Archive for the “Blessed Life” Category

In my previous blog, the subject was giving more of our time (and therefore heart and life) to God. God used Jeremiah 17:4-6 to challenge me to center my life around Him. Doing so positions us to receive His blessings, instead of putting ourselves in the place of being subject to His judgment. It’s about adjusting our lives to being God-centered instead of being centered around our own wants, needs and desires.

Here’s the passage we looked at:

4The wonderful possession I have reserved for you will slip from your hands. I will tell your enemies to take you as captives to a foreign land. For my anger blazes like a fire that will burn forever.” 5This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. 6They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.
Jeremiah 17:4-6 (NLT)

Verse 5 is key: We put ourselves under God’s curse when we put our trust in ourselves or others. God can and does bless us, but not to the fullest that both He and we desire.

If you’ve been a Christian for very long, I doubt that you consciously choose to trust yourself instead of God. What I find, though, is that we often say we trust God, but we live our lives as pagans do – making our own plans, working our own schedules, and quite frequently forgetting to ask God for His plans and solutions (until we’ve painted ourselves into a corner and cry out in desperation).

The question the Holy Spirit asked me as I read the passage was “Who do you think you are to anticipate the blessings of God or expect to participate in His promises, without also being subject to His judgment?” As I wrote, I could just hear some people saying “Wait a minute! You’re reading from the Old Testament. We’re under grace, not the Law.” Yes, we are under grace, but the Apostle Paul recognized that and said this:

1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
Romans 6:1-2 (NIV)

Of course we shouldn’t go on sinning. Grace isn’t a license to sin.

So we come back to the question: Who do we think we are, that we can participate in the promises of God without also being subject to God’s judgment? Yes, we are under grace, but I would argue that the Israelites of the Old Testament were also under God’s grace.

A different kind of grace – our grace means that Jesus has paid the price for our sin – we are freely forgiven; the grace God gave the Israelites was the law which defined how they should live and worship. Jesus was clear that He has not done away with the law. He came to fulfill it. He fulfilled the part of the law that required sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. But the law still exists.

And of course the Israelites were under God’s grace because He didn’t destroy them. But He did discipline them – punish them for their sins.

So I ask again (or perhaps I should say, the Holy Spirit asks again), who are we to think that we can live as we want and not incur God’s punishment?

Friends, I think it’s important that the teaching from my last blog really find a home in our spirits. I absolutely love grace. Knowing that God loved me – really loved me – revolutionized my walk with Him many years ago. Still, I find that many, many Christians have come to that same understanding I did but in the process of living since discovering that truth have forgotten that our obedience significantly impacts our relationship with God (and how He blesses or disciplines us) and with others.

Jeremiah 17 teaches us something we too easily forget just a few verses later:

9“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 10“I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”
Jeremiah 17:9-10 (NIV)

We too easily deceive ourselves into believing we are deserving of the many blessings God has promised. The promises it is God’s desire to “reward” us with. But when we trust in ourselves instead of Him, those blessings that He has stored up for us slip through our fingers (v4). Instead of trusting in our own efforts, God urges us to trust in Him.

How We Trust in Ourselves –The One Example God Cites
I found it interesting that just a few verses later God gives only one example of how the Israelites were trusting in themselves:

21This is what the LORD says: Listen to my warning! Stop carrying on your trade at Jerusalem’s gates on the Sabbath day. 22Do not do your work on the Sabbath, but make it a holy day. I gave this command to your ancestors.”
Jeremiah 17:21-22 (NLT)

The only specific example God gave when judging the Israelites for relying on their own strength was that they violated the Sabbath. They continued living their own lives, especially their work lives, and following their own schedules instead of honoring God’s rhythm for living.

I’m not going to argue or prescribe that you must observe a Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday, but I will put forth that we’ve gotten away from setting aside one day a week to honor and glorify and enjoy the Lord, and it is to our detriment. The Israelites were judged severely for it. Can we expect that we won’t be?

As a nation, we live in a state of exhaustion. Perhaps if we observed a day of rest that would change.

As a nation we live in a state of greed. Perhaps if we observed a day each week in which we refuse to work but instead choose to trust that God will supply all our needs, that would change.

By choosing to follow our will on the Sabbath, we are trusting in ourselves, and when we do that, before we realize it, we have become like stunted shrubs in the desert, we live in the barren wilderness and our hope for the future becomes dim. Before we know it, our hearts have turned from God.

I don’t want to deceive myself into believing that I deserve God’s blessings when in reality I’ve turned from Him by pursuing things in my own strength. I don’t want to bring curses upon myself by trusting in my own strength.

Observing the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments. I understand that whether or not Christians are “required” to observe a Sabbath (or the Sabbath) is a controversial subject. For me, I can’t help but believe that observing the spirit of the Sabbath – that is, setting aside a day which is holy to the Lord – honors God and helps me depend on Him instead of my own strength. I am convinced it puts me in a position to receive His blessings instead of pulling me out of that place of submission and obedience. And I know that the more time I spend with Him, the less likely I am to deceive myself.

It won’t happen unless you decide to make it happen and then ask Gods help in making it happen. Let me encourage you to do that. If you are not in the practice of setting one day aside each week as a day to honor God (all day), look at your calendar, pray, then ruthlessly pick a day in the next two weeks when you will do that. Then jealously guard that day. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the afternoon with your family. It does mean you will not work. You will not discuss family finances with your spouse (or children). You will not go grocery shopping. I’m sure you can identify other things that quickly move you from God’s holy presence to earthly cares. (You’ll find more “Do’s and Don’ts” in the blog Observe a Weekly Sabbath Part 3, Let’s Not be Legalistic About it!)

For more on the Sabbath, you can read a three-part blog I published back in 2010 as part of our Let’s Be PC (Practicing Christians) series:

Let’s Be PC…

Observe a Weekly Sabbath – Part 1, The Commandment

Observe a Weekly Sabbath – Part 2, 7 Reasons to Observe a Sabbath

Observe a Weekly Sabbath – Part 3, Let’s Not be Legalistic About It!

Enjoy your Sabbath – it’s God’s gift to you!

Doing so positions us to receive His blessings, instead of putting ourselves in the place of being subject to His judgment.

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As I read through Jeremiah 17 a few weeks ago, this passage stopped me in my tracks:

4“The wonderful possession I have reserved for you will slip from your hands. I will tell your enemies to take you as captives to a foreign land. For my anger blazes like a fire that will burn forever.” 5This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. 6They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.
Jeremiah 17:4-6 (NLT)

It’s not one of those verses that make you feel all warm and fuzzy. It’s not one of those verses you hang on to when things get tough. Nevertheless, it’s the Word of God – God-breathed “is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT). This would fall into the category of correcting us when we’re wrong. We need that sometimes. At least I do. I’m assuming you do, too.

As soon as I finished this paragraph, the Holy Spirit posed a question to me: “Who do you think you are that you can participate in the promises of God without also being subject to His judgment?” We stress the promises of God, but we turn our backs on the discipleship that Jesus calls us to. Discipleship requires obedience and discipline.

Verse 5 makes a strong statement “Cursed are those who put their trust in human effort.” Cursed. That’s a strong word. Think back to (or take a 60 second side trip to go read) Deuteronomy 28, the chapter of blessings and curses. There’s a long list of blessings that accompany obedience. There’s an even longer list of curses that follow those who are disobedient.

We put ourselves in that cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Be sure you get that sentence down – we put ourselves in the cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Remember, it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. We move ourselves out of position to receive it.

In what ways are we trusting in human effort? In the times we live, I believe the most significant way we rely on human strength is when we set our own agendas and determine how we will use our time, money and talents. When we make these decisions on our own, it’s the equivalent of saying “I don’t have time to ask God how He wants me to spend my time.” Or put more bluntly, “I don’t have for the Lord.” Whether it’s not having enough time to worship, read, pray or serve, it all adds up to the same thing – we’re trusting in our own efforts or the efforts of others instead of subordinating our to do list to God’s priorities. We are trusting in mere humans.

As I considered this, I began to think about how much time I spend with God. Let me share with you the calculations I did. There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say I spend 2 hours on Sunday morning and half an hour each day with God – that would be 5.5 hours each week. (Now in all honesty, I’m being a little generous because I don’t always spend 2 hours at church on Sunday morning and it’s not all that unusual for me to spend less than half an hour in morning devotions.) But if that were my pattern, I would be spending 5.5 hours with God each week. That’s less that 3.3% of my week! If your pattern is like mine, you spend less than 3.3% of your week with God!

Now you may say “but I pray throughout the day.” OK. But be honest with yourself and with God. How much time, really, are you in fellowship with God? My guess is that if you added up all the time throughout the day that you are praying – talking and listening – you’d have another half hour or so each day. So when we add that in, we’re up to spending about 5.5% of our week with God.

Do I really think God is honored by that? No, I don’t. What do you think?

Another important question to ask is “Do I really believe that God will bless that person?”

Out of His goodness, He will bless that person. But not in all the fullness and richness of blessings He offers.

Both the Old Testament Israelites and the New Testament Church lived in community that centered around God and His presence and His commands. Today, our lives center around our jobs and our families and our hobbies with God attached on the side. Most of our lives don’t reflect God as the central focus.

What did the passage say? Verse 4 said “The wonderful possession He has reserved for us slips through our fingers.” And verse 6: “We live lives that are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. We live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.”

If you feel like that, perhaps it’s because you’re only giving God 3.5 or 5.5% of your time.

Friends, it’s not my intention or desire to bring condemnation on you. That’s not God’s desire either. It might, however, be His desire to bring conviction. If we want to see revival in our lives and in our land, it’s time to up our game. It’s time to pursue God more wholeheartedly.

I wrote most of this blog about three weeks ago. In the past week, I’ve read a letter and a blog from two very different sources – but they were on the same topic: The need for the church to feel a sense of urgency about our mission. I didn’t go looking for these articles. One came in a regular newsletter I get from a missionary. Another came through a Christian ministry group I belong to on LinkedIn.

Church, it’s time to set aside some of the good things in our lives for that which is better. I love the story of Mary and Martha. Scripture says that Mary chose the “better” part. Martha wasn’t choosing a bad thing, she just wasn’t choosing the better thing. She wasn’t choosing to spend her time with Jesus.

We can’t give more to God unless we specifically set aside those things that aren’t the better part – that is, sitting at Jesus’ feet. We can’t give more to God unless we specifically and purposefully schedule times throughout the week to be with Him and to serve Him. Pause to look at your calendar. When during the coming week can you sit at Jesus’ feet? Write it in ink on your calendar. Make it a “#1 priority” in your electronic calendar. Do whatever it takes to choose the better part.

Turning Our Hearts Away From God
There was another phrase in verse 5 that caught my attention: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.”

Friends, the very act of relying on human strength turns our hearts away from the Lord. The two go together. One thing I’m learning is that there are actions that have the direct result of pulling us away from God. Worry is one of those things. We can’t hold on to faith when we are worried because worry is like a force that pulls the suction cups of faith loose from the hope to which it’s attached.

Trusting in ourself or others is like that as well. It has the direct result of pulling us away from the Lord. As your worry rises, your faith falls. As your trust in yourself rises, your trust in God falls.

You can make a conscious decision to turn your heart from the Lord, but what I think happens more often is that our hearts are turned from the Lord as a byproduct of placing our trust in what we can do on our own.

And that leaves us no hope for the future. There is no hope because we have put ourselves under a curse.

Curses or Blessings
In Deuteronomy 28, God identifies the blessings for those who follow God’s ways and then describes the curses for those who disobey. Jeremiah 17 follows the opposite pattern. We’ve just looked at the curses for those who trust in human effort instead of God. God’s prophecy to the Israelites balances them out those curses starting in verse 7.

7“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. 8They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)

This is a familiar passage that many people love: I’m guessing the earlier verses have been passed over by most of us. I love verse 8. I want to have roots that reach deep into the water. I don’t want to be bothered by my environment. I’d rather produce good fruit than be a stunted shrub. The key is trusting in God – putting all our hope and confidence in Him, not in our own effort.

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. His desire is to bless us. When we trust Him, we put ourselves in the place of receiving His blessing, His Kingdom. God has been encouraging me and I want to encourage all of us to give more of your day to God, to give more of your week to Him. Challenge yourself this week – start with just a week – and this afternoon look at your calendar and carve out an evening or a morning to spend a longer period of time with God.

Don’t put yourself under a curse by relying on your own strength. Put yourself in a position to receive God’s tremendous blessings.

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His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
2 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

If I went to the store and bought you a beautiful dress or suit, but you chose to continue to wear the clothes you already have in your closet, would you be enjoying that new dress or suit? Not really. You might enjoy looking at it occasionally, but you wouldn’t really be getting all the enjoyment you could out of it.

Or what if I were suddenly very rich, and I bought you a tremendously beautiful mansion, but you chose to live in a shack, would you be enjoying that mansion? Of course not.

Well, God has done more than that. God has given us the Kingdom, here on earth, but when we don’t move into that Kingdom, it’s a whole lot like choosing not to live in the mansion someone’s given us.

This week’s Resting at the River’s Edge includes 2 Peter and the first chapter teaches us about moving into that mansion. Let’s look at some of the verses a bit closer.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.
2 Peter 1:3a (NIV)

I want to pause there. By His divine power. Peter is talking about God. By God’s power, He has given us everything we need for living a godly life. Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you find yourself saying “God, I don’t think I can do this anymore?” or “God, I can’t”? When you find yourself in that place, remind yourself – God has given you everything you need to live a godly life.  And then go to the rest of the verse:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
2 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

We receive everything we need by through our knowledge of Him. So when we’re struggling in life, perhaps we need to spend more time learning more about Him – getting to know Him better. Study His Word, spend time with Him in prayer and worship Him regularly. Enter His awesome presence regularly.

You know, when you live with someone, you get to know them. When you got married, you learned a whole lot more about your husband or wife than you knew before you lived with him or her, didn’t you? Of course you did!

We must live in the presence of God – in His secret place – to know Him.

Those who live in the secret place of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
Psalm 91:1 (NLT)

We’re going to study that verse in detail soon. But first we’re going to look closely at 2 Peter 1. Let’s first look at the rest of verse 3:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
2 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

The One who has given us everything we need for life and godliness is also the One who has called us to Himself. He is the One who bid us to come to Him; who invited us and made it possible for us to come to Him.

He did that because of His own glory and goodness. When Jesus died on the cross for your sins and mine so that we might come to know God, He didn’t do it begrudgingly or out of a sense of duty. He did it because it is part of His nature to give. Because of his own glory, because of his own goodness, he called us to come to himself

Meditate on that. Think about it. And while you think about it, think about what came from that act…The next verse reminds us of a very important point. Let’s start with verse 3 and read on:

3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
2 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)

Through God’s glory and goodness, He has given us great and precious promises. What are some of these promises? Take a minute to name them for yourself. Take more than a minute and journal your thoughts.

The verse goes on to tell us the purpose of the promises. It says that God has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them 2 things can happen:

  1. We may participate in God’s divine nature.
  2. We can escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

God has given us everything we need to live Godly lives. No matter what our circumstances are.

If you’re struggling, get to know Him better. Study His Word, spend time with Him in prayer and worship Him regularly. Enter His awesome presence regularly.

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2Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:2-4 (NLT)

It seems to me that a study of joy would take us through a study of suffering. I haven’t done such a study so I can’t say that definitively, but the two seem to be intermingled frequently in the New Testament.  In this passage, James writes that “when troubles come” – because they surely will – “consider it an opportunity for great joy!” Anyone who preaches that life after Christ will be free from troubles is not preaching true to Scripture. Don’t listen to such preachers. They are not honestly and accurately delivering the Word of God.

When trouble comes, we to consider it an opportunity for great joy! That amazes me a bit. If you were to ask me “what opportunities for great joy are you seeing in the coming months?” my answer wouldn’t include the troubles I see on the horizon. (Obviously, I haven’t internalized and “owned” this teaching yet.)

By the way, that’s a great question to ask yourself periodically – “what is coming in the months ahead that will bring me great joy?” It’s also a great question to ask others. It helps to refocus us from the troubles of the moment to the blessings of God. But I digress.

My answer to the question would tend toward the more natural – I expect business to improve, I am looking forward to the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I am participating in a mother-daughter pageant with my mom in a couple of weeks, I am looking forward to just being with my husband and hoping for some special time with him, I am expecting to learn some new skills in the next two months. All those things have the potential of bringing me great joy.

You didn’t find in my list the challenges I see in the coming months. But James tells us that those challenges are opportunities for great joy! Imagine how different my outlook would be if I considered those opportunities I listed and the challenges I anticipate as opportunities for great joy! How much better my outlook for the future would be!

Faith Requires Energy
Verse three tells me that the challenges I anticipate in the next few months have the potential for increasing my endurance. Endurance increases as we increase our ability to maintain a higher level of energy. So whether running longer or standing in faith longer, we’re building endurance. Faith requires energy! It is not a passive thing. It requires actively engaging our faith muscle. And challenges increase our ability to do that. It increases our endurance.

I am not a marathon runner, but I have some friends who are. As they train, it is hard work, but they are so joyful when they have reached the finish line of their marathon. Exhausted, yes. But joyful at the accomplishment. How much more joyful can we be when we remain standing after battles that have challenged our faith? Yes, the training is hard, and yes, the battle is exhausting. But the victory in Jesus is sweet and precious and joyful!

So Let Your Faith Grow!
The phrase that stopped me in this passage this morning was “So let it grow.” I tried to keep reading, but I couldn’t. “Let it grow” Scripture says. Don’t do anything to hinder the growth of your faith or to limit the increase in your ability to endure. Hang on to faith and let it grow.

What might we do to hinder the process. Well, worry is the first thing that comes to my mind. When I worry, I am not increasing my faith muscle. I am increasing my ability to distrust God. I am feeding the thing inside me that believes that satan will win and God will not be my Savior and Redeemer and Protector and Giver of Life. I am feeding my unbelief. How can my faith grow in that environment?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me”
John 14:1 (NIV)

Wow! Two blogs on the same subject in two days! I guess God is trying to get my attention. Or perhaps yours! I thought I had gotten over my tendency to worry. Perhaps I’ve fallen into old habits. Perhaps at an underlying level I am stewing (aka worrying) over things I shouldn’t.

“Let your faith muscle grow”, God is saying. He’s got a good reason for saying it:

4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:4 (NLT)

As I grow in faith, as my ability to faithfully endure the challenges of life, I am made more perfect and complete in Christ. That’s the place I want to be.

This week, my personal assignment is to settle into God regularly throughout the day, enabling His peace and wisdom to be the place I live. More about that in upcoming blogs! For today, let your faith grow!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart
In our last blog in the Living God’s Heart series, we looked at how very generous God is to us while we are here on earth. We focused on 2 Peter 1:3 –

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. (NLT)

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. (NLT)
2 Peter 1:3a (NLT)

There’s more to that verse and we’ll look at it in a future blog, but today I want to look more at the generous nature of our God.

He has given us everything we need to live lives that honor and glorify Him while we are here on this earth. What a gift!

But He didn’t stop giving there. His giving is not just for this life, but for all eternity.

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
Romans 5:2 (NLT)

Literally, God has brought us to “where we now stand” – He has given us the undeserved privilege of living in His presence, of receiving everything we need to live godly lives, of receiving His kingdom here on earth. “And” we will one day share in God’s glory.

There is not a word or series of words large and grand enough to convey the depths, the heights and the breadths of God’s giving. He will share His glory with us for all eternity. And we’ve done nothing to earn or deserve. It is an undeserved privilege for those who love the Lord.

God doesn’t hoard anything – not His love, not His Kingdom, and not His glory.

When we’re living God’s heart, our lives reflect His generous nature. When we’re living God’s heart we’re:

  • Giving to those that don’t deserve it.
  • Giving above and beyond.
  • Taking pleasure or joy in giving.

The Sacrifice of Giving
It would seem that there is no question that giving is a sacrifice. When I give, I must give up something. Even so, it is a sacrifice that reflects God’s heart. Hebrews tells us that it is a sacrifice that pleases Him:

And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.
Hebrews 13:16 (NLT)

Giving is a joyful sacrifice – one that brings joy to the Father, joy to the giver and joy to the one who receives.

In this way, giving is truly not a sacrifice – it brings us joy. It might be seen more appropriately as a trade – I will trade this thing that I am giving away for the joy I will receive! How wonderful for God to consider that a sacrifice! How wonderful that He rewards that sacrifice:

Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do.
Deuteronomy 15:10 (NLT)

The Old Testament teaches that when we give generously and God will bless everything you do.

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.
Luke 6:38 (NLT)

Jesus taught us that when we give generously, we will receive generously.

God’s very nature is to give generously. He gives for this life and for the life to come, going so far as to giving us the privilege of sharing in His glory! Whew! Honestly, I can’t imagine that.

I can’t imagine it, but I trust it! So I choose to give generously in this life. Sacrificially…because I know that any sacrificial giving – no, all sacrificial giving – is simply a downpayment on the joy I will bring to the Father, the recipient of my gifts, my family and myself.

Give and it will be given to you.

Give and you will receive.

Live God’s heart in your world today.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

Being conformed to the image of Christ means thinking as He thinks and acting as He acts. In the previous blog, we learned that it God “has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32, NIV) In the New Living Translation, it’s worded just a little differently:

“…it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”
Luke 12:32 (NLT)

It brings God joy to give. And I’m thinking the more He gives, the more joy it brings. After all, He’s not just giving us an enjoyable evening or basic provisions. He gives abundantly. He gives us the kingdom. He gives us salvation. He gives us “everything we need for living a Godly life.” (2 Peter 1:3, NLT) That’s over-the-top giving.

He’s given us the Holy Spirit. He’s given us gifts to use in fulfilling the calling that He’s given us – the purpose He’s given us for our lives.

All this and heaven, too.

He’s given us a family (Psalm 68:6). He’s given us freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1). He gives us the power to be transformed (Romans 12:1). He’s given us His love. Whew! That’s the most precious gift. That the God who created the universe has given me His love, His heart.

All this and heaven, too.

Why? Because “it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”

Does giving bring you joy? It will if you allow it, because you are made in the image of God. You carry His DNA, and His DNA derives joy from giving.

But sometimes it’s a joy that you have to learn because in our sinful nature, it is counter-intuitive to us. In our sinful nature, I think I will have more joy if I get more stuff. But God has never hoarded His stuff. He lavishes it upon us. In our sinful nature, I think I will have more joy if I am more powerful. But God has never hoarded His power – He gives us free will – the absolute antithesis of hoarding power. He also has given us power and authority beyond our ability to comprehend and often beyond our ability to use wisely. Still, He trusts us with it.

So we have to learn to give. We have to write that first check or give away that favorite possession. We learn to experience joy through the joy of the recipient. And when that isn’t expressed, we learn that God is smiling at our generosity. Scripture says that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) and “will bless you in everything you do” when you give generously to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:1).

God gives to us when we give to others. Let’s look at the 2 Corinthians passage:

7You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.
2 Corinthians 9:7-8 (NLT)

God will generously provide all our needs – so much that we will have plenty left over to share with others. Which sounds to me like viciously wonderful cycle – we give generously which pleases God and he then generously provides for our needs so that we have plenty left over so we can give generously so He can bless generously so we can…

But check out the verse in the NIV:

7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:7-8 (NIV)

I LOVE verse 8. It’s actually our company’s verse. “And God is ABLE to make ALL GRACE abound to you, so that in ALL things, at ALL times, having ALL that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (Emphasis mine, of course.)

God gives all we need – not just physically, but also emotionally, relationally, and spiritually – He is able to make ALL GRACE ABOUND to you so that you have ALL that you need. And when will he do it? ALL the time. Why? So that we can be successful – abounding in every good work.

God’s heart is to give.

When we live from God’s heart, we also give. We give our time, our talent, our money and possessions and our heart.

Who are you giving to today? My new sister-in-law told me that she doesn’t ever go to bed without doing something nice for someone. If she hasn’t done something nice by bedtime, she goes to the local store to find someone in need. Perhaps it’s just helping someone reach something. Perhaps it’s helping someone pay their bill. Perhaps it’s providing an encouragement to someone who just needs to know that someone cares. There are lots of ways to give.

Do you think she always feels like it? I doubt that she does. But she’s learned the joy of giving. She’s learned that it changes who we are from the inside out. And it brings God joy.

Who are you giving to today? Challenge yourself to give above and beyond joyfully.

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We had a missionary visit our church about a year ago and she cited these statistics:

  • 250,000 Christians martyred for their faith each year based on a military intelligence source.
  • 171,000 Christians martyred for their faith each year based on reporting in the magazine Christianity Today.
  • Therefore during a typical church service, 30,000 people are being martyred!

Wow! If you are blessed to be a believer living in the United States, there’s a good chance that:

  1. You didn’t know these statistics; and
  2. You’ve been complaining a lot lately about how our country is sliding away from faith and embracing activities and lifestyles that are not consistent with God’s Word.

Well, as a country, our morality has been in downfall for many, many years and we still have more religious freedom and less persecution than most countries in the world. Perhaps we ought to be more thankful and pray more while complaining less.

I read the book of Amos this morning and was struck by how many of the judgments against Israel we are experiencing as a nation. Read Amos chapter 4 particularly and consider our weather patterns, the terrorist attacks against our nation, the wars in which we are losing brave young men and women, the divisiveness that characterizes much of our discourse.

I believe we are experiencing the beginning judgment of God and are drawing ever nearer to the serious judgment of God.

On this fourth of July, this day to celebrate the birth of our nation, take some time to:

  1. Remember and pray for those around the world who live in countries who actively persecute those who call on the name of Christ.
  2. Praise God for the blessings of this country.
  3. Pray that we would return to being a nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Remember that Christ set us free to become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6). Praise God for your freedom – both from sin and for living in a free country – and step into your role as salve of righteousness or slave of God. Pray, in humility and brokenness for the United States – that we would return to God – and live in submission to God’s ways.

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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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We’ve had extraordinarily high expenses this year. Thousands of dollars in car repairs. Unexpected medical bills.

We’ve had extraordinarily low income this year. Being self-employed means fluctuating income, but this year there’s been no fluctuation, it’s been consistently down.

We’ve had extraordinary pulls on our time and lifestyle this year. We’ve had many requirements that have eaten our time and gas money to provide unexpected support. We took a business trip (quite an expensive business trip) and got exceedingly sick essentially losing more than half of the benefit of the trip.

I’m not complaining. For the first five months, I just considered it life. A bit unusual life, perhaps, but life none-the-less. This past month I’ve wondered if there’s an extraordinary spiritual component to it. Are we being targeted by the enemy? I’m not one to blame every bad thing that happens on the enemy working against me. Lots of bad things are simply a result of living in a fallen world and/or my own bad or sinful choices. But when extraordinary things happen, I look to the spiritual realm. Yesterday, when yet another extraordinary expense hit shortly after news of continued low income, I began to more seriously consider a spiritual element. (OK, some would say I’m coming to the party a bit late. That’s probably true.)

But last night I began asking “What’s happening, Lord?” And even more to the point “How should I be responding to these issues, Lord?” I’m already remaining positive, hopeful and trusting. OK, I admit it, worry is beginning to creep in (which, of course, is the antithesis of trusting). Still, I know that I am a blessed woman. An extraordinarily blessed woman.

Well, I don’t have an answer to my questions yet. But this morning’s Scripture came at just the right time. I love serving a “just at the right time” God.

1God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.
2So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.
3Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!
Psalm 46:1-3 (NLT)

I am so encouraged.

God is ALWAYS ready to help. Lord, I need your help! Come quickly.

So we won’t fear – I WON’T FEAR – when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.

And then I love the defiant – confidently defiant – tone of verse 3:

Let the oceans roar and foam – because God is my refuge and strength; because MY God is always ready to help.

Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge – because God is my refuge and strength; because MY God is always ready to help.

Lord, help me.

Afterward:
Of course my husband is in the midst of all this with me. Last night was the first time we talked about this year’s occurrences having a spiritual source. This morning he saw that I was a bit off-kilter and we prayed. (I thank and praise God for my husband.)

As I just finished writing this blog – right up to the line “Lord, help me” – he came down from getting ready for the day in our bedroom upstairs. Always quick to share the goodness of God with him, I said “Want to know what my first verses were today?” I then read Psalm 46:1-3 to him.

Then he said “Want to know what my last verses were ? The last thing I heard on TV before I came downstairs was this:

“Don’t you worry about a thing. Cause every little thing is gonna be all right.”

I guess God speaks through Bob Marley, too. (No, I’m not endorsing his life or life message. God speaks through the ungodly.) Yes, every little thing is gonna be all right. Enjoy!

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