You Are Loved!

Many of us have a distorted experience of being loved. This is because we had to please and gain approval before we could expect being love. It was conditional, and if we didn’t meet the conditions we could expect criticism, loss of status, and punishment.

However, my Grandma gave me a different experience. I didn’t fear punishment or criticism from her. She seemed to have already decided that I was okay and special and I didn’t feel pressure from her to always perform to certain standards to feel her love. She looked at me with loving eyes and seemed to like what she saw. I relaxed when she was around. God used her to give me a taste of how he loves me.

But for much of early my life, I didn’t experience this kind of love. Not until I became a Christian when I was twenty-six and a couple who introduced me to God and then discipled me, did I experience being deeply loved. Later, my wife enabled me to experience God’s gentleness, affection, and faithfulness. Also, the love of God has shone through in the lives of the people who have been in my small groups.

Then, twelve years ago, I started seminary and began to connect to God in a deeper, more experiential way. I began to relate to God in a more contemplative manner where through faith I sat at the feet of Jesus and received his gift of love.

What Does Being Loved By God Mean?

God’s love for you is not based on you–it’s based on him. You are loved because he is in the business of loving unlovable people, of which we all qualify. So, don’t look for a reason in yourself. Every other kind of love you experience has conditions attached to it. With God’s love, there are no strings attached if you are his child through receiving his gift of salvation.

This means that God is always patient with you. He is kind, forgiving, and always seeks what is best for you. And he believes in you, always hoping and expecting the best from you (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

God’s love for you will never stop. No sin or failure will take God’s love away from you. He loves you so much that he wants to always share life with you. He honors you will his presence. Throughout your life he will plead, urge, and encourage you like a good father does, and care for you as a good mother cares for her children (1 Thessalonians 2:8-12).

Why His Love for You is Important to Experience

Experiencing God’s love drives out your fears, as God says to us,” Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). It’s more than just knowing what the Bible says, but feeling and living like it’s true.

Another reason to experience God’s love is so that you can be godly. The bottom line that God uses to measure your life is how well you have loved. Unless you experience being loved, you can’t pass his love on to others. You fail as a Christian if you fail to love well, both God and others.

A third reason to experience God’s love is to keep you from idols. We have a deep need to feel loved and if that is not met in an intimate relationship with God, we seek to realize it in idols. Those idols could be in a spouse, people’s approval, or being needed. The sad reality is that idols never give you the unconditional love that you long for.

Finally, experiencing God’s love can help you to face the sometimes-terrifying future. After running for his life for many years David could write, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6). No matter how bad the circumstances looked, he had confidence that God loved him and would bring much good into his years ahead.

May we all grow in accepting that we are loved. This is who we are. This is our primary identity. Not a failure, not an engineer, and not a mother, but a person who is deeply loved by God.

We all have been encouraged to dream big dreams- to stretch ourselves- to chase the impossible dream. Over the weekend, I saw the movie La La Land that stressed the importance of two people pursuing their career dreams at the expense of having a once-in-a lifetime romance and marriage.

As I reflected on the movie, I concluded that we need to be balanced in pursuing our dreams- because those dreams can keep us from attaining more important things. We have’t to accept the fact that we can’t do everything. Even with God’s help, we are limited.

Accepting our limits is an important step in developing emotional maturity. When we live in denial of our limits, we often overextend ourselves trying to go far beyond our energy, intelligence, or our abilities. This leads us to pursue illusions and fantasies that waste our potential and leaves us feeling discontent.

Through the years, I have used illusions and fantasies to sometimes live in a false reality of importance and acceptance. More than once I got myself into jobs that were overwhelming simply because I wouldn’t admit my limits and go a different direction.

For example, I once envisioned myself as a charismatic and successful military leader in the mold of a General Patton. Living this illusion got me to a significant level of responsibility in the Air Force. However, it was far beyond my abilities. Fortunately, God protected me from the consequences of pretending to be someone of greater abilities and commitment and I wasn’t fired. But we can’t always count of that happening.

Thus, it’s important to accept our limits. First, it is totally unnecessary to deny them. We falsely believe that unless we achieve a certain level of power, respect, and looks we aren’t worth much. But that’s a lie!

We don’t have to be great in our looks, abilities and achievements to be important and precious to God. We can afford to be real with ourselves because no limit will ever rob us of the respect and dignity that he gives (Isaiah 43:4).

