Greater Love

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:12‭-‬13 ESV

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep….For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
John 10:11‭,17-‬18 ESV

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?
1 John 3:16‭-‬17 ESV

“Lie” or “Lay.” The struggle to remember the difference is real for many. In short, “to lie” is to recline. When I lie down, I am not doing it to something; I am on something. For example, I am lying on the couch as I write this. “To lay” is to place. You are physically placing something somewhere. You are doing it to something. For instance, I lay the book on the desk (I am taking the book and placing it on the desk).

Why the grammar lesson? Well, when Jesus says that no greater love has someone than to lay down his life, He is reminding us that it is our life that we must place, and we must be purposeful in doing so. When we lay down our life, we are not simply just lying down on the ground and letting people walk all over us. We are not simply at rest either; we are actively placing. We are, as Jesus says, doing it of our own accord. We can choose to lay it down, and we can choose to take it up.

Laying our lives down for the sake of the Gospel is a daily, if not moment by moment, choice we must make. Do we continually push our agenda, or do we humbly submit to what God would have us do? Do we put our interests above all else, or do we put the well-being of others above our own? Do we lay down our selfishness and pride, or do we grasp them with clenched fists, refusing to give an ounce of anything to anyone but ourselves.

To love as Jesus loved requires purposeful action–purposefully living our lives with the “not my will but Thy will be done” mentality. No, laying our lives down does not necessarily mean that we will be physically martyred, although that might happen to some of us one day. It does mean, however, that we are willing to let go of ourselves for the sake of the Gospel. It does mean that we are willing to decrease in order for God to increase (John 3:30). Sometimes laying our lives down requires keeping our mouth shut when we really want to speak. Other times it means speaking when we would rather keep our mouths shut. Sometimes laying our lives down calls us off the couch and out of our comfort zones. Other times it commands us to take a seat for a little while. How we lay our lives down for the sake of the Gospel will differ from person to person and from situation to situation, but the key for all of us who desire to lay our lives down is this: love.  Yes, it is following Jesus’ command to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37‭, 39 ESV).

Remember today that God’s perfect love casts out fear, even the fear of letting go. So join me in choosing to lay our lives down for the sake of the Gospel. Let’s choose life. Let’s choose love. Let’s choose to follow in His steps. Let us together lay ourselves down knowing not only has Jesus called us His friends but also “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”  (John 15:13-14).

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
James 4:10 ESV

 

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Always Hope

Sing praises to the Lord , O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalms 30:4‭-‬5 ESV

There is always hope in Christ. Know this today. God’s anger and our weeping do come, but neither are forever. Sure, they may tarry, but they will not remain forever.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “tarry” in few ways: “to delay or be tardy in acting or doing; to linger in expectation; to abide or stay in or at a place.”  The abiding in this case is not in the forever sense; it’s a temporary stay.  This means when something tarries, it is lingering. It hasn’t stopped moving; it is just moving slowly along. And it’s not staying forever; it just hasn’t left yet.

There’s great hope in this word “tarry,” for it means whatever heartache you are experiencing will not remain forever. That sickness will not last forever. Your heart will not hurt forever. Those tears will one day be wiped away. Joy will come. Healing will come. Tarry doesn’t mean that hardships never come; it just means they will not be around forever.

Tarry also means what God has promised will indeed come. Read with me the passage from Habakkuk 2:3.

And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.

What I love about this passage from the King James Version is the double use of tarry. In essence it says “If it delays, wait for it, because it will not delay.” At first glance this sounds like it doesn’t make sense, but think about it this way. In our house in order to curb overeating and snacking too much throughout the day, we have an eating and snacking schedule. The kids have breakfast when they get up, a snack at 10, lunch around 12, another snack at 3, and then dinner between 6 and 6:30. Of course, even though we have had the schedule for a while, this does not stop my kids from asking if it’s snack time yet. Some days from their perspective, they believe it takes forever for snack time to arrive. But that’s just because they are hungry. Snack time never changes, so from my viewpoint snack time is always on time. It does not delay because the time I intended it to be from the beginning has not changed. My plan remains the same regardless how the kids feel about it.

