Why Are You Here?

“If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.”  Mark 5:28

This beautiful story of the woman healed by touching Jesus’ garment has been one of my favorites.  Each time I read it I see something I had not seen before.  The Word of God is like that, because it is a Living Word.  The Word of God does not change, but my understanding matures, and God reveals new and deeper insights that perfectly address my changing life’s circumstance or need.   I’d love to share with you something new God has shown me in this familiar, yet fresh Bible story. Please take a few minutes to read the account in Mark 5:24-34.  I’ll wait for you.

Now, look back at verse 24 – “A large crowd followed and pressed around him.” Jesus had crossed the lake and quickly a crowd gathered around Him. So many people were there that day; Jesus was a very popular figure at the time.  Multitudes followed Him wherever He went, all pressing around Him, reaching out to touch Him.  Why was this woman different from all the rest? The crowd was jostling, bumping and touching Jesus.  What was different about her touch?

Both questions can be answered by one word in verse 34: “faith.”  She came to Jesus with faith.

This woman had suffered for 12 years from a bleeding disorder that has left her not only impoverished, but also ostracized from everyone.  The Levitical law stated that a woman experiencing a discharge of blood was unclean, and anything she touched was unclean.  Any one she touched would also be unclean. (Lev. 15:19-30) Including her husband and children, her neighbors and friends, people in the marketplace, at the well; and heaven forbid if she thought she could join in the festivals and celebrations of her Jewish faith. Leviticus 15:31 gives us some understanding of her helpless and hopeless situation: “You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness.”  For 12 long years she was shut out of every place where people might gather, so she would not contaminate anyone else.  She had spent all she had on doctors who could not cure her.  Look back at the Leviticus verse – even her death would be tainted, she would “die in [her] uncleanness.”

She came with nothing more than a gaping need and the faith to believe that Jesus could meet that need. Look at Mark 5:28, “she thought ‘If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.’” She did not say, “I might be healed,” she said “I will be healed.”  And her faith proved true.  She touched his clothing, and “immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering” (Mark 5:29).   Her faith had led her to Jesus and to healing.  This is faith that pleases Him. Faith that reaches out knowing that He is the answer to every need.

Of all the people touching and bumping and jostling Jesus, He knew somebody’s touch was different.  Somebody’s touch had activated His divine power.  He asked who that somebody was.  Mind you, Jesus knew who had touched Him, and He knew why.  But He wanted this woman to know that her touch had touched His heart.  And I believe he wanted the crowd to know that this woman’s humble faith had ignited His healing power.   I love Bill Bright’s comment: “God does not require you to have great faith.  You simply are to have faith in a great God.”

Now here is the something new I’ve been pondering – who am I in this scene?  Am I one of the many who have come to rub up against this “magic man” and hope that something rubs off on me?  Am I one of the crowd who came to “see the show?”  I wonder, am I following Jesus because He is the popular one of the day?  Am I in the crowd because I think someone will see my empty cup and put something in it?  Why do you come to Jesus?  Because He has some wise words or teaching?  Because you admire His compassion and humanitarian work?  Maybe you follow Jesus because you want to be part of the crowd, after all it’s a good place to make connections.  Are you here to preserve your image as a “good Christian”?

In John’s Gospel, after Jesus had feed five thousand people, the crowds again gathered around Him.  Jesus made a bold statement: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill: (John 6:26).  Everyone has a reason to come to Jesus.  Some come to fill their bellies, some come to fill their minds, but some come to Jesus to fill their hearts.

Why, with so many people around Him, did only one woman experience Jesus in a powerful, life-changing, transforming way? I believe it is because she came with a humble heart, believing that Jesus was truly God and He alone had the power to change her life.  She had no other agenda but to experience His power.

Perhaps it’s time to ask the question: Why do we come to Jesus?   Because He is a good teacher and is kind to the downtrodden? Or because it’s what we’ve always done?  Do we come to Him for what we think we can gain from Him?  Or do we dare come to Him because He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Do we come to Him because He is the source of light and hope and peace?  Will we come to Him because He is God?

Oh that we would come just because He is.  Love. Mercy. Hope. Grace. Peace. Joy. Redemption. Eternity. God.

Lord Jesus, I confess that often I have come to You with my own selfish motives in mind, wanting to have my fill.  Please give me a pure and humble heart that seeks You because of who You are, not just for what you can do for me.  Amen.

Will You Deny Christ?

“Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.” Hebrews 11:36-37

Would you be willing to die for what you believe? Would you surrender to the executioner rather than surrender your convictions?

