You. Are. Loved.

A simple message today: You. Are. Loved.

You probably read that and mentally nodded your head in agreement.
An intellectual understanding that God loves you.

But has that message seeped all the way from your head to your heart?
Do you really KNOW that you are loved?
Accepted unconditionally by the God of heaven?
As you are.
Now.
Today.
This minute.

You are not too much for God to handle.
Whatever message you hear in your head about yourself is not how God sees you.
You are not too loud for Him.
Too fat for Him.
Too bossy for Him.
Too OCD for Him.
Too disorganized for Him.
Too passive for Him.
Too thin for Him.
Too quiet for Him.

You have a word or words in your mind that fill this blank: “I am too ______…”
And if you are honest, that sentence would end with “…to be loved by God or anyone else.”

“I am too timid to be loved by God or anyone else.”
“I am too much of a flake to be loved by God or anyone else.”
“I am too much of a potty-mouth to be loved by God or anyone else.”

And the list goes on.
We all have them.
Insecurities.
Labels.
Negatives.
Sinful choices.
Sinful patterns.
Things that fill us with shame.
Things we try our best to hide from others.
Past sins.
Present struggles.

Words that cut.
Ones that we often don’t even realize are there.
Words that have become the background music in the soundtrack of our lives.

But my message today is this:
No matter who you are.
No matter what you have or have not done.
No matter what someone else thinks of you.
No matter what you think of yourself.
No matter what is happening or not happening in your life today.
No matter your past.
No matter your present.
No matter what, who, when or why – YOU. ARE. LOVED.

Because God’s love for you in not based in YOUR performance.
It is based in His.
Who He is.
His character.
His heart.
His goodness.
His God-ness.

I have held many, many babies in my arms through the years.
And never once have I looked at that child and quantified whether or not they could be loved.
“Oh, you are not cute enough to be loved.”
“You are not quiet enough to be loved.”
“You are too fat to be loved.”
“You are too broken to be loved.”

Nope.
When you and I hold a baby and love on them – especially a baby who is family – that welling up in your heart is pure, unconditional love.
They have done nothing to earn it – because they cannot.
They are not capable of doing anything to earn your love or respect or caring or interest.
They just are.
A new child. Dearly loved.

You are NOT CAPABLE of doing anything to make God love you.
Therefore, you do not have to be any sort of “enough” to be loved.
You are loved simply because He made you, a child in His arms.
End of story.

In our brokenness, we find that hard to believe.
Hard to accept.
Because we DO love conditionally.
All the time.

But God IS love.
And He chooses love.
For the most wicked sinner.
And the humblest saint.
They are both dearly loved by the God who made them.
Simply because they carry His imprint.

If you ever fully accept how much God loves you, you will be transformed.
You will face every circumstance of your life differently.
You will stand strong, even when the world is crumbling around you.
You will be filled with joy, even as you weep in this broken world.
You will walk with your head held high, even in the midst of your harshest critics.
You will not be consumed with what others think, but instead will live to please the Audience of One.
You will find temptations will lessen.
Sin will become less attractive.
Fear will lose its grip.
Worry will as well.
Shame will not consume you.
And death will not scare you.

Because you are loved.
God delights in you.
He loves spending time with you.
He longs to hear your voice directed His way.
He loves it when you say His name in praise.
And He loves it when you call out to Him for help.
You are never too much for Him.
And you are never not enough.

Here’s proof:
When Jesus walked from the courtroom to Skull Hill, a guard walked in front of him with his crimes listed on a placard for all to see.
That sign said, “The King of the Jews”.
But what it should have said was, “He dies in the place of Kathy, for the following sins: worry, lying, lust…” And the list would go on and on. In fact, it wouldn’t fit on the sign!

He died in my place.
Before I was born.
Before I committed one of those acts.
He knew.
He knew all I would be.
And all I would not be.
He knew all the ways I would revile His authority and spit in His face.
He knew all the ways I would give in to temptation and break His heart.
He knew how my wiring would get me into trouble.
He knew all the things I should do that I don’t.
And still He stumbled forward on that road, having taken the beatings I deserved, to be crucified in my place.
I didn’t ask Him to do it.
He chose.
Because He loves me.

