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.

A Few Seconds Can Change a Life: Use Your Time Wisely

A Few Seconds Can Change a Life: Use Your Time Wisely

As I look back, I realize more than ever how often a few seconds can change a life. I am still learning the art of using my time wisely by valuing the days, moments, and even seconds God has given to me. The results, or fruit, of these moments become the seeds that influence many other moments of our lives.

I have often told others, “I can not afford to have one negative thought toward anyone.” Why? Because the thought I harbor will influence my actions, my actions will form patterns of behavior, and those patterns will ultimately dictate the course of my life.

Does this sound too dramatic or overstated? Perhaps, but not likely!

God continues to challenge me with the reality of making the most of this moment of time — to reevaluate and refocus.

Procrastination

Procrastination robs us of any future reward for present effort. It deceives us into believing we have unlimited time to do the things we know we should do, and to think the way we know we should think. In the deception, we are hindered from moving forward.

“I know I should forgive, but …” “I should invest in that relationship, but …” “I shouldn’t think this way, but …”

We muse, buried in excuses and self-absorption — unmoved and unchanged. It’s a sad representation of far too many lives.

In a Few Seconds

In a few seconds, we have the power to change both our thoughts and actions.

  • “There’s nothing I can do about it,” can become “I can’t do everything, but I can do something.”
  • “Someone else will do a better job of that,” can become “I may not be the best, but I can make a difference.”
  • “It’s not my problem,” can become “Whether I’m the source of the problem or not, I am responsible to do my part.”
  • “I tried, but nothing changed,” can become “This relationship means too much to quit now. I will do everything I can to bring change.”

These changes of attitude demonstrate single moment re-thinks capable of transforming the lives of more people than we realize. A few seconds can change a life. Even mine!

The Seeds of Change

What is it today? What is God asking us to do right now? Les Parrott speaks of six impulses that keep us from improving:

  • Giving up before trying … because we feel helpless.
  • Shunning a challenge … because it seems daunting.
  • Settling for the statue quo … because we lack vision.
  • Shirking responsibility … because its easier to shift blame.
  • Doing the bare minimum … because that is all that’s expected.
  • Avoiding taking action … because we fear failure.

We don’t need to lose momentum, robbed of time and opportunity. By God’s grace, we can move beyond limitations into a lifestyle of wise time management. A few seconds can change a life!

May we be bold, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal any areas which are keeping us from living to our full potential. We have all faced similar challenges.

Truth to Hold on To

Instead of focusing on the problem, God offers us living truth:

  • We are not helpless!

 “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness…”
Romans 8:26

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:13

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

For we are each responsible for our own conduct.
Galatians 6:5

  • I will do my best in every situation.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Colossians 3:23-24

  • God defines me, not failure!

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”
2 Timothy 1:7

A Few Seconds Can Change a Life

Let’s take a few seconds to consider these truths God declares about us — seconds that may change our lives. Hopefully, these seeds of change will produce the fruit of change in others.

“Lord Jesus, show me the paralysing lies that keep me from transformational change. May the truth You declare about me become stronger than the belief systems that have bound me. May I use the time You have given me wisely, bringing life, love, and hope to others. May I accomplish the full purpose and design You have declared for me. Today, Lord, I turn from wasted moments. I know that what You have ahead of me is greater than I can imagine. Thank You, Jesus. Amen.”

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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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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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A Personal Testimony: Facing Our Fears: Whom Shall I Fear

MaryAnn Ward, Blog Post, Facing Our Fears

Facing our fears presents unique challenges for us all. We try to bury, deny, and wrangle fears into corners of avoidance. Sooner or later, however, God graciously leads us into bravely facing and dethroning them.

My Amplified Bible calls out the heading for Psalm 27 as “A Psalm of Fearless Trust in God.” Oh, if only I might claim such a constant position of faith. Isn’t that what we all seek? A fearless trust, not in ourselves but in Omnipotent God.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the refuge and fortress of my life—Whom shall I dread?”

Psalm 27:1

When it comes to most things, I have more nerve than a toothache, naively going where others dread or doing what some prefer to shy away from. But lately, I’ve been facing more than a tad of fear. Only I didn’t recognize it until some close friends discreetly called it out. For that, I am most grateful.

Please, let me explain.

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Fearless

The Origin

Last September at an InScribe Writer’s Conference, I felt God compelling me to write my memoir. Though I have shared snippets of my life story, I panicked at the thought of exposing the ugliness of my former life for all to see. “No, Lord,” I pleaded through tears.

I’ve never yet won an argument with God. After all, long ago my story became His story woven through the bright and glorious as well as the dark and ominous segments of life. Could His story in and through me possibly bring hope and help to others?

Grudgingly, I consented. “I give you thirty days,” I conceded, fearing the intensity of the emotional cost.

“Yes,” I felt God counter in my Spirit, “and you will paint thirty pictures in those thirty days — thirty pictures of roses.”

I laughed. To write “His story” in thirty days seemed more than an impossibility. To add another thirty day challenge felt outrageous. And roses! As a fairly new painter I’ve never once tried to paint roses.

For nothing will be impossible with God.”
Luke 1:37

But here we were, God and I, co-laboring to do something that would expose every raw piece of emotional flesh and disrobe every protective covering I’d invented. Numbly, I mass dumped memory after memory onto the pages until I was too exhausted to continue. Then, I’d paint, finding soul healing in the brush strokes. After thirty days of writing and painting, the rough draft and paintings were complete.

Facing my fears, God carried me through.

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Father

God Intervention

But God had more proof that this little memoir was of His choosing. The first editor waved all her fees and asked to use the book, in combination with her resources, to bring healing to many others.

The second person to read the draft had the most to risk with the publication, but he found the contents entirely redemptive and healing. “This needs to be published. It will help many people,” he said.

The second professional editor also waved her fees. Without request, she offered this review:

“… Readers will come away with a renewed sense of hope, because through this writer’s experience they will discover that no one is too lost, too broken, or too far gone to have their lives restored beyond what they could even ask or imagine…” – Michele H.

“Do it afraid!” the slogan declares, regarding facing our fears.

But God provided even more assurance. Ordering the first shipment of books, I charged them to my credit card. Since my business account had funds to cover the cost, I neither worried nor prayed about finances. However, before the credit card payment came due, God stirred the hearts of people to donate money to my ministry efforts. (Something never done before!) No one knew the pending costs. I hadn’t expressed a need. But God picked up the full tab, providing more than enough to pay the entire bill!

Through God’s provision, He stamped, “MINE!” over this little memoir. “This is My story!”

MaryAnn Ward, Blog, Father's Love

Thursday’s Child

So, I now present to everyone Thursday’s Child Has Far to Go — a book I never chose to write and never paid for. I lay it down as a humble example of facing our fears.

“…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
Isaian 43:1-2

Has there been fear? Yes, many times. Have I completely overcome fears of rejection, exposure, shame, and criticism? No, not at all. But this is and always will be God’s story of healing, deliverance, and redemption. A story to bring hope to others.

If you aren’t brave, please don’t read it. But if you would like to be brave, please read it. I’m sorry that it is a hard read. But I’m not sorry that it will make the road easier for others. Far too many people will relate to the painful experiences written within its pages. But far more people will hear God’s redemptive voice speak courage and life into their personal experiences.

Available to Order:

Overcome

As God leads, may we overcome our fears together. His love exceeds all other loves. Facing our fears, we focus on Jesus Christ who casts out all fear.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.
1 John 4:18

I welcome you to take a few moments to rest in His cascading love and to meditate on these few Bible verses to bring comfort and strength.

  • Isaiah 41:10 — “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
  • Psalm 34:4 —“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears
  • Psalm 23:4 — “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
  • Deuteronomy 31:6 — “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

I’ve also included this play list of songs that has encouraged me, as one more resource that might help you.

Psalm 34 - Taste and See - by Shane & Shane (Lyric Video) | Christian Worship Music
Chris Tomlin - Whom Shall I Fear [God Of Angel Armies] (Lyric Video)
Zach Williams - No Longer Slaves (Live from Harding Prison)

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Life is Like a Garden — What Fruit Grows There

Life is Like a Garden — What Fruit Grows There

Life is like a garden — planted, tended, and watered. Let’s consider what kind of fruit grows in the garden which God has planted in us.

This morning while driving through snow-slush streets, my random thoughts turned to warmer days and the work it takes to produce garden fruits and vegetables. Many times, I have planted seeds in faith, believing they would grow and bring abundance. I consistently rejuvenated the soil with well-rotted compost and diligently worked to keep the weeds away.

Even though I know that daily efforts produces the best results in the natural realm, I often grow impatient when spiritual fruit doesn’t instantly appear in my life.

I love the way Jesus explained spiritual truths through parables of land and crops. He even repeated a parable that Isaiah had told centuries earlier.

A Vineyard of the Lord

It amazes me who God chooses to invest spiritual seed into. — often the least likely and most unconducive to bear anything of value. He sees fertile ground even amongst the stones!

“…My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest of vines.”
Isaiah 5:1-2

Oh, how much work God pours into our stony lives. hoping for the potential returns. Lovingly, He chooses each one of us. Looking beneath our rough exterior, He sees value and worth.

Like in the parable, He digs out what needs to be exposed. He clears the rocky debris of rebellion and disobedience. Often, the hardened soil of our hearts resists His efforts rather than yielding to the pressure of His process. If life is like a garden, what kind of fruit will be produced in us?

How many rocks of offense must first be removed? How much of His grace will it take to soften hard-hearted attitudes and stoney selfishness? What type of gifts, or the “choicest of vines,” will He plant in us, hoping to see the fruit of His efforts?

Protect Potential

Though we may feel abandoned during the growth process, nothing could be further from the truth.

“…He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well…”
Isaiah 5:2

After planting the vineyard, our Lord takes every precaution to protect the tender vines from harm. He stands in His heavenly watchtower. His eye is upon us, protecting and keeping us from and through enemy attack, while always promising to never abandon us.

As I look back, I remember many times of snaring gophers, chasing rabbits away, and ridding my little garden from pesky bugs? Weeds were quickly dug out by the roots to prevent them from sapping the garden of strength. Do you think for a moment that my garden was more valuable to me than we are to God? Hardly!

He faithfully guards the eternal seed He has invested in us, expecting to see an abundance of fruit flowing from our lives. The seedlings, once frail, lacked any potential for immediate increase, but He “cut out a winepress.” He sees ahead to what we can’t comprehend — the full result of His working in our lives.

Life is Like a Garden

Because life is like a garden, we remember that not every patch of ground produces equally. Some years an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables kept our family fed until the next year’s harvest. Other years, the produce grew sparse.

We find in Isaiah’s parable the saddest response to God’s loving efforts.

“…Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.”
Isaiah 5:2

I openly weep as I read this passage. God did everything God could do for us. He even sent Jesus, His Precious Son, to pay the ultimate price for our sins and to die in our place so that we might have abundant life.

Though we were nothing but specks of dust, He chose us to bear fruit. He lovingly planted the best seeds in our lives, and then nurtured and protected them.

But sadly, when it came time for a harvest, He found “only bad fruit.” Life is like a garden. Any bad fruit in our lives never results from God’s flawed efforts. “Bad fruit” in this passage literally means stinking things or be’ushim — a fungus that stunted growth and caused the fruit to shrivel and die prematurely.

Good or Bad

While God came expecting to find vitality and a bountiful harvest, He found fermented, shriveled fruit. How incredibly sad!

What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?”
Isaiah 5:4

As we read this passage it causes us to solemnly consider the eternal significance of what we allow in our lives. No one desires to hear Jesus speak these words. Yet when we meet Him face-to-face, He alone will assess the outflow of our lives as either good or bad.

Invisible to the natural eye, tiny but deadly spiritual fungus spores float around us. We, too, must carefully keep watch over the garden of our lives so that we may correct anything potentially damaging to God’s good intention for us.

Many invasive things attempt to rob us of fruit. Upon closer look, we may find critical judgments, pride, slothfulness, selfishness, or even a passive acceptance of thoughts and attitudes contrary to God. Whether our spiritual be’ushim is long or short, the implications of such invasion loom large.

For Us All

Jesus repeated Isaiah’s parable in Matthew 21, to remind His listeners, then and now, of potential harm.

Fungus can live in the soil for generations but, praise be to God, so does good seed. Life is like a garden — a garden that will produce eternal benefits as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, tending it with daily consistency.

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Self-Identification — Realigning to our God Identity

Self-Identification — Realigning to our God Identity

Biblically, self-identification comes through realigning to our God identity and coming into agreement with what He says is true about us.

While the western world has perhaps created confusion around self-identification, the concept of recognizing and acknowledging who we are goes beyond the realms of governments and social correctness. How we view ourselves and who we verbally declare ourselves to be forms the grid upon which we make life choices and decisions.

The Bible offers a clear view of who God declares us to be in Christ. Adopting His viewpoint becomes pivotal to our success and reaching our full potential.

I constantly remind myself of these basic principles, introducing them to the people I mentor. I ask them to daily repeat (out loud) God’s identifying truth for several weeks to solidify them in their hearts and minds.

The first step to realigning to our God identity begins as we experience His love for and acceptance of us — welcoming us into a personal and ongoing relationship with Himself. From that beginning, God calls us to steward His truth. This includes His truth about ourselves.

If we don’t allow God to “label” us, the world will.

Set your mind and keep focused habitually on the things above [the heavenly things], not on things that are on the earth [which have only temporal value].”
Colossians 3:2 AMP

Our words repeat heavenly realities, and our lives reflect our beliefs.

Who I Am

Realigning to our God identity falls under three main categories: who God says I am, what God says I can do, and what He says I can have. I don’t believe in a “name-it-and-claim-it” philosophy, but I do believe God’s Word to be infallibly true. As a result, whatever He says I believe.

That faith-hold on His Word comes by hearing it again and again. Just as an abused child believes their worthlessness through repeated actions and verbal declarations, the reverse holds true. The lies and judgments we have heard and come to believe break away as we steward God’s truth over ourselves.

Though this list is far from exhaustive, I include a few main points below.

I am

  • a Son (Daughter), a child of God and not an orphan (John 1:12)
  • God’s adopted child (Ephesians 1:5)
  • in Christ and He is in me (Ephesians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:30)
  • holy and blameless through the finished work of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 1:4)
  • a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • secure in my relationship with God (John 10:28-29)
  • fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14)
  • a friend of Jesus (John 15:15)
  • rooted and grounded in love (Ephesians 3:17)
  • chosen, holy, and dearly loved by God (Colossians 3:12)
  • more than a conqueror through Christ (Romans 8:37)
  • a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)

What I Can Do

Everyone encounters discouragement and failure. We have given our best and somehow fallen short. However, God’s declaration over us destroys the twisted delusion of previous experience. Here is a snippet of what God says we can do.

I can

  • stand firm because God has anointed and stamped me with the seal of His love (2 Corinthians 1:21-22)
  • accomplish anything in cooperation with God — even the impossible (Mark 9:23)
  • grow and mature spiritually as God’s child (Ephesians 4:15)
  • understand what God’s will is for my life (Ephesians 5:17; Romans 12:2)
  • be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power (Ephesians 6:10)
  • approach God with confidence and freedom through Christ (Ephesians 3:12)
  • overcome any obstacle that stands in my way (Mark 11:23)
  • have the ability to create wealth and glorify God through it (Deuteronomy 8:18; Proverbs 8:17-21)
  • forgive others as Christ has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32)
  • be kind and compassionate toward others (Ephesians 4:32)
  • choose to give thanks for everything (Ephesians 5:20)
  • stand firm in my faith clothed in God’s armor when troubles come (Ephesians 6:13)

What I Have

Every time we declare God’s truth over ourselves, we are realigning to our God identity. We fix our eyes on Him, while refusing to allow the past to define us. God points our gaze to the future and the fullness of our God-potential.

The Bible says a lot about who we are and what we can do in and through God’s abiding presence. But it also makes powerful declarations about what we have in Him.

I have

  • everything I need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)
  • received God’s grace poured out on me (Ephesians 1:5-8)
  • a fruitful and productive life (John 15:1-5)
  • the spirit of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16)
  • an eternal hope through Christ (Ephesians 1:12)
  • everything I need according to God’s riches through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19)
  • a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)
  • treasure and riches stored for me in secret places (Isaiah 45:3)
  • supernatural peace in Christ (Ephesians 2:14)
  • fresh opportunities and a new beginning in Christ (Isaiah 43:18-19)
  • unhindered access to the Father through Jesus (Ephesians 2:18)

Realignment

May we receive our true self-identification, receiving biblical truth and realigning to our God identity. For most of us, realignment comes as a life-long process, allowing what God says about us to become our standard.

As I walked through inner healing and the Steps to Freedom these truths began to develop strong roots in my life. Rather than a leap of faith, each truth grounded me in the soil of God’s love, allowing enduring growth and spiritual fruit.

May the same be true for you. May each truth become life-giving nourishment. And most of all, may what God says about us become our self-identification.

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The Cheering Squad – A Huge Crowd of Witnesses

The Cheering Squad – A Huge Crowd of Witnesses

This past weekend our family gathered, forming a cheering squad for our granddaughter’s volleyball team. We were a loud and ruckus group! Dignity was cast to the wind as we applauded every good move they made — despite points scored. As it turned out, they lost most of their games. Nevertheless, we were proud of this small-town team as they faced league champions without flinching or bowing.

After two days of leaping to my feet and cheering, this grandmother felt more than a little hoarse and weary. But my heart rejoiced at my granddaughter’s accomplishments. That evening as I rested, I felt the nudge of God, “Do you think you cheer for someone you love more than I do?”

I was instantly brought to tears with the realization of how much God loves us and cheers for us. Whether we “score” points in our Christian walk or “fumble the ball,” He is for us and not against us. And when He is for us, who can stand against us?

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?”
Romans 8:31

A Huge Crowd

A recent scientific study examined the effects of cheering on sports team. When crowds couldn’t gather to cheer for their teams during covid, they found that the points scored had significantly diminished.

Oh course, God knew the advantage of applauding crowds long before human studies proved the point. I’m not sure how this all works, but I believe the Bible when it says,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”
Hebrews 12:1

If you believe this great throng consists of negative naysayers waiting for us to fumble and fail, think again! These people have already experienced how tough life becomes. They know what it is like to fight the same battles and face off with the same enemy we fight and face every day. Because they understand our struggle and know our pain, they cheer for us all the louder.

Let’s close our eyes for a moment and open our hearts to envision this heavenly cheering squad, rising to their feet in thunderous applause as we lunge for the ball? Whether we make the save or not, they roar on our behalf. Whether we spike the ball into enemy turf or not, their hands are raised in victory.

I love the way the Message Bible describes the scene, “Do you see what this means — all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on …” (Hebrews 12:1). WOW!

Keep Going

Several times during a match, our beloved team would be down by a few points. Our frantic cheering from the sidelines kept their spirits high and hopes elevated. As a result, so many on our team demonstrated their best performances ever.

Casting aside any discouragement, they refused to quit and fought for the win!

What a wonderful example of what God calls us to do.

“It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running — and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.”
Hebrews 12:1b MSG

It’s time to give our cheering squad, that huge crowd of witnesses, reason to leap to feet. Let’s strip off everything that limits us from running our best race and effectively fighting against the enemies strategies. Is there known sin? By quickly confessing and renouncing it, we refuse to allow shame and condemnation to sideline us. Let’s shake it off and get back into action. Those things that has drag us down or hold us back don’t belong to us. We can break free for the win!

A huge crowd watches in anticipation of our victory.

The Champion

Perhaps we feel much like our small-town team facing athletic giants, who boldly display their victory banners from previous wins. We may feel weak against the strong.

The tables are about to turn! Victory is ours! How do I know? “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?

May we never forget The Champion of all champions, Jesus Christ, lives in us and stands for us. We rise victorious by keeping our eyes on Him.

 “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
Hebrews 12:1-2

Often when one of our girls missed a move, they instinctively looked toward their coaches who watched from the sidelines. Without fail, their coaches smiled, applauded, and gave them a thumbs up, while cheering, “Great job! You have the right idea! Yeah, keep going!”

Our Champion and Coach, Jesus Christ offers us far more. Yes, He points where we can and should improve. Yes, He gives us wisdom and direction. But no one cheers us on more than He does. He dwarfs the thunderous cheer of the great crowd of witnesses with His victorious roar!

We Win

As we work together, we become an unbeatable team. We have no time for backbiting and criticizing each another. Some have taken a hit to the face. Others have fallen and injured themselves. Not everyone senses the great crowd of witnesses cheering them on to victory.

Let’s be the one patting them on the back and encouraging them to the finish. Let’s step forward, helping them back to their feet. May we, like Jesus, whisper in their ears, “Great job! You have the right idea! Yeah, keep going!” By the grace of God, we can become a one-person cheering squad wherever we go.

Together we win!

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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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