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

Fountain

Thanks to the flu (which I have so far evaded) hitting my home, I’ve little time to engage on social media this week. So here’s an oldie from 2014 that I needed to re-read today! ❤

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Jeremiah 2:12-13

We do not like to hear difficult news. It isn’t much fun, I have to admit, especially when said news involves an uncomfortably close look at my own behavior. My pride doesn’t enjoy the buffeting that comes from a confrontation of my sin.

However, the longer I have walked with God, the more I see the absolute necessity of these moments. If I cannot humbly ask God to search my heart and know my thoughts, well… I am not drinking deep from the Fount of living water but trusting in the cracked and leaky vessel of my silly and rather vain human pride, either by trusting in my own effort or ability or by accepting a cultural standard that is man-made and fleeting. This brief passage in Jeremiah has given me pause for both personal reflection and for a close look at my expectations as a part of the Church at large.

Lately I have been wondering how much of our modern church services are driven by such cultural expectations and efforts. Have we allowed the show to upstage the Almighty?

I love some stirring music as much as the next gal, but I do sometimes fear that what passes for “worship” in many churches today is not actually the unadorned worship of the Father. I fear it isn’t fueled by a hunger for His Word and His presence and marked by repentance and obedience, but by something far inferior. I fear that it is nothing more and nothing less than emotional response.

The plain fact is, we do not need music or color-coordination or conducive environments to worship. Worship just happens, and it happens from a recognition of the majesty and worthiness of God. Worship cannot be manufactured: it is the natural response to our mighty King.

Just the other day as I read Jeremiah 2 to my kids, I pondered it in light of the current church trends. When we, the Church, allow human expectations to define our worship services, are we then trusting in the Fountain of Living Water? Or have we hewn out cisterns for ourselves, cisterns that we expend enormous energy trying vainly to fill only to watch our efforts drain away while we sit by, exhausted and helpless to stop the leak?

I do not claim to know the answers; it is just something I have been contemplating. I do know, however, that many people are out there searching, searching for just the right worship environment rather than simply seeking the limitless Fountain which will, without fail, well up to an overflow.

I have experienced that worship can happen in the midst of intense pain as well as in the midst of beautiful and stirring music. True worship is really a reflexive response to the work of the Holy Spirit and cannot be conjured by any amount of human effort or will. I hope to see a return to sincere worship in our churches in my lifetime. I pray to see it in my own heart, as well.

God has made me realize lately just how deeply I, too, have based my ideologies and standards upon these fractured and fragile, man-hewn cisterns. You see, I tend to view my life–my use of time and other resources, how busy I am, my assessment of my own spiritual condition–not by God’s standards but by measuring them against my peers.

This is an area in which God has been dealing with me lately, pointing to the leaks and flaws in the cisterns I am pouring my energy into and beckoning me to sit by His Fountain and be filled.

I spent years striving ceaselessly to keep my spiritual life “full,” but for years I neglected to begin with humility, repentance and surrender. I have tried to be “good,” but in the end my best efforts are no better than filthy rags. What I need is to abide–to be a part of the living Vine, to trust entirely in the Fountain of Living Water and allow His life, power, and love to suffuse every element of my being until I am utterly eclipsed by it. May He increase and I decrease.

My prayer today, Father, is that I will no longer commit these two evils. Teach me to forsake my flawed human understanding and surrender entirely to Your perfect will. May Your Living Water well up within me to an overflow, for the glory of Your Kingdom and of Your name.

Let it be Your power that others see in me–power over sin and over the cares of this world. I ask for Your forgiveness for my arrogance in carving out my own, leaky vessels. I pray, too, for Your forgiveness for our churches. I pray that we, as Your Bride, would humble ourselves completely and listen to Your will for us. Help us to let go of all expectations that we have created and heaped upon ourselves and open our hearts to pure and sincere worship of You, our King.

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 6:16

Tuesday Prayer for the Family of God

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.
1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Father to the fatherless and Creator of the family, we praise You for the ways You work. Because we are Your children and You love us, You discipline us when we err and welcome us back when we turn to You in repentance. You are astonishingly patient with us and so give us an example of how we ought to be with one another.

For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
John 13:15-17

Oh how we love You and the Word of Truth! Teach our mouths and hearts to rejoice in Your Truth daily and use it to change us for Your glory. Increase in us love for You, zeal for Your Kingdom, desire for Your Word, fervency in prayer, humility to accept responsibility for our sin, and willingness to repent and cooperate with You. You are the God who sanctifies us. Let us not be at war with Your Spirit or with each other but with the evil one alone.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
Ephesians 6:12-13

Today we also pray for wayward children whether they are our peers and fellow children of God or our own physical or spiritual children and grandchildren. Our hearts long to see each of these walk in a right relationship to You. Lord, please, draw the prodigals among us back to You. Only You can pierce a stony heart; pierce theirs. Your Word is clear that none can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him. Draw them, Lord. We plead with You to add their names to the Lamb’s book of life even as we joyfully anticipate the celebration of their salvation.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
James 1:14-15

Please also change us. In times when we face temptation, remind us that You always provide a way out so we have no excuse to fall but for our own evil desires. Help us to hold ourselves and one another accountable as ambassadors for Your eternal Kingdom. When one among us does succumb to temptation, guide us in how to restore such a one lovingly but without minimizing the deplorable nature of sin.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Galatians 6:1

Knowing that we are so prone to pride, we ask for You to guide us in every circumstance and give us the correct measure of grace and truth. Teach us to genuinely forgive as we have been forgiven and to stand firm on the Gospel – even in places where it seems a bizarre contrast to our world. Remind us that we serve a Kingdom which is not of this world and give us the courage to stand. It is in the mighty name of Jesus and for His glory we pray, amen.

Good Friday Reflections: Doing My Duty

To my dear blog friends, I have been overwhelmed lately with working on a book, tutoring, counseling, parenting teens, home repairs, and other bits of life. I’ve managed to read a scattered few of your posts and I continue to keep them for some fantastical future day where I will magically have time to read 84,302 posts by my fellow bloggers. 

But until that day comes, here is a repost of an old blog of mine which is appropriate for me on this Good Friday. In the near future, I hope to make a public confession and share what God has done through the situation I wrote about years ago. For now, a flashback:

“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Luke 17:10

I don’t know about you, but I find it far too easy to fall into what I can only call the “appreciation trap.”

In my head I long to serve God with pure motives and an undivided heart, cheerfully and humbly industrious, motivated by love of my King and totally free from any selfish ulterior motives.

That describes what I want. What happens in actual, real life is sometimes quite different.

Often I begin this way. I will set my hand to a task, working from an abundance of love and energy. Then the days grind on, my fervor lags, the joy in my ministry is replaced by a sense of drudgery, and suddenly I find myself wondering why I am not acknowledged for what I do or why I feel so invisible.

Without knowing quite how it happened, I find I am no longer working out of sheer love for God but have instead developed a desire for recognition and appreciation.

I suppose I could say that it’s just the sin nature and shrug it off. I could continue on, pretending that my motives are truly pure. I could quit.

However, if I am serious about my spiritual growth and truly “working out my own salvation with fear and trembling,” as Paul put it,  cannot shrug it off. Truth be told, regarding my sin with casual indifference, pretending it does not exist, or giving up are not viable options if I am to grow in Christ.

What I need at such times is an attitude adjustment; a reminding of who I am in Christ… and also of who I would be without Him.

In Christ, I am acceptable to God, forgiven and beloved, no longer a condemned and forsaken criminal under the death penalty. Not only pardoned, but wonder of wonders! I am adopted as His child! By grace, I am in the process of being lovingly reformed.

There was a price on my head, and Christ paid it with His life. Because of this undeserved gift, I can now approach the Throne of Grace wearing His righteousness to cover my shame.

That is no small thing, people. Not at all.

Without Him… well, I shudder to think of getting what I really deserve. Do I honestly want the recognition owed to me?  I think not, for I may be recognized not only for the trivial and paltry good that I have done but also for the appalling atrocities I have committed.

Suddenly, when I consider the matter of my meager service in light of my unmerited favor with God, I have to admit that my desire for acknowledgement is more than a touch ludicrous.

Is it not reasonable for the God who granted me reprieve, indeed who paid the cost of my crimes with His own blood to expect a grateful compliance to His wishes?

What’s more, even if He did not redeem me, am I not created by Him and for His purposes in the first place? Do I praise my cup for holding water? Ought I not to perform the functions He created me to do and that without complaint or need for acknowledgement from others?  Then I ought to do so doubly for sheer joy that not only did He shape me, but He saved me from my own poor choices as well!

Oh, Father! Today I thank You for humbling me when my pride swells. Forgive me for my sense of entitlement. Keep my heart humble and teachable, and never let me forget that my standing before You is undeserved. May I bring You glory and be willing to relinquish every shred of ambition and pride.  You must increase and I must decrease.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning,
Philippians 2:12-14

Things of the Spirit: Confession

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. Romans 8:5

How do you practice this? What practices do you use to place your mind on the things of the Spirit?

Our church is reading through Romans together and the above question was asked on social media yesterday. Today I hope to do my best to answer succinctly (for me, that is – haha!).

Even before I read the post yesterday, I devoted some thought to this very question. And true to His glorious nature, God has provided me with an excellent example by using… me.

Specifically, He has pointed out my sin to me and provided the chance to confess.

So how do I place my mind on things of the Spirit? My answer is both simple and complex.

Simple because I don’t. My mind roves far and wide into terrain it has no business traversing. However, what I have done – and continually do to this very hour – is part of the complex answer.

First and foremost, I continually ask the Lord not to allow me to remain comfortable in sin. I pray He will give me true sorrow for my sin and genuine repentance.

Because He is faithful, He always does. Always – whether I like it or not at the moment (and I assure you, I am not always thrilled to be on the receiving end of discipline even though I find I am thankful later on).

Secondly, I spend time with Him every single day. I read his Word. I memorize it and meditate on it. I ask Him to show me my error and to bring me guidance through the Word.

And He does, because He is a good Father.

As I read this morning, several passages seized my attention. For example:

“Their throat is an open grave… The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
(Romans 3:13-14)

Aaaannndd… in reading, I find I am driven to confess. My mouth is far too often full of curses and bitterness. Take yesterday, for example…

I was talking to a friend, commiserating on some “delights” we share involving chronic pain and the feelings of frustration and depression which commonly accompany it. OK, perhaps I ought to have rejoiced in my suffering (Romans 5:3), but I have a much more unattractive sin to confess.

In the course of conversation, I switched gears and complained about something else entirely. I allowed a hurt from the past to well up as bitter words once again, and I fell far short of the glory of God. Very, very far.

So today, I not only confess (and my friend, if you read this, you know who you are! I am sorry!!) – I also repent. I want to reject my bitterness and any grudge and move forward into humble obedience to the One who died to set me free.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
(Romans 6:3, 8)

I want to die to my old nature. But to do so, I find I must not only put to death my old nature, I need to keep putting it to death.
For if you live according to your old nature, you will certainly die; but if, by the Spirit, you keep putting to death the practices of the body, you will live.
Romans 8:13, CJB

I need to continually renew my mind by re-focusing on the goodness of God and recognizing my own weakness and folly. I must be humble enough to realize I am not exempt from sin, especially when I find myself highlighting someone else’s less pleasing habits…

When others hurt me, I am driven to recognize many situations where I have been the one inflicting hurt. I need constant reminders such as this – reminders than I am no better than the one(s) who hurt me.

In so doing, I find it easier not only to repent but to forgive.

But for all of this, I need God. His Spirit living within me. His guidance, His Word of Truth, His correction, His faithfulness.

Yet I must also cooperate with Him, even when cooperation hurts or is humiliating. Even when it means publicly confessing yet another failure to tame the restless evil of my tongue.

In the end, I do all of this because He is worth every single ounce of suffering, humiliation, and even injustice I may experience. After all, He suffered all this and more for me.

If I truly love Him,  how can I believe I should not suffer the same for Him? Particularly when I am at fault!

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God…
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
(Romans 8:14, 16-17)
Lord God, renew my mind and heart! All that I am, I submit to You and ask You to set my mind on Your Spirit and not on the folly of my own weak nature, amen.

Romans – Creature Worship

Romans 1:16-32

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

(Romans 1:24-25)

It’s a simple matter too look at this passage and dismiss it entirely as irrelevant. After all, there are no little stone gods nor candlelit alcoves in honor of carved images in my house.

And yet I find I am not so innocent after all.

When I examine my life in the light of the Word of God, I have to confess there are times when I have “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator:” a creature named Heather Davis.

This self-worship is called “pride” and it is detestable to a holy God – a putting of self in His rightful place.

With this in mind, as I read verse 18, I found not a condemnation of all those godless and wicked people out there in the world, but a warning that my life must not suppress the truth.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
(Romans 1:18)

Like Paul, I need to live as one who is not ashamed of the Good News, keeping in mind the fact that my role is one of immense and grave privilege. I am an ambassador for the King of kings and Lord of lords. As such, the way I live my life reflects Him, and if I live for myself, it reflects him inaccurately.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
(Romans 1:28)

Moving on to verse 28, I have to ask myself: How does this apply to me? It is of no use to read this on behalf of others only. Have I lived so the world can know I not only consider God worth knowing, I consider Him worth loving and obeying? Or do I put my own comfort, desires, or preferences in a position of higher authority than His will?

These are sobering questions. As I read on, I find I have been envious. I have been guilty of both slander and gossip, of acting maliciously, of foolishness and arrogance. I have been faithless.

As much as I would like to declare these are all sins from my distant past, I must be honest. I have been guilty of many of them in recent days.

And I am sorry. Truly, genuinely sorry. Not because of the people I have hurt, though I am sorry for them as well. Most of all, I am sorry for tarnishing the good Name of my Creator.

I do not applaud these things – not in me, not in others. Instead, I ask each day for the Lord to open my eyes to them in myself. My desire and intense longing is to walk humbly before my God, worship Him as God and dying to that twisted old creature called self.

Interestingly enough, all of my failures and crimes really only prove the truth of the basic tenants of my faith.

I am a sinner, incapable of saving myself. I am in need of a Savior, and when I fall, I cling to Him. I am thankful for Him not because I am so wonderful, but because I am so wretched.

Understanding this, how could I fail to worship such a merciful and magnificent Creator?

He must increase, and I must decrease!

Lord, have Your way in me. Forgive my every act of self- aggrandizement and change my life to one lived fully for You. May I be a tool useful to You, never suppressing Your Truth but living it out in heartfelt humility and joy in Your salvation, amen.

Broken and Restored

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
(Psalms 51:4)

Ah, the tale of David and Bathsheba. This story from 2 Samuel 11 and 12 is certainly not rated G…

But if you’re wondering why I bring it up after opening with a verse from Psalm 51, it’s because this unseemly saga is actually the back story of the psalm.

Here’s the nickel version:

At some point during David’s reign over Israel, his troops were off to war. For some reason, he was not with them but instead was walking on his rooftop (think of a structure more like a balcony, not peaked roofs or shingles). From this vantage point, he saw a beautiful woman bathing.

Though he knew she was the wife of one of his soldiers – a man who was out fighting for his king – David sent for her. And impregnated her.

Attempting to cover his indiscretion up, he brought her husband home from battle, got him drunk, and tried to entice him to go home and sleep with his wife. When the honorable man refused because his fellow warriors were still out in the field, David instead conspired to have him killed and make it look like he was merely a casualty of war.

Lovely story, isn’t it?

Eventually, David was confronted with his sin and he did repent. But there were consequences. Many people suffered for this one selfish act of lust – including King David himself.

And this is what I wanted to share from my reading of Psalm 51 today. Notice in verse 4, David cries out to God, “Against you and you only have I sinned…”

I don’t know about you, but at first glance, this claim seems a trifle insensitive. After all, adultery was committed (and possibly rape, though we aren’t told whether or not she went willingly), a man was murdered, a child died, and much later, a kingdom was torn apart by a prince’s rebellion.

The collateral damage from the king’s evil choices was enormous.

Nevertheless, he did write truth. His sin was primarily against his Creator.

Without fail, sin and its consequences wreak destruction, often bringing pain and devastation to our own lives and the lives of others. Despite this fact, the offence is first and foremost against the One who gave us life.

No matter who suffers for it, sin is ultimately between each one of us and our Creator.

When I began to first understand this concept, it was both the most freeing and the most frightening thing I had learned.

Freeing because it means that whoever may hurt me, no matter how close they are to me or how grievous the wound they inflict, it really has little to do with me at all. Each person’s sin is a matter which will be addressed by God – in His time and in His way. And since I know He is a just Judge, I do not have to worry about vengeance. I only have to manage my response – including making sure I do not repay sin with more sin.

Because of this – and because of the enormity of forgiveness I have received – this fact makes forgiveness much easier for me.

For the same reasons, it is also frightening because it means whatever sin I commit is between me and the Almighty Creator. And once again, because He is a just Judge, He will see justice done.

However…

The most amazing part is, God actually exacted the penalty for my sin – for all our sins – from His Son. Justice has been done, and in place of my well-earned destruction, I am instead offered forgiveness and eternal life. We all are.

No matter how horrendous our crimes have been, we can receive forgiveness. This fact, too, makes forgiving others much easier.

But first, there must be a true heart change which begins with a truly broken heart. It is called repentance. 

To be honest, if we truly see the gravity of what it is the Lord Yeshua (Jesus) did on our behalf; if we truly feel the loathsomeness of our rebellion against the One who created and loves us, our hearts will break. Like David, we will find out the truth behind these words:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalms 51:17)

And once we feel honest sorrow and begin to despise our sin, longing to imitate our Father instead; once we understand the rift our crimes have created between us and the One who loves us so much, He offered Himself as ransom in order to purchase our freedom from sin –  well, David’s agonized plea pretty well sums up the appropriate result of this understanding:

Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
(Psalms 51:9-12)

Not a bad prayer to start our year with, eh?