Sunday, December 31, 2017

I love you unconditionally! (Week 1, Day 2)

"How big is God?"
Hanna just had to know. Being tall compared to other 4-year-olds, my daughter wanted to hear how her stature compared to God's. "God is a spirit, He does not have a body like we do," I tried to explain. "Of course," Hanna exclaimed understandingly, remembering how I had recently praised her for drawing people with full bodies, "He only has a head and feet!"
Three days later she was ready to broach the subject again, revealing that this new concept was becoming deeply established in her mind: "Mama, why does God not have a belly?"

Aren't we just like that? We find comfort in having our world neatly categorized and continue to entertain thoughts, even when they turn out to be misconceptions. The longer we cling to false concepts, the harder it is for us to change our way of thinking.

For me, the belief that God's love was conditional was one of those misconceptions I found hard to let go of. For such a long time I had focused on all the things I thought I had to do to please God, I had to be reminded of the truth many times for it to finally sink in.

Maybe you have felt overwhelmed at times, thinking of all the things you need to do for God. Perhaps you struggle with the thought that God can't possibly love you just the way you are. Today I would like to remind you of all the things God has already done for you:

He foreknew you. (Rom. 8:29)
He predestined you. (Rom. 8:29)
He knit you together in your mother's womb. (Ps.139:13)
He knows your thoughts. (Ps. 139:2)
He is acquainted with all your ways. (Ps. 139:3)
He chose you. (Is.41:6)
He has called you His treasured possession. (Deut. 7:6)
He has engraved your name in the palm of His hand. (Is. 39:16)
He desires you. (Song of Solomon 7:10)
He draws you with chords of lovingkindness. (Hos. 11:4)
He redeemed you. (Is.43:1)
He raised you from the dead. (Col. 2:12)
He gave you new life. (Col. 2:13)
He saved you. (Is. 43:1)
He forgave you. (Col. 2:13)
He released you from the law. (Rom. 7:6)
He cancelled the record of debt that stood against you. (Col. 2:14)
He blots out all your transgressions. (Is. 43:25)
He washed you. (1 Cor. 6:11)
He justified you. (1 Cor. 6:11)
He sees no flaw in you. (Song of Solomon 4:7)
He calls you beautiful. (Song of Solomon 4:7)
He adopted you. (Eph. 1:5)
He filled you. (Col. 2:10)
He sealed you as His own. (Eph. 1:13)
He indwells you with His Spirit. (Rom. 8:9)
He has made you His heir and co-heir with Christ. (Rom. 8:17)
He has given you an inheritance. (Eph. 1:11)
He has lavished the riches of His grace upon you. (Eph. 1:7)
He circumcised your heart. (Col 2:11)
He restores your soul. (Ps. 23:3)
He sanctified you. (1 Cor. 6:11)
He glorified you. (Rom. 8:30)
He changes you with ever increasing glory. (2 Cor. 3:18)
He rejoices over you with gladness. (Zeph. 3:17)
He quiets you by His love. (Zeph. 3:17)
He exult over you with loud singing. (Zeph. 3:17)
He hems you in, behind and before. (Ps. 139:5)
He lays His hand upon you. (Ps. 139:5)
No one can deliver you from His hand. (Is. 43:13)
Nothing can separate you from His love. (Rom. 8:39)
He considers you precious. (Is. 43:4)
He takes thought for you. (Ps. 40:17)
He hears you when you call. (1 John 5:14)
He longs to show you compassion. (Is. 30:18)
He sympathizes with your weakness. (Heb. 4:15)
He catches each tear that falls. (Ps. 56:12)
He removed the veil from your eyes. (2 Cor. 3:17)
He has made known to you the mystery of His will. (Eph. 1:9)
He prepared in advance the work for you to do. (Eph. 2:10)

That is how big our God is!
·       Which of these concepts speak to you most about God's unconditional love? Look up the Bible references and write the Bible verses in the space below.

I desire you! (Week 1, Day 1)

I was unplanned. My accidental conception has become somewhat of a family joke; after all, how many times have you heard of a husband unintentionally bricking up his wife's birth-control pills into the bathroom wall? Without immediate access to a new supply of pills, my mother quickly became pregnant.

I was unwanted. The day I checked myself into an orphanage I felt completely unwanted. I had no person to turn to and could only appeal to the mercy of the social services system, which was obligated to furnish a minor with accommodation and nourishment.

At that point, I have no idea what possessed me to go to a pro-choice meeting. Curiosity perhaps. At any rate, I was late entering the conference room and all eyes turned on me when the door slammed shut behind me. Grasping the opportunity, I decided to address the main speaker by posing the question that troubled me: "What makes you so adamant that abortion is a good thing?" "Just consider the child," he earnestly challenged. "Imagine a child who was conceived by mistake, is unwanted and ends up living in an orphanage. Wouldn't we be doing the child a favor by not exposing it to such a miserable existence?"

"I am that child," I blurted out. "I was unplanned and unwanted and am living in an orphanage, but I am thankful to be alive. God planned my life, He made me and He desires me. That is all I want and need."

This group of abortion lobbyists was so dumbfounded by my reply, their meeting had to be postponed. One by one, they silently left the conference room. What a glorious God we serve who "chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise... God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are." (1 Cor. 1:27-28)

Your own life, or the life you carry inside you, might have been neither planned nor desired by human standards, but you have a God who chose you before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), who knit you together in your mother's womb (Ps. 139:13), and who calls you His treasured possession (Deut. 7:6). He loves you so much that He is preparing a place to spend all eternity with you (John. 14:2).

Praise be to God who gives value and meaning to each living soul!

· Choose one of the following Bible verses to meditate on today. Write it on a note and stick it to your mirror, or write it directly on your mirror with an erasable marker:

"You have captivated my heart, my sister my bride, you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes." (Song of Solomon 4:9)

"I am my Beloved's and His desire is for me." (Song of Solomon 7:10)

"The Lord longs to be gracious to you." (Is. 30:18)

"Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am." (John 17:24)

"He rejoices over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing." (Zeph. 3:17)

· Use the space provided to write down your thoughts or prayer of thanksgiving about being desired by your heavenly Father.

The Blessing of Bestowing Value (Week 1 Intro)

"…even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him." (Eph. 1:4)

A father's blessing starts before conception, when a child is planned and anticipated by both parents. You can imagine a father-to-be saying, "I desire you! I want you! I am so glad God made you! I love you completely! You are my favorite! You are special!" These statements communicate what it means to be chosen, which is almost synonymous with being loved. In fact, many Bible verses link these two concepts:
"The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession... the Lord has set His love on you and chose you,... because the Lord loves you." (Deut. 7:6-8)

"But we ought always to give thanks to you brothers, beloved by the Lord, because God chose you." (2 Thess. 2:13)

"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved…" (Col. 3:12)

"For we know brothers, loved by God, that He has chosen you." (1 Thess. 1:4)

God has blessed us by choosing us long before our fathers ever could: Before the creation of the world! Whether your conception was planned and anticipated with great joy, or viewed as a surprise or even an "accident," God chose you!

He chose you before you had done anything to try to please Him. He chose you, not because of any merit of your own. In fact, "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of the Lord" (1 Cor. 1:27).

This week, hear the Lord speaking the blessing of bestowing value over you.


We live in a time when fatherlessness is rampant. "If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency" according to the National Center for Fathering. While the US may have the highest rate of fatherless households worldwide, this is still clearly an international phenomenon. Numbers are skyrocketing in every western nation. Many children grow up never having met their father; even more common is the loss of the father in the home due to divorce or abandonment. Altogether, those affected make up one in three US children today. Others grow up with their father, but do not receive the desired affirmation, either because it is withheld or because they are not able to accept it. A fortunate few grow up with a positive view of what a father is like. Yet each father, whether present or absent, wields great power over his children's lives through the blessings which he bestows or withholds.

The authority of blessings is greatly emphasized in Old Testament Scriptures. Its serious effect becomes most visible in Esau's plea towards his father, Isaak, after having been tricked out of his blessing by his younger brother: "Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father" (Gen. 27:38). We are made to desire and thrive on our father's blessing. When this blessing is withheld, we lack the foundation on which to build our lives, leaving us grasping for identity, a sense of belonging and confidence. We develop an unhealthy and faulty view of ourselves, our role in life and of others around us. Without the blessing we fall for the lie that something is wrong with us and that we will never measure up. "Am I loved?... Am I accepted?... Am I good enough?... Am I liked?... Will I fulfill the purpose for my life?... Will I be abandoned?" — These are the questions which haunt those who have never heard words of love and acceptance from their fathers. Consider these statements from Neal Lozano: "I have often said that the father wound is the deepest wound of all. No one ever protests my statement" (Abba's Heart, Baker Publishing Group, 2015, pg. 127). "We need to be blessed in order to succeed in life. Blessing is bread we need for life's journey" (Unbound, Baker Publishing Group, 2010, pg. 119).

The good news is that God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, as the Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." The blessings God the Father bestows upon us are the very same words we had hoped to hear from our earthly fathers. These blessings are immeasurably more powerful than any human blessing could be. Only God has the power to fully provide what He promises. How often do we approach God as if he were Isaak and we were Esau. “Don’t you also have a blessing for me?” “Sorry, fresh out.” This is how our conversation with God unfolds in our minds. We can be set free when we realize that God is holding our blessing for us. We no longer have to beg for a blessing like Esau. We can live in the joy of a child who has been blessed. This is abundant life. This is freedom. It is my prayer that you will be liberated from the burden of past pain and struggles in order to increasingly know God as your Father who has blessed you.

In this study we will focus on Ephesians 1:3-14 and the list of blessings we find in this passage which form a picture of what it truly means to be blessed by Father God. For the sake of studying these blessings and their impact on us, they are organized into six categories:

1. The blessing of bestowing value (Eph. 1:4) 
 This is mainly the blessing of a father expressing that he values his child by saying, 
 “I desire you! 
 I love you unconditionally! 
 I love you completely! 
 You are my favorite! 
 You are valuable!”

2. The blessing of acceptance (Eph. 1:5+6) 
The father offers a sense of belonging and protection by saying, 
 “You are mine! 
 This is where you belong! 
 You are safe here! 
 You are not alone! 
 I am so proud of you!”

3. The blessing of forgiveness (Eph. 1:7+8) 
The father sets his child free from guilt and condemnation by expressing, 
“I know you completely! 
 I do not hold anything against you! 
 You are allowed to make mistakes! 
 Good job! 
 I would do anything for you!”

4. The blessing of presence (Eph. 1:9+10) 
 Whether attending your high school graduation, walking you down the aisle on your wedding day or simply being at the supper table each night, a father's presence is worth more than many spoken blessings. By being there, aware of what is going on in his daughter's life, a father is showing her 
“I want a relationship with you! 
 I want to be close to you! 
 I like being with you! 
 I trust you with my deepest thoughts!
 Your thoughts are important to me!”

5. The blessing of provision (Eph. 1:11+12) 
 When we think of a father being a provider, our thoughts automatically move towards the daily needs of food, clothing and shelter. We may also think about a father carefully planning in order to leave an inheritance. But a father's provision also includes teaching his daughter where to find strength and purpose, and helping her discover and develop her talents and abilities by saying: 
"I want you to share in everything I own! 
 I care for you completely! 
 You can be courageous! 
 You will do well in life! 
 You are talented!"     

6 The blessing of stability (Eph. 1:13+14) 
 A child needs to know the unchanging nature of her relationship with her father. This stability provides that child with the confidence to conquer any obstacle. These are the blessings of a father who provides stability: 
"I will keep my promises! 
 My plans never change! 
 I will never abandon you! 
 I will never send you away! 
 I will always be there for you!

We will study these blessings a week at a time. You are given readings for five days each week, and assignments to do on your own. You will be able to discuss these at a weekly group meeting. Don't give up if a busy week has left you with unfinished pages. Attend your meeting even if you don’t complete your homework. There is so much to glean from what other group members have learned and are willing to share.

· Begin this study by reading Ephesians 1:3-14.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."

· Using the text provided above, circle every blessing mentioned in the passage above.

· What are your hopes and expectations for this study? Formulate them as a prayer below.







Saturday, March 4, 2017

Choosing Brokenness

"And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him" Matt. 21:44

 Do you realize we are only given two choices? Be broken or be crushed. Neither one sounds too appealing! But choosing to fall on Jesus, our Rock, is to trust that our brokenness will result in wholeness. Like a skilled surgeon, Jesus knows exactly where He needs to inflict pain in order to bring healing. Nothing is in vain. In His compassion He guides us to our places of struggle and hurt, opening our eyes to the truth that sets us free.

 When we fall on Jesus we are broken bit by bit over
our own sinfulness,
our human frailty,
our lack of wisdom,
our past losses and hurts,
our present hardships, and
our worries about the future
until we realize that He is all we've got and all we need.

 There is no easy way to know Jesus. God is so good to us. He loves us too much to put our desire for immediate comfort and joy before the ultimate goal of being made whole in Him. Choosing brokenness by falling on Jesus is the only path that leads to wholeness. Trust Him - it is His specialty to make broken things whole!

 "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Phil 1:6

Friday, February 17, 2017

When Things do not Make Sense

Why God, why? I just don't get it! - I distinctly remember crying out to God after visiting a leper colony in Shimlar, a mountain village in Northern India. The degree of suffering was so great The hovels, in which these people dragged out their existence, were so dreary. The sense of hopeless resignation was so pervasive. I tried in vain to understand its purpose.

This was the first time that I felt completely stumped - unable to comprehend. I used to think that increased faith meant fewer unanswered questions. If that were the case, I would be in real trouble! This season of my life seems riddled with question-marks. Even in reading the Bible I have "this-does-not-make-sense" struggles, like when Jesus responds to a needy Canaanite woman by saying, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (Matt. 15:26)

Dogs? Really?! To my ear this sounds derogatory and insulting. I must be careful not to misjudge God because of my lack of understanding. Perhaps Jesus is asking the Canaanite, "Do you choose to reject your own heritage, accepting the role I have assigned for your people in history. Are you willing to leave behind your old values? Will you accept my ways, even if it goes against all you were ever taught, even if it includes things that are hard to understand?"

The Canaanite woman responds by humbly accepting and desiring God's ways. May we all surrender our "whys" to God, knowing that His thoughts are higher than ours (Is. 55:9) and whose purpose is to prosper and not to harm (Jer. 29:11). Our faith is not measured by a diminishing number of unanswered questions - it becomes manifest by what we do with our questions.

Thank you Lord, that you are merciful and gracious (Ex. 34:6).  Even when things do not make sense, I choose to trust that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Amen