To Know, Know, Know Him

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  Matthew 22:37

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

Just to see him smile make my life worthwhile

To know, know, know him is to love, love, love him

And I do.

Written by Phil Spector and first recorded by “The Teddy Bears,” this song hit the number one spot in 1958.  Through the years it was covered by many other artists and I bet as you read those lyrics, you were singing the melody.  I know I did as I typed them.  Do you remember those early days of love, when you just couldn’t get enough of your beloved?    You wanted to spend every moment together, learning all you could about one another.  What is her favorite flower? What is his favorite song?  What makes her happy? What makes him laugh?   Her fragrance was intoxicating. You hung on his every word.  You became “a student” of the one you love, trying to discover all the wonderful things about them, like hunting for hidden treasures.  It seemed that the more you knew about each other, the deeper your affection went.

Do you have the same desire to know God?

He is the greatest lover you will ever have, and He offers you the deepest love relationship you can ever know.  What pleases Him? What is His favorite song? What gives Him joy?  Perhaps it never occurred to you that you can know God, but over and over His Word expresses His desire for us to know Him.  The apostle Paul said God wants us to “seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him” (Acts 17:27) The same principle in our earthly relationships holds true in our relationship with God.  The more we know Him, the more we seek to discover all the wonderful things about Him, the more we will love Him.  By engaging our minds to know Him, our hearts are filled with wonder and love for Him.

But how do we get to know the God of the universe?  The Lord reveals Himself in many ways.

He reveals Himself through His creation. Psalm 19:1-2 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” And Paul said “What may be known about God is plain…because God has made it plain. (Romans 1:19) Look at the stars in the sky, the majestic mountains, and the delicate flowers.  Watch the wind blow and the rain fall as lightning illuminates all of creation.  Hold a tiny newborn in your arms and study her delicate features.  God first revealed Himself through His creative works, and nature still praises her Creator.

God revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:15 says that Christ “is the visible image of the invisible God (New Living Translation) and Hebrews 1:3 declares “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”  Jesus Himself said to one of His disciples, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)” Jesus is God.  If you want to know God, you will find Him in Jesus.  Jesus was God in human flesh.  He came to save us and to show us that God is real, and we can know Him.  It is only through Jesus Christ that we can know to God. He is “The Way (John 14:6)” to God because He is God.

The Bible is the best way that we can know God.  The Bible is God’s Word to man.  It is His revelation of Himself, His ways, His thoughts, words and actions.  God had given us the Bible so that we might know Him, trust Him, believe Him and love Him.   The Bible gives us those intimate, personal details that are so vital to a love relationship. Remember the questions we asked earlier?  What pleases God? – the Bible tells us that faith pleases Him (Hebrews 11:6).  What is His favorite song?  Praise songs! “I will praise You among the nations, O Lord; I will sing praises to Your name. (Psalm 18:49)”  What gives God joy? We do – “To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence with great joy – to the only God, our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! (Jude 1:24)” Does God have a favorite flower? Well, I don’t know for sure, but Jesus Christ is called “The Rose of Sharon, a Lily of the valleys. (Song of Songs 2:1) If you truly desire to know God, you must invest yourself in studying His Word.

God calls us to know Him – and He promises to make Himself available to us.  “You will seek me and find me when you see me with all your heart.  I will be found by you, (Jeremiah 29:13-14)” Through His created world, His Son and His Word, God has invited you and me into an intimate knowledge of Him.  I have found that the more I come to know Him, the more I love Him and the more I love Him the more I want to know Him. I have this thought that when I see Him in glory, once I have gotten up off my face before Him; I will see something about Him and I will exclaim – “I knew that about You!”

Can there be any better pursuit for our lives than to seek to know God?  I have committed myself to the life-long journey of knowing Him.  Will you come along?

Holy Father, My heart says of You, “Seek His face!”  Your face Lord, I will seek. (Psalm 27:8)  Amen.

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Faith that Survives

 “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in You.”       Psalm 39:7

How can you walk by faith when your eyes are blinded by tears?  How do we reconcile our trust in God when circumstances, failure and injustice have crushed our dreams? I think about those heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11, who “were all living by faith when they died…none of them received what had been promised” (vs. 13, 39).  Did they lay on their death-beds and wonder why God demanded their faith, yet didn’t fulfill His promise?The writers of many of the Psalms were well acquainted with this conflict of faith in the face of disappointment.  I find tremendous help in their honest writings.

Psalm 77, written by Asaph, a temple musician (think “worship leader”) ranges from raw angst and discouragement – “Has [the Lord’s] unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time?” (v. 7) to glorious praise – “You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples.” “You lead Your people like a flock,” (vs. 14 & 20).  How did he swing from despair to exultation? Verses 10-12 are the pivot point in this Psalm. Asaph says, “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal; the years of the right hand of the Most High.  I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds.’”(v. 10-12)  Look at those key phrases: “Then I thought…I will remember…I will meditate and consider…”  Asaph determined to turn his thoughts around and remember and meditate on the history of God’s actions on behalf of His people – the miracles, works and mighty deeds.  And as he followed this line of higher thinking, you can sense his spirit lifting as the words build to a crescendo that bursts forth in Asaph’s heart: “Your ways, O God, are holy.  What god is so great as our God?” (v. 13) He comes to the foundation upon which all faith must rest: God.

God is the point of our faith.  Not just what He can do, but who He is.

David had the same change of heart and thought in Psalm 13 as he laments: “How long, O Lord?  Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (vs. 1-2)  As Asaph’s Psalm pivoted on his change of thoughts, David’s turns on a single word: “But…”  David says, “But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord; for He has been good to me.” (vs. 5-6)  The change of thought and word came with the change of his focus.

Like both of these Psalmists, I have had seasons in my life when I assumed God had forgotten me, or turned away from me.  Some were the result of other’s actions that brought me great harm and pain, but honestly most had my own fingerprints all over them; poor choices, sinful actions, disobedience, a lack of wisdom and failure to listen to the Spirit. Darkness, struggle and silence from heaven worked on my faith like a slow, wasting disease, and I cried out to God: “Where are You? Where is your love and grace? What have I done that you have turned away from me? Will you leave me in this pit forever?”  Jeremiah’s words became my mantra: “He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed He has turned His hand against me.” (Lamentations 3:2-3a)

As I make baby steps toward spiritual maturity, I am learning to seek God for who He is, not just for what he can do for me.  I want to know Him for the joy of His presence, and not only for His presents.  I can find nowhere in Scripture that God says, “I want You to know all I can do for you.” But I lost count after 200 times that I read “That you may know Me…”  In knowing God, we discover what He can do, but if we are only seeking Him for what we can gain we have missed the whole point of the relationship.

Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

How did the ancient heroes of the Bible stay firm in their faith in God? By knowing the God who was everything to them.

Let’s go back to Jeremiah’s words from Lamentations.  As with Asaph and David, the prophet Jeremiah comes back to what (or Who) he knows so well:

“I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall…and my soul is down cast within me.”

Yet this I call to mind  and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for His compassions never fail,

they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;

therefore I will wait for Him.

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him,

to the one who seeks Him.”

Lamentations 3:19-25

 

Lord, thank you for Your never-failing love and compassion.  I trust in You because You are faithful and You are good.  When all seems dark around me, I will seek the light of Your face.  Amen.

I See What You Did There

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.       1 Corinthians 11:1

When my son was about 3 years old, he had a child-sized toy car, brightly colored and “foot-powered.” It was his favorite plaything.  If it had an odometer, I am sure he would have logged a thousand miles in it. My brother enjoyed watching my son ride around in his little car.  But what he loved the most was to call out, “Troy, get out of your car like Mommy does!”  And Troy would shove the car door open, jump out and SLAM the door as he walked away.  My brother would be in hysterics, and my face would be red.  My son is grown now, and I pray he has learned more from me than how to slam a car door.

In our key verse, Paul is exhorting his fellow believers to follow his example, because he has committed to follow the example of Jesus Christ.  Throughout the book of Acts and the Epistles, Paul is seen as a mentor in the faith.  He taught by words and he taught by actions.  He taught with his life, as he devoted himself to the person and cause of Christ. Paul poured himself out to train Silas, Timothy, Titus, and many others in the ways of Jesus.  And he was not the only godly mentor. Acts 18: 24-26 also tells us that a husband and wife team, Aquila and Priscilla, took a young eager evangelist named Apollo, and taught him truth.  In the Old Testament, Moses mentored Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land.  Elijah mentored Elisha.  Eli mentored Samuel, Samuel influenced David, and David inspired Solomon. I have spent 21 years trying to live the example of Godliness before my son, and have had the delight of mentoring young men and women in the faith through teaching the Bible and working in college ministry.  Mentoring is one of my deepest passions.

But I discovered in the story of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith, that we can be mentors and examples and not realize it. Stephen was called “a man full of God’s grace and power… and did great wonders and miraculous signs” (Acts 6:8).  But a group of Jewish leaders were threatened by him.  When they couldn’t silence him, brought Stephen before the Jewish high priest.  Acts 7 is Stephen’s profound defense; and his pointed accusation against the religious leaders for the murder of Jesus Christ.  The infuriated men “dragged Stephen out of the city and began to stone him” (Acts 7:58). Stephen died with his eyes fixed on his Savior as he declared “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man, standing at the right hand of God” (v. 56)

At the moment of Stephen’s death, a zealous and vengeful young man was watching.  Acts 7:58 finishes the account of Stephen’s stoning with this simple statement:  “Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul…who was “giving approval to [Stephen’s] death” (Acts 8:1). Saul walked away from that event with a murderous hatred toward Jesus’ followers – and a seed that had been planted deep within his spirit.  Saul chased believers across the region, arresting as many as possible.  Until God caused that seed to sprout on the road to Damascus.  The Christ-hating Saul became the Christ-proclaiming Paul and the Christian faith had one of its boldest and most faithful evangelists.  Did the death of Stephen have any influence on Paul’s conversion?  I believe so.  Did Stephen look through the crowd and pick Saul out as his mentee?  No, but the power of the Holy Spirit in Stephen surely overflowed onto the young man who watched the scene so intently.

So it is with you and me.  In our everyday moments, when we are not even aware, we are affecting those around us.  That is a sobering thought.  The little ones who hold our hand as they walk are watching us every day as we cook supper, brush our teeth, fold laundry and yes, drive the car. The store clerk notices your smile as she totals up your purchases.  My coworkers notice my attitude and my willingness (or, honestly, lack thereof) to go the extra mile.  Our neighbors, the receptionist at my Doctor’s office, your child’s friends, the stranger on the street, are all within our sphere of influence.   You did not expect to share a testimony about the kindness of your Savior, but when you told that pre-teen girl that she has a pretty smile, you spoke volumes.  I didn’t intend to give the homeless man on the corner the impression that my Jesus didn’t care about him, but when I looked away from him, my actions were louder than any Bible lesson I could teach.

Paul wrote an impassioned plea to his fellow believers in Corinth, “Be careful that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). I do not want to be a stumbling block to someone who is new or immature in the faith, and especially not to someone who does not yet know Jesus.  I want the testimony of my life to show others the way to Jesus Christ, and how to walk in faithfulness and righteousness, even – and especially – when I think no one is watching.  Because someone always is.

What does the expression of our life say to others?  When my son was a little older, his teacher had the class write things about each member of their family.  His statement about me made my heart sing – “My Mom loves to study the Bible.”  Now that’s the kind of legacy I want to leave for my son and others to follow.

Jesus, You left us a perfect example to follow.  The world is watching.  Please help me to walk in the footprints You left behind, so that others will follow.  Amen.

Closed Heart Surgery

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  Ezekiel 36:26

My brother-in-law recently underwent heart by-pass surgery.  He had for several months been experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, lack of energy and eventually, chest pain. Tests revealed blockages in several of the vessels of his heart, blockages that had slowly and quietly built up over years.  The symptoms were minimal at first, easily dismissed in the middle of his busy days. But they became more and more severe until he could not ignore them any longer.  He wisely sought medical help and found himself lying on a table counting backwards from 100…99…98…97… .  .   .    .     .

The symptoms my brother-in-law encountered are similar to those you and I experience when we encounter spiritual heart problems. We find ourselves short of spiritual breath, our spiritual energy begins to wane and eventually, we suffer the pain of a hardened heart. Hardened hearts also happen slowly, and over time, can lead to a very serious problem.  My brother-in-law’s condition has a fancy medical name, but I remember it being called “hardening of the arteries.” God calls our heart condition “a heart of stone.”  A heart of stone is unhealthy and resistant to God.  This kind of heart is closed to God’s love and in desperate need of surgery.

How does our heart get so hard?  Almost always, a hard heart happens with small steps away from God, seemingly insignificant things that, one by one, don’t seem to be that threatening.  It is the simple choices we make each day. Like hitting the snooze button and sleeping through our morning quiet time, once, then another morning and another morning, until we’ve just reset the alarm altogether and forgotten all about morning devotionals.  It happens when we spend so much time reading our email that there is no time to read the Bible.  Our prayer life suffers as we look to the world for advice, rather than seeking God’s counsel for our needs. When the our kid’s sports games take us away from worship with our church family on Sunday morning, and when we skip Bible Study class for our favorite TV show, our hearts are becoming hardened to the things of God.  The choices we make in entertainment, online usage, conversations and relationships can cause us to become numb to sin and push us into the danger zone.

Hard hearts also happen when we experience hurts and struggles and do not allow God to bring us His healing and restoration.  When unforgiveness, bitterness, disappointment and envy fester, one more brick is added to the wall that has encased our hearts.   This is not God’s desire for you and me.

Ezekiel was a prophet and priest to the nation of Judah, a people with a serious heart condition.  They had allowed their hearts to become hardened by sin and now they faced God’s discipline for their rebellion. They were being taken captive by the Babylonians, taken far from their beloved homeland.  The nation of Israel had been chosen and set apart by God, called to be His people, for His glory.  But they had drifted away from Him, one decision, one compromise, one person at a time.  Soon the entire nation had turned cold and hard toward God; and they fell into captivity.

But the story of Israel doesn’t end in captivity, and our story doesn’t end with hard, cold hearts.  Our key verse from Ezekiel 36:26 is a beautiful promise from God – His promise to perform the kind of heart surgery that only He can do.  He will take away our heart of stone and in its place give us a heart of flesh.  I love that He doesn’t just say he will remake our hearts, but that he will do a complete “heart transplant.”  God gives us a heart that is tender to His Spirit and moldable in His hands-as He says in the very next verse-“I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees” (Ezekiel 36:27)

What do you see when you look honestly at your heart?  Has your heart become hard? Have you become bitter and cold toward God?  It does not have to be so.  If you are in need of “heart surgery” remember that God is the Master Cardiologist, and is always willing to do a “heart transplant,” if we surrender our heart into His hands.  There really is no better place for our heart to be.

God of my heart, life is filled with struggles and challenges that have caused my heart to become hard and cold.  Please take my heart of stone away and give me a heart of flesh – a heart like Yours.  Amen

From the Pit of My Sin

“If we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.  2 Timothy 2:13

I am so grateful to know that when I fail in my efforts to be faithful to God, He will still be faithful to me.

I had planned a bright, cheery devotional for today’s post, but a long-time sin reared its ugly head in me yesterday.  When I realized I had again failed in this stronghold, I went into that pit of hating myself.  And that is just where Satan wanted me to go.  The fiery darts started hitting me: “You failed again – you are so weak.  Look at you – a Bible teacher and writer – you should know better.  God is disgusted with you!” Even as I prayed in confession and repentance, the enemy taunted me –”You have no right to ask anything of God now.  And what about all those people you have been praying for – what will happen to them now that you’ve FAILED?”

That is when the sweet, sweet Spirit of Christ brought 2 Timothy 2:13 to my mind.  “God will remain faithful.” Oh surely I am not the only one who needs to hear that today.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans he offered us this assurance – “Will their lack of faith nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! (Romans 3:3)” That is good news to those of us who stumble and fall.  God’s faithfulness is based on who He is, as 2 Tim 2:13 says – it is not just one of His characteristics, it is His very nature.   You cannot be so perfect in your Christian walk to encourage His faithfulness, nor can you be so imperfect to cause Him to abandon you to your sin.

Psalm 103:14 says “He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.”  By definition, this means that God knows our “inclinations, motivations and desires.”  In other words, He knows what makes us do the things we do, even if we don’t; things that Paul attested “I hate I do. (Romans 7:15)” This is the beauty of His mercy.  He knows that we are dust, but He loves us and sent His Son to rescue and redeem us.    He did not wait until we “got our act together.”  Romans 5:8 tells us “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” His mercy is the evidence of His love for us.

Satan would have us believe that God is ready to write us off because of our human failings or that we have to beg and grovel for His forgiveness, but that is far from the truth of God’s heart. He is more than willing to forgive us our sins and restore us to wholeness.  1 John 1:9 assures us that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  Listen to His beautiful promise from Hebrews 8:12 – “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Does that sound like He forgives begrudgingly?  Let your heart sing with the Psalmists who wrote: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities (Psalm 103:10)” “If You, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?  But with You there is forgiveness.( Psalm 130:3-4, emphasis mine)”

If He offered us so great a salvation at so great a cost, why would He keep us at arm’s length when we need Him the most?  He said to the children of Israel, “The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other people, for you were the fewest of all people.  But it was because he Lord loved you… (Deuteronomy 7:7” God did not choose you or me because we would always walk in perfection, never fail, never falter and never need to bother Him for forgiveness.  He is drawn to us because He loves us, “warts and all.”

I came up off my knees this morning with a deeper appreciation for His great mercy, love and faithfulness, even, and especially, in the face of my failures and unfaithfulness.  I have a richer understanding of 1 Peter 4:8 which says “Love covers over a multitude of sins.”  The love of God the Father has faithfully covered over all my sins with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

El Emunah – Faithful God – I am blessed because my transgressions are forgiven and my sins are covered by the blood of my Savior.  You have redeemed my life from the pit and You crown me with love and compassion. (Psalm 32:1, 103:4)  Amen.

Old Photographs

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone the new has come!”  2 Corinthians 5:17

No long ago I ran across some old photos of myself when I was much younger.  I laid them out in the progression of ages from about 3 to my high school years, watching myself grow taller, with a variety of hair styles and some really strange fashion sense.  There’s the year I first began to wear glasses, and my “purple season,” and the year I grew so fast, my Mom had to sew trim onto the hem of my pants for added length.  I smiled at the parade of old friends, and grimaced at some of my old boyfriends (oh what was I thinking!).  I began to study my face through the years, chubby cheeks giving way to more defined features.  Then I focused on my eyes.  If the eyes are the window of the soul, then somewhere between 10 and 15, my soul became filled with confusion and pain and my eyes revealed a sadness that was reflected in my expression and my stance.   The girl in those later photos took on a darker, more withdrawn spirit.  Pictures gave way to memories of being hurt by others and by my own choices.  I was being drawn back into those old photographs.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t like reminders of my past – I tend to bristle at memories of being hurt and of my own rebellion and selfishness and sin.  Glancing up into the mirror on my dresser, I thought how much I physically looked like the girl in the pictures, but I no longer recognized those eyes. God spoke to my spirit, “That is because that’s not who you are anymore. Now you are mine.”

Paul wrote in his letters, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world. (Ephesians 2:1-2)  He gives a list of sinful and wicked behaviors in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and says, “That is what you were. (1 Corinthians 6:11)” In Ephesians 5:8 Paul says, “You were once darkness…”  Paul is coloring in the darkness of his readers’ past in order to highlight the contrast when he says but now…you are light in the Lord.”  He is painting a before and after portrait.  “You were once…but now you are.”  Like God’s message to me, Paul is saying, “You were dead in sin and rebellion and selfishness. But that is not who you are anymore.  Now you are in Christ.”

One of Satan’s favorite ploys is to assault us with our past, to tell us that we will always be who we were and there is no point in trying to resist those old familiar sins.  “You know deep down, you still want it.  You haven’t changed. You are bound to your past.  You are bound to me.”  But if you belong to Jesus Christ, Satan has no authority over you. You are free from your past; you are free to choose not to give in to sin.  You are a child of light, purified from all your sins (1 John 1: 7).  Where you were once bound to your sin, you are now bound up in God’s love.

In Philippians 3:13, Paul gives us the secret to walking in our new identity when he says, “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…”  We can forget what is behind because “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)” If only we could understand that because Jesus Christ has completely removed all our transgressions; our old sinful desires have no authority over us any longer.  .

Look at yourself in the mirror.  You are a new creation in Christ.  You have light in your eyes, and God’s love shines on your face.  You are free to choose all the wonderful things God has planned for you.  You are no longer bound to a painful, sinful past. You are not who you once were.  Now you are His.

Holy Father, You have claimed me for Your own.  I am a new creation in Christ.  I am forgiven and free. I am Yours.  Amen.

It’s a Powerful Thing!

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”  2 Timothy 1:7

Wait.  Go back and read that verse again.

Do you see it?

Power.

That word means so much to me, because like you, my life is very demanding and full of struggles and frustrations and difficulties. I sat here just a bit ago and said with a sigh, “God I am tired of…” How would you fill in that prayer?  Tired of the financial struggles.  Tired of working hard every day and being overlooked.  Tired of health problems. Tired of doing battle with family members.  Tired of so many responsibilities. Tired of the struggle against sin. It is so easy to get overwhelmed and feel powerless.  But God wants you and me to know that we are not powerless.  Quite the contrary, as Believers in Jesus Christ, we have “incomparably great power (Ephesians 1:19),” power that comes from God.  Do we really understand what that means?

When the Bible talks about power, as in our key verse, both the Hebrew and the Greek words mean “to be able; to have the power to accomplish an action.”  God’s power accomplishes what He determines to do.

The power of God is on display throughout the Bible, beginning with Creation. Jeremiah 10:12 says “God made the earth by His power.”  He used the same power to bring the Israelites out of Egyptian, (Exodus 32:11) and to defeat their many enemies in the wilderness and in The Promised Land.  It was “the Power of the Most High [that] overshadowed” Mary to bring about the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:36).  Jesus performed miracles and endured great suffering through the power of God.  And Het will return “coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26).  Jesus promised that His Disciples would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” Acts 1:8).  A promise He fulfilled in Acts 2, which led to mighty acts displaying the power of God through His followers.

Paul wrote about God’s eternal power” (Romans 1:20), His “power for the salvation of everyone” (Romans 1:16), “overflowing hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13), and “[God’s ]power made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  He said that God’s “power is at work within us-[doing] immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20), and “by His power He [will] fulfill [our] every good purpose and act of faith” (2 Thessalonians 1:11)“God [strengthens us] with all power according to His glorious might” (Colossians 1:11). And Peter gives us this incredible promise: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

But perhaps the most powerful statement about the power of God is found in Ephesians 1:19-20, where Paul writes about God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.”  Stop.  Go back and read that again. Can you and I comprehend what Paul has said?  The same power that God exerted to raise Jesus Christ from the dead now lives in you and me through the Holy Spirit.  That is power that will enable you to accomplish everything God has called you to.  Do you have a problem that is bigger than death?  No, and neither do I.  Whatever the problem, whatever the challenge, whatever the work you are called to do – in Christ, you have the power you need.

Philippians 4:13 is a favorite verse of many Christians.  “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”   And you can too.  The power of the Holy Spirit is already in you. Both the word “power” in Ephesians 3:20 and the word “strength” in Philippians 4:13 are from the same Greek root word we looked at earlier – “dynamai” – which is where we derive our English word “dynamite.”  It is powerful power, and it is yours.  But you can’t grit your teeth and muster up “dynamai.” It only comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The promise of God’s power and strength should encourage and inspire us to fulfill all that He has called us to do and be.  It is the power to love others, to forgive every wrong, to endure trials and suffering.  It is strength we need to carry our burdens, to persevere through struggles and heartaches, and to reach out with compassion and kindness.  It is the power to fight for justice, to remain firm in the face of opposition and to be His light in this dark world. In His strength we can resist temptations, turn away from sin and walk in righteousness.  God’s power strengthens our faith and enables us to fulfill the purpose He created us for, to go where he sends us, to work for His kingdom, and to be His hands and feet in a world filled with lost and weary people. His power is real and it is mighty. And it is yours if you are Christ’s.

 God of Power and Might, You are Yahweh Tsuri – the Lord my Strength – come fill me with power to face the challenges of today. 

The Sponge Principle

Read Matthew 12: 33-37

A few of years ago I had an “SVT Episode,” a Supraventricular tachycardia – or extremely rapid heartbeat.  In the Emergency Department, blood was drawn for lab tests and I was hooked up to an EKG machine to monitor my heartbeat, which was soon brought back to normal rhythm.  It was not a life-threatening episode, but it was very frightening.  In follow up visits to a Cardiologist, he ordered an echocardiogram or ultrasound test to determine how my heart was functioning.  During the echo, the technician turned the monitor toward me so I could see my heart in action.  It was fascinating to watch my heart beating on the screen, and I was grateful that there was no damage to my heart and no major problem was found.  Modern medicine has developed many techniques and procedures to examine every part of our human body.  Doctors can assess our health with near pinpoint accuracy, and prescribe appropriate measures to restore or maintain our body’s health.

As wonderful as these medical marvels are, they cannot measure the health and wellbeing of our spiritual heart.  But there is a sure way we can know the true condition of our heart.  “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”  Matthew 12:34  Jesus says that what comes out of our mouth exposes the condition our heart.   Did you just wince like I did?  What do our words say about our hearts? I confess that my words of complaining and grumbling reveal a heart that is often ungrateful.  Gossip stems from a jealous heart.   Words of hatred or anger boil up from a heart full of bitterness.  Think what vile heart condition is revealed by the use of profanity.  But it doesn’t have to be so ugly.  Words of praise, thanksgiving, encouragement and kindness surely reveal hearts that are rich in love, joy, gratitude and peace – a heart steeped in the Lord.

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.”  Matthew 12:33

In verse 33, Jesus said that the condition of a tree’s fruit  reveals the condition of the tree.  Likewise the fruit of our lips reveals the health of our heart.  Good words come from a healthy heart, and bad words from an unhealthy heart.

Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t just leave us hanging with unhealthy hearts. He offers the remedy.  In verse 35 he says “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”  The condition of our heart is caused by what we store there.    What we store up feeds our hearts and tumbles out of our mouths.  Jesus is telling us what computer programmers call – GIGO – “Garbage in, garbage out.”  What we choose to take in – what we look at, listen to, read and discuss – becomes, by definition, the “treasure” in our hearts.  What am I reading? What kind of music do you listen to? What television programs and movies am I watching? What websites are you visiting online?  Who do you spend time with, and what do you discuss? Now I know you are probably not dwelling on the “dark side.”  Your choices are not so bad.  But here is the question I ask myself continually – will this program, this magazine, this movie or online site, or this conversation strengthen my Christian walk?  Will it help me to grow deeper roots?  Will it help me become more like Christ?

It’s what I call “The Sponge Principle.”  Whatever a sponge absorbs, it will express when squeezed.  If I am exposing myself to sour attitudes, sexual content, anger or violence – when I am “squeezed” I will express ugliness.  But what if the things I choose to take in aren’t as bad as all that?  The principle still applies. If I am only sitting in tepid water, I will produce a tepid spirit.  But – if I am purposefully absorbing God’s Word, enjoying the fellowship and influence of godly people, and the goodness of praise – when life squeezes me, what comes forth is the evidence of God in my heart, things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  I want my life to always express the beauty and blessedness of God.

Jesus tells us how to measure and recognize the condition of our heart, and how to restore an unhealthy heart back to wholeness.  What does the fruit of your lips say about the status of your heart?  Do you need to make some changes in what you are soaking in?

Holy Father – I want my lips to reveal the heart of Christ in me.  Please help me to make godly choices that will grow a godly heart.   Amen