Distorted Vision

When we are focused on the wrong things, we make bad choices. One way we focus on the wrong thing is by comparing ourselves to others. Another is to reject what we have and obsess over getting what they have. A distorted focus can lead us to manipulate situations to gain what we think we are lacking. But in the process, we forfeit far more life.

The story of Jacob, Leah, Rachel illustrates this well. In Genesis 29, we see a budding romance between Jacob and the beautiful Rachel. But the morning after their wedding, Jacob learns he was tricked and is married to Rachel’s less-desirable older sister, Leah. After a confrontation with his father-in-law, Jacob agrees to keep Leah if he can marry his beloved Rachel, too.

Leah’s focus became gaining her husband’s love. She thought giving him something valuable — many sons — would achieve her goal. She sacrificed peace, happiness, and more in this pursuit. Leah birthed 6 sons and a daughter, but there is no evidence that she won her husband’s love or realized her motives and actions were wrong.

Rachel also had distorted vision. She had her husband’s love but was focused on becoming a mother. She, too, sacrificed peace and happiness in pursuit of her own agenda. Jealousy blinded her to God’s blessings and caused her to idolize what she did not have. After years of despair and manipulation she finally birthed a son. But that was not enough; she wanted another one. God did allow that, but she died in childbirth. The very thing she thought would make her life complete caused her death.

We, too, are tempted to think that we will find far more life when we get what we want. If only… When this happens… After this… We focus on the elusive goal, blind to the cost. Even if reaching our goal brings temporary peace and joy, it does not last. Eventually we grow dissatisfied and convince ourselves fulfillment is just ahead. But, like Leah and Rachel discovered, this only leads to bad choices and heartache.

Genesis 37 tells that Jacob favored Rachel’s sons over Leah’s, and Leah’s sons went to great lengths to remove the competition. Not only did these women miss out on far more life, but their example distorted their children’s vision as well.

This family failed to see that far more life is found only in God. He promises:

Who is the man fearing Yahweh? [Yahweh] will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will lodge in prosperity, and his offspring will possess the land. Intimate fellowship with Yahweh is for those who fear him, and [Yahweh] makes known his covenant to them. (Psalm 25:12-14, LEB)

A prosperous soul — far more life — is given to those who pursue intimate fellowship with God. Those who lay aside their own purposes to focus on achieving His purpose. This allows us to recognize God’s work in our lives and help those we raise and mentor to see it, too. Jesus explained it this way:

Then Jesus called the crowd and his followers to him. He said, “Any of you who want to be my follower must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you for following me. Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me and for the Good News will save it. It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are lost.” (Mark 8:34-36, ERV)

Imagine there are two life plans you could follow. The first option is the plan you develop. To make this plan you look at your available resources and consider how to make the most of them. You take your desires, skills, and preferences into account. You research the possibilities and choose the one that looks best. When obstacles arise, you assess how to keep moving toward the goal. Or you modify your plan, sometimes shifting focus. The second option is the plan God developed for you that fits within His master plan. He holds every possible resource and can give you whatever you need whenever you need it. He created you with desires, skills, and preferences that allow you to not only complete His plan but to be fulfilled by it. He foresees the obstacles and ensures a path forward is always available. God’s plan is the only one that leads to far more life. Would you give up your plan to focus on His?

We are wise to answer “Yes!” But a distorted view of God or ourselves can prevent us from seeing what is best. It seems better to focus on our own plan if we think God is distant, indifferent, harsh, selfish, critical, angry, or not trustworthy. We cannot believe a God with these characteristics would offer a plan that gives us far more life. Similarly, if we think too much or too little of ourselves, we will seek fulfillment through an inward focus. Believing we are responsible for finding far more life on our own, we disconnect from God to seek the path forward. How do we correct a distorted view of God or ourselves?

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…fixing our eyes on Jesus…For the joy set before him he endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV)

We study God’s Word to discover His perspective. We replace lies with His truth. We reject sin. As we choose to focus on Him, the path to far more life becomes clear.

Sisters,
How has focusing on the wrong thing caused you to make bad choices?
When have you trusted in your circumstances for satisfaction and happiness? Did it last?
Does intimate fellowship with God sound appealing to you? Why or why not?
Is a distorted view of God or yourself pulling you away from His plan? How will you correct it?
Praise God that His perfect plan for you includes far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Abundance

Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist?

Is the glass as half-empty or half-full?

Do you focus on the darkness of the forest or the light that shines through?

Does God feel close to you or far away?

Your answers to these questions indicate whether you have an abundance or scarcity mindset. One mindset embraces far more life while the other stifles it.

Without Christ, hardships, heartache, and difficulties emphasize our emptiness. We cling to what makes us feel good for the moment, knowing it will not last. Good circumstances seem rare. Real joy and inner peace elude us. We may feel hopeless and helpless to find relief from our physical and emotional burdens. Far more life sounds like an impossible dream. We experience a negative mindset and spiritual scarcity.

When we enter a relationship with Jesus Christ, we move from spiritual scarcity to spiritual abundance. We trade death and condemnation for life and forgiveness (Colossians 2:13-14). Our life circumstances may not change, but our perspective does (Acts 26:17-18). We now have a source of hope and help (Psalm 33:20). We have access to inner joy and peace through the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13). We can trust in the promises that God is for us (Romans 8:31) and always with us (Ephesians 1:13-14). Besides our salvation, spiritual abundance — far more life — is the most precious gift God gives us. The Apostle Peter highlights the importance of this:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Ephesians 1:4, NIV)

Whatever we do, whatever situation we face, God sees His children as holy and blameless. Our life, present and future, is abundant because our standing before God is secure. We have His love, blessing, and support no matter what. That is far more life. Rich, internal, and unshakable abundance.

There are many religious people who claim that following God will bring you good things in this life: promotions at work; bigger incomes; nicer houses; more toys; happy marriages; good children; and more. When something bad happens, they claim God is displeased and punishing your sin or lack of faith. But that is not what God’s Word says.

If you belong to Christ Jesus, you won’t be punished. The Holy Spirit will give you life that comes from Christ Jesus and will set you free from sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2, CEV)

God will never punish His children, because Jesus already took that punishment on our behalf. Born-again believers in Christ are never out-of-favor with God. He never withholds blessings from us. He never scolds us. We are always holy and blameless in His sight. When we sin, the punishment has already been served, allowing us to remain connected to God through far more life. Our feelings do not separate us from God, even though our enemy, Satan, wants us to believe the guilt and shame we feel means God has turned away from us. Our sinful choices may yield natural painful consequences, but those are never God’s punishment. Instead, His Spirit continues to live inside of us and we continue to experience His abundant love, joy, peace, goodness, faith, and more. We continue to have far more life.

These [Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, David, Samson, and many others], though commended by God for their great faith, did not receive what was promised. (Hebrews 11:39, VOICE)

Even people who are commended in the Bible for their faith did not see their circumstances improve. But God gave them something better than earthly riches: His faithfulness in the present and His promise of a Messiah who would rescue their descendants from the oppression of sin. Instead of removing their struggles, God gave them hope, joy, and peace as they endured. They experienced spiritual abundance and far more life as they awaited the fulfillment of His promise.

To embrace far more life, we must embrace God’s definition of abundance. It is spiritual abundance. Soul abundance. Heart abundance. It means we find our blessings by looking up to Him, not at the circumstances of our life on earth. Abundance means that regardless of our external circumstances, our spirit thrives.

The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (I Timothy 1:4, NIV)

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV)

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:5, NIV)

For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17, NLT)

Grace. Faith. Love. Good works. Comfort. Righteousness. These are the riches that God offers us through Christ. This is the abundance of far more life!

Sisters,
Before reading this, how did you define abundance?
What did you learn about abundance?
Are you tempted to interpret difficult situations as God’s punishment or displeasure? What Bible verse reminds you of God’s true mindset toward you?
What tempts you to pursue material abundance over spiritual abundance?
Thank God for eternal abundance — far more life — through Jesus Christ!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso


Warm Love

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12, NIV)

Sadly, this verse seems to sum up the current climate of our culture. We are a spiritually, morally, and politically divided people. We disagree on what is “wicked” and are quick to criticize those whose definition differs from our own. People engage in hateful dismissiveness rather than loving discourse. It is discouraging and leads us away from far more life.

Although it is right to be sad about the current state of affairs, we should not be surprised. It was predicted over 2000 years ago and has always been true to some extent. But we can consider this a call to be counter-culture and put the warm love of far more life into practice. As society’s standard of righteousness moves further from God’s standard, we have an opportunity to INCREASE our love for others and reveal God’s true character. Jesus tells us how in his first sermon:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? … And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, NIV)

Love your enemies; this includes people who actively oppose us. Pray for those who persecute you; this includes people who attack us or call us names. God sets the example for us. As Creator and Judge, He would be justified in withholding all good — even sunshine and rain — from those who oppose and attack Him. But He does not. And He does not want us to withhold good, either. Looking out for the welfare of those who oppose us is an example of warm love. It sets us apart from the majority and reveals God’s Spirit living inside of us. We find far more life as we strive to be like God in our love.

…Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:39, NIV)

Give the same regard to others that you give to yourself. Do kind acts for them that you do for yourself. Some people pay for the order of the person behind them in the drive thru, especially when that person has been impatient or otherwise indicated they are having a bad day. This is one way of responding with warm love. We regularly offer our neighbor warm love by clearing the snow from a significant portion of his sidewalk. It feels good to bless him in this small way. Perhaps one day it will open the door for a conversation about Christ. But in the meantime, we find far more life by showing him love.

…Urge the younger women to love their husbands and children. (Titus 2:4, NIV)

Sometimes the people we serve the most are the people for whom our love cools the most. Caring for those in our own homes day after day can become wearing. We can get bogged down in what we are doing and forget why we are doing it. When my children left home, I thought I would have a vacation from daily cooking. But soon I realized my new attitude of doing as little food planning and prep as possible was not loving toward my husband. I had to choose whether to adopt a “fend for yourself” attitude of cold love or to be a vessel of God’s warm love by continuing to regularly prepare foods we could enjoy together. When I chose to show my husband love, I discovered another level of far more life!

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30, NIV)

Our love for God is the most important of all. If we let that grow cold, we will be miserable and unable to find far more life. But as we devote ourselves to loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, our love for Him and others will grow warmer and more vibrant. This love flows through a circle: as we get to know Him better, our love for Him deepens, giving us more love to give others. Then as we pass His love to others, we discover new aspects of far more life that motivate us to keep deepening our love for God. Growing our connection to God keeps our love warm.

A deeper connection to God also enables us to see others as He does. God is not surprised when people who have rejected Him increase in wickedness. The cycle of righteousness, rejection, wickedness, and revival has been repeated over and over throughout history. God also sees beyond people’s actions to their heart, and knows they are often trying to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. When we see people as God does, we offer compassion rather than judgment. Rather than cooling our love, this produces warmth.

The Bible points out that the love of most will grow cold toward their fellow humans. But a deep and genuine connection to God — far more life — gives us warm love to share with everyone around us. Friends, enemies, family, and strangers alike.

Sisters,
How has the wickedness around us impacted your love for others?
What individual or group is your enemy? What would it look like to love them?
How do or can you love your neighbor as yourself?
Is it easier or harder to love those in your household than those outside of it? Why?
Is your love for God growing warmer or cooler? How can you deepen your connection to Him?
Thank God for showing you His love — and blessing you with far more life!
-Shari

Deceptively Peaceful

We have to make many decisions every day. But not all decisions are equal. Some are quick and easy because we know they have little long-term impact. Others we recognize as significant and consider the options carefully. But sometimes we do not see them clearly and overlook opportunities for far more life.

The book of Genesis gives the account of Abram and his nephew Lot. They lived a nomadic life, moving their herds from one location to another. As their wealth grew, the land could not support all the people and animals of both households. So Abram suggested they set up separate camps. He graciously let Lot choose his preferred location. The Bible records:

Lot looked and saw the whole Jordan Valley. He saw that there was much water there…At that time the Jordan Valley all the way to Zoar was like the Lord’s Garden. This was good land, like the land of Egypt. (Genesis 13:10, ERV)

Lot chose the land that looked more fertile and promising. That seems wise since his was goal to provide food and water for his herds, family, and workers. But the scene before Lot was deceptively peaceful. He actually pitched his tents near a corrupt city that, in time, corrupted him and his family.

How often do we look only at the surface when making a decision? We, too, can be fooled by a deceptively peaceful exterior and fail to see the situation accurately. I participate in a White Elephant gift exchange each December that makes a game of giving away useless and almost-useless items. Over the years we have found the worst gifts are often hidden beneath the most elaborate wrapping. They are deceptively appealing because the outward appearance leads you to believe a treasure is waiting inside. One participant enjoys warning newcomers, “Beware of the pretty wrapping paper.”

Satan also loves to hide behind a beautiful or peaceful exterior. He tricks us into thinking sin is not “that bad”. Or he makes it seem like an experience or circumstance will fulfill us. But Satan is a liar whose goal is to keep us from experiencing God’s best. He makes sin and pain appear deceptively peaceful. He wants to distract us from finding what truly brings far more life.

God wants to satisfy our hearts and minds. He offers true peace — and far more life. Consider this powerful promise God gave His people through the prophet Isaiah:

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:7-11, NIV)

Giving, investing, sharing, caring for others because they are valuable to God and therefore valuable to you…these lead to far more life! But Satan whispers — or yells — lies to dissuade us from experiencing this: Do not sacrifice for others; they will not appreciate it! Do not give too much; you may not have enough left for yourself! Do not get involved; everyone needs to learn from their own mistakes! Do not take risks; someone else is in a better position to help! People are too messy! Protect yourself!

Repeatedly God’s Word instructs us to focus on His work and trust Him with the details. He wants us to look deeper into His ways when making decisions so we can invest in far more life.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33, NIV)

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)

…For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (I Corinthians 10:33, NIV)

[Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (I Corinthians 13:5, NIV)

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. (I Peter 3:10-11, NIV)

Following and trusting God are not passive pursuits. Far more life requires us to actively engage with God and others. Disengaging offers deceptive peace while investing in others brings far more life. Building our own kingdom offers deceptive peace but building God’s kingdom results in true peace. Striving to fulfill God’s plan fulfills us in a way that pursuing our own plans cannot match.

Be on the lookout for deceptive peace. It is all around us, tempting us to turn away from God and join the majority. The road to God may not look as lush and fertile as the one most people choose to follow through this life, but it actually offers all we need for far more life that lasts throughout eternity.

Sisters,
When have you pursued something that looked good but ended up being bad?
When making a decision, what helps you look below the surface?
How has God blessed or satisfied you when you did what He instructed, even if it seemed like a bad idea?
How are you actively engaging with God and people?
Thank God that His road leads to far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Enough

Some friends and I are reading through the Old Testament, one chapter a day. We are digesting it slowly to discover the treasure in each chapter. This slow pace allowed me to consider Noah from a new perspective.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Genesis 6:5-8, ESV)

Imagine your immediate family is the only one on earth following God. Everyone else is saying, thinking, and doing what God considers evil. No one cares what God thinks or has any desire to honor Him. The Bible does not record Noah’s thoughts and feelings, but I imagine he felt alone. No one else shared his values and interests. Noah found far more life in following God, even though he followed alone.

Then God comes to Noah and tells him to build a boat. A very big boat: 150 yards (135 meters) long, 25 yards (22.5 meters) wide, and 15 yards (13.5 meters) high. God gave very specific instructions for the design and construction of this boat, as well as who and what would go inside. The Bible does not record Noah’s thoughts or feelings. How would you feel if God told you He was going to “end all flesh” except you and your family (Genesis 6:13, 18; 7:1)? What would you think if God told you He was going to send a male and female of every kind of bird, animal, and “crawling thing of the ground” and it was your job to keep them alive (Genesis 6:20)? What if he told you to take some of “every food that is edible” for your family and the animals into the ark (Genesis 6:21)? I would have asked a LOT of questions! I would have found the task daunting and doubted my ability to complete it. But the Bible simply records:

Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22 ESV)

Noah found far more life in obeying God.

The Bible records that once Noah was in the ark, the “fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened” at the beginning of the 40 days and nights of rain (Genesis 7:11). I am certain the ground beneath the ark shook as it never had before. It probably groaned and roared, creating new and unique sounds. There may have been people banging on the door or trying to claw or climb their way into the ark. Try to imagine yourself inside the ark as all this happens. Perhaps they were on the third deck looking out the window. Perhaps they were huddled in the center, like we would take cover during a tornado or hurricane. The Bible does not record Noah’s actions during that time, but I believe he clung to God and far more life as he faced the unknown.

After the 40 days and nights of rain, the Bible tells us the water prevailed on the earth for 150 days (Genesis 7:17, 24, 8:3). Scripture does not record if Noah knew they would spend over a year in the ark (Genesis 7:11, 8:13-14). Would you have been antsy on day 41, ready to get off the boat? How would you have felt if all you could see out the window for 150 days was water (Genesis 7:18-20)? Would you have worried whether you loaded enough food? I would have!

Eventually the water receded and the ark came to rest on some mountains (Genesis 8:4). But it was still several months before God told them to leave the ark. Would you have feared that God forgot you? How would you have spent that time? Would it have fostered far more life? The Bible does not record Noah’s thoughts or feelings, so we do not know if his faith wavered or remained strong every moment of that year.

Finally God called Noah and his family out of the ark (Genesis 8:15). What is the first thing you would have done when your feet returned to dry ground?

So Noah went out…then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took some of every kind of clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. (Genesis 8:18, 20, NASB)

Noah built an altar and worshiped God. There is no record of God commanding this; I believe it reflected Noah’s heart. This was not a small sacrifice, something Noah did quickly before heading out to explore Earth 2.0. First Noah gathered materials and built an altar. Then he invested time and energy preparing and offering every acceptable animal sacrifice. I believe Noah was expressing his love, gratitude, and reverence for God. As he walked out of the ark into a world that was entirely unfamiliar to him, Noah walked in far more life. He knew he would walk with God each step of the way to repopulate and rebuild the earth.

No human — except possibly Adam and Eve — have witnessed as dramatic a change to the world as Noah and his family did. Everything they had known before was gone. Everything but God. Yet God was enough for Noah and his family. Far more life was enough through the preparation, flood, and aftermath. Far more life is also enough for us through all of life’s changes.

Sisters,
What is the biggest change you have faced in life? How did you react to it?
What would you have thought and felt if you had been with Noah?
Will you trust God through the changes ahead in your life? Is He enough for you?
Thank God for seeing us through it all; thank Him for far more life.
Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Words of Life

Words. Most of us find them necessary in daily life. We use them to understand what is happening around us. We also use them to express what is happening within us. They enable us to communicate ideas, feelings, dreams, facts, desires, and needs. They can cause connection or division among people. They can hurt or help. They can be powerful or empty.

God’s spoken words brought much of what we know into being. According to Genesis 1, each day “God said…” and something new was formed. Light. Space. Sea and land. Sun, moon, and stars. Birds and sea creatures. Land animals. God’s words are powerful!

The Bible is God’s Word. Although we cannot talk with him face-to-face or audibly hear His voice, His words are recorded there for us to study, understand, and heed. Psalm 119 is filled with references to the value of His Word and its impact on our lives. I remember being inspired by this verse as a child:

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11, NIV)

The Bible offers us a precious gift: the opportunity to know God’s heart, purpose, and ways. It offers words of life that enable us to join His family and His work. We are wise to pay attention to it. Jesus affirms the value of His words as well:

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because its foundation had been laid on rock. (Matthew 7:24-25, NET)

God gives us freedom to choose what we will do with His words. Taking them seriously and acting on them leads to far more life. It brings us safety and security when problems enter our lives. Following His words provides us with a spiritual foundation that will not collapse when the storms of life come against us. As our Creator, He knows what is best for us and what will devastate us. He knows our deepest needs as well as our strengths. Although some view them as restrictive, His words are intended to provide a boundary within which we can thrive, finding far more life as we pursue a relationship with Him.

It should not be surprising that the LORD’s words have power and authority since He is all-powerful and the ultimate authority. He does not make empty promises or idle threats. His words are backed by His character and provide trustworthy instruction. He even communicates how we should use our words:

Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].(Ephesians 4:29, AMP)

You must mean “Yes” when you say “Yes”. You must mean “No” when you say “No”. (Matthew 5:37, WE)

With our tongues we praise our Lord and Father. Yet, with the same tongues we curse people, who were created in God’s likeness. Praise and curses come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, this should not happen! (James 3:9-10, GW)

Our words are powerful, too. They have the power to build others up or tear them down. They have the power to praise God or curse Him. They can bring hurt or healing. They reveal our character and the hidden contents of our heart. Our words can be life-giving or life-destroying. Far more life speaks words of life.

We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. (Ephesians 4:15, NLT)

Words of life speak the truth in love. God wants our words to speak life to the listener. He wants us to speak truth rather than flattery, boasting, or outright lies. God also wants us to speak in love, with the motive of building up the listener and revealing His character. Sometimes speaking in love is firm and direct, but it is never hateful, defensive, or vengeful. Love for God compels us to speak words of life to the people around us, whether or not they acknowledge His lordship.

The life-giving words are not just for others; far more life speaks the truth in love to ourselves as well. Our internal dialogue can build us up or tear us down. God wants to lovingly mold us into His character through words of life. He offers His children grace, help, and hope rather than condemnation, criticism, and defeat. God sees beyond our actions to understand the motives of our hearts (I Samuel 16:7). We are clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27) and justified before God (Romans 5:9). God — who is perfect and aware of every secret sin we commit — does not condemn us (Romans 8:1), so surely we have no reason to condemn ourselves! God wants us to confess our sins (James 5:16) and pursue righteousness (Romans 6:13), but out of gratitude and love, not guilt and shame (Romans 10:11). Embracing these life-giving words brings far more life!

But the words that come out of your mouth come from your heart. (Matthew 15:18, CEV)

If you want to think and speak life-giving words, you must first have them in your heart. Study God’s words of life. Wrestle with them until you understand them so you can wholeheartedly believe them. (It is okay to ask for help; we will spend the rest of our lives growing in our understanding of His Word.) Then share far more life with others by sharing words of life with them!

Sisters,
In general, do think of words as good, bad, or neutral?
What about God’s Word makes it valuable to you?
Are more of your words to others life-giving or life-destroying? To yourself?
What helps you speak the truth in love?
Thank God for giving us His Word to help us find far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Renewed

Some of us begin our spiritual journey searching for relief from pain or difficult circumstances. Others are looking for direction or meaning in life. These can be powerful motivators to explore new options and initiate change, to find a different and better path. They may lead us to a personal relationship with Christ, even if that was not where we expected our journey to lead. For a while, that new relationship brings new awareness, positive change, and motivation to begin or continue doing what is good and right. We experience far more life than we have experienced before!

But we cannot sustain Christian growth for an extended time with personal fulfillment as our motivation. If we want far more life to last a lifetime, our motivation must become our love for God. As our relationship with Him matures, our perspective on Him naturally changes. We grow to see Him less as Santa Claus or a cosmic vending machine — someone who gives us what we desire if we perform correctly. Instead we recognize His character and the reverence He deserves. Here are a few examples of His name and titles that reveal His character:

  • Yahweh (Usually translated “LORD”, this means “self-existent one” or “He who brings into being”. Yahweh is God’s name, just like my name Shari.)

By Wisdom Yahweh laid the foundation of the earth. By understanding he established the heavens. (Proverbs 3:19, NOG)

  • Elohim (title meaning almighty or all-powerful):

In the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth. (Genesis 1:1, NOG)

  • Elyon (title meaning supreme or most high):

…Your name is Yahweh. You alone are Elyon of the whole earth. (Psalm 83:18, NOG)

  • El Olam (title meaning everlasting):

Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? El OlamYahweh, the Creator of the ends of the earth, doesn’t grow tired or become weary. His understanding is beyond reach. (Isaiah 40:28, NOG)

  • Adonai/Adonay (title meaning master):

The priests who carry the ark of Yahweh, the Adonay of the whole earth, will stand in the water of the Jordan. Then the water flowing from upstream will stop and stand up like a dam. (Joshua 3:13, NOG)

  • El Shaddai /Shadday (title meaning all-sufficient sustainer):

…The breath of Shadday gives me life. (Job 33:4, NOG)

  • Roeh (title meaning shepherd, friend):

Yahweh is my Roeh. I am never in need. (Psalm 23:1, NOG)

He who brings into being. All powerful. Supreme. Everlasting. Master. All-sufficient sustainer. Friend. Those terms describe Someone worth getting to know! Not just because of what He can do for us, but because of His own merits. They describe Someone who deserves our respect. Someone we can learn from. Someone we would do well to emulate. And God does want us to emulate Him! The Old Testament and Jesus’ first recorded sermon both include this instruction:

…I am the Lord your God. I am holy, and you must be holy too! (Leviticus 19:2, CEV)

But you must always act like your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:48, CEV)

Of course, humans are incapable of living a completely sinless life. We are born with a sinful nature that desires to do our own thing and be our own boss instead of giving God His rightful place in our hearts and lives. (Romans 3:23, James 4:17) Fortunately, when we accept Jesus as our Savior we receive a built-in “righteousness guide”, the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, I Corinthians 6:19). From that day forward, God the Spirit lives inside of us, giving us the power to overcome sinful thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and actions (2 Peter 1:3). But the change is not automatic; we must reclaim control from our sinful nature.

“…Live your life as your spiritual nature directs you. Then you will never follow through on what your corrupt nature wants.” (Galatians 5:16, GW)

Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. (Romans 12:2, NCV)

We know that we are being directed by our spiritual nature when we display His characteristics: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Any time we do not feel or display those traits, we are being directed by the corrupt nature. We can try harder to push it aside, but sometimes our effort is not enough to create permanent change. Instead we must be changed from within through a new way of thinking.

We change our thinking by changing our core beliefs. Sinful thoughts, feelings, and actions reveal core beliefs that are still spiritually “corrupted”. But we can “follow the feelings” to bring them to the light. First, we recognize what negative emotion we are feeling. Then we ask ourselves why we feel that (i.e., what do we believe). Which may lead us to another negative emotion; asking “why” again reveals another belief. When that back-and-forth reaches a belief about our identity or God’s character that disagrees with the Bible, we have exposed our corrupt thinking! Bringing to mind God’s truth — His perspective, words, and actions — at that moment allows us to renew that part of our mind for God. When presented with a similar situation in the future, we will be able to respond as God would! It can be a slow, painful process to find and replace corrupt beliefs. But it is worthwhile because each step of that process yields far more life: becoming more like God!

Sisters,
What initially prompted you to seek out God? What prompts you now?
How would you describe your friendship with God? Is it one-way or two-way?
Which name or title of God is most meaningful to you? Why?
How do you feel about being more like God? Any hesitation or reluctance?
Do you experience negative feelings regularly? Are you willing to try “following them” to renew your thinking?
Praise God for allowing you to keep growing far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Great Adventure

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)

Jesus came to earth to bring humans far more life than they had without Him. So we could experience all that He intended for us and become who He designed us to be.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:51, NIV)

…The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28, NIV)

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10, NIV)

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4, NIV)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17, NIV)

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28, NIV)

Jesus is the light that leads us to eternal life. He offers us salvation from the punishment we deserve for our sin. He paid the ransom that set us free. Jesus was not focused on His own comfort during His time on earth. He did not pursue wealth, power, or influence. He was not trudging through His weeks, living for the weekend when He could immerse Himself in what He wanted to do. His life was centered on His God-given mission: to restore our relationship with God.

But His life was not drudgery. It was overflowing with love, joy, peace, and more because those are the character traits of God. Jesus experienced far more life! Pursuing His God-given mission did not detract from Jesus’ life, it helped Him model far more life for us.

We find far more life as we pursue our God-given mission, too. And rather than pulling us away from the good things in life, focusing on our mission will enhance our lives. So what mission has He given His children?

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. (Romans 8:29, NIV)

…Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV)

…Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, NIV)

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (I Peter 2:12, NIV)

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (I Corinthians 10:31, NIV)

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

…Do good … be rich in good deeds … be generous and willing to share. (I Timothy 6:18, NIV)

Our mission is to draw attention to God. We sometimes call this bringing Him glory. But it just means giving Him the honor He deserves and making His magnificence and beauty known to others. He wants us to become like Him so that others can see His character in action. He wants us to tell others about Jesus and the way to a relationship with God. He wants us to teach them how to become like Him, too. He wants us to do good things to show His goodness. He wants us to model Him in every area of life, not just on certain days or at certain locations. In doing this, we experience far more life!

The best this world can offer pales in comparison to God’s glory. The most beautiful scenery is more beautiful when we acknowledge God as its Designer and Creator. The most rewarding experiences are more rewarding when they are investing in relationships that will last for eternity. Wealth is more satisfying when it is seen as a gift from God and used to meet the physical and spiritual needs of others. Love and laughter are deeper and richer in relationships that are unconditional, pure, and unified. Songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman described far more life as “The Great Adventure.”

God knows we are incapable of living for Him perfectly. But Jesus has already paid for those moments. We can recognize them, apologize, and get back on mission. In fact, sometimes failures give us a chance to draw attention to other aspects of His character. I see Jesus clearly in others when I sin against them and they show me grace. I model God when others sin against me and I quickly and compassionately forgive them. These, too, are far more life moments! Our sins and failures do not define us. Part of our adventure is turning from our sin to glorifying God to the best of our ability. May we, like Jesus, be able to pray this at the end of our lives:

I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. (John 17:4, NIV)

If you have been on mission, keep up the good work of far more life! If you have not, start today…the adventure of far more life is waiting!

Sisters,
How does it feel to know that Jesus’ mission was to bring your far more life?
Do you think Jesus’ life was drudgery or an adventure? What about your life?
How can you draw attention to God — bring Him glory — with the personality, blessings, and opportunities available to you today?
Embrace the great adventure of far more life with Jesus!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

Numbered Days

I have heard many people express eagerness to say, “Good riddance!” to 2020. Although there are no guarantees that changing the calendar will improve our lives, they hope the coming year brings fewer challenges. Hope is a powerful force in our lives, but it is not like a free-floating balloon. It must be tethered to an object or person; we hope in something or someone. The days on the calendar are powerless to bring good or prevent bad. Far more life hopes in the character of God and His promises recorded in the Bible every day.

Teach us to number our days and recognize how few they are; help us to spend them as we should. (Psalm 90:12, TLB)

Most years, including 2021, offer us 365 days, 8760 hours, 525,600 minutes, or 13,536,000 seconds. Each of those moments is like a gift, waiting to be unwrapped. Some of those gifts will be wonderful, exciting, or lovely. Others will be unpleasant, difficult, or sad. As we open each gift, we have to decide what value it offers and what to do with it. We can: keep it (in our memories or the forefront of our mind); give it to someone else (by sharing the experience in the moment or later telling them about it); or throw it in the garbage (move on or choose to not think about it). We are wise to look below the surface before deciding what to do with each gift. Sometimes the best gifts appear undesirable at first glance. I have experienced this with difficult conversations that, when resolved, led to personal growth and deeper relationships. I have also experienced this with potential friendships that I did not pursue and later regretted. Far more life unwraps and examines each gift, each day, in order to spend it as we should.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23, NIV)

Every sunrise serves as a reminder of God’s love and faithfulness. Whether we judge a day to be good or bad, His compassion goes with His children into every situation we face. Far more life greets each new day expectantly, looking for God’s work in and around us. We are never alone (Deuteronomy 31:8). We are never forgotten (Isaiah 49:15-16). He will not allow us to be spiritually destroyed (John 10:10, 2 Corinthians 4:8-9). He will give us all we need for that day. (Philippians 4:19). If you doubt these promises, consider starting a journal to record how you experience God’s compassion and faithfulness each day. Some days you will record one or more good things that happened. Other days You will see His provision through things that could have been worse. We are tempted to focus on our circumstances, but also look for His spiritual provision — times where you experience or share love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and forgiveness. Living in the fruit of His Spirit always makes it a good day!

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. (Zechariah 4:10, ESV)

The tallest trees on earth, Sequoia sempervirens aka California redwoods, begin as a tiny seed. The largest animals on earth, blue whales, grow from the union of a single egg and tiny sperm. We tend to marvel on the full-grown majesty but forget to be amazed at the beginnings. Similarly, the day a venture begins — and each day of growth along the way — is also a cause for rejoicing. There will come a time when the progress will become obvious and even those who started with a critical attitude will rejoice; as the verse above states, those who were discouraged at the slow work of laying the temple foundation rejoiced when a plumb line was required to ensure the rising walls were built straight. We are wise to value the days of small things, too. There is reason to rejoice in the beginning of a friendship, the first step away from addictive behavior, or a righteous choice on a small matter. Far more life recognizes that each day offers opportunities for rejoicing over small things. Because much of life is small things.

A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed. (Job 14:5, NIV)

…all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16, NIV)

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

Our days on earth are numbered and God has plans for each one! You will find far more life as you search for and embrace His purpose for you each day.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants. (Psalm 116:15, NIV)

When our time on earth is over, those who have accepted Christ will be taken Home. What a wonderful day it will be when we are united with our Creator and Savior! Each day we spend on earth is a day with Him in Spirit that brings us closer to the day we will be with Him physically. Since each day offers far more life, we can count them all as good days!

Sisters,
In what or who do you place your hope?
How do you decide which “gifts” from your day to keep, which to share, and which to throw out?
Do you regularly take stock of your daily blessings? If not, consider writing them down this year to have a record of God’s faithfulness.
What do you need to remember or do to make the most of each day God gives you on earth?
Thank God that far more life starts with numbered days on earth but continues for an infinite number of days in Heaven!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Perfect Plan

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. (Isaiah 55:8, AMP)

This verse is proven true by the Christmas story, the events of Jesus’ birth as recorded in the Bible. If humans were planning this historical event, we would have done it much differently!

…Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14, NASB)

We would not have asked Mary to carry the burden of misunderstanding and public rejection that accompanied the virgin birth. We would have wanted her to remain respected and accepted. Yet God knew the virgin birth was the best for His plan.

The angel said to her, “…You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God.”  (Luke 1:30-32, NASB)

…An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”  (Matthew 1:20, NASB)

We would have told the angel to talk with Mary and Joseph together. Then they could have been united from the beginning, both having heard the same proclamation, both having the opportunity to ask questions. Yet God chose to tell them separately for His own reasons.

So Joseph and his fiancé, Mary, left Nazareth…When they arrived in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor, and there she gave birth to her firstborn son. After wrapping the newborn baby in strips of cloth, they laid him in a feeding trough since there was no available space in any upper room in the village. (Luke 2:4-7, TPT)

We would not have sent our son to be born in the feed trough of a barn in a distant city. We would have wanted him to be in a more comfortable environment, perhaps the best hospital or at home with the best midwife. Yet God’s perfect plan for His Son’s arrival on earth prevailed.

When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds…hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. (Luke 2:15-16, GNT)

We would not have let our son’s first visitors be shepherds from nearby fields. We would have chosen close family and friends to share our joy and welcome our son. But God knew shepherds were the best visitors to welcome His Son to earth.

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to kill Him.” (Matthew 2:13, NASB)

We would not have forced our son to flee to a foreign country to spare his life from a jealous king. We would not have wanted to uproot his life in this way. But God had a reason for His direction, even if He did not share the details with Joseph.

Throughout the rest of His life on earth, Jesus encountered many more situations where God’s ways are not the ways we would have chosen. And we experience this in our lives, too. Far more life does not expect God to think and act as we want. It is secure in telling God, “I do not understand why you did it like this.” But it also submits to His authority and wholeheartedly believes that He alone knows best because He alone knows everything. Far more life is more than yielding to God’s ways; it is embracing them as the best ways.

The book of Job records a man and his friends doing their best to decipher why God has allowed Job to encounter so many troubles. And they fail miserably! For 37 chapters they present their proposals and arguments. Then, starting in chapter 38, God challenges their knowledge and wisdom with His truth. Humbled by God’s reminders of the vast differences between Himself and humans, Job meekly answers:

I know that You can do all things, and that no plan is impossible for You…Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I do not know…I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You. (Job 42:2-5, NASB)

Job found far more life by discovering a new depth of understanding of the difference between God’s thoughts and his own, and between God’s ways and his own. He admitted that God’s understanding is too wonderful for him to comprehend. His spiritual eyes were open to the vast difference between himself and God.

Human nature has not changed since Job’s time. We still are tempted to create God in our image rather than resting in far more life by allowing ourselves to be molded to His image. When we find ourselves resisting God, we are wise to stop and ask ourselves why. How do we feel about God at that moment? What false belief about Him is controlling us and robbing us of far more life? What is preventing us from trusting Him completely? What aspect of His character are we doubting or disbelieving? Why are we resisting Him?

Clinging to our limited understanding makes us miserable. Letting go of our thoughts on how things should be and adopting God’s thoughts brings peace and joy. In moments of doubt, remember the Christmas story: God’s perfect plan to bring us far more life!

Sisters,
Where do you struggle to accept God’s ways?
In what areas of life have you expected God to do what you want?
Are you willing to look for the false beliefs that are robbing you of far more life?
How can the Christmas story remind you that God’s ways are best?
Thank God for His perfect plan for you — and the gift of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso