Author Archives: maf4977

Find your Samaritan Woman

Society in its non-technological years was fraught with racial divisions, gender divisions, and economic divisions.  Jesus speaks much throughout the gospels about the classes of people the first century people recognized – the master and the servant, the rich and the poor, the mother and the barren woman, the honorable woman and the harlot, the Jew and the Samaritan, the religious leaders and the common man.  There were so many possible divisions that creating ingroups was necessary for survival.

Almost all of these ideologies come together in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.

Thinking of the Samaritan woman makes me appreciate the times we live in and how far our culture and religious ideologies have evolved.  At least in America.  Because in the first century, women had few to no options.  As a woman, you were considered the property of your father, or your older brother if your father was deceased, until you were of a marriageable age.  Which could be as a teenager.  You most likely had no choice or voice in the man your father chose for you to marry.  You would marry him and be expected to love, honor, and obey.  Without question or complaint.  You were to appreciate his care and protection of you.  If you were lucky, you would come to like your husband and form a friendship as you tried to get through each day and raise your kids.  What was a typical day?  You would be expected to prepare two to three meals with limited resources.  No electricity.  No drive throughs.  No instant food.  If you wanted to eat, you had to grow it, catch it, or have enough denarii available to purchase something simple at the market.  Your worked from when you rose in the morning until you went to bed at night, most likely on a straw mat or the dirt floor.  There were no pillow top mattresses covered in 900 thread count sheets to sleep in luxury.  There were no day spas to go have your hair cut and your nails done and just relax.  If you were lucky, you found yourself living in the same town in which you grew up, being surrounded by family and friends.  Because if you were not, it could be months or years before you saw them.  How could you write to them and have them respond if you barely knew how to read? 

As a woman, your life was hard.  Your days would be difficult.  But how much more so if you were a woman who made bad choices and had to live your life with layers upon layers of scorn?  Thus, we circle back to the Samaritan woman.

The Samaritan woman already had many strikes against her.  First, she was born into a culture of people considered unacceptable because they came from a lineage of intermarriage with heathen nations.  “After the northern kingdom, with its capital at Samaria, fell to the Assyrians, many Jews were deported to Assyria, and foreigners were brought in to settle the land and help keep the peace.  The intermarriage between those foreigners and the remaining Jews resulted in a mixed race, impure in the opinion of Jews who lived in the southern kingdom.  The thus pure Jews hated this mixed race called Samaritans because they felt that their fellow Jews who had intermarried had betrayed their people and nation” (Life 1822).  Religious culture mandated a person be of only Jewish lineage to be accepted as a Jew, and her bloodlines prevented her from conforming to their heterogeneous expectations.  So, the Jews would avoid her in every possible way.

Second, though she believed in the same God as her Israelite brethren, the Samaritan religion she followed diverged into systematic – and unacceptable – differences.  “The building of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim, overlooking Shechem, set the seal on the Jewish rejection of this heretical sect. … Yet the Samaritans worshipped God, as the Jesus did.  Their authority was the Five Books of Moses, hardly altered from the Jewish version” (Alexander 497).  Both the Samaritans and Jews believed in a Creator who chose Abraham and from him created a nation that found itself slaves in Israel soon redeemed by His mighty hand through the prophet Moses and then spent forty years trying to get Israel to trust Him.  But when Moses died on the edge of the promised land, their religious culture diverged into Jews, who believed God placed the judges and prophets and kings into their culture.  So, “Jewish hatred and disdain for the Samaritans sprang more from historical and racial considerations than from any fundamental difference of religion” (Alexander 497-498).

Culturally, the Jews would reject her and refuse to acknowledge her existence.  But there would be the hope of her own people, the Samaritans – specifically the women in her village.  They had a shared culture, a shared heritage, and a shared rejection.  So, they could commiserate together about the choices of their Jewish ancestors while appreciating the diverse and expanded culture they now enjoyed as a result.  But there were no women knocking on her door, coming in to sit in her home and participate in friendly conversation.  There were no friends coming to her door early in the morning to walk with her to Jacob’s well to draw water for the day’s chores.  There were no meet-ups at the market or even acknowledgement by eye contact.  Because she made the most egregious mistake a woman could make.  And even within her culture of outcasts, she could not live up to their heterogeneous ideologies as a woman who loved too much and chose her companions poorly.  “The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’  Jesus said to her, ‘You have well said, “I have no husband,” for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly’” (John 4:17-18, New King James Version).  Though it is not expressed in the Scripture that she is divorced, she obviously bears the stigma of a divorced woman.  Not once, not twice, but at least four times.  She has been left, repeatedly, to fend for herself.  Now, desperate and hopeless, she has added shame upon her already deep shame by living with a man without the benefit of marriage.

