Good, Good Father

A father is so important to the life of a child. By his example, he is often the one who first represents God, and influences the way a child will grow up to view Him. For some this is a wonderful blessing. For others, it may be a stumbling block to seeing God as the good and loving Father that He really is.

When I think about my own dad this Father’s Day, I think about someone who radiated with the love of Christ wherever he went. From my earliest memories, I have always thought of God as a loving Father, patient and kind, who listens when I pray, and is quick to forgive. I have always known that He is there for me and that His love is unconditional and unending. I think a lot of that is because that’s the way my earthly father made me feel. I only got to know my dad for fourteen years of my life before he passed away. But what he showed me was enough to last for a lifetime. And I am so thankful to God for him, and for his efforts to point me towards my Heavenly Father, who will never leave me.

Now as a wife and mother, I love to watch how my husband relates to our sons. I love to see how their eyes light up when he walks through the door and they run to hug him. They know how much he loves them, and that they are safe when he is with them. He shows them what it means to be a man who loves God and cares for his family.

Everyone’s family story is unique. If you had a wonderful father, that is a blessing. But maybe you had a father that was the complete opposite of a loving, and godly example. Or maybe you didn’t have a father around at all.

In the same way, maybe your children are blessed with a father who is an example of God’s love. But it is also possible that may not be the case.

If your father, or the father of your children is someone who exemplifies the love of God, that is a gift. Thank God, and let those dads know how much you appreciate them.

If the father in your life or the lives of your children, is not what you hoped he would be, or isn’t there at all, I encourage you to be faithful in prayer for him. It may be difficult to pray for someone who has caused you or someone you love hurt. But when someone is not walking closely with God, that is when they need your prayers the most. Never give up praying!

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James‬ ‭5:16‬ ‭NIV‬‬l

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,” Colossians‬ ‭1:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Whatever your experience has been, there is a God and Father who loves you. And I pray this Father’s Day that you will feel and know His love more than ever. The best way to get to know God is through His Word. So I wanted to share some Bible verses with you as a reminder that you and your children have a loving Father in heaven who will never leave you or forsake you. I pray they will be an encouragement to you today and always!

God calls us His children

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” 1 John‬ ‭3:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John‬ ‭1:12-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Romans‬ ‭8:16-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Psalm‬ ‭68:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

God cares for us

“Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all you who remain in Israel. I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime— until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” Isaiah‬ ‭46:3-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew‬ ‭7:9-11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

God is forgiving and compassionate

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;” Psalm‬ ‭103:11-13‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.” Psalm‬ ‭86:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

God pursues us

“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke‬ ‭15:20‬ ‭NIV‬‬

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” Luke‬ ‭15:4-5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

God will never leave us

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy‬ ‭31:8‬ ‭NIV

“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm‬ ‭9:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

God is the most loving Father we could ever know. He created fatherhood and is the only perfect daddy who will never disappoint and is always trustworthy.

I love the words to the song “Good, Good Father” sung by artist Chris Tomlin. The chorus says “You’re a good, good Father. It’s who you are…and I’m loved by you.” Being a good father, the best father, is who God is. It is part of His character. And how amazing that He pours out His love to us and calls us children. This Father’s Day I thank God for the earthly fathers in our lives. I pray for them to be strong examples of love to their families. But most of all, I thank God for being the ultimate good, good Father!

The True Measure of Greatness

What makes a great life? How do we measure success? What kinds of goals and dreams define who we are?

A couple of weeks ago at church we had “graduation Sunday”. The youth band led the worship music, and the pastor preached his sermon directed towards the graduating seniors. You could almost feel the anticipation and excitement they must have felt wondering what God has in store for their futures. It was special to watch.

At one point, they played a slide show made up of photos of each of the young people from birth to the present. I have to admit, I started feeling emotional and even a little choked up watching it. We are fairly new to our church, so I don’t personally know these young people well, if at all. The reason for my emotion was the thought that in just fourteen and sixteen short years my babies will be the ones graduating. The pictures I am taking of them now at ages 4 and 2, will become memories in a slide slow. I know that seems like a lot of years to go, and maybe a little silly to think so far ahead. But the first almost five years of parenting have gone by so fast, I am convinced they are not going to slow down. I will blink my eyes and my babies will be grown. That is why I am determined to soak up every moment, savor all of the memories in my heart, and be thankful for each and every day!

That service at church also made me think about the hopes and expectations we set for our children as they grow and venture out into the world. It made me reflect on what I consider a great life for my sons. We all want our children to grow up and be happy, healthy, and successful. We want our kids to have great lives, do great things, and be great people. That Sunday I started to examine what I desire and pray for my sons for the future. I also started to look at what the Bible says about being great and see if my dreams and desires for them line up with God’s.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

The more I read and think about these verses, the more I realize that they contain everything that is needed for life, both on earth and for eternity. The Lord Jesus sums it up so simply and yet so perfectly. Love God and love others!

I could make a long list of goals for my sons. I would love for them to do well in school, go to college, and love learning. They may excel in things like sports or music, or have many wonderful gifts and talents. I would be happy to see them be well liked, and have many friends. I want them to enjoy life, travel, and do exciting things. I hope they will have a job they love to wake up every day and be productive doing. I hope they marry sweet wives who love God, love them, and have lots of grand babies for me to love too!

I hope my sons grow up to be men who are full of joy, and thankful for life every day. But really, all of those things are secondary. It all comes back to the greatest commandment. Love God and love others. That’s all they really need. It is all any of us need.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:33-34 NIV

By seeking God’s kingdom first, and loving God and people, all of the other things we hope and dream for our children will naturally follow. They may not be the exact things that we envision for them, but rather they will be the best plans that God has already set for them. How amazing that He knew our children even before we did!

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm‬ ‭139:14-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I am thankful that I have several more years to spend with my sons before they are grown. I know the time will go by faster than I would like. My prayer is that I will use every day to teach my boys what really matters in life. They can grow up and have the best grades, go to the best schools, have successful jobs, and be happy by all of world’s standards. But all of those things without loving God with all their hearts, and loving others as themselves, won’t add up to very much at all.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV

My prayers for us moms today is that we will impress upon the hearts of our children to love God with all of their hearts and souls, and to love others. Then their lives will be defined by the true measure of greatness!

Good Fruit

She is loving. She is joyful. She is peaceful and patient. She is kind and good. She exudes faithfulness. She has a gentle spirit. She practices self-control.

Who is this superwoman?? I want to meet her. I want to be her! I don’t know if she really exists, but this list of attributes describes a person who is living and walking through life by the power of the Holy Spirit. This woman is bearing good fruit!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 ESV

Thinking about my daily interactions with my children, I wonder if I practice these qualities enough. Would my family describe me as loving, peaceful, patient, kind, etc.? These are certainly things that I want God to produce in me. The one thing I do know is that the process is ongoing!

Lately, I have been working on teaching the importance of self-control to my four year old. I realize how much easier it will be for him to understand and practice it himself if he sees it modeled through my behavior. And how confusing it will be for him if he doesn’t! How can I ask my children to develop and display behaviors, unless I am first willing to do the same in myself?

Am I loving and kind during a screaming toddler tantrum? Am I patient when someone wakes up at 3:00am? Am I gentle and self-controlled as I try to teach my sons what it means to show these same qualities? Or am I screaming at them to stop yelling at each other? Am I faithful to the role God has given me as wife and mother to do everything as if I am doing it for the Lord?

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17 NIV

So how do we become a fruitful person like this? I love when the Bible supports itself so beautifully from one passage to another. When I think about how to remember to practice these qualities I am reminded of another wonderful verse from the book of Philippians.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 NIV

Train your mind to think about right, pure, and praiseworthy things. When difficult times arise whether dealing with children, husbands, or anyone in our lives, come back to this verse. When your children are driving you just a little crazy (or a lot), think about what is true, they are a gift from God! In fact, every day we live, every breath we breathe is a gift. God is excellent and praiseworthy all of the time!!

We know what kind of good fruit we want to produce (Gal. 5:22-23), and we know what kind of things to focus to help us do that (Phil 4:8). But how do imperfect, sinful people really achieve this kind of lifestyle? The answer is good news, and it is more simple than you might think.

Abide in Him.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5 NKJV

Any fruit that is cut from the vine is going to die before long. It is only the one that stays connected to its very source of life that can flourish and produce beautiful fruit. It is the very same with us. If I want to be someone who is loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled…then I have to stay connected to my source of life, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Apart from God, there is no way I can be the person, wife, and mother I want so much to be.

The way to abide in Him, is through prayer and study of the Bible, God’s Word. These two things have more power than anything to change our hearts, minds, and our attitudes to joyfully produce good fruit. No self-help book, devotional reading, podcast or blog will do that. Anything that doesn’t point you back to the true source of life isn’t worth your time. Pray, read the Word, and abide in Christ who gives life abundantly.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV

“As for God, his way is perfect: The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.” Psalm 18:30 NIV

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

Along with your personal prayer and Bible study, you can help to make sure you are connected to the vine by finding other women who are also striving to be fruitful and encouraging one another. As a musician, I also love worshipping God through hymns and good music.

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3:16 NIV

I pray that as mothers we will stay connected to the vine, so that life will flow from us, and our children will see Christ in us.

May we abide in Him, and focus our minds on things that are true, pure, and worthy of praise. May we show our families love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Let our homes be full of sweet, good fruit!

Rest and Renewed Strength

When I think about what mothers probably want for this special day more than anything, the word that first comes to my mind is…rest. Motherhood is such a gift. To me, it is one of the most wonderful, rewarding jobs that God ever created. The amount of love I feel on a daily basis for my kids is indescribable. The constant hugs, the snuggles, and “mommy, I love you,” when children are young, are moments I wouldn’t trade for all the world! But at the same time mothering can be hard. It can try our patience. And it takes a lot of energy! When I think of being a mom, restful is not the first word that usually comes to mind to describe most days. Words that I do think of might be…tiring, hectic, fun, busy, stressful, joyful…but restful…not so much! Being a mom is a 24/7 job!

God made mothers and women with such nurturing hearts. I feel like we are always looking for someone to care for and “mother.” When we meet little girls at the park, and they see my two-year-old son they immediately start taking care of him like little mother hens.

In my own life I look back and realize how my role all along was that of a mother, to my students, to my spoiled little dogs, to the horses I took care of (they are just 1,000lb babies!) I was always looking for someone to care for.

Although this post is geared towards moms, it is for all women who care for little ones in some form or another. If you are a mother (or praying and longing to be one), mother-to-be, step-mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, godmother, babysitter, nanny, teacher, mentor, foster parent, social worker, coach, caretaker for children/elderly/disabled, nurse, children’s ministry worker at church, daycare worker, volunteer, the list could go on…then you are a caretaker, and you probably could use a little rest.

For Mother’s Day, I wanted to give you a gift. I wanted to write something meaningful and encouraging. Then I realized there is nothing I could write that is more meaningful or more encouraging than what God has already shared with us in His Word. That is the whole point of this blog, to share encouragement to women through Biblical truth.

So today my gift to you is to share 15 of my favorite verses dealing with rest or renewed strength. No matter how tired we are, how weary, there is a God who cares for us. He sees our every day, even when no one else might see. He sees the extra care, the sleepless nights, the times when we are patient and loving even though our own energy tanks are running on empty. He sees when we put the needs of someone we love and care for above our own. He knows it all and He is there ready to hold us in His arms and let us rest. What a loving God!

I hope these verses are as meaningful to you as they are to me. I hope that you will keep them in your hearts, remember God’s Word and be encouraged on the good days and the not so good days.

“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11 NIV

I wanted to share this verse first because I love the picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, our good shepherd, gathering us in His arms and close to His heart. It reminds me of how we carry our babies and little ones that same way, with so much love and tenderness, totally protected. And it goes on to say “He gently leads those that have young.” That’s him talking about us. I am thankful for how gently He leads us along the road of motherhood. I pray I might lead my little “lambs” with the same gentle and loving spirit.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:1-2 NIV

“Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” Psalm 55:22 NKJV

“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:1-2 NIV

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26 NIV

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.” Acts 2:26-28 NIV

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2 NIV

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.” Psalms 23:1-3 NKJV

“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29:11 NIV

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8 NIV

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13 NIV

“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:5-8 NIV

“Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” Psalm 116:7 NIV

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31 NIV

Isn’t it comforting to know that God never grows tired or weary? His strength is unending and He tells us to come to Him when we are in need of rest. The first verse I shared and this last one are both from Isaiah 40. The entire chapter is an absolutely beautiful picture of God’s comfort, His power and strength as creator and ruler. I suggest you read the whole thing when you have time. It is one of my new favorites!

This Mother’s Day and always, I pray that you will place your hope in the Lord. Run to His loving arms, and there find your rest and renewed strength.

Peace Like A River

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is the rock eternal.” Isaiah 26: 3-4

We got in the car to drive to a birthday party for a friend of my four-year-old son. I couldn’t find the paper invitation, but I thought I had taken a picture of it on my phone. I couldn’t find that either.

Still, everything was great! My boys were happy. We were singing along to our Bible story songs channel on my radio app in the minivan. The party was at a local kid’s play gym. We had been there several times before so my brain was on autopilot, just happily driving along.

When we arrived, I noticed there were only about three others cars in the parking lot. This seemed a bit unusual for a party. It was ten minutes after the starting time, so I still felt like we were doing great, not overly eager to get there first, just fashionably late. But I still wondered where everyone else was. We walked in and I didn’t see any party decorations or balloons, and just a few other kids playing. That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks, we were clearly at the wrong location! This one is near our house, but our friends live all the way on the other side of town. Why didn’t I think of that?! My boys were already starting to take their shoes off and put them into the cubbies to get ready to play. I was trying not to panic, and checking with the lady at the counter for the address of the correct location. All the while, I was feeling like the worst mommy ever! I thanked the lady and scrambled back to the car with the boys. By now, my little one was crying for his shoes to be put back on his feet.

I put the new address in my GPS. The real party was 40 minutes away. My heart sank. My poor sons were going to miss half of their two hour party because their mommy totally failed! I wondered why my brain can’t just work the way I want it to??

At this point my stomach was in knots, and I really felt like I could cry. But I didn’t. I took a deep breath and put the car into drive. My radio app came back on and a kid’s version of “Peace Like a River” began playing. You know, the old classic song that goes, “I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river in my soul.” It stopped me in my tracks, and I commented to my precious four-year-old, “I need to pray for Jesus to give me peace, because mommy is feeling really upset right now.” I looked back and saw him sitting in his car seat, birthday present in hand, completely calm. His simple response was “Well mommy, God already gave me peace.” From the mouths of babes!

I was so amazed that here I was a stressed out wreck, and my son was sitting there as calm as could be! I remembered then that we had heard the same song a few days earlier. I had asked him if he knew what peace was. And then I explained to him (in four-year-old terms) that peace is when we feel really calm and happy, not worried or upset. Real peace comes from God, He gives it to us. What a wonderful gift that is! And what a lesson for my heart to see my sweet child sitting there so content, trusting in peace that I would get him to the party and that God is in control. Oh if I would only trust my Father in heaven that calmly!

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” ‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

I started singing along to the song, and I realized what happened wasn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, it was just what we needed that day. We had 40 more minutes to sing our Bible songs and be together in the car. I had two healthy, safe, wonderful little boys. And we learned a valuable lesson about resting in God’s peace. We ended up getting to the party and they had a little over an hour to play, eat, and sing “Happy Birthday” to their friend. We had a great time and the boys never remembered the rough beginning.

I wouldn’t choose to have the silly failures that I do, I’d rather get it right the first time. But they are part of life, because I am human and so imperfect. I think sometimes God in His amazing providence and loving-kindness uses these situations to remind us that when we are not perfect, He is. And when we are weak, He is strong. And hopefully, our failures keep us a little more humble, and aware of our need for Him. I know I can sometimes develop an attitude that looks a little bit like “I’ve got this mom thing down pretty good,” at least in my own mind. And then like a loving parent, God uses some circumstance to humble me and bring me back to the reality of my weakness and His strength.

“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.”  Psalm‬ ‭29:11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I love to see how God uses our children and their innocent trust to remind us to rely on Him and rest in His perfect timing and His perfect peace. I learn so much from my kids every day, about myself, and about God and His goodness. That’s the reason I started this blog, just to share those the sweet lessons He is teaching me through motherhood. So next time you have a “mommy fail,” take a breath, sing a song, and thank God for His peace that flows over us, peace like a river!

“Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace always in every way. The Lord be with you all.” ‭‭II Thessalonians‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

The Heart of the Gospel

I want to share with you a very personal story, about a man that I loved so dearly. This man was a devoted husband, a loving father, a brave firefighter, my superhero. He was my father. My dad had a special kind of faith that shined the light of God’s love to everyone who was blessed enough to know him. He seemed to have this special connection and fellowship with God like I have rarely seen in anyone. Faith like his was a gift to witness. My dad truly prayed without ceasing, he lived his faith, he walked with God. There is a character from the Bible way in the beginning of Genesis named Enoch. We don’t know much about this good man, but what we do know always makes me think of my dad.

“And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” Genesis‬ ‭5:24‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

That is just like my father. For 50 short years he walked with God. And then he “was not.” God took him. My dad fought cancer for a little over two years before he went home to the Lord. During that time I watched a strong man become weak and frail. He lost so much of what made him whole. Dad was a singer, he loved praising God with music. He didn’t have training, but his voice was like an angel, God given. By the end he couldn’t even sing, but he wrote a poem about praising God anyway in the quiet. In fact, I never heard my dad complain or be angry the whole time he was sick. I heard him pray, cry out for mercy and help. I heard him thank God for every little kindness. And I heard him try in his last days to make sure everyone he could tell heard that Jesus is the way to eternal life, and try to get just one more person to hear about the love of Christ. That was my father. And when he took his last breath we were there, all of my family, right beside him.

It is a powerful experience to watch someone you love that much die. It is sobering to see a body once full of life instantly become an empty vessel. But it is truly amazing to know that at that same instant the spirit is with the Lord. My dad’s greatest desire was to live a life pleasing to God and hear the words “well done my good and faithful servant,” upon leaving this world. I can just picture that scene taking place in heaven. No sooner had he left our arms, he rested in arms of Christ his savior, fully restored, likely already singing praises. God took him.

My father passed away one week after my 14th birthday. Somehow God gave me a grace even at that age where I wasn’t ever angry or confused. I never felt cheated. I was grateful for 14 years with a father that was so wonderful. I knew it was part of God’s plan. I just had peace. How could I question when my dad had so graciously accepted what God had allowed him to go through?

All of that happened nearly 25 years ago. But the story I have to share today, I just learned about a few months ago from my older sister. She was 21 years old at the time.

After going through surgery, chemo, radiation, and kidney dialysis three days a week, my dad’s cancer had gone into a very short period of remission in 1994. We were so happy! On this particular day, my sister went with dad to his appointment at a John Hopkin’s hospital in Baltimore. One of his good friends from the fire department was also with them. They sat down in the tiny room waiting for the latest update. It was on that day the doctors told my father the cancer had returned and spread; there was nothing more they could do to treat him. They recommended he begin hospice services. He wouldn’t have much time left.

No one showed much emotion in the room. No one cried. They just left the hospital and went to go get lunch. My sister sat there as my dad and his friend talked and even joked, in complete disbelief. How does a person accept news like this? How can they just eat and talk like the doctors didn’t just say “you are going to die”?

Later that same evening my dad was sitting out on the deck. My sister approached him and asked how he could be ok? My dad didn’t want cancer. He didn’t want to die and leave his family. But he trusted his God. His answer to my sister was “I’d rather it be me than any of you.” She went away in disbelief. It was only later when she became a parent that she understood that kind of love. Of course we would choose to go through the trials instead of seeing our children suffer. That is just the heart of a loving parent. And then she realized that is also the heart of God the Father. And that is the heart of the Gospel of Christ.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

My dad was a good man, a great man even, who carried the cross of cancer that he was given in this life, but he was still a sinner saved by grace. He knew that. He knew he needed a savior in the Lord Jesus Christ more than anything.

God sent His own Son to earth, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. He was completely sinless, holy and righteous, and yet He willingly chose to die so that we could live. He demonstrated to us “I would rather it be me than any of you.” And it could only have been Him. Jesus Christ was the only worthy sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins and restore us to God. It had to be Him. We couldn’t have done it. But He did it for us because He loves us that much. My dad didn’t choose to die, he just accepted it. But Jesus willingly put aside Himself and took up the cross that we couldn’t bear. He did it so we could be with Him forever.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

‭‭II Corinthians‬ ‭5:21‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

‭‭John‬ ‭10:17-18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Tomorrow is Good Friday. We remember the suffering that Jesus went through to defeat sin and death and restore us to a relationship with God. I hope that you will think deeply about what that means. And if you don’t know Him as your Lord and Savior I pray that you will. I love Isaiah chapter 53 and how it foreshadows the person of Christ. I highly recommend reading the whole chapter and reflecting on it. But here is part of it that I find especially powerful.

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭53:4-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The punishment could have been for us, it should have been for us. But it was put on Him. It was Jesus. Because that is the heart of the gospel, a Father who loved His children so much, and a God that chose for it to be Him sacrificed instead of us. He loved us enough to die for us. Shouldn’t we love Him enough to live for Him?

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭5:6-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

His gift of salvation is offered to all who would believe in the Son. Jesus suffered the cross, died, and rose again that first Easter morning so that we could have the hope of being with Him forever in His kingdom. Do you have that hope today?

“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭2:6-11‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Being with the Lord was my dad’s greatest hope. His other hope was that everyone He loved “be there” too. Jesus Christ offers eternal life to all those that believe in Him. I know I will see my dad again someday. I will be there with him, but most importantly I will be there in the presence of God my Savior. Will you be there? A loving parent says “I would rather it be me than any of you.” The atoning death and resurrection of Christ say to us that it was Him, so it doesn’t have to be any of us. The debt has been paid, the veil has been torn. We are free to come into the presence of the Lord. Will you come? Praise God for the good news that Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death and that He lives! That is the heart of the Gospel!

Happy Easter!

Your Deepest Heart’s Desire

If I asked you what the greatest, deepest, desire of your heart is, what would you say? Think about that for a minute and then read this verse from Psalm 37.

“Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 NKJV

This is such a wonderful verse, such a sweet promise from a Father to His children. It reminds me of how we relate to our little ones. We want to give them all the things their hearts desire. And we want them to also desire to know us, love us, and have fellowship with us.

I must admit though, my understanding of this well known verse has recently changed, or at least become much deeper than it has been in the past. I used to read this verse and think that it meant that if I genuinely seek to follow God, pray, read the Bible, go to church, then as a result He’s going to bless me with the things I want most in my heart. Sign me up!

Now to be honest, that is partly true. In my own life God has been more kind and more generous than I can even begin to describe. Many times when I have turned to Him in prayer He has given me not only what I asked for specifically, but so much more than I could have imagined! I believe when He does this, it is to display His unmatched kindness and generosity to us.

heart-love-romance-valentine

The part of my understanding that has changed is actually just a subtlety in the way the words of this verse are read. I had always read it like this: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 NKJV

As in, because your delight is in Him, He will give you those things that you already want so deeply in your heart. Not a bad thing, but maybe not complete.

Now let’s read it this way: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 NKJV

As in, the desires that are in my heart are there because God is the one who has and will put them there. That blew my mind when I first heard it preached that way. It was like the lightbulb just came on bright and clear.

sunset-hands-love-woman-1

What if the things I long for so deeply are actually in my heart because God placed them there according to His perfect will for my life? What if He did the same thing for you? But how do we know if our desires are God’s will or just our own?

The first thing we can do is make sure they are in agreement with God’s Word in the Bible. Do our desires agree with God’s promises and commands, or are they against them? Would achieving them be for our ultimate good and that of others? And most importantly, would they bring glory to God?

Lately, it has been my prayer to ask God to confirm in my heart the desires that come from Him. I also ask Him to take away those that are not His will so that I will not be confused or distracted chasing after things that are not His best for my life and the lives of my family.

The specific ways that God might want to use you, and the desires He wants to bring to fruition in your life are probably the ones that will keep growing stronger in your heart the more you pray. Those not from Him tend to fade away over time.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew‬ ‭6:33‬ ‭NIV

Another way we can have confidence that the desires of our heart are God’s will is by following the command that Jesus gives us in Matthew chapter 6, to seek His kingdom first and above all else. We can respond to life’s uncertainties and decisions and line up our desires with His will by constantly drawing closer to Him. We do this by reading about Him in His Word, and talking to Him through prayer. The more we do those things every day, the more we will get to know Him, and our own desires will begin to reflect His will. And in this beautiful cycle the more we know Him, the more we want to! And then one day we realize that knowing God Himself has become our greatest desire, more than anything else we want in the world!

‬‬“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” Psalm‬ ‭73:25‬ ‭NIV

 

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” ‭‭John‬ ‭17:3‬ ‭NKJV

Going back to Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself also in the LordAnd He shall give you the desires of your heart.” I keep thinking about what it means to “delight” in someone. I know my children bring me great delight. But do I “delight also in the Lord?” And what does that look like? Some words that come to my mind when I try to understand delight, are people or things in my life that bring me great joy and happiness. To delight in the Lord means so much more I think. It means that He is my ultimate joy, my true happiness, my hope, my strength, my salvation, the one I want to be with and know intimately, the most precious treasure of my heart. Everything.

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“I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” Jeremiah‬ ‭24:7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

When you started reading I asked you to think about your greatest desire. Did you figure it out? We went from talking about how God can give you your heart’s desires, to how He will give you those desires that He wills for you. Finally, knowing God Himself will become what we want more than anything in this life. He will truly be our delight and desire! That is my prayer for me and for you today.

The more you seek God’s will, the more you read His Word, the more you talk to the Lord in prayer, the more you realize that all good things come from Him, the more He will you give you what you long for, because He Himself will become your deepest heart’s desire!