Neither Death Nor Life…

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer
through Him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present,
nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing,
shall be able to separate us from the love of God
which is in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:37-39

Tear-250Romans 8 is often viewed as the pinnacle of Paul’s theology, where he gives an eloquent discourse on our victory in Christ.  At the very end of the chapter he argues that nothing – neither death nor life nor any other thing – can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.

How many times have I read those verses or heard them, and slid right through the litany of things listed without really thinking about them?  This morning one item on the list caught my attention – life.

I could see right away why Paul might need to assure some that death would not separate the Believer from God’s love, but life…?  Why would he need to offer assurance that life would not separate us from that love?

There are two Greek words translated “life” – bios and zoeBios has more to do with the physical, quantitative principle of life, while zoe, our word in this text, refers to the more spiritual and qualitative aspect.  Zodhiates puts is this way:  zoe is “being indwelt by God but not necessarily favored by circumstances.”

Have you ever felt that circumstances were not favoring you?  Perhaps now, even as you are reading this, there are issues in your life that are making it hard to hang onto God’s love for you.  You may feel abandoned, or trapped, or smothered, or forgotten – your circumstances may be overwhelming and painful and totally out of control.

But God sends His sweet and tender assurance through Paul, that even what is happening in your life cannot separate you from His love.  He has neither abandoned you nor forgotten you.  He brings you liberation and certain victory in and through your Christ, your Savior, your Jesus.  He is your Abba Father, and He will prevent anything from separating you from His love.  Even death.  And even life.

What circumstances in your life conspire to try to separate you from the love of your Father? What would change in your heart if you were more confident of His unfailing love for you? Why is He telling you today that life will not separate you from His steadfast love?

Wait the Good Wait

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.
Lamentations 3:25

At our first entrance into the school of waiting upon God, the heart is chiefly set upon the blessings which we wait for.  God graciously uses our need and desire to help educate us for something higher than we were thinking of.  We are seeking gifts; He, the Giver, longs to give Himself, and to satisfy the soul with His goodness.  It is just for this reason that He often withholds the gifts, and that the time of waiting is made so long.
Andrew Murray

But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord;
 I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me.
Micah 7:7

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good
to those who love God, 
to those who are called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28

waiting-dogsWhat is it that God has you waiting for?  What need has He brought into your life that you are waiting for Him to provide?  Perhaps you are waiting for His salvation in the life of another.  Or perhaps you are waiting for His supply for a financial need.  Perhaps you are struggling, like Paul, with physical affliction of some sort, and you are waiting for healing or even just relief from the pain.  Or perhaps you are mired in a difficult circumstance and you are waiting for God’s deliverance in one form or another.  Be assured that God has not forgotten you.

Think for a moment about waiting… Most of us aren’t good at it, and we don’t like it.  We don’t like to wait in lines, wait for traffic jams to clear, wait for doctors to see us, wait for the check at dinner, wait for a friend to return our call, or wait for our children to do what we told them.

There are, however, sometimes that waiting does have a more positive feel to it.  We call that anticipation.  It is an expectant looking forward to something we want.  A child looking forward to Christmas is a perfect example… counting the days, knowing there is something good ahead.  Maybe it is hard to wait, but the assurance that it will be worth it shades even the waiting with delight.

In the verses from Lamentations and Micah above, the words translated “wait” both convey a sense of eager and confident expectation, a patient trust that grows out of an ever deepening relationship with God.  I have many needs, and I don’t know how God will ever manage to meet them.  But just like I know that Christmas brings delights, even though I don’t know in advance exactly what they are, so I know that God has a wonderful plan for meeting my needs.

But more importantly, those needs are a vehicle for God to give Himself to me.  They are a preparation of my heart for knowing that my greatest need is for Him.  As I endure the waiting, I look more and more to God – not just for His provision or deliverance or healing or salvation, but to Him for Himself. Both of the prophets above are waiting for God – not for His gifts.   For them, and for me, the waiting brings deep satisfaction with all God is for me in Christ Jesus. I can rejoice not in just what He provides, but in all He is.

It is when Christ Himself becomes my treasure, rather than what He can provide for me, that the things of this world lose their grip on my heart.  When He is my complete satisfaction, waiting becomes just another place where He lavishes His love upon me.

O Lord God,
You are Jehovah Jireh, my Provider.  But even more than things and solutions and healing and deliverance, You provide me with Yourself.  What an incredible gift!  Thank You for not bringing immediately a solution for my every problem.  If You did that, I would look only to Your hand of provision, and not to Your face.  I would only seek You for what You could do for me, not for Who You are.  Paul talks about fighting the good fight – help me wait the good wait.  Help me patiently endure whatever is necessary that I might gain Christ.  For His great glory… amen.

Like a Tree Planted by the Water

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
and whose trust is in the Lord.
For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
that extends its roots by a stream
and will not fear when the heat comes;
but its leaves will be green,
and it will not be anxious in a year of drought
nor cease to yield fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NASB)

Fall_trees_by_lakeAs a friend was telling me recently how important water is to plants, I marveled at the parallels to my spiritual life.  Just as a plant cannot live without water, so the Living Water that comes from my time with God – both in His Word and in prayer – is critical to my spiritual life.

Plants receive their water supply through their roots, so a well-developed root system helps the plant get the water it needs.

In the same way, I need a well-developed root system that systematically and deliberately seeks out the Living Water in the deep places, not just depending on whatever happens to “fall from the sky” in the way of preaching and teaching.

A steady supply of water insures nutrients are dispersed throughout the plant in a consistent manner so maximum benefit is received from them.

My time in God’s Word and in prayer needs to be consistent, too, so I am nourished by the steady flow of truth and enriched by the constant fellowship.

When there is an adequate supply of water, it also creates a sustained pressure within the cells that causes the walls to be stretched and the cells themselves to enlarge.  When we see this multiplied in thousands of cells, the result is what we call “growth.”

In much the same way, the sustained presence of the Living Water in my heart and mind, the steady exposure to God’s precepts, stretches me and I grow spiritually.

About 99% of the water that enters a plant through its roots exits through its leaves in a process called transpiration.  This process not only insures the balanced flow of water through the plant with the benefits we have already looked at, but it also cools the plant and gives refreshment and other benefits to its environment.  Just think about how cool grass feels on your bare feet, and how inviting a shady tree is on a hot day.

In a similar way, the Living Water that flows in through my roots also finds its way out, hopefully comforting and refreshing those around me.

When a plant experiences a lack of water, some very different things happen.  First the pressure within the cells slacks off, and the stretched cell walls are no longer supported by the water – the plant appears to droop, or wilt, and growth is stunted.  Nutrients cease to flow.  Guard cells on the surface of the leaves shut down, preventing the beneficial effects of transpiration from reaching the environment.  And the effects of external stresses like heat and wind have a greater negative impact on the well being of the plant.

When I cut corners on my daily time with God I limit my supply of Living Water, and the effects are dramatic.   I am no longer able to stand upright – my judgment suffers, I lack contentment and patience, I quit growing.  I lack spiritual nourishment.  I have nothing to give to others, and my ability to withstand the heat from the enemy and the winds of adversity is greatly diminished.

While a plant can grow deep roots to help in times of drought, it really has no “will.”  It doesn’t choose to grow deep roots, and it certainly has no control over how much water it receives.

I, on the other hand, do have a will.

I can choose to diligently seek the Living Water… or not.  God has given me the ability and the responsibility to water the garden of my heart with His Word and to root myself in deep in a relationship with Him.  How can I knowingly turn away from the only Water that gives Life?

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
And he will be like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither;
and in whatever he does, he prospers.
Psalm 1:2-3 (NASB)

Won’t you take a minute and let us know in the comments how the Living Water (or lack thereof) affects your life?

An Open Letter to God on Father’s Day

O God, my Father… Abba,

tag-fathers-dayYou know how my life has been marked by rejection and abandonment and ended relationships, and only You fully know the way it is all wrapped up in Father’s Day.  I confess this past week I have dreaded this day, this Sabbath that is set apart to celebrate and honor the fathers (and by implication, the husbands) in our lives.  I’ve dreaded it because I’m reminded of the frailties of the men who have stood in the place of father and husband in my life, and have focused once again on the hurt they have caused.

Forgive me, because I continue to forget that this life isn’t about me and what hurts or pleases me, but about how it points to Your glory and sufficiency in and through all things.  And forgive those who with their human imperfections have failed to model You in their authority over me, and have instead hurt me deeply.  As You minister to my heart the perfection of Your Fatherhood, bring healing and release from the bondage of unmet expectations.  Free me to love with Your love.

Your Word says, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God…” and it tells us that we “have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’”  

You are my perfect Father, and I honor You on this Father’s Day. You will never die or abandon me or choose someone else instead of me. You won’t ever say, “I don’t love you anymore.” You will never disinherit me. You planned my place in Your heart before the foundation of the world and never make me feel like an inconvenience or an afterthought or an unwelcome responsibility. You never change – Your requirements are righteous and come from a heart of love. You discipline me with firmness and consistency, not winking at my sin one minute and exploding in wrath the next.

You are clear in Your expectations – You never make me guess, and then change the rules so my guess is wrong. You never make me feel like I have to struggle to earn Your love and then continually fall short. You never make fun of me or put me down.

You delight in my devotion and always want to know what’s on my mind. You are never too busy to spend time with me. You always do what is best for me and never take advantage of my great need for You. You provide for me perfectly, even lavishly. You never break covenant, but fulfill all Your vows to me – even beyond what I know about. You are eternally faithful. You laid down Your life for me, and I rejoice in the contentment and security of Your overpowering and all satisfying love.

Thank You for redeeming my life and my mind from the pit of despair and setting me on the solid Rock of Jesus Christ.  Thank You for the love perfectly expressed in Your Fatherhood that covers and frees me from the sin that has broken my heart. Thank You for drawing me to Yourself – for being my tower of strength and my refuge… my Father… my Abba. 

But as for me, I shall sing of Thy strength;
Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Thy lovingkindness in the morning,
For thou hast been my stronghold,
And a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to Thee;
For God is my stronghold,
the God who shows me lovingkindness.
 

With the psalmist I say, “… in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy.”  Amen.

 

To Seek or Not to Seek

  Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
Isaiah 55:6

When Thou didst say, “Seek My face,”
my heart said to Thee,
“Thy face, O Lord, I shall seek,”
Psalm 27:8

O God, Thou art my God; I shall seek Thee earnestly;
My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee,
In a dry and weary land where there is no water.
Thus I have beheld Thee in the sanctuary,
To see Thy power and Thy glory.
Because Thy lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise Thee.
So I will bless Thee as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Thy name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.
When I remember Thee on my bed,
I meditate on Thee in the night watches,
for Thou hast been my help,
And in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy.
Psalm 63:1-7

waterfall-morguefileWe were made for God, and to live abundantly, we must continually be seeking Him out, searching after Him, treasuring Who He is, and longing for more of Him.  He must be the desire of our heart, for it is only in diligent pursuit of Him that we are safe.

Yes, salvation is all of God – He sought us out while we were still His enemies, purchased our freedom, and freely pours out on us new mercies and lavish grace each day.  But that salvation is worked out, tried and proven, as we pursue Him, ever longing for more of Him and to be transformed into His image.  He didn’t save us and then say, “See you up in Heaven some day… Have a good life.”  No, He saved us and calls us to follow hard after Him, even as He called Simon and Andrew away from their fishing nets.

Seeking can be hard work, but it’s worth it.  It’s active, not passive.  It’s paddling upstream so you don’t get swept downstream by the current.  And it’s infinitely better than the alternative of not seeking Him…

So King Rehoboam strengthened himself in Jerusalem, and reigned…
And he did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the Lord.
2 Chronicles 12:13a,14

            The story of Rehoboam is interesting.  He was Solomon’s son, David’s grandson.  He had a godly heritage, and started off well, but quickly got off track by doing things his own way.  He was in Jerusalem, and he was the king, but he was a failure.  He did evil because he did not set his heart to seek the Lord.

The word “did” means that he made an effort, he worked at, and created ways to do evil things.  And “evil” speaks of the negative behavior, the lawlessness, the wickedness, that results from thinking and speaking and doing things that are contrary to God’s character.

The result of Rehoboam’s refusal to set his heart to seek the Lord was not just an absence of God’s good blessings in his life, but the downward spiral of a life dedicated to inventing more and more wicked things to do.  Which brings us to the application of today’s lesson.  To seek or not to seek, that is the question…  Will your life be characterized by the fruit of seeking hard after God with single-minded devotion, or the fruit of refusing to seek Him?

For further consideration:

  1. Are there areas of your life that show evidence of refusing to seek God?
  2. In what area of your life is God calling you to seek after Him with more diligence?
  3. How will your life be different if you choose to pursue Him more?

Pick one or more of those questions and answer it in the comment section.

Things That Make Me Go “Hmmm…”

shin-examplesThe more I dig into the Hebrew AlefBet, the more amazed I am. This past week I was looking at the next to last letter, Shin (pronounced sheen). You can see what it looks like at the right.

Shin is the first letter in the word “Shalom,” which we explored in an earlier post. (Wow! was that 9 months ago??)

Shin is also the first letter in Shaddai, and is associated with El Shaddai, the name of God that means the All-Sufficient One.

Shin is also associated with the Presence of God and the Holy Spirit. And it is right in the middle of the Hebrew pronunciation of both Jerusalem and Jesus. Hmmm.

When I look at the letter, it reminds me of flames, and indeed, the word for fire is esh, the “strong devourer.” Hang onto that thought…

Do you remember this passage from Deuteronomy?

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love theLord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength.
These commandments that I give you today
are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.
Talk about them when you sit at home and when you
walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9

This passage is called the Shema, which means “Hear!” And you guessed it – Shema begins with the letter shin…

But here’s where it gets more interesting. From Old Testament times up until the present day, observant Jews wear something called a “tefillin” – a small leather box bound on their head in literal obedience to the Scripture as they pray and wait for God’s Presence in their lives.

tefillin-tallitIt contains 4 Scripture passages, and is embossed on both the right side and the left side with the letter shin.

The difference is, that on the left side, the shin has four vertical strokes instead of the normal three strokes. You can see what it looks like in this image. It’s as though the center stroke was divided or separated, isn’t it?

And remember how the Old Testament, and the requirements that God set forth consistently point to the greater fulfillment revealed in the New Testament? Consider this as you remember that shin is associated with the Presence of God as His Spirit and with the flames of fire.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven
and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated
and came to rest on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:1-4

L. Grant Luton says this (In His Own Words):

Pentecost is a Jewish holy day which commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai. At that event God descended upon the mountain in flame, smoke, and thunder to meet with a man faithful to Him — Moses. 1500 years later to the day, the Holy Spirit descended upon faithful men and women with “tongues of fire”. At the first Pentecost, God wrote His Torah on stone tablets, but at the latter Pentecost He wrote His Torah on human hearts. The shin — the letter of flame — appears on the tefillin as a picture of God’s Spirit resting upon the head of every person who has looked for His appearing in their lives.

I am continually amazed at how the Scriptures are woven together with such intricate care to reveal more and more about our God.

What have you discovered about Him recently that has encouraged you?  Won’t you share with us in the comments?

What’s Clogging the Pipe?

water-faucetMy washing machine has a problem. The water trickles in. It doesn’t gush like it does in a normal washer. It trickles. A normal sized load takes about an hour and a half. It eventually gets done, but it takes a long time!

The problem is not with the water line – I’ve tested that, and it gushes just fine. And it isn’t with the hose that goes to the washer with those little strainer thingies – that all works just fine, too. It is something internal – something is keeping the water from flooding into the tub.

… that I may know Him…
Philippians 3:10

 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened 
in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you,
the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,
and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted
when he raised Christ from the dead 
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,  
far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, 
and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age
but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 1:18-21 (NIV – emphasis added)

I am doing a book study on Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst and using Kim Avery’s blog series to keep me motivated and on track. Right now I’m in Chapter 5, which is all about how I was made for more than just satisfying my physical cravings.

In Philippians 3:10, Paul states his goal, “that I may know Him,” and that is my goal, too. That is what I was made for. To know Him and to become like Him.

And Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 1, which I included above, helps me see some of the “more” that I have been made for. I do feast on the hope held forth in His Word. And even now I experience a large portion of His riches — grace and mercy and love and forgiveness and acceptance…

But wait! I’m supposed to know His power, too? The same power that raised Jesus from the dead?

… Really?

I struggle with that one. I know it is there, and I know He is able to use that power in my life, but somehow I don’t see it. I think something in me is clogging the flow, just like my washing machine.

And I think I know what it is.

I think it is my efforts to do this healthy eating thing on my own that is clogging the pipe, restricting the flow of His power. I think my plan to do better resembles the definition of insanity – I keep trying the same things over and over expecting different results. And I don’t get them.

I need to flush my efforts out of the pipe to clear the way for His power to flow freely into my life.

And what’s that going to look like? I don’t know, but I’ll bet it’s going to be good! Now, if I could just figure out what’s clogging the line in the washer…

What’s clogging the flow of God’s power in your life?

Beyond the Apple

Tree_of_Knowledge

Lucas Cranach the Elder
[Public domain]

So we all know that there was more than just the apple that Eve was after in that garden encounter. But what was it exactly?

The tree that God forbade them to eat from was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. I’ve always wondered about that. Did they not know the difference between what was good and what was bad? Was it because everything was good in their world?

Except the tempter, of course.

I’ve wondered if it might be the knowledge — the ability to determine — what was “good” or “evil” for themselves instead of relying on God to make that determination for them.

When I look at Jesus, I don’t see Him making choices that an everyday man would have made. Or an everyday woman. I don’t see Him “looking out for Number One.” He didn’t do the things that would have, for example, furthered His “career” as Israel’s foremost prophet.

And He didn’t turn the loaves and fishes into KFC family meals complete with hushpuppies. Or chocolate.

He only did and said what His Father told Him.  And for a time, I think it was that way in the Garden, too. Adam and Eve listened to God and did whatever He told them to do. And it was good.

But then that pesky serpent showed up and opened Eve’s eyes to the seductive world of self-determination. If she would just eat the fruit, she would be able to decide what was good or not for herself. She wouldn’t have to rely on Someone Else to decide what was best for her, Someone Who might really not have her best interests at heart. Who would know what was best for her any better than she herself?

And with that bite, I think her eyes were opened to the idea that she was the best judge of what was good and evil for HER. Not God. Not her Creator. Not the Lover of her soul. Not the One with infinite knowledge, not just of her but of all of her circumstance. But herself, with her limited and now-flawed judgement. She should be the one to say what was good and evil for her. What was right, and what was best.

And that’s where I find myself. Instead of doing and saying only what my Father tells me, as Jesus did, I calculate and scheme and determine for myself what will be best. My decisions are so often evidence that I, too, have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil rather than relying on the goodness and grace of the One Who knows me best and still loves me.

This week my desire is to turn to Him instead of the tree. For the food that I eat and the words that I say and the things that I do to be in direct response to Him.

Is there evidence of that tree in your life?

Really, Eve?

No doubt I had this same realization two years ago when I read the book for the first time, but it hit me afresh this week as I read the first chapters of Lysa TerKeurst’s book, “Made to Crave.” Food cravings are not a new thing. really-eve I understand that it wasn’t just the apple that was tempting, that there were many other factors at work as that scene played out. But it is interesting to me that what was forbidden was something to eat, and what Satan used as a temptation was that very same thing – food.

And Eve chose to trade the soul-satisfying intimacy of a love relationship with the Creator for… an apple? Really?

Satan hasn’t changed his tactics much, has he? He still holds food out as an enticement to lure us away from the true satisfaction our souls hunger and thirst for.

Don’t we need food to live, though? Yes. Absolutely.

And aren’t we supposed to enjoy it? Definitely.

But what we aren’t supposed to do is give it the power to dominate us. We aren’t supposed to turn to it to meet the needs of our soul, to soothe the broken areas in our hearts, to bring us life and peace. Because it can’t.

Only God can do those things, and when we turn to something else that we think will make us feel better than He can, we do exactly the same thing Eve did. We trade the Bread of Heaven and the Living Water that our souls must have to live for something less.

God made us to crave so He could satisfy us. Will you strain upward for Him like a hungry little birdie, or will you peck around in the bottom of the nest in hopes of finding a dead bug on your own? :-)