Thursday, September 16, 2021

Fasting? Oh Lord, Help Me.

 "Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." Isaiah 58:14

I have pondered, particularly in recent years, how we church-going Christians seem to have even less knowledge of God and live less in the presence of God, then perhaps any other generation. 

Photo by Samuel Martins on Unsplash

Not everyone is so. I know some wonderful ladies whom I cherish, whose relationship with God puts me to shame. And I know some men that walk close to their Savior. But in an era where a Bible or a devotional (or a blog) or a message is simply a click away; in a nation where there is a church within driving distance, and in most cities, within walking distance, why are we, as a nation, changing the laws and the culture to laws and lifestyles that God abhors? How can this possibly reflect a nation that perhaps has more freedom to worship God and more professing Christians, than any other nation?

This morning, I spent time studying and meditating on Isaiah 58. I've been here in the Bible before and have readily nodded in agreement that verses 1-5 is a picture of Christianity today, at least in most of North America, and proclaimed that this is why our culture has turned out so bad. 

"Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness,...they take delight in approaching to God. Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takes no knowledge?..." Isaiah 58:2-3

Yesterday, I signed up to receive a number of devotionals in my email. Not likely that I'll read everyone of them, but I will read those that capture my interest...hmm, can I trust my interest to reflect the voice of God

I went to church last night and beamed to see so many wonderful brothers and sisters in the Lord after having been away due to surgery. I listened to the sermon and nodded in agreement. But did it change me?

How many times have I looked at my life and said, "Lord, I'm going to change that," then not even a day passes before I return to my old ways?

Every day, I read out loud a "personal affirmation". This morning's included Philippians 4:8:

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." 

And it hit me. This verse describes God. He is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, always of good report, of perfect virtue and praiseworthy. Oh Lord, help me to think on You.  

Back to Isaiah. Often when preached or in articles on fasting, Isaiah 58 is referenced. I've sat through a few sermons and read some on this topic. But this morning, God made it new and fresh.

True fasting is about righteousness, about restoring the worship of and fellowship with God. Fasting requires forsaking your sin (like you physically forsake food) to do what is right and good and sacrificial.

Fasting means you turn your delight to the Lord and the things of the Lord (thinking on Him, as in the above verse). It isn't about finding your own pleasure. Lord forgive me. How many times have I fasted and when weak, turned to something comforting? How many times have I fasted to overcome some ailment that bothers me? And while there isn't anything wrong with that, I have found that I often do so over what God has declared 'a thorn in my side' so that I might be weak and He strong. In other words, something He has made clear was there for His good purpose.

How many times have I said, "Okay, well I need to get such and such done, but I need to fast, so instead of not eating, I will fast from...videos, or reading, or sugar, or some other thing I figure I could forsake to "show the seriousness of my prayers." Ack. Me thinks me heart be not right in these things.

Fasting is about God. The whole focus must be on God.

Sometimes my pride is revealed in my fasting. I am fasting because I have an issue with someone and that someone needs to be straightened out. Oh Lord, forgive me. I may not verbalize it in so many words, but one of the motivations is that...I'm very good at lying to myself.

Sometimes I desire to be viewed as spiritual and so I say to my friends, "Well, I fasted for this or that". Actually, I haven't done that for awhile, but there was a time... I excuse it by thinking it is a testimony, or it is living openly before others, or something sounding just as "super spiritual"...

"Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward." Matthew 6:16

There is nothing wrong with 'afflicting your soul'. It's good for us to consider our lives and recognize the propensity we have to sin. It's good to humble ourselves before God. But I must sincerely ask myself, am I truly looking at that iniquity in my life with the intention of getting out from under its burden and freed from its yoke?

"Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?" Isaiah 58:6

I don't know about you, but I am often confused by multiple motivations in my life when I come before the Lord. I tell you, its a struggle to come with a pure heart, unhindered by my hidden, self-seeking flesh.

I believe it was Matthew Henry (that great commentary) that said, "Fasting must be the business of our whole lives." 

Lord, help me to fast with the intention of a good steward, letting You lead me to use my time, talent, energy, and money for Your purpose. 

 The bands of wickedness, the heavy burdens, the oppressed, the yoke--all of these imply sin in my life or in the life of the person I might be praying for.

Why then should we fast?

  • freedom from the bondage of sin
  • for a hunger for the knowledge of God and the Bread of Life
  • for reconciliation
  • for the covering of sin by love and by Christ's blood
  • to remember our frailty and need for God's mercy and grace.
The promise given for proper fasting?

"Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am...." Isaiah 58:8-9a

Hmm. Seems to me that all those things I was truly seeking for, are satisfied when my fasting is properly motivated, rightly focused, and done with the passion of a pure heart.

If my nation is going to change and truly know and follow God, then I must ensure that I am doing so. Perhaps, just perhaps God will hear my prayer and begin a work to turn the hearts of our people back to Him, and to turn our nation away from wickedness.

Oh Lord, help me to focus my thoughts on You and all of Your qualities, that when I come to You with my desires I bring You glory, and that if You so please, You might take pleasure in answering my prayer.

"Behold the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:" Isaiah 59:1

 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Friends with the Enemy

 "And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to King Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD." II Chronicles 19:2

The Bible overflows with stories from which we could learn. Here, King Jehoshaphat, a king that had
worked to draw his people to God, stepped away from the counsel of God and joined with Ahaziah, the evil king of Israel. A relationship that seemed innocent: they would enter into trade agreements and build ships together. But this angered God, and God broke their ships. 

We see in the verse above God's testimony against Jehoshaphat. He helped the ungodly and loved them that hated God. If Jehoshaphat thought Israel a brother, then he would excuse his failure to follow God's counsel by reasoning that he was helping family and should love them. However, God was clear in the law He gave His people on how they were to deal with those family members who turned from God and worked evil. God clearly did not want His people associating with those who lived wicked lives and followed other gods.

King Jehoshaphat, in setting up a trade agreement and building ships with Ahaziah, had essentially determined not to rely on God for his prosperity. He demonstrated he wasn't content with what God had already given him. And it reflected a deterioration in his fellowship with his Lord.

Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah were kings, leaders of their nations. As such, how they led would affect the people of their countries. By the time Ahaziah had become king, God had done all He could to try to convince the people of Israel to return to Him, but they did not listen to the prophets He sent, nor did they gain understanding by the many 'curses' (see Deuteronomy 28) that befell them. The king was wicked and so were the people. 

The tribe of Judah was to be holy, separated from those nations who performed great wickedness in their worship of other gods. From Judah, the Messiah would come, the hope of all nations. Through the Messiah, all people could receive salvation and be reconciled from God. God's desire for all people to know Him, to receive forgiveness, drives His decision to sever the ties of Jehoshaphat with Ahaziah. 

"For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6

The people of Israel had been led astray by its leaders time and time again (see I Kings 11:1-12:33). God did not want that influence on Judah, and the judgment He made on Jehoshaphat's trade and ships was done to protect the people of Judah, and more specifically, the line of David. 

When our own government makes decisions that aligns us with those that hate God, we are in trouble. But our hope doesn't end with the government's decisions. Our God's love for us is greater than the government and greater than those that hate us and Our God. Will we allow the Holy Spirit to reign in us as individuals so that our response is governed by His leading and not by our own nature? 

For us as individuals, we can learn from Jehoshaphat's error, and take heed with whom we join ourselves. While we are called to love our enemies, that doesn't mean we should unequally yoke ourselves to them. We may see great business opportunities or perhaps ways of climbing the corporate ladder by aligning ourselves with someone who doesn't love God and does wicked things. But at what cost? The future of Judah was weighed in the balances of Jehoshaphat's actions. God would not let anything hinder His plan of the coming Savior. The choices we make of who we associate with affects our loved ones, our children, our friends. We need to take care.

Praise God for His mercy. He stopped an alliance of what could have resulted in the destruction of Judah, and therefore the hope of salvation. God will do the same for us. He is in control, and while there are consequences, there is also mercy and grace. God desires good for us. He wants to show us His love for us. We can't know that love if we are walking with the enemy--the enemy doesn't want us to know it. But God chases after us. Are we willing to receive His admonishment as well as His blessing?

"...I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:10b-13

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

“…What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?…” Job 2:10

 I was nineteen years old and slumped between the toilet and the bathtub after several rounds of vomiting. Studying wasn’t happening, and I was watching my dream of becoming a veterinarian slip away. All but accused of lacking character for not pushing through the overwhelming illness, I found myself bowled over with discouragement and despair. Why God? Why is this happening to me?

Perhaps not an audible voice, yet clearly heard by my spirit, God said, “Read Job.”

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
Fast forward 36 years later, and I am longing for a deeper fellowship with God, had been crying out to Him for weeks that I might know Him, that He might be so very real to me. During a time of worship while I drove to our ranch, He made His presence known to me. He made it clear He was before me, behind me, beside me, above me, below me. The Light that shone through that encounter would stay with me, and I pondered what He would have in store for me over the next months.

My mother was dying and I was trapped in another country due to COVID restrictions. I’d not be able to see her before she left for Heaven. And, I’d just been diagnosed with cancer. What an amazing journey God was taking me through, never leaving me, showing me His love through the love of my church family, providing for our every need, allowing me to be strong when I should have been physically weak so that I might enjoy both of my daughters’ graduations and my eldest daughter’s wedding. I am blessed beyond measure.

When dropping off my youngest daughter at college, I answered the question of how to make friends by saying, “Smile and be friendly, look for ways to help someone, and then do your best to help them. The best friendships come when you are able to help another.” And to add to that, the best friendships come when you fight for a common goal, or pass through a trial together. That’s why team building exercises usually include some sort of obstacle course you have to overcome together, usually against another team.

Before the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve walked in perfect fellowship with God, worshiping Him, enjoying Him, bringing Him pleasure. We get the picture that they lived in perfect harmony.

Then they took their eyes off God and onto what they might gain if they ate the fruit from the tree which God had forbidden them to eat. Fellowship with God was broken. How they saw each other changed. To see God as they had seen Him before was no longer possible. Bad things now happened to them…they were no longer 'good' and trials would become a part of their lives.

So why didn’t a good God prevent this from happening? God desires us to worship Him in spirit and in truth. He desires us to love Him, which cannot happen if we don’t have the choice to not love Him. Our choosing Him brings Him pleasure. He, the Creator of all, has every right to conduct His creation as He sees fit, just as I can build a house with Legos as I see fit or train a dog according to my ways. Part of having a relationship with Him requires accepting His sovereignty over all creation and that His thoughts and ways are beyond our understanding. I know that this can be difficult to accept. We don't want to humble ourselves to what we can't understand.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

Trials, hardships, trouble, come to us for various reasons. Cancer came to me not because I committed some great sin, but because it would help me to experience God and His love in a way I’d not be able to without going through this trial. My illness at nineteen changed the direction of my life, and while I have made many mistakes over those years, that illness drew me to God much the same way a team building exercise draws team members together. God encouraged me, picked me up when I fell, cheered for me, gave me water when I was thirsty and food when I was hungry. He gave me hope when I couldn’t see the end. These things I could not experience without first suffering.

“The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” Psalm 37:23-24

Why do bad things happen to good people? The knowledge birthing the answer to this question begins with understanding the nature of God and the nature of men. To gain insight into that understanding,  first accept that no one is good, except God. We all sin. That break in the Garden of Eden disrupted all of creation, and the Almighty God is working to first redeem us and then to one day bring us into a new heaven and a new earth that will surpass anything we can imagine: no more illness, no more tears, no more fighting, no more death, no more sin. A place where we can have a perfect relationship and a perfect life with God.

The second thing is to believe that God is found in the fire and the flood and the storm and in every trial you face, and that He is worth finding. Get your eyes off yourself, your suffering, your loss, your pain, and step out in faith that He has a purpose for you and only by passing through your present condition will you find His purpose for you profitable and most blessed.

Third, passionately seek Him with all your heart, and you will find Him before you, behind you, beside you, above you, and below you. And when you find Him and experience His presence, You’ll find cause to thank Him for using that trial to draw you to Him, not to mention the lessons you will have learned along the way.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” Isaiah 43:2

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Great Romance

 "How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!" Song of Solomon 7:6

In a romance novel the hero and heroine often have a love-hate relationship. We, the readers, sit on the edge of our seats anxiously waiting to see when the two will finally connect, profess their love for each other and live happily ever after.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

In the midst of some great tragedy, the heroine resists the aid of the hero. The man is hurt. He steps back, perhaps in anger, and the heroine falls into deeper trouble.

When she is about to give up hope, the hero swoops down and rescues her. Then the two of them battle the enemy together. Sometimes the heroine pushes the hero away again, but he keeps coming back until finally he wins her trust and her heart.

While we read, we cheer the hero on and chide the heroine for her foolishness when she rejects his help or attentions. The characters and their struggles keep us reading even though we may feel like smacking them for their stupidity. Yet, without those intense moments of conflict, the story would not bring us any pleasure and we would set down the book.

The other day, I contemplated God's good pleasure. We are created for God's pleasure.
"I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness...." I Chronicles 29:17a
"The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy." Psalm 147:11
"For the Lord taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation." Psalm 149:4
"Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand...by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities....he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." Isaiah 53:10-12

"Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." Revelations 4:11

 The Bible has often been referred to as the greatest love story ever. God created man for His pleasure, much as a man seeks a woman for his. But sin entered the scene. The loved one rejects. Hurt ensues.

In a romance, the hero discovers he must not only win the attentions of the woman, but earn her love and trust. He cannot force her to love him, because that would not bring pleasure. Yet, he will attempt to woo her.

We, the readers, know that at the end of the story the man will get his fair lady, such is the pattern of a romance. God knew, when He created man, man would sin, and He would have to pay the greatest price to bring man back to the perfect relationship once known in the Garden of Eden. But He was willing to endure the pain, pay the price, in order to gain our love and trust.

We cannot know the mind of God. We will never fully understand all that He does, but we can trust that whatever happens to us, His ultimate goal is to restore that perfect relationship.
"Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32
In a novel, the author places conflict that will believably turn the heart of the heroine to the hero. I think perhaps God does the same. He allows things into our lives to help us see Him, to work to turn our hearts back to Him. Despite the price we may pay when we do turn back to Him (and it is doesn't even touch the price He paid), we bring Him pleasure.

So often we see hardship as the workings of an angry and hateful God inciting unjust judgment upon us. In our society discipline has become a dirty word.

How the Lord longs for us to love Him with all our heart. How He desires for us to trust Him. Of such great importance is this to Him, He is willing to suffer watching us suffer in order to draw us to Him. Are we willing to suffer in order to know and love Him more?

Sometimes, in a romance, the heroine searches for her hero at great cost to herself. Sometimes the search is misguided or foiled by the enemy.

We, the readers, long to tell the heroine, "He's over here. Come look here." But we must watch her struggle until she finds him.

I imagine God feels the same way when He watches us struggle to gain knowledge of Him or to understand Him.

I have come to consider that the increase of trouble in my life is not the absence of God's presence, nor  necessarily the punishment of God. Rather perhaps the trouble is an opportunity to discover something new that will deepen my love and trust for God, bringing forward my relationship with Him to the point of perfection. To bring Him pleasure, not in the struggling, but in how I turn to Him through the struggle, making Him my pleasure. 

And, ultimately, I discover His presence never left me; that He was indeed before me, behind me, beside me, above me, and below me. I discover that my resting place is in Him, and I reach that resting place when I accept the molding of His Spirit in my life making me meek (a topic for another day).

"Take my yoke upon; you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." Matthew 11:29


Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Runaway

 Years ago, I set my iPad on the treadmill, started up a movie and pressed 2 for a warm up. I had just begun to punch the speed up when I hear a scuffle at the front door and my son calling me. Sighing, I paused my movie, turned the treadmill off and walked to the door.

Jasmine on the leash

Tears of frustration streamed down my son's face, and he flagged his hand toward the other side of the street. "Jasmine got away." He turned inside rubbing his leg and a little blue color spread across his cheek.

Didn't take much for me to figure out what happened. Jasmine, our two year old German shepherd had been looking for an opportunity to break out for the last couple of days. Even after a training session with my husband the day before, you could see that her 'down' was more of a 'ready-to-pounce' than a 'down'.

My exercise plan had been switched. Ensuring that my son and daughter (who also tried her hand at stopping the dog) were okay, I grabbed the leash, a baggie of chopped up wieners, and left on a walk to follow my dog through the streets of the town we lived in at the time.

I'd learned after a great deal of experience not to chase, just follow, and if at all possible, try to herd her away from the busy streets. And to pray. Pray that someone would help me catch her, because I won't be able to get near her. Pray that she didn't run in front of a vehicle and all the endless hassles that would create.

For Jasmine, it was all a game. She'd dart from yard to yard, say hello to all her doggy friends along the way, and chase a cat or two. She'd say hello to everyone she met, but if they reached down for her collar, she'd take flight. She would not be caught until she was good and ready.

After about a half hour of following and praying, I thought how much like us she was.

Sometimes we become bored with our lives. We become antsy for adventure, fun, excitement...even the forbidden kind. While those who have authority over us might be able to illicit some obedience from us, we look for the opportunity to slip passed their legs and out into what we think is freedom and fun.

We do this even to God. He warns us. He trains us, but we're in 'pounce' mode, eyes forever wandering to that door just past where He stands. Then when we think we have opportunity, we dart through the door and the chase begins.

But God follows. He waits for us to come back to Him. Yes, He sees us. He watches as we dash away from Him, thinking to ourselves that we'll have the time of our lives. He sees the car of trouble that just misses us. He knows the kind people who attempt to turn us from our wander-lust.

And we are fully aware that He is waiting for us to return to Him.

I never left Jasmine. I couldn't. Many people have told me, just let her go, she'll return on her own. But I couldn't do it. I worried about the harm that might come both to her and to anyone whose path she crossed. 

I've seen it happen. A man, trying to help, leaps at her. She escapes, leaving him with an injured shoulder. Cars breaking hard, swerving to avoid, and me cringing for fear an accident will happen. Then of course there is those obtuse characters who choose to swear at me for not having my dog under control. I suppose I deserved it.

When we run away from God, we do more than bring hurt to ourselves. We can hurt those who love us. Even as Jasmine hurt my son. We can hurt innocent bystanders, and we hurt God.

But God is so ever faithful and patient. He watches us and knows, and calls, and waits.

Toward the end of Jasmine's fun, she turned toward home. I began to simply walk, calling occasionally but for the most part just walking. At one point she came to my heel but after a few steps bolted away, not quite ready to be caught.

I kept walking, whistling on occasion, but not chasing. Eventually a neighbor caught her, someone who grumbles and all but swears at me every time she gets out. I mumbled my thanks, hooked the leash onto Jasmine's collar and headed home.

Jasmine never got hurt on her adventures, but I feared she would. There is good reason why we didn't allow her to roam freely like she desired. For her safety as well as others we kept her in the house, the yard, or on the leash.

There is good reason why God gives us instructions on how to live wisely in His Word. He knows the trouble we can get into if we do whatever we desire. Maybe we can get out from under His care and have a good time and not get hurt, but the risk is there. Wisdom tells us it is better to obey His Word.

"When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: to deliver thee from the way of the evil man,..." Proverbs 2:10-12a

Friday, September 3, 2021

What Is Love?

"I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me." Song of Solomon 7:10 

"Mom, what is love?" Gina asked, setting down her school copy of Romeo and Juliet.

Jessica glanced her way, smiled, wiped her wet hands on a towel, then took a seat at the kitchen table across from her daughter. "Well, it isn't what people normally think it is."

Gina twisted her mouth in that adorable way of showing she knew the answer to her question was going to be longwinded. "How did you know when you loved Dad?"

Jessica licked her lips. That was many years ago, and well, quite frankly, she didn't know what love was when she supposedly "fell in love" with her husband. "There's a lot of pat answers given," she swatted away the words she'd heard over the years, "cliché's really."

Gina leaned forward with her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands, a smile playing around her lips and a twinkle in her eye. Yes, she did love hearing her parents' love story. 

"I used to think it was like Robin Hood discovering that Miriam was 'to die for'. And, there is definitely that aspect." Jessica remembered the hero-role Jack, her husband, played for her in their months of dating. "I used to think the chemistry had to be right, that tingling feeling all over." She nodded her head with a slight smile. "And that is a part of a good marriage."

Gina quirked an eyebrow. "But?"

"But..." Jessica pressed her lips together. Love was so much more than Romeo and Juliet, than the romances displayed in the Hallmark movies. How was she to explain it to her daughter? She tapped her fingers on the table and looked through their window to the beautiful trees in their front yard. "The greatest love story, the one which makes all other love stories look flat and unappealing, is the one of God and Israel, of Christ and the Church."

"Ah, Mom." Her daughter rolled her eyes, but Jessica thought on the passage in Exodus where God said, "I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an inheritage: I am the LORD." What greater love story could there be than that? Except, perhaps, the story of Christ dying for His church.

"No, seriously, Honey. God loved Israel. Pursued her, protected her, provided for her, redeemed her, forgave her, remained faithful even when she wasn't. There is no greater love than the one God had and still has for Israel." Jessica set her foot on the edge of her chair and linked her hands in front of her knee. "A marriage, a relationship between a man and a woman, is a picture of God's love and relationship with us."

And there was that twitchy little smile which said Gina was interested but didn't want to be too interested.

Jessica let her lips quiver up in response to her daughter's. "Marriage, and thereby love, is by divine design a picture of the closeness, the oneness you can have with God, and of the oneness of the triune God." Jessica paused and thought for a moment. "And true love, the kind of love that makes a marriage, is about being one with the man who has chosen you to spend the rest of your life with. He pursues you before you are married, wanting you to accept his offer of marriage. His pursuit is pure, stemming from a desire to protect you, provide for you,...to love you as he loves himself, as Christ loves the church. His pursuit is not founded upon physical attraction, although that plays a part. His attraction to you should be because he sees you as God's unique and divine creation and desires to allow you to blossom as that creation for the glory of God."

"Is that how Dad saw you?" 

Jessica laughed. "Perhaps he wouldn't have quite put it that way, but yeah. I know he saw in me things he wanted to see grow."

"Was it love at first sight?" Gina grinned.

Jessica reached across the table and tweaked Gina's nose. "You silly romantic. No. Probably not, but perhaps there was the hope of love that twinkled in his eyes when he first spoke to me. He, as a man desiring God's will for his life, took the initiative. That is how God created men to be--initiators, leaders."

"So he pursued you."

"Well, he took the initiative to find out who I was, send me flowers, a few silly cards, and wash my car."

"Really? Wash your car?"

"Yes. He saw it needed to be done and did it. He took care of it for me."

"Doesn't sound very romantic." Gina wrinkled her nose.

The memory was sweet to Jessica. She had been so alone in the world when her Jack stepped into her life.

"Then, as my protector, he claimed me on a College and Career hike while other young men were... shall we say, wishing to stake a claim." Jessica chuckled at the memory of Jack taking her hand when one guy was rather overt in his advances. "We weren't even officially dating at that time, but Jack knew that some of those guys were not honorable."

"Mmm. Dad the hero." Gina settled back in her chair. "Tell me more, Mom." 

Jessica sighed and couldn't help but relish the memories. "Later, when I lost my job, he made sure I had at least one good meal each day."

"Like Boaz with Ruth."

Jessica tilted her head to the side. "Yes, I guess so."

"But when did you know he was the one you'd marry?"

"That's easy. When he told me he would consider it a great honor if he could call me his girlfriend." Jessica pulled the glass of sweet tea to her and twirled it on the table. "In those words, he showed me he valued me. I wasn't just a pretty thing to hang on his arm, or a woman to rule over. I would be someone he would cherish."

"Oh wow." Gina got a dreamy far away look on her face. "I wonder if a guy will ever be like that for me."

"Oh honey, no man is worth even going on a date with if he first doesn't see you as the greatest treasure he could ever be given. That man needs to be protective of you, even from himself. He needs to see that 'softness' is the very core of who you are. He needs to understand that forming deep friendships, deep relationships is central to your very being, and thus he needs to be willing to never toy with your affections, especially for what he deems his personal gain, consciously or unconsciously." Jessica took a sip from her glass. "When the right man comes around, he'll desire to lead you, but not without God first leading him. And in that leadership, he'll desire to understand your receptive and responsive spirit. He'll respect your instinct to nurture, like how you want to cuddle up with those puppies Dolly had."

"They are adorable, Mom. Who couldn't love them?"

Jessica smiled. "He will desire, more than anything else in his life, to know your thoughts, your feelings, your ways. And you'll feel the same about him." She reached across the table and squeezed her daughter's hand. "He'll choose you, not because you are the most beautiful girl (and you are beautiful), not because you are rich, because you're not, but because he desires to spend the rest of his life with you, every moment with you. You invade his thinking, his planning. And his desire to protect you and provide for you will be core to those thoughts. Not possessive in a controlling way, but a way that makes you entirely his so that he can bless and enrich your life, as much as you will want to bless and enrich his."

The timer on the stove went off, and Jessica got up to pull the bread from the oven. She set it on the sideboard near the window and then returned to the table. "Honey, when the right man comes your way, when the man God brings into your life for you to marry, you'll find that he is interested in bringing you joy and peace and security, just the way Jesus desires for you. He'll not intentionally hurt you emotionally or physically."

"Do men like that even exist. I mean, the guys at school..."

Jessica chuckled. "Are no doubt figuring this whole boy meets girl thing out like you are. The best thing you can do while you wait for the right one to come along is to found your life on a strong relationship with God. Let Christ be your husband for the years you are single. Let Him be the love of your life. When you read the Bible, read it as though it was His love letter to you. The stories He tells revealing to you His character, His love, His passions, and make them yours. Yield yourself fully to Him. Be in love with God. Cloth yourself with godliness. Let your quiet nature and amiable disposition please Christ. Then one day, God will introduce to you the one He has chosen to play that role of provider, protector, and leader for you."

Gina blushed then glanced at her watch. "Oh no, I'm late for basketball practice." She jumped from the table, grabbed her gym bag, and with a quick, "See you later, Mom," she ran out the door.

Jessica watched the door close behind her daughter. Dear Lord, please protect the heart of my daughter from the snakes and the wolves. Prepare the one You've chosen for her by drawing him into a deep relationship with You. Make him a man after Your own heart. 

"He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love." Song of Solomon 2:4

"For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt." 

Deuteronomy 7:6-8

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Spirituality

 "Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?" Galatians 3:3

Belief: an attitude of trust.

Faith: acts of trust and commitment, not as a need to achieve but out of a desire to please, to live out what you believe.

Greg Rosenke on Unsplash
'Spiritual' is my connection with God. It is my relationship with God. Yet, I know that many character traits that should come because of my relationship with God can be found in non-Christians. 

My relationship with God is more than the sum of character traits and principles and values, but because His Holy Spirit lives in me, I can be led and directed in ways non-Christians can't be. There is a deeper understanding of who I am and of the world and of the events of the world than any non-Christian can have.

My faith is built on having a relationship with God, on the fact that He loves me, forgives me, and is greatly interested in who I am and what I do.

So then, the sum of my Christianity is not in the character traits I attain or the lifestyle I live, but in Whose I am and the relationship I have with Him. Knowing this, that I am His and He is mine, and choosing to live as such, unleashes the potential God has designed to work in and through me.

It is not what I do, but Whose I am.

"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you....As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love." John 15:7,9

Fasting? Oh Lord, Help Me.

 "Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the ...