Freedom!

…some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves (Galatians 2:4, NIV)

Many people think Christianity is a bunch of rules and restrictions. Perhaps this comes from the familiarity of the 10 “Thou shalt…” and “Thou shalt not…” Commandments of the Old Testament. It might be reinforced when people say, “I cannot do that because I am a Christian.” And there are certainly people who identify as Christians telling others what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable.

But authentic Christianity — which leads to far more life — is based on freedom. Freedom from the power and penalty of sin. Freedom to love God and love others. Freedom to admit weakness and wrongdoing as well as freedom to grow and change every single day.

People in Old Testament times did not have this freedom, instead they lived under a system of rules and restrictions. Spiritually speaking they were like young children; they needed clear expectations about right and wrong because they did not have the spiritual maturity to make the distinction. They did not have a personal relationship with God or the help of the Holy Spirit to guide them moment by moment. So the rules and restrictions were put in place so they knew what was required for maintaining a righteous standing before God.

But Jesus ushered in a new system of righteousness, built on freedom rather than rules. Through His death and resurrection, we can be forgiven of all our sins — past, present, and future — and have a permanent righteous standing before God.

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  (Romans 3:22-24, NIV)

When Jesus was asked which of the Old Testament laws were most important, He gave a response that pointed us toward the freedom He offered:

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, NIV)

Jesus summed up all the Old Testament rules and restrictions with this two-part principle: love God and love others. The New Testament is filled with instructions and examples that tell us what this looks like in action (Romans 8 & 12, Colossians 3, I Peter 3). When God’s rules were broken, the people lost His favor until a sacrifice was offered (Leviticus 9). But, with Jesus, our position with Him is secure even when we ignore or rebel against His principles (Hebrews 9:24-28). I appreciate this principle laid out for us about our freedom in Christ:

Everything is permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial. (I Corinthians 6:12, AMP)

God created us with free will, meaning that we have the desire and freedom to make choices. This is apparent from a young age; even toddlers find ways to communicate what they want! Although God gives us choices, not all choices are equal. He has defined some as sinful and others as righteous to help us understand which are best for us and glorify Him. With freedom comes the responsibility to accept the consequences of our choices. God’s design is that righteous choices lead to far more life while sinful ones lead to pain and loss. Sometimes sin looks like the better choice for the moment, and we use our freedom to choose it. But it always leads to pain and loss, whether that is evident immediately or years later. God loves us enough to let us make our own choices, just as human parents love their children enough to give them choices. And He remains faithful to His children, no matter how many sinful choices we make.

One beautiful part of getting to know God — and growing in far more life — is that we want to choose what He defines as right and good. As we grow in love for Him, our desire to choose what will please Him also grows. And as we choose what He says is best, we find that we are happier and more fulfilled, which leads us to use our freedom to keep loving Him and others. Live in freedom today as you pursue far more life!

Sisters,
Are you living under rules and restriction or freedom?
Have you accepted Jesus’ offer to pay the penalty for your sin against God? If not, what is holding you back?
What Biblical instruction has helped you grow in loving God and loving others?
What habits or choices have you found are not beneficial to your life? What do you need to change them?
Thank God for the freedom to pursue far more life through a secure relationship with Him!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Fight the Good Fight

Fight the good fight of the faith. (I Timothy 6:12a, NIV)

There are many fights: against injustice; against false information; against illness and disease; against undesirable laws and policies; against corruption; and many more. Joining one or more fight can grow us in far more life. Or it can drain the life out of us. Or pull us away from far more life. How do we choose which fight or fights are good to join?

There was a lot of fighting in the Old Testament era. Sometimes God clearly instructed the Israelites not to fight (Deuteronomy 1:42, Judges 2:15) but there were many more times when God supported the people in their fights (Deuteronomy 3:22, Judges 11:32, I Chronicles 5:20, Nehemiah 4:14, Jeremiah 1:19). The latter fights were often for physical land God had promised His people:

I will give you every place where you set your foot…Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life…you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. (Joshua 1:3-6, NIV)

The good fight was clear to the Israelites because God gave very specific orders and named specific enemies. But today God has called us to a spiritual battle:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world… (2 Corinthians 10:3-4, NIV)

Our good fight is a fight of faith. It is not against people, rather it is against evil, spiritual darkness, sin, and Satan’s plans. The good fight strives to be like Jesus and live as His representative on planet earth. It takes place on many fronts, and not all spiritual soldiers are called to the same front.

Every person who has accepted Christ is a soldier in this battle. But some do not realize the importance or prevalence of this fight. In fact, one of Satan’s tactics is to distract us from the good fight with side skirmishes.