Now do yourself a favor.
Picture that scene.
The narrow streets of Jerusalem filled with jeering crowds.
The women who loved Him, following Him weeping.
His back bent under the cross beam.
The crown of thorns pressed into his skull.
His clothing soaked with blood.
Four soldiers surrounding him as he walked, ready to land a hard blow if he stopped or tried to escape.
And the sign-bearing soldier in the front of the procession, clearing the streets.
And on that sign, your name.
“He dies for the sin of ____, which are these:…”
And the horrible list.

And because of that scene, here is how God sees you today if you have accepted the free gift of salvation:
Covered.
Wiped clean.
Every sin paid for.
Deleted from the mind of God when you asked for forgiveness.

You, made whole in His sight.
Clothed in spotless white.
Made gorgeous by love.

Yes, you.
YOU are loved.
As Michael Card sings, “God cannot love you more and He will not love you less.”
You. Are. Loved.

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What Do YOU See?

They saw the same thing: giants, walled cities, and enemies that outnumbered them.
When the spies returned to Moses from scoping out the Promised Land, ten of them said, “Nope, we can’t do this. We’re doomed.”
Two of them said, “God’s got this. We CAN’T do this. But HE can.” (Numbers 13)

They saw the same thing: the host of the wedding had run out wine long before the celebration ended – a major disgrace.
The organizer of the event panicked, wondering what to do.
Mary said, “Talk to my boy and do whatever He tells you to do. He’s got this.” (John 2)

They saw the same thing: a hungry crowd, late in the day, with no way to feed them.
The disciples said, “We have to send them away.”
Jesus said, “You feed them”.
They said, “That would take half a year’s wages!”
But when He looked at the little boy’s lunch, He saw abundance. And He fed 5,000 men plus their families with just a few buns and some fish. (Mark 6)

They saw the same thing: howling winds, fierce waves, and a figure walking on water toward them.
After realizing it was not a spirit of some sort, Peter said, “Lord, if it’s You, tell me to come to You on the water.”
The rest of the disciples stayed in the boat while their friend walked the waves with the Lord. (Matthew 14)

They saw the same thing: howling winds, fierce waves and the water like concrete beneath their feet.
But then Peter looked at his circumstances instead of Jesus. His rational mind tried to explain his irrational circumstances and he sank like a stone. At least he was smart enough to cry out to Jesus as he went down!
And Jesus reached out his hand and saved him from himself. Peter’s ability to walk on water had not changed in that instant – his focus had. (Matthew 14)

They saw the same thing: a barracks in a concentration camp, where they were imprisoned for rescuing Jews from Hitler, filled with fleas.
Big sister Betsy said, “Thank You, God, for fleas!”
Little sister Corrie said, “How can you thank Him for fleas?!?”
Betsy explained that the guards left their barracks alone because of them, freeing them to worship and share the love of God with the other women because of the fleas. (“The Hiding Place”, Corrie ten Boom)

They saw the same thing in England in 1836: orphans in need of a home.
Most people said, “The job is too big” or “Let someone else deal with that.”
George Muller, a local minister, decided to open a home for 30 of them – that eventually led to him caring for 10, 024 orphans in his lifetime, spread across five different orphanages – all without going into debt of any kind. (George Muller and His Orphans, Nancy Garton)

Circumstances.
They happen, don’t they?
The cancer diagnosis.
The betrayal.
The financial setback.
The “I can’t believe he did that!” moments.
The “Lord, how in the world can I forgive her?” wounds.
The “God, this need is huge and overwhelming” realities.

Circumstances happen.
Needs arise.
Crises loom.

The question is, how will you respond when they happen to you?

Panic? “How am I going to solve this?! I don’t know what to do!”
Anger? “How dare You, God?! I thought You loved me!”
Self- pity? “Why do these things always happen to me???”

Fear?
Worry?
Hopelessness?

Or will you respond in faith?
“Wow, God! This is a mess. So glad You are in charge and are going to deal with it. You’ve promised to supply my needs – I am holding You to it. Looking forward to seeing what You do here.”

You have a choice in every circumstance.
You can focus on what is bad. I promise, there will be plenty to dwell on.

Or you can lift your head and set your eyes – and your heart – on God.
Marinating in His Word.
Surrounding yourself with His people.
Praising Him in the storm.
Focusing on His love, as manifested in the cross, instead of your circumstances.
Asking Him for the power to change your thinking.
Talking to Him about your need every time it crosses your mind.
And waiting expectantly for what He will do.