As mentioned, another reason to accept our limits is to count the cost. With great career success, we will often encounter some family failure. With putting God first, we will probably not have as much career success. We need to make choices based on accepting our limits.

A third reason to accept our limits is to be able to receive God’s grace. Unless we accept our limited ability to be the smartest, best educated, and most influential, we will continue to strive to find greatness in ourselves- which will never happen. We will never be able to do enough, and impress enough to consistently feel important, loved, and safe. Only through accepting our limits will we become humble enough to accept the gift of worth and love from God. “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Let’s not live in La La Land but be honest with ourselves about our limits. It’s OK to have limits. They don’t change who we are. Let’s be true to who we are and together with God pursue maturity and fruitfulness in doing his work.

Are You Deceived?

We live in a world that seeks to deceive us. Often we fall for the lies that surround us or reject the truth that we know.

We can be tricked and fooled into depending on lies such as

  • You are what others think you are
  • Your worth depends on your achievements
  • You need to be married to be happy
  • You need power to be successful

The Bible contradicts each of these statements. If we trust in these lies, we are deceived; I feel embarrassed to say that I have trusted in each of these lies at some time in my life.

It will not be easy to avoid being deceived. The whole world lies in the power of Satan who is known as the Great Deceiver (1 John 5:19). So, it’s not surprising that this world is flooded with deception – people deceiving and being deceived. So, how do we avoid being deceived and live a life that truly is best for us?

Probably the most important thing we can do is to know what the truth is. To detect a deception, we need to know what makes that deception a lie. Knowing and understanding what the truth is can protect us from smooth and persuasive sermons and books that would deceive us.

For example, one common deception is that if we try hard to be good, go to church, and follow the rules we will go to heaven. But if we believe that, we are deceived. The truth is that only if we rely on Jesus’ death on the cross will we go to heaven (John 1:12).

Another common deception is that although we are going to heaven by relying on Jesus’ death on the cross, we grow spiritually trying hard to do the right things. But if we believe this, we are deceived. The truth says that we grow spiritually the same way as we go to heaven; by relying on Jesus (Colossians 2:6-7).

But instead, many of us listen to sermons, do Bible studies, go to conferences, and have Quiet Times as if these actions alone will cause us to grow. But if we don’t depend on the Holy Spirit, doing these activities will not lead to much growth.

Another way we can avoid being deceived is to look carefully at the true person behind the words. Politicians are notorious for deceiving us. They often tell us what we want to hear and hope we will never be able to hold them accountable. We need to check their deeds to make sure that they match their words.

And a final way we can avoid being deceived is to grow spiritually. For example, our pride can lead us to be deceived. We think that we can handle life just fine. Then we become overwhelmed by troubles and if we are wise realize we have been deceived. We realize that we need God desperately to just get through a day.

So, let’s not be fooled and misled by the world around us, Satan and our own pride. Let’s not be deceived. May we instead know what the truth is, examine carefully what is presented, and allow God to transform us into people who are not deceived.

 

 

 

Most of us want to be a Somebody. If feels good when others look up to us and show us respect. It reassures us that we are important, loved, and accepted. However, others of us seek being a Somebody through doing a significant work to help people, even though few notice.

I have sought to be a Somebody since my teen years. Not so much to be famous or rich but to accomplish something that would be a benefit to mankind. I pursued that dream of being a Somebody by providing some leadership to developing the Minuteman Missile Program, thus playing a small part in helping win the Cold War. I also sought the dream of being a Somebody in providing leadership to a church that God would use to transform many lives. That didn’t seem to happen but I trust my efforts weren’t wasted. And in the last few years I have pursued the dream of being a Somebody by seeking to bring a deeper spirituality to the national church through a book, blogging, and teaching what I learned in seminary. This also has been disappointing, but I’m trusting that a few lives have been deepened through my efforts.

Did these pursuits make me a Somebody? No. Even if the results had been better these efforts would not have made me a Somebody. What I’m learning is that what makes me a Somebody is being important to God. Being a Somebody to people will never be as great. Yet, most of us never get beyond the rat race of trying to be a Somebody in the eyes of people.

Why Be a Nobody?

Being a nobody in the eyes of people helps us seek importance from God. We can be deceived by our busyness, titles, and reputation to regard ourselves as a Somebody through our own efforts, instead of depending on God to make us a Somebody. This often leads us to try to be a Somebody to people by gaining power, fame, and fortune. But God says to us, “But if you long for these things, you will be trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that will plunge you into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9, paraphrased).

Accepting being a Nobody in the eyes of people, frees us more to pursue godliness, loving others, and growing in our faith (1 Timothy 6:11). We will be seeking to please the One to whom we are a Somebody.

Being a Nobody to the world helps us to develop our humility. We depend more on God’s grace to be a Somebody rather than on our achievements.

A final benefit in being a Nobody to others is that it helps us to focus on doing God’s will, not what will increase our reputation to people. How well we follow God’s will is the standard God will use to judge our works, not how much others respect us.

How to Be Content Being a Nobody

So then how do we live contently doing our little thing in a world of feverish activity driven by the desire to be Somebody? Moses looked ahead to the joys of heaven as “he chose ill-treatment with the people of God rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25, NASB). He gave up being a Somebody to people to be a Somebody in heaven.

Or we can avoid comparing the glory others receive from people to our own. We don’t want to measure ourselves by ourselves and show we don’t understand that God uniquely created each of us for specific good works. Some of those good works make us Somebodies to others but most of them are unnoticed or undervalued and make us Nobodies to most people.

Finally, this war belongs to God. Only his power will win it. He allows us to be a soldier in his army. Whether as a general or a private we are honored to fight on the winning side. May our focus be on the Somebody we serve and trust that he has already made us special beyond all human comparisons.

 

 

Don’t Be Afraid

“Don’t be afraid” seems like a silly command. Does anyone want to be scared except for good reason, like getting off the tracks when a train is approaching? Yet, we seem to be afraid of so many things without good reasons.

God often told people not to fear. He told Joshua to be courageous attempting the daunting task of conquering the Promised Land. An angel told the shepherds not to be fearful of strange things that were happening as he announced Jesus’ birth. And Jesus told his disciples not to be afraid when they saw him walking on the water. Why were these people scared? Why are we so easily frightened?

Why Not be Afraid?

One big reason is we are not alone as we face what scares us. Though it seems we are alone since we don’t see, feel, taste, smell, or hear God, we can be assured he is always there protecting and guiding us.

Recently, I faced elevated blood pressure readings from my home kit. This scared me. By faith I pictured Jesus’ presence in the moment and I was assured I was safe because he was protecting and guiding me. I relaxed and my reading fell to normal.

To resist the temptation to be afraid trains us to rely on God’s help instead of our own. It often takes a lot of crushing before we release our grip on trying to control the outcome. God wants to change us into stronger people through the circumstances that scare us.

God loves us. We are his children and he is crazy about us. He is in complete control of our circumstances. Why would we believe he would allow bad things to happen to us if they did not result in an ultimate good, which is to make us more like Jesus? Sometimes, we may need to see the good from God’s perspective by relying on the truth that he will work our circumstances for our spiritual growth.

How Not to be Afraid

One thing we can do to avoid being afraid is to pray. God says, “Don’t be scared, but pray and you won’t be afraid” (Philippians 4:5-6, paraphrased). My experience is that this works sometimes, but not all the time. Sometimes I give up when this happens, but other times I keep pressing God until I find peace from him.

Also, we can ask others to pray for us. Even Paul was afraid. He asked for prayer for boldness, that he may be successful in the ministry.

Another way to not be afraid is to listen to God through his Word and not to Satan. God says we are safe. Satan says we are in danger. God says he loves us. Satan insists we are alone. God says we can. Satan says we can’t. Who we listen to will make a big difference in escaping our dysfunctional pasts and walking in the Spirit.

A final way to not be afraid is to be transformed. We need to be changed from being self-centered, leaving God out of our lives, and earning whatever we get. God will enable us to live for doing his will. Experience an intimate love relationship with him, and learn to receive his many blessings through growing in dependence on his grace. We will then experience greater peace and not be so afraid.

 

 

 

Why Praise God?

Many of us know we need to praise God often and yet we don’t. What is there about God that isn’t worthy of praise?

This week I have observed God’s praiseworthiness working in the lives of three friends. For my first friend, God protected her from becoming a paraplegic when she was pitched off a horse and landed on her head. She broke her back but is expected to fully recover.

For the second friend, God provided the love of his life after waiting for God’s choice for ten years. And for the third friend, God provided wisdom and support to reach out for help in a stressful situation that enabled him to avoid slipping back into alcoholism.

God deserves to be praised from these examples because of his protection, goodness, and support and for the many other demonstrations of his greatness and blessings that we see.

Then why is it so hard for us to praise him? Perhaps we need to review why praising God is the right thing to do and then how to grow in it.

Why Praise Him?

One big reason to praise God often is that he commands it. “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised” (Psalm 113:3). He deserves it, and he wants us to acknowledge this reality.

Another reason to praise him is to increase our faith. By praising him for our blessings, we give God credit for them. Otherwise, we tend to give ourselves or someone else the adoration.

By praising him for such things as making everything, reigning over the nations, and his loving nature, our reliance on him grows. For example, by praising him for giving us a new identity, we more easily cease striving after the importance, acceptance and love that he has already given us.

Praising him also can keep us humble. When we praise him for making the heavens, the moon and all the stars and at the same time realize that he deeply respects and loves us, we are humbled because we know we didn’t earn it.

How to Grow in Praising God

 We can grow in praising God as we grow in understanding what he has given to us. These blessings include:

  • A guarantee we will be one day be in heaven with him forever
  • We will one day have a pain-free, pleasurable, and joyous daily experience
  • We will one day be in the physical presence of the most loving Person imaginable
  • God’s promise to work all our problems for our good.
  • His guarantee never to reject us and to always love us no matter how bad we are

This understanding of what God has given us comes from prayer as he reveals our blessings to us. Paul didn’t leave it to his teaching that people would understand. He prayed earnestly that “they would understand how wide, how long, and how deep God’s love is. That they would experience this love that is beyond their ability to understand it intellectually” (Ephesians 3:18, paraphrased).

One final thought about how to praise God in a deeper way is to focus on him more and less on the multitude of distractions in this life. God says to us in Philippians 4 that we need to meditate on all the positive things of life. Things that are true, honorable, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise. God is these things and infinitely more. Let’s praise him for it by focusing on his greatness.

 

Why Give Thanks?

I know I have a lot of things to be thankful for like my health, family, and comfortable lifestyle. But this week it’s been hard to give thanks. My wife has been nearly immobilized by back pain, I’ve had a constant toothache, and our Thanksgiving plans were put on hold. So, I found it hard this week to give thanks.

Thanksgiving is really a special time to give thanks to God who has given us so much. But in the midst of pain and difficulties we can forget to give him thanks.

So, why is it important to remember to give God thanks?

One reason is that all that he causes to happen to us is intended for our good and his purposes. “What possible good could come from my wife’s back pain and my toothache” you may ask? The truth is I don’t know, but I can still trust that he will keep his promise to work all things together for my good and his purposes (Romans 8:28-29).

Another reason we give thanks is that God likes it. In fact, he commands it. “In all things give thanks for this is God’s will for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We also give thanks because of how God will use the situation to transform us to be more like him. His goal is not so much to make us feel good as it’s to make us godly. Sometimes, this means he doesn’t meet our desires. He also disrupts our plans.

In addition, we give thanks for “bad things” that often lead to good things. In my life these are some of the painful circumstances that led to blessings:

  • Getting fired from my first job out of college led to a successful military career
  • Being rejected by a cute coed freed me to later find the girl of my dreams
  • Being rejected by a Christian organization enabled me to work where God wanted me
  • Being broken by an abusive home led me to receive salvation and 45 years of steady spiritual growth

We also give thanks to God because he is good. He loves us all the time, even when we are bad. He deals with us graciously. He makes sure that what happens to us is good, acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Psychologists tell us that giving thanks is good for our health and emotional well-being. Thankful people are often

  • Happier
  • Less stressed
  • Better rested
  • Healthier

Maybe this is why one of my favorite disciplines is to thank God for the blessings in my life. It helps me see the good in my circumstances.

So, may we grow ever more thankful to our good God. Though we may be in pain, or things don’t turn out the way we had hoped, we can still thank him for the good he promises is being done. And when we experience the many blessings that make us feel good, may we remember to give thanks because every good and perfect gift comes from him (James 1:17).