Archive for the “God’s Love” Category

Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

16So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NIV)

Being in Christ – saying “yes” to God’s Lordship – gives us new roles and responsibilities. One of those roles is that of reconciler. God reconciled us to Himself and has now given us the ministry reconciliation. Our message is to be the same as Paul’s – a heartfelt “Be reconciled to God.”

The word “reconcile” means “to restore to friendship or harmony; to settle or resolve” (www.merriam-webster.com). That is our job – to be one who brings reconciliation.

And it’s pretty hard to do that job wholeheartedly when I am harboring an offense against someone. No matter how hard I try to suppress or hide it, I’m not successful. I’m just not that good an actor. And hopefully you aren’t either! Because being a good actor in this case, simply means being good at deception. We don’t want to be deceivers, we want to be people of love. People who have worked through anything we might be tempted to have against a person.

One of the marks of Christian maturity is not being easily offended. Francis Frangipane refers to this as having an unoffendable heart. Of all the heart conditions we’ve studied so far this year, I think this one takes the most work. This one requires that I choose to turn my back on intentional and unintentional attempts to offend me. It means that I choose not to take offense. It means that I choose to forgive even before there is a need to forgive. It’s so much easier (in the natural) to take offense and hold onto a grudge!

I can’t choose to have an unoffendable heart without the love of Christ in me and without making a decision to let His love rule my heart. His love overlooks offenses. It is patient, kind, not prideful or rude or self-seeking. It keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5) The person who is easily offended isn’t characterized by those things. They are not patient with others. They do not respond kindly when they are offended, and their pride makes them easily offended. In not letting go of an offense, they are keeping a record of wrongs against them. Which, of course, makes them more easily offended with each interaction.

The disciples asked Jesus “What will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3, NIV) His answer included the following:

10And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another… 12And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
Matthew 24:10, 12 (KJV)

As the world turns away from Christ, people take offense more easily. That leads to betrayal and hatred. Satan is on the prowl, seeking whom he may devour – one of his tools is to bring you to the point of taking offense. Yes, you!

It can happen so easily – unmet expectations, frustrated progress, or a bad night’s sleep can all lead to slipping in our practice of love.

We can’t develop an unoffendable heart on our own, but Christ has made us a new creature. God has kept His promise from Ezekiel:

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 (NIV)

Need help with this one? (I do.) Ask for it.

Lord, help me to develop an unoffendable heart. Remove from me my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. Put the love of Christ within me – filling my heart so there is no room to hold an offense.

 

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartThis week Phil and I are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary.

It coincides with the 25th anniversary of our business.

We have a lot to celebrate!

Yet it would be very easy to let the occasions go by with barely a nod to their significance. It seems that there’s always more “important” things to do or to spend money on. I’m reminded of a Proverb:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 (NIV)

It may seem right to spend our time and money on things that are more important (and I’m not advocating squandering either), but that would lead to death. Celebration is important. Celebration remembers and Scripture is full of injunctions to remember. Here’s just one of them – God is giving instructions to celebrate the day He brought them out of Egypt:

14“This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation, you must celebrate it as a special festival to the LORD. This is a law for all time…17“Celebrate this Festival of Unleavened Bread, for it will remind you that I brought your forces out of the land of Egypt on this very day. This festival will be a permanent law for you; celebrate this day from generation to generation.
Exodus 12:14-17 (NLT)

Remember the day, celebrate it with a festival. They are instructions that interrupt our “life as usual” living – instructions that cause us to pause and change our focus for a short time.

So this week we are remembering and celebrating – focusing on the goodness of God, remembering both the good and the bad because through it all, God has proven Himself to be good to us. When remembering the bad, we don’t focus on how horrible it was at the time, but on how God faithfully pulled us through it. We focus on how blessed we are to receive whatever it was that came from those horrible experiences. And when remembering the good – well, I confess to being as tearful in the good memories as in the bad – because I didn’t do anything to deserve all this good that has come my way.

