Give Thanks to the Lord, For He is Good

Give Thanks to the Lord

The Bible exhorts us to give thanks to the Lord, because God is good. He demonstrates His unwavering goodness throughout all generations. The truth of God’s goodness resonates through the pages of the Bible. Do you know beyond doubt the goodness of God? Is that knowledge a fixed reality of your faith?

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good his love endures forever.”
Psalm 107:1

When we become discouraged by circumstances, doubt because of unanswered prayer, or become disappointed by outcomes, we may question and even deny God’s goodness. The wounds of life become festering sores into which the deceiver plants his lies regarding God’s enduring goodness. “If God really is good, He wouldn’t allow war, famine, plague, divorce, abuse, bankruptcy, hell, and numerous other maladies ” he rants.

Truthfully though, God’s goodness reaches humanity through both His mercy and His grace.

Father and child

Doubt

Satan’s ploy to lure Adam and Eve away from God’s perfect design sprung from establishing doubt in their minds toward God’s goodness.Every aspect of earth’s degeneration resulted. At the very core of our own questions lie the same seeds of the enemy’s power to deceive us into believing God is not good.

God created humanity to live in eternal, unbroken fellowship and communion with Him. He desires limitless time to express His limitless love to each of us. Despite people’s rebellion, He sent His perfect and holy Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem and restore that relationship.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let Israel say:
‘His love endures forever.’
Let the house of Aaron say:
‘His love endures forever.’
Let those who fear the LORD say:
‘His love endures forever.’ “
Psalm 118:1-4

God created Hell for satan’s eternal confinement, and where rebellious angels will join him. But He created Heaven for unending communion with people, made in His likeness and image, who love and honor Him.

Father and daughter

God leaves the choice of our eternal direction to each of us. Though the option and resulting consequences appear staggering to our human reasoning, God, in His goodness, could do nothing less. Perfect love never forces itself on another; perfect love invites willing participation. With God’s love flows His grace.

“The truth of God’s grace humbles a man without degrading him and exalts a man without inflating him.”
– Kris Vallotton

Grace

God’s goodness and grace interweave like golden strands throughout humanity. Grace is love extended towards the undeserving — including us. By grace, God gives us nothing less than Himself!

We find one of the most encouraging Scriptures about grace in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” The Christian life involves process, the process of being daily changed from what we used to be into what we will one day become — perfect re-presentations of Jesus Christ. Every step in that process involves God’s goodness expressed through grace. Spiritual growth occurs as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say, ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.”
Titus 2:11-12

Father and child walking

“(God) has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.”
2 Timothy 1:9

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His grace proves sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”
2 Corinthians 9:8

Partnered with grace, we find mercy.

Mercy

Mercy involves both the withholding of judgment and the provision of compassion, gentleness, and forbearance. According to the Old Testament mercy meant to “stoop in kindness to an inferior, to have pity upon, and to show compassion.” The Bible interchanges the words mercy and lovingkindness for the same word chesed in Hebrew and charis in Greek. Mercy represents “a sure love that will not let go.”

I read recently that the word mercy in English comes from the Greek word, eleos. Eleos originates from the word for olive oil, often used as a soothing agent for bruises and wounds. One poured the oil onto the wound and massaged it in, soothing and comforting the injured part (Fr. Anthony M Coniaris). Mercy demonstrates God’s goodness and compassion toward those who are suffering.

Father and child

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Hebrews 4:16

Too often, we only associate God’s mercy with withheld judgment. Here are but a few Scriptures connecting God’s goodness and mercy:

  • “Answer me, LORD, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me.” Psalm 69:16
  • “The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” Psalm 145:9
  • “For the LORD is good, His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.” Psalm 100:5
  • “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23:6
  • ” . . . The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abounding in goodness and truth . . . “Exodus 34:6

Goodness

The knowledge of God’s unfailing goodness establishes a rock-solid foundation withstanding times of trouble. No one speaks so succinctly as Tozer on how important this understanding is.

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us . . . Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God . . . The most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.”
– A.W. Tozer
Father fishing with daughter

Does our mental image of God align with His Word? Do we see Him as One who is altogether loving, gracious, merciful and good? If not, we will tremble with the times. David, who experienced more than his fair share of difficulties, said,

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living.”
Psalm 27:13

Oh, how I know what quivering faith feels and looks like! Nothing short of God’s grace and mercy, entwined in His eternal goodness kept me on track. The sure foundation of the Word holds fast.

“”Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor or your majesty . . . I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works . . . I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”
Psalm 145:3-7

God’s abundant goodness merits acclaim as much as His mighty acts, glorious splendor, wonderful works, and great deeds.

Give Thanks to the Lord

May we pull aside from our daily struggles and exhausting activities long enough to give thanks to the Lord. May we, even if only for a few moments, ponder God’s goodness, grace, and mercy. As we do, hope will rise, faith will take root, and a calm assurance will wash away doubt. God is eternally good! May we echo the psalmist, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!”

“Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.”
Psalm 107:8-9

We become recipients of whatever we thank God for. As we thank Him for His goodness, He promises to satisfy our longing and fill our hungry souls with His goodness. May you be filled and renewed today, as you think about God’s abundant goodness.

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Chris Tomlin - Good Good Father (Audio)
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Love and Faith — What Little Boys Taught Me About Fear

Love and Faith

God often teaches us powerful life lessons of love and faith at the most inconvenient times and in the most uncomfortable ways. These lessons remain with us for a lifetime, influencing decisions and stabilizing us in uncertain situations.

Faith and fear are mutually incompatible. In reality, however, faith fails to find a firm foundation until love paves the way.

Our children are long grown, but memories of their frightened cries piercing the dark night run fresh through my mind. Lights turned on, to prove nothing hiding in a closet or under the bed, failed to dispel fear. The reassurance that dad and mom were in the next room impacted the angst little. Even prayer and affirmation that the Presence and protection of Jesus covered them only faintly eased their discomfort. Information alone holds little resistance against fear. Yet, when love draws close, confidence and calm prevail!

Fear flees without a fight when love enters.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18

Whether during a global crisis or the not-so-simple daily pressures of life, love makes all the difference. No matter our age, social status, or race, we all need to know love and support. Do you have someone who loves you unconditionally? Someone constant through success and failure, health and illness, prosperity and lack, the strength of youth and the frailty of old age? Who is your someone — the person you could call anytime, day or night, who will listen, support and encourage?

If you can name anyone, you are in the privileged minority.

How Mental Health Is the New Domain of Ministry to the Next Generation - Barna
How Mental Health Is the New Domain of Ministry to the Next Generation - Barna

Mental Health

I’m not sure I have experienced times as full of angst as in this season. The breakdown of the family, the disintegration of faith communities, and often fluctuating political impetus seriously affect us all. Deceptive addictions, in various forms, clench cruel claws and breathe death into the unsuspecting in pandemic proportions. We suffer generationally from dis-ease both within and around us. No one guarantees immunity or promises cure.

Just as my little children needed love with flesh in their fear-filled darkness, our world needs it too. We, as God’s hands and feet, can rise to the occasion, push aside our own insecurities and fatigue, demonstrating love and faith within this present global famine.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
1 John 3:18

Only One-Third of Young Adults Feels Cared for by Others  - Barna

Barna conducted this study pre-pandemic on 18 to 35-year-olds. Only one in three young adults felt loved by those close to them. What I find shocking is that these young adults said they “feel the broad, global trends more than they feel loved and supported by others close to them.” The reality that two-thirds of young adults do not feel unloved and unsupported should shock us all into high alert.

The effects of the last several months of isolation and uncertainty have only exacerbated the problem, not just among the young, but among us all. God created us to thrive in loving faith-filled community. People of all ages are struggling emotionally and relationally. They may not describe themselves as anxious or depressed, yet confess they struggle to maintain concentration and focus, feel elevated concern for themselves and others, and are uncertain about employment, housing and their ability to secure the basics of life.

As Christians, we have the antidote! God planted faith and love within us.

It’s Up to Us All

If this kind of love sounds messy, you’re right. If you think this kind of love is best left to professional pastors and clergy, you’re mistaken. Your family needs you. Your neighbors need you. Even your church needs you. Your workplace needs you.

Only Jesus held a doctorate in love. Only He got it right all the time. Please, don’t underestimate what simple demonstrations of love and faith might do when committed to Him.

Christians Struggled with Relational Health Prior to the Crisis—So What Has Changed? - Barna

Maybe we should start our efforts with those who stand in the centre of the fray — “professional” clergy. The pressure upon pastors to care for their congregations effectively, through a pandemic, has taken a toll. Five years ago, only two percent of pastors rated their emotional health as below average or poor. Today, over twenty percent say they suffer. May I encourage you to love those who lead. Assist and support them however God directs you.

“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work . . . “
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Let’s begin together by practicing love and faith with those who have dedicated themselves to serve God, us and others.

Know the Signs

If we willingly slow our pace, even a little, and look around, for even a moment, the evidence becomes obvious.

Only One-Third of Young Adults Feels Cared for by Others  - Barna

God’s Word never fails! Perfect love always casts out anxiety, fear, uncertainty and insecurity, rendering them powerless — like a lion without fangs or claws. I propose we engage in love and faith like never before. Though we may feel love for others, they may genuinely question that love. Here lies the great disconnect. Only when we learn to demonstrate love and faith in ways people comprehend will we shift the tide of mental anguish.

Peter says,

“Now, because of your obedience to the truth, you have purified your very souls, and this empowers you to be full of love for your fellow believers. So express this sincere love toward one another passionately and with a pure heart. For through the eternal and living Word of God, you have been born again. And this “seed” that he planted within you can never be destroyed but will live and grow inside of you forever.”
1 Peter 1:22-23

Christ planted the seed of His perfect love in each one of us. His seed of love empowers us to love fully. He not only preserves the seed but guarantees it will live and grow inside of us forever. Wow! What a promise! Love planted in each of us, living and growing into a vibrant reality, impacting those desperate for it. He takes the pressure off, providing us with everything we need to love others, especially those within the body of believers.

Love and faith work together.

There Is Proof

Barna also researched how the Christian community functions in crisis. Better than average, apparently! Bravo, people of God, you are doing it! Your love within the ranks is having an impact.

Christians Struggled with Relational Health Prior to the Crisis—So What Has Changed? - Barna

Sadly, those outside the faith are suffering the most. However, that reality presents great opportunity. Though fear has taken up temporary residence in the cultural love vacuum, God appoints us to serve eviction notice to the squatter of fear. I daily witness people stepping through the invisible barriers of uncertainty, reaching across cubicles, hallways, alleys, denominations, cities and nations. With hearts overflowing, they extend to the emotional hurting love and faith in action.

I hear voices of young and old resolutely declare,

” . . . Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah 6:8

How Love Looks

Only thirty percent of the global population feels supported, secure, and hopeful. Hold off on discouragement, though! As hints of spring crease the snow-clad landscape, I’m reminded of little bees, hidden in cloistered hives. Soon they will stretch sleeping wings, moving out to work silently their God-given task. As they fearlessly take flight, extending beyond their secure habitat, they benefit our world in powerful ways, producing incredible fruitfulness.

May I encourage you to reach beyond your secure cloister, “pollinating,” with love and faith, those you come in contact with by supporting them and letting them know you believe in who they are. Yes, validate the work they do and the gifts they possess, but, more importantly, endorse them as uniquely created by God with divine purpose, having irreplaceable worth.

Love and faith create, enrich, and sustain others, fostering hope for the future. Although most of us have learned to dream silently, we can encourage others to dream beyond human possibility. May we become dream keepers and dream builders, encouraging and fostering potential in others. We can faithfully pray they will achieve their full capability.

By creating an atmosphere of love and faith, and building support and hope, we will make progress in dislodging fear and anxiety. One word of encouragement, one act of kindness, one phone call, one moment of your time, may be the turning point for someone.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
John 13:34

It’s Personal

A young woman sat huddled in the center of her bed, cocooned in a fetal position by darkness within and without. Spiritually and emotionally tormented, no cries for help pierced the broken stillness. Hopelessness gripped her heart and suffocated all hope . . . until . . . love walked in.

Her father slowly ascended the staircase and slipped quietly beside her. He knew. He, too, lived the dark night of depression. Slowly, he reached out his large gentle hand, and with not much more than whisper offered, “Honey, I love you.”

Like a mighty wrecking ball, the walled fortress of desperation and despair crumbled. Love made a way! Love broke through! My father responded to his grown daughter’s unuttered cry, slip into my night, and embraced me with love — a love that changed everything.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Ephesians 4:2

What if our simple acts of love deposit seeds of flourishing love in others in the same way that Christ deposited love in us? What if we each possess powerful seeds of love and faith that will ultimately produce more of the same? Maybe, just maybe, we can become like little bees gently spreading the pollen of love and faith (one act at a time) that will bear more fruit than anyone realizes. Maybe together, we can turn the tide, tip the tables and trample the terror that has gripped people for far too long (one person at a time).

References

You might appreciate these Barna references:

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Leadership: A Mother’s Love and a Father’s Care

The similarities between parenting and leadership abound. Paul talked about leading with a mother’s love and a father’s care. Stopping to read and reread his analogy several times, I examined my model of leadership.

Perhaps, I struggle in leadership for the same reasons I struggled with parenting. With five sons born in just over eight years, I tended to “run” our household like a military general. What regrets! By God’s grace they have all become such wonderful men, husbands and fathers. Parenting isn’t for wimps; neither is spiritual leadership. 

More than once someone has commented, “People assume you to be a gentle grandmother, but you’re fierce and tenacious.” Ouch! Is that a compliment or an insult? A commendation or a warning? Should I laugh or cry?

Leadership

Honestly, as I analyze my leadership patterns, gentle, fierce and tenacious form a consistent path, sometimes leading into deep valleys and at other times upward to the highlands. I press myself and those I lead hard, while loving passionately. We only get one crack at life. Time flies quickly past without hope of retrieval.

A Mother’s Love

Paul understood. He established the church in Thessalonica under significant opposition. When persecution forced Paul to flee for his life, he prematurely left a fledgling group of Christ followers. His concern for their survival was valid.

“. . . we cared for you in the same way a nursing mother cares for her own children. With a mother’s love and affectionate attachment to you, we were very happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our lives — because you had become so dear to us.”
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8

Hippopotamus family

Perhaps no other love compares to the way “a nursing mother cares for her children.” Ponder for a moment, the reality of producing milk to the detriment of her own bone structure; continuing the daily responsibilities despite stumbling through diaper changes and sleep deprivation; walking and rocking a sick or frightened infant for hours on end; rising before dawn and staying up well past sunset with spew in her hair, fatigue dragging her steps; constantly tending to the pressing needs of the one so dependent.

Her love only intensifies through the years: singing “Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,” while walking, driving, shopping, or cleaning; freezing her backside on metal bleachers to cheer for her progeny; teaching sons to cook and daughters to change the oil in the car; dropping everything in an instant when her now grown son or daughter calls in distress; interceding in prayer  for God’s grace to impact and direct their lives. How does one define such love?

Do I lead, like Paul, with a mother’s love and a father’s care? If I don’t, I shouldn’t be leading. The source of such “attachment” comes supernaturally from time at the feet of the One who by divine nature is love.

A Father’s Care

Fathers handle children much differently. They toss their littles into the air, bounce them robustly on their knees, play fight on the floor and do many other things that drive mothers a scant bit crazy. Fathers provide a different, but equally intense, care — showing strength, confidence and brevity. Yet, we’ve all watched that two hundred pounds of male hulk melt like butter to the request of “his own children.”

“And you know how affectionately we treated each of you, like a loving father cares for his own children.” We comforted and encouraged you and challenged you to adopt a lifestyle worthy of God, who invites you into his kingdom and glory.”
1 Thessalonians 2:11,12

The leadership shown by a father compliments that of a mother, as he comforts, encourages, challenges and invites. These qualities imply intimacy of relationship and closeness of contact.

Love and care

Paul experienced angst due to separation from his spiritual children — especially knowing they were facing such intense opposition.

A father leads by drawing near, “encouraging, comforting and urging” his children to excel at the most essential thing in life — “to adopt a lifestyle worthy of God.”

The “dad” quality of leadership “cuts to the chase,” “grabs the bull by the horns,” and “calls a spade a spade.” He separates the trite from the significant, without being rude or cruel. Rather, the “dad” leader invites, encourages, and invokes — comforting when needed and urging the young to press on despite setbacks.

Leadership which combines both a mother’s love and father’s care creates a synergetic force, propelling the next generation forward.

Remain Teachable

However, before Paul emphasizes his approach to leadership, he points out a critical piece for all leaders to remember.

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.”
1 Thessalonians 2:6,7

When I was a child, my dad’s edict ruled our home. (We were many too!) Unfortunately, I used that same tone much too often while parenting. Paul gives a better directive.

A mother's love and a father's care

An apostle held the highest authority in the church; his voice carried the unquestionable weight of authority. Yet, he refused to impose or demand from his platform of lofty position. Instead, he insisted his whole team become “like young children” — teachable, gentle, submissive, and responsive servants.

“S-e-r-v-a-n-t” spells leadership most accurately.

I recognize with aging, the less flexible, teachable and submissive I become. To follow Paul’s leadership example, I must remain vigilant at countering natural tendencies to rely on my understanding and depend on seniority or status.

A mother’s love and a father’s care should naturally draw me into a place of low servanthood and tender teachability.

Selfless

Through Paul, I’m reminded of the goal for such an attitude in leadership solely rests on the good of others and the glory of God.

Listen to Paul,

“. . . We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”
1 Thessalonians 2:4

Selfless

Or again, 

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else. . .”
1 Thessalonians 2:6

And one more,

“Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”
1 Thessalonians 2:9

With a mother’s love and a father’s care leaders give, give and give again. They open their homes to those who eat their food and mess what’s just been cleaned. These leaders sacrifice their “free” time, to encourage the downcast, pray for the sick, and fill in the missing gaps of ministry. They turn off TVs, cell phones and computers to seek God, fasting and praying for the spiritual condition and pressing needs of others.

Leadership costs! It costs financially, demands relationally and drains both physically and emotionally. No wonder Paul so aptly uses the analogy of a mother’s love and a father’s care.

Rare is the leader that rises to such heights by bowing low to the selfless call of God. Yet, I’ve watched those rare gems shine brightly among us.

Protective family

May God continue to challenge me, you and us all to live selflessly for the good of others and His glory. Yes, let’s receive encouragement from the lives of past and present godly leaders, while consistently looking to God — the One who demonstrated ultimate love and care through Jesus Christ.



Benevolence – Serving The Least of These with Compassion

Jesus invites us into action, serving “the least of these.” Ask anyone today about their employment and you’re apt to hear high profile name dropping or executive jargon that will leave your head spinning and your self-worth plummeting. Such chest-puffing exercises dominate human impulses throughout history.

Several years ago at my son’s graduation, a group of a few dozen students proved the benefits of serving the least of these. This class lived out the principle throughout their public education from kindergarten to grade 12. A young boy with terminal illness co-existed with them — always facing limitations, often hospitalized for extended periods. The disease stole his life before he was able to graduate. The impact he had on his classmates and their families continues to be felt.

Unlike other graduation exercises I attended, a golden thread of their prevailing culture firmly translated into serving the least. They loved, cared for, assisted, supported and valued this young man holding him in high esteem.

“. . . ‘Truly I tell you,
whatever you did for one of the least of
these brothers and sisters of mine,
you did for me.'”
Matthew 25:40

Benevolence

The expectation of Jesus goes far beyond the normal standards and expectations of benevolence. In North America those seeking public assistance supply perks to propel the “haves” of society to share with the “have-nots” — tickets, gift baskets, banquets and more.

Jesus observed similar practices in His day — elegant celebrations given exclusively for friends, brothers and sisters, relatives and rich neighbors. All those invited could return the favor, perhaps with a bonus. He calls His followers further,

“When you give a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled,
the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed . . .”
Luke 14:13,14

Caring for the Poor

Perhaps the repayment would not be returned in kind but rather the status of association or public approval as part of the in-crowd. Who am I anxious to serve? Am I serving those who somehow benefit me or am I serving the least?

I’m asking myself these searching questions. Have I learned these lessons after many decades of living that my son effectively learned through his shared years in a classroom with someone who could never possibly repay or return the favor?

It Was Me!

Jesus makes a profound statement,

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
. . . thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
. . . a stranger and you invited me in,
I needed clothes and you clothed me,
. . . was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Matthew 25:35-36

The confused crowd asked, “How? When? What!” Such thinking so contravened their entrenched mindset that they were unable to connect the dots between their actions to others and their relationship with Christ. Jesus wasn’t talking to hooligans and renegades; He spoke such clarity to the righteous!” (vs 37)

Soldier Giving

The parable represented people like me, writing this blog, and you, reading it. Normal, good people living their lives in the best way they knew how. Yet, in their living, they were somehow unable to see Jesus among the throngs of people.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you,
whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,
you did not do for me.'”
Matthew 25:45

The Least of These

I don’t know about you, but I need a constant reminder to look for Jesus in the eyes of every person I encounter, knowing they belong to God and are made in His image.

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.”
Psalm 24:1

Hospital Burundi

Do I see the face of Jesus in the eyes of the oppressed? Or am I looking for hands that will hold me up, voices that increase my value, or credentials that puff my reputation? The subtleties hidden from my own heart lay vibrantly clear and exposed to Christ.

One of the toughest places I choose to work is in the justice system, caring for people at crisis moments, arrested for crimes they’ve committed. Among them are thieves, abusers, addicts. Why? Because I’m especially gracious or caring? Not at all!!! Serving the least continuously stretches me beyond any personal capacity. It’s what Jesus asks of me.

As I write, I weep. Images of humanity, broken and disconnected, flash through my memory; disconnected from God and love. Each person teaches me something about myself that I would rather not see or be reminded of. Serving the least must become so ingrained in me that it flows naturally out of my love for Jesus. I’m not there yet. Honestly, I may never get there.

Sometimes seeing the reflection of Christ in those I would far rather hate, comes with an emotional price tag. I’m constantly reminded that Christ poured Himself out and died for this one — this lost and broken one in front of me. Just as the blood of Jesus covered over all my sins, it covers theirs too. They just don’t know Him yet.

Prison Fence

Serious Business

Jesus ends the parable by speaking to those who refuse to see Him in the face of the needy,

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life.”
Matthew 25:46

He recognizes those who are His by how they treat the least among them. The righteous cast an eternal focus. Temporary elevations of status from the who’s-who-crowd pale. “What’s in it for me?” never enters their mind.

Like my son’s classmates, loving the least became a daily overflow of living life together. They never viewed it as sacrifice to push a wheelchair through the mud instead of playing on the soccer field. They refused self-centered agendas and self-promoting values. Not one of them measured their actions in eternal rewards. They joyously spent their time serving the one among them.

The Challenge

May I challenge you today as God challenges me? Who is the one? Who is the least of these God desires you to feed, give a glass of water to, invite into your home, clothe, visit or care for?

“For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink
because of your name as followers of Christ,
truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.”
Mark 9:41

 

Brothers serving each other

Many will scamper to provide for a person of high profile; the one who holds power and authority. Jesus confronted the Pharisees for the way they publicized similar actions.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness
in front of others to be seen by them.
If you do, you will have no reward
from your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 6:1

Few people consistently care for the least of these. Be assured, if you do, no one will notice — no one should. No one will commend you for the unseen grace and mercy you offer.

In thirteen years together, I wonder how many unpublicized acts of kindness were demonstrated within my son’s classroom. Countless, I’m sure! They learned well the lessons that I struggle to master, touching the life of the one among them.

“Bravo!” Jesus declares to each of you, now grown and many grey-haired, “Well done! May you always remember the joy of serving the least.”

Transparent Love – Love Must be Honest

Only through transparent love does it grow and mature. To love fully and freely, love must be honest. Most of us struggle to overcome our tendency to hide.  We hide our thoughts, our emotions, our failures, our differences, our unacceptable-ness. In hiding we deceive ourselves, robbing us from the blessings love offers.

Paul said,

“What a wretched man I am!
Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”
Romans 7:24

That’s honesty! Who among us is so bold as to announce to the world for infinity the poverty of our minds and souls? Few. Very few possess such transparent love.

Love is Blind

An old adage says, “Love is blind.” Saul on his way to Damascus to murder and imprison Christians perhaps literally experienced this quote. As he neared Damascus, “a light from heaven flashed around him.” The light was immediately followed by God’s voice questioning his objectives.

“‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked.”
Acts 9:5

In asking the question, he declared the answer. The Lord he thought he knew was not this Lord. Here was love, he had never experienced before. When he picked himself off the ground and “opened his eyes he could see nothing.” Saul once driven by religious passion became blinded by love — unconditional, indisputable, undefinable love. Love so pure that darkness had no place.

For three days Saul fasted and prayed. Everything in his life changed from that moment of encounter forward. Everything except one thing.

Honest Love

By the time that we meet Paul in the Book of Romans, he has undergone a name change, a vision change, a mission change, a radical life change. Years have passed and the implications within Paul’s life since encountering Jesus Christ on the Damascus road stretched broad and wide. His conversion undeniable. His transformation unquestionable. Yet, he testifies to the Roman church, not in self-abasement, but in raw honesty.

“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;
but I see another law at work in me,
waging war against the law of my mind
and making me a prisoner of the law
of sin at work within me.
What a wretched man I am!”
Romans 7:21-24

What freed Paul to be so honest? What released him to such transparent love?

Most of us are confronted with our misdemeanors before such confession — our breaches of conduct exposed, our sin and failure made public. Not this man! Paul was different.

Perfect Love

John, the disciple Jesus loved, penned these words,

“There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear,
because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 5:18

Here lies the heart of our issue, our stumbling block to transparent love. We’ve learned early that honesty brings punishment, reprimand, perhaps rejection and shunning, often unforgiveness and broken relationships. So we live among those we are supposed to love, and who are called to love us, with fear. Fear denies love the freedom to thrive and grow.

Yet, Paul’s encounter with Jesus Christ, his relationship with the God who by His very nature is love, so grounded him to boldly and honestly acknowledge his greatest weaknesses even among His enemies.

He laid out his true condition before those who could do him the most harm, the church. Yikes! If ever there is a critical bunch, they can be found sitting in the pews, praying in the prayer rooms, and sharing communion at the altar. Unfortunate, but sadly true. The places where love should most abound at times is lacking. Lacking in me most of all!

Yet, here more than any other place authentic, transparent honesty finds hope, help and healthy relationship.

No Pedestal

Though some would like to climb on the pedestal marked human perfection, there was only One who could hold that rightful place. His sinless life was enough to redeem us all.

For the rest of us, we are in process like Paul — trying our best, longing with all our heart not to sin and let others down, and repenting often.

If there is one verse I take great comfort in, it is this one,

“But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me was not without effect.”
1 Corinthians 15:10

I haven’t reached the fullness of God’s intention for my life and fall far short of it most days, but I’m not the person I used to be — the broken one, the despised and rejected one, the unloved one. By God’s grace alone, He has called me by name and chosen me as His daughter. He loves me even though I’m undeserving.

As a matter of fact,

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8

Paul wrote both of these passages. He called himself the least of the apostles, unworthy of that designation. In another place, he identifies himself as the worst of sinners. This is the regenerated Paul — the cleaned up, polished-off apostle who is effectively planting churches everywhere he goes.

Yet, he claimed nothing for himself. He desired no pedestal or promotion. In transparent love, he clearly identified with sinners, redeemed only by the pure love of God.

Love Redeeming Hope

So where is our hope and help in the midst of the internal battle we all wage. Paul sums it up in a single sentence.

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me
through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 7:25

“Who delivers me” is a continuous action! Jesus, our Beloved, continuously draws us into the intimate love and fellowship of the Father, freeing us from the claws of fear, releasing us to transparent love. Risky? Yes. Vulnerable? Beyond question. Worth it? Absolutely.

This morning I awoke weeping and singing, “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son, to make (this) wretch his treasure.” I’ve spent the morning resting in that love. In His perfect love, repentance flows freely. Not just remorse or guilt, but a repentance that sets the captive free.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance
that leads to salvation and leaves no regret,
but worldly sorrow brings death.”
2 Corinthians 7:10

Transparent love honestly draws us into repentance of anything that marks, distorts or hinders love’s fullness. Repentance starts at the cross and flows to everyone around us. The world’s vain replica brings destruction. But the honesty of Christ’s love in us leads to the sorrow of repentance that embraces even the wretchedness of our present struggle.

Transparent love redeems pulling us up to a higher standard, a wider reach, a deeper flow of loves pure intent. So herein is God’s challenge to each of us — to love with transparency and honesty, to refuse to play it safe hiding in fear, to risk vulnerability before God and others. The pursuit of such love lasts a lifetime, but such is redeeming love.

*****

Another Read:

Adonai Jehovah – The Giver – The One Who Pours Out

Speak Blessing, not Cursing! Love is a Verb!

Paul boldly challenges the Roman Church, and us, to “speak blessing, not cursing.” All of us, from every generation, need the reminder that love without action is not love at all. Love is a verb!

Though many themes ebb and flow through his writing to the Roman church, personally none pierces my heart more than the theme of grace. The study of this epistle a few years ago reformed my thinking and rearranged my heart to love in a new way.

Love is a verb, not a thought or emotional response.  As a new Christian, I prayed, “Lord teach me to love.” I knew as clearly then, as I do now, that love requires a breaking of my self-centered, self-righteous, independent motivations. God alone gives the ability to love in a genuine, transforming way.

Grace and love flow outward to the deserving and undeserving.

Mankind prefers rather to

crush and control,
condemn and judge,
manipulate and intimidate,
strong over the weak,
healthy over the sick,
wealthy over the poor.

This ungodly propensity exists in every culture — Christian and non-Christian. Paul calls for an intentional turn-around in these natural tendencies, no matter how justified we may feel.

Transformation

Transformation starts from the inside infiltrating attitudes, words and actions. Paul sets the defining tone of love and grace in action.

“Let the inner movement of your heart
always be to love one another,
and never play the role of an actor wearing a mask.
Despise evil and embrace everything that is good and virtuous.
Be devoted to tenderly loving your
fellow believers as members of one family.
Try to outdo yourselves in respect and honor of one another.”
Romans 12:9-10

“Lord, teach me to love,” remains a key prayer decades later. Why? Love is tough!

I once read Neigel Bigpond’s story:

“My mother was sick in the hospital, and I went to visit her one day. When she opened her eyes, she looked at me and said, “Nin-zo-de-tow-yoot.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means I love you,” she replied.

“I love you, too.”

My mother responded, “No son, you don’t understand. Our Yuchi word for “I love you” is not like English… “Nin-zo-de-tow-yoot” means, “You are like a river that brings me life, and without you I cannot exist.”

That’s loving like God. Surrendering to Him so completely that others “are like a river that brings life and without them we know we cannot exist.” Quite frankly, God is asking for the impossible.

The Key

God knows I can’t! I know it, too! So He gave us the key to loving fully.

” Be enthusiastic to serve the Lord,
keeping your passion toward him boiling hot!
Radiate with the glow of the Holy Spirit and
let him fill you with excitement as you serve him.”
Romans 12:11

Love comes from God through the Holy Spirit. God is love — strong, unmasked, raw, pure. Only in passionate, “boiling hot,” relationship with Him will that love be evident in any of us. The dissipating of love in any dimension should drive us to our knees, “Lord, set us ablaze! Holy Spirit burn in us!”

Love is a verb! Active and powerful!

Circle of Love

Paul identifies the elements found within the larger sphere of love.

“Let this hope burst forth within you,
releasing a continual joy.
Don’t give up in a time of trouble,
but commune with God at all times.
Take a constant interest in the needs of God’s beloved people
and respond by helping them.
And eagerly welcome people as guests into your home.”
Romans 12:12-13

Another version says, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer.” Love hangs in there faithfully praying. At the same time, a season of withdrawing from gross dysfunction or severe abuse may be absolutely necessary.

I have helped people recede from unhealthy relationships, giving individuals time to regain personal health and wholeness. The goal of the separation isn’t to harm, but rather to restore.

Unbroken fellowship with God remains essential for individual and corporate relational health. In Him, we regain godly perspective and the ability to love genuinely and radically.

“Freedom is not the license to do whatever we want;
freedom is the choice to love.”
– Danny Silk

Love is a Blessing

I cannot imagine a life without love — either the pure joy of loving others or experiencing being known and loved. Love is a blessing, a grace gift from heaven.

“Speak blessing, not cursing,
over those who reject and persecute you.”
Romans 12:14

The things that come from our mouths disclose the reality within our hearts. When communication becomes judgmental and negative, we can be sure we have a serious heart condition.

Words are indicators and predictors!

The words of our mouth create the highway of our future — whether the way of blessing or cursing.

When David became an object of cursing and scorn, he appealed to God for help and strength. He gives a warning to his mockers.

“He wore cursing as his garment;
it entered into his body like water,
into his bones like oil.”
Psalm 109:18

Negative talk about others deeply affects our own health — spiritually and physically, individually and corporately. How important to speak blessing!

Bless Actively

Just like love is a verb, so is blessing. Blessing goes far beyond the words of our mouths spilling out through active care for others. Paul lays down concrete ways to demonstrate a heart that releases blessing.

Celebrate with those who celebrate,
and weep with those who grieve.
Live happily together in a spirit of harmony,
and be as mindful of another’s worth as you are your own.
Don’t live with a lofty mind-set,
thinking you are too important to serve others
but be willing to do menial tasks and
identify with those who are humble minded.”
Romans 12:15-16

Paul calls for a sensitivity, wisdom and humility to mark our relationships. Every word challenges me! Every action is to be focused on the needs of others:

promoting others when we would rather be promoted,
serving from a state of fatigue and personal need,
setting aside personal agendas to elevate those around us.

Love is a verb – selfless and fearless!

Conquering Love

Love conquers with blessing. God’s instruction through Paul becomes even more difficult:

“Never hold a grudge or try to get even,
but plan your life around the noblest way to benefit others.
Do your best to live as everybody’s friend
If your enemy is hungry, buy him lunch!…
Never let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.”
Romans 12:17-21

This is where I often feel overwhelmed. I hear within these lines a call to Christian extremism showing extreme love and compassion to our most oppressive enemies and most aggressive persecutors.

“Through the power of Christ’s blood,
we can exchange such things as curses for blessings;
guilt for purity; sickness for health;
lack for provision; sorrow for joy;
slavery for freedom; and death for eternal life.”
– C. & R. Wagner

How? In Christ and Christ alone! Unless the fire of Holy Spirit burns intensely within us, we will miss this incredible opportunity to live, love and bless. “Set us ablaze, Lord, and start with me.”

God is Worthy of All Worship, Adoration and Praise

God is Worthy

There is only one God Who is worthy of all worship, adoration and praise, though there are many little “g” gods among us. In Guatemala, I visited places where sacrifices were made to Mayan gods. On a single plot of land In Cambodia, I saw various sized temples, now crumbling in ruins, built for the worship of over a hundred different gods.

With so much affluence in Canada, the god of materialism can be seen everywhere. We erroneously ignore The Giverof every good and perfect gift” while idolizing the gifts instead. Even as Christians, we can easily become self-sufficient, self-appointed gods of our own making — knowing God but marching to our own drum beat. Even areas of ministry can take precedent over relationship with God. Doing things for God can unintentionally become more important than the worship of Him.

I have to frequently stop — purposefully re-evaluate my priorities. It is beneficial to allow the Holy Spirit to do a serious internal investigation of the motivations of my heart. Am I alone or do others struggle to keep God in first place?

Is God worthy of all worship, adoration and praise? Absolutely! No one and nothing else comes close to who He is!

Indescribable God!

Have you ever tried to describe the indescribable?
Or compare the incomparable!
God’s love is immeasurable and His ways incomprehensible!

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Creator God is worthy of worship!

He is the Creator and Sustainer of all that was made.
There is only One inhabiting heaven’s throne,
far above all rule, authority, power and dominion
He is the King exalted over every other king.
But contrary to all others,

“His kingdom will never end!”

Rulers can’t stop Him,
armies can’t defeat Him,
kings, queens, dictators and prime ministers
can’t legislate Him away!

 “to the only God our Savior be glory,
majesty, power and authority,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
before all ages, now and forevermore!”

He is God — the only God —
worthy of all worship, adoration and praise.

God Above All Gods!

“His incomparable great power” 

makes every impossibility possible when He steps into the scene.

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
    his understanding has no limit.”

Great is our God and worthy of worship!

The earth shakes and mountains tremble at the sound of His voice.
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah roars
defending and protecting His own.
Righteousness and justice form the foundation of His throne
love and faithfulness go before Him.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are (His) ways higher than (our) ways
    and (His) thoughts than (our) thoughts.

He is Savior, and Shepherd of our souls,
Redeemer, Provider and Deliverer,
our Refuge, Fortress, and Shield.
He is Light and Salvation,
Peace in the midst of any and every storm,
the Anchor that holds us steadfast,
our Righteousness and our Strength,
our Healer and Hope
— leading us
into all hope and
giving us a glorious inheritance.

“For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever!”

He neither sleeps nor slumbers,
never growing tired or weary!
His understanding no one can fathom!

Ever present God, worthy of worship!

    “…Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”

He formed each one in the womb,
setting us apart and appointing us for His purpose!
His plans are always for good
— never for evil!

Holy God!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God,
“who is, and who was, and who is to come,
the Almighty.”

The holy, magnificent, glorious One
who inhabits his holy temple where

He observes everyone on earth;
his eyes examine them.”

Not to punish or execute judgement,
but rather to reward
those who seek Him with all their hearts,
with the tender eye of a good Father,
loving generously,
forgiving readily,
and sheltering continuously
with passionate care.

 “Who can hide in secret places
so that I shall not see them? declares the Lord.
Do not I fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.”

The God who fills heaven and earth is worthy of worship!

“For this is what the high and exalted One says —
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly
and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

Do you love and know the ways of
this One who is worthy of all worship, adoration and praise?

All Knowing God

Awesome beyond measure!
The intelligence of man is but foolishness to God.
The foolishness of God is wiser
than the collective wisdom of all generations.
He is absolutely brilliant!
He makes known all things and
is the Source of all knowledge and
understanding.

The Lord on His heavenly throne is worthy of worship!

Where could I go from your Spirit?
Where could I run and hide from your face? 
If I go up to heaven, you’re there!
Or if I go down to the realm of the dead, you’re there too!
If I fly with wings into the shining dawn, you’re there!
If I fly into the radiant sunset, you’re there waiting!

He is God. There is none beside Him.
No one comes close to the magnificence of who He is.
To God, the end is as clear as the beginning,
for He alone is outside the constraints of time.

“I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’ ”

He knows us like none other.
Nothing in all creation is hidden from His sight,
including our hearts.

“The Everlasting God, the LORD,
the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.”

Though finite minds cannot understand Him,
He makes Himself known
and approachable,
revealing Himself in the expanse of the skies
and the tiniest micro-organism
in the depth of the ocean.

The God I Worship

But let’s get personal! I know Him as

always available and accessible,
with arms of incomparable strength opened wide.
He never grows impatient by my endless questions,
or pushes me away in disdain.
He is compassionate and gracious
beyond anything I deserve.
He knows my pain and holds my tears.

God is closer than you know

His eyes are an ocean of peace
and a flame of fierce unending love.
Not one prayer falls to the ground — unheard or unnoticed.

His compassion is big enough to embrace the broken,
restore the outcast,
and seek the lost.
He is joy in the midst of sorrow and
comfort in the darkest hour of night.

When I awake each morning, I ask, “Is God worthy of all worship, adoration and praise?” The answer never changes, “Yes Lord! You, and You alone, are worthy!”

God will not give His glory to another.
No other is worthy!

He is bigger than any could imagine.
His mercy and grace surpasses
all comprehension.
He loves more, best and always,
no matter who we are or
how we’ve failed Him.
Though at times, we might disappoint or frustrate Him,
He will never leave or forsake us.
Everything He does is perfectly good,
because good and perfect is who He is.

But He is so much more!
There is always more of God, this One,
who is, and always will be,
worthy of all worship,
adoration and praise.

Security – Safe in Our Father’s Hands – Never Lost

Sometimes we are given reminders that everything is safe in our Father’s hands. Whatever we commit to our Heavenly Father remains secure — never lost. Security ranks among humanities highest needs.

Although fathers are worthy of honour everyday, we set aside a specific day each year to honour both natural and spiritual fathers for the influence and impact they have. God used this Father’s Day to demonstrate how vast His father heart is for us.

One of my favourite verses declares the security we have in God, our Father.

“I will not in any way fail you
nor give you up nor leave you without support.
I will not. No, I will not.
I will not in any degree leave you helpless
nor forsake nor let you down,
relax My hold on you.
Assuredly not!”
Hebrews 13:5b AMP

Now that is security!

Never Lost

My father passed away 24 years ago. Shortly after, I inherited a necklace he had given my mother untold years before. The delicate gold chain suspended a small heart with the letter “V” nestled at the base. Since my father had accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour a short time before his death, that little necklace became a personal reminder of God’s faithfulness. The “V” symbolized both the power of prayer and the victory we have in Jesus.

Whenever pressures, disappointments or discouragement clouded my life, I would wear that little necklace as a prophetic prayer act, declaring God’s victory over my situation.

In October 2017, I travelled to Calgary, Alberta to receive accreditation for ministry — a significant step in my spiritual calling. But somehow that necklace and a pair of gold earings went missing in the hotel room. 

To no avail, I searched through every pocket and fold trying to find my keepsake. Several times over these last 20 months, I have released my loss to God, but confessed, “Lord, I really want my necklace back.” 

On Father’s Day, I had prepared for church adding a pair of butterfly earrings as a final touch. Just before leaving the house, I felt compelled to return to the little jewellery box. When I opened the lid, I noticed a fine gold chain looped across the top of the contents. 

“What is this?” I asked as I reached for the chain. Gasping through tears of disbelief, I held again my “lost” keepsake in my hand.

“Of Daddy,” I said to my Heavenly Father, “You have given back what was lost.”

Kept Safe

Was it lost? Or was it kept safe just out of sight? I have no idea how that little chain appeared in my jewellery box. Was it always there? Concealed, waiting to be revealed? If so, how did I miss seeing it for so long? I may never know the answers.

One thing I know for sure, God used this little token of my earthly father’s love, to touch my heart in a new way. I became immediately aware that nothing is ever lost, but rather kept safe in our Father’s hands.

God who holds all creation by the power of His Word, on Father’s Day, gave His little child back a special gift inherited from her father. Everything is held secure by God. Everything!

God’s greatest gift came in the form of a baby, Jesus Christ. He was given to live holy and blameless, to die for sins He never committed, and to rise again to give life to all who would believe.

“For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

Later when the Jews attempted to discredit and slander Jesus, He said about those who would follow Him, 

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.”
John 10:28-29

What security! We are safe in our Father’s hands!

Security

The most precious thing of all is the human soul. Gold or silver holds no value in comparison. Wealth and power are meaningless in contrast.

Yet this little incident reminded me how great and amazing God is. How He sees us — knows us so intimately, caring about even the simplest and most insignificant aspects of our lives. Why did He choose Father’s Day to return this little treasure that holds little value to anyone but me? 

In it He revealed something deeper about His character. I have known Him as

Protector and Provider,
 my Refuge in the storm
the One who sustains and delivers,
the Shepherd who leads me,
my Healer and Restorer,
the Strength of my life.

But in a fresh way, I see and know Him as the One who loves personally and cares deeply about every “lost” part of our lives: lost years or opportunities, lost love or relationship, lost hope or purpose, lost dreams or desires.

“I keep my eyes always on the LORD.
With him at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad
and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure.”
Psalm 16:8-9

Safe in our Father’s hands.

Safe

Real safety cannot be found in this twisted, shaking world. Yet, God offers us the assurance that our security is sealed in Him.

“…When you believed,
you were marked in him with a seal,
the promised Holy Spirit.”
Ephesians 1:13

“Marked in him with a seal!” A seal verifies and validates authentic identity. It figuratively means to secure to someone, make sure, and deliver to safety.” 

Safe, secure and protected! Nothing remains lost with God. All that we entrust to Him is kept infinitely secure. 

Psalm 91 begins with a declaration of dwelling, resting and trusting in God. The last half of this psalm is God’s response to such confidence in Him.

“Because he loves me,” says the LORD,
“I will rescue him; I will protect him,
for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honour him.
With long life I will satisfy him and
show him my salvation.”
Psalm 91:14-16

An unusual word for “love” appears here. It presents the idea of “holding close to or hugging tightly in love.”

Holding Close

These promises are for those who “hold close” to God, “hugging” Him tightly in love. His love for us is incomparably more than any holding close or hugging tightly we may offer. Yet, He sees, values and rewards our reach toward Him — reaching even in loss.

The return of my little heart necklace symbolizes many “losses” I continue to pray will some day be restored in my life or the lives of others:

lost health while battling cancer and disease;
lost trust through adultery or betrayal;
sons and daughters lost to addictions;
dreams lost through unforeseen circumstance;
lost innocence or hope.

At the same time, the return of my necklace reminds us that nothing is ever fully lost, but kept safe in our Father’s hands. He waits for the perfect time, the exact day, the premise moment to restore to each of us all that was lost.

But now, we position ourselves,holding closely to Him, hugging tightly in His love” and praying, “God, I want my lost back.”

**********

The Love of God! What More Do We Want?

The love of God is more than enough to satisfy the deepest longing and hunger of the human heart! A cry rises unabated within the church today for “more”. But what “more” do we want?

Is the Christian church of North America occupied by “spiritual” consumerism or is this plea for “more” birthed from a completely different source?

Giver or Taker

There is within every believer the competing agendas of giver and taker. Inherent personal needs demand to be satisfied; while godly desire delights to confer on others.

Peter and John came upon a lame beggar. His hand stretched toward them expecting support.

“Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have,
but what I do have I give you.
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
walk.”
Acts 3:6

Children giving

Peter offers him much more than an hand out! Grasping the man firmly, he offers a hand up!

Taking him by the hand,
he helped him up and
instantly the man’s feet and ankles
became strong.”
Acts 3:7

Offering money rather than messy love would have been easier! Tangibly reaching others is far more costly than parting with pocket coins. Love costs! Sometimes deeply!

This was but one cry among a multitude of other voices. Meeting this man’s unspoken need, God gave “more”.

A Different Cry

The cry among North American Christians contradicts the voice surging Godward from many other nations.

“We love You, Lord!” is the anthem heard in the developing world.  Whereas, the prayerful expression  in North America calls, “We want more, Lord!”

Enduring love

One day the unified voice from every nation, tribe and tongue will speak,

“And they sang a new song, saying:
You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood
you purchased for God persons
from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
Revelation 5:9

People from nations far and near lift a song of love and exaltation without contradiction before God’s throne!

I Love You

“Love” in the English language expresses multiple meanings!

  • “I love you, Grandma” might mean “I want another cookie”, or “take me to the park”.
  • “I love you” could be the manipulative voice from someone refusing the commitment of marriage but desiring the benefits.
  •  One might even feel the pressure to say “I love you” out of obligation.

Unfortunately, we use the same word, “love”, for ice cream, animals, and sunsets, as we do for the deepest, most intimate relationships. No wonder confusion exists!

Sacrificial love

Beyond a doubt, the one thing this world needs more of is love — genuine love that comes only from God!

Dear friends, let us continue to love one another,
for love comes from God.
Anyone who loves
is a child of God and knows God.

But anyone who does not love
does not know God, for God is love.
G
od showed how much he loved us
by sending his one and only Son into the world
so that we might have eternal life through him.

This is real love—not that we loved God,
but that he loved us
and sent his Son as a sacrifice
to take away our sins.
Dear friends, since God loved us that much,
we surely ought to love each other.”
1 John 4:7-11

John, “the beloved”, understood! Such knowledge left him crying, “More, Lord, more!”

Much Love

“Vines Expository Dictionary” explains the differences in the biblical Greek words for love.

In my Father's steps

“Agapao” describes the attitude of God toward His Son, humanity, and those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. It also includes God’s desire concerning our attitude toward each other.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8

God and others are to be the primary recipients of this love that moves beyond impulse or feelings! This love runs contrary to natural inclinations — never self-seeking. Originating from God, it does not spend itself only upon those who will reciprocate.

“Agapao” love values, esteems and serves!

“Phileo” represents tender affection between Father God, His Son Jesus, and believers. “Phileo” specifically demonstrated a love Christ had for His disciple, John. This love displays friendship and affection.

“No, the Father himself loves you
because you have loved me
and have believed that I came from God.”
John 16:27

“Storge” used as part of a compound word with “phileo” refers mainly to the love between parents and their children.

“Be devoted to one another in love.
Honor one another above yourselves.”
Romans 12:10

River of Love

Neil Bigpond shares about a visit with his sick mother. “I love you,” were the first words she spoke to her son. Immediately, he affirmed his mutual love for her.

Strong to protect

“Nin-zo-de-tow-yoot,” she corrected, explaining the meaning of the Yuchi word for love:

“You are like a river that brings me life.
Without you I cannot exist!”

“Nin-zo-de-tow-yoot” far surpasses, “I love you”! The Yuchi perfectly capture the deep essence both of God’s love for us and also what He desires us to emulate.

God’s love flows like a river from the depth of His very nature — an unfailing spring, rich and deep, filled with mercy and grace! Without it, truly, we cannot exist!

“Anyone who believes in me
may come and drink!
For the Scriptures declare,
Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.'”
John 7:38

God fills us with his love empowering us to be

Spirit-filled,
water-giving,
love-spreading,
life-imparting
channels to others.

We gratefully immerse ourselves in the river of God’s love! Spiritual consumerism, however, has potential to warp such an extravagant flow of love when we want more from God than we are prepared to extend to others!

More Lord, More!

God’s river of love flows in unprecedented proportions in our day! All over the world, God is revealing Himself through supernatural encounters with “the Man in white”, dreams and vision, signs and wonder, healing and miracles!

Too easily we become captivated by the visible and miss the essential!

Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul
and with all your mind and with all your strength…
Love your neighbour as yourself…”
Mark 12:30-31

Don’t get me wrong! God’s gracious outpouring upon this generation is humbling to say the least.

The rain is falling

But does the church cry for more displays of God’s power? Are we focusing on the power of God or on the God of power?

Or is there a genuine cry rising, “More Lord, more! May we be vessels of more love for You and others!”

Are we focused on God’s heart, or looking to what His hand will give? Hymn writer Francis Brook says it well,

“My goal is God Himself, not joy, nor peace,
Nor even blessing, but Himself, my God…”

Has the church in the developed world developed an unhealthy craving for more? Or is she struggling to articulate a deep longing for more of the God we love?

No matter where we live, may we be drawn into the pure wonder — the amazing opportunity — to love God and others!

We love because he first loved us.”
1 John 4:19

“We love You, Lord! We want more!”

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Further Reading

Rivers of Living Water From Within – The Holy Spirit

 

The First and Greatest! Keeping First Things First!


It is easy to lose focus of what deserves first and greatest recognition. The incessant pressures of life demand much of our time and our full attention. Keeping first things first takes effort! No matter what our circumstance, juggling these pressures will remain a constant struggle.

My father often admonished, “Don’t put the cart before the horse!” He was encouraging me to keep first things first. With wisdom, he gently reminded me that priorities matter. Due to the frequency of his comment, I obviously needed a consistent reminder.

 

 

Don't put the cart before the horse!

 

Unfortunately I have often forgotten! Whatever I put first gives movement and power to what follows. In keeping with my father’s analogy, a cart is virtually useless without something pulling it.

The First and Greatest

Ask a dozen people what the first or greatest priority should be and one may very well receive a dozen different opinions. An “expert in the law” approached Jesus with the question,

“Teacher, which is
the greatest commandment in the Law?” 
Matthew 22:36

Every Hebrew listener, including this legal authority, prepared to hear Jesus recite the first commandment in the law, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Unfortunately, his driving motivation was to test Jesus rather than to seek wisdom! Jesus used the Pharisee’s twisted intentions to teach.

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.”
Matthew 22:37-38

Jesus reminded His listeners “loving God is the greatest!” It is beyond all else, the greatest in size and extent, in weight and importance, and in price or cost. But don’t miss it! It is not only the greatest, it also must first!

Only when the greatest occupies first place will the second commandment of loving others hold any value. Without loving God, loving others becomes impossible.

First

The bible is a love story. It begins in Genesis with a wedding in an immaculate garden, purposely positioned on planet earth, divinely placed in an harmoniously ordered universal. Why? To live, not only in love with each other, but to receive from and reciprocate love with God. God made it all for love! He did it all out of love! All of creation was because of love

 

When mankind sinned allowing separation between themselves and their greatest Lover, God already had a plan. In love He would offer His only Son, Jesus, as a perfect sacrifice for sin to regain relationship with humanity.

The bible also ends with a glorious wedding — the wedding of the bride, the church, and her Bridegroom, Jesus. Relationship eternally restored!

Marriage paints earth’s greatest image of loving intimacy. However, it is only a reflection of the love the Father has for us, his children. The love the Son has for His bride, the church, is insurmountably great! Nothing else supersedes the love of God! Nothing!

The only fitting response is to love Him in return. Not out of obedience to a required law, but because our hearts are etched permanently by His love and we can nothing else.

The Second

Recently, I was feeling emotionally and physically drained. Out of love for others, I was giving myself to family, ministry, and work. However, the once satisfying rhythm of my life seemed no longer fulfilling.

Off course!

I asked God to show me if and where my focus had veered off course. My daily routine of praying and spending time in the bible remained stable and consistent. Even here though the passion grew cold. I could feel it! I could sense it!

In reading this passage of scripture I realized my error.  I was putting “the second” first!

“And the second is like it:
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
Matthew 22:39

One version calls loving others “equally important”. I’m not sure!

Jesus clearly says loving God isthe first and greatest! As important as loving others is, it is incomparable to loving God. There is only one first! Only one greatest!

While “first” implies preeminence in place, order and time, “greatest” recognizes no equal!

Loving God is putting the horse rightfully before the cart. It is giving love a place of movement and strength. You could give me a new Lamborghini, but if that shining piece of metal doesn’t have an engine it is powerless. Loving God is like the engine that makes all other relationships function! 

Focusing on building loving community will never create unity in the body of Christ, unless our attention is drawn first to the greatest love. Misplaced priority will leave us impotent and divided! 

In Order

The only way to fulfill the second and vitally important command of loving others is by loving God first. He must come before and take precedent over every other relationship. Our love for others will be artificial and forced unless we are heart to heart in intimate and loving relationship with God. Then, like a river flowing downstream, our love for others will automatically maintain consistent motion.

“This is how we know
that we love the children of God:
by loving God and
carrying out his commands.
In fact, this is love for God:
to keep his commands.
And his commands are not burdensome.”
1 John 5:2-3

We can easily become Pharisaic in our response to others when separated from the Father’s love. Whenever doing becomes more important than being, we will fall into that trap! I am a recent example!

In all my doing, I wasn’t resting and responding from the heart of the Father. What was amiss? My first love! The order is vitally important! To experience the life of Christ tangibly within earthly relationships, God alone must occupy first place!

Like a Bride

My husband and I have been married for over 46 years. Our relationship is exclusive to all others. The love we have for our children and grandchildren is beyond explanation. We love our siblings and extended family. Nothing can adequately quantify the deep and loving relationships we experience with many others.

However, our love for each has a protective boundary defined, “You and you alone!” Within this boundary, love thrives; without it, love pays a heavy price!

Jesus rebuked the church of Ephesus,

“Yet I hold this against you:
You have forsaken
the love you had at first.”
Revelation 2:4

That word “forsaken” in the Greek doesn’t necessarily mean to totally turn your back on, abandon or desert. Rather it carries the thought of “to send forth, yield up or depart” in any measure.

I must continually ask myself, “Do I love God like I did at first? Has another love attracted my attention?”

This call to our first and greatest love is nothing new. God’s word to His people through Jeremiah reads,

“… this is what the LORD says:
I remember the devotion of your youth,
your love as a bride,
how you followed Me in the wilderness…”
Jeremiah 2:2

The Bridegroom continues to call His bride back to her first and greatest love. Will she listen? Will I? Only then will we reach new heights, individually and corporately, having the momentum to become a bride worthy of the Bridegroom.

May we focus on keeping first things first!

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