“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55
My friend is hurting. The sudden loss of her beloved husband of twenty-five years on May 5th, 2017 to complication from brain cancer has left a void that can only be filled by God’s grace. She and her five children are grieving his absence but know He is in the arms of Jesus.
I cannot stop the tears as I grieve with my friend and sister in Christ. We were roommates before we both got married. She made my wedding veil but now the veil of physical death separates her and her husband, David. Yet, she is not alone. She too is in the arms of Jesus.
There are no words of this world that bring comfort to those who are separated from people they love. The covenant words “till death do us part” ring in our minds because it happens…to other people. Standing at the altar we don’t believe we will be separated by death, at least not at fifty and not while raising children. But our gracious God knows the number of our days and the days of those we love.
Praise our victorious God that He has conquered sin and death! Before it is too late, share Christ’s eternal love and plan of redemption with those God has placed in your life.
“May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in Him so you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
Imagine a well-lit stadium full of enthusiastic believers before a Casting Crown’s concert. Now imagine a “no sense of direction” me trying to find my seat in a sea of people when finally, an usher brings me to “my” seat but in the wrong section. I was overwhelmed and confused because my husband was not there and was texting, “Where are you?” when I thought I was in the right place.
“I’m lost,” I explained to a different usher, handing him my ticket.
“You’ll need to go all the way up the stairs and around to the next section,” he said, while handing the stub back to me. I must have looked pretty pathetic because he immediately said, “I’ll take you,” and bounded up the steep stairway.
Just then the stadium went dark and, trying to follow him with two water bottles, my purse and my phone in my hands, I tripped on the concrete steps and fell, dropping the bottles and my pride somewhere in section N. Disoriented and embarrassed, I looked up and saw the light. The usher was holding his iPhone with the flashlight shining down the stairs so I could find my way up to him. Just follow the light. Walk in the light. Thankfully, I arrived at my seat without further incident.
A bit shaken, It took me awhile to start enjoying the concert but the genuine love, patience and grace shown by the usher moved me. This is God’s heart. His light is always there for us to follow. He waits patiently for us to get up when we fall. He doesn’t make fun of us or even chastise us for looking stupid or being late or making a mistake. When we are confused He meets us in our confusion and orders our “steps.”
In many ways this experience had a profound effect, changing my way of thinking about walking in the light as well as living in a state of humility. In the dark we cannot see and WILL have an accident, be disoriented and lose our way. However, if there is light, any light, and we focus on it, it serves as a calibrating force in our hearts and minds, pulling us to safety. Humility, though, is really a sense of selflessness where you find it easy to “look up” and follow God because you are consumed with neither pride nor shame, only Jesus, the Light of the World.
So, although I was embarrassed at first, when I looked up and saw the literal light I chose to follow it instead of hide in utter humiliation. Now, to be honest, thoughts did swirl through my head like, “Everyone must think I’m drunk, or stupid or clumsy or…” but that kind of thinking is self-focused and not even based in reality. The fact that everyone was actually watching the concert and NOT me was evident but I felt like they were judging me! Capturing my thoughts was no less awkward then retrieving the rolling water bottles but, like living water, so worth it! Because God’s light is there for me (both physically and spiritually) I was able to walk out of the darkness by faith one step at a time.
Compare these two Psalms:
“For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to lookup; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me.” Psalm 40:12
“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will lookup.” Psalm 5:3
The first Psalm reveals a self-focused heart heavy with guilt and shame. The second a God-focused heart full of love and faith. Although my tripping may seem like a “silly” example, there are all kinds of ways we trip and fall; some more severe and painful then others. The circumstance doesn’t really matter because the principle is the same. God is there for you. He is patient, kind, loving and gracious and waiting for You to… look up.
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” John 8:12
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:12-15
Outfit snafu’s have been common occurrences in my life and usually happen at weddings. I’ve accidentally worn the same color as the bridesmaids, overdressed and underdressed and once almost fainted from the heat because my dress was too hot for an outdoor, summer wedding. (It was almost one-hundred degrees outside!) I struggle with what to wear on a daily basis too. (It doesn’t help that most of my clothes don’t fit but that’s another topic.) What colors should I wear? What style looks best with by shape? What is my shape? Does curvy mean short and 25 pounds overweight? Not only does it not come naturally to me to put an outfit together but I don’t even know what is appropriate for certain occasions. (Google is my friend.) Sometimes I feel that way relationally too. I ask myself what I should say or do in certain situations. It can be confusing, especially during conflict. However, Paul makes it very clear what we are to “wear” as God’s children on every occasion.
In Colossians 3:12-15 Paul starts by telling us our body type. We are, “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.” We have inherited God’s characteristics as His children. Therefore, we ARE holy because God is holy! Now, put on the “clothes” that suit your body type, reflecting who you are in Christ: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, long-suffering, forgiveness, love and peace. I want to dress like that! But, it seems unattainable. It’s like someone telling you to look like an airbrushed picture of a supermodel on the front of a magazine who has a personal trainer, plastic surgeon and stylist working with her on a daily basis. Well, no matter how much I exercise I will never look like Gisele. (I didn’t have her parents!) But, the attributes Paul asks us to put on are spiritually genetic, passed down form my Heavenly Father. I am a beloved child of God and I do have His Holy Spirit who is all of those beautiful things in me. You see, we too have a personal trainer; someone to help us get dressed and walk out onto the runway of life showing off His magnificent design. So, with pleasure I take off my old self and put on the new at His request, surrendering to my Designer. This outfit always fits perfectly! So, as we walk down the red carpet of life and people ask, “What are you wearing?” Say, “Jesus.”
“…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24
“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” Numbers 23:19
My father told me I was Italian. Growing up in Las Vegas our family would go to the local Italian-American Club and eat Italian food with the other Italian families. My father spoke Italian and competed in Bocce Ball tournaments. But, although we had dark skin and dark hair, we were not Italian. It was a lie.
My true identity was revealed right before my wedding, seven years after my father’s death. Having been estranged from her brother for thirty-years, my father’s sister, Aunt Lee, traveled to Oregon from Rhode Island to attend my wedding. We connected after my father died but had never met. Aunt Lee told us that my father left their family as a young man, cutting off contact with them for reasons too sordid to explain here. In spite of the circumstances she was excited to meet us and asked all kinds of questions. Photo albums from our childhood and newspaper clippings of my dad playing in Bocce Ball tournaments were sprawled on the table. It wasn’t long before her brow furrowed in confusion as her dark eyes darted from picture to picture.
“Do you think you’re Italian?” she asked.
“Yes. We are Italian. Why?” I answered.
“Because you’re not, she beamed, You’re Portuguese!”
Aunt Lee’s brown eyes were laughing as she spoke; then her round face revealed a smile. She was amused but I was not. It was shocking. This statement changed my perception of myself and of my father. My earthly father lied to me about my identity. What else did he lie about? Later in the conversation Aunt Lee told us they grew up on a little farm, not in Reno, Nevada like my father claimed, but in Fall River, Massachusetts. We also found out he had been married twice before and had three other children. Why all the lies? We may never know my father’s motives but, either way, he was not who he said he was and I am not who he said I was either. My father defined me with lies.
So, who am I? This identity crisis is one many struggle with even after coming to know Christ. We are all targets of well aimed, fiery arrows launched from the enemy’s bow carrying messages that are meant to define us and undermine God’s Word. They are all lies too. The problem is they seem to to be true because of life experiences. For example, when the “You are not wanted” arrow comes flying overhead it can be difficult to argue against if we’ve suffered rejection. We may even let it pierce our heart because it’s what we know. Therefore, believing God’s Word over any other source is key if we are to live in true freedom. If we know what it says about His character and how He defines us as His children we will be able to recognize lies when confronted with them. You know, the ones that start with, “Did God really say…” Our defense is to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and soul, believing Him above all else, which is faith. But how can we truly know and love someone we don’t spend time with? His word is His love letter to each of His children and His character is defined by the cross, not our circumstances.
Let’s be thankful to the Lord today that he is “not a man” and for His Word which is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Only He defines you in truth and love. May we open His love letter, allowing God alone to answer the question, “Who am I?”
But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12
Obedience. It’s what loving parents teach their children, to be obedient for their own good. In fact, we tell our children what to do and what not to do ALL THE TIME because children, left to their own devices, are foolish. Likewise, in Romans 12:2 our Heavenly Father gives us two imperatives; Do not, but be.
The first command, “Do not be conformed to this world,” is a powerful statement. It implies danger and choice. I remember when, as a toddler, my youngest son, Ryan, was trying to see what was on top of the stove while I was cooking. “Don’t touch the stove,” I warned, “It’s hot.” But, instead of backing away he plopped his hand on top of the stove and burned himself. I didn’t tell him he would get hurt but I did tell him not to touch the stove. Yes, his disobedience led to pain but he never did it again. Ryan tells us today that he knew right from wrong growing up. “You were good parents,” he told us. “I chose to do things I knew were wrong at times because I wanted to do them.”
Isn’t that like all of us? We are not ignorant of God’s Word, we just want to do what we want to do regardless of the consequences. So, when God says, “do not be conformed to this world,” what does that mean? What is it that we are not supposed to do? Well, I believe the answer is in a previous chapter of Romans. Romans 1 lays out a blueprint for what not to do as a child of God. It’s a “how to” manual for rejecting God, the One who loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. It says, basically, don’t do whatever you want to do, acting like God doesn’t exist, or if He does He isn’t Holy or loving or even The Righteous Judge. Don’t be deceived, don’t be sexually immoral, a drunkard, etc. But more importantly, don’t turn your back on God and worship the created (yourself or anything else) rather than the Creator. In short, don’t try to be satisfied with anything other than Me.
The second imperative in Romans 12:2, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” is mysterious until you dig into the statement. “But be transformed” means “to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure,” from the Greek word metamorphoō (Strong’s G3339). Think butterfly. How are we to change into another form? By the renewing of our minds! This is our sanctifying cocoon. Instead of being someone who is pulled toward the world, wants our own way no matter what the consequences, desires to be fulfilled at the expense of other people, indulgent and disobedient to God, we can be transformed into an other-centered person who loves God and is compelled by His great love to a life of obedience, denying fleshly desires, and following Him even when we don’t fully understand.
This happens when we allow ourselves to be exposed to God’s promises and choose to believe Him over our impulses and feelings. Even though, as Christians, we are no longer caterpillars we can choose to stay in the cocoon even after God has given us wings. Or, we can choose to press in and allow God to do the painful work of sanctification in order that we may burst out by faith, trusting that He has given us new life and the ability to “fly” by His power. We no longer have to let the world pull us down, keeping us grounded in defeat. We can live in the reality of our new life in christ. The story of the Ugly Duckling is a perfect illustration. In the end the “duck” realizes he is a swan. He has been a swan. He belongs to a beautiful family of swans and no longer has to try to be a duck or feel ashamed that he is not accepted by the ducks because he doesn’t belong to the duck family anymore. He is something new altogether. So are you if you have received the gift God has given us in Jesus.
Why do we still choose to walk around on our little caterpillar legs eating milkweed when we have wings and can drink the nectar of fruits and flowers? God has given us His Word so we can live in freedom today. Not in Heaven only but right now. I can hear God saying, “I love you so much I chose to take all the pain and suffering of disobedience. I want you to live in reality. I want you to fly and glorify Me as the sunlight bounces off your wings.” You are free if you have believed that God exists and Jesus has died for your sins and rose again from the dead, proving He is the Son of God. If you don’t believe it then you are thinking like the world thinks and God is calling you to renew your mind with His Word. Sit at His feet. Meditate on His promises. Read the Gospels, shedding tears of joy because, “If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed!” John 8:36
“You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 16:11
One of my greatest pleasures during our recent trip to Orlando was watching the silverback gorillas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (DAK). Majestic, graceful and intimidating describes them best but they are also gentle and present. Standing there, only 25 feet or so from this awesome male, I was aware of the privilege of this experience. It was a gift I was empty enough to receive. Childlike joy bubbled up inside my heart when the gorilla moved, ever so slowly, balancing himself on his arms he turned revealing the reason for his name. Sauntering peacefully to another spot 20 feet away where better tasting leaves lay he settled again beside a tree. Simple, intentional contentment.
That is what I seem to be lacking recently. Contentment is fleeting and the simple does not satisfy like it use to. My heart is stirring for connection. What can be filled (with joy or anything else) that is not empty? Certainly not the human heart. “Fill me with Your Spirit!” I pray, but the filling is often shallow. “Show me Your glory!” I ask, while missing the sunset outside my window. But not that day at DAK when He graced me with the presence of His creation, so unfamiliar. That day I didn’t miss His glory. Today, however, God’s generosity fills the capacity of my own heart, cracks and all, but rocks of worry, fear, apathy and emotional wounds take up space like fluid in my lungs, hindering spiritual oxygen from entering my soul. So today I’m asking for the gift of empty. “LORD, Empty my heart of all unrighteousness!”
“Let go,” He responded, “The gift of empty comes from surrender.”
So that’s it. I have been ignoring confession in prayer, stacking up sin like dirty dishes no one wants to clean. Instead I was coming to Him, downcast in my spirit, day after day with prayers of intercession which has not brought the joy that is my inheritance. I lack the peace that surpasses understanding. But God’s ways are different. Instead of hiding the ugliness He wants to take it from us. When we bring our burdens of sin to God through confession, agreeing with Him on every point, purging iniquity and praising His name He cleans “the inside of the cup.” The nauseous burden of sin is relieved, bringing us to a place of humility and forgiveness, giving us courage to team fully with His Spirit and filling us with His joy.
When I was in Florida it was easy to be empty. It was sunny and warm and we were visiting our son at Disney World where the bushes sing. Then we flew home to the cold, away from the sun and our son. Back to the reality of everyday and the uncertainty of the future. Also, I was sick for a few weeks. Doctor sick. Then there was the reality of loss. Two people I knew lost their husbands in their 50’s within three months of each other. The news was on, bad news. I allowed myself to be filled with fear, doubt, discontent and depression. Thinking about it now I want to laugh. Jesus is there, right there in me. He never left but I did. It wasn’t that I was mad at Him or even apathetic about Him. Rather, I was distracted and worried, missing Him. Having a heart full of worry, fleshly desires and depression leaves little room for God’s filling.
In the book, The Crucified Life, Tozer encourages the letting go of everything but Jesus Christ. Only then can we be one-hundred-fold Christians. He profoundly states,
“From the day of Pentecost on down to this present hour, there is only one thing on the Holy Spirit’s mind: to fill the Church with His glorious presence. His message is simply, ‘Empty yourself, and I, the Holy Spirit, will come fill you to overflowing.'”
A.W. Tozer, The Crucified Life
Emptying yourself, giving everything to God through confession and repentance, leads to a filling of His glorious presence! May we all be filled with His life giving presence this New year as we give Him the Gift of Empty everyday.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins; Let them not rule over me; Then I will be blameless, And I shall be acquitted of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.”
“Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” Job 5:17
“Use a spike collar on me Lord!” This was my prayer after reading day nineteen in Jennifer Kennedy Dean’s devotional book, “Altar’d.” In it she describes Jan as a person who is easily offended, overly sensitive and self focused. I am Jan. Not with everyone but with certain people who I fear may hurt me or have hurt me in the past. I label people as “safe” or “unsafe” and treat them accordingly. Of course their every word is filtered through these perceptions as well. Similar to the reaction some dogs have when they encounter another dog and the hair on the back of their neck rises up, I too stand wary of the unknown and protect myself. For dogs, in order to avoid this conflict they need to be reconditioned. Their minds have to be renewed. How do you convince a dog that another dog is not a threat? Some use distracting techniques (treats) that reinforce the “good” behavior, training the dog to focus on their master rather than the other dog. Some owners use more controversial methods like a spike collar to snap them out of their adversarial mindset that compels to protect themselves. Metaphorically speaking, I need a spike collar. (Note: This is not an endorsement of the use of spike collars on dogs.) But really, I need to be made aware when I am acting instinctively in the flesh instead of being controlled by the Spirit.
Because I am an adult child of an alcoholic (ACA) I learned very young to focus on other’s behavior, body language and words in order to protect myself adequately. I was programmed to take offense for survival’s sake. Emotional rejection was so common I also learned to spend a lot of time in isolation. If I wasn’t watching TV, reading or daydreaming then I was talking to my imaginary friend. In short, I learned to withdraw from stress very effectively. My two “safe” places were self protection and isolation. Carrying these coping mechanisms into adult life and even into my Christian experience was natural to me. At the time it didn’t dawn on me that this behavior wasn’t a part of the abundant Christian life God promised and desired for me. Even though I was saved at the age of twenty-eight it was seven years later before I became aware that this way of living wasn’t healthy or productive and certainly wasn’t God’s perfect plan for a believer.
However, two things happened that brought healing. First, God provided a safe group of women who wanted to grow in the Lord and who truly loved each other. Here we were able to be emotionally “naked and unashamed,” sharing our deepest fears, confessing sin and loving one another in Christ to a place of healing rest. For the first time in my life I had a loving family. Second, I went there. Encouraged to take back what the enemy had stolen, I invited God to search my heart. (Trust me when I say God will answer this prayer directly.) Both of these things occurred after God brought me into the fold of loving Christian women through a discipleship class called “The Search for Significance.” In our time together we dove into other books as well like “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend, “Abba’s Child” by Brennan Manning, “Making Peace with Your Past” by Tim Sledge and “Changes that Heal” by Townsend. While God used all of these books to renew my mind, He did it within a loving, safe, community by the power of His Holy Spirit. A family who was sensitive to hurts and committed to help me in the healing process, not exploiting weakness, was entirely new to me. This was the starting point to true emotional healing and spiritual maturity. Grace and truth in loving community.
Fortunately, we can never get to the end of God. He always reveals more dross that He wants us to be free of in order to experience Him more deeply. This is where I found myself when I prayed for a spike collar. Down deep I like protecting myself. It feels safer than trusting God. I want to avoid pain and pretend like the experiences of my past do not control me…but they do. So, I’ll take the precious treats that keep my eyes focussed on my master, Jesus. But, I’ll also receive discipline with open arms because this is the only thing that snaps me out of my conditioned response to perceived threats, keeping me from loving others fully and from receiving love. Yes, how happy is this woman whom God reproves, I will not despise the discipline of the Almighty! And neither should you.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 NLV
“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'”Mark 10:21
One Sunday morning in October I saw a young girl with her dad walking toward the Children’s Museum in our small, New England town. The legs of a stuffed Pooh Bear dangled beneath her right arm, his head peeking over the top of her chokehold. All three crossed the street together. The little girl’s left hand was securely tucked into her father’s right as she trotted to keep up with his pace. My first impression was of the sweet picture this portrayed of our daily walk with Jesus; our secure, surrendered life of following Him. My second thought concerned the Pooh Bear. This little girl wasn’t content just holding daddy’s hand as she followed. She needed Pooh to make her feel secure.
Of course, I have one or two Pooh Bears under my arm of control for security too. While I know in my mind that Jesus is enough there is a tendency to cling to other things while trying to follow Jesus. “Pooh Bears” like savings, good health, ministry and family make me feel safe and secure. However, anxiety rushes into my heart whenever I fear they may be slipping away. My grip tightening with every anxious thought, I hold on to what I perceive as essential for my security by its furry little neck. This happened a couple of weeks ago when we received a large but expected bill. Emotionally spinning because it was outside my comfort zone of spending, my mind started flipping from asking, “What were we thinking!” to “Why is this service so expensive!” My Pooh Bear (savings) was in danger!
This incident was so revealing because I didn’t even know I had a chokehold in this area. It took a few days of unpacking for God to reveal the content of my heart. Using the key of confession (I’m sorry Lord that I don’t trust You to take care of me and believe I have to protect myself) and repentance (I choose to believe You over my feelings of insecurity, accepting Your forgiveness and choosing to walk in the truth that You will never leave me or forsake me and You have given me everything for life and Godliness) God opens the door freedom. When I choose to look up and see that my Father has my hand and will never let me go there is an overwhelming sense of peace and security. My Pooh Bears, I realize, are only gifts to enjoy. Like a carrot in the hand of a child feeding a horse they are meant to be held with an open palm lest my fingers get nipped.His love enables the open hand.
In addition, although there are times when I am totally surrendered, walking in lock-step with God’s glorious pace, admittedly there are also times when I do insist that Jesus “follow me.” Instead of holding other things in my grip for security I try to get hold of Jesus ’round the neck and choke out the sound of His voice, refusing to surrender to His life in me. The result is mental chaos and feelings of isolation. No longer walking in The Light I grope around in emotional darkness. Insisting on my way while stumbling across the dangerous terrain of rebellion until He brings me to the end of myself. Here, again at the altar of confession and repentance, He restores my soul while I allow Him to wash my feet, getting me ready to follow HIM once again.
So, whether the sin revealed is idolatry or rebellion He is waiting to heal every dark place. The key is recognizing when you are stuffed with other things or getting ahead of Him. How can we know? The answer is in Psalm 139:23-24:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.”
If you ask Him He will search your heart, revealing any unclean thing and, with His righteous right hand holding yours, lead you in the everlasting way. His path is straight. We can follow Him with confidence, joy and peace, trotting all the way to Heaven with His good gifts held loosely in open hands of praise. \O/
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12
“He has brought me to his banquet hall, And his banner over me is love.” Song of Solomon 2:4
When I married my husband twenty-four years ago I had no idea what a covenant was nor did I understand love as defined by God. My motive for marriage was completely selfish. I wanted someone to love me and take care of me. I wanted to have children. I desired a “savior” who would love me unconditionally and fill the void in my life. The sad truth is that I never considered my husband, nor did it cross my mind that he would have insecurities and needs. The reality was that he was coming into the marriage just as empty as me. We had nothing to offer one another. It wasn’t too many years before we felt completely discouraged and even betrayed by one another. Fortunately, God used this very desperate circumstance to introduce me to Himself. Jesus found me wallowing in the shame puddle of loneliness and imminent divorce and said,
“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord.”
Yes, He has brought me to His banquet hall, And His banner over me is love.In the Song of Solomon the “banner of love” can refer to a man’s limited, romantic love for a woman, but the deeper meaning points to God’s intimate, extreme love for Jesus’ bride, the Church. To understand where I got this idea let’s break down Song of Solomon 2:4 using the Hebrew definitions:
“He has brought” = bow’: to enter, come in
“me to His banquet” = yayin: wine(A symbol of the Holy Spirit)
“hall” = bayith’: house; temple; home (We are the Temple of God)
“and His banner” = degel: banner; standard (Covering)
Do you see it? A personal application would be that God has made me a new creation by entering my spirit with His life giving Holy Spirit just like sperm enters an egg, creating new life. I am the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16). He dwells in me and I in Him (John 6:56), and He covers me with His excessive love (Psalm 36:7). We are one.
There is now a shadow of this tender affection in my own marriage; it is something holy and set apart. God not only forgave me but taught me to forgive. He also restored our marriage and eventually brought my husband into the banquet hall as well. He is so gracious! So, after meditating on Song of Solomon 2:4, it is easy to understand why God takes marriage and sexual intimacy so seriously. It is meant to be a picture of His glorious, single-minded love for His church. Mark 10:7-9 gives us an understanding of the forever-covenant God intended for marriage, serving as a reflection of His forever-love for you and me, “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, andthetwowill becomeoneflesh.’Sothey areno longertwo,butoneflesh.Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” It’s God’s love that enables Marty and me to remain in love, unseparated.
As we reflect on our position of security based on God’s faithfulness, remember that Jesus is our rock. He is the faithful husband that gave Himself up for us. We are covered by His blood and have entered into a forever-covenant with Him. God loves us with a lavish love demonstrated by the death and resurrection of His Son. We are adopted into His family and, as Jesus’ forever Bride, can boldly enter the banquet hall wrapped in Heaven’s wedding gown. Amen and Amen!
“I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” Isaiah 61:10
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:24
“I want it! I want it! I want it!” echoed through the Target checkout area as a little boy sat screaming in the child seat of a shopping cart, his hands out stretched, tears streaming down his face. Fascinated by the audacity of the child; I stared, curious to know what he wanted so desperately. Alas, the moment he’d been waiting for arrived. The item was placed in his chubby arms as he greedily clasped the large, round toy with his little fingers. Then I realized, as I watched mom trying to keep her little guy from chucking the toy out of the cart onto the floor, that what he wanted wasn’t the toy at all. What he wanted was his own way. What he wanted was to be in charge. What he wanted is what we all want…control.
Now, I don’t have physical temper tantrums (too often) but I do communicate, “I want my way!” all the time. In her book Altar’d, Jennifer Kennedy Dean writes, “Flesh is proud, possessive, demanding, grabby, angry, envious, wants to own and manage and manipulate and get its way.” [Altar’d, Day 1, Page 16] Ouch! My sights can be locked on something as small as a chocolate chip cookie and as big as wanting the Universe to revolve around my every whim. And, like the toddler, if I get what I want then the target of my desire immediately changes. Never satisfied, flesh destroys contentment, peace, love and relationship. So what’s the remedy? It is to live in denial.
“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'” Luke 9:23
Deny myself? How often does that happen? Honestly, I rarely deny myself; but the choice is alway available. The “if” in Jesus’ statement in Luke 9:23 implies choice and sacrifice. To put shoe leather on this statement I’ll share what it would look like for me to personally deny myself and take up my cross daily:
If I would come after Jesus I would deny myself large food portions, exercise daily, and surrender to the Spirit’s leading to take care of the body God gave me in order to glorify Him like Jesus did.
If I would come after Jesus, I would deny myself of sleeping in or browsing Facebook and take up my cross of laboring in prayer for family, friends, my church and our nation daily like Jesus did.
If I were to come after Jesus I would deny myself taking offense to something someone said or did. Instead I would forgive daily, nailing all offenses to the cross like Jesus did for me.
Why is this so difficult? Because we want to be elevated. Like Adam and Eve we want to be like God. However, we know that there can only be one master. Mom needs to be in charge for things to go well for her toddler’s future. God needs to be in charge for things to go well with your future and mine. The good news is that God is always in charge and never gives in to our whining! But, for me to be at peace with God (Not have a rift in our relationship) I need to acquiesce to God’s authority over my life. Foundational to walking in freedom is the understanding that God is God. Once that’s established then everything else falls into place. Whether you struggle with same sex attraction, a critical spirit, smoking or overeating the solution is the same. Jesus knows best and I will follow Him. There may be times we don’t like what that means. There may be times when we are tempted to yell. “I want it!” But thanks be to God He will never give in. We have to literally deny Him (instead of ourselves) to get something we want when God says, “No.” Jesus is not a weak, sleep-deprived mom who just wants us to be quiet. Jesus is the mighty King, holy and righteous who sovereignly dictates His loving boundaries because He loves us. He has given us Himself. We have everything we need for life and Godliness in Christ. We are the children of the King, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1, and the Bride of Christ, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:22. The way up is to kneel down in a heart posture of humility.
Through this filter, picture the child in the shopping cart, eyes fixed on his momma. He’s watching her every move. He knows she loves him and will give him what is best for him. He knows by experience that she is good, loving and generous. He also knows that she is just and disciplines him when he needs it. He is secure and at peace. Anticipating good things, he smiles when she says, “I bought a gift for you. When we get home we can play with it together.” Then, he laughs and claps his hands in joyful expectation and says, “I love you, mommy.”
This is a picture of resting in Jesus and the work He has accomplished for us. “I want it!” transitions to, “nevertheless, not my will but Your will be done.” I encourage you to write out your own snapshot of hope as the Lord “is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” Philippians 2:13 What would your reality look like if you set your eyes like flint on Jesus, believing He is who He says He is? What would your moments look like if you were living in the reality that you are healed?
“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5