Resting Between His Shoulders

It’s 6 a.m., and I have settled into a chair near the wide open back door where I can feel the coastal breezes waft in, and hear the first bird songs of the morning. As usual, I have my creamy tea in hand. After greeting the Lord with “Good morning,” I ask, “What do you want us to do today, Lord?” The answer comes, 

“Rest in my love.”

Tears of relief and joy well up. Relief, because I realize I am a little on the weary side this morning. I don’t know how much I need to rest with Him until I hear the words. Joy, because this is the God who saved me and with whom I share life. 

I lean back, and the words of Moses bubble up to the surface of my mind: “The one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” This is part of the blessing/destiny Moses spoke over the tribe of Benjamin — the youngest of Israel’s sons, the baby of the family, who forever in my mind and theology represents the child of God. The greater blessing says, “The beloved of the Lord rests secure in Him, for He shields him all day long. And the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” (Deuteronomy 33:12)

I know these words by heart, having claimed them as my own heritage, in faith. And in response to this faith — that the Lord loves it when we lean against Him in childlike faith and presumption of His tender love for us — the Lord has invited me to rest anew in His love. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this invitation. 

How did I come to faith in this way of being with the Lord? These words, among many others in Scripture, which the Holy Spirit has woven together in my heart over years of seeking to know this God. It is like a garment I wear now, made seamless by Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…” together with His admonition, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom like a little child will never enter it.” 

The kingdom of God is many marvelous things, and I’m sure I’ve only discovered a fraction of them. But I am quite sure that chief among them is resting between God’s shoulders, enjoying His love, in the un-self-conscious faith of a child who is convinced Daddy loves her.


The topic of being childlike with God, and being established in His love, is a major theme of Tonia’s book, “They Will All Know Me,”
available on Amazon.com and in the Shammah Book Store.

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.

Why I’m Excited About The New Book

I know what you’re thinking: “Of course she’s excited about the new book — she wrote it!”

True. But the response we are getting to this book is greater than any other book we have published so far. In fact, I was thrilled when the team who helped me edit the book ordered it by the case-full when it was published, because they wanted to give a copy to everyone they love or mentor. And though they had all each read it, they couldn’t wait to read it again!

I hear people testifying already of how it is plugging into their hunger for something more with God that has eluded them so far. People are finding hope in They Will All Know Me that they can know God and that knowing Him will nourish them in all the ways they have been left hungry.

I don’t say these things to brag on me, I say them to rejoice in the partnership of expression that I believe began in His heart and flowed over into mine, for your sake… because Jesus doesn’t just love you, He LOVES you! He wants to share life with you…. NOW! I believe He wanted this book written to give hope to hungry hearts who have been left malnourished by the current widespread model of church and Christianity, which typically teaches ABOUT God more than how to really KNOW God.

TWAKM Cover FrontEternal life is what Jesus suffered for us to receive, and in John 17:2-3 He defined eternal life as knowing the Father and Jesus Christ. This book is all about the full message of this new life, about not settling for anything less than knowing God in personal experience, and sharing my stories of how I learned to know God so far and how that has changed my heart and life… which it has, like nothing else could

There are oodles of great books out there, and this is just one. But God has a target for every book He stirs one of His children to write, and we pray daily for this one to find HIS target. I often feel the Lord’s love for His people, and I felt it daily in waves as we wrote this book together. I praise the Lord for His unfailing love and His passion to find every possible way to get the word out!

 

They Will All Know Me: An Introduction

As I near the completion of “They Will All Know Me,” I offer you the Introductory Chapter to give you a taste of what to expect from this latest book in the ScribeLife Series. The process of writing this book stirred my passion for sharing these truths even more as I reviewed my personal journals and revisited the Scriptural truths that first birthed a hunger and a hope in knowing the Lord now. We hope to publish the book in early June.


They Will All Know Me: An Introduction

Being a Christian, and knowing God, are two very different things for too many people. Does that statement shock you? Or does it seem obvious already?

I am writing this book, adding to the hundreds already out there on Christian living, because as a counselor, teacher and daughter of God, it is clear to me that one can be a Christian by virtue of being “saved” and “baptized” — and still not know God. And as a counselor for over 25 years, it has become abundantly clear that just about 100% of what people need to be a better person, have a better life, receive healing for their souls, and be victorious over sin or depression, is to know God.

As a Christian working with nearly every denomination that confesses Christ, I also witness that a great majority of pastors and churches are programmed to teach people how to be good Christians and church members, more than how to know their God — and again, there is a vast difference between these two things.

The difference is found on every level — such as whether one truly enjoys his relationship to the Lord, being nourished by Him; or one who serves the Lord yet knows no joy. It is contrasted in those who have a continual tug of war with sin and their old nature, and those who are so blessed by walking with God in his ways that nothing much tempts them anymore. It is the difference between one who genuinely worships God as an involuntary response to experiencing the Lord’s power and goodness; and the one who sings worship songs at church because that’s what you do before the sermon. Knowing God versus just “being saved” determines whether the promises in Scripture actually materialize in your life, or always feel like the impossible dream you can never quite reach or make happen.

I write this book because many do not know their God, nor have someone teaching them that they can and should. I write this book because knowing God is everything! I write this book because knowing God is actually His idea, His primary purpose, and His greatest blessing in the New Covenant of Christ.

I write this book because we have got it upside down and backwards: we think we have to become Christlike in order for God come near us. But in fact, God comes near us in order to show us how to become Christlike. Every good father teaches his immature son how to be who he should be. I am a profoundly different woman after 30 years of knowing God, both in character and contentment, and that didn’t happen from just reading my Bible and going to church; it happened through experiencing God as a real Father, Christ as a living savior, and the Spirit as a divine and ever-present friend, teacher, and enabler.

I write this book to build your faith in the fact of knowing God, to tell you my own experience and how it has changed my life, and to reveal the most important things one needs to know in this regard. I write this book in hopes that once you have read it, you will never again settle for what I call “spectator sport Christianity.” I hope that you will come away with a real hunger to know the most amazing Person ever, who not only promised us abundant life, but who IS abundant life to us and in us.

You were not saved to just have your sin forgiven, and left to pray to a God in heaven, whom you cannot know until you die and join Him there. In a fresh and unbiased reading of the New Testament you will not find any language to support this idea. What you will find is an incredible chorus of voices spurring you on to know God, walk with God, hear God, work with God, rest with God, be comforted by God, and along the way, become like God. Because in the end, YOU, child of God, become like your Father by knowing him — there is no other way.

You can know God. You have been brought into a covenant relationship with the Trinity for that very purpose. It doesn’t begin after you die. It isn’t 15% now and 100% later. All the promises of the Bible, everything the Bible invites you to hope in, flows out of this relationship — the experience of knowing a real God in real life.

We have unfortunately accepted the concept that knowing God is only for some heavenly day because for centuries teachers were not experiencing this in their own lives, and rather than change their lives, they changed the doctrine that Scripture clearly puts forward. The further away we have come from the first century church, who knew better, the more it has become normal to assume all the stuff those apostle guys wrote was about some other day, after Christ returns, after we have gone to heaven.

Yet the simple reading of the gospels and letters from the Apostles imply (or even presume we’ll understand) that this an immediate thing! If you read the New Testament from a position of no bias, no preconceived ideas, no doctrine imposed over it, putting aside everything you’ve ever heard, you will encounter the presumption that we can and should experience real fellowship with God from the moment we are saved and have received the gift of God’s Spirit. In fact, that is why we have been given the Spirit: He is the part of the Trinity that makes it possible for us to fellowship with the Father and the Son. To act and believe otherwise is to put your life with God on hold until your earth suit dies.

Yes, there is language that describes a day when there will be no evil, no tears, no sickness, and we are clearly not living there yet. This definitely describes a time when we will be living in the cleansed new heaven and new earth that has been purged of all sickness and evil. But this does not negate the dozens of descriptions of life with God to be experienced while we still live in our earth suits. In fact, the main reason Jesus spent years among men before he gave himself up for our sins, was to be a living demonstration of what life was meant to be as a human being, created by God, filled with His Spirit, sharing life together.

If you still feel like you are on the outside looking in, if you are bored or frustrated with your experience of being a Christian, if you’ve been wearing yourself out to confess and “pray in the promises,” and if you feel like you are the one who has to hold everything together in this Christianity thing — you’re doing it all wrong. If you are to run the race well, all the way, and win the prize, you must quit living as if you have to do it all on your own and will never be good enough.

I want to shout it from the rooftops, because I’ve heard it in the quiet and I’ve tested it thoroughly, and it is true: you are called to know God now. You can know God now. Every promise is fulfilled through this relationship. All comfort, all satisfaction of heart, all ability to forgive, to be wise, to fulfill your creative potential, to live worthy, will come naturally as you live according to your true identity as the beloved child and family member of a very present Father, Brother and Friend.

You might earn a good welcome in heaven because you perform well as a Christian, but you make all of heaven rejoice — and become the 100-fold fruitful Christian — only when you have lived on earth like you really believe God, faithfully seeing, hearing, walking and talking with Him.

He couldn’t wait to share life with you. He couldn’t wait to show off His best Dad stuff. He couldn’t wait to show you off to the world you live in, as He disciples you in his ways. He couldn’t wait to nourish you, then nourish the world through you, and touch His people through your heart and hands.

From the beginning, you were made to share life with God, not just get a ticket to heaven. It is His idea, His passion, and the joy of Jesus the Christ. I pray that this book will stir absolute faith in His passion to bring you to complete joy with Him.

Tonia Woolever
April 2016

A Season for Writing

My heart is very full these days of the topic I am currently writing about — knowing God. The longer I know my Lord, know other Christians, and observe the way this world goes, the more certain I am that knowing God is the key to everything. It is His plan to heal, Father, and teach His children; it is how his Kingdom will be established. Knowing God is the highest joy we have on earth, and the means by which every Bible promise is fulfilled. It is the only way to ensure we end up with abundant life instead of lifeless religion.

I have tasted the Lord in wondrous, flawed, challenging and satisfying ways since He won my heart in 1979. Experiencing His goodness in daily life IS my joy, my strength, my rest, my wisdom, my hope and my inspiration to keep trying when I fail. I could never come up with those things on my own; they come with HIM. Jesus said it like this in John 17:3: “This is eternal life: knowing the Father.” Neither he nor the other New Testament writers ever spoke of this life beginning only after death. Eternal life begins for the believer the moment he or she joins to the Lord.

Everything that we could pack into a definition of abundant and eternal life — satisfaction of heart, nourishing relationship, the wisdom and power to fulfill our potential — flows out of knowing God. Everything written beyond the Gospels reveals that we were not given faith to just believe IN God, we were given faith in order to live our lives as a response to His very presence — Emmanuel, God with us. faith-signFaith is required if we are to enjoy the rest Jesus told us to seek in Him. Faith is necessary to hear personal words of comfort from the Father of all comfort in our grief. Faith is essential if we are to co-labor with the Father as Jesus did, believing that we can know what the Father is doing and do it with him. Faith is absolutely necessary to approach God in true childlikeness, believing it really is His pleasure to give the kingdom to his children, that we are really accepted by Him. The purpose of faith is believing that our constant companion, the Holy Spirit, is directing our hearts and revealing God’s thoughts to us as often as we turn our attention to Him. Millions believe in God and in His son, and are taught all about God; too few actually extend that faith to getting to know the God who lives right in them.

The book I am writing will explain how our salvation is actually a covenant that calls us to know God and promises he will make that possible. I will also weave together stories of my experiences of knowing God with the Scriptures which first gave me hope in such a life. The Bible consistently validates that this life is both a privilege and a calling from God. In fact, to “live worthy of the calling” means we must act upon what God is truly offering, not shrink back in fear. The Biblical writers assure us that God delights in the one who comes boldly, who seeks to know and taste of God; and is not pleased with the one who is timid, fearful or otherwise makes excuses about it all being too hard.

Certainly there is a tension to be maintained in knowing God, between the reverence due our Creator King, and the childlike intimacy the Father invites us to enjoy. My personal experience is that ultimately I walk with God more fruitfully and even more reverently when I presume upon the invitation to intimacy. How can that be? I think that is due to the fact that only in truly tasting of God — experiencing his invisible but very real presence — will your love, reverence and passion to obey naturally increase, in a way that you own it, you don’t have to be forced or talked into it. Instead of a command you must make yourself do, true fear and worship of the Lord comes naturally. To know Him is to love Him. Certainly we honor God when we worship him as an act of determination and devotion, yet the kind of worshippers the Father values the most are those who worship in spirit and in truth, as a genuine and irrepressible response to what they have seen and know. Thus the exhortation, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Every day I encounter people who shrink back from knowing God out of fear that they are unworthy, not good enough, not surrendered enough; who believe they must achieve a certain level of maturity before hoping that God will walk and talk with them. Yet I find quite the opposite to be true: as I relax into hanging out with God as I would a friend, brother and father, I find myself becoming more of what I am called to be. I am taught. I learn right timing, when I otherwise may not understand whether it is a time to embrace, or to refrain from embracing.

It is the relationship that brings us to maturity, not the other way around. I’m on a mission to convince people of this, to come against the lie which the devil has fostered, that believers have to earn God’s favor, his voice, his presence, before they can know God in such ways this side of heaven. Yes, there are requirements, and He has made sure we can meet them all, through His grace, His Spirit, His goodness.

This book will be entitled “They Will All Know Me,” and is to be book three of the ScribeLife Series the Lord has instructed me to write. (The first two books in the series are “Rooted & Established In Love” and our co-authored book “Can I Really Hear God?”) There will be three more books in the series following this one, including one on “Spirit Life” (how to walk with the Holy Spirit), and one on our Lord’s command to “love others as I have loved you.”

I covet your prayers for this work. I believe with all my heart that the world needs to learn these things. I write to join the chorus of voices out there who are singing the same tune, because so many people are still captive, still timid, and still reaching for satisfaction from the world because they don’t realize how very much God can truly satisfy them. I am not qualified to write of these things because I live it perfectly, but because I have tested what I teach in my own daily life for thirty years. I have come to know this amazing God who keeps leaping over all my flaws and weaknesses to love me with all His heart, and I want others to know Him as they can.

In fact, don’t wait for the book, just get on that right now. The Spirit will show you how; it’s His favorite thing!

Taking Care of Business

Covenant relationship looks like this: if I give of myself to take care of my covenant partner, tending to what is important to them; and they give themselves tending to what is important and needful to me, we are both satisfied! We love well. We have mutual joy. There will be no no lack, no sorrow, no striving. We both have rest in the heart of the other and in all that concerns us. All expressions of rest — such as safety, provision, nurture, love — are met in this kind of relationship.

I’ve learned this more than once in my walk with God, but especially when we were needing to move to the Texas coast in 2013 to be near my parents to help care for them. We needed to find a new home, and I wanted to go out and spend all effort and time finding it NOW. Yet life kept happening, and getting in the way! People kept needing things that stopped us from going at our search full speed ahead. I stewed and fretted some, with the Lord occasionally reassuring me that he had already secured a home for us.

I believed, yet still, in all honesty, it was hard to focus my attention on anything but finding that new home, until one day the Spirit dropped these words into my spirit: “Be about my business, and I will be about yours.” The Lord has a way of saying the one thing that changes everything. He had things we needed to do for him, things with and for people. I wish I had a dollar for every time the Lord has revealed that it isn’t people I am pushing against, it is Him!

The Lord reminded me that I could REST concerning our great need, because He was at work securing it all for us. Meanwhile, He needed me to be about His business in a wholehearted way, tending to the people he wanted to love on through us.

I realized what a perfect relationship this is, this reciprocal covenant love and care. It nips selfishness and self-centeredness in the bud. Joy seldom fails to come when you give of yourself to someone else. One may find some pleasure in giving themselves what they need, but nothing like the pure joy of giving oneself for others.

So, as we waited for our whole lives to be moved and rearranged, tending to my Father’s business produced in me joy, and rest, and hope, and fruitfulness. It was a good season, and my heart relaxed into being fully present for the people in our lives. The Lord was served, the people on His heart were served, and He did indeed secure for us the most delightful, perfect home here on the coast. It all came together in just the right time, and I hate to think of what we might have “settled for” in our own impatience and striving! I am so glad we did not, that he gave us the grace to rest both in what He promised and asked of us in those days.

So be about the Good Lord’s business, and He will always be about yours. That is covenant faithfulness, covenant care, covenant love. That is taking care of business, God’s way.

How To Delight Our Father: A Cheat Sheet

One day, the Lord revealed to the Prophet Isaiah all the things that would cause Him to delight in His “chosen one.” We know now that he was describing his Son Jesus. Here is what the Father said of him who would bring delight:

My child brings justice
My child is a servant
My child is not loud or quarrelsome
My child is gentle and compassionate
My child is faithful
My child does not falter or get discouraged
My child is a light to men
My child heals blindness
My child sets captives free

                       Isaiah 42:1-7 (paraphrased)

“My chosen one in whom my soul delights.”  

My chosen one.

Fast forward, past the days of Christ, to the days when Paul the Apostle wrote to the Ephesian Christians,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. ”

Ephesians 1:3-5, NASB

Here’s the way I see it: God’s original chosen one was His Son; AND he “chose us” in His Son before he even established the world! In other words, we become the Chosen when we join ourselves to Christ, the Chosen. Jesus confirmed this when He said,  “In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20, NASB).

We are the sons and daughters of God through Christ, and together with Him, we are the chosen. Therefore, the list given to Isaiah is now OUR list to live by. Let us consider the things on this list that delight our Father.

Do any of those give you pause? Like say, for instance, healing the blind and setting the captives free? Can that really be for us? Some would ask, isn’t some of this truly just spoken of Jesus Christ alone?

I do not believe so, and here is why: Jesus said to his disciples, astoundingly, “You will do greater things than what I have done while with you,” But for this, we should not dare to appropriate these words for ourselves. But He did say it! And we should own them!

These words began as a prophecy, became a promise, and for those who would live a life that delights the Father, it is a mandate. Through Christ, we are the recipients of all.

Everything that “religion” requires is most beautifully accomplished through the goal of seeking to delight the Father. Like Jesus, we can do nothing on our own; and also like Jesus, we can do all things through the indwelling Spirit.

Isaiah has given us a cheat sheet to remind us of this good and wonderful way of life that is Christianity, for the sons and daughters of God. I encourage you to print it out, post it on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror, or on your computer monitor. Remember every day who you are now that God is your Father, and how you may bring delight to His heart.

(Excerpted from the book Tonia is writing, “They Will All Know Me”)

Knowing Is Everything

You know you’re in a “season” when weeks go by and the Spirit keeps you focused on the same thing, no matter what you are reading. The work of this season of my life in Christ is to keep speaking to my audience about the importance of knowing God. I do not really know who my audience is these days… But I must be faithful to the source of my joy and keep talking of what we share that is the source of that joy… Knowing Him.

On my side of the equation, it is a terribly flawed relationship. I am far less consistent in my devotion to my Lord and Friend than he deserves. Yet this I know of Him: the right response to every failure of mine is to keep running back to Him, because His gracious self always forgives. He who told us to forgive 7 times 70 (I.e., 490, also known as “too many to count”) does so himself, because there is no hypocrisy in him, not a hint.

So I awaken every day to my ever present Friend and the offer to know Him, and the New Covenant promise to know Him. To live worthy of that great honor is also, I have learned, the means by which every thing promised by Him is realized — the peace, the wisdom, the soul’s rest, the security and safety. These were never designed to be available apart from knowing God, not in any substantial and enduring way.

I saw something new in the Scripture last night about knowing God — that our so-called natural desires, the will to do right or wrong, to crave what is good or what is evil, is either supported or abandoned by the Lord, in response to our actual choices. It is in Romans 1:28, and reading it in the CJB (Complete Jewish Bible) translation made it abundantly clear: “…since they have not considered God worth knowing, God has given them up to worthless ways of thinking; so that they do improper things.”

The immediate context is those who choose to engage in what God considers sexual perversion, but it is surely a general principle as well, an insight into how God works in response to our choices. I have seen ample evidence in the Bible that God essentially gives us what we really want. In fact, My students will verify that I am fond of saying God doesn’t need to come up with a punishment for our sin, he just lets us have what we really want and that choice will eventually punish us by its natural consequences.

So that concept is well established in my mind, but I have never before seen the very inclination towards good or evil connected so clearly to our value or lack of value for knowing God. It is tempting to think we are pretty much on our own when it comes to the inward struggle of choosing right or wrong, but this is not true. Philippians 2:13 negates this idea when it says, “…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (NASB).

This I know of God also: he is not quick to give us over to our bad choices. He is long suffering. He is seen repeatedly in Scripture giving his people an incredible number of chances to choose what is right before “giving them over.” Yet, if we stubbornly adhere to a lifestyle of “not considering God worth knowing,” the day will come when God will cease his efforts to turn you towards his heart and totally let you have a life without Him. And there is a terrifying list of possibilities in the verses immediately following Romans 1:28…. All shades of evil character. You don’t want to become that person!

The wonderfully positive side of this truth is that when God sees any movement in your heart and mind towards the desire to know him, his Spirit steps right up and says, “Here, let me help you!”

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).

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?

Giving to God Is a Celebration of His Goodness

Most of us see tithing as a sacrifice given over to God, never to be seen again. While the first part is true (and needs to be fully true in our hearts), we need to understand more about God’s purposes in the offerings we bring. These purposes are revealed in God’s instructions through Moses in Deuteronomy 14:

“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always.”

“But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.”

God meant for the tithe to not just be set aside and delivered over, but rather brought and SHARED between God and the giver. As we say often in our teaching, it’s not about the rules, its about the RELATIONSHIP.

Notice that if one was SO blessed by God that he couldn’t reasonably carry it all the way to Jerusalem, he was to sell his tithe of produce or animals, then go to Jerusalem, spend it on whatever his heart desired. Do you see the freedom and celebration in this?  God doesn’t want to just take a portion away from you as a discipline and a reminder of his blessing, he wants to share the joy of your prosperity together!

God’s generosity overlooks no one. In the next verse he says, “And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.” (v. 27) As you brought the portion to share and enjoy with God, he asked that you remember the Levites — those whom He had assigned to serve Him full time, who had no land, crops or herds of their own with which to sustain themselves.

We see another reason why God wants to abundantly bless you — so that together you and He could share in the joy of taking care of the needy: “At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

His way was that every third year, the worshipper was to take the tithed produce for his celebratory meal with the Lord to a special storehouse for the Levites, the poor, and the alien, so they would have plenty. As I see it, God said to his worshipper, “Let’s you and I fast part of our feast together every third year, and give it to the needy.”

Our daughter observes a season of Lenten fasting with her Anglican community, in which weekdays are given for keeping certain fasts, but Sundays are granted as feast days – a window of grace, a joyful reprieve from the restrictions of the week. It both heightens the pleasures of the things not had during the week, and gives encouragement for keeping fasts in the week to come. There is nothing like self-denial  to renew the joy of the good things given by God. Another part of the Anglican tradition during the Lenten season is giving to the needy.

It seems to me they have gotten it right as to the heart of God in this matter: it’s not just about self-denial (and the selfish self-righteousness that can arise from obeying “the rules”), it is about relating rightly, to God and to the community, in our blessedness.

In the end we have the promise that God will “bless you in all the work of your hands.” What a God. What character, what values. What a relationship.

The seven-year cycle was: two years in a row, we bring the tithe of our produce and the firstborn of our livestock to God, to enjoy it with Him in a feast. The third year we give the produce away. In years four and five, we feast with God again. The sixth year, we give much of it away. The 7th year is a Sabbath year in which debts are forgiven, and all  those who have become enslaved are set free to have a new start. I think of what our world could be today with such an economy in place.

In a few days we will celebrate the most extravagant gift of all: the gift of Jesus, for a life shared with God, of freedom from death and bondage to sin. Some of you have fasted in some way, to symbolically walk alongside your Savior to that place of giving all. When the fast is over, may you go to the Lord and your community and celebrate with all your heart, and bring the poor in spirit with you.

Freedom

God is into freedom, especially where his children are concerned. I have often experienced Him more easily through spontaneous encounters — on a walk, in the shower, musing over my morning cup of sweet black tea — than in times of disciplined prayer. In the beginning, it felt so — illegal. Could I really trust the sense of hearing his voice or feeling his affectionate closeness when I had done nothing special? The idea dawned slowly upon me…how preposterous to think that God never speaks unless spoken to first, or hides himself from his children unless they approach him in a ritual!

“It is for freedom that Christ has set you free…” as it says in Galatians 5:1. I’ve learned that the Lord particularly enjoys sharing my pleasure in bubble baths, long walks to enjoy his creation, doing creative food things in the kitchen, listening to music that makes my heart joy or my spirit mellow. While not taking away one tittle of how important discipline is in prayer, I rejoice in the freedom of knowing God easily in the mundane moments of life. As one of my beloved teachers has so wisely said, we need to stop making a distinction between the sacred and the secular, because God never does.

Discipline is good, but freedom is better, if that freedom is a celebration of a living relationship between two people who live for one another.