The Love of God


Ephesians 3: 18  “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.”

Oh! And all God’s people said, “Amen!”

When someone is about to confide in me but hesitates, I often say, “Look. I’ve done and seen pretty much everything there is to do and see. I won’t be offended and I won’t be surprised.”

It’s the truth. If I were to list off my sins, my mistakes – well, many of you who know me would actually be offended, because it would blow your mind how different I am today than I was even a decade ago.

Beth Moore says one reason we can’t understand God is that we try to humanize Him. Oh sweet Lord, how true that is. When we try to grasp how much – or how, period – He loves us, we can come up short.

Oh, especially when we’ve lived lives unsure of the love of anyone, right? The love of any human being? And when – if we’re lucky – we find out that we were wrong – that he or she – or they – actually do love us, well – that presents a beautiful challenge.

What do we do with our lives when we realize we were living them under the wrong assumption or belief? The first thing that we understand, friends, is the depth of the mistakes we made because we believed we were unworthy of love.

So – what constitutes an unforgivable offense here? Just by looking at my life, and the lives of people I know, here’s a quick list I compiled.

“God couldn’t love me because I’ve had too many sexual partners.”

“God couldn’t love me because I lied – all the time.”

“God couldn’t love me because I manipulated people and tried to control them.”

“God couldn’t love me because I had a baby out of wedlock.”

“God couldn’t love me because I haven’t lived a mature, responsible life. I’m not a success, I’m sometimes lazy, and I don’t make as much money as I should. It’s my own fault.”

“God couldn’t love me because I have doubted His love for me for years.”

“God couldn’t love me because I got divorced.”

“God couldn’t love me because I don’t look, think, or act like all those other Christians.”

You know what? Beth Moore also said that belief is not a feeling – it is a choice. And she is right. Some days or moments it’s easy to feel God’s love. Because it was a “good” day – no one got mad at you and you didn’t make an insanely huge screw-up. Or something bad has happened and God came through for you in a big way.

But most days we’re just human. We make mistakes, hurt someone, or let someone down. Maybe we get in trouble at work, at school, or at home. And satan comes strolling into that hot mess and just tells us how worthless we are. And if you’ve heard those words come out of the mouths of people, his voice sounds an awful lot like theirs. And you believe it.

You have a choice, my friends. The choice to believe the Word, not the words of satan, not the words of people who are also screwed up and don’t know how to love you like they should.

Make the choice. And while you’re at it, encourage someone today. You never know, y’all. You never know how much they might need it.

Not My Business!


We say that a lot, don’t we? Even if only to ourselves.

Ezekiel had something to say about that – well, God speaking through him, that is. I read it just now and realized it is the reason I feel the way I do about this matter. First, read this verse:

Ezekiel 33: But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.

Next, let’s consider who this verse applies to besides ourselves. Right off the bat, we know we must hold our brothers and sisters in Christ to a higher level of accountability. The unsaved do not know or believe in our ways. But is that who God is referring to when He calls this people “wicked?”

I believe God means those who are unsaved. We are to “warn” them. That means that if we see or know of someone doing something sinful, we are to tell them about Jesus, I think. Not to come down hard on them or make them angry or ashamed (although these are natural feelings that will come upon them), but to gently and lovingly reprove.

Is that going to make a wicked person happy? Or angry and frustrated? Come now – we all know why we don’t actually follow these words. We don’t want to be the bearer of “bad” news. We don’t want anyone to be angry with us. We want to be friends of all. Folks, Christ didn’t call us to do that. He didn’t call us to be judgmental and critical, but He did call us to speak truth.

Personally? I think the way to start this whole process is to SHOW, not tell. Due to a time constraint, this may not be possible, but if it is, let your actions and reactions speak volumes. This opens the door for further questions and communication. Speak. The Spirit will give you the words.

Now, what if the person doing something wicked is a believer? Does it really matter?

When you know or see something that is wrong, you are obligated to speak up. There’s no way around it. I feel personally responsible for the actions of others around me. If they’re in trouble and I did not help, I am responsible for that! If I don’t at least speak up, I am responsible for that! It’s tiring and overwhelming. Yes. But it’s part of loving others, my friends.

Does it require courage? Honor? Integrity? Of course it does. So, as I tell my boys all the time, handle your business.

