Lavish Love

Consider the kind of extravagant love the Father has lavished on us — He calls us children of God! It’s true; we are His beloved children. (I John 3:1a, VOICE)

Want to know the formula for far more life?

Accepting God’s lavish love
+ Being transformed by it
= Far more life

Love is the key to far more life, but not just any love: only God’s lavish love. When I hear the word lavish, I imagine a warm bagel topped with a thick layer of cream cheese — so thick that taking a bite leaves teeth marks. This is an extravagant amount of cream cheese, more than anyone needs. But it makes eating the bagel an unforgettable experience. No skimpily-covered bagel can compare with the lusciousness of that lavish bagel.

God lavished His love on us. Calling us His children demonstrated an extravagance that reshaped our definition of love. But He didn’t stop there; He continues to lavish us in love. He doesn’t give us the minimum we need to get by. He wraps us in so much love that all other love looks skimpy by comparison.

The more we understand and embrace God’s lavish love, the fuller and richer our lives become. Lavish love has the power to change us from the inside out. It can transform our beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors. But most of us do not reap the maximum benefit of His lavish love. Rather than throwing open our hearts and saying, “Go anywhere!” we put up “Do Not Enter” signs at the places we need Him most: our most vulnerable and painful places.

We limit God’s lavish love because we misunderstand it. We may think God’s love is defined by what He does for us. Or we might assume it comes with strings, that He expects certain responses from us. Too often we believe we have to earn it and fear He will find us unworthy. These misperceptions are not surprising since His love is so different from the imperfect human love familiar to us. Sometimes we pull back from God’s lavish love in fear. But fear is actually the opposite of what He offers:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (I John 4:18, NIV)

God’s children have no need to fear Him because He will never punish us. We can be confident that God will always love us perfectly and lavishly! He will not withdraw His love when we disagree with Him. He will never manipulate us or take advantage of our vulnerabilities. He does not lay guilt trips on us. He does not berate us for failing to make Him look good. He knows our weaknesses and is not surprised by them. He knows all of our sins (in advance, even!) and has willingly paid the price for them. When we accept His love, we also gain His unconditional acceptance and unshakable security — now that is truly lavish love! I remember the peace I felt when I finally grasped this truth: I was set free to love God without reservation. I was released from fear that my imperfect love for Him was not enough. I found far more life and felt free to enjoy it. If you have accepted Christ as your Savior and Lord, you have this freedom, too!

God’s love is vastly different than human love. Not only is His love unconditional, it also comes from a different source:

God is love. (I John 4:16, NIV)

We love because he first loved us. (I John 4:19, NIV)

God’s love is not a response to us. It is not what He does or feels for us. Love is who God is; lavish love is part of His character and identity. He doesn’t have to generate love; it simply flows from Him and infuses His interactions with His children. God does not show us love because we deserve it; He simply offers Himself to us. His love blesses us in the deepest way possible because He knows us — and our needs — intimately. Grasping this truth changes how we look at God. It brings far more life.

I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. Yes, may you come to know his love — although it can never be fully known — and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. (Ephesians 3:17b-19, GNT)

As we grow in understanding the limitlessness of God’s lavish love, we are transformed. We stop seeing Him as a harsh judge and start realizing He is a wise and loving Father. We recognize the emptiness of many pleasures this world offers and instead focus on making an eternal impact. We grow in trusting Him and His motives even when life doesn’t match our expectations. It becomes easier to trust the parts of His Word that seem to contradict our human experience. We are permanently and profoundly changed by God’s lavish love. We grow in confidence and security. This allows us to eagerly embrace the mindset and practices of far more life.

Sisters,
How have you experienced God’s lavish love?
Where have you put up “Do Not Enter” signs? What do you need in order to let God into those areas of your heart and life?
Are you afraid of fully embracing God’s love for you? If so, confess that to Him. (If not, thank Him for that freedom!)
Thank God for the ways His lavish love has transformed you.
Enjoy far more life this week!
-Shari



Letting Go

In the last post we talked about forgiving others. But there are two more people everyone needs to forgive. These people have probably disappointed and hurt you more often than anyone else. And we hold on to their hurts tightest and longest. Who are they? Ourselves and God.

We are our own worst critics. Despite our outward bravado, we hope others won’t see our sins and failures. We are ashamed. We kick ourselves for not doing better, for not being better. Everyone feels this way. Some people hide the extent of their negative self-talk. Others are clearly drowning in a sea of self-loathing and worthlessness. But this doesn’t have to be! God wants awareness of our sin to lead to spiritual change. For those who don’t have a personal relationship with Him, He offers hope:

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 3:23-24, NIV)

You are not alone! ALL have sinned. EVERYONE has felt the shame that you feel. But God, in His love, doesn’t want you to be stuck there. He offers forgiveness through the sacrifice of His Son’s life to make restitution for your sin. It’s the largest, most important gift you could ever receive! If you’ve never accepted it but want to, take a moment right now and tell Him.

Once we accept God’s gift and enter a relationship with Him, we have a clean slate before Him. Nothing — not even our own sin — can separate us from God. Since He can see our whole lives and knows every thought, word, and action — past, present and future — nothing will ever surprise Him or change His view of us.

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us…For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:34, 38-39, NIV)

If God never condemns His children for their sins or draws back from them, why do we condemn ourselves and draw back from Him? Why do we forfeit the far more life He offers?  Because we see ourselves from a different perspective than God does. We still see ourselves as we were before Christ changed us while He sees who we are after Christ’s work in us.

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

Forgiving ourselves requires letting go and letting God.  It means we entrust the situation — and any negative consequences — to Him. We trust Him to restore what was lost or taken away that is needed. We trust Him to heal the damaged emotions of everyone who got hurt in the situation. While it is good for us to confess our sin to God and thank Him for His forgiveness, we don’t need to punish ourselves; Jesus has already taken that punishment for us. Forgiving ourselves separates us from our sin and brings far more life.

Are you hesitant to let go and let God? If so, maybe you need to forgive Him. God doesn’t ever sin; He is perfect. So he doesn’t technically need to be forgiven. But there are times we feel hurt, abandoned, disappointed, or misunderstood by Him because we are unable to see His actions and intentions correctly. Our negative emotions cause us to pull away from Him. To question His character, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and His intentions toward us. We are hesitant to believe His promises and obey His commands because Satan’s lies about God resonate louder inside us. We are afraid to get hurt again.

It is important to work through these hurts. Don’t be afraid to reveal your ugliest thoughts and feelings to God — He already knows them!

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.  (Psalm 139:2-4, NIV)

It is hard work to uncover Satan’s lies and embrace the truth about God. But He is big enough to handle our questions and doubts. He compassionately meets us where we are. He patiently walks us through each step of faith. This wonderful promise He made the Israelites when they were far from Him is still true for us:

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29, NIV)

The same promise is true for us!  God isn’t offended when we confess our hurt, anger, and distrust to Him. He doesn’t get angry when we admit He isn’t who we want Him to be and doesn’t do what we want Him to do. When we forgive Him, we let go of the false expectations that caused us pain. That releases us to see and experience Him — and life — the way He intended it. As a result, we see His true character and our desire to mold ourselves to His likeness grows. We discover that letting go brings far more life, life we had not even imagined was possible.

Sisters, 
For what to you need to forgive yourself?
For what do you need to forgive God?
Are you willing to let go of these hurts?

Thank God for character His qualities and promises that are most meaningful to you.
Commit to seeking Him this week; as you find Him enjoy far more life!
-Shari

Forgiveness is…

As we journey through life, we encounter hurt and disappointment. What do we do with this?  Some of us give it right back, wanting to get even. Others withdraw or build walls to protect themselves. Some ignore it, hoping it will go away. Others replay it over and over in their minds, seeking to understand and learn from it. Some cover it with humor or activity to minimize the pain. Some bury it deep inside and try to forget it ever happened.

These responses may enable us to feel better temporarily, but none resolve the hurt. Sooner or later unresolved hurt becomes baggage that restricts us from experiencing far more life.

How can we unpack the hurt in a healthy way and move forward unencumbered?

 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

Forgive. As the Lord forgave you. What does God’s forgiveness look like?

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12, NIV)

Then he adds, ‘I will no longer hold their sins and their disobedience against them.’ When sins are forgiven, there is no longer any need to sacrifice for sins.” (Hebrews 10:17-18, GW)

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19, NASB)

God’s forgiveness removes our sin from us; we are no longer defined by that sin. God does not hold our sins against us; He doesn’t ask us to keep making up for them. After dealing with our sins, God gladly treats us with mercy and compassion; our relationship is restored.  This is the forgiveness He empowers us extend to others as well.

  • Forgiving is a choice to obey God. Since God instructs us to forgive others, He empowers us to do so. This is hard, but it is worthwhile. Lack of forgiveness keeps us hooked to the hurtful situation; obeying God brings peace and joy. God wants us to have far more life!
  • Forgiveness comes from the heart. Saying the words “I forgive” without engaging our heart is not effective. Forgiveness requires us to admit — to ourself and to God — what negative emotions and false beliefs the person’s action or inaction triggered in our heart. We must resolve the belief about ourself that is causing the pain by replacing it with God’s perspective. Did the hurtful incident communicate we were unloved, unimportant, not good enough, or something similar? We must reject those messages and let our heart dwell on what God, our perfect, all-knowing Father, says about us.
  • Forgiveness is between us and God, not us and another person. God is our primary source of forgiveness because only He can heal our wounded hearts. Forgiveness is releasing our hurt to God and letting Him administer justice and punishment against those who hurt us. We may reconcile with the offender, but first we must privately forgive them before God.
  • Forgiveness is letting go. It is choosing to not retaliate or seek revenge. It does not mean we automatically trust the person or let them resume their old place in our life; that may not be safe or wise. But even when strict boundaries are necessary, forgiveness allows us to let go.
  • Forgiveness is agreeing to live with the consequence of another person’s sin. In reality, we always live with the consequences of others’s sin. But forgiving frees us from anger and bitterness that suppress far more life.
  • Forgiveness is letting God. It is trusting God to provide all we need for far more life, even things that others’ sin has taken away.  It is also trusting God to mete out justice in His perfect timing, whether that is in this lifetime or at Jesus’ return.
  • Forgiving is not forgetting. It does not erase the incident from our memory as if it never happened. Our life may be profoundly changed, but Christ can heal our wounds so the memory is not painful.

Sometimes when people sin against us it doesn’t even hurt.  This happens when we can see their actions for what they are: reflections of their pain that have nothing to do with us. One day I was cut off in traffic and my first response was to pray for the safety of the other driver.  I was surprised because that was not my normal response! As I pondered the difference in my heart I realized I hadn’t take their actions personally.  They clearly acted on whatever pressure or stress or negative emotions they were experiencing, which had nothing to do with my driving. Since I knew their decision wasn’t about me, their wrongful actions against me didn’t prompt a painful emotional response. Forgiveness was easy.

This isn’t always the case. Often others actions feel like personal attacks. In reality, they are revealing areas where we aren’t seeing ourselves as God does. Forgiveness gives us the opportunity to trade our misperceptions for God’s perfect perspective. As forgiving becomes our lifestyle, we are hurt and offended less often. We clearly see that people sin against us because of their own hurts. We feel compassion for them rather than pain. And living with less hurt and more compassion is far more life.

Sisters,
How do you react when others hurt you?
Is the baggage of past hurts weighing you down?
Which bullet points describing forgiveness are hard to believe? Tell God.
Talk to God about your hurts, admitting how you feel and what they tempt you to believe about yourself. Drink in His truth about you.
Ask Him to heal your damaged emotions.
Thank Him for the gift of forgiveness and emotional healing.
Enjoy far less pain and far more life.

-Shari

Trust Barriers

If trusting God is far more life, why is it so hard? That is a big, important question. And the answer goes way back…

When God created the earth, it was a paradise. Everything was perfect.

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31, NIV)

It’s hard for us to comprehend “very good” because the earth we walk today is not like that. “Very good” meant: no illness or disease; no natural disasters or severe weather; no thorns or thistles; no emotional hurts; no lying, stealing, or cheating; and there was no death of animals or people. “Very good” meant Adam and Eve trusted God. He provided all they needed: food; physical safety; companionship; and everything else. The pinnacle of “very good” was their friendship with God; He walked and talked with them, face to face.

But Satan introduced distrust. He suggested to Adam and Eve that God was not trustworthy, that He was withholding good from them. Sadly they listened and believed Satan’s lie. Their response led to physical changes on earth and a barrier between people and God. In addition, Satan has tempted every human since to mistrust God.

Why does Satan do this?

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him…He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short. (Revelation 12:7-9, 12b, NIV)

There is a spiritual war between Satan’s family and God’s family. Before we enter a relationship with Jesus, we are part of Satan’s spiritual family. But once we accept Christ’s offer to forgive our sins, we join God’s spiritual family and become Satan’s enemy. Satan hates God. He hates us, too.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (I Peter 5:8, NIV)

The thief comes with the sole intention of stealing and killing and destroying, but I came to bring them life, and far more life than before. (John 10:10, PHILLIPS)

Our enemy, Satan, wants to destroy our trust in God. God always deserves our trust. He will never sin against us. Never be selfish, impatient, or angry. He will love us perfectly. But to our limited minds this seems impossible. We cannot understand God and His ways because He is unlike us and anyone we have ever met! So we sometimes misunderstand His words and actions or falsely accuse Him of wrong. Then Satan lies to us, saying God is not trustworthy, and it rings true. We pull away from God, doubting His character and intentions. Satan knows distrust will block us from far more life. But the truth is:

There is no one holy like the Lordthere is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. (I Samuel 2:2, NIV)

Satan’s lies sometimes feel true because our experiences with people back them up. No person is perfect, so it is hard to understand God’s perfection. Even the most loving person we know has been selfish or impatient, took out their anger on us, or somehow sinned against us. Satan whispers to us that if we can’t trust these people — who we can see — how can we trust God — who we cannot see.  Trusting God — far more life — requires that we recognize Satan’s lies and choose to believe God, even when our own thoughts and experiences tempt us to distrust Him.

Direct attacks on our relationship with God are not Satan’s only tactic. Satan also works to isolate us from people who can help us trust God and find far more life in Him. He uses our friends, family, pastors, other Christians, authority figures, even complete strangers to hurt us. Sometimes these people sin against us and he capitalizes on that, telling us lies about ourselves that sound true to our hurting hearts and cause us to withdraw. Other times he whispers negative interpretations of their words and actions in our ear, interpretations that reinforce the beliefs that we are alone, unloved, not good enough, damaged beyond repair, worthless, and more. It feels like we need to pull away from people to be safe. But this is not true! We need to forgive and remember Satan’s scheme:

Our fight is not with people. It is against the leaders and the powers and the spirits of darkness in this world. It is against the demon world that works in the heavens. (Ephesians 6:12, NLV)

It also helps to know God’s strategy and realize that He ultimately is victorious:

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (I John 5:20, NIV)

It takes work to trust God, but it’s worth it! Keep looking for and fighting against Satan’s attack. Seek understanding. Forgive quickly. Remember examples of God’s trustworthiness. Take His promises to heart. Live far more life in Him.

Sisters,
In what ways have you believed Satan’s lies that God is not trustworthy?
How have you seen evidence of the spiritual battle?
If you are in God’s family, pray that He will open your eyes to see the battle and give you courage to choose to believe His truth.
If you are not in God’s family, examine the barriers keeping you from trusting Him. Are they real or is Satan lying to you?
Praise God that He will win the spiritual war and everyone in His family will be free from the battle forever and ever!
-Shari

Growing Trust

In order to rest, to find peace, to experience far more life we need to trust God.  But to trust God we need to know Him. How do we get to know God? Just like we get to know people: spending time together; learning about His character; seeing Him in action; talking to Him; and listening to His words.

The Israelites of the Old Testament faced a similar challenge. While they lived in Egypt, many had adopted the local culture and religion; they worshipped multiple gods who had many of the same faults as humans. During their rescue the Israelites saw God’s powerful miracles. He caused plagues to fall on the Egyptians but not them. He parted the Red Sea and allowed them to pass through on dry ground. He provided water in the wilderness and rained manna from heaven to feed them. He even provided meat when they complained. Despite seeing God in action, they did not know His character well enough to fully trust Him. So when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments He also revealed and described Himself:

Then the Lord passed by in front of [Moses] and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:5-7, NASB)

What a list! Compassionate. Gracious. Slow to anger. Abounding in lovingkindness. Abounding in truth. Forgiving premeditated sin, willful disobedience, and simple failure to do the right thing. Punishing the guilty but allowing consequences of sin to impact future generations. We have the benefit of being able to read the Bible, which is filled with accounts of God demonstrating these qualities as humans follow, ignore, and outright rebel against Him. Our trust for God grows as we get to know Him by reading the consistency of His actions throughout history.

The New Testament reveals another aspect of God’s character: His sacrificial love for humankind.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (I John 4:9-10, NIV)

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV)

I don’t know about you, but there are few people I love enough to die for. There are fewer for whom I would ask my children to die. Yet this is the love God has for us: He sent His son to die for us when we didn’t even care about Him.  This is mind-blowing!

And His love doesn’t stop there. He also gives us far more life.

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32, NIV)

I think one of the problems we face in knowing and trusting God is not recognizing what He has given us.  What if every sunrise spelled out, “I, God, gave you this day and all that you need to thrive in it” across the sky? What if “Provided by God” was stamped on every food we ate?  What if every good thing that happened came with a note explaining, “I did this for you. Love, God”? What if every tear we cried proclaimed, “I, God, love you and promise to bring good from this hurt”? What if every sunset announced, “You are one day closer to joining Me in Heaven, permanently removed from the hurts and evil of this world”?  What if He responded to our prayers by saying, “Here is My answer for you”?

His reminders aren’t as blatant as my examples, but they exist. God is not invisible or hiding from us. He wants us to know him.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20, NIV)

Evidence of God is everywhere! He created the largest galaxy and the smallest atom. The simplest bacteria and the complex human brain. He created the strong nuclear force and the gentlest love. Every beautiful thing. Every natural phenomenon. Every kind of plant and animal. He put into motion every system and process human scientists have discovered — as well as those they have not yet discovered. He did all this and more so we could know Him! He has given us ample evidence that He alone is worthy of our trust.

A friend coined the term “love gifts” to describe the times she sees evidence of God’s love for her. Maybe it’s an especially beautiful sunset she gets to witness at the end of a hard day. Or an unexpected note from a friend sharing just the verse she needed to hear. Or an answer to prayer about a situation that was weighing her down. These “love gifts” remind her that God is present and active in her life. That He is good. That He loves her. They help her know and trust Him more.  They show her far more life.  We, too, see far more life as we look for God’s love gifts and grow in knowing and trusting Him.

Sisters,
Do you trust God enough to experience far more life?
Do you regularly spend time with God to grow your trust?
What aspects of God’s character have you witnessed firsthand? 
How have you seen His invisible qualities in creation?
Be on the lookout for His “love gifts” this week and thank Him for each one you find.
-Shari