Category Archives: Jesus

love lavished : hope brought : mercy munificent : grace given

Love, hope, mercy and grace – four words I’ve often connected to Christmas and beyond – and today, I’d like to delve

Love

A word that cannot defined my man, but by God

That being said, I looked to 1 Corinthians 13 for today’s definition rather than Miriam-Webster’s dictionary:

If I…do not have love, I have nothing…If I…do not love, I am nothing…Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13

God is love.

If I…do not have [God], I have nothing…If I…do not have [God], I am nothing…[God] is patient, [God] is kind. [God] does not envy, [God] does not boast, [God] is not proud. [God] does not dishonor others, [God] is not self-seeking, [God] is not easily angered, [God] keeps no record of wrongs. [God] does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. [God] always protects, [God] always trusts, [God] always hopes, [God] always perseveres. [God] never fails…these three remain: faith, hope and [God]. But the greatest of these is [God]. 1 Corinthians 13

Simple and incomprehensible at the same time.

It’s more than a verb.

It’s a noun.

He lavished his love upon us at Creation. His love enabled him to continue to pursue us even though we had flaunted our sin in his face. Love was the reason he became a man, born as a baby, who lived and died just so our relationship with him could be restored once and for all.

Love

One of my favorite words

Simple…and yet, complex.

If you read through the Psalms, you’ll discover that David knew God loved him, without a doubt. David had experienced it. We can too, if we but choose to allow Jesus to do so.

Spent time with him; sit in his presence and bask in it. Soak it in. Breathe deeply and sense his love as it fills every fiber of your being.

And it remains – yesterday, today and forever.

Hope

Hope is to anticipate or expect with confidence.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Hebrews 6.19

Jesus came and hope arrived.

I’ve said it before and I don’t mind saying it again.

Christ is hope.

He is hope to the person out of a job, to the struggling single parent, to the dying believer. Even if you feel that you can’t find your way out of the murkiness of the struggles of this life, if you have Jesus, you have hope.

It’s not a false hope, either. It is very real.

God’s promises brought hope before Christ.

His birth confirmed it.

And his resurrection ended the argument of its legit-ness once and for all.

Mercy

In your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. Nehemiah 9.31

Mercy can be defined as not getting what you deserve.

Read through any Old Testament story and you’ll understand that without the mercy of God, we’d be finished.

Done

Over

God loves us so much and is saddened when we intentionally do things contrary to His will (when we disobey him). The pain isn’t surface level with him; it cuts deep.

It was in his munificent mercy that he extends grace to us through his son; through his coming to our world in human form to teach us how to live as his children and to die; to sacrifice himself and everything that he is just so our relationship with him could be restored.

And rarely do we see mercy without grace…

Grace

If mercy is not getting what you deserve, grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

Grace is free, but it doesn’t come cheap.

It’s hard for us to wrap our minds around the grace of God. We don’t live in a world where grace is really practiced or even valued. And as a result, no one expects it — not from the people around them and certainly not for a holy and perfect God.

We often look at ourselves and see our weaknesses and where we fall short. It’s easy for us to question why God would want anything to do with us and again, this all comes down to who he is — love, compassion and mercy.

We can’t hid who we are and it ridiculous when we think we can either put on a front for God (who sees us down to the center of who we are) or toss in the towel, assuming we’re simply not worth it.

God knows you. He knows me. Deeply.

He created us and knows exactly how our minds and hearts work.

In some ways, we’re right in thinking that we don’t deserve grace. We sin and we mess up, time and time again. Humanity is a mess. A beautiful mess.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. Psalm 103.13

We aren’t deserving of God’s grace, but his gives it anyway – a free gift; one that we don’t deserve.

It’s not given because of who we are, but because of who God is.

He is compassion and mercy.

He is love.

He loves us so much that he was willing to die for us. What kind of god does that? Certainly not one created by man.

God chooses not to run away from our mess. He lives in it. And he lovingly helps us clean it up, day by day, moment by moment, trial by trial.