Are you going to hell if you don’t confront your Christian co-worker on stealing office supplies? No. Are you going to answer for it? Yes. Are you going to hell for not telling your best friend that his wife is having an affair? No. Are you going to answer for it? Yes.

Are you going to hell for refusing to defend your spouse when others try to manipulate, hurt, offend, and cause trouble for him? No. Are you going to answer for it? Yes.

Are you going to hell for driving by a gas station and witnessing a man beating a woman and refusing to stop to help or even call the police? No. Are you going to answer for it?

You absolutely will. Courage is not the absence of fear – it is action in the very freaking midst of it. This Christian life is HARD. It is not meant to be easy and it shouldn’t be. It is a battle we fight against satan and his minions, and sometimes it requires us to do the hard thing. So fasten your seat belts and begin to see how amazingly freeing it is to follow the Word!

 

 

In Defense of Others – Part II


Last week, I posted the first of this two-part series about defending others, but today we are taking it to a totally unexpected place. At least for me. I had no idea God was going to push me in this direction!

First, let’s take a look at Scripture relating to today’s post, taken from Ezekiel 19:

10 Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard
    planted by the water,
fruitful and full of branches
    by reason of abundant water.
11 Its strong stems became
    rulers’ scepters;
it towered aloft
    among the thick boughs;
it was seen in its height
    with the mass of its branches.
12 But the vine was plucked up in fury,
    cast down to the ground;
the east wind dried up its fruit;
    they were stripped off and withered.
As for its strong stem,
    fire consumed it.
13 Now it is planted in the wilderness,
    in a dry and thirsty land.
14 And fire has gone out from the stem of its shoots,
    has consumed its fruit,
so that there remains in it no strong stem,
    no scepter for ruling.

In this passage, “your mother” refers to Jerusalem, while the “vine” is Zedekiah. The vine is taken by Babylonian kinds, who exiled the Israelites throughout other parts of the world.

We start off well. We start off vigorous. But over time, our morals and values – our beliefs – erode. And what was once a country to be proud of – The United States of America – is now a shameful place.

I’m ashamed of my country – yes. But I still believe in it. I have to defend the parts of it that are worth defending and let go of the rest! What is still worth defending in such a lost country?

The love of God. The love of family as God created it to be. The grace, mercy, and compassion we extend to others, whether they came here legally or look like me or not. Hope and passion for a better life. These are what inspire me and move me. What motivate me to help others. That’s what being American is about to me.

What is it about to you? Blessings!

 

In Defense of Others – Part I


1 Samuel 19: 4 “And Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul his father and said to him, “Let not the king sin against his servant David, because he has not sinned against you, and because his deeds have brought good to you. For he took his life in his hand and he struck down the Philistine,and the Lord worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it, and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?”

I have always been what I would consider a loyal person. I first noticed this at the age of approximately four years old, when an adult – who was enraged – threw a fork at the wall in the room we were in. And, inadvertently, almost hit my brother in the head.

She wasn’t angry with him. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t care – I flew at her and attacked her. I didn’t have to think. I just acted.

Loyal? Yes. As to whether my behavior was appropriate or not, I confess – I vacillate. Part of me feels like a Sunday School teacher would forcefully admonish me for violence, especially against an adult – an elder. The other part of me is just that – me. This behavior was not an abberation – it was part of who I am – and I struggle against that part of me a lot.

However, would I be loyal to someone who isn’t loyal to me? Therein lies the rub, and the answer is “no.” I feel that if you don’t treat me with loyalty, then you’re on your own. Again – is that the right thing to do?  I don’t know, because the people who aren’t loyal to me are people I don’t trust; people I have to guard my heart from; people who expect my loyalty but don’t want to give me theirs. Again, that rub – what’s right and fair here?

One reason I really like Jonathan, King Saul’s son, was that he was loyal to his best friend – the future king of Israel, David – against his own father. Jonathan chose wisely. His father was fallen out of favor with God because he had sinned and was too proud to admit it. Part of the reason King Saul hated David so much was that it was apparent to everyone that David was now in favor with the Lord – that he had been annointed by Him. King Saul saw that his days were numbered and it drove him stark-raving mad.