When I was in lower elementary school I received a watch as a gift. I was very proud of that watch — and my ability to tell time. One day after school I got into an argument with an older boy about the time. There was no easy way to check Standard Time while we were on the bus, but I was adamant my watch was right and his was wrong. Later I was embarrassed for fighting about such an unimportant thing. But at the time it felt like a very good fight.

Satan knows that when we are engaged in unimportant battles, we lack the energy and awareness needed to join the good fight. When Satan convinces us to battle against other Christians on which day to worship Him, what clothing or activities are most righteous, or what translation of the Bible is best, then we are not able to unite and join the good fight against him. When Satan convinces us to battle unbelievers on matters of righteousness, priorities, and current issues, then we cannot fight the good fight by sharing the love and hope of Christ with them and inviting them into God’s family.

Since we are imperfect, there are times when we abandon the good fight and join lesser battles. When we recognize our mistake, we have the opportunity to admit it, rejoin the good fight, and enjoy far more life. These verses warn us that temptation to stay in the lesser battle is Satan’s attempt to keep us out of the good fight:

…With God’s message stirring and directing you, fight the good fight, armed with faith and a good conscience. Some have tried to silence their consciences, wrecking their lives and ruining their faiths. (I Timothy 1:18-19, VOICE)

Thankfully our identity remains secure in Christ, even when we engage in the wrong battle. We may forfeit far more life for a time, but our relationship with God remains intact and we are readily accepted back into the good fight. We are reminded of God’s perspective:

Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession… (I Timothy 6:12b, NIV)

Sometimes the good fight is exhausting. I appreciate the following pep talk from Jeremiah. When written, it referred to a physical city that was protected from physical enemies. Today God’s Spirit inside of each of His daughters makes us a spiritual city that is protected from spiritual enemies:

“Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:18-19, NIV)

Satan and his forces will not overcome us because God is with us! Jesus’ death and resurrection gives us far more life by rescuing us from the penalty of sin. The Holy Spirit living inside of us gives us far more life by rescuing us from the power that Satan used to hold over us. And one day God will send Jesus back to earth to secure the final victory, rescue us from the presence of evil, and usher us into the ultimate experience of far more life. As we wait for that glorious day, Lord, help us fight the good fight!

Sisters,
How would you describe the good fight of faith?
What lesser battles tempt or distract you?
What barriers keep you from rejoining the good battle when you stray?

How do you remain strong over time?
Thank Jesus for the security of far more life and the promise of final victory!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Beautiful Temples

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (I Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV)

Have you ever wondered why we have physical bodies? God could have made us however he wanted but chose to house our mind and soul in bodies. The bodies of His children are also the temple in which His Spirit lives.

The tabernacle served as God’s temporary home on earth during the years the Israelites were wandering through the desert and establishing their nation. It was a tent that was set up and taken down over and over for more than 400 years as they moved around. Once the Israelites established Jerusalem as their capital, the temple was built as God’s semi-permanent home. Several chapters of the Old Testament lay out intricate plans for these structures. God detailed the dimensions, the materials to be used, the specific layout, and the furnishings. They were designed to be beautiful and practical while serving a specific purpose: God’s dwelling place on earth.

We should not be surprised that God designed our bodies to be beautiful and practical as well. They, too, are His dwelling place on earth among those who place their faith in Jesus.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:16-17, NIV)

…When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14, NIV)

Unlike Old Testament saints, we are filled with God’s Spirit: He lives inside us from the moment of salvation until Jesus returns to take us to Heaven. We do not need to go to a special place to connect with Him or have another person sacrifice on our behalf. What an honor to be God’s daughter and have Him live inside!

Far more life is found when we put the proper emphasis on our physical bodies — not too little (discussed in the previous post, Beautiful Bodies) and not too much. Our bodies are important, but not our primary focus. New Testament writers recognized our temptation to idolize our bodies:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7, NIV)

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator… (Romans 1:25, NIV)

How do we honor God with our bodies? Consider these verses:

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes… But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:22-23, 31, NIV)

We honor God with our bodies by focusing on our spiritual work. We should not neglect our physical needs, rather we should understand our greater purpose.

Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires…offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (Romans 6:12, NIV)

…Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God. (2 Corinthians 7:1, NIV)

Each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable. (I Thessalonians 4:4, NIV)

We honor God with our bodies by living righteously. What we see and hear, what we think about, and what we do can honor or dishonor Him. Some of our “evil desires” are to make pleasure our primary focus, be it be blatant sin or private over-indulgence. God created us to experience pleasure and has given us freedom to enjoy much in His creation, but Satan tempts us to seek pleasure over holiness. Other “evil desires” tempt us to look for self-worth and confidence in the state of our bodies. This temptation is less about what we do and more about why we do it; we can perform the same activities with righteous or unrighteous motivations. God wants us to take care of our bodies so we can use them to glorify Him; Satan wants us to seek our own glory. We experience far more life as we grow in Spirit-controlled use of our bodies.

…Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. (I Corinthians 12:22-24, NIV)

We honor God by recognizing that our bodies, like the temple, consist of public and private parts. We honor Him by giving Him the priority in our hearts and minds. We honor Him by sharing some parts only with our husband. We honor Him by using our public parts to bless and care for others. All parts are beautiful and honorable, but serve different purposes.

If your childhood dream was to be a princess, your reality is better: you are God’s beautiful and holy temple, designed to glorify Him! Enjoy far more life by filling your temple with righteousness.

Sisters,
Are you more tempted to under-value or over-value your body, God’s temple?
Do you have any doubts about the permanence of God in your heart? If so, search His word for the truth about your status before Him. (Or ask a trusted spiritual mentor for help.)
How do you already honor God with your body? How do you want to grow in this?
Thank God for choosing you as His temple and filling you with far more life!
-Shari

Beautiful Bodies

And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies; the beauty that belongs to heavenly bodies is different from the beauty that belongs to earthly bodies. (I Corinthians 15:40, GNT)

This verse recently stood out from my Bible reading. In my research, I found some scholars interpret “heavenly bodies” as the glorified bodies God’s children will live in once we reach heaven while others interpret it as celestial objects (sun, moon, stars, etc.). Whichever definition of “heavenly body” came to mind as you read it, I assume you considered it something marvelous and beautiful. Heavenly bodies are breath-taking and attest to God’s creativity, power, and wisdom.

But do you also marvel at the beauty of earthly bodies, especially your own? We are often quick to notice our perceived imperfections but slow to recognize God’s creativity, power, and wisdom when we look in the mirror. But far more life allows you to see yourself as God does, spiritually and physically. And He approves of how He created each of His daughters!

I took a class in college titled “Sensation and Perception”. It was a fascinating study of the five human senses. Multiple times over the semester our professor stressed that our senses were perfect for our environment; we perceived all we needed without picking up “interference”. Each time she said that I thought, “What powerful evidence that we were created by a loving God!” Studying the intricacy of our senses and how precisely they are attuned to our environment left me in awe of the beauty God gave our bodies.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! (Psalm 139:13-17, NIV)

I appreciate the reminder in these verses that God was intimately involved in the creation of each person. I do not know if he specifically chose your hair color, eye color, and height or if He left that to the incredible genetic process He designed. But I do know that He chose features He wanted you specifically to have — in order to live out His purposes for you — and made sure you got them. When He looks at you, He sees beauty! He wants you to embrace that beauty so you will experience far more life.

But often I do not see my body as beautiful. I dislike many of its features, both those I was born with and those — like scars and extra fat — that have developed over time. And I complain about the parts that do not work as well as I would like them to or cause me pain. When I focus on the problems more than the beauty, I miss out on far more life! Will I define myself by the parts of my body I like? By those I dislike? Or by the opportunities I have to use all my parts to experience and glorify God?

I once heard giving God glory described as “doing what you were created to do”. The sun glorifies God by giving off light. The ocean gives God glory through the ebb and flow of the tide. Birds glorify God by building nests, migrating, singing, and other bird activities. People glorify God by loving Him, obeying His instructions, and growing to be like Him in character. Our physical bodies were designed to glorify God through our thoughts, words, and actions! I don’t think the sun gets frustrated when something blocks its light and creates a shadow. Nor do birds give up on building a nest when materials are hard to find. Although they do not share our reasoning skills, they just keep doing what God designed them to do. But we sometimes get thrown off-course when our imperfect bodies block our attempts to live for God and glorify Him. We no longer believe our bodies — or our work for God — is beautiful and pleasing to Him. But we are wrong.

Far more life does not undervalue or overvalue our bodies, rather it sees them as God does, beautiful vessels that serve a divine purpose. And when our life on this earth is over, He will give us new beautiful bodies that are designed to serve our new eternal purpose!

Sisters,
What part of creation do you find most beautiful?
How have you discovered that God designed your body to meet the purposes He has for you in this life?
How do you use your body to bring God glory?
Thank God for your beautiful body and far more life in Him!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Loving Justice

We often discuss far more life as an internal richness rooted in a right understanding of God and His interactions with us. But far more life is not limited to us; God wants our richness to overflow and touch others. This post examines the impact far more life has on our pursuit of justice.

You should set your hearts on the highest spiritual gifts, but I will show you what is the highest way of all…love (I Corinthians 12:31-13:1, PHILLIPS)

The best motive for seeking justice is love. Love for: those who were wronged; those who acted wrongly; others who have been or may later be hurt by this offender; and love for God. God’s love working through us allows us to love multiple parties involved while seeking justice.

Love protects us from acting maliciously against those who hurt others or oppressing the oppressors. Love allows us to experience and model far more life so we do not respond unjustly.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (I Corinthians 1:3, NIV)

Humans can accomplish amazing things: make life-changing speeches that motivate people; understand complex issues that make the impossible possible; and offer costly sacrifices to benefit others. But, unless our motivation is love, our efforts are worthless and accomplish nothing of lasting value.

So what does love that pursues justice look like? I Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV) offers these insights:

Love is patient. Other translations use “never gives up” or “suffers long”. Justice does not happen immediately. Sometimes it takes a lifetime. Loving justice is engaged for the long haul, step by step.

Love is kind. Injustice can tempt us to be unkind. But love prompts us to be useful and practical, meeting the needs we observe. A loving pursuit of justice demonstrates far more life by acting in ways that are constructive and helpful.

Love does not envy. We may be jealous of others’ situations that get a faster or more satisfying result. This can distract us and hinder our love. Loving justice rejoices for the justice others have received. Loving justice is motivated by a desire for right outcomes because they are right, not because others received them.

Love does not boast. It is not proud. It is not self-seeking. Parents of preschoolers often hear “look at me!” Over and over. Young children are exuberant about the things they are learning and want their achievements to be recognized. But justice-seeking love does not pursue personal praise or recognition. It pursues praise for God, the creator of justice, and the fulfillment of His will on earth. God-glorifying justice motivated by love is a noble pursuit.

Love does not dishonor others. Loving justice does not tear down others to make the one who was wronged look better. The actions of the oppressor speak for themselves as dishonorable, wrong, and evil. Love prompted by far more life is not afraid to speak the truth, but is focused on a righteous outcome rather than character assassination.

Love is not easily angered; it keeps no record of wrongs. Far more life helps us let a lot of things go. It is not easily offended and does not hold grudges. It knows God sees every sin and will deliver complete justice, so we are freed from keeping track. Loving justice helps us distinguish when to speak up against wrongs and when to entrust them to God. Both are rooted in love and a desire for righteousness.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. I think of the familiar saying, “Two wrongs do not make a right.” Loving justice does not seek to get even or inflict pain on the offender; it mourns all forms of evil. It does not exaggerate or spin the story. It seeks for everyone to experience righteousness, whether through blessing or just punishment from just authorities. It celebrates true remorse and genuinely changed lives. It values each person as being made in God’s image and having the opportunity to humble themselves and ask forgiveness.

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. This verse speaks to the heart of far more life. Loving justice hopes in God’s righteousness and trusts His perfect justice. It perseveres because it knows He will ultimately overcome evil and set everything right. It always protects, wanting everyone to experience the blessing of a relationship with God; but this is not a blind protection that hides evil. Rather it keeps love at the forefront in deciding what, when, and how to share. This is lived out when family members of those who have been oppressed beg others to not take the law into their own hands. They seek to protect some from doing evil and others from being hurt by evil. They trust that authorities (human and/or God) will deliver just punishment. Their hope is in God, and they persevere in seeking righteousness as they patiently await justice.

Love never fails. Far more life knows that God never fails and following His instructions will never fail us. Love is the highest way, the best and purest motive in pursuing justice.

Sisters,
What makes love the best motive for seeking justice?
Which characteristics of love have you experienced from others when you acted wrongly?
Which have you shown those who wronged you?
How are you tempted to pursue unloving “justice”?
What barriers keep you from trusting that God’s justice will ultimately prevail?
Thank God for the richness of far more life that empowers you to love justly!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Far More Justice

I have been reading through I Corinthians lately which, along with recent events, has me thinking a lot about justice. I find it a challenging topic, in part because justice is multi-faceted. There is: justice God offers people through Jesus; justice between people and their government or laws; and justice between individual people or groups.

We desire justice on all three fronts, but two depend on imperfect people, which creates great opportunity for injustice to prevail. For example, we often hear of court cases where the guilty are declared innocent. Or people who are taken advantage of by others. I often feel helpless and hopeless to make a difference in situations like these. So I turn to God’s word for perspective and instruction. I am still growing in understanding my role in helping others find justice, but here are some of my recent discoveries from God’s Word and how they are spurring me toward far more life.

And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice. (Psalm 50:6, NIV)

I will sing of your love and justice; to you, Lord, I will sing praise. (Psalm 101:1, NIV)

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. (Psalm 103:6, NIV)

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. (Psalm 89:14, NIV)

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. (Revelation 19:11, NIV)

Justice is rooted in the nature and character of God. He is just and His thoughts and actions define justice. The more we understand Him, the more we understand justice.

What exactly is justice? Part of the Merriam-Webster definition is, “acting or being in conformity with what is morally upright or good”. This agrees with the previous Bible verses. But another part of the definition, “assignment of merited rewards or punishments,” paints a different picture. These verses expound on that idea:

When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. (Proverbs 21:15, NIV)

So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours? (I Kings 3:9, NIV)

I appreciate King Solomon’s heart in the verse above. He recognized that just laws and just court rulings reflect God’s moral standards rather than human reasoning. God alone can see the full picture, including hearts and motives, and make a flawless judgment. The starting point of understanding all forms of justice is understanding God’s perspective and standards.

Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice. (Proverbs 29:26, NIV)

When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice. (I Kings 3:28, NIV)

God’s justice is not immediate; He allows injustice on earth, often for much longer than we would like. Similarly, justice between people often takes much longer than we would prefer.

…I shout for help, but there is no justice. (Job 19:7, NASB)

Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness. (Ecclesiastes 3:16, NASB)

They cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer… (Revelation 6:10-11, NASB)

We will not see perfect justice on earth until Jesus returns to rule over it. God has promised that one day He will exact justice for sins committed against Him and against other people. On that day, all will be made right.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (I Corinthians 4:5, NIV)

But we are not helpless and hopeless as we wait for Christ’s return. God’s Word gives us instruction on how we can pursue justice now:

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1, NASB)

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. (Proverbs 29:7, NIV)

He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. (Deuteronomy 10:18, NASB)

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. (Leviticus 19:15, NIV)

Evil men do not understand justice, But those who seek the Lord understand all things. (Proverbs 28:5, NASB)

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, And his tongue speaks justice. (Psalm 37:30, NASB)

God wants us to live justly. We are all invited to find peace with God through Jesus. Then we can imitate His righteous response to everyone we encounter. We can grow in understanding God and sharing His perspectives with others. We can meet the needs of those around us without regard for their station in life, simply seeing them as a person that God created in His own image. Some of us, like King Solomon, are in places of broad influence while most of us hold less influence. But every person plays a part in revealing and promoting God’s justice to the world. Far more life is found not in having more influence, but in our obedience to His calling to live justly.

Sisters,
Which aspect of justice is most important to you?

Think about your definition of justice. Does it line up with God’s character as described in the Bible?
How are you tempted to pursue justice that is defined by human reasoning?
When are you impatient for justice? What helps you wait on God’s delivery of justice?
What actions can you take to live justly in your current life position?
Thank God that one day we will see His perfect justice set everything right!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Jars of Clay

We want to avoid physical and emotional pain, suffering, and death. But we cannot. As long as we are on this earth, in these bodies, we will face these unpleasant experiences. But the Apostle Paul shares a unique perspective:

We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. The real power comes from God and not from us. We often suffer, but we are never crushed. Even when we don’t know what to do, we never give up. In times of trouble, God is with us, and when we are knocked down, we get up again…Our bodies show what his death was like, so that his life can also be seen in us…And just as God raised Jesus, he will also raise us to life. (2 Corinthians 4:7-14, CEV)

We are like clay jars in which this treasure is stored. Clay jars are fragile, common items. They are not valuable, but do serve an important purpose: to hold something valuable. The same is true of our bodies; they are fragile and made of common components. (Selling the chemical elements of a body would only earn a few hundred dollars!) But they hold a treasure:

…Our message is that Jesus Christ is Lord…Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:5-6, CEV)

The time will come when I, the Lord, will write my laws on their minds and hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Hebrews 8:10, CEV)

The treasure inside our bodies is a heart that knows Jesus and has been changed by Him! That heart connects to God, grows in love for Him, prompts us to be like Him, and reveals His glory to others. It is a privilege to have the treasure of far more life inside of us!

The real power comes from God and not from us. We do not have power to overcome sin and difficulty — to walk in far more life — on our own. Jesus promised His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8). And we do! The Holy Spirit gives us the power to: understand spiritual truths, apply wisdom to the challenges we face, and obey God (Isaiah 11); speak the truth powerfully (Micah 3:8); share the gospel of Jesus with others (Acts 1:8); have hope, love, and self-control (Romans 15:13 & 30, 2 Timothy 1:7); and pray to God (Ephesians 6:18, Romans 8:26). I love how this verse describes what we have in Christ:

Children, you belong to God, and you have defeated these enemies. God’s Spirit is in you and is more powerful than the one that is in the world. (I John 4:4, CEV)

God empowers us to remain connected to Him, experiencing His love, joy, peace, hope, and more in every challenge we face. When we are disconnected from Him, we have the ability to find the breach and repair it by applying His truth. Our jars-of-clay bodies are not powerful, but the treasure they hold is!

We are never crushed…we never give up…we get up again. God’s power does not make us immune to pain, but it does empower us to spiritually thrive through it. Our connection to Him enables us to see earthly challenges from an eternal perspective. We know we are not fighting alone through this life; God is with us. He will give us direction, insight, and wisdom. He goes ahead of us and behind us, clearing a path for us to travel through life and ensuring our treasure gets through safely (Psalm 139).

Our bodies show what His death was like so His life can also be seen in us. The fact that we struggle yet exhibit far more life is a testimony to Jesus’ presence in our lives! Without Him, the trouble we face would bring despair. But we have joy, peace, patience, hope, and more from the treasure we carry. God’s power is not limited to our private struggles, it empowers us to love others, even when it is hard. Jesus said the love we show other treasure-bearers reveals to the world what is inside of us:

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)

The apostle Paul writes a practical illustration of this:

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  (I Corinthians 12:7, 26)

His power is clearly shown through our interactions with others in our jars-of-clay family. We demonstrate His presence when we suffer together, rejoice together, and use our spiritual gifts to bless each other. He has entrusted us with the power to extend His love and grace to others and grow their treasure!

Just as God raised Jesus, he will also raise us to life. The treasure we hold is not ruined or lost when our jar of clay cracks or shatters. These jars are only temporary homes. I look forward to the day our treasure is freed from this fragile vessel and transferred to the glorified body God has waiting for us. (I Corinthians 15:42-44) Then we will experience far more life forever! But while we remain here, we embody His power and are called to carry His message of hope to other jars of clay.

Sisters,
How have you experienced your body being fragile but the Spirit within you strong?
How would you describe the “treasure” in your own words? What Bible verses can you think of that describe it?
What challenges has the Holy Spirit given you power to rise above? Where are you disconnected from Him?
How are you living out His instruction to strengthen and support other believers?
Bask in the treasure of far more life today as you share His message of hope with others!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: Grace Kusta Nasralla from Pexels

Praise from the Darkness

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord, my soul! I want to praise the Lord throughout my life. I want to make music to praise my God as long as I live. (Psalm 146:1-2, GW)

The darker my surroundings, Lord, the greater my need to praise You. As the voices around me rise in anger and despair, I will raise my voice in praise to You. I am not unaware of the trouble around me or hiding from challenges. Rather my need for perspective and wisdom drives me to you, the One who sees and knows all.

Do not trust influential people, mortals who cannot help you. When they breathe their last breath, they return to the ground. On that day their plans come to an end. (Psalm 146:3-4, GW)

Father, it is tempting to trust humans to right the wrongs around me. Their claims and solutions sound right and reasonable. But they, like me, are mortals with limited power and resources. They cannot see the hearts of people to know what solution is truly best. They do not know the future and know only fragments of the past. You alone, Father, transcend all generations and fully understand human hearts and actions. You alone have provided the ultimate solution and will one day overcome all evil. It is better that I trust You, my only certain source of help and hope. Open my eyes to see what You see, discerning the real problem and revealing my role in overcoming evil.

Blessed are those who receive help from the God of Jacob. Their hope rests on the Lord their God, who made heaven, earth, the sea, and everything in them. The Lord remains faithful forever. (Psalm 146:5-6, GW)

I am blessed…happy…joyful…when I place my hope in You, Lord, and accept Your help. Even if my circumstances do not change, You give me joy. You keep all Your promises; You never lie, make mistakes, or change your mind. You never misjudge the situation or underestimate the consequences; You know exactly what to do and when to do it. I can trust Your timing and rest in Your arms until You provide a way out. Grow my desire to help others find joy and blessing in You, too!

He brings about justice for those who are oppressed. He gives food to those who are hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free. (Psalm 146:7, GW)

I confess, Father, that I sometimes grow impatient waiting for Your justice, provision, and freedom. My vision is limited to temporary timeframes and solutions because those are all I know. But when I look at eternity, You clearly rescue the oppressed and bring justice in Your perfect timing and way. You feed “soul” hunger, not just the physical hunger that is so often my focus. You offer freedom from more than physical prison; you set my heart and soul free to experience far more life as You intended! My attempts to bring justice, provision, and freedom are insignificant compared to yours. I desire these because I am made in Your image, but help me, Lord, to not see myself as more capable than I truly am. Help me recognize my responsibility and limits so I can join You in battling evil rather than fight against Your plan. Help me see the role You have assigned me; empower me to carry it out while giving me wisdom and strength to walk away from the roles You have not assigned me.

The Lord gives sight to blind people. The Lord straightens the backs of those who are bent over. The Lord loves righteous people. (Psalm 146:8, GW)

Thank you, God, that you can and will overcome the chaos of this world. Although I am governed by forces that tend toward disorder and destruction, You are not. Help me rest securely in Your love so I know, whatever my circumstances, that You are with me and for me. Remind me that whether or not I experience relief in this life, I will be fully restored — for all eternity — when Christ returns. All my suffering and struggles will become insignificant as I bask in Your glory. Help me walk in righteousness every moment, whether You call me to wait or to act.

The Lord protects foreigners. The Lord gives relief to orphans and widows. But he keeps wicked people from reaching their goal. (Psalm 146:9, GW)

In Your kingdom, I am a foreigner, but You welcome and protect me. I come to You alone, but You embrace me and meet my needs. Help me to treat others as you have treated me. I am thankful for Your guarantee that the wicked — who seem to prosper now — will one day be defeated. I am thankful that only Your goals have the power to last for eternity. I want to join you in pursuing Your goals!

The Lord rules as king forever. Zion, your God rules throughout every generation. Hallelujah! (Psalm 146:10, GW)

Earthly rulers will come and go, but You remain on Your throne through them all. You ruled at the creation of the world. You have ruled throughout all of human history. And You will continue to rule forever. I look to You for wisdom; help me recognize and support human wisdom that matches Yours. I look to You for guidance; help me follow Your path regardless of its popularity. I praise You for what You have done! I praise You for what You are doing! I praise You for what You will do! I follow You by faith and submit to Your leadership all the days of my life. In Jesus name, Amen.

Sisters,
Are current pressures and circumstances making it hard for you to praise God?
How are you tempted to trust people to solve the problems around you?
How has God helped you? How can you help others find His joy?
Are you pursuing God’s goals or someone else’s? How can you join God?
Praise God today for being who He is and giving you far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: JenjoeMarsh


Let Your Light Shine

A friend’s picture of this light fixture caught my attention. The design reminds me of our lives: we are the socket, our relationships are the encircling rings, and God’s Spirit living inside us is the light. Before the Spirit indwells us we are dark, but He causes us to shine. No matter how many rings we have around us, the light can always reach them.

Physical light serves many purposes, including illuminating our surroundings and protecting us from harm by revealing danger. In the Bible, light is used as a spiritual metaphor. Spiritual light depicts salvation from our sins (Acts 26:18). Walking in the light means doing the right thing or following God’s instructions (Ephesians 5:8-9). The Bible is referred to as a light for our path (Psalm 119:105). Jesus calls Himself the Light of the world (John 8:12). Jesus also tells His followers:

You are light for the world. A city cannot be hidden when it is located on a hill. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. Instead, everyone who lights a lamp puts it on a lamp stand. Then its light shines on everyone in the house. In the same way let your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16, GW)

Far more life embraces the call to be light for the world. We are instructed to let our light — the aspects of our character that are like Jesus — shine for all to see. We should not hide our goodness, forgiveness, kindness, love, joy, peace, patience, and other Christ-like characteristics. He wants us to stand out and be noticed, just like a city on a hill. This brings Him glory and brings us far more life.

A Bible verse I read this week challenges us to let our light shine. I appreciate the directness of this translation:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.  (Romans 12:9, NLT)

Shining our light is not just doing the right thing, it is having the right mindset and attitude. It is genuinely loving others, including those who are different from us or hard to love. It starts with seeing their God-given value and continues by putting concern for their well-being into action. This love can take many forms: volunteering for an agency or event that benefits others; giving money to a person or organization in need; giving hands-on help to someone; speaking up on someone’s behalf or in their defense when they are victimized, overlooked, or oppressed; listening to someone who others overlook; praying with and for someone in a hard place; and more. Far more life loves others with our attitudes and actions.

Shining our light also joins God in hating what is wrong while attaching ourselves to what is good. Satan wants us to get stuck on one side or the other and forget that God wants us to do both. We can get stuck hating the darkness and forget that doing good brings light to the situation. We may be tempted to voice our hate for sin, but not actively support the righteous alternative. We may be quick to point out the darkness in others’ lives, but fail to share God’s light so they can find a way out. We might hate people or blame a whole group for the evil of a few people rather than seeing the situation or people’s hearts as God does. We may seek revenge rather than truth, justice, and forgiveness.

We can also get stuck ignoring the darkness and selfishly basking in God’s light. We may be tempted to deny or minimize the depravity of sin and instead focus on puffing up our Bible knowledge. We may shy away from hard situations and respond with Bible verses that only address the surface. We may refuse to get involved in fighting evil, always insisting others are more equipped or prepared. Far more life seeks to hate wrong while holding tightly to the good that overcomes it.

A few verses later, Paul shares another practical — and challenging — idea that restates one of Jesus’ commands:

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. (Romans 12:14, NLT)

…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44, NASB)

This command is the opposite of our human response, so it must be the brightest light we can shine on injustice! God is glorified when we bless, love, and pray for those who hate us or intentionally harm us. Our enemies can be anyone who opposes the light shining out of us. We bless them by praying for them to experience God’s love and be drawn to His light. There may be practical ways we can show them love, too, but prayer is our most available and powerful option for obeying God in this. Far more life trusts God to use His light for good, even when it shines on our enemies.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:5, NLTSE)

John wrote this about Jesus coming to earth, but the same truth applies to the light shining from us. Our light — God’s presence in our hearts — is secure. No evil, sin, enemy, persecutor, storm or trial or difficulty can extinguish His light in us. Thank you, God, that Your light overcomes any darkness we face and reveals far more life to those around us.

Sisters,
How has God’s light changed your life?
In what situations are you tempted to hide His light?
Is there a person or group that you only pretend to love? What do you need to overcome to really love them?
How do you practically hate wrong while holding tightly to what is good?
Walk confidently in far more life this week as you remember that God’s light in you is secure and eternal!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: Shonda Millender

Perspective

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1, NIV)

Father God, thank you that we can follow Jesus’ example and come to you in prayer. Thank you for promising to give us all we need (Philippians 4:19). Thank you for choosing to make us like Jesus so we can be a picture of Him in this sinful world (Romans 8:29). We want to bring You glory by living out Your character (Colossians 3:17). We want people to know You are good (Mark 10:18), loving (I John 4:8), compassionate (Psalm 51:1), righteous (Psalm 48:10), and just (Isaiah 30:18). Please give us wisdom in each conversation and situation so we know how to respond as You would.

…Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:11, NIV)

Thank you, Father, for making us one with you. Thank you for adopting us as your daughters (Ephesians 1:5) and sending your Holy Spirit to live inside of us (Ephesians 3:16). Thank you that our eternal future is guaranteed (Ephesians 1:13-14). We are thankful that Your name has power (Jeremiah 10:6). People who are blind to reality may take your name in vain or ridicule us for trusting in you, but those in the spiritual realms see clearly and know that power (Ephesians 1:18-21). You have promised that nothing can separate us from Your love, Your power, or Your name (Romans 8:35-39). Help us to gratefully accept the protection You know we need, even when it is not the protection we want or expect.

…I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them…Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:13, 17, NIV)

We desperately need the full measure of Your joy. What a light that is to this dark and hurting world! But your joy brings us hope, peace, perspective, and love (Psalm 30:11). It protects us (Psalm 5:11) from falling into darkness, sinful anger, and unforgiveness. Help us cling to Your truth, let that ring louder in our hearts than any lies or half-truths we hear from Satan or the world (John 8:32). We want Your truth to make us different so we can respond to hate with love, to evil with righteousness, to pain with comfort, and to injustice with wisdom (2 Corinthians 6:4-10). And we want to offer all this with joy that brings you glory (Psalm 33:1).

…I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you… (John 17:20-21, NIV)

Empower us to pursue and maintain unity, Father (Psalm 133:1). Help all your children, regardless of their differences, to demonstrate the power of Your love that brings us together (Ephesians 4:3). Use our private prayers, personal conversations, and public actions to bind us together, fighting as one to shine your light in the spiritual darkness that covers this world (John 13:34-35).

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24, NIV)

We look forward to going home to live with you forever (I Thessalonians 4:17)! We long for the time when we are rescued from sin and suffering of all kinds (Revelation 21:4). We are eager to see Your face, offer praise in Your presence, and be held in Your arms (Revelation 22:3-5). But as we hope for that day, Father, give us strength and grace to bring You glory right where we are. You deserve just as much glory today from earth as you will on that future day in heaven (Psalm 96:3). Help us faithfully finish our work here: the work of finding our lost brothers and sisters and welcoming them into Your family (Matthew 28:19); the work of growing in righteousness so we offer a picture of Christ to all we touch (2 Peter 2:12); and the work of bringing You glory with every part of our bodies (Romans 6:13). Help us to see ourselves and our place in this world as You do (2 Corinthians 5:20). Help us to see others as you do (2 Peter 3:9).

We echo this familiar prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. 
Amen.

(Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971)

Sisters,
Which part of John 17 meets your need today?
What perspective do you hold about God, yourself, this life, or eternity that does not line up with God’s Word? Where did you learn that false message? What truth did you need to know or understand in that situation?
How will you bring God glory today?
What is one thing you cannot change and need to accept? One thing you need to change? Commit to those today, asking God to help you take those steps.
Thank Him for giving you far more life that will continue for eternity!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso