Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Pain of Rejection or the Pathway of Constant Love?

Puzzles adorned the room, pieced together to create scenes from nature--robed in colors of autumn, blanketed in the snows of mid-January, or skipping with radiant rays of July sunshine.  Elderly residents at the home, whose free moments stretched endlessly some days, had created the framed masterpieces here.

One moment, residents searched for which individual pieces would fit; a thousand pieces later, their puzzles hung completed, glued together, reminiscent of times spent in one another's company. 

Life's lessons can often be like those puzzles.  Day after day, a particular God-sent challenge bewilders us until we locate how it connects to another lesson learned.  Bit by bit, the picture emerges as we piece together that scene on the appropriate puzzle in life.

One puzzle that's recently arrested my attention is this short Scriptural declaration:  "Love never fails."  A particular puzzle on that theme now decorates a room in my heart.

The puzzle's message?  Though people reject us, through Jesus' strength, we can offer them God's brand of constant, unfailing love.

While many around us choose to follow their own dreams or openly defy biblical truths they seemed once to embrace, God's brand of love doesn't let people's directional decisions impact our constant love toward them.   Even if our love is never appreciated, understood, or reciprocated, God calls us to love; therefore, we can love unconditionally and unequivocally, like Jesus loved us.

During one challenging season of life, I experienced frequent rejection.  In those instances, I questioned myself at the deepest level.  Finally, after many pain-filled months filled with prayer and heartache, I concluded God did not want me to live in that place, where I overflowed with questions about why people did what they did and where rejection hurt so badly.  I was accepted in the Beloved.  That was enough.

I began to realize that, while people can misunderstand, misjudge, and think the worst in any given situation, God understands, perfectly judges, and propels us to be the best we can be.  That constant reassured me.

Finally, a glorious setting emerged, framed in the breathtaking beauty of God's perfecting love.  Jesus longed to fill me with His constant love so I would never again feel satiated by others' approval.  Because of Christ, I could love people, care for them, and pray for them.  I could give myself in consecrated service for them.  But if they did not accept me, that rejection could not define me.  Through the miserable puzzle pieces which looked so similar, a gorgeous scene began to emerge:  while loving others is always the method, anticipating their approval is never the goal.

So often in our moments of affliction, God draws us nearer His heart.  As my Fountainhead of Love, Jesus taught me I could give out the love He offers me unconditionally, even if that love is never appreciated or reciprocated by those in my surroundings.  In fact, His love is powerful enough to overflow from me into the very breathing space of those who reject me!

Amazingly, piece by piece, God began to shape my perspective to see that true love is an ever-present constant, even in the midst of people who rebel against Him and flaunt rejection.  One of the pieces to my puzzle I unearthed in Matthew 15:18-20--

But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart;
and they defile the man.
For out of the heart proceed
evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
These are the things which defile a man:
but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man”
—Matthew 15:18-20.

In these verses, Jesus tells us there’s nothing outside us that has the power to corrupt us—it’s only as we yield ourselves to it that it controls us (Romans 6:6).  At his best state, man is altogether vanity (Psalm 39:5b).  Thus, people's cutting words do not compare to the precious, eternal words of my perfect God.  When I allow my heart to be hurt by man's words that are but for a moment, instead of embracing God's Word as my meditation, my own sinful heart is the source of defilement.

Perhaps those about us are engaging in Bible-defying behaviors that grieve God’s Holy Spirit. Openly rebelling.  Or regularly speaking evil.

Nevertheless, it is from within that we are corrupted to choose any pathway but that of constant inner peace from our precious Jesus, Whose presence brings full joy. 

Dozens of passages teach us to surround ourselves with people of wisdom who love Jesus; simultaneously, this passage teaches us we ought never blame challenging people for any corruption of our own hearts—that emanates from within.

Our own hearts are more deceitful than anything else on this planet (See Jer. 17:9). 

So whatever curve balls get thrown our way, whatever rejection emanates from unkind people about us, we can unconditionally love those very people who offer the rejection, speak the hurtful words, and mock us.

Peter warns:
            “Be sober; be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom resist, stedfast in the faith…” (I Peter 5:8).