For some of you, standing up in defense of someone to your parent would be an easy thing to do because you don’t respect him or her. I don’t mean in a sinful way – I mean the way Jonathan felt about Saul. On the other hand, some of you have parents who are godly men and women, and the idea of bucking that system makes you decidedly uneasy and uncomfortable.

What’s the right thing to do here? The truth, as I see it, is to defend what is right. But please note that Jonathan did not get all up in Saul’s grill, so to speak. He was calm. He was strong. He was right. And he would rather upset his father than go against God.

Are you going against God when you allow people you love – such as your parents, your spouse, your friend, etc. – to hurt another and not say anything? Please take some time today and consider this matter. Because if you are, you aren’t just hurting someone close to you, someone in an untenable position. You could be sinning against God.

It’s easy to see how angry the world is. Was it always like this, or did social media make it so blatantly obvious? There are far too many folks letting words fly when they ought to hush.

The people who are afraid to speak Truth end up getting a pass. They don’t cause any trouble, do they? Or do they? Recognize where your priorities are, and act according to the Word. God gives you the courage to do what is right. And once you begin to live your life this way, as in all other things, it becomes a habit and not something to be frightened of. Be a friend like Jonathan. Blessings!

 

The Freedom of Biblical Law


That’s an oxymoron, right? Modern-day Christians are given one axiom in regards to the Old Testament law versus the love-driven, Spirit-driven, Jesus-driven life of the New – and that is that the Law no longer applies. This belief – this precept – is pounded into us.

We like it that way, don’t we? That way, all we have to do is love. And that provides us the perfect shelter of all kinds of wonderful things – pre-marital sex and homosexuality to name two current topics of intense debate and discussion (although we gloss over pre-marital sex and living with our partners pretty quickly.) In the name of love, we can love whomever we want to – and then take it further. We can sin with total abandon.

If I haven’t lost you already, please keep reading. Because what we are being told chokes us – the Law – is in point of fact what sets us free. Christ said, “you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32). Of course He was referring to the Word, and y’all, the Word includes the Old Testament. That’s right.

Don’t be frightened by this. Consider the good news of Hebrew 10:1 in that “the Law has but a shadow of the good things to come.”

Whoa! Consider what Beth Moore said on the subject of this verse – and this doctrine – “The law poured concrete into God’s mold for human relationships, but it also whispered a kingdom to come in which order, sanity, health, and decency dwell under the safe shadow of Christ’s scepter. Jesus’ second coming will usher in a world in which children can’t be sold for sex or shot in their schoolrooms.”

The key world here is “order.” Not “sacrifice” or “altar” – “order.” The Law of the ancient prophets isn’t applicable in that we don’t have to go through a priest to get to Christ or to God, and we don’t have to sacrifice animals and food to please God and ask for forgiveness, or even to celebrate what He has done for us.

But the Law is much more than that. Matthew Henry, a wise man whom I use often to discover the context of verses that, on their own, mean one thing, but taken as a whole with a chapter or book, can mean quite another – put it like this: “Here the apostle (meaning Paul, the author of Hebrews), by the direction of the Spirit of God, sets himself to lay low the Levitical dispensation; for though it was of divine appointment, and very excellent and useful in its time and place, yet, when it was set up in competition with Christ, to whom it was only designed to lead the people, it was very proper and necessary to show the weakness and imperfection of it, which the apostle does effectually, from several arguments. As, [t]hat the law had a shadow, and but a shadow, of good things to come; and who would dote upon a shadow, though of good things, especially when the substance has come? Observe, 1. The things of Christ and the gospel are good things; they are the best things; they are best in themselves, and the best for us: they are realities of an excellent nature. 2. These good things were, under the Old Testament, good things to come, not clearly discovered, nor fully enjoyed. 3. That the Jews then had but the shadow of the good things of Christ, some adumbrations of them; we under the gospel have the substance.

First of all, what is “Levitical dispensation?” Well, “Levitical” refers to the Levites, a segment of the Israelits of the Old Testament set aside as priests. Easton’s Bible dictionary defines “dispensation” as “[t]he method or scheme according to which God carries out his purposes towards men is called a dispensation.” Therefore, how the Levites carried out God’s plan towards their fellow men, while of “divine appointment,” could not compete with Christ. At the time, it was a necessary thing for the Israelites. But Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection denied its usefulness when that curtain in the Temple was rent in two!

