“And the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.” (Genesis 3:22-23)
Because of sin, man was now destined to die. His access to eternal life taken away, the ultimate curse befell the human race. As long as sin remained a component of the human spirit, God could not allow its contamination into His presence. So He gave His one and only Son to dwell among mankind in the world, to experience all the temptations and trials that face us, and to sinlessly take the punishment of death for sin to provide the cleansing and forgiveness needed to re-establish a right relationship with Himself. We entered death – the curse of separation from God – through the door of sin.
“Yet to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Revelation 22:1-3 reveals the culmination of God’s redemption of all who would believe in Him and would receive His Son as their Savior from the curse of sin.
“Then the angel showed me the river of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.”
Notice what will be made accessible to all who believed, “his servants”, once again – the tree of life. Emblematic of immortality, its fruit that is regularly refreshed will be supplied for all eternity. It will be our ultimate joy to dwell with God face to face, and serve him forever – and all this was made possible by His unfailing love for us.
In the last year of her life, my mother would occasionally ask the pastor who came to the assisted living center to lead the weekly Bible study, “Pastor, do you think it is alright to ask God to take me to heaven?” He assured her that as a child of God, she could express the desire of her heart to her Heavenly Father, and He would hear her. I know that it was the prayer of her heart, because she told me so. She had lived her life for the Lord, and now she felt it was time for her to be in His presence. When that day came, she was more than ready.
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’” (1 Corinthians 15:54)
That day could be any day for us…
Are we living in the joy of that eternal inheritance?
Are we living in such a way that others can see that spirit of joy in our lives and desire it for themselves?
And are we allowing that joy to bring hope, help, and encouragement to those with whom we share this life?
As God’s kid, I have always envisioned coming to God as walking into a large, well-appointed office. There is a fire in the fireplace, and the overstuffed chair in which He sits is facing me as I walk in. He immediately senses my presence, and puts his book down and warmly welcomes me in. He always has time for me – never too busy. I feel so welcomed, so encouraged to share with him whatever is on my heart. As I plop myself down on the pillow-strewn couch, I sense his intense love for me – that he is ready to hear every word that I have to say. He is so open, so receptive of me just as I am that I feel confident to tell him just how I feel. Yet my love for him compels me to want to please him in everything I do and say.
This is the scene that John describes for us in 1 John 5:14-15…
And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.
We just feel so grateful that we can talk with God at any time. We can be certain that he hears us and cares about what is on our heart. John is agreeing with us – the “we” in these verses is John the Apostle and each one of us as children of God.
While we often voice our prayer collectively, ultimately prayer is a very personal conversation with God. It goes much deeper than the words we say. He feels the unsaid feelings deep within our being. He knows the thoughts that we can’t put into words. And when we are in that level of communion with him, we will so sincerely desire his will for us that we will pray for it to be done in our lives.
These verses tell us that we can be assured that we have what we have asked of him because he has heard the cry of our heart. I’ve been asking God to guide me in regards to Bible teaching. He showed me again this summer that it is a gift that he has given me. That means he expects me to use it to edify the church. But I wasn’t sure how. Then within the last several weeks several people – including a couple I had not been in contact with for some time – expressed an interest in being in a small group study if I were willing to lead it. I had not told them I was praying for guidance on that very topic. Yet God knew and he was giving me the answer through their interest. This was clearly praying “according to his will” and “knowing that he hears us” and “having what we asked of him.”
I have the answer I need because he is a faithful Father.
How often do we hurry by the door of his den, too busy to stop and have the talk with him? A talk that will supply much more than what we ourselves can accomplish?
Do we let doubt diminish our confidence that he hears and answers when we approach him as our Father?
Remember – we never need an appointment with him.
His door is always open and he is always ready to hear us.
“No one has ever seen God. But we love each other, and God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.”1 John 4:12
“…and HIS LOVE is brought to full expression in us…”
Can we just let that sink in for a moment? We have been chosen to reflect and embody this love that will show God to those around us. What an amazing calling and purpose for us to have! It’s a challenge to our human nature, isn’t it? To love instead of hate, to forgive instead of hold a grudge, to be empathetic instead of apathetic. But we must remember it is His love, that is brought to full expression. This means, our trying to love on our own will end in disappointment and failure.
Our flawed love outside of God has restrictions, and we demand much of those around us for us to give out that love. But the Love that comes from knowing God, the God that is in us, is a love that is pure and unselfish, demanding nothing, but giving of everything… It is in this love that we are able to bring to full expression to others.
We are called to live out this purpose, if we truly know our God, He calls for abandoned hearts that seek to be filled with a new ambition. We have been given a handbook in this love, and a mentor who lived a life of love, bringing God to earth to walk amongst us. At times, it’s the simplicity of meeting needs, and looking past what the world has labeled people as.
Love changes us, HIS love changes us, we see things with fresh eyes, and speak with new words, and our hands and feet work for others and not ourselves.
If our desire is for others to KNOW our God like we know our God, then our lives will be lived out in being His hands and feet. Speaking his words of encouragement and life, and showing those who cannot see him, who he is by how we interact with them.
Who can you show this full expression of His love to this week?
There is something comforting about someone who “gets” you.
Several years ago, my husband handed me a long rectangular box with a nervous expression on his face on Christmas morning. “If you don’t like this, we can return it…” he said in a timid voice as I tore back the corners of the wrapping paper. Under the paper was a white box with the words “All-Clad” on it; I saw them and I could feel the excitement building into the smile that came across my face.
He had gotten me a grill pan…
Apparently there’s some great sin among men that is committed when one buys their wives kitchenware for Christmas… but that is not the case in our house. Kitchenware is my guilty pleasure because opening up my cabinets, fridge and pantry and creating delicious food is something that I enjoy deeply. Cooking isn’t a chore for me; rather, it’s an opportunity to create and an opportunity to serve the people that I love. So the gift of a grill pan was not, in this instance, the “kiss of death” gift that some of my husband’s co-workers had anticipated it would be. Nor were the dutch oven and cast iron skillet that I got as Christmas gifts a few years later.
My husband knows me deeply. He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt getting me pots and pans because he knew that I would enjoy them more than a gift certificate to Sephora. He has taken the time over the years to really connect and know me on levels that no one else does… he loves me, and he “gets” me. This is wonderful, because I desire that from the man I committed to spend the rest of my life with.
God wants us to “get” Him, to really “know” Him.
The question is - do we?
In 1 John 2:3-4, John writes “And we can be sure that we know Him if we obey His commandments. If someone claims ‘I know God’, but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth.”
So again… the question is - do we?
Jesus told us that the greatest of the commandments were to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This was something that Jesus didn’t just tell us - He lived it out with each step He took while He walked among us. Jesus also told us to live this out (“I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” - John 13:15) and John writes that “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6).
So a third time - do we? Do we live our lives as Jesus did? Do we actively live out the commandments that were laid out for us? Are we showing God that we love Him with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths by loving each other as Jesus loved us?
Loving one another sounds like such an easy thing to do. But then we try to live it out… and it turns out we fall short regularly. We get frustrated with other drivers on the road, we become impatient with our children, our spouses who love us so often see our worst sides and get our leftovers. We fail to love as Jesus did regularly.
Will we ever attain perfection in our pursuit to “get” God? Probably not… but then, isn’t that why Jesus came in the first place? Has not God forgiven us for our imperfections by sacrificing His only Son that we may pursue Him openly?
Let’s not become complacent in that. God’s forgiveness does not excuse our need to strive to obey His commandments to the best of our ability. Jesus’ blood was shed on the cross so that we could run after God and “get” Him. And friends, God wants that from each one of us so, so badly. He wants to be “gotten”, to be “known” deeply by each one of His children.
Spend time in scripture, see how Jesus loved, then go out in the world and follow His lead. Let us strive to love each other like crazy so that we can “get” God.
What are some first steps you can take today to deepen your relationship with God?
The obedience to God that I demonstrate in my life is evidence that I belong to Him.
Isn’t that what any good parent should expect from his/her child?
In 1 John 2:1-2, John doesn’t suggest that we are perfectly obedient. As His children, we can and do fall short of His righteous standards for our lives. The blood of Jesus is our atonement. This means that God the Father is satisfied that His penalty of death for the sins of all mankind was met through the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. Our sin, when it happens, is covered by His blood.
But this gracious provision does not exempt us from God’s expectations of our obedience. In addition to forgiveness of sin, we also have been covered by the righteousness of Christ. God can now expect that we will follow Him in obedience because His Spirit is within us. In fact, 1 John 2:3-5 makes it clear that our obedience to Him is the proof that we have indeed received His Spirit and have been changed by it.
Romans 8:12-14 says,
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
So it is God in you that makes you able to live your life in obedience to Him. Whenever we try to do it on our own, we will ALWAYS fail.
