The Greatest Love

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

There’s a love story that bears repeating because it’s a love story on an epic scale. It spans time from the moment of creation and continues into a future unknown to mankind but known to his Creator. And it’s summarized simply in this one familiar verse.

For God so loved the world…

Life everlasting, and that just because you believe. Set free from slavery to sin and able to not only choose righteousness, but to desire to be righteous. It sounds almost too good to be true. Almost.

But there’s more to the story. There’s belief and there’s belief. I believe in Elvis, but that belief hasn’t changed the way I live my life, the way I think, nor what I do.

However, I believe in breastfeeding, and that made a dramatic impact on every aspect of what I did, how I thought – even on what I wore – for a year after each of my 3 children were born.

I believe in God. I believe He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, Yeshua Messiah, who walked in the dust of this earth as a Man. I believe He lived the sinless life and willingly gave up that life as the exclusively complete atoning sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

I believe He suffered greatly before He died; emotionally, socially, physically, and even spiritually. I believe He rose again and is now seated at the right hand of God where He makes intercession for all who have chosen to die to themselves and live for Him.

Because He suffered the unimaginable anguish of Roman torture, betrayal, and loss, I believe He is the only God who has an experiential knowledge of what it means to be a man.

And that belief has dramatically changed how I walk, talk, think, what I watch, what I buy, how I view others – everything. It’s changed everything.

That belief continues to change everything in me by a process known as sanctification. I believe this will continue until this body of mine exhales its last breath and I go to be with my Lord and King in the place He has prepared for me.

But it’s not just a love story for me. It’s for you, too.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:20-21

You see, I don’t want anyone to die without coming to know and love my God. If you could catch but a glimpse of His splendor, taste but a morsel of His love, feel just the tiniest press of the weight of His glory! I promise you that you will never be the same.

It’s hard, sometimes, in this world of looking out for number one to realize that we don’t need a god who serves us. He’s not a waiter or a butler here to cater to our slightest whim. He’s God – Uncreated, Unchanging, Holy, and Almighty.

But even so, even though the best among us has rebelled against Him, He offers us the Word: His love story to us. In the Bible, He spells out the rebellion of mankind after creation, the continual cycle of repentance and falling away, the unbelief, the disobedience, the pain we as a species have inflicted upon our Father who gave us life.

In that Book, He also begins right after mankind’s Fall to tell a tale of His future plan of redemption and salvation. The whole Book is filled with that tale, ultimately finding fulfillment in Yeshua Messiah – my Lord Jesus Christ.

He is the Word made flesh; the Love Story Incarnate. He is the Love Story of God, and it’s in the written Word that you can discover the character and nature of God the Father and the Word Who was with Him and Who mysteriously also was Him in the beginning.

My Yeshua. My Messiah. My King. The One I love to obey and am sorrowful when I fail to keep His commands.

He lived as an example. He died to redeem. He lives to intercede, and some day He will come back to claim His own.

Friend, I hope you will join the great cloud of witnesses on that great Day and that we can celebrate together in His presence forever.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

John 3:17-18

Tuesday Prayer: Love for Man

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

John 13:34-35

God who is Love, today we come before Your throne of grace humbled and contrite in heart. We are more grateful than words can express that You have chosen to open our eyes to the greatest Love of all; the Love of the Almighty expressed in the ultimate atoning sacrifice. By Your sacrificial love, all our crimes are forgiven and taken away as far as the east is from the west. 

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Psalms 103:11-12

Yet even with so great an example of humility and sacrificial love as Jesus demonstrated His life and death, even though the cost of our own sin is uncountable, we are prone to forgetfulness when it comes to extending that same love and forgiveness to other people. What a short-sighted and selfish people we are! Open our hearts more to understand the depth and breadth of Your love. Fill us with it so that we may love others just as selflessly as You love us.