It’s not that my life has been so much better than yours. We’ve experienced (and in some cases are currently experiencing) lack of finances, failure, depression, loss of parents, caring for elderly and disabled parents, loss of job, major health crises, betrayal, and disappointment. There are probably other things I could throw into that list, but I’m happy to stop there. 🙂 You get the idea. Despite it all – or more appropriately said “through it all” – I choose to see God’s goodness, even when I’m seeing it only through a cloud darkly.

After all, that’s how God sees me – my “goodness,” that is, not through a cloud darkly. He has no trouble with His vision – he sees me more clearly than I see myself. He knows there is sin in my heart. He knows my faults and weaknesses. He sees that there is no true, unselfish goodness in me. Yet He loves me and He sees me through the blood of Christ – “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11a, NIV).

And He celebrates me! “He delights in me” Psalm 18:19 says. He takes pleasure in me.

Friends, take time out of your busy lives to remember those special days – birthdays and anniversaries. Don’t let your celebrations become such a hassle that you lose the time to remember and celebrate. Remember God’s goodness, His faithfulness, and the pleasure He takes in you. And enjoy life. We’re not able to live a life of celebration, why would others be attracted to our God?

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartOur society doesn’t breed compassion. Compassion requires connecting with the pain of others and sacrificing to help alleviate that pain. It requires that we be outwardly-focused – seeing the needs of others more than we see our own needs. Compassion requires margin in our lives – that is, “white space” in which to see, feel and do for others. When we have no margin – when our schedules are overflowing and our stress levels are spiking, the white space in our lives is crowded out and we become focused on only our own needs. When that continues too long, life becomes all about us instead of all about others.

Read these verses about the compassion of Jesus:

When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Matthew 9:36 (NIV)

Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
Matthew 14:14 (NLT)

Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.”
Matthew 15:32 (NIV)

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.
Matthew 20:34 (NIV)

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
Mark 1:41 (NIV)

When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.”
Luke 7:13 (NASB)

Do you feel the compassionate, loving heart of Jesus in these verses? As I read them, all together, not separated by circumstances and other stories, I see Jesus’ loving and compassionate heart more clearly. I see Him with His hand reached out to touch, heal, wipe a tear and comfort. I see His extreme care for those who are harassed and helpless, for those who are sick or hungry, and for those who need to be made clean or be comforted. I see His extreme care for people like me.

Jesus’ heart of compassion stepped into the hurting experience of others and did something practical to alleviate their suffering. Joni Eareckson-Tada talked about compassion and suffering in an address at Westmont College. I was moved by these words:

Helping somebody like me [that is, someone suffering with a severe disability] – God asks us to hook our veins up to that person who is hemorrhaging human strength – because we show Christian love when we pour our heart out into another’s life as though giving a spiritual transfusion. Warm and personal, reviving and life giving. That’s what Christian compassion means.

When we reach out in compassion to somebody, we’re reaching out into their suffering.

The world has so much suffering in it today – it is bleeding out of control.

When people are hurting, His church – and who else is there, it’s just you and me – His church is the agent of comfort and mercy and grace and encouragement, showing, not just telling, but showing His love. Not just proclaiming it, but portraying it. Helping them to experience it.

Jesus had crowds and crowds of people pressing in for attention from Him. He knew the pressures of too much to do and too little time. Yet He kept His outward focus. He saw the suffering of others, was moved with compassion and took action. He wasn’t too busy or too poor or too tired, although surely he had too much to do, too little money and too little sleep. He found His margin – that is the white space within the noise – by spending time with His Father.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Mark 1:35 (NIV)

It’s in the Father’s presence where we find our margin for the day. It might seem like adding an appointment with God to our already full schedule would take away even more of our white space, but it doesn’t. Somehow it expands the white space, giving us margin and purpose at the same time. It allows us to hear God’s heart – that heart of love and compassion toward us and others – and enables us to show that heart to others.

The passage in Mark goes on to say that when His disciples found Jesus they said something like “Come on! Everyone’s waiting for you!” Jesus didn’t let them steal the peace and purpose He’d just received from being with the Lord. “Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’” (Mark 1:38, NIV)

Jesus had a full schedule. He had little money. He had others pressing in on Him. But He allowed the Lord to work through Him, showing compassion to people who are harassed and helpless, sick or hungry. He showed His compassion to us so that we might show His heart of compassion to others.