Back when we were first married, I had high intentions of giving my wife high priority in terms of my time. Every Saturday I vowed silently to carve out prime time with her some time during the day. But there was always so much to do, and when the hours would creep by and I was still fully engaged in chipping away at my list, I would rationalize that I needed to do what I was doing now. But when I arrived at the end of the day I didn’t have anything left for her. I wasn’t relying on God to focus me on the important because I was succumbing to what I thought was urgent.
I knew that God wanted me to invest in my marriage from the very beginning. I had to ask His (and her) forgiveness and commit to obeying the voice of the Spirit within me. I had to trade my agenda for His if I really wanted His best for us. It took time, but as God changed my heart and grew my love for Him and my wife, it became easier to recognize the importance of prime relational time with her. Now we can enjoy prolonged conversation, companionship and common purpose because of what God has done in both of our lives.
What has God been asking you to surrender to Him?
Do you believe that He has something better for you if you do?
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
1 John 1:9
Is it really that easy?
Is what John saying here so simple that it couldn’t be true?
With all the sin that surrounds us every day, all the evil we see on the news, all the death and killing, genocide and enslavement could just confessing our wrong and misguided attempts through pride to be something so far from the image that God created us to be be made right by confessing those sins?
To look back in history and see all the sinful acts of people through biblical texts, history books, and The Discovery Channel… It’s difficult to even think that what John is saying here is that easy. But to just take this one verse without first reading the previous one cheats us of a deeper truth John is opening our eyes to see.
He paints a beautiful picture of light. This pictures consist of God being light. And don’t be fooled by John’s simple description… The “light” we’re talking about is not a porch light. It’s not your living room light, night-stand light, or even the brightest LEDs.
God’s light is all consuming… And there is no escape.
To confess our sin and open up our heart to Him is to invite the Almighty in. When we do this, when we truly open our heart to receive His forgiveness, it means we must also be ready to receive an uncontrollable, life-giving LIGHT that is God.
There is no escaping it.
In God’s Light there are no shadows.
He wants us to walk in the Light. To live in it without shame or fear of anything to hide. God’s Light forces out the darkness within us when we let it in.
Instead of praying that those dark areas of your heart would go away, try praying that God’s Light would grow to force it out!
Pray that this Light would overflow in you. That it would become contagious to those around you! Because that darkness, whatever it may be, be it pride, guilt, shame, envy, or whatever else cannot share in God’s Light… It has to go.
Confess and ask God’s Light to fill you.
This morning, I am going to write on a topic that absolutely fascinates me…
In Philippians 4:10-20, Paul writes to the church at Philippi about the “tension” between being “in need” and being “satisfied.” Having plenty and being in need are circumstances. Though sometimes those states of being are self-influenced, often they are beyond our control. Witness those who have suffered the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, those laid off from their job, others the victim of someone else’s carelessness.
Whatever the cause, it is a fact, something you can point to and objectively say that you don’t have what you need right now.
In contrast, “contentment” is a state of mind and heart. In spite of the circumstances it is a feeling of having enough.
How is that? When I am in fact in need, I have enough?
This makes no sense outside the realm of God’s care. Paul is saying that regardless of my physical, material state of being, it is God who gives me the strength to carry on.
What is behind that spirit of unconditional contentment? Paul gives us a hint as we read on – “for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.” (Philippians 4:16) And again in vs. 18, “I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” God cared for Paul and his team by moving the Philippian church to give sacrificially.
It seems there are at least two important messages here…
First is the issue of trust.
Obviously we can’t just pretend that our need doesn’t exist. But can we trust in God’s care so much that we can be at peace and not worry? Can we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and trust that “all these things will be given to us as well”? (Matthew 6:33) That is, rather than being distracted from what is important by the need that feels urgent, we are convinced in our heart and spirit that God will provide as we trust Him.
Second is the issue of response.
Might I be the one that God is moving to supply the needs of others? I dare say that if we are pre-occupied with our own concerns we can easily miss what He is calling us to do for others. Probably one of the most courageous times for action is when I respond to a need that I am facing myself. Being a friend when I need a friend. Giving my time when I am strapped for time. Opening my purse when I can see the bottom.
What does sacrifice mean to you?
Are you able to trust God for His care in your time of need?
Can you respond to His impulse to care for another in spite of your circumstance?
Response requires trust, and trust demands response.
“I once thought these things were valuable but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared to the infinite value of KNOWING Christ Jesus my Lord.”Phil. 3:7
I think Paul, before his conversion on the road to Damascus, really thought he knew God. He felt he was righteous, flawlessly upholding over 600 laws as a Pharisee. We’re talking a man who had the TORAH memorized. But Paul found that he may have known OF God, but did not KNOW Him truly. Jesus came to abolish man’s laws and reinstate God’s “laws”, if you will.
Paul found that through loving and serving others, bringing the gospel to so many people, he was learning to know God, understand the God he served. He was still serving the same God, but now in a new way, a way that brought intimacy to the relationship and true meaning and purpose to his life. He feels that this is what has value, this is what knowing Christ meant, to serve him and follow in his ways.
The only way we will begin to know God is to tailor our lives to continuous learning of how to love and serve others, and realize that we have accomplished nothing if it hasn’t been for His glory. This is not to say that anything we have “accomplished” is undeserved, but it makes a difference in who you give the glory to for it.
It comes down to your motivation… Your view point.
My view point was altered, I had a Paul encounter, but instead of all at once, mine happened over time. I prayed a simple prayer, “Lord help me to see what really matters to You. Break my heart for the life you wish me to live.” Over time my heart broke and yearned more and more for time spent in prayer, reading, studying and being in His presence. I met people that drew me closer to the heart of God by serving with them and sharing life with them. I was able to speak into lives around me. I remember stopping and looking back on years past thinking, all this time I wasted on caring about myself, of what I could gain for me, to make me “someone” in the eyes of man. I had gained an understanding, that unless you’re able to cry. laugh, dance, sing, rejoice, pray and LIVE in your brokenness with others in the love of Christ, you will never fully understand what Paul is saying.
Knowing Christ is knowing He came to die for you, so He could work in you and through you. Not help you gain anything for yourself, but to gain everything for Him.
In what ways can you use your life to glorify Him, and allow him to do a work in you that allows a Paul like conversion?
Did you get stuck in a horrible traffic jam on the way to work? Is your child whining? Did you forget your lunch in the refrigerator and now have to eat that 2-year-old emergency soup stuck in the back of your desk drawer? Did your spouse wake up on the wrong side of the bed, snap at you, and “made” you angry at them thus causing an argument?
Somewhere along the line you forgot that you are wealthy enough to afford a car while many have no choice but to walk. You forgot that you are blessed to have a child when so many can’t. It slipped your mind that you are resourced to the point of surplus where you actually have back-up food in your possession.
The biggest thing that you forgot?
That we are to be SHINING LIGHTS for Christ, extending grace and showing love no matter the circumstances.
In the middle of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, there is a verse that is so jarring that it is cut off before it even forms an entire sentence: “Do everything without complaining and arguing” (2:14). Coming across this verse, I was - and continually am - unable to take my mind off of the fact that the verse ends with a comma; it splits off to verse 15 before even completing the thought.
It IS a complete thought. There could be a period there. Do everything without complaining and arguing. Period.
Too often I find myself victim to the cycle of negativity that can happen when I forget how richly I have been blessed. One thing will go wrong and it will open my eyes to so many other things that are far from perfect. This will of course darken my mood and cloud over the light that I have the ability to shine out from my soul. When asked what the greatest commandments were, Jesus told us that they were to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
How can we follow the greatest commandments as set forth by Jesus if we are clouding our hearts with the negativity that comes from complaining and arguing? This kind of behavior is a cancer; it spreads, eating us apart from the inside out and eventually it will kill us.
It will separate us from the life that Christ has called us to live. We need to stop that from happening.
There are some practical ways that we can set forth and begin to change our attitudes from negative to positive. Write a list each morning of ways that God has blessed you and your family. Make active efforts to show those around you love in ways that will speak to their hearts. Ask God to soften your heart and help you to see the good rather than the bad. When something or someone annoys you, take a deep breath and think of how it can be spun to a more positive perspective rather than the negative knee-jerk reaction you probably had.
I once heard a story of a woman from one of the impoverished Caribbean islands - maybe Haiti, I can’t recall - who, upon walking into an American grocery store fell to her knees and cried. She had never seen so much food so readily available in one place, and was overwhelmed with the plenty that spread out in front of her.
How many of us can come up with at least 5 complaints about the grocery store if asked? How many of those complaints reflect anything but a lack of gratitude for how we have been resourced or a lack of love for one another? Yet, this woman looks at a grocery store as a rich blessing.
“Do everything without complaining or arguing.”
It is easier said than done. Yet is is so essential to our calling. Don’t dismiss it.
What are some areas in your life that typically cause complaint that you can reverse your thinking and begin to see them in a more positive light?
Who is someone you often find yourself in an argument with that you can work to build up and love today?