Friday, July 10, 2015

Not A Fire, But A Light

A couple of days ago, the kids and I were talking about our speech. We talked about how, in Scripture, our words can be a fire...destroying everything in it's path. Our words can also be like that of the Pharisees...leavening the whole batch of conversation. In the context of the gospels...that leaven was a bad they were teaching the traditions of man as though they were the commands of God (Matt. 15:9).

But, as I read Psalm 34, I couldn't help but see the beauty of words spoken in a way that honors the Lord and the aroma they can be to those around us!

"I will praise the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips. I will boast in the Lord; the humble will hear and be glad. Proclaim with me the Lord's greatness; let us exalt His name together."
Psalm 34:1-3

I love the progression of these first 3 verses. It starts with our own hearts being full of praise to the Lord....not sometimes, not in pockets throughout the day, but at ALL times. As we live this life of praise, it results in OTHERS hearing and their hearts becoming happy in Christ, which leads to them giving praise to the Lord, as well. This type of life does not result in forest fires...but results in lights shining in the midst of darkness as we proclaim the one who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light!

"I proclaim righteousness in the great assembly; see, I do not keep my mouth closed - as you know, Lord. I did not hide Your righteousness in my heart; I spoke about Your faithfulness and salvation; I did not conceal Your constant love and truth from the great assembly." Psalm 40:9-10

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Hebrews 11 is a beautiful chapter full of examples, full of a great cloud of witnesses that have gone before and women who have walked by faith in the midst of trials, uncertainties, riches, foreign lands, walled cities, persecution and even death .

I have found myself reading over and meditating on this passage as I reflect on our move to Canada. Now, I by no means believe that our family should be listed in the "Heroes of Faith" passage...but, as believers, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight...and there are many things in this chapter that my heart resonates with. Of course, as the chapter draws to a close, there are many things that I can't even imagine going through...torture, mocking, scourging, imprisonment, death...and my heart quickly cries out for God's mercy and grace to cover our dear brothers and sisters around the world who are walking in the "valley of the shadow of death".

Right now, the Lord has seen fit to take our family, not into a valley, but up onto the heights...quiet literally! The Lord has given us a home in what is called "Promontory", translated: a point of high land.

"By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God." Hebrews 11:8-10

Our "tent" is absolutely lovely! We only saw pictures of it on-line...but what a joy it was to walk into our new home and see it in person. Of course, arriving to over a dozen men and women ready to help us move in, balloons and posters of encouragement draped throughout the house, food in the fridge, freezer and pantry, and a host of other sweet blessings throughout the house made our home feel like a haven before one box had even been unpacked. We may not have known fully where we were going or all that awaited us...and we truly felt like foreigners entering the land as we waited at the border for almost four hours to get approval and the necessary documents for settling in Canada, but we so beautifully felt the pleasure of God that day and rejoiced in His steadfast love!

"A man's steps are established by the Lord, and He takes pleasure in his way." Psalm 37:23

Each of us has a visitor's record with our name on it. A reminder to us, and to the Canadian government, that we are foreigners and temporary residents. With those titles comes a list of what we can and cannot do in this land we now call home. It is a living illustration of a spiritual reality that I am thankful to be reminded of, yet again. You see, all of us who have been saved by grace, no matter where we live, hold a "visitor record". Our citizenship is in Heaven.

"These (that great cloud of witnesses!) all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been remembering that land they came from, they would have had opportunity to return. But they now aspire to a better land - a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them." Hebrews 11:13-16

While we all may be foreigners on earth like the saints who have gone before us, we do not greet God's promises from afar...we now proclaim Christ, in Whom all the promises of God find their fulfillment (2 Cor. 1:20). We are so excited to join the ministry here at Valley Heights Community Church and link arms with them as they proclaim the "excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light" (I Peter 2:9), and we are so very thankful for the prayers that you have lifted up on our behalf! We know they are as incense to the Lord and they have been sweetness to our hearts.

So, as the pages start filling up in this new chapter of our life....may our praise and prayer be the same:

"I will praise the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips. I will boast in the Lord; the humble will hear and be glad. Proclaim with me the Lord's greatness; let us exalt His name together."
Psalm 34:1-3

Friday, May 8, 2015

A New Page for the Pichuras

When I read the stories in the Bible,  I am amazed at how God worked. Amazed at His clear hand of providence on each and every page. Amazed at His sovereignty over great and small and how He works to accomplish His purposes. But I can be quick to forget that the God of the Bible, our glorious King, is the same God who works and moves and orchestrates and sovereignly controls all things today, as well. Including my life. Including my family. He is writing His story on the "Pichura Pages" and I stand in amazement...the same amazement I feel when I read His works of old!

And He has begun a new chapter in the Pichura Clan. A chapter that involves a new church family, Valley Heights Community Church,  a new city, Chilliwack, in a province and country we began to know much better several years ago and will call home once again, British Columbia, Canada!

When we left Canada, we thought we would never be back. The Lord's wisdom is incomprehensible and His plans are, most often, so different than ours ! As we look back over the 17 years of ministry and life together, we would have written the story differently at times...and yet, we are so very thankful for the growing, the stretching, the testing, the trials, the loving, the people, the we have grown to know and love the Lord more and more and love the Body of Christ, far and wide. We look back with hearts full of gratitude and praise to the Lord and we look forward with joy and excitement at what is to come! 

There will be many tears as we leave our sweet family at Faith Bible Church, our community, and my parents. They are dear to our hearts in so many ways. Their testimony of God's grace will linger long in our minds and souls....and their partnership in the Gospel has blessed our hearts many times over! They will be tears of thanksgiving. And those tears of thanksgiving and praise have also welled in our eyes as we reflect on our time at Valley Heights and anticipate serving there,  alongside our new brothers and sisters in Christ.  I find myself lingering over Romans 11: 33-36 once again: 

"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgements and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Or who has ever first given to Him, and has to be repaid? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen"

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ordered and Secured

King David.

He was a guy who knew all about trials, suffering, pain, uncertainty, and fear. He had many different roles throughout his life: shepherd, warrior, aid to the king, fugitive, madman, rebel, faithful friend, protector, defender, sinner, murderer, king, to name a few.  There is much we can learn from David's life...both what to do and what not to do. His life is well worth studying because anyone who is known as a "man after God's own heart" is worth learning from!

At the end of 2 Samuel you'll find David's "Song of Thanksgiving" and his last words. It's beautiful and there is much to learn about our great God and how to praise Him. Near the end of his final words, David says something that had me pausing to ponder which led my heart to praising the Lord.

"Is it not true that my house is with God? For He has established an everlasting covenant with me, ordered and secured in every detail. Will He not bring about my whole salvation and my every desire?"      2 Samuel 23:5

David reminded me that this world is not my home, merely a layover on the way to Glory. Yes, there may be trials, uncertainty, and suffering in this layover...but my "ticket" has been bought with the blood of Christ and my final destination, my whole salvation, is secure.

"Yet I am always with You; You hold my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterwards You will take me up to glory. Whom do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."   Psalm 73:23-26

Not only is my final destination secure but every moment, every detail of my life, has been ordered and secured. Yes, there may be trials, uncertainty, and suffering but there is no room for fear, manipulation, impatience, ungodly anger, or worry. I am "encircled" by the Lord and His hand is upon me (Psalm 139). Not only is His hand upon me, He is holding ON to me!

"Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand."  Isaiah 41:10

What hope, what joy, what peace there is when we not only KNOW these truths, but WALK in these truths...when they impact they way we think, talk, and act!

Oh, that the pathway from my head to my heart would be clear of any doubting and sin that so easily entangles....that it would be a pathway that brings a steady stream of God's truth to the soil of my heart...and that it would bear the sweet fruit of obedience and righteousness!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

This is the day that the Lord has made!

"Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus - the great Shepherd of the sheep - with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."          Hebrews 13:20-21

What God calls us to, He equips us for. His strength is made perfect in weakness and His grace is sufficient for each moment.

I was reminded of this very truth on Sunday seconds after causing an accident (my first) that totaled our mini-van and, most likely, the other car involved. After the initial moments of shock wore off, and it was clear everyone involved was okay....the words "This is the day" flooded my mind, bringing peace to my soul, giving me sweet courage for the moments to come, and a thankful heart for the mercies and grace of our Lord!

God had equipped my heart with words that I had just shared with our dear church ladies the morning before. The words came from a verse and a blog post:

"This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it."  Psalm 118:24

Michael Kelley shared his thoughts on this verse in his post entitled "This. Is. The. Day.":

"Regardless of what this day holds, it is the day that the Lord has made. He is not some cosmic clockmaker who set the universe in motion and then stood apart, watching it tick away. He’s still in the business of making days, and He’s made this one for me. Although I know very little of the potential ups or downs or highs or lows that this day holds, it is nevertheless the one made by the Lord. Because it is made by the Lord, I know that along with making it He has also given me the resources I need for it. I have the grace I need. The patience I require. The perseverance necessary. The discipline to do and work. Along with this day He’s made He has also given me His limitless supply which I take hold of by faith."

There is much more to his post...and it's worth reading! 

I am so thankful for God's provision, protection, purposes, and the precious truth that each day is given to us by the Lord to accomplish the desires of His heart and to transform me into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. Therefore, I can rejoice...even when it is not the day I had planned for or hoped for!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Uncomfortable Grace

In our small group, we are reading "What Did You Expect?" by Paul Tripp. In Chapter 13 he shared something that is worth repeating...and worth thinking about long after I put down the book. He is applying this specifically to marriage...but the applications are far reaching, in my opinion. Paul says:

"I really do think that there are moments in our marriages when we are crying out for grace, not recognizing that we are getting it. We are not getting the grace of relief or the grace of release, because that is not the grace that we really need. No, what we are getting is something we desperately need, the uncomfortable grace of personal growth and change. With the love of a Father, your Lord is prying open your hands so that you will let go of things that have come to rule your heart but will never satisfy you. With the insight of a seasoned teacher, He is driving you to question your own wisdom so that you will find your understanding and rest in His. With the skill of the world's best counselor, God is showing you the delusions of your control so that you will take comfort in His rule. With the gentleness of a faithful friend He is facing you toward your inadequacies of your own righteousness so that you find your hope in His."

Uncomfortable grace.

Oh Lord, help me to see through Your eyes. Help me to behold and worship You in each situation that You bring my way! Forgive me for desiring comfort and ease more than I desire to be holy, to be like You! Help me to rejoice in Your grace...even Your uncomfortable grace!

"Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."  Romans 5:1-5

Monday, April 6, 2015

Let Down Your Nets

"When (Jesus) had finished speaking, He said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch." "Master," Simon replied, "we've worked hard all night long and caught nothing! But at Your word, I'll let down the nets."  Luke 5:4-5

Do you ever feel like Peter? I do. Feeling as though I have tried everything or have looked at all the angles or just plain feel tired and want to give up...and, through God's Word, Jesus calls me to "let down your nets". He says "my grace is sufficient and my power is perfected in weakness". He says to "store up treasures in Heaven and not worry about tomorrow". He calls me to "fix my eyes on what is unseen" and "walk by faith and not by sight".

And what a joy it is when I answer as Peter did that day on the shore: "But at Your Word, I'll let down the nets". For Peter, the results were pretty immediate. "When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets began to tear. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink." vss. 6-7

God's answers in my life might not always be so immediate but they are always right on time...not my time, but God's time! "Yes, I have spoken; so I will also bring it about. I have planned it; I will also do it." (Isaiah 46:11b) Philippians 2:13 reminds me that "it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose." I don't have to worry, fret, manipulate, strategize, or come up with a better plan. I can rest in God's perfect plan knowing that He will accomplish it for my good and for His glory. And I know, first-hand, what it looks like to be quiet in my spirit and watch the Lord work! AMAZINGLY GLORIOUS!

"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgements and untraceable His ways! ...For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen." Romans 11:33,36

When Peter beheld Jesus at work, there was only one thing he could do. Luke 5:8 says that "he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, because I'm a sinful man, Lord!" He saw Jesus for who He was and Peter saw the sinfulness of his own heart and in that moment, he was humbled. 

I love what Kimberly Wagner has to say about humility in her book Fierce Women: "In reality, humility has little to do with how I see myself but has everything to do with how I see God. Humility is the true response to a proper view of God. Humility opens the door for God's presence to be at home in our hearts (Isaiah 57:15) and His grace to move in to the situation at hand (James 4:6; I Peter 5:5). Jesus compared this condition to that of a little child. It's the recognition that we are helpless; completely dependent on Him. Humility doesn't grasp for, or demand control, but it gladly surrenders to the Master's control. When we maintain a steady gaze on God, childlike humility permeates our thoughts, attitudes, and actions."

So, here is what I am learning (and relearning!) in a nutshell: WALK obediently, even when you can't see more than the next step in front of you. WAIT on the Lord, confident in the reality that He will accomplish all His purposes for your life. WATCH Him work and WONDER at His majesty in such a way that you are humbled by His awesomeness and find your thoughts, attitudes, and actions changed more and more into His likeness! 

Wanna let down your nets with me?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

March Madness

...and I'm not talking about basketball...I'm talking about sickness. 

Flu, fevers, runny noses, stuffy noses, hacking coughs, ear aches, sore throats, pink eye, and surgeries. By the time March comes to an end, we will have seen it all...not only from our kids, but one of our dogs, as well. It's been quite the month for sickness in the Pichura house.

I know we are not alone. I know so many of you could share your own stories of illnesses that seem to linger and days that seem so long. And, others I know, are going through grief that makes the flu look like a walk in the park. Their pain is deep and their loss is great. They battle not to keep a fever down, but to trust God's sovereignty in the midst of a broken heart.

I am reminded that the roads we walk have been paved by our good and gracious Father. Before time began, He ordained our moments, days, weeks and yes, even this March madness for our sanctification and the exaltation of His name. We are hemmed in behind and before!

I have been blessed by a couple of blog posts the last two days:

"Your Mom Has A Blog" said: "The future spreads out like an undiscovered playground, and it looms like a terrifying storm, and in both things I see it is true. God knows. He knew what joys this day would hold and He knows what sorrows tomorrow may hold, and whatever comes we know that we little unknowing ones are held close. We are intimately known and exquisitely cared for."

And in "Out of the Ordinary": "I tell you again, if there be any pathway in which there be not fire, tremble, but if your lot be hard, thank God for it. If your suffering be great, bless the Lord for them, and if the difficulties in your pathway be many, surmount them by faith, but let them not cast you down" (Charles Spurgeon)....Temporal sufferings, like temporal blessings, are an opportunity to bring glory to God. If we who have Christ as our model don't believe that, a lost and dying world never will."

May we all live lives that show our husbands, children, family, friends and the watching world that God is enough! My His joy be in our hearts and on our faces and may these words from Psalms be the theme of our heart's cry:

"Whom have I in Heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my life and my portion forever. " Psalm 73:25-26

P.S. My dear sweet momma has been going through intense physical pain for the last couple of months...and she has been a living example to me, my kids, and so many others of suffering for the glory of God. Mom, in sickness and in health, you are a sweet aroma of Christ and a testimony of His sufficient grace. I feel so blessed to be your daughter and to grow in grace as I watch you cling to the One who is "your life and the length of your days". I love you!

Monday, March 23, 2015


             Perspective: A particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; point of view

As the years go by, the more I realize that my perspective on life (situation and people) plays a huge role in the way I live out my life....and, the older I get, the more I realize just how easy it is for my perspective to be skewed. Just how easy it is to be sure that something is one way, only to find out it is really another.

You know the old saying, "The grass is always greener on the other side". Until you live on the other side or experience the other side, it's so easy to make assumptions or to see things not quite as they really are. After all, "the grass on the other side still has to be mowed" as the saying ends.

Most often, my perspective goes awry when I don't filter words, behavior, and situations through the Word of God. I watch, listen, take it all in, and then I jump to a conclusion...but, without sifting those thoughts and observations through the Word of God, I am prone to end up with a wrong conclusion or at least a half-baked one. I am prone to think the worst, not believe the best. I am prone to "lean on my own understanding". And that is dangerous ground. As the preaching pastor of my brother's church said this Sunday, "We cannot distrust ourselves too much and we cannot trust God enough!"

Perspective....I think it's one of the reasons that wisdom (typically) comes with age. The older you get, the more you experience. The more you experience, the more you realize how different things are than you thought they would be. The more different they are the more humbled you become. The more humble you become, the more you see your need for Jesus. The more you see your need for Jesus, the more you crave His Words...the Bible. And the more you immerse yourself in the Word....the more you realize that you have only touched the surface of His greatness and you long to know Him more. You long to have His thoughts be your thoughts, His ways be your ways, His perspective be your perspective!

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid? For from Him, and to Him, and through Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen."  Romans 11:33-36

My prayer is that I will filter each person and every situation in my life through the mercy and grace that God has so freely bestowed upon me. That my perspective will not be shaped by my flesh and the sin that so easily entangles my thoughts...but that I will live out the truth that I have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16) and, with my thoughts taken captive to obey Him, I will "put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience" (Col. 3:12).

Friday, March 13, 2015

What's Wrong with Those People?

I read a great blog post this past week by David Prince. He talked about the fact that, as we read Scripture, we need to start by finding the "bad guy", then look for the "hero" (though still sinner) who emulates Christ, and, finally, look for the true Hero, Christ, in that passage.

He goes on to say this about the bad guy: "One of the problems many people have in rightly interpreting and applying the Bible is that they immediately attempt to identify with the hero in the text and not the bad guys. We should personally identify with the bad guys in the text. Simply coming to the text and asking, “How am I like the people in the text who are doing the wrong thing” is transformative and beneficial in gaining a gospel perspective in understanding the text. This approach helps us to remember that the Bible is not a book of rules or a manual on morality; it is a story of God’s grace to sinners, and ultimately, the only perfect hero of the story is Jesus."

I got to giggling because I couldn't help but think that my blog posts this past week have followed that model....between the Israelites and Peter....I'm more "bad guy" than I'd like others to see. Yet, old habits die hard, and I found myself shaking my head and wagging my finger at the Israelites this morning as I read through Deuteronomy 6-11. The blessings God promised to pour out on them was amazing!!! God was giving them "a land with large and beautiful cities that you did not build, houses full of every good thing that you did not fill them with, wells dug that you did not dif, and vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant..."(6:10-11) Could it get any better than that? Could the blessings pour down more?
Couldn't the Israelites have just obeyed? Couldn't they have wiped out the inhabitants off the land instead of marrying them and worshipping their false Gods? What is wrong with those people???

The answer is pretty simple....Nope, they couldn't obey. And neither could/can I apart from the saving work of the Lord and His indwelling Holy Spirit. In fact, I really have to go a step further if I truly understand my own depravity. There is nothing good I CAN do to earn any of God's favor or blessing. I only deserve His wrath and condemnation. The only good in me is Christ in me and I can stand before God ONLY because Christ lived the perfect life I could not live and died in my place so I could be covered with the cloak of HIS righteousness!

In fact, anything more than hell is all mercy and glorious grace. Even when I do receive material blessing from the may not even be because God is blessing the "path of obedience" I am on. In the end, He's most concerned with His glory...and my blessing may simply be a byproduct of that! Hear me out. The Israelites received all that "good stuff" not because of them, but IN SPITE of them!

"When the Lord your God drives them out before you, do not say to yourself, "The Lord brought me in to take possession of this land because of my righteousness." Instead, the Lord will drive out these nations before you because of their wickedness. You are not going to take possession of their land because of your righteousness or your integrity. Instead, the Lord your God will drive out these nations before you because of their wickedness, in order to keep the promise He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are stiff-necked people." Deut. 9:4-6

If that doesn't humble us all, I don't know what will! Yet, that is exactly where God wants each one of us....aware of our sin, broken of pride, and in awe of God's holiness. He wants us to fear have a heart of worshipful submission, reverential awe, and obedient respect for our great God. And when we truly see ourselves for who we are and God for Who He is....we will find ourselves rejoicing and giving thanks from the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes! We will find great peace in walking by faith and not by sight...because we trust the One Who's name is above all names! His marvelous grace will amaze our hearts!

"Then our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with joyful shouting; Then they said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them." The Lord has done great things for us; We are glad."   Psalm 126:2-3

"In that day they will say, "Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation."  Isaiah 25:9

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Servant of Satan

Almost 25 years ago, God opened my eyes to my need for His saving grace and gave me the gift of faith to believe. The new birth that I walked in freed me from being a slave to sin and mercifully made me a slave to Christ. From that moment on, He was and is not only my Savior, but my Lord and Master...for He must be received as both, or He will be neither.

I would never dream of being called a "servant of Satan". It may have been what I once was before salvation...but no longer! The thought of serving Satan puts a pit in my stomach. He is the enemy of my beloved Lord and the father of lies. He prowls about like a roaring lion seeking to kill and destroy. He is the embodiment of all that is evil. 

Yet, sometimes, I am his servant. 


Read the words from Mark 8:31-33:

"Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. He was openly talking about this. So Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But turning around and looking at His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan, because you're not thinking about God's concerns, but man's!"

Jesus had made it clear that God's plan for His life included His death and resurrection. It was a good plan, because it was God's plan...and God does all things perfectly, for our good and His glory. Peter jumps in and basically tells Jesus that God's plan is a bad idea...Peter saw the need to "set Jesus straight". And, in that moment, he became a servant of Satan. His thoughts were not on glorifying Christ, magnifying the gospel, and lifting high God's redemptive plan. He thought only of the temporary, only of his own desires. He was in direct opposition to God...and Jesus rebuked him in a way that makes me shudder..."get behind me Satan". 

I shudder because I realize that, when I take my eye's off of God, when I am not renewing my mind with His Word, and meditating on all that He is....I become very short-sighted in my thoughts and concerns. I have stopped "thinking about God's concerns" and have focused on "man's", namely, myself. When I do that, I stand in opposition to God and His Word. And, without even realizing it, I have aligned myself with Satan, the enemy. I have sought to serve his purposes instead of God's....just as Peter did. 

It's sobering. It deserves our thought and meditation. It helps us see the wickedness of our sin before a holy God. It causes us to fall to our knees in repentance and rise with a heart of thanksgiving for His forgiveness, mercy, and faithful love. It causes us to press in deeper to "take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has taken hold of me" (Phil. 3:12). 

I know there are many times I have followed in the footsteps of Peter in this regard. I pray that, with each passing day, my footsteps would follow more and more closely behind Mary's when she said...

"Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." Luke 1:38

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Living within the Cloud

"Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in the camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses."  Numbers 9:22-23

As the years go by, the more I read about the Israelites in the Old Testament, the less my heart condemns them because "my sin is ever before me" and I am aware that, in my flesh, I would have been right there with them complaining, complaining, complaining. Yes, I pray that I might have had a "different spirit" like that of Caleb and the Spirit-filled courage of Joshua...but I find myself mourning alongside of Israel's sin as I mourn over mine.

And as I think this way, I find myself reading not as an innocent bystander...but walking in their shoes, imagining life in the midst of this great assembly. What was it like to gather manna and quail, to have shoes that never wore out, and to see the awesome power of the Lord on display around every turn?

But, mostly, I have been thinking about the Cloud.

The Cloud of the Lord...His presence in the midst of His people. When it lifted they were to move on and when it rested, they were to stay. Could be just overnight, a month, or even more. They did not know from day to day when it would be time to move on....they had to live, each day, with the Cloud in view....with a readiness to go and yet, at the same time, a willing heart to stay and wait. They could not make any long term plans for themselves...the only long term plan had to be that of eyes fixed on the Cloud...on the Lord.

Oh, the similarities to our own lives as believers today! We have a Cloud without and a Cloud within! The Holy Spirit lives inside of us...convicting, counseling, illuminating...and the Lord continues to be the Cloud of glory that we are to fix our eyes on: "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith". (Hebrews 12:2) And He bids us to daily deny self, take up our cross, and follow Him. (John 9:23)

He calls us to faithful living moment by moment though we know not what the day, the week, or even the next year holds. He calls us to walk by faith because without it, we cannot please Him. He calls us to trust Him with our whole hearts and lean not on our own understanding (or plans for the future). He promises to direct our paths, in HIS timing, as we fix our eyes on the Lord.

I have to remind myself of this so often because I love to be in the "know". I like control. I like to schedule and plan. If I were an Israelite, I would have been begging God for a schedule of when the cloud would rise and settle. I often want to walk by sight instead of faith.

"...remember the former things of old, 
for I am God, and there is no other; 
I am God, and there is none like me, 
declaring the end from the beginning 
and from ancient times things not yet done, 
saying, "My counsel shall stand, 
and I will accomplish all my purpose..."
Isaiah 46:9-10

The end from the beginning... all that was and is and is to come has passed through His sovereign hands. Not one moment of my life will catch Him by surprise or will accomplish a different purpose than the one He intended. My Redeemer is faithful and true....and merciful, kind, and good. I live with the Cloud....and at His command I stay, and when He calls I go. When it comes right down to it, that's all I need to know!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

More Love to Thee

On this Valentine's Day, my heart rejoices in the many "loves" that God has given me. I'm married to "the one my soul loves"... my best friend who also happens to be my favorite counselor and pastor! :) I have six "little" loves, who are soon to pass me up in height and who we continue to pray grow in "the grace and knowledge of God" way beyond their statures....and one, who went from my womb to Heaven and knows the Author of love in a way we have yet to experience!  I have family, friends and a church family that live out love in a way that testifies to the faithful love of God, encourages my own heart, and consistently points me, by their example, to the greatest love...that of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

As I think about all these precious people, I am reminded that the only way to truly love them, is with Christ's love flowing through me. And the only way to have Christ's love overflowing in my life is to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. And the only way to love Him more is to know Him more through His revealed Word! I love how Jen Wilkin puts it in her book "Women of the Word":

"The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand in hand. In fact, there can be no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God. He is the only reference point that is reliable. So, when I read that God is longsuffering, I realize that I am not longsuffering. When I read that God is slow to anger, I realize that I am quick to anger. When I read that God is just, I realize that I am unjust. Seeing who He is shows me who I am in a true light. A vision of God high and lifted up reveals to me my sin and increases my love for Him. Grief and love lead to genuine repentance, and I begin to be conformed to the image of the One I behold."

More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Monday, February 2, 2015

We all need to be adopted!

I just read an article that I had to post in full here, both because I think it's so worth the read and I want to have it fully documented on my own blog for future reading by my family! It was a little over 5 years ago that we, too, stood in a courthouse and celebrated the legal adoption of Samuel and Caleb. Much of what Mike wrote is a reflection of our own hearts in regards to adoption, both horizontally with the boys and vertically with the Lord....he articulated it beautifully! Another man who God has used to spread the message of adoption is Russell Moore in his book "Adopted for Life". A great book to read!

We left the courtroom that day and, as we stepped out into the crisp November air, one of our little ones said, "So, when will Samuel and Caleb turn white?" :) After the giggles faded and an explanation was given, we traipsed to the car as one family, one little tribe of people, one small example of the greatest of all adoptions taking place each and every day in the hearts of men as God calls them, justifies them, sanctifies them....adopts them! 

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation...." Rev. 5:9

I love Mondays.  For the average person, that admission makes me worthy of a psychological examination!  Let me explain:  Mondays are my day off, so they are much more enjoyable for me than for most.  I’ll never forget a Monday morning in the spring of 2014.  We were off to a typical slow morning of sleeping in, coffee, and a little brunch when my phone rang.  I finished grinding my morning brew and answered the call identified as “DHS.”  I knew what this meant.  They were calling us for a foster care placement.  We’ve taken many of these calls, and the majority don’t work out. 
In 2013 we received a call, took a placement, but after 2 months had to surrender a baby girl who had become part of our family.  Foster care and adoption is something that more Christians should engage in, but there’s no denying the potential for heartache.  As the phone rang, memories of losing the little girl flashed through my mind.  Liz’s busy season at Drake University was gearing up.  Our church was in the midst of pulling off a capital campaign.  Between rings of the phone I was already talking myself out of taking another foster placement.  However, by God’s grace and the Spirit’s strong guidance, three hours later we were picking up a 3-day-old, drug affected baby boy from the hospital downtown.  
Looking back on the scenario, I’m not sure why we accepted the placement.  Although he was drug affected, DHS told us that both mom and dad would want to be part of his life.  We were gearing up for 4-5 days per week of visits between the two parents.  Typically, we like to take “safer” placements than this.  Thankfully, by God’s grace, none of the visits materialized. 
Soon we learned that dad was a vapor in the wind, and mom had legal troubles.  As the months passed “Baby” (as we called him) had wormed his way into our hearts.  He was our son regardless of what the legal system had to say.  For many people this process is like running a cross-country race:  obstacles, hindrances, rough terrain, and a lengthy journey.  In the case of this placement, the process became more like an Olympic 100 meter sprint!  Fast, expeditious, and obstacle- free.  Our adoption attorney thought we could probably adopt “Baby” soon after the required 6-month window expired.  Nearly 8 months after picking him up from the hospital, our adoption day was scheduled for November 6, 2014!  
If you’ve never been to an adoption hearing, add it to your bucket list.  It is worth it!  It is one of the few times that a courtroom is filled with joy and happy anticipation instead of sadness and grim apprehension.  Families and children are welcomed to attend adoption hearings; the court even provides toys to keep the kids entertained during the process!  Both Liz and I took the stand and “testified.”  I put it in quotes because all we did was answer “yes” to about 20 questions. 
There is no suspense at an adoption hearing because the ruling is a forgone conclusion. The hearing is simply a celebration of what is already true about this child:  he is our son!  On that day, “Baby” became Judah Michael Augsburger.  This was our second adoption hearing, but some of the phrases and statements hit home again.  Several times in the New Testament Paul uses “adoption” to describe our salvation.  Strangely, the terminology used by the lawyers and judges in these hearings sounds biblical.  Listen and reflect:

Freed from the damaging effects of generational sin:  At this point you’re thinking, “Wow, that really does sound like biblical language!”  Well, this is not an exact quote, I’m interpreting!  The lawyer actually welled up in tears as he said, “This case is rare.  Many of the children who pass through this courthouse have emotional and even physical scars.  They have been mistreated, abused, and have seen horrendous atrocities.  Not so with Judah.  He’s been with you from birth.  He has the unique advantage of being protected from what many children in the system are forced to endure.”  Wow, that’s sobering.  Sin’s consequences are never individually isolated.  Your sin impacts other people, especially your family!  Exodus 34:7 says, “…visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”  Now, I don’t think children pay the penalty for parents’ sin.  I think this is talking about generational consequences.  Our lives are shaped by the choices—good or bad—of our ancestors.  In Judah’s case, however, he has been freed from many of those consequences.  The same is true in our spiritual adoption.  Though the gospel doesn’t erase our past choices or the choices of our ancestors, it does redeem us where we are and gives us the power to form a new identity based on our new family—God’s family!  No matter how you’ve been sinned against, no matter how your parents raised you or the abuse you experienced in your upbringing, you don’t have to let that define you.  You are now defined by a new Father and are part of a new family, and as far as God is concerned, the sins that were committed against you have been paid in full on the cross, giving you the newfound power to forgive!  You don’t have to hold onto the debt, it’s been cleared!
This courtroom rests its case:  At the end of the adoption hearing the judge declared that there would no longer be any judicial action in the life of this child.  The case was settled!  Friends, this mirrors a beautiful spiritual reality!  Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Because Jesus paid our sin-debt on the cross, the prosecuting attorney no longer has a case against us!  IN CHRIST we have committed no crime.  If we accept the truth of Christ’s payment for our sins and trust in his applied righteousness the Righteous Judge of the universe looks at our record and sees nothing but perfect righteousness applied to our account.
All the rights and inheritance of a natural born child:  When the judge makes the adoption decree, he carefully and intentionally informs the courtroom that in the eyes of the law, this adopted child has the exact same relationship to the family as a natural born child…even the right of inheritance!  On November 6, Judah became co-heirs with Elijah to our vast estate we’ve accumulated on a pastor’s salary! ☺  Although Judah didn’t strike it “rich” by being adopted into our family, the statement is significant, and has spiritual significance as well.  When we are saved, we become heirs to the vast riches of our heavenly father.  Romans 8:17 says, “…and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…”  This goes far beyond a monetary inheritance!  Ephesians 1:11 says, “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”  When will receive this inheritance?  Romans 8:23 tells us that part of this inheritance is eternal life in a redeemed body.  This will happen after this life is over.  Because of our adoption we will live eternally, dwelling with our Father as co-owners of this planet.  Thank you Jesus!  
The issuing of a new birth certificate:  I have a copy of Judah’s former birth certificate.  It has his given name, date of birth, and his biological parents names and vital information.  I’m keeping it just to have for records.  Shortly after the adoption hearing we received his “real” birth certificate in the mail.  It lists his name, Judah Michael Augsburger.  It lists his birth date, time of birth, and lists Liz and I as his parents.  This is his REAL certificate.  Now, in the future he could dig up his old certificate and choose to associate with his former identity.  This would be tragic!  He’s been rescued from that past and been given a new identity, a new name and a new family.  When God saves us he likewise gives us a new name, a new identity, a new family and a new spiritual birth certificate.  According to heavenly records, we were “born of God” through the Word and the Spirit.  We do not have to be defined or identified by our past family or our past sins.  1 Corinthians 6:9-11 lists many categories of sinners, and then it makes this stunning statement, “…and such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  Too many Christians, however, choose to cling to their old birth certificates.  They cling to old habits and struggle to move past the scars of past sin.  In Christ and through our spiritual adoption we have a new birth certificate and the Holy Spirit gives us the power to live out that new identity and to be free from past sins.  You have a new family!  Enjoy it!  
In conclusion, we are eternally grateful for a Heavenly Father who graciously allowed us to adopt Judah into our family.  He is truly a blessing.  But we are also keenly aware that by adopting Judah we are simply imitating the glorious actions of our God and Savior who marvelously saved us, washed us, rescued us, and adopted us into His family.  If you’re reading this and you feel trapped by your past, or you are bitter at your parents or upbringing, I’m here to tell you today that there is victory in Christ and freedom through spiritual adoption.  If you feel trapped or bitter, maybe you haven’t truly been adopted by God!  Romans 10:13 says, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  If you’ve never trusted Christ for salvation, I encouraged you to believe that Jesus died to take your penalty.  Accept the free gift of salvation.  Call on the Lord and ask him to save you.  At that moment—just like Judah’s adoption in the courthouse—God will declare you part of his family and give you a new name, new identity and a new family.  To God be the glory!