offending, it’s time to find a new church. If there is no accountability or elders, it’s time to find a new church. If you are a leader or attend this type of church, seek God’s wisdom and direction in what you should do. If He is calling you to speak up, trust that He will guide your words and be your source of all you need. If He is calling you away, pray for the discernment needed in finding a new church and also remember His faithfulness.
For me, I had to come to terms with multiple things. I was comfortable. I loved being known. And I adored the friendships I had. I am sad to say some have decided to part ways for various reasons. It was not easy at all but, ultimately, knowing that God is the One I serve and aim to please has helped. I am currently working on a blog series focused on how to navigate through the muddy waters of relationship management, especially when it comes to changing your place of worship. It may not seem like a topic big enough to focus on but, it really is. I know I’m not alone in what I have gone through and it is SO important that we remember where to place our focus. 100% on Jesus.
Some may say that being relational is still important. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely is.
Allow me to use this illustration – do you have a favorite pair of sunglasses? I do! Not only do they do an excellent job protecting my eyes from the UV rays but they are also very stylish. They are the lens I look through so that I’m not squinting. We have different lenses in life to look through as well. Each lens gives us perspective. If we choose only to look through the relational lens, every word, action, and decision we make will be based on being relational. The risk with that is compromising scripture and God’s clear direction given to us for how to live. It’s well-meaning. It’s not entirely bad. In fact, one could find plenty of verses in the Bible to support being relational. However, if we are only doing this through the relational lens, we are out of context.
With the lens of scripture and God’s truth, being relational and loving looks much, much different. Love according to the world’s standard is to bend in order to accept no matter what. And in order to accept, we don’t bring up anything that could offend. The lens of God’s truth shows us we are depraved sinners who deserve the wrath of God. It shows the good news of what Jesus did for us by dying on the cross and taking on our sin. It shows the teachings of Jesus leading up to His death where He held nothing back because He loved us too much not to. By His example, we also should not be holding anything back because we love others too much. We yearn for others to know Him and to accept Jesus as their Savior. We want to show them what the Bible says is sin so they know what to turn away from. Even if it offends. Even if it hurts. Even if it downright stinks because the sin one may need to turn away from is one that seems impossible to give up.
Sister friend, may I give you some sound advice?
Pray. Read your Bible. Pray. Live in Godly boldness. Pray. Read your Bible. Pray. Rinse and repeat.
The road is not easy but wow, what a glorious and wonderful opportunity to fully rely on Jesus. You may not see the “fruit” at first but you will. He will show you.
Some of you may now be thinking, “Melissa, how do I find a sound/biblical church?”
It’s a good and important question and the best answer I can give you is this: Visit churches. If you find one that could be “the one”, reach out to the Pastor and church council. Ask questions and be direct with them. Ask to see the mission, vision, values, and doctrinal statement. A sound/biblical church will be more than willing to share all of this with you! Pray. Ask for the discernment and wisdom from God as you search. Trust that He is faithful because He is!
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
Luke 22:42 ESV
Near the end of September 2010, I remember a moment when I was on my knees crying out to God to save a little baby boy named Ewan. A good friend of mine had given birth to a baby with a very broken heart. The optimist in me wanted to believe that this child would be one of the few who would survive and live to tell all about it. In that time of prayer, as tears streamed down my face, I begged God to save this precious child. The words that spilled out of my mouth declared that if I believed what I was praying – if I had faith – that God would answer! As I took deep breaths, I would say the words, “Lord, I believe. I have faith. I know you will save this baby boy because of that faith! Because if I believe it, you will do it!”
After all, isn’t this what Matthew 21:22 says?
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.
Matthew 21:22 ESV
Unfortunately, my faith and belief did not save sweet little Ewan. He flew to heaven on October 4, 2010.
Have you prayed a prayer with this same thought? If you believe, you will receive! So, if He doesn’t answer your prayer the way you want Him to, that means you didn’t have enough faith. Does this sound familiar at all? This is just one of the many battles I have had over the years as a Christian. Over and over, I would hear about answered prayers and read blogs or books affirming my assumption that I just didn’t have enough faith and that is why Ewan did not live.