Let me ask you – as you contemplate God and who he is, what will your choice be? Will you choose the darkness that this world offers? Or will you choose light?

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5. Jesus – he is all that matters

Just over 2,000 years ago, God confined in human flesh arrived…

  • to live a life much like our own (Hebrews 4)
  • to teach what it means to follow the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14)
  • to teach what it meant to live life on the Vine (John 15)
  • to show us that we were no longer bound by the law, but rather freed because of his fulfillment of it (Matthew 5.17)
  • to die a horrible death on the cross, carrying the sins of all of mankind — those who’d lived before his time and those to come – including you and me (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19)
  • to rise again, bringing hope to all of the world (1 Corinthians 15)
  • to have a relationship with us…God’s crazy about you. Believe it. 🙂 (Exodus 34.14)

And he’ll be back again one day to bring his brothers and sisters home. Can’t wait! (Matthew 24, Revelation)

what i need most

 

(more than a) Book Review: “The Meaning of Marriage” by Tim Keller

I suppose I should start by stating that I’m not married nor have I ever been married, so I’m probably  the least apt to talk on the subject. I may not be an expert, but I do pay attention to my world, details and all, and well, based on all of that, I can definitely form my own opinion and apply truth to my own life when it comes to this topic…albeit a touchy one at times.

Why this book? Why read it if it doesn’t pertain to me? Truth is, it does. Tim Keller even says so in his introduction: “[The primary goal of this book] is to give both married and unmarried people a vision for what marriage is according to the Bible…and to help [singles] to stop destructively over-desiring marriage or dismissing it all together…a Bible-based marriage book will help each reader have a better idea of who he or she should consider as a prospective mate.”

I may not be married…

…and there’s a chance that I won’t be in this lifetime.

And that’s okay.

I am party of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Put like that, I am a bride.

And this book?

It has forever changed the view I’ve had on marriage my entire life, as well as hitting home views I already knew, but didn’t fully understand – and all of this is more so due to the culture I’ve grown up in, the books I once chose to read, and (thank you to) Hollywood, through the shows and movies I chose to watch. Even Disney…no one talks about what happens after or how the damsel lived before meeting her prince. Marriage isn’t at all what I once believed.

Eight chapters of “heavy” information…

Chapter 1 opens the discussion of Paul’s insight on marriage and how it differs immensely from the marriage views of today’s culture.  Tim Keller constantly makes a points out the profound mystery marriage is and how it changes us and how marriage was intended to reflect the gospel and the relationship with the triune God. Tim also makes a statement on how “compatibility” doesn’t exist and after reading it, I would tend to agree.

Chapter 2 opens the door to how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of all, not just those who are married and discusses how each individual is responsible for their own actions; their own self-centeredness and how I need to take personal responsibility for myself.  I can’t change the other person. The only person I can control is me.

Chapter 3 talks about love and how it is not strictly limited to romantic love (which is more of a feeling that will fade over time). Love is also an action and a choice.

Chapter 4 proves the following statement: Marriage is for helping two individuals become who God created them to be, which sets the reader up for Chapter 5, where Tim elaborates on three basic skill sets that with enable you to help your spouse become the person God created them to be:  truth, love and grace.

Chapter 6 teaches the reader what it means to embrace the other gender as God created them to be. Rather than disregarding a person because their differences don’t match your list of necessary qualities or because they are just too different doesn’t mean they should be shoved aside and not even considered. Notice the differences, acknowledge them, embrace them and thank God for diversity….it’s what makes them who they are and God intended those differences to compliment (not complete) those he made in his Image.

Chapter 7 deals with living as a single in this beautiful, broken world. Tim and his wife, Kathy, discuss the history of dating and how different cultures view marriage, delving into how some Christian circles paint the picture that a person is somehow not complete if they don’t have a spouse or a family. Singles are not incomplete, nor are they missing anything. We can learn from our brothers and sisters through the Church. And because this chapter really hit it home for me, I’d like to share the following lies our culture tells us as well as a few quotes from the chapter:

  • Lie :: Truth
  • “As soon as you’re satisfied with God alone, he’ll bring someone special into your life” :: God’s blessings are never earned by the level of our commitment.
  • “You’re too picky” :: God is not frustrated by your fickle whims and does not need broader parameters win which to work.
  • “As a single, you can commit yourself wholeheartedly to the Lord’s work” :: while that statement may be partly true, God doesn’t not require emotional martyrs to do his work…marriage plays a huge role in his work too.
  • “Before you can marry someone wonderful, the Lord has to make you someone wonderful” ::  God doesn’t grant marriage as a second blessing to the satisfactory sanctified.

He doesn’t work that way. The gospel doesn’t work that way. I, along with many of you, have heard those statements directed at me many times and well…I’m not single because I’m too picky. I’m not single because of my imperfection. I’m single because he is good:

“I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because he is so abundantly good to me; because this is his best for me.” – Paige Benton Brown

How true is that!

And finally, Chapter 8 deals with the topic of sex and why it is best saved for marriage…not basing it on a “rule” the Christian religion follows, but basing it on God’s ultimate desire for his children.

Overall, a great book and while the writing is easy to read, the context is heavy…

…a book I wouldn’t recommend breezing through. Take your time. Read one chapter a week…or per month. However long it takes for this applied to truth to sink in. Pair it with Epheisans 5. Camp in it. The Meaning of Marriage is a definite must read and should be added to your own personal collection, whether you’re married or not. Get your own copy as I won’t be lending mine out any time soon…it’s that good.

poor in spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5.3

My church is going through a series titled “The Blessed Life.” What does it mean to be blessed?  And with this week’s verse, what did Jesus mean by “pour in spirit?” What are the characteristics of someone who is poor in spirit?

First, let me ask you this: what comes to your mind when you hear the word “poor”?

I picture the multitude of men, women and children I see on the streets of downtown Minneapolis; most of whom are toting signs. My heart aches for them, leaving me wanting to help and yet, holding back based on the mere fact that I’m a single woman in a big city.

I also picture humility. Not in the sense of being humiliated (embarrassed, thinking less of myself), but of thinking of myself less.

Poor :: impoverished, poverty, in need

My pastor pointed out that each of these beatitudes is a characteristic of being a follower of Jesus. These characteristics naturally happen if you truly follow him with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. That thought alone was an eye opener for me, a girl who, must like the rest of our known world, grew up in a church where the Christian life was based on works rather than faith. Talk about a liberating truth!

To be poor in spirit is to realize that nothing we have is worth more than the kingdom of God. Knowing this, we become willing to part with anything we have if it hinders us from receiving the kingdom.

There are characteristics of those who are poor in spirit. Like with anything when it comes to following Jesus, this is not a checklist you have to go through to be saved. Works will not save you. Only faith…faith that He is good; faith that He is, was and always will be. Jesus already paid the price. Tim Keller put the gospel so beautifully: “We are most sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

If you Google the topic, you’ll get millions of hits and not all of them are based on the truth that can only be found in God’s Word.  The following are some of those characteristics, as we discussed at church on Sunday and again during our weekly Life Group meeting, and others I stumbled on during my own personal study of this one verse.

The poor in spirit:

  • Focus not on themselves but on glorifying God and ministering to others.
  • Focus on Christ; to be like him is their highest goal. It’s taking on the attitude that they are poor apart from Christ and he is their greatest need.
  • Don’t complain. They accept God’s sovereign control over their circumstances and trust that he will provide.
  • See the good in others; recognizing their own weaknesses and appreciate the strengths of others.
  • Spend time in prayer – picture a beggar begging. They find themselves in God’s presence on a constant basis, seeking his strength and blessing.
  • Will follow Christ based on his terms – filled with praise and gratitude for the wonder of his grace.

Remember, you are more sinful and flawed in yourself that you ever dared believe and, at the very same time, more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope. That statement alone has the strength to bring me to my knees. Wow…

Being poor in spirit is directly related to your faith. Without it you could never come to him, because believing that he is and that he will reward those who seek him.

We must truly believe that he is more valuable than anything we have. Without Jesus, we don’t know what it means to be full. God created us with a need to be filled by him and him alone but we constantly seek fulfillment in the material things of this world, including relationships with other human beings. We’re always hungry. We are always craving something more. Until we see our own poverty, we will never see the value of Jesus Christ. Believing that truth leads to humlity.

We must be humble when it comes to standing before God. We cannot be self-satisfied or proud of our actions….there is no room in a heart that contains self-righteousness for Jesus.

As far as the blessing of the kingdom of heaven goes…I cannot fathom it. I must sacrifice myself (give myself up) for him to gain so much more. I struggle with that concept just like anyone else. I don’t want to wait. We live in a fast-paced, give-it-to-me-now culture with the world at our fingertips….but waiting brings the greatest reward and, if we take Jesus at his word, that reward will be more than we can fathom with our finite minds.

Remember my statement earlier about my upbringing? This truth has been setting me free, piece by piece/moment by moment, from the bondage of legalism. I can’t make myself poor in spirit. Only Jesus, in his infinite mercy and grace, can…through the conditioning of my heart.

Until next week…

dancing with Jesus

Dance.

I’ve always loved watching people beautifully and gracefully move from one end of the dance floor or ice rink to the other. I’ve even come to enjoy watching Dancing with the Stars this year, particularly Amber Riley, who plays Mercedes Jones on the hit TV series Glee. You see, she’s not what Hollywood defines as perfect. She’s not skinny. She’s not morbidly obese either. She’s real. She’s genuine.

And she’s not afraid to show it.

I love that!

I wish more celebrities were like that. The list may be short, but they impact their world more than they know, including Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen DeGeneres, Denzel Washington, Emma Stone, Jennifer Hudson, Tyler Perry, Zooey Deschanel…just to name a few.

Anyway, before I go too far with that tangent…

Have you ever watched professional dancers or skating partners? There’s an intimate dynamic that occurs between them. The crowds ooh and ah over each turn and spin, cameras flash, but the two at the center of it all don’t see it. They are focused 100% on their partner, attuned to the slightest signal, responding instantly, beautifully and effortlessly.

There is a part of me that hopes to actually experience dance one day outside of the walls and privacy of my apartment. I remember wanting to learn the art of it when I was a child but my parents couldn’t afford it…then again, I never mentioned it. I didn’t want to be a “burden.” Looking back, my choice in not voicing that dream also had to do more with fear than anything else.

You see, I lack a certain amount of physical grace. Then again, perhaps an accident-prone young woman would be gifted in that area. I might just have to find out.

Dance:

  • Noun: an artistic form of nonverbal communication
  • Noun: taking a series of rhythmical steps (and movements) in time to music
  • Verb: move in a graceful and rhythmical way

Life is a dance. We get to choose the type: divine or worldly. In choosing the latter, it can be easy to perform for the applause of those around us. Girls dress a certain way to get the attention of boys. We talk a certain way because our friends do. Parents send their children to certain school because it’s what the neighbor or community does. We sometimes even watch certain TV shows or listen to a specific style of music just to fit in.

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. In high school, I dressed a certain way and listened to Limp Bizkit and Metallica (even though I secretly hated it) just so I could fit in or get a little attention. I wanted them to genuinely like me. I was sick of being the outsider, always looking in.

Thing is – any attention and most of the conversations or invitations I received were not genuine. I came to that realization when I began to learn what having a real relationship with Jesus meant…in college.

There are times I find myself riding that same carousel. Around and around I go on a seemingly endless cycle that leaves me empty and never heading anywhere.

But it doesn’t take long for me to realize that I really crave the former: a lifetime spent dancing with Jesus.

I’m wired to.

Remember the description of dancers/skaters in the midst of their act; the intimacy of it?

What if we knew God that intimately? What if we were so focused on Him, so in tune with Him, that like Jesus we could say, “I do only what my Father wills.”? What keeps us from that? What keeps us in angst; keeps us striving and experiencing burnout?

I use to focus solely on me. I sometimes still do.

And I’ve learned, and continue to learn, this important truth: human beings can only serve one thing at a time and we should not have any other idol before God (Exodus 20.3). If I’m going to proclaim I want to worship God with my life, I can’t and shouldn’t esteem the opinions of my friends (or what people in general think) more highly than God’s opinion of me.

Affirmation is a huge thing for me. Encouragement means the world to me. Those things leave me feeling full, flying “high as a kite” (so-to-speak), and feeling better equipped to take on anything that may come my way on a daily basis. They are not sinful things in their own accord, but when I begin to make them my ultimate goal in life, it becomes an idol, or a sin, and therefore, a serious problem. That feeling equipped thing is an illusion…I can’t do anything apart from Jesus (John 15.1-8 , also see Philippians 4.13).

I can either dance for His applause or I can dance for man’s applause, but I can’t do both at the same time.

This is something I’ve been wrestling with for the last couple of years (thank you Beth Moore and two of my dearest friends) and probably will continue to for some time. I know that He’s giving me more than I can handle in this morning, but there is beauty in the fact that I don’t have to face that junk alone. He’s there with me, swinging me through that next dance move.

Romans 12.1-2 has been extremely helpful to me during this time (among others) in my life:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

When we offer our lives to God as living sacrifices, He considers that worship. Dancing with Him is worship. Letting Him into your life is worship. Trusting Him with your life is worship. Life itself should be an act of worship.

I’d like to share a poem penned by Amena Brown that inspired this entry and God has also used it to further the progress Jesus is currently making in the dimly lit corners of my heart and in my life:

Dance with Him ~ Amena Brown

Dance with Him
He puts His hand on the small of my back
Two fingers pressed into the center of my palm
He pulls me close
Steps with His left, my right
I focus on His eyes and try to ignore my feet as they clumsily count one – two – three

I recall that first moment quite beautifully. The only difference is that then, I can envision placing my feet on His, as a daughter would on her father’s, as He took me around the dance floor. Oh, how easy it was to simply trust and believe then.

I can also relate to those clumsy feet. They still are, most days anyway.

Have you ever watched someone learn to dance? Watch this video – see that little girl in the middle? I can relate to her…in more ways than one. 

I’m often like that with God. I’m so focused on what I think needs to be done or on what I already know to do, whether that be reading my Bible, leading a Bible study, fulfilling other responsibilities to those around me and my church; it’s easy to take my eyes off Him. It’s easy to turn what should be an act of intimate surrender into role behavior which ultimately leads to burn-out and ineffectiveness. That happened yesterday…

Nothing went as planned and that just goes to show Who is in charge and it’s definitely not me.

When I surrender to Him, forsaking my ideas and agenda, clearing my mind of everything but Him, everything flows.

I’m trying to trust Him
He knows this dance better than me
I’m still a novice and it’s obvious
I have yet to lean in and let Him control the turns

God knows I’m trying. He definitely knows this dance better than me, little “Miss Know-It-All” that I am. This patience thing is tough.

He takes His time and even when I miss a step
It’s fine
He knows I’m learning

His patience blows me away. I can’t even fathom the depth of it all…

He wants me to put my hand in His
Close my eyes and trust Him
With my life
My heart
With worry
And “I’m so scared”
With hurt
Worth and unworthy
Loving and unlovable
And my heart has been hurt before
I have been burned before
Loved
And endured loss before
I am in no mood for a dance
No mood to be romanced
I have become a grace cynic
And love’s worst critic

This world is a beautiful, broken mess and the echoes of Eden affect every part of it . Life isn’t easy. Life hurts. And that fact makes trusting hard.

Do I trust Him with my life?
With my heart?
With my worries?
With my fears?
With my worth?
With my identity?
With my life’s purpose?
With the pen of this beautiful, broken story; the story He’s given me?

I can honestly say that most of the time, no…I don’t. There’s a huge part of me that wants to, but, in my human condition and the world I’m in make it difficult to simply make that move.

I will continue to strive to trust Him, and, by His grace, I can…One day I will…when His strength has been made complete in me (2 Corinthians 12.9).

He sends me invitations every day
And even though I have yet to RSVP
He doesn’t remind me
He keeps pursuing
Taking steps in spite of me

I always dreamt of being pursued this way. What a wondrous thing it is to realize that I am! If only I would accept this truth each and every day.

He is a songwriter
Composing the notes that hold together eternity
And He wants to teach my limbs to sing
He’s been waiting to watch me let go of woe
And worry…until my soul
Sings in that beautiful voice He gave me
That I have someone come to think
It not so beautiful

He wants me to let go. Will I? When? And I’m guilty of buying into Satan’s lie that the voice God gave me isn’t beautiful. It is!

To dance with Him
I must give in
And give up
Plus
The trust it takes to really love
And I want to love Him unbridled
Believe in Him with a faith that is unshakeable
Like tree roots centuries deep
Until I learn to follow His time
Take deep breaths
Rest my head on His chest
And my cares at His feet
But I never fear –
As long as I depend on me

“As long as I depend on me…” Funny how that works, isn’t it? It’s funny how, when we depend on ourselves, we think we’ve got it all figured out and something happens, forcing us to realize that we don’t. It happens all the time. I really should fear when I find myself making plans without Him. Yesterday is a prime example and still sticks out like a sore thumb. I had planned on coming into work early and was looking forward to an awesome new upgrade to my computer (Windows 7!) prior to the start of my shift. That didn’t happen, nor did the rest of my day go according to plan:

  • Creative juices were flowing and I wanted to finish this post – didn’t happen.
  • Project work needed to be completed – didn’t happen.

I was frustrated, found myself thinking rather negative thoughts (which is not usually the norm for me) and annoyed with the world for raining on my parade.

But…

God spun those plans on their heads and in turn brought a fullness into the midst of that chaos with opportunities to serve my boss, my co-workers and my neighbor when I finally arrived home, not to mention those on the other end of the line on the calls I take on a daily basis.

Countless opportunities.

The frustration ebbed and my general annoyance vanished almost immediately.

God is in control.

When I live in constant surrender to Him, forsaking my ideas and agenda, clearing my mind of everything but Him, everything flows.

Take His hand
Take a chance
Fingertips in the palm of the One who holds galaxies
In His hand
Hand on His shoulder
Heart in His hand
We dance
To a down beat
That keeps time with His heartbeat
Sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me go
When He’s only letting me turn
And sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me fall
When He’s only letting me learn
Sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me go
When He’s only letting me turn
And sometimes
It feels like He’s letting me fall
When He’s only letting me learn
His is the song that never ends
His love
Sinners become friends
He wants to dance with you
Until the only Song you hear
Is Him

To be filled, we must first bet emptied – of ourselves, our sin, our wants, our desires. I believe that anytime we cling to anything – even good things – other than God, they become a hinderance to the working of the Holy Spirit. That job we fear losing, the ministry we can’t let fail, that relationship we’re afraid of letting go, whatever it is…when we begin to strive only for that thing(s) – hold tight to it – we begin to operate in our own will. To be overshadowed, we need to stay surrendered completely, focused on our Savior and not the dance itself. Our actions will otherwise lose power because we’ve left Him behind.

I’m nearing there. I’ve taken His hand. I’m learning to surrender. I’m learning to trust Him with my heart. I’m learning to let Him lead…bending, twirling, twisting, turning, falling…until the only Song I hear is Him.

a blessed life

Blessed.

What does it mean to be blessed anyway?

From the dawn of time (i.e. creation), God has “blessed” those who chose to follow Him into the great unknown, trusting that His ways are better than anything mere humans could concoct on their own.

What does it mean to be blessed?

My church – the Vine (here) – has been camped out in Matthew 5 for the better part of the last two months. We started out combing through what it means to be salt in a world that is decaying before our very eyes and needs and incredible amount of healing, but have since moved on to what we call The Beatitudes where the phrase, “Blessed are…” starts each statement.

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’” Matthew 5:1-12

What does it mean to be blessed?

In the coming weeks, I’ll be delving more into each one as I take part in the study of Jesus’ words with my church. Make note to check back.

But before I move on to that first statement, I’d like to point back to the account of Abraham in Genesis (12.1-3 to be precise), where God introduces us to this man and the promises God made to him. The verses that follow are not only key for the story of Abraham, but of the entire Bible. They establish God’s plan for his people:

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

In those three verses, bless/blessing/blessed is used five times. It’s obviously an important word, but what does it truly mean? Sure, we utilize the word like crazy in our Christian circles, but that doesn’t mean we fully understand its meaning.

Upon further inspection of the verses above, we can see that blessing is the opposite of cursing (vs. 3). We also naturally assume that it is a good thing, and it is. It is a very good thing coming from a God who is ultimately good.

But, there is so much more to that one word.

To bless, or blessing, is about being in relationship; in a right relationship. It’s being able to truthfully say that you are friends with God, that you are one of his people; his child. Receiving good things is not the goal here. No. The more important thing is the relationship. The good things we receive in life (i.e. family, a job, home, etc.) are by-products of that relationship.

Note: anyone can receive these good things/gifts and this is not to be confused with “earning” God’s favor. We can do nothing apart from him to earn his grace/his favor. Nothing. It’s a free gift, received through faith and not by deeds so no one can boast (Ephesians 2.8-9).

And did you catch the last part of that verse from Genesis: “all peoples will be blessed through you…” All peoples.

Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross (Jesus, a direct descendant in Abraham’s line and the fact that he is also fully God), we have been immensely blessed. When he died on that cross for us, he did the impossible and mended the relationship between us and God. We went from being enemies of God to being his adopted children. Because of that momentous act in Jesus, we know that God will look after us, both in this life and in the life to come.

And, it is because of this restored relationship that the characteristics of being a family member of God come into play: Pour in spirit. Those who mourn. The meek. The hungry and the thirsty. The merciful. The pure in heart. The peacemakers. Those who are persecuted because of righteousness. The insulted. The lied about/upon/to. You. Me.

Be blessed in that relationship. The rest is just details.

what’s in a name

You know what song is pouring through my mind as I write this?

Hello, My Name Is… by Matthew West – click here

It’s a popular one on most major CCM radio stations in the Twin Cities and I’ve heard it twice already today.

The verses start out with “Hello, my name is regret…defeat…” You know those words. I do. With every fiber of my being. They’re familiar. And we think they’re comfortable. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

What you name something is immeasurably important. Kate Middleton, for instance, no longer goes by Kate. She goes by Catherine. See the difference? Kate is more of your modern, day-to-day name. It’s a name of normalcy. It’s fun. But Catherine… now that’s a dignified name and more appropriate to her role as a royal.

What is your name? What names do you go by to those who love you? What do they mean?

Without going into too much detail (this is the internet after all), the name I was given at birth means grace.

My middle name means God is gracious.

I like that, personally. But do I really live it out? Have I truly embraced that part of me?

How about the names of some important biblical characters?

Sarah means princess.
David means beloved, friend.
Daniel means God is my judge.
Elizabeth means My God is bountiful.
Peter means Rock.

Let me take this one step further (along with the assistance of Stasi Eldredge) and ask you the following:

What names do you call yourself? What do you say to yourself when you pass a mirror? What do you tell yourself about your post-weight-loss body or your post-delivery body or your premenopausal tummy or your memory that so often seems to be slipping away? What words do you use?

Or what have others called you? What have you believed yourself to be true because of those words?

Growing up, I didn’t fit in. I still don’t, but I’ve grown to be okay with that. I’ve accepted it. But, not fitting in when you’re a child leads to territory I wish no one would have to claim or endure. I don’t remember many of the names or statements that were carelessly tossed around, but terms like stupid, idiot, ugly, short, and inadequate still stand out to me. Perhaps you had a similar childhood or home life while growing up. Maybe you still do.

There is power in what we name ourselves and in what we believe ourselves to be. There is power in what others name us as well. Both the power to bless and the power to curse come from the heart and flows out of the mouth through words. What we call something, what we are called, whether good or evil, will play itself out in our lives.

What you call yourself, someone or something is powerful. It affects your life, your relationships, and your walk with God. Stasi would also say that what you call yourself “affects your ability to become who you are meant to be” (pg. 217 of Becoming Myself).

God knows this. And He calls you Beloved.

I love that term. It has a deep, personal meaning to me, so much so that I now wear it permanently on the inside of my left wrist. It’s a constant reminder of Whose I am and it rings loud and clear on some of my darkest days, when I need it most.

Beloved

What does that mean?

It means one greatly loved.

Dear to the heart

It means admired, adored, cherished, and darling.

Beloved means dear, dear one, dearest, esteemed, favorite, honey.

It means ladylove, light of love, loved one, lover, precious, prized, respected and revered.

Beloved means you.

It means who you are to Him.

And who you are to Him means everything.

Everything

This is where your true identity lies. It’s also where mine lies…often as I seem to forget it.

God calls you to believe this. Time and time again.

He endlessly pursues you and won’t stop until you are completely His. It’s a transformation process; it starts on the inside and eventually illuminates everything you are and eventually, those around will see it and won’t be able to help wanting that too. I’m on my way there. So are you. He simply calls you to believe it.

The fruit of knowing this, of truly believing that you are His beloved, is intimacy with him and is shown through humility in your life.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis

Wise words. We cannot live our lives thinking highly of ourselves (being puffed up – that’s pride) or thinking less of our selves (also pride…God opinion does not lie here). This thinking is dangerous. You cannot live well, you cannot love well, and you cannot fulfill your destiny if you do not know who you are. You cannot become your true self if you do not know who you are to become.

So…

Who are you?

You might be like me in the fact that I just got so irritated with my last caller’s request that I rushed through getting her connected with the right department rather than taking a moment to let her feel that she is loved and cared for. I’ll be right back…

Okay, I’m back…needed to clear the air between Jesus and me for a second before I continue.

Who are you?

Going back to the song that’s been pouring through my head as I pen this: The chorus continues with this truth: “my name is child of the one true King. I’ve been saved. I’ve been changed. I’ve been set free. Amazing Grace is the song I sing..”

That couldn’t be closer to the truth.

God sees me as lovely, but lovely thoughts have not been filling my mind just now. Actually, they haven’t been for days and I need to give those thoughts to Jesus and let him take care of them. There are days when I really need help… When you and I believe that our truest identity lies in being a sinner. What we call ourselves and when we put equal weight on what others say, we believe those lies. It affects how we live, move and and have our being (which shoul only be in Him). We walk around ashamed, accused, condemned and unworthy of being called His. We are separated from God and this is exactly what the Enemy wants us to believe and how he would prefer we live.

I’d like to hit this one home with Staci’s help: “When the focus of our heart is solely on our failings, then our heart spirals down. God tells us not to focus on our failings but on his faithfulness. He calls us to gaze not on our brokenness but on our Healer.”

We tend to move toward what we focus on.

Keep your eyes on Him and learn to believe the truth of your identity. You are His.

Wholly

Completely

Entirely

His Beloved

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12.2

Sources: “Becoming Myself: Embracing God’s Dream of You” by Staci Eldredge…found here