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.

White and Black Dog: The One We Feed Will Grow

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - White Dog_Black Dog

A wise, elderly pastor shared an illustration, explaining how life resembles living with both a white and black dog inside of us. Whichever one we feed will grow; while the one we neglect will become dominant. The black dog represents the sin nature with all its selfish cravings and demands. The white dog represents a life empowered by the Holy Spirit, following and obeying everything godly — love, grace, and beauty … honor, humility, and honesty. God encourages us to intentionally feed and focus on only the “white dog” of the Holy Spirit.

I know the illustration is faulty, but it also gives a clear picture of the two realms we struggle between. In Romans 7, Paul explained this daily dilemma of living with two desires warring against each other.

Dead

When we commit our lives to Christ, God wipes the slate of past sin clean, erasing all the charges once rightly held against us. The old has gone and the new has come! Done deal!

Although this “legally” holds true, we experience a different reality — a reality of contending for the very victory Christ has already won. The white and black dog war within us. The black dog refuses to accept death, while the white dog welcomes us to the fullness and freedom that is ours.

For as long as we lived that old way of life, doing whatever we felt we could get away with, sin was calling most of the shots as the old law code hemmed us in. And this made us all the more rebellious.
Romans 7:5

How true these words? Whatever we felt we could get away with, we did or perhaps still do.

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - Black Dog

Alive

But now that we’re no longer shackled to that domineering mate of sin, and out from under all those oppressive regulations and fine print, we’re free to live a new life in the freedom of God.”
Romans 7:6

“But now!” Oh, how I love those words! The white and black dog both ask to be fed. But now, the freedom of Christ gives us the power to choose. Will we feed the things of the Spirit or our own cravings?

Deciding to do the right thing, the good thing, the godly thing, often fails us, however. Our past rebellion ingrains our present actions, as we repeatedly say and do things which we know dishonor God and hurt others. Again and again, we feed the black dog.

We obviously need help. The thing we want to do, we are unable to accomplish.

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - White Dog - Black Dog

Something More

“But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.”
Romans 7:17-19

God understands our dilemma and has given us all we need for complete victory. The something more we need is Someone more — Jesus Christ. Into our poverty and powerlessness, He comes, providing the way.

“The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”
Romans 7:25

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - Which Dog Will We Feed

The Choice

So, we live within a sobering reality. God provided through Jesus all we need for a complete and victorious life in the Spirit. Each decision leads us to feed either the white or black dog.

Jesus summarized all the commandments this way,

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

Whatever attention we give to the black dog of sin results in a disastrous outcome. It may be delayed, but it will come. But love always feeds the things of the Spirit. As we give our full attention to loving God and others, the things of the Holy Spirit (or the white dog) will grow stronger. Through Jesus Christ, victory becomes our portion over every area of our lives.

When we can’t find the strength or power to will and do God’s pleasure, thank God … Jesus Christ can and does! Let us turn to Him each day in prayer and petition, in reading His Word and devoting ourselves to follow its direction, and to love and serve God and others to the best of our ability.

May the black dog die from neglect and the white dog flourish.

MaryAnn Ward - Blog - White Dog

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First Corinthians 13 —The Way of Love

First Corinthians 13 —The Way of Love

What is the way of love? How do we truly love? By asking God these questions and seeking to understand love, we will continue to form a lifestyle of love.

And yet, I know I fall so far short of truly loving the people I am in contact with. Last night I fell asleep with these swirling thoughts and awoke this morning pondering them again. First Corinthians 13 echoed in my heart, reminding me that though faith, hope, and love eternally remain, the way of love is the greatest of all three.

Today instead of personal thoughts or perspectives, I offer you the pure word of God which speaks clearer than any words of my own. May the Holy Spirit highlight the portions that soothe your spirit, calm your concerns, and echo living hope to you.

I have chosen The Message Bible1 (perhaps a less common version) so that His voice would speak in a fresh tone and resonate to us in a new way.