But what about all the other people praying along with me? Did they also not have enough faith?
What about you, dear sister, have you prayed and prayed; believing with all your heart that because you have faith God is going to answer you but He didn’t? Does this mean that your faith is weak? How about in this present moment – is there something you are praying for? Perhaps there is a friend with a terminal illness and you are praying with faith that God will heal her. Or perhaps you lost your job and there is a possibility on the horizon so you pray and pray believing because if you believe, you will receive! How about those bills that are piling up and your money is non-existent – but if you pray with BOLD FAITH, you will receive! Some rich uncle will call you tomorrow with the money that you need!
Is this what Matthew 21:22 actually means though? And what about that first verse I shared from Luke where Jesus is praying in the garden the night that he was to be taken in as a prisoner? Have you ever been in a place like I had been where you sit back, face in the palm of your hands, wondering what you did wrong because a prayer you prayed was not answered? How much more confusing can this get, right? I mean, it seems that scripture is telling us two different things!
Well, let’s do some peeling back and look at both of these verses in context. 1 John 5:14 helps gives us some clarity on Matthew 21:22:
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to His will he hears us.
1 John 5:14 ESV (emphasis mine)
This verse doesn’t mean that we need to figure out the future for what God has planned for us. What it does mean is that what we ask for must be part of God’s will. Unfortunately, I found myself in a place of viewing God as a magic genie. If I pray and believe, He will grant me my wishes! Oh what a tangled web of frustration and confusion this can lead us into.
So, what does this mean? Should we stop praying altogether?
Absolutely not! God wants us to pray. Jesus even taught us how to pray. (Matthew 6:9-13). We need to pray. If we heed the instructions of the Lords’ Prayer, praying should remind us Who is sovereign over all. The prayer begins with God being treated with the highest honor and set apart as holy. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.(v.9) Then it continues with these words:
Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:10 ESV (emphasis mine)
Your will be done.
There was a time when those four words would have invoked fear in me.
No Lord. I want control! If you could just listen to my words and act according to my plans, that would be great! And if you don’t, then that means you don’t love me and all this faith and belief I have poured into my prayers is for nothing.
When Ewan died, these are the words I could have easily uttered. Yes, it was sad and awful. However, God doesn’t promise us that things will be easy (John 16:33) but He does promise to be faithful. Do a quick search in your Bible about the faithfulness of God. You will be blown away, I promise! Also, God’s will is perfect. He knows far more than we could ever know. We learn this in the Old Testament:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV
It is comforting and good to know how faithful, gracious and merciful our Lord is. He is sovereign in all He does. When we don’t quite understand the heartache or prayers that were not answered in the way we requested, we do know that God is in control over all and He knows best. This is the sovereign will of God. We see this so clearly in the prayer that Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.
He knew what was coming. The reason He came to earth was about to be fulfilled and He still requested that the cup be taken from Him nevertheless, “not my will, but yours, be done”.
What if we approached our prayers from this same place as Jesus? Using the Lords’ prayer as our guide, what would happen if we submitted our request to the Lord and ended with “nevertheless Sovereign Lord, not my will, but yours, be done”.
Our prayers would then place God where He belongs – seated on the throne.
I love what John Piper says about God’s sovereign will:
“On the one hand, we need the assurance that God is in control and therefore is able to work all of my pain and loss together for my good and the good of all who love Him. On the other hand, we need to know that God empathizes with us and does not delight in sin or pain in and of themselves.”
Unfortunately, we do not have a crystal ball or a magic lamp. There is no way to know the future. But one thing is for sure, when we pray, pray with faith. Pray with belief. Because God will answer our prayers according to HIS will and in so doing, He will remain where He belongs – high and lifted up, sovereign over the heavens and the earth, all glory and power be unto Him and Him alone.
This is where faith comes in. When we pray, we submit our requests and then we trust in His will. No matter the outcome, we will know that He is still in control and we can have faith in His plans even when it is difficult. We rejoice in knowing that God is faithful and just through it all.
While I wish that God would have given us Ewan for much longer than He did, I trust in His plan. During Ewan’s short life on earth, God was doing everything according to His sovereign plan. Sometimes I still wonder why but, oh! What comfort it brings to know my Heavenly Father knows so much more than I do and is faithful through it all.
There is a very popular song that is heard on Christian radio stations and is sung in many churches that declares God’s love is reckless. I’m sure you know which one I speak of immediately and probably have sung it. Well, I’m on a quest to pop your worship music bubble!
Musical worship (doxology) has been a huge part of my Christian life for as long as I can remember. The bible hasn’t always held the same influence as it does for me today and I would run to my radio or CD case to pop in some good worship tunes. The best kind were the ones full of emotion, the perfect bridge and an exceptional melody that either pared well with my voice or I could rock out some sweet harmonies. The more modern the better. The more room for some spontaneous wersh, the better.
When I was given the opportunity lead worship in my church, the need to replicate what I heard on the radio and my CD’s was very important. I wanted the same crescendos, bass lick, electric guitar melody and… oh! … Throw in some strings while we are at it! For the most part, my vision didn’t quite equal reality when the actual worship service began but, that was okay. While what I was desiring for the worship service wasn’t right, I knew deep down that God would move via the Holy Spirit. My prayer would often include words like, “may I be transparent and people see you Lord!” Because I knew in my sinful nature, what I was wanting put me in the spotlight.
Leading worship was a dangerous ministry for me to be part of. Why? Because I have always been someone who loves to be the center of attention. Being part of the worship ministry brought on so many stumbling blocks like comparison, attention, and competition. The other complicated component of being part of this ministry was the song selection. My song choices were melody-driven more than they were lyric-driven. I could justify the lyrics because I knew they were written by other sinners. So, it was okay if sometimes the lyrics didn’t quite fit theologically. Besides, if I were to concentrate on that too much, in my mind it would make me no better than the Pharisees.
“Don’t be legalistic Melissa. God knows our hearts!”
You know what? Lyrics do matter. It is not being legalistic when you are acknowledging God’s discerning words in scripture.
First, I want to address the comparison of someone who is so focused on Biblically-sound lyrics to that of the Pharisees. Yes, the Pharisees were way too law-driven. It was clear they didn’t understand what the consequences were with Jesus coming to earth. They were still focused on the path of seeking forgiveness for their sins that they were missing the fact that Jesus was the very Messiah that was prophesied about. The Pharisees enjoyed control and the prestige that came with their title so when Jesus came along to teach why He was there and how that effects the path of salvation, they didn’t like it. There is so much more to this topic but I have to address this because it has come up multiple times as I have shared how important lyrics are to our worship.
Second, I need to address the topic of legalistic thinking. Listen, wanting to ensure the words I’m singing during worship align with the Word of God is not being legalistic. The word legalistic means of, relating to, or exhibiting strict adherence to the law. (Collins English Dictionary, 2012 digital edition.) In this case, I would use this word with someone saying you can only worship in church with an organ and not a guitar or full band. The type of instrument does not change the words we are singing to our Lord.
So, let’s revisit the song I referred to at the beginning of this post. While most of the words are theologically sound and do have a Biblical foundation, this word ‘reckless’ is completely wrong in describing God. I appreciate what the song writer shares when explaining the word choice but, at the end of the day, we should be able to look to scripture to find if this word is, indeed, somewhere in there. It’s not! Now, some may say we shouldn’t hold to the literal and strict definition of the word reckless. My response is this: why even make it an option for people? Why not, from the start, use a word that is truth and leaves no room for interpretation? My pastor has shared that he would use the word ‘sovereign’ in replace of reckless and I happen to agree. What a beautiful word that leaves no room for extra interpretation. Scripture is saturated with the sovereign nature of our Lord!
How about another song that begins so well. I was in with this song until a line that insinuates that God didn’t want heaven without us. While I love the rest of the lyrics, this line has never rested well with me. I appreciate what The Berean Test says about this phrase and goes in deeper with this song. For the sake of not plagiarizing and following copyright laws, I will link you to the article here: The Berean Test
If you read the full post, you will see that the writer does give the artist the benefit of the doubt but acknowledges the twist on words isn’t quite correct. While it’s nice to think that God didn’t want to be without us, His sovereign love is known in ways that still should bring HIM all the glory. He doesn’t need us. He does love us. So, is this getting too nitpicky about words again? I’ll let you decide but, for me, this is a line I can skip.
I could share more examples of worship songs but, I think you get the idea.
So, this conclusion will probably be the place where you are waiting for the catch for me to launch into a full on legalistic, critical approach to these songs. I promise you this is not where I am going. The great thing is these songs are not a means to salvation. However, it would behoove us to really listen to the words we are singing and digging into the word of God before you fully latch on to that beautiful melody and the emotionally-driven lyrics.
Scripture is pretty clear about being alert to incorrect teaching and that teaching can come through a song. A quick search on the internet for “false teaching” will lend you many verses about being aware of false prophets, teachers and apostles. And perhaps one of the best verses that has been relevant since the day it was written:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2 Timothy 4:3-4
Be on the alert Christian sister. This isn’t just teaching that will come from the pulpit, book or blog. It will come in the form of our worship music as well. My encouragement to you is to prayerfully consider what you are singing. Really listen to the words and the theology. If it doesn’t align with scripture, then it is okay to pass it by no matter how awesome that bridge is. Scripture should shape and influence the doxology we are singing – not the other way around.
Sometimes I know exactly what to share when I sit down to write. Many times, I’ve already gone over the words in my head prior to sitting down at my computer. Then there are times when I know I need to write but the words fail me. Then I wonder, “should I just start to write and see what happens?” Worry sinks in shortly after that because I don’t want my readers to be put off by my blabbering. Today is one of those days where I know I need to write but I’m not 100% for sure and for certain about what.
It is hard to pick one topic to write about because many are relevant to the stage of life I’m in. One moment I will focus on one and dig into it only to hit a wall. So, then I focus on the other the same thing happens. The next thought to cross my mind was, I’ll just write about all of them! But, that can’t be good either because you, my dear poor reader, will probably get whiplash from hopping from one topic to the next.
As I sit here, thinking through the various topics I could address – friendships, grief, identity, being a woman – there is one constant that comes up every single time. No, I’m not going to draw this out nor leave you with a cliffhanger. The constant is the sovereignty of God.
Each time I tip-tap on the keys and lookup scripture, I am continually pointed towards this foundational truth of God’s character: He is Sovereign.
But even that truth is HUGE. How does one hone in on something so magnificent and wonderous and not have this turn into a 15000-word dissertation? How do I make this relevant and relational? How does this topic fit in with being a woman of courage?
My response is to run to scripture which is always the best choice. It is so tempting to read what our favorite author or theologian would say but you can be 100% assured you will receive the truth when you run to scripture. When I did, I came across a most beautiful Psalm that captures so much truth that is relevant to any situation we are faced with here on earth.
Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORDS breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!
Psalm 29 ESV
According to the notes in my ESV Study Bible, this psalm is a hymn of praise to God for His awesome power. The thunderstorm gives us incredible visual symbolism of God’s majestic voice. This makes sense as baal was called the storm-god and was widely worshipped in Syria-Palestine. Of course this hymn would be a reminder of Who created that thunderstorm. God created nature and nature serves HIS purposes, and demonstrates HIS power, wisdom, glory and faithfulness.
Have you ever been near an ocean beach? Not just a bay that is part of the ocean but actually the place where no islands are in view and the water seems to go on for infinity. What I always notice is the waves. My hometown is nestled in the corner where the Pacific Ocean meets the San Juan Islands. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to go down to the water and while so very beautiful, there is just something about the powerful waves that wash ashore on the ocean beaches. Every time I am near one, I have to take it all in and be reminded of how symbolic they are to God’s sovereign power.
I love these words from Psalm 36:
Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgements are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Psalm 36:5-7 ESV
The word ‘judgement’ is from the Hebrew mishpâṭ which literally means judgement and also includes its synonyms like justice or ordinance. How sovereign is our God? Like the great depths of the sea. And who knows how deep the sea actually is? No one actually knows. There are estimates to its depth at 36,200 feet but nothing is concrete.
So, when I stand at the edge of the ocean, I am reminded not only by God’s sovereign power in the waves but His justice that is deeper than the deepest part of the ocean.
