This is the Day

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24 (ESV)

Having endured some level of quarantine for months now, it seems life has been put on hold. We have had less direction than normal as routines have had to be broken, plans have been canceled indefinitely, and the usual tasks and activities simply can’t be done. As a result, our typical train of thought has been interrupted. We suddenly have more time to think about other things. There is a lot of new information being thrown at us in the news, as well as the constant bombardment of everyone’s opinions on social media. Something certainly on all of our minds is the future. There are many different thoughts on what it might hold but we all have hopes for it to improve. Young or old, healthy or sick, rich or poor, we all imagine a life ahead that will be better. 

Regardless of our hope for the future, it is inevitably filled with unknowns. The direction it could go seems without limits. Our thoughts swirl with conjectures and emotions fluctuate. Sometimes we’re excited about the possibilities, sometimes we fear the terrors that could be, and sometimes we’re sad about what may never come to pass. Ultimately, this mulling over what lies ahead leads to frustration, since we cannot predict what our remaining life on earth will look like. As our minds can find nothing solid to land on we then continue to wander through all the what if’s, what could be’s and why’s. 

Thankfully, we are not left completely blind. God does give us promises for the future that we can fully rely on: that he will not withhold anything good from us (Psalm 84:11), he is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), he has good works prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10), we have eternal life to look forward to (John 3:16)…lots of very good things! But this doesn’t always satisfy our desire to know more details. It doesn’t promise that what you or I think should happen will come to pass. And this where we need to pause and question our thought process. Thinking about the future is not a bad thing, but if it starts to make us discontent and question God’s goodness, then we have a problem. This reveals we are holding too tightly to our idea of what a good future is and spending too much time on what we don’t and may never have. 

We must surrender the future. God alone knows what it holds. He is sovereign, he is faithful, and he doesn’t just have a bright plan for the future, he is working here and now. He is sanctifying us right now and speaking to us, if we’ll just stop and quiet our minds to listen. God loves us just as we are and he has a wise and good plan for each of us this very day. God also isn’t just working on one person at a time. He is doing mighty works for billions of people all over the world at this very moment! Today has enough trouble and needs of its own as well as enough joys, blessings, opportunities, and just enough minutes to accomplish what God has prepared for us. We need to make the most of what we have now (Ephesians 5:15-16), which includes always rejoicing, being in conversation with God constantly, giving thanks for everything, doing everything to the glory of God! 

In Colossians 3:1, we are called to set our minds on things that are above. This may at first make us think just about heaven and the future when Jesus returns and all things will be restored, but we are missing the here and now! Our Father who is “above”, in heaven, is building his kingdom now and we get to be a part of it now. We need not dwell on the uncertainties of the future when we have plenty to see, learn, and do in the present. Psalm 84:10 says, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Spending just today knowing (thinking) I am in the presence of God is better than knowing whether I even have a thousand more days of life. God is the one upholding us, giving us each breath and heartbeat. He is with us, holding us in his hand. May that be enough for us. May we be content with this day he has given us. 

Stop, quiet your mind, and think about what God is doing today, right now, in your life and in the world? Each morning and evening have a conversation with God. Ask him, “What do you have planned today, Father?” and tell him about your ideas for the day. In the evening talk to him about your day and ask about his: “What have you been up to today, Father?”

Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (ESV)

Luke 9:23 “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’” (ESV)

Lamentations 3:22-23 “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (ESV)

Matthew 6:11 “Give us this day our daily bread” (ESV)

 

Surrendering the Why

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV)

The book of Job is an intriguing story. The opening dialogue between Satan and God  reveals much about the goings on “behind the scenes” of the world, yet the book ultimately leaves us with another world of questions we wish we had answers to. Unfortunately for Job, he didn’t even have his own book to read and so had even fewer answers than we. Job endures unspeakable trauma after his entire life is suddenly rocked by natural disasters, murder, robbery, and disease. The whole book is then the endeavor of Job and his “friends” to understand why unfortunate events happen to people. His friends are determined that bad things happen because of a person’s sin and so Job must have some secret sin he needs to repent of. Job, on the other hand, claims his innocence, and thus believes that it can’t be as simple as that. 