Incredibly, that word sober contains the idea of “dispassionate.”  In other words, don’t allow your feelings (even to potentially hurtful things like rejection) be a weak spot in the fence that guards your heart, because there's a raging, man-eating beast out there trying to get to your very soul.  Watch out!

You have an adversary.

And your hurt can become his entryway into your heart.

So…. Do.  Not.  Let.  Hurt.  In.


What did Jesus do when kissed in betrayal by the friend who had daily done life with Him for three and a half years?  Not hold on to hurt.  Not become self-justifying.  

Christ did not allow injustice about Him to interfere with His love for the people who spit upon Him and plucked out His beard.  Certainly those who reject Him will never experience His eternal home, all the treasures He offers forever, or His fulfilling presence in their daily lives as they walk deeply in His Word.  And yet, knowing they would trade His riches for their own paltry rags,  He stood His ground—loving those who rejected Him all the way to the cross.  And He continues to offer that completely undeserved love to us.



Why then do we cling to a right to make hurt a frequent companion when our hearts cry out from others' grievous words or poor life choices?  Let us rather view such feelings as inroads for Satan to get a place in our hearts. Let’s not give him an inch of space in our lives by allowing hurt to live there!

Take a cue from Peter—passionate follower turned sober preacher.  Note the frequency with which his book uses the command, “Be sober.”

Peter’s love for Jesus has been passionate.  Real.  Sincere.  Surrendered. 

But this older, seasoned apostle now commands Christ-followers to “fervent charity.”  Fervent indicates the notion of constant.

If there’s one constant that ought drive us, it’s true, biblical love. 

            “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (I Peter 5:8).

This constant love will dramatically shift your perspective.  With ever increasing clarity, you’ll see your own shabby ability to love the fleeting shadows about you, human souls headed to eternity somewhere.  Instances of rejection will beckon you to partake of Jesus' never-failing strength to love a world that daily defies Him. Your greatest grief will be that your own inability to extend God-shaped answers to hurting hearts should fall so short of God’s perfect ability to do so. For, oftentimes, those who extend the most rejection our direction are feeling an insurmountable depth of hurt and pain in themselves.

No wonder John says,
            “Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.” 

Indeed, such love is not human-sourced.

In a day when division abounds among people who used to care deeply for one another, let us embrace the kind of love that God commands—constant, unfailing love.

Love constantly. 

That’s what I Peter 4:8 calls us to.

God can replace your pain from man's rejection with His love for the very people who have rejected you.  Ask Him to do it today, tomorrow, and each day into the future.

Because constant love just doesn't hang on to the negative, fleeting stuff of life. 

Instead, it keeps on loving, echoing an eternal love.

Like Jesus.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Trading Out Hurt

 “I’ll trade you this blueberry scratch-and-sniff sticker for your cherry one,” said the little girl with blonde pigtails.

“Ok,” agreed her dark-haired friend, eyeing the perfectly round sticker staring up at her.

Vigorously, the girls exchanged stickers, removing the clear film from each of their albums and placing the newest addition into their collections.

I still have my sticker album from third grade.  Care Bears smile up at me when I open that old book.  Puffy stickers snuggle in between the pages. And some of the scratch-and-sniff stickers still have their scent!  

Although I don’t trade stickers anymore, Jesus taught me something about trading things a few weeks ago: there's something I’d been hanging on to far too long.  Something older than that sticker album in my attic.  I was clinging to a worthless sticker in the album of life.  It’s name? Hurt.

Hurt was part of my collection of feelings that I allowed into my life.  After all, it’s natural to hurt when people around you make poor choices, isn’t it? When words are said that cut to the bone like a knife?  When people you love are misunderstood and misjudged?

Lately I’ve decided to trade it out.  Exchange it for something far better—in fact, the best sticker in the album of human emotions.  The one everybody wants (and everybody can have!)  But its availability does not diminish its value.  This sticker is priceless, for the Owner paid for it immeasurably; yet it comes as a free gift to me.

The thing is, even if I tried exchanging that emotion with another person, I couldn’t; because nobody wants the hurts I carry—and I personally don’t want to discuss them, either. Because that hurts even more.  

So I have this Friend. He’s got every imaginable heart emoji sticker (if you will) in His album.  And none of them has been used!  They are all brand new.  And they’re all really good!

One note about sticker trading:  the value of a sticker includes not only how cool the sticker is but how unused it is. 

Sometimes trading stickers was a tricky business.  You’d see this puffy Smurf sticker you wanted and, after you made the deal, realized it had no “stickiness” left on it.  Jill’s grandma had found it on the sidewalk, stuck it on the fridge, then given it to Jenny, who let her little brother Jimmy tape it to his shirt.  When Jimmy and Jill got in a fight, Jimmy had to give his sticker to Jill—and that’s how this sticker had made its way into her album.  Then, after trading it, you found out the miserable truth that, even though it was called a “sticker,” there was nothing (except a piece of tape) that would stick to it!

I confess:  I made my share of those deals—and got hornswaggled into a couple, too.

The “hurt” sticker is like that.  Totally worthless as far as a sticker in your album is concerned. What it needs is replacement with the best sticker imaginable. That's why I made the trade:  my hurt for God’s love.

You see, sometime today probably, I’ll be misunderstood.  Misjudged.  My motives questioned.  I might even be gossiped or lied about.

But, instead of letting that hurt in, I can trade out that worthless sticker for His incredible love.

After all, that’s what He did for me.

Jesus was mocked. Scorned.  Stripped down to nothing as He hung on the cross.  People He loved beat Him till He was unrecognizable.

I’ve never experienced that kind of rejection, humiliation, torture, or anything close.  The amazing part is this: instead of allowing Himself to be hurt, Christ had compassion enough to cry, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  He asked God to forgive those who wanted to hurt Him.  

Now forgiveness is a powerful antidote to hurt, as is blessing my enemies.  But Jesus didn’t stop with a prayer.  





Hanging in agony on that cross, He died for the very people who would curse Him and take His name in vain dozens of times each day.  He bled for the same individuals who would despise Him, mock Him, write books defying Him, and commit horrible atrocities in His name.

He died for me.  

And with every bit of precious blood that dripped from His wounds, He offered complete forgiveness, cancelation, and payment for sin.  Every sin—cancelled in His blood!  I only needed, in repentant faith, to come to Him for His deliverance.

That’s love.

And this same Jesus tells me something incredible:

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).

As I have loved you?

In that same way? That same life-giving, compassionate, not-going-to-be-hurt, willing to give and give some more, even though mistreated, misjudged, misunderstood?  In that same way?


I am to love others in the same way that Christ loved me.  This is the most powerful commandment.  It’s so radical, so unstoppable, so immensely grand that Jesus calls it “new.”  

It’s a brand new style from the dispensation of Law--the new style that God uses in the day of grace.  

And the command comes with an astounding, earth-shattering promise:  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”(John 13:35).

Love, you see, is the exact message Jesus uses to change the world. The way of love splinters through devastation and saliently displays in neon flashing lights:  “Here walks a true disciple of Jesus.”  Of all the fashionable changes in dress, philosophy, and culture, this is the most incredibly amazing new style of the last two millenia:  the love of Jesus.

And so few of us have caught it.

We are to love.  In the same way He loved us…

That’s profound.  Incredible.

Try wrapping your mind around that for a minute.

We are to follow His example in loving every man, woman, and child with the same kind of self-sacrificing, agape love described in I Corinthians 13 and portrayed in the life of Jesus Christ.

We know it.  

We say we believe it. 

But do we live it?

This love not only forgives every offense done to me (Mark 11:25) and blesses all those who hurt me (Matthew 5:44), but also it reaches back into that situation where people have hurt me and offers to them unquenchable doses of love, kindness, and goodness.  

And none of it’s from me. 

It’s all Jesus.

Because, in my own strength, I can’t love that way.

But Jesus can.  

Dear believer in Christ, it's not too late to start practicing this new command.  It’s always in style.  Whatever hurts have been your portion in life, trade them out for His love.  Let Jesus fill you with the brand of love that comes from Him alone.  

Such a trade off will be tested.  Regularly.  Daily.  Maybe even hourly.

