Love

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(
Matthew 22:36-40)

The mission of my church is “to change the world by developing Christ-followers who love God and love people” (find it here). And since I first committed this mission to memory, I’ve always taken loving God and loving people as two separate things.  I am to love God.  I am to love people.  In the way same Jesus answered the lawyer’s question above, I am to love God first and I am to love others second.

Yet recently God has written something important on my heart.  Loving God and loving people are not just two separate commands; they are together evidence of one loving relationship.  

When Jesus told the lawyer he was to love God first and then love his neighbor as himself, I believe Jesus also knew that there was more than a hierarchy present.  Jesus wasn’t just giving us a spiritual checklist, with number one to love Him and number two to love people.  We can’t just muster up our will to love others.  We can’t just go through each day with a checklist in mind, hoping we can put a checkmark next to each commandment.  We can’t love people one day while not loving God; and we can’t love God one day while not loving people. They go together; they are connected.  In the same way a man leaves his father and mother and becomes one with his wife, when we choose to follow Christ, we become His bride, and thus our love for Him and our love for others become one (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Yes, God should be first in everything we do, for He is God and there is no other (Isaiah 45:5).  And yes, He alone is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise (1 Timothy 1:17).  Nevertheless, it is in loving God we love people. After all, “love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).  It is while we are loving God that we will love people.  For if  we confess Jesus as Lord, “God abides” in us, “and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:15-17). This means as we abide in the vine, He’ll produce the fruit–the greatest of which is love (John 15:5 and 1 Corinthians 13:13). It is because we love God that we can love people.  For “if anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen…whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21). It is as we love God that we will love people.  Jesus Himself declared more than once “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; John 15:12). 

By this people will know…by our love.  When God’s love is in us, then God’s love shines through us. Loving God.  Loving people.  They are intertwined–and I dare say inseparable. Our love for Him emerges as love for others.  For it is while we love, because we love, and as we love that God loves others through us. 

So I encourage you today in this:   Are you born of God?  Love.  Do you know God?  Love.  Does God abide in you and you in Him? Love. Love God.  Love people. For God not only loved you first, but He also perfects His love in those who love Him (1 John 4:16-17). God dwells with, lives in, and works through those He loves and those who love.  Love Him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).  And as you love Him–as you seek God first in everything–you will in turn see Him loving others through you.  For to love God is to love people.  And when you love God and love people, you will indeed change the world.

Promise Keeper

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.
(2 Corinthians 1:20)

“I promise.”   Oh how many times have I not only spoken these words but heard them as well.  “I promise to do better next time.”  “I promise I won’t do that again.” “I promise I’ll get that done.” “I promise I’ll be there.” Those two words seem to flow easily from our lips with good intentions.  Yet countless times those two words spoken with earnestness are often soon followed by a just as earnest “I am sorry,” “Forgive me,” or “I meant well” as our good intentions collide with the reality of another broken promise.

But not God.  Remember this today.  But not God.  Why?

God is not man, that he should lie,
    or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
    Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19)

God is not man.  I repeat: God is not man.   Man sins; God is holy.  Man falls; God stands firm.  Man fails; God never does.  Man lies; God never will. God cannot sin.  God cannot fall.  God cannot fail.  God cannot lie.  If God promises, it will come to pass.  It will.  Not one promise of God will ever be followed by an “I am sorry.” Not one.

Why? For all the promises of God find their Yes in him (2 Corinthians 1:20).   And He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23). Faithful. God will do what He says He will do. Knowing God’s faithfulness is what empowered Jacob, who was afraid of his brother Esau, to not only approach God to remind Him that He had promised good, but also to continue going forward (Genesis32:9, 12). Knowing God’s faithfulness led Joshua and Caleb, upon their return from spying the land of Canaan, to declare before the people “the Lord is with us; do not fear them” (Numbers 14:9).  Knowing God’s faithfulness enabled Joshua to confidently speak to the Israelites before he died, “not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14).  

All of them came to pass.  Not one of them failed.  Not one. Oh that each of us could fully grasp the awesome greatness within those words.  God–our Creator and Sustainer–is faithful. If He says He will do it, He will do it. Even if we never see a certain promise fulfilled with our physical eyes, we can rest in peace knowing our faith will be made sight in eternity. Hebrews 11 catalogues the men and women of faith who knew God would keep His promises, even the promises they knew they would never live to see.  All those prophets who foretold the coming Messiah?  They may not have ever seen Him in the flesh, but they saw Him through their faith.  They fully believed that what God says He will do, He will do, even if He does not answer in the time we expect.