Last summer I met a woman who was widowed at a young age. Undoubtedly she and her young children suffered a great loss. One of the things she told me is that she doesn’t let a day go by without doing something good for someone in need. It might be as small as helping an elderly woman reach an item on an upper shelf at the grocery store or buy a burger for a man living on the street. The key is that she does something. Every day. Developing a habit like my new friend changes the way we think. Little by little, act by act, it builds God’s heart of compassion into us.

What about you? Are you showing God’s heart of compassion to those around you? Do you see the pain, suffering, loneliness and hunger in the eyes, the walk and the behavior of others? If not, perhaps it’s because there is no margin in your life. Perhaps your own needs are crowding out the needs of others. Follow Jesus’ example so you can follow His behavior. Get alone with God so He can pour His heart into you and then you can pour it into others. Pray for a compassionate heart like His – then live it!

You can watch Joni’s entire message at Westmont College here:

 

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartWhen our hearts are full of faith, one of the things that is at the forefront of our minds is how very much God has done for us. We know the price Jesus paid to bring us near to God. We know how much God loves us to have sent His Son to die in our place. A faith-filled heart stays near the foot of the cross where we find mercy and grace. It’s also where we find – experience is perhaps a better word – the tremendous, unimaginable, indescribable love of God. I love what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

OK, Paul is the master of the run-on sentence. I’ve been so blessed by a study we’re doing on the book of Ephesians that I’m preparing a series of blogs that will publish in July. For now I only want to deal with one point from this powerful prayer. Paul is praying that being strengthened in their faith, and rooted and established in love, the Ephesians would have the power to understand – to grasp, to apprehend – how wide, long, high and deep the love of Christ is. A faith-filled heart becomes a heart that is overwhelmed with an understanding God’s love.

The love of God is not dependent on my performance. The love of God is compassionate. The love of God is uplifting. The love of God forgives. The love of God chooses not to remember my sins once they are under the blood of Christ.

Faith-filled heart stays near the foot of the cross where God’s love was and is poured out. That love isn’t poured upon and into our hearts only so that we can feel good about ourselves. It is so that our hearts can be filled with the same love to show to others. A faith-filled heart becomes a loving heart.

A loving heart looks outward. A loving heart demonstrates God’s love to others. It reflects God’s nature to others. That means we learn to love others with a love that is not dependent on their performance. That means we are compassionate, uplifting, forgiving, choosing not to remember the sins of others. You know the passage I have to go to here:

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

That’s a picture of a loving heart. We can only do that through the power of the Spirit at work in us. We can only do that when we’ve experienced how wide and long, deep and high God’s love is. Knowing that comes from knowing Him. And we find Him at the foot of the cross.

How’s your loving heart doing? Does it need a refill of God’s love? Join me at the foot of the cross. Where Christ died so that we might receive mercy and find grace.

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Pair of Dolphins KissingLet me give you some insight into our typical schedule. Three or four days a week my husband works second shift at the job God has graciously provided to pay our health insurance. I work fulltime in our home-based business during the normal work day (and beyond). So I am in the office by 8am, but because he doesn’t get to bed until about 2am several nights a week, Phil doesn’t come in until 9 or 10am.

This morning, I was busy working – in the middle of writing something – having a full thought in my head that I was trying to rapidly get on paper (well, screen actually). I also had a second thought in my mind that I desperately didn’t want to lose – it was firmly planted as the next task, but if I didn’t get to it soon, I was afraid it would wilt before blossoming.

That’s when my husband came into the office. He didn’t follow his normal routine – going to his desk and cheerfully say “Morning, Beeb!” (now you know our favorite term of endearment for one another). Instead, he came to my desk, pulled up a chair and came in for a kiss.

Now I love my husband dearly and I love his kisses…but I REALLY wanted to get these thoughts down…kisses could wait, but could my thoughts? Yet I felt prompted, yes, I believe by the Holy Spirit, to turn away from my keyboard and give my full attention to my husband. Praise God that I was obedient to that prompting. My husband greeted me with a very tender kiss followed by professions of his undying love. It wasn’t a peck, and it wasn’t passionate – it was soft and gentle, letting me know that I am a treasured woman. Wow!

And the Holy Spirit turned it into a teachable moment.

§ Giving and receiving love and affection from my husband is more important than getting the next thought on paper or the next task done.

§ God can use moments to change our lives. How long was my “interruption” this morning? Not long. Yet my day is changed. And I know Phil’s day is changed. In the front of my mind is the tender moment we shared and the knowledge that I am very special to him. Moments that can change days can change our lives.

§ God is my Husband. He has given me an earthly husband not only for my joy, but also as an illustration – an earthly picture/experience – of my relationship with Him. He wants to surprise me with tender moments that can change my day and my life. I could have said to Phil “I’m in the middle of something” when he pulled up a chair this morning. I would have missed out. I can say the same thing to God – “Lord, I need to finish this thought before I pay attention to You.” And it will be my loss – I will miss the opportunity to experience God’s love, His grace, His wisdom – all things He wants to shower upon me. I will miss the moments with God that can change my life.

Lord, thank you for lessons that come out of tender kisses. Thank you for my husband, who loves me and who gives me glimpses of Your love and care for me. Help me to be tender toward You and toward him – even when I’m in the middle of some seemingly urgent task.

Husbands and Wives

1In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over 2by observing your pure and reverent lives. 3Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. 4You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God….

7In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.

8Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. 9Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it.
1 Peter 3:1-4, 7-9 (NLT)

Gentlemen – Kiss your wives tenderly. Love her.

Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth.
Proverbs 5:18 (NLT)

Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.
Colossians 3:19 (NLT)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
Ephesians 5:25 (NIV)

Ladies – Love your husbands passionately. Read Song of Solomon in a modern translation and love your husband as the young woman loves her bridegroom. And resist the urge to nag.

2Kiss me and kiss me again, for your love is sweeter than wine. 3How fragrant your cologne; your name is like its spreading fragrance. No wonder all the young women love you!
Song of Songs 1:2-3 (NLT)

A quarrelsome [or nagging] wife is as annoying as constant dripping on a rainy day.
Proverbs 27:15 (NLT)

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartI find that there are certain conditions in my life that lead to holy boldness:

Confidence – When I am feeling confident, I am bold, not timid.

Freedom – When I am experiencing freedom, I am bold because there’s nothing that is hindering me from being so.

Security – When I am feeling secure, I can make bold moves instead of playing it safe.

Being loved – When I know I am loved and will be loved even if I fail, I can step out in boldness, not being limited by any fear of what others will think.

Having hope – When I have hope, I can climb mountains that are otherwise too overwhelming.

All of these things are found in faith. All of these things are results of a faith-filled heart. Boldness – holy boldness – comes from a faith-filled heart, and it is the difference between timidly attempting the assignments God has given me and boldly attacking the assignments He has designed for my life.

All these conditions come from our faith in Christ. Let’s look at Scriptures that relate to each.

Confidence – Our confidence comes from Him – knowing what He has done for us and what awaits us:

Since this new way [that is, faith in Christ] gives us such confidence, we can be very bold.
2 Corinthians 3:12 (NLT)

Freedom – Oh, the freedom that comes from knowing God:

He gave himself for us to set us free from every sin and to cleanse us so that we can be his special people who are enthusiastic about doing good things.
Titus 2:14 (GW)

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1 (NIV)

Security – Having security means I am not worried about what will happen to me; I’m not to take action.

But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
Psalm 3:3 (NLT)

2He sang: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; 3my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence.
2 Samuel 22:2-3 (NLT)

Being loved – Knowing that we are loved brings the greatest freedom and in turn, the greatest boldness. It is what causes us to run freely in the wind and fiercely into battle.

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”
Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV)

But God showed [demonstrated] his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 5:8 (NLT)

Having hope – Hope gives us reason to look forward – reason to live boldly today because of what awaits us tomorrow.

18So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.19This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.
Hebrews 6:18-19 (NLT)

Faith in Christ is the key to conditions of the heart that lead to a holy boldness.

Similarly, there are conditions of the heart that lead to reckless boldness. This may not be an exhaustive list, but I find these conditions to be the most common reason we take recklessly bold actions:

Fatalism – When I believe that “whatever is supposed to happen will happen,” I am less careful about where I step and the path I take. Fatalism is a lie from the enemy. Scripture is clear that we have personal responsibility to pursue God, to choose to obey Him by taking the actions He assigns to us, not waiting to see what will happen and trusting it has been His will.

Utter sense of futility – When “who cares” and “what difference does it make” are phrases that have captured my mind and heart, I either fall into the depression of nothingness or take rash action. Of course these phrases are also whispers from the enemy. They are signs that he has been on the prowl, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He’s trying to devour you. God cares and He has purposes for your life that reach into eternity.

Rebellion – When I’ve become tired of following my King and decide to go my own way and make my own decisions, all of my actions can be labeled reckless boldness. We can’t blame the enemy on this. This is sin. It is our own selfish pride. It is thinking we have a better plan than God. It requires repentance – a genuine sorrow for our attitudes and actions, a turning to God for forgiveness and a change in our behavior and thoughts.

Disappointment with God – When God doesn’t live up to our expectations (oh, Lord, it is difficult for me to even write this, but I know there are time when we feel like this – forgive us when You are so worthy of our worship even when we feel disappointed) – when God doesn’t live up to our expectations, our hearts can grow cold. Our minds build a case against Him and our attitudes turn to rebellion. Being disappointed with God doesn’t have an easy solution – it’s usually a combination of repentance for our own wrong attitudes with a heavy dose of experiencing God’s great love. It requires an understanding that God’s plan is greater than our earthly desires.

The antidote to all of these conditions that lead to reckless boldness is faith. A faith-filled heart is the greatest weapon against these conditions. A faith-filled heart is the greatest weapon against reckless boldness. That faith comes from being with Jesus. We see it again and again in the New Testament.

The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:13 (NLT)

Because the men had been with Jesus, they had a holy boldness that confounded the leaders. We can have that same holy boldness.

It is also because of our faith in Christ that we can come into God’s presence freely – and it is in God’s presence where we find the source of all the conditions that lead to holy boldness:

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
Ephesians 3:12 (NLT)

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.
Hebrews 10:19 (NLT)

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)

Our faith-filled heart enables us to fulfill God’s purposes in our lives – it gives us the holy boldness we would otherwise lack and it keeps us from acting recklessly, without caution or care.

We have been studying Ephesians with our nursing home Bible study group and I have been so strongly impacted by Paul’s prayers for the Ephesians. I have been praying this prayer at every gathering since we studied the passage and regularly for myself and Phil. It seems so appropriate to every venue. And it is totally appropriate here. I pray for you as Paul prayed for the Ephesians:

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

I can’t pray it any better. Knowing the vastness of God’s love for you, may you be filled to the “measure of all the fullness of God.” Whew! That’s gonna lead to some holy boldness!

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Christianity in America tends to major on love and minor on obedience. We seek intimacy and try to avoid obedience. We like the soft, feely stuff but hate the hard, uncomfortable stuff. Leviticus 26:14-15 got my attention when I read it a couple of weeks ago.

14“However, if you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, 15and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, 16I will punish you….”
Leviticus 26:14-16a (NLT)

Don’t get me wrong. It was coming into a greater understanding of God’s overwhelming love for me that set me free to be the person God wants me to be. It was understanding how outrageously passionate He is for me that changed my mental image of Him. I used to see God as always standing in heaven shaking His head at me wondering when I’d ever get it right. Now I know He’s my greatest cheerleader, my greatest encourager, and the proudest Abba Father you can imagine. It’s the over-the-top pleasure He takes in me that brings joy to my life.

That great love frees me to take risks for Him. I know He will always love me, even when I get it wrong.

But that doesn’t mean He is pleased with wrong actions, and embracing His love must not come at the expense of embracing His righteousness and justice. It must not come at the expense of His holiness.

I admit it – I don’t know how and when and where to draw the lines. But I know that our churches are filled with people who praise God on Sunday mornings yet live unholy lives. And that grieves me. Because we, the Church, could have so much more impact. Yet I also know that it is not my place to judge another man’s servant (Romans 14:4). So perhaps the place to start drawing the line is with myself. I must be diligent to embrace obedience and God’s holiness. I must put into practice what I read – which means I must read with the intention of responding.

Apprehending the grace God has for us each day is done in many ways – by seeking Him every morning, by taking what He offers by faith, by receiving His love and by obeying His commands. Obeying God’s commands – that is, making daily life and lifestyle choices that are consistent with God’s Word – is just one way of bring more of His grace into our lives. It pleases Him. Even when we don’t get it all right.

Conversely, disobedience displeases God and brings punishment. He is our heavenly Father and He disciplines us as a father.

5And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, “My child, don’t make light of the LORD’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you. 6For the LORD disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

10For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. 11No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
Hebrews 12:5-6, 10-11 (NLT)

In the midst of celebrating God’s great love, it’s critically important to remember that He is also a holy, holy God who disciplines His children. When things go wrong in our lives perhaps sometimes we are too quick to give the enemy credit for hassling it – perhaps we should be asking if God is punishing us.

At the risk of diluting the message of obedience in this blog, I want to provide balance. There are people who haven’t embraced God’s passionate love for them. There are those who see Him as I used to – as the One who always sees the flaws in their actions and whose standards are so high I can only feel condemned by them. Condemnation is from satan. Conviction is from the Lord. You can read about the difference in this Apprehending Grace blog about how very much God loves us.

If you fall into that category, I highly recommend that you read books by Brennan Manning. The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out is a great place to start. Brennan Manning died just a couple of weeks ago. This blog by Steve Wiens captured Manning’s message. Check it out and don’t miss the compilation video at the end.  It’s long, but it’s worth listening to. You will be inspired by God’s message of compassion and love spoken to and through his servant Brennan Manning.

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12When [Peter] realized [that the angel had released him from prison], he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. 13He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. 14When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” 15“You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” 16Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed.
Acts 12:12-16 (NLT)

This passage tickles me. I’m afraid I always make fun of Rhoda when I teach on this paragraph. That’s wrong of me. There’s a better lesson in the passage.

As I read it last week, I first was surprised that Scripture includes the name of this girl who recognizes Peter’s voice and then runs away from the door instead of letting him in. Her name is Rhoda. There are many nameless people in Scripture. For some reason, Rhoda isn’t one of them. I don’t have any insight into why her name is included here, but it gave me a greater degree of respect for her (as I should have). God saw fit to include her name in Scripture.

Now I’m still stuck on the foolishness of hearing Peter’s voice and then running from the door instead of letting him in. Imagine the scene.

Rhoda hears Peter’s voice on the other side of the door and turns away from the door to run screaming through the house “Peter’s here! Peter’s here!”

“Rhoda, you’re crazy! Peter’s in jail. ”

“No! Peter’s here! He’s here!”

“Where is he!”

“Uh…Uh…he’s standing outside the door knocking.”

“Well, let him in, girl!”

And we return to the front door where Peter stands knocking.

Rhoda is near the top of my scale of ditziness in this scene. But as I imagined this scene and thought about it more, I began to think about Rhoda now being in heaven. The scene changed dramatically. Yes, she’s known in heaven for leaving Peter standing at the front door – I can see the saints there gently teasing her for running off in a tizzy. But the scene is heaven now, so the conversation is much different…

“Remember the time you left Peter standing at the door?” a friend says with a smile on her face.

“Oh, my, yes! I was so shocked and excited to hear his voice, I just lost my mind for a minute! What a fun night that was!”

Those around laugh together, perhaps bringing Peter over to share his side of the story. Or perhaps Jesus is part of the conversation and they here the whole thing from His perspective.

These imaginings took me to thinking about the different personalities God has created. I’m sure Rhoda was really good at some things. But she was clearly not a shining star in this situation. But what is the hallmark of God’s Kingdom? Love. So I see Jesus loving Rhoda for the woman she was and I see the saints in heaven loving her for the women she was and is and I see her totally enjoying the woman she was and is. And I’m a little pricked in my spirit, reminded that my job is to reveal Christ to others – and that means not thinking less of them when they aren’t shining stars, but enjoying the person God created them to be.

There is a second hallmark of the Kingdom of God – its variety and uniqueness. Our God is the God of infinite creativity. He created Rhoda to be excellent at some things and created others to be excellent at the things which aren’t Rhoda’s strong suit. Why? Well, there are a number of reasons, but one of them is so that we would all have a place in His Kingdom to serve the King. I’m thinking they’re not making Rhoda the doorman in heaven. But who knows! Maybe she was heaven’s doorman in training when she went to the door that Peter was knocking on.

What position has God uniquely and specially gifted you for? Love yourself for the gifts God has put in you. Don’t despise yourself or put yourself down for the gifts God has not given you – He’s given those gifts to others so they can also have their place in the Kingdom of God.

Likewise, love others – especially those who might be difficult to love because they are so radically different from you. Love them for the gifts God has put in them. Don’t think less of them or put them down for the gifts God has not given them. The gifts they lack are gifts God is giving others (perhaps you!) so that each of us has a perfect place in the Kingdom of God.

Thanks, Rhoda, for the lesson in love. And forgive me for making fun of you in the past!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9 (RSV)

Our part in the equation of this verse is that we confess our sins to God. In our first blog about a repentant heart, we learned that repent means to “think differently” about our sin. The word translated confess in the above verse is very similar – it means “come into agreement with” God about our sin. When we confess our sins, we are no longer thinking about them in a positive light, but rather coming to God saying “Lord, I agree with you that what I’ve done is wrong. Forgive me.”

After we’ve done that, the heavy lifting is all up to God. This verse promises us that if (when) we confess our sins:

God is faithful – He will do what He says He will do. He does not change His mind about it. He doesn’t look at our sin to determine whether or not it is forgivable. Instead, when we confess our sins, God is faithful – to His character, His Word, and to the promises He’s made to us.

God is just – It would not seem to me that a just God should forgive all my sins, but He does. He forgives all my sins because the required punishment has already been given and received. He forgives my sins because the required price has already been paid. To not forgive the sin would be requiring more than what God has already said is required. Romans 6:23 states clearly that the penalty for sin is death. It goes on just as clearly to explain that the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23 (NLT)

Christ died as payment in full for my sin. Paid in Full! Punishment has been already been given and received. God is faithful to His Word and God is just. To require more of me today than God has already defined as the set penalty or punishment would be unjust.

God will forgive our sins – With the penalty already paid, God fully – fully – forgives our sins. Any residual guilt we may feel is one of two things (or both): A lie from the enemy that we are believing or a refusal to believe God. You may wonder “why would anyone ever refuse to believe God – especially about something so wonderful?” It’s a fair question. But I suspect that if you think carefully you can identify times in your own life when you chose to hold on to guilt instead of receive God’s forgiveness. Perhaps you felt that you didn’t deserve forgiveness; perhaps you were enjoying wallowing in your guilt; perhaps you were just being rebellious or stubborn. In the light of day that sounds horrible, but we do it. At some point (or at many points in our lives), we must choose to believe God in this area – believe God that if we have confessed our sins, He will and has forgiven us.

