God Keeps Us

Bible-on-deskI once had a dear friend who loved “to keep Christmas.” As the season drew near she would begin preparing for it, cleaning house, rearranging things to make room for a display of her huge nativity collection, shopping for gifts, writing cards, setting her December schedule around activities with friends and at church. By the time December came, Patrice had everything in place, wrapped and done, so she could then tend to keeping Christmas in her favorite way: in private daily devotions to Jesus, special Scriptures and Advent calendar readings; in public church activities with family and friends. She did all this to rebuild in her heart anew each year the childlike sense of anticipation and wonder over Emmanuel, God with us. Patrice loved Jesus with all her heart, and “keeping Christmas” was one of her favorite ways of showing it. Before I knew her I’d never heard the word “keep” used this way, as a reference to how one carefully observes a thing of great importance, preparing for it, attending to it in every detail, giving it priority. To “keep Christmas” meant all that to her, and came to mean that to me. She might remark of someone, “They like Christmas, but they don’t really keep Christmas, you know.”

Against this backdrop, as I studied God’s covenant ways with his people, I noticed something: God uses the word keep in precisely the same way. The began to come on when I read 1 Samuel 2:9, where Hannah says of the Lord:

He keeps the feet of His godly ones… (NAS)

When I first read this I Immediately thought of Patrice and her devotion to observe Christmas. Could “keeps” have the same meaning here? I just had to know, so I looked it up in my trusty Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible.

A Word Study: Shamar

The word “keeps” is the Hebrew word shamar, which means to hedge around something in order to keep, guard, preserve, tend to or be attentive to (i.e. “keep a promise”). Hebrew scholar Spiros Zodhiates says this is an important Hebrew verb appearing 470 times in the Old Testament, the first of which is Genesis 2:15, where it refers to the tending or exercising of great care over the garden in Eden. Zodhiates comments, “In a religious vein, shamar expresses the careful attention which was paid to the obligations of a covenant, to laws or to statutes. Abraham gave orders to his children to ‘keep’ the way of the Lord in Genesis 18:29.”*

When Hannah said, “He keeps the feet of His godly ones,” she was praising Him for watching over the path of His beloved children, ever at work to steer our footsteps into His best will, for our joy and for His glory. I believe the Spirit of the Lord is continually stirring in our hearts to know and do what the Lord wants (which Paul actually says in Philippians 2:13). However, the Lord does this so gently — without a hint of manipulation or encroaching on our freedom — that such guidance can go unnoticed by the inattentive child of God.

The Spirit is always trying to lead you. As one of God’s beloveds, He keeps you, watching personally over every contemplation of your heart and mind, hoping you will be attentive to His presence and guidance. He is ready to help you to what is right, good, and wise in all matters large and small.

“But,” you might say, “I haven’t been keeping devotion to God lately, and Hannah said that He keeps the feet of His ‘godly ones.’ I’m sure I don’t qualify as one of those right now.”

The fact is, you are one of His godly ones if you are in Christ! The Hebrew word underlying this phrase refers to those who are in covenant with God. So while yes, you should absolutely live in an upright and devoted manner with the Lord, your failure to do so doesn’t cause Him to shut down on His faithful devotion to guide you. After all, that would defeat His purpose — He always wants to guide you right back into His ways. Never forget that God’s faithfulness is based upon His character, not yours.

Jesus said to His disciples:

“Abide in my love. If you keep my commands, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” (John 15:9-10 NASB)

Here is truth: God is always keeping the feet of His beloved children, watching over them.

Here is truth: God has given us free will to walk where we wish and choose whatever we want.

Here is truth: The one who believes in God’s guidance will be attentive to the Spirit within, and find that guidance always at hand. Keeping God’s ways and commands will keep us in His love. Abundant life is not guaranteed to all who wear the name “Christian”; It is the reward of the yielded, obedient child, who abides in the love of God.

This is the reciprocal covenant life we are offered through Jesus Christ: God tends to our lives with all diligence; we tend to His life with all diligence. This is where life abounds. Shamar is another word among many that has great meaning in the context of covenant relationship — which is exactly what we have with the Lord, through Jesus Christ. (Explained in detail in my new book, They Will All Know Me.) I think I shall add shamar to my Covenant Glossary.

On His side of the equation, God keeps our covenant relationship with all devotion. Let us “keep faith” with Him the same way Patrice kept Christmas.

*Lexical Aids to the Old Testament, Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, New American Standard Bible, Editor Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D.

Psalm 84 – God’s Dwelling Place

Bible-gardenPsalm 84 is the kind of psalm that makes me want to sit down and have a Bible study with a few people. It is chock-full of word pictures, any one of which invites the student to sit and ponder for a while, then be amazed at the goodness of God and a life shared with him. Let’s explore them! (Confession: I began writing this with the idea of covering briefly ALL the beautiful nuggets in Psalm 84 — but before I knew it, I had written a long blurb on just the first verse. So this “class” on Psalm 84 will have several sessions.

The writer begins:

“How lovely are your dwelling places, O Lord of Hosts.”

“Dwelling places” is the Hebrew word “mishkan.” While studying Covenant, we learned this word was the same one God used when he commanded Moses to build a tabernacle. Here is an excerpt from our Covenant seminar:

Exodus 25:8:  “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.”  The Hebrew word used here is “mishkan” which means “to dwell in the midst of for the purpose of revealing.”  It’s like the difference between having a roomate (no intimacy) and a spouse (complete intimacy and revealing of oneself to one another).

God says, “I want to be your God.  I want to live among you!  I want to show myself to you, reveal myself to you.”

I love the fact that God wants to “dwell in the midst of” His people! As I often remark to my students, it could have been so very different! God could have arranged for our sin price to be paid, made it possible for us to go to heaven at our death and live eternally with him, then said, “See you when you get here!”  But NO, he arranged to live right inside of us, by giving us His Holy Spirit. He wanted to share life with his beloved children in Christ, NOW.

Back to Psalm 84 and the loveliness of the dwelling place of God. Surely you’ve run ahead of me to the fact that today, the dwelling place of God is YOU and ME. If you are in Christ, God lives in you and you are now his temple, his tabernacle; you are the place from where God lives and moves and has his being. (And that is by his choice, amazingly enough!) You are “the lovely place” where God lives.

Still, the heart wants to protest, “I’m not lovely, not really. I know what I am really like, all my weaknesses, bad thoughts, inconsistencies….” Or perhaps you leaped over that to the truth that you ARE lovely because of God’s righteousness and Spirit in you. That would be right, of course. But there is more.

In fact, the Hebrew word “mishkan” also means, and has been translated as “loved” or “beloved,” such as in the CWB (Complete Jewish Bible):

How deeply loved are your dwelling places, Adonai-Tzva’ot!

Which one is more right – to say God’s dwelling place is lovely, or that God’s dwelling place is beloved? My witness from the rest of scripture itself, is that both are true.

You see, the person who originally penned these words did not have God living inside of him. He had to travel three times a year to Jerusalem where God’s temple was, in order to worship Him. The original worshipper had to travel a distance to go up to the one place that God designed as his home on earth. The worshipper had to make some effort for God, had to put his daily life on hold, perhaps pack up his family and items needed to make a journey and walk to Jerusalem. It cost him money, time and effort. Yes, he was commanded to make this journey; yet for this worshipper, his heart was there. He loved to go to God’s temple! He loved God, he loved being invited, he loved the privilege of being God’s special tribe. So for him, it was true that God’s dwelling place was beloved in his heart. AND it was lovely to him.

So what is the most important take away from this truth? That God has made me lovely by choosing to live in me? Or that I am beloved, deeply loved of God? Or that wherever God is present, is lovely and worth my effort to go to, again and again? The answer is YES! to all. This is the many variegated beauty of God’s truth, facilitated by the Hebrew language. Layers of truth, each one profound, each one beautiful. Either way, it is just like Holy Spirit to bury a treasure of truth in a place like this for centuries, until those of us who are called “beloved” in the New Covenant of Christ could discover it.

How lovely to be where God lives, and how beloved is that place!

What’s It Like?

HuggingFor a season in my life with God, he kept before me this question: “What’s it like to be loved by you?”

That question generated a whole new outlook on me and people, and God too. What is it like to be connected to me, to be in my life, to live with ME?

Because we all put a “self” out there for public consumption — but what of our more intimate self? What IS it like to be married to me? To be my daughter, or mother or father…. or friend? And the only honest way to get that question answered — is to ask others. In that season, I also asked the Spirit to open my eyes and reveal the answer to that question, and He did.

That exercise was humbling and life-changing. And while I won’t pretend that I came out of that season perfect by any means, it changed my perspective forever, and that question is never off the table. It’s not on my plate, but it is over there where the salt & pepper sit, always there. Because among all the things I learned in that season, chief among them is that the question and its answer lie at the top of God’s list of what matters most in this life, and the next.

Eventually, the Lord asked this teacher to teach what she learned, and for several seasons of our ministry travels, I shared the message, “What’s It Like To Be Loved By You?” I may write more of these things in the coming days, but for now,

I leave it with you to ponder.

 

 

Jesus Insists On Serving His Own

“Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Never shall You wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.'” (John 13:5-8, NASB)

I have heard good sermons on this passage from John, most of which come to the conclusion — and rightly so — that Jesus used this moment as a teaching illustration of how we should humble ourselves and serve one another. Yet I think there is an overlooked message here, the one that would have been most likely the immediate impression that Peter would have experienced in that original context of that moment: that unless you allow The Lord to come close in your lowest needs and moments, and let Him serve you like a menial servant to cleanse and wash and nurture you, you will not truly share life with him.

The tendency in all our various concepts of God is to keep him at a bit of a distance, which seems only right considering his greatness and holiness. He is God, we are human, and this truth easily becomes a stumbling block when God calls us close. Yet the Lord has given us countless indications that he is near, that he knows our thoughts, cares about the most intimate details of our lives.

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I think Peter’s soul absorbed this incredible concept as he watched Jesus wash his feet: “You, Son of God, insist that I must let YOU serve me, even menially and tenderly, in the ways only a servant or close intimate friend would do. This is a condition of our relationship. I already know I must honor and serve you as the Son of God, AND now you say I must offer my lowest needs to you to touch, to cleanse, to bless, to heal. It’s all or nothing. I cannot keep you at a distance. I cannot say to myself, this is too small or too dirty to invite The Lord into. To have any part with you at all, I must see you also in this way, as my friend who serves me in the most humble of moments.”

Ponder that, dear children of God, and let any barriers in your mind fall away so Jesus may love you in all the ways He longs to.

Olympic Effort

The London 2012 Olympics are in full swing, and in our evenings hubby and I often watch some of the athletes compete for their gold, silver and bronze medals. Along the way we learn of what it has taken for them to even come to the moment when they can compete for the prize. It begins with an athlete making a decision that will consume four years of their lives, during which their only focus can be on conditioning and training themselves to excel in their sport. It is a decision that affects their whole family, and the cost is always great. Once the decision is made, every priority of life is ordered around the goal to win that prize. They spend enormous sums of time and money in training and arrange everything about their daily lives in a way that serves the goal of winning that prize, to be the greatest athlete in the world. It takes tremendous dedication in the face of many obstacles, not the least of which are discouragement, weariness, and temptations to indulge in things that derail or defeat the athlete’s goal.

Whether you approve or disapprove of the idea of one investing everything in a goal that is ultimately for personal glory, it is hard not to admire the dedication, sacrifice, self-discipline and sheer hard work of such a person.

Oh, that God’s people would make such olympic efforts to love Him with all their might!

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  Mark 12:30

Is Your Birthright Unblessed?

You can have a birthright and not be blessed to receive and enjoy it. As Esau discovered, you can have a right to something by virtue of just being born, but your birthright or inheritance will be unavailable or useless unless (1) you value and reach for it; (2) it is bestowed upon you — actually given — and (3) it is blessed for you and to you by your Father. (From pondering Hebrews 12:16-17…)

Our Salvation Is A Covenant

Our Passover/Easter season was extra special this year. We enjoyed an elegant, meaningful and joyful Seder meal with several dozen brothers and sisters in Christ on Good Friday, then joined other worshipping friends for a sunrise service and breakfast early Easter morning, and finished at a local church with a celebration of Christ’s resurrection filled with jubilant music, children dancing and baptism of new believers. Thinking back upon it all I realized how covenant-centric it all is…. in a small way we moved from one covenant snapshot to another.

The Seder is a remembrance commanded by God of the Passover protection covenant through which Moses brought God’s people out from their bondage. Tho commemorating a specific event in history, it also foreshadowed the time when God would deliver his children from their cruel bondage to sin in order to bring them into in the Promised Land of sharing life with God.

At the Passover supper Jesus lifted the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” That event concluded with Jesus’ prayer to the Father, a prayer laced with references to the core purpose and result of covenant — “I in you and you in me” — becoming those who share life forever:

I pray also for those who will believe in me through [my disciples’] message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me…  (John 17:20-23)

Jesus was motivated by his passion to see us brought into that covenant fellowship, that shared life with God. Our salvation is a covenant, established in God’s heart from before the beginning of time, made between Father and Son, now offered to those who come to trust in the Son and his sacrifice for our sin. And its purpose is to bring us into God’s promise to share life with him, now and forevermore.

