How to Receive the HappyJoyLife!

If you’re like me, you may have grown up in church, hearing about the “HappyJoyLife” that the Bible promises - peace, health, prosperity, success, joy - the list goes on…but you may also have wondered “Why don’t I SEE those things happening in MY life???”  Have you ever wondered why true success, blessings and happiness can sometimes feel so far out of reach?

I know, it’s hard to even admit if you struggle with a question like this.  We have been taught that if we aren’t experiencing blessings and goodness in our lives, it’s because there’s something wrong with us - that perhaps we are not doing enough to cause God to give us these good things.

I beg to differ.  We have been given the great privilege to be partners with a Good God, who loves us and has good things stored up for us.  All we have to do is to believe that He IS good, that we WANTS us to enjoy the HappyJoyLife, and that He has already done everything necessary for us to live this amazing life.  All we have to do is learn how to receive it from Him.

To receive the HappyJoyLife, the most powerful resource He has given us is the one right between our ears - our mindset.  Our mindset has the power to be the deciding factor as to whether we will enjoy blessings in our lives, or continue to experience one disappointment after another.  The good news is, He has shown us in His Word how to get the blessings, instead of the disappointments!

Mindset is defined as:  “the culmination of our thoughts and beliefs that determine how we go through life.”  The Bible uses another phrase to describe mindset:  It’s called “renewing our minds”.

As I contemplated on this idea of mindset, God gave me a vision of a tree.  The roots of the tree represent our beliefs - the essence of who we are as a person.  From those beliefs come our thoughts - the things we say to ourselves about ourselves and others.  Whatever thoughts we establish in our mind then directly influence our actions, which in turn determine what kind of results we will see.

So often, we hope - we pray - that our circumstances will change.  We so desperately want to enjoy the “fruit” in life.  The truth is, God has already given us every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).  Every good thing God has promised starts as a spiritual blessing, which then has the power to manifest into a physical blessing.  The problem is that we haven’t been taught properly how to receive those blessings. 

The reason we don’t see this “fruit” is NOT because we aren’t working hard enough.  It’s NOT because we are not obedient enough.  It’s NOT because we don’t believe enough, or haven’t given enough.  It’s NOT because God is trying to “teach us a lesson”.  These are all sorry excuses that lead to the idea that God is good to us only when WE are good.  God is Love.  He is Perfect Love.  Agape Love.  All the time.

The reason we haven’t seen the fruit is because we haven’t been taught how to create the proper mindset that will allow us to receive these blessings.

Today, I just wanted to simply open up the conversation.  In following blogs, I want to talk with you about the different aspects of this Mindset Tree, in order to learn the process of renewing our minds.  I can’t tell you how excited I am about this!

So, email me at info@happyjoylife.com... leave a comment …let me know what you think.  Stay tuned with me, and let’s take this journey together! 🙂

Happy Birthday, Jesus…

Out of all the people born on this planet, it is marvelous to realize that You were the one and only human being ever to walk on this planet that actually CHOSE to be born… 

You – Maker of this vast universe, galaxies and beyond…You – Who holds every creation together…You – Who has the power and authority to control everything that ever was, is and will be…

You made a conscience decision to be born on this earth.  THAT is amazing…

Jesus, it is hard to really understand why you would step out of your place of infinity and wonder, and choose to step into this tiny little planet that YOU made for us.  I still grabble with the fact that I have a God who loves me so much, that You were willing to come down to this level – just so that You could be close to me.  It reminds me of a parent watching their child playing, and is willing to get down His hands and knees on the floor to be close to His loved one.  You could have chosen to sit in Your heavenly chair and watch from a distance, but instead, you chose to connect with me a personal, face-to-face, eye-to-level.  To be able to see my God at such a close-up level – this is the greatest miracle of them all!

If this was all you ever did, that would be enough.  But coming to earth was just the beginning of your overall plan.  On top of the greatest miracle of all, you have invited me to not only come near to you, but you have given me the gifts of righteousness, peace, joy, abundance, love, rest, health, wholeness, and a life that will never end.  And if THAT were not even enough, you have shown me the path that leads to me becoming just like you.

Jesus, words can’t even capture how incredible your love is for me.  You were born for me, so that I could be born again with you.

You are definitely the greatest gift-giver of them all.  Thank you for everything, and again – Happy Birthday!

Grace Has Made You Perfect!

When was the last time you looked in the mirror and said to yourself, “You’re perfect!”? If you are like most people, chances are the answer is – never!

Sometimes, we can often be our very worst critics. Looking at ourselves through the mirror of our lives, we are experts at spotting our sins, imperfections, and blemishes.   Focusing on our faults causes us to fall into the trap of guilt, condemnation and shame, because we see ourselves as imperfect and unworthy.   Too often, we fail to enjoy the blessings of God’s grace because we don’t understand how our Heavenly Father really sees us. The key to enjoying God’s grace in your life is to understand your new identity in Christ!

As a human being, you are made up of body, soul and spirit. The body is that part of you that is visible in the mirror – the part of you that you and everyone else can easily see. Your soul is where your thoughts, emotions and decisions reside.

As a believer in Jesus, however, your new identity is not connected to your body or your soul. Genesis 1:26 declares that you are made in the likeness of God. Furthermore, the Word tells us that God is a Spirit:

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24 NKJV).

You are not your body. You are not your thoughts or emotions. You are a spirit being, who lives inside of a body, and you possess a soul.

The second you believed that Jesus paid the price for your sins, a miracle happened:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” Galatians 2:20 NKJV.

At that very moment, the Spirit of Jesus came to live inside of you! But that’s not all…

“For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” Romans 5:17, NKJV.

If you believe that Jesus died to pay for your sins as a free gift to you, your faith in Him has qualified you to receive an abundance of grace, and the gift of righteousness! That means that when God the Father looks at you, He doesn’t focus on the imperfection of your actions or your thoughts – that has all been paid for and removed by the blood of Jesus. All He now sees is that the bright, shining, perfect spirit of His Son Jesus who lives inside of you. The Spirit of the Lord is your new identity!

So from now on when you look in the mirror, dare to look beyond what you see. Look beyond what you think of yourself. Look deeper to see the presence of Jesus who lives inside of you. As you continue to see yourself as the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, you will be amazed at how your outward man will begin to come into agreement with your spirit, creating true transformation in your life!

Don’t Be a Religious Snob

Looking at today’s church, it seems that most have lost touch with the things that are most important to Jesus. Religious people and churches have a tendency to get caught up in behavior modification (“I never smoke, drink, cuss, etc…I read my Bible every day, I fast, pray, etc.”), thinking that this is what’s it’s like to be like Jesus.

Was/is Jesus perfect? YES! Is He a spotless example of a righteous person? YES!

But Jesus’ #1 concern is not our behavior. He already knew that as human beings, our behavior would never be good enough to make us right with God. That’s why He died on the cross, after all – to cleanse us from our sin and imperfection (Hebrews 1:3). Not only that, but He was raised from the dead to make us right with God (Romans 4:25)!

So, our behavior is no longer His #1 priority. Besides, He has given us the Holy Spirit to teach us how to live right. He will help us to work out every single issue of sin we might be dealing with….He’s a great teacher and counselor, and He knows what He’s doing.

No, the #1 concern that Jesus has is this: How we LOVE others.

It seems that most churches today are simply nothing more than social clubs. Only those who fit in are truly welcomed. But for people who don’t look or act the part, they feel a lack of love and acceptance, turn away from church, concluding that God Himself must not love them very much.

Before I became a student of Grace, I was definitely one of those religious snobs, maybe one of the worst that I’ve known. I thought that I was better than “those people”, because I was in church all of the time, and because of the self-righteous belief that I had my act together. I was completely blind to the truth that “God so loved the world” – and that means the whole world!

Now that I am being delivered from religious snobbery, it’s difficult to look at when I encounter it.  I have had other Christians literally gasp when we tell them that one of our sons is attending college in Boulder. I can read it all over their faces: “How could you possible let your son go to school with all of those…sinners??” We have been taught by religious teachers that we are to stay as far away from sinning unbelievers. It’s like they have Sin Cooties that could potentially jump on us and infect us!

A while ago, I was helping a couple who lived a alternative lifestyle to find a home (I had been asking the Lord to help me to become more comfortable around people who were not like me, and this couple showed up in my life within days!) As we walked into a coffee shop to talk and sign some paperwork, the religious snob in me tried to rise up! I heard myself think, “What if someone from the church sees me with these people?” In spite of my initial uneasiness, I began to have a great conversation with these folks. By the time our appointment was over, I was so happy that I had met them!

When I got home, I thought back on my initial fear of being seen in public with this couple. The Holy Spirit reminded me: “That’s the same thing they used to say about Jesus!” Realizing that the religious snobs also accused Jesus of hanging out with “those people” too, my heart swelled with joy…I realized that I was becoming more like Jesus! 🙂

I hate to rock anyone’s theology, but Jesus hung out with sinners all the time. He went to parties with them. He had lunch with them. He laughed with them. He cared about them. He was their friend. Jesus didn’t drag all of these people to church. He went to where they were.
He didn’t point out their faults and their problems. He didn’t make their sin the topic of the discussion. He simply loved them. Because of His love for them, they were drawn to believe in Him. Romans 2:4 tells us, “…can’t you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin (NLT)?”

If we really want to be like Jesus and reflect His glory, let’s drop the pretenses and get real with people and ourselves. Let’s stop trying to act like we are perfect – not one of us is “all that”, and the world is can see it! That’s why they call us hypocrites – because we say one thing, but do another. Let’s stop looking down on those that God loves.  And I’m not talking just to you – I’m talking to myself as well.  If as a church we can simply love others and let all of the other stuff go, we could win the entire world for Jesus!

You Are Invited!

I’ve been putting this off and putting this off. But finally the time has come for me to stop with the excuses and do what my Abba Father has put in front of me to do. I am starting a Bible Study at the first of the year, and I’d like to invite you and your friends to come!

But this is no ordinary Bible Study. In fact, I hesitate to even call it that…

There’s no pretty way to put it:   I believe that we’ve been misled about a lot of things when it comes to God, the Bible and what it really means to be a Christian.

So many myths and even lies have been told (by many well-intending people) when it comes to what God is really like, the impact that Jesus can have on our lives, and the power that we can live in, once we understand the truth that lies within the Bible.

But I need to be honest with you…this study is not for everyone…

  • If you are satisfied with the status quo of “all things churchy”, this study is not for you.
  • If you are not interested in looking at things in a new way, this study is not for you.
  • If you think you already have all the answers, this study is not for you.
  • If you are an arguer, this study is not for you.

But if you’ve ever secretly said to yourself…

  • “I’ve been working my butt off for God, but nothing seems to change…”
  • “I feel like God’s not pleased with me, because of what I’m doing (or not doing)…”
  • “I feel distant from God, and I’m not sure why…”
  • “The Bible is confusing, and it’s hard to pray.”
  • “I feel guilty and pressured all the time…”
  • “I feel like I’m just going through the motions…”
  • “I’m a Christian – so why do I feel so empty?”
  • “There has GOT to be more to Christianity than this…”
  • “I’m tired, and I’m thinking about giving up on this Jesus and Church stuff…”
  • I’m not a Christian, but I’m open.  Problem is, what I have seen so far is a real turn-off.”

Then this is a study you don’t want to miss. This is a study for the courageous – for those who are willing to exchange any wrong traditional thinking – for the freedom that we SHOULD be experiencing in Christ!

Everything we discuss will originate from our one and only source of truth – the Bible. In it, we will look at scriptures that – if you are like me – have frightened or confused you in the past. We will uncover the true meanings of scriptures by digging into the actual Greek and Hebrew words, which often unveil the truth about what God is REALLY trying to say to us. We will look at the scriptures within the context that they were intended. I believe that by looking at the scriptures through the correct lens, our lives will be changed, and we’ll finally experience the freedom and power that God has promised us!

Personal disclosure…I am not a Bible scholar or a pastor. I don’t have all the answers. In fact, this topic is by far the biggest thing that God has ever shared with me, and I feel flat-out inadequate to lead this study – which is why I’ve been putting it off.  All I know is, this truth is shut up in my bones, and I can’t hold it in any longer. Where I am weak, He is strong.  Along with support and help from my husband George, I know that God’s going to do some amazing stuff.  So let’s get together and see what our God has up His wonderful and loving sleeves!

We’re only going to meet once a month, so this won’t will drain too much of your time.  And you won’t have to prepare before you come – just come.  Please email if you’d like to find out more, at info@happyjoylife.com. I hope to see you soon!

By the way, please feel free to pass this on to someone who needs it! 🙂

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

I want to tell you something about myself that I think most Christians never want to admit…

Although I’ve been a Christian for most of my life, I spent many of my years in fear, feeling stressed out and wondering if my relationship with God was “right” enough. Yes, I knew how to speak all the Christian jargon, I served in church until I nearly wore myself down to the bones, and I always tried my hardest to be a “good” Christian so that God would be proud of me and bless me. But in all of that, I still carried this nagging feeling that I wasn’t enough, and perhaps God didn’t love me quite as much as He did others.

I know what you’re thinking…”Michele, you said that you’ve been a Christian for most of your life…how could you not know that God loves you?”

I’ll tell you how. Because until I began to understand who Jesus REALLY is, and all that He has done for me, I thought that God’s love for me was much like other people’s love for me – conditional on my behavior and works. And what’s amazing is that as I share this with others, so many other Christians are admitting to me that they feel exactly the same!

This world teaches you that in order to have good things happen to you, it’s necessary for you to earn your “blessings”. If you want good grades in school, you have to study for hours on end. If you want a promotion at work, you have to work hard for it. If you want your business to be successful, you have to work your fingers to the bone and be willing to sacrifice everything for it.

Saying this might cause some religious folks to get upset, but I believe that the church has taught us the very same principles. It’s been ingrained in us that if we want God to bless us, then we have to obey His laws. If we don’t, then we are told that He will leave us to ourselves to fail.

Now honestly, does that sound like a God of love? It does if we believe that God operates on “phileo” love like we mere humans operate. But that is NOT the love of an “agape” Father!

One of my pet peeves is hearing people say things like “She’s just a good Christian – she loves the Lord so much!” Or, “You’ve got to show God how much you love Him!” Since when does my love for God mean so much? It’s not my love for God that saved me – it’s His love for ME!

I John 4:10 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but the He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Until recently, I was never quite sure that God loved me completely, because I was too busy trying to prove to God that I loved HIM. Somehow I had kept trying to convince God that I was deserving of His goodness and favor. I have now realized that by doing so, I was working against His love and His grace. I now understand that there is absolutely NOTHING I can do to earn His favor, His blessing, His goodness toward me. Any attempts on my part to deserve anything good from God actually takes away from what Jesus did for me on the cross.

We have to come to grips with the truth that God’s love toward us is pure and complete. God is not like an angry parent, allowing us to go through hardships so that we can “learn a lesson”. He is not like a strict parent who spanks us when we misbehave, or withholds from us when we’ve messed up.

I want to challenge you with this scripture:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (I John 4:18).

If you are like me and sometimes experience fear in life, I want to challenge you to ask yourself, “Am I 100% sure that God loves me completely?” I can already tell you that the answer is “no”. But ask Him to reveal His love to you through Jesus. I believe that as long as we are in these bodies, this will be something we have to deal with on a daily basis. But, when we can truly understand that God’s love for us matters more than our love for Him, we will walk in more and more freedom with each day!

Stop Trying to Be Perfect!

Let’s face it. It seems that converting our friends and families to become believers in Christ has gotten tougher and tougher. As ambassadors of Jesus, we are finding that this society we live in doesn’t seem to be very attracted to what we are trying to sell them. If we’re ever going to bring change, then we need to start by being honest…we are doing something wrong!

Our friends and family are struggling. We live in a world that is unforgiving, critical and harsh. And unfortunately, the message that the church has sent out to them is basically the same message that the world has given them…”You need to do better…you are not good enough!”

The truth is that as Christians, we don’t even truly understand what we are supposed to be selling to the world. We want them to know that Jesus will keep them out of Hell. We are quick to share with them that believing in Jesus will help them to stop sinning. Are these reasons valid? Of course! But in this, we often forget our true purpose as ambassadors for Christ…to let them know that God loves them and has freed them from the demand of the law that they be perfect!

That’s what the true Gospel of Christ is all about!   We can sum it up really simply:

  1. There is only one is perfect – that’s Jesus Christ! (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  2. As long as we live in this flesh, we will never be perfect (I John 1:8).
  3. The law requires that we be absolutely perfect (James 2:10). So, where does that leave us? Left to ourselves, in big trouble!
  4. Jesus died and was resurrected, to take away our sins and give us the FREE GIFT of righteousness and right standing before God (Romans 5:17, I Peter 2:14).
  5. We are made right with God by our faith in Jesus, not by our obeying the law or striving to be perfect (Galatians 2:16).

Grace is all about God’s unmerited, undeserved favor that He has bestowed upon us, showering us with blessings and good things, even though we don’t deserve it. Striving to be perfect is like banging your head against a wall. Not only will you never reach perfection, but you put yourself at the risk of rejecting the finished work that Jesus did for you on the cross!

We have got to get off of this kick of striving to being perfect all the time, and demanding that others “get their acts together” in order to be close to God. If I hear from one more pastor or church attendee, “We’ve got to obey God!…”, I’m going to scream! Telling this to a person who is struggling in life simply heaps more shame and condemnation on them, which often drives them further away from God.

To “obey God” no longer means striving to follow all the laws of the Old Testament given to the children of Israel at Mount Sanai. Anyone who is honest has to admit that we can’t even follow the original 10 commandments, much less the additional 600+ given later! Thankfully, when Jesus came on the scene, He fulfilled all of those laws on our behalf, and replaced them with two simple commandments: 1) To believe in Him, and 2) to love others as He has loved us:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34,35, NKJV).

I believe that this is the primary reason that many people hesitate to come to Jesus. They believe that Christianity is more about laws and behavior, than it is about love. They know that they can’t live up to all the man-made requirements heaped upon them, so they don’t even want to try. We need to understand that our ONLY job is to reflect the love of Jesus to others, and to share that if they choose to believe in the finished work of Jesus, they are made right with God. It’s the GOD’s job to save people from bad behavior, not ours. Let’s stop trying to be perfect, and stop implying to others that they must be perfect before God sees them as justified and righteous. Instead, let’s allow God to do His part…

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6, NLT).

Will the Real Gospel Please Stand Up?

As I learn more about God’s grace, something has become disturbing apparent to me about many of today’s churches. It seems that as Christians, we have too often forgotten all about our founder – Jesus!

I know that sounds a bit crazy, but I want to present a challenge to you next Sunday when you go to church…this will tell you if you are in a church that truly preaches the gospel of Jesus, or you might possibly be hearing “another gospel”, as mentioned in Galatians 1:6-7.

1. Pay attention to what the sermon is about. When the pastor shares the topic of the message, does it point to you – or to Jesus? Is the message telling you to look into a mirror and check out your own reflection, or does it compel you to look at Him? Who is the star of that Sunday morning’s message – Jesus, or you?

2. Notice if you are given a laundry list of things you need to do in order to be pleasing to God, or to get more from God. If you end up with several bullet points to work on, then there is a chance that you may not hearing the true gospel.

Paul wrote the book of Galatians to Romans who had recently become Christians. These Galatians believed in Jesus, and the truth of the gospel told them that they were saved by their faith in Him, not by their behavior or actions. But just like many religious teachers today, certain Jews of that day were trying to infiltrate the purity of the gospel by telling these people that in order to be acceptable to God, they also had to add some actions and behaviors into their faith in Jesus.

When Paul heard about this, he was quick to tell them, “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Galatians 2:16).”

In a nutshell, the law causes you to focus on you, which will never make you righteous before God. The gospel causes you to focus on Jesus.  Faith in Him makes completely acceptable and holy before the Father.  Period.

Think about it… God the Father sent His Son, Jesus, to sacrifice Himself so that we might be forgiven of all our sin and to give us the FREE gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17). THAT, my friend, is the gospel! The gospel is not supposed to be about how obedient we are to “following the rules”, or working to get brownie points from God.  It’s not supposed to be about walking around pretending that we are better than others who don’t believe in Jesus. It’s not supposed to be about pointing out sin wherever we see it (that’s the Law’s job by the way, not ours). The gospel is supposed to be about Jesus (Mark 1:1)!

3. Here’s a simple one…count how many times Jesus’ name is mentioned during the message. If you hear the name of Jesus over and over again, there’s a good chance that you are learning more about Him. On the other hand, if you don’t hear His name mentioned much (maybe you hear a lot of references to “God” instead), chances are that you are going to leave that service feeling more weighed down than ever – carrying responsibility, guilt or an “I can do it!” attitude (which you won’t be able to do, by the way). The problem with this is that the gospel is not about what you need to do. It’s about what Jesus has already done!

Personally, it has become really tough for me to even listen to sermons that don’t point me to Jesus. Anything short of Him sends me on bunny-trails of either self-righteousness (“yes, I AM good!”), or guilt and shame (“I need to do better”). Neither of those bunny trails are pleasing to God. On the Mount of Transfiguration, our Heavenly Father said, “This is My Beloved Son…Hear Him (italics added) (Matthew 17:5).”

I’m not trying to point the figure at churches, nor would I ever accuse well-intending teachers and preachers of intentionally causing anyone harm. And far be it for me to think that I am more knowledgeable than others who have been teaching and preaching for years. All I know is this – I just want to hear more Jesus. He loves me, and He loves you. He has saved us from death and destruction and given us eternal life. How could we possibly go WRONG by talking more about Him?

When in doubt, I’ll lean on the side of His grace. Just give me more Jesus, please.

God Will Never Cut You Off

Religion has taught that if we don’t do the right things as Christians, that we are exposing ourselves to trouble with God. We fear that if we don’t meet certain standards, that God is capable of cutting us off from His blessing, His presence and His favor. What a scary thought!

The problem is that many times we don’t have an accurate understanding of what the Bible says about God. Because of our lack of understanding, we end up misusing Bible verses in an attempt to prove that although God loves us, He is waiting, ready to give us the ax if we mess up.

Here is one example. Many Christians are quick to use John 15:1-4 to explain that God is capable of cutting you off:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit (John 15:1-2, NKJV).

Christians will tell you, “if we don’t produce good fruit in our lives, then we are at risk of being cut off from God, or from His blessings.

As an eager student of Jesus and His grace, I have learned that in order to truly understand scripture it is important to: 1) Read the entire context of the scripture, and 2) Explore the true meaning of the words used.

If you are like me, you have been taught that a branch that gets taken away represents a branch that has been cut off or removed. This couldn’t be further from the truth!

The term takes “away” is translated from the Greek word “Airo”, which means “to raise up, elevate, lift up”.

My husband and I once lived in a house that had a grapevine growing in the back yard. Whenever we found a branch that wasn’t producing grapes, it was usually because it had been laying on the ground. After propping the branch up and lifting it out of the dirt, it eventually produced beautiful grapes!

For me the second part of verse 2 used to be even scarier than the first:

“…and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

I was taught that even if you ARE doing all the right things and producing fruit, God will STILL “cut” you, so that you can grow even more! Does this sound like a loving God to you?

Once again, let’s take a look at the true meaning of the words. The term “prune” is translated from the Greek word “Kathairo”, which means: “to cleanse, of filth impurity, to expiate (this word “expiate” means: “to atone for; make amends or reparation for”).

Jesus is telling us that as His branches, He is continually making us clean! Taken in this proper context, the next words He speaks make much more sense:

You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, Neither can you, unless you abide in Me (John 15:3-4, NKJV).

God is not watching with a microscope, waiting to determine if He will bless you – or cut you off. He has declared that when you struggle, He is there to lift you up. He has declared that because you believe in Jesus, you have been made clean. Jesus simply says to abide in Him. That means that we are to be totally dependent on Him – not on ourselves. We are to totally trust in His love for us, and to learn how to rest in that love.

A branch does not have to strain in order to produce a grape. Have you ever walked by a branch and heard it grunting, “Got……to…..produce….this…..grape!….” That’s absurd. It simply has to remain connected to the vine, and fruit is produced naturally and with ease.

The church needs to wake up to the truth about how very much God loves us. When we learn to abide in Him…without the fear of punishment…only then will we truly see ourselves – His branches – producing beautiful and delicious fruit!

The Gospel is Not a Salad Bar

The other day, my husband and I had lunch with another couple at a salad bar restaurant. We ate and talked, talked and ate.  Before we knew it, we had been there for more than five hours…it’s a wonder that we didn’t get kicked out of the place!

Not only did we do some serious visiting with our friends, but we put a nice dent in the salad bar over that five hour period. Perusing the plethora of yummy salad fixings can be quite thrilling! The best part of eating at a salad bar is experiencing the freedom of picking and choosing what you want to put on your salad…if you’re like me, you can say “yes, yes, yes!” to the spinach, cheese, tomatoes and olives with ranch dressing. At the same time, you can say “no, no, no!” to the beets, onions and radishes, because in your world, they don’t even exist as an option.

Unfortunately, Christians often approach the gospel of Christ much like this salad bar. Just like their favorite salad fixings, Christians have become quite good at selecting our “favorite” sins, while simply skipping over and ignoring other sins that we prefer not to focus on.

What are some of our “favorite” sins? Those on our “top hits” list are usually sins that are easy to spot in others:

  • Adultery
  • Homosexuality
  • Drinking or smoking
  • Cursing
  • Stealing
  • Pornography

I’m sure that you could think of many more, but you get my drift…

Romans 1:29-31 lists what I think is the longest inventory of sins given in the Bible. Before receiving the revelation of grace, this list used to make me feel both proud and condemned, all at the same time. Proud, because I was able to look at some of those sins and say, “I would NEVER commit a sin like that one!” Condemned, because a couple of others on the list pointed straight into my soul, saying, “Yep, you know you’ve been guilty of THAT one!” Not being able to reconcile how I could still be considered saved when verse 32 clearly states, “…those who practice such things are deserving of death,…”. I had no choice. I was forced to skip over those sins that pertained to me. I simply had to pretend that they didn’t exist. But ignoring them didn’t change the truth – that my life sometimes is reflected in that long list of sins. And because of that, guilt and condemnation ruled in my life, attempting to keep me separated from God and His love for me.

What are some of the sins we prefer to ignore or skip over? They are usually sins that may not be quite so visible or obvious to others:

  • Pride and arrogance
  • Partiality or favoritism
  • Judging others
  • Jealousy
  • Little white lies
  • Fear
  • Anger

(For another very pointed list of sins, check out Galatians 5:19.  I’ll bet that if you’re honest, you’ll find yourself in there somewhere!)

Here’s my point…we are ALL sinners, in need of the grace that Jesus freely has given us. In fact, the purpose of this long list of sins given in Romans 1:29-31, when read in context, is very clear. Paul, the writer of Romans, is trying to tell us that every one of us, left to our own behavior, is condemned and guilty before God. We can’t pick and choose which sins are acceptable, and which are not.   James 2:10 clearly states:

For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

If we think we can impress God because we don’t commit certain sins (while still committing others), then we are fooling ourselves.  Wow, that is tough!  So, what are we to do?

Grace is our only answer! The gospel of Jesus Christ is about the grace that each of us has been given. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we can freely receive forgiveness, favor, and blessing from God – even though we haven’t deserved it! Sounds almost too good to be true? Well, that is actually the true definition of the gospel:  The over-the-top, too-good-to-be-true Good News of Jesus!

So, let’s stop approaching the gospel like the salad bar. Let’s stop picking and choosing which sins to focus on. Let’s stop judging others for their sins. Instead, let’s begin to share the Good News that through God’s grace, we have been given the power to overcome sin, guilt and condemnation. By focusing on His grace instead of our sins, we WILL become transformed into the likeness of Jesus!