In the same way, the Promises of God may not come on our timetable or according to our expectations. But they will come.  Tarry to us is still on time to God. God doesn’t tarry according to His time. God is always on time in light of eternity. God’s promises do not delay; they just appear to from our limited viewpoint. God has known from the beginning of time exactly what He was going to do and when He was going to do it, so even though something tarries according to our desires, it does not tarry according to God’s plan.

Therefore, remember this today: a delay on our end is not a delay on God’s. Whatever struggles you are facing, whatever promises seem so far away, whatever sickness plagues you or someone you know—it will only tarry according God’s perfect plan.  The pain will not remain forever. That promise will indeed come.
Sure, the struggles and sickness and waiting may remain for years; they may even be with you until death. But there’s still hope in death; it’s heaven. God Himself declares in heaven, “[He] shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away (Revelation 21:4 KJV).
What hope! What glorious hope! Whatever it is you are facing today–no matter how dark and no matter how devastating–you can have hope. And no matter how “just out of reach” that promise appears to be, you can have hope. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

In His Steps

It was during supper, when the devil had already put [the thought of] betraying Jesus into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that Jesus, knowing that the Father had put everything into His hands, and that He had come from God and was [now] returning to God, got up from supper, took off His [outer] robe, and taking a [servant’s] towel, He tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into the basin and began washing the disciples’ feet and wiping them with the towel which was tied around His waist. – John 13:2‭-‬5 AMP

Think about this: Knowing Judas was about to betray him, Jesus still got up from the table and chose to wash the feet of all the disciples. Yes, all the feet, not just the feet of those He knew would be faithful.

According to this portion of Scripture, Judas was still in the room when Jesus humbly performed an act usually relegated to a lowly servant. This means Jesus actually washed the very feet that would soon walk out that door to betray Him. He even indicates this during His exchange with Peter: “Jesus said to him, ‘Anyone who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, and is completely clean. And you [My disciples] are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew who was going to betray Him; for that reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean’” (John 13:10‭-‬11 AMP).

According to 1 Peter 2:21, we are to follow in the steps of Jesus. We are to live our lives as He did, doing all for the glory of God, even if this means, as it oftentimes does, doing the opposite of what human nature wants to do. Human nature wants to get back at those who hurt us. Human nature wants to repay evil for evil. Human nature wants others to “get what they deserve.” But God calls us out of the ways of the world. He calls us to wash the feet of our enemies, pray for our enemies, and love our enemies. No, we are not to be doormats, for Jesus wasn’t a door mat. He chose to lay His life down. He chose the way of a servant. He walked humbly knowing full well His true position. Nevertheless, we must realize if Jesus willingly gave up His throne for a time to save sinners like us–if He willingly got on His knees to wash the feet of His betrayer–then we too must be willing to get off our man-made pedestals and serve. Even if this requires serving our enemies.

I am not sure what your life looks like today. You may be surrounded by people who encourage you and lift you up and support you. If so, be grateful. Or you may be surrounded by the enemy. Day after day you feel the familiar stab of betrayal at the hands of those you had once trusted. Well, I want to encourage you to remain faithful. Remain steadfast in your desire to follow the steps of our Lord. Remain diligent in your efforts not to stoop to the level of your enemy, or as my family often encourages each other: “Take the high road.” Take the road that leads to righteousness while trusting in God’s faithfulness to recompense each of us–including our enemies–according to our deeds. Walk this life as Jesus did. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Let It Snow

 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

For those of you who may not think much about the types of snow out there, snow is often described as either wet or dry.  The difference between the two depends on both the temperature and the amount of water in the snow. The 5th grade Abeka science book defines “wet snow” as ice crystals that stick together and “dry snow” as ice crystals that fall to the earth singly.