Where are you fixing your eyes today?
C. S. Lewis said, “We may think God wants actions of a certain kind, but God wants people of a certain kind.”
God is looking for people of faith.
Those who will stand confidently on the Rock of Ages, even while the storms rage.
Those who will cry out, “I believe – help my unbelief!” (Mark 9)
Those who will trust that the end of the story is good because the Author is good – and everything He does is right. (Psalm 25)

Will you honor Him with your faith today?
I promise you, the outcome will be worth it.
He’s guaranteed it:

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“’And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!’” Revelation 21:3-5a

Five Truths

1. God is still on His throne.
Daniel saw the fall of his country. He was taken captive and led away to a totally foreign land where he was forced to serve a king who did not know God. He lived in a godless time and place, among godless circumstances. That’s how it looked. But Daniel knew the reality. He know that God was still on His throne and that He had not left the scene, regardless of what human eyes could see. Daniel confidently told King Nebuchadnezzar, his immediate supervisor and the King of the then-known world: “…the Most High God rules over the kingdom of mankind and He bestows it on whomever He desires.” (Daniel 4)

2. God is at work, even in the most difficult circumstances you face.
Daniel’s buddies faced the ultimate test. Deny God and live; worship Him alone and die. Old King Neb didn’t heed Daniel’s words and decided to make a 90 foot by 9 foot statue of himself for everyone to worship. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down, he threatened to throw them in the furnace. And when they still refused, he made good on this threat. Before they knew the end of the story, they declared to the King that they KNEW that God could save them. But they ended that statement with, “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up!” And sure enough, God did save them. They walked out of the fire with only one thing burnt off of them – the ropes that had bound them. Everything else about them – hair, clothing, skin – was not only unburnt, it didn’t even smell like smoke! Not matter what fire you are facing today, no matter how much the godless rage, no matter what threat is fashioned against you, God is still on your side. Still with you. Still in control. And still at work. Will He rescue you here on earth? Perhaps. But even if He does not, He is still God. And He has promised eternity with Him. Which leads me to this one…

3. “’In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”  Teresa of Avila
This life is a small blip on the radar screen of eternity. It can be a painful, exhausting, excruciating blip – but for a Christ-follower, it is the worst that can ever happen to you. After this brief title page we call this life, the believer will find himself in an eternity so wonderful that the Bible declares, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9) For a person who has accepted Christ’s sacrificial death on their behalf, this life is the closest thing to hell that they will ever experience. But for a person who rejects Christ in this life, this is the best it will ever be. This life, this world, is the only heaven they will ever know. So, please remember:

4. Every person you meet is an eternal being with an eternal destiny. And you have the chance to influence their decision towards on destination or the other.
Every. Single. Person. Created in the image of God. Designed by the Creator for good works. Called to come into fellowship with Him. Dearly loved by God. Offered salvation. But do they know it? Have they heard? Do they see Him in you? Have you told them that, while you do not have all the answers, you know the One who does? Have you loved them until they ask you why? Have you been a witness, simply sharing what you have seen God do in your own life?
Or have you let the enemy stop you?
Using fear. Intimidation. A whisper of “You’re not qualified” or “They might hate you.”
The statistics here where I live in Charles County are grim. Of the 150,000 people in this county, surveys say that only 15% (or less) actually have a life-saving relationship with Jesus. Others may claim to be “Christian” or “people of faith” or “religious”. But actually trusting Christ? The statistics say that in Charles County alone, 22,500 people know Him. But 127,500 don’t. Can you personally reach over 100,000 people? No. But…

5. Our God specializes in multiplication.
In using the weak.
In taking a little, offered in faith, and making it a lot.
In using broken people, flawed people, sinful people to change the world.
One relationship at a time.
One act of faith at a time.
One act of obedience at a time.
I have to be brutally honest here. I have been in paid, full-time ministry for 15 years. And in that time, I have watched many, many churches ebb and flow in attendance. In popularity. In “success”. But what I see most of the time, is growth by transfer. Bobby Rae and Suzie May know Jesus – but they like the worship style here or the preaching there, the décor here or the kid’s ministry there. So they bounce from place to place. And sometimes, transfer is good. Necessary, even.
But what if – WHAT IF – we actually grew by TRANSFORMATION???
What if every one of the 22,500 Christ-followers in Charles County shared Jesus with just one person? Consistently loving on them. Praying for them. Inviting them to church. Being real. If each person reached ONE person, we would then have 45,000 Christ-followers here. And if each of them reached ONE person, we would be at 67, 500. And so on, and so on – until very quickly, we would turn Charles County upside down for Christ! And, by the way – every church in Charles County would quickly be busting at the seams with people who love the Lord.
Because God specializes in using the weak.
He takes your stumbling words and flawed efforts and transforms them into something beautiful.
Something life-changing.
Something world-changing.

Even if you are living in Babylon.
In a godless place.
In a godless culture.
Even then.
1. He is still in His throne.
2. He is still at work.
3. Heaven is still your destination.
4. The people around you still need to know Him.
5. And He has entrusted YOU with the message of hope – and the power to share it.

Will you?

On “Doing Church”…

I used to “do church” because I was raised in a home where we were there every time the doors opened.
Now I “do church” because I know it opens doors in the hearts of people if they will let it.

I used to “do church” because I love to sing.
Now I “do church” because I love to worship the God who created the gift of song.

I used to “do church” because I figured God would love me more if I served in some capacity.
Now I “do church” because I gain far more from serving than I have ever given away.

I used to “do church” because I was taught that God expects 10% of my money.
Now I “do church” because I have learned that I can never, ever out-give Him, in time, talent or treasure.

I used to “do church” because it was an obligation.
Now I “do church” because my heart needs the encouragement.

I used to “do church” as an add-on luxury to my week.
Now I “do church” because it is oxygen for my soul.

I used to “do church” because it was expected.
Now I “do church” because I expect to meet God there.

Is “doing church” messy?
Definitely.

Is it a sacrifice?
Almost always.

Is it painful at times?
Oh, yes.

Is it commanded in Scripture?
Yes.

Is obedience always worth any pain?
Absolutely.

Is any church perfect?
Nope. Every church is made up of sinners like me.

Is it worth it?
Indescribably so.

I was wired for community because I was created in the image of God.
Who is the Ultimate Community within Himself.
So that community – the local body of Christ – feeds my soul even as it refines me.
Refined by being committed
Refined by serving
Refined by giving
Refined by worshipping together
Refined by fighting for relationship
Refined by refusing to give up
Refined by soul-deep friendships
Refined by not hiding
Refined by loving unconditionally
Refined by your rough edges meeting mine
Refined by sacrifice.

I used to “do church” because I thought God needed me to do it for His sake.
Now I realize I need to “do church” for mine.
It is a gift from the hand of a Loving Father.

Thank You, Abba!

Dependence Day

You are God.
I am not.

You are good.
I am not.

You are Sovereign over all things.
I am not.

Your Word is Truth.
My words need to match Yours.

Your Word holds true today.
Regardless of what my culture insists.

Your ways are right.
My ways need to align with Yours.

You are the only Way to Heaven.
I cannot get there on my own, regardless of my sincerity or goodness.

You are Love.
I am the conduit of that love to a dying world.

You are the just and righteous Judge.
I can only call wrong the actions, thoughts and attitudes that You declare to be wrong.

You are merciful and kind.
As a recipient of Your mercy, I need to share the incredible grace I have been given even as I speak the Truth from the motivation of love.

You love people enough to show them where they are wrong.
I need to be a conduit of that love.

You love people even when they are wrong.
I need to be a conduit of that love.

Your Holy Spirit is the One who knows when I should speak and when I should be silent.
My job is to listen and obey.

You have given us two commands: Love people and tell them about You.
My job is to fulfill those commands in any way necessary, regardless of my comfort.

You are the One with the Master Plan.
My job is to unreservedly say, “Amen, so be it.”

You are the One Who is Worthy of all praise.
My job is to take my eyes off of me and my idols and fix them on You.

You are the One Who makes the promises.
My job is to live like they are true.

You are the One Who provides the power.
My job is to access it in every area of my life.

You are the One Who has loaned me everything I have.
My job is to use every resource for Your glory.

You are God.
I am not.

With all these Truths in mind, I once again make this Declaration of Dependence on You.
In You, I live and move and have my being.
You are my life.
The breath in my lungs.
The beat of my heart.
Take me – all of me – with no reservation, restrictions or areas blocked – and use me in spite of me.
I must decrease so that You can increase.
My life is about Your name, Your fame, and Your renown.
Remove anything that is blocking Your reflection from shining.
I cannot do a single thing without You.
But in You, I can do all things.
I am powerless to save myself.
But You are mighty to save.
I am a hopeless mess, unable to change.
But You are the One Who transforms.
I am one of billions. You are God Alone.
But I am beloved.
And so I declare my dependence once again.
Do with me as You will.
Because You are God.
And I am not.