Job and the friends don’t really know the “why” behind Job’s pain so they each rely on their own understanding of life to come up with their own answers. The problem is human understanding is fallible and so inevitably arguments ensue over whose ideas are right. Job and the friends continue to make their arguments about the ways of God, suffering, and the world for thirty-five chapters! and they still don’t come up with a clear answer. But in the last few chapters, the Lord finally speaks up for himself. With our typical understanding of how a book should go, we might think now is the time for closure, that God would reveal to Job about his agreement with Satan to test Job’s faithfulness or that God would at least help settle the argument between these men. This book is God’s book though and doesn’t play by any of our modern story rules. Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” God has his own way of doing things, always superior to ours, and the ending of Job’s book is evidence of this.  

Rather than giving pat answers and telling us what we all long to understand – why bad things happen to people – God instead begins to ask Job some powerful questions back: 

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” – Job 38:4 (ESV)

“Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?” – Job 38:36 (ESV) 

“Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars and spreads his wings toward the south?” – Job 39:26 (ESV)

“Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?” – Job 40:8-9 (ESV)

God’s reply to some of life’s deepest questions is to simply proclaim himself as the powerful, all-knowing Creator and Ruler of the universe that he is. While in our pride we expect God to give us answers to all our “why?” questions, he knows better. Look at some of Job’s responses to God’s questioning: 

“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.” – Job 40:4 (ESV)

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” – Job 42:2-3 (ESV)

As God reveals a little more of himself, Job is immediately put in his place. When God speaks, we are humbled. If God had just given Job all the answers he sought, this would have only built up Job’s pride. Job would come to think that he can get whatever he demands of God, instead of learning that God is sovereign, he is the source of all things, and we don’t even come close to understanding all of what he is doing in the universe. God wants us to know more of him, even if that means knowing less about other things we deem so important. At a glance, this may seem unfair, but remember God knows all. He knows what we, his most highly esteemed creation, need the most and that is himself. He is the treasure we are all seeking, and knowing him will satisfy all our desires and need for knowledge. Colossians 2:3 says that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (ESV) As we surrender our own understanding and instead seek to know God, we will gain far more understanding of what truly matters and will benefit our existence. We don’t need to know the why, we just need to know the Who. 

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” – I Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)

 

What Love is This (Part II)

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” – Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV)

Ever since digging into the connection between love and discipline, God’s love has been a common theme in my spiritual studies and ponderings. Mostly how deep and beyond our current understanding it is. We have this idea of love that is so limited and even wrong in some ways. I mean, God is love. We certainly don’t understand all of who God is, so we have to expect that our insight on love is also incomplete.

In Song of Solomon 8:6, it says “for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.” (ESV). I think we usually romanticize this and simply relate these descriptions of love: “strong”, “fierce”, a “flame”, to the intense passion with which one can love another and God loves us. While this is fine, and even true, I again have to think it’s too limited. We tend to box love into something that gives warm feelings and builds us up. When someone says, “I love you” we expect that to come with a smile, a hug or kiss, a kind gesture, and a happy feeling. But going back to the fact that “God is love”, we really need to look beyond our feelings and search the Scriptures to get a more whole picture. These strong words and images of love in Song of Solomon, (“Its flashes are flashes of fire”!?) probably have more depth than we first give them credit for.

When we read that God’s love is a flame it sounds awesome and powerful, but forget that fire can also burn! God’s love can be painful. I don’t even like writing those words. It just seems wrong. But the more I am in the Word and studying God’s love the more I can’t deny that it’s true. God’s purpose for us, his creation, his children, is to glorify him and be with him forever (I Thessalonians 5:9-10, I Corinthians 10:31) and all he does for us is to that end, including how he loves us.

“Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. …at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.” – Psalm 18:8, 13, 15b

 

“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” – Micah 3:2

God, who cannot act outside of his love, is a refining fire as demonstrated in the above verses. We have a lot of impurity within us that distances us from God. He wants to dwell within us, and so has to cleanse us, or in other words, discipline us. It’s all for our good, out of his love for us and desire to be near us. And this is only one facet of the many that God’s love contains! Simply read I Corinthians 13 and be consumed by the beautiful complexities of love. Oh, how we need the knowledge, discernment, and surrender to let God’s love sink deeper into our souls, purify us, and transform us into his image. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish saint said it well, “If you will seek Him in your spirit, I know that you will begin to see the pains and oppositions of life in this new way: they are the most tender and delicate touches of God’s desire for us, by which He works the arts and wiles of love upon our soul.” (34).

John of the Cross. You Set My Spirit Free : A 40-Day Journey in the Company of John of the Cross : Devotional Readings. Paraphrased by David Hazard, Bethany House, 1994.

What Love is This?

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”  Proverbs 3:11-12 (ESV)

Every word has a dictionary definition but many of us are not able to dictate them word for word. What comes much more easily is expressing the way a word makes us feel. For example, what comes to mind when you hear the word “discipline”? For me, discipline brings up thoughts of pain, strictness, rigidity, shame, trouble, consequences, anger, punishment, harshness… Your words may be different, but most likely they aren’t anything very positive either. Whatever you understand “discipline” to mean, it just isn’t something that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Even reading the definition can be a bit uncomfortable: “the practice of training people to obey rules and orders and punishing them if they do not; the controlled behaviour or situation that is the result of this training;” (Oxford Dictionary). But should we feel this way about discipline?

Our current culture has a distaste for this language of “controlled behavior”, making people “obey rules”, and “punishing” those who go astray. The trend is to promote individuality, allow people to live how they want and we’ll all learn along the way what’s best for ourselves and those around us. Common phrases like “be yourself”, “follow your heart”, “you do you”, and “coexist” sound so uplifting and sweet – a world of acceptance where no one is being forced to do anything, no terrible punishments are being doled out, no trouble, shame, or pain… Hold on, let’s get back to reality.

We might be able to imagine this nice world in our heads, but no one can claim it’s working very well in actuality. Our world is wrought with fear, anxiety, depression, suicide, terror, racism, inequality, and an overall lack of peace. And no, it’s not because we just need to learn more “tolerance” for each other. A world where everyone goes their own way will always be one of chaos. Good cannot peacefully coexist with evil. Righteousness cannot tolerate sin. There is only one way to true life and peace and that is the way of Jesus (John 14:6).

Unfortunately, we are all sinners and evil does exist in this world. Is there any hope? Thankfully, we aren’t left on our own to find our way through the dark. God first and foremost sacrificed his son Jesus, to pay the penalty of death that all our sins carry. But he also told us directly the best way to live, the way in which we will find the most joy and fulfillment. He laid it all out in words, and by reading and studying those words in the Bible we can live in peace.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for

correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  -2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

Yet, as we all know, reading and understanding something doesn’t ensure we’ll live by it. Enter discipline: that word we kind of don’t like and want to avoid. God uses discipline to show us how to live in harmony with him and each other. Yes, he’s training us to obey rules. Yes, he’s punishing us if we stray from them. But it isn’t done in anger or to bring us shame. God isn’t being harsh or controlling. He is doing what it takes to bring his world back to what it was made for. He just wants to take his children from despair, bondage, and the sorrow of sin and lead them to freedom and hope. He disciplines out of love! Love! Now that’s a word we are all drawn to and no one thinks negatively about.

Discipline is rooted in love. Can you wrap your mind around that? Can you reframe your concept of discipline to include the alluring feelings of love? This is not to say discipline won’t be painful. Actions have consequences and God’s discipline involves teaching through the consequences, not avoiding them. It is love nonetheless. We give loving gestures to those whom we love and delight in, and for God, that’s us! Proverbs 3:11-12 and Revelation 3:19 say if we are being disciplined it is a sign of God’s love for us and that he is treating us as family!

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” – Revelation 3:19 (ESV)

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” – Proverbs 3:11-12 (ESV)

How do we respond to God’s discipline? Do we run away? Do we ignore it? No! We accept it as God’s loving work and we love the Giver back by receiving his correction. If discipline and love still seem incompatible, we need only seek to be nearer to God and ask him to reveal to us more of his love.

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” – Romans 11:33 (ESV)

 

 

With All Your Might

Deuteronomy 6:4 -5 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all  your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Have you noticed we, as humans, have a natural desire to have something in our lives we are putting our everything into, something we are going “all in” on, so to speak? For many of us, this may not be anything in reality, but something we wish we could put our all into if we only had the time and energy. To make up for this, we often invest in fleeting and trivial things, such as discovering a new favorite food you then eat everyday, or a favorite animal you decorate everything with. It could be someone you meet, like a potential significant other, whom you suddenly are spending all your time with. Perhaps it’s an interest in a sports team, Star Wars, politics, or CrossFit, which finds its way into all of your conversations. It may even be a very admirable pursuit which you pour all your spare time into, like advocating for social justice. And then there are those for whom it is more substantial and all-consuming: think of the late Kobe Bryant and his incredible determination and commitment to be the best he could be in basketball.  

Think about why this is. What is it in us that makes us want to go after something so hard? In pondering this question, I’ve come to realize it involves a grasping for identity. If you only dabble in an issue now, a talent then, a thing here, a person there, then who are you? What will you be known for or remembered for? How are you special and different from the next person? But if you have that one thing, something that fills your thoughts, conversation, time, and effort, people will associate you with it and remember you by it. You are the super athlete. You are the fashionista. You are the health enthusiast. You are the dog lover. It really doesn’t matter what it is, but it gives you identity. It sets you apart from others and helps you feel known. We all deeply long to be known!

Unfortunately most of these pursuits are insignificant and an unrealistic expectation for giving true identity. They take up too much of our life and end up hurting us by crowding out other important things. To prevent this, one might suggest the solution is balance. If we pursue these things with more moderation and prioritize appropriately, then there shouldn’t be those problems. I agree with that, yet balanced pursuits also leaves unfulfilled our intense desire for identity which initiated our passion in the first place. I don’t think this desire should be suppressed or denounced. God put it in us for a reason as it is a reflection of his character and actually leads us to seek him.

God doesn’t do anything half-heartedly. He doesn’t put little effort into his actions and leave them to turn out as they will. 

Genesis 1:31a “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (ESV) 

The word “very” in this verse is the Hebrew word מְאֹד, or me’od, which more accurately translated means “muchness, force, abundance, exceedingly”. The very first recorded thing God does in the Bible, the act of creation, he does with me’od: exceedingly, with all his muchness and force. There is no sense of restraint or balance in those words. God created the world, humans and all, without holding back, and called it me’od good! Exceedingly, abundantly, very, very good! We desire to do things with passion and fullness because we, created in God’s image, are striving to act as he does. Unlike God though, we are far more limited in our capacity, thus our tendency to channel this towards only one or a few things. 

Since God has created us with this propensity, and all he created is good, it must also be meant for our good. Sadly our passions are often misdirected, leaving us empty or hurt. God warns us about seeking after idols, but again his solution isn’t to just do so in moderation. Instead, God gives us something of far greater worth that we are to pursue with our all. 

