I Can Do It Myself

rosietheriveter

I felt the soapy dishwater drip from my fingers as his words cut into my heart.

“I don’t need you anymore.”

The cool November breeze floated through the open door as he turned and walked away.

Not need me anymore? How could he say that?  

I looked out the window watching those brown boots carry him across the yard.  My shoulders rose – then fell as a sigh escaped my lips.  I knew the day would come, but I didn’t know how much it would hurt.  It was just an innocent comment from my then four-year old son, but it stabbed my heart like a dagger.

“Mama! Mama!  I can swing by myself!  I don’t need you anymore!”  For this mother, it was one more sign that my job was changing every day; and this was a good change—he was showing independence, something we all work towards for our children.  Almost as soon as he could talk I heard, “Me do it! Me do it!”  He wanted to be his own (little) man.

Independence is a good thing; it’s a healthy goal as we raise our children.  But it’s not the goal of God for His children.  In fact, the opposite is true – God desires greater dependence, and less independence.  Unlike human parents, He measures our growth by how much we rely on Him.

Throughout Scripture we find man trying to run ahead of God, trying to establish his own autonomy, trying to distance himself from his creator.  Isn’t that the idea behind Satan’s lies in the Garden?  By promising Eve “wisdom and knowledge” he was telling her she could be independent from God; she could make up her own mind about what was good and evil and determine her own destiny.  She could get out from under God’s thumb.

The Bible shows the nation of Israel’s constant attempts to go their own way, make their own rules, and live by their own authority, and over and over we see them fail because God did not call them to independent greatness.  He called them to be His people, in a covenant relationship with Him where He provided and guided and they relied and followed.  When God led them out of Egypt and started for the Promised Land, He meant for them to trust and rely on Him.  But when they came to the edge and saw the size of the enemy they balked and determined to strike out on their own back to Egypt.  The result was hardship and death.  God called them into a covenant relationship that required their complete dependence, but they would not humble themselves before Him. They exemplified the heart of disobedience – prideful independence.  The last verse in Judges gives a chilling report:  “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).

The Christian faith is built on this same dependent relationship.  We depend on Christ for our salvation. We depend on the Holy Spirit for guidance and wisdom.  We depend on our Heavenly Father for our “daily bread,” for our future, for strength, and for eternal life.  We don’t “stand on our own two feet,” as believers we stand on the work and worth of Christ.  We stand on God’s faithfulness.  No, scratch that—we rest on the work and worth of Christ and the faithfulness of God, and that is what the people of Israel – and you and I – miss when we struggle to be independent of God—we miss His rest.  For those who give up their “right” to autonomy and depend on God there is rest.  Physical rest.  Emotional rest. Spiritual rest.  And isn’t that what we really want?

Perhaps you’ve heard the “verse,” “God helps those who help themselves.”   Friend, I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover many times over—trust me when I tell you, it ain’t in there.  From Genesis to Revelation I find no place where God chastised people for depending on Him too much, but I do find over and over that He rebuked them for trying to live independent of Him.  God wants—demands our reliance.  There’s no other way to live in relationship with Him.

It’s true that Scripture tells us to “grow up in the faith” (Ephesians 4:15), but the mark of maturity in Christ is greater dependence on Him.  Just as the branch relies on the vine for its nourishment and fruit, believers in Christ are to remain attached to our Life-source for our every need.

Let’s declare this our DEPENDENCE day in Christ.

Holy, gracious and wonderful God, it’s not that you want to rule over me: You want to love me, care for me, provide for me and guide me.  Lord help me to rely on You for every need in my life.  I’m so grateful that I can always depend on You.  Amen.

Thinking about the Words of God

Bible-reading*Note: Because of a heavy school-load, I am reposting this devotional, with some updates.

“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah” Psalm 46:11

Perhaps you’ve seen the odd little Hebrew word scattered throughout the Psalms – Selah – and wondered what it meant.  You may have even heard it as the name of a popular contemporary Christian group. It is believed to be a choral or musical notation and seems to indicate a dramatic pause in the music.  I discovered that this word translates the phrase “Pause and calmly think about that.” John Phillips says it can be rendered: ‘There! What do you think of that?’”[1] The word and these translations intrigued me, so I began hunting through the Scriptures for the occurrences of Selah.

Generally when we see Selah the writers are declaring God’s blessing, kindness, protection and deliverance on behalf of His people.  It is frequently used as the Psalmist reminds himself and the nation to trust in the Lord:

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  Trust in Him at all time, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.  Selah” (Psalm 62:5-6, 8)

You will see Selah often in Psalms praising God for His great victories, power and might:

“O Lord, the king rejoices in your strength.  How great is his joy in the victories You give!  You have granted him the desire of his heart and have not withheld the request of his lips.  Selah” (Psalm 21:1-2).

It often became part of a cry to the Lord for help, comfort and mercy.

“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.  From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint . . . I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Selah” (Psalm 6:1-4 selected).

Imagine that you are part of the nation of Israel, and your enemies are surrounding the city.  You gather your children to your side and pray for strength and safety.  Then the prophet of the Lord stands high above the crowd and proclaims:

“Lord, we have heard of Your fame; we stand in awe of Your deeds, O Lord.  Renew them in our day.” You came out to deliver Your people; You crushed the leader of the [enemy]” (Habakkuk 3, selected).   Then he pronounces the Selah – “Pause and calmly think about that.”

For a frightened people, the reminder of God’s power and might on the nation’s behalf brings renewed courage and hope.  As you stop and calmly think about the prophet’s words you realize that God had been faithful before, and He will be faithful again.

Selah is such a beautiful and powerful reminder to us that the Bible – all of God’s Word – should be received with depth and thought.  God has filled the Bible with promises, assurances, hope, peace, redemption, joy, comfort – and yes, even chastisement and words of discipline; and they are all meant for us to read and ponder. There is nothing you will face in your life that is not spoken to in the Scriptures.  Perhaps we need to add a few Selahs of our own to the words we read.

To those who grieve: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Pause and think calmly about that.

To the prodigal who has wandered far from God: “His father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,” (Luke 15:20). Pause and calmly think about that.

To the lonely: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Pause and calmly think about that.

When you are worn and weary: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Pause and calmly think about that.

When the enemy is pressing in on you: “You are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (Psalm 3:3). To borrow from John Phillips: There! What do you think about that?

Every endearment, every promise, every warning, word of instruction or chastisement is meant to be examined and pondered and remembered.  God intends for you to take His words and think about them, commit them to memory and live by them.  Make them personal – put your name in the verses, let them speak to you and about you.  The Scriptures are more than a 5 minute devotional for the day, “they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). How might it transform your heart and life if you came to God’s Word each day with the intent to pause and really think about what He is saying?

Jesus spoke “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).  He told His disciples, “Consider carefully what you hear” (Mark 4:24).    I think He was saying to them and us – Selah – pause and calmly think about that.”

Holy Father, You have said “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).  You have promised “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). Jesus, You have vowed “I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:3).  Oh what sweet joy to pause and calmly think about that.  Amen.

[1] John Phillips, The John Phillips Commentary Series: Exploring Psalms, Volume One, An Expository Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2002) 14.

Overcoming Evil

img_warrior“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

We are surrounded by evil.  It plays out every evening in the newscasts and in our morning paper.  Evil runs rampant down our streets and through our neighborhoods.  Every act of hate and violence has its roots in evil.  It is a word we need to use again, because it is a reality in this fallen world.  You might want to check out my thoughts on the subject of Evil from a post just a few months ago.  So this morning as I came to my devotional time, my heart was heavy with all the evil we have seen in recent months.  In this nation and all around the world, evil is everywhere.  Who can save us from the presence and power of evil?

The past few weeks I have been doing a personal study of the titles of Jesus in the Bible, and this morning I thought, I need to find a title that reminds me that Jesus is the victor over evil.  When I looked at the next title on the list, I thought, this one is perfect for this evil world:  Jesus is the Son of God.  The Son of God is perfect because it encompasses every facet of Jesus’ character.  It expresses the power of Jesus, the holiness of Jesus, the perfection of Jesus, the eternal nature of Jesus, and the sovereignty of Jesus.  The Son of God fills our need in this evil world, because the Son of God is also the Overcomer.   He declared it to be so saying, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As the Son of God, Jesus overcame evil when He resisted Satan’s temptations in the desert.  He overcame evil when He stood in the presence of the demons and they had no choice but to acknowledge and obey Him. And above all, He overcame evil by His resurrection from the dead.  He shattered evil’s hold on men, declaring that all who believed in Him would be free from its power.  Evil could not overcome the Son of God.

Jesus overcame evil by divine power.  Paul said, in our key verse, that we can overcome evil by good.  Mind you, not by “being good,” for only Jesus is good.  You and I can never be good enough to overcome evil.  But there is a way, and we find it in the last book of the Bible.  Standing in heaven, watching the end unfold, John heard a “loud voice” proclaim: “They overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the world of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11).  There are only two things that will guarantee our victory over evil and the evil one: the blood of the Lamb, which is salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ and our testimony.  But what testimony overcomes evil?  John knew.  “Who is he that overcomes the world?  Only he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5).

Jesus, the Son of God, who overcame the world, is our good testimony.  God the Father proclaimed it at Jesus’ baptism, when “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’ (Matthew 4:17); and again at Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:5).  The disciples declared it when they saw Jesus and Peter walking on the water, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). Peter pronounced it in his confession saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).  Jesus built His church on that very confession.  Even the Roman centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” when the ground quaked the moment Jesus died (Matthew 27:54).  Paul repeatedly preached that Jesus was the Son of God.  The martyrs of the ages past died with the good confession on their lips—“Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

As this world becomes more and more evil, only the good confession of the Son of God will sustain believers.  It has for centuries and it will not fail us in this generation.  We will be branded as fools.  We will be oppressed and persecuted.  It will cost you and me our very lives, but we too will overcome by the declaration that “Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

The world doesn’t need to hear Christians making accusations and pointing fingers.  They don’t need to know our thoughts on current affairs or politics or even morals.  In fact, the world is sick to death of hearing our opinions, however good they may be.  The world needs to hear the Gospel that has been our witness for more than two thousand years:  “Jesus Christ is the Son of God!”  It is the core truth of the Christian faith.  Everything else comes from that good confession.

All evil bows to the divine Name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Will you?

Oh, Lord Jesus, You are the Son of God, the Holy One, the only One who can overcome evil.  I claim the good confession as my own and I will live—and die—by it.  Amen.

The Desire of the Heart

follow-your-heart“Each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”  James 1:14-15

I used to work in a church office and we were often contacted by prisoners in jail who wanted us to visit and usually to try to intervene with the law on their behalf.  They almost always gave the same story, “I found myself in jail.”  As if they were innocently living their lives and suddenly looked up to see bars all around them.  It’s just one example of the human mantra, “It’s not my fault!”  And it’s as old as humanity itself.  In the Garden, at the scene of the first sin, Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed Eve and even God.  But the Lord knew the truth then, and he knows the truth now.  As our key verse clearly says, we are tempted by our own evil desires.  No one ever just wakes up unexpectedly in the pit of sin.  There is a progression and we are wise to recognize where it all begins.

James lays it out:

Man’s own sinful desire

The lure of temptation

Taking the bait

Sin is born

The final outcome: Death

At the heart of all sin is our innate sinful nature and our own sinful desires.  Paul explained it in Romans 8:5 saying, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires.”  The Bible offers us countless examples of this truth. King David showed a previous bent toward lust with many wives, and when he was tempted with the beautiful Bathsheba, he answered that call.  The same was true of his son, Solomon, who “loved many foreign women” (1 Kings 11:1). He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines – that’s a thousand women – and “his wives led him astray” (1 Kings 11:3).  In fact, sexual lust was, and continues to be, the most “popular” desire among human beings.

Judas was tempted by wealth; the gospels reported that he was stealing from the funds for the poor even before his betrayal of Jesus (John 12:6).  When the temptation was offered to earn thirty silver coins, his desire overwhelmed him and he turned on his Friend.

Satan goes for our desires, which are often our weaknesses.  Money, sex and power are the usual enticements into sin and death, but there are more than we can conceivably count.  Every person has their own desire, their own personal lure, and be assured Satan knows it.  He has devised a scheme just for you and just for me, tailor made to match that craving inside us.  We answer to the temptation that calls out to our innate desires. If your desire is for material possessions, he will pull you into the mall, or entice you with advertisements for the newest shiny thing.  If your desire is lust, every TV commercial for lingerie will catch your attention and he will make certain you get plenty of pop-ups for sexual sites on your I-phone.  Want power, prestige, fame, a high?  He’s got just what you’re looking for.

But Satan is not the one that God will hold responsible. We are all held accountable for our own desires.  King David warned his son Solomon, “The Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9).  He knows that while Satan sets the trap and pulls the string, you and I are to blame for crawling in to take the bait.  Our hearts – our desires – will deceive us and lead us into self-destruction (Jeremiah 17:9).

Our only way of escaping his trap is to have but one desire: God.

God wants to be the desire of your heart and mine.  Nothing can drag us away into sin if the desire of our heart is to please and honor the holy, sovereign Lord of the Universe.  We will still face temptations, but if our one and only desire is to be like Christ, those temptations will fail to entice us.  Jesus resisted temptation because He had no evil desires.  His desire was only to do the will of His Father, therefore He had no pull to the temptations of the devil.

One of the church’s favorite verses is Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.”  I have it highlighted in my Bible too.  But we tend to overlook the first part in favor of the second.  We hone in on “He will give you the desire of your heart,” but rush past the requirement expressed just before it: “Delight yourself in the Lord.”  In other words, if your heart yearns for God alone, He will give you your heart’s desire.  And after that desire is met in all His fullness, any other gift He chooses to give to you is “icing on the cake.”

If we are serious about living pure and holy lives, especially in this culture, we must adopt the attitude of Asaph who proclaimed: “Earth has nothing I desire besides you…God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25, 26).  When God is our heart’s desire, He will make sure we have the desire of our heart.

 

Holy Father, I know my desires are not often pure and the enemy know it too, as he casts his temptations before me.  My only hope is for you to be the sole desire of my heart.  I can’t do that on my own Lord, I need you to change my heart.  I want you to be my heart’s desire.  Amen.

But I Don’t Feel Like Praising the Lord

Praise-08-782013“Keep your eyes on Jesus . . .” (Hebrews 12:2 The Message)

All around the sanctuary, hands were being lifted as the song proclaimed the goodness and majesty of the Lord.  Usually, my hand is one of the first to raise, but today, I’m just not feeling it.  The past several months have been difficult for my family.  The stress we are under is draining my energy and my joy is just about gone.  I want to feel the swell in my heart and the lift in my spirit, but my hand hangs by my side.  I listen to the music, watch the faces lift to the heavens, the hands swaying in the air and I wonder, “What do I do when I don’t feel like praising the Lord?”  As if he heard the question in my head, the worship leader softly spoke into the microphone, “Just focus on Jesus.”

What excellent advice.  So I did.  I paid attention to the words of the songs we were singing, songs that spoke of His love and His sacrifice.  Songs that reminded me of my helpless state before He rescued me, and of the hope and glory that is mine now in Christ.  My heart began to open is I focused more on Jesus, who left the glory and perfection of heaven for me.  I considered this One who paid the debt for every sin I ever committed and who shed His holy blood to cover my unrighteousness.  I joined in singing about the glory that awaits because of all that Jesus has done for me.  My mind was now engaged in praise, my worries—at least for the moment—slipped away and my hand lifted into the air.

Oh how can I not praise this One who died for me?  How can I withhold my heart from exalting my wonderful Savior?  How can I let the worries of life crowd out the honor and majesty of the King of the Universe who gave Himself for me?  I cannot.  I must not.  He is too precious.  He is too wonderful.  He is too worthy.

What struggle of mine is greater than His struggle on the cross for me?  What burden do I bear is heavier than the weight of my sin on His holy being?  What trouble in my life can diminish His majesty?  What need do I have that He has not promised to meet?  He has given me His own peace and joy.  He has given me His righteousness.  He has given me an eternal home – His home.  He has broken my chains and set me free – what momentary trouble in this life compares?

So I will focus on Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame.”  I will “Consider him who endured . . . so that I will not grow weary and loose heart” (Hebrews 2,3)  I will remember what God has done and I will “put my hope in God, and I will praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5).  And I will “lift my heart and my hands to God in heaven” (Lamentations 3:41).

Holy Father, when I focus my mind on my troubles and my heart is weighed down with burdens it is hard to find reasons to praise You.  But when my focus moves to the cross and to all that Jesus has done for me, praise takes over my mind and heart and sets me free.  Lord, help me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and my mouth filled with praise.  Amen.

What Love Is (and What it Isn’t)

bible-heart“Love one another” (John 15:12).

“I love chocolate.”

“I love this song.”

“I love my kids.”

“I love you.”

Why do we use the same word to profess our feelings about pie, rainy days, best friends, and spouses?  Do we really have the same level of passion for a new pair of jeans as we have for our newborn baby?  I would be devastated to know that my son holds the same affection for the meatloaf I made for dinner as he does for me.  But I said the same words today to a lady in the grocery story as I told her “I love your blouse!”

What does “love” really mean?  It seems the definition has changed over the years, even in my lifetime.  I posed the question to Merriam-Webster who said that love is:

  • a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person
  • attraction that includes sexual desire : the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship[1]

They also reminded me that love is a tennis score, but I think we’re getting off track.

Love, in Jesus’ day was defined in three ways:

Eros – a sensual love

Phileo – called a “brotherly love”

Agape – a sacrificial love

Eros love is a love that seeks self-satisfaction, it is sensual and is the root from which we derive the world “erotic,” but it is not only sexual in context.  When you say “I love chocolate,” you are expressing an eros love.  Eros love is self-centered, what I want, what will make me happy, what will bring me satisfaction.  It is a fleshly desire that we pursue for our own pleasure.

Phileo love is a deep fondness for one another.  In the original Greek, it means “to have affection and regard of a very high order.” Phileo love is the love we experience with family and friends, built on common ground, whether familial or in our shared interests.  It is a far purer love than Eros, but is still tinged with self-centeredness.  Phileo love can be broken by a person’s actions—a spouse’s infidelity, a friend’s betrayal, or an unkind or thoughtless word.

Agape love is a sacrificial love, a love that seeks the best for the beloved.  Agape love is the purest love, it is active and faithful and unbreakable.  Agape love puts the other person first, and gives of self for their benefit.  In the original Greek agape means “the active love of God for His Son and His people, and the active love His people are to have for God, each other and even enemies.”  Agape love is very demanding, it demands your time, it demands your personal rights, it demands your whole self, and that is why it is so hard to find in human relationships.  Yet it is precisely this kind of love that Jesus requires of His followers. It is Holy Love.

How can we possibly fulfill this command of love?  Only through God.

The heart and soul of true love—of agape love­—is the love of God.  This is perfect love (1 John 4:18).  And it is nothing like the “love” this world desires.  In our culture today, “love” means “anything goes.”  Love, in the modern sense, is unrestrained permissiveness.  If I claim to love you, I should never stand in the way of you fulfilling your desires.  But what if I know that your desires are self-destructive?  If my two-year old son desires to play in the middle of the street (and he did), does love demand that I allow him to do so?  NO!  Because agape love has a greater demand: that I do what is in my son’s best interest.  So even though it made him very angry, I did not allow him to play in the street.  It was not the best thing for him.  If I am to operate in agape love, I must speak up when I see someone in a perilous situation.  Just a few days ago I grabbed hold of a child I didn’t know who was about to walk out into the path of a car.  Should I be any less concerned when I see someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction?

Today, eros “love” has taken hold of the culture.  “Love” has become anything that satisfies the flesh, no matter how perverse or damaging.  And responding in “love” means we affirm and applaud this twisted version of love.  But that is not really love.  Real love cares enough to say “NO!”  Real love recognizes wrong and rather than applauding or shrugging the shoulders, real love seeks to set what is wrong back right.

God is the source of real love, John 4:7 says, “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”  The truest expression of real love was at the cross: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  God loves all humankind, and He knows that sin is not in our best interest, but salvation is.  He acted out of perfect love to provide what we needed most.

What this culture calls “love” is nothing more than self-destruction.  Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love.  Friend, it is time for us to speak the truth about love.

Holy Father, loving Father, the greatest expression of holy love was Your Son bleeding and dying on the cross for our sins.  Thank You for loving me enough to give me what is best, even when I want what is worst.  Help me be a voice and a conduit of real, holy, agape love in this world.  Amen.

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/love, accessed June 9, 2016.

When God Sees Me

Young woman looking at herself in the mirror

Young woman looking at herself in the mirror

“She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13)

When you look at me through this blog what do you see?  Perhaps a Bible teacher or writer?  When my friends look at me they tell me they see a person who is determined to fulfill God’s call.  They also say they see someone who is friendly and helpful and dependable.

But when I look at myself in a mirror, I see a middle-age woman with graying hair (under the red hair dye), a weight problem, out of date clothes and a tired expression.  When I look at my heart, I see scars—lots of scars—some self-inflicted and some caused by others.  I see anxiety and a sense of unworthiness.  When I look at my spirit, I see hopes and dreams left scattered and unrealized.

But how does God see me?  Does He have the same image of me that I see of myself?  Let’s take a look through the Bible and see how God’s perspective is so vastly different from our own.

Abram whose name meant “exalted father,” saw himself as childless, but God saw Abraham as the “father of many”—in fact God saw him as the father of nations (Genesis 17:5).

Abram’s wife saw herself as a barren woman, but God saw her as the mother of the promise, through whom an entire nation would be born (Romans 9:8-9).

Jacob was known as a deceiver, a name he lived up to for many years; but God saw him as “Israel”—an overcomer (Genesis 32:28).

Joseph’s brothers saw him as arrogant and bratty, Daddy’s favorite son.  The Midianites saw him as a quick sale in the slave market.  Potiphar saw him as his slave, and Potiphar’s wife saw him as a temptation until he spurned her advances, then she saw him as a prisoner.  Pharaoh saw him as a wise and trusted official. But God saw him as the savior of Israel (Genesis 50:20).

Moses saw himself as a stuttering criminal on the lam, but God saw him as the deliverer of His people (Exodus 3:10).

Gideon saw himself as “the least in the weakest clan of Israel,” but God saw him as a “mighty warrior” (Judges 6:15, 12).

Ruth believed herself to be merely the caregiver of her mother-in-law, Naomi, but God saw her as the great-grandmother of the chosen king of Israel.

David’s father Jesse saw his son as the tender of the family’s sheep, but God saw him as the shepherd-king of His people.

Esther thought of herself as the wife of the king of Persia, but God saw her as the instrument through whom He would rescue the Jewish people.

Consider Peter, Andrew, James and John—just fishermen and Matthew—a tax collector and the others Jesus saw as His disciples, men who would turn the world upside down in just a few short years (Matthew 4:18-22, 9:9).

He saw paralyzed people as whole and walking, demonized people as souls at peace, sick people as healthy, dead people as alive.  He saw people once bound in sin as freed from their shackles to live as His followers.

The woman caught in adultery, who was seen through her sin, Jesus saw as forgiven and restored to a life of holiness (John 8:3-11).  Where the woman with issue of blood saw herself as ostracized and unclean, Jesus saw her as a “daughter” (Luke 8:48). Simon the Pharisee saw the woman washing Jesus’ feet as a “sinful woman,” Jesus saw her as a model of love born out of forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50). He saw Mary Magdalene, whom the whole town knew as a demon possessed woman as the first witness to His resurrection (John 20:10-18).

He saw Saul, the persecutor of His church as His “chosen instrument to carry My name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people Israel” (Acts 9:15).

The Roman Emperor Dominican saw the Apostle John as a criminal who deserved banishment, but Jesus saw John as the Revelator, who would receive his divine prophecy for the church (Revelation 1:11, 19).

So, to return to my question—how does God see me?—I believe the answer is found in these examples from His Word.  He sees me as forgiven, redeemed, and whole, set free and set apart.  Yes, He sees me with my scars, but He sees those scars as bridges as I reach out to other wounded souls.  He sees me as His servant and vessel, as His imperfect, but chosen mouthpiece in this generation.  But most precious to my heart, He sees me as His daughter.

My friend, God sees you and me far more clearly that we could ever see ourselves.  Who you are in the sight of others, or even in your own eyes, is not who you are in the sight of the God who created and redeemed you.   For those who are in Christ, He sees us as His children (1 John 3:1), with a purpose and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).  Where others see us through the mistakes we’ve made, God sees us with all the potential He placed in us from before we were born.  When we see ourselves through the worldly standards of beauty and success, God sees us through the beauty of His Son and His victory over death.  When we see ourselves as unworthy, hopeless, useless and unwanted He sees us as valuable, and desired, because He sees us through eyes of love and compassion.

How do others see you?  How do you see yourself?  When you consider those questions, always come back to this truth:  the God who created you sees you as so much more than you can ever imagine.  Ask Him to give you His perspective so you can live as the child of God that you are.

Holy Father, Your perspective is what really matters to me, because Your eyes only see what is true.  Give me a glimpse of who I am in Christ, so that I can cast aside every false image and live as the woman You created me to be. Amen.

The Gift of a Mother

hand-in-hand-mother-and-baby-love

The first loving face I see,

That voice I know so well,

That’s the heart I’ve heard beating,

For nine long months,

Repeating its song of love.

This is the sweetness of my Mother.

 

First kisses, sweet nuzzles,

A warm bath, soft cuddles,

Her finger tracing my face.

The sway of the rocking chair

Late in the night.

This is the tenderness of my Mother.

 

Storybooks and nursery rhymes,

Learning the Golden Rule.

Walking away on the first day of school,

I look back to see her smile

Through her tears.

This is the heart of my Mother.

 

First dates and late-night talks,

Seeing her pride as I walk

With cap and gown across the stage.

Phone calls in a panic—

She always knows the answer

This is the joy of my Mother.

 

Her eyes never dimmed,

But her voice has grown thin.

The wisest woman I’ve ever known

Draws quiet breaths now,

I hold her soft and wrinkled hand.

This is the gift of my Mother.

The Good Giver

giftgiving“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights . . .” (James 1:17).

“Please sir, I want some more.”

You probably recognize those words spoken by Oliver Twist in Charles Dickens’ classic tale of the same name.  Oliver is a young boy, orphaned at birth in Dickens’ story set in 1830’s England.  He is one of many orphans who are kept in cruel near-slave conditions and given meager rations to survive on.  He warily approaches the master and makes his plea, but his  request only causes the boy even more trouble.  How dare this no-account waif ask for more!  Who does he think he is to presume upon the charity of the master?  We see the cruel irony of a hungry orphan approaching the well-fed head-master, and we understand that he at least deserves a decent meal to sustain him.  He is not acting out of greed, but out of need.  It is a reasonable request, we think.

Yet how often do we approach God with the same trepidation as Oliver Twist?  How often do we approach Him as if we think He is a harsh master who will refuse us even the humblest request?   We assume He rations out His blessings only to the most deserving, or worse, that He is holding back His blessings from us.  That is what Satan implied to Eve in the Garden when He told her, “God knows that when you eat [of the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God . . .” (Genesis 3:3).  You can almost hear him hissing: “God is holding out on you missy, don’t be a naïve fool!”  But we know that Satan is a liar, and the Bible reveals God as a generous Father who loves to give good things to His children.

Jesus compared our Heavenly Father with earthly fathers who provide for their children’s needs.  And even though it is really no comparison at all, the Lord said if we, as human parents give our children what they need and desire, “how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:11).  How much more will the God who gave us life (Romans 4:17) give us what is necessary to sustain life?  Why then, do we hesitate?

James 4:2 says “You do not have because you do not ask.” And Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” Jesus Himself said “Ask and it will be given to you…” (Luke 11:9). I think we can all agree that this isn’t so much about stuff—houses and cars and a pair of Jimmy Choo’s, although God has generously provided a home and a vehicle for me when I needed them. (Still waiting on the shoes:) But God promises to bless us when we ask for those things that are in His will, such as wisdom (James 1:5), healing (James 5:14-15), forgiveness (1 John 1:9), faith (Luke 17:5), joy (John 16:24), strength (Philippians 4:13), love (1 John 4:7), grace—actually “more grace” according to James 4:6. Best of all He gives us what we don’t even think to ask for: peace (John 14:27), hope (Romans 5:5), light (John 1:9), a future (Jeremiah 29:11), glory (John 17:22), revelation (John 17:26), direct access to the Father (John 16:23), and eternal life (John 17:2).  He gave His only Son for you (John 3:16).  Does that sound like He is holding out on you?

2 Peter 1:3 says He “has given us everything we need for life and godliness;” those things we need for life, like our daily bread (Matthew 5:11), clothes on our back (Matthew 6:30) and “all these things” that are necessary for life (Matthew 6:33).  I’ve been the recipient of His practical generosity and kindness many, many times.  He also promises to give us everything we need for a godly life: chiefly His Word (John 17:8) and His Spirit (John 14:16).   God provides with a generous heart and an open hand.

I love John’s affirmation in 1 John 5:14-15: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: That if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”  The writer of Hebrews echoes the same thought: “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  That is an invitation we should jump at!

You do not have to come to your Heavenly Father with a sense of apprehension, as if you are asking for more than God is willing to bestow.  He has so much he desires to give you—till your cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).  Don’t come crawling to Him with a little teacup in your hand. Come running to your Father with the biggest bucket you can find, and He will fill it till is spills over and you can’t contain it all.  He is a God who loves to give!

Holy Father, I cannot count the number of times You’ve blessed me—You have given and given and given even more.  Not only do you give from an endless supply, but You give from extraordinary generosity.  Please help me to always come to you with the confidence of a child coming to her loving Father.  Amen

A Heart Set Free

 IHeart Set Free“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13).

I pulled out of the driveway and looked back at the house—there he was sitting in the doorway on the seat of his walker, waving at me as I eased down the road.  I waved back and called out, “I love you Dad!” As I pulled to a stop at the end of his street, I realized I had tears dripping off my face, because I finally knew I meant those words. God had done a remarkable work in my heart.

My Dad and I had a rough time starting in my early teens and for some 20+ years after.   The details are not important, but the pain was very real.  There was a long stretch of time that we did not speak at all and when we did begin to reconnect it was strained and awkward.  To borrow a little from Simon and Garfunkel, there was a very rickety bridge over a lot of troubled water.  And honestly, I was okay with a minimal relationship—that suited me just fine.  I had moved away from my hometown and was busy raising my family, working and making my own life separate from my Dad.

But God was not satisfied with the relationship between us.  Ironically, I was hearing God’s call to ministry even while I had shut myself off from my Dad.  I taught women from the Bible, dug into the Scriptures and shared what God declared, but I steered pretty wide around verses about forgiving others.  Sure, I knew the importance of forgiveness and had told God “I forgive him.”  But God required something deeper from me—and for me.

For a while I had kept a polite demeanor when I was with my Dad, but my attitude was honestly arrogant.  My words were ever so slightly barbed with disrespect.  His birthday was approaching and my brother wanted us to come for a birthday dinner.  I would have just as soon sent him a card and called it a day, but my brother insisted, and so we agreed to go.  A couple of days before we left, God took me to Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 2:7-8 and told me very pointedly this word was for me regarding my Dad.

Now you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  I urge you therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.

Wait, God wanted me to forgive and comfort and reaffirm my love—for my Dad’s sake?  That seemed a bit unfair, after all I was the injured party here!  I was the one who had lived all these years with “excessive sorrow.” Shouldn’t he be made to comfort and love me? Didn’t he owe me something?  God patiently heard my arguments (read whining), but kept coming back to the same point:  “I am calling you to obedience, not your Dad.”  “Lord,” I answered, “I will do as You have said, but only because You said it, not because I want to.  You’re going to have to help though, because it ain’t in me.”  I’m not sure, but I think I heard God say, “I can work with that.”

That year had presented a lot of health challenges for my Dad, and when I saw him in a motorized chair with his oxygen, it gave my heart such a shock.  My Dad was frail, unable to walk on his own or breathe without a tube in his nose. I felt a piece of ice crack around my heart. Still, we sat on the opposite end of the long table from my Dad.  But my eyes kept drawing back to that frail old man. We enjoyed the meal and the conversation, and prepared to leave the restaurant.  I found myself walking ahead of my Dad, moving chairs and obstacles out of his way.  We decided to take some pictures in the parking lot and my sister-in-law positioned me directly behind my Dad sitting in his chair.  I put my hands on his shoulders, and he reached up, and grabbed my hands so that I was bent over, hugging him, with his hands on my arms.  Another piece of ice broke away.  We all said our goodbyes and I climbed into the back seat of our car.  My phone pinged a message; my sister-in-law sent me a copy of the picture we had taken and suddenly the frozen dam broke and flooded my eyes.  I didn’t see the man that I had been so hurt by or so angry with.  I saw my Dad—frail and old, but with such a glad look on his face with my arms wrapped around him.  The thought came to me: “This is not the same man who hurt me,” Forgiveness rushed into my heart, filling all the places where the bitterness had taken root.  I don’t know where the man I had avoided for so long had gone, because the person in that picture was someone I truly loved.  And there in that backseat, God spoke to my heart:  “You are not the same girl so full of pain and anger anymore either.  I have carried you and I have been your Father all these years and my love for you has washed away your pain and bitterness.  Now you can love your earthly father with the love I have poured into you.”  My heart had been set free.

Forgiveness is a gift that God gives to every person who will receive it.  Forgiveness is a gift that you and I are also called to give, but the truth is, we are often the greatest benefactors.  Forgiveness sets us free, because bitterness is the heaviest burden known to man.

I know that someone is reading these words and thinking, “but you don’t know what this person has done to me!”  Beloved, I chose not to go into detail about all the troubled water under my own rickety bridge, but suffice to say it was deep and painful and affected every aspect of my entire life.  When I forgave my Dad, it was an act of obedience to God, not because of a warm-fuzzy feeling on my part.  But that step of obedience broke the dam of bitterness and God took away that pain and anger.  He changed my heart.   Perhaps God is waiting for you to look up from your tangled emotions and simply say, “I’ll forgive them because you say so.”  That, my friend, is the first step in the direction of true freedom.

Merciful, Holy Father, Thank you for not allowing me to settle for less than a heart set free by forgiveness and love