In the New Testament we read the accounts of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and James (Acts 12:2), the first to follow Christ in death for their faith. History tells us of the deaths of many of Jesus’ disciples – like Peter and Paul – who not only died for their faith, but endured great agony and suffering before the relief of death. I’ve been studying Church history, and the men (and women) who were martyred for their belief in Jesus. I was especially moved by the story of Perpetua, a young woman who, despite the pleas of her beloved father and the knowledge that she would leave behind a very young child, refused to recount her faith, but went courageously and gloriously into the Roman arena, counting herself blessed to suffer for her Savior, Jesus Christ. Her friend, Felicity was in the same arena, just days after giving birth, giving up her life for her uncompromising faith. Still today, Christians in around the world face the sentence of death for refusing to deny Christ. The recent news told the story of another mother in a Muslim country who faced a death sentence for her faith, and would not recant her Christian testimony. Even in the United States, some who said “Yes,” when questioned about their faith paid with their lives.

I want a faith like that. I want a faith that stands the ultimate test. I want to face every opposition with the bold proclamation: “Yes, I am a Christian – a follower of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, even if it meant my death. I am blessed to live a country that offers “freedom of religion,” though that is being tested and pressed and is shaping into a “freedom from religion.” Still, I am not likely to face government executions for being a Christian – at least not in the present.

But is that the only time my faith needs to stand? Is the threat of death the only time I might stand at the crossroads of holding onto my Christian conviction or denying Jesus? I have become convinced that we stand at that same point of decision every day; for every day we make choices that either confirm or deny that we are surrendered to Christ. Will I deny my Savior in the things I watch and listen to? Would your internet history prove or deny your faith in Jesus? What does my bank account say about my faith? Do my conversations and my language say I am a Christian? Or the way I act toward others? Will I chose to act in love, will I chose to forgive, to bless like my Savior, or will I deny Jesus with hate, grudges and cursing? Will you be obedient when the Spirit says give, or dismiss the one in need and miss the chance to be a witness for the Gospel? When we chose to follow the world, follow our flesh, or ignore the voice of God, we are denying that Jesus is Lord of our lives, and the consequences may not be death, but rather the slow death of our faith. If we deny Jesus in these lesser, daily decisions, how will we ever stand in the face of true persecution? In the face of death?

In the accounts of the Christian martyrs, many people came to faith in Christ by witnessing the strong convictions of these believers in the face of death. We have the same opportunity to be a witness today when we choose the things that honor and please God. The world will take notice. Yes, they will jeer and criticize – but they will see people who will not compromise their faith in Jesus, in matters great or small. They will see men and women, young and old, of every race who so firmly believe in the truth of the Gospel that they cannot be forced to deny that Jesus Christ is Lord, no matter the cost. The world desperately needs to see people who stand for the One who died for them.

I want a faith like that, because I have a Savior like that.

Holy Father, the greatest witness we can offer to the world is to live every day with an uncompromising faith. Give us that kind of faith Lord. Give us faith that stands up to every test, no matter the challenge or the consequence. Amen.

Refining and Sifting

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Job: 23:10

 

It seems that lately I write from the struggles of my own life, from the vat where grapes are crushed for juice, from the desert wilderness, and like Job from the smelting pot of the goldsmith. It’s a hard season with pressures coming at me from many different angles. I can understand Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:8: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” I look to the heavens as ask, “God what is this all about? What are You trying to do – break me?”

His answer? “Yes. But not to leave you broken. To make you whole. To purify your faith.” You see, God does not just pull us out of the pit of sin and death to go our own merry way in life. He saves us to transform us, to make us more like His own Son. And it is a life-long process that often requires pain and suffering.

Peter, Jesus’ friend and disciple, is a perfect example. If you know anything about him, you know Peter was impetuous, brash and often spoke before thinking. More than once, Peter’s mouth got him trouble. He could say profound and powerful things, like his great confession: “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29), and a few minutes later, Jesus rebuked Peter for scolding the Son of God because He was teaching them about His coming death (Mark 8:31-33)! Jesus saw things in Peter that would both advance and hinder the Gospel.

At the Passover feast, which we now know at the Last Supper, while the disciples were arguing over their own status in His kingdom, Jesus made a terrifying statement. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). The statement is given in the plural “you,” meaning Satan had asked to sift the entire company of disciples. And they would all be sifted, to a degree, when they see their Rabbi and Friend being arrested. Yet Jesus’ next statement was very pointed and personal. “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail” (v. 32). In those words Jesus told Simon that he would carry the brunt of the devil’s evil deed, for the “you” here is singular – “I have prayed for you Simon.”

Why would Jesus give His friend and follower over to be sifted by the devil? Because there were things in Peter that needed to be removed. Pride, arrogance, stubbornness. Just like the things that need to be sifted out of me. What was left after Peter’s sifting? Two things: The prayers of Jesus and humble man ready to be used for His glory. Did you catch Jesus’ promise in verse 32 – “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” Jesus prayed for Peter, that his disciple’s faith would not fail. And we know that whatever Jesus asks of His Father is granted, because He always asks according to the will of the Father. Peter could not fail, because Jesus has guaranteed it by His petition. When I am in the sifter, as I am now, my Savior is before the Father on my behalf – “Father, do not let her faith fail.”

The other part of Jesus’ promise in that verse is seen in one little word: when. “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (v. 32b) (emphasis added). Jesus could assure Peter that he would turn back, because of His own prayers for Peter. Peter would survive the sifting and come through it with a refined faith. Jesus allowed Satan just enough heat and pressure to burn off the dross that lived in Peter, that would fight against the mighty work to which he was called.

The story is told of a woman who, having read in the Bible that God refines His people like silver and gold, visited a silversmith and asked about the process of refining the precious element. The smithy said he put the silver in a kettle and exposed it to extremely high heat that caused the dross, or waste to rise to the surface where he could scoop it out. This process took intense heat and so she asked, “how do you keep from burning it?” The man replied, “I lean in very closely to the kettle and watch it carefully, using only as much heat as necessary until it is just as I want it.” She asked “How do you know when it is ready to be removed from the heat?” The smithy answered, “When I can see my reflection in the surface.” We are called to be the reflection of Jesus Christ to the world and that image must be pure.

Jesus allowed friend to be sifted, to go through the crucible of intense suffering to remove what was marring His image in Peter. He became a mighty Apostle and preached the first Gospel message after Jesus’ resurrection. The Lord used a humble Peter mightily in the birth and growth of His church.

I did not welcome the suffering and pain of this season in my life, but I know that God is purifying my faith and refining me to be His witness to the world. I trust that He is leaning in closely and watching over me, allowing just enough heat to accomplish His purpose – to see His Son reflected in me. I know that my Savior is praying for me, and when the process is complete, like Job, “I will come forth as gold.”

Jesus, my Savior – as You were in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, come and stand with me now; carry me through this season of suffering on the wings of Your prayers. Let me come through as a reflection of You in the world. Amen.

I Have Had Enough

“Moses asked the Lord, ‘Why have You brought this trouble on Your servant? What have I done to displease You?’” Numbers 11:10

Have you ever felt like God is picking on you? Do you ever wonder if He has singled you out for suffering and heartache? I know I have, and through conversations with others, I am not the only one. Life in this world is hard. We’re in good company though, because even the great heroes of the Bible had those same thoughts and feelings, like Moses in our key passage.

Moses had the difficult task of leading some two million people out of Egyptian captivity, across seas and deserts and into the Promised Land. Two million frightened, tired, hungry, complaining people. There had been tremendous drama as he repeatedly confronted the stubborn Pharaoh, his own skeptical people, mighty armies that chased them, the lack of food and water, jealously among the group, disobedience and constant wandering in the desert. Moses was exhausted, overwhelmed and ready to give up. He bluntly told God, “If this is how You are going to treat me, put me to death right now” (Numbers 11:15). You can hear the same tone in the voice of the prophet Elijah “I have had enough Lord, take my life” (1 Kings 19:4). What had brought these great men of God to such a desperate state? Here’s a few things from their stories I believe parallel our lives in these seasons.

They were both physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted and overwhelmed. We’ve mentioned the burdens that had left Moses drained and depleted. Elijah was running for his life from the wicked queen Jezebel and He thought that he alone was carrying the name of the Lord. He complained to God “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected Your covenant, broken down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:10). I know this one all too well. As a wife and mother, I carry the burdens and weights of those I love often to the overwhelming point of exhaustion. I load myself down, believing I am responsible for everything that concerns them. I am learning the hard way (is there any other way we learn?) that I am not equipped to carry them, they really don’t want me to carry them, and it leaves me drained and them frustrated. When the weight of responsibility becomes too much, we feel burdened, alone and ready to give up.

They both had taken their eyes off of the Lord. Moses could only see the angry, complaining, disobedient people that confronted him and the impossible task of feeding them all. He told God “Where can I get meat for all these people?” (Numbers 11:13). He had forgotten the power and the promises of God and how He had provided, defended and protected them thus far. God’s answer to Moses – “Is the Lord’s arm too short?” (Numb. 11:23). “Is anything too hard for the Lord” Gen. 18:14)? Though Elijah had heard God speak to and through him many times, all he heard now was the vindictive words of Jezebel swearing he would be dead by the next day. He was listening to his fears and forgot the words of His faithful God. The Lord spoke to him again, drowning out the queen’s threats with His own “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). So often it is where our eyes are fixed and the words we choose to hear that bring us into these seasons of despair.

How do we go from the point of giving up to pressing on? God provides the answers. He instructed Moses to appoint seventy of Israel’s elders to help carry the load and relieve him of much of his burden. God reminded Elijah that he wasn’t the only one on the Lord’s side – “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal” (1 Kings 19:16). Now you and I may not have seven thousand or even seventy people who will step in and help, but are we asking those we do have around us? Can someone step in and shoulder some of the responsibility? I know when I have swallowed my pride and asked for help, I’ve never been turned down. God does not expect us to bear our burdens alone, he gives us fellow Christians to come along side of us. He gives us His Word, full of promises and hope and peace. He gives us His presence through the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus called “the Comforter” (John 14:16 KJV). He promises to take our burdens – “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7). When we are weighed down by burdens and worries, God invites us to lay them down at His feet.

Finally, we must keep our eyes on the Lord and our ears tuned to His voice. I’m talking to myself here because in the middle of the spiritual battle I am in right now, it is all too easy to let the circumstances and the voice of the enemy drag me into despair and hopelessness. Satan loves to tell us that God has abandoned us, that we will not survive our heartache, and that the turmoil we see now is all that will ever be. This is where I can either stand on my faith in God or let the enemy drive me to the point of desperation. I must keep asking myself “What does God say?” and go to His Word for truth and hope. I must remember Joseph’s words to his evil, scheming brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Gen. 50:20). I must remind myself that Satan does not have the final say – God determines the outcome. And I must fix my eyes on Jesus least I drown in my sorrows like Peter when he looked away from the Lord and out at the raging sea. With my eyes fixed on Jesus I see solutions not problems, I see provision not want, I see strength not weakness, I see healing not pain, I see hope not despair, joy not sorrow, truth not lies, love not hate, peace not turmoil, life not death. With my eyes fixed on Jesus, I see – not an end, but eternity.

Holy, loving Father, the winds howl and the waves threaten to drag me under. Exhausted and overwhelmed, I turn my eyes to You, my hope and my comfort.  Speak peace into my weary soul, remind me that I am not alone and You are working on my behalf. Meet me in this place of darkness and lead me back into Your light. Amen.

What are You Looking For?

  • “Look to the Lord and His strength, seek His face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11)

    He stared into the open refrigerator for the third time in an hour. “What are you looking for son?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he answered “Something.”

    Something. We’re all looking for “something” and most of us don’t know what that something is. Like my son, we sense a lack, a hunger, a desire – but can’t quite put our finger on what will fill us. He eventually settled on a sandwich, but I knew he would be back before long, looking for “something” more.

    The craving of the soul is far more powerful than the craving of an empty stomach, and the world we live in offers a myriad of things to fill that aching hole. Some of us run after success and all the material things that go along with it – houses, cars, fine things and finer people, vacations in exotic places. For others, it is physical pleasure. This world overflows with sensual pleasures to feed the lustful nature; but lust can never be satisfied and the quest for pleasure becomes an insatiable appetite. Maybe it is power – the hand of authority and influence; or popularity, after all who doesn’t like to be liked? Many have turned to food in excess, or stuff – just piles and piles of stuff. Sadly many lose themselves to the numbing effects of drugs or alcohol.

    What is it we really want? What is it that our souls are desperately seeking? A simple statement by Saint Augustine of Hippo answers our questions: “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”  It is God that we want. God our hearts crave. Because God created us and put His own image in us, our spirits yearn to be in fellowship with our Creator. That emptiness is meant to cause us to pursue God, but the world steps up with everything else and if we are not earnestly seeking Him we grab hold of what is set before us instead. We were not made for all these other things. We were made for God.

    David understood this. Listen to his words: “O God you are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for You in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1). David is on the run in the desert from the evil King Saul, who is seeking to take his life. He is thirsty and weary in the dry desert heat, and in his physical needs, he turns to God. Yes, he needs water and rest, but it is the ache in his soul that causes him to cry out to the Lord, to seek his God. Notice his is not just a passing prayer, but he is earnestly seeking, a passionate longing, a determined searching. The original Hebrew offers the image of foraging, like a starving animal seeking food to stay alive. That is the earnest seeking of a man who knows that only God can satisfy him, only God can fill the empty places. God is what David craves. God is what our own empty heart craves.

    What happens when we pursue God this way? Scripture is full of His promises to the earnest seeker. “Those who know Your name trust in You, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10) God is faithful to the one who seeks Him. “Glory in His holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always” (Psalm 105:3-4). God promises joy and strength when we seek Him. “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him” (Lamentations 3:25). God pours out His goodness on those who seek Him. “This is what the Lord says to the house of Israel: ‘Seek me and live’” (Amos 5:4). God offers life to the one who seeks Him. Real life. Abundant life. Eternal life.

    The most precious promise to the seeking heart is found in Jeremiah 29:13 – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Listen to the very next verse: “I will be found by you” (v. 14). God is inviting us to seek Him, and in the same breath promises to make Himself open and accessible to us. He said “I have not spoken in secret… I have not said…’seek me in vain’” (Isaiah 45:19). Your Creator doesn’t play a divine game of “hide and seek.” He says we can “seek and find.”

    God has been making Himself known since creation. He had made Himself visible in the world around us. Every tree and star and mountain testifies to Him. He had given us His Word, the Bible, and every page is telling the story of God and His love for you and me. As if that were not enough, He sent His Son, Jesus to walk among men and women and children, that we might be able to reach out and touch the very flesh of God, to see His face and hear His voice and – oh, hear this with your heart – to seek you.

    What are you looking for my friend? Listen to your aching heart. Hear the cries of your empty soul. It isn’t wealth or pleasure or power or things that you want. Deep within, you are longing for God, because you were made for Him. Seek Him, and you will find Him, because He has already found you.

     

    Holy Father, my Creator and God, ”You have said to my heart ‘Seek My face!’ Your face Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8). Amen

In my Prison of Fear

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” Psalm 23:4

 

God forced me to face one of my biggest fears today. Against all my arguments, I attended the funeral of the 28 year old son of a dear friend. I wanted to go for the family’s sake. But I didn’t want to go because I knew I would have to stare my fear right in the face. And I think that was the point God was making, because He is determined to break me out of my prison. My prison of fear.

Fear has been my constant companion. For as long as I can recall, I have lived with fear. There are the usual ones: fear of rejection (which has happened), fear of failure (which has also happened), fear of the unknown, fear of heights and snakes and fire. Since the attacks on 9/11 the world has become a fearful place – enemies are all over the world, hiding in plain sight – why my next door neighbor could be plotting some heinous act.

But many of the fears that have imprisoned me are not so common, often irrational, and hard to break free of. They are fears that have affected relationships, have kept me from following my dreams, fears that keep me awake at night, and drag me into the pit of despair. I don’t know exactly when I became so fearful. As I was growing up, fear kept me from playing in the marching band or on a sports team or trying out for a part in the school play or the solo in the youth choir. Fear kept me from making friends with people I admired, and kept me bound in relationships that I should have walked away from. It caused emotional and physical health issues and straining even good, healthy relationships. Afraid of making (another) mistake, the running joke is “I don’t have to always be right, as long as I am never wrong.” It sounds funny, but the truth is, fear has often paralyzed me from making any decision at all. I am so afraid of looking foolish, I don’t even try. Fear has eaten away at any peace and joy in my life.

But it was when I became a Mom that fear kicked into overdrive and took control. After seven years of waiting and praying and hoping, through a difficult pregnancy and delivery; after my newborn son spent a week in the NICU at a medical university, by the time we came home I was determined to protect him at all costs. I became an expert “smother-mother.” I parented largely out of fear. Yes, and out of love too. Certainly I love my son with all my heart. But it is a fear-filled heart, and so often what began as caring and love morphed in actions motivated by fear. It was fear that caused me to pull him out of public school and start home-schooling. If was fear that questioned his friendships and relationships, fear that had to know where he was all the time and who he was with. And when the inevitable battles came as he got older, I pulled the reigns in even tighter. Out of fear. Mind you, like every teen/young adult he has given me reasons to be anxious, and times it was necessary and reasonable to pull those reigns a little tighter. In love, I want to keep him safe, but I often go into hyper-vigilant mode, and reasonable goes right out the window. I am just beginning to realize how much of my parenting has been influenced by fear.

God revealed something important – life changing – to me this morning through a passage that is, ironically, my son’s favorite Bible verse: 1 John 4:18 – “Perfect love casts out fear.” In those five words, God showed me what my life has been all about, and what I have been missing. Because I live in such fear, I cannot receive the love that God is offering to me. And because I can’t grab hold of His love, I live in fear. And because I I don’t claim His love for myself, I am trying to love others out of an anxious heart. The truth is, my fear-filled heart can’t really even love God-who is the fullness of all love. You see, the opposite of love isn’t hate, as we might think. It’s fear. The Word didn’t say “perfect love casts out hate,” because the root of hate is fear. Just as pride is the root of all sin, fear is the root of everything that is counter to love. Fear makes me judgmental. Fear keeps me from reaching out to others. Fear keeps me from accepting another’s hand reaching out to me. Fear keeps me isolated and lonely, even in a crowd. And as strange as it sounds, fear keeps at arm’s length the people I love the most. It’s a paradox really. I draw them so close I smother them, yet keep them just far enough away that they can’t hurt me; because in the end, that’s what my heart fears the most. Pain.

I don’t want to let fear rule my life anymore. I am praying that God will somehow break through all the fear that has built up around my heart and let me receive His love – His perfect love – so that I can love Him, myself, my family, and others out of a healthy heart. I am asking God to do for me what I can’t do for myself. I am praying that He will “give me a new heart and put a new spirit in me and remove from me this heart of [fear] and give me a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26, personalized). I am asking Him to set me free from my prison of fear so that I can experience fully His amazing love. I’m sure He is more than willing. You know, I think He’s been waiting for me all along.

God, I need you.  Lord Jesus, lead me out of this prison. Holy Spirit, be my counselor and comfort. Father, take this fear-filled heart of mine and give me a heart to receive Your love, and then enable me to give it away. Amen.

The God of Strength and Love

“One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving.” Psalm 62:11.

What comes to mind when you think of God? Maybe you have an image of God as a cosmic police officer watching for evil doers and writing heavenly tickets. Or perhaps God is a doting grandfather, a nice old guy who hands out blessings here and there, but is really out of touch. For so many years I saw God as a severe disciplinarian, watching and waiting for me to make a mistake so He could smack me. Maybe – God doesn’t exist in your mind at all, or if He does, He has no bearing on this world or your life. Philosophers and theologians have gone to great lengths to try to define God, or to prove He doesn’t exist. But I think the great Psalmist David has the best understanding of who God is. Look again at our key verse.

More than half of the one hundred and fifty Psalms are attributed to David who identifies God as his Shield, his Refuge, his Rock and Fortress, his Shepherd, and so much more. He used so many beautiful and powerful expressions to describe his God. Yet in these two simple words, I believe David paints a picture that comes the closest to the true essence of who God is in relation to man. Strong and loving.

David first says, “One thing God has spoken.” What is that “one thing”? David doesn’t say, but I believe it is the same thing that the Lord spoke to Moses: “I Am”.   When God said “I Am” He identified Himself as “I Am” everything you will ever need. The Israelites, at that time needed a Liberator and Defender – and God said “I Am”. Abraham needed a Provider – and God said “I Am”. David, a man of many battles, needed a strong Shield and a place of Refuge – and God said “I Am”. Ruth needed a Redeemer – and God said “I Am”. Daniel needed a Protector – and God said “I Am”. Even Jesus needed a Father – and God said “I Am”. Who do you need today? God says “I Am”.

David first said that God is strong. This strength is beyond any human strength – far beyond what a mortal body-builder can attain to. This is not strength that lifts massive barbells – yet He is strong enough to lift the weight of all your burdens. This is not strength that bends rods of steel – yet he bent the bars of the prison of death to set us free. This is strength that breaks the power of sin, strength that overpowers the enemy of our souls and strength that raises the dead back to life – and not just life, but eternal, everlasting, unending life! It is strength that overcomes my weakness and enables me to do things beyond my abilities. I need a God who is strong, because my burdens are heavy, my weaknesses are many and I can do nothing on my own.

David also said that God is loving. Do you believe that God loves you? That is so hard for us to fathom, but over and over in His Word God proclaims His love for you and me. Look at the Hebrew definition of love – hesed – and God’s affirmations.

  • Unfailing Love – “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken” (Isaiah 54:10).
  • Loyal Love – “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6).
  • Devotion – “By day the Lord directs His love, a night His song is with me – a prayer to the God of my life” (Psalm 42:8).
  • Mercy – “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion” (Numbers 14:18).

Paul tells us “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). That is the kind of love that I need. A love that never turns away, never dies, never gives up, a love that lasts for all eternity. This is the love that God has for you and me. His love is steadfast and sure – you can’t make Him love you more, and you can’t make Him love you less. He loves you because He is love. His is the perfect love, because He is the perfect lover.

God’s love was perfectly expressed at the cross of Jesus Christ. His power was perfectly revealed at the empty tomb, through the resurrection of His Son – our Savior. We can never know all there is to God, for He is holy and righteous and beyond our finite understanding. But we can know this about God: He is strong and He is loving. And that’s a very good place to start.

Holy Father, You have revealed to us the most important things we need to know about you: You are strong and You are loving. This is where our faith begins. From here we come to know you in deeper and richer ways, but what a wonderful foundation on which to build our relationship with You.

Who Am I God?

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Who do you see when you look in the mirror? Someone who has their life pulled together, or someone who’s life is coming apart at the seams? Do you see a person full of potential, or full of regrets? How do you think others see you? More importantly, how do you think God sees you?

One of my favorite Bible characters is Gideon, a man who saw himself and his people as helpless, hopeless and small before their enemy. I encourage you to grab your Bible and read the account in Judges 6: 11-16 (The whole story of Gideon runs through chapters 6-8). The Israelites were under constant attack by their enemies, the Midianites. For seven years their enemy oppressed them, destroying everything they had and driving them from their homes. The Israelites did the only thing they could – they cried out to the Lord. And He did as He always does – He heard their cries and He responded.

Near a small town, a stranger wandered up to rest in the shade of a tree beside a winepress. (A winepress is a below-ground pool-like structure that used heavy stones to press the juice from the grape sending it through drains to gather the juice.) Gideon is in the winepress threshing wheat. Don’t run past that, because wheat was threshed atop the ground, usually on a high spot where the breeze could catch the chaff (or waste) and blow it away while the heavier grain falls back to the ground. There’s not much breeze down in a winepress, but this tells you how fearful Gideon was. He was down there hiding from the Midianites.

The stranger calls out to him “The Lord is with you mighty warrior” (v. 12). I imagine Gideon spun around looking for the person he was addressing. What Gideon doesn’t realize is the stranger is the Angel of the Lord, and he was calling Gideon by the name the Lord had given him. Mighty Warrior. The angel tells Gideon that God is appointing him to deliver the Israelites from their enemy. Gideon isn’t buying it. “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family” (v. 15). Gideon sees only his weakness and smallness. He compares himself to the enemy and knows he doesn’t measure up. But Jehovah God sees Gideon as the man He will empower to accomplish great things for Israel. God promises Gideon “I will be with you and you will strike down all the Midianites” (v. 16). And that’s the whole point. God isn’t looking at what Gideon is or what Gideon can do; He is looking at what He will do through Gideon, at what He had destined Gideon to become – a mighty warrior.

The enemy of our soul, Satan, tries to convince us that we are so much less than what God declares us to be.   God has called us His children (1 John 3:1), Satan says God has abandoned us. God says we are beloved (Jeremiah 31:3), Satan tries to convince us that we are unlovable. God says we are able to do great things in His name (John 14:12), Satan whispers to us “you can’t…you will fail…you’re too weak.” God has declared that through Jesus Christ we are forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:9), Satan tells us we wear the banner of our past across our chest. Satan is a liar.

God is in the transformation business, rebuilding and remaking our lives according to His plan and purpose. And Jeremiah 29:11 says that He has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope.” God has created you with “a good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2) in mind. Nothing and no one defines you but God. Whatever your past has been, whatever other voices have said about you, whatever the enemy has tried to tell you about yourself, hear this above anything else: You are who God says you are. And He has said “You are mine.”

God, the world and the enemy and my own past cast me as a weak and hopeless loser, but You have said I am Your child, the apple of Your eye, Your beloved. Lord, help me to see myself as You have declared me to be: Your very own. Amen.

A Real-life Lesson in “Loving My Enemy”

“But I tell you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27

I had every reason to hate her. She attacked me with hate-filled words. She criticized me as a mother and as a Christian, attacked my faith, criticized my decisions and filled her tirade with contempt. Her words spilled over with venom and spite. She even brought her friends in to throw their barbs at me.   She clearly hated me. Wasn’t I justified in hating her?

To the world, yes. I had every justification to hate her and attack her back. To throw around a few barbs and verbal missiles of my own.  That’s what she was trying to do, to bate me into a verbal battle. That’s what she deserves right? I should call my friends and bash her just as badly as she bashed me.

But I don’t live by the code of the world. I live by the Word of God and the example of Jesus Christ.

So the next day, my heart still heavy with pain and grief, as I came to my early morning time with the Lord, I prayed about the situation. I asked God for wisdom. He had witnessed this conversation. He was aware of the hate this person has for me. Surely He would say my anger is justified. I sat down and opened my first devotional reading for the day. Colossians 3:13 – “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” The next devotional reading took me to Luke 6:27, our key verse. “But I tell you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Wait God…what? Forgive? Love? Do good? Bless? Pray? Did you even pay attention to that whole mess at all God? I am the one who got bashed here! Why should I have to be the one to forgive and do good and bless? And love? You really can’t be serious!

I turned to the last devotional Scripture for the morning, Matthew 5:43-48. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons [and daughters] of your Father in Heaven” (v. 44-45).  And there it was. God was not telling me I was justified in my anger. He was telling me if I wanted to live the genuine Christian life, I couldn’t respond like the world responds. He was telling me that I had to live in a radically different way. He was telling me that if I want to be His daughter, I must love my enemy.

And the truth is, no person is truly my enemy. Paul says “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). No man or woman is our enemy. We have only one enemy, Satan. He is the one who is behind every act of hate and every attack for man against man. Retaliation only breeds more hatred and keeps the battle going, and this is what our real enemy is trying to accomplish. Whatever is done against me, by the hands or words of another person, Satan is the force behind it. He is my enemy. If I keep this truth in mind, I can respond to another person’s attacks with forgiveness, I can pray for them, and yes, I can even love them.

I must confess, the “love” part is not as easy to do as it sounds on paper. And as I read those Scriptures, I had to tell God, “I can’t do this on my own. The only way I can love this person is if you help me. You have to love her through me, because I can’t God – it’s not in me.” And that is the whole point. I can’t. Love –genuine love – has to come from God. That’s what the Apostle John says, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God” (1 John 4:7). Listen to this, “We know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16). I can only love the one who hates and mistreats me because God loves me, and His love fills me up and spills out onto the one I cannot love on my own.

My heart was hurt. The attack was brutal. The pain was severe. But this person isn’t just someone I can write off and walk away from. I have been called by God to respond in a Christ-like manner. I have been called to forgive and bless and pray and love. But I desperately need help. Only God can overcome my human heart that wants withhold love and protect itself from abuse and hurt. Only God can help me to love. Because He is love.

Merciful, loving Father, please I pray, take my broken heart, my battered spirit and my mind that is full of turmoil and apply the healing balm of Your love and peace.  I cannot love in my own strength – the truth is, in my own nature, I don’t want to love. But this is what you have called me to do. Help me Abba, to soak up Your love so that I can love, even in the face of hate. Amen.

Will Your Faith Stand?

“Do everything without complaining or arguing.” Philippians 2:14

Three days. That’s all it took for the complaining to start. Three days from blessing to grumbling. Three days from rejoicing to grousing.

The Israelites were three days out from crossing the Red Sea in miraculous fashion, and they were already complaining. They had witnessed God’s power and might in rescuing them from slavery and defeating the Egyptian army. They had fled Egypt, carrying the wealth of their captives with them, and the Lord had guided them in a pillar of cloud and fire to the edge of the sea. They watched as the presence of the Lord moved to form an impenetrable wall between them and their enemy. They saw the waters part, felt the dry ground beneath their feet as they moved between two walls of water and then watched the walls collapse onto the Egyptian army.

They sang and danced and rejoiced, proclaiming “The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation; Who among the gods is like You, O Lord-majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” They sang of their trust in Him, “In your unfailing love You will lead the people You have redeemed…You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of Your inheritance.” (Ref. Exodus 15:2, 11, 13, 17.)

And everything changed. They found themselves in a desert with no drinkable water, the one spring poured forth bitter water. Now that’s not a little problem, mind you. Water in a desert is a big deal. Water for as many as two million people or more is an even bigger deal. They were in a serious situation. So they turned on their God-appointed leader and “grumbled against Moses, saying ‘What are we to drink?’” (Ex. 15:24). We might think, “Are these the same people that crossed the sea on dry ground and witnessed the power and might of the Lord?” Well, yes, actually they were.

And so are we. The truth is, I can very often turn from praising to grumbling in thirty minutes. At least it took them three days. Are we really any different than the Israelites? Like them, we have often forgotten God’s faithfulness and goodness in the past and complained about the circumstances of the present. It is a pattern that shows up over and over again in their wilderness journey. We see it again in Exodus 16, as they grumble about the lack of food, saying “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted” (Ex. 16:3). In chapter 17 they are grumbling about water again, and so it goes, until they stand at the edge of the Promised Land. Rather than rejoice in God’s faithfulness thus far and move ahead with confidence they grumble and cry and moan, until finally that generation lost the Promised Land altogether.

If you and I are honest, wouldn’t we admit that the same pattern shows up in our own lives as well? Why do we fail to believe that the God who sent His Son to die on the cross for us will also provide for, protect and bless us? Paul asks the same question in Romans 8:31-32, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, gracious give us all things?” Why do we, like the Israelites, fail to trust the Lord who has proven Himself faithful again and again and again?

In a word: unbelief. The very same unbelief that demoralized the faith of the Hebrew nation undermines our faith and confidence in God today. The exodus from Egypt was the great expression of Yahweh’s love to the Israelites. But because they had grumbled all along the way; at would should have been their defining moment of faith, they stood at the edge of the Promised Land and balked. “All the Israelites grumbled…and the whole assembly said, ‘Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?’” (Numbers 14:2,3)

Are you believing God today? The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s ultimate expression of love to you and me. Every day we are surrounded by reminders of His care and devotion to His people. Yet still, when we are faced with a challenge, we grumble. Rather than believe God, we doubt. We question. We whine and complain. And God asks, as He asked of Israel, “How long will these people refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” (Num. 14:11).

There is a day coming when Christians will be faced with their defining moment of faith. We need only to read the Scriptures and look at the world around us to know it is not far away. Have you and I walked in faith, believing God? Will our faith stand?

Jesus posed a question, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth” (Luke 18:8)? What if He comes today?

Holy Father, my faith is often so small. I cry out like the father in Mark’s Gospel – “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).