 

Do You Believe This?

Blue Morpho Butterfly

“ I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

So spoke Jesus to Mary in the moments before he raised his beloved Lazarus from the dead. This entire story recorded in John chapter 11 is an occasion of both the greatest demonstration of Jesus’ power through the Holy Spirit and the depth of His human experience.

Jesus plainly established elsewhere that his decision to stay away, allowing Lazarus to die, would have been in obedience to his Father. He had to have known his beloved friends Mary and Martha would be very grieved, yet when speaking to his disciples ahead of the journey, we detect little grief in his words. But that all changes when he comes face-to-face with Mary and Martha and their grief. Now Jesus is “deeply moved in spirit and troubled;” he weeps as he approaches the tomb where Lazarus lay… even after uttering the [above] words to Mary affirming his power over death, even knowing Lazarus will live again shortly and that their grief will turn to joy. Jesus does not look away from their grief, he does not blow it off in a cavalier affirmation of faith, he enters into it with them.

In the human experience, knowing from a distance that an act or event will hurt another has much less impact than personally witnessing their suffering. In this moment Jesus was consumed with compassion for those who had been caused to suffer for a little while in order for the glory of God the Father and the Son to be revealed.

There are many ways to die. Aside from the death of the body, there is death to hope and dreams that comes from profound disappointment in life; there can be a crushing of the spirit by those we love and expect to love us; there is often death to the soul’s self-life when yielding to the will of God results in not having what we deeply desire or need.

Mary needed her beloved Jesus to come and heal her brother. He stayed away. Lazarus needed healing, and died. Thomas and the other disciples died to their need to be safe when they followed Jesus back to the place where the Jews wanted to stone Him [verse 16: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”] Jesus died to his need to run to Lazarus’ rescue; He definitely died to the need to maintain the good opinion of those he loved by hanging back and allowing them to suffer.

In all these things, Jesus experienced the depths of being human, and when faced with the overwhelming grief and disappointment of Mary, he was troubled to the point of weeping; he entered into and shared her grief. He knew he would be raising Lazarus to life again shortly, so that was not the issue. The issue was that in a moment when God wanted to reveal His awesome power and glory, to show the world that this Son of Man was indeed the Son of God who had power over death, he had to let death come for a little while, to settle in upon their hearts, in order that the glory of death being overcome and overthrown would be full. In short, at times we will taste death on the way to God’s glory being revealed in and around us.

I write to you of these things to make two points. First, let us not shy away from those who grieve, but be willing to enter into their grieving with all compassion. The Lord who gives life lives within us and wants to touch them. Second, let us not be afraid to die. If we die in some way large or small in body, soul or spirit, whether at the hands of people or circumstances or our own foolish ways or in obedience to God’s will — we who have entered into the covenant of Christ can rest in our little tombs briefly while trusting in the One who understands our grief, AND who has the power to resurrect us into life anew.

“ I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Knowing Him together with you, Tonia

New Year, New Book

I love new beginnings, and the change of seasons and times. The Lord uses these things to refresh me and add the extra oomph sometimes needed to break out of old patterns of being. In line with that thought, I am excited to announce the publication of our newest book, Rooted & Established In Love, which invites you to examine anew the roots of your relationship to the Lord. Here’s what the back of the book says:

“Do you experience God’s love and enjoy Him? Do you struggle with “the greatest commandment” to love God with all your might? This book addresses both issues, teaching why and how a believer must be established in a life with Christ based upon God’s way of loving. This timely book explains:
Why you may be dry, frustrusted or weary in your Christian experience due to flawed roots of relationship such as legalism, fear, neediness or spiritual ambition.
Why you need to be firmly rooted in God’s love for you, then grow on to be established in loving God wholeheartedly. Between these “bookends of love” a Christian is meant to know and share life with God in the land of the living.
You can only experience God’s love, and be enabled to love God faithfully in return, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the Father’s amazing gift to His children.
Establishing believers in intimate, satisfying life with God is the primary work of the Holy Spirit and the means by which every promise of abundant life in Christ will be realized.”

This is the first in our ScribeLife Series, smaller books we will be publishing to help you know God in all the ways His priceless Covenant makes possible. At 130 pages, it is a quick but powerful read. This title is available on our website in paperback and e-book formats (for all e-readers) and, of course, wherever you find us.

God bless you to never give up on seeking the love life to which God has invited you!

Tonia

The Days of Awe

Today we are in the middle of what worshipping Jews call The Days of Awe — the first ten days of every Jewish New Year during which one is meant to spend extra time reading the Scriptures, set aside more time with God, to examine one’s heart and life in the light of God’s ways:

Am I walking rightly with the Lord?  With other people?

Are there any sins I need to confess…. any broken relationships which need to be mended?

It is a time to take stock and make things right, in order that one can be renewed in every way with God and man.

I love it that God made a special season for this; new year, new clean slate of the heart. Christians celebrate Easter and Christmas as a means to honor both the birth of Christ and his sacrificial death and resurrection. As much as I love the traditions surrounding these, I am also being awakened to a beauty and purpose in God’s original appointed seasons prescribed for his people in the Old Testament. These seasons, known as the Feasts of the Lord, are all built around one thing: entering, honoring, knowing and renewing relationship with God.

These God-appointed seasons, described in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus, are meant to be times of turning one’s attention back to the Lord, celebrating and renewing our relationship with him. In addition, the annual observance of God’s seasons provides a natural calendar to educate young ones about the nature of God, our place in his family and a right response to Him.

Though Jewish rabbis added many traditions to these celebrations down through the ages, we need to look back to the beginning and never forget that God himself set up this calendar of celebration, remembrance and renewal. Furthermore, he said that the observance of them was appropriate …. forever. You see, these appointed seasons are not about being Jewish, they are about being God’s people, and we are those people. We are not called to keep Jewish rituals, but we are called to honor God’s heart and ways. My heart has been quickened to learn God’s purposes in these special seasons; this is on my table, so I offer it to you as well.

These Ten Days of Awe began with the first day of God’s New Year on his special calendar, which occurred last Thursday on September 29, originally accompanied by the blowing of trumpets — God’s wake-up call to his tribe (no iPhone alarm clocks then, my friends…) to turn and return their attention to him. The Days of Awe culminate this Saturday, October 8, with the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), which for worshipping Jews is a holy day of fasting, repentance, receiving of forgiveness, and seeking of reconciliation. No work is done on this holiest of days; it is entirely set aside for God and his purposes of the heart.

This was originally the day that the high priest entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of a perfect, spotless lamb and poured it on God’s mercy seat to make atonement for the nation. Then one day, Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, came once and for all with his blood; He fulfilled and achieved atonement for mankind forever.

So what remains for us in observing this special season? The never-ending need to turn and return to God in our hearts; the need to examine oneself and make things right with God and man in a deliberate way, not subject to the whims of life and occupation and pre-occupations.

All that one might discover through meditating, reflecting and seeking God these 10 days needs to find its resolution and be put to rest. God gives a deadline (the Day of Atonement), not because he’s bent on forcing us into a corner about our sin, but because this adoring Father wants everything dealt with that would steal life and joy, so we can get on with the celebration. Because five days after the Day of Atonement, a huge celebration begins….His prescribed Feast of Tabernacles, a joyous time of enjoying God, family and life’s blessings that his people were asked to celebrate for a full 7 days. God knows how to start a year off right. As his people, it is wise to pay attention; as his children, it is good to honor our Father’s heart for his appointed season.

 

 

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!

“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.”

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!

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

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.

Why I ScribeLife

The Lord of all Creation has made me a teacher, a writer, and a witness to his awesome love and goodness. Every morning when I sit with the Lord, I enjoy things with him that I long to share with the world, in hopes that someone out there wondering about God will be encouraged to seek Him. Please, please do. You will not be disappointed.

I have been enjoying the love and Fatherhood of God since 1979, so I do not write out of the blush of first love, but in the midst of a journey undertaken long ago. I write to share what I know of God personally — and inevitably teach along the way. I don’t know God perfectly, perhaps not even well compared to some, but what I do know of Him is too wonderful to keep to myself. He is good; relentlessly good, and his love is the most satisfying thing in the world.
How have I come to know God? I’ve been brought into a covenant relationship with God through the self-sacrifice of Jesus, his Son. What the world calls salvation is actually a covenant offered, an invitation to be joined with Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a never-ending relationship of love and faithfulness. In this covenant God has given everything to make it possible for me to know him, to be a personal witness of his character, wisdom and power.
My job in this covenant is to be a faithful lover and witness to who this amazing God is, revealing an invisible God to a world who does not have eyes to see Him. This is my glimpse of His Glory. May it always be faithful to Him. Like my brother John, who leaned against the bosom of Jesus at the table, I write these things to make my joy complete, and in hopes that you too will seek the fellowship of the Father and the Son.