Marinate Blog Summer Study: Week 1

Not only do I have a new Bible study for you today, I have a whole new blog! MarinateBlog.com and AprileSweers.com are now one in the same. The new blog is going to allow me a lot more flexibility moving forward, which I’m excited about. There are a few things to tweak (such as making it readable on mobile devices), so bear with me. We’ll get there!

Here’s the first teaching video of our Romans study – New You, New View: How the Gospel Changes Everything. It’s okay if you have already started the workbook, but this video is intended to be watched before you get started on your first week of homework.

A few things:

  • If it looks all green and garbled, give it a few minutes to buffer.
  • If you have subscribed to the blog but never received the workbook, let me know!
  • If you haven’t subscribed but want the workbook all you have to do is enter your e-mail address in the “subscribe” section to the right. Then, activate your subscription when you receive the e-mail asking you to do so (just a click – super simple).

I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this lesson! One thing you got out of it, one truth that stood out to you the most – something like that. We can make this study much more interactive (and fun!) if we “talk” with one another through the comment feed.

By the way, have I told you how excited I am that you are joining me for this study? Well, if not, I am. Really, really excited!

Now go get that warm cup of coffee, a pen, and your workbook (listening guide on page 5) and let’s get start “marinating” in the incredible, life-changing truths of Romans!

 

Surviving a Spiritual Funk: Anchor Your Heart

Note: This is the second post in a “Surviving a Spiritual Funk” series. If you missed the first one, you can read it here.

I’ve been sitting here trying to think of a unique, semi-original metaphor for the unpredictable nature of our emotions.

I’ve got nothing.

The only picture that keeps coming to mind is a little boat trying to make its way across a vast ocean. Sometimes the waters are smooth and oh-so-beautiful. The boat glides across it and navigates with confidence toward the intended destination, which happens to be in clear site. Other times the waters are turbulent and terrifying. The boat is violently tossed up and down and survival becomes the one and only goal.  The destination is shrouded in darkness and the stormy sea becomes nearly impossible to navigate. There are, of course, the “in between” times as well when the waters aren’t smooth or turbulent, just choppy. Navigating the little boat doesn’t seem impossible, but it sure is hard. The driver of the boat longs for calmer waters. She craves a smoother ride. She looks around at others gliding so confidently toward their desired havens and wishes she wasn’t stuck riding wave after wave of wind-tossed waters.

Life provides all kinds of “weather” that both stirs and stabilizes the waves of our emotions. Our hearts are like little boats on those unpredictable waters trying so hard to stay the course, but at times wondering when and if calmer waters will ever come . . . praying desperately for it to happen NOW.

Ever been there? Ever felt that way?

If you’ve ever experienced a “spiritual funk,” you have.

One of the most agonizing things about spiritual depression is the seemingly impossible task of snapping out of it. Emotions get the better of you over and over again as the distance between what you know to be true and what you feel to be true grows wider and wider. One minute you’re riding high on a wave of spiritual desire. The next minute, you’re sucked under an emotional current with absolutely no sense of God’s presence whatsoever.   To me, nothing is more aggravating than a heart that just won’t cooperate! If only I could master my emotions once and for all! Not likely this side of heaven (at least not as long as PMS is a reality in my life), but a girl can dream, right?

Though we may never attain complete, once-and-for-all mastery of our emotions, there is great hope for unsteady, wind-tossed hearts. At the bottom of that vast and sometimes turbulent sea of human affections is a solid foundation of truth. When anchored to that truth, there is no spiritual storm that we cannot survive. We anchor ourselves by “marinating” on that foundation (you know I had to slip that word in somewhere!).

So what exactly is that foundation? What must the anchor of our hearts cling to? What truths are able to steady our faith even when our feelings lag so far behind?

Though they are vast and varied, I’ve narrowed those truths down to two unchangeable realities that can turn any spiritual funk into an opportunity for deeper faith. Here they are:

  • We must anchor our hearts in the unchanging reality of who God is.

Okay, so there’s no way I can do this point justice here. In fact, there’s no way I could do it justice anywhere! What I can do is remind you of the fact that no matter how crazy life gets, no matter how blind-sided you are by a series of difficult circumstances, no matter how many twists and turns God allows along your path, no matter how long you’ve been begging to get off the emotional rollercoaster ride, one thing never, ever changes. Your God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8).

If you’ve ever spent any time studying the Psalms of lament, you have noticed that nearly every announcement of despair and desperate cry for relief is followed by an intentional declaration of who God is and remembrance of His past faithfulness. My personal favorite is Psalm 77. Just after lamenting the fact that God seems all-but-absent from his life, the Psalmist writes,

“I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds.  Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. You have by Your power redeemed Your people” (vv. 11-15).

Another favorite is in the book of Lamentations where Jeremiah follows a very vivid, heart-breaking description of his utter despair with these words:

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him” (Lam 3:21-24, emphasis added).

In Psalm 42, after asking the question, “Why are you in despair, O my soul?” the psalmist concludes, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (v. 11)

When your soul is in anguish and your spiritual affections hang in the balance, there is no better way to steady your heart than to choose to praise God for being God. “I will yet praise Him!” must be the battle cry of every Christian fighting for joy in a spiritual desert.

The battle is won or lost based on our willingness to anchor ourselves in the solid rock of who God is. He has never once been unfaithful to His children. He has never ever forsaken His blood-bought kids. He has never ceased to be good to those who He sovereignly chose to be His own. What in the world makes you think you will be the one exception? Not a chance!

  • We must anchor our hearts in the unchanging reality of the gospel.

Sometimes we get the idea that while salvation is accomplished by grace, sanctification (the process of becoming more and more like Jesus) is accomplished through struggle. The truth is it’s all grace from beginning to end. We are saved by grace (Eph. 2:8,9), we grow by grace (2 Peter 3:18), and one day we will be fully redeemed by grace (1 Cor. 1:4, 8-9).

God is not only sovereign over my conversion to Christ. He is sovereign over my conformity to Christ. Yes, I am to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling,” but that would accomplish absolutely nothing if it weren’t for the fact that God “is at work in me, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13).

To me, one of the greatest treasures in the whole of God’s Word is the benediction given at the end of the tiny New Testament book of Jude:

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (vv. 24, 25).

Who keeps us from stumbling? God does. Who makes us stand before Him blameless? God does. When all is said and done, who secures our joy? God does!

Here’s the bottom line: God’s faithfulness to sanctify us, to get us ready for heaven, is not ultimately dependent on our faithfulness to do everything we ought to do. It certainly doesn’t depend on our faithfulness to feel everything we ought to feel. First Thessalonians 5:23 and 24 says it this way:

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” (emphasis added).

Your growth in godliness in not just a process, it’s a promise. Jesus is both the author and the perfecter of your faith (Heb. 12:2).

Rest in that today, sweet sister. Anchor your heart in the hope of the gospel. As you fight for joy, fight knowing that the victory has already been secured for you. The battle is ultimately the Lords, and He has promised your good for the sake of His glory.

If you feel out of control, all washed up, or spiritually capsized today; if you are fed up with your wishy-washy heart; if you’re sick and tired of the emotional turbulence;   it’s time to let down your anchor and sink deep into the unfailing, unchanging,  unshakable, all-sufficient, utterly faithful, never giving up, indescribable, extravagant love of God. Love that saved you. Love that keeps you. Love that will perfect you. Regardless of how you feel today.

It is Finished

crucifixionDr. Eric Frykenberg was a veteran missionary to India known for his great storytelling and vivid descriptions of scenes from his 50-plus years in Asia. One day someone asked him, “Dr. Frykenberg, what is the most difficult problem you have ever faced?” Without hesitation he answered, “It was when my heart would grow cold before God. When that happened, I knew I was too busy. I also knew it was time to get away. So I would take my Bible and go off to the hills alone. I’d open my Bible to Matthew 27, the story of the crucifixion, and I would wrap my arms around the cross.”

“And then,” Frykenberg said, “I’d be ready to go back to work.”

Am I writing to anyone whose heart has grown cold? Who’s just too busy? Who needs to get away with her Bible, open to the story of the crucifixion, and wrap her arms around the cross?

Can we take a few minutes and do that together?

I know there’s a good chance you are reading this on your phone or tablet in car line, in a waiting room of some sort, or in one of the few places a mom can read without a child interfering – that immensely treasured sanctuary often referred to as “the bathroom.”

So, since you probably don’t have a Bible handy, here’s an excerpt from John’s account of the crucifixion, which will be focus of our time with each other today. If you are one of the fortunate few that is at home . . . in front of her computer . . . with no screaming, fighting, whining, or PBS Kids in the background . . .and your Bible is not buried under the mountain of clean laundry you just dumped on your bed . . . and you have extra time to kill in the middle of the day (i.e. pigs are flying) – go ahead and read all of chapters 18 and 19. Seriously, you won’t be sorry.

John 19:28-30

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

Here’s the phrase I want us to “marinate” in for a few minutes. (I already shared my favorite word in the Bible. Can I have a favorite phrase too? If so, this is it!)

It is finished!

Three simple words . . . volumes of significance!!!!

Forgive me for a second while I give you a little word study. I am, after all a Bible teacher and proud to be counted among the mighty army of “Bible nerds” out there. 🙂

The phrase is three words in our English translations, but only one word in the original Greek text – tetelestai. The same word is used in verse 28 where it is translated “accomplished” (NASB) or “completed” (NIV). It’s from the Greek verb that means “to bring to an end, to complete, to fulfill.” In the business world of Jesus’ day, merchants would use the word to mark a debt that had been “paid in full.

The spiritual significance is obvious (and exciting!). The Bible makes is ever so clear that we are all spiritually bankrupt. While the vast majority of people believe they can pay their sin debt off themselves through good works, that’s simply not the case. Our good works are like minimum payment on an enormous credit card balance – it doesn’t make a dent because the debt continues to accumulate. The alternative is to rely fully on Jesus’ ability to pay off your sin debt for you– which He did on the cross, declaring, “Paid in full!”

But it’s even bigger that that . . .

Most of us tend to view the Bible as a storehouse of little “truth-nuggets” that we can pull out and use in a pinch. If we are afraid, we find verse on fear. If we’ve gotten our feelings hurt, we find a verse on forgiveness. If we have a need, we find a verse about God’s sufficiency. If we are experiencing hard times, we find a verse on trials. You get the idea.

While I’m all about hunting down verses that apply to our specific situations, we need to be careful not to miss that fact that the Bible is much more than a source of user-friendly nuggets. The Bible is a story. More specifically, it is the story of a Holy, Sovereign God who devises a one-of-a-kind plan to rescue and restore a relationship with His fallen, sinful creatures who He loves.  At the very center of this one-of-a-kind rescue plan is the cross of Jesus Christ. Every verse, every chapter, every story in the Bible ultimately points us to Jesus and His sacrifice. 

The reason I bring this up is because it is a vital part of comprehending the magnitude of the words, “It is finished.” What you and I need to understand is that when Jesus uttered those words, He was not just referring to His life on this earth. Nor was He merely referrign to our sin debt. With those three very simple words Jesus expressed the profound truth that the divine rescue plan that God instituted way back in Genesis . . .

The plan that continued to unfold in His dealings with Israel throughout the entire Old Testament . . .

The plan that made shepherds rejoice when a little baby was born in Bethlehem . . .

The plan that would obliterate the curse of sin once-and-for-all . . .

THAT plan was accomplished . . . completed . . .fulfilled. As Jesus breathed His last and experienced the full outpouring of the Father’s wrath on the cross, God’s rescue mission was FINISHED! That means nothing else was necessary. The sin debt of all those who had or would call on the name of Jesus was paid in full. For spiritually bankrupt people like you and me – that’s incredible, life-changing news!

So, how does this phrase/word help us wrap our arms around the cross? How does it refresh our hearts and renew our minds? How does it energize us to get back to our less-than-perfect lives and ministries once our kids realize that we’re hiding out in the bathroom?

This is how . . .

Because it is finished, you don’t add anything to the saving work of Jesus. Everything that must be done for your salvation has ALREADY been accomplished! Your works magnify the glory and goodness of the Father, but they don’t secure His favor! That was true the day you got saved (if you are a believer), and it is still true today! As a mama who hates to “break the rules” but is well acquainted with failure, I cannot even express to you how freeing that truth is!

Because it is finished, you don’t take away anything from the saving work of Jesus. There is nothing you can do as a believer, no amount of failure or sin that can disqualify you from the blessings that God bestows on those who are His. You can’t undo what Jesus has already done! When God looks at you, He sees the finished work of Jesus on your behalf. He sees the words “PAID IN FULL” written across every sin you have or will commit. Those words are written across that abortion, that affair, that divorce, that period of life when you completely walked away from everything you knew to be true. When Jesus cried “tetelestai,” He was inviting all who call on His name as the only means of salvation to walk in complete and total freedom from the shame and guilt of confessed sin.

By now, I’m sure your brief window of opportunity to peruse the blogosphere, check up on your Facebook news feed, or thin out your inbox is all but gone.

What isn’t gone is your opportunity to make this Easter about a whole lot more than bunnies, ham, pretty dresses, and those milk chocolate Cadbury mini-eggs with that hard candy shell. (Which happen to be my favorite. My address, in case the Spirit moves you to send me some, is 2629 Brookv. . . 🙂 )

Have fun, hunt for eggs, do your best to steal candy from your kids without them noticing . . . but don’t forget to marinate on what Jesus accomplished, completed, and fulfilled so that you can really experience His amazing grace even when –no, especially when – your family members declare that you must leave the bathroom immediately, surrender your Kindle, and clean up somebody else’s poop (that may or may not be deeply entrenched in the fibers of your family room carpet).

By the way, I have really, really enjoyed “wrapping my arms around the cross” with you today, friend. We should do this again sometime soon.

 And now for one of my favorite songs . . .

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