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’

Matthew 18:32-33

And Lord, please change our vision so that we do not interpret the actions and motives of others only by how they affect us or make us feel. Instead, help us see others as You do. For those who are unsaved, remind us that we, too, were once lost, deceived, and living in active rebellion to the Living God. Show us how to view others with humility, understanding that only by Your grace are we saved and that they, too, may be saved by Your grace. 

Shape us into a compassionate people, believing the best intentions of others no matter how they hurt us and willing to forgive no matter how deep the wound. Keep us mindful of the cost of the Cross and of the hurts we’ve inflicted on others and on You so that we can keep our own attitudes in proper perspective.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:7

Thank You for allowing us to be covered in the righteousness of Your Son, Jesus, for without His covering, we would be laid bare in our shame and filthy in our sin.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

And Lord, make us to especially love our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are not actively living in love with each other, we have no draw to those on the outside of the church. Let us live out Jesus’s words and show the world we belong to Him by the love we have for each other. 

May it be, also, that we love others enough to tell them the truth about You, even if it is a difficult truth for them to hear. If any should die apart from Christ, may it never be because we neglected share the news of Jesus Christ with them. It is for Your glory and in His name we ask for this great overflow of compassion in our hearts and actions, amen. 

Tuesday Prayer: Set Free

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. 

Psalms 107:10-11

God our Savior, we exalt Your glorious name today! Thank You for saving us from our own slavery to sin; for treating us like Royal sons and daughters when we were no more than street urchins living in hostility to God and rebellion to Your ways.

When we were groping in the darkness, You brought us into the light of Your love and washed us by the blood of the ultimate Sacrifice, Jesus our King. Truly there is no god like our God who holds in His hand the power to save the most depraved sinner and turn us from death to life! 

Let Your praise never be far from our lips, O Lord. As we go about our days, show us how to keep in mind Your incredible deeds – the ones we read in Your word and the ones we’ve seen in our own lives. Teach our tongues to forgo complaint and instead express gratitude for the works of our wonderful and merciful God.

May we celebrate in our hearts the gift of being among the redeemed, and may that celebration spill out as words of praise for You to all we encounter. May our homes be monuments to Your glory where we share Your praises and thank You for Your blessings. 

Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble…

Psalm 107:1-2

But even as we celebrate our salvation and Your awesome deeds, remind us of those we know and love who have not yet accepted the free gift of Your grace. To them especially, may our words be seasoned with graciousness, praise, and thanksgiving, and may the joy of  salvation be very real and evident in our lives.

Help us to be alert for the nudges of Your Spirit prompting us when to speak and when to listen. Grant us the humility to remember that we, too, once walked in darkness and were dead in our sins. Only by Your grace have we been made alive in Christ, so by Your grace help us to share the hope we have in You.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12

When those who are lost hurt us, remind us of how our disobedience hurts You. Just as we have been forgiven much, train our hearts to forgive much. May the grace and mercy You showed to us be the impetus for grace and mercy toward others.

As we speak and interact with a lost and hurting world, change our responses. Instead of anger, give us kindness; instead of agitation, patience; instead of harshness, gentleness; instead of self-righteousness, humility; instead of arrogance, meekness. May our lives reflect You and may the light of Your love in us draw the lost and hurting to You that they, too, may be set free; amen. 

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.


Isaiah 61:1-3

Watch Out!

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.

Ezekiel 3:17

After last night’s introduction to Biblical prophecy class, I started reading in Ezekiel to prepare for next week. Already this morning, many things were on my mind, not the least of which was Psalm 5:3 and praying expectantly.  

I’m participating in a forty day prayer challenge with some friends, and I have two main prayer focuses during the forty days. One involves people very close to me whom I long to see both in right relation to the Lord and in Godly Christian fellowship complete with accountability. The other concerns where God wants me after this school year ends, work-wise.

Also on my mind (with no little shame) was the temper tantrum I had with God yesterday morning and how He lost no time in correcting me through His word. Blessed be He who has me tutoring so that I had two distinct times in His Word yesterday and so received the rebuke!

At any rate, once I’d repented, He reminded me that one of the two big prayers I am focusing on is already on its way to being answered. Then to remind me that He isn’t bound to my time expectations concerning the other, He nudged me to pick up a collection of D. L. Moody when the book I’d planned for bedtime reading turned out to be one I’d already read.

Concerning Moody, his first Sabbath-school teacher, Mr. Kimball, wrote:

I can truly say … that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker when he came into my Sabbath-school class, or one who seemed more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear, decided views of gospel truth, still less to fill any sphere of extended public usefulness.”

from The D. L. Moody Collection, edited by James S. Bell, Jr.

God can and will get hold of these loved ones. But in His time, not mine.

This morning, as I read about Ezekiel being appointed as a watchman, I couldn’t help but think that now in this present age, we are all watchmen of sorts. The Old Testament prophets served to bring the Word of God to the people. Often, as the next few verses of Ezekiel 3 state, that word was a word of warning, meant to bring the people to repentance.

Today, we have the written Word of God and the Spirit of God to be our guide and illuminate the Word to us. We still have prophets, but as last night’s teacher pointed out, we are warned to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) and not to “despise the prophecies but test everything…” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). We need to be watchmen, but watching that a prophecy is in line with Scripture and points to Yeshua Messiah; Jesus the Christ.

But another thing got me as I read this passage for the second time. Let’s back up two verses and read:

And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days. And at the end of seven days, the word of the LORD came to me:

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.

Ezekiel 3:15-17

In the Complete Jewish Study Bible, the commentary here reads, “Rashi* states that God is asking why Yechezk’el [Ezekiel] is keeping silent.”

Besides being a watchman in order to warn others of danger, besides being a watchman in expectant prayer, what if I were to be a watchman who didn’t need to be reminded of God’s commands? A watchman who not only watched, but obeyed?

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to warnings and obedience, this watchman is going to be keeping a closer eye on herself…

And yes, I know a watchman can’t be a herself and I’m a girl and all that, but let’s call it the literary masculine and move on, m’kay?

*Rashi was an 11th century rabbi whose work is still widely respected. 

Dismembered

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

1 Corinthians 12:26-27

I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies lately, specifically about one Body – the Body of Christ. Forgive me if I ramble, but it’s been a long week of migraine issues and this is the closest to coherency I can get my thoughts to be!

I suppose the topic is on my mind because of some teens I know and love. Though they have been raised in the Word of God and in the church, here at the very cusp of legal adulthood, these things have fallen out of their routines. Despite the fact this lack of Christian connection has leaked into their language, values, and worldview, at least some of them consider themselves to be Christian.

I find this disconcerting, and part of the reason all goes back to Paul’s most excellent analogy in 1 Corinthians 12. As I’ve thought over all the benefits of belonging to this great Body, I’ve realized how even the difficult parts of church are good.

Now when I say, “the difficult parts,” I really mean “the difficult people,” for it’s by having our feelings hurt that we learn to forgive; by being jealous that we learn our own selfish tendencies; by being overlooked or marginalized or mocked that we learn whether we serve God or ourselves, and so on.

If we are never hurt, how can we be healed? In the Body, interconnected as we are with the other parts, we all learn and are strengthened and heal together, just as a living body does.

But should we decide we love Christ, the Head, but don’t have any real use for His body and so we remove ourselves from it, I have to wonder… is it possible to be thus removed and be a healthy part of the body? Unlikely.

Oh I know church can hurt. I get that; truly I do.

I know people – even Christian people – can be mean and hateful and horrible. I’m as guilty as anyone – perhaps more so – but I also experience sorrow, regret, and repentance when I allow this ugly part of me to show. I’m ashamed when I misrepresent my Lord so.

However, if we remove ourselves from the Body of Christ because it isn’t “working” for us, we are really removing ourselves from the chance to grow or to heal (and don’t get me started on the “working” tangent…). 

I guess the way I am imagining the thing is as a sort of surgical excision. If my left arm were to be removed, could it still be considered a healthy part of my body? Would it continue to be nourished by my blood flow, heal when it is wounded, or be affected by my diet and exercise levels as the rest of my body does? Food for thought…

So while Lone Ranger Boulevard may be the place where you feel the most loving towards your fellow man, remember that Jesus loved the ones who flogged Him and the ones who clamored for His crucifixion. The church is His Body and it’s because He loves it that He doesn’t spare it from every little discomfort. Because not all things that feel bad are bad.

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

2 Timothy 2:3-4

Why not? Because it’s in sharing in suffering as a good soldier of Christ that we can learn some of the most Christ-like lessons of our lives. And that, my friends, is how we grow up and become mature.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

Lord God, I pray for my son and for all Believers who have chosen to become disconnected from the Body of Christ for whatever reason. Stir hearts to see the need for Christian community, even with all its flaws and failings. Keep us humble no matter where our place in Your Body is, and teach us to fulfill our given role wholeheartedly, not out of a sense of duty nor for what we get out of it, but out of sheer love and devotion to You, amen.

A New Year Invitation

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…

Jeremiah 6:16a

I rang in the New Year with a migraine.

But I rang it in after a leisurely morning in the Word of God. I also rang it in at midnight with my husband and all three kids present, including our almost-18-year-old who went out to see some friends and came back in time to toast in the New Year with our family tradition: sparkling grape juice for them and water for this old girl.

So I managed to be awake(ish) at midnight with a heart full of joy despite any pain. Maybe even joy in defiance of pain. But not only because of my family.

I’m still nursing the same migraine today, medicated enough to keep me out of bed but make my thoughts rather difficult to string together. Still, even today I am filled with joy.

This is an abiding joy which would have been with me even if I’d rung in the New Year alone with my migraine and cut off from medication, family, friends, or any friendly face. It’s a joy I’ve been granted, which I’ve found buried in the Scripture records of ancient paths and growing in me as I’ve followed in the footsteps of those who have traveled the Good Way before me.

For this reason, perhaps, as I read in Jeremiah this morning, verse 6:16 captured my attention. However, there is a bit more to the verse:

…But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Jeremiah 6:16b

My friends, I don’t know what you are facing on the first day of 2019. None of us know what we may be facing tomorrow. In fact, we are never guaranteed tomorrow.

But we have today. We have right now.

Today I invite you to a journey of joy. It isn’t a pain-free journey, nor it is a fool’s journey though you may be called a fool for embarking on it. I invite you nonetheless. Come, ask for the ancient paths where the good way is and find rest for your souls. Walk it, and do not refuse.

I know some of you are dealing with the slow decay of cancer. Others deal with the no less malignant cancer of anger, envy, unforgiveness, self-exaltation, or even the twisted egoism of self-loathing. Leave them by the wayside and find rest for your soul.

Others deal with pain rooted in an unhealed childhood wound. Many have addictions of one type or another, whether to food, entertainment, alcohol, drugs, sex, or something else. If you’ve lived long enough with any of these, you’ve experienced already the law of diminishing returns. The fun is gone, only the endless grind of need remains and grows like its own ruthless, devouring cancer. But you can lay those aside, too. Find the good Way, the One you were meant to be addicted to, and find rest for your soul.

Some have rejected the very idea of God so bitterly you think you can never turn to Him now. People would laugh. He would laugh and refuse to accept you now. He won’t.

You are not the first mocker to find that His way is the one you’ve been seeking after all. Peter, Jesus’s disciple, denied Him at His arrest. I once did, too. But the Lord had mercy on us both. So join me in searching the ancient paths like Peter’s and the paths of our lives today for signs of the God we once denied and like me, find rest for your soul.

The Peter who denied the Lord later received the gift of His Holy Spirit and spoke with enthusiasm to a crowd in Jerusalem. You can read about it in Acts 2. But what is remarkable to me is this: The joy I speak of, the rest for your soul that is promised along the good way, is part of what is called by Paul “fruit of the Spirit.”

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…

Galatians 5:23-24a

This fruit grows along the ancient paths and nourishes those who choose the good way, even when the way is hard and the night seems long.

But even on the darkest night in the midst of the most horrendous pain, joy can still light your way and peace be your comfort because you will never walk the good way alone.

To My Atheist Friends This Christmas

I beg the indulgence of a few minutes for any of my friends (or really anyone at all) who scoffs at the notion of the Babe in the manger, the joy of Christmas, and everything else associated with “Immanuel, which means, ‘God with us.'” (Matthew 1:23b).

In our few minutes together, allow me to ask a favor. Forget anything you think you know about Jesus Christ and anything you’ve seen perpetrated in His name on social media. This Christmas, I humbly ask you to consider the singular Person, Jesus Christ, though perhaps not for the reasons you may think.

My reason is an honest, heartfelt desire to share with you the One in whom you may find peace, even in a turbulent and troubled world, because He has overcome the world. He’s even lived in it and knows what it is to suffer as a man.

Once an atheist myself, I have found in Christ an unshakeable peace, an overflowing hope, and even a purpose for pain. I’ve found so much more, but in the interest of keeping this brief(ish), allow me to share an excerpt from Orthodoxy, a book written by another former atheist, G. K. Chesterton:

“That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already, but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents forever …

… Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point — and does not break. In this indeed I approach a matter more dark and awful than it is easy to discuss; and I apologize in advance if any of my phrases fall wrong or seem irreverent touching a matter which the greatest saints and thinkers have justly feared to approach. But in the terrific tale of the Passion there is a distinct emotional suggestion that the author of all things (in some unthinkable way) went not only through agony, but through doubt…

…When the world shook and the sun was wiped out of heaven, it was not at the crucifixion, but at the cry from the cross: the cry which confessed that God was forsaken of God. And now let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.” (emphasis mine)

The message of Christmas is not a message of good tidings so all people can have a good life. It is a message of good tidings because at the birth of the Christ child, a unique event took place in the history of everything. The Most High God, Creator of all that is seen and unseen, laid His glory aside and confined Himself to the frail substance of His own creation in order to do what mankind could not – save them from a hopeless eternity, from a propensity for evil, and from their own stubborn pride.

Or to put the thing into more bite-size portions: The Creator learned to crawl. The One who spoke the world into existence learned to speak his mother’s name. He endured puberty, He felt hunger, He felt sorrow and sickness, joy and zeal, betrayal and ridicule and everything else a human being can feel but without falling into wrongdoing. Ever.

The message of Christmas is almost too difficult to put into words because the first Christmas put an infinite God into a finite form. How do you phrase that adequately, really? Words fail.

Where we have weakened and given in to temptation, Jesus saw the thing through to the uttermost. In fact, He alone among humankind knows the fullest extent of temptation because He alone among men never caved in to temptation. He alone never fell.

He even knows what it is to desire something other than the Divine plan and yet submit to it anyway. Not only that, but He came to offer Himself as the blood price, not for good and holy men, but for all of us. For me. For you. And you and I know, in an honest moment, that we’ve done some pretty reprehensible stuff.

He knows you, friend. He knows what you struggle with, and he loves you anyway. He’s felt temptation, too, but He has also overcome it. That is the hope of Christmas. That is the hope we can share in Christ Jesus.

I so long for you to know my God – the Pauper King who lowered Himself in order to give us an opportunity to rise ridiculously far above our station. I want you to experience the greatest and most breathtaking love you will ever know on either side of the grave.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Hebrews 4:14-16)

I pray He will open your heart as He once opened mine so that some day, we can celebrate together how we both found grace and mercy in our time of need.