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.

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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).