The Land Is Good

When surveying life, there can be a variety of perspectives — or lenses — through which we view it. Some of us are optimistic while others are pessimistic. Some see the glass as half-full while others see it as half-empty. Some claim things will look better tomorrow while others believe every day brings trouble.

These lenses have been in use since the Garden of Eden. The Bible does not record that Eve felt discontent in paradise until Satan shared a pessimistic viewpoint: your life is lacking unless you eat from the one tree God placed off limits. I believe Eve had not paid much attention to that tree before — she was content with the rest of the land — but after Satan’s assertion, it became her focus:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. (Genesis 3:6, NIV)

Eve chose to view her surroundings through the lens that portrayed them as not good. Or at least not good enough. She turned away from far more life to pursue a land that looked better. But it was an empty promise from Satan.

About 2500 years later, the Israelites were standing outside the Promised Land. This was the place God chose for them and described as “a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:7). Although they had faced slavery in Egypt, God intended to bless them with far more life in this land.

But when the Israelite scouts entered the land, they brought a mixed report to Moses and Aaron:

…We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey…Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large…We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us…The land…devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size…and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:27-28, 31-33, NASB)

The land is good, but…

How often do we, like the scouts, discount the good and dwell on the problems? God had already promised to make the land theirs, but, rather than trusting in God’s character and promises, the Israelites assessed the situation based on their own strength. They saw their weaknesses and declared the land not good.

However, two of the scouts viewed the land through a different lens:

Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh…spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” (Numbers 14:6-9, NASB)

The land is exceedingly good. The Lord is with us. Obey Him and have confidence in His protection and provision. Joshua and Caleb were not blind to the challenges ahead, but they saw the land as God intended. They urged the people to pursue far more life, to put their hope and trust in God and follow His commands. They recognized this would allow them to experience the best of the land.

Today we do not need to get to a certain location on planet earth to find exceedingly good land. Every born-again believer in Jesus Christ is indwelled with the Holy Spirit. The exceedingly good land is your heart, which was renewed when you accepted Christ as your Savior. The Lord is pleased with you and always with you. You have nothing to fear. You have power to live within His will. Far more life is available every moment of every day.

We are tempted to think of our circumstances as the land. We may see it as not good. Perhaps we view our family and friends as messy and inconvenient. Perhaps we believe our own weaknesses are insurmountable. We may dwell on our sin and feelings of worthlessness. We may expect to find peace and joy from external sources. Far more life recognizes this is not God’s viewpoint.

He purified their hearts by faith (Acts 15:9, NIV)

A heart purified by faith in Christ is good land.

 God…set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, NIV)

A heart where the Holy Spirit lives is good land.

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6, NIV)

A heart that is growing in Christlikeness is good land.

When we view our heart as good land, we experience far more life. We understand the land is good because of what God has done and is doing in us, not because of what is happening around us. The land is good because it is God’s home, not because of our life circumstances. Look with eyes of faith beyond the challenges, beyond sin, beyond human frailty and embrace the good land of far more life!

Sisters,
Does your perspective tend to be more positive or more negative?
When have you turned away from far more life to pursue something that looked better?
What are the “buts” in your life that keep you from viewing it as exceedingly good?
How does thinking of your heart as God’s land help you see the good?
Embrace the good land of far more life today!
-Shari

At The Lord’s Command

Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the LORD’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped…Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the LORD’s command they encamped, and at the LORD’s command they set out. (Numbers 9:17-23, NIV)

When I read this passage recently, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the Israelites. When they prayed to God for rescue from slavery, did they expect to leave the only homes they had ever known for a nomadic life in the desert? How would I respond to having no idea how long we would be in each place and no notice before being told to pack up and move? How would I feel about having no information about where we were going or how long it was going to take to get there? And then there is the change in food; the familiar foods were gone and replaced with an unfamiliar wafer called manna. I concluded that I would not have done well as an Israelite living this way! In fact, I would have joined them in complaining and criticizing Moses and God.

Like many of you, I like to think I am in control of my life — at least SOME aspects. But my attempts to be in control do not lead to the peace and satisfaction I desire. In fact, they often lead to worry, fear, doubt, or regret. Instead of seeking control, acknowledging God’s ultimate control and embracing His purpose and plan are where we find far more life.

What makes us hesitant to give God control? Because we trust ourselves more than we trust Him.

