Friday, December 23, 2016

(7) Last Words

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:38

(Please read devotionals 1-6 first.)

After receiving her commissioning and being reassured that God was at work, Mary responded with three beautiful last words.

Behold (which we don't use these days) means "See! Look! Here I am!" The closest thing we have to this in our context is someone responding to a classroom roll call. 
          Suzi, Eva, Mary? Here!
I am the servant of the Lord is like saying, "I will do whatever you wish" or "Lord, I present myself to you." This is a continual prayer of openness to God. This is the living sacrifice found in Romans 12:1:
Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship.

And lastly, Let it be to me is a voluntary wish that is done to me. Mary was saying, "This is a my wish. I sign up for this heart and soul".

I believe Mary was fulfilling Eph 2:10 For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God had favored her for a good work. She merely accepted.

I wonder at times how I can do the job God has given me. I am in a small missions organization and there are many out there doing bigger and better jobs than I am. I don't have a formal counseling degree. I am a woman trying to influence men.

But I look at Mary. She did not let any of the normal excuses hold her back. And she didn't even have the Scriptures and the resurrection of Jesus to bolster her faith. She simply said, "Let it be...." I want that courage, that surrendered heart, that faith.

What task is God asking you to do?
How have you responded? 
How can you respond more like Mary did?

Lord, I present myself to you. Here I am for whatever you would wish.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

(6) Reassurance and Sign

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.”  
Luke 1:35-36

(Please read devotionals 1-5 first.)

The angel reassured Mary that what was about to happen in her was a Holy Spirit thing. God was at work and he was about to do the impossible. And then to prove it, he gave her a sign.

Her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant. Elizabeth, the one who had never been able to have children, was now pregnant. And she was old. This too was a God thing. Miraculous pregnancies were part of the history of Mary's people. Women past childbearing age and infertile women had born children, but never before had a virgin born a child.

Nothing will be impossible with God. Other translations say, "For no word from God will ever fail." This literally means that "not any word from God is without power". Every word, every promise God speaks has power, enough power behind it to bring it to pass. Other scriptures verify this:
When the disciples were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:25-26
The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. I Thessalonians 5:24
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? Numbers 23:19

I have seen God do some miracles. I know some dear women who despaired of ever having children and now they hold little ones in their arms. But I forget this when I look at the impossible situations in my life that need a God-sized miracle. I need the reassurance God gave to Mary. Today, I will remember that the Holy Spirit is in me and he is at work.
What impossible situation are you trusting God for?
What sign has God given you that his word will not fail?

Precious Lord, I adore you for being a God who does the impossible, whose words do not fail, who has power to fulfill his promises. You are worthy of my worship. Teach me more about you so that I can believe and trust that you will work in my impossible situations.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

(5) Question

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

(Please read devotionals 1-4 first.)

Good question Mary! Yeah, angel, please tell us how will this be?

Mary needed more information. After all, she was being asked to believe and participate in something that was beyond human experience. I don't think she was being belligerent. She was simply seeking to understand. She asked a clarifying question. 

Clarifying questions are questions that seek more information and "ensure that the listener's understanding of what the speaker has said is correct, reducing misunderstanding. They reassure the speaker that the listener is genuinely interested in them and is attempting to understand what they are saying." Clarifying questions are non-judgmental and keep the speaker talking while helping the listener understand.

Some examples of clarifying questions are:
I'm not quite sure I understand what you are saying.
I don't feel clear about the main issue here.
When you said ........ what did you mean?
I am learning to be a better listener. In my journey, I am asking more clarifying questions and less curiosity questions. Curiosity questions are about me, not the speaker. They are details I want to hear. They usually send the speaker off on tangents that might not be what they really want to talk about. Instead, I want to hear what the speaker needs to share and not just fish for what I want to hear.

Like Mary, I am also trying to apply this principle in my listening to the Lord. I want to understand what he is saying to me, to make our conversations about him and not me and to allow him to tell me what he wants to say, not just get him to say what I want to hear.

What kind of questions do you ask? 
When you listen to a friend, do you seek only the information you want to hear or do you allow them to share as they desire?
What do your conversations with God look like? Are you a good listener?

Father God, teach me to listen to you, to make our conversations about you, to hear what you are trying to say to me. Teach me the art of good question asking so that I can be a better friend and listener to my loved ones.

Monday, December 12, 2016

(4) Commissioning

You have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth 
to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great 
and will be called the Son of the Most High. 
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 
and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; 
his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33

(Please read devotionals 1-3 first.)

Favor. Favor with God. In Greek, favor is charis, which means grace, the loving kindness of the merciful God.

The discovery of the meaning of this word startled me. I have always read this story thinking that God selected Mary because she was specialgodly, humble, modest, perfect. But after studying the word "favor", I believe I had it all wrong. Mary was chosen solely by grace. The same grace that chooses you and me.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:3-6 NKJV
Ephesians 2:10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 
"Despite all her qualities, God's choice of Mary to bear his child springs from his grace, not from any inherent merit she possesses. She is the object of God's unmerited, graciously provided goodness. God acted on her behalf and not because of her." IVP NT Commentary

I used to believe that I just needed to follow Mary's example and God would choose me for some very special purpose. Now I see it's all grace. I have found favor with God because I am his child. The same goes for you. Our good or bad behavior doesn't determine God's favor. Christ's death gave us grace/favor. Our task then, is to be ready and willing to obey the commission when it comes.

Do you seek to live as a model disciple? 
If you do, then do you expect God to favor you with special assignments?
Do you think God has done you a favor and now you have to do him a favor?
Or do you do God a favor and then expect him to repay you with a favor?
Or maybe you think you are too undeserving of any favor from God?

Gracious Savior, thank you for saving me by grace, accepting me and choosing me to do good works for you. Thank you for the reminder that I don't deserve your assignments based on my behavior but rather based on your grace. I repent of my pride that thinks I am deserving of your favor.

(3) Command & Promise

But the angel said to her, 
“Do not be afraid, Mary. 
Luke 1:30

(Please read devotionals 1 and 2 first.)

The angel's preface to his commissioning, "Do not be afraid", is the most commonly repeated command in the Bible. There is good reason for this for we are people of fear. 

Mary was afraid of what the angel was going to ask her to do. I too am often afraid of my tasks, the unknown, the future, the risks - life in general. 

Fear is the root behind all sorts of things. Fear causes us to make poor decisions, react wrongly, shy away from obedience, and keeps us from taking necessary risks.

I think it is very significant that the angel first told Mary in verse 28, "The Lord is with you." This promise very often accompanies the injunction to not be afraid.
To the Israelites in 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.”
To Joshua in Joshua 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
From David in 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."
To Isaiah in 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."
And then to Mary, God repeated his promised that He would be with her no matter what she would face and thus she did not need to fear.

And now to me and you, God says in Hebrews 13:5b-6 “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

What are you afraid of? What is fear keeping you from? Do you believe the Lord is with you?

Stop for a moment and tell God about it. Remember that God's nearness and presence overshadows fear.

Father God, I am afraid about ______. I draw near to you right now. I press into your presence, becoming aware that you are with me. May your nearness overshadow my fear.

(2) Angelic Greeting

The angel went to her and said, 
“Greetings, you who are highly favored!
The Lord is with you.” 
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and 
wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 
Luke 1:28-29

(Please read #No. 1 of this devotional first.)

Mary was troubled, agitated, disturbed - greatly. Yeah! Sounds about right! It's not often that a heavenly being speaks to you. 

But surprisingly, she wondered - reasoned, deliberated, considered - about his message, rather than the appearance of a talking angel himself. She wondered at the meaning of the greeting. What kind of greeting was this?

I know I'm speculating, but I imagine her thoughts may have (mine would have) raced along these lines:

Who am I to be favored? Surely you have the wrong person.
Why pick me? I'm just an ordinary girl.
I've heard the stories and I know it's not always so great to be favored or singled out. 
I'd rather just remain anonymous. 
What am I going to have to do?
What awaits me that I need God's presence?

These thoughts remind me of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice who responds to her sister Lydia's offer to find her a husband with, "I thank you for my share of the favor, but I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands". (For those who don't know, Lydia had eloped with a scoundrel.)

Or like the proverbial call to missions - whenever God calls, of course he's is going to send me to the farthest reaches of Africa!

Why do we always think the worst? That God's call means something horrible, difficult or the worst possible thing we could imagine?

When God calls, is your mind immediately troubled? 
Do you assume his call means hardship and sacrifice? 
Are you unwilling to accept God's call because you don't like his way of favoring you?

I thank you, Lord for my share of the favor because you always have my good in mind and you know what you're doing. Help me to trust you when you call by not assuming the worst right away.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

(1) Divine Encounter

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 
Luke 1:26-27

Two thousand years ago, a young girl had a divine encounter that changed the course of human history. God had not directly spoken to his people in over 400 years. But at this moment in time, when her cousin was six months pregnant, an angel appeared to Mary.

Mary, which means exalted, was from a small town that bordered Gentile territory. It was nothing special with no reputation for learning or for producing any important people.

She was a virgin (she had not yet had sexual relations) but she was engaged to a man named Joseph. In Mary's day, engagement was taken very seriously. It was legal and binding and could only be dissolved through divorce. In other words Mary was considered officially married even though she and Joseph were not yet living together. That would happen after the marriage, one year later. And she was probably between 12 and 16 years as girls were typically married at that age.

Mary and Joseph were both descendants of King David. In Hebrew terms, this meant they were equal royalty, but in the current day, they were but common peasants. Their lineage had lost its significance because of all the years of captivity and foreign domination. Mary was not a princess, she was a poor peasant. She was a young, unmarried female. 

In a time period in which a woman's value was determined by who her father was, who her husband was and how many sons she had, Mary was a nobody in the eyes of her world. An ordinary little girl.

And yet Mary was the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. God knew her, saw her and sent his angel to commission her.

How about you? What are your credentials? Where do you come from? What makes you unique?

Don't let your location, small town, race, gender, financial status, family background, lack of education, or marital status or anything else cause you to feel disqualified to be called or used of God.

Lord, thank you that you used a lowly peasant girl. Thank you that my credentials do not disqualify me from encountering you and being used by you. I trust that you will be faithful to fulfill your Word through me.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Hearts and Spines

"Look for tangible expressions of God's intangible love", our pastor challenged us last week. What better place to see God's love than at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in Fredericksburg, Texas. 

As Mark and I scanned the vistas for a sign—a heart in nature—we didn't see a thing. All we saw was a rock shaped like a cow's head but we didn't think that counted!

So we climbed down the Rock and forged our own path to make a shortcut to our next trail. This way was not easily defined and more precarious. At one point, I decided to shimmy down on my bottom only to get a bit too close to a cactus. It promptly stuck it's spines in me, through my jeans and into my skin! (I was still pulling out those tiny, thread-like babies at nine that night!)

A little later we came upon a mushroom-shaped rock. Sarcastically I said to my husband "That's not shaped like a heart". Then immediately my eyes fell on a cactus leaf shaped like—yes, you guessed it—a heart. Then Mark saw another and after that we saw a bunch of hearts in the cacti. 

We continued walking and marveling at God's displays of love. Then it dawned on me that the very thing that had shown me God's love had also stuck its spines in me! I didn't like that thought. I don't like the idea that God would hurt me or discipline me. I have spent my life avoiding God's discipline by being good. 

And yet scripture tells us that God disciplines those he loves in Hebrews 12:5-11. 
And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Could it be that my motivation for obedience is simply to avoid discipline, rather than because I love God? In stark contrast, God's motivation for discipline is his love for me! 

What did God want me to learn from the cactus? His love comes in many tangible ways, not only through hearts (touchy feely blessings) but also through spines (discipline). 

What tangible expressions of God's intangible love have you experienced?

Monday, August 22, 2016

As He Said

Jesus died on Friday afternoon. 
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon...Jesus...breathed his last (Luke 23:44-46).
The faithful women disciples were with him to the very end.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath (Luke 23:55-56).
I can only imagine how devastated the women must have been. They had seen their teacher and Messiah die. They had seen his lifeless body laid out. How they must have wrestled! Did they forget what Jesus had said - that he would die and rise again? Did they not believe because they had seen with their own eyes that he was dead? Did hopelessness take over?
He is the Messiah! How can he be gone? He was bringing in a new kingdom. But I saw him die. He is our rabbi, teacher. But I saw his lifeless body in the tomb. He raised others from the dead? But, but, but...
I feel like these women, in this "three-days-phase". These are days of waiting, of mixed feelings, of wrestling. I serve and love a good God who speaks of healing, of abundant life, of peace and restoration. 

But, but, seems hopeless. It looks like sin has won. It seems like I heard wrong or have forgotten.

I think the church is also in this stage. God said that nothing would prevail against his church. He said he would come back again and set it all right. But it looks hopeless. Sometimes, it looks like God is still dead.

But hold on. The story doesn't end here.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body (Luke 24:1-3).
Then angels spoke to the women. They women justifiably terrified.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, he has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again (Luke 24:5b-7). Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay (Matthew 28:5-6). 
Then they remembered his words (Luke 24:8). But go tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you (Mark 16:7).
Told you so! Now it's coming back to them. Oh yeah, he did say that, didn't he? Remember how he told you he would die and rise again on the third day! Now it begins to make sense. He truly is the Messiah and he is alive!

Now his words to the women become: Do not be afraid. Don't look for the living among the dead. I am alive and fulfilling my word. Go and tell my brothers.

Likewise, God reminds me of what he has said, "I will complete the good work begun in you and those you love. I will heal and bring delight. I am enough for you. You can float in my love and I will bring you to my ordained destination. In quietness and trust is your strength. I will grant your desires." 

The Apostle Paul also understood this concept. In 2 Corinthians 1:9-10, he said:
We expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered (rescued) us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope (placed our confidence) that he will continue to deliver us. (NLT/NIV mix)
So often I act as though God is still in the tomb. Can I believe that he is alive and will do the unthinkable, just as he said? Can I remember and trust that he will be true to his word? To not be afraid but rather to go and tell of his power and resurrection life? He has risen. He has power. He is alive. He is great and good. Go and tell!  

Fill in the blanks with your own experience:
God has said __________________________________________________ 
But it seems like _______________________________________________ 
But in fact he has risen and he will come again!

Lord, at times it looks so bleak that I wonder if you are still alive and at work. Help me to remember your words of promise. Teach me to rely only on you and not on myself or my nation or anything else. Deliver me from evil for you are a God who raises the dead. In you, I place my trust.

Friday, August 19, 2016

To Know This Love

Today my heart is heavy for several loved ones who are hurting:
with deep wounds of hurt that have yet to be healed
wondering if they'll be rejected because they don't want to keep doing what they think they should do
at the end of their rope because they've tried so long to please others and they realize now they can't do it anymore
running from love because they are convinced that love cannot reach them, that God demands too much
with childhood wounds they have pushed down for so long but find they can't anymore
in a difficult marriage where one partner has done such harm and inflicted such pain that they're not sure there's a way forward
What can I do? I want so badly to take them to Ephesians 3 and remind them that God loves them with a love that is wide and long and high and deep. He went to the cross for them and nothing that they do or don't do is going to keep him from loving them.

But how do I tell them when Paul himself says this love is unknowable?
And to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19
Paul doesn't mean for us to simply know a fact. He wants us to lay hold of this truth so as to make it our own and take possession of it. He wants us to be sure of it and feel it. To experience it. This is the intimate knowing between a husband and wife. God wants us to know his love very intimately.

But this love he wants us to experience exceeds our understanding. Surpass means to transcend, excel or exceed as in throwing over and beyond. Yesterday I saw Michelle Carter throw the shot put over and beyond to win the gold at the Rio Olympics. Paul is saying that knowing God's love exceeds our knowledge. So if we cannot know it, why does he pray that we would know it?

Because he wants us to be filled - to perfect or complete - to the brim, through all our being, into every nook and cranny. This is the same word that is used in Colossians 2:10:
I him you  have been made complete 
and in Philippians 4:18-19: 
I am amply supplied, now that I have received...the gifts you sent...And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
And he wants us to be filled with all the completeness and abundance of God. The Amplified version translates Pauls' desire this way: so you may have the richest experience of God's presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself. Paul repeats this theme in Ephesians 4:13:
until we all...become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Paul is praying that we will experientially know God's love which actually exceeds our knowing. The goal is that we would be filled through all our being with the abundance of God and be made complete. His presence flooding me means that I am not lacking anything, not wanting anything. I am complete as in James 1:4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

So to summarize Paul's prayer: When my roots go deep into Christ, he gives me the power to grasp Christ's love. But the purpose of the Christ's dwelling in me and for my being rooted and grounded in love is so that I can have the power to know. Know God's love. Know the impossible. He dwells in me to empower me to experience what is impossible to know - HIM and particularly his love - its breadth and length and height and depth - and to be filled with God himself. 

This is what I want to tell my hurting ones: Our culture tells you that your soul mate (or your comfort, reputation, control, safety, comfort) will complete you. But that is a lie. Despite your material, physical and relational lacks - you can still be full - full of God himself! With the power of his Spirit working in you, you can know it, feel it, touch it, be sure of and experience deep within yourselves so that you are complete, so that you know He is enough! 

And so we conclude our study with Paul's benediction:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (vs 20-21).

NOTE: Since this is a very spiritual work, it is hard to explain how to know God's love but I will offer a few suggestions. First, pray. As Paul demonstrates, pray to know God's love. Next explore the reasons I outlined in the Cup Illustration as to why you may not be able to receive God's love and then do the work required for healing. Then compile a list of God's love verses and have them at your fingertips always. And finally, make a playlist of love songs that can minister to your heart whenever you feel a lack of love. One I am currently listening to is Drops in the Ocean by Hawk Nelson.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Pain and Hope

How does one accept the reality of pain and disappointment without losing hope? How do we surrender and face reality and yet not give up? How do we trust that God might never answer our prayer the way we want it and yet still keep asking for a miracle? How does one continue to experience loss and yet still have faith?

Because if you live long enough, you will learn and experience first hand that life is hard. Wishes don't always come true. Dreams are crushed and die. Sickness destroys and takes away life and love. Prayers don't always get answered. Loved ones aren't always healed.

I've heard and told myself all the usual answers: God is good. He knows what he's doing. He is sympathetic to my cry. His answer is sometimes wait or in heaven. He is doing some great work through the pain. It will all be redeemed. I can trust him. He loves me.

That is all true and I still believe it. But now I am at a new level. Do I give up hope of ever seeing the thing I wish to come true? Is it faith to just keep doggedly believing and then feeling disappointment and pain with every reminder that healing has not yet happened? Or is it faith to totally let go of any and all expectation, desire and hope?

It feels like if I let go, then I have lost hope. It feels like the end. That I have doomed myself to a life of lack, that things will never change. Is this what God wants me to do? To totally let go? To never expect my desires again?

I have done this before. I surrendered my desire to be married, believing I probably would not, only to meet my husband. Everyone has heard stores of couples who finally gave up trying to conceive only to quickly get pregnant as soon as they stopped trying. Hence, the temptation to make it a formula: If only I surrender totally, then God will give it to me. But this "formula" is not a guarantee.

In John 11:1-27, we find the story of Mary and Martha, close friends of Jesus whose brother was dying. They sent word to Jesus to come help. 
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
What? That doesn't sound like love to me! So when Jesus does finally show up, it is understandable that Martha blurts out her disappointment.
If you had been here, my brother would not have died. 
Martha faces the facts. She knows that Jesus could have answered her request and yet he chooses not to. She is saying what I feel: It hasn't turned out the way I wanted it to. You didn't make it all better. You haven't answered my prayer. It still hurts.

But Martha doesn't stop there. She also expresses faith.
But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.
She is stating the truth that she still believes God can answer prayer. God can heal, restore, break strongholds, set people free.
Jesus calls Martha to hope in him in the present, to take what she believes about him and cling to it in her distress. It is a call not simply to affirm the truth about Jesus' power but to affirm his right to exercise his power according to his own purposes. She will never have the answers to all her why's, but in his character she will find enough of an answer to sustain her faith...Jesus calls Martha to trust him now - trust that he is good even here, when her losses are insurmountable and when Jesus, who had the power to prevent it all, had chosen not to act. (Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide)
After this amazing statement of faith, the bystanders ask the age-old question:
Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?
We think that love is shown by keeping tragedy from happening. Yet Jesus had a bigger plan in mind - to show them his glory. He was disturbed in spirit and deeply moved and he wept. And then he gave them back their brother.

So, like Martha, I do not stuff the pain, minimize it or explain it away. I face the fact of my disappointment. But I also exercise faith. Isaiah 30:15b tells me how to do that.
In quietness and trust is your strength.
This kind of quietness means to be tranquil, at peace, to rest, lie still, be undisturbed, with the sense of idleness. It is used of the land when it is not producing and of a city that is not at war. It means to not strive or wrestle, but rather to be idle. In other words, DO NOTHING. The Message translation put it this way: Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me.

And yet, still be confident and trust in God.

There have been times in the past that God has called me to be active, to speak up, to initiate. Other times, he has said to pray for the ones fighting the battle. This time he says, "Be quiet, do nothing. Trust. Trust Me".

Waterbom Park in Bali, Indonesia has the most beautiful
lazy river. This to me, is what quietness and trust look like.
And this answers my initial question. Because I trust God who is absolute love, I can surrender, let go and release my efforts, tension and fear. I have not given up or lost hope. Rather, I float in the river of God's love and let the current of his Holy Spirit carry me to my destination. I trust that he will get me to where he wants me to go.
The reason we do not have to be afraid is that we have been given the Spirit of God. We are in the river. We do not not have to thrash about trying to float. We must simply open our spiritual eyes and see that we are in the river of God's love and that our staying afloat and moving along are God's responsibility. (David Benner, Surrender to Love)

Lord God, I surrender to your absolute love. I trust your goodness. I float quietly in your Spirit. You have heard my prayer and my heart's desire. I trust that your Spirit will carry me to the end that you have prepared for me. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Deeper than Hell

I pray that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of God's love]. Ephesians 3:18

Finally, we come to the depth of God's love. God's Love is also deeper than Hell.

One of the most gripping scenes in the Lord of the Rings is when Gandalf confronts the Balrog. The battle really only begins when they both fall and fall and fall into the depths of the earth. It seems to never end and there is a sense of hopelessness to the falling. This illustrates the depths of hell to me.

God's love went deep into hell to save me. [H]e 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 God sent his Son, Jesus into the depths of hell, instead of me. What greater love is there than this?

God's love goes to my deep places of sin and anguish, into the very lows of my life. Don’t consider your servant a wicked woman, for until now I have spoken from my deep pain and anguish 1 Samuel 1:16. Like Hannah, I can express my deepest pain, abuse and secret sin to God and he will still love me. Rather than reject me, he covers those wounds with his love.

God's love is deep, full of riches and complexities. Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Romans 11:33These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God 1 Corinthians 2:10. Every now and then, I need a deep conversation, a connection that reaches from one soul to another. I love it that God is deep and full of complexity. His love satisfies my need for deep connection.

So I will let Chuck Smith sum up verse 18:
God loves you so much, I pray that you might know the depths of Gods love for you, the length of God's love, the height of God's love. If you could only fathom the depths, if you could only explore the heights, if you could only see the length. To the length to which God was willing to go to save you. The depths to which Jesus was willing to come in order to redeem you. The heights to which God intends to bring you. That He might seat you together with Christ in heavenly places and make you a joint heir with Christ of His eternal kingdom. Oh the heights of the glory that God has for you. If you could only know," Paul said, "comprehend that which is beyond knowledge. Hey, you cannot know it, it is beyond knowledge." - Chuck Smith Commentary
What deep places in your soul has the love of God reached? 
While still incomprehensible in its entirety, what new insights do you have about God's love?

Other entries in this series:
Higher than the Heavens
Longer than the Earth

Higher than the Heavens

I pray that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of God's love]. Ephesians 3:18

A few months ago, I watched The Martian, starring Matt Damon. There is nothing like views of space, planets, stars and distances so far away it takes 24 minutes for a message to be received and 6 months to travel there. This kind of thing blows my mind. This is the heavens that God has created. And God's love is higher than the heavens.

God's love is so great it is unfathomable. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him Ps 103:11. Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above - what can you do? Job 11:7 Even though Scripture says I cannot understand God's love, I keep trying. It's greatness moves me to want more of it and to trust that it will be enough for me.

God's love lifts me to high places. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus Ephesians 2:6. There is an eternal aspect to God's love that lifts me out of the mundane and the troubles of this world. I embrace the hope of reigning with Christ in the future.

God's love is a natural high. You have let me experience the joys of life and the exquisite pleasures of your own eternal presence Psalm 16:11 (LB). His love brings ecstasy, pleasure, delight, not just in the future heavenly realms, but in the here and now. Little by little, I am learning that earthly pleasures (even the best and most wholesome) are fleeting. I want God's love to bring me my ultimate joy and delight.

What part of the highs of God's love have you experienced? What have you yet to experience? Talk to God about that.

Other entries in this series:
Longer than the Earth

Longer than the Earth

Job 11:7-9 Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?... Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.

Job confirms it. Not only is God's love wider than the sea, it is longer than the earth. I think this is what the Apostle Paul meant in Ephesians 3:18:

I pray that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of God's love].

I have flown around the earth a few times in my life, both as an MK and as a missionary. There is nothing quite like a 40 hour journey from Dallas, USA to Chiang Mai, Thailand to confirm the reality that the earth is long. This is what I learn about God's love from the length of the earth.

God's love is so long that He has always loved me. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb...My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in the secret pace...Your eyes saw my unformed body...Psalm 139: 13-16. He created me. He loved me from the moment of my conception. Ephesians 2:10 says that I am his masterpiece.

God's love will never end. He will never on purpose stop loving me. From everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him Psalm 103:17a. His love will last through all eternity. Earthly relationships will end with death. "Death cannot stop true love", Westley said in The Princess Bride. Westley's comment is meant to bring a chuckle, but it is not true. My friend Ben is learning this as he grapples with loosing his wife to death. His love for her continues, but what does that look like now? In heaven? What if he marries again? Only God's true love cannot be stopped by death.

Nothing I do will make God's love stop. I cannot even force him to stop. Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord Romans 8:39. Sometimes we think that we have done something so awful that God could not love us anymore. That is simply not the case. His love is looooong.
The love of Jesus has length. When considering the length of God's love, ask yourself "When did the love of God start towards me? How long will it continue?" These truths measure the length of God's love. Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) David Guzak
How does it make you feel to realize that God will never stop loving you?

Other entries in this series:

Relieving my Fears

My devotional asks me, "What can I do to relieve the fears of others?" I am stopped short. I have been exacerbating fears, not relieving them. 

In Luke 23:28-31, Jesus says these words as he stumbles down the Via Delarosa: Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are coming when they will say, "Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed," Then they will begin to say to the mountains, "Fall on us"; and to the hills, "Cover us." For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?

This was a very dark day for the women disciples who followed Jesus. Their very hope was about to be crucified. It looked like evil was going to win after all. The innocent One was going to die. Such injustice. Such waste. Such madness. Such hopelessness.

And instead of comforting the women and telling them it will be okay (like I would prefer to hear), Jesus, in essence, tells them that it is going to get worse! And it did, in one sense. The Romans remained in power. Jerusalem was destroyed. The fledgling church was persecuted. The innocent continued to suffer. 

But in another sense, it was okay. Fortunately, I know the end of the story. Jesus' death had a greater purpose. There was a bigger picture unfolding. His death conquered death (I Corinthians 15:24-28). In the end, the righteous do win. Justice will be done. Jesus will reign forevermore (Revelation 21:1-4)!

So why does this relieve my fears today in a world with terrorism, narcissism, dictators and overall insanity? 

Because I am reminded to trust God's bigger plan. To trust it for my life here and now. 

While I don't like seeing evil reign in the world today nor do I want to accept that it is most likely going to get worse, I must focus on the hope of God's bigger plan. 

I must confess that it is pride that makes me believe the lie that I should be exempt from suffering, that I am deserving of blessing and comfort and worldly peace, that I am above that or better than others who suffer (because I am an American or I made better choices or obeyed God or whatever). 

I must depend more and more on the God who is Peace for my safety and security and not on law enforcement or leadership or even common sense. 

And I must focus on what really counts - building God's kingdom by discipling others and helping them know that they are dearly loved.

Lord, help me to keep living dependent on you, not on the supposed safety of my nation or the wisdom of its leaders. Show me how to spread your hope as I look at your bigger picture. And most of all, renew my zeal to dive into what matters most - building your kingdom!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Broader than as the Sea

My favorite beach shot! Taken in 1997.
I love everything about beaches. Even though as a child I grew up in the mountains of Papua New Guinea and played in streams and rivers, I was introduced to the ocean when first a missionary in Indonesia. Later I discovered other beauties such as St Lucia, Montenegro, Assateague Island and most recently the Mediterranean Sea off the southern coast of Turkey.

South Lombok, Indonesia has a beach where the sand is actually perfectly round pellets of coral. Last year in Montenegro, I discovered sand made up of smooth rocks. Some beaches are covered in shells, some in sea glass. Some are good for wading, some for wave surfing, some for snorkeling. 

Then there's the colors! Some seas are aqua, some deep blue. The light dancing on the waves produces further shades and the foam of crashing waves adds white. And don't even get me started on the sounds of the waves, the wind, the gulls! There is something about the beauty of a beach that lulls me to a place of silence and rest.

Thus you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that beaches illustrate love! I was in another slump. I needed a fresh reminder (again!) that God loves me. I took some time to sit at Jesus' feet (following Mary's example) and read this from the Apostle Paul: 
I pray that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of God's love]. Ephesians 3:18
The same word "breadth" to also used to describe King Solomon's wisdom: the breadth of his understanding was as infinite as the sand on the seashore (1 Kings 4:29).

The sands of South Lombok, Indonesia
Is it ok then, to say that the breadth of God's love is as infinite as the sand on the seashore? This means that his love is extending indefinitely, it has no limit, it is measureless. I find this concept also in Psalm 139:17-18:
How difficult it is for me to fathom your thoughts about me, O God! How vast is their sum total! If I tried to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. Even if I finished counting them, I would still have to contend with you.
Since God himself is infinite, that would of course mean his love is infinite too. It helps me to look at the grains of sand and think that just as I cannot begin to count them, I cannot begin to count the ways that God loves me, that nothing I do will ever stop his love.

From the ocean, I also learn that God's love is as wide as the east is from the west. Psalm 103:12 says as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. God's love is so wide, that it covers all my sin. He demonstrated his love for me by dying on the cross to take the punishment for my sin. His love covered the sins of my past, present and future. Scripture says that sometimes someone will die for a righteous man, but only Christ died for sinful men and women. God loves me that much! I am completely forgiven! When I stand on the shore and gaze out at the ocean, I cannot see where it ends and I cannot see what is beneath the waves. Just as I cannot see the end of the sea, I cannot see the end of God's saving love.

If I were to follow the ocean, it would take me to another shore, another country, another people. God's love is so inclusive it encompasses ALL people and extends even towards those I struggle to love. I have the tendency to want to stick with my kind, to not welcome people different than me. But God said that all may enter who believe. God's love is wide enough to include every person. God's love is so far reaching, it will save many, many more than I would save for he loves the world (John 3:16, I John 2:2).

In Genesis 18:18, God told Abraham that his descendants would bless many nations. We see him extending his love to an Egyptian slave, a Canaanite prostitute, a Philistine alien, an Army Commander from Aram, the leper Namaan and Ninevites in Iraq. In the Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples to "Go out to the highways and country roads and urge people to come in, so that my house will be filled" (Luke 14:23). The Apostle Paul taught that salvation has been extended to the Gentiles along with the chosen Jews (Ephesians 3:6). We know that some from every tongue and tribe will be in heaven some day.
" would think from hearing [some] preach that Christ came into the world to save half-a-dozen, and that they were five of them … Out on their narrowness! There will be more in heaven than we expect to see there by a long way; and there will be some there with whom we had very little comfortable fellowship on earth who had fellowship with Christ, and who are therefore taken to dwell with him for ever." (Spurgeon)
What aspect of the breadth of God's love - that it is measureless, that it covers all your sin, that it encompasses all people - ministers to you most? Why? 

Other entries in this series:
With All the Saints
Rooted and Grounded
More and More at Home
Unlimited Resources
Named by God
Let us Kneel 

Friday, June 3, 2016

With All the Saints

I started this study of Paul's prayer because I wanted to explore his description of Christ's love. Finally, I have reached it. 

And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people (the saints), to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. Ephesians 3:17b-18.

But once again, I am delayed. A phrase, stuck between the commas, stops me. I am arrested by words that seems so out of place. Together with all the saints. What's the saints got to do with it? Isn't this love between me and God? Isn't it a personal, intimate, individual thing? Why does the Bible always have to bring in the saints? It's enough for me to figure out that God loves me without having to deal with people! Because sadly, there are too many examples of the saints not loving.

Paul seems to be saying that having my roots deep in God and his indwelling empowers me to know experientially the love of Christ. Paul prays that we will have the power to grasp - know, understand, experience - his love. But we need help. Even those like me, who were raised in loving homes with God-fearing parents, still need help knowing we are loved because Paul goes on to say that this love surpasses knowledge - it is actually unknowable. And yet he prays for it anyway.

So how can we know it? We have already seen some ways. Become God's child. Let God strengthen our inner being. Let God dwell in us. Strive to be rooted and grounded in him. Paul now introduces two news ways to know God's love. Pray for power to grasp it. And be together with all the saints.

Perhaps I can't know God's love all by myself, as I sometimes prefer. Perhaps I need the Body of Christ to demonstrate it and teach it to me. David Guzak in his commentary, puts it this way, "Paul asked that they might be able to understand together, in community, every dimension of the love of Jesus" (emphasis mine).

There must be something here about not really knowing the love of God unless we are with the saints. It is something we know together. The saints put flesh on the intangible concept of love. My brothers and sisters in Christ become love with skin on for me. And so I reflect on how they have taught me the love of God.

A number of years ago, during a time when I was feeling particularly unloved, plain and undesired, God spoke his love to me through two saints. One was totally random - a grocery checker, whom I did not and still do not know. While mindlessly going through the routine of putting my groceries on the conveyor belt, the checker looked at me and said, "Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?" I was stunned. I sputtered and mumbled, "No, thank you." As I stumbled out of the store, I made it to my car and wept. God had spoken his love to me through a stranger.

A few months later, I served at a retreat with an old college friend whom I had not seen in years. Toward the end of the week, my friend pulled me aside and said, "I just want to tell you that you have grow more beautiful as you have gotten older." Again, I was stunned and knew her voice was the voice of the Lord, reassuring me of his love.

Yes, I need the saints to accept me, to forgive me, to affirm me, to be patient with me, to be kind to me, to serve me, to bear with me, to believe in me, to endure with me, to hope for me. I need them not only to love me, but also to let me watch as they love others. I continue to be challenged by saints who love in ways that are hard for me. Those that give time and energy and passion to the marginalized and the poor, those that visit prisons and hospitals, those that herald the cause of enslaved women and children, those that risk ridicule and reputation to share the gospel of Christ. All these teach me to grasp the love of Christ. Together with all the saints. 

Are you praying that God will empower you to know his love?
How have other saints helped you to know the love of Christ? 
I would love to hear your stories.

Other entries in this series:
Rooted and Grounded
More and More at Home
Unlimited Resources
Named by God
Let us Kneel