Life Storms

My area received a lot of rain last week, so it was fitting that my pastor included this verse in his Sunday message about suffering:

When the clouds are dark and heavy with rain, showers will fall upon the earth. (Ecclesiastes 11:3, VOICE)

He acknowledged our first thought at reading it is, “How obvious! Dark clouds bring rain.” Then he reminded us of the cultural context. This was written by King Solomon, who lived in Jerusalem, where the dry season lasts more than half the year. Yet when it rains, a significant amount can fall in a short time. So seeing the dark, heavy clouds roll in probably brought mixed emotions to Solomon and his people: eager anticipation of the life-giving water with dread of the storm that sometimes delivered it.

It is common knowledge that rain benefits plants, animals, and humans. Even the smell of rain is pleasant to most people. But many think of its delivery — especially from strong storms — as inconvenient, depressing, or frightening. I admit I selfishly wish it only rained at night, when I am tucked in my bed, so I could be comforted by hearing it, appreciate its benefits, but not endure the discomfort of a dripping umbrella or wet clothes, shoes, and hair!

Similarly, we often view the storms of life, hard situations, negatively. But what if life storms actually lead us toward far more life? What if we focused on their benefits rather than our discomfort?

It is common to believe we should be exempt from hardship and suffering, that we deserve perpetually good circumstances. This is not logical! When we look at God’s original plan for creation in Genesis 1 and 2, suffering was not included. But Adam and Eve chose to assert their own will rather than contentedly follow God’s will. Perhaps if they had realized suffering would be a result of sinning they would have chosen differently. Yet God, in His infinite kindness, brings good from our suffering.

God did not even spare His own Son from suffering on this earth. It was His suffering that paid the penalty for our sin and opened the door for us to have a restored relationship with God:

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5, NIV)

Jesus faced worse life storms than any other human! Fortunately suffering is not the end of His story; Isaiah prophesied the good it would produce:

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:11-12, NIV)

None of us will ever suffer as much as Jesus did. But our suffering can bring good, too. It enables us to see the light of life. It changes our perspective, even bringing satisfaction and thankfulness. Consider how these verses describe the outcome of suffering:

He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills. (Psalm 147:8, NIV)

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. (Hebrews 6:7, NIV)

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45, NIV)

Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful… (Joel 2:23, NIV)

Jesus even used an intense storm to show His disciples who He was:

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we’re going to drown!” He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. “Where is your faith?” he asked his disciples. In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” (Luke 8:24-25, NIV)

Jesus offered His disciples far more life that day by showing His power and revealing His divinity. He invited them to put their faith in Him. He is bigger than any storm we face and willing to use that power for our benefit:

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)

God will not withhold anything we need (Philippians 4:19).

Everything He does or allows — even suffering — is for the good of His children (Romans 8:28).

Thankfully, through faith in Christ, our suffering will come to an end (2 Peter 3:13).

He will wipe every tear from our eye (Revelation 21:4).

We will see and understand God’s bigger perspective (I Corinthians 13:12).

Until then, we have a choice: despise the storms or look for the beauty the rain brings. Choose to look for beauty — and find far more life!

Sisters,
Do you feel positive or negative about rain and storms? Why?
Think of a life storm you have experienced. What spiritual benefit did you gain from it?
What is your response to reading about Jesus’ suffering?
Thank God that Jesus paid the price so our suffering will one day end.
Commit to look for beauty and far more life in your next (or current) life storm.
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo Credit: Kim Reem

Deeper Righteousness

Do you ever struggle with feelings that you are not “good enough” to make God happy?  Or that He is disappointed with you, your life, and the bad habits and sins you cannot seem to break? These thoughts and feelings rob you of far more life and keep you bound to depression, anxiety, fear, and self-deprecation.

The truth is that we – on our own — can never be good enough for God to accept us. But the good news is that we do not have to be. The Bible says:

There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10, NIV)

Jesus was given to die for our sins, and he was raised from the dead to make us right with God. Since we have been made right with God by our faith, we have peace with God. (Romans 4:25-5:1, NCV)

We cannot earn God’s approval because that would require us to be perfect like Him. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin so that, when we accept his payment, God sees us through His perfection and righteousness. Once we have God’s approval, we cannot lose it.

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 8:38-39, NIV)

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (I John 5:13, NIV)

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe… (Romans 3:22, NIV)

The righteousness we receive from God is deeper than any “righteousness” we can achieve on our own. His deeper righteousness changes us to be like Him. It changes our desires to match His. It changes our motives; we begin acting out of love for God and others. It changes our thoughts; we think of people as eternal souls and earth as our temporary home. And those lead to different behaviors. We are no longer trying to earn God’s approval. Deeper righteousness frees us to love and live for Him. 

But we still sin sometimes. We fall into old habits and patterns. We give in to fear or worry instead of trusting God. Is God disappointed in us at those times? His Word says:

Therefore there is now no condemnation [no guilty verdict, no punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus [who believe in Him as personal Lord and Savior]. (Romans 8:1, AMP)

We will not go to hell when we die. We will not be judged for our sins when Christ returns. God will not allow bad things to happen — or withhold good from us — as a punishment for our sins and wrong choices. He will not scold, criticize, or shame His children. 

When we sin—or even make mistakes — we can be overcome with disappointment in ourselves. We may become angry, harsh, critical, judgmental, and demanding. We might return to old patterns, fearful that we are not good enough. We often assume God is also disappointed with us and has negative feelings toward us. But there is no verse in the Bible stating that God experiences this kind of disappointment toward His children. Instead, here is God’s instruction to us:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:1-2, NIV)

These are not critical, condemning, disappointed words. These words encourage us to look to Jesus, confess our sin, be thankful for His sacrifice on our behalf, and get back to pursuing deeper righteousness! 

The Bible does say God can grieve over our sin (Ephesians 4:30).  But our disappointment and God’s grief are vastly differently. God’s grief is rooted in compassion. He sees how sin hurts His children, and He feels compassion for them. He sees the pain, confusion, or deception in our hearts and feels compassion that we cannot see them, too. He is grieved when miss out on the safety, wisdom, and happiness offered by His perfect ways. God’s grief is motivated by love and a desire for us to be and experience all He intended. He wants us to find far more life in Him.

I came to bring them life, and far more life than before. (John 10:10, PHILLIPS)

In Christ, we are free to let go of our disappointment and pursue deeper righteousness. Rather than feeling obligated to obey God, deeper righteousness loves Him wholeheartedly. Rather than following rules that shape our behavior, deeper righteousness conforms our motives and thoughts to His. Rather than living in fear of His judgement, deeper righteousness lives in anticipation of His blessing and approval. And as we pursue deeper righteousness, we reap inner peace and contentment – far more life!

Sisters,
Are you trying to be good enough to win God’s approval?  If so, how will you attain His perfect standard?

If you have accepted Christ, what can separate you from God’s love? (Refer to Romans 8:38-39)
Do you believe that God ever condemns or punishes His children? If so, read through Romans 8 and talk with a pastor or spiritual mentor about your concerns.
What differences are there between God’s grief and human disappointment?
Pursue deeper righteousness today through the freedom of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: Jenjoe Marsh

Set Your Heart

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, 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. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:1-3, NIV)

You may read this verse and think, “But earthly things need our attention!” We need to eat and sleep. Many of us need to go to work to earn money. If we have children, we need to meet their physical, emotional, and mental needs. Other relationships need attention, too. We may need to mow the yard, shovel the walk, and tend our gardens. Appliances break. Our vehicles need maintenance. Our living space needs to be cleaned. We need to replenish our resources. We must think about these things and many more; they cannot be ignored while we think about “things above” and hope God sends angels to do the actual work for us.

But this passage is not telling us to ignore our responsibilities or the necessities of life. Rather it gives instruction about our heart, which is our command center. Biblically speaking, our heart is the source of our will, intellect and feelings. It determines our values, motivation, and mindset. It tells us to know what is most important, which then shapes our goals, dreams, decisions, and priorities. These verses are challenging us to think about the big picture — the foundation on which our lives are built — not just the needs and challenges of today. That is essential for far more life.

Here is a sampling of Bible verses that provide specific instruction about our hearts:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23, NIV)

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:111, NIV)

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9, NIV)

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21, NIV)

We are born with a heart of stone that is spiritually hardened and lifeless (Ezekiel 36:26). It is set on earthly things and does not know or desire God. But God offers us a new, soft heart that is set on heavenly things and eternally connected to Him. But even with our new heart, our mind is still full of the old thoughts, plans, and feelings. We will spend the rest of our lives uncovering the damage done by our old heart and experiencing the healing available through our new heart. We cannot change our old heart and its desires; instead we must learn to let our new heart control more areas of our mind, intellect, and feelings. That is how set our heart on heavenly things.

We can test our heart to determine whether we are listening to the part set on earthly things or the part set on heavenly things. One question that tests this is, “Whose kingdom am I building: my own or God’s?” At the times our desire is to acquire all the wealth, possessions, status, power, experiences, and pleasure we can, we are listening to our old heart and focused on earthly things. But when our desire is to use the things of this life — our wealth, possessions, status, power, experiences, and pleasure — to know God better and introduce others to Him, we know we are being ruled by our new hearts and are focused on heavenly things.

It is not what we are doing that reveals our heart, but why we are doing it. Two people can perform the same action but be building different kingdoms. We can do anything — even spiritual activities — with a focus on ourselves or a focus on God. For this reason, God’s Word contains other verses that help us determine where our heart is set:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18, NIV)

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? (Matthew 16:26, Mark 8:36, Luke 9:25, NIV)

For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.  (I John 2:17, NIV)

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25, NIV)

When our heart is set on heavenly things, our life is not about ourselves. We can definitely appreciate our blessings and enjoy God’s creation, but we are not focused on acquiring more toys, experiences, recognition. We see the world as our mission field rather than our playground. We think about the eternal impact of what we do rather than the short-term benefit. We recognize physical death is the gateway to our eternal home rather than the end of our existence. We accept that things do not always make sense because we do not have access to every detail of the master plan. We trust God’s character and His Word as our guidance rather than our own understanding and experiences. Focusing on heavenly things brings us peace, hope, joy, and purpose. It brings us far more life!

Sisters,
What earthly things compete with God for your heart’s attention?
In what areas of life is your new heart in control? In which areas does your mind revert to old heart patterns?
What helps you recognize when you are building your own kingdom instead of God’s?
Thank God for faithfully giving you far more life, no matter how many times you have to reset your heart on heavenly things.
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Turn On the Light

Do all you have to do without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be God’s children, blameless, sincere and wholesome, living in a warped and diseased world, and shining there like lights in a dark place. (Philippians 2:14-15, PHILLIPS)

When I think of the culture we live in, grumbling and arguing are two traits that are readily apparent. We grumble about things we cannot control. We grumble about circumstances we face. We grumble about other people. We grumble about ourselves. We argue with those who think differently from us. We argue with those who hold varying political or spiritual beliefs. We argue with family, friends, and even complete strangers. We argue about things that are not even important, just for the sake of arguing.

If we are honest, we can admit that sometimes we ENJOY grumbling and arguing. We gain a certain satisfaction from dwelling on the things that are going wrong. We often want to camp in our anger or hurt or disappointment, looking for more reasons to justify those feelings. Winning an argument or cutting others down can bring a feeling of self-importance. We enjoy proving that we are right.

But God offers something more. He calls His children to a higher, holy standard. I appreciate that He makes the reason — His purpose — clear. Let’s look closer at this verse to better understand it.

Do all you have to do without grumbling or arguing Other versions use the terms: murmuring; disputing; questioning; hesitations; complaining; bickering; second-guessing; division; making trouble; doubting; and reasonings. That is quite a list! The thought of the original language goes beyond actions to consider thoughts and motives toward others. So God is instructing us to be agreeable, helpful, and respectful. When we live out far more life, we join others to get the job done rather than fighting against them to do it our way — or not at all.

so that you may be God’s children, blameless, sincere and wholesome The Bible clearly states that we do not become God’s children through good works (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:23-24). Some translations state the meaning of this phrase more clearly: we show or prove that we are God’s children when we act like Him. Have you ever been told that you “take after” a parent, grandparent, or other older relative who had influence over you? We “take after” God — and experience far more life — when our thoughts, words, and actions are pure and completely good. In part, by doing all we have to do without grumbling or arguing.

...living in a warped and diseased world Because this is all we have ever known, it can be hard for us to recognize how spiritually warped and diseased our world is. But when we compare the values and practices of humans to those of God, we start to understand the reality of this verse. God created us in His image and intended for us to be like Him (Genesis 1:26). But we have traded His love and kindness for selfishness. We have traded His joy and peace for greed and competition. We have traded His faithfulness and goodness for moral relativity and a cancel culture. Thankfully God gives us His Spirit and empowers us to be like Him (I Corinthians 3:16, Acts 1:8). Far more life recognizes where we have adopted the world’s warp and disease and replaces it with God’s truth and spiritual health.

and shining there like lights in a dark place. When physical light shines in a dark place, we can clearly see what is there. We can avoid danger. We can make sense of our surroundings. We can discern what is true from what our minds and senses have misinterpreted. These same principles apply to the spiritual light of God’s truth. When God’s light is shining, we can clearly see what is wrong or evil (Psalm 90:8). We can avoid spiritual danger (Isaiah 42:16). We can tell what around us is warped and diseased (Proverbs 20:27). We can respond in a God-like manner because we can clearly see what is true (Psalm 119:105). God uses the words and actions of one person to “turn on the light” for others. People recognize their own sin when they see others who are not sinning. People recognize their own bad attitudes when others respond with a good attitude. In this way, we become lights who shine righteousness in dark, sinful places. We enjoy far more life and show others what it is like to live in fellowship with God.

Breaking down and studying this verse helps me overcome the temptation to grumble and argue. I remember it is not enjoyable to live in darkness. I realize it is more satisfying to focus on what is pure and good. I no longer want to embrace the mindset of this warped and diseased world. I want to live in God’s light and reflect it so others can see Him, too. I want far more life!

I appreciate the straightforward way The Message writes these verses.

Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night. (Philippians 2:14-15)

These words motivate me to be obey God…for my own benefit, others’ benefit, and God’s glory. I hope they motivate you to turn on the light and pursue far more life, too!

Sisters,
If you are honest with yourself, what aspect of grumbling and arguing is attractive to you?
In what areas have you already grown in “taking after” God? What needs to change in your beliefs or thinking to take after Him in this area?
Where have you recognized that what seemed normal was actually warped and diseased?
How do you shine like a light in the darkness? How can you shine brighter?
Thank God for far more life. Ask Him to grow your desire for more of it!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Spiritual Prosperity

I have seen a meme stating that in the future when we have a bad day we will refer to it as a 2020. I will not be surprised if that becomes true! This has been a shocking and challenging year, with wave after wave of novel and unexpected challenges.

Many have speculated these events are signs that Christ’s return is approaching. I do not know if these are part of the prophesied “birth pains” (Matthew 24:8) signaling the beginning of the end of this world, but I do know that every day moves us closer to Jesus’ return!

I also know these challenges do not have to crush our spirits. Far more life
enables us to spiritually and emotionally prosper, even when we face circumstances
that devastate our finances, health, livelihood, comfort, and more. Consider this
perspective from the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk:

Fig trees may not grow figs, and there may be no grapes on the vines.
There may be no olives growing and no food growing in the fields.
There may be no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the barns.
But I will still be glad in the Lord; I will rejoice in God my Savior.
The Lord God is my strength.
He makes me like a deer that does not stumble so I can walk on the steep mountains. (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NCV)

All the resources listed in these verses — figs, grapes, olives, sheep, and cattle — were important for sustaining life in ancient Israel. The situation in these verses is dire. They reflect a shortage of food, drink, shelter, income, security, and prosperity. Even making the required sacrifices to remain in good standing with God would be very difficult under these conditions. Habakkuk is describing a situation that is overwhelmingly hopeless from a human perspective.

But he looks beyond the circumstances to focus on God’s character. God brings joy. God offers relationships. God makes us strong. God supplies what we need to successfully traverse difficult situations. Through God, we can prosper in any difficulty.

I have found that hard times reveal our mindset about God, whether we believe He is good or not good.

If we believe God is good, we trust that He is in control and has a plan (Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 1:11). We understand He is faithful, kind, and working everything — even these hard circumstances — for our good (Romans 8:28-30). We know He loves us and is carrying us through this difficulty (Romans 8:35-39), giving us all that we need (Philippians 4:19). We are confident He would never ask us to sacrifice more than He has already sacrificed for us (John 15:13). We are certain that Jesus was God’s Son who died to pay the penalty for our sins, offering us an eternal relationship with God (John 3:16). We understand this earth and these difficulties are temporary, unlike our eternal home in Heaven (Revelation 21:1-4). While we long to be there, we believe God has prepared good deeds for us to do that will fulfill His plan (Ephesians 2:10). Believing God is good brings us hope, peace, and far more life, even in the midst of suffering and hardship.

If we believe God is not good, we think he is aloof and uninvolved in the affairs of earth. We may think He is laughing at us from Heaven as we try to navigate our way through the mine field of life He has set up for us. We question His love and feel very alone, doubting His motives, character, and promises. We think He asks too much of us and offers us little to nothing in return. We long for death as an escape from this misery and may be angry at God for making us remain in overwhelming situations when He has the power to rescue us. We might believe that Jesus died for our sins, but we often think God is punishing us for them as well. We believe we are trapped, hopeless, and helpless; we may see others enjoying far more life, but we do not think that is God’s will for us.

What determines which mindset we adopt? In part, the key is whether we interpret God’s Word through our circumstances or interpret our circumstances through God’s Word. We tend to believe what we have experienced. But our experiences do not reveal the whole picture. Paul writes,

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (I Corinthians 13:12)

When we look in a mirror, our view is limited. And sometimes it is cloudy or fuzzy. Similarly, our spiritual view during this life is limited and unclear. We cannot see the bigger picture or the intricate details of God’s plan. And we have an enemy, Satan, who feeds us false interpretations of what we can see. He wants us to doubt God and question His goodness; if he can keep us from seeing God clearly, he can keep us from far more life. But when we prayerfully analyze each situation where we believe God is not good, asking Him to help us see what is true and how His Word is right, we gain new understanding of ourselves, others, and God. We can replace our doubts with confidence that He is good and does good. Our faith prospers!

I am thankful that Habakkuk interpreted his circumstances through God’s Word and reminds us to do the same. I am thankful that I can experience spiritual prosperity — far more life — whatever happens in 2020…and beyond.

Sisters,
What makes you think of a situation as bad?
What is your spiritual and emotional response to bad situations?
Think of a recent difficulty you encountered. Did you believe God was good or not good?
Ask God to help you clearly see the truth about Himself, yourself, and others in that difficulty.
Thank God that you can experience far more life no matter what happens!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Foundational Truth

“You are still his mom.”

These words were a balm to my aching heart as I struggled to understand exactly what I was grieving about my son’s upcoming out-of-state move. I expected to be sad; change is often hard for me and I have spent every day of the past 20 years investing in him. And I understood the bittersweet happiness of watching his face light up as he counted down the days until his new solo adventure began; he is leaving home to pursue the dreams and goals he has been working toward since he was quite young. But my grief was surprisingly bigger and deeper than I had expected.

I told my husband the strength of my grief must mean this life change was revealing a false belief I held about my identity. Although raising my children was an important job, intellectually I knew it did not define me. While mothering has been a focused, sacrificial, time-intensive effort, it was not the foundation on which my life was built. But somewhere along the line, I unknowingly adopted the belief that being a mom was who I was. My sense of value was threatened when I realized I would no longer be investing in my son face-to-face each day. My husband’s response – you are still his mom – reminded me of an important truth: my role as a mom has changed many times over the years, but my identity has remained the same.

I am thankful that my significance, security, and acceptance – and my experience of far more life — do not come from being a mom. In fact, they are not based on any human relationship or earthly role. Instead they come from Christ and my relationship with Him. One day my roles as wife, mother, friend, daughter, sister, ministry leader, employee, and more will come to an end. But I will remain who I am in Christ forever. And while my earthly roles are rewarding for a short time, they are not the foundation of far more life that brings contentment and joy for eternity.

Dr. Neil T. Anderson pulled together a list of Biblical descriptions of our identity in Christ. They provide a wonderful reminder of what is unchanging and valuable about each of God’s children. These are our defining characteristics, what truly give us significance, security and acceptance. Even if everything else is stripped away from our lives, these foundational truths remain intact. Read through the list slowly, letting the importance of each statement about your identity sink in.

  • I am God’s child. (John 1:12)
  • I am Christ’s friend. (John 15:15)
  • I have been justified. (Romans 5:1)
  • I am united with the Lord and one with Him in spirit. (I Corinthians 6:17)
  • I have been bought with a price; I belong to God. (I Corinthians 6:20)
  • I am a member of Christ’s body. (I Corinthians 12:27)
  • I am a saint. (Ephesians 1:1)
  • I have been adopted as God’s child. (Ephesians 1:5)
  • I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 2:18)
  • I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins. (Colossians 1:14)
  • I am complete in Christ. (Colossians 2:10)
  • I am free forever from condemnation. (Romans 8:1-2)
  • I am assured that all things work together for good. (Romans 8:28)
  • I am free from any condemning charges against me. (Romans 8:33-34)
  • I cannot be separated from the love of God. (Romans 8:35)
  • I have been established, anointed and sealed by God. (2 Corinthians 1:21)
  • I am hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)
  • I am confident that the good work God has begun in me will be perfected. (Philippians 1:6)
  • I am a citizen of heaven. (Philippians 3:20)
  • I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • I can find grace and mercy in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
  • I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me. (I John 5:18)
  • I am the salt and light of the earth. (Matthew 5:13-14)
  • I am a branch of the true vine, a channel of His life. (John 15:1, 5)
  • I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit. (John 15:16)
  • I am a personal witness of Christ’s. (Acts 1:8)
  • I am God’s temple. (I Corinthians 3:16)
  • I am a minister of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)
  • I am God’s coworker. (2 Corinthians 6:1)
  • I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realm. (Ephesians 2:6)
  • I am God’s masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10)
  • I may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

I am thankful for these reminders of the identity God has given me in Christ. I will probably need to revisit them again next week when my daughter moves out of the house. I do not know what false beliefs that change will reveal, but I am thankful God’s truth is reliable and unchanging! He is the only foundation on which we can build far more life.

Sisters,
What has challenged your sense of identity?
Where, besides Christ, have you looked for significance, security, and acceptance?
As you read the list of truths, which were most meaningful? For any that were hard to believe or accept, what do you believe instead? Consider talking to God about the differences and working to discover the barriers that keep you from readily accepting His truth.
Thank God for being the stable foundation on which you build far more life!
-Shari

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