She will never be accepted by the Jews.  She is continually rejected by her own people the Samaritans.  She lives in multiple layers of outgroup ostracization.  She is stuck in a limbo of isolation and contorted in every way by shame.  She is without friends.  She is without hope.  She is without purpose.  And most importantly, she does know how to love herself, nor does she think she deserves to be loved. 

Which is why she is the perfect example of how Peter calls us to love like Jesus: “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous [humble]” (1 Peter 3:8).  She needed compassion.  She needed one of the local women who shunned her so carefully and so caustically to bring her into the ingroup and allow their acceptance and friendship to start healing the deep wounds in her heart.  She needed to be taught to forgive herself and see herself as valuable, despite her choices, so she could find the confidence to make better choices and steer her life in a new direction.  She needed someone to see her and acknowledge her existence, choosing to show her compassion instead of judgment, so her hard and broken heart could slowly but surely be softened into the true meaning of love.

Jesus demonstrates exactly how we start finding the Samaritan woman in our life.  We take the uncomfortable and often rejected path – we walk purposefully into Samaria.  We do not avoid walking into people’s lives because they are different – because they are complicated or messy or disastrous compared to our ideals.  We do not avoid getting to know people because they are different – they live differently, think differently, and believe differently.  We look at the example of our Savior and choose to walk into their lives, just as they are, and meet them at the well, no matter what time of day it is.  It will most likely not be convenient for us.  It will most likely not be comfortable for us.  It will most likely not be uncomplicated for us.  But it is necessary for us.

Because how many people in our world today are in the same predicament as the Samaritan woman?  How many people refuse to love themselves because of one choice or a series of choices they have made?  How many people cannot see beyond the hopelessness of their current situation to consider the possibilities of salvation and grace?  How many people are rejected by those around them, including their families, because of disagreements of traditional ideologies and religious stigmas?

How many people wake up each day knowing they must first deal with, and most likely be unsuccessful at, managing the prejudice toward them from people who refuse to get to know them?   People who look at a circumstance – such as the Samaritan woman loving and losing repeatedly – and come to the “unfavorable opinion or feeling … without knowledge, thought, or reason” (Wagner) of who she is and without asking questions about her circumstances.  People who know their version of truth is the undeniable and inarguable standard by which you should live your life – and who “are happy to be hostile toward [you] because [you are] a competitor to them over the scarce resource of what is true, what is right, what is clear” (Cleveland).

They need us to show them grace is available, no matter what your history is.  They need us to show them that God is reliable in His goodness.  They need us to show them forgiveness is attainable.  And it starts by us seeing them.  Because if I look the other way, avoid them, and refuse to speak to or about them – “if I am blinded by hostility, if I am blinded by fear, if I cannot see past the ambiguity that I’m faced with, how am I possibly going to be able to see God in the people I have labeled an enemy?  What can I learn?”  (Cleveland)

Considering all these things, I am challenged to find the Samaritan woman in my life.  I am now called upon to open my eyes, once blinded by social construct; open my heart, once guided by cultural stigmas and stereotypes; and open my mind, once focused on homeostasis.  To recognize her as someone uniquely created by God with great purpose and inherent dignity, so that I can call her my spiritual sister and pull her into the inclusive ingroup of people known as followers of Jesus.  To live by the only gold standard that matters, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).  Love, as God loves, considers the possibilities and purposes in the heart while redeeming the past and the persona that have diluted value and distorted identity.  Love is the only thing powerful enough to help a Samaritan woman, caught in the prejudices and biases of those who judge her without knowledge, consider a life of new hope, new possibilities, and a new future.  Love is the most powerful opportunity to create diversity and acceptance in the world around you, so choose to love – on purpose, with the purpose of finding the Samaritan woman.

 

Marie Fremin

Biblical Position Paper

Southeastern University

7/28/19

 

 

Works Cited

Alexander, David and Pat.  “Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible.”  “West Oxford: Lion Publishing, 1983.

 

Cleveland, Christena.  “Live out of Love, Not Fear.”  https://youtu.be/orqM3kYLE4o

 

Life Application Study Bible: New American Standard Bible.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan: 1995.

 

Wagner, Todd and Rick Smith.  “What is the Biblical Response to #BlackLivesMatter?”  https://youtu.be/RYMH_lRJE8Q

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Don’t Miss Him

A radical thought occurred to me this afternoon as I thought about the Samaritan woman in John 4 – how easily she could have missed God.

 

Think about it.  If she had made better decisions and was accepted by the other women in the village, what reason would she have to avoid them?  Because that is what she is doing.  Avoiding the stares.  Avoiding the whispers.  Avoiding the garments pulled tightly away from any possible contact with her.  Avoiding the avoidance.

 

She did not need any more judgment.  She berated herself plenty for all the desperate choices she had made.  She accused herself a lot for all the love-them-and-leave-them men she found herself living with. She hated herself greatly for making the same stupid mistakes over and over and over again.

 

And to make it worse, she could not hide or deny anything.  Everyone knew her business.  There was no anonymity in her village.  Everyone speculated why her last man had left.  Now they were probably betting when her current man would leave her.

 

She had no friends.

She had no acceptance.

She had no forgiveness.

 

Don't Miss Him

 

So she did what she could to avoid people as often as she could.  That included drawing water from the town well at the hottest part of the day, walking from her home probably on the outskirts of town, probably past one or two sets of judgmental eyes while the blaring sun beat down on her in yet another layer of unforgiveness in her life.

 

She most likely walked with her eyes downcast, afraid to see the obvious judgment from anyone she happened to pass.  Her shoulders may have been permanently slumped from living a life of defeat and regret.

 

Why did she have to wake up and face another day?  It was more than she could take.  There was nothing good in her life.  But she was still around, and the house still had to be tended.  So, with a deep and soul-wrenching sigh, she drags herself to the door and reluctantly picks up her water bucket.  One foot in front of the other, eyes on your feet – just get it over with so you can go home.  Where only you – and your current boyfriend – can comment on your pathetic life.

 

She approaches the well and stops.  Oh, no.  A man sits at the well.  Did he hear about me and come for trouble, thinking I will be an easy target?  If I go over on the other side, will he just ignore me and let me go?  Should I stand here in this overly hot sun and wait to see if he moves – and am I willing to wait him out?  Should I turn around and go home, forgetting about the water today, knowing I can figure out some way to get along tomorrow?

 

And she was probably trying to figure out which option would be best when He speaks.  To her.  “Give Me a drink” (John 4:7).

 

And she quickly realizes just how different they are and how many traditional “rules” He is breaking.  Men did not talk to women in public.  Jews did not share drinking utensils with Samaritans.  Respectable teachers did not talk to unrespectable women.

 

Yet He did talk to her.  And she is astonished.  Then He does something even more surprising – He engages her in conversation.  She just wants to draw her water and go home.  She doesn’t want this man to talk to her, and she doesn’t want to think about the new rumors that will spread about her because He is talking to her.  But He keeps talking to her, not making any sense because He is talking in riddles.  He is talking about “living water” (John 4:10) – of course water is necessary for all life, everyone knows this.

 

But then He offers her hope for maybe the first time in her life – “everlasting life” (John 4:14).  Not the mere, sad existence she has known.  Not the isolated and shame-filled life she has lived.  He offers her a life forgiven of regret and shame.  He offers her a life where new possibilities are available.  He offers her hope that she is not stuck forever in her current lifestyle and the consequences of her choices.

 

But, alas, He did not really mean it.  He was messing with her.  Because He wants to talk to her husband (John 4:16).  Well, she knew better than to get her hopes up.  It always comes back to the husband.  She does not have one of those.  Instead, she has a guy living with her who “appreciates” her willingness to cohabitate.    

 

So she figures the deal is off.  Back to life as usual.  Hope was fun for those few minutes, but it would never be more than a joke for someone like her.

 

But she is wrong.  He still offers her a new life – even knowing who she is and how she has lived.  Yes, He calls out her choices for what they are.  But then He shows her that God’s love can overwrite her story with His beautiful truth.

 

And she is changed.  Her broken heart begins to heal.  Her sullen character is given a lift with hope. 

 

Someone has looked at her.

Spoken possibility into her.

Stirred hope within her.

Given her dignity.

 

But what if she had missed Him at the well?

 

Think about how easily she could have made a different choice that day.

  • What if she had decided it was too hot and too dusty to walk through the streets?
  • What if she had decided she was too defeated to see one more reproachful glance or hear one more careless whisper?
  • What if she had rationalized that she had enough water to get by for one more day?  
  • What if she had refused to get out of bed and given up on her life because she was drowning in hopelessness?

 

Think about how one change in her circumstances could have affected her.

  • What if her first man – and those thereafter – had wanted to make her a respectable woman by marrying her?
  • What if she was accepted by the village women and had gone out earlier in the day?
  • What if she had not been alone and her group decided to turn back when they saw a strange figure at the well?
  • What if Jesus had not obeyed God’s nudge “to go through Samaria” (John 4:4)?

 

There are so many ways she could have missed her life-changing moment with Jesus.  Which meant her village would have missed their life-changing moment with Jesus. 

 

One conversation turned into a revival of faith.

One hope turned into a village’s spiritual beginning.

One shunned woman turned into a preacher for anyone willing to listen.

 

But if anything about her circumstances or her day had been different, she might not have met Jesus at the well – and look at all that would have been missed.

 

And it makes me wonder … How many times have I missed God?

How many times have I missed the answer to prayer?

How many times have I missed the new He was trying to do?

How many times have I missed being changed for the better?

 

Because I made excuses.

Because I decided to be lazy.

Because I didn’t want to be uncomfortable.

Because I thought I had a better answer or plan.

Because I did not want to be mocked or judged.

 

Because I refused to listen.

Because I refused to go.

Because I refused to see.

 

I know there are so many good things I have missed, so many blessings I did not receive, and so many revelations I have lost – because I was more about me than God.  And I don’t want that to be my story!

 

I want to be fully present with Him – problems and all – when He engages me.

I want to be fully available to Him when He speaks truth to heal and restore me.

I want to be fully aware of who He is and how much He loves me.

 

And I want to be so transformed by His grace that I run with His truth into the world, unable to keep it to myself.  No excuses.  No shame.  No avoidance.

 

Loving Father,

Thank You for reminding us that we are never unlovable and always worth saving.  Help us today – and all of our tomorrows – to grab hold of Your grace and to apply it fully to our lives.  Help us to be believers who never miss out on Your life-changing truth and life-giving hope.  Help us to engage with You and all You are, without reservation and hesitation, without being held back by our past and held down by our present.  Thank You for calling and guiding us to be fully free.  In Jesus’ all-mighty name.  AMEN!

 

Marie Fremin.  7/6/19

Great Surprise

Surprises can be fun.  Especially if they are successful.

 

My sweet grandmother was hoping to pull a good surprise on me for Christmas.  She made my favorite dessert, a homemade cheesecake.  She hoped to see the surprised look on my face when she sent me to the fridge.  And I would have been totally surprised, because the amount of effort one cheesecake takes is more energy than she seems to have.

 

Would have been?  Yep.

 

Because I called her on my way home a few days before we left to see her.  And I made my usual joke about her making me a cheesecake.  And it got quiet.  Really quiet.  So I burst out laughing, reminding her I was joking.

 

And finally she spoke, disdain dripping from her every word.  “Who opened her big mouth and blabbed?”  And with that one statement, her surprise was blown.  And she was mad.  It took some convincing to help her realize she – and no one else – had blown her surprise.  It was something we were still laughing about when we arrived at her house.  (By the way, the cheesecake was delicious!)

 

God had a surprise too.  It was no secret that He loved Israel.  But no one expected God to pull off the greatest surprise of all – “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16).  God used Israel through the years to set the stage for His grand reveal.  And “when the fullness of the time had come” (Galatians 4:4), God surprised the world by revealing just how much He loves us.

 

He displayed it in the person of His Son, who walked in human flesh for 33 years yet had a touch of healing and words of forgiveness that no mere man could possess. 

 

He displayed it in the example of His Son, who showed us what love really is by touching those outcast by society and calling the shameful into service.

 

He displayed it in the sacrifice of His Son, who willingly suffered physical pain, verbal abuse and untrue accusations, and excruciating death as the last sin offering.  Whose arms nailed to the cross showed us how open God was to be in relationship with us.

 

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

 

His love was no longer for just the people of His promise – but now it was available to every man, woman, and child of every nation, every nationality, and every faith.

 

Great Surprise

 

And now He had to make it known.

 

So He commissioned the eleven disciples to not keep His love and His sacrifice a secret.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations …” (Matthew 28:19).  Everywhere you go, talk about Me.  Everyone you talk to, talk about Me.  Tell people who I am and what I have done – and help them understand that My grace is for them.

 

Help them know I love them. 

No matter where they have been. 

No matter what they have done. 

No matter how unworthy they think they are.

 

And My great hope is they will feel My love, receive My love, and share My love.  I hope they will see a glimpse of just how much I love them – I always have, I always do, and I always will.

 

My love is the start of their new life.

My love is the beginning of their new hope.

My love is the genesis of their new identity.

 

And My love will continue to surprise them, day after day, as they start to realize just how much power, healing, and possibility is contained within it.

 

So how will you allow God to surprise you today?

 

Marie Fremin.  1/6/19 and 7/4/19

Got No Strings

I have been thinking about the big life changes happening to me in this season.  And though I completely trust God to be in control and work things out for my good, there are moments where it is easy to feel like a puppet.  It is easy to feel like I am flopping around, hoping for any movement by God.  It is easy to feel lifeless and listless, waiting for Him to pick up the control and start moving the strings.  It is easy to feel that something (new) won’t happen.

 

That is the life of a puppet.  You have strings and are not free to make your own choices.  You are told where to go.  You are told which body parts to move and in what direction they need to go.  You are made to dance and move in funny patterns and rhythms.  All at the direction of the puppeteer.  And if the puppeteer is unable to direct you, then you lay idle and wait.

 

You have no choices. 

You have no say. 

You have no control. 

You are completely at the mercy of the puppeteer.

 

Got No Strings

 

Think about Pinocchio.  His one wish was to be a real boy because they “got no strings, to hold me down, to make me fret, or make me frown.”  Because as a puppet, he had no control over anything.  And he wanted control.  Even just a little, so he felt free.

 

And we are Pinocchio. 

We want control.  We want to feel free.

 

So we look at our circumstances and decide God is our Geppetto.  We convince ourselves that He has put strings on us … because He wants to keep us from goodness and from greatness.

 

We complain about Him for not giving us what need.

We accuse Him of not loving us.

We blame Him for not providing.

We criticize Him for not caring.

 

But in looking at our strings, we forget one very important truth.  God is not responsible for our strings.  He doesn’t tie them on us.  He doesn’t insist we wear them.

 

When we have strings, it is because we do not believe that no “created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:39). 

 

When we have strings, it is because we do not believe “You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness …” (Jonah 4:2).

 

When we have strings, it is because we do not believe “the grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant” (1 Timothy 1:14) to forgive, heal, and restore us … completely.

 

When we have strings, it is because we do not believe “that while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8) God had great plans and hopes and dreams for us.

 

God does not want us to have strings.

God does not want us to doubt His love.

God does not want us to question His care.

God does not want us to refuse His grace.

 

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free … Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:32,36).

 

He has already made a way for us to be free of every string we tie upon ourselves.

 

The strings of shame that distort our perspective.

The strings of sin that strangle our growth.

The strings of anger that turn us in the wrong direction.

The strings of fear that stop us.

The strings of self-righteousness that lead us to think we are smarter than God.

 

So today is the day to see your strings for what they are – things you have convinced yourself to be true that are not.  Today is the day to cut your strings – once and for all – by embracing the truth of God’s love and care for you. 

 

Let today be the last day you are Pinocchio, being controlled by every erratic emotion that comes at you.  Let today be the first day of your new life – “I’ve got no strings, To hold me down, To make me fret, or make me frown. I had strings, But now I’m free, There are no strings on me.”

 

Marie Fremin.  6/24/19 and 7/4/19.

Grace Abundantly

13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent [arrogant] man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:13-14)

 

Paul had a story.  An amazing story.  He was a man who was convinced he knew what was right and he was making a difference in the world by helping the world to live as he lived and believe as he believed. 

 

And then he met God, personally, and nothing in his life was ever the same.  God turned his obsession with rules into a passion for people.  And he spent the rest of his life telling the story of who he was and who he became.

 

He did not gloss over or hide the old man he was.  He spoke honestly about who he once was.

 

A blasphemer” who was so convinced of the power of the Law that he was lost in his own self-righteousness and proclaimed the Law as the only way to live.

 

A persecutor” who was so driven by a desire to see people follow the Law – exactly as it was written and the religious leaders proclaimed it to be lived – that he had no qualms about punishing people who did not agree.

 

An insolent [arrogant] man” who was so driven by a pursuit of perfection that his attention was misdirected away from the real need of that day – hope.

 

He knew without a doubt he was right that there was no other way except the Law.  So he was bold in his quest to eradicate the name and influence of Jesus from among his people. 

 

But look at all that is lacking from Paul in the state of his old man.

What of humility, considering the needs and ideas of others?

What of compassion, considering the trials and pains of others?

What of kindness, considering the hurt and struggles of others?

What of mercy, considering the humanity and frailty of others?

 

God found Paul at the peak of his passion, when he was on a killing rampage against Jesus followers.  And God took that misguided passion and repurposed it for something divinely productive – winning people to Jesus.

 

And do you know why people were willing to listen to this man who once sought to destroy them?  Why would anyone take even a minute to hear this same man who reminded them “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent [arrogant] man”?

 

Because Paul became a testimony of the power of God’s grace.  He was a living, breathing, walking example – standing in front of them so they could see, hear, and touch him – of what God can do when you choose to believe.  How else could someone so wretched and vile in the eyes of the Jesus followers come to be so beloved and believed among them?

 

Paul embraced the new life and new purpose God had for him.  And he lived out the rest of his days to the fullest – talking about God to anyone around him.  He shined God’s glory through his old self, showing people the radical redemption and divine possibilities available when one chooses to believe in God.

 

So who’s your old man? 

Is she holding you back from letting go, moving forward, and changing directions?

Is she causing you confusion and stirring up chaos into your heart?

Is she driving your life with constant fear and overwhelming anxiety?

Is she provoking you to self-righteousness and the need to always be right?

 

It’s time to retire her. 

Forever.

Send her to her eternal reward.

Don’t wait for a new year or a major life interruption.

 

Let her become a distant memory of who you were before you fully embraced God’s grace. 

 

Let your “formerly” become your testimony, like Paul.  Allow God to speak life into every area, attitude, and aptitude of your life where you are not living His best life.  Allow God to cover you with His love as He rewrites your story into one of being radically changed and healed of everything holding you back from His best life.  Allow God to overwrite your anxieties, doubts, and fears with the truth of His faithfulness so you will be bold enough to believe like never before for His best life.

 

Take your “unbelief” – your weak faith and big fears – and give them to God.  Once and for all.  Allow God to fill in the spaces of “unbelief” in your heart with His mercy so faith can develop in those places.  And watch God start to produce “exceedingly abundant” things in you.

 

Today is the day God will redeem your “formerly” into His faithfully.  So don’t be afraid to let it all go.  Trust Him to take it “with faith and love” and give you an amazing new life in its place. 

 

Paul did.  And he is still impacting people 2000 years later by his faith and his testimony.  He is still encouraging people to trust God, no matter where they are in their life.  Because if God would do it for Paul, the most unworthy man, He would do it for anyone willing to receive His grace.

 

Grace and mercy are waiting.  They are ready to transform you from who you are into who He has created you to be.  Move toward the Savior waiting to bless you with a new life and “grace … exceedingly abundant”.

 

Marie Fremin.  6/2/19, 6/7/19.

Distracted by a Hard Heart

Acts 7:39[Moses] whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected. And in their hearts they turned back to Egypt

 

What has your heart?

 

I’ve been asking myself this question a lot lately, trying to find God and His peace in the chaos and confusion that is life.  Then I read Acts 7:39 during a morning devotional. 

 

Stephen is preaching to the religious leaders, reminding them of their unfaithfulness throughout the generations despite God’s continued and obvious goodness.  He is talking about the group that came out of Egypt, whose hearts never let go of their slavery.  They never turned to God with their fears and doubts.  They never trusted God with their well-being and daily provision.  They never tuned into God being with them, God being for them, and God being good to them.

 

They “rejected” all of God’s grace. 

They “rejected” all of God’s love.

They “rejected” all of God’s goodness.

 

Because they were “… people who go astray in their hearts, And they do not know My ways” (Psalm 95:10).  They did not know God because they refused to know God.  It was a deliberate choice they made every day.

 

And when I consider what is in my heart – what I believe is true, what I want, what I am seeking, what holds my affections – I have to wonder what part of God I am rejecting and which of His ways I am refusing.

 

So I ask some hard questions.

        Am I seeking the Father and His will to find my true self?  Or am I seeking fame and recognition to feel accepted and loved?

        Am I seeking to be generous, looking for ways to give?  Or am I taking what I want and stealing the enthusiasm from the room?

        Am I feeling content with my blessings and His provision, which is more than enough?  Or am I feeling cheated and overlooked because I think I am missing out on something (good)?

        Am I choosing to edify and encourage people, bringing good and positivity into their day?  Or am I complaining and criticizing, hurting hearts and dampening spirits?

 

When I am honest with myself, I am usually not on the God side of myself.  Instead, I am allowing myself to be controlled by my emotions, to be dragged in so many directions that I cannot find a way of release.  And then the devil has me right where he wants me – DISTRACTED.

 

Distracted by a Hard Heart

 

So I am not able to focus on God – His love, His goodness, His grace.

So I am not able to see God – His provision, His strength, His endurance.

So I am not able to adjust my thinking, speaking, and reacting.

So I am not able to concentrate on His guidance, His direction, and His instruction.

 

So I am focused on me and only me.  What will make me happy.  What will make me feel loved and appreciated.  What will make my life better.  And your problems?  I don’t the time or compassion for them.  Because I am distracted by what I want, need, and feel – it’s all about me.

 

Just like Israel.  Despite seeing God protect them from 10 devastating plagues, they refused to trust.  Despite seeing God deliver every one of them alive out of slavery – plus giving them provision to establish their new lives – in one night, they refused to believe.  Despite seeing God deliver them again on the dry land of the Red Sea and destroy the Egyptian army with one big wave, they refused to hope.

 

God was with them.  God was for them.  In so many ways they could see – because He moved in physical ways among them.  Yet seeing never produced trusting.  Seeing never produced hoping for another move or miracle.  Seeing never produced believing all would be well because God was with them.

 

They refused to let go of the slavery they hated and once cried out about.  They refused to let their slavery mindset and attitudes go – so they could embrace God and His possibilities.  They refused to see or embrace God’s goodness and blessings toward them.

 

In their hearts they turned back to Egypt”, choosing to hold onto their struggles – instead of embracing God’s salvation.  Because they had hard hearts.  And those hard hearts led to a hard life where God spent 40 years giving them a chance to change.  And each challenge saw them cry out for Egypt – the same Egypt that spent centuries trying to destroy them – instead of crying out to God – who had protected them through those years from annihilation.

 

It breaks my heart.  I am sad because they never got how good God is or how much He blessed them. 

 

But at the same time, it encourages my heart. 

I am encouraged because God loved them despite their hard hearts. 

Because God kept trying to help them change – and provided for them through their struggles. 

Because God kept giving them another chance to do better.

 

And God does not change.  So that means God loves me despite my stubborn streak and foolish heart.  That means God is with me, giving me the opportunity to change – and the wisdom to know how to do better.  That means God won’t give up on me!

 

We all have an Egypt – that old habit, old attitude, old relationship, old mindset – we turn to when things get tough.  Hoping it will make us feel better, feel able, and feel confident.  Even when we know it is not God’s best for us, we still seek it out.  Needing the comfort we think it gives.

 

What is your Egypt?

Recognize it.

Name it.

Own it.

 

Stop letting it own you.

Stop letting it distract you.

Stop letting it steal your grace.

 

God had so much He gave Israel while they continued to cling to Egypt.  Consider how much more He had waiting to give them if they chose to trust Him!

 

I don’t want to be Israel and miss out on God’s best life. 

Because I am distracted by Egypt. 

Because I am drawn back to Egypt.

Because I am devoted to Egypt.

 

But pursuing God’s best means I have to choose to stop leaning on and looking to my Egypt – and choose to lean into His love and look to His wisdom.

 

Pursuing God’s best means I have to choose to stop turning to my Egypt, expecting comfort it cannot give – and choose to find compassion and strength in God’s care.

 

Pursuing God’s best means I have to choose to stop thinking I know what is best for me – and choose to follow His lead, knowing all His plans lead to good and growth.

 

So again I ask, what is your Egypt?  What has a death grip on your heart?  What is keeping you from having God’s best?

 

It’s time to send your Egypt back to the desert, buried deep in the sand once and for all.  And when you do, your heart will be open and able to experience the Promised Land God has waiting for you.

 

Loving Father,

Thank You for never giving up on us!  No matter what.  Thank You for being for us.  Help us today to be wise enough to call our Egypt by name and then brave enough to let it go.  Help us know what we need to change in order to experience Your best life.  Help us be consistent in chasing You and Your good plans instead of being distracted by the death tolls of our Egypt.  Thank You for the strength to keep going forward and to keep trying, no matter what we face.  Thank You for giving us the hope that You are always with us and for us.  In Jesus’ almighty name.  AMEN!

 

Marie Fremin.  6/6/19, 6/7/19

Father, Forgive Them

Luke 23:34 – Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots.

 

He hung on the cross.

Beaten to within an inch of His life.

Bleeding from every area of His body.

Nailed through His tender wrists and ankles.

Hung, naked, for all to see.

Mocked and taunted to help Himself as He helped others.

 

And yet, with one of His precious breaths, He prays.

For them there witnessing the horrors of the moment who demanded His death.

For those who had walked with Him and abandoned Him.

For those who would come to believe in the days ahead.

For those who orchestrated and participated in His execution.

 

And for us, many years into the future, who would have His Word and His name readily available to believe in.

 

Though taking that breath was hard and wracked His already broken body with pain, He prayed for His Father to forgive them all.  All who were involved in His death.

 

But He also prayed it as an eternal prayer for all people through all time.  He was asking His father to forgive us all, including those in today’s technological society.

 

He prayed because He knew.  That we as humans would be limited to know the power of our choices and the vastness of their consequences.  That we as humans would be unable to harness our emotions all the time and would therefore speak rashly and brashly.  That we as humans would be prone to selfishness and self-centeredness.

 

father_forgive_them

 

But here is the hard truth that hit me hard Thursday night – most of the time, we are not making an honest error or simple mistake.

 

He reminded me that we often are making a deliberate choice to do things our way, by our power.  We are choosing to ignore His guidance and do what we want to do, without regret or remorse for ignoring His Spirit.  We are choosing to be selfish for our desires, without regret or remorse for those we hurt in the process of pursuit.  We are choosing to be emotionally driven and lash out, without regret or remorse for the damage we do and the relationships we destroy.

 

Yet, He knew all this.  He knew we would act contrary to His best and fight against His purpose.

 

So, as He hung on that cross, His body slowly losing its battle with life, He chose to pray for us.  He prayed for God to forgive us for those times when we didn’t realize what we did was wrong.  But He also prayed for God to forgive us for those times when we did know we were wrong – and chose to act anyway.

 

Father, forgive them”.

Because they do not know how they break Your heart.

 

Father, forgive them”.

Because they do not know how they are hurting themselves.

 

Father, forgive them”.

Because they do not know how they are rewriting their futures.

 

Father, forgive them”.

Because they do not know how much it will cost them.

 

Father, forgive them”.

Because they do not know how much damage they are doing.

 

Father, forgive them”.

Because we love them in spite of themselves.  That’s why I allowed myself to be beaten and crucified.  So we could forgive them, by the power of My blood, and have an intimate relationship with them.  Especially in those moments when they need extreme forgiveness for extreme humanity.

 

And that is true love!  He knew how we would act, think, and speak against Him and His love.  Yet He chooses to love us anyway.  In the unconditional, unrelenting, unending way that He does.

 

So choose to acknowledge where you have gone against God, decide to change your heart and turn it back toward God, and accept the forgiveness He is waiting to give you.

 

Marie Fremin.  5/19/19