But as we decide to trade out our pain for His love, something redemptive takes place.  Something intensely beautiful.  The same aching deserts of your heart begin to be filled with rivers of overflowing love, where wellsprings of joy flow from God's Spirit in you into the hearts and lives of hurting people the world over, to whom you can offer God's love.  

True love empathizes with hurting souls, but it always finds freedom and filling in looking to Jesus.  Be part of His cycle of love today.  Cast off your own hurts at the foot of His cross and, in the midst of being misunderstood, misjudged, or criticized in your endeavors, seek to be filled with the God of all grace, Who can fill you to overflowing with His amazing love!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Words, Women, and the World Wide Web: A Lesson from Miriam

Stooping low, the young woman adjusted her gaze.  Could it be possible?  Was it truly the king's daughter, approaching the river's edge?  

Her heart skipped a beat as she knew what she must do.  "Jehovah of Hosts, please be my Helper now," she breathed silently.  

Within moments, her baby brother began to cry from his basket as Pharaoh's daughter examined the tiny infant. 

Instinctively, boldly, and trusting God for safety, Miriam brushed away the covering of bulrushes that protected her, then bowed before the stately young princess.  "If you please, Miss, would you like me to fetch a Hebrew woman to feed the child?"  

The princess stood, beautifully sillhoutted against the setting sun, a fitting frame for Pharaoh's daughter, who worshiped the bright orb as a god.  

"I would be delighted!" exclaimed the princess delicately, mesmerized by the helpless infant in the basket before her.  Moses now sobbing, Miriam hastened to their small cottage.

Within minutes, Miriam was back, her mother in tow.  

What providence--that God should allow Miriam to be at the water's edge at the exact time Pharaoh's daughter came to bathe!  

And God was not finished using this woman in His service.

In fact, the same God that provided Miriam strength in those early years became her portion into her elderly days.  

Decades later, and now an elderly woman herself, Miriam led the Israelite women in praising God after He had miraculously spared the entire nation by splitting the Red Sea, causing dry land to appear and walls of water to mark their path on either side.  

Moses had begun the song this time, leading God's people in jubilant praise, but God had allowed her to lead the women in praising Him.  She had status among God's people and was even designated as "prophetess" in Exodus 15:20.  As Miriam constructed a chorus to Moses' song, she helped to heighten the jubilation of the moment. Lovely voices of women joined in harmonious praise to Jehovah.

Miriam seemed to love Jehovah, worship Him, and express His praise. She had been used by God to spare the man He would use later in leading Israel from Egypt.  But days spent amongst complaining Israelites seemed to take their toll upon her spirit.

"When will we have water?"

"Did Moses take us out into the wilderness to die?"

"Why didn't he let us die in Egypt? At least we had good food back there."

Little by little, the man God had chosen took the brunt of complaints. And a faithless, complaining spirit characterized this generation, so that they would later become used as warning markers against unbelief all throughout the New Testament.

God calls Moses "the meekest man," recording his faithfulness throughout the Pentateuch but also including two particular instances when this man, angered by leading such a rebellious people, illustrated his frustration.  

And, while Miriam was also used by the Lord of Hosts, a specific command about her sobers today's believers, especially Christian women.  For when God places the name "Miriam" and "remember" in an imperative sentence in His Word, it is to none of her faith-filled deeds that He refers.  Rather, it is to a blot upon her reputation and God's subsequent judgment:

"Remember what the LORD thy God did unto Miriam 
by the way, after that ye were come forth 
out of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 24:9), 

We are to remember how God judged Miriam.

Numbers 12:1-2 recounts the episode:
"And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses 
because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had
 married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman.  
And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken 
only by Moses?  hath he not spoken also by us?  
And the LORD heard it."

Were not Aaron and Miriam both spiritually minded individuals whom God had used?  Yes.  Was their perspective worth sharing?   Actually, maybe not.

At the heart of Miriam's criticism is the sense that God uses other people too--not just one man.  No doubt her perspective seemed spiritual--to her.  But her words question God's leadership by a specific man of His choosing.  While Aaron also spoke these words, it is Miriam who is judged.

What exactly happened?  For seven days, Miriam was shut out of the camp, making it impossible for the children of Israel to go anywhere, for their "prophetess" suffered the debilitating punishment of leprosy, all over her body.  She had criticized God's man and rebelled at a God that uses a specific man of His choosing.

A dreadful disease it was, eating away at the extremities of the body one by one, causing the afflicted to turn white in infected places.  Ugly.  And a fitting picture of God's view of sin.  God judged Miriam by turning her body into a ghost-like figure, plagued by leprosy.

Does that seem a harsh judgment to you, sister in Christ?

Does it seem unfair?

Certainly Moses was not a perfect leader.  

Even so, he was God's chosen man for the job. 

Why does God command us to "remember" what God did to Miriam by the way?  

Having completed a study on the word "remember" recently, I was struck by this command.  Twice on the pages of Scripture we are told to "remember" women--and neither of them is a good example.  One is Lot's wife; the other is God's judgment upon Miriam.

Have you considered why this remembering might be so important?

Aaron spoke against God's man, too--but only Miriam was openly judged.

Does that not seem to indicate that women in particular ought most carefully consider our words before we offer some "spiritual perspective" about God's man?

A cursory overview of Titus, the Timothies and Thessalonians reveals that such behavior ought have no part in the way of the women of God!  Rather, God's women are to have spirits that, far from being busy bodies, serve others, work hard, and discipline their tongues from participating in the evils of talebearing and slander.  The wives of church leaders are commanded not to be double tongued, not slanderers--a word that comes from "diabolos." Rather, the way in which God's women speak of others ought be governed by principles derived from the Bible, not from any perspective they feel to be true at the moment.

In the day of social media, when individuals can vent about dislikes and personal opinions concerning God's churches and God's leaders, let us be ever careful to guard our hearts from the destructive work of the one who seeks to pull down what God is doing and has done in a ministry.  Let us not be guilty of even "liking" a post evidencing a critical, Miriam-like spirit about a preacher of God.  Instead, let us go far from such tale-bearing and criticism.  We can run the way of God's commandments as He enlarges our heart to obey Him.

How easy the Internet makes "venting" about church authority a venue in which women can too easily indulge!  Dear sister in Christ, remember what God did to Miriam by the way before you participate in criticizing the man God has chosen to lead one of His churches.

Let us never use our tongues as tools of Satan to criticize the men God has chosen to be leaders in His work.

God's preachers are worthy of honor, not because our opinion matches theirs, but because God has chosen them for His ministry.

Thus, I beg you, sister in Christ, remember what God did to Miriam before you offer your "spiritually minded" perspective about God's man or before you chime in with your comments against those whom God has chosen to serve Him.

Please avoid the spirit of the wilderness-wandering Israelites, who offered constant complaints and criticisms about God's leadership.  When surrounded by such a spirit, you, like Miriam, may also turn from one who regularly praises God and joys in Him to one who complains about the man He has chosen.  Do not be found among those willing to criticize God's church and His leaders.

God has a way of getting the last word and judging in a profound way.

Remember what He did to Miriam by the way.

He alone is the Righteous Judge.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Amazed by Love

A few nights ago, I stopped to ponder the love of God.  The images and words that Scripture uses to describe this love overwhelm the believer with their immensity. While evil in the world and poor choices of others can tempt us to focus on realities we can’t change, the message of God’s love is redemptive.  

It cuts through the bands of perplexing situations and illuminates the pathway ahead with joy.  

It tears down a doubting spirit and replaces it with the bolstering truth of faith found in God’s Word.  

What Word is that? 

Nothing can separate you from God’s love.  


Do you believe that?  

Demons can’t.  

Death can’t.  

Life can’t.  

Nothing can!  

That’s what the Bible says.

Not one person on this planet can separate you from the love that God has painted across the sky, planted in the heart of every believer, pictured in the pages of Scripture.

But how often do we live as if something or someone can separate us from this Divine love?  Elie Wiesel’s works discuss horrific experiences in Nazi concentration camps and raise questions about the reality of God in the midst of suffering, death, and horror.  One of Corrie ten Boom’s accounts relates her meeting a woman whose hands, twisted and emaciated in such a camp, would never again be able to play violin in the Warsaw Symphony.  Because of these horrors, many Holocaust survivors felt their people had been isolated, abandoned, and separated from the God of love.

Today, children in abusive environments, women with alcoholic husbands, and Christians in countries where persecution meets their daily reality must face head-on the challenges of difficult people and situations.  How powerful is this God of love for them?

Believing preacher Richard Wurmbrand sought to love his enemies by blessing and praying for them, living out the reality of God’s love with those who inflicted pain on his body and sought to wound him psychologically.  This is the essence of that love.  

Baptist pastor Georgi Vins spent years in Soviet prison camps as a preacher of the Gospel and, when I heard him as a teenage girl, he preached on this text— 

“For I am persuaded
that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
 nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,
 shall be able to separate us from the love of God
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

The text says “persuaded.”  This truth had hit its mark in Paul’s heart, the Apostle who endured numerous tortures, including being stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, and beaten with rods. Paul embraced and lived in the reality of God’s love.  It was love that constrained him, he said, to share the Gospel with the unsaved world (2 Cor. 5:14). And for more recent preachers like Vins, this love was powerful enough to convince them of the reality that Christ can work in one’s heart.  Starvation, living in the company of rats, enduring freezing temperatures and torture—none of these could separate Vins and his Baptist preacher counterparts who endured the privations of frozen prison camps from the love of God.

So why do we so often feel isolated from this amazing, incomprehensible, undeniable, and yet invisible love?  When circumstances look grim, when people get angry, volatile, or hostile—why do we wonder if this love actually lives on?  Why do so many doubt that a God of love would allow the punishment of hell for sins?  Why does anxiety threaten many and fear drive individuals to perform acts that, if persuaded by the love of God, would have been discarded long ago?

It’s tied to our perspective.  Faith takes God’s Word as true, regardless of how life feels, looks, or acts at the moment. So love ought to win the day, even if it happens to be a really bad day—nothing worked according to plan or something occurred that threatened to put a knife to our spirit.  Through faith, we see the God of love everywhere.

In beautiful things—like the tiny voice of an infant cooing—and in ugly things—when we are tempted to wonder if the Almighty has abandoned us.  In fact, God's incredible design and infinite mercy are melded together in His holiness, which gives perspective on this amazing love.

Spurgeon calls God’s holiness “the harmony of all His attributes, the superlative wholeness of His character" (The Treasury of David, on Psalm 97).  

How does infinite holiness and divine love find union in this eternal God?  

In the person of Christ. 

As we recognize the filth of our own sin, we become more drawn to the One Who redeems us from all “filthiness of the flesh and spirit" (2 Cor. 7:1).  Indeed, as Spurgeon says, “an unholy Gospel is no Gospel" (The Treasury of David, pg. 198).

Having been saved and drawn into this pathway of righteousness through the merit of Christ’s shed blood alone, then, believers can live out love as others cannot.  

Believe what God says:  not one person can stand in the way between you and the love of God.  Do you live that way?  Or do you react to the people in life as if they somehow are more powerful than this omnipotent God?  The rebellious teen who contradicts you angrily, the person who displays hostility openly, or the one who laughs at your lifestyle—none of these stand between you and God’s love!  Although they resist it, these individuals can’t escape the vacuum of love that fills the universe, the blanket of invisible particles that latches on to every atom in life and every millisecond of eternity.

We can’t see God’s love. In the stench of an alcoholic’s vomit, he is unaware of the immensity of such love.  And yet, of all people, we as believers should know its power, for it was this love that redeemed us and consecrated us to live holy lives.  This love brings healing in the midst of pain. 

A lifeline in the middle of sorrow.  

A way out in a maze of confusion.

God’s love.  You can’t see it.  You might not feel it—in the middle of your pain, ugliness, or confusion. But, by faith—claiming Romans 8:38 and 39, you can believe it’s there.  

Seek God, and you will see His love.  

See His love, and you will know He is real.  

And, embracing His words, believe—no one and nothing can divorce you from the amazing love sourced in God!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Rooted in Love

The jar of beans on the counter sat perfectly in its display in my kitchen.  But just how old were those beans?  The last time I tried using them for chili, they proved their age.  Even after a good 24-hour soaking, they still came out too hard to use.  This time, I soaked them for 48 hours or more.  Then, mixed with a good dose of water and spices, I moved the knob on the slow cooker to "on." The next morning, I awakened to a pleasant aroma.   At last, they were tender.  Their tough skin softened, they proved themselves worthy additions to salads and wraps the rest of the week. 

Sometimes our hearts are like those old beans.  They need a great deal of time soaking in the truths of God's Word to transform them from the hard, useless things they are into soft, useable instruments for His service.  

God’s Word can so saturate our lives and hearts that we likewise experience transformation from hardness to malability, from tough to tender, from rough to smooth.  Gloriously, as we allow Him to use His Word in our lives, God changes the unusable corners of our lives into useable territory for His glory.  

What a God of love we have, Who takes potential and turns it into reality!  As His Spirit uses the Word to soften our hearts' soil, we become ready gardens for the fruits of the Spirit.  But His love creates the transformation.

Ephesians 3 explains the vastness of the ocean that is God’s love and identifies the absolute volume to which one can be filled when partaking of this love.  It trumps our understanding.  A scientist can’t measure it; it's immeasurable. An analyst can’t track its every feature; it's unable to be explained by human reasoning or materialistic means.

Not a mushy love but one strengthened with might by God’s Spirit in our innermost being is this love that results from the powerful and everlasting Word of God.

Psalm 84 describes the indescribable joy and happiness shared by those who taste of this love: 

“Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: 
they will be still praising thee. Selah. 
Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; 
in whose heart are the ways of them.  
Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; 
the rain also filleth the pools.  
They go from strength to strength, 
every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.”

These lovers of God cherish His house and live their lives saturated by the truths they have heard in this place. No matter the circumstance, they continue praising God, receiving daily strength.  Though weak and feeble, they have learned that their hearts must cherish God's truth above any of their own ideas.  When the valleys of life they must cross, they receive strength from a Mighty God who showers them with the grace they need to transform those valleys into places of peace.  Even floods don't overwhelm them, for they have found abundant joy through pathways that appear troublesome, trial-ridden, and tear-stained.  And while sorrow they do meet, even that pain becomes a wellspring of jubilation.  

Showers of blessing fill pools created in that tear-stained valley.  That water provides refreshment, as God’s Word from Heaven delivers a fresh supply of grace for each step of the way.

Trials become strength-training exercises for the next encounter on the pock-marked trail of life.  And the strength these lovers of God receive here in the valley they take with them as the next vail of tears awaits ahead, just beyond a bend over yonder.  And yet, it seems, that whatever they encounter, their strength is renewed.  The words of God within them bolster their courage and move them ever onward, upward, and forward in the heat of the pathway, while others, not viewing the precious words of God as the treasure they truly are, lag behind or even turn back.  In the midst of such trial, these seekers find strength to praise.  To sing.  To joy exceedingly!  How is this possible?  

Where some turn to bitterness and anger, these have learned, through the patient God Who gave them a precious Book, to go from strength to strength.  Because of His gracious kindness in their lives, they have learned the secret of abiding in Christ, of living in His presence, and experiencing fullness of joy at His right hand.  Thus, resting their all upon His perfect character, they pray, as did the psalmist:  “Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed,” (Ps. 84:9) understanding it is only as God turns us toward Himself that we can get strength during the “why” seasons of life.  

Because this God is their own, they cherish God’s house, loving to be faithful, because they believe that truly one day in God’s house is “better than a thousand.”  Because God's lovingkindness is better than life, they say with firmness, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness,” (Ps. 84:10) choosing the ways of the people of God over any pleasure of the world.  They rest firmly upon the Almighty's character:  “For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11).

God alone gives grace to walk this pathway.  And His way is best!  All the time. Walking out on God is not an option. Through meditation upon the Word, these individuals find strength to walk uprightly through God’s empowerment, drawing ever nearer their Savior, Who endured all for them.  Even those potentially discouraging valleys can become places of praise as they gaze upon the face of their Guide, seeking to joy in Him daily, to live obediently--in His strength Alone! 

Such a perspective meets those who daily choose to "taste and see that the Lord is good," clinging to the reality that the one is--oh so happy--who makes God his daily trust, regardless of what frightful dangers and tearful journeys he may encounter on the path of life!