It’s actually snowing wet snow outside as I write these words. 

You know what I love about the wet stuff?  It sticks together.  This means it is awesome for building snowballs, snowmen, and snow forts.  The dry stuff is useless for that kind of fun.

So why am I talking to you about snow? Well, I believe we can apply the characteristics of snow to the Christian walk in more ways than Isaiah 1:18 (“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”).  As followers of Christ, I believe we should also be as wet as snow.

Why? Read with me the description of wet snow I found on a weather website: “This [wet snow] is the snow that makes great snowballs, is tough to shovel, and is not easily drifted by the wind after it reaches the surface. Flakes of wet snow more easily stick together in flight and are not broken apart as much by the wind” (the link is here).

Now think about that definition as it relates to Christianity.  First, wet snowflakes don’t fall one by one to the earth and then lie separately on the surface of the ground; they stick together.  And so should we.  We are all children of God; therefore, we should act that way.  We should get along, encourage each other, and support each other.  No one should have to walk this life alone. As Psalm 133:1 declares, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”

Second, wet snow is great for building.  You can make snowballs, snowmen, snow forts, and with enough of it, you can even make a snow home! You can’t build a thing with the dry stuff.  In the same way, we as Christians should be working together to build one another up and to bring glory to God. Ephesians 4:15-16 reminds us, “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.”  Romans 12:5-6 reminds us to trust God to enable us to “live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Oh the mighty things God would be able to do through us if we all stuck together as wet snow!

In addition to wet snow being an awesome example of sticking together for edification, wet snow also reminds us the importance of sticking together for protection.  Have you ever tried to shovel wet snow?  That stuff is heavy!  You can not easily shovel it out of the way, and too much of it at once can actually cause injury.  Also, according to the description I inserted earlier, wet snow is not easily blown around by the wind either.  Imagine what could happen if we as Christians stuck together like this. Imagine if we stuck together like the ones mentioned in Ecclesiastes above, if we stood firm side by side wearing the armor of God describe in Ephesians   If a brother or sister started to stumble, we could pick him up.  If the winds of this world tried to blow one of us down, someone would come alongside to helps us stand firm.  We’d be a steadfast, immovable body of believers standing firm together against the wiles of the devil.  Awesome.

I’m not sure what category of snow you’d place yourself in today, but I encourage you to ask God to help you be the wet stuff.  Ask Him to fill you with His rivers of living water, for just as the greater the water, the wetter the snow, the more of Him in you, the more stickier a Christian you’ll be.  The more effective you’ll be at not only encouraging those around you, but also the more effective you’ll be at giving glory to the One who deserves it.  So let it snow today, my friend.  Let it snow the wet stuff. And let God use you to build His kingdom and to glorify His name. For when you do–when you join together with your brothers and sisters in Christ–neither you nor your brothers nor your sisters nor the world will ever be the same.

Let it snow!

Let God Do It

May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. -.

1 Samuel 24:12 ESV

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. The Lord has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head.”
1 Samuel 25:39 ESV

And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord ‘s anointed…”
1 Samuel 26:10‭-‬11 ESV

Self-control. It’s a fruit of the Spirit David exhibited many times during his years in hiding. Twice he had the opportunity to kill Saul, and both of those times the men with him encouraged him to do so. Yet both of those times he refrained from taking the life of the one who was out to take his.

David held himself back from taking matters into his own hands. Why? He knew God had promised to give him the kingdom. He knew Saul’s end would come. But He also knew God would be the one to handle it.  David understood that favorable circumstances do not always equate with God’s will. Not all open doors are ones we should walk through. Good looking ways are not necessarily God’s ways. Sure, twice David was able to sneak up on the king, but it was not so David could kill him; it was so God could further equip David while also revealing to Saul why David was the one with the heart like God’s.

When Nabal, a wealthy yet selfish and heartless man, refused to give David and his men gifts that were expected according to tradition and decency, David almost went forth to kill Nabal and every man with him; David almost acted on that anger impulse we’ve all succumbed to many times in our lives. His sword was strapped, his army was gathered, and he was ready to fight. Yet God sent Nabal’s wife Abigail to remind David that God would take care of his enemies. Her plea for mercy snapped David back to righteousness, so David gratefully refrained from taking matters into his own hands. Yes, gratefully. He was thankful God had stopped him from making the mistake of acting in the flesh.

David had a heart like God’s because he longed to do God’s will–a will that included letting God defeat the enemies who rose up in his life. Sure, David had every right in man’s eyes to kill both Saul and Nabal when given the opportunity. After all, Saul had been attempting to kill David for a long time. Saul was the very reason David was in hiding! And Nabal was a ruthless, selfish man who many would say deserved “to get what was coming to him.” Nevertheless, as Romans 12:19 reminds us, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Vengeance is God’s. It does not say “Vengeance is man’s.” God is the one who will repay each of us according to our deeds.  God. Not us.

So are you surrounded by the enemy today? Do you feel someone is out to get you? Are you angry with the way you have been treated? Frustrated with the atrocities those around you appear to be getting away with? Well, let God remind you today of His Truth. First, God sees it all. He sees your enemy; He sees you. And He’s got it under control. Nothing will go unpunshed, and God’s timing of that punishment will be perfect. Remember Proverbs 11:21: “Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished, but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered.

Second, remind yourself of the words of Jesus:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
John 15:18‭-‬20 ESV

If you’re a follower of Jesus, you will have enemies. People will hate you. You will be persecuted.  Yet rather than payback in the flesh, pay it forward in the Spirit. Follow Paul’s reminder: if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head (Romans 12:20‭ ESV).

God promises to recompense us all according to our deeds. So rest in this Truth today. Trust in God’s justice and God’s timing. Let God handle your enemies in His way and as He wills. No, it may not feel good at the time to refrain from payback, but you will be grateful later when you see the results of paying it forward, when you hear your Father one day speak to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34 ESV).

 

Never “Just” Prayer

pray without ceasing
1 Thessalonians 5:17

The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working
James 5:16

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
Colossians 4:2

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Romans 12:12

As I was praying the other day, God impressed upon me the importance of such a venture–He reminded me of not only the power of prayer but also its necessity. Although we sometimes think of prayer as the thing to do when there is nothing else to do (“Well, I am too far away to physically help, so I’ll just pray,” or “I don’t know how to help, so I’ll just pray.”), prayer is active.  It is powerful. It is necessary.  It is essential. Prayer is not “just” anything. Prayer is to our spiritual life what water is to our physical.

Let’s think about water for a moment. Water is essential to every aspect of our lives. First of all, we need it to live. More than half of our bodies are made up of water, our organs require water to function, and a person without water will die in only a few days. Furthermore, we use water for most of our everyday tasks. We use it to cook and to clean–to clean ourselves, our children, our pets, the dishes, the clothes, the house, and the car. We use it to cool off in the summer, and we enjoy playing in its frozen form in the winter. We use it to put out fires, to give power to our homes, and to travel from place to place.

Life would be difficult, if not impossible, without water.

And so also our spiritual lives will be difficult, if not impossible, without prayer. Prayer should not be our last resort; it should be our life blood. Just imagine if we treated prayer the way we treat water. We would drink it in the morning to kickstart our digestion. We’d bring it everywhere, being sure to drink it throughout the day. We’d immediately feel the need for it if we waited too long to have some or ate something a little too salty. We would be sure to use it in everything, especially to clean and maintain ourselves, our family, our friends, and our stuff.  We would harness its power, be revived by its freshness, and celebrate the joy that comes from it. Yes, if we treated prayer like water, our lives would never be the same.

Therefore, I encourage you to join me today in embracing the power and the necessity of prayer–join me in remaining diligent to continually maintain an attitude of prayer.

