The Fine Print

DaisyTHE FINE PRINT: Discoveries in those little footnotes, study notes, cross-references and lexicon entries.

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me.

And let him drink, who believes in me.

As the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

The footnote alternative found in the 1984 NIV for John 7:37-38.

The Theology of Aloneness

A.W. Tozer, one of my favorite authors, published a wonderful book in 1950 entitled “The Divine Conquest,” in which he identified a common problem among Christians that still exists today. Quoting a few excerpts:

A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer

“Is it not true that for most of us who call ourselves Christians there is no real experience? We have substituted theological ideas for an arresting enocunter; we are full of religious notions, but our great weakness is that for our hearts there is no one there…..

“We talk of Him much and loudly, but we secretly think of Him as being absent… we think of ourselves as being alone….

“The men and women of the Bible talked with God. They spoke to Him and heard Him speak in words they could understand. With Him they held person to person converse….  Nothing can take the place of the touch of God in the soul and the sense of Someone there…”

We are often asked why we named our ministry “Shammah.” The answer is this is our favorite biblical “Jehovah name” of God — Jehovah Shammah — because it means, “God is present.”

Child of God, please believe.  Do not doubt His word, and do not ignore his presence; the one leads to the other…

Perfect theology BEGINS with believing in God’s presence… Jehovah Shammah for YOU.

Tonia

Our Hungry Orphans

Zambia Orphans

Some of our orphans in Zambia

I’ve not written here of our Zambian Orphan feeding mission; many of you may not even know that we collect and send money to a church in Zambia every month to feed the street orphans of Chifubu, the “third world” district of Ndola. Several facts prompt me to speak up about it now:

  • Since 2004, we’ve been able to raise and send money to feed 80-100 orphans one hot healthy meal every Saturday. We now have 250 orphans who come for a meal.
  • Occasionally we have succeeded in offering 2 or 3 meals to the orphans a week, especially when some other organizations have helped. However, these have been temporary commitments, and we are back to only being able to feed the orphans once on Saturdays.
  • Donations have trickled to an all-time low while the number of orphans is at an all-time high, and after this month, we will not be able to regularly feed the orphans one meal every Saturday unless new funds begin to come in.

Would you pray about making a donation for our Zambian orphans, or even a monthly commitment?

Donations can be made by credit card sent securely through Paypal sent to tonia@shammah.org. Or you can send a check or money order to Shammah Ministries,1346 Oak Park Drive, Aransas Pass, TX 78336, with the notation “Feed Zambian Orphans.”

PLEASE WATCH OUR 9-MINUTE VIDEO on our website to see a complete description of this project.

Please publicize this need to your home group or local church.  100% of donations are used to feed and provide for these orphans. Thanks for your time and prayers for these needy ones!

Love me, love my orphans….

Tonia

WE did it!

God has called me to write, but it doesn’t always come easy. I’ve gone through a season of really struggling with the writing lately; even after clearing my schedule to make more time for it, and my dear hubby throwing all of his support behind me in this, I kept hitting a wall I couldn’t quite break through. Without making any attempt to analyze everything that wall is made up of (did I hear a sigh of relief out there?) I’ll just say it was an odd mix of anxiety, distraction, procrastination, resistance and laziness. Every time I set aside time to write, I just couldn’t break through and really get into the happy place where focus is strong, the material takes on a natural order of flow, and the Holy Spirit has an easy time of downloading inspiration.

I got there this week. Steadily, through discipline, the prayers of friends, hubby making meals and increasing my quiet time with the master Writer, I came to the happy place on the new book. Sitting on our front porch early this morning, enjoying the cool breeze before another 100+ Texas day, I sat there smiling into my creamy tea. I felt joy and looked forward to getting back in my office to continue the writing. Suddenly, my quiet celebration was interrupted by, “We broke through! We broke through!”

It was the Lord, joining my celebration. So clear his words, so strong the feeling of his joy with me. And that’s why I love to hear God’s voice; I couldn’t make this stuff up. But what amazed me and brought tears, was how he put it. WE broke through —  speaking as if he had been struggling right alongside me, in those weak and dissipated places of procrastination. Of course, I thought; we’re one, and that is The Covenant Heart expressing Himself once again!

I just sat there weeping and smiling at this God who didn’t stand back and look on in judgment when I was weak — he got down with me in my low places and helped. He loved me there, and gently helped me break through everything that the world, the enemy, and my flawed self had constructed to block it. WE broke through all that, together, and I couldn’t tell you neatly step-by-step who did what, and that’s a good thing, because great moments in living relationships are best simply enjoyed rather than analyzed.

This is the Holy Spirit: always with God’s children in your low places, and then when you’re up, back in the strong place, in the victory circle in your own heart, it is impossible to separate who did what to bring you here. You are one, you’re a team. We share joy just as we shared the failure. WE did it, and my grateful heart is worshipping.

Now, back to the book, with joy. WE’VE got more to do.

Lord, increase our faith!

When the disciples cried out to the Lord in this way, was it because they hadn’t been able to heal someone or drive out a tormenting spirit? No…. it was because he had just told them that forgiveness should be continually extended to those who ask, even if you’ve been repeatedly sinned against by the same person in one day!

“If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17: 3-5)

Matthew tells us that Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22) Jesus wasn’t literally putting a number on forgiveness, but saying, in their Jewish way, “do it until perfection or completely,” i.e., “as often as it is required of you.”

So why the cry for more faith? And for faith in what, or who? The answer reveals the truth about every instance calling for forgiveness: that for the Christian, the greater issue is between us and the Lord who commands us to forgive, and who, in fact, tells us that we will not be forgiven or blessed by him if we refuse forgiveness.

Here are the matters for which we all need faith, if we are to forgive freely and often for sins committed against us large and small:

Do I believe God when he says he loves justice, and will bring it to every situation, whether I get to know it or not?

Do I believe God when he says I cannot be forgiven by Him until I also forgive others?

Do I believe that the Holy Spirit can enable me by his power to carry forgiveness out, if I make the decision?

Forgiveness is a great act of faith: faith in the goodness of God, faith in the faithfulness of God, faith in the justice of God, faith in the words of God. Our choices about forgiveness always pass through the filter (in our souls) of what we believe about God. Lord, increase our faith!

The Energy and Enabling of the Spirit

One of the things that breaks my heart as we work with believers is to see them living in frustration, anxiety and even resignation in connection with knowing and serving their indwelling Lord. People shrink back from stepping out in their gifts, or they just can’t get over their own perceived inadequacies, or still feel as if God is far away and only present as some sort of token that ensures their passage into heaven at death. How far this is from the life Christ died to give us! While we have all experienced moments like this (and surely shall again), we are not meant to live there. Being stuck in this place usually comes from ignorance or unbelief about how God’s Spirit works in us.

God characterizes our life with him as “entering rest.” Put that on your refrigerator, my fellow pilgrims. That is the goal — not to strive, not to be perfect, but to live at rest in the shadow of his wings. Okay, now you’re asking (and rightly so),  “What does that flowery poetic language really look like in real life?” As I learned and later taught in the series “Entering God’s Rest,” God’s promised rest is expressed to and through us in various ways, but the one that pertains to this discussion is learning to walk in the energy and enabling of the Spirit.

If you have received the Father’s gift of the Holy Spirit, here is what you can expect, according to Peter:

“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”  2 Peter 1:2-3, NIV.

It begins with GRACE. Grace is not merely “God’s unmerited favor.” Grace is God’s ability to do what we cannot do on our own. This is is what Paul refers to next when he speaks of God’s divine power as “everything we need for life and godliness…”  I think perhaps the word “power” has the effect of overshooting our everyday lives; in other words, we expect “power” for the big stuff, but not for the everyday ability needed to walk with and know God. Paul spoke of this ability in another way when he said in Philippians 2:13:

“For it is God who is at work in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

The word translated here as “at work” is energeo — God’s energy! In the Greek this word is defined as “to be active and efficient in.” The Message translates it wonderfully:

“That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.”

The Holy Spirit’s presence in you means you’re not on your own. When you want to step out in obedience to some nudge from the Lord, don’t shrink back in fear that it is all up to you. Simply believe in His presence and His willingness to give you his ability to do what you desire. What God calls for, he empowers. We usually don’t feel that enabling until we take a step into it, but once we do, it comes, faithfully. And the funny thing is, it won’t feel “supernatural,” it will feel natural — like it is you doing it; only you know better.

I have experienced this enabling in matters large and small, from praying for a miracle of healing to having a wise answer to a tough question to knowing how to order your day for productivity and joy. In fact, a friend just called and said, “I entered God’s rest yesterday when I met a young woman I needed to counsel, and didn’t have a clue what direction to take, and after I prayed, a simple question came clearly to my mind. When I asked her the question, everything else unfolded between us.” That is what the energy and enabling of the Spirit looks like in daily life.

The Holy Spirit is a gentle, quiet presence in you, but don’t underestimate his power, his energy waiting for you when you want to step towards God or step out for God. This applies to seeking God in private as much (or perhaps even more than) public works.Weariness, anxiety and frustration are signs that you are probably not leaning into the grace (the real ability to do that thing) of God. The energy and enabling of the Spirit is crucial if we are to enter God’s rest. More on rest soon, fellow pilgrims.

Tonia

Tonia’s 6-part teaching series “Entering God’s Rest” is available in the Shammah Store.

“Sometimes I wonder if marriage is overrated.”

When the talk show host said this to me on live TV last week, I saw real anxiety in her eyes. It was the day after Valentines, when love was still “on the air,” and she and her co-host — both single — had asked me to weigh in on the fact that divorce statistics for Christian marriage are as bad as those for secular society. This sad fact underscores the reality that being a Christian is no guarantee that a person can effectively give or receive enduring love.

I appreciated my host’s honesty, and I knew she was voicing the ponder of many single Christians. Here’s my take, after nearly 30 years: marriage is wonderful, even when it is not delightful, and I believe the only thing overrated about it is the concept of “good chemistry.” Authentic life-giving love is a learned behavior, not a lab experiment. And unless we are deliberately relating to the greatest lover of all — The Lord, the Holy Spirit — we may well remain as bad at loving as the godless souls around us. In fact, insofar as we pull out the “rules” and judgments that too typically attend a Christian outlook, we may be WORSE lovers!

What I saw in that TV host’s eyes mirrored what once lived in my heart: a fear of getting into a permanent relationship that would turn out to be painful or profoundly disappointing. Anyone familiar with our story knows that my husband-to-be actually wrote me a “guarantee” that our marriage would work — a guarantee that neither one of us could enforce. But when our marriage failed, we learned that the only true Guarantor of a satisfying love relationship is the Lord himself, the original no-holds-barred, I’ll-give-everything-for-you lover. Anyone who thinks God and romance are polar opposites doesn’t know Him yet.

Valentine BearIn answer to the host’s’ question that day about how one can ensure they will have a relationship of enduring romance, I simply said, “Be a great lover.”

The best way to guarantee you will find and enjoy a great love in life is to determine that YOU will be a good lover — for when even one party in a relationship deliberately works at that goal, love will always be in the air. It is highly contagious. Being a good lover is the best way to guarantee that you will be well loved.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that you can’t do it. The good news is that God can. So raise your right hand, put your left hand on your Bible and swear, “I will be a great lover…..so help me God.”

Cravings

Hubby and I are on a 3,900 mile whirlwind trip doing TV appearances to promote my book, The Woman God Designed: Living the Life He Longs To Give.  It has been good to get out of my “normal” life cocoon and meet new people around the country. Set against the backdrop of the amazing events in Egypt and combined with the voices of their citizens, I hear thousands of new (to me) hearts saying, “I crave righteousness! I want to be loved well. I want to know my God is good, and motivated to give me life. I want to know my government is ruling me from a position of watchful care and not to harm me.” This is what I hear inwardly where I share life with God. God made us to crave justice and righteousness in relationship, for we are made in His image.

We are ever faced with our powerlessness to change other people and make them treat us right, yet we are ever EMPOWERED by the Holy Spirit to be those who will treat others right and live by the desire to love well. A choice is continually before me: shall I be who I believe in being (loving, faithful, honest, and giving of myself) or let others and life itself change my character?

The more I hear from people in troubled marriages, the more I watch the world, the more I field questions from professional interviewers on TV and radio on behalf of an audience seeking answers, the more I know this: the answer to all our cravings BEGINS with KNOWING God, in all his beauty and graciousness and goodness. Only He can satisfy us when people fail us; only He can give us the wisdom to respond rightly to injustice, only He can teach us what love looks like in this moment with this person. It all comes from hearing His voice of counsel within one’s spirit, and becoming those who trustfully yield to His good counsel.

Jesus often referred to Isaiah’s assignment (Is. 6:9-10): “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”  OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT SEE…. AND HEAR…. UNDERSTAND….. AND BE HEALED.

People, we must know our God as the first step to a great marriage, as the foundation to an abundant life, as the key to walking in the character and goodness we crave from others. His words are in you, waiting to comfort, guide and en-joy you. Listen for them. Respond to them. As Jesus said in Mark Chapter 4, those who have “hearing ears” will be given more to hear! Quit telling yourself it’s too hard, for the Lord said this life would be entered easiest by those who come as little children.

Bless you as you seek life in Him, Tonia

A Believer’s Prayer

Lord, I know you are with me. I have your promise…in how many ways? “Emmanuel, God with us…”  “I am with you always….”

In faith I cannot doubt you are with me, but in fact it is too easy to ignore your gentle and quiet presence. You are with me when I awake, and when I lay down to sleep at night. You are with me when I’m wrestling with a problem, and when I’m walking the dog. You are with me when I laugh, when I cry, when I yell, and when I hurt. From the moment I believed in you, and knew you died for me, and gratefully asked you to live in my heart, you have been with me. You are with me when I ignore you; every time, all the time. In covenant faithfulness, you cannot, and will not, leave me. Ever.

Lord, hear my prayer: help me, dear Father, precious Lord, and Holy Spirit, to live and think as one who genuinely believes in your presence. Help me to not take you for granted today; help me to break the habit of ignoring you. I want to live every day enjoying your gracious kindness and the comfort of your faithful strength. Above all, I want to live in a way that makes you glad you live in me and sacrificed all so we could share this life..

Get a Life!

Every week we counsel and mentor people who are often either in crisis or deep disappointment. The question comes, “What should I do?” Of course, we advise and we pray, offering these things in faith that they will help. But the best and simplest answer would always be, Go home and get a life with God!

Not a very satisfying answer for people in crisis who want a fix NOW. But I’ve been dying to say it. There, I feel better now.

While God is ever full of desire and capacity to comfort and heal his children, often they are unable to perceive and enjoy it, because they have not built a life with Him, that familiar history of knowing his voice, his character and his personal guidance through the Holy Spirit. It’s a lifestyle, not an emergency pit stop.

Hebrews 8:11 assures you that no matter who you are or what you’ve done, through Jesus Christ you have entrance, you have permission, you have invitation, no holds barred, to fellowship with the Father and with the Son. We all stand equal in this amazing grace, but we do not all equally pursue the life offered.

The impetus for our ministry is that we have been through numerous and common crises, including one that destroyed our marriage over 25 years ago. God has brought us through each crisis with renewed life, not because we learned some formula, but because we have, individually and together, built a life with God.

Please, please, whatever else you resolve to do this year, let the number one item on your list be, Get A Life With Christ. Get to know Him, spend time with him by faith that he is very present with you. Read His Word in every part, and learn to hear his voice in the little moments of your day. Quit making excuses, quit shrinking back in shame or fear, and quit telling yourself it’s too hard. Phooey! and Bah Humbug! on all that, just walk past it and go get a cup of coffee and chat with God….

Get a life, dear Christian, get a life!

The Fountain That Satisfies

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14 NIV).

More than any other book in the New Testament, the gospel of John drives home the fact that our relationship with God is meant to be a deeply satisfying one. Jesus repeatedly acknowledged man’s hunger and thirst, always promising they would be satisfied. Although Jesus was surely referring God’s promises, I think it even more likely that he was speaking from his experience as a human being on this earth, having to live by faith like the rest of us, knowing hunger of body and soul, and discovering the rewards of offering his hunger to the Father.

When Jesus spoke the above words to the Samaritan woman at her well, he not only promised her a drink of water, he claimed that his water would become in her a spring of water. The original Greek describes a spring-fed well that is not politely bubbling, but gushing up profusely!

Again, Christ later assured his disciples, I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35 NIV).

The word “life” in these and most New Testament verses is the Greek word zoe. Strong’s Greek Dictionary defines zoe as “the absolute fullness of life” which belongs to God. It refers to a vitality that goes well beyond just existing, living and breathing. Zoe life is the life only God can give, and what he longs for us to have.

The promise that we would never remain in our thirst or hunger again is so startling that we dare not believe it, lest we be disappointed in Christ. But the greatest sin we can commit against God is to not believe him. The life we are promised through Christ is intended to satisfy our souls and heal us of all neediness, that we may live contented and at peace, no matter what our circumstances.

God does not want us to dig or construct our own fountains. In fact, he complained through Jeremiah: My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:13 NIV).

Jesus echoed this same complaint against the religious leaders of his day: You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40 NIV)

Surely it breaks God’s heart to offer every means of satisfying the souls of his children and have them live such mean, lonely, frustrated lives. Many Christians wear themselves out trying to give themselves life, focusing on religious formulas or programs, teachers, or ministries. These can be excellent aids to growth, but will never substitute for going to the fountain of life. Such spiritual pursuits can become the means for building one’s own cistern that will never satisfy.

How do we drink from the fountain of life? Jesus revealed this would come only through the Holy Spirit: Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39 NIV).

But for us who believe, the Spirit HAS been given, and Christianity 101 should teach us how to live by that stream of living water. David knew this very well. His life and writings reveal a human soul who knew and understood God through the Holy Spirit’s help. He suffered just about every problem a man could have: danger, betrayal, hatred, rejection, long-suffering (waiting years for God’s promises to be fulfilled). Without benefit of Bible, church programs and podcasts, he experienced such a deeply satisfying relationship with God through the Spirit that he uttered ecstatically:

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (Psalm 63:2-5 NIV).

A hungry soul is a vulnerable soul. The honest man who goes hungry long enough may even become a thief to get a piece of bread. An unsatisfied soul is exposed to myriad dangers as it reaches for something to make it feel okay: wrong relationships, addictions, perverted lifestyles, dead-end careers. Being saved doesn’t automatically keep you from these dangers, but being satisfied by the bread and water of Christ does. Only the person who is free of need is safe from that which would possess and rule his soul. You will find some neediness of soul at the root of all man’s problems. Jesus’ message is simple: Come to me; I can satisfy your soul.

My own understanding of how powerfully God can satisfy came when he helped me overcome a hopeless 18-year addiction to cigarettes in 1986. In the process of laying those down, I learned to turn my longings — of body, soul and spirit — to the Holy Spirit. I learned firsthand that the Lord is delighted to step into any opportunity to give life to his child and set him free from temptation by satisfying him deeply.

We will experience God’s zoe life only when the Spirit lives in us, and as we learn to turn to him for a drink, expecting to have our neediness sated and our souls brought to rest. Spirit life is living with a fountain that really satisfies, and going often for a long drink.

(This is an excerpt from “Meditations on Spirit Life,” a devotional book Tonia plans to publish in 2011).

Holidays: Down with stress, up with joy!

Relatives aren’t the only crowd coming for the holidays — also making an appearance will be all those expectations! Whatever we normally imagine and hope for with family becomes loaded at a whole new level when the holidays roll around, and the result is often stress, deep disappointment and occasionally broken or deeply strained relationships. Here are suggestions to avoid stresses and strains on relationships while keeping the joy factor high during the holidays:

REMEMBER THAT THE HEART IS A MOVING TARGET. Don’t assume you know what everyone is hoping for. Take time to discover from each family member what they want most want out of sharing the holiday together. In the case of Thanksgiving dinner, I always ask each family member, “What is the one dish without which it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving for you?” The goal is not to please everyone, but to understand everyone’s hopes, which may not be at all what you’re assuming (and working so hard for). Also, the process of discovery is a great way to build or rebuild closeness with your relatives.

THE GOAL IS TO MAKE MEMORIES, not force everyone to keep recreating old ones. Traditions are precious, but can become a bully if they become more important than the hearts assembling for this holiday. Don’t let one or more family members get trampled on so some tradition can be carried out just like So-and-So used to do it. Traditions that are still a joy for everyone together are wonderful, but when they cease to be so, it’s time to make new ones.

ASK YOURSELF, WHY AM I REALLY DOING THIS? I used to prepare for a holiday to satisfy my “inner domestic diva” while telling myself it was all really to bless my family — but eventually got the message that they wanted less diva,  more of me having fun with them. It has been wisely said about the Biblical Martha, “Don’t prepare a meal Jesus didn’t order.” Ditto on family holidays.

SPREAD THE WORK AROUND, AND LOSE “PERFECT.” Perfectionism is a joy killer for both the enforcer and the enforcee. If you’re the host, have some of backup canned goods or snacks on hand to fill in for extra guests or to make up for the burned pie. If you have to choose between preparations and spending time face-to-face with a loved one on the couch, go for the face every time.

Scrabble

Who's the Scrabble champ in your family?

LESS IS MORE: less work, less food, less money spent, less structure — all will add up to a more relaxed holiday for everyone. If everyone is broke this year, set a new low limit on gift exchange costs. Give relationship “Gift Certificates” for one-on-one times such as a dinner, movie or coffee date. Don’t pack every hour with activities, but allow plenty of time to just “hang out” together. The best memories often come out of these times. If you’re tempted to do more of anything, let it be more paper plates, popcorn, good old bologna and cheese, decks of cards, old photo albums, fresh-air walks.

TEND YOUR RELATIONSHIPS YEAR-ROUND. It has been said that it’s not what you eat between Thanksgiving and Christmas that ruins your figure; it’s what you eat between Christmas and Thanksgiving. The same is true for relationships. If you take care to maintain a spirit of grace and goodness with your relatives all year round you set the table for joy at the holidays and avoid the stress of wondering when that unfinished business might come up.
This holiday season, GO FOR THE TREASURE IN HEARTS.
May your holidays be blessed in every way under heaven!
Tonia

Hunger: An Invitation to God’s Table

We cannot bear to feel empty for very long. In America we often have fast food restaurants every few yards, as capitalists cash in on our reluctance to experience hunger for more than a few minutes. The obesity epidemic confirms that we cannot bear the sensation of emptiness, that we are driven to satisfy the physical discomfort of hunger and the emotional discomfort of life: we want it NOW and we want it to wow the mouth.

We crave our junk food, however devoid it may be of real life-giving nourishment. We eat that which satisfies only briefly and makes us hungrier still. Eventually we may learn that what we’ve consistently fed ourselves has not only failed to nourish us, it has slowly stolen all vitality and strength of life; all because we cannot bear to be hungry.

But hunger is a gift, given by God to cause us to seek the nourishment we require for living. We must learn not to be afraid of it, or rush to fill the discomfort of it, with candy for the soul. God uses the word hunger as a metaphor for the neediness of the soul. We tend to do the same thing with the hunger of the soul that we do with physical hunger: finding it uncomfortable, we rush to fill our emptiness.

Our souls need love…peace…contentment…connection. Absent these for very long, we become frustrated and reach for anything to distract us from that hunger, like a Twinkie for the soul. Repeatedly turning to things which satisfy only briefly does not nourish our souls, and may even leave us addicted…to food, drugs, gaming, wrong relationships, and every other compulsion. Fast food is deceptive: it not only fails to give life, it actually steals life from us, day by day.

Don’t run away from your hunger, or rush to fill it with that which leaves you even more needy. Offer your hunger to God, of whom the ancients wrote,  “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalms 145:16, NIV)

Wait upon God in trust, and give Him a chance to satisfy your soul…for he cries out to his children, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” (Isaiah 55:2-3, NIV)

Set Your Heart’s Devotion

Today, I set my heart anew upon loving Jesus well. Sometimes we need to do this — and not just for the Lord, but also for husband or siblings or others we know we are called to love in this life.

Devotion is deliberate. Returning to devotion is often a type of sacrifice, because it often requires a turning away from the pre-occupations of life to return to being face-to-face with someone you’ve neglected. It may require turning away from things that pleasure you, or that goal you just have to reach NOW, or the habits that have locked your heart down.

Devotion is a type of discipline, and like most disciplines, it brings its own reward, especially in the kingdom of God (where you always reap what you sow): faithfulness begats faithfulness, devotion begats devotion. What you offer out of yourself every day comes back to you upon the waters of life. And the reward of renewed devotion is instant, because the rightness of it is satisfying to the soul. You were made for this, this giving of yourself to another.

What do you need to turn away from, in order to turn back to your devotion? Who do you need to go back to in your heart today and say, “My assignment in this life is to love you well. I’m back. Here I am; my heart and attentions are yours; I will return to making my choices today with you in mind. I will watch to see how you are; I will be listening for your voice and heart. I return to wanting to know you more deeply. I set my love upon you.”

Is it God? Is it your spouse? Is it a relative whose “stuff” you grew weary of, or a friend who disappointed you? Break out of the ruts life has made in your soul lately, and set your heart’s devotion where it belongs.

The Taste That Creates Hunger

I wasn’t born craving chocolate, actually. I didn’t know it would become a necessity of life until I tasted it for the first time. And I didn’t come out of the box loving the taste of a ripe, creamy avocado, or a sweet pecan; but it was instant love, and new places in my appetite stirred and wanted more. And I certainly had no idea when I was 5 years old that someday it would be absolutely vital that my taste buds be treated regularly to garlic and rosemary and thyme. And I actually thought I didn’t like apples that much, until I tasted one that had fallen right off a tree into my hand at the perfect moment of its crispy, tart sweetness. I flat out expected NOT to like the spicy burn of red peppers, until one day, against my will, they came, and won me over. Big time.
For the first almost 30 years of my life, I had no appetite for God, either…until one day I asked him to give me a real taste, a taste that would usurp the mass-produced version I had sniffed occasionally at the market and kept putting back. One real taste of Him, and I could never live another day without Him.
For now I’m going to slip right past the fact that all of us who know Christ should provide a good taste of him to others. Today I just write to say, when you think of others who need to know Him, pray that God will send His Spirit to give them an authentic taste of Himself. It’s a good prayer, efficient, and in my imagination, one the Lord would not hesitate to answer.

Whose Steps Are Ordered by God?

“A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?” Proverbs 20:24, NIV.

This verse is in my “pet peeve” file — because I hear it applied in ways I am uncomfortable with, as if all men’s steps are directed by God, making man something of a puppet; or with the thought that once we become Christians, the Holy Spirit directs all of our desires and choices. Thus God gets both the credit and the blame for all we do. How could these interpretations be true when people, saved and unsaved, still behave in ways incompatible with the character of God?
My personal experience and observation is that (1) God doesn’t normally make anyone do anything, and (2) it is all too easy to ignore his offered guidance. When I studied this verse more deeply it turned out to be an excellent example of how clarity comes from looking into the original Hebrew definitions.
To begin with, the word “man” is not the common word meaning mankind (adam) or the one for a male (“iysh“); it is “geber,” which means mankind in the fullness of his strength. A “geber” is a person at his or her strongest, wisest, most fruitful. So this verse isn’t just about any person, it is referring to one who has attained strength or excellence.
Next, the word “directed” (“ordained” in the NASB) is not translated from any Hebrew word at all; this English word has been added to give clarity to the Western mind. A literal translation would read more like, “Man at his greatest, is of the Lord.” In other words, this person got that way because of the Lord’s influence on him, because he has perceived and responded to the Lord’s guidance.
The second half of the verse supports this idea when it asks, “How then can anyone understand his way?” There are only three Hebrew words here: “adam bene derek.” Adam is mankind; bene is “understand or discern,” and “derek” means “way, path, manner, habit, or character.” It might literally read, “Mankind understand (his) ways?” Imagine an incredulous tone here, like, “Are you kidding?”
I think the writer of this Proverb was pointing out that man has a hard time understanding why he does what he does, or what subconscious things motivate him, or the end result of his choices and their effect upon his character. Only the Lord can do this. Proverb Writer is asking, how can mankind, apart from the influence of the Lord, understand how to walk his journey and choose his way of being so that he will arrive at his greatest strength, his geber glory? Only the Lord knows uniquely what each person needs to direct him out of the habits, motives and choices that weaken and rob him. Only God truly knows the heart and what is needed to change it.
My paraphrase, for whatever it’s worth: “When you see a person who has come into his best life and strength, you can know it came about because he let God direct his steps; how else could he have done this, considering man is clueless about how to heal, fix or change himself?”
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…unless you have a better idea. Your thoughts invited, and let me hear from you about your pet peeve verses.

Hoping in the Goodness of God

I still remember vividly the shock I felt the first time I read these words:

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No-one is good– except God alone.” Mark 10:17-18, NIV.

How could Jesus say this, when Scriptures’ unanimous testimony elsewhere is that he never sinned against man or God in his earthbound, human life? I was stunned, and determined to understand what made him utter these words. Here is what I have learned:

The first layer of truth is that he carried the most humble attitude about himself, even knowing he was the Son of God, called to be the Savior of the world.

But the next layer of truth is that goodness — through and through, steadfast, unchanging goodness — is found in no human being. And this presents a great problem for us earth-dwellers, who were made by our creator to crave and rejoice in goodness.

The failure to find goodness in our face-to-face relationships with others provokes two different responses, one being that when people fail us, crushing our faith in them, we easily default to losing hope in God as well. When John the Apostle wrote, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us,” he was acknowledging the connection that invariably exists between our faith in God and our faith in people, to love us well.

Because the Holy Spirit called Ron and I to bring knowledge of Covenant to the Body, he has revealed to us the profound need of the human heart — if it is to thrive — to put faith in others and have that faith renewed by faithfulness. The otherwise is that our faith is broken, and a wound is inflicted.

Because we live among a people — like us — who are flawed and not unfailingly good, wounds come with some regularity; little ones, big one, devastating ones. For many this too easily translates into a deep, if unspoken, belief (or fear) that God himself is not really good, because he doesn’t make people be good to me.

If I’ve learned anything about God, it’s that he doesn’t make anyone do anything. He draws, he teaches, he encourages us like any parent training up a child; but people will do what they want in the freedom God has given them.

The second reaction to being wounded by the ungoodness of others is just the opposite, and is only learned through walking with God for a season in full trust. It looks like this, and I can only express it very personally: when people fail me, my hope in God’s goodness is what comforts me. When I stop gazing at the hurt and turn to Him, I find rest in His unfailing love; the places left empty by others are filled up in me.

It was meant to be so for all who lean on Jesus. Indeed, this is the basis for his promise, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Yes, God satisfies my appetite to be loved well when others do not. Unfailingly good, God is.  (As we say in Yoda-speak).

Tickling the Fruit

When I encountered the plum tree in a field nearby I was delighted to find it full, laden with plums in every stage of maturing, and some which had fallen to the ground in their ripeness.  Since my husband loves plums, I grabbed a bag to pick some, and my Iowa lessons came back — those many things I learned in the land of abundant farming and gardens. Namely, fruit is perfectly ready for the picking when it practically falls into your hand. Pick it before this point, and you will miss its most delightful sweet glory; wait too long and it falls to the ground to be bruised and pecked at and gnawed on by critters. I was staring at quite a few of those.

It is tempting to tug on the fruit, which the uninformed will do (that’s you no more), but the trick is to tickle the fruit on the bottom, or gently cup it and lift it slightly. It will fall right into your hand if it is ready. Any fruit you tickle that does not yield itself easily should be left for tomorrow; it is not ready, even if it looks like it is.

I thank you, Lord, for my sojourn in Iowa and what you taught me there. Especially how you treat your children this same way. While we are growing, as we always are in one way or another, you come gently to test our readiness and ripeness to be plucked. You never yank us off and offer us up to the world for tasting prematurely, but wait patiently for however many tomorrows of ripening we need. This is, of course, for your sake as well as ours, because whoever tastes of us tastes of YOU, for better or worse.

And may we all be likewise gentle with others when we test the fullness of their maturity.
Blessing you to grow under His gentle husbandry,
Tonia

You’ve got it upside down and backwards!

My mother loved this phrase. Increasingly I think of it when I observe how people generally handle the whole God-thing.

People often feel as if everything about life with God is up to them, and that being a believer is hard work. If they don’t do everything just right, God won’t bless; if they don’t believe enough, he won’t be real; if they work hard to follow the rules of being a Christian (church attendance, giving, praying, Bible study) then God might answer a prayer, might smile on them, might even love them.

This reminds me of a variety act I saw as a girl on the Ed Sullivan Show, the guy who would spin plates on top of several different poles, with much frantic effort. Each time one would begin to lose its spin and threaten to fall, he’d run back to it and give it a huge twist, get it going, then run to another one, etc, etc. It all worked only if HE kept it going.

I see people trying to handle God and being a Christian like this. They have to work up the faith to believe in God and then keep propping up that faith and reconvincing themselves that he is real. It’s all up to them, to keep working up thankfulness. The God I know doesn’t need propping up, doesn’t need any help. All he asks is that we come to him like the helpless children we are, and let him show his good stuff.

God never asks us to work hard, he asks us to bring our weary souls to come rest with him. He doesn’t want us to conjure him up in our minds and convince ourselves he is real, he wants to REVEAL himself to us. Altogether he offers to hold us up, not the other way around!

Worship IS hard work when there’s no genuine adoration in your heart. Thanksgiving seems fake when you aren’t aware of something to be thankful for. You can’t adore what you do not know. Prayer IS a chore when you’re talking to empty space. God never meant it to be like this, for you to talk yourself into it, and make it all up. He meant for sincere worship and thanksgiving to arise as a spontaneous joy from a heart that encountered the joy-giver.

Yes, it begins with believing someone is really there — but when you come, come to rest, come in your weakness, come in your neediness. Cease striving and come rest in all of your humanness before this mighty lover of your soul, and simply say,  “I want to know you, and I don’t know how. Please reveal yourself to me. Give me eyes to see you and ears to hear you.” And when he does, everything else will become a natural RESPONSE to this wonderful, invisible, everpresent Creator God.

Please, please, don’t do Christianity upside down and backwards!

God’s Culture of Honor

Anyone who reads the whole Bible notices attributes of God and his culture that, by their repetition, stand out in the mind and get stuck in the heart. One of the most noticeable attributes is HONOR. God loves honor. He models honor, he teaches his children to honor, and he asks for honor. He promises to honor those who honor him (1 Samuel 2:30).

The one remaining culture of honor in the U.S. today is the military. Watching our son serve in the U.S. Army over 20+ years, we learned alot about how honoring behavior is demanded of those who serve and built into their culture, with the hope that the command will lead to character. In some, honor becomes the fabric of the soul, willingly embraced, and given freely; in others, honor is only extended only as an outward show. What some may not understand is that honor is not only right, it is rewarding. It gives us something back, it continues to build strength in us as we give it.

In David’s great song of repentance and returning to God, he wrote these words:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalms 51:10-12, NIV.

I mention this here because the phrase “willing” in the original Hebrew marries the idea of honor to freedom. It speaks of a spirit that is not merely willing to serve, but honored to do so. David is asking God to restore in him a honoring spirit that freely serves God. David had come to his moral failure through ceasing to honor God, or the laws of the kingdom, or the men who soldiered under him.

And why does he say, “to sustain me?” Before his season of failure, David had walked in honor for years, experiencing firsthand the rewards of having a heart that honored God and others. In some mysterious way, honor sustained David — in life, in strength, in relationships, in joy. Frankly, this is something better experienced than explained.

Honor freely given is the very fabric of God’s heart, and the person who would understand his God could make no better beginning than embracing this truth.

How has honor impacted your life and character?