How to Love God

The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.” Psalms 91:14-16  #DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

Psalms 91-14-16 NLT

I came across these verses today in my #DailyBibleReading.

How I want to claim these as promises as mine: God will rescue, protect, answer, be with me during times of trouble, honor me, etc. But these aren’t blanket promises. They are for people who love Him and trust Him.

As Christians, our #1 command is to “Love God”. But what does this mean? How do I know if I am loving God the way He wants? Am I loving Him with all my heart, soul and mind?

What does it mean to truly love God?

  • Obeying His commands

  • Loving others

  • Hating evil

  • Holding tightly to God 

  • Searching for Him

  • Praising God

  • Storing up His words in my heart

Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3

Jesus replied,”You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:37-40 

You who love the LORD, hate evil! He protects the lives of his godly people and rescues them from the power of the wicked. Psalms 97:10

Be careful to obey all these commands I am giving you. Show love to the LORD your God by walking in his ways and holding tightly to him. Deuteronomy 11:22

Loving God with All My Heart, Soul, and Mind:

Loving God with what is inside of me . . . and with what I do and say.

Joyful are those who obey his laws and search for him with all their hearts. Psalms 119:2 

I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalms 119:11

Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions; I will put them into practice with all my heart. Psalms 119:34 

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.” Psalms 27:8 

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. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. 1 John 2:4-6 

And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musings on the Kingdom of Heaven

#DailyBibleReading #BibleReadingPlan

“But what do you think about this?

A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway.

Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

“Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.” Matthew 21:28-32 

I am a poster child for “fly over” America. I live in the middle of the United States in a nice, middle-class house. I have a husband, two kids, and a dog. I drive my kids to sports and school.  I am a typical “soccer mom” (minus the soccer and the peppy smile and cute blonde pony-tail . . . I’m the mom hanging out in her car with no make-up and lots of gray hair, trying to finish an overdue library book while drinking lukewarm coffee).

I am rarely pushed out of my comfort zone. I’ve traveled internationally and seen poverty, but it doesn’t touch my day-to-day life. I go to church with a lot of other hard-working, suburban, mid-westerners.

Yes, there are hipsters and hippies and refugees in our midst, but the count is small.

Sure, there are probably a lot of us living paycheck to paycheck, but not too many who are skipping meals due to lack of money.

This is my little piece of the world.

Not to say there isn’t pain and drama and sin in my church – there is – plenty of it. Just like every church in the world, the seats are full of people silently suffering from depression and anxiety. Whether in their past or present life – there is the struggle of addiction to porn, drugs, alcohol and gambling. There is divorce. There are past childhood wounds. There is future baggage being created. There is gossip and anger. There is hurt. There are struggles.

There are also the same faces that are seen every Sunday – the church leaders, the greeters, the childcare volunteers.

And then there are the invisible Christians. There are those who walk in and walk out of church, unnoticed. There are those who never even walk in the doors, because they are ashamed of the baggage they carry. There are brothers and sisters in Christ who go to church in prison as they serve a life-sentence. There are those who never show up on Sunday morning because they are in a nursing home or hospital.

In my mind, I see the “Kingdom of Heaven” being my church on a bigger scale, just without the ongoing sin and pain.

And it some ways it will be. But in other ways it will be much different.

In heaven, the invisible Christians will finally be seen. And they won’t be last. They will be first. The death row inmate who gave his life to Christ in the final hours will be leading the choir. The former thief will be at a place of honor. The invisible Christians – the poor and the hurting – will be those with the best seats at the table.

There will be people from every nationality and ethnicity, worshiping together. The prostitute with the preacher. The murderer with the cop. The man who struggled with same-sex attraction and the man who struggled with judging others. The republican and the democrat. The liberal and the conservative. The socialist, the libertarian, and the communist. The rich and the poor. The elderly and the infant.

Maybe it is time that I open my eyes and see others the way Jesus sees them. Love them the way Jesus loves them. Show compassion like Jesus showed. For all I know the homeless man I pass on the way to church might have a seat reserved for him in heaven, at the right hand of Jesus. The woman who keeps her head down at the grocery store and looks like her life is a mess . . . might be first in the Kingdom of Heaven.

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Then he said,“I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 18:1-4 

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:3

“God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:10 

“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 

“I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” Then Jesus said to his disciples,“I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. Jesus looked at them intently and said,“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” Matthew 19:23-26 

Matthew 20: Showing up Late for Work

Today’s #BibleReadingPlan had me read Matthew 20:1-19. Recently my pastor taught on this passage, which showed me this parable in a light I’d never seen before. You can listen to the sermon here on Journey Church’s website.  Pastor Phil Human does a great job illustrating what this parable means . . . but I’ll take a shot at summarizing as well.

  • God is the boss of heaven. He is a kind boss. He is merciful. He is generous. He is loving.
  • Someone can turn to God in the twilight of their life – and God will welcome them into heaven just the same as someone who served Him their whole life.
  • Our focus shouldn’t be on what others are doing, how much money they are making or rewards they are getting . . . our focus should be on the tasks God has given us and our relationship with Him.
  • I need to humble myself and be grateful for the gifts God has given me.

The Parable:

6 a.m.: A landowner went into town to hire people to work in his vineyard. He found a group of laborers and agreed to pay them a set amount for working the full day. (For example, $80)

9 a.m.: Same landowner is back in town and sees some people standing around doing nothing. He offered them a job to work in the vineyard for the rest of the day. They didn’t negotiate a pay rate, but he said he’d pay them whatever was right at the end of the day.

Noon: Same as 9 a.m.

3 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

5 p.m.: Same as 9 a.m.

7 p.m.: Everyone comes in from work and stands in line to get their pay. They line up from how long they worked. At the front of the line are the guys who only worked for a few hours. I imagine they aren’t even tired after only working a few hours. The landowner hands them each $80.

When the guys who had been working all day see this they start to do the math and get excited, thinking if the landowner paid these guys $80 for working 2 hours they are probably going to get $520 for working 13 hours!

But as they go down the line, the landowner hands everyone $80.

The guys at the end of the line were extremely upset with the landowner and didn’t think he was being fair.

But in reality, he was paying them exactly what he had agreed to pay them. They weren’t getting ripped off. They were being paid the going rate for the work they did. But, the landowner was being kind to the others and the 6 a.m. workers were jealous.

As Pastor Phil said in his sermon, most of us hear this parable and get a little indignant just like the 6 a.m. worker.

But now switch things around a bit . . . let’s get real. I’m not a 6 a.m. worker. I may have been a “Christian” from a young age, but I wasn’t actively running the race until a few years ago. And when it is hot, I take a lot of water breaks. I give into temptation. I get easily distracted from the tasks God has given me.

Am I really a 6 a.m. worker? Not by a long-shot.  Not even a 9 a.m. or noon worker. I’d probably say I’m a 3 p.m. worker . . . but if I’m honest I’m actually a 5 p.m. worker. I spend the majority of my day hanging out in town. And I give God the left-overs of my energy and time.

God asks me to spend time with him. To love him with all my heart and soul. To love my enemies. To love my neighbors. To care for the widows and the orphans. To be patient, kind, merciful and humble. 99% of the time (or more) I am none of these and do none of them.

But God, in his kindness, is going to give me the same reward of admission into heaven as He gave our mentors from the Bible – Peter, Paul, Mary, Stephen. By God’s grace, I will enter heaven just like martyrs, missionaries, apostles and saints.

Instead of getting indignant about the 5 p.m. workers getting $80 . . .  I need to look in the mirror and see myself for what I am: A 5 p.m. worker.

I should be on my knees thanking God for his kindness and mercy because I am being given a gift far more generous and wonderful than I could ever earn or will ever deserve.

 

 

 

Jonah: A Love Story

I love how my #BibleReadingPlan brings together similar themes throughout the Bible. Yesterday’s theme was God’s compassion . . . even for our enemies.

Jonah 1-4 #BibleReadingPlan

I started in Jonah. This is a story I thought I knew inside and out since the time I was a kid in Sunday school. Jonah ran away from God; God pursued him; big fish ate him. He finally obeyed God, but was mad and pouting. I’ve been Jonah a million times.

But yesterday I discovered something different in the book of Jonah.

Why was Jonah so reluctant to go to Nineveh and so mad when God didn’t destroy the Ninevites? Nineveh (located in modern-day Mosul, Iraq) was the capital of the Assyrian Empire. Going back even further in childhood Sunday School lessons . . . remember Noah’s three sons – Shem, Ham and Japheth? After the flood they got off the ark and went out to re-populate the world. Ham’s descendants built the city of Nineveh.

Nineveh and the Assyrian empire were enemies of Israel. Nineveh was the capital of the most powerful empire in the ancient world. Throughout the Old Testament Assyria attacked Israel and had taken it captive (2 Kings 17) and was known as a ruthless nation (Isaiah 10).

Dr. Simon Anglim, a historian in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, wrote:

The Assyrians created the world’s first great army and the world’s first great empire. This was held together by two factors: their superior abilities in siege warfare and their reliance on sheer, unadulterated terror. It was Assyrian policy always to demand that examples be made of those who resisted them; this included deportations of entire peoples and horrific physical punishments. One inscription from a temple in the city of Nimrod records the fate of the leaders of the city of Suru on the Euphrates River, who rebelled from, and were reconquered by, King Ashurbanipal:

I built a pillar at the city gate and I flayed all the chief men who had revolted and I covered the pillar with their skins; some I walled up inside the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes.” Such punishments were not uncommon. Furthermore, inscriptions recording these vicious acts of retribution were displayed throughout the empire to serve as a warning. Yet this officially sanctioned cruelty seems to have had the opposite effect: though the Assyrians and their army were respected and feared, they were most of all hated and the subjects of their empire were in an almost constant state of rebellion (185-186).

Psalm 83 #BibleReadingPlan

Yesterday’s reading also took me to a song asking God to destroy Israel’s enemies. There was a group of countries that were plotting to wipe out Israel. They wanted to destroy even the memory of Israel’s existence. They had signed a treaty as allies with the purpose of destroying Israel. The list of countries that had signed the treaty included Assyria. 

In Psalm 83 the author is crying out to God to destroy these enemy countries:

“O my God, scatter them like tumbleweed, like chaff before the wind! As a fire burns a forest and as a flame sets mountains ablaze, chase them with your fierce storm; terrify them with your tempest. Utterly disgrace them until they submit to your name, O LORD. Let them be ashamed and terrified forever. Let them die in disgrace. Then they will learn that you alone are called the LORD, that you alone are the Most High, supreme over all the earth.” Psalms 83:13-18 

God saw the evil in Assyria. He knew what they had done to Israel in the past and the destruction they would do in the future. He had heard the prayers from Israel for the complete decimation of Assyria.

But our God is merciful. Loving. Patient. Compassionate.

When Jonah looked at Nineveh he saw ruthless enemies who deserved to die.

But when God looked at Nineveh he saw “120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals.”  (Jonah 4:11).

God had Compassion.

And he chose to send Jonah to give these enemies a second chance.

Jonah didn’t run from God because he was scared. Or lazy. Or jealous.

Jonah ran away because he hated Nineveh. He wanted Nineveh to be destroyed. He would have rather died than see God showing compassion to Nineveh.

When the people of Nineveh repented and turned from their evil ways God showed them mercy.

“So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” Jonah 4:2 

The book of Jonah isn’t just a story about a man spending three days in the belly of a big fish. It isn’t just about a man running away God. It isn’t just about Jonah complaining and a worm eating his shade plant.

The book of Jonah is about God’s compassion for humanity.

It is about God’s slowness to anger and His eagerness to forgive even the worst offenders.

The book of Jonah is a love story.

 

 

 

 

 

God is . . .

Merciful

Compassionate

Slow to Anger

Filled with Unfailing Love

Eager to Relent and Not Punish

Mercy: compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence (Dictionary.com)

Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. (Dictionary.com)

Anger: strong emotional reaction of displeasure, often leading to plans for revenge or punishment. * (God is slow to having this reaction)

Love: a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person (Dictionary.com)

“God Is Love. ‘Agape’ the love theme of the Bible, can only be defined by the nature of God. John affirms that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God does not merely love; he is love. Everything that God does flows from his love.” *

Relent: to soften in feeling, temper, or determination; become more mild, compassionate, or forgiving. (Dictionary.com)

* Definitions from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, unless otherwise noted.

God is Love

That is why the LORD says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. Joel 2:12-13 

Am I Loving?

Using 1 Corinthians 13 as a Barometer of my Love Life

#DailyBibleReading

The love passage.  One of three Bible chapters I have ever memorized (along with Psalm 23 and Matthew 5). It is a beautiful passage about love and about what really matters in life.

1 Corinthians 13-13.jpg

But what does it look like in practical terms?

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1‭-‬3 NLT

I can go to church and spout Bible verses and knowledge; but if I am not loving the people in the church it doesn’t matter.

I can go to Bible studies and spend time reading the Bible and praying, but if it never penetrates my heart and changes me . . . there is a serious problem.

I can write a check to a charity or volunteer at a food pantry, but if I turn around and am mean to my husband and kids and co-workers, my “good deeds” don’t count.

The number one “good deed” that God wants to see – and that should be naturally flowing out of me if I am spending time with Jesus and focusing my attention on Him – is Love. Not perfect love because we aren’t going to be perfect until heaven. But if God is filling us we should gradually be becoming more loving.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 NLT

I don’t think these verses are a threat or a list of actions for us to attempt, but more of a barometer for us to examine ourselves. Is Jesus’s love in us, flowing out to others?  Over years spent with Jesus, am I becoming more loving? Am I becoming more like the list above?

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
1 Corinthians 13:11‭-‬12 NLT

Like a child growing up, change doesn’t happen right away. And I won’t be perfected until after death, but right now I should be becoming more like Jesus. If I am spending time with him on a daily basis, praying, doing spiritual disciplines like memorizing Bible verses, fasting, and meditating; I should be maturing. And the best way to tell if I am maturing? If I am becoming more loving.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.                                           1 Corinthians 13:8-10

When reflecting on my life, if I see I am becoming a more loving person I know I am on track.

If I don’t see growth in this area – if I am not becoming more loving or if I am going backwards –  I need to make adjustments in my life and make sure I am spending my time, mental focus and energy on what matters most: Jesus. Reading the Bible, praying, praising him and meditating on his words. I can’t change myself to become more loving, but when I am full of Jesus, his love will natural seep out of me.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT

 

 

The Kindness Challenge: Respect

#JoinKindness

Speaking words of praise and affirmation seems simple on the surface. It is easy for me to say things like “I love you” and “You look nice” to my husband, but I might not be speaking the language he wants and needs to hear.

For the 30 Day Kindness Challenge I want to choose my words of affirmation/praise carefully and make sure they count.

I am reading “For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men” by Shaunti Feldhahn.  Shaunti is also the author/inventor of the Kindness Challenge. For this book she conducted qualitative and quantitative research to find out what men really think and really want from women.

Shaunti found that 74% of men would rather feel “Alone and Unloved” than feel “Inadequate and Disrespected”.  Bottom line: Men need and want respect.

She also makes another significant point – most women want a man to love her unconditionally. I know I want my man to love me (and think I’m hot) even if I’ve gained 25 pounds, am getting gray hair and have sagging boobs. I want him to love me even when I nag, complain, don’t clean the house, yell at the kids, etc. I don’t expect anything less. He married me for better or for worse, and some days he definitely gets the “worse”. That is marriage. That is life.

On the other hand . . . and this is something I really struggle with . . . I don’t give him unconditional respect. I know the Bible repeatedly tells wives to respect their husbands. And it never gives the caveat, “if they earn it and deserve it.” Actually, the Bible says quite the opposite:

In the same way, you wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over by observing your pure and reverent lives.
1 Peter 3:1‭-‬2 NLT

Wow.

If I want to be a missionary to my husband and set a good example to my children then I really need to get a handle on this “respect” concept. But honestly, I don’t even know if I grasp what it looks like in practical terms. In America’s society there aren’t exactly a lot of role models of strong, successful women submitting to and respecting their husbands. Especially in an unconditional way. And a healthy, biblical way.

Shaunti gives some concrete examples in her book:

  • Conflict – if my man get’s angry during a conflict most likely it is because he feels disrespected. 80% of men said they feel disrespected by their wife during conflict. That is something to tune in to. If my husband and I are having a disagreement and he gets angry most likely it is because he feels disrespected. Of course the damage is already done, but hopefully I can be discerning enough to figure out what I said and change it for the future.
  • His Judgement – “A man deeply needs the woman in his life to respect his knowledge, opinions, and decisions” Shaunti wrote about her findings. “No one wanted a silent wallflower (nor would I advocate becoming one!”), but many men wished their mates wouldn’t question their knowledge or argue  with their decisions all the time.” Thinking back, I see so many times when I do this to my husband for no reason, other than I want to prove I’m right. Even about super stupid stuff. Like if he sings the words to a song incorrectly I’ll google the lyrics and tell him the correct words.
  • His Abilities: Here I just need to keep my mouth shut or tell him I trust him. He doesn’t need me to give him advice on how to do everything . . . from proper mowing technique to how to handle his business to parenting.  Or if he is folding towels instead of just thanking him, I’ll also insert a helpful tip on the correct way to fold towels. Even when I am genuinely trying to offer advice or be helpful, he may see it as me not trusting his abilities. Shaunti had a great point: “The next time your husband stubbornly drives in circles, ask yourself which is more important: being on time to the party or his feeling trusted? No contest”.
  • Shaunti found that 7 out of 10 men would rather have their wife notice and thank them for an action, rather than say “I love you”.  And not add a “but” to the end of the thank you.  Just “Thank you for cleaning the kitchen”. Not “Thank you for cleaning the kitchen, but you forgot to take out the trash.”
  • The majority of men take a “reminder” as his wife expressing disappointment.
  • Don’t put my man down in public, even if I am just teasing. I can wound him. Deeply.
  • Praise my husband in public. Brag on him.
  • Assume the best about him.

My goal for today is to be as thoughtful and reflective as possible when it comes to praising and affirming my husband. And outside of that, to keep my mouth shut. To a man, not saying anything negative goes beyond outright mean remarks. It means to keep my mouth shut – no “helpful” reminders or suggestions or corrections – for 30 days.

There was a great response from one of the survey takers in “For Women Only” who said, “You know the saying ‘Being every good man is a great woman’? Well that is so true. If a man’s wife is supportive and believes in him, he can conquer the world – or at least his little corner of it. He will do better at work, at home, everywhere. By contrast, very few men can do well at work or a home if their wives make them feel inadequate.”

P.S. Thanks to last year’s craze of loom bracelets I now have a lovely rubber bracelet on my wrist, handcrafted by my daughter, to remind me to be kind.

Proverbs 31-10‭-‬12.jpg