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (ESV) 

The word translated “might” in verse 5 is also the Hebrew word me’od. God is telling us to do something extreme, without holding anything back. He’s not asking for something we tack on to our other passions and pursuits. He is telling us exactly what we should go all in on, and that is loving him. Our tendency is to first pursue nearly every other thing, but ultimately that passion and desire for identity is meant to lead us to the only thing that will fulfill it, God himself. Our love for God is the only lasting identity that will set us apart as children of the King and will help us see we are known by the only One who really matters. 

Later in Scripture, God again demonstrates his me’od approach towards his work. He loves his “very good” creation so much that he sacrifices his only son, Jesus, in order to bring reconciliation between himself and us. Is there any greater expression of abundant, me’od love? Do we need any more reason to love God back with muchness, to the utmost, exceedingly? It’s for our good, for our fulfillment, for our identity, for his glory!

I John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.” (ESV)

Apply it! What have you been pouring yourself into, defining yourself by, or trying to find identity in apart from God? Consider it’s place in your life in God. You don’t necessarily have to give this up, as God gives us our unique passions and talents for a reason. Think of how you can use that thing as an expression of your love for God so people see God first and you/that thing second. 

 

 

Balancing Perfection

Colossians 3:17 “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

I am a perfectionist, but not in the stereotypical sense that my crafts have to look flawless or else be trashed, I have to be early to be on time, or my shoes have to be lined up neatly in my closet. Rather, I focus on excellence in the bigger picture and making the best choice in each step of life. This means I have very high standards. I am always learning and striving to grow into a better me and to build a better world, but yes, I am also setting myself up for a lot of disappointment. There are simply a lot of things in life that are not black and white, that have no obvious “right” answer, that depend on the unique person and situation, and therefore cannot be done perfectly. Not to mention, I have a sinful nature and the frequent propensity to make less than optimal choices. Oh the frustration. 

Now, I realize not everyone, or even most of you, think like I do (probably a good thing!), but we all have ideals we are reaching for. It could be to be a better wife or mom, to eat healthier, to look better, to be more promotion-worthy at work. Alternately, it could be to stress less about your imperfections as a wife or mom, to stop focusing so much on food, not to let your looks be a distraction, or to be less of a workaholic. None of the above goals are inherently bad, yet each could be the opposite of another! One may want to put more effort in at work to get promoted and earn a raise-a potentially upright goal, while another wants to focus less on work and have more time to spend with family and in leisure-also a good endeavor. So what’s going on here? We need balance, right? Work hard, but not too hard. Try to be healthy, without hyper-focusing on it. Do your best, but don’t stress over it. 

But where exactly is that balance? How do I know when I’ve gone too far or not far enough? There is no yardstick to measure by! It’s so gray and will look different not only for every person, but also just for me from day to day! This is where my perfectionist brain goes haywire. I simply can’t live in constant contention for the fleeting mirage of “balance”. I need another standard to live by; a more solid, unchanging, universal standard. 

There is only one thing that fits that description and that is the word of the Lord that “remains forever” (I Peter 1:25, ESV). While the Bible may not always have all the clear cut and easy-to-follow answers I am hoping for (although it does have a lot!), it does provide me a foundational principle that supersedes the need for balance. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Instead of searching for how much is too much or how little is too little and constantly missing the mark, we only need to ensure our actions are focused on two things: proclaiming Jesus’ name and living with gratitude. If being more selective in your food choices, spending more time cooking in the kitchen, and eliminating poor eating habits can be done with thankfulness while displaying the character of Jesus, then pursue it! It may not look like a “balanced” lifestyle to some, but that is not our goal. If these things begin to bring bitterness and anger to your heart and are done begrudgingly and only out of duty, then it’s time to rethink your decisions. In a sense, you are finding balance, but your standard of peace is not balance itself, but living in the will of God. 

Being the perfectionist that I am, I do a lot of things that can seem extreme to people around me, but I don’t say everyone should live how I do. It is just how I have found thus far (I am always learning and growing!) that I am able to live wholeheartedly as an ambassador of Christ and with unending thanks to my God. Your life and choices will look different and that is great! Let’s simply seek together how to live our best lives so we can glorify God to the utmost!

Apply it! What ideal have you been focusing on in your life and seeking balance in? Think about that area of life and the changes you can make to turn your focus from “balance” to gratitude and Christ-likeness? Be prepared that it might look more imbalanced or “extreme” than many would think appropriate! Don’t let that hinder you. We are living for God and not the acceptance of man.

 

Awareness…This Present Time

Luke 12:54-56 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (ESV)

Although this conversation between Jesus and the crowd occurred thousands of years ago, it is still so relevant to today. The talk of their predicting the weather back then reminds me of our society’s current concern for global climate change and whether our irresponsible use of the earth’s resources can sustain life for future generations. While these issues certainly shouldn’t be ignored, I can’t help but think Jesus would call our Western culture “hypocrites” today just as he did that crowd. People are so passionate about the physical threats to the environment, and yet ignore the secularism and depravity that are threatening the very souls of humanity. Our society is working hard to ensure the earth continues to provide for us, but has turned a blind eye to the Creator of this earth who may return at any time to judge us all. 

Where should our priorities lie? The Bible is clear and does not speak lightly of this matter. It’s not that we aren’t to be informed or stay involved in current issues, but as Christians, we come at them from a very different perspective. We must pay attention to the present times but with the constant awareness that the coming of the King of Kings is imminent. Luke 12 is one of many passages in the New Testament that uses alarming language to warn us of what will happen if we become lax and forget our time and place. 

Luke 12:35-37a, 45-46 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. But suppose that servant says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and he begins to beat the menservants and maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day he does not anticipate and at an hour he does not expect. Then He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.” (ESV)

Be aware. Be alert. Be awake. Be sober. Be watchful. Be attentive. Be ready for action. This warning message is all found all through Scripture. When we are passive, asleep to the times and not thinking eternal or of Jesus’ return, we drift and become like the world around us (Hebrew 2:1). We forget our purpose, live to fulfill our own passions and await a fearful encounter with our God. Instead, we should take up our spiritual armor in order to stand against all that constantly tries to grab our attention and leads us away from God’s calling for our lives (I Thessalonians 5:6). This calling looks differently for everyone. You may be crunching numbers, educating children, nursing the wounded, advocating for sustainability, feeding the hungry, fighting slavery…all needed roles! But don’t forget we are all working towards a one ultimate purpose – to display the glory and love of God to the world and prepare them for His reign. May we never put this as second place in our priorities, lest in moments of trial and temptation we are found asleep on the job and miss out on the feast that awaits. 

 

 

Awareness…My Enemy

There is an amazing story in the middle of the book of Genesis that is often overlooked. Jacob and Esau are twins, but after some pretty rash, selfish, and deceitful actions that put Jacob on top and leave Esau with nothing, they become bitter enemies. Jacob flees for his life and they keep their distance for many years. Eventually though, Jacob wants to come home and knows he will have to meet his twin once again. Not knowing where they stand after so long, Jacob is very cautious and sends messages to prepare Esau of his coming as well as lavish gifts to encourage harmony. The amazing part comes when they finally come face to face and Jacob says to Esau, “For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me.” (Genesis 33:10, ESV). Jacob sees “the face of God” in Esau, the feared brother who planned to kill him, who made him live far from home for many years, who has wealth and power and an army of men with him! This is quite the statement—far from what most of us would imagine anyone would say to their enemy in even the kindest of circumstances.

While I love the beauty of this redemption story, I also find it incredibly challenging. For how many of us have had to face an enemy as great as someone who tried to kill us? And yet how difficult it is for us to respond as Jacob did, to forgive and recognize the value in our “enemies” who have hurt us in much smaller ways. Jacob seems to have an awareness we are missing regarding how we see and respond to other people, enemies or not.

When we look at people, whether strangers or familiar faces, we can’t see their inner being and so our human instinct is to make imperfect assumptions about the correctness of their actions, our compatibility, what we like and don’t like in them, etc. This often leads to less than ideal interactions. Only God knows our hearts fully, deceitful and sick as they are (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV), and still he treats us with perfect goodness. While we are quick to condemn, judge, fear, or brush off mistake-ridden people, God chose to make amends with us while we were still living in rebellion to his will. 

”For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10, ESV)

In the glory and grace of God’s plan, he made a way for our eyes to be opened to the truth. When we finally see Jesus as Lord and accept his righteousness as our righteousness, our access and relationship with God can be restored. Then, God’s Spirit comes to dwell in us and we begin to be transformed into his likeness. Our desire to be like our Papa grows and only then will we start to see people as he sees them and love people as he loves them…all of them. You see, Jacob wasn’t able to say what he did to Esau by some personal epiphany or years of training in enemy love. No! The night before Jacob was reunited with Esau, he had a life-changing experience when he wrestled with God and saw his face (Genesis 32:31). Only when we come to know the face of God, in the person of Jesus, are we then aware of His face in people. 

“[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15, ESV)

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27, ESV)

We are all God’s image-bearers: friends, enemies, close family, and those wildly different from us. When we look at another’s face, no matter their origins, beliefs, looks, or actions, our thoughts should say, “made in the image of God”. And when people look at us, who are redeemed members of God’s family, they should see reflections of Him. 

People aren’t the enemy. All people are God’s creation whom he specially made in his image. All people are God’s children whom he loves so much that he sent his only Son to die for. God desires all people to come to repentance and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ so that he can spend eternity with them . All people have value and are redeemable. All people are our neighbors whom we are called to love. (See Genesis 1:27, John 3:16, I Timothy 2:4, Ephesians 2:8-9, Matthew 5:44-45, ESV). People aren’t the enemy, so stop fighting those who bear the image of God and start loving them. Save your battle efforts for the real enemy.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, ESV)

 

Patience…In Suffering

Suffering is a universal experience and the natural human longing is to avoid it completely or that it may at least pass quickly without too much upset. Even as Christians, we look forward to the day when suffering will be no more, but until then we are able to have a different perspective than the rest of the world. We have all been reminded at some hard time in our life that God causes all things, suffering included, to work together for good (Romans 8:28). This Biblical principle is often not easy to see in the midst of suffering though and thus isn’t always immediate encouragement.

My dad died from cancer when I was nineteen, and I initially found comfort knowing that this was not outside of God’s plan and that he was going to use this for much good.  I sincerely believed God allowed his death to draw people to the Jesus he lived for and so often spoke about. But weeks, months, and years passed and what I’ve seen most is loneliness, pain, rebellion, anger, financial trouble, and broken family relationships—not at all the comforting good I was expecting. Over the years, I haven’t so much shed tears that my dad is gone, but that his leaving seems wasted. 

We don’t get to know everything God does. God’s word is trustworthy and thus all bad things, including death, are within the sovereignty of God; and yes, he truly is working through them for good. But couldn’t he be a little more transparent about it? Couldn’t God give me just a crumb to satisfy that longing to be sure that this death and hurt we are still healing from was for a good purpose? It’s been ten years since that day, but God continues to be faithful in leading me to peace and to see things more like he does. In the midst of suffering, we can so quickly become narrow-minded, misunderstand the words of God, and fail to trust him to be faithful to his promises. This can only lead to impatience and frustration.

Carefully read God’s words again in Romans 8:28. Are we really seeing them for what they are, or are we subtly adding our own expectations? The verse says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Did you notice God does not give a timeline? This is not a guarantee that the good that is to come from bad things will be instant, or soon, or even in our lifetime! The work God is causing is a process, happening now, currently, continually; it does not imply a one and done event in which the good has been accomplished. God is bigger than that! Hebrews 11:13, referring to Old Testament heroes, says “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar…” Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sarah… they all died before seeing the fulfillment of God’s promises! I haven’t wanted to accept this. I want to see the good now. I don’t want to wait or think that I may never see the purpose I was hoping would come out of suffering. But God calls us to be patient. His timing is always better, even though it may sometimes seem dreadfully slow to us. 

