Category Archives: Relationship with God

Faithful in Relationships (Part 2)

Relationships matter.  When I think of all we strive for — the jobs, the accomplishments, the cars, the houses, the nice yards, the clothes, the vacations, the recreation, physical fitness, the achievements for our children, and so on — I realize how easy it is to get off base about what really is important.

What does God think is important?  We are to love Him with all our heart, soul strength and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

God thinks relationships are what is important.

So it makes sense that God’s sense of righteousness is tied up in relationships.

Here are some awesome passages:

  • But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”  Isa 49:16
  • If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  Ps 139 9-10
  • For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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 8:38-39

God cannot forget us.  So firm is His interest in us, that it is like we are engraved on his hands.  We MATTER to Him.  We are on His heart.  The power of His affection for us cannot be measured.  “For love is as strong as death.”  (Song of Solomon 8:6)

So here are three things to take away from this.  If relationships are important to God, then we can know —

That He will answer prayer.  Yesterday, in our sermon (which was awesome by the way!)  we talked about how Jesus said in Mark 9:23, “Everything is possible for one who believes.”  We even learned how God is offended that we don’t believe.  Jesus rebuked his disciples, “You unbelieving generation!”  He said this because they should realize, as should we, that we are of utter importance to God.  Of course God is listening, and wants to answer our prayers.

That He will be with us.

  • Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:9
  • But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. II Tim. 4:7
  • And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matt 28:20

That He will shape us into what we need to be.

  • And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  Phil 1:6
  • God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  Heb. 12:10
  • for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.  Phil 2:13

When we know these things, our outlook and lives are different.  Because God treats our relationship with Him as important, we start treating our relationships with others as important.

Who are your heroes, people who go to great lengths with their lives to demonstrate that relationships matter?

It was great to see the Enterprise ministry at church on Sunday.  They drove two hours to be with us.

Some of the Enterprise folk at our picnic.

I think of my friend Nancy. When Nancy’s good friends had to go back to Mexico, Nancy and her husband. Peter, got guardianship of their friends’ 16 year old daughter, Jennifer, so she could finish school in the US.  Jennifer is now a part of their family, and they are helping her to attend college.  Here’s a picture of Nancy with her birth daughter and Jennifer.

Nancy

We all have many examples.  Let’s strive today to have confidence in our relationship with God, so we can pass it on.

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Filed under One Another Relationships, Relationship with God, Uncategorized

Faithful in Relationships (Part 1)

Righteous God

One of the most life changing concepts I have been studying lately is righteousness.  I’ve blogged about it before, but the article that inspires me is “Right or Righteous” by Fred Faller.

The idea is that being righteous isn’t just doing the right thing according to a moral code.  Hebraic righteousness, that of the Bible, means doing right by someone.

Understanding this starts with the recognition that there are obligations associated with having a relationship.

The more I think about this, the more I realize this is true.  We gave a shower Saturday for our friend Tia.  Why did we give the shower?  Because she had been a part of our ministry, and we love her.  What kind of friends would we have been if we just wished her well and went on?  Having a relationship with Tia meant that of course we would celebrate her upcoming marriage with her and give her gifts.

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After that I went door knocking with Ken.  I was so tired, this was the LAST thing I wanted to do.  But my husband was motivated to do this, and I am his partner.  So I sucked it up and went out with him.

Friday night I got a phone call from my old friend Lin.  I could have let the call go to voicemail, but I answered.  Why?  Because I care about Lin.  I’m not going to blow her off.  Friends are there for one another.

Thursday my neighbor was having a tree cut down in his front yard, and it fell on my house and bent my gutter.  My neighbor made sure that I knew he would take care of getting the gutter fixed.  Why?  Because that’s what you should do for your neighbor if you mess up their property

I could go on and on.  Our days are filled with things we do for people because we have some level of a relationship with them.

God is the same way.  He does things for us, not simply because He is good.  We are his creation.  We are his people.  He cares about us.  And thus, He sees it as an obligation to take action on our behalf.

For God, love is not just a warm mushy feeling towards someone.  One Hebrew word for it is “checed,” “lovingkindness,” which can also be translated “covenant loyalties.”  God sees himself as bound to be loyal to His people.  That is His very nature.