In Psalm 29, we are given more imagery to the sovereignty of God through thunder, how it breaks the cedar trees, and how He sits over all things. I am so thankful for scripture that reminds me of how powerful and majestic our God is. When I make time to sit with these words of truth, I am small. I am weak. I am unworthy. But God… He is big. He is strong. And He “makes the deer give birth and strips the forest bare and in His temple, all cry ‘Glory!'”
May you rest in His sovereign power. No matter what stage of life you are in my dear sister – know His power and let His voice give strength and peace to you.
While I have nothing against a new worship song, there is something so rich and wonderful about a hymn. Oftentimes, the lyrics are straight from scripture and are filled with deep truth. I know some may find them “old-fashioned” but, as far as I’m concerned, the Bible will never be “old-fashioned” and neither will a hymn. To kick things off, I wanted to explore my most favorite hymn – Blessed Assurance.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21 ESV
Blessed Assurance was written in 1873 by Fanny Crosby, a hymn writer, who happened to be blind. There is no deep and tragic story that accompanies this hymn, as some do have, but this was a moment when Fanny was visiting her friend Phoebe Knapp. Phoebe played a melody on her piano and asked Fanny what she heard.
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.”
How beautiful are those words? So matter of fact, so simple and yet drenched in Biblical truth.
While I want to focus on what this hymn says, I thought it just as intriguing to learn more about Fanny. What I learned was a treasure trove of a woman who loved the Lord and for to live “is Christ, and to die is gain.” While she was still an infant, she was diagnosed as blind due to an illness that caused inflammation of her eyes. Doctors thought she may have already been born blind but nobody knows for sure. Her father passed away when she was just six months old and was raised by her mother and paternal grandmother. These two women would become integral in her spiritual growth and Christian faith. At the age of eight she wrote her first poem that described her sight condition.
It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”
Through out Fanny’s growing up, she was surrounded by women who continually pointed her toward Jesus. By the age of 10, with the encouragement of her grandmother, she had memorized all four gospels, the Pentateuch, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and many of the Psalms. She learned to play the piano, organ, harp, and guitar, and became a good soprano singer.
After college, Fanny joined a group of lobbyists in Washington D.C. to advocate support for the blind. She was the first woman to speak in the U.S. Senate when she read a poem. While still advocating for the blind, she became an instructor at the New York Institute for the Blind. While there, she befriended future president Grover Cleveland who would dictate some of her poems.
Throughout her Christian faith she was very active in her church as a missionary, deaconess, lay preacher and she wrote hymns with her minister Robert Lowry. From May to November of 1849, Fanny helped care the sick during the cholera epidemic in New York City. One person noted that Fanny seemed to become worn and languid and even depressed. According to Bernard Ruffin: “In this atmosphere of death and gloom, Fanny became increasingly introspective over her soul’s welfare. She began to realize that something was lacking in her spiritual life. She knew she had gotten wrapped up in social, political, and educational reform, and did not have a true love for God in her heart.”
Wow! As I write this, we are still in a pandemic. While my faith is as strong as ever, I can so relate to getting wrapped up on societal and political issues and lose site of that foundational faith. It is so easy to do!
So, Fanny did what many of us do, she searched for a church. She actually attended several and was a fellow traveler of the Wesleyan holiness movement where she met Phoebe Knapp who is the composer of Blessed Assurance.
There is so much more to Fanny’s story that I could just write about her but, as the title of this post indicates, this is about her hymn Blessed Assurance. Knowing about her though definitely helps set up the background for this hymn. When I sing a hymn or worship song, a goal of mine is to pay attention the words. It’s not just a melody. The words we sing should be truth, reflect scripture and honor the Lord. In many ways, we are singing a prayer to the Lord and I don’t want to just be frivolous with my words. I’m just going to go the one reference that is unwavering and filled with truth – the Bible. With each portion of the song, I will share scripture to support.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine; o what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:19-23 ESV
Perfect submission, perfect delight, visions of rapture now burst on my sight; Angels descending, bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 7:9-12 ESV
Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blest; Watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love.