Why do we trust ourselves more? Because we do not have an accurate understanding of God or ourselves. We underestimate God and overestimate ourselves. But recognizing where our vision is skewed and adjusting it to His perspective brings far more life.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7, NIV)

God created humans. He designed each of our parts and put them together. Doctors and scientists have some understanding and ideas of how our bodies work, but God knows everything about us. Yet we trust our knowledge and understanding of what is best for us more than we trust His. Why? Maybe because we are used to people taking credit for His design. Maybe because we cannot have coffee with Him and hear His knowledge face-to-face. Maybe because others have let us down, reinforcing the belief that no one else is trustworthy. Far more life trusts God’s knowledge and understanding more than your own.

To the eternal King, immortal and invisible, the only God—to him be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen (I Timothy 1:17, GNT)

Humans have a birth date and a death date; even the lifespan of the longest-living human is just a dot in the scope of eternity. We are mortal and will succumb to physical death unless Christ returns in the next few decades. Yet we trust our own experiences and wisdom more than His. Why? Maybe because we cannot grasp what it means to have no birth or beginning. Maybe because we expect God to be bound by the same limits as everyone we have ever known. Maybe because we are so focused on the details that we miss the overarching principles that God has provided in His Word. Far more life trusts God’s experiences and wisdom more than your own.

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. (Mark 10:17-18, NIV)

The Trinity alone — God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit — are morally good and pure. Humans are not. We are susceptible to sin and evil, to being deceived and having a distorted view. We do not always make the right choices or believe what is true. Yet we trust our own judgments and perceptions more than God’s. Why? Maybe we do not believe He has our best interests at heart. Maybe it is hard for us to believe He is truly pure because we have never met anyone like that. Maybe our understanding of goodness and purity have been polluted and we do not even recognize it. Far more life trusts God’s judgements and perceptions more than your own.

I find it interesting that the passage above says twice that the camp moved and settled “at the Lord’s command…” But His command was not a booming voice or a trumpet call. It was the position of a cloud! Sometimes it would be nice if we, too, had a cloud that led us through life. We may think that would make it easier to trust God, but I believe we would still be tempted to trust ourselves more, just like the Israelites did. In those moments of distrust, may we be ready to examine our hearts to reveal why we trust ourselves more than God.

Sisters,
How do you feel about letting others — even God — be in control?
In what areas do your thoughts and actions show you trust yourself more than God?
Embrace far more life by opening your heart to Him when you realize you are resisting His commands.
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

With You

Many of us are striving to be more, to be better. We believe we do not measure up in many — perhaps any — areas of life. We believe we must be independent, competent, and pulled together. There is little, if any, room in our lives for error, lack of knowledge, or inability to get the job done well. We may be familiar with the adage, “No man is an island,” but do not think it applies to us.

God does not expect us to be independent, competent, and pulled together. He allows errors, lack of knowledge, and inability to get the job done. He never intended for us to take on life’s tasks and challenges alone. He has been involved with His children from the beginning and will remain involved with them until the end. Far more life is being connected to and involved with God in all areas of life.

I will be with you.

I count at least 29 times in the Bible when God or Jesus tells an individual or group that He will be with them. I count at least 5 more where a Biblical writer reminds others that God has promised to be with them. The situations these people faced are similar to those we face. We can rest assured that God is still with His children, offering them far more life.

God promised to be with His children when they were facing a new challenge.

  • This includes Moses, who was called to lead the Israelites out of the control of a powerful man he was hiding from (Exodus 3:12).
  • God reassured Joshua with the promise as he prepared to take leadership from Moses and move the Israelites into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 31:23).
  • God restated His promise twice in one pep talk to Joshua after Moses’ death (Joshua 1:5 & 1:8).
  • When Jesus was preparing the disciples to advance His kingdom, He promised the Holy Spirit would be with them forever (John 14:16-17).

God promised to be with His children who were in a difficult situation.

  • He made this promise to Isaac when He told him to remain in an area plagued with famine (Genesis 26:3).
  • Isaac heard this promise again when his neighbors became jealous of his success (Genesis 26:24).
  • At least 3 times when God instructed Jeremiah to speak His truth to the rebellious Israelites, He promised to be with him (Jeremiah 1:8, 1:19, 46:28).

God promised to be with His children as they faced the consequences of their sin.

  • When Jacob was on the run after deceiving his father to steal his brother’s blessing, God appeared to him in a dream and promised to be with him (Genesis 28:15).
  • After God allowed the rebellious Israelites to be oppressed by the Midianites, He ordered Gideon to cut down the enemy army and promised to be with him (Judges 6:12 & 6:16).
  • Centuries later the Israelites rebelled again and God proclaimed He was with them through more oppression (Isaiah 41:10, 43:2, 43:5)

God reminded David of His presence when reining in his plans. The story is told twice of David’s desire to build a temple to provide God an earthly dwelling. God told David “no” then reminded him that He had always been with him, wherever he was (2 Samuel 7:9 & I Chronicles 17:8).

God promised to be with His chosen people as they obeyed and followed Him.

  • When telling Jeroboam of His plans to make him king, God promised to be with him on the condition that he obeyed His commands and decrees (I Kings 11:38).
  • Later God spoke through multiple prophets to remind the Israelites that He would be with them when they turned back to obedience (Isaiah 58:9; Jeremiah 15:20, Amos 5:14).
  • When the people were restored to their land, God said He would be with them as they rebuilt His temple (Haggai 1:13).
  • When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He promised to be with His followers always (Matthew 28:20).
  • In the gospel of John, Jesus promised He and God will be with those who love Him (John 14:23).

God promised to be with His chosen people when they chose His plans over their own logic.

  • After a group of Israelite men went on a killing spree, others who feared for their lives wanted to move away; but God said He would be with them if they stayed put (Jeremiah 42:11).
  • When Paul encountered controversy in Corinth, the Lord appeared to Him in a dream, instructing him to remain there and promising to be with him and protect him (Acts 18:10).

One benefit of living after Christ is that the Holy Spirit lives inside every believer who has accepted Him as Savior. We have no reason to question God’s presence in our lives, but we are tempted to take it for granted. We forget to tap into His power, knowledge, and wisdom. We forsake far more life by trying to do life on our own.

Far more life is dependent on God. Period. We are dependent on Him for our existence, for salvation from our sin, for everything in this life and the life to come. We have nothing to prove and nothing to gain from trying to be independent from Him. We are not competent. We are not pulled together. We make errors. We lack knowledge. We are unable to complete His jobs on our own. We will never outgrow our need for Him. Fortunately, we can trust the words spoken by King David’s advisor, Nathan:

The Lord is with you. (2 Samuel 7:3, NIV)

Sisters,
How are you tempted to live independently?
Which category of God’s promise to be with us is most meaningful to you? Why?
Do you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you? If not, what is stopping you from accepting Christ? If so, are you willing to depend on Him — not yourself — for everything?
Thank God that far more life depends on Him — and He offers it to us freely!
-Shari

Moving Through

A couple of my friends are going through challenging health situations. Both suffer from chronic pain and are not finding relief. They have prayed many times that their suffering would be eased or stop, but it seems God keeps answering, “No.” Now they are battling discouragement on top of the pain and other physical difficulties they face daily. In talking with one of them this week, we dug a bit deeper into this verse:

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (I Peter 5:10, ESV)

On first reading, it seems this verse promises that God will rescue us from ongoing suffering. But could the verse be saying something different? Could it be telling us what to expect as we continue to suffer? Let’s look at what God promises to do: restore, confirm, strengthen and establish.

After you have suffered a little while, God will restore you. We want this to mean He will restore us to our pre-suffering state. We want anything we have lost to be returned to us. We want it to be as if our suffering had never happened. But let’s consider another interpretation. Pretend the suffering is a hurricane-strength wind. When it first hit, you may have stumbled, staggered, been knocked around, or even fallen. You were caught off-guard and became overwhelmed by the force pushing against you. But after a while, you adjust to the pressure. Rather than being pushed further away, you are able to maintain your position. Perhaps that is the restoration God describes here. Situations that bring suffering may catch us by surprise and cause our faith to stumble. At first, we may forget about God, question Him, or doubt Him. But after a little while, we remember Him, we stop asking “why”, and we believe He is present and aware. We are restored to a place where we can connect with Him, where our faith is engaged and active. This is where we experience far more life.

Early in Jesus’ ministry His disciples were caught off-guard when many followers left Jesus after hearing a hard teaching. I believe an example of restoration is recorded in Simon Peter’s response when Jesus asked the Twelve if they would leave, too:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68, NIV)

After you have suffered a little while, God will confirm you. The Greek word translated “confirm” means to make firm, to render constant. After you are restored — able to maintain your position — you realize how much force you must exert against the wind — or the struggle you face — to maintain your balance and footing. In a spiritual sense, standing firm comes from remembering God’s truth about yourself, Him and your relationship. Truth gives us power to go through our struggles hand-in-hand with Jesus. Far more life is not the absence of struggle, but standing firm with Jesus in our struggles.

The rest of Simon Peter’s response to Jesus in the encounter described above shows he is confirmed, grounded in truth:

We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God. (John 6:69, NIV)

After you have suffered a little while, God will strengthen you. This is the only place the Greek word translated “strengthen” appears in the New Testament. It means that something is made strong but mobile, able to move to achieve something in the most effective way. Hanging onto something strong allows us to stay upright against the gale-force winds of suffering. But Jesus offers us more than an immobile pillar; He offers a strength that allows us to move through our suffering effectively to achieve His purpose. Far more life is not stagnant, it is continuing with Christ through our struggles.

This plea and encouragement Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth describes the result of being strengthened during adversity:

…Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:58, NIV)

After you have suffered a little while, God will establish you. The word establish means to make the soul stable, to lay a solid foundation. Suffering serves an important role in our spiritual growth and prepares us for future service and growth. This is one aspect of good that God works through our suffering; our faith becomes more solid and stable, resting more firmly on Christ. We believe God’s promises more fully because we have experienced them in action. Far more life is unshakeable because it is stable and solid.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. (Matthew 7:24-25, NIV)

Our foundation of faith allows us to move with Christ through our suffering. And that experience prepares us for the next challenge we will face. Throughout our lives, we have the opportunity to keep establishing our connection to Christ with every hardship. If we turn to God in our suffering, he will continue to restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us. We will keep finding far more life in our suffering.

Sisters,
Are you currently suffering? If so, how has not being rescued impacted your faith?
How has God restored you during this or previous suffering?
How have you experienced God confirming you?
How has He strengthened you to continue doing His will?
How have you been established through suffering?
Thank God for giving you far more life in the midst of suffering. (And thank Him that one day all suffering will end for His children — what a glorious day that will be!)
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

What Do You Love?

Love is complicated, they say. I agree, but maybe not for the reasons most people who use this phrase would expect.

One reason love seems complicated is because we overuse the word. Love — or the red heart that commonly represents it — is used to promote tourist attractions, products, brands, breeds of pets, and much more. Social media encourages us to love what others share. And numerous emojis include hearts to relay a variety of love messages via texting. But do we really love all these things? Are you as committed to your favorite vacation destination as you are to your family? Is the love you express to your pet the same love you express to a brand of vehicle? Does loving someone’s picture on social media mean the same thing as loving the person who posted it? Are any of these the same love we have for God or He has for us?

God is the originator of love, the prime example of love, and has a lot to say about it. The Bible provides many historical accounts, poetic expressions, letters, and prophecies describing His love. He put His love for us into action by sending His Son to take the punishment we deserve for sinning against Him. So it is no surprise that He speaks authoritatively in His instruction for how we, His children, should and should not love. Here is a warning He gives us:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. (I John 2:15-17, NLT)

Do not love the world. The Greek word translated love is agapao. It means to long for or esteem. It is a love of choice, selection, and reason that leads to taking pleasure in the thing or person you love. So God is telling us that far more life does not long for this world. It does not prioritize the values of this world above the values of God. It does not choose to take pleasure in pursuits or activities that are contrary to what God has instructed. The same word is used in other passages to tells us who and how to love:

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.  (Luke 6:35, NIV)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34, NIV)

Do not love what the world offers you: craving for physical pleasure. There are many things in this world that we can love for the physical pleasure they produce. Food. Nicotine. Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Experiences and activities that raise our endorphins. We forfeit far more life when we place more value in obtaining these pleasures than in living for God. We miss out on true love when we choose them over righteousness. Instead of craving physical pleasure from the world, God gives these instructions:

Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2, NIV)

…Live then as children of the light. The light produces in men…everything that is wholesome and good and true. Let your lives be living proofs of the things which please God.  (Ephesians 5:8-10, PHILLIPS)

Do not love what the world offers: craving for everything we see. Living in the information era, we see more of the world than any previous generation. This can cause us to develop a sinful longing for the best lifestyles, experiences, power, and influence the world has to offer. But Paul’s prayer for the saints in Ephesus describes the cravings of far more life:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19, NIV)

Do not love what the world offers: pride in our achievements. Most people I have talked to about heaven believe they will spend eternity there because of the good things they have done. They value achievements and believe theirs have earned God’s favor. But God offers far more life to those who achieve one thing:

The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent. (John 6:29, NIV)

Do not love what the world offers: pride in our possessions. We miss far more life when we love our possessions more than we love God and people. When our life goal is acquiring that car, house, “toy”, or material item, then that possession is what we love and value most. Far more life takes pride in heavenly treasures instead:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV)

Love does not have to be complicated. When we long for God, when we choose to put Him first, when we adopt His values, we can share His love and enjoy far more life.

Sisters,
How do you overuse or minimize the word love?
In what ways are you tempted to love — value, long for, or choose — the world over God?
How do you love craving pleasure or what you see more than God?
How do you love taking pride in your achievements or possessions more than God?
Ask God to help you love Him most and experience the blessing of far more life.
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

If One Part Suffers…

If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.  (John 15:20-21, NIV)

Christians around the world are suffering. They are being mistreated, persecuted, and martyred at the hands of governments, political groups, and individuals — simply because they are followers of Jesus Christ. Only a few of their stories are being shared by news outlets; as of this writing Voice of the Martyrs has identified 60 “restricted areas” and “hostile nations” around the world.

Those of us physically removed from the suffering can feel helpless. We do not have the power to stop the violence or change the mindset of the persecutors. But God has given us the means to strengthen and support our brothers and sisters who are suffering for Him: prayer.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3, NIV)

…There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it… (I Corinthians 12:25-26, NIV)

…The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:16, NIV)

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. (I Peter 3:12, Psalm 34:15-16, NIV)

We can remember those who are suffering in our prayers. We can show our concern for the persecuted through prayer. We can strengthen and support those being mistreated through prayer. The Bible promises that God hears and acts on the prayers of His children. It also reveals that our prayers — which are sometimes ridiculed as useless and childish by non-Christians — are powerful and effective in God’s hands. In fact, our prayers often accomplish more than our actions.

What can we pray for those who are being persecuted? How can we, who have not faced severe hardship, know what they really need? Fortunately, God’s Word offers guidance.

My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will. (Matthew 26:39, NIV)

First, we can follow Jesus’ example and pray that the persecution, mistreatment, and abuse stops. Our loving Father always wants to hear what is on our hearts, and we do not want others to suffer! It is perfectly acceptable to ask Him to intervene and rescue people from suffering. But, as Jesus models, we must ask in submission to God’s will. He has a purpose and plan that we cannot fully see or comprehend, and what we are asking may not fit with His will. Some may think this makes our prayers useless or worthless, but that is a lie Satan uses to discourage us from connecting with God through openness, prayer, and surrender. Far more life is confident that God hears our prayers and will answer them in the best possible way.

The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11, NIV)

But as for me, afflicted and in pain — may your salvation, God, protect me. (Psalm 69:29, NIV)

 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (Ephesians 3:16, NIV)

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, (Ephesians 1:18, NIV)

We can also pray for spiritual strength for those enduring persecution. We can pray that they will see God’s hand at work and that His provision, faithfulness, and love will be evident. We can pray that He keeps their hearts at peace regardless of their circumstances. We can pray that their hope is secure in Him and allows them to see their role in the spiritual battle raging around them. We can pray that they experience far more life as the Spirit empowers them with all they need to remain spiritually strong.

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:38, NIV)

…What has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. (Philippians 1:12, NIV)

…With the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. (I Thessalonians 2:2, NIV)

The way in which Jesus suffered and died caused at least one witness to recognize His true identity. We can pray for the gospel message — that forgiveness for sin and eternal life in heaven are found in Jesus Christ alone — to be heard and accepted because of persecution. We can pray for the light of salvation to shine brightly through the darkness of suffering and draw people to Christ. We can pray that our mistreated and martyred brothers and sisters reveal the power and glory of God in their lives and in their deaths. We can pray the places with greatest opposition are the places where God’s kingdom advances the most.

Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. (Revelation 2:10, NIV)

Praise God that this life is not the end. Those who suffer and die for Him on earth will reap far more life eternally!

Sisters,
If you were surprised to read so many places are spiritually “restricted” or “hostile”, visit persecution.com to learn more.
Will you join me — and followers of Christ worldwide — in praying for our brothers and sisters who are suffering?
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Far More Protection

If you have attended even a few weddings, you are probably familiar with “the love chapter” — First Corinthians 13. While we can all agree that “Love is patient, love is kind…” (I Corinthians 13:4) is helpful marriage advice, the chapter has a much broader application. The word translated “love” is “agape” in the original Greek; that is not romantic or friendship love, instead it is the unconditional love first demonstrated by Jesus. So the love chapter applies to all of us and provides instruction for experiencing far more life. It helps us understand how God puts His love toward us into action. And it provides a guide for our interactions with the people we want to love well.

There are many comforting and challenging thoughts in I Corinthians 13, but these phrases always stand out to me:

It always protects…Love never fails. (I Corinthians 13:7-8, NIV)

Every time I read or hear that I feel like Jesus is giving me a hug! I feel such warmth and peace, knowing I can count on these promises. Here are some of the thoughts these phrases bring to mind that offer me far more life.

God is completely trustworthy and all-powerful. No one else can make those claims. He is offering me all I need. I am wise to humbly and gratefully accept His love and protection! (Psalm 36:7)

When God says always, He means always! I never have to wonder if “this situation” is included in God’s promise. Every situation I will ever face falls under His umbrella of protection. (Psalm 73:23)

Protecting me does not mean He stops all bad things from happening. But it does mean He will not allow evil to overwhelm me — or any of His children. Everything in my life must pass through His filter; only those things that fit His good purpose for my life are allowed to occur. (2 Thessalonians 3:3, Romans 8:28-29)

Every commandment, instruction, and principle in the Bible was given in love to protect me. He knows they will minimize my pain and bring me far more life. His boundaries protect me from spiritual death, hardship, evil, and undue struggle. Following them is where I will find far more life. (Psalm 119:97-104)

He is a personal God who lives inside His children. The Holy Spirit offers me protection me from my own sin and foolishness. He has opened my spiritual eyes to discern right from wrong. And He has empowered me to overcome sinful choices, habits, and temptations. (Romans 5:8, Proverbs 12:15, I Corinthians 3:19)

I am called to lovingly protect others, too. I can protect them in my own heart and mind by believing the best rather than making negative assumptions about their motives or actions. I can protect them by not telling others about their mistakes, failures, and sins. I can protect them by speaking the truth in love in areas where they are unaware of the negative impact they are having on others. I can protect them from self-deprecation by helping them recognize how God views them. God wants me to share His love by actively protecting others. (John 13:35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2)

His love protects me from sinning against others. While I am not sinless, His unconditional love inside of me is stronger than defensiveness, anger, gossip, slander, unforgiveness, unfaithfulness, and other ungodly responses that sometimes rise up. I am not a slave to my impulses or selfishness. His love enables me to be like Him and genuinely care for others. Far more life asks, “How can I best love this person?” or “How would Jesus love them?” and puts that love into action. (John 15:12, Romans 6:13, I John 4:11)

God’s love for His children never fails. He is the perfect parent! I am so thankful I can count on God’s love for me. I can never do anything so terrible that He will withdraw from me. I will not get to the end of my life and learn I was not good enough to spend eternity with Him. Evil will never overcome His love. He is never too busy for me. He never misunderstands me. His love is always exactly what I need. And when it is also exactly what I want, I bask in far more life. (Isaiah 43:1-3, Romans 8:38-39, Lamentations 3:22)

Sisters,
How have you personally been protected by love?
When you read “Love always protects” what does that communicate to you about God? About how He wants you to love others?
Is it easy or hard for you to believe that God’s love never fails? If you feel He has failed you, talk to Him about it. Ask Him to help you see how He protected you or what His good purpose was for you. This can be very hard! You may want to ask a pastor or trusted Christian friend for help.
Thank God that His protection offers you far more life — then accept it!
-Shari


Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Spiritual Training

It seems God wired us to appreciate excellence. Since we are created in His image, this should not be surprising. He is excellent in character and actions and created us with a drive to be like that, too. One example of human excellence that people love to watch is the Olympics. The same was true during the apostle Paul’s life, and he used the ancient Olympics to illustrate some spiritual principles:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25, NASB1995)

Run to win. Strive to be the best you can be. Rather than living half-heartedly for Christ, give it your all. While we are not competing against others for a single prize; our prize is a strong, healthy faith filled with the peace and joy of far more life that will continue for eternity.

Christ-following is an all-encompassing lifestyle. Christianity is not a part-time pursuit or a hobby; it impacts every aspect of your life. Like elite athletes, our goal requires us to live for more than temporary pleasures. To become the best, athletes must be self-controlled in their schedule, activity, rest, leisure, nutrition, and more. These are all areas that Christians can use for God’s glory — and find far more life along the way!

The prize is worth the investment. Ancient Olympians hoped to achieve immortality by winning their race. Although they and their olive wreath eventually died, we are promised eternal life through Jesus Christ. Dedicating our lives to Him and striving to glorify Him in every aspect leads to great reward! We are promised eternal glory that far outweighs our sacrifice (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Similar ideas are communicated in another of Paul’s letters:

Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.  (I Timothy 4:7-8, NIV)

The Greek word translated “train” is “gymnaze.” It literally means “to exercise naked, to train”. Why would God want us to exercise naked?

Ancient Olympians trained and competed naked, their physical features and flaws exposed to all. The contenders did not mind because they wanted to impress the Greek gods with their physical strength and muscular physique. While God is not impressed by our strength and physique, we are indeed naked before Him, whether or not we admit it.

In our spiritual training, it is beneficial to make ourselves naked by acknowledging our flaws, weaknesses, and sin. The writer of Hebrews describes it like this:

…Let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back, and especially those sins that wrap themselves so tightly around our feet and trip us up; and let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us. (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)

What else does the Bible say we need to put off to be spiritually naked?

…Lay aside the deeds of darkness. (Romans 13:12, NASB1995)

…Put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires (Ephesians 4:22, NIV)

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices. (Colossians 3:9, NASB1995)

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31, NIV)

Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent… (James 1:21, NIV)

Our spiritual training involves taking off sin, moral filth, evil, and old desires and habits that pull us away from God. We must stop lying to ourselves and others about our own spiritual power, physique, and abilities. The foundation of far more life is seeing ourselves as God does and understanding our true spiritual state. Without Him, we are depraved, helpless, and hopeless (Romans 2:5). In Him, we are forgiven, have power over sin, and hope for the future (Acts 13:38-39, Romans 15:13).

When we are spiritually naked, we are ready to train in godliness. While physical training puts on muscle or strength, spiritual training puts on character qualities and attitudes:

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts. (Romans 13:14, NASB1995)

…Be made new in the attitude of your minds…put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:23-24, NIV)

…Put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. (Colossians 3:10, NASB1995)

…Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other… (Colossians 3:12-13, NASB1995)

Put on love… (Colossians 3:14, NASB1995)

…Put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:8, NASB1995)

Far more life puts on Jesus. Not in a fake way, like wearing a mask. Rather it takes on His character traits and becomes like Him. It adopts His values and goals as well as His likes and dislikes. It embraces His perspective and responds as He would. It believes what His Word says is true and acts on it.

Fortunately, it is never too early or too late to step up our spiritual training. God is always available and willing to help us take the next step. We have nothing to lose and far more life to gain by training with Him!

Sisters,
What excellence do you enjoy viewing?
In what do you strive for excellence?
Is the “prize” you are seeking in life perishable or imperishable?
How do you feel about being spiritually naked before God? Yourself? Others?
What do you need to put off to continue your training?
What are you ready to put on?
Enjoy far more life as you train with Him!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Far More Happiness

A popular quote says people can do what makes them happy OR what glorifies God. This means pleasing God requires a joyless existence serving a selfish demanding task master. While this is true for those living apart from Christ, it is not God’s intention for His born-again children! As one popular song explained, far more life is a great adventure in Christ, a journey more amazing and glorious than our wildest dreams!

Are there times when Christians sin, thinking it will make them happier than actions and attitudes that glorify God? Absolutely! Accepting Christ’s offer to forgive our sins does not guarantee we will never sin. But the Bible describes several important changes that do occur:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you… And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NIV)

We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4, NIV)

When we invite Christ into our lives, He makes us a new spiritual creation! Our looks and personalities remain the same. We retain our talents and skills as well as many of our interests. But our desires change from pleasing ourselves to pleasing God. Our motivation changes from making ourselves look good to making God look good. Many things that used to be fun or make us happy now become unpleasant, unfulfilling, or even disgusting. Without Christ, we were seeking significance, acceptance, and belonging, hoping they will fill an internal void. Once Christ fills that void and our foundational needs are met in Him, we discover new desires. We find far more life while using our time, skills, possessions, and money to bless others.

A relationship with Christ not only changes our desires, it also gives us power to change our habits:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24, NIV)

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed…You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  (Colossians 3:5-10, NIV)

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2, NIV)

Notice we are not instructed to try harder to be good people. God tells us to put off, put on, put to death, rid ourselves, do not, and be because He has given us the power to do those things! Some changes are easy. A friend of mine lost his desire to cuss as soon as he accepted Christ; he did not have to work at cleaning up his language, the curse words were simply gone! But the majority of the time, change takes time and effort. God helps us recognize sinful or unhealthy habits and we have to choose different beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, and actions. One example of this in my own life concerns the music I enjoy. Before I started living for Christ, I loved the feelings stirred up by love songs; even when they made me feel lonely, I was hopeful that someday my “prince” would meet my emotional needs. Over time, I recognized some of those songs tempted me to look to a romantic partner instead of God for significance, acceptance, and belonging. As I explored new recording artists, I found that I preferred those who pointed me to deeper spiritual thoughts, eternal perspectives, and truth about God’s character and love. As my beliefs and thoughts changed, so did my listening habits. Far more life recognizes spiritual transformation is a life-long process that leads to increasing happiness.

This verse outlines three ways God’s followers can make Him happy:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, NIV)

When we embrace far more life and join God in His plans for life, these things make us happy, too. We are happy when we act justly and work toward justice in our society. We are happy when we show mercy and compassion to others. We are happy when we let God be the boss and do what He says is good and right. Injustice, cold-heartedness, and disregard for God and His ways make us sad or unhappy.

When you are following God, you are in sync with His values and desires. Doing what makes you happy brings inner peace and a deeper connection to Him. Far more life is doing what makes you genuinely happy, knowing it is making God happy, too!

Sisters,
Have you believed that only you OR God can be happy? How has that negatively impacted your desire to live for Him?
When you accepted Christ, what void was filled in your heart? How did that change your motivations, desires, and actions?
How has the Spirit empowered you to change? In what area are you currently working to change?
Embrace the fruit of far more life — happiness — as you live for God today!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Life-Changing Words

Our world is desperately seeking answers to the problems we face. Many words are spoken — in our government centers, through media and social media, and in private conversations — that offer ideas and plans for addressing them. The words take on many tones and remind me of a common hymn that describes the content of God’s Word, the Bible: Beautiful words. Wonderful words. Life-giving words. Faith-building words. Loving words. Inviting words. Hope-giving life. Words of good news. Saving words.

Sadly, most individuals and governments have rejected God’s words and are looking for “better” answers. But the Bible is the best place look for answers because most of the problems we face in life and society are spiritual problems. Selfishness, greed, lust, envy, and pride are more than character flaws; they are evidence of spiritual death, separation from God.

When we are engaged in a relationship with God, listening to His words, we have the power to love and value people as He does. Our interactions offer genuine concern, generosity, graciousness, and self-sacrifice. We serve as His representative and bring Him glory by demonstrating how He intended for people to interact with Him, each other, and our planet. Living out His words solves spiritual problems and leads to far more life.

How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
By living according to your word. (Psalm 119:9, NIV)

There is great benefit to remaining faithful to the path God has marked as pure. We see God more clearly when our hearts and minds are not tainted by sin and evil (Matthew 5:8). I think of innocent children who see right and wrong in areas where adults struggle. As we live according to His Word, we experience life as He intended it to be. We avoid many spiritual problems and enjoy far more life.

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:10-11, NIV)

Anyone who watches spy movies knows that written instructions or codes can be damaged, lost, or stolen by the enemy. But what you memorize can be held securely and accessed easily. Similarly, memorizing God’s Word enables us to easily access it and have greater confidence that our decisions are consistent with His desires. We can access far more life easily and often when His words are stored in our mind.

Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. (Psalm 119:12, NIV)

We can take in God’s words with two attitudes: a desire to change them or a desire to be changed by them. When we find ideas in the Bible we dislike, we may want to reinterpret them to fit what makes us comfortable. Or dismiss them as antiquated or irrelevant. But far more life is willing to be changed by God’s Word. It is willing to research and understand what God is saying and the heart behind it. When we do this, we naturally praise Him for His wisdom, insight, and perfect love. We desire to learn more of His words because they become priceless treasures that lead us to far more life.

With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. (Psalm 119:13, NIV)

God’s words are too good to keep to ourselves! As family and friends wrestle with hard life circumstances, God’s words can strengthen and bless them. When we feel stuck, His words to offer a path forward. His words offer hope, peace, enlightenment, correction, and far more life — all the things we need! We should not be surprised when our experiences prove His words are true. Or when we become eager to share what we learn from His with others.

I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. (Psalm 119:14, NIV)

The words of instruction God gives us are priceless treasures. They are the secrets we need to live the best life possible. They enable us to become the best version of ourselves, the most like Him. It is easy to complain about the restrictions He communicates. It is popular to dismiss His standards as outdated or narrow-minded. But deep-seated joy — one evidence of far more life — is found when we live out God’s words.

I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. (Psalm 119:15, NIV)

God’s words can be hard to accept. We may have to think about them a while before we can appreciate them or put them into practice. Sometimes they are surprising and we have to wrestle through questions and doubts. Sometimes they are the opposite of what we want to be true. Sometimes we want proof that they lead to far more life. But I have found that seeking to understand God’s ways eventually leads to accepting them as the best. That should not be a surprise since He is our all-knowing Creator!

I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:16, NIV)

The psalmist does not feel obligated to study God’s words; he delights in them. When we delight in something we are eager to experience more of it. The more we value God’s words, the more we will turn to them for encouragement, wisdom, and perspective. And as we put His words into practice and see the positive effects, we will value them more. As God’s powerful words change our lives, we want to share far more life with others.

Sisters,
What problems are heavy on your heart? Where do you turn for solutions?
Can you recognize the spiritual root of the problems around you?
What value do you place on God’s Word? Does that agree with the value Psalm 119 describes?
Do you more often desire to change or be changed by God’s Word? What barriers do you face to being changed? What increases your willingness to be changed?
Choose a Bible verse to meditate on and memorize so you far more life is hidden in your heart!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso