Archive for the “Love” Category

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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I laid in bed for more than half an hour before getting up this morning. I was frustrated with someone. Frustrated at what they were doing. Frustrated at what they were not doing. They just weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing!

Oh, my, that sounds so arrogant when I actually put it on paper! It didn’t sound so arrogant in my mind earlier this morning. It sounded right! But of course it wasn’t right – it was arrogant. And even if what I think should be done is correct, I am wrong in my response to the situation.

That’s not to say I wasn’t praying in the midst of my frustration fretting…but each sentence prayer led to more frustrated fretting. I’m guessing you’ve been in my situation before. Ten minutes of frustrated fretting, a sentence prayer – maybe even two sentences – and I’m back to fretting.

I’ve been dealing with this issue for awhile and I’ve been trusting God…but this morning frustration was getting the best of me.

Finally I got out of bed and sat with my cup of tea and piece of toast and began to read my Bible. Our Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedule has us in Revelations and I was enjoying it so much a read a head a few chapters. (I love it when that happens.) I came to these verses:

13 And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.”

14 And the four living beings said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.
Revelation 5:13-14 (NLT)

Oh, Lord! Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to You! “And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.”

I spent more than half an hour fretting in frustration this morning when I could have been worshiping the Lamb! What a waste of precious time!

I serve a God who is infinitely worthy of my worship. All blessing and honor and glory and power belong to Him. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. He existed before anything else existed. He created all things. He holds them together. He will exist when all that I know (except Him) has passed away. He is the eternal, all loving, all knowing, all powerful God. And still He is my friend. I spend time fretting in frustration. And He is my friend. I make wrong choices. And He is my friend. Whether I have a great day or a horrible one…He is still my friend. My Friend who loves and saves and empowers. My Savior who gives peace and joy and healing. My God who is worthy of all my worship. My God who is worth more than I can ever pay.

In our early marriage, I found a card to give to my husband (or maybe he gave it to me – I’m not really sure anymore). “I love you…” was written on the front; on the inside it read “More than I could ever say, more than you could ever know.” Isn’t that the absolute perfect card? It said (and says) everything about our love. We’ve been married more than thirty years (thank You, thank You, thank You, Lord!) and we still quote the card to one another.

The card’s message is even more appropriate between my God and me. He loves me more than He could ever say, more than I could ever know. Is anything impossible for God? Does He love more than He could ever say? Well, I won’t contradict Scripture…but… He can say it and He has, but we won’t fully comprehend that love until we are in eternity with Him. So perhaps the message changes for Him “I love you…More than I can say to you while you are in this physical body; more than you will know until you are in eternity with Me.” But that’s a bit awkward. (You think?) I’m OK with the shorthand version, knowing that my God loves me more…

And I love Him more than I could ever say (in this life) and more than He’ll ever know – but He does know! He knows how much I love Him more than I know and can express! OK, the sappy card doesn’t apply in this situation either. But again, I’m OK with the sentiment – He loves me and I love Him more than can be adequately expressed, more than can be accurately perceived. More…

Worshiping the One who is worthy, loving the One who is worthy – it’s way better than fretting.

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Therefore I [Paul], a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.
Ephesians 4:1 (NLT)

God is worthy. He called us. Paul begs us to lead a life worthy of that calling. Yesterday’s blog dissected this verse in greater detail. If you don’t have it strongly in your mind and spirit that you are of great value to God, re-read yesterday’s post.

Paul continues his letter to the Ephesians by explaining what that worthy lifestyle looks like:

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)

There’s an interesting phrase in that verse – “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Have you ever noticed that your children or your spouse or your best friend can “get away with” things that might cause you offense when done by others? That’s called idiosyncratic credit. Your children or spouse or best friend have built up credit with you so their offenses don’t offend. You forgive immediately and easily. When someone else does the same thing, you get annoyed. Maybe it’s not an issue of offense, maybe it’s just a frustration.

Here’s a pet peeve of mine – people who open a can of pop but drink only a little of it. Yes, I know that’s a stupid little thing to have as a pet peeve. But it makes for a good illustration. If Phil opens a can of pop and then doesn’t finish it, I might feel a small irritation, but very quickly my mind and emotions “cover” the offense – “poor Phil, he set his can down and forgot about it – I wonder what’s on his mind today.” Or “that’s my sweetheart, always setting things down and forgetting them – I love him so much!” Or even “what’s with this half empty can of pop? Oh well, I guess he needed a little taste of something but then couldn’t finish it.”

Now if I have a gathering of people at my house and during cleaning up afterwards there are four half empty cans of pop it will annoy me. I have to work at extending grace to the four people who didn’t drink the whole can. I don’t have to work at extending grace to Phil, but others…well, it’s just not as automatic.

So don’t get hung up on my pet peeve (I’m getting over it), but take my point – I’m sure you can identify that you more easily extend grace and forgiveness to loved ones than others. Paul is telling us to treat others as we treat our loved ones. “Make allowance for their faults because of your love.” That’s extravagant love. That’s Christ-like love. It doesn’t come naturally. It takes effort – a lot of effort sometimes. Paul urges us to do just that:

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
Ephesians 4:3 (NLT)

Make every effort Paul says. Don’t make a half-hearted effort toward unity, but make every effort. That means making the first move…even if it wasn’t your fault. Because God who is most worthy has considered you – and whoever you might need to make an effort with – worthy.

What follows a few verses later is Paul’s discussion of gifts that God has given to the body – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Interestingly enough, often it can be the gifts God has put in others that frustrates us – because each gift brings some inherent characteristics along with it that are sometimes at odds with the characteristics of other gifts. An evangelist, for example, wants to see the bulk of your church’s effort go toward evangelism. The teacher, on the other hand, wants to see the bulk of your church’s effort go toward building up the body. Without making every effort, differences like that can become issues that keep us from living in unity. And without unity we cannot fulfill God’s greatest commandment:

29Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. 30And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
Mark 12:29-31 (NLT)

And lacking in that commandment, we will not fulfill the great commission God has given us:

18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

Make every effort to live worthy of God’s calling. Live on purpose and with purpose.

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If you’re reading along with us using the Resting at the River’s Edge reading plan, two weeks ago read Acts 11. This verse caught my eye:

God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of turning from sin and receiving eternal life.
Acts 11:18b (NLT)

It has always been God’s plan to give salvation to all, both Jew and Gentile. When God made His covenant with Abram (who God later named Abraham), it ended with this sentence:

“All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.”
( Genesis 12:3b)

God intended Abraham to become a blessing to all the families of the earth – Jew and Gentile – men and women from every nation.

My just released book, More than a Fish Story, God Moving on Behalf of a City and a Man identifies seven Life Lessons in the book of Jonah. The first is the same message these verses teach us – that God cares about all people – even those we wouldn’t expect Him to. In the first two verses of Jonah we see God give Jonah the assignment of taking God’s message of repentance to the Ninevites. That wouldn’t seem like an unusual assignment for a prophet, but we learn that the Ninevites are Israelites’ enemies and they were a particularly cruel in battle. Yet God’s purposes hadn’t changed – He desired that the Ninevites would be blessed by an Israelite taking them the message of repentance. God was ready to bless them when they turned from their sins and followed Him.

And the two-fold message is the same today:

  1. God cares about all people – He desires that all people turn to Him.
  2. He’s given His people the responsibility of sharing the message with the world.

Of course every message from God has an application in our lives:

  1. If we’re to reflect the character of God (and we are), then we ought to care about all people…not just those who are like us or those that we like.
  2. Who might God be calling you to share His message of salvation with?

Don’t just read these words and quickly move on to the next thing. God has an assignment for you. Pause and pray. In what ways do you need to change? Who do you need to share Christ with?

You can download the book More than a Fish Story here. It provides 6 personal or small group studies in the book of Jonah and available free for a limited time.

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19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Earthly trousseaus include things like linens and dishes and home accessories – treasures a young woman wants to take into her marriage. Yes, it’s an old fashioned idea and I don’t know anyone who does it anymore – at least not anyone in America – but it symbolizes the young bride’s hope for a beautiful life with her future prince.

Christ tells us not to worry about storing up earthly treasures, but to build up our trousseaus for our marriage to the King of Kings. What treasures would honor our future husband? What treasures should we be storing up in heaven? I read this passage a few months ago and these questions tickled in the back of my mind.

Before I share my thoughts on the question, let me approach it differently. There is a startling verse in Matthew 18:

And [Jesus] said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 
Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

We are to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is so counter-culture to us and we often skip over this verse. Becoming childlike will be the topic of some future blog. For today, I just want us to understand that God values childlikeness. When we receive Christ, we become His children:

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
1 John 1:12-13 (NIV)

Let me ask you, then, what treasures do parents store? They store the precious attempts by their children to do things that are beyond their ability. The indistinguishable picture gets hung on the refrigerator. The nearly dead flowers that have been clutched too tightly in chubby little hands are placed in a vase in the middle of the table. God is no different from earthly parents. Well, yes, actually, He is quite different. But you get my point – He treasures our attempts to be like Him, even when those attempts fall short. Here are some of the things that build fill up our trousseau in heaven:

  • Every act of mercy
  • Every self-sacrificial act
  • Every act of humility – giving credit to others when you could have put the spotlight on yourself, showing deference to others
  • Every stand against satan, even those in which we get beat up a bit
  • Every act of forgiveness
  • Every act of kindness
  • Every step taken by faith, especially when there was no sight

I have come to believe that these things are greater treasures in God’s eyes than the writing of a tremendous book, leading a great organization or preaching the perfect sermon – all of which receive great acclaim within the Christian community. I’m not saying writing these things aren’t treasured by God – they are, and they will carry forward into eternity. I am saying that God honors what is done in secret and what is done at great personal expense without expecting glory in return.

Lord, help us to embrace the secret, sacrificial acts that bring glory only to You.

There is one other thing that I know builds up our heavenly trousseau. Read these verses from the book of Revelation:

8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

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3Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. 4The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.
Rev 5:8, 8:3-4 (NIV)

Our prayers are so valued by God that they are stored up as incense in golden bowls in heaven. Our prayers for others, for revival, for the lost are sacrificial acts of mercy and humility. They take stands against satan and represent faith that overcomes lack of sight.

This week…pray for opportunities to build up your heavenly trousseau – and then walk through those open doors.

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February 13-19, 2012 is RAKWeek – that’s Random Acts of Kindness Week for those of you who missed the memo.

I am a big fan of random acts of kindness, although I confess to not doing them as often as I’d like. I think they are a great way to soften people toward the Gospel. Christians are frequently viewed or portrayed as judgmental or negative (we shouldn’t be either, of course). Random acts of kindness combat that stereotype. That’s a good thing.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading Proverbs 11 and learned that kindness has another great benefit:

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind, but you destroy yourself when you are cruel.
Proverbs 11: 17 (NLT)

We can nourish our souls in many ways, but being kind has a double kick – when I practice kindness (whether planned or random), both my soul and the recipient of my kindness are benefited.

I love the word “nourished.” It has the connotation of caring for something so that it becomes healthier and more beautiful. Wilted or brown edges are restored. Strength is revived. Flowers bloom and fruit grows.

In the context of this verse – that is, nourishing our soul, it also carries the connotation of bringing an inner peace and joy – a resting from toil and strife. Say it with me…Aaaaahhhhhh.

All that can be yours and mine through the simple act of kindness. Want some creative ideas? I’ve included a few below, but check out the Random Acts of Kindness website for more.

Lack of kindness is a spiritual issue. It is conceived when one sees the world through earthly eyes instead of the eyes of Christ. It takes root when we focus more on ourselves than others and is watered by impatience, jealousy and pride. Each of these things is called sin. Each keeps us from stepping outside ourselves to show kindness to others.

Yet that’s exactly what we need to do –remind ourselves that we are not the center of the universe, ask God to allow us to see others through His eyes, and commit to reaching out to others in kindness. It doesn’t take a lot of money, and it doesn’t even have to take a lot of time.

Show some kindness. Here are some ideas:

  • Smile – REALLY smile – at strangers.
  • Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk or cut their grass.
  • Cut flowers from your yard and give them to someone.
  • Buy two pizzas the next time you order and give one to a friend.
  • Pay for the Starbucks of the person behind you in line.
  • Invite the child of a friend to help you create a scrapbook for another friend.
  • Leave a generous tip the next time you eat out.
  • Pick up a candy bar for your coworker the next time you hit the vending machines.
  • Pick up trash from your neighbor’s yard.
  • Play with your neighbor’s children for an afternoon.
  • Call someone who needs to hear from you.

God has lots of ideas – ask Him! He’ll bring them to your mind.

My mom (Happy Birthday, Mom!) lives in a heathcare facility and has been for more than a decade. Yet she finds ways to be kind to other residents every day. Often they can’t reciprocate and sometimes they can’t even show any appreciation. But mom knows that when you give kindness away, your own soul is nourished. She laughs every day in the midst of very difficult living circumstances. I know that her laughter comes from a well-nourished soul.

What fools we often are! We hurry through life and worry about so many things, when slowing down just a bit would enable us to see the needs of others, respond in kindness and receive nourishment for our own souls in the process.

The New King James Version translates our key verse with a slightly different slant:

The merciful man does good for his own soul,
But he who is cruel troubles his own flesh.
Proverbs 11:18 (NKJV)

Kindness and mercy go hand in hand – showing mercy is showing kindness. Both require seeing someone’s need and moving to meet it. God has shown all of us tremendous mercy. He’s forgiven our sins – all of them.

Lord, help us to respond to others as you have responded to us. Help us to show mercy – kindness – to those around us.

Let’s nourish our own souls – let’s perform random acts of kindness – not just this week, let’s make it a lifestyle! Feel free to share your ideas for random acts of kindness as a comment or on Facebook.

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9Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor. 10If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. 11And on a cold night, two under the same blanket can gain warmth from each other. But how can one be warm alone? 12A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)

As I read this passage last week, my first reaction was to praise God for the perfect life partner He’s given me. My husband is God’s gift to me, given to demonstrate unconditional love.

As I read verse 12, however, I saw a much broader application. Verse 12 tells me a couple of things. First, it tells me that being alone is a dangerous place. The enemy will attack those who allow themselves to live a life without relationships. There are those who take pride in being a loner. Let me encourage you if you are one of those people to resist the label and the urge. Loners are people who are at risk.

Verse 12 tells us that the person standing alone can be attacked and defeated. The enemy will attack and has the ability to defeat the person standing alone. Knowing this, we ought to take care NOT to be alone. Even when that’s what it feels like we want, we need to ensure that there is at least one person around us to help fight our battles.

Conversely, when we see others who are alone, we can become that battle partner sometimes. This doesn’t mean we’re always in battle. It can also be the fun things we’re doing that makes the person not alone – those things are part of the battle. We’ve been having a lot of conversations about community in our house lately. Community, especially Christian community, offers protection against all sorts of trials the enemy will throw at us, and as Phil and I see the end times approaching we believe that Christian community will be more important than ever. But I digress.

This passage provides a great picture of a friend – one who stands back to back with the person to fight off their enemies; one who helps us out of a pit when we’ve fallen in it. A friend is not one who tears us down. If there is someone in your life who is tearing you down, they are not your friend. If you are tearing down someone in your life, you are not being their friend. We are called to be friends, encouragers, and bearers of one another’s burdens.

So I see the passage cautioning us to be purposeful and careful in developing relationships so that we have at least one friend who will always have our back. That often means reaching out when I want to draw back. It also cautions us to be that friend to someone else who needs it. Again, that often means reaching out when I want to draw back because the person who needs a friend may be someone who is difficult to friend. Perhaps, if the enemy has been attacking that person for a long time he has won the battle for his or her joy. Such a person needs someone to pull them out of the pit, to warm their soul and to have their back.

That kind of relationship can be difficult and the battle we help to fight can be a hard one. But then we have the last part of the verse: “a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” It is that third strand, Christ in the midst of the relationship, that ensures our victory. He provides the strength – emotionally, physically and spiritually – to stand when we would rather rest. He provides the love when we would rather not love. He provides the wisdom when there seems to be no way to victory. He provides rest and nourishment in the midst of the battle.

As mom always said, “two heads are better than one.” Be purposeful in developing relationships in 2012. And be sure it’s not just the two of you in the relationship – seek out friendships with fellow believers and make Christ the center of your fellowship. For your protection and theirs…and for the glory of God.

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Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Psalm 139:23

There is an excellent blog called “Signs of a Struggle” written by Thom Hunter. Subtitled “compassionate truth for men and women who struggle with sexual brokenness,” it is extremely well written and gives very candid glimpses into the struggle and recovery while providing sound biblical perspectives on such topics as sin, guilt, shame, forgiveness and God’s tremendous grace. I’ve been reading the blog for a little while and wondered about sharing it with others. I’ve come to the point of believing that I am doing those who need Mr. Hunter’s blog a huge disservice by not sharing it.

I’d like to share a portion of a blog titled It Came from Within! I believe this portion of the author’s blog can challenge and minister to everyone. If you struggle with sexual sin or know someone who does (and you probably do whether you know it or not), I encourage you to read his entire blog. Everything following is excerpted from the blog.

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Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Psalm 139:23

He [God] is not busy with someone else. He hears your prayer.

Search me. –Sometimes when I stand calmly before a mirror and focus on my own eyes, I think: “Do I know you?” This evokes moments of honesty, easily diverted with a toothbrush or by plugging in the shaver. God has no such distractions. Ask Him to really search you and He will not look away or busy Himself with the day’s preparations. He created the day and He placed you in it. He sees in and out and every way around.

Know me. – We want people to know what we want them to know, not really know us. God knows us. He knows not only that inner itch, but He knows what happened to us in the world to raise it to a level of irritation that demands we do whatever is in our power to seek relief. He knows that what might have been a bearable curiosity in me, for instance, was fully inflamed to major “I want” status by the double-whammy of father abandonment and childhood sexual abuse. But he also knows the pain some of you may feel because you find yourselves embroiled in a temptation and the only person you can point a finger at is yourself. It may be dissatisfying when there is no one else to blame, but the truth remains the same. Sin is sin. God wants to hear you say “know me.” He already does, of course, but He wants to know you want Him to know.

Test me. – God doesn’t test us the way the world tests us. He’s not the dangle-type, holding something just out of reach to see if we will wear ourselves out lunging along the edge of self-destruction. Remember…He does not tempt. So…can you trust Him to test you? If you asked Him to search you and to know you, then why not let Him test you to see if you know yourself as He does? God tests us to prepare us for victory, not defeat. So…search and know, just like you asked Him to do. Search His word; know His ways. Ask Him to test you. And don’t forget the answers to the bonus question:  “trust and obey.”

Know my anxious thoughts. – No wait…don’t. Not those thoughts. Isn’t that the way many of us approach life? Yet, here is the acknowledgement that we will have those anxious thoughts. You can’t hide them, not from God.

I get anxious sometimes. I listen to the reasoned arguments of people on both sides of the strugglers’ “personal problems.” Most of the time I just don’t like what I hear and I want to straighten it all out, make it clear, stop the pain, bring perfect understanding and healing rain for all. And then I realize that if I had it all figured out…then I would have it all figured out. Truth is, even if I did, why would people listen to me any more than they listen to God?

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The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
1 Corinthians 6:7

“Why not rather be wronged?” the Scripture asks. Well, I could come up with a boatload of reasons. Any of the following phrases or questions immediately come to mind:

  • Doesn’t God want justice?
  • Does God want His children to be taken advantage of?
  • It’s disrespectful and I won’t be disrespected.
  • Unrighteousness goes against everything I believe in – am I to walk away from injustice?
  • They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with that!
  • Well, it’s just plain wrong!

And yet, Paul writes that it is better to be wronged and cheated. I guess we should note for the record that if anyone has earned the right to make such a statement it was Paul. He experienced more than his fair share of persecution, false accusations, betrayals and character assassinations. Yet he continued to pursue God without bitterness and without holding back. There’s also no indication that he carried unforgiveness in his heart.

I admire that. I’ve been betrayed, falsely accused and had my character greatly maligned. I haven’t been stoned or beaten. Yet it took awhile for me to return to ministry without holding back part of my heart and my passion. There’s no indication that the Apostle Paul had a hint of hesitation to continue whole-heartedly.

I’ve been thinking about this abit – wondering where Paul got his undiluted commitment and passion. One word that comes to mind – it’s a word that God’s been highlighting a lot recently – perspective. Paul constantly kept his focus on bigger things – Christ and Him risen, Christ and His return.

I read a verse during a Bible study today that struck me more than it has in the past:

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.
Luke 9:51

With His eyes on the prize – being taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely walked toward His crucifixion.

The author of Hebrews summarized it this way:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven…for the joy set before Him…Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem…He endured the cross.

The Hebrews passage takes the next step – the one that moves Scripture from being a story about someone else to being a holy standard and motivation for our lives:

Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:3

Consider – think about – all Christ endured from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. So that your focus isn’t on what’s been taken from you or what someone did to you or said about you…so that you don’t file lawsuits to fight for what is yours. It’s not worth it. Such an approach means we’ve already lost!

But, you might say, I may win and gain back the money (or whatever) that is owed me. Yes, but it wasn’t worth the price:

  • The love that was killed in the process.
  • The time that was spent pursuing things other than the Kingdom of God.
  • The opportunities to practice so many disciplines – like humility and patience and kindness and silence.
  • The opportunities to show forth the love and character of God by being forgiving and compassionate and joyful.

What I see is that when our eyes are on the prize, bickering, slandering, cheating one another and taking one another to court fall by the wayside. They become excess baggage that when dropped leave us with a load that is so light we run and jump with joy more easily.

Life isn’t always fun and it often isn’t fair. Christ promised that –

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
John 16:33

But when our focus isn’t on this world, it doesn’t bother us nearly as much! Honest!

During this Summer of Praise, I’m working on fixing my eyes on Jesus…in all circumstances and at all times. How about you?

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“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” [Jesus said]
Matthew 13:44

This is one of those passages we often use to teach about how valuable the Kingdom of Heaven is – it’s so wonderful that this man went out and sold all he had so that he could have it. I wonder how often we allow the passage to challenge us. If we have truly found the Kingdom of Heaven – that is, eternal life in Christ, do respond as this man did. There are two phrases in the passage that challenge me:

  • Notice that the passage says “in his joy” he went and sold his possessions so that he could buy the field. Are we joyful in our obedience when it requires sacrifice on our part? If not, perhaps our focus is on the wrong thing – our focus should never be on our sacrifice, but on the wonderful treasure that will be ours – Jesus.

I have been convicted lately about how self-focused my life is at times. Yes, I regularly serve the Lord in a number of ways, but the self-focus comes in when I become aware of the cost of serving – generally, a loss of personal time, energy or finances. Perhaps that’s an indication that I sometimes allow my focus to get fuzzy or even all out of whack. Lord, help me to continue “in joy,” not giving recognition to any loss I might experience along the way.

  • The passage also says that he sold “all he had” to purchase the field. Have I gone all in? (I can guarantee you that I have not.)

As pondered this passage in my mind, I was in an airport waiting for my flight. Not far from me there was a young couple with a little girl. She was perhaps about three years old – at the age where little girls love to walk on their tippy toes, almost bouncing from place to place. Her mom was standing next to several pieces of luggage while giving the little girl a bit of freedom before requiring her to sit quietly in an airplane for several hours. The little girl would get about fifteen feet away and her mom would call to her and tell her to come back. The little girl would obediently turn and bounce back to her mom. It occurred to me that at any second the child could choose to disobey (as children learning about freedom are want to do). I am fully confident that the mother wouldn’t hesitate to leave her belongings for a second to run after her child. I was standing there with my laptop bag between my legs, my arm resting on my purse with half an eye on my cell phone that was laid on the counter next to me charging while reading a book* and pondering this passage. I was ever aware that at any moment my treasured possessions could be pilfered if I wasn’t diligent in the crowded airport. Yet I’m certain this mom would gladly leave all her possessions behind (not even selling them as in the parable) if her most treasured possession began enjoying too much freedom.

In my heart, have I sold all my possessions to pursue the Kingdom of Heaven?  Am I willing to hear God say “give this away?” or “go here?” I want to believe that I am…

How about you? Is Jesus your most treasured possession and do you treat all your other possessions accordingly?

In my previous blog, I wrote about the disciplines practiced by early Christians before their baptism on Easter Sunday. They devoted themselves to prayer, repentance, fasting and giving. I have purposed in my heart to ask God to give me some person or organization to give financially to each week. We’re coming up on week three and God has been already identified where I am to give. It has been a joy to give, but in the back of my mind, I’m becoming aware that week four is coming up…And I’m starting to feel the financial pinch. I am excited about God using me…but it won’t be as easy in the coming weeks as it has been in the first couple of weeks. This is evidence that in my heart, I’m not “all in.”

I’m convinced that if I want to experience more of the Kingdom of Heaven, my heart needs to be predisposed to joyfully sell it all. Clearly Christ is worth the price.

How are you challenged to joyfully sell all you have? Share your story with me, as a comment below or on Facebook. As David Platt says in his book Radical, Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, “For when we abandon the trinkets of this world and respond to the radical invitation of Jesus, we discover the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing him.”

 

*This blog was inspired by the first chapter of David Platt’s book Radical, Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, copyright 2010 by author, published by Multinomah Books ebooks, Colorado Springs, CO.

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