Paul says in Romans 12:12 to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” We don’t have to give up hope that good will never come from our suffering. We should constantly cry out to God that His good kingdom would come quickly. All the while, we can find joy in knowing that our hope for good is well-founded and one day will come to fruition. That joy in itself is obvious good coming from suffering, and as we learn to transition from impatient longing to patient trust in the purposes of God, our eyes will start to see the less obvious. God is so good and he is actively working for far more good in the here and now than we could ever begin to imagine!

 

Patience…Bearing Fruit

I’ve been a Christian for many years, but many days it doesn’t feel like it. While I am supposed to be abundantly bearing the fruit of the Spirit, I find I still struggle with the same selfish pride, feel inadequate for the roles God has given me, and fall short of a heart of love and grace towards all people. I truly want transformation and I know that not getting angry in that moment or saying those hurtful words is better for everyone, but time after time the dark depths of my heart are again revealed. It is frustrating to continually fight against the same shortcomings without clear progress then come to realize even my pursuit of love, joy, peace, patience… is rooted in anger, sorrow, anxiety and impatience! This is obviously not the proper approach to fruitfulness.

Luke 8 tells the parable of the soils and of the many seeds scattered in places where they will never bear fruit. Then comes the seeds that land in good soil and these “bear fruit with patience.” In sum, you either hear the Word, ultimately reject it, and bear no fruit; or you believe, hold fast to the Word, and patiently grow and await the time when you will produce the fruit of righteousness. Notice, there is no “extra good” soil that results in instant fruit. 

Fruitfulness takes time. Just as the seed sprouts, grows, flowers, then bears fruit; so we must go through a process. Thankfully, Jesus’ righteousness covers us fully from the day we choose to accept it. We don’t have to be a certain level of fruitfulness to be fully accepted by God and welcomed into his Kingdom. Nevertheless his desire for us is not to wilt and die in our sinfulness. He wants to see us grow into beautiful and fruitful “oaks of righteousness” as Isaiah 61:3 says, though time alone doesn’t get us there.

Fruitfulness takes abiding and asking. John 15 reminds us that we will never get anywhere on our own. We must rely on the strength and sustenance of the vine, namely Jesus, to bear any fruit. We also can’t receive if we don’t first ask! Even the Apostles, who were with Jesus wherever he went and relied on his strength to survive, pleaded to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). God loves to hear from us, even the obvious. Tell him about the fruit that you seek! He will not deny you anything that is good.

Fruitfulness takes knowledge. We can’t expect to be fruitful if we don’t personally know the Spirit of God who is the source of all fruit, or Jesus, who is the perfect example of fruitfulness. The relationships we choose to build and the content we fill our minds with greatly affect our choice to pursue the things of God versus the things of the world.

Fruitfulness takes effort. Look back at the seeds in Luke 8 which bear no fruit. Many of them start to grow, but distractions and trials take place and they give up before any fruit comes. Only those that “hold fast” and persevere come to fruitfulness. This isn’t a passive process. We must intentionally choose to “put off our old self” (Ephesians 4:22) and “go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).

Finally, fruitfulness takes practice. We won’t learn to be fruitful living in a bubble. God has chosen to use real life experiences, little and big, to prune us into fruitful beings. Our times of suffering, moments of temptation, and everyday interactions with people and circumstances are all god-given opportunities for maturity as we “have [our] powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). 

Next time anger, or impatience, or bitterness creeps up, don’t think of it as just another moment for failure. Rather ask God to use it as yet another opportunity to prune away the old self, hold fast to the Word, and make room for his abundant fruit to grow! “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5:7b-8)