Matthew Henry acknowledges that the Law had its own weaknesses – and you don’t have to guess what the most important one was. It was that no one could follow it to the letter. And even if a person did, the sheer willpower of doing so would delete all actual closeness with God, because there would be nothing genuine left over to give to Him. God knew that. He wanted to give them a blueprint for how to live their lives in a pleasing manner to him and to each other. Here is the key point: to each other. He gave them direction, He provided a way out of immoral and chaotic worldly living. And when they – inevitably – screwed it all up, He gave them a way to make peace with Him, with each other, and with themselves.

But the ultimate goal wasn’t the Law – it was the love of Christ. Grace, mercy, and forgiveness do not negate the Law – they make it possible. By that, I mean they make our lives worth living when we fail. All the sins the Law listed are still, in essence, sins today. Some of them are more about what we feel and believe in our hearts rather than what we act out, but they are real, and they are relevant.

The Law brings freedom because it ushers Christ into His rightful seat at the table, folks. Just like we know our kids need boundaries for security reasons – and not just physical safety – we know in our hearts we need rules and order to survive what is truly an anarchic world – but taking it further into the depths of those very same hearts, we know we need the Law to thrive in it!

Blessings y’all!

Quality of Life – God’s Way


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What does quality of life mean to you? Well, Google defines it as “the standard of health, comfort, and happiness experienced by an individual or group.”

The question is, who decides that standard? Because the world is what creates that benchmark, and because the world operates quite differently from God’s word, you’re always going to come up short by defining your quality of life on worldly canons such as money, fame, recognition, success, your career, the appearance of perfection in your life (including your spouse and children and other family members), popularity, how many followers you have on Facebook or Twitter, etc.

Joyce Meyer made an excellent point about quality of life. She wrote, “It’s not the things that happen to us that determine the quality of our lives; it’s how we respond to those things…how much we trust God with them. Doing what we want and getting our way all the time isn’t what will make us happy. Being selfish and self-centered is actually a miserable way to live.”

I know what you might be thinking – how you would really, really love to get your way all the time! That having things worked out to your specifications would be just great. Take it from someone who’s living that way a lot of the time – that’d be me – it’s not true. She’s right – it is absolutely miserable because I know it’s wrong and it’s not fair to others, and since I’m used to pushing people around sometimes to get what I want, it’s a hard habit to break.

The world would call that ambition, or even excellence – if it only happened at work. Other women might applaud me for being “strong.” But here’s  the thing, y’all – taking advantage of others and feeling entitled are not signs of strength; they’re actually signals of great weakness.

It is meekness – humility – that make a person strong. Kindness. Love. Generosity (with money and time). Consider Acts 20:35 – “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

How about Colossians 3: 12-14: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Buying What We Already Have


Good Sunday morning to my followers out there – all five of you – blessings! A little levity is a good thing.

I hope y’all are up and at ’em, getting ready to worship in God’s house today. Before I get prepared to do so, I want to tell you about something I learned this morning. One of my small group’s teachers clued us in on this a few weeks ago, and as I was going through my small group and sermon notes this morning, I felt obliged to share.

Money. It is such a necessary object, isn’t it? This doesn’t just apply to religion or spirituality or whatever you choose to call it – it’s just a basic need we all have. But as you’re going to see, we often try to buy what we already have.

The case in point for today is the Samaritan known as Simon Magnus, a character from the Bible’s Book of Acts. His story is told in Acts 8: 9-25. He believed that only certain people have access to God – otherwise known as a gnostic. He was, however, baptized in Christ Jesus and taught with Phillip. The disciples found out about him and sent men to tell them both about the Holy Spirit.

Here’s where Simon fell into the same old trap we all do, from time to time. Simon saw the men sent by the disciples during the laying on of hands. And what did he want? To buy the Spirit.

What do you want to buy, that you already have? Peace? Joy? Security?

Why do we, over and over, attempt to buy what we already have? Because there is no amount of money that can actually buy these things, yes? So what’s a person to do?

You already know what I’m going to say, don’t you? The Lord giveth all these things unto us, y’all. And He never takes away what we need. So what do you need? Ask Him. Get to know Him through the Word; study the Bible diligently. Push through when it’s hard. Once you begin to understand the Word, you will know exactly what you need to ask for. And hang in there till He gives it to you.

Blessings today, friends.