The Love of God — The Greatest Love — A Personal Testimony

The Love of God — The Greatest Love — A Personal Testimony

What compares to the love of God — the greatest love? Our lives are a journey, discovering and nurturing this love which comes from God. We all possess this most basic need to love and be loved. At the end of our lives, when we enter eternity, the only thing that will matter is who we loved and how well we loved. After all is said and done, the love of God reigns supreme.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:7-8

Lovelessness

For most of my life, a warped concept of love defined my relationships. Although, I grew up in a very loving and supportive family, I struggled to replicate that pattern of living and loving. A false self-identity labelled me as a misfit and insignificant. Due to a low value of myself, I found it impossible to truly love and value others.

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Matthew 22:37-39

My inability to love originated from that poor self-identity and feelings of worthlessness. I thought I could escape the realm of lovelessness and enter the domain of true love through marriage. This placed unrealistic expectations on my husband to fill the internal void made only for God.

The Encounter

I first encountered the love of God at a Bible camp as a preteen. Counselors explained through Scripture how Jesus was born the perfect Son of God, lived a sinless life, died on the cross as payment for my sins (which even then were many), and He rose from the grave to give me life.

My parents’ example of love made receiving God’s love an easy step. Though loving, they didn’t understand or believe in the need for confessing one’s faith in Jesus Christ or for salvation, however.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18

As a young girl, isolated in my faith and lacking other Christian support, I was unable to successful maneuver the opposition I felt. And as a result, I unfortunately made a deliberate choice to abandon faith in Jesus.

No Other Love

Almost immediately, addiction and mental illness opened it’s gaping mouth, devouring all hope and life from me. I was naive to believe that there could be love apart from God who is the very essence of true, enduring love. The battle with depression ravaged my mind and soul.

When one tastes the sweet love of God, no other love suffices. In denying the One who truly loves, nothing else satisfied my longing. The journey back to the Lord took ten long and pain-filled years.

Though I had abandoned Him, He never abandoned me. By His grace, He pursued me with the greatest love.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not of works, so that no one can boast.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 

First Love

Jesus’ words directly applied to me,

“Yet I hold this against you. You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first . . .”
Revelation 2:4,5

As I knelt in repentance and committed my life back to Jesus Christ, I uttered one additional prayer, “Lord, teach me to love!” For too long, I had failed to offer genuine, unconditional, and selfless love to those around me.

As God draws us into intimate relationship with Himself, through His love, we learn to love. Then, He renews our minds and transforms our hearts by the truth of the Bible. Then, the Holy Spirit fills us and leads us to the greatest love. We learn to love best through relationship with others who are themselves learning the lessons of love.

The Love of God

When we allow God to become our pre-eminent love everything else falls into place — not instantaneously, but as we consistently follow His example of love.

He begins to become the first One we talk to in the morning and the last One we spend time with at night. We increasingly value prayer, meditation of Scripture, and worship. And we learn to submit to His authority, allowing Him to interrupt and redirect us, as we prioritize time and focus for and with Him.

Not everyone will understand such devotion and commitment. Yet, we realize that we only have the capacity to give to others what we first receive in the presence of His love. As we embrace the greatest love from the One who is love, we gradually obtain the ability to love those around us.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
John 15:12

Oh! May we all learn to follow in the way of the love of God. Then our love for each other will become unhindered and unpolluted. The love of God, the greatest love, continues to make a huge difference in my life and in the lives of multiple others who experienced it. His love transforms us from the inside out.

This life-long process of learning to love as God loves brings life and fulfillment through authentic relationships with others. We all have a story — a personal testimony of learning how to walk in the love of God. What is your story?

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The full story of God’s grace and love over my life can be found here — Thursday’s Child Has Far to Go. Available on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

In MaryAnn Ward's  personal testimony through addictions, depression, and sexual molestation.

5 Unbeatable Exchanges Nobody Wants to Miss

5 Unbeatable Exchanges Nobody Wants to Miss

We can find far more than five unbeatable exchanges that nobody wants to miss — divine exchanges which bring immeasurable benefits. Today as I focus on these few (life, peace, beauty, joy, and praise) may we also discover the many other exchanges available to every believer.

Often things that once worked perfectly, begin to malfunction over time. Some companies even offer trade in discounts to exchange newer, upgraded products for older models. Usually, it’s a limited time offer to urge customers to purchase the latest, fastest, gadgets.

Our children, like everyone else’s, quickly grew out of their clothes as too much leg began to show beneath the hem of pants and tummies protruded from under shirt lines. Shoes also became too tight and developed holes. I smile as I remember how the new purchases seemed to make them stand taller and how they proudly showed off their new-found ability to run faster.

Purging closets and cupboards comes easier to me than loosening my grip on other things which I know I should get rid of — even when those things no longer serve a useful purpose.

An exchange means changes. With changes come challenges we would often rather avoid. But God offers everyone five unbeatable exchanges nobody wants to miss.

The Greatest Exchange

The most beautiful and powerful exchange comes when we surrender our old, temporary life for a new, eternal life in Christ. This divine exchange occurs not outside, but inside us — in the spirit — as we accept Christ’s payment for our sins through His sacrificial death on the cross.

No one dares to claim full understanding of such an exchange. We only receive it by faith. Jesus did for us what we could never do — bridging the gap of separation between us and God and bringing us into relationship with Him.

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.
Colossians 2:13

What a wonderful exchange … death for life … separation from God to being united with Him! Nothing compares to the freedom and joy found in this magnificent exchange.

 “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”
Colossians 3:3

Labor for Peace

Although we are all unique, we each feel the weight of responsibilities and concerns. But Jesus welcomes us to exchange our burdens for His perfect peace and rest.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me. For I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

Another version puts it this way: “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Too often, life feels “heavy or ill-fitting.” These never come from God. Sickness, death, and pain were never God’s plan for us. But because we live in a fallen world, rampant with evil, we face trials. God stands with open arms, offering to carry the full weight for us. He teaches us His “unforced rhythms of grace” to walk through even the most difficult times.

Three Exchanges in One

Hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth, Isaiah promised the unbeatable exchanges Jesus would one day bring.

“… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
Isaiah 61:3

Will we sometimes feel like our lives have disintegrated into ashes scattered by the wind? Sadly, yes. Will we face the heaviness of grief and mourning? Undoubtedly. Will we experience seasons of hopelessness and despair? Perhaps.

However, as we draw near to Jesus He promises to bring beauty from the ashes. Even in the midst of mourning, He pours healing oil into our wounded hearts. And out of the dust of despair, He can and will bring forth songs of praise — not for the circumstances, but for His Presence bringing us through those circumstances.

Jesus doesn’t stop there. Twice in verse seven of the same chapter, Isaiah tells us that Jesus will give us “a double portion” for any trouble we have experienced as we choose to place our weakness into His strength.

Unbeatable Exchanges

Even as I write, I sense the heaviness of what some of you are experiencing today. So, I write with tears of compassion. I feel the heart of God welcoming you to His divine exchange, surrendering your loss for great and eternal gain.

Please join in this simple prayer, accepting His divine exchange.

Lord Jesus, I am tired and worn out — tired of pretending I’m strong and have life together. My heart hurts and my emotions feel as scrambled as my thoughts. I give you my broken life and welcome Your whole one. I long for an intimate relationship with You as my loving Father God. Take my sins and failures, Lord. I believe You died for me. I receive the unbeatable exchange of life and fellowship in Christ. The burdens and pressures have become too much for me to carry, Lord. So, I lay them at Your feet. Teach me the “unforced rhythms” of walking in Your grace. I give you the heaviness of my heart — the burned ashes of dead hopes, the mourning over lost dreams, and the heavy spirit of despair. Today, Lord, I receive Your unbeatable exchanges of life, peace, beauty, joy, and praise. Only You can transform my life into something that will ultimately bring You glory and praise. And in that transformation, I know You will give me life eternal and immeasurable good.
Amen.

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Psalm 84 — When All Else Fails God Doesn’t

Psalm 84 — When All Else Fails God Doesn’t

People fail, economies collapse, and nations fall, but when all else fails God never will. He remains constant through everything. How comforting to know that there is One who will never be shaken, who remains consistent and faithful. Jesus spoke of a time when everything that can be shaken will be shaken. Perhaps, He was describing our incredibly insecure global climate.

A few months ago, I felt a “call” from God to write things which I never intended to permanently set in ink. I wept and struggled as I felt the shaking of my comfortable rhythm. His ask meant opening the gates of my heart in incredibly vulnerable ways. Then I turned to Psalm 84,

“LORD Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.”
Psalm 84:12

Only one path leads to His blessing — the path of humble obedience and radical trust. The Amplified Bible verbalizes this trust as “leaning and believing on (God), committing and confidently looking to (God) without fear or misgiving.” I’m leaning and believing as I commit myself to trust Him in a new way. It would be a stretch to say that my obedience came without fear or misgiving, however.

In these moments, we discover in greater measure that when all else fails God doesn’t!

LORD of Angel Armies

In Psalm 84, the psalmist appeals to the LORD Almighty or the LORD of Angel Armies, just one of many names for God we find within the Scriptures. This name, however, stood apart from the others in that it was understood most deeply when God’s people had fallen away from Him and failed to stand strong in faith.

“In a word, we do not know this name, the ‘LORD of Hosts,’ till we have learnt the Church’s fall … are bitterly divided and destroying one another. But though (we) fail, God ever remains … when His elect have no other helper … God is and must be ever sufficient, for a ruined church as for a ruined world.”
Andrew Jukes1

What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs. The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. They will continue to grow stronger, and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.
Psalm 84:5-7

We each know valleys of pain and tears. When our trust is in the LORD of Hosts, or the LORD of Angel Armies, those valleys become pools of refreshing, not just to us but to others who follow the same path.

When all else fails God doesn’t!

During our hardest times, God promises to take us from “strength to strength” (NIV) or “increasing in victorious power” (AMP). Only by trusting God in the valley of weeping does the fulfillment of this promise come true. Strength to strength! Increasing in victorious power!

God’s Presence

The writer of Psalm 84 expresses His constant desire to be in God’s Presence.

“I long, yes, I faint with longing to enter the courts of the Lord. With my whole being, body and soul, I will shout joyfully to the living God.
Psalm 84:2

Or,

A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.
Psalm 84:10

Do these words reflect my heart when I feel the conflicting emotions of weeping in the valley and shouting joyfully in His Presence? How clearly do I recognize my weakness apart from God? Do I long to be close to Him more than anything else — forfeiting everything for even one moment with Him? Or have I grown complacent and indifferent to the open door of access to the Father which Jesus provided?

One Step

The LORD of Angel Armies stands ready to receive us. No matter how far we have fallen or how great our failure, He welcomes us into into His courts, into His house, and into His arms of grace and mercy. One step takes us from where we are to where we could be with Him. We are only one step away!

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; He [presents] grace and favor and [future] glory, honor, splendor, and heavenly bliss; no good thing will He withhold …”
Psalm 84:11

When all else fails God doesn’t! His promise to us stands firm!

As we take that one step toward Him in obedience and trust, He carries us the rest of the distance. Our fears of being rejected or falling short dissolve in His love and grace. Even our flawed efforts become radiant with His glorious touch over our lives.

If we choose to trust Him, my story, your story, all our stories become testimonies for the LORD of Angel Armies. He is the Lord Almighty who saves and restores the undeserving.

Your present point of trust may far surpass mine and your valley deeper and darker. But let’s move together in our fragile trusting, moving closer to our God who never fails.

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  1. The Names of God: Discovering God as He Desires to be Known, Andrew Jukes, (Kregel,Grand Rapids, 1967), pg 157 ↩︎

Know Your Call! Stay in the Right Lane!

Know Your Call! Stay in the Right Lane!

Perhaps the most difficult thing to discover is the call of God on our lives. Next most difficult is to stay in the right lane of our calling.

Like many vehicles, my car beeps a warning when I veer out of my lane. Why? Because veering off lane creates a dangerous situation for me and everyone else. Of course, if I use the signal indicator before changing lanes, I provide everyone with adequate warning of my intentions.

I’ve lived several decades and made more than a few lane changes in my life. Some changes occurred abruptly — the sudden swerves to avoid danger or navigate a sharp corner. For the most part, however, I perceive these changes a long time in advance, allowing for minor or consistent corrections in choices or shifts in priorities.

As annoying as the warning beeper is in my car, I appreciate the safety feature. I want to know how to stay in the right lane.

The apostle Paul knew his call. He provides an excellent example of how he faithfully stayed in his lane.

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.”
Romans 1:1

By God’s Grace

Whatever the call on our lives, we remember that it is all by God’s grace!

“God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:9

By God’s grace, He has called each of us to Himself — not so that we could do more for Him, but so that we could be united with Him in fellowship.

He honestly doesn’t need us to do anything. He purely loves us and wants us to know and enjoy an intimate relationship with Him.

But part of our calling to Him does include a calling to serve Him. Those He calls He also equips.

“Just think — you don’t need a thing, you’ve got it all. All God’s gifts are right in front of you as you wait expectantly for our Master Jesus to arrive on the scene for the Finale. And not only that but God himself is right alongside to keep you steady and on track until things are all wrapped up by Jesus. God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.”
1 Corinthians 1:7-9 MSG

Isn’t that amazing! God makes His call known to us and He helps us to stay in the right lane by keeping us steady and on the right track.

Know Your Call

The Corinthian church experienced more than a few problems. They became known for disputes and disruptions. Paul makes his call clear to them.

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
1 Corinthians 1:17

Ministry, and life in general, carry many responsibilities of things that could be done, should be done, or ought to be done. It’s a constant battle to focus on the essentials. We may not feel our calling is significant, but it is. Every act of kindness and everything done out of love has immeasurable impact on those around you. Then that love will flow from them to others and to still others more.

Never underestimate or minimize your call. Own it! Walk in it! Foster it!

God called Paul to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Obedience to the Call

Obedience resembles not just getting into our car but driving it. You will have no opportunity to stay in the right lane while parked in the garage. We use vehicles to take us from one place to another. Obedience turns on the engine, pulls our lives into motion, and moves us into our lane of ministry and service.

Paul placed concentrated effort into extensive learning. Then he walked in the misguided authority of human wisdom and position. The results proved devastating to those whom he imprisoned and murdered for their faith.

After God called and equipped Paul, everything changed. Paul immediately shifted into the right lane.

“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
1 Corinthians 2:4-5

Paul’s pre-Christian influence came through “wise and persuasive words.” But now in obedience to God’s call and the anointing of the Holy Spirit everything flowed through God’s power.

Stay in the Right Lane

Because Paul obeyed God to stay in the right lane, the impact of his life probably comes second only to Jesus Christ. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul wrote about twenty-eight percent of the New Testament. He is perhaps the most quoted writer of New Testament scripture.

His in-person preaching reached tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. His writings have turned untold millions to confess their faith in Jesus Christ.

How could one man impact so many people through the centuries?

  • First, Paul received and responded to God’s grace confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.
  • Second, Paul committed himself to full obedience to God’s call.
  • Third, Paul continually demonstrated through his life how to stay in the right lane.

“But we preach Christ crucified … Christ the power of God and wisdom of God.”
1 Corinthians 1:23-24

Prayer

Father God, we receive the grace to know You, the One true God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thank you for welcoming us into fellowship with You and for calling and equipping us to share the gospel with others.
Whether our sharing takes place in our homes, with friends, in the marketplace, or from behind a pulpit doesn’t matter. We desire to walk out our calling in full obedience. Keep us steady, Lord, and on the right track. Help us to stay in the right lane. May the Holy Spirit “beep” a warning whenever we veer from the path You have called us to walk.
I ask for boldness and faithfulness to love as You have called us to love and to serve as You have called us to serve. Fill us with contentment to stay in the right lane.
And Lord, may our lives become a “demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Amen.

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Procrastination — The Great Destroyer

Procrastination — The Great Destroyer

The effects of procrastination plague like rusting relics — visible and invisible evidence of the presence of the great destroyer. Why does procrastination invade so many of our lives, paralyzing us from making decisive decisions and confident actions.

As many as one quarter of people struggle under the weight of procrastination. Often the issue is linked to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or an inability to focus. Perhaps, it results from a combination of many factors. Whatever the reasons, we are all affected by it in some way.

This lack of confidence in making decisions and moving into action impact us all in so many ways. God knows the root lies deep and He says much on the subject. But one of the most sobering is this:

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
James 4:17

Whatever holds us back from doing the right thing or making the right choice, God counts as sin. That alone should be enough reason to take procrastination seriously and recognize it as a great destroyer of God-given potential.

Mental Health

Just as we seek help to overcome physical health issues, we cannot afford to ignore the crippling impact of poor mental health. I’ve struggled enough in this area to realize change isn’t a simple one-two step and your done. Recovery requires time and often professional assistance. But the first step in any recovery begins with acknowledgment.

Procrastinators habitually put off for later the things that should and could be done now. Later may mean an hour, a day, a year, or a lifetime. The resulting consequences of the delay could prove to be small or devastating. To procrastinators, it all feels overwhelming.

In the wait, life falls apart around them — a fence, a house, a business, a marriage, or an entire life. The pressure of making a decision and acting upon it proves far more risky than any consequence.

“One day I passed by the field of a lazy man, and I noticed the vineyards of a slacker. I observed nothing but thorns, weeds, and broken-down walls. So I considered their lack of wisdom, and I pondered the lessons I could learn from this: Professional work habits prevent poverty from becoming your permanent business partner. And: If you put off until tomorrow the work you could do today, tomorrow never seems to come.”
Proverbs 24:30-34 TPT

Limited

Most often the areas of procrastination show up where a person feels the most vulnerable and insecure. Those times when a person feels at the greatest risk of failure or making a mistake. But it is also a sign of passive aggressive behavior — a deliberate avoidance of what needs to be done.

Little by little the walls begin to crumble. Finally, one more missed project turns into a missed grade. One more failure to step up at work turns into dismissal. One more refusal to be responsible results in a breakdown in relationship.

Several times this past week, I have heard the tell-tale comment of the great destroyer, “May I have an extension. I thought I had more time.”

The procrastinator assumes they will be granted more time, more opportunity, more grace, more tolerance, more of whatever is needed to continue dancing with the great destroyer.

Time is short! Today’s opportunity to do what is right and good will never come again! When the sun sets, today is over — never to return.

“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.”
Ephesians 5:15-17

Occupy

Jesus used the parable of the talents to illustrate the importance of fully using opportunities. When He handed His servants their gifts, He commanded them to “work until I come back” (Luke 19:13). Another version says “occupy until I come.” This implies immediate and consistent action.

Those who used their time and resources wisely were delegated greater authority and received a greater reward. The one who was slothful and procrastinated, delaying action and decisions on how to use the talents, ended up losing everything he had been given. How tragic! But how common!

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! …”
Matthew 25:26

God doesn’t take the abuse or misuse of our time lightly! Both are a precious gifts from Him. He holds us accountable for both. If God takes it seriously, we would be wise to do the same.

Healing

We might consider God’s assessment a bit harsh, but the first step toward better emotional health and healing begins with confession and prayer. God knows procrastination is self-protection, an escape from the responsibility whenever possible. But there is good news.

“If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”
1 John 1:9

Forgiveness is the beginning step. To overcome the great destroyer, we must redeem the time! God can and will turn things around, when we work with Him through the healing journey. He has not left us to fight any battle alone.

  • Choose to no longer put mental health on hold.
  • Seek Christian counsellors and mentors.
  • In a healing environment, confess faults to one another so we will be healed (James 5:16).
  • Identify the specific areas when we tend to procrastinate and ask others to hold us accountable in that area.
  • Don’t expect a quick rescue! Work through the healing process.

Well Done

Everyone wants to hear Jesus say, “Well done.” God cares far more about who we are than about what we accomplish for Him. He wants us free from the control of the great destroyer.

We dare not expect more time, when we are not fully using the time God has already given to us. He has given us time to receive His grace, time to share our faith, and time to love others.

God is not obligated to guarantee any of us more time or opportunity.

“For God says, ‘At just the right time, I heard you. On the day of salvation, I helped you.’ Indeed, the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation.”
2 Corinthians 6:2

“The right time is now.” Let’s make today the day for change. Let’s not let procrastination remain as the great destroyer in our lives.

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Communication Failure: Resolving Communication Breakdown

Communication Failure: Resolving Communication Breakdown

Communication failure within any relationship always proves to be costly. How do we resolve breaks in our connections with each other?

Last night, we experienced a short power outage in our neighborhood. It was only a minor inconvenience on a relatively hot day in Saskatchewan. As electronic devices came to silence, people talked more with each other. Neighbors formed small groups, huddling under the welcome shade of mature trees. Children playfully milled around.

However, the outage caused a major disruption and communication failure between my computer and printer. Though they sit within arm’s reach of each other, they refused to connect and exchange information. Not a good scenario to discover on a busy Monday morning. It took many attempts and more than a little frustration to resolve the issue.

Whether the infractions come in minor blips or major collisions, every relationship experiences something similar. Too often little inconveniences turn into major disruptions with those the closest to us.

Thankfully, Romans gives us a step-by-step remedy to resolve conflict and mend any breaks in our connection with others.

#1 – Humility

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.”
Romans 12:3

The moment any of us looks down on someone else, we all lose! If we determine to look up to God for solutions, we will refrain from looking down on others. In every relationship, the focus can never be about “me” or “my side.” God has intricately connected us together in families, work groups, and churches for the common good — the benefit of all.

In humility, we become more capable of seeing ourselves and others through God’s eyes. The Message Bible translates this verse in a way I can relate to.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
Romans 12:3 MSG

Like my office technology issues, we all experience “power outages” in one area of our lives or another. As we grow in “pure grace” for each other, we acknowledge that any and all good in any of us ultimately comes from God.

It is worth saying again, “The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.” Strong and truthful words!

#2 – Love

It is no surprise that love is the key that opens the way to resolution. We also know that love comes with a cost. To love often includes choosing the hard way.

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
Romans 12:9-11

Easy said! Hard does! Loving well bridges any short-term or long-term communication failure. Love soothes the wounds caused by breaks in our relationships.

God challenged me several years ago with a practical way to love sincerely, hate what is evil, and cling to what is good. He powerfully illustrated to me the danger of entertaining even a single negative thought toward anyone. Again, easy said! Hard does! But as soon as any negative thought enters my mind about anyone, I must actively cut it short, replacing it with good and godly thoughts. If I don’t, I will quickly lose my spiritual fervor — being “aglow and burning with the Spirit of God.” That price is too much to pay!

Romans encourages us all to “keep our spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” We are to keep it — to guard and protect it. The duty is ours. The responsibility rests on us.

Lovelessness quenches the Spirit! It extinguishes the Holy Spirit flame that God desires to burn within us. When we refuse to allow breaks in connection to separate us, the fire of God burns brighter and higher.

#3 – Approach Conflict

Sometimes, even positive changes in our lives may produce discomfort and conflict. Our views and principles change as we grow in the things of God.

Most often, communication failure results from differences of opinion or personal preferences. But those differences don’t need to divide us. We can view conflict as healthy and productive.

We all need to learn how to navigate conflict in positive ways. One of the prime methods to bring resolution during conflict is to avoid critical judgments.

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”
Romans 14:4

God alone correctly judges each of our hearts and motivations. He made us free in Christ to follow His example and His Word. He calls each of us to maturity, discerning His will. But, it is important that we act in love as we endeavor to live like Christ.

Rather than judging other people and their motives, God invites us to consider our own actions and driving forces. How do my words, attitudes, and actions affect me? And, more importantly, how do they affect others?

#4 – Value Each Other

Romans 16 stands as one of my best loved chapters. Why? Because the author commends, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor. He acknowledges the worth and good in each individual — their hard work, sacrificial living, friendship, sharing in the hard times, standing the test of faith, and being like family. Co-workers extend their greetings to the church in Rome as well. Even the scribe uses the opportunity to send greetings.

Romans 16 emphasizes the need to consider every individual as of great worth — vitally important, not just to God, but to each other. We only value our family as much as we value each member. We only value our church as much as we value every person in it. Do I look at each person as essential? Valued? Precious?

Oh, how easy to resolve any breaks in connection when we truly value each other as God does. Any communication failure would be quickly mended.

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you. Amen.”
Romans 16:24b

It took several steps in the process to restore communication between my computer and printer. It also takes authentic, purposeful steps to resolve breaks in our relationships.

When the deepest desire and passion of our hearts is to fully express the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will not allow anything to sever our relationships and cause outstanding communication failure.

God is worth it! His people are worth it! He freed us to live by grace through faith in respect to others.

Prayer

Father, I repent of any attitudes, actions, or words that have caused broken relationships and communication failure. I choose humility and love over my need to be seen, heard, or acknowledged. Lord, I repent for expecting others to fill the areas of my life that You long to occupy. I repent of holding critical judgments toward others.
May humility and love lead me to live with others in harmony, holding them in the deepest respect. Give me both the grace and boldness to approach conflict in a way that will bring resolution — as much as it depends on me — to relationships. May I see others through Your eyes — those who are kind and those who are not, those who have a similar mindset and those who do not, those who are strong and those who are weak.
May the passionate fire of Your Spirit burn with increasing fervency. Lord, I purpose to guard my heart and mind with diligence, as I keep You as the focus and purpose of my life.

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Code of Conduct Determines the Outcome

Code of Conduct Determines the Outcome

In every aspect of life, we encounter a code of conduct. Our greatest satisfaction and highest achievement exist within those guidelines. Ignore them and life becomes increasingly uncomfortable.

I’ve spent my fair share of watching and coaching little league sports. Initially, the equipment used and the playing field dimensions are the strongest indications of what sport is involved. The more rules become understood and applied, the more exciting the game also becomes.

Many say, “Rules are meant to be broken!” Broken rules lead to penalties of one kind or another, adversely affecting the individual’s performance and the entire team’s outcome.

What holds true in sports certainly holds true in our daily lives.

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.”
Philippians 1:27

Why do we value rules and codes of behavior in sports and the workplace, but so easily reject them as Christians? The longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119, amplifies the importance of God’s code of conduct.

Wisdom and Insight

“Oh how I love your law!
I meditate on it all day long.
Your commands are always with me
and make me wiser than my enemies.
I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
I gain understanding from your precepts;
therefore I hate every wrong path.”

Psalm 119:97-104

The wisdom and insight we wish to possess comes from understanding and following God’s commands and rules. Just as a game of sports quickly becomes chaos and confusion when rules are thrown to the wind, so our lives reflect the same.

Full Potential

Whether a team sport or an individual endeavor, we only reach our full potential by adhering to a code of conduct. The scriptural term sanctification primarily means “holiness, to sanctify, or make holy.” But another meaning is “the state of proper functioning.”

To sanctify someone or something is to set that person or thing apart for the use intended by its designer. Through Christ’s atonement, we are set apart unto service for God A pen is “sanctified” when used to write. Eyeglasses are “sanctified” when used to improve sight. In the theological sense, things are sanctified when they are used for the purpose God intends. A person is sanctified, therefore, when he or she lives according to God’s design and purpose 1.

God ultimately designed within each of us a unique and fulfilling purpose. The only avenue to achieve His full purposes for us comes through adhering to His code of conduct.

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.
Romans 6:19

Throw away the code of conduct and our world, including us, becomes a free-for-all! Learn from God’s perfect laws and everyone thrives. One leads to “lawlessness” the other to “sanctification” — the fulfilling of God’s intended purposes for our lives.

Grace

But alas! Rules are difficult, even impossible, to consistently follow.

So by God’s great grace, He gave us Jesus Christ. By living in and through Him, He enables us to overcome the draw of lawlessness and walk in the freedom of becoming. Freedom comes as we are motivated by love, respect, and grace. These three form the true motivation behind God’s code of conduct.

He desires everyone to reach their full potential and intended use. So, He gave us the freedom and the power through the Holy Spirit to go that direction.

Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.
Romans 6:13

The word “offer” signifies a once-and-for-all surrender of ourselves to God, like a gift of gratitude.

Practical Steps

We recognize following God’s code of conduct cannot be done in and of ourselves. But as we surrender, first in our hearts and minds, once-and-for-all to Him, we begin the process. Then, we learn to daily walk it out.

Here is how:

  • Read the Bible to discover who God is and His design for us.
  • Pray. Prayer, honest communication with God, forms the bedrock of our relationship with Him.
  • Repent of attitudes and actions misaligned with His code of conduct.
  • Consecrate ourselves, committing everything to Him — our hands for His service, our hearts for His molding, our minds to His instruction, our feet to His direction, our motives to His desires.
  • Dedicate. We also choose to dedicate all we are (or ever will be), and all we possess to His service. We are nothing and receive nothing apart from Him. Each day, we have the privilege of committing it all back to Him.

“But now, O LORD, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter;
And all of us are the work of Your hand.”

Isaiah 64:8

Prayer

Lord, teach me Your ways — Your code of conduct. Instruct me and show me how to reach the full potential You have designed for my life. I confess that I have attempted to live by self-made rules. Thank You for redirecting me back to You. Holy Spirit fill me with the power and desire to walk according to God’s ways. Because life is not a game to be casually played, I recommit myself to You, Lord. May I experience the joy and freedom of living a life set apart for You, fulfilling You purpose and calling. Amen.

1. Walter A. Elwell, Ed., Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Entry for Sanctification, (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House Company, 1996)

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Nobody Can Tell Your Story — Tell What God Has Done

Nobody Can Tell Your Story — Tell What God Has Done

Nobody can tell your story but you. Nobody can tell my story but me. The most important story to tell is what God has done in our lives.

Biographies and autobiographies list the highest on my favorite genres to read. True stories of those who have courageously walked out their faith challenge my own faith to grow deeper and more steadfast. Call them trailblazers or pioneers, survivors or thrivers. Tenacious faith marked each of their lives. Their stories, personal and relatable, resonate within us.

So even though I know the power of personal stories, every time I attempt to tell my humble story, I flounder for the right words. I hesitate, wondering if my story has any real value.

Throughout my life, and even more so in these days, God welcomes me to tell everyone and anyone the things He has done for me.

As you tell your story and I tell mine, we join the ageless troop of those who have overcome fear and intimidation to tell their God-story.

“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”
Revelation 12:11

Uniqueness

Though similarities mark all our stories, each life-story charts the making of who we have uniquely become. The essence of our faith stories begins with who we once were and how our old lives looked. It includes an encounter with our loving Savior, Jesus Christ. And finally, who we are now.

I was one way. Then, I met Jesus. Now, I am another way. It’s that simple!

“And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
1 John 5:11

I stumble most to tell my story when I’m deceived enough to think it is “my” story. Oh, how wrong! God owns all our stories. Without Him, there would be no story to tell. When I gave my life to Jesus Christ, I gave Him everything, including my story. His story of redeeming grace weaves through my story. His story of power to transform broken, ruined lives has also become mine.

When you tell your story and I tell mine, we testify that God has given us eternal life through Jesus Christ. Not just a life in heaven, but a life we live every day.

Only God knows the eternal impact when you tell your story.

Prepare

Several years ago, a mentor challenged me to prepare three versions of my God-story — a one minute capsule, a five-minute version, and then a more complete fifteen-minute expansion.

His wise advice has helped me to tell my story over and over again. In casual conversation, we often only have a moment of opportunity. At other times, people may ask questions which lead to more details. Being prepared ahead of time gives us an advantage to naturally ease the things God has done for us into conversation.

I’m not talking about platform opportunities with a microphone and video recording, although that may come too. Sometimes the curious, or even condemning, ask questions about why we believe what we believe. Others may see significant changes in our lives and want to know the reason why. Then, tell your story.

“The man who had been freed from the demons begged to go with him. But Jesus sent him home, saying, “No, go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.” So he went all through the town proclaiming the great things Jesus had done for him.”
Luke 8:38-39

Few people have such dramatic stories to tell. But every God encounter is worth relating to others.

Tell Your Story

People often disregard or dispute the truth of Scripture. They may question the validity of the Bible. But no one can deny when you tell your story, sharing your personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15

The Message Bible relays this portion as, “Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.”

As you tell your story and I tell mine, we allow no room for arrogance or pride. We can boast in nothing but Him. Gentleness, respect, and courtesy should infuse every word as we explain the Living Hope within us. Hope that has produced confident assurance, solid faith, and significant life change.

We have so many good reasons to tell God’s story about our lives. Let’s write it, speak it, and share it everywhere we go. Our story brings Good News to others.

Today’s Prayer:

Father, open our hearts to respond with gentleness, respect, and courtesy to all who ask about You. May we be sensitive to those who are aching to know You intimately and deeply. May we always be ready to tell about the incredible grace You have shown to us. Give us the right words for each situation that we may share the Good News of Jesus Christ in a loving and humble way. May the gratitude we feel for all You have done be expressed sincerely and simply. With thanks, we pray. Amen.

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God Walks With Us All the Way!

God Walks With Us All the Way!

I am reminded again that God never quits. He stays with us all the way. The good work He began in each of us He will finish. My thoughts are rooted in Deuteronomy 8. Moses reminded Israel, and us, of the faithfulness of God.

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Deuteronomy 8:2

The words “all the way” seemed to bounce off the page of my Bible. My journey with God has transitioned through more than forty years. I, too, can say, “He has led me all the way, through the good times and the not so good.”

Any and every success of my Christian walk results from His faithfulness, not from anything special on my part.

In the Wilderness

For some, the wilderness sections of our journey came darker and dryer than for others. But no matter where we start, He promises to go with us.

All the way from broken to whole,
from tormented to delivered,
bound to free,
a nobody to the King’s palace
as His own sons and daughters!

The verse calls us to remember. Though memory grows distant, there is value in remembering the tattered sin-stained cloth He tore us from.

Paul minced no words with the Christians in Ephesus,

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.”
Ephesians 2:1-3

No one dare claim ground for immunity. We all were cloaked in sin, “just like everyone else.”

To The Cross

And because of this, Jesus went “all the way” to the cross. He didn’t have to, you know. He could have opted out. But, He made that difficult decision because of His love for us. He wrestled over it, asking God for another way.

We read these famous words,

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
Luke 22:42

Even knowing ahead of time the tremendous price of saying “Yes!” to the Father, He loved us too much to say, “No.” Because Jesus surrendered going “all the way” to the cross, we now access the unlimited and unmerited blessings of God.

To an Inheritance

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.”
Ephesians 2:4-7

God led Israel “all the way” into the promised land — a land of brooks, streams, deep springs, valleys, hills, wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). Their inheritance lacked nothing they would ever desire.

So, too, He leads us. This life is only the beginning. He brings rich blessings here and now, but the best waits on the other side. Then He will reveal the full measure of the “incredible wealth of his grace and kindness.”

Oh friends! Just as He has faithfully led us in the past, He will lead us into all He has promised.

Into His Promise

How can we be sure?

Every good and perfect gift comes from God, James 1:17 tells us. God, in His perfection, gave the perfect gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” Ephesians 2:8-9

The gift has already been given. We only need to receive it. The Father went “all the way,” offering us the best He had, His own Son — the ultimate sacrifice of grace to us all. Then He gave us the Holy Spirit as a deposit of greater things to come (2 Corinthians 1:22).

All the Way

The hard part stands finished. God waits for us to receive His gift of love. He did it all for us. Will we reach out with thankful hearts to accept it?

Whether we still walk in our wilderness, or it is a faint memory. The Father waits for our response.

“Father, thank You for going all the way through the wilderness with me — humbling, uncloaking, and revealing the condition of my heart. Thank You for not giving up or abandoning me. I receive Your gift of salvation, made available through Jesus on the cross. Thank You for reminding me the price Jesus paid for my sin. I believe He was raised again to new life and that He offers that life to me. I accept Your gift. Lead me into the inheritance and promise You have for me. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for going all the way.

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5 Keys to Improve Judgment

5 Keys to Improve Judgment

Today, I offer concrete strategies to improve judgment, helping us make solid decisions in virtually every area of our lives. To be honest, I acknowledge that I’ve been working to improve this area as well.

A few weeks ago (on one of those frigid, windy, -30-degree days), I purchased a “small” palm plant. Our future held no possibility of sunny vacations to sandy beaches with warm lazy days in the sun. So, I bought a little something green to bring home. Only it wasn’t so little! I didn’t realize just how large my “small” purchase was until I brought it into our cozy condo, thereby exposing my error in judgment. When I showed my daughter-in-law, she laughed and said, “That is HUGE!”

A few years ago, another daughter-in-law and I checked pasture fences. As we walked along, we heard rustling in the tall grass. I whispered, “Ah! A bunny!” I gently pulled the grass aside to see a skunk inches away from my feet. Cautiously, I backed away. After running for our lives, we laughed hysterically at my gross error in judgment.

I recently decided my daughters-in-law will not be allowed to contribute to my obituary after I die. Otherwise, everyone would need handfuls of tissues to hold back tears of laughter from the stories they could tell.

Seriously though, we would all be wise to develop our ability in making sound judgments.

#1 Seek Wisdom

This morning, I was reading in Proverbs 9. Both “wisdom” and “folly” hold similar positions on the “highest point of the city.” Both call to those passing by to “turn aside” to their direction. The resulting outcomes stood in direct contrast.

“For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you …”
Proverbs 9:11-12

True wisdom begins with God and leads to understanding.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Proverbs 9:10

However, the choice of “folly” leads to multiple layers of death.

The first key to improve judgment begins by rooting and grounding ourselves in the ways of God. Out of His surpassing wisdom flows sound judgment.

#2 Honest Self-Evaluation

After first seeking wisdom from God, we must honestly evaluate ourselves. Any hidden motives or agendas, sources of envy or jealousy, and areas of pride or arrogance will warp and hinder judgment. To develop the necessary skills to improve judgment demands a deeper, honest approach.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
Romans 12:3

Sheltered in the grace and goodness of our Loving Heavenly Father, He liberates us to evaluate ourselves honestly without condemnation or comparison. Personal insecurities evaporate in His unfailing love.

With an accurate concept of God, seeking His wisdom, and a realistic view of ourselves, God frees us to make solid judgments about people and things.

#3 Consecration

The preceding verses in Romans also carry gems for us. The first is the consecration of ourselves to God and His ways.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.”
Romans 12:1

What does this have to do with judgment? Everything!

As we continually recognize God’s mercy toward us, every judgment becomes grounded on His mercy! Through consecration, we offer every aspect of ourselves to Him — our hearts, minds, tongues, hands, feet …

How radically different judgments and decisions become when we lay every area on the altar of complete consecration to God! At the place of consecration, we view people and things in a much different light.

#4 Transformation and Renewal

God resists instantly transforming us, eradicating old patterns of thinking and conditioned behavior. Rather, He enters a partnership of transformation and renewal with each of us. As we surrender and commit ourselves to Him in ever deepening circles of faith and trust, He works with us and through us to bring radical change. Old patterns evaporate. New patterns form.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:2

Rather than a suggestion, He straight up commands us to unite with Him in the process — however messy it might be.

Hidden in this passage we find the key. In the transformation and renewal, God improves our judgment to discover “his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Isn’t that what we desire for ourselves and others?

#5 Improve Judgment

My humorous illustrations demonstrate lack of judgment. Unfortunately, all situations I stumble through aren’t funny. But honestly, to improve judgment we need an ability to take God a lot more seriously and ourselves much more lightly.

When we hit the high mark, rejoice! When we miss it, move on! But either way, let’s keep seeking God for the insight we need. After acknowledging and confessing our failures, let’s give ourselves the grace and space to learn from mistakes and step back on track.

Don’t allow the enemy to taunt, “What were you thinking? Were you thinking?”

Rather,

“Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD.”
Lamentations 3:40

God is so much bigger than any past failures. He comes beside us, guiding us into better living, mastering how to make solid judgments. So let’s develop a resilience that allows us to laugh a little more often as we seek His wisdom, evaluate ourselves honestly, consecrate ourselves completely, and co-partner with Him to bring transformation and renewal.

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