Friday, July 11, 2014

Made for More: What Does the Bible Say? {Blessed to Be a Blessing}

As naturally and easily as our children learn to be selfish without any formal training or intentional help from us as their parents, they have the hardest time understanding the concept of SHARING.  Teaching this seemingly simple concept to our little ones proves to be quite difficult, and at times, may cause us to want to pull out any remaining hair we have.  Which I guess is a good way to get rid of the gray ones they've given us...

Yesterday, we looked at HOW God blesses us, and if you didn't get a chance to read that post, I invite you to do so now before jumping in on our study today.  This morning (or whenever you are reading this), I want to investigate WHY God blesses us, why He insists on showering us with lavish gifts, why He pours His grace and love and mercy out on us day after day after day, and why He gets so much joy from doing so.

Even if you're not a master chef, you have probably spent at least a little time in a kitchen.  Personally, I enjoy cooking and baking and preparing homemade meals and treats for my family.  Feeding my clan is one of the main ways I express my love for them.  It's also a way I get to spend quality time with my young girls.  We've made some precious memories stirring up batter for banana bread or chocolate chip cookies, with their favorite part being when the time comes for them to lick the beaters and bowl, of course.  Despite the amount of time I spend in the kitchen, I have yet to learn the art of following a recipe or actually measuring out the ingredients for whatever it is I am making.  I am more the "little of this," a "bit of that," a "dash of this," and a "sprinkling of that" type of person.  I have all these great "tools" to help me prepare food, but I rarely use them.  One of my tools collecting dust in the cabinet is my colander, also known as a strainer for those of us who prefer to use simpler terms.  I have nothing against my colander.  I am sure it does a fine job of straining water from noodles or whatever else it is intended to do.  I just don't make pasta all that often (being gluten free) and when I do, I simply put the pot up against the side of the sink and drain my noodles that way.  I figure it's faster and easier and saves me from washing one more thing (or in all honesty loading it into the dishwasher for the machine to wash it for me).  My way is fine, but I always lose a few noodles down the sink and I know I probably don't get all the water off the noodles in the first place.  Furthermore, I'm certainly not able to rinse them off very well, without having to re-empty the pot up against the side of the sink, and lose a few more pieces of pasta to the drain in the process.  So maybe I should take that extra second to grab my colander and use the tool designed specifically for this part of the meal preparation.  Maybe I should embrace the colander...

I actually want to talk about how we should be like a colander in the way we receive God's blessings, in whatever form they may come.

In all my digging around in the Word, never once did I find an instance where we are told to keep God's blessings to ourselves.  Not one single time did I see anything about clutching His blessings to our chest, turning away from anyone who tries to "take them away" from us, and shouting "MINE!" in fear that we will lose our precious blessings forever.  Yet, if we are honest in our assessment of our behavior, we would have to admit we are more childish than we care to believe.  My challenge for us (myself included) is to become more like the colander and let God's blessings flow right on through us, SHARING them with anyone and everyone we can, believing that as we do we fulfill the true purpose in receiving these blessings at all.  Remember, we are MADE FOR MORE.  I believe with all my heart that we are BLESSED TO BE BLESSING.

Don't take my word for it, though.  Let's take a look at Scripture to see what God Himself has to say on the subject.  As we do, keep in mind that God's blessings are an outpouring of His LOVE for us:

John 13:34-35, "So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Romans 13:8-9, "Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.

Galatians 5:13-14, "For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10,  "But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more."

2 Thessalonians 1:3, "Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing."

Hebrews 10:24, "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works."

1 John 2:3-8, "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. 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.  Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining."

1 John 3:10-11, "So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.  This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another."

1 John 4:7-8, "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love."

2 John 2:5-6, "I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. This is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning. Love means doing what God has commanded us, and he has commanded us to love one another, just as you heard from the beginning."

And one of my favorites, as it portrays my illustration of the colander and letting God's love (and blessings) flow right on through us...

1 Thessalonians 3:12, "And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows."

As we receive God's blessings - be it in the form of tangible things like possessions and money or in the shape of unique gifts and abilities or in the sense of His very presence in our lives - we are not to hold onto these manifestations of God's love, but rather let them flow out of us and in turn BLESS everyone with whom we come into contact, either in person or via the internet or whatever other interactions we may have on a day to day basis.  I think it's an undeniable principle taught in Scripture that we BLESSED TO BE A BLESSINGS, as we clearly see from this host of verses commanding us to LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS GOD AS LOVED US.

Lest we start to get chinsy in our love for one another, stockpiling blessings for ourselves and begrudingly handing out the leftovers (you've seen your child do this - she will gather all the best toys for herself and then pass out one or two of her least favorite items to her siblings, giving the appearance that she is sharing when in reality she is being a selfish little brat), may we remember how vast our Father's love is for us.  

Romans 5:5-11, "For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.  When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God."
If God can love us while we are His enemies, giving up His one and only Son to die an excruciating death on the cross, taking our sins upon Himself and dying in our place so that we might live and have an eternal relationship with Him, becoming His friends, His children, then surely we can love one another.  And not just the people we like or those who are nice to us.  Not just when it's convenient or when we will get something in return.  Rather, we are called to love our enemies, the people who rub us the wrong way, the ones who irritate us and the ones we can't stand to be around, even the ones who have hurt us.  Yep, we're supposed to love them too.  We're commanded to love at all times, even when it's painful or difficult or seemingly impossible.  Those are actually the instances we should probably love the most...

Hey, I didn't say this whole being a colander thing was going to be easy.  BUT, if you look at the other choice, it's not all that appealing either.  And what would that be, you want to know.  Well, if water isn't flowing through you, it's standing still.  Which makes you a puddle of stagnant, grimy, sticky, smelly filth.  Given that option, I personally would much rather choose to be a colander.  But maybe that's just me...

One of the lines in Casting Crown's song "Thrive," which inspired this whole series in the first place, reads:
So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls
With one desire
Just to know You
and to make You known

As God pours out His blessings on us, we are to let them pass right on through, filling our hearts and flooding our souls, spilling out and overflowing to all those around us.  In receiving His blessings, we come to know Him more, for His ultimate blessing is that of a personal relationship with Him.  Yet, as we dwell in His presence and are transformed from the inside out, we can't keep this goodness to ourselves.  We are compelled to share it, to pass it on, to invite everyone else to experience God in this way, to embark on this life-changing journey with us.  We should be racing to the mountaintops, climbing to the rooftops, standing on the street corners, shouting it out for all to hear.  And yet, far too often, we are hiding inside, surrounded by a pile of blessings so big we can't even move, let alone truly enjoy all that God has given us.  

My oldest daughter is like this.  She grabs a purse or bag and will shove as many toys as she can into it.  Play food.  Stuffed animals.  Bracelets.  Puzzle pieces.  Blocks.  Whatever random items she can find.  In they go.  Then, she tries to lug her bag around as she plays her make-believe game.  In so doing, she isn't able to enjoy any of the toys she so feverishly jammed into her purse or even carry them on the "adventure" she created with her vivid imagination.  Rather than having fun, she comes to me whining and complaining about how heavy her bag is, how she wants me to help her hold it.  The minute I suggest she take a few items out of her purse or share some of them with her sister, however, the tears start to fall and she cries out adamantly, "NO!  These are MINE!  I NEED ALL OF THEM!"  I shake my head and walk away, telling her I can't do anything to help her then...

How many times do we do the same?
How many times does God shake His head and wish we would just listen to what He's saying?
How many times do we miss out on all God has for us because we're so holding so tightly to what He's already given us that we can't receive everything else from the stockpile of blessings He is waiting so eagerly to pour out on us?

If only we would realize that WE ARE MADE FOR MORE.  
If only we would understand that as we SHARE God's blessings, we in turn are blessed all over again.
If only we would recognize we are BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING...

Please hear my heart and know that I am challenging myself with this truth as well.  As we learn and grow together, we can help each other know God more and work together to make Him known.  We can remind each other "we are made for so much more than ordinary lives."  We can call each other out, for NOW is the time for us to start living the way God intended for us, NOW "it's time for us to more than just survive."  I am made for more.  YOU are made for more.  WE ARE MADE TO THRIVE!

As we conclude this series on being MADE FOR MORE, I hope you have seen what the Bible has to say.  I long for you to take God at His word.  I pray you have invited Jesus into your life so that He can bless your socks off in ways you never even imagined.  I urge you to share this blessing and all of God's blessings with anyone and everyone you can.  I invite you to continue with me on this crazy adventure, believing in our heart of hearts that "anything is possible" as we follow hard after God and let Him work freely in and through us.  May we allow Him to revive our dreams and start to once again pursue the passions He has placed deep inside of us,  In so doing, may we boldly declare His name to the ends of the earth, causing the "darkness to run and hide," putting Satan in his place and letting him know we aren't going to believe his lies anymore.  We are digging deep and discovering our Father's heart, a heart filled with such a gracious, abundant, lavish expansive love for us that we simply have to share it.  It's what we were made to do.  

Let's listen together one more time to the song that inspired this all and take it's message to our fellow travelers in this "worn and weary land..."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Made for More: What Does the Bible Say? {The Ultimate Blessing}

"That's MINE!"
"I'm playing with this right now.  It's MY turn!"

Me, me, me, me, me...

None of us teach our children to be selfish, at least not intentionally.

We don't go around telling them to grab toys from their siblings or playmates, insisting that they get to have the truck or doll first and only when they are done or become distracted by some other long-lost item rediscovered at the bottom of the toy box somehow that day that then, and only then, can their brother or sister or little neighbor girl have a turn.

We don't sit our children down and explain the importance of being first in line or the necessity of having the biggest piece of cake or the way choosing between playing "princess" or "house" or "doctor" on Wednesday afternoon will forever altar their future.  We don't do that because it's ridiculous.  Absolutely absurd.

Why then do our children seem to learn the art of being selfish so easily?  How is it that they have this craft fine tuned before they can even walk?  Why is "ME" one of the first words so many children learn to say?

While we as parents might not go around ripping toys from each other's hands or pushing and shoving to be first in line or insisting we get to choose what game we're going to play or arguing over who gets the biggest piece of cake, we can't deny that we do act selfishly from time to time.  And if we're honest, we probably act more like our young children than we care to admit.  We just do it in a more sophisticated, mature, grown-up way.

I think this tendency for us as humans to navigate towards selfishness, often without any intention of doing so, is one of the main reasons I struggled with the concept of God WANTING to bless me.  I wrongly associated the idea of being blessed with the idea of being a spoiled little brat.  I was picturing parents who give their children every thing they want and putting God into the same box.  I thought if He were to bless me, I would somehow become that little girl clutching her dolls to her chest and shouting "MINE" anytime someone even thought about looking at her precious toys.  I let culture dictate my view of God, and that was a grave, grave mistake.  In so doing I was missing out on all that God has for me.  I wasn't letting Him be the Heavenly Father He so LONGS to be.  In my attempt to be "humble," I actually became quite proud.  And selfish, the very thing I was trying to avoid in the first place...

As I tried to make sense of what it truly means for God to bless someone and why He's so adamant about pouring out His blessings on His children, I began to realize that His definition of prosperity is far different from what the world portrays as successful.  I had to shift my mindset if I was going to understand not only HOW God wants to bless me and YOU, but also WHY He blesses us.  To do this, I had to turn my gaze to Scripture instead of looking at billboards or magazines.  I had to stop listening to what people all around me were saying (because they were all saying slightly different things anyway and it was quite confusing) and start listening to what God Himself has to say on the topic.  Through this process, I have come to realize that God's blessings are FAR better than anything the world has to offer.  Furthermore, I am beginning to recognize that in blessing me, God has a much bigger purpose in mind.  Remember, we are MADE FOR MORE.  As recipients of God's blessings we were never intended to keep His precious promises or extraordinary treasures to ourselves.  Everything He gives us is meant to be shared, passed on, and multiplied in some way or another.  Simply put, we are BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING.

I invite you to join me on this journey God is taking me through His Word.  As we search the Scriptures together, may we change the way we think, and thus the way we live...

First, let's take a closer look at HOW God wants to bless us.

I want to be very clear that His blessings, His gifts are not necessarily in the form of things.  As I said before, He's not a genie in a bottle who grants our every wish.  Just because we want a new house or car or boat or jet ski or new clothes or furniture or whatever else we may think we need to keep up with the Jones, God doesn't give us all those things.  Now, He might give us all those things, or some of them, or none of them.  Regardless of what He gives us or how much He gives us, He still blesses us.  Abundantly.  Lavishly.  But let's remember that His ultimate blessing is in the form of His presence with us.

Psalm 37 speaks of God granting us our heart's desire, but first and foremost we must recognize that we will find true satisfaction and purpose and lasting joy and peace in God alone.  As we delight in HIM, that's when we experience His blessings to the max!

"Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart's desires."
"Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act."

God's ultimate gift to us is one of a personal relationship with Him.  The Creator and Sustainer of the universe invites us to be His friend, to be His child.  He calls out to us to come and spend time with Him, to sit at His feet, to climb up on His lap, to allow Him to hold us with His strong, loving arms, to lean into His warm embrace, to be still, to rest.

We see Jesus extend this invitation multiple times in Scripture:
Matthew 11:28, "Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

John 6:35, "Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever cometo me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

John 7:37-38, "37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds,“Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’”

In each instance, Jesus is offering anyone who will come to Him much more than the world has to offer.  He is offering them more than a break from their labor.  He is offering them true rest - peace in Him.  He is wanting to give them more than something to eat and drink.    He longs to give them something to truly satisfy their desires for all time - a relationship with Him.  He is extending the offer to spend eternity with Him, here on earth and then forever in heaven.

Despite growing up in a Christian home and knowing from a young age that Jesus loved me and had a special plan for my life, I forgot that my relationship with Him was more important than anything else.  In high school my dream was to play volleyball at the collegiate level.  My senior year, I made a trip to Chicago and visited Moody Bible Institute, where I would be attending college that fall.  I tried out and made the team!  I was elated and looked forward with much anticipation to wearing a uniform and stepping out onto the court in just a few short months.  Well, quite a bit can happen between April and August, as I soon found out that May.  Not only did I play volleyball but also basketball and track, and to say I was rough on my body was probably an understatement.  My knees didn't seem to appreciate the constant pounding I gave them, but I pushed through whatever pain I had, thinking I was young and experiencing "growing pains."  I should have known better, coming from a short family and the reality of growing any taller than I already was at 5' 3" was not likely.  One afternoon during track practice, days before the big state competition (which I had finally qualified for, for the first time in all my high school years), I landed on the pole vault mat and felt my leg lock.  I couldn't bend my knee, no matter how hard I tried.  I went to the doctor, fulling expecting him to pull on my leg and magically make it all better.  I was gravely disappointed when he informed me I had torn cartilage in my knee and would need surgery.  Furthermore, a MRI on my other knee revealed that my cartilage was deteriorating and hanging on by a thread, meaning as soon as my left knee healed, I would need to have surgery on my right knee as well.  This second surgery would actually be a bit more complicated, requiring the doctor to insert a screw to hold my remaining cartilage in place.  Instead of running in a relay and pole vaulting that weekend, I was on crutches cheering on my team mates from the stands.  I would be on crutches the rest of the summer, up until the week before I left for college.  Instead of practicing with the volleyball team, I was stuck in the training room doing physical therapy.  My dreams were dashed.  To say I was upset with God would not be accurate.  I was outraged.  I did not understand in the least what in the world He was doing in my life.  Didn't He realize He was ruining everything?!!!  I had all these perfectly laid out plans, and He was not helping me with any of them.  More like HINDERING me in every possible way.  We were obviously not on the same page.  And so He helped me get on His...

Seeing as how I had a lot of time to sit and do nothing but read and think that awful summer, I spent many a day in the Word.  God showed me a promise in Psalm 62 that literally changed my life and has since then been the passage I turn to when things don't go exactly as I expected:

I wait quietly before God,

    for my victory comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will never be shaken.

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,

    for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
    He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
    Pour out your heart to him,
    for God is our refuge. 

God helped me see that HE needed to be my dream, not playing sports.  HE needed to be my rock.  HE needed to be my victory and honor.  HE needed to be my everything.  All else was just an added bonus.  And only as I rested in Him would I experience peace.  Only as I grounded myself in Him would I be able to stand strong no matter what the world may try to throw at me.  Only as I trusted in Him would I NEVER be shaken.

What at first glance appeared to be a terrible, horrible, awful, no-good, very bad curse ended up being the biggest BLESSING God could ever have given me.  I couldn't see it at the time, in the midst of my pain and disappointment, but looking back I can definitely see how God was in fact working out Psalm 37 in my life.

David assures us in verses 23-24, "The Lord directs the steps of the godly.  He delights in every detail of their lives.  Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand."

Funny, that we go back to that particular passage that is seemingly a new "life verse" for me right now, building on the foundational truths God taught me in Psalm 62 over 15 years ago.  Had I followed the path I chosen I don't know where I would have ended up, but I wouldn't have gotten to be a RA for 2 years - the best 2 years of my college life.  I wouldn't have met some of my dearest friends, whom I stay in touch with to this day via Facebook and other forms of technology despite the fact that we are on 4 different continents!  I wouldn't have been a counselor at summer camp, which means I wouldn't have met my husband, which means everything about my current life would be completely and utterly different.  Since I am BLESSED with the most amazing husband I could ever ask for - he's my best friend, my companion, my partner, my soul mate.  We are BLESSED with 3 precious girls, whom we love with all our hearts.  God has BLESSED us with a beautiful home, food in our fridge, gas in our cars, and even money in savings for college funds.  He has BLESSED us with opportunities to serve Him in our neighborhood.  Had I gone MY way and done MY thing, I hate to think how I would be potentially be missing out on all these amazing BLESSINGS God has so graciously given me.

But before God could share these blessings with me, He first had to BREAK me.  He had to show me that sports were not the ultimate plan or purpose for my life.  While they were good, they were not the BEST.  I was MADE FOR MORE!

And not only that but I serve a God who can do FAR more than I am even capable of imagining.  Even my wildest dreams fall short of the spectacular plans God has for me.  For YOU.  If you don't believe me check out what Paul proclaims with the utmost confidence in Ephesians 3:20, "Now all glory to God, who is able, through His might power at work within us, to accomplish INFINITELY MORE than we might ask or think."

I believe that right there is so important for each and every one of us to grasp.  To truly understand.  Since we are bombarded with messages from every which way telling us that we need this and we need that and we need more of both this and that, we begin to believe that if we don't have the best of this and the finest of that and the most of these and those, we aren't blessed.  Or we let the world's obsession with "health and wealth" affect our view about God and the way He blesses us.  At least I did.  I assumed when my friends spoke of God's desire to bless me that they were talking about God giving me all this stuff, stuff that in the world's eyes would elevate me to a status of success and prosperity.  I forgot that God's value system and the world's are in stark contrast to each other.  And in making that mistake I shut myself out to the TRUTH that God DOES want to bless me.  In rejecting the "health and wealth" gospel I thought they were preaching, I accepted instead the "poverty" gospel, believing that I was not worthy of being blessed, that I needed to be satisfied and content, desiring nothing for fear if I did ask for something, no matter how small, I would be looked upon as selfish and greedy and money hungry and out to get rich quick or whatever other lies Satan had disguised as truth.

My search through Scripture certainly revealed to me that my friends were the ones telling me the real truth.  As we discovered in my blog post "Blessings," we very clearly see how intensely God desires to bless us and how He delights in doing so.  I also began to realize that the ultimate blessing He has for us is nothing we can touch or hold, but rather something far more precious and valuable.  It's priceless actually.  It's a RELATIONSHIP with Him.

David reminds us of this over and over again in the Psalms:

16:11 You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.

21:16 You have endowed him with eternal blessings and given him the joy of your presence.

68:3 But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy.

89:15 Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presenceLord.

The ancestors of Korah recognized this too and wrote a beautiful song expressing their desire to be in God's presence, their longing for Him above all else.  Some of these words might sound familiar as they are part of a popular worship chorus we sing today...

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord of Heaven’s Armies.
I long, yes, I faint with longing
    to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
    I will shout joyfully to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar,
    Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God!
What joy for those who can live in your house,
    always singing your praises. Interlude
What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord,
    who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,[b]
    it will become a place of refreshing springs.
    The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.
They will continue to grow stronger,
    and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.[c]
Lord God of Heaven’s Armies, hear my prayer.
    Listen, O God of Jacob. Interlude
O God, look with favor upon the king, our shield!
    Show favor to the one you have anointed.
10 A single day in your courts
    is better than a thousand anywhere else!
I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God
    than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is our sun and our shield.
    He gives us grace and glory.
The Lord will withhold no good thing
    from those who do what is right.
12 Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
    what joy for those who trust in you.
Paul must have understood what David and the ancestors of Korah meant, as he writes in his letter to the Philippians that he considered everything the world had to offer garbage compared to the "surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord."  He had every right to brag about his status in the Jewish community, but that meant absolutely nothing to him.  He would rather sacrifice everything - health and wealth - if it provided him with the opportunity to simply KNOW JESUS.  His life mantra (found in Philippians 3) should both challenge and inspire us today: 

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 with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
I hope you caught that the ultimate prize is not "won" here on earth.  I cannot be earned or achieved of our own merit, no matter how hard we may try.  It doesn't depend on our bank account, the size of our house, the kind of car in our garage, the tags on the clothes in our closet, or any other tangible possession we may own.  It also doesn't depend on how athletic we are (as I quickly learned at the end of high school) or how beautiful we may be or any other talents we have or prizes we may win from the world.  It has absolutely nothing to do with us, and everything to do with JESUS.  And in following after Him, in CHOOSING Him over all else, therein we are BLESSED with the richest of gifts -- we are given the "crown of life and righteousness."  (James 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:8)
The difficulty comes as we are not yet living in God's very presence, but rather still in the world and surrounded by voices shouting at us that success and prosperity are found in things.  And so we start to desire those things (and they will be different for each one of us) more than we hunger and thirst for a relationship with God Himself.  We end up robbing ourselves.  We sell ourselves short. We miss out on the TRUE blessings God has for us. We forget we are MADE FOR MORE than all this world has to offer...
Which is why we have to daily go back to God's Word and remember we are "citizens of heaven" (Philippians 3:20) and should then "set our minds on the realities of heaven " (Colossians 3:1) rather than putting our hope in things here on earth, things we can touch and hold and feel, but also things that "moth and rust can destroy or thieves can steal," (Matthew 6:19), and things that can and will ultimately "fade and pass away" (1 John 2:15-17).  Now these things (whatever they may be) might be perfectly fine and good in and of themselves, wonderful to enjoy.  Having these things is not wrong or selfish or sinful, but we must be ever so careful to keep in mind they are not the ultimate prize.  They are good, yes.  They are indeed blessings from God Himself (for every good and perfect gift is from Him), but the are NOT the end all.  The are NOT the BEST.  They are NOT all God has for us.  We are MADE FOR MORE!
We are made for HIM!!!
And that - that relationship with Him - is the biggest blessing God has for us!  
May we not exchange it for something far less valuable...

Well, we did take a good look at HOW God ultimately blesses us: by extending us unmerited grace and favor and inviting us into a close, personal, intimate relationship with Him both right now here on earth and then forever and ever in His actual physical presence for all of eternity.  WOW!!!  Just wow!!!  But due to time constraints and 3 adorable girls, we'll have to save our study about the WHY He chooses to lavish His love on us in this way for tomorrow...

For now, be still and rest.  Dwell in His presence.  Enjoy this amazing blessing He has for you today.  As you do, listen to this song and invite the King to come, to let Him lead you back to Him.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Made for More: What Does the Bible Say? {Blessings}

Shreds of wrapping paper litter the floor.  Tissue paper is scattered about among empty bags.  Cardboard boxes would be in the pile too, except they've magically become rocketships and boats and castles.

It's Christmas morning, and all the presents have been opened.  Secret Santas revealed.  Gifts given.  Pictures taken.  Kodak memories captured on film.  


We take delight in blessing others.  As a mom, I find more satisfaction in watching my 3 young children open their presents than I do in opening my own.  I get more from GIVING than I do RECEIVING.  In fact, while I enjoy searching for the perfect gift for someone else and look forward in anticipation to their reaction when they open the present I carefully picked out, I almost dread being on the other end of the situation.  I am not one to make a long wish list of items I want for Christmas or my birthday or Mother's Day or any other special occasion that would seem to warrant the need for me to receive a gift.  I am not sure why exactly I feel this way, but something inside of me whispers to my heart that I am not worthy, that I don't deserve anything, that I'm being selfish to take things from others, that I'm no one special to think I should be honored or appreciated in such a way.

Of course these are all lies from the pit of hell.  Satan is up to his nasty tricks, as usual.  He's doing his best to convince me that I haven't done enough to earn this love.  And in so doing, he also twists my view of God and distorts the way I look at my relationship with Him.  He gets me to believe that I am not worthy of God's love, that I don't deserve any special treatment.  I am learning to block those flaming arrows and am becoming quite confident in God's deep love for me (as I wrote about in the posts You Are Loved and HESED).  However, I am still learning how to wield my shield of faith (Ephesians 6) as I battle Satan's constant attacks on my heart.  I still grapple with the idea that God not only loves me but wants to BLESS me.  And not just here and there on holidays marked on the calendar, but every single day.  And not just with an obligatory present or two, but rather with one lavish gift after another from His storehouse of abundant riches.

I have taken Satan's lies for truth for so long that I didn't even realize my mistake, until recently when numerous dear friends, godly men and women whom I respect to the utmost, started to share with me the reality that God LONGS to bless His children.  Me included.  I was taken aback by their "health and wealth gospel" claims and immediately put up a wall, doing my best to keep these false teachings out of my life and guard my heart from these misrepresentations of God's Word.  I quickly stacked bricks and tried to build a sturdy fortress, but I found my work was in vain as the walls began to crumble around me.  Something wasn't right.  Either they were wrong, or - much more unlikely in my mind - I was.  Instead of sticking to my guns and relying on what I thought to be the undeniable truth, I decided to do some investigating.  I asked questions.  I took a second, and third and fourth, look at my beliefs.  And most importantly, I started digging into Scripture to see what God Himself says about His DESIRE to bless me, the way He DELIGHTS in POURING out His love on me, the JOY He finds in watching me receive His love, and the ULTIMATE PURPOSE He has in showering me with His riches.

Maybe you don't struggle with this concept of God blessing His children.  Maybe you're looking at me wondering how long I've been like an ostrich with her head stuck in the sand.  Maybe you figured out this whole "God loves you" thing in its entirety long ago and have been enjoying the freedom and joy that comes along with that understanding.

Or maybe you're on the other end of the spectrum and beginning to think I have lost my mind, that I have gone off the deep end and am becoming more like a fortune teller who promises a life of peace and prosperity that sounds far too good to be true.

Or maybe you're somewhere in the middle, interested in learning more and curious to see for yourself what God truly says about this subject that everyone seems to have quite the opinion on and can stir up a good deal of emotions in the process.

I'm not one to push the envelope.  I actually hate conflict and will do just about anything to avoid it.  However, in this case, I feel compelled to shed some light on what I believe has been shrouded in a cloud of gray fog for far too long.  I don't think Satan is too happy about what I am going to share because in so doing we are going to expose him for the LIAR he really is...

Let's not waste any more time!  Let's pretend we're little kids on Christmas morning and rip open the marvelous gifts God has for us in His Word.  I don't think He'll mind if we make a mess in the process...

Deuteronomy 6 may seem like a strange place to start our journey, but seeing as how it is the foundation of the Israelite nation's relationship with God, I thought it was quite fitting for us as well.  I invite you to read the entire chapter, not just the select verses I am sharing here:

These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.

From the get-go, God promised to bless His children.  If they would obey His commands and keep His covenant, He promised not only to give them long life, but also that things would go well with them, that they would increase greatly, that they might always prosper.  Sounds pretty good to me.  

To make sure they understood He was serious about His desire to bless them as they entered the Promised Land, God had Joshua repeat His commitment to them.  His message is two-fold, however, as we are challenged to take God at His word and daily live in response to it:

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Again, we can see that God is FOR His people, that He wants want is best for them, that He wants them to be successful.  It would seem that God is all about BLESSING His children.  These verses are pretty straight forward.  Clear cut.  So why have we muddled things up?  How come we always try to make things more complicated than they really are?
That would be Satan, right there.  That would be him sneaking into our hearts and minds.  That would be him causing us to question God's goodness.  That would be him stirring up doubt and making us think twice about what God has really told us.  We see the first instance of him doing his dirty work in the Garden of Eden, slithering his way up to Eve appearing all nice and friendly when in reality he was winding himself around her heart and preparing to suck the life from her, and her oblivious husband Adam too.  His death grip caught them off guard, just as it so often does you and me.  Like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water, we don't notice we're in danger until it's far too late...
We are all probably quite familiar with the story of Adam and Eve eating the fruit from the forbidden tree. (In case you're not or if you want to read it again to look at it from a new angle, check it out here!)  We have probably rolled our eyes at their mistake, assuring ourselves we would have done things differently.  We wouldn't have.  We would have fallen too.  At least I would have.  Satan is just that good at what he does.  And he's only gotten better at making his lies sound like truth since that fateful day when our ancestors fell for his tricks.  Thankfully, the story doesn't end with our defeat.  Rather, Satan comes out the loser.  He does his best to make us forget that though and works his scaly tail off every single day to distract us from the reality of his demise and our victory.  He does everything within his power to turn our eyes from God's Word, to close our ears to what God has for us to hear and to bombard us with lies that sound just close enough to the Truth that we don't realize what He's up to.  
That's why we are going to turn back to Scripture right now and tear into some more precious treasures God has wrapped up for us, just waiting for us to discover them and BELIEVE them in our heart of hearts!
One of my favorites as of late is Psalm 37.  This gem of a passage has played a critical role in helping me shift my way of thinking and open my eyes to the TRUTH of God's love for me, a love that includes a DESIRE to BLESS His children.  Including me.  Including YOU.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

23 The Lord makes firm the steps
    of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand.
25 I was young and now I am old,
    yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
    or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
    their children will be a blessing.
27 Turn from evil and do good;
    then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the Lord loves the just
    and will not forsake his faithful ones.
Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed[c];
    the offspring of the wicked will perish.
29 The righteous will inherit the land
    and dwell in it forever.

34 Hope in the Lord
    and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;
    when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.
35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man
    flourishing like a luxuriant native tree,
36 but he soon passed away and was no more;
    though I looked for him, he could not be found.
37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright;    a future awaits those who seek peace.

I hope you see the connection between the promises David penned here and the words Moses and Joshua spoke back in the first passages we studied in the Old Testament.  In Deuteronomy and Joshua, we saw how God was committed to bless His people if they obeyed Him.  Here in Psalms, we see the same principle truth, worded a slightly different way:
"Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  
Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."
Before you start to think I am saying God is like a genie in a bottle who grants your every wish (or even your top 3), go back and read a blog I posted in February earlier this year.  "Whatever Your Little Heart Desires" addresses this misconception and focuses on the truth being taught here in these verses.
And just to make sure I'm not taking this one passage out of context, let's dig deeper into the Word to see how often God repeats this same promise over and over and over again.  He must know we're more like our kids than we care to admit.  I mean, I don't know about you, but I find myself wanting to pull my hair out as I ask my young children every five minutes, "How many times do I have to tell you ___________?!"  Fill in the blank, and I'm sure you've had a similar frustration.  At least I hope I'm not alone.
Because I tend to like organization and order and structure, let's go back to the beginning and work our way through God's Word from Genesis to Revelation.  Our believe our journey will help us see not only how much God loves us, but how much He DELIGHTS in BLESSING us...
In Genesis 26, we see God reminding Isaac of His promise to his father Abraham, "23 From there Isaac moved to Beersheba, 24 where the Lord appeared to him on the night of his arrival. “I am the God of your father, Abraham,” he said. “Do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you. I will multiply your descendants, and they will become a great nation. I will do this because of my promise to Abraham, my servant.25 Then Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord. He set up his camp at that place, and his servants dug another well."
If you were to do an in-depth Bible study you would find countless examples of God blessing His people and pointing them back to His initial promise to bless their forefather Abraham.  And even if you're not Jewish (I'm not), you are part of this special blessing God pours out on His people.  Paul outlines this very clearly in Ephesians, and I invite you to read the whole chapter for yourself.  I'm simply sharing a small portion of his letter here, in chapter 1:
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding."
I've gotten ahead of myself, though.  Let's go back to the Old Testament and open God's presents for us in order.  Psalm 5 speaks of God's unfailing love and invitation to dwell in His presence.  David ends the passage with this precious reminder, "For you bless the godly, O Lordyou surround them with your shield of love."
Just a few chapters later, we see again how David writes of the opportunity for us to enter into God's presence and enjoy Him (remember we are to delight in God Himself if we expect Him to give us the desires of our heart, for as we find satisfaction in Him, our hearts are truly full and overflowing with joy and peace and all things good).  Psalm 24:5, "They will receive the Lord’s blessing and have a right relationship with God their savior.  Such people may seek you and worship in your presence, O God of Jacob."
Yet again, this time in Psalm 67, David speaks of God blessing His people.  He bookends the chapter with this amazing truth, "May God be merciful and bless us May his face smile with favor on us.   Yes, God will bless usand people all over the world will fear him."
Lest we think David was the only Old Testament character to understand God's great delight in blessing His people, let's see what several famous prophets have to say on the subject:
Isaiah 29:22-24, "22 That is why the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, says to the people of Israel,
“My people will no longer be ashamed
    or turn pale with fear.
23 For when they see their many children
    and all the blessings I have given them,
they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob.
    They will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
24 Then the wayward will gain understanding,
    and complainers will accept instruction."
Micah 7:18-20, 
Where is another God like you,
    who pardons the guilt of the remnant,
    overlooking the sins of his special people?
You will not stay angry with your people forever,
    because you delight in showing unfailing love.
19 Once again you will have compassion on us.
    You will trample our sins under your feet
    and throw them into the depths of the ocean!
20 You will show us your faithfulness and unfailing love
    as you promised to our ancestors Abraham and Jacob long ago.

Zephaniah 3,
16 On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be,
    “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid!
17 For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears.
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
18 “I will gather you who mourn for the appointed festivals;
    you will be disgraced no more.
19 And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you.
    I will save the weak and helpless ones;
I will bring together
    those who were chased away.
I will give glory and fame to my former exiles,
    wherever they have been mocked and shamed.
20 On that day I will gather you together
    and bring you home again.
I will give you a good name, a name of distinction,
    among all the nations of the earth,
as I restore your fortunes before their very eyes.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!”
I hope you are seeing how God not only points back to His promise to Abraham time and time again, but also to His commitment to bless His people as they live in obedience to Him.  He assures them of His presence with them, even when it may seem like He is nowhere to be found.  He has them look past their present situation and focus on the glorious future awaiting them as they continue to trust Him and follow Him, wherever He may lead.  

This same concept is seen in the New Testament as well.  Jesus Himself declared God's desire to bless His people.  One of His most famous sermons is recorded in Matthew 5, and we see the word "bless" no less than 10 times in the first 12 verses of the passage.  
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,[a]
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
    for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,[b]
    for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
    for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
    for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way."
By now, I don't think we can deny that God is a God who WANTS to bless His children.  I should have understood this truth the moment I became a mother.  I delight in my children's joy.  Seeing my little girls smile and laugh gives me great pleasure.  I enjoy nothing more than knowing they are having a good time.  I get more satisfaction out of their happiness than I do from any physical possession I own or any tangible item given to me.  If I desire to bless my children, then why would God not be the same way?  After all, He is the perfect parent (and I am definitely far from being an award-winning mom, myself).  Jesus Himself tried to tell us this, but I guess I wasn't listening all that well...
In Luke 11, He is teaching about prayer, specifically about ASKING God for His presence and blessing in our lives.  After sharing a story about a persistent neighbor knocking on a door in the middle of night and not leaving until he has a loaf of bread in hand, He reminds us that God is a much better parent than any of us will ever be, "“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “You fathers—if your children ask for a fish, do you give them a snake instead?12 Or if they ask for an egg, do you give them a scorpion? Of course not! 13 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”
God is not begruding in His blessing us either.  He doesn't get mad or upset when we ask Him to work in our lives.  He doesn't roll His eyes or shake His head or sigh in annoyance when we come to Him to make a request.  He doesn't get frustrated at how often we need Him or shake His fist at us when we come to Him for help, yet again.  Quite the opposite.  He takes PLEASURE in us.  He DELIGHTS in us.  He LONGS for us to spend time with Him.  He has invited us to come and WAITS EAGERLY for us to take Him up on His offer, as we see in the story of the Prodigal Son.  

We see also in James how willing God is to bless us,
"If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 12 God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. 18 He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession."

Peter further confirms how God showers us with His blessings so that we might live for Him and bring Him massive amounts of glory,
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence. he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.   10 So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. 11 Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
That sounds like a pretty amazing promise to me, one from an extremely generous God who loves you more than you could ever know and longs to bless your socks off!
While His blessings here on this earth are out of this world, the ultimate gift is yet to come.  Revelation 21 speaks of God's final and completely outrageous blessing for those who have accepted His invitation to let Him into their lives,
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children."
While I am still trying to get my mind around the truth that God does indeed WANT to bless me, both here on earth and then forever and ever for all eternity, I can no longer believe the lies Satan had convinced me were true.  I am taking down my wall I was so carefully trying to build, for I discovered it was only preventing me from entering God's presence and enjoying all the wonderful gifts He has prepared for me.  I hope you too were able to see in Scripture how God truly DELIGHTS in blessing His children, including YOU.  I hope you will take God at His word and allow Him the freedom to pour out His generosity and abundant grace in every area of your life.  I pray you are beginning to believe God loves you, that He deeply DESIRES a relationship with you, that you are MADE FOR SO MUCH MORE than this world has to offer...
As you ponder this seemingly unbelievable truth, listen to the words of this song and let God tear down any walls you may have built, open the door to your heart and let Him come in, let Him sit with you.  And then just look into His beautiful face...

I was quite surprised at what I found, though I should have real

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