God will cleanse us from all unrighteousness – I am so glad that God added this last phrase! It says that not only will He forgive the sin that I’ve confessed, but that He will cleanse me from all unrighteousness. We don’t have to worry that we may have forgotten to confess some sin and therefore have not been fully forgiven. God cleanses us from all unrighteousness. And as I suspect you’ve heard many preachers say – all means ALL! When we live with a repentant heart, we confess our sins as God brings them to our attention. He then immediately forgives us and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

As I’ve meditated on this aspect of God’s faithfulness and justice over the past few days I’ve had two thoughts:

  • First, what an awesome, mind boggling thing it is that Jesus did for us. He took all the sin we have committed and ever would commit upon Himself as He hung on the cross. In that moment when God looked away, in that moment when Jesus and God were separated by the blackness of my sin, Jesus didn’t condemn me, He forgave me and He cleansed me. He made it possible for me to exchange the blackness of my sin for a pure heart.
  • Second, sometimes we feel unclean because of sins against us. When we confess our sins, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness. When we have been sinned against, even if our response has been pure, we feel unclean, just as we might feel unclean when we visit a garbage dump. It’s not our fault and we are not condemned for having visited the dump, but upon leaving we feel unclean. When we come to the Lord, He cleanses us of all unrighteousness. If you are struggling with feelings of unrighteousness – feeling that you have been sinned against and will never be clean – go to God. Confess your sins (read that carefully – confess your sins, not those sins others committed against you) and know that God will cleans you from all unrighteousness. Believe it! Live it! Holding on to feelings of unrighteousness are unnecessary.

When we confess our sins, God is faithful to His Word and His promises to us. When we confess our sins, God is just – not requiring a greater penalty than His Word says is required. When we confess our sins, God forgives them – we can live in freedom. When we confess our sins, God cleanses us from all unrighteousness – he exchanges the blackness of our sin for a pure heart.

A repentant heart leads to a pure heart. And living from a pure heart is living in freedom and joy.

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The LORD says, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on my name
Isaiah 65:1 (NLT)

This verse was a portion of our final Resting at the River’s Edge reading in 2012, and it seems a perfect verse to step us into 2013. God stands ready to help each of us if we will only cry out to Him.

What image comes to your mind when you read God’s exclamation “Here I am, here I am!” The first image that came to my mind was that of a little boy jumping up and down waving his arms in excitement as his grandparents get off the plane for a visit. He so wants them to find him.

Upon further reflection, though, I see parents reaching for their distraught child to protect and comfort her. The parents bend down to a level where the child can see them and are reaching out their arms to pull her in close saying “Here I am. It’s me. I’ve got you. You’re safe.” The child’s trauma begins to fade as the parents enclose her in the safety of their arms. Mom soothes her hair and kisses her forehead. Then Dad stands and turns his back to mom and child, facing outward to protect them from whomever and whatever would step forward to harm them. Those parents – both mom and dad together – provide an illustration of what God wants to be for us and do for us – save, comfort and protect. Later in the day mom and dad will talk with the child and explain how the child got herself into danger and how to protect herself in the future. God does that, too.

It is the story of the Old Testament and the New –

  • God gives us life – true life
    • He loves us
      • He teaches us how to live
        • He rescues us when we stray from that teaching
          • He loves us some more(!)
            • He protects us
              • He reminds us how to live
                • He loves us
                  • The process continues until our time on this earth is over, and then it starts all over with our life in eternity

That’s the God I want to serve in 2013. That’s the God I want to call out to in 2013. If you want that, too, pray with me. Here’s the simple prayer I prayed after reading this verse.

Lord, You are so good. Thank You for loving me. Thank You for seeking me – for crying out to me to follow you. Lord, keep me from my pride and sin in 2013. I am asking for your help now! Remind me to always cry out to you for help – when I am in great need and when my need is small. Lord, I want to find You in 2013. Help me to keep my eyes on You.

Friends, that is a prayer He will answer. I so look forward to what He has in store for me in 2013. Yes, I woke up this morning with the usual aches and pains. In fact, when I first woke this morning, the enemy tempted me to go down a long dark hallway with him. I fell into the trap for a short time until I realized how foolish I had been to not stop the thoughts immediately. We face choices many times every day – to look forward to what God has for us and call out to Him to bring that about (“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, Matthew 6:10, NASB), or we can let the forces of the enemy and this world trap us into living by its forces. God’s way is life! Let’s choose life.

Lord, we cry out to You for help! You are mighty to save. Save us now!

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