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.  


Nothing. 

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!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

My Heavenly Father


The other day, a troubled young person came to me with words about imperfect parents.  He felt angry.  Bitter.  Confused by the way he had been treated growing up.  

"There are no perfect parents," I reminded him, "But if you become God's child, you will have a perfect Father."

Romans 8:15 declares, 
“For ye have not received the 
spirit of bondage again to fear; 
but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, 
whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”  

My God is a wonderful Father, loving righteousness and truth but hating iniquity and evil.  Caring, always there, clear in His expectations, consistent in mercy, and just in punishment—these all characterize my Heavenly Father.

Do you ever find within your spirit a dark and shaded lens inviting fear at the prospect of some unknown upcoming event or potentially difficult situation—the “What ifs” of life?  The other morning, as I awakened before the sun rose, the same inky blackness that filled the earth seemed to tug at my spirit, coaxing me to run a trail of potential disasters for the upcoming day.  

But the above verse clarified those "what ifs" as discoloring lies that must be rejected as ungodly modes of thought which have not viewed this day properly—through the eternal, unclouded vision of the Word of God, which declares that my God never gave to me this cloak of dread. Although He is perfectly righteous, yet His tender love and compassion reaches out to me, and on this day I am offered more of Him, more of His care, more of His love and mercy than I have ever had before.  For it is a new day and His mercies are tailor-made for the unique set of circumstances which will greet me today.


The Spirit of adoption my Father gave me vies for truth to be clarified in my heart—No bondage.  No fear. All freedom.  All faith.  


Fight or flight tendencies might be natural reactions to unwanted occurrences, but my Heavenly Father lets me stand in the day of battle without fleeing.  He takes my own weaponry (tendencies or common ideas, notions I’ve believed too long or practiced without realizing it) and replaces them with His own—His Word, an offensive shield of faith and defensive Sword that the Spirit uses to conquer the foe.  

As my Daddy, He never leaves me alone to fight it out with the enemy of my soul.  His Word, my Shield and Sword, is ever there.  And He is my ever present Help in trouble.  He is my Helper at all times.  


How important is it that I use His shield against the fiery darts of the enemy? Incredibly so!  Ephesians 6:16 states, “Above all taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”  This shield allows each of His children to stop flaming arrows from hitting their  hearts.  This is the kind of protection our Daddy offers us! A suit of armor that deflects Satan and rejects his lies, in whatever form they may come.

My Heavenly Father has clothed me with garments of praise and does not leave me unprotected in the day of battle!


The ungodly words of individuals dissipate when I look up in the day of battle and see Him, my Heavenly Daddy—the Lord of Armies—at my side.

“For thou art my hope, O Lord GOD:
 thou art my trust from my youth.  
By thee have I been holden up from the womb: 
thou art he that took me out of my mother’s bowels: 
my praise shall be continually of thee”—Psalm 71:5-6.

This same God Who knit me and fashioned me in my mother’s womb, Who is the Source of the miracle of life, Who was there in the hospital with my parents when I was born—this same God has held me up every moment of my life. Without His power, I would not be here. Without Him continually sustaining me, I would surely have perished.  But He, the Giver of Life, has breathed into me so that I have been a living soul for these several years.  What a God I have, Who has accompanied me every day of life, Who has upheld me, Who has personally cared for me!


Although I cannot see Him, He has been my trust from the day I came to Him as my Savior and Lord, seeing myself as a wretched sinner who deserved eternal condemnation and looking to Him, the only Deliverer from the payment I owed for my sin.   

The people of life come and go.  Some speak words of life and edification into our hearts and circumstances. Others disparage with their words, cut down, and taint with death those in their surroundings. But my God has breathed words that energize, uplift, sustain, and bring to life.  His words.  They are true and inspired.  Pure and holy.  A perfect reflection of Himself.

As I take His precious words and allow them to shape my perspective of life, I find that God colors my world with His truth, allowing me to perceive what I could not otherwise see.  Regardless of setting or circumstance, I can praise, and I echo with the psalmist:  

“Let my mouth be filled with thy praise 
and with thy honour all the day” (Ps. 71:8).

Frequently the “lets” of Scripture are imperatives.  (This third person imperative is a class of words we don’t have in English, but in Hebrew it would read something like this: “Mouth, be filled with God’s praise and honor all day long.”)  It’s not just a nice wish but a personal command to the tongue God framed into our heads to speak words coated in God’s praise and glory, to let Him win and receive praise with the lips which we use daily to report about what’s happening in our world and how God’s intersecting with our reality.  And I know how to do that—by giving Him thanks for all things in all things.

“Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me:
and to him that ordereth his conversation aright
will I shew the salvation of God”—Psalm 50:23.

What a wonderful Heavenly Father I have!

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Perfect Life

Perfect is an ideal that many strive for.  The perfect house.  The perfect body.  The perfect life.

What motivates that desire for perfection?  Many are seeking happiness.  Others long for peace and tranquility.  Others hope for acceptance.  

A word used 98 times in the King James Bible, perfect often carries the idea of coming to maturity or completion.  Other times, it corresponds with the notion of “blameless,” as in Deuteronomy 32:4,

“He is the Rock, his work is perfect: 
for all his ways are judgment: 
a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”

I contend that if what God does is said to be blameless, then—to avoid being practical atheists in our Christianity—we must embrace that word and live daily in its truth.

And yet how easy is it to blame God when something happens that conflicts with our notion of perfect?  The perfect house gets hail damage; the perfect body becomes afflicted with some unable-to-be-cured malady; the perfect life of peace and harmony is threatened as untruths spread over the Internet or a prayer seems unanswered for years.

Yet if God is working a good work in His children (Phil. 1:6) and His work resonates as blameless, then should we not rather place ourselves under His mighty hand in times when perfect seems a far cry from our reality?

In the little things that disrupt a “perfectly normal day”—like when the soup you’re taking to an ill friend spills all over the back of your newly cleaned car or you find that you’ve accidentally locked yourself out of the house when you’re in a dreadful hurry.

And in the bigger things—like when the faith you envisioned a reality through prayer is still only the “substance of things hoped for” or when that loved one continues to lie in a hospital bed after the chaos of unpredictability, misdiagnosis, and a rise-and-fall recovery.

Life this side of Heaven brings to our attention the fact that sin is real; the Fall has corrupted much; and nothing brings satisfaction but Christ.

However, instead of escaping our far-from-perfect world by distracting ourselves with beautiful Pinterest landscapes that offer lush beauty in a world of mud and ugliness, we can turn those seeming setbacks into sources for surrender.

The surrender of praise.

God calls that sacrifice.

He says in Psalm 50:23, “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.”

Glorifying God.

Now isn’t that the actual goal of every child of God?  To bring our amazing God eternal glory and praise?

This verse tells us that a sure way to do this is by responding to the reality God gives us with praise.

When “perfect” becomes a far dream from what we experience, many blame God, calling Him unfair.  Others take matters into their own hands, perhaps even spreading malignity about others. 

But our God receives glory from those who choose instead to praise Him no matter what.

So what does that look like?

While this verse has riveted my attention for over a decade, when I read it again this past month in my morning Bible reading, I was struck with the thought that this message is one I haven’t quite mastered.  So, like the baseball that once unfortunately drove right into my brother’s face when I connected bat to ball back in my elementary school days, it hit me—this truth that to glorify God means to praise Him in every uncomfortable situation that threatens “perfect” any day, week, month, or year in any number of ways.

Praise affects my responses to hurtful things.  After reading this verse, my spirit experienced true liberation as I asked God to bless all those who had spoken hurtful words, believed untruths, or made decisions that seemed to lack His wisdom.  I praised Him for His providence and the bedrock truth that He is good, no matter how life might appear, for He says to give thanks “in all things” and “for all things.” 

I don’t quite understand it.  I know He’s not happy with sin in any of our lives but, at the same time, He’s called me to praise.  And, by His grace strengthening me, that is what I have determined to do.

Praise affects my natural desire for comfort.  Then it happened at other little junctures, like when I awakened after not having slept quite long enough and felt a bit like I’d rather continue enjoying comfort than anything else.  Just like my dog who grimaced when one of us kids stepped over him as he slept under the wood stove in my parents’ kitchen, basking in the warmth, I too wanted to grimace at the reality of the minutes after the wake up.  But God reminded me that praise is becoming to the upright.  I can turn my clouded mind into a factory of praise.  And, with His enablement, I obeyed Him, cherishing the tired moments as opportunities to walk by faith and live in the reality of His strength.

Praise affects my relationship with every person.  The attitude of praise affects every person in my life as I thank God that He allows me to intersect pathways with this person today, this moment, this week, or at any point during my lifetime.  In little areas—like when someone misplaces an item yet again and needs my assistance in finding it—I can joy that God allows me to serve the people He has created in any number of ways.  I can delight in fellowship He creates with others.  I can joy in the fact that, although others may intend to hurt me, He loves all and cares magnificently for every person—and so can I, regardless of their words or actions against me and others.

Praise affects my attitude toward life.  After a day is over, I’ve often been one to analyze, looking back to see if I could have done anything better.  When I first view the past first with praise, I come face to face with this amazing truth—every day is a good day.  Even if I was slandered.  Even if my church was spoken against.  Even if my loved one's motives were incorrectly judged.  It’s ok.  Because no matter what happens, God’s lovingkindness trumps my life.  His mercy is unchanging.  His love is better than any reality that may exist about me.  

And His way, after all, is perfect.

Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee"--Psalm 63:3.

What a joyful and beautiful world we can all experience as we choose gratitude for everything our gracious Father allows into our lives!  In His perfect will, our Jehovah God, the I Am—the God of my present tense—allows us to meet with occasional (and even ongoing) rejection and hurt from others, prayers that seem unanswered, and setbacks on the road of life.  As we experience these challenges, He begins to grow our confidence that His grace is more than enough.

How grateful I am to this God of Heaven Who, as my Abba Father knows my needs, remembers I am but dust, and knows how desperately I need His perfect perspective to infiltrate my mind and heart. 

To overcome me with a spirit of wonder and thanksgiving in the midst of situations that appear far from perfect.

So, as challenges in life arise, I can rest confidently in the fact that His way is perfect as I offer to Him a sacrifice He longs to hear.

The sacrifice.

Of praise. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Self Sufficiency or God Dependency?

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 “Pull yourself up your own bootstraps.”
“You can do anything you put your mind to.”
"Believe in yourself."

These little sayings, so familiar to many in our culture, evidence an unrealistic philosophy of life.  In a word, they are little motivations that promote self-sufficiency.  Independence.  Living one’s own way by sheer determination and perseverance.


But our God reminds us in His very personal name Jehovah just Who He is.  He is the “I Am,” the Self-Existent one, the only Self-Sufficient One.  Any cute saying that foregoes this reality fails to factor in the overwhelming reality that God Alone is self-sufficient.


A dear woman I know emigrated from a Communist country, using her wits to escape the regime in which she was undesirably employed.  She managed to find a way to the United States and carved out her own existence when she arrived.  That was years ago.  Now she enjoys a somewhat comfortable life and sees the source of all goodness not as the Self-Sufficient God but her own independent spirit.  The American dream worked for her.  God?  Not so much.

Another man I met totes a similar story.  He had nothing when he left his home in Russia; but now, in his sixties, makes his living as a well-renowned architect.  His designs, magnificent and distinguished, demonstrate exquisite artistry in the field.  As he scrolled through multiple photos of his work, he bragged, “Who did this?  I did.  Not God.”  For him, God is a non-reality, a Player who seems never to enter the stage of his life which, from his view, has been self-created and self-propelled.

And so we expect the unsaved to live, without recognizing their absolute dependence upon an Almighty God who created them.  But centuries ago in this great nation, such was rarely the case.  Even the unbelieving Ben Franklin, America’s well-beloved Poor Richard, yet put his eye toward Providence.  It was the 81-year-old Franklin who, in the sultry days of the Constitutional Convention, viewed the mammoth task of forging the documents for a new nation, saw the deadlocks between the states, and addressed the Convention thus:

“I have lived . . . a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”

Franklin requested that the meetings begin with prayer, that God be consulted in the affairs of men.  For, although he had refused the pleadings of George Whitefield to surrender his soul to the Almighty, he recognized this truth—ultimately, God reigns.

Such trappings of spirituality yet exist in our nation.  Prayers at inaugurations and governmental ceremonies.  “In God we trust” placed on our money.  “Under God” stated in our pledge.

But today, Americans—even those who profess to know the name of Christ—too frequently fail to wait upon God as the only Self-Existent One.  As the sun burns in the sky, affecting every living thing upon the planet, so our God infuses life into every dimension of life.  He needs nothing from anyone and yet He speaks through His Word, beckoning believers to take of Him, learn of Him, wait on Him, and live in Him.


How does one live in this Self-Sufficient God?  By yielding to His rulership in life.  By submitting to His authority.  By placing oneself under His dominion.  By saying “yes” to this Eternal King.

Practically speaking, what does this look like?  For a man named Mr. Pulsford of North Devon, England, in the early 1800s, that looked like willingly moving to a town for the specific purpose of winning souls to Christ.  But Pulsford knew he couldn’t do it alone.  Calling out in prayer to Almighty God, he went forward on his knees.  In 1820, a Baptist church formed and converts from the town were baptized.

“I will not rock the cradle of the devil,” Pulsford was known to say.  Apathetic Christians?  Not in his place of ministry.  Ones committed to fulfilling the Great Commission?  That was his challenge to church members.  Is it any wonder that, from his small church, ten towns became systematically reached with the Gospel—all under ministry conducted, not by paid preachers, but by Commission-oriented church members?  Twice a month, preacher boys from his congregation had opportunity to preach.  Eventually, five church members dedicated their lives to spread the Gospel as full-time preachers, a result of this Great Commission mindset.


For believers today, the call of Christ has not wavered.  Self-sufficiency is inability.  God-dependency stands counter to the methods and means of postmodernism.  Great Commission believers, saturated by the truth of God’s Word, living in dependence upon the Spirit, and walking forth in faith to open their mouths with boldness—this is still God’s plan to grow His church, to affect our world, and to reach this nation with the Gospel.

As Franklin acknowledged that a kingdom could not be built without God’s aid, so we must embrace the reality that nothing short of God’s intervention in our lives can build His church His way.

Let us commit ourselves to following Him, opening our mouths to speak the truth of His glorious Gospel, and watching Him change our nation and the world.

One soul at a time.