This weekend we are celebrating Easter–celebrating the death, burial, and resurrection of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Do you realize Jesus is the greatest example of God’s faithfulness in keeping His Word?  God wove His promise of a Savior throughout the Old Testament, from Genesis through Malachi.  In Genesis God spoke to the serpent, he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).  In Psalm 22, when David sang “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  he was singing the very words our Savior would cry out in agony from the cross (Mark 15:34).  In Isaiah we read the specific details and purpose of the crucifixion: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). 

God’s promise to save us not only brought Jesus to the earth, it not only led Him to the cross, but it also kept Him there.  Jesus knew He was the One God foretold would take away the sins of the world. Jesus knew that anyone who believed in Him would not die but have eternal life. Jesus knew He was the Promised One.   Yet even knowing this, Jesus did have a choice, for even though He was fully God, He was also fully man.  While in the Garden of Gethsemane,  Jesus pleaded three times with His Father,My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me…” (Matthew 26:39a). When the men came to arrest Him, Jesus had legions of angels awaiting His command (Matthew 26:53) . When the high priest stood up and asked Jesus to defend Himself,  one word would have sent His accusers running.

The human side of Jesus may not have wanted to go through with it all, but the ultimate Promise Keeper did. In the Garden, each agonizing prayer ended with “not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39b).  At His arrest, Jesus told His disciples not to fight back so that the Scriptures could be fulfilled (Matthew 26:54).  With every accusation brought against Him, He “remained silent and made no answer” (Mark 14:60-61). When He was on the cross, struggling to breathe, enduring immense physical pain, He could have easily cried out to His Father and His Father would have rescued Him.  He could have said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t go through with this.  I know You promised to save Your children, but I just can’t go through with being the sacrificial lamb.”  But He didn’t. At any time Jesus could have used His voice and authority to save His life, but He used His silence and submission to save ours. The One whose voice created heaven and earth and all that is within it spoke not a word in His defense in order to redeem the very ones He spoke into existence. Our defender chose not to defend Himself in order to save us. When given the choice between life and death, Jesus chose His death for our life.  He chose to keep His Word.

Why?  Because He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).  Because “has he said, and will he not do it?” (Numbers 23:19). Because “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9-10).  Because “this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life” (1 Peter 2:25).

So as you head to church this weekend to celebrate our Savior–as you remember His death, His burial, and His resurrection–remember God always keeps His promises.  Always. When God promises, God delivers. And when God sent Jesus into the world, He not only delivered on His promise of a Savior but He delivered us through Him. Hallelujah!

God Knows

And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
(Exodus 2:25 ESV)

God knew.  These two words leapt from the page of my Bible this morning and made their home in my heart.   God knew.

What did God know?  He knew His children.  He knew their struggles.  He knew their hearts.  He knew who they were and who He wanted them to be.  He knew where they came from and where He wanted them to go.  He knew it all.  As the Amplified version of this same verse states, “God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice [of them] and was concerned about them [knowing all, understanding all, remembering all].”

When God says He knows, He really knows.  He knows the beginning and the end and everything in between.  He knows our every thought before we think it and every word before we speak it.  He knows our past, our present, and our future.   He knows it all.

Read with me Psalm 139:

 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.
(Psalm 139:1-6)

When God knew the plight of the Israelites in Exodus 2, He knew more than what was currently happening.  He knew the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He knew the life of Joseph and how He had used Joseph to bring His children to Egypt.  He knew what was coming–the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart, the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the rebellion of His children.  He knew the doubts, the fears, the struggles, and the fickleness of their faith.  He knew it all.

But knowing it all has never and will never stop God from fulfilling His purpose in our lives.  Actually, knowing it all is what enables God to fulfill His purpose in our lives. 

God knows the complete picture He is painting with your life. What may look like a random stroke slicing into the canvas of your life has a purpose in God’s plan.  Consider how a painting is created.  The artist has a picture in his mind of how he wants it to be upon completion; he has a vision.   With that vision in his mind, he starts mixing colors.  Then with that vision still in his mind, he makes that first stroke.   Now that first brush stroke may look random, it may even appear out of place and completely unrelated to the final vision.  But the artist has a plan with that stroke; he has a plan with every stroke.  In fact, those first few strokes will eventually blend together with more strokes to create a masterpiece.  And even though the individual strokes may not make sense by themselves, together the artist uses each one to create something beautiful.

And this is what God wrote on my heart this morning. It is what I pray He writes on yours as well.  God knows.  He knows it all. He knows the depths of your heart (1 Kings 8:39).  He knows the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4).  He knows the cries of your heart, even the ones too intense to leave your lips.  In fact, since His Spirit is interceding for you even now with groans you cannot understand (Romans 8:26-27), you can speak with confidence the words of David: “O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you” (Psalm 38:9).

My sighing is not hidden from you. In the same way God “heard the groaning” of the Israelites in Exodus 2:24, and in the same way God “heard the sighs” of David throughout the Psalms, God sees and hears each of His children. God not only sees it all and hears it all, but God knows it all as well.  He does not just see each tear that falls; He knows the depth of emotion within each of those tears, and He also keeps a record of them. God has “kept count” of your tossing and put your tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:8).  God has not forgotten you.  God will never forget you.  He knows you.  He loves you.

So go forth this day trusting God knows it all.  All.  He knows every moment, every thought, every word.  And He is using it all to paint a beautiful picture with your life–a masterpiece for His glory (Ephesians 2:10).

God knows where you have come from and where you are going.  He knows your inability at times to see the purpose of those harsh strokes, but He also knows that each stroke–painful or not–is creating something beautiful.  So do not fear.  Do not be dismayed.  He has called you by name.  By name.  In fact, say your name out loud right now.  Now say it within the following verse: “Fear not, _______, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).  I encourage to say it again with confidence: “Fear not, _______, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1)

Can you sense it?  Can you sense that peace in knowing God knows.  He knows it all.  He has you engraved on the palm of His hand and will never–never–let you go (Isaiah 49:16). 

So I leave you with God’s own encouragement spoken to Joshua after the death of Moses.   I pray as you read the words below,  God writes them on your heart with permanent marker.  I also pray as you read them, He instills a trust in you that whether God calls you out of the boat to walk on the water or asks you to remain in the boat to paddle through the storm,  He is with you–guiding, leading, protecting, and fashioning every moment for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).  

God knew each Israelite intimately, God knew David intimately, and God knows you intimately.  And He not only knows, but He sees, He remembers,  He understands, and He always–always has a plan.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
(Joshua 1:9)

No Greater Love

20 And he [the young rich man] said to him [Jesus] , “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him…
(Mark 10:20-21)

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him….   The tender compassion Jesus displays through these words is tangible. The Son of God, the sinless One who would choose to die for our sins, didn’t just glance at the young man, He didn’t even just look at him.   No.  He did more.  Jesus looked at and loved him.

Jesus–the One who knows our hearts more than we know our hearts–looked at this young man and loved him.  He loved this young man even though He knew the young man did not truly love him.  Jesus was consciously sympathetic of this young man’s plight–He could look at this man’s heart and see the stronghold–the stronghold He came to destroy.  But Jesus did not just look, see the stronghold, then turn away.  No, He looked, He loved, and then out of compassion He shared the Truth.  Jesus longed for this young man to let go of the stronghold of earthy treasures and cling to the true treasures of heaven.  And even though Jesus knew the young man would walk away disheartened, Jesus still looked at him and loved him.

And loved him!

Jesus did not come to earth for His own sake.  He came for the young man mentioned in this passage.  He came for me.  He came for you.   He came to earth to save the lost, to heal the sick, to bind the brokenhearted, and to bring freedom to the captives (Isaiah 61). Why? Why did He surrender His own life for the sake of the world?

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. 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” (John 3:16-17).

Today is Palm Sunday–the day we commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. I am sure we all remember the story well. Jesus, God in the flesh, rides into town on the colt of a donkey. The people of the city wave palm branches and spread their cloaks before Him, declaring, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).  Both young and old were rejoicing at the coming of Jesus, treating Him as royalty–treating Him as they should: as the One who had come to save them.