Living without prayer–living without communion with the Giver of life–is a spiritual death sentence, for when we cease praying, or when we only pray periodically, we are essentially depriving ourselves of spiritual nourishment. We’ll soon feel dry, parched, and sluggish. Our ability to think clearly and act wisely will become fuzzy, and we’ll become spiritually dehydrated.

Let’s not become spiritually dehydrated. Let’s pray–pray without ceasing. Let’s train ourselves to pray first in all things, to pray first in everything.

I cannot stress enough the importance of prayer. So today I will end as I began: with God’s Word. I pray that as you read His Word–as you drink in His Word–God will open your eyes to what He is saying: prayer is not “just” anything; prayer is everything.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
Psalms 145:18 ESV

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.
Jeremiah 33:3 ESV

Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Matthew 26:41 ESV

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 4:16 ESV

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 ESV

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,
1 Timothy 2:1 ESV

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
1 John 5:14‭-‬15 ESV

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
Revelation 5:8 ESV

 

 

 

 

 

No Goodbyes

fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 ESV

It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,
John 14:16 ESV

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:20 ESV

See you later alligator. See you in a while crocodile. Sayonara. Adios. Au revoir. Until we meet again. Parting is such sweet sorrow. Farewell. Take care. Have a good one. Catch you later. Love you. There are innumerable ways to say goodbye. Yet one thing is for sure, whether we are saying goodbye for a short time, a long time, or until heaven, we will all have to say goodbye at some point in our lives.

Now I personally do not like goodbyes, especially when the goodbye involves a beloved friend or family member. I also don’t like saying goodbye to the familiar because the familiar is comfortable and inviting while the the unknown can be awkward and scary.

Yet this morning God spoke a truth to my heart that encouraged me greatly. It’s a truth I have read several times, for it’s written several places in His Word,  but this morning God spoke it to me from a different perspective.

Here it is: God never says goodbye, only welcome home.

God never says goodbye. Do you get that?!  God never says goodbye! No matter how many times on earth we may have to say it, and no matter how many times on earth we may have to hear it, we will never hear God say goodbye. We’ll never hear Him say, “See ya later,” “Sayonara,”  “Adios,” or “I’m outta here.” We will, however, hear Him say, “This is the way; walk in it.” We will hear Him say, “Come, take up your cross and follow Me.” We will hear Him say, “Go into all the world and make disciples.” But we will never hear Him say goodbye. Why? Because He can’t! He can’t say goodbye… because He never leaves! God is always with us! Always! He is with me right now as I write this; He is with you right now as you read it. He is with the ones grieving the loss of the husband, father, and grandfather; He is with the ones grieving the loss of the wife, mother, and grandmother.  God is always with us. He will never leave us, never forsake us, and He will never say goodbye.

But He will say welcome home. After He has walked us through every path along life’s journey–after He has brought us through the storms, through the rivers, through the tunnels, through the valleys, and over the mountain tops, He he will lead us home. He will open up the gates of heaven, turn to us and say, “Welcome home. Welcome home, my child. You have walked the path with me, loved me, and served me. We have been together through it all. Now come. Come into the mansion I have prepared for you.”

I’m not sure what you may be facing today. I’m not sure what goodbye you may have heard or have had to say, but be encouraged knowing that the God who made you and loves you and cares for you will never say goodbye to you. He will never give up on you; He will never walk away from you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.

God loves you, my friend.  So take heart. Feel Him right now as He puts His arm around you, leans in close, and whispers in your ear, “I will never say goodbye to you. I love you. You are Mine, and I am yours. Forever.”

Even This

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time….
Ecclesiastes 3:1‭‭-‬11 ESV

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  This well-known expression has been around for centuries. According to the online Cambridge Dictionary, it is  “used to express the fact that not all people have the same opinions about what is attractive.” In other words, my beautiful is not necessarily your beautiful.

Now from the human perspective, this makes sense, for we all see things a bit differently. Good to me may not be good to you. Nevertheless, in the above passage from Ecclesiastes, I believe Solomon wants us to take away a unique perspective on beauty: God’s beautiful does not always seem beautiful to us, but this discrepancy does not negate the inherent beauty of what God has ordained. Every season we travel through is beautiful in God’s eyes, even if we can’t see it or can’t understand it. For if God makes everything beautiful in its time, then what God declares beautiful cannot be ugly.

This past weekend a friend lost her husband of many years and our family lost a beloved mom, grandma, and great grandma. And with each loss of life, we grieve, for death is indeed a season of saying goodbye, of losing a companion, of missing the face to face fellowship. Death means no more phone calls (even the accidental ones our grandma was notorious for), no more texts, no more visits, no more crazy stories at family get-togethers. Death creates a distance that cannot be closed this side of heaven. For death separates this life from eternity. Nevertheless, even as we mourn (something natural, expected, and also uniquely beautiful in its time), we  must not lose sight of the beauty of death. Psalm 116:15 declares, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” Paul told the Corinthians, “We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). He also told the Philippians in 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Death is something we will all face. Eternity awaits all of us. Yet there is beauty in knowing that our death here on earth marks the beginning of our life in heaven with God. Therefore, I encourage you (and me) today, to ask God to help you see the beauty in death, to even see the beauty in the grief. Alfred Lord Tennyson penned the well known lines: “Tis better to have loved and lost // Than never to have loved at all.” In other words, when our hearts hurt at the loss of a loved one, there is beauty in knowing we had someone to lose.

Now I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the following to you: God makes everything beautiful in its time.  Yes, everything. Even this. Sickness and health. Birth and death. Work and no work. Short commutes and long commutes. Certainty and uncertainty.  Whatever “time” you are in, God makes it beautiful. If you can’t see it today–if you are reading this and thinking, “How is this beautiful?”–then I encourage you to ask God to show you the beauty as you trust in His divine wisdom in allowing this season at this time.

The last part of Ecclesiastes 3:11 reads as follows: Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Although we can ask God to help us see the beauty in everything, we must also remember we will never fully comprehend the beauty within every season we travel. But we do have hope, for God has planted a bit of eternity in each of us. God has given each of us that measure of faith necessary to be able to mourn with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13) and to understand that  “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now [we] know in part; then [we] shall know fully, even as [we] have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV).

God does not promise that every season will be easy. God has not promised that every season will seem fun. But He does promise to make every season and every time beautiful. In His eyes.  So go forth with hope and with confidence today knowing what God beholds beautiful is beautiful indeed.  Even this.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the Crowd

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
Matthew 14:13 ESV

This morning I asked God who He would say my favorite Bible character is. When I paused to listen for the answer, I heard “Bob.” Yes, you read that correctly. I heard Bob. So of course I smiled to myself (while also thinking that maybe I had a little too much weird food yesterday), and then asked the question again. Yet again, I heard “Bob.” So then I asked why I was hearing Bob when I was asking for a Bible character. And this what I heard: my favorite Bible character is the one who followed God, who followed Jesus, and who faithfully served without being specifically named. My favorite Bible character is found in the masses. She’s the one who was part of the remnant in the Old Testament, the small group of people who never turned aside to idols. She is one of the ones in the crowds who followed Jesus wherever He went, even into the secluded places, which means she was one of the ones who sat down to eat a portion of those five loaves and two fish. She’s one of the thousands who chose to follow Jesus after hearing the sermon in Acts. She’s one of the ones who was in that home praying for Paul to be released from prison.

My favorite Bible character is the one who chose to follow Jesus right where she was. She wasn’t famous. She wasn’t popular. She was faithful. She served her God in everything, especially in the ordinary. She may have been largely unknown to man, but God saw her. And God loved her.

God sees each of us and loves each of us as well. He intimately knows each of us. Sure, we may never “make it” by the world’s standards. But when we choose to follow God right where we are, we will indeed see our name written in a book. The Book. The Book of Life that grants us entry into eternity with God. We don’t have to be popular to be faithful. We just need to serve. So I encourage you to serve the Lord faithfully today. Serve Him, seek Him, and follow Him knowing the One who sees in secret will one day reward in the open. You may not see your name in lights, but you’ll hear it. You’ll hear your Heavenly Father say, “ Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:23).

Forgiveness

“I, only I, am He who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins. ISAIAH 43:25 AMP
Forgiveness–something gladly received yet often difficult to give. Nevertheless, although forgiving someone is often easier said than done, forgiveness of others is an important aspect of our walk with Him, for forgiveness of sin is what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
As we embark on embracing  forgiveness, we must keep in mind a couple of things. First, God alone is the only one capable of wiping away our sins. We as humans do not have the capability to alter someone’s eternal destiny.  Whether or not we choose to forgive someone does not affect whether that person goes to heaven or hell.  It’s that person’s relationship with Jesus that determines his destiny. This is what made the religious leaders so upset when Jesus told the paralytic his sins were forgiven. By saying such a thing Jesus was putting Himself in God’s position. Obviously He was right and justified, but the leaders of the time did not believe nor understand. 
Second, God forgives us because He paid the penalty for us.  God didn’t forgive us because we earned it. God didn’t forgive us because we deserved it. He forgave us for His own sake. He made us, loved us, and wanted to fellowship with us. Yet a holy God cannot fellowship with sin. Thus He sent Jesus. Forgiveness came through the cleansing blood of the spotless lamb of God.
So how does this the above information relate to forgiving others? Well, one way we show our understanding and gratitude for what God has done is to provide that same grace to those around us. No, this will not affect their destiny, but it will affect our hearts. In Matthew 18, Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive those who sin against him. Jesus’ reply was in essence, “always.” He then told the parable of the wicked servant. In the parable, the wicked servant, after being forgiven of much, refused to give grace to another who owed far less than he. This lack of grace revealed an unrepentant heart. And the wicked servant paid dearly for it. The parable doesn’t describe what happens to the servant who had owed far less, but I don’t think that matters, because the point of the story is to explain that we are to forgive as we are forgiven. No, this doesn’t save others, but it does show our gratefulness for what God has done for us.
Even Jesus’ model prayer in Matthew 6 contains the prayer that we will forgive others as we have been forgiven. Jesus even expounds on this concept right after that prayer with the following:
For if you forgive others their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins], your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others [nurturing your hurt and anger with the result that it interferes with your relationship with God], then your Father will not forgive your trespasses.
MATTHEW 6:14‭-‬15 AMP
Forgiving or not forgiving affects our relationship with God. To not forgive reveals an ungrateful heart. It also implies we think we have more authority than God. For we must remember all sin, whether done to us, by us, or around us, is ultimately sin against God alone. We may be hurt by someone’s sin, but the only one with the authority to judge that person is God.  And God sent Jesus to die for all sins–all of them–even sins that hurt us. If He forgives each of us; then He will forgive the one who hurts us as well. To harbor unforgiveness does more than hurt the earthly relationship separated by sin; it also negatively impacts our relationship with God in heaven. For unforgiveness is sin; and sin separates.
Therefore, I encourage all of us today–me included–to forgive and to show grace to all those around us. No one is perfect. All will be judged. Therefore, let’s do our best now to walk in love and grace and encouragement.  This isn’t always easy. Depending on the offense, it could initially appear downright impossible. But praise be to God what is impossible with man is more than possible with God.
So, as God’s own chosen people, who are holy [set apart, sanctified for His purpose] and well-beloved [by God Himself], put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience [which has the power to endure whatever injustice or unpleasantness comes, with good temper]; bearing graciously with one another, and willingly forgiving each other if one has a cause for complaint against another; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so should you forgive. Beyond all these things put on and wrap yourselves in [unselfish] love, which is the perfect bond of unity [for everything is bound together in agreement when each one seeks the best for others].
COLOSSIANS 3:12‭-‬14 AMP