First Corinthians 13

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.”
First Corinthians 13:1-3


“So, no matter what I say,

what I believe,

and what I do,

I’m bankrupt without love.”

Love In Motion

“Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut.
Doesn’t have a swelled head.
Doesn’t force itself on others.
Isn’t always, “me first.”
Doesn’t fly off the handle.
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others.
Doesn’t revel when others grovel.
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth.
Puts up with anything.
Trusts God always.
Always looks for the best.
Never looks back.
But keeps going to the end.”
First Corinthians 13:4-7

Eternal Love

“Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like an infant. When I grew up, I left those infants ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!”
First Corinthians 13:8-12


But for right now,
until that completeness,

we have three things to do …

trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.

And the best of the three is love.”

Such perfect love we find only in and through God. Rather than seeing our failures as a source of shame, the imperfection of our love drives us continually toward His grace, leading us to love Him, ourselves, and others in life-giving ways. May we all carefully consider His Word and grow in the way of love — God’s love!

  1. The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson ↩︎

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This Christmas Celebrate the Ordinary

This Christmas Celebrate the Ordinary

Even as Christians we can easily become caught up in the busy swirl of the season. But this year may we slow down to celebrate the ordinary.

Many lesser things allure us: $700,000,000 signing contracts, massive stadiums and empires, luxury this, and luxury that. As the spotlight shifts from one elaborate story to another, we might extend our applause here or there. Whether intentional or not, we are tempted to ignore, or even scoff at, the ordinary.

How often do we applaud the mother sacrificially caring for her children? Do we acknowledge the father who consistently wakes up each morning and works to provide for his family/ What about the quiet caregiver who lovingly supports and provides for the infirm or vulnerable? These and many others may not rank high in the list of those worthy of celebrating. However, in God’s record book I think they do.

As we take a brief look at the Christmas story, we quickly discover those whom God celebrates. May it inspire us to also celebrate the ordinary.

An Ordinary Woman

Mary, by all appearances, led an unassuming life of quiet obedience to God. She was just one among many young virgin women, awaiting their wedding day. Engaged to a handsome and righteous young man, she anticipated the time when they would soon consummate their marriage, set up their own home, and begin a family together.

Her life portrayed a vibrant example of how to celebrate the ordinary, like generations of women before her. Until the day when everything changed!

The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!”
Luke 1:28

The angel explained how God had chosen her to become the mother of the awaited Messiah — the King who would rule and reign forever. Questions flooded her mind.

“‘How will this be; Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?'”
Luke 1:34

The angel reminded Mary that “no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37).

Until now, Mary appeared completely ordinary. But, we see the extraordinary character and godly integrity of this young woman as she gives God her complete, “Yes!” And with that she laid her reputation, and quite possibly her future marriage, on the line. She risked losing everything, choosing to celebrate the ordinary so we could one day receive Jesus as Savior.

No Ordinary Baby

Mary, through the Holy Spirit, conceived no ordinary Baby. This Baby — fully God and yet fully man — would save people from their sins.

“So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Luke 1:35

Jesus gave up the splendor of Heaven to be wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger. He set aside all His power and authority to become robed in frail humanity.

“Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”
Philippians 2:7-8

Jesus willingly chose the suffering of human life for our good, not His. He came as no ordinary baby to cancel a debt which we owed but could never pay.

Too often, we end our remembrance of the first Christmas here. And when we do, we miss the opportunity to celebrate the ordinary in another key figure involved.

An Ordinary Man

Joseph, like any ordinary man, busied himself in preparation for his future bride and family. The day was fast approaching when he and Mary would finally become man and wife. As a typical young couple, they held great hope and anticipation for their future together.

The news of Mary’s pregnancy shattered all that! How could Mary betray him? And in the worst possible way? He considered every option. But because he was righteous, he decided to quietly divorce her. Until an angel spoke to him through a dream.

