Let Us Hear From You

In Philippians 3:8 the apostle Paul wrote, “I consider everything a lose compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul was speaking of an intimate relationship with God where the Word of God, especially concerning the love of God, had become his personal experience. He sought and treasured it above all else. Such intimacy is developed by regularly spending time with God. As you apply yourself to this journey, you will discover the same as well!  

Since the release of The Ultimate Joy, a 12 week Bible study on intimacy with God, I’ve been greatly blessed to learn of people who are taking the study. Just this past weekend I learned that my dad’s high school church leader requested a copy. She’s 85 years old. Then yesterday, a young woman shared that she is doing the study, as are her mother and mother-in-law. Such news thrills me because intimacy with God is the key that unlocks the treasures of the abundant life God intends for us to experience now. If The Ultimate Joy is a tool in that journey, then I humbly praise God.

The Ultimate Joy is being used in many ways: for group study, as a discipling tool where two or three are meeting together, as well as by individuals in their time alone with God. It’s even made its way into a women’s prison. Since the first time I taught it, I’ve wanted to develop a website where anyone who is taking the study, has taken it or anyone who is pursuing greater intimacy with God, could be encouraged and spurred on in their journey. I hope this site will be such a place for you. I will write regular posts, sharing with you from my ongoing journey. Yet the impact will be far greater if you will share your thoughts and journey as well. I encourage you to comment often. Post your thoughts on what’s written. Share what God is teaching you. God created us to live in community, supporting one another. The internet gives us the avenue for an on-line community, one you can access anytime that is convenient for you.

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Faith Versus Feelings

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As a woman approaching menopause, I am very familiar with the wide range of human emotions. If left unchecked, mine would range the full gamete, sometimes keeping me on a continual roller coaster ride. Yet no matter our age, feelings and emotions are an integral part of who we are, often determining how we view and respond to everyday life. God is not only aware of our ever-changing feelings, He cares deeply about them. He longs to align them with the truth found in His Word.

Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), gives us a glimpse into the heart of God. As recorded in John 11:1-44, a large crowd had gathered to comfort Mary and Martha in the death of their brother Lazarus, Jesus looked on. They’d sent word to Him several days prior that Lazarus was ill. Yet, God detained Him. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus was dead. Jesus knew why. His delay was God-ordained for very specific purposes, for God had set the scene for a mighty miracle. Lazarus would live. Jesus knew He would raise him from the dead. As a result, the people’s faith would greatly increase and God would be given great glory. Jesus knew the crowd’s great sorrow would, in just a matter of minutes, be turned to ecstatic joy! Even still, the deep grief of the crowd moved Him with compassion. Jesus wept (Jn. 11:35).

When you weep, God weeps with you, even when He knows that the struggles you are enduring are allowed or designed to increase your faith in Him, bring a future blessings to you or be for a mighty display of His glory is just around the bend.

How can we respond in faith when our feelings scream otherwise? For me, it’s come in the decision to pray, meditate on and proclaim the truth in the Word of God in spite of how I feel. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God.” In context, this verse is speaking about the faith that leads to salvation. Yet once saved, our journey to walk with God is very similar to the path that led us to believe in God for salvation. Our work is to believe (Jn. 6:29). As we pray and profess the Word of God (our part), God comes in and does His part. He turns our unbelief into faith.

There was a time when I felt my love for God growing cold. I don’t remember if there was a specific reason, but I do recall God’s solution. He led me to pray and profess Psalm 42:1-2:

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for You, for the living God. When can I come and meet with You?”

I prayed it not because it felt true, but as a request and statement of faith, in spite of my feelings. As I sought what God in His Word calls me to, He answered my prayer. He used that season to draw me into deeper intimacy with Himself.

If you find yourself with feelings that do not align with faith, I encourage you to find passages of Scripture that speak directly to your area of unbelief. Start praying and professing them – even aloud. Take your lie-based thoughts captive and replace them with God’s truth (2 Cor. 10:5). Then, watch Him change your heart and renew your mind. I often say, one of the greatest miracles on earth is when God changes a heart. I praise Him that I’ve been the recipient of that miracle many times.

Do You Trust Me?

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I imagine the conversation going something like this:

God: Do you trust Me?

Me: Of course I trust You, Lord.

God: Then why are you anxious?

God: Do you trust Me?                                                                                                         Me: Of course I trust You.                                                                                                   God: Then where is your peace?

God: Do you trust Me?                                                                                                            Me: Why wouldn’t I trust You?                                                                                             God: That is what I’d like you to tell Me.

Why wouldn’t we trust God?  The question may be better asked, what don’t we?  Why do we, people who have placed absolute trust in God for our eternal salvation, find it difficult to trust Him in the matters of our earthly life? Do we question His true intentions toward us? Do we doubt His willingness to act on our behalf? Have we sought Him and felt He didn’t reach back?

I’m guessing we’ve all felt these emotions at one time. While the root of the issue can take many forms, I believe there’s a single answer. It’s found in Psalm 9:10:

 “Those who know Your name will trust in You. For You, O Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You.”

To know the name of God is to know His character, the glorious aspects of His excellence, greatness and power. As with any relationship, trust in God comes as we spend time with Him and get to know Him. As I stated in the last post, it all comes back to intimacy.

Consider the relationships in your life. Trust isn’t built overnight. It comes through the ongoing sharing of thoughts, feelings and experiences. Trust is built as you experience firsthand that the other person is trustworthy. So it is with God. He wants you to know Him, to know His thoughts and the burdens of His heart. He wants you to share your heart with Him. God wants to “do life” with you so He can show Himself faithful to you. His promise is, as the psalmist stated, He will not forsake you if you seek Him.

In Psalm 13 King David poured his honest thoughts out to God. Being pursued by a fierce enemy, he felt abandoned and forgotten by God. Yet, in spite of his feelings, David concluded: “But I trust in Your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in Your salvation (deliverance). I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.”  David didn’t feel the nearness of God nor had he received an answer to his prayer exactly how or when he wanted it. Yet, because of the time-tested relationship David had experienced with God, he knew God was faithful. David trusted God, even in spite of his feelings.

We will increasingly trust God as we come to know through firsthand, personal experience that He is indeed who He says He is. Get to know your God and you will trust Him.

 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.” Jeremiah 17:7

It All Comes Back to Intimacy

womanPrayingAs a teacher of God’s Word I have the joy of spending many hours a week studying passages from all over the Bible. Whether in the Old or New Testament, prose, proverbs or parables, I am continually brought back to the fact that God’s chief desire is to have an intimate relationship with each of us. It’s why He created us. It’s the reason He saved us.

The symbolism of this truth found in Matthew 27:50-51 is breathtaking. The scene is the cross, the crucifixion of Jesus: “And when Jesus had cried out in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit. At that moment, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”  From the days of Moses, the temple had been the symbolic dwelling place of God. It had two rooms, one room was called the Holy Place, the other was known as the Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place. The curtain spoken of in Matthew 27:51 separated the two. Four inches thick and beautifully woven with a mosaic of cherubim (Ex. 26:31-36), only the high priest could pass through the curtain and enter into the most sacred place. He did so only once a year. Yet, at the exact moment of Jesus’ death everything changed. In an act only possibly by God, the curtain was torn from top to bottom symbolizing that the separation between God and man had been ripped open as well.

We can know God! Through an experiential relationship, we have been invited to know the God of the universe in an intimate manner. This One who knows and loves every detail about us longs to share Himself and His life with us. So great was God’s desire that He ordained we would experience this fullness of life only as we walk in intimacy with Him. This is the meaning of John 17:3:  “For You (God) granted Him (Jesus) authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him. Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” Jesus came to give mankind eternal life. It’s a life that begins at salvation. We not only receive unending years with God, but an abundant, joy-filled life now through God’s Spirit who lives in us. John 10:10 draws a stark contrast: “The thief comes only to kill, steal and destroy; I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” With God’s children, Satan seeks to kill, steal and destroy our abundant life on this earth by thwarting our intimacy with God. His usual tactics are fear and rejection.

You may have been the target of a lie, one specifically designed for you. Possibly it was a lie invoking fear of what intimacy with God might mean, or fear of the changes it could bring. Maybe it came in the form of rejection. This was true with me. Satan got me to believe that though God wanted intimacy with some people, He didn’t want it with me. Whatever his lie, the primary motive is to block the  intimacy you can have with God, thereby destroying  the abundant life He has for you now.

Abundant life is found through a relationship of intimacy with God. It’s a relationship God longs to have with you! Think about it, God created you! Only Satan would try to convince you that He now wants nothing to do with you or His ways aren’t best for you. James 4:8 says, “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” The Old Testament parallel is Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all of your heart.” One of the most powerful prayers you can speak is, “Lord, I want to accurately and experientially know you.” Then, start seeking. Read His Word. Talk to Him. Acts 17:27 says that when you find Him (or more accurately, you open yourself up to HIm), you will discover that He was never far away.

Christ in us, the hope of glory

With a very heavy heart for a friend going through what I would call ‘the trial of a lifetime,’ I stand amazed at the glory of God shining through her because Christ indwells her. She’s a living epistle. In Colossians 1:26-27 the Apostle Paul speaks of the mystery, once hidden for generations, but now revealed, “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in us.”  I see it. I see the glory of God through her life and there’s no explanation for what I see or for the peace she feels except for the fact that Almighty God is living in and through here. Witnessing her life has made God’s glory very real to me.

David said it in Psalm 16:11 “…there is joy in your presence”. For all the things we’d rather not go through, there is always joy available to us in His presence. And His presence is always with us, for Christ is in us!

God: Our Number One Pursuit

“I consider everything a lose compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”   Philippians 3:8

          A group of us gathered this morning to study God’s Word and share our journey in intimacy with Him.  Common threads ran throughout the conversation.           We spoke of the lies we’ve believed about God.  Lies of how we’ve perceived He felt about us, what He did or did not want to share with us.   A lot of lies were shared.  Yet we were not surprised, for our adversary is called “the father of lies.”  We talked about the pictures, the ones we create in our mind of the life we’ve wanted.  Pictures we’ve created seeking to find joy.  Some in our group have had their picture shattered.  Then there were the vain pursuits of the things that have seemed so vitally important.  Mostly good things, but not the Best Thing.  Most precious were the ah-hah moments as we were seeing God as He really is.

          Intimacy is a challenging pursuit. Jesus spoke of the struggle as He addressed the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7, for they had lost their love for Him.  It’s a mature pursuit, for our adversary and even our flesh will rise to fight against it.  Yet, it’s a freeing pursuit. When we seek God first we begin to throw off the pursuits that hinder our intimacy with Him. We no longer find the once entangling sin so attractive.

          All of us concluded, a journey in intimacy with God is a pursuit we’re excited to make.

The Beginning

God, You must not want that with me.

     As best I recall, these were the exact words I spoke to God in December 1993.   I’d just completed Henry Blackaby’s Bible study Experiencing God, an amazing course which included insightful  sharing by fellow students of how they had experienced God, heard His voice and been led in specific courses of action by Him.   Yet I was saddened that I didn’t share such intimacy with God.  My conclusion: God, you must not want that with me.
     I can (almost) chuckle as I recall those words and the decision I made to ‘cool it’ with God.  At the time they were words said in pain.  I hadn’t stopped believing in God.  I didn’t doubt my personal salvation. I simply determined there was a level of intimacy with God enjoyed by some, a group for which I had not been chosen.  Still today, the tender emotions linger; emotions not only of the pain but the incredible joy as God began revealing He did want a relationship of intimacy with me.  AND HE WANTS IT WITH YOU!   
     God has been pursuing intimacy with mankind since the beginning.    According to Acts 17:26-27, “From one man He made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.   God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”  Wow!   God determine the time we would live, the places we would live so that we would seek and reach out for Him.  
     As I reflect back over the year 1994, I remember how I craved time with God in His Word.  I recall no thoughts of things I would do for God or things He would do for me.  I wanted only to be with Him, for I finally saw how much He loved and wanted to be with me.  
     Since then there have been times of refocusing as God has graciously kept Himself as the object of my greatest affection.  He would lay upon my heart: “Do you love Me more than the blessings I give?”   “Do you want to know of My righteousness more than you want Me to make you righteous?”  Most recently, “Do you love Me more than you love serving Me?”  Each time I knew what I wanted the answer to be:  “Father, You are my first love!  I want you above all else!”
     Life’s a journey and if we’ll choose it, it can be a journey in intimacy with God. 

The Journey

It was January 19, 2011 when the words first fell upon my heart.   “Never forget, the ultimate joy is intimacy with Me.”

The words came after months (really years) of letting go.   Letting go of a ministry role I dearly loved and thoroughly enjoyed.   Letting go of things I wanted – wanted to be, wanted to do.   Letting go of what people thought of me and above all what I wanted them to think of me.    It had been, and continues to be, a journey of letting go all that would supercede what as a child of God is to be my primary pursuit, my first love.

A question had weighed heavy on my heart:  Were the words of Jesus in Revelation 2:2-4 true about me?    “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance… You have persevered and have endured hardship for my name and have not grown weary.    Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love.”

Did I love serving God more than simply being in a relationship with God?  Did I love the blessings of God more than God?   Was my relationship with Him more about me than about Him: more about what He could do for me, how He could change me than my knowing, loving and worshipping Him?    Could I be content in this relationship not doing for Him but simply being with him as the Psalmist challenged, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10)?

I knew what the answer should be.  I knew what I wanted it to be.   After months of asking, no, begging God to make my answer His desired answer I began to see a change in my heart.  The words on January 19 would be the first of many reminders:  the ultimate joy is intimacy with God.