The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, My adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. One thing I ask of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple. For He is my shelter in the day of trouble; He will conceal me under the cover of His tent; He will lift me high upon a rock…. ….I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! Psalm 27:1-5 and 13-14 ESV
My Gift To You
Please enjoy this free printable. Simply save to your computer. It is designed to print as an 8×10.
A couple of years ago, I took it upon myself to inspire other women in leadership roles within the church. As I look back to that time, there is so much I wish I would have known and come to terms with but every opportunity is a learning opportunity. It is a chance for God to correct, to teach and guide us on His path. I don’t regret my years in leadership. And I am revisiting this blog series with some fresh perspective and Biblical insight. Some of it you may not agree with but, I hope as we dive into scripture, you will be awakened to what I have learned this past year.
For as long as I can remember, leading and taking control has come easily for me. Some of my need for control has come from an unhealthy place but that is for another post. So, it has made sense that, over the years, I have held roles of leadership. From youth group president to school project leader to small group leader to ministry leader. If the role wasn’t assigned to me, I eventually slid into the role naturally. In my younger years, being in a leadership role came from that unhealthy place of needing control. I didn’t trust others to make the right decisions and I didn’t like the unknown. Again, details behind that will be saved for another day but, I find it important to make the distinction between leading in my younger years and leading in my later years to now.
My history of leading and realizing it could be a gift led me to be in a leadership role at a church I attended for many years. It was an exciting season as I was learning how faithful God is and how I can trust in His plan, His wiring of me, and His guidance. One phrase I repeated over and over was “God doesn’t call the qualified, He equips the called.” I came into the role of leading not because I had an education to go with it or a degree in theology but because it was clear that the Lord opened the door to serve in that capacity. Leading came naturally and it was exciting to be supported and encouraged to lead.
For about five years, I served as the Women’s Ministry Director at a church I once attended and while that may not seem like enough years of experience to shower you with wisdom, it was enough to be able to share what I’m about to.
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
Psalm 115:1 ESV
Only One God Deserves Praise.
As stated earlier, a mantra I embraced while being a ministry leader was “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called”. In Exodus 4, we get to see this demonstrated in the conversation between Moses and God. Moses expresses his concerns and hesitation in giving the signs God is instructing him to do. Throughout the dialogue, God makes it clear to Moses that He will equip him, He will do the tasks for him and He will send help (Aaron).
God does the same for us. So, I began my role as the women’s ministry leader with this thought in mind. Because I certainly did not have the education or experience to be in this role. Had it been a paid position for which I needed to interview, I highly doubt I would have gotten in. Instead, it is an open door and a very God-timed situation. When I began leading, I had these grand visions of what the ministry could look like. Taking into consideration the conferences and Bible Studies I had attended at other churches, I had ideas and vision!
Over the five years, there were some amazing highs and some frustrating lows. It was amazing to see women embrace their faith and step out of a place of comfort and into a place of courage. I was constantly in awe of how God would put me in situations that I had never been before; situations that scared me but I knew, deep down, that God gave me a “helper” – the Holy Spirit, to do what He was calling me to do.
The lows were no fun! Are they ever? But, they are learning gold mines. The lows can be rich opportunities for the Lord to humble us and remind us Who is in charge and Who is in control. From relational drama to hardly anyone showing up to something I had prepared so hard for to women not connecting in a way I had dreamed about – the lows were very real. Leading a ministry can be a very lonely place too. As an extrovert, this was an extremely challenging component in that, oftentimes, I wondered if others assumed I was fine and was busy with my friends. In reality, I spent many nights alone or uninvited to gatherings and the like. Thankfully, I did have some wonderful close friends who were also leading ministries or in unique positions within the church that had them feeling similar things. It was life-giving to be able to relate to one another in our roles.
The real challenge came when March 2020 came around and everything shut down. Our church chose to remain closed and so we had to conduct any type of gathering online. This just doesn’t do it for me, at all, and I will save that for another post as well. I will pause for a moment and say that yes, I do believe the illness is real and everyone was uncertain and trying to make the best decisions that they knew to make. Everyone was scrambling and trying to be creative with ways to keep people connected. It was no different with women’s ministry. I don’t blame anyone for easily becoming disconnected. It’s so easy to do when there is no personal connection happening and I found it very easy to disengage as well.
My time leading women’s ministry ended in August 2020. One could blame the shutdown but, if I am going to be honest, the shutdown just provided the opportunity to make a decision that I knew had been coming for quite some time already. It was easy to avoid with all the distractions but, when you can’t go anywhere or do what you usually do, the distractions are gone and you are forced to face what God has been patiently waiting for you to reckon with. I had felt the burnout creeping in and I thought it was just God pulling me away from ministry because of His plan for me to return to school. That was a component but, after over a year out of the ministry, I have gained so much more clarity.
I shared earlier that when I began leading the ministry, I came with ideas and visions based on other conferences and studies I attended at other churches. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does become one when you get caught up in the fads and “cool” ways of doing things. The further away I have gotten from vocational ministry, the more I am seeing the big picture of what was happening. Instead of tapping into what God was wanting, and instead of getting into His word, I was more concerned with what the latest cool thing was for ministry. What were other churches doing? How were they decorating for events? What was “on trend”? I wanted to be current and relevant. There is a difference between mimicking and wanting to be like other ministries and using what other ministries do as a learning opportunity. Because it is Biblical to learn, to be mentored, to seek wise counsel, etc.
One of my mantras throughout leading was “we’ve got to move from a place of comfort to a place of courage!” Again, not a bad thing – at all. But what was I really after with that phrase? Yes, my prayer was for women to be engaged and not let fear hinder them from doing whatever God was leading them to do. But there was something else that I was fighting and it was the answer to these questions – “Where are all my women at like the other ministries and churches seem to have? Why don’t I have women running to serve with me or be engaged the way that I would like them to be?”
I was dancing in some dangerous waters here. Was I practicing what I so often preached? Who am I serving here and who am I aiming to please? It wasn’t God. My ministry measurement stick was comparing my ministry with other ones in the area, and beyond. As I read through these sentences, I’m not seeing God’s name very much. Most of the direction is towards me. And boy did He remind me so well Who deserves the glory, honor, and praise. It’s not Melissa.
The sad part of all this is that nobody knew I was struggling. My pride took over and, if you ask anyone, I’m sure they would not have had a clue this was a battle. While that battle was going on there was another one deep within me that I knew had to be between myself and the Lord. It took a ton of humility and repentance on my part and a whole lotta grace on His part. Through the breaking down of my pride, the Lord revealed it was time to let it go. Man, I’m so thankful for a God who is gracious and merciful to His children.
I could sit here and list a million regrets from all those years of leading a ministry. There was confession time with the Lord but I know that there were also some very sweet, amazing Holy Spirit-led moments. Women grew in their faith, relationships were formed, discipleship and community happened and women embraced courage over comfort and fear. That was all the Lord’s doing because this imperfect, prideful human woman couldn’t have done all that on her own.
Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
Psalm 115:2-4 ESV
May all that I do be pleasing to the Lord.
Silver and gold are beautiful. But, as the Psalm goes on to say, these idols have all the body parts but not the functions of the God-created body parts. And when one becomes infatuated with the idols, they become like them. The event decorations, trendy music, and special effects, the latest worship or activity fad can be attractive. But if it is not honoring God, it might as well be dust.
I want to be more like Jesus.
Forget the fads and trendy activities.
Let’s focus on the Bible. Every single word of it and study it. Hunger for it. And not waver from the truth within it. We’ve been gifted with the Living Word of God and it is the only manual, inspiration, and directive we should be receiving from. I love the church I call home now. Every Sunday I sit with my Bible wide open and every Sunday I notice my hunger to learn and read becomes more intense. As I read, the more my focus is directed towards my Heavenly Father and away from myself. He is sovereign. I am not. It’s not to myself but to Him be all the glory and honor and praise forever and ever.
So, does this mean there shouldn’t be a women’s ministry with cute décor and fun activities? Absolutely not. But, instead of going to Pinterest and social media to gain ideas and see what the latest trends are, let’s go to the Bible for inspiration and dive deep into those holy, ancient words that are so very relevant and important for today.