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Just about everywhere we turn, someone is talking about love. In fact, it may very well be the most popular thing in our culture — we just love to talk about love, yet never before has love been more exploited, nor has it ever been more distorted. Love has become a meaningless word. And instead of standing firm in love, many Christians have been duped by the world’s definition of love, which proclaims self rather than sacrifice.

According to the world, we love in order to be loved. According to the Word, we love because God first loved us. Whereas the world falls in love, God’s people are established in love. The love that we possess, however, is not a fleeting whim that comes and goes with every mood and circumstance; rather, it is a love that is beyond ourselves. Our love, true love, has meaning, meaning that cannot be stripped away by any thing, any one, or any feeling. Our love cannot be shaken because it is grounded not in self but in sacrifice.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). In His once-for-all sacrifice, Jesus Christ demonstrated true love, the true love of God. By this great demonstration of love, love has been defined, and no worldly deception can seduce it. 

~Burk Parsons in “Love is in the Air

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Is it true that God is love to me as a Christian? And does the love of God mean all that has been said? If so, certain questions arise.

Why do I ever grumble and show discontent and resentment at the circumstances in which God has placed me?

Why am I ever distrustful, fearful, or depressed?

Why do I ever allow myself to grow cool, formal and halfhearted in the service of the God who loves me so?

Why do I ever allow my loyalties to be divided, so that God has not all my heart?

John wrote that “God is love” in order to make an ethical point, “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:11). Could an observer learn from the quality and degree of love that I show to others–my wife? my husband? my family? my neighbors? people at church? people at work? –anything at all about the greatness of God’s love to me?

Meditate upon these things. Examine yourself.

~J.I. Packer in Knowing God

Photo: OBMonkey

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Remember that the mind is the watchman of the soul, commanded to judge and determine whether something is good and pleasing to God, so the affections can long for it and the will can choose it. If the mind fails to identify a sin as evil, wicked, vile, and bitter, the affections will not be safe from clinging to it, nor the will from giving consent. 

This is one side of the castle wall, the first line of defense: to keep in mind that every sin is a forsaking of God (Jeremiah 2:19), to never forget the polluting, corrupting, defiling power of sin—to be shaken to the core by how much God loathes sin.

When Paul said Christ’s love compelled him (2 Corinthians 5:14), he described the other side of this first defense: the mind must stay fixed on God, especially on his grace and goodness toward us. His love propels, fuels, drives us to obey. It is the fountain of our obedience, and our highest motive to finding out what pleases the Lord and doing it.

In order to walk before God, this is the mind’s first duty: to know and hold on to the evil of sin and the love of God.

~Kris Lundgaard in The Enemy Within

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C.S. Lewis observed that what most distinguishes the gospel from legalism is that legalism says God will love us if we are good, while the gospel tells us God will make us good because he loves us. That’s a big difference—and getting your heart and mind around it will change your life. In the light of gospel grace, we’re liberated by the recognition that God loves us in order to make us lovely, not because we are lovely (we know we really aren’t) or could ever be lovely on our own. Love precedes loveliness in God’s economy; and his love is plenty big enough to actuate within us all the loveliness we could ever dream of.

Legalism keeps insisting that Christianity is all about how we perform for God; the gospel keeps proclaiming that Christianity, ever and always, is all about how God in Christ performs for us. When we transfer trust from self-performance to Christ and his performance, we finally leap out from under the burden of having to measure up on our own.

~Tullian Tchividjian in Jesus + Nothing=Everything

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There’s a wonderful truth that’s sometimes hard for us to grasp. That is that God doesn’t make any mistakes.

Other people sometimes may make serious mistakes that affect our lives. But God is always fulfilling His eternal purposes, and they can’t be stopped by any human failure. If we’re in Christ, our lives are in His hands, and nothing can touch us that hasn’t first been filtered through His fingers of love.

Someone has said, “God’s will is exactly what we would choose if we knew what God knows.” When we stand in eternity, we’ll see clearly what we now know only by faith: He truly has done all things well.

~Nancy Leigh DeMoss in “Filtered through His Hand

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When Does God Love You?

“There is therefore now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 8:1

Do your children know the biblical answer to this question?

Of course, it’s not only children who need to understand this truth…

Moms, you need to believe it too!

Photo: Cecile Graat

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There’s a verse in 1 Peter that shows us that Jesus’ sense of worth didn’t come from what others thought about Him. It came from what God thought.

It says He was “rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him.”

Jesus was rejected by men—those He had created for Himself. He loved them so much He laid down His life. But His value came from being chosen by God. That’s what made Him precious. That’s what determined His worth.

Your worth is also determined by God. He loves you so much that He gave His Son for your sins. Remember that the next time you’re tempted to believe, “I’m not worth anything.”

~Nancy Leigh DeMoss in “Rejected by Men

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I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. —Galatians 2:20 

I love the well-known words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” It makes the love of God sound so far-sweeping, so big, so world-sized. Yet Jesus did not generally die for the general sins of the whole world-at-large. The early witnesses who suffered most for being Christians were captivated by the fact that Christ “loved me and gave himself for me.” They took the act of Christ’s sacrifice very personally. And so should we. Jesus died specifically for your sins and mine. This is why I love Galatians 2:20. Jesus doesn’t wave his hand over the entire earth, brush-stroking everyone with his love. Rather, he “loved me and gave himself for me.” 

This is the way we should look at the sufferings and death of Christ. They have to do with me. The stripes on Christ’s back are about his love for me personally. It is my sin that cuts me off from God, not sin in general. It is my spiritual laziness that demeans the worth of Christ. And it is I as an individual who must plead for mercy. This is why I take great relief and delight in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.”

Is it possible that I can be one of his “friends?” Yes, I am his friend. Jesus paid the highest price possible to give me the greatest gift possible. Oh, joy! Jesus loves even me, and he calls me his friend!

~Joni Eareckson Tada  in “He Loves Me” Joni and Friends Daily Devotional, February 20

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Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. —Isaiah 30:18 

I have longed for many things over the years… 

Today’s verse tells us what God longs for: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you.” The word ‘longing’ is only used this way twice in scripture—the other time is when Jesus longed to gather the people of Jerusalem under his wings. Notice something about God’s longings? They are focused not on things, but on people…His heart’s desire is to benefit his people that they might glorify him

Oh, how unlike my yearnings are from God’s! Too often my desires are about what I want rather than what I desire to see happen in others. How often do I actually yearn for God to be glorified and his kingdom advanced? 

The journey of the Christian is to strive to be more and more like God. Take a giant step in that direction today by asking the Lord to cleanse and refine your longings. A good place to begin is with James 4:8 where it says, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (KJV).

~Joni Eareckson Tada in “God’s Longings” January 16 Daily Devotional

Photo: OBMonkey

Christmas Hope for the Barren (Part 2)

This post first appeared on Precious Adornment in December 2010. 
Read Part 1 HERE.

“There was a priest named Zechariah…And he had a wife
from the daughters of Aaron, and her name
was Elizabeth…But they had no child”

Luke 1:5,6,7

Gifts Are Not a Given

I wonder how many times Zechariah and Elizabeth asked the question “Why?” during their bleak years of childlessness.

Why, God? Why haven’t you given us a child?

Lord, why haven’t we found favor in your eyes?

Why have you blessed them with a son when they don’t even keep your commandments?

Oh, Father, why have you given them another child when they already have
so many?

As years stretched into decades, Zechariah and Elizabeth undoubtedly faced the temptation to grow bitter and resentful as they watched God bless friends, family, and strangers with the gift they desperately desired and perhaps even felt at times they deserved. They were blameless after all. Surely if any two people deserved the blessing of children, Zechariah and Elizabeth would be those people. 

The lesson that Zechariah and Elizabeth had to learn through their suffering is the same one that childless couples must grasp today. Children are not a given; they are a gift. Just as God causes rain to fall on both the just and the unjust, so too, does He bless both the righteous and the unrighteous with the gift of children.

Why? Oftentimes the answer to that question belongs in the category of “secret things” that belong to the Lord and not to us (Deut. 29:29). When the wisdom of God’s plan remains unclear to us, we must cling to the truths He has revealed:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
~Isaiah 55:8-9

Gabriel’s message to Zechariah contained an important command—the baby was not to be given a family name, but one God had chosen for him. “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (Luke 1:13).

The meaning of this name would forever remind Zechariah and Elizabeth of the undeserved gift God had given them in their son: John—“Jehovah has shown grace.” Children are not given because of our goodness, but only because of God’s grace.

The Impossible Made Possible

Psalm 113:9 had probably worn a deep groove in Elizabeth’s heart: “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” As a young wife awaiting her first child, that verse surely provided Elizabeth with hope that her barrenness would not last forever. That little glimmer of light grew gradually dimmer with each passing year.

Somewhere along the way for Zechariah and Elizabeth, the chances of having children moved in their minds from being improbable to impossible. Elizabeth’s biological clock had stopped ticking, and the barrenness she’d hoped was only a temporary obstacle became a permanent condition.

At least that’s how the situation appeared until Gabriel arrived with the good news that God doesn’t work according to human timetables. Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayers had been heard. They would have a son, and he would bring them joy and gladness.

The hope of Psalm 113:9 would at last become a living reality. Why? Because nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

If you are facing the pain of childlessness this Christmas, let the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth fill your heart with hope in the goodness of God. The entire Christmas account revolves around God’s sovereignty over the womb, His love for His children, and His power over the impossible.

As you follow the Lord in righteousness, you can rest quietly in the knowledge that your prayers are not being ignored, but are being filed away in the faithfulness of God. Like Elizabeth and Zechariah, one day you will see; one day you’ll understand the wisdom behind His plans for your life. Until that time, “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14)

Photo: Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

Christmas Hope for the Barren (Part 1)

This post first appeared on Precious Adornment in December 2010.

“There was a priest named Zechariah…And he had a wife
from the daughters of Aaron, and her name
was Elizabeth…But they had no child”

Luke 1:5,6,7

They say Christmas is the happiest season of all, but for many, the joy of this special day remains tainted by a lingering sadness. The celebration of Christmas in our culture emphasizes families, tradition, and togetherness. But for those still awaiting the blessing of children, holiday celebrations often draw attention to the emptiness filling the space where little ones ought to be. While others eagerly anticipate Christmas mornings accompanied by laughter, smiles, and childlike joy, those facing the pain of childlessness often struggle to look forward to the day at all.

I imagine that Zechariah and Elizabeth knew all about the pain of spending special days as a couple instead of as a family. For decades they would have observed holy days and religious ceremonies with children all around them, none of which were their own. Zechariah and Elizabeth had no doubt cried more tears and prayed more prayers together over her barrenness than anyone around them would ever have guessed. Yet year after year, their tears and prayers went seemingly unnoticed…until one day when everything changed, and the Lord transformed years of sorrow into tears of rejoicing.

In the familiar story of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Luke 1, there is fresh hope for those in the midst of childlessness—hope, not only for Christmas, but for every day of the year.

Blameless, yet Barren

The pain of childlessness is often compounded by the pain of being misunderstood by others. Although infertility is one of the most sensitive trials a couple may ever face, complete strangers often feel no qualms about turning the topic into small talk. The absence of children is often wrongly equated with a lack of desire for them and frequently sparks thoughtless comments.

So, how many years have you been married now?

Isn’t it about time you get started on a family?

Planning to try for kids any time soon?

Although people rarely ask questions like these with ill intent, such conversations tear sharply into the already tender wounds of those who simply can’t conceive. Zechariah and Elizabeth were undoubtedly well-acquainted with this pain.

Because barrenness was considered to be a sign of divine disfavor in their culture, gossip and misconceptions regarding the couple’s sinfulness or inferior spirituality would have been commonplace. Even though others may have automatically assumed that Zechariah and Elizabeth stood guilty in God’s sight, the Scriptures actually record them as being righteous before Him. In fact, Luke says that they walked “blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). They were blameless, yet still Elizabeth remained barren.

Childless couples often agonize over the thought that infertility may be evidence of God’s judgment upon their lives. In the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, we find that childlessness was not a curse, but a vital component of God’s divine plan for their good and His glory.

No Unheard Prayer

After praying and asking God to answer the same request over and over again, many believers feel tempted to abandon both prayer and service to the Lord altogether. When prayers seem to go unanswered, a deficient understanding of God’s sovereignty and the purpose of prayer can easily allow a believer’s heart to become infected with sinful doubts about the character and nature of God. Zechariah and Elizabeth, however, continued faithfully trusting the Lord and believing His Word even though they’d never seen evidence that He was listening to their prayers for a child.

It wasn’t until the couple was “advanced in years” and Zechariah was fulfilling his duty as a priest in the temple that God sent Gabriel with the message they could only dream of receiving, “Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son…” (Luke 1:13). Although they had long since given up hope that a child’s laughter would ever ring within the walls of their home, Zechariah and Elizabeth discovered that there are no expiration dates on God’s plans.

Their prayers had not been ignored; they had been heard and answered! As commentator Matthew Henry says, “Prayers of faith are filed in heaven, and are not forgotten, though the thing prayed for is not presently given.”

Zechariah had probably wondered time and again about the meaning of his name—“Jehovah has remembered.” Did God really remember him? After hearing Gabriel’s shocking message that day, Zechariah would better understand not only his own name, but also countless other aspects of his life which had never before seemed to make sense. 

God had never forgotten Zechariah and Elizabeth. He was only waiting—waiting to act on their behalf in a way which would clearly illustrate how marvelous and mighty He truly is. And Zechariah and Elizabeth would see, as we all do when we wait faithfully upon the Lord, that His plan was truly worth the wait. 

More to come…

Photo: Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo

Where’s the Love?

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that
while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

At a recent apologetics event with Ravi Zacharias at Constitution Hall, Michael Ramsden referred to an unusual source to highlight a powerful truth about God’s love for us… 

Image: Billy Alexander

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I was talking recently with a close friend. Some very difficult things have happened to her. She was describing a series of painful experiences, and how she had become very discouraged, doing a lot of worrying, brooding, floundering. She couldn’t get traction in life. Life wasn’t working. She felt swept away with the tension and confusion. She was seeking God, but couldn’t seem to find Him.

Then, like a bolt of lightning, the thought came into her mind, “Your father…is God. Your father is God.” She described how her worries changed. They didn’t go away: the child with a disability, the husband with financial problems, uncertainties about her health, uncertainties and conflicts in other parts of her extended family life, miserable things from her past. But the promise weighed more: “Your father…is God.”

That supreme and simple promise came in and rearranged the furniture of her mind, of how she saw life and what she lived for. It drained the life out of worrying. Think about that. You can say, “My father is God. He is more than willing to give me His kingdom. It is His pleasure. He chooses gladly to love me.”

~David Powlison in “Don’t Worry,” Journal of Biblical Counseling

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I’d like to think I’m not the resentful, murmuring, spiteful type, but there have been days I’ve had to bite my tongue from grumbling. This back pain of late has revealed…a lot of not-so-pretty things about my character that need to be done away with. It seems with me, that’s always God’s purpose for suffering in my life.

But I’m so grateful through all of it, because God is forcing me to learn the deeper meaning of Psalm 119:67, 71, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word…It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”

How about you, friend? God may land a knock-out blow to your puffed-up pride. He may wound your heart through a deep disappointment. He will go to great lengths to beat hateful habits out of your character and purge selfishness from your soul. Your ego may feel trampled in the midst of it. But that’s not bad. I, for one know, I will come out the other end all the richer, all the happier for the wounding. It’s what Proverbs 20:30 is all about.

Your God is not a stern, tight-lipped celestial ogre. He’s not on a witch hunt. He’s not walking up and down the aisle with a rod ready to smack your fingers. No! Psalm 103 assures us that He is the kind Father who has compassion on you. Elsewhere it says that He longs to be gracious to you, that He takes great joy over you. God is the wise and wonderful Sovereign Lord described in Hebrews 12:10 who “…disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” That’s no inquisition. That, my friend, is what following Jesus is all about.

~Joni Eareckson Tada in “Blessed Blows

Photo: OBMonkey

Safe in the Shadow of His Wings

A friend of mine shared this photo at our Bible study last week, and I thought it provided an incredible image of the warmth and security we have when we trust in God as our Refuge and Strength…

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.

Psalm 57:1