Yet hindsight is indeed 20/20, for as we look back on this moment now, we know what was to come.  And Jesus, as He was riding into Jerusalem, as He was receiving the praise due Him, as He was declaring to skeptics, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40), also knew what was coming.  He knew full well the voices declaring “Hosanna” this day–the voices praising Him as one sent from God–would soon cry out “Crucify Him!” only a few short days later.

Nevertheless, not just despite knowing their fickle hearts did Jesus continue on, but I dare say because He knew their fickle hearts, Jesus not only continued on but He also loved as He went.  I believe Jesus looking at them, loved them.  Yes–He loved the very ones who would turn on Him.   For it is while we were yet sinners Christ chose to die for us (Romans 5:8).

So what kept Him focused?  What gave Jesus the strength to not only accept the fickle praises of the people during the Triumphal entry but also to quietly endure every curse, every beating, and every accusation that would follow?  What kept Jesus moving forward in subjecting Himself to death, even death on a cross, for sins He never committed?

It is the same thing that enabled Him to look at the rich young man with compassion: love.

Jesus loved the ones who crucified Him. It is His love that kept Him from calling out those praising Him who would be calling for His crucifixion in a few days. It is His love that enabled Him to endure beatings, ridicule, and death.  It is His love that filled Him with compassion for the hearts of those who knew not who He really was:  the Son of God sent to save the very ones who were condemning Him to death.

And guess what?  Jesus loves you.  In fact, Jesus loves you even though you will never be able to fully love Him in the way He deserves.  The rich man wanted to love Jesus, but he just couldn’t give up his earthly treasures.  Yet Jesus looked at him and loved him.  The people of Jerusalem thought they loved Him but would turn on him days later.  Yet Jesus looked at them and loved them.  I make mistakes; I sin.  Yet Jesus looks at me and loves me.  The fickleness and selfishness of man’s heart will never change the heart of God.  God’s love is steadfast.  God’s love endures forever (Psalm 136). Forever.  Whether or not we choose to love, choose to disobey, choose our own selfish desires or choose surrender, Jesus looks at and loves each of us.

Jesus is looking at and loving you right now.

Let that truth sink in.  Jesus loves you.   He isn’t just with you.  He isn’t just watching you.  He’s loving you this very moment.  The One who knows your heart more than you know your heart–the One who knows every word, thought, and action you have and will ever make–loves you. And nothing–that’s right, nothing–could ever separate you from His love.  Nothing. Ever.

 “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
 (Romans 8:38-39).

He Leads Us Through

But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
(Isaiah 43:1-2)

A crowded room.  A busy street.  A new place.  There are many times in life I have reached out, grabbed my child’s hand and said, “Follow me.”  As we weave our way through a sea of faces, as we maneuver the busy streets of the city, or as we venture into the unknown, I take my child’s hand and I don’t let go–even if they try to.

This is the picture God gave to me this morning as I bowed my knees in prayer.  For the friend whose father is making choices unlike the man she has always known and loved, I hear God whisper in her ear, “Take my hand and follow me; I’ll lead you through this muddy  mess.”  To the one whose infant son is in the hospital recovering from major surgery, God is reaching out His hand saying, “Come, follow me. I will guide you every step of the way.  I’ve got you and your sweet little man in the palm of My hands.”  To the precious friend who just finished her last chemo treatment and is now preparing for surgery, God is there, with a reassuring smile, hand outstretched, speaking those words of comfort:  “Come, follow me.  We’re in this together.”   And for me, the one whose future seems to change with the seasons, God daily offers me His hand, assuring me as only He can, “Take my hand sweet daughter of mine.  You may not know where you are going, but I do.  Let me lead the way.”

Whenever I envision my Lord calling my name, reaching out His hand, bidding me to take His outstretched hand and follow, I am also reminded my God who calls me and promises to lead me does so because I am His sheep, and He my Divine Shepherd. He is your Shepherd as well. And as our Shepherd, He may not always lead us out of trouble, but He will always lead us through it.

God cares for me because I am His, and He is mine.  He cares for you, too. Jesus Himself reminds us in His Word, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).

Did you catch that?! No one is able to snatch us from our Father’s hand.  No one!  Oh what comfort this brings! How awesome to know the God of all not only leads us, guides us, and protects us, but also He never lets us go.  Never.   He’s got that hand of mine–He’s got that hand of yours–in His loving grip, and He is not letting go.  Again, He is not letting go, and He never will.  Why?  Because you are His.

So is a relative making choices you wish they wouldn’t make?  God’s got you both; let Him guide your every prayer.   Is cancer attempting to steal your health?  God with His healing power is holding you tightly this very moment; trust in His healing hand.  Is fear, worry, anxiety, and the unknown attempting to steal your joy and peace?  Fear not, my child, God knows it all and has already walked the path before you.  Just follow His lead.

“Come.  Follow me.”  Every moment of every day God speaks these sweet words of encouragement.  He is continually calling each of us to Himself, calling each of us to place our trust in Him–and in His sovereignty.

He is calling right now.  Can you hear Him?  I pray you can.  In fact, I am going to end today’s post with God’s own words of comfort and encouragement.   And I encourage you as you read not to skim these verses because of familiarity.  Rather, take your Savior’s hand and allow Him to lead you through His song of comfort prayerfully. I pray as God guides you through, you hear His still small voice whispering each and every word of love to the depths of your heart, bidding you, His precious child, to “Come. Follow Me”:

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.
(Psalm 23 NLT)

Keep Pressing On

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
(Galatians 5:1)

Have you ever been punched in the stomach?  Hopefully not. I haven’t either.  I have seen it plenty on TV though (ha ha).  The character being punched doubles over, lets out a groan, and then needs time to regain composure and to gasp in the much-needed oxygen he lost due to the unexpected punch.   The strong one recovers quickly and fights back; the weak one falls to the ground, unable to recover, and is in turn beat up even more.

Now as I said, I’ve never been physically punched, and I hope I never experience it, but yesterday I did feel spiritually punched.   My husband told me something unexpected; he shared an e-mail he received which appeared ill-timed and “too little, too late.” The news took my breath away and caused me to double-over inside.  Or as my mom said when I told her, “My heart just skipped a beat.”  To have received this e-mail several months earlier would have caused rejoicing; receiving it yesterday felt like an evil practical joke–and I wasn’t laughing. In all honesty, the news made me want to cry.

But I didn’t cry.  Why?  Because God immediately began showing me that this spiritual punch was an opportunity.  Would I take a deep breath, regain my composure, and continue marching forth?  Or would I fall to the ground, thus allowing myself to go back to the way I used to be–weak and wounded?

I chose strength.  I chose hope.  Actually, what I have been learning lately–and what God is using this current situation to teach me–is hope not only does not disappoint but also it does not just wait around either. Hope marches forward as it waits expectantly. Hope trusts as it moves. Hope presses on.

Merriam-Webster defines pressing on as “to continue to do something, especially in a determined way” (find it here).   To press on toward something then not only requires action, but determined action.  Now to me, determination implies that whatever it is that is requiring me to press on is not an easy path.  For instance, as a somewhat seasoned runner, completing a 5k on a flat road doesn’t require much pressing on for my part.  I’ve run enough that a flat 5k is comfortable and relatively easy.  I might even dare to say I’d enjoy it.  However, a longer run on a hilly course would require me to press on toward the goal.  I’d have to not only make sure I was dressed properly, but also  I’d have to keep hydrated, eat properly beforehand, and continually remind myself along the way to keep going.   There could be times I would want to stop and walk–maybe even quit the race altogether–but I’d press on toward the goal–toward the relief and joy of crossing that finish line.  I would keep my eyes focused on the goal until I finished.

So yesterday, when I was given the unexpected news, even though I was indeed taken aback by it, and even though at first I wanted to curl up and quit the race, God quickly reminded me of Paul’s words in Philippians:  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).  

If you haven’t figured it out by now, life is not an easy journey on a flat road.  There are mountains. There are valleys. There are predators and storms that threaten our safety.  We have to be watchful, on guard, and on the offensive all at once. We cannot be successful by just going forward listlessly day by day; we’d falter.  If we didn’t march forth with determination, if instead we gave up at the slightest hill, valley, obstacle, or unexpected e-mail, we’d be tossed to and fro like waves of the sea.  We’d not only be tossed by the waves, we’d drown in them.

Yet God did not call us to Himself to be swept away,  He called us to victory and to freedom.  And “if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Therefore, instead of submitting again to slavery (Galatians 5:1), I have decided to choose strength. To choose life. To choose hope.  To choose pressing on with confidence.  Yet I don’t choose my strength, for my strength would leave me struggling for breath.  I choose His strength, for His “strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)I don’t breathe in my own understanding and my own thoughts about the way I believe life should go, I breathe in “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  I don’t place my hope in the things of this world, for “the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).

I press on with confidence.  Yet the confidence I use to press on is not my own.   Sure, I can be stubborn and persistent.  Actually, if you were to ask those who know me well, they will indeed tell you I am very stubborn and very persistent–maybe even annoyingly so.  Yet my own stubborn determination will only get me so far.  My human strength, although it may get me moving, will not keep me moving and it definitely will not enable me to finish the race.  Confidence in me or in man is like building a house on the sand. The storms of life will knock it down.

Our hope and our confidence to press on must come from God.   David–a man after God’s own heart and one who spent many years fleeing from Saul after God had already told him he would be king–says it so well in Psalm 62:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. Selah
Psalm 62:5-8

I will not be shakenSay it out loud to yourself right now.  I will not be shaken.  Why?  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

God is our refuge.  God is our strength.  God is our very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).  In fact, because God is with us, we shall not fear the storms of life, and we definitely shall not fight them in our own strength–we must be still and know He is God (Psalm 46:10).  Yet being still is not stopping;  rather, it is just not striving.   I don’t need to strive against the waves in my own strength.  I don’t need to try to figure out my future on my own.  I need only to continue moving forward in faith and in confidence that God will be the one who exalts Himself (Psalm 46:10). For if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30)

So I encourage you today in the ways God has been encouraging me.  First, “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself” (Matthew 6:34).  Even more, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 4:6-7). God knows your heart more than you know it.  He knows the cries of your heart before they ever leave your lips (Psalm 139).  So as you thank Him for all He has and continues to do–even the things you don’t understand–and then after you openly share your heart with Him, leave those anxieties and those fears at His feet. And “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Also, in addition to surrendering your fears and your human understanding before His throne, you must also then get up, dust yourself off, and speak.  But don’t speak your own words.  Speak His Truth. For it is His truth that sets us free (John 8:32). Speak His Truth to that mountain.  Speak His Truth to that valley.  Speak His Truth to that giant.  Speak His Truth to the future that suddenly became unclear.  Speak.  And Believe.

When Jesus tells us in Matthew 17:20,  “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you,”  He is reminding us the object of our faith is more important than the size of it.  All we need is a little faith as long as our faith is in our big God.  If God calls us out of the boat to walk on the water as He did Peter, we must keep our eyes on Him, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  To place our eyes on the wind, the rain, the water, and the waves is to take our eyes off Him–and we’ll sink.   Yet God promises us in Isaiah:

You keep him in perfect peace
    whose mind is stayed on you,
    because he trusts in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.
(Isaiah 26:3-4)

 God is my everlasting Rock.  He is yours as well.  So build your house on the Rock with me. And press on with me, my friend.   Listen to that still small voice whispering confidently in your ear, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).  Hear God speak to you each and every day, “Press on in the path I have set before you.”  Press on through the pain.  Press on through the fog.  Press on knowing, “The Lord himself will go ahead of you. He will be with you. He will never leave you. He’ll never desert you. So don’t be afraid. Don’t lose hope”  (Deuteronomy 31:8).

“Here is what I am commanding you to do. Be strong and brave. Do not be afraid. Do not lose hope. I am the Lord your God. I will be with you everywhere you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Impossible Is Not Possible

‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. (Jeremiah 32:17)

“It is what it is.”  Oh how many times I have heard those words from believers and nonbelievers alike.  Not happy with the way things are?  “It is what it is.”  Things not going your way?  “It is what it is.”  Someone does something you don’t like?  “It is what it is.”  Although many people do use this statement as an indication of a general acceptance of and peace about the way things are, especially when the way things are is unclear, I do believe many also use this statement as a form of resignation.    Don’t like your financial state?  “It is what it is.”  Don’t like the way someone is treating you? “It is what it is.”  Don’t like your job?  “It is what it is.”  Sick?  “It is what it is.” Yet the more I delve into God’s Word, the more I say, “No, it is not what it is.”  We should never resign ourselves to anything less than God’s best, for God’s best is never just “what it is.”  “It is what it is” implies an inability to change.   Yet nothing and no one on this earth is ever unable to change. The only immutable, forever constant, and always–well, just always–is God.  God is Who He is.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And because God is who He is, impossible is not possible.

A little over a year ago, I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually tired;  I did not like the way things were going, and I just didn’t feel complete.  Nevertheless, I also wasn’t sure what to do about it.  I couldn’t change others, and I couldn’t see how to change the situations, so in desperation I cried out to God to change me.   I spoke and wrote this two-word prayer numerous times.  Change me.  Change me.  I just couldn’t resign my life to “it is what it is.”  I didn’t like it the way things were.  And I knew deep down my life did not align with who God is.

So what happened?   God did immeasurably more than I asked (Ephesians 3:20).  He not only changed me; He also changed the circumstances of my life.  Now I won’t say this process was easy. For it wasn’t. I lost some things I had been clinging to and endured sone bumpy roads, yet I will say the pain of the journey has been worth the results. Change isn’t easy. But change that draws you closer to Jesus is worth any temporary heartache.

Actually it has been through the refining fire God spoke to my heart that when what is before our eyes does not match our desires or expectations, when what we are experiencing does not make sense and even goes against what our heart believes to be true, we must keep marching forward, not with resignation, but in faith.   We must put feet to what we believe and know to be true.  We must focus on who God is in all circumstances.  Instead of thinking “it is what it is” as we trudge on through life, we must march forward with heads held high declaring, “God is Who He is.” For as we fix our eyes on Jesus–the one who was, and who is, and who always will be–our “it is what it is” will no longer apply.  For we will not only believe circumstances and people can change, we will see them change. They may not change in the way we may have first expected, but they will indeed change–and conform to God’s best.  Our resignation will be transformed into expectation.  We will no longer see things as they are; we will see things as they can be.   Our faith will be made sight as we realize that nothing is impossible and all things are possible.

Nothing is impossible. All things are possible.

It is these two statements which initially led to this post. Do you know what I love about these statements?  They are truth–truths I can strap on and use to gird my loins.  And they are truths stated by Jesus Himself.

To my knowledge, I do not remember Jesus ever coming upon a sick person or a bad situation and saying, “It is what it is.” Imagine upon hearing the little girl He was on His way to heal had died, Jesus, instead of continuing His journey proclaiming she was only sleeping, stopped and sighed, “Well, it is what it is”? (see Mark 5)  Imagine if Jesus, upon seeing the woman caught in adultery, instead of reminding her accusers of their own sinfulness, watched her get stoned according to the law because “it is what it is”? (see John 8) That’d be preposterous!   Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before He was about to be arrested, beaten, and crucified for sins He never committed, Jesus prayed “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Yes, He prayed for God’s will and was willing to accept God’s will if it was indeed death, but He still believed all things were possible.  Jesus knew if there were any other way, God could and would do it.

Even before the prayer in the garden, Jesus walked out God’s ability to do anything and everything.  After a rich man walked away disheartened at the thought of having to sell everything and give it to the poor, Jesus reminded his disciples–who were wondering who could possibly be saved–that even though some things appear impossible to man, “with God all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27).   When a father pleaded with Jesus to heal his little boy “if” Jesus could, Jesus responded,“‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23).  And Jesus indeed healed the little boy.   When the disciples came to Jesus with a boy they couldn’t heal, Jesus reminded them,  “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). Jesus knew and shared that faith in God–keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Him and His omnipotence–makes all things possible. All things.  Even things we may have never thought of on our own.

Actually, even the conception of Jesus was a reminder of God’s omnipotence.  When the angel came to Mary to inform her she would mother the Son of God, the angel declared, “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Nothing will be impossible. Nothing. Not even what you may be facing right now is beyond God’s reach. If God can enable a virgin to give birth, He can certainly bring you through the fire without a single burn.

All things are possible and nothing will be impossible. Or as God declared to Sarah before the birth of Isaac or to Jeremiah during a siege, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:27).

No!  Nothing is too hard for Him!  God’s got it.  He’s got it all.  Are you facing a giant today?  Rejoice.  Nothing is impossible. Victory will come.  Do you have a dream that looks like it will never be?  Keep believing.  All things are possible.  Nothing and no one can stop God from doing what God wants to do. The desires God places in our hearts He will accomplish  as we continue to delight in Him (Psalm 37:4). He will accomplish them. What we may see as an obstacle is really just an opportunity for God to be glorified in a way we may not have initially expected.  God works out all things–yes, all things–for His good pleasure and according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:13; Romans 8:28).

So whatever or whoever it is you are struggling with today, continue to march forth knowing nothing and no one is beyond God’s control or beyond God’s reach. For we serve a God who makes the impossible not just possible, but probable. Hallelujah!

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”(Ephesians 3:20-21).

 

 

Not Yet

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.  (Isaiah 30:21)

 The other morning when I woke up, I began composing an email to someone. Yet as I completed the email, I paused before hitting send, which has become my habit in recent months. And as I paused, I listened. For what did I listen? God’s guidance. God’s still small voice (1 Kings 19:12). For God has taught me His voice is not always in the spoken word but often in the silence.  God has taught me there is power in the pause.

Sometimes after the pause, I hit send because I hear peace within. Other times in the pause I hear “not yet.” And as I have learned over the past few months, obeying “not yet” is worth every moment of the waiting, for God is not like man.  God knows what was, what is, and what will be.  I only see in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Now to tell my 4 year old “not yet” when he wants something is synonymous with torture in his mind.  As a young child, he cannot fully comprehend the importance or point of waiting.  “Not yet” means “never” in his mind.  In his mind, why should he wait when he really wants it now?!  In fact, my son often says after being told to wait, “Waiting takes too long!”

Of course, I must admit, it was not long ago I looked at waiting in the same way as my child. Why wait if I want it and can have it now?!  If I have something to say to someone, then shouldn’t I just say it?  If I have spent time thinking about something important to me, then shouldn’t I then share it?  If the idea that came to mind seems good, then why not run with it?  I mean, after all, if it came to mind, then the timing must be perfect, right?

No.   Sometimes the message could be right, but the timing could be wrong, or the timing could be right but the message wrong.  Sometimes, even though our flesh may not like it, the perfect time is “not now.”  Not a “no,” but a “not yet.”

Now these two words–“not yet”–have actually become precious to me. Every time I hear them in my spirit, I am reminded God’s timing is perfect and obedience is sweet. God has taught me waiting is not bad; it is actually a wonderful thing. For as I wait, I do not have to worry about what I am waiting for; I can worship the One I am waiting on. After all, God’s presence is in the pause.  I fully believe waiting is in essence an act of faith, for waiting requires us to take the focus off the what and place it on the Who.

Just today in the homework on faith in the Armor of God study, Priscilla directed us to a few passages in Scripture that reveal the essence of faith.  In Matthew 6:25-33, Jesus reminds His disciples to be anxious for nothing because God is more than able to supply their needs.  When He says they have “little faith,” He is referring to their focus; they had lost sight of Him.   Focusing on the needs led them to take their eyes off the one who supplies all their needs according to His riches and glory (Philippians 4:19).   It is why He urges them to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,”  for it is then “all these things shall be added” (Matthew 6:33).  In seeking Him first, waiting and listening for His direction and guidance becomes a joyful form of worship.  Even if what we hear is not what we expect, we can trust His ways are far greater than our own (Isaiah 55:9). Waiting is not about us; it is about God.

Therefore, when some desire or passion or thought overwhelms your soul, I exhort you to pause before you act.  And when you pause, pray.  And as you pray, listen–listen for that still small voice.  And what if you hear that still small voice saying “not yet”? Well, I urge you to heed the voice within telling you to wait. Wait on the Lord, and He will renew your strength (Isaiah 40:31). He will direct the steps you should take (Proverbs 3:5-6). He will bring it to pass according to His will and His timing, even if His timing is not the same as yours. Waiting is not giving up on what we want; rather, it is giving in to the sovereignty of God.  Waiting is allowing God to do His work in His way for His glory.

So worship in the waiting. Not yet is not necessarily a no; it may just be a not now. Even more, it may also very probably be a not in the way you expectNot yet is God’s way of saying, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted” (Psalm 46:10). Not yet is not about man not getting what he wants when he wants it. Not yet is about God getting what He deserves in the way He deserves it.

So what happened with the email I wrote? I actually never sent it, but I did send something.  While I was waiting for the go ahead, God gave me a different message–one more anointed and more God honoring than the original.  Yet it came hours after the first one. If I had sent the original, it would not have been bad, but it would not have been God’s best. And God’s best is well worth the sometimes painful “not yet.”

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)