“…’Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.'”
Matthew 1:20

Without hesitation, he took Mary into his home as his wife.

Joseph’s ready response should cause us to celebrate the ordinary who became extraordinary. This one ordinary Joe obeyed God completely and sacrificed himself fully for the sake, not only of his family, but ultimately for you and me.

Celebrate the Ordinary

Yes, Jesus, this no ordinary Baby, should be the central focus of the Christmas season. Yes, Mary deserves full recognition for the humble part she played in the birth of the Messiah. But this Christmas may we also celebrate the radical willingness of ordinary Joseph.

Ordinary Joe said “Yes!” to the commitment of marriage when divorce would have been the easier option. He said “Yes!” to adopting, loving, and raising a son not his own. Ordinary Joe said “Yes!” to sacrificial living for the sake of Jesus. He also said “No!’ to social status and the acceptance of his peers. Ordinary Joe said “No!” to defining his life by the expectations of others.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”
Matthew 1:24-25

This Christmas may we consider ordinary Joe who allowed God to change his mind, to shift his focus, to soften his heart, and to bring Jesus home. Joseph gave God room for whatever He desired even when it cost, even when it hurt, even when he didn’t understand, and it went against the grain of all human desire.

Value the Ordinary

God has a perfect plan for each one of us. We may feel our lives are far too ordinary to be used by Him. But let’s allow this beautiful and incredible reminder of two ordinary people, Joseph and Mary, to give us fresh vision and assurance that God is able to use our ordinary lives for His extraordinary purposes.

May we be inspired to put God first, to walk in radical obedience to God’s Word, to love sacrificially, to give up our reputation for the sake of Kingdom worth, to live by our convictions not circumstances, and to place the good of others over ourselves. But most of all, may we welcome the living Christ into our hearts and homes.

God calls each of us to lay aside personal agendas and expectations. He calls us to enter a life of divine purpose. He asks us to trust him — not blindly but faithfully. God promises us that no sacrifice will ever be wasted. And He welcomes us to live our extraordinary calling through ordinary lives in unity with Him.

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A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way

A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way

I am thankful my parents taught me that a little kindness goes a long way. That was a long time ago when life seemed simpler. But their advice continues to serve me well these many years later.

Recently, my husband and I witnessed the impact of even the smallest demonstration of this attribute. As owners of a rental house, we were privileged to have a wonderful family from India rent our home. When they became more established, they later purchased that home. We continued to maintain a relationship with this lovely immigrant family. We supported and encouraged each other in the things that mattered the most to us.

Prior to opening their second business, they invited us to celebrate this new enterprise along with their family and friends. We were surprised to be the only non-immigrant people present. They genuinely welcomed us into their midst with open arms. We were humbled by such undeserved kindness and generosity.

What extra kind-heartedness had we shown? None, that we could remember. Yet, somehow we had made a impact on their lives. We were astounded!

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.”
1 Corinthians 13:4

Kindness of God

Yes, a little kindness goes a long way. But God’s great kindness transformed us from foreigners to His chosen sons and daughters. Our best efforts demonstrate a miniscule portion of His immense kindness. Something He offers to us all!

Do the riches of his extraordinary kindness make you take him for granted and despise him? Haven’t you experienced how kind and understanding he has been to you? Don’t mistake his tolerance for acceptance. Do you realize that all the wealth of his extravagant kindness is meant to melt your heart and lead you into repentance?”
Romans 2:4 TPT

Whether we realize it or not, every kind act reflects God’s extravagant kindness — a kind-heartedness this world desperately needs. Too many people believe God to be cruel and distant. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“… with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD your Redeemer.”
Isaiah 54:8

Fruit of the Spirit

God desires that we water the seed of kind-heartedness which He has planted in us so it may produce an increased abundance.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Galatians 5:22-23

Every word of Scripture is significant. The word order also holds purpose. Here, kindness occupies the central position of all the fruit of Holy Spirit in us. Four attributes precede and four attributes follow. It is central to all other fruit.

Kindness to All

Sometimes, kindness comes with a cost. God calls us to show kind-heartedness to everyone — even our enemies. He calls us to more than an outward display, but rather to an inner attitude of generosity that comes only from the pure kindness God has shown to us.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:32

Perhaps such basic courtesy shines the brightest in the darkest places and at the most difficult times. I only need to be reminded of the desperate condition God pulled me from to understand what incredible kindness He offers. Perhaps the most unworthy of candidates, I too once lived as an enemy of all He represented.

Is there anyone to whom we find it difficult to show kindness? Does anything compare with how far God reached for us? Hardly! But kind-heartedness doesn’t always come easily. However, even a little kind-heartedness contains the potential to grow, impacting many people in our spheres of influence.

But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.”
Luke 6:35

A Little Kindness

Everything we choose to excel in takes practice — lots of practice. Today, let’s look for opportunities to practice a little kindness. Who knows what God might do with it!

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Colossians 3:12-13

Perhaps, you have experienced the abuse of those who withheld even a little kind-heartedness. It is interesting how many verses connect forgiveness with kindness. Perhaps forgiveness stands as the grandest form of kindness — God’s and ours.

May this prayer form a starting point for our forgiveness.

Father, please forgive me, and us, for withholding your kindness from others. We repent for ignoring, judging, or neglecting the people who have needed a simple act of courtesy to encourage them. Whether out of ignorance or pride, forgive me, and us, for failing to give to others what You have so extravagantly given to us. Heal the pain our lack has cause in their lives.
Lord, help us to see everyone through Your generous heart of love and courtesy. May kindness not just be a self-inflating act we do, but may it flow from a sincere love and compassion for our neighbors — near and far. And may the immeasurable riches of Your grace through kindness toward us be revealed in Christ Jesus in our day (Ephesians 2:7). May the kindness and love of God, our Savior, appear through our own little demonstration of kind-heartedness to others (Titus 3:4).
Father may Your kind-heartedness spread like wild-fire throughout our land, impacting many more lives.
Amen.

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God Still Speaks

God Still Speaks

Prayer is powerful! God still speaks and He reminded me again today that prayer is a two-way conversation.

While shopping, I encountered a woman incessantly talking on her phone. She was having a non-stop, one-way conversation with someone who could not possibly have gotten a word in edgewise! I’m not even sure when or how she found time to breathe. Her voice could be heard throughout the entire store.

I’m afraid our prayer conversations with God might all too closely resemble this scenario. Do we do all the talking, or do we take time to listen, expecting to hear from God? God designed prayer to be a mutual exchange of dialogue.

Do you ever feel like your prayers hit the ceiling and go no further? From time to time, I think we have all experienced the feeling. Let’s be encouraged. God hears and He answers! In many places throughout the Bible, He encourages, “Anyone with ears, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15). But how does God speak to us? And how do we know that it is God speaking and not just our own thoughts or imagination?

We don’t need any unique gift to hear from God. The only qualification is to have ears. That includes most of us. Contrary to what some people might believe, God still speaks. Let’s explore what the Bible says about the topic.

He spoke to an incredibly wicked king, King Nebuchadnezzar both through dreams and through the prophet Daniel (Daniel 4). He spoke to Moses face to face, like we would speak to our friends (Exodus 33:11).

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
Jeremiah 33:3

God Speaks Through the Bible

The most common way God speaks to us is through His infallible Word — the Bible. Scriptures form the plumbline for every other way God speaks. He will never say anything that contradicts the Bible. So whatever way He might speak, we measure against the accuracy of His Word.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”
Hebrews 4:12

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.”

Psalm 119:105

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”
2 Timothy 3:16

God consistently speaks through the living words recorded in the Bible. His Word remains relevant and undiminished in power.

God Speaks Through the Holy Spirit

God has given us the Holy Spirit to teach, comfort, and direct us. Holy Spirit waters God’s Word within us causing it to grow and become fruitful.

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”
John 14:26

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 2:14

The Holy Spirit brings the truths we read in Scripture or receive from biblical teachers and leaders, making God’s Word relevant and alive. He affirms God’s words written or spoken to our hearts to our spirit, in a Spirit-to-spirit communication.

God Speaks Through Nature

Like many people, I feel the closest to God while walking in nature. In His creation, my heart seems the most sensitive to hear His sacred echoes. Jesus used many illustrations from nature to reveal God’s character, purposes, and truth. Whether birds, sheep, storms, plants, or so much more, Jesus strung His parables around everyday life and the land people were familiar with.

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
Psalm 29:3-4

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Psalm 19:1-2

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
Romans 1:20

How God speaks through creation remains one of His many mysteries. Yet we find ourselves filled with awe as we gaze into a starry sky or hold a newborn baby. We can’t help but worship Him as we watch ocean waves crash against the rocky shore or feel the power of a summer storm. God is in it all. He speaks through a gentle breeze as clearly as through the intricacy of a flower. God speaks the language of a listening heart.

God Still Speaks

The limitations we have to hear from God rests within ourselves. God speaks in limitless ways. I love the way Job phrased it:

“For God does speak — now one way, now another — though no one perceives it.”
Job 33:14

Why is perceiving His voice so difficult? Has the overture of busyness dulled our hearing? Oh, may we give God opportunity to speak, and tune our ears to hear what He is saying. May we have a willing heart to receive His words. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, compared us to sheep — His sheep. He said,

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.”
John 10:27

God speaks through gifted authors, teachers, and speakers. He speaks through circumstances and the difficulties we face. He speaks through dreams and visions, just as He always has. Because of His unending love for us, He invites us to draw close and to listen.

If you would like to learn more about prayer, how to talk to God and hear from Him, I invite you to check out these two books: Unmasking Myths and Unlocking Legacy. To celebrate my upcoming milestone birthday, take advantage of this half-price special! I would be happy to share these resources with you.

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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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Becoming — Reaching for Purpose and Meaning

Becoming — Reaching for Purpose and Meaning

Whether we acknowledge it or not, each one of us is reaching for some kind of purpose and meaning behind our existence. We all subconsciously ask, “Why am I here? What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” We all want our lives to matter.

Recently, I had the tremendous privilege of talking with a group of young adults. They are living centre in the age of pursuit. Some attended university. Other entrepreneurs had begun new businesses. Yet others pursued relationships they hoped would lead to life-long commitment and fulfillment.

One of the young men asked me, “Who do you want to be like?” He explained that keeping someone we desired to emulate in our focus would help us change our lives for the better.

I surprised him with me answer. “I want to be like me. No one in all the world carries the potential to be me. So, I aim to be fully me — the idea God had in mind when He first thought of me.”

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
1 John 3:2

At first glance, my answer sounds arrogant. But two things have incited the greatest transformation in my life. The first is coming to know God more fully. As I grow to know Him and His heart better, even in the smallest ways, my desire increases to live a reflection of who He is. The second pursues to discover the unique creation God had in mind when He formed me.

Knowing God

Human minds will never comprehend the immensity of glorious God. He is too awesome, too wonderful, too magnificent, too glorious … for us to understand. Yet, He desires to be known. He looks for those curious enough to seek Him.

“‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom. Let not the might man glory in his might. Nor let the rich man glory in his riches. But let him who glories glory in this. That he understands and knows Me. That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,’ says the LORD.”
Jeremiah 9:23-23 NKJV

God makes Himself clearly visible to those hungry to know Him.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
Romans 1:18-20

As we read the Bible, we find these recurring words, “So you may know that I am your God.” I brought you out of bondage so that you may know. It was Me who healed your bodies so that you may know. I gave you this land and established you so that you may know. I continuously make Myself known to you. He is a mystery. Yet, He reveals Himself to us.

The First Steps

So, the first steps come through an awareness of knowing God’s character through His love, faithfulness, grace, and goodness. God awareness inspires so to reach for genuine purpose and meaning. All true purpose and meaning are found in Christ.

We were created in God’s image for divine purpose and meaning. The wise teacher of Ecclesiastes concluded that all the opulence the world could offer stands meaningless in comparison.

“‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’
says the Teacher.
‘Everything is meaningless!’ …
Now all has been heard;
hear is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.”

Ecclesiastes 12:8,13

Are there powerful and successful men and women worth emulating? Yes, of course. Paul invited others, to “imitate me, as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). But the greatest One to emulate and imitate is God Himself. As we do, we will find ultimate purpose and calling.

The Second Steps

To walk out the second steps in fulfilling our purpose and calling requires us to discover God’s personal plan for our lives — our God-given identity. However, we can’t turn to biblical reference points for this.

Of all the billions of people only you can be you. You, and I, owe it to God and to each other to be that one. God had his best idea when He created you. No matter how far off that path you may feel you have wandered, you will forever be God’s good idea.

So, who am I? Who are you? Not the present you or me! But the you and me God had in mind before the creation of the world. And yes, He thought of us even then!

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Ephesians 2:10

As we walk in relationship with Christ and in obedience to Holy Spirit, we begin to see ourselves through His eyes. As we live with and through Him, He begins to reveal things about ourselves we previously didn’t understand or even know.

It is in His Presence that we become — that we reach our full purpose and meaning. The divine Architect slowly reveals His plans. With each passing season, He desires us to discover a freedom in being and a fulfillment in living. Giftings and passions slowly rise to the surface.

You Fit

We weren’t created for the world, so we will never “fit” in it. But the skin we live in will begin to fit and form around the image He created us to be the closer we walk with Him. Our full purpose comes with eternal design.

As we begin to live with eternity in mind, we will automatically fulfill our earthly calling. This short life stands as a mere preparation for the eternal one to come. Our lives are too short to waste by imitating even the best people around us.

May we each see God in previously unrealized dimensions. May we also grasp in a fuller way, all He designed us to be. Then may we set our hearts to fully reach our God-given purpose and meaning.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.
Philippians 3:12-13

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The Battle is Already Won — A Song in the Night

The Battle is Already Won — A Song in the Night

What struggle are you facing today? God desires us to know, beyond all doubt, He has already secured our victory through the cross. I read it in the pages of His Word. It resonates through the proverbs of the wise and pen of poets. But often, Holy Spirit confirms our victory through songs He brings in the night.

I wasn’t feeling well yesterday, so I crawled into bed a few hours early to sleep off whatever my body was fighting. Though my body ached, peace filled my mind and heart. Several times in the night, I awoke with a song on my heart, affirming my victorious position in Christ.

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
1 John 4:4

Don’t believe, for a moment, that there is a cosmic war in the heavenlies between Jesus and the citizens of darkness. Jesus Christ absolutely defeated the enemy once and for all. At the cross, Jesus crushed the head of our accuser under His heal.

He took back all the authority and power the enemy stole from humanity. Jesus holds it all. The only weapons the enemy has left are fear and lies, which he uses to manipulate and intimidate God’s children.

Songs in the Night

So, if you are facing a battle, I offer these few songs for your night watch.

“You will not have to fight the battle. Take up your positions, stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you … Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.”
2 Chronicles 20:17

Shane & Shane: The Lord Is My Salvation

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:57

Shane & Shane: Holy, Holy, Holy (We Bow Before Thee)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:37-39

Shane & Shane: His Mercy Is More

Greatest Weapon

Different types of music resonates more with us than other types and speak to us in different ways. Nonetheless, I intentionally pick up instruments of praise in the midst of battle. The attitude within us and the atmosphere around us will shift as we fix our eyes on Jesus, our Great Conqueror and Defender.

Shane & Shane: He Will Hold Me Fast

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Romans 8:31

Shane & Shane: Tis So Sweet

The battle has already been won. May God give us His song in the night. Through Him, every battle has already been won.

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You Belong Here! The Essential Need to Belong

You Belong Here! The Essential Need to Belong

We all possess within us the essential need to belong — to know beyond all doubt that we fit and that others deeply care for us.

Perhaps more than ever before people feel alienated and disconnected. Marriage and family breakdown now represents the cultural norm. Homelessness creates huge concerns in many nations. Increasingly, we see people drift toward subcultures of gangs and alternative communities. Why? Because we all need to belong, even if the belonging comes with destructive and damaging lifestyles.

No matter your age or social status, you belong here.

In the Genesis account of creation, we find a beautiful rhythm and flow. God said. It was so. God saw that it was good. Except for one time! One exception stood in stark contrast.

“The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Genesis 2:18

The Hebrew word for “helper” is ‘ê·zer, meaning counterpart or a part opposite. The word also describes God when He comes to our aid as a help and shield. It expresses a sense of caring community and belonging.

Belonging

A few years ago, I was offered a position where I could utilize my gifts and further stretch my abilities. After a year of minimal input, I resigned. Why? I felt no sense of belonging. These were my people, my clan, but they were too busy to allow for the inclusion of others.

Have you been a part of a group but never felt like you belonged? I think we all have. Perhaps it was your family, a business, an organization, or even a church? Loneliness within a group induces more pain and alienation than the loneliness of actually being alone. God still speaks! His Word has not changed. “It is not good for (anyone) to be alone.”

God designed marriage and the family unit as the primary context for belonging. Despite natural family breakdowns, God secures us into His own eternal family.

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
1 John 3:1-2

All who believe may have different mothers, but we all have the same Father. God has adopted us as His own children into His family.

The Price of Belonging

God fulfilled our essential need to belong through His Son, Jesus Christ.

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
1 Peter 1:18-19

As proof, God deposited the Holy Spirit in each one of us. His Spirit continues to reassure us that we belong to Him forever.

“Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.”
2 Corinthians 5:5

Few things seem more incompatible than the Holy Spirit dwelling within corrupted humanity. Why would God — the perfection of holiness — choose to live in us and desire fellowship with us? Why would He go to such extreme measures to adopt us into His own family?

Met Us

God meets us where we are and as we are despite the wretchedness of our condition. With intense love and grace, He welcomes us. He sees in each face a reflection of beauty and worth — someone of value and dignity. Every person, no matter where they have come from or what they have done, was created by God, for fellowship with God, and for community within His family. Everyone! No exceptions!

“This one will say, ‘I am the LORD’s‘ … And another will write on his hand, ‘Belonging to the LORD …”
Isaiah 44:5

He is our Helper, our ‘ê·zer, who comes to our aid, and fulfills that essential need to belong that is rooted in each of us. In Him, we live secure.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
John 10:28-30

You Belong

As I write, I am reminded of seasons (some very long seasons) in my own life story where the cup of belonging felt empty. I remember well the pain of feeling abandoned and rejected. Many of you understand the disorientation, grief, and loneliness I’m talking about. Today, that can change!

Others may prove fickle, but God will never leave you.

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Deuteronomy 31:8

Father, I ask that every person reading this blog would find the essential need to belong fulfilled through You. May they personally sense Your ‘ê·zer — that You are present to aid, help, and shield them. Plant each one in communities of love and compassion. Holy Spirit speak gently to everyone, bringing them to health and wholeness. Give them courage to abandon unhealthly communities that will ultimately produce increased pain and loss. Surround them with people who see beyond exterior facades, or roughness, and minister to their deep need to belong. Convince each one of their value in Your eyes. Root them in Your love and goodness.
Amen.

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