The Hebrew word "checed"

So here is a great exercise for today.  As you go through your day, identify ways that you are fulfilling the obligations of a relationship.  Then try to see how God is the same way in His relationship with you.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  Matt 7:7-11

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Filed under Relationship with God, Righteousness

Pressure Relief

stick

Pressure!  Oh what pressure I usually place on myself.

After I was sick for a week and didn’t have to do anything, I was clear to me how much I motivate myself with a stick.

The stick of fear of failure.

The stick of “should.”

It seems like my life has been a pattern of pressuring myself and finding relief from the pressure.

For a few days of illness, I had perspective.  I was feverish, so I didn’t HAVE to do anything.  If I did read the Bible, I did it because I wanted to.

And now I want to go forward doing things because I want to, not always pressuring myself.  It’s not like I haven’t made advances in this before.  But being sick showed me that I still have a ways to go.

So I’ve written down some magical ANTI-PRESSURE verses I’ve found —

I run in the path of your commandments, for you have set my heart free.  Ps 119:32

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Gal 5:6

 The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:17

But to the one who does not labor, but believes only in The One who justifies sinners, is his faith accounted for righteousness.  Romans 4:5

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  Romans 8:1-2

My other ANTI-PRESSURE is to keep meditating on the incredible, unending GOODNESS of God.

And along that line, I’ve been sampling this book, “Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God.” by Timothy Keller.  Do you do that — download the sample 0f a book on Amazon and read it, because you don’t want to pay the $10 for the whole thing?

I do that a lot.  And sometimes I find some good stuff.  Like this book on prayer.  Keller quotes I Peter 1:8 —

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

And Keller makes the point that Peter, “assumed that an experience of sometimes overwhelming joy in prayer was normal.”  In explaining this Keller said, “people have a potential for a personal knowledge and experience of God that beggars the imagination.”

Our relationship with God has the potential to be larger than life, more beautiful and enthralling than any piece of art.   There is no limit to the joy we can have as we get to know God.

And all of this can eclipse the “shoulds” and the pressure.

You know, I find that gratitude is like breathing.  There is always something new to take in with thanks.

And this reflects what Keller’s citing  of Scottish theologian John Murray, who wrote —

“It is necessary for us to recognize that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith. . . (God) communes with his people and his people commune with him in conscious reciprocal love. . . communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion.”

It’s all about communion.  It’s about taking in God’s goodness, and giving him, in turn, thanks and praise.

I want to make it about doing.  I want to find a formula and follow that every day.  I want to tell myself that I’m successful.

I pressure myself.

But God makes it about his mercy and his overflowing goodness.  He makes it about a relationship that gives, and gives, and gives some more, so that we don’t have to pressure ourselves with need upon need, and thus “should.”

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. . . If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  John 15:5, 7

 

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Filed under Abundance/Greatness of God, Diary, Gratitude, Relationship with God

Abiding

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.  John 3:36

John 3 offers such a contrast.  On one hand we see a towering majestic love for mankind that offers eternal life to those who believe.

On the other hand, we see wrath and condemnation for those who do not believe.  Men love darkness.  Their deeds are evil.

It is a scary thing to think that the wrath of God remains, literally “abides,” for those who do not believe.  It infers that the wrath of God is there to stay, and will continue to be there for all time.

And the same Greek word for remain is used in John 15:  “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.”  John goes on to illustrate what remaining in Christ looks like: “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  We can be integrally connected to God, close to Him.

God offers us a chance to change our state forever, from being in the wrath, to being in His arms, enveloped in His love.

And we need this perspective.  We need this comfort.  This abiding is what will get us through when life gets hard.

In the book “Yawning at Tigers,” the author, Drew Dyck, talks about the late Romanian minister Richard Wurmbrand, who endured 14 years of torture and imprisonment under a communist regime.  He said that it wasn’t Bible verses that helped him through this time.  “When you  pass through suffering you realize that it was never meant by God that Psalm 23 should strengthen you.  It is the Lord who can strengthen you.”

Dyck also relates how Mama Maggie, an older woman who spent life giving to others in the mission field, dealt with her struggles: “In the fire you are either burned or become pure.  God’s love is fire.  It consumes or purifies.  Everyone who carries the fragrance of eternity has to experience the dark valley of death.”

We WILL suffer, and it will change us, for good or ill.  It can put us in closer contact with God.  It can refine us.  Or it can shipwreck our faith.

Note what happened after Jesus was tempted in the desert:

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.  (Luke 4:14)  Jesus found spiritual strength through his trials.

In the book “Triumphs of Experience,” George Vallant notes that men who scored highest on the measurements of “warm relationships”  earned significantly more at their workplace.  Men who had warm relationships with their mothers had a better sense of well being in life.  Those who had positive childhood memories had a lifelong source of strength.

I believe that Jesus’ relationship with God helped sustain him in his trials.  Having a warm relationship with our God, and a memory bank of all He has done for us, can sustain us as well.

We abide in Christ, and He abides in us.

Yesterday afternoon I was tired.  I ran errands and the efforts seemed empty.  I thought I would swing by the bookstore and try to pick up a copy of “One Thousand Gifts” as a belated Christmas present for my friend.  I looked all over the Christian section and couldn’t find a copy.  I left feeling more empty.

Then I remembered yesterday’s blog about redeeming the time.  It was like the Spirit energized me, and prompted me to go back in the store and ask for help locating the book.  I did, and the store clerk found one last copy sitting on the shelf!

Later, I looked at the chili I was cooking for dinner, and saw the layers of red tomatoes and chopped green peppers.  It was made with grass fed Georgia beef I’d bought at half price that very day.  It was a find!  In fact I bought several packages of the meat on sale.  I realized I had an abundance.

And then as I was with my friends, we prayed and thanked God for how blessed we all were to have such good friends to share our lives with.

God is continually blessing me.  Through trials, or even the most normal of days, I have an unending source of strength.

It is up to me to believe, draw upon the strength, hold fast, be refined.  It is up to me to abide.

In closing, here is one more verse that uses the Greek word for abide:   “Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love…” I Cor 13:13

It is sobering to think that God’s wrath can remain.  It is comforting to know what is good will last even more.  Evil cannot defeat it.  The gates of Hades cannot overcome it.

In abiding, I will be carried along on the current into eternity with God and His victorious good.

 

 

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Developing a Pure Motivation

As  a Christian, I sometimes used to do things because I felt like I had to do them.  I felt pressured.  I felt guilty. I think it was at its worst when I realized that I was dreading my weekly discipling times with my best friend.   I had lost sight of our friendship.  Instead, I would think how I HAD to confess sin.  It had all become something I HAD to do, and not something I wanted to do.  My motivations were often because I knew would have someone call me out if I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.  There was always a pressure on me to do the right things.

In 2003 there were a lot of changes in our fellowship of churches.  The “have to” was taken away.  Slowly, I started learning to do things because I WANTED to do them.  How wonderful it felt to have a more pure motivation — to only do things out of sheer inspiration.  At the apex of this time, I wrote a musical called, “My Soul is Dancing.”  This musical expressed exactly how I was feeling — deeply joyful in heart.

Obedience and fear of God are good, but there’s just something great about doing the right thing because it’s your idea.  I had to push my kids through their academics in high school, pressuring them to make good grades.  In college, it was up to them.  Each of them decided on their own to make good grades.  It was their idea.  It was much better.

For years, I wanted Ken to have make some spiritual changes in his life.  For years he heard people tell him what he should do, but the changes only happened when he was ready and it was his idea.  (I want to be sure and qualify that God was a huge part of this, as He always is.)

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  II Cor 9:7

So my spiritual growth has been reveling in developing a pure, wonderful, organic relationship with God.

Now I feel like I am having to reevaluate.   It is becoming clear to me that I shy away from helping people with sin in their lives because I don’t want it to be a legalistic pressure like I experienced. Yet I often haven’t been able to help them develop the heart to deal with the sin themselves.  The sin goes on, weighing them down, holding them back, disrespecting God.

Do I need to just call out people’s sins more?   I do think there need to be more honest loving conversations where we can talk about what is really going on.  I need to not avoid these talks.

But how do I do this, and be sure that I am helping them have the RIGHT motivation?  This really troubles me.

There is great value in obedience for the sake of obedience.   “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples…” 

But even in raising children, the goal is not to have them make the right choices just because they are supposed to, but to help them develop the character that will make the right choices.

That is what I want for others.  That is what I want to continue in myself.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Ps 51:10

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Matt 5:8

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  Ezek. 36:26  

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Filed under Favorite, Having the Right Heart, Relationship with God, Things I Am Learning

Working Out Relationship Through Prayer

relationship with God

One of the most important things about prayer is working out my relationship with God.  Sometimes I shy away from praying about myself.  “Others are more important,” I tell myself.  “I need to focus on their needs.”  And it’s true we don’t want prayer to be a self absorbed exercise.

But I am realizing how vital it is to talk to God about myself, where I am, and wrestle things through WITH HIM.

At house church this week we each shared what personal weaknesses we thought others had to bear with in us.  We all have characteristics that can be an obstacle to our relationships.  The same is true with God.  Prayer can be the time when I get in touch with the weaknesses — my fears, my selfishness, my worries, and so on — that are impediments in my relationship with Him.  It’s a time to open my heart and be honest.  I tell God I want to change, but I’m not sure how.

There is always a response from God, a sense of peace.  There is often insight and guidance. There is definitely a feeling of clearing the air and connection.

If I pray through the Lord’s prayer, one of the hardest parts for me has been the confession of sin.  Usually I can’t think of what to say.  I know I’ve been selfish and prideful, but it’s sort of a large amorphous feeling.  I know I should tell God I’m sorry for what I’ve done wrong, but it doesn’t feel sincere.

Learning to have a conversation with God about what’s going on inside of me is a breakthrough for me.  It’s more organic.  It feels right.

So in prayer, petition is good.  Praise is good.  But it is also the time for me and Him to get stuff straight.  I can’t keep going on without resolving what’s inside.  I need to bring it in the open and talk about it.  I need to find ways to deal with it.  I need to ask for help with it.

This is the stuff of relationships — that real, vulnerable conversation where you find your footing with one another.  I’ve been hiding behind walls.  The more I open myself up, the more things work, and the more my eyes are opened that this is the way they’re supposed to work.

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The Divine Pursuit

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Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, Ps 23:6 (HCSB)

Christianity is the only religion where God pursues man.

“The truth is that the various religions of the world—whether Islam, Buddhism, atheism, or any of the others— place the responsibility for humankind’s survival and growth directly upon human beings. They must pursue God, knowledge, or whatever is essential to obtaining their salvation.”  Shawn Brace

It is intensely moving to realize that God has sought me all my life.   It is a story of divine pursuit, of orchestrating my life to have encounters with Him, of dramatic rescue from the slimy pit of my wayward folly.

GOD PUTS FORTH GREAT EFFORT ON OUR BEHALF.

Throughout history, God put forth effort to bless man, initiating, pursuing a relationship with him.

  • “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; . . .  and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.  Gen. 12
  • The Lord will grant you that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated…The Lord will send a blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to…The Lord will establish you as his holy people…The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity…The Lord will open the heavens to send rain on your land…The Lord will make you the head, not the tail.”  Deut 28
  • For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him  2 Chron 16:9
  • You did not choose me, but I chose you  John 15:16
  • The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off–for all whom the Lord our God will call.  Acts 2:39

The pursuit is indefatigable, a passionate expression of love:

  • The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.  Jer 31:3
  • “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day”  Ez 34:11-12
  • I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.  Hos 11:4
  • If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?  Matt 18:12

The pursuit is the most faithful thing we can imagine:

  •  I will never leave you or forsake you. . . Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:5,9
  • If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me”  Ps 139:7-10
  • For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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 8:38-39

He pursued us through pain, though humiliation, through fire and water, through death:

  • Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,. . . But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  Isa 53:3, 5
  • I am the good shepherd:  the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.  John 10:11
  • But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8
  • But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  Eph 2:13
  • he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross.  Phil 2:7-8

And once he has us, He continues to put forth effort on our behalf, fiercely protecting us: 

  • I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  John 10:29
  • If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  John 15:7

It is the best romance there is.  I could go on and on, but I will close by sharing the chorus of a song I wrote:

Oh, Lamb of God, my knight you are,

You gave all you had to rescue me,

You set out to gain the jewel of your heart

And now we are one eternally

 

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Filed under Favorite, Good news, Grace, Love, Relationship with God, Self Worth