You Matter

I am just a middle-aged (moving closer to senior-adult) woman from a small community in the deep south. I live a simple life. We rent a good house – but nothing fancy. I go to work every day at a small Southern Baptist college in a small town in Florida. I drive a very modest car. I’m married to a sweet, kind man. We help to raise our granddaughter. I love to write but I haven’t published any books.  I teach the Bible to my Sunday School ladies, but I’ve never stood on a stage. I’m not well-known and that’s okay with me. I am one face among the billions of faces in the world. And I have lots of struggles and hard situations in my life.

This morning as I was reading Isaiah 40, I came to this verse: “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (v. 26). I sensed the Lord saying, “I don’t miss anything.” That’s when I realized that as insignificant as I am in the world, God hasn’t overlooked me. The Creator and King of the universe is not only aware that I exist, He cares about me and the difficulties I face. And do you want to hear something amazing? The same thing is true for you. You and I are not just part of the vast sea of humanity to God.

The Bible says that “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son . . . to save the world” (John 3:16, 17). But He is also a very personal God; He who knows the name of every star knows your name too.  Jesus attested to that; He is the Great Shepherd who “calls His sheep by name” (John 10:3). Maybe you feel small and insignificant today like no one notices or cares about you. I understand. I feel that way sometimes too. But nothing could be farther from the truth, Beloved. You are seen and you are known. And you matter. Greatly. You need not worry that you are just a face in the crowd – God never overlooks the one He loves.

In Christ

“I am so disappointed in you.” She could have hit me, grounded me, and taken away my car, and it wouldn’t have cut me as deeply as knowing I had disappointed my Mom. Her words stuck with me for many years and colored my life and my relationships. I have always feared disappointing others – teachers, bosses, friends, family, even strangers. And most especially God. Oh, I know I am saved and have eternal life – that is rock-solid. But I have carried this sense of being a disappointment to God for as long as I can remember. Until this morning, and something the Lord impressed on my heart.

Paul wrote often about being “in Christ,” meaning to trust in Him for salvation and eternal life. And I have. That also means that Christ is “in me” (John 17:23). I in Christ and Christ in me. By that, God considers me as one with His Son and all that the Son has is mine (Corinthians 3:21), including His righteousness before God (Romans 3:22). Now come stand with me at the water’s edge and hear the Father’s words as Jesus emerges from the Jordan River: “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This, too, is mine in Christ. This rocked my world this morning: God is never disappointed in His Son. And because I am in Christ and Christ is in me, God is never disappointed in me. Friend, the same is true for you – if you are in Christ, He is never disappointed in you.

“But,” you argue, “Jesus was perfect and sinless, and I am not.” It doesn’t matter. You and Christ are one in God’s eyes. “But I am disappointed in myself.” That doesn’t change the truth. You are in Christ and Christ is in you. God is not – will never be – disappointed in you.

When you grab hold of that, it will change everything. It will become your mantra when the enemy tries to dump shame on you. “There is no condemnation for me because I am in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1). You will “approach the throne of grace with confidence,” (Hebrews 4:16) because you know He gladly welcomes you into His presence.

Beloved, when God looks at you, He doesn’t see the foolish, sinful person you think you are. He sees His Son in you. And He says – “This one is mine, the one I love, with whom I am well pleased.” Not disappointed. Ever. Christ in you and you in Christ. It’s a beautiful combination.

God loves you. Yes, you.

I’m taking a “Counseling and Spiritual Integration” course this semester and we are our clients. This week I worked on the feeling I struggle with the most: accepting love. The issue is rooted in my childhood.  The Holy Spirit drew my mind to the verse I pray over my granddaughter every day: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

I dug into that verse and examined the dimensions that Paul used to try to express this love. I thought about the highest thing I knew – outer space, and the longest thing – eternity, and the deepest thing – the ocean, and the widest thing – the arms of Jesus stretched out on the wooden crossbeam. His love is higher and longer and deeper and wider than that. I thought about how God’s love doesn’t depend on me. It’s all Him – God is love (1 John 4:16). It’s perfect love (v. 18) so I can’t mess it up no matter what I do or don’t do. It’s a love I can rely on (v. 16). God doesn’t love me because I love Him, He loves me because it is His very essence (v. 7,10). I thought about how God is so generous with His love. John said that He has lavished His great love on me and had claimed me as His own child. (1 John 3:1). The truth is, I don’t deserve God’s love, but He gives it to me anyway.

I’ve been in teaching ministry a long time and one of the most consistent issues Christians struggle with is feeling unloved. It affects us in every aspect of our lives, in our friendships, marriages, raising children, working and community relationships, and it’s rooted in our relationship with God. We can’t give what we don’t have. But when we are “rooted and established” in the unfailing, unending, unshakable love God has for us, the fruit will be all the sweeter as we share it with others. Beloved, hear this clearly and receive it deeply: God loves you. Yes, you.

Perfect Balance

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I read it first on a Bible cover, It was embroidered with red thread on a quilted grey paisley print. “One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are strong and that you, O Lord are loving” (Psalm 62:11-12). For some reason, I couldn’t stop staring at it.  I’m sure the woman who owned the Bible was a little concerned that I might try to sneak off with it. The verse captured me – and like the Holy Spirit often does, He asked, “What does that mean?” I quickly jotted down the reference and turned my attention back to the teacher.

When I got home I went to my concordance and started to dig. Guess what? Strong means strong and loving means loving. Well, that was . . . enlightening. But then the Spirit said, “Not the individual words, the whole verse – what does it say about God?” He is strong. He is loving. “Don’t separate the two words. What do they mean together?” God is strong and loving. And then I understood.

If God were just strong, we would fear for our lives. His power would overwhelm us and He might use His strength against us. If He were just loving, He could do little to help us. He would look on us with pity and sorrow for our sufferings, but could only pat us on the shoulder and wish us well. But He is strong and He is loving. His strength is perfectly balanced by His affection. His love is equally matched by the power to rescue. His love allows Him to see our needs and respond with compassion, mercy, and grace. His power enables Him to work mightily on our behalf, parting seas, holding back the sun, bringing down strong walls, and overwhelming enemies. And rising from the grave.

There have been many powerful men throughout history who had no compassion and left a wake of pain and destruction behind them. By the same token, many benevolent hearts offer empathy, but cannot render any real aid. God is sufficiently both; He cares and He moves. This, Beloved, is the God who listens to your heart’s cry and responds with power. He sees you. He hears you. He loves you. And He is coming to your rescue.

Beloved

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If there is one consistent theme throughout the Bible it is that God loves people. From every tribe, nation, and tongue God loves human beings – the pinnacle of His creation. He doesn’t love one gender more than the other. He doesn’t love one race more than the other – in truth, there is only one race – the human race – and He loves them all. I love Psalm 107 because it is all about the love of God for mankind. The first verse says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, His love endures forever.” The last verse says, “Consider the great love of the Lord” (v. 43) and in between the Scriptures speak of ”His unfailing love” four times (vs. 8,15,21, 31).

The Psalmist describes people who are poor and desperate, people who were imprisoned by their sin, people who have foolishly rebelled against God, and people who are “at their wits’ end” because of life’s storms. I think that pretty much covers all of us. I know I fit in at least a couple of those. The point is, God’s love is for everyone. No one is exempt or excluded. No one is cast aside or rejected.

In each scene, when they “cried to the Lord in their trouble,” He “saved them from their distress” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28). He led the poor to “by a straight way to a city where they could settle” (v. 4). He brought [the prisoner] out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14). He “sent forth His word and healed [the rebel] and rescued them from the grave” (v. 20). He “stilled the storm to a whisper and hushed the waves of the sea and guided [the distressed] to their desired haven” (vs. 29-30). They all “gave thanks for . . . His wonderful deeds for men” (vs. 8, 13, 19, 28).

Where do you fit in these scenes? Are you desperate, bound by sin, rebelling against God, or distressed and anxious because of a storm in your life? God loves you. He who makes springs in the desert, who feeds the hungry, who lifts up the humble and desperate,  loves you. Yes you.  And now you understand why I call you “Beloved.”

The God Who Knows You

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My sweet mother-in-law always cooked a birthday dinner for me with all my favorite foods: white peas, creamed corn, sliced tomatoes, and chicken and dumplings. She also made me a coconut cake for my birthday. It was a labor of love. There was just one problem. I didn’t like coconut. What was I to do? Well, I ate it and thanked her, and told her how good it was. So she made it every year. And I ate it every year.

My late brother ordered a gift box of fruit for me every Christmas. Lots of apples, oranges, mangoes, peaches, and grapes. There was just one problem. I am allergic to fruit. But I never told him because he loved doing it and my husband enjoyed the bounty.

While my mother-in-law and brother were family, they didn’t know everything about me. And I didn’t want to spoil their happiness in doing something nice for me just to get what I preferred.  They loved me and that was enough. Besides, after a few years, it’s awkward to say, “Oh, by the way, I don’t like coconut.”

But there is One who knows me well. He knows what I like and what I can’t tolerate. David said, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me” (Psalm 139:1). He knows every move and every thought (yikes!). He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. He is “familiar with all my ways” (v. 3). He even knows when I am feeling confident or am in the dark pit of despair (v. 8). He knows me because He created me and put all those likes and dislikes in me. He fashioned me to be allergic to fruit (but thankfully not chocolate!), to love to write and teach, and to give my heart to a little blond girl with a Joyful smile.

And not only does He know all this about me, He thinks about me with deep affection. David said, “How precious towards me are Your thoughts, O God! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (v. 17, 18). He thinks I am precious! And He thinks the same of you, Beloved. He knows you by name (Isaiah 43:1), and He knows you by heart. He will never forget a single detail about you. Not even what kind of cake you don’t like.

Hebrews: Why Did Jesus Come?

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Over the past several weeks in Hebrews, we’ve focused on eight theological reasons why God sent His Son from glory to this sinful earth. Let’s put them all together for a recap.

  1. God sent Jesus to “bring many sons to glory” (v. 10). To bring lost human beings – now redeemed – into His eternal family.
  2. He sent Jesus to earth to “Make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering” (v. 10b). Remember that “perfect” means complete and doesn’t imply that Jesus was every imperfect. His role as “the author of [our] salvation” was completed by his suffering on the cross.
  3. Jesus came so that He could present us to God as “the children God has given me” (v. 13). Children who were set apart for Him and transformed into His own image.
  4. God sent Jesus to “destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” v. 14). Jesus came to fulfill God’s first promise “to crush the head” of the devil (Genesis 3:15).
  5. In destroying the devil, Jesus came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (v. 15). As children of God, we do not fear the end of this life because we know that we have eternal life with Him in heaven forever.
  6. God sent Jesus to be for us “a merciful and faithful high priest” (v. 17). He is the only high priest who does not need to make atonement for His own sins before He can atone for ours.
  7. As our high priest, Jesus came to “make atonement for the sins of the people” (v. 17b). By His death, He made us “at one” with God as we were “me[a]nt” to be.
  8. God sent Jesus “to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18).  He suffered from the same demonic temptation you and I face. He understands and He is able and more than willing to help us.

All of this comes back to one core reason God sent Jesus to earth: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God loves His creation. He wants to redeem sinful humans and restore the relationship for which we were created. He did that through His Son. He did that for you and me. Beloved, God gave the most precious thing in heaven to save you forever. Because He loves you.

I’m Sorry

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We’re trying to teach Joy to apologize when she does something wrong, especially when she hurts someone. She’s picking up that lesson pretty well. Tonight during her bath she was playing with finger paints again (it’s a bribe to get her in the tub) and she started to stick her paint-covered finger in her mouth. I said, “No Joy! Don’t put the paint in your mouth!” She looked up at me and said “Sorry, Nana.” “It’s okay,” I said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. Just don’t put the paint in your mouth – it’s yucky.” That was different from the other night when she got mad at me for taking something away from her that she was misusing. She lashed out – literally – and scratched me with her fingernails (that need trimming). Let me tell you – it hurt! Her mommy took her to time out in the other room and told her she had to tell Nana she was sorry. After a few minutes, I came into the room, and she lifted her tear-streaked face and said, “I sorry Nana.” I scooped her up in my arms and this time I said, “Thank you for saying ‘Sorry’ Joy. Nana loves you.” I didn’t tell her it was okay because what she had done was definitely not okay. It was wrong, and she needed to know it was wrong. But she also needed to know that saying “Sorry” was the right thing to do – and that Nana would always love her no matter what.

You and I have done wrong – we have sinned against God (Romans 3:23). We have broken His laws and offended His holiness. What we have done is not okay. Our actions deserve punishment – much more than a time-out. According to the Bible, we deserve death (Romans 6:23).  But God is gracious to us sinners (Romans 3:24) and that grace cost Him everything – “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19).

Beloved, of Jesus, when you and I sin, we can look to God and say “I’m sorry,” and know that, while our actions are not okay, our relationship with God is. Because Jesus paid the highest price to make us okay. Because God loves you – no matter what.

Will God Give up on Me?

God's Unfailing Love Loving-kindness – Mercy – Kindness Goodness – Favor – Steadfast  Love – Loyalty. - ppt download

I love the power of God. I love the truth of God. I love the sovereignty of God, the grace of God, the wisdom of God, and the goodness of God. I love the kindness of God, the strength, creativity, and mercy of God. But you know what I love most? I love the stubbornness of God. I love His tenacity, His persistence, His doggedness. Because God doesn’t give up on those He loves.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had people who once said they loved me to give up on me. I became too much for them – or in the case of a broken marriage, too little. But God has never and will never. Oh, I am sure I have disappointed Him, frustrated Him, and made Him sigh. If God has a last nerve, I have no doubt I’ve gotten on it more than once. But He has never even contemplated walking away from me no matter how rebellious, foolish, reckless, and just plain stupid I’ve been.

Listen to His promise in Isaiah 54:10:  “‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord who has compassion on you.” Nothing in all the world can make God stop loving His children.

Pastor and songwriter Frederick M. Lehman wrote a beautiful song simply entitled, “The Love of God.” The third verse, which is my favorite, is said to come from a cell wall, written by a prisoner some 200 years before Lehman wrote the first two in 1917. They are a translation of an Aramaic poem, “Haddamut”, written in1050 by Rabbi Meir of Worms, Germany.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

No, Beloved, God will never give up on you because His love will never fail (1 Corinthians 13:8). It is the most certain thing in all the universe. God loves you. Let your heart rest in that assurance today.

Love

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1 Corinthians 13:7 says “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

That’s a beautiful sentiment for a wedding day. With stars in our eyes surrounded by family and friends and “white lace and promises,”[1] we pledge our love forever. But love – real love – is for far more than wedding days. This verse – in fact, all of the “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 – is not just flowery prose, it is the mark of a follower of Christ. Jesus said that the world would know that we belong to Him by our love (John 13:35).

Some people are easy to love. Some not so much. The truth is, love – this kind of love – shows up the best in difficult relationships. Do you have any of those? I’m pretty sure we all do. And to be honest, there are times when I’m the difficult one. So how do we maintain love when it’s hard?

First, looking at these words we find that love always stands with the beloved and covers their failings with mercy and grace. (Note: that does NOT mean we tolerate abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship run now to safety.) Love believes the best of and for the beloved and acts on those beliefs, love looks ahead to a good outcome and love endures to the end. How different from the world’s throw-away response to hard relationships. How different from our own human nature.

Then, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). The simple truth about love is that we only do it because God did it first. He declared His love for us at the cross of His Son, when we were covered with sin and unworthy. “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  We don’t wait until they “get their act together” to love them. We love them while they are a work in progress.

Is it easy? No. But I am confident that if we follow this prescription in difficult relationships, amazing things will happen. How do I know that? Because “Love never fails” (v. 8 )

Do you know why I always call you “Beloved?” Because God loves you. Now, go love someone today.


[1] We’ve Only Just Begun by the Carpenters @ 1970 – written by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams