Archive for the “Experiencing God” Category

Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart
In the previous blog in the Living God’s Heart series, I wrote the following:

A broken heart is painful. A broken heart is a good thing.

It may be hard to agree with the second sentence – is a broken heart really a good thing? According to Scripture it is.

The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Psalm 34:18 (NKJV)

That’s a good thing.

A broken heart is meant to draw us near to God – to help us hang on to Him and to help us understand, even if just a little, the tremendous price He paid when He suffered for each of us even though we had broken His heart.

If we’re not careful, though, a broken heart can be our downfall. If we choose to hold on to the pain of the broken heart, it drives us further and further from God and the purposes He has for our lives. I can’t love my neighbor when I am nursing the pain of a previous betrayal. I can’t give pour out my heart for others if I haven’t allowed God to heal it and fill it back up. I can’t even show sincere kindness if I’ve allowed my broken heart to become brittle and easily offended.

A few months ago I wrote about having an unoffendable heart and quoted this passage in Ephesians:

1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV)

If we allow the brokenness in our heart to hold on to an offense, we cannot live a life of love. We cannot give ourselves up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice by loving others.

Are you struggling with a broken heart right now? One Scripture I like is this:

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4:8 (NASB)

Sure, the first half of the verse is a lot more comforting that the second half, but both apply here. When your heart is broken and you are struggling with forgiveness (of others, yourself or God), don’t pull away from God. Draw near to Him. When you do, He promises to draw near to you. There is peace and forgiveness and healing at the feet of Jesus. Draw near to Him.

If you are struggling to let go of a hurt or forgive an offense, you are on the edge (or perhaps already over the edge) of sin. You are most likely double-minded – desiring to follow God’s commands and forgive but finding it difficult to do so. I’ve experienced that see-saw battle that wages as we seek to forgive what feels unforgivable. Double-minded is a good word for that condition. So draw near to God, confess your struggles and your sin, cleans your hands, purify your hearts. God will draw near to you.

Broken heartedness is painful. But, yes, it is a good thing if we choose to let it bring us to the feet of Jesus.

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The message of yesterday’s blog was that in order to be obedient to the Lord, we must first hear what he says, and to properly hear him, we have to be listening. We want to be able to say like Peter said “Lord, because you say so, I will do it” (Luke 5:5). When Peter responded, Jesus turned a night of fishing with no catch into a morning of one last dropping of his nets and a boat overflowing with fish.

Ezekiel responded much as Peter did when He heard God’s instructions – instructions that were crazier than those He gave to Daniel. The results were crazier, too. And the whole story, although far removed from our lives, has application to it. God explained to Ezekiel that the prophecy was meant for the people of Israel, but I think we can look at the whole of it and apply it metaphorically to our lives. We can take the principles from it and apply them to each of our lives.

So let’s go to Ezekiel 37 and read about Ezekiel’s experience in a valley filled with dry bones. God grabbed me in the first verse!

The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones.
Ezekiel 37:1 (NLT)

I have a question for you – Are there dry bones in your life?

One of the commentaries I read about this passage described the scene this way: Ezekiel was taken “to a valley filled with many bleached bones, scattered on the ground, the skeletons of corpses long ago decomposed and devoured by carrion-eating birds and animals.” Are there areas of your life like that? I have some. Some dreams that have been waiting to be fulfilled for a long time. Some areas that I’ve neglected for so long that they are decomposing. Perhaps some relationships or disciplines that in the busyness of life I’ve left scattered on the ground in my haste to do the next thing on my list. The longer I’m away from the discipline, the more it dies and I die with it. It might be your prayer life or Bible reading or the practice of giving thanks or praising God. Are there areas of your life that feel brittle and wasted or wasting away?

“The LORD took hold of me…”

This first phrase got my attention. “The Lord took hold of me.” You are probably more accustomed to reading it in the NIV or King James Version, where it is translated “The hand of the Lord was upon me.” While both translations mean the same thing, the New Living Translation connotatively seems radically different. When I hear or read “The hand of the Lord was upon me” I think of my Father resting His hand on my shoulder and leading me somewhere. The phrase “The Lord took hold of me” implies that I have no choice, that He’s grabbing me by the collar or with both hands and forcibly taking me somewhere. And that’s truer to the meaning of the verse. The word translated “hand” in the NIV means hand, but it means “a hand with power” – which is consistent with the rest of the verse that talks about being carried away by the Spirit, Ruach, of the Lord.

So the first thing I heard the Holy Spirit asking me was “Have you allowed the Lord to take hold of you? Or are you resisting Him? Are you yielding only a little when He wants to take hold of you and take you places you couldn’t go on your own?” Lord, I’m listening…how can I obey?

Have you allowed the Lord to take hold of you? That’s the first thing God is asking you today. He is encouraging us to yield to His power. He is encouraging us to yield to His Spirit’s working. Ezekiel would not have had the experiencing of speaking to the dry bones if he hadn’t allowed the Lord to take hold of him and take him to the valley of dry bones.

One of the things I like about this passage is the interaction between Ezekiel and the Lord. Ezekiel doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. He’s just been forcibly taken and gently placed in a valley filled with bones. Imagine his confusion. Let’s read more about the valley:

1The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. 2He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out.
Ezekiel 37:1-2 (NLT)

Basically the Lord led Ezekiel on a tour through the dry bones. They walked among the dry bones. The bones were all around him.

I think we often avoid those valleys of dry bones in our lives – the valleys of decay and brokenness – because they were created by some kind of devastation. The valley of dry bones is a place of death. Something horrible happened to create that valley. Lord, I don’t want to go back there. Don’t take hold of me and take me there!

But if we listen to the Lord, the panic or depression that can take hold of us in the valley is held at bay as He speaks. When God takes us to the valley of decay and brokenness – it’s not to cause us more pain. It’s to bring us back to life. So let Him take hold of you and lead you to the dry places. Then listen.

It’s interesting that when God spoke, it was in the form of a question.

Then he asked me, “Son of man, can these bones become living people again?”
Ezekiel 37:3a (NLT)

God often asks us a question simply to open our mind to possibilities. “Sandy, can this dream live again?” “Sandy, can this relationship be repaired?” “Sandy, can this spiritual discipline that has been long forgotten come back to life?” “Sandy, can our relationship be restored – returned to what it once was?” Maybe that’s where you are – feeling alienated from God. It’s a painful place to be. And maybe you’re feeling like you’re doing everything you can and still you’re far from God. “Can this relationship come alive again?”

“O Sovereign LORD,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.”
Ezekiel 37:b (NLT)

Ezekiel answers God’s question honestly. I don’t know. Only You know, Lord. I have no power to change the situation. But You do. Can this dream come alive again? I don’t know. Can this relationship be repaired? I don’t know. Hidden in Ezekiel’s answer is a question – the same question God asked him – can these bones come alive again?

So God answers his question:

Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, …
Ezekiel 37:4a (NLT)

God says – “You, Ezekiel, you speak to the bones. Speak a prophetic message.” The word “prophecy” means “speak by inspiration of God” – Listen to hear what God has to say, then speak it!

4Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, LISTEN to the word of the LORD! 5This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! 6I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”
Ezekiel 37:4-6 (NLT)

God goes on – “Speak to these bones. Call the dry bones to attention even though they are dead.” What is Ezekiel to say to the bones – “Listen up!” The word translated “listen” also means “obey” – What did Peter say? “Because you say so, I will do it.” (Luke 5:5)

Broken dreams, LISTEN to the word of the Lord. Dead relationship…LISTEN to the word of the Lord.

“Dry bones, listen for the voice of God! The sovereign God says…”

Who says? The Sovereign God – Adonai Jehovah – the self-existing God who controls all things – Listen to what He says!

“The sovereign Lord says “I.am.going.to.put.breath.into.you.and.make.you.live.again!”

Read that passage again. “The sovereign Lord says “I.am.going.to.put.breath.into.you.and.make.you.live.again!”

God says we’re to speak to the dry bones in our lives: “Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again!” Do you believe He can do it?

Well, in case you doubt that it will be a full and beautiful life, let me be more clear God says – “I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you and you will come to life.”

You know, there’s life and then there’s life. There’s life and then there’s life abundant. Life abundant isn’t just life made alive, it is life adorned – with flesh and muscles and skin! It’s life with the breath of God inside us. It is knowing that He is the Lord. That’s God’s promise.

Let’s step back for a second. Who again was he making this promise to? The decimated Israelites who were nothing more than dead, dry, brittle bones because of their own disobedience! So you know what? I may have messed up big time and that’s why my dreams are unfulfilled or that’s why my relationship with God has gone stale or that’s why my relationship with my husband is distant or cold. But God…But God…offers grace and through that grace and His sovereign power, he offers life.

Scripture says that faith comes by hearing. In this passage, life comes by hearing – listening to the word of God and speaking it as He instructs. Faith and life are inseparable. They cannot be divorced from one another! God says “listen, speak and live…”

Let’s see what Ezekiel does:

So I spoke this message, just as he told me.
Ezekiel 37:7a (NLT)

Like Peter, Ezekiel is saying “Because you said so, I will do it!”

7bSuddenly as I spoke, there was a rattling noise all across the valley. The bones of each body came together and attached themselves as complete skeletons. 8Then as I watched, muscles and flesh formed over the bones. Then skin formed to cover their bodies, but they still had no breath in them.
Ezekiel 37:7b-8 (NLT)

And an amazing thing happened! God was true to His word! He caused the bones of each body to come together and attach themselves as complete skeletons.

Mr. T on the old television show The A Team? “I love it when a good plan comes together!” I love it when God is true to His Word.

As Ezekiel watched, God did what He said He would do….almost. He got all the way through putting skin on the bodies, but still they had no breath. What God did was amazing, miraculous. But it wasn’t finished. So He gave Ezekiel another task:

9Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man.
Ezekiel 37:9a (NLT)

Remember, we said that the word “prophecy” means “speak by inspiration of God” – Listen to hear what God has to say, then speak it!

9Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.’”

10So I spoke the message as he commanded me, and breath came into their bodies. They all came to life and stood up on their feet—a great army.
Ezekiel 37:9-10 (NLT)

God gives Ezekiel a second assignment required to finish the task.

Too often we watch and are so amazed at what God has done that we are satisfied with a partial fulfillment of God’s promise. We’re satisfied with a partial healing or a partial restoration. “Then skin formed over them but they still had no breath in them.” Don’t settle for half of what God has promised. Yes, half of what He promised is amazing, but it’s only half. It’s not the glass that’s half full, it’s our life that’s half full. Don’t settle.

Speak again. Call on the Lord. Don’t settle for half healing. 

I’ve been watching our plants grow. They grow fast and I love it. Then they bud. Then they produce fruit. I mean, the process is amazing. But if we stop watering and nurturing at any point in the process, the plant dies. Words of prophecy are the watering and nurturing that our bones, our souls, need. So, we listen for His voice…and we speak as He commands.

Let’s finish the passage.

11Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones represent the people of Israel. They are saying, ‘We have become old, dry bones—all hope is gone. Our nation is finished.’ 12Therefore, prophesy to them and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I will open your graves of exile and cause you to rise again. Then I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13When this happens, O my people, you will know that I am the LORD. 14I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live again and return home to your own land. Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken, and I have done what I said. Yes, the LORD has spoken!’”
11zekiel 37:11-14 (NLT)

That brings us back to our first question: Are there dry bones in your life? Let God “take hold of you,” have control, “carry you away by the Spirit.” Don’t give God just a little control, let Him carry you away. Yes, even to the place of the dry bones – because sometimes we have to visit those dark places to let God heal them. If we don’t give Him all the pieces, He can’t make us whole.

There is a line in the Christafari song in yesterday’s blog that I didn’t really hear until I listened to the song for about the tenth time. It’s during the extended “reggae speak” portion and they say “With God’s all seeing eyes you will see clearly that your day to day life it is just prophecy; to be fulfilled by God Almighty.”

Your life – the life God wants you to lead – is waiting for you to prophecy it so God Almighty can fulfill it.

“Speak a prophetic message to these bones” God told Ezekiel. Speak a prophetic message to the broken, dead bones, so that they might live! Listen up, broken dead bones – The Sovereign Lord wants to impart life to you.

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I used to make fun of my husband. Many years ago he purchased an 8-volume set of commentaries on the book of Ephesians. That’s 8 2-inch thick books on Ephesians (by Martin Lloyd-Jones) – which takes up about 8 pages in my Bible!

Well, I am being so blessed by Paul’s letter to the Ephesians this year that now I’m seriously considering tackling those books! A few months ago Phil and I lead a Bible study on the book of Ephesians with some nursing home residents. We’ve been leading a weekly study with them for about three years. This is the first study I’ve recorded because I was being so blessed. Now as I am reading it in our Resting at the River’s Edge reading, I am equally as blessed. I’m picking just a few paragraphs from the letter each day to write on, but I suspect there’s a more comprehensive Bible Study of the letter coming soon.

Today, we have to look at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians that we find at the end of chapter 3:

For this reason I kneel before the Father,
Ephesians 3:14 (NIV)

Even this first sentence grabs me. “For this reason” – what reason? All that he has written before, which is a discussion of how we have been reconciled with God through Christ.  “We are no longer foreigners” he wrote in Ephesians 2:19, “but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” He then went on to write that he had been given the privilege of preaching “preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

It is for this reason that Paul “kneels before the Father.” Do you kneel in prayer? I rarely do. I have a spur on my knee that makes kneeling painful so I rarely kneel. But, I find that when I humble myself by physically putting myself in a position of humility like kneeling, my prayer changes. Usually I get comfortable in my “prayer place” – a chair I frequently sit in while reading, journalling, blogging and praying – before praying in earnest. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to be comfortable with God. Yet, when I kneel, or often in my case simply sit on the floor with my head bowed, I have a stronger sense of God’s greatness and my smallness. It’s good to be reminded that He is God and we are His servants. I need to kneel more.

Paul takes the position of kneeling which emphasizes the master/servant relationship, yet he immediately acknowledges the intimate relationship we have with God – He is our Father. He is almighty and He is our Abba, Daddy. Without the intimate relationship, He becomes only a hard task-master. Sin has a price which must be paid, but His love caused Him to pay the price for us. Remember yesterday’s blog4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Ephesians 2:4-5). It is to this God that Paul prays. It is to this God that we pray.

16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Ephesians 3:16-17a (NIV)

What a wonderful thing to pray! Paul first prays that God, who has immeasurable riches, would strengthen us in our inner being. That’s where I need God’s strength. That’s where I need to know that I know that I know that He loves me, that He is with me, that He is working in me and that He has purposes for my life. In my inner being. That’s where my strength comes from – deep inside, knowing God’s love for me. Paul prays that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. Again, I need that fully confident knowing – that’s faith. In the face of opposition or failure or just everyday life, I need to know Him. I need Christ in my heart through faith. Remember, Paul is writing to Christians. He asks God to strengthen them in their inner being so that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith. As a Christian, pray this for yourself and those believers around you. Because we all face life and the enemy uses circumstances of life to try to tear Christ from our hearts. He tries to use disappointments to attack our faith. Pray that out of his glorious riches that God would strengthen our faith.

Yes, I know what that means. It means the testing of our faith. It means that we will face challenges. But they are challenges designed by God to help us grow stronger in our faith. They are challenges designed by our coach – the One who is training us in godliness and faith – to make us victorious. They are not challenges by our enemy that are designed to defeat us. They are designed by God to help us defeat our enemy.

Paul goes on, picking up the theme of love again:

17bAnd I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  
Ephesians 3:17b-19 (NIV)

It is out of God’s great love for us that He made us alive with Christ. It is in that great love that we have been rooted and established. That is our starting place and it is from that place that Paul prays that we might have the power to grasp – to apprehend, to take hold – how wide, long, high and deep God’s love is. The word “grasp” is the same word Paul used in Philippians:

I press on to take hold of [to grasp, to apprehend] that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Philippians 3:12b (NIV)

This is not a “gaining by osmosis” or even supernatural impartation. Yes, there is supernatural impartation involved, but there is also action on our part – a pursuing and grabbing and holding on. Paul prays that we would have the power to grasp the depth of God’s love for us. God will empower us, but we must also grab and hold onto that love – so that we might be filled to the “measure of all the fullness of God.”

In a long paragraph about this phrase, Matthew Henry concludes with this sentence:

Those who receive grace for grace from Christ’s fulness may be said to be filled with the fulness of God, according to their capacity, all which is in order to their arriving at the highest degree of the knowledge and enjoyment of God, and an entire conformity to him.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible

Are you “filled up” with Christ? Do you experience the highest degree of knowledge and enjoyment of Him? I’m not. But I press on to attain it. And I pray that God would give me the power to grasp His immeasurable love for me.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others as Paul prayed for the Ephesians.

Should a sliver of doubt creep into your heart as you pray for such understanding and filling, Paul ends this prayer with a doxology:

20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)

He is able, friends. To do more –immeasurably more – than all we ask or imagine. More than all, not just more than some of what we ask, more than all of what we ask. And not just more than we ask, but more than we can imagine. He can do it. For His glory. Amen and amen.

Let’s pray for ourselves and others remembering that He can do immeasurably more than we are asking and more than we can imagine!

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Paul’s prayers are wonderful. They go so far beyond what we typically pray. His prayer for the Ephesians is just one example. As Matthew Henry puts it, Paul doesn’t pray “that they might be freed from persecution; nor that they might possess the riches, honours, or pleasures of the world; but the great thing he prays for is the illumination of their understandings, and that their knowledge might increase and abound.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Whole Bible, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 689)

Like I said, not your typical prayer. Let’s look at it.

17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 1:17-21 (NIV)

Paul begins by saying that he “keeps asking” – Paul doesn’t say a quick prayer and consider the topic addressed. He continually prays that the Lord would give the Ephesians the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they may know the Lord better. What a great prayer. Oh how I want people praying that for me! (Feel free to pause in your reading and do so right now.)

I find it interesting that earlier in the chapter Paul praised God for two things related to this prayer:

He gave God praise because He has blessed us “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding” (v7b-8).

He praised God because “He has made known to us the mystery of His will” (v9a).

Having already written that God has blessed us with these things, Paul then went on to pray for them – that God  would give the Ephesians the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that they might know Him better. I’m reminded that it’s important to pray for the things that God has already blessed us with. God has blessed us but many of those blessings are apprehended through prayer. So go ahead! Ask Him to bless you with all spiritual blessings. Ask Him for greater revelation. Even when you are experiencing those blessings – go ahead and ask for a greater measure of them. For yourself and for those around you.

Notice the purpose of the wisdom and revelation – so that we might know Him better. It’s not wisdom for the sake of wisdom or revelation so that we might impress other people. It’s wisdom and revelation so that we can know God better. In my experience, knowing God better always leads to loving Him more. God blesses us with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we might love Him more.

Wisdom and revelation are “head knowledge” (albeit head knowledge that leads to heart knowledge). Paul then goes on to pray for “heart knowledge.” He prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.” Two great points in that prayer: (1) that we would know that we are people of hope and (2) that we are people of calling. Earlier in the chapter Paul wrote this:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.
Ephesians 1:4 (NIV)

If you know Christ, you are called by Him to be a witness for Him. You have been chosen to be holy and blameless in God’s sight. It’s not holiness of our own making, although we’re to live a life that is pleasing to God. Yet no matter how hard we try, we will do things that are not pleasing to Him. Still, through the blood of Christ, we are holy and blameless in His sight. Without the blood of Christ, He sees our sin. Through the blood of Christ we are holy and blameless.

If you know Christ, you have a hope that goes beyond anything this world can give. The word translated as hope in the Bible means “confident expectation.” You have a confident expectation of the end game – and it’s not riches and a leisurely life. It is eternity with a loving, all-powerful God. It is the confidence that you have been blessed with every spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3). It is the confident expectation that He is always with you – never leaving or forsaking you (Joshua 1:5).  It is the confident expectation that when you have breathed your last breath on earth, you will be in His presence (2 Corinthians 5:8). That’s the hope to which we’ve been called. The world doesn’t have those hopes. The world is negative because they see only the negative the world offers. Chistians – people called by God – are positive because they have hope. We are a people of hope. Hallelujah. Lord, when I forget that, please remind me.

Paul then prays that we would know the tremendous power God has for those who believe. I wrote about that as part of our “Living God’s Heart Series.” Check out the blog titled “A Beating Heart.”

Friends…

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.
9And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.    
Ephesians 1:3-10 (NIV)

…As Believers, we are blessed, chosen, called, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with wisdom and understanding, and called. No wonder Paul calls us people of hope. Let’s live it!

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1Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy! I look to you for protection.
I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by.
2I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.
Psalm 57:1-2 (NLT)

There are times when the only thing that brings relief is crying out to God – “Have mercy, oh God!” Times when the things of this world seem to rage against us with no relief. Whether it’s mounting bills or serious persecution, we all have places and times in our lives when we cry out to God for His mercy, when we look to Him for protection.

If we’re smart (and I’m not always smart), we run to Him sooner rather than later. And if we’re really smart, after running to Him, we hide in Him until the danger passes. I was so struck by this second phrase of verse 1 – “I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until the danger passes by.” I’m afraid my tendency is to cry out to God, then go out to face my battles. How foolish of me! It’s like asking for an umbrella, being given one, then dropping it on the sidewalk as I run into the raging storm.

Running to God is great, but remaining in Him throughout the battle is where our protection and victory lie. God will fulfill his purposes for you if you go beyond crying out to Him. Cry out, then wait and hide. Wait for your answer. Wait for His strength. Wait for His timing. That’s where His Spirit is moving. That’s where His protection is. Stay in it.

Easy enough for me to say, right? How do you stay hidden in God when you must face the world? Well, books and books have been written about that subject, but I find three basics in these verses:

  1. Cry out to God again and again and again. And again. John Maxwell, author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership says this: “What a person does on a disciplined, consistent basis gets him ready, no matter what the goal.” Be disciplined and consistent about crying out to God. Find triggers that remind you to cry out to Him – every time you reach for your coffee cup, every time you switch tasks, or every time you answer the phone, for example. Learn to cry out to God regularly throughout the day. The more you cry out, the more you will sense His response.
  2. Decide to stay in His peace – then do it. Period. “I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings” the psalmist wrote. It is much easier to allow ourselves to slip into worry, criticism or frustration. Don’t do it. Purpose in your heart that when you find God’s peace you will stay there. That means rejecting the temptation to leave it. When tempted to worry, pull your mind back to God. Cry out to Him again. Worship Him. Breathe deeply and let His presence and His peace fill you. It all starts with the decision – the “I will” – to remain in Him instead of letting your emotions rule you.
  3. Speak spiritual truths to yourself. The Psalmist reassured himself that “God will fulfill His purpose for me.” Make that your mantra. Or take a verse that God has highlighted to you and make that your mantra.

Three steps to remaining in the presence of God? Well, yes and no. Yes, I am fully confident that following these three simple steps will keep you in God’s presence. And no, it’s not that simple. Because God is both simple and complex. His Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand yet complex enough that we can spend all our lives studying it without having plumbed the depths of His grace and mercy. So start with these steps and trust that God will reveal more as you hide in Him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Holy Spirit turned it into a teachable moment.

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

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

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

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

Husbands and Wives

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

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

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

Gentlemen – Kiss your wives tenderly. Love her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods HeartOur Living God’s Heart series has one goal – allowing God to transform our hearts so that we are living from a heart that reflects His heart. Each week I’ve written a blog about a condition of our heart, encouraging us to develop a heart like God’s. Because it is out of our heart that we speak and act (Luke 6:45). And how we speak and act in this life has impact on those around us and those who come after us.

Before moving forward, I thought a recap of our first heart conditions might be helpful. I’m providing the highlights of the blogs in this series, but you’ll find links to each of them throughout this article.

A Seeking Heart looks for God – it watches for what He is doing because what He is doing reveals His nature, His plans and His purposes. It seeks Him in every situation because a seeking heart wants to know God – know ALL of Him. At the end of this

Developing a seeking heart is not about doing all the right things, it’s about connecting with God. It’s not about knowing things about God. It’s about knowing God. And to truly know God, you must have an experience with God – which means more than simply reading Scripture and praying. It means lingering with Him. It means not giving up until you have touched the hem of His garment.

As we seek Him, we must do so with a humble and obedient attitude. We don’t read and pray simply out of curiosity or hoping to get something. Rather, we read and pray in a more purposeful and intent manner – desiring to know Him and His ways and being willing to come under His authority – to change our actions to be consistent with what we learn about our Creator. The humble heart recognizes that He is the Creator and we are the created. It recognizes that we are but dust and He is all glory. It knows that He is King and we are His servants.

An Obedient Heart flows out of the heart that seeks God. We listen for His voice with the intent to obey. An obedient heart has a predisposition to obey. We see that attitude in the prophet Samuel and in Paul. The Apostle Paul wrote that when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ everything else is worthless, and as such, seeking Him wholeheartedly is the only appropriate response. Paul wrote that he discarded everything so that he might gain Christ – that he might become one with Him. (Philippians 3:8-9a) That’s living with the intent to obey Christ.

A Repentant HeartWhen we seek God with our whole heart, it changes us. In many ways. One of those ways is that we begin to understand how deeply horrible our sin is to God. We become grieved in our hearts and spirits at the things we’ve done and the things we’ve thought. That’s the beginning of repentance.

The word “repent” literally means to “think differently” about your sins – as we become grieved at our sin, we are thinking differently about it. We are agreeing with God that it is an offense.

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near” was the call of both John the Baptist and Jesus.

“Live the way you are supposed to live,” was their message. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”

Thus, the proof of our repentance is in how we live. We’re to live in love and holiness and obedience to God.

A Clean Heart is the result of regularly coming before the Lord to confess our sins. God promises that when we confess our sins, “He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). God is so faithful. He forgives and He cleanses. He turns our sinful heart into a pure and clean heart.

That pure heart is one that can now see God in greater ways (Matthew 5:8), and when we see God, we will worship Him.Those with a pure heart will gaze upon the Lord in awe or amazement. We won’t just look at Him in passing. We won’t seriously inspect Him. We won’t watch Him from a distance. We will gaze at Him in awe – we will worship Him.

A Heart Filled with Outrageous Praise flows from the heart of worship. We’ll look at the heart of worship and praise in more depth later in the year, but we paused from our monthly focuses to look at the heart filled with outrageous praise during the week of Palm Sunday. How can we focus on anything but praise as we read the story of Jesus triumphal entry and hear the shouts of all around “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The praise of Jesus’ followers was quite fickle, however, because it soon turned to “Crucify Him.” It was for God’s purposes that Jesus died on the cross (Acts 2:23).

A Beating Heart – But God raised Jesus from the dead “because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24). Hallelujah! “He is risen from the dead” the angel said (Matthew 28:6). Jesus is alive forever! His heart beats for you and for me. It is a heart of compassion and love, yet it also beats with the power that raised Jesus from the dead. That power is available to those who believe.

Wow! We’ve covered a lot of ground during the first quarter of 2013.And we have a lot more ground to cover, but I thought it was a good idea to pause for a week and remind ourselves of what we’ve been learning. Living God’s heart truly will transform us if we persevere in it. But if you’re anything like me, it’s easy to get sidetracked. So this is our “catch up” week – the week during which we review what we’ve learned and refresh ourselves in those areas where we might have been distracted. Here they are again:

  • A Seeking Heart
  • An Obedient Heart
  • A Repentant Heart
  • A Clean Heart
  • A Heart Filled with Outrageous Praise
  • A Beating Heart

Which “heart” did God highlight as you read today’s blog? That’s the heart condition for you and God to work on over the next few days.

Tell me how it’s going. I’d love to hear from you. Post a comment to the blog, on Facebook, or email me.

And if you’re finding our Living God’s Heart series helpful, I hope you’ll share it with a friend. Just click on any of the links below.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.

Matthew 5:8 (NKJV)

The word translated pure in this verse also means clean or cleansed. Only those who have had their heart cleansed by God are blessed, for they shall see Him. Last week we looked at 1 John 1:9:

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

The root of the word translated “cleanse” in 1 John 1:9 is the word translated “pure” in Matthew 5:8. The application is clear: God will cleanse the heart of those who confess their sins and those with cleansed hearts will see God. Put more simply, those who confess their sins will see God.

What does it mean to “see God”? The word translated “see” is “optanomai” and is defined by Strong’s Greek Dictionary as meaning “to gaze [as with] wide-open eyes, as at something remarkable.” The definition goes on to explain that it differs from other Greek words that may be translated “see” but mean:

  • “merely mechanical, passive or casual vision”
  • “earnest but more continued inspection”
  • “watching from a distance”

Why do I include this detail about the word “see”? Because I find the differences in the words fascinating. Those with a pure heart will gaze upon the Lord in awe or amazement. We won’t just look at Him in passing. We won’t seriously inspect Him. We won’t watch Him from a distance. We will gaze at Him in awe or amazement. We will look at Him with love in our eyes. We will worship Him. We’ll draw close to Him and as we draw closer, I’m convinced we’ll be even more in awe of Him.

If I were to translate the thought of Matthew 5:8 I would write “Blessed are the pure in heart because they shall enter God’s presence.” It is when we are in His presence that we look upon Him with love in our eyes, when we gaze at His beauty, and when we are awed by all that we can comprehend that He is. We aren’t inspecting, we’re appreciating. We’re enjoying. We’re loving.

King David knew the relationship between a pure heart and being in God’s presence. He is the writer of both Psalm 24 and 51.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Psalm 51:10-11 (NIV)

3 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
5 He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior.
Psalm 24:3-5 (NIV)

Do you need God’s presence today? Those with repentant hearts will also have pure hearts. Confess your sins and God will be faithful to forgive you and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Then, having a clean heart, you may stand in God’s holy place and you will see Him. That’s a blessing you don’t want to miss!

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Those of you who are following our Resting at the River’s Edge reading schedule just finished reading the book of Exodus. I enjoyed it so much that after reading the entire book, I went back and outlined it. The process revealed many themes that I might have otherwise missed. As I reviewed the book, I saw the tender and attentive care the Lord took leading His people. I saw how God controlled the timing of things, even when the events seemed to be happening too slow or too fast. (That’s a lesson I need to hear frequently.) The overriding lesson, however, was how I need to live my life totally dependent on God. It’s such a large part of what God was teaching the Israelites as he brought them out of Egypt.

And it’s so much a part of what I need to learn. Without the Holy Spirit’s prompting, I tend to rely on myself instead of God. If I don’t somewhat regularly run into problems that are bigger than me, I tend to rely on myself instead of God. Note to self: Taking on more God-sized challenges will teach me to depend on Him more. (And watching Him work in those challenges will teach me more about God and will be a ton of fun.)

Let’s step into the Exodus story with a quick review. Over a period of about six weeks, the Israelites had seen the Lord perform twenty miracles – there were 10 plagues and each of those plagues were stopped. They also experienced the Lord give them favor with the Egyptians as they left, enabling the Israelites to plunder Egypt simply by asking their neighbors for their jewelry. Then, of course, they walked across the Red Sea on dry land! That’s a lot of miracles in a short period of time.

Let’s pick up the story in chapter 16:

1Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there … one month after leaving the land of Egypt. 2There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
3“If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”
Exodus 16:1-3 (NLT)

After ten or twelve weeks jam packed with miracles, the Israelites were not happy campers as they journeyed through the wilderness. Faced with the challenges of the wilderness, the Israelites begin their complaint against Moses and Aaron with the words “if only.” It’s a phrase that is a clear indication that you are looking backwards instead of forwards. It’s a clear indication that in looking back, you’re not looking at the miracles God has done in your life. It’s a clear indication that you are not looking toward what God is about to do.

The Israelites could have said “God has brought us out of Egypt and protected us with His mighty right hand. He held the water at bay as we walked through on dry ground. He turned the bitter water sweet just last week. We can trust Him to provide for our needs today.” They could have gone even a step further and said “Let’s look forward to God’s miracle! Let’s let our actions reflect the faith we have that He will provide.”

But they made the choice to look backwards and complain. What a strike in God’s face that complaint was! Their complaint reveals that they are fully convinced they will die in the wilderness. Their complaint reveals that they do not believe that God can and will save them.

Lord, help me to walk in faith, not in fear and doubt. I don’t mean this blog to be an indictment of the Israelites. Rather, it is a challenge to me to see how easily I can become like them! I do not want to live my life in fear and doubt.

As I re-read this passage while reviewing the book of Exodus, God impressed upon me that it’s necessary to leave home to get to the promised land…and leaving home brings with it lots of discomfort, fear and doubt. No matter how wonderful or horrible home is (or how wonderful you remember it as being), you have to leave the familiar to step into the new things that God has for you. You have to experience “different” and “change” – and that typically means you have to experience “discomfort” – to enjoy the full salvation of God. That’s what faith is – it’s leaving what you know with your physical senses to follow what you have come to know with your spiritual senses.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (NASB)

If we flash forward a couple of millennia, we see Peter leaving the security and safety of his boat to trust Jesus and join Him walking on the water. What a miracle those first steps were! But just as the Israelites saw the wilderness and were afraid, Peter saw the waves and was afraid.

28Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29“Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus.

30But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”
Matthew 14:28-31 (NLT)

Experiencing all that God has for us in this great salvation means leaving the safety and security of home and stepping into the discomfort of the unknown. It means learning to trust Him in the wilderness and on the water. It means leaving the baggage of fear and doubt at home because that baggage will be too much of a burden – it’s the baggage that causes us to sink.

Some of you say “I don’t want to walk on water, I just want to make it through the day.” Yeah, I get that. But I’m here to tell you that getting through the day is a whole lot easier (and more fun) when you can walk on water. When the storms come, and they will come, being able to walk on water is like living in a houseboat – you face the storm, but you’re riding the waves and you’re protected by the strength of His right hand.

And that brings us to what has impressed me the most as I read through Exodus – the Israelites utter dependence on God. They had no water…until God provided it. They had no food in the desert…until God provided it. Joshua went into battle against the Amalekites and the only reason he won was because God provided the victory. When Moses raised his arms, the Israelites were winning. When his arms grew tired and he lowered them, the Amalekites were winning. What in the world did Moses’ upraised arms have to do with the battle? Absolutely nothing! But Moses and the Israelites were learning to be totally dependent on God.

The more self-sufficient we are, the less God-sufficient we are. And we’re way more self-sufficient when we’re at home. Home has most of what we need. Home lulls us into a satisfaction with the status quo. But God wants us to leave home and head for the promised land. God wants us to step away from the comfortable into the journey – the exciting journey He has for us.

He wants us to step away from self-sufficiency into God-sufficiency.

4The one thing I ask of the LORD— the thing I seek most— is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in his Temple. 5For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Psalm 27:4-5 (NLT)

Let’s do it! Let’s trust that God is leading us into wonderful things He has for us, not to our death in the wilderness or the storm. Let’s have a mindset that says “I’ll follow you, Lord” and be willing to leave home to follow Him and don’t look back. Place your full dependence on Him and leave the baggage of fear and doubt at home.Fully

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