Sacred Fragrance

Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come. Do not pour it on men’s bodies and do not make any oil with the same formula. It is sacred, and you are to consider it sacred. (Exodus 30:31-32, NIV)

Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the LORD. (Exodus 30:37, NIV)

It is surprising to read “Do not make any for yourselves,” in the middle of these instructions. If we like it, why would God restrict us from using it? The scent of perfume and incense we use seems like a small matter that should be unimportant to God. We can be tempted to interpret these — and other commands from God — as controlling, mean, or selfish. But He did not restrict them to limit us, rather He did it to give them importance. He has declared those particular scents as sacred or holy. Set apart. Special. Separate to God. They have a specific purpose.

When I was a young wife, decorative towels were popular. The young husbands in our circle of friends did not understand why their wives hung up “no touch towels”. From the men’s perspective, all towels served the same purpose: a tool for drying something. But to the women, the embellished towels were set apart as special and should be admired but not used. The goal was to protect them from being soiled with use or faded with repeated washings. We did not want to prevent our husbands from drying their hands, we wanted to give some towels a different, decorative, purpose.

Many people have some items they consider “everyday” and others they consider “good”. Clothing and dishes come to mind immediately. We wear good clothes to weddings and funerals but have everyday clothes for mowing the lawn or jobs that will be hot and sweaty. We may have dishes that are only used for holidays or when serving guests. Like God, we have set some things apart as special.

Why would God set apart perfume and incense? Science tells us that scents are powerful. They evoke memories. They allow us to recall details otherwise forgotten. They can also set a mood. So it may not be surprising that God wanted the scent of one particular oil and incense to be associated exclusively with His house. Perhaps He wanted that scent to build a connection between His people and Himself. A reminder of His holiness. An invitation to offer Him praise and worship. A prompt to remember His provision, protection, and promises. A signal to lay all else aside and focus on Him.

But oil and incense are not all that God considers holy and sacred. There are several Bible verses reminding us that people fall into that category as well!

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

Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself…(Psalm 4:3, NIV)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession… (I Peter 2:9, NIV)

If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, God looks at you differently from people who have not. He sees you as holy and blameless. He has set you apart. He considers you His special possession. He also has given you some specific instructions for life, including these:

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

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness… (Matthew 6:33, NIV)

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil… (James 4:7, NIV)

Honor God with your bodies. (I Corinthians 6:20, NIV)

Fill your mind and thoughts with God’s wisdom. Seek righteousness and what will expand God’s kingdom. Submit to God and resist the temptation to sin. Use your body to honor God. God did not give these commands because He is mean or controlling. Instead he gave them so we could experience far more life! They restrict us in order to set us apart. His purpose for us goes beyond existing or surviving on this earth. He wants His children to be special. To be noticed. To be a reminder of His holiness, power, and grace.

While Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross ended the need for us to burn a particular oil or incense to honor God, the book of Revelation describes a scene in Heaven where something we do produces a scent that is special to Him:

Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. (Revelation 5:8, NIV)

This is hard to imagine, but the prayers of God’s children are a pleasant fragrance to Him! When we talk to God, share our thoughts with Him, give our adoration, seek His guidance, unload our burdens, declare His praise, or cry out for His mercy and grace, it is a sacred act. Praying to God is a sacred privilege. Those prayers are set apart for Him alone. They are valuable to Him. They connect us to Him. They are special.

You, your life, and your prayers are set apart. You can make them a sacred fragrance to God.

Sisters,
Do you have a scent or fragrance that has special meaning? Of what does it remind you?
Where in your life do you make distinctions between the “everyday” and the “good”? Do you feel differently about them?
Do you think God’s commands restrict you or set you apart? Why?
How do you feel about being sacred to God?
Fill heaven with a sacred fragrance as you thank God for far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

For His Name’s Sake

There are a lot of deep and challenging questions about God that I cannot answer. It is not fair that God allows some people to suffer more than others. It is not fair that evil and sickness and disasters wreak havoc in the lives of “good” people. It is not fair that God created Satan and has given him reign over the earth. Ultimately, it is not fair that God has predestined some people to spend eternity in heaven and others to receive punishment in hell. But it is also not fair that Jesus willingly submitted to being tortured and killed on the cross to pay for our sins. It is not fair that He will bear those marks forever while we — who deserve to be separated from God forever — are welcomed into His perfect eternal home.

As I pondered this, I was reminded of the phrase, “for His name’s sake”. Doing a word search, I found it in 3 Bible passages:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1-3, NIV)

When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to [the Lord’s] miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known. (Psalm 106:7-8, NIV)

Through [Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about believing obedience among all the nations for the sake of his name. (Romans 1:5, NTE)

The simple truth of these verses is this: in whatever they face, God works in and among His children for His name’s sake. He provides all they need for His name’s sake, to reveal His character. He protects them for His name’s sake, to display His power. He draws them to love, obey, and follow Him for His name’s sake, to demonstrate His grace.

Those who live in relationship with God are not protected from everything bad, but He limits the evil that is inflicted on them. Here are two examples from Job’s life:

 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” (Job 1:12, NIV)

 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.” (Job 2:6, NIV)

God was working for His name’s sake. He let Satan do anything he wanted to Job except kill him. What kind of Father would allow His child to suffer like that? One who is all-knowing and all-powerful. God knew Job’s heart and character would withstand. He knew Job’s response would be a lesson and encouragement for people for thousands of years in the future. God let Job suffer for His name’s sake.

God even brought good from Job’s situation. In fact, He brought more good than the pain and loss Job suffered.

The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. (Job 42:12, NIV)

When we suffer for His name’s sake, it is never wasted. I have experienced some hard times in my life that I would not want to repeat. But I can also say I am glad I went through each one because they grew my faith. They exposed my weaknesses and revealed God’s strength. I experienced His love and provision. My prayer life was deepened. My understanding of the Bible was expanded. God became more real and personal to me. His name was glorified as He provided all I needed through my suffering. Looking back, I can see how He was working for His name’s sake.

Sometimes when we face intense difficulties, we experience a crisis of faith. Our misperceptions and doubts are exposed. We may question our beliefs or even God’s existence and goodness. There is nothing wrong with this; God is not threatened by our doubts. Working through a crisis of faith actually strengthens our faith. Wrestling with hard questions solidifies our beliefs. We bring God glory by working out our faith during these times. His name is honored.

Millions of people have suffered terrible persecution because of their faith in God. This is not just in the past, it also happens today. God gives them supernatural strength to endure, even to the point of death, for His name’s sake. The gospel message spreads where people witness this faith that is proven to be real, deep, and powerful. The suffering of those faithful believers is not in vain; it is for His name’s sake. If you asked them, they would agree.

Right now, there are many who reject Jesus, curse His name, and ridicule those who follow Him. But the Bible describes the day His name will be revered by all. Those who have suffered for His name’s sake will overflow with joy on that day!

Therefore God exalted [Christ Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11, NIV)

Sometimes we are spared from hardship for His name’s sake. Other times we endure hardship for His name’s sake. He invites us to experience far more life in every situation when we embrace it for His name’s sake. Will you accept His invitation?

Sisters,
Are you more aware of God’s hand on your life when things are good or bad?
When has He shown His character, protected you, or drawn you to follow Him more closely through your circumstances?
Do you trust God to bring good from your challenges? If not, why do you believe He has allowed them in your life? Is that belief confirmed by Scripture?
If your knee will bow in adoration, thank God for far more life that will last for eternity!
-Shari

Copyright 2021, Shari Damaso

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

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

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

Let Your Light Shine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: Shonda Millender

Heart Desires

What do you desire?

A lot of things may come to your mind: enough money to pay bills and have fun; more or better relationships; better health; a break; more sleep; more fun; less stress. Some answers vary based on our life circumstances while others are universal. But if we dig beneath the surface to analyze our desires, I think most of our desires fit into these categories: safety; security; belonging; and purpose.

We all desire that our physical, mental, and emotional needs are met; that is a basic human trait. We desire safe places to live, work, learn, and play. We desire enough money to cover all our needs and some of our wants. We desire to connect with other people in a meaningful way. We desire to know why we exist and to do something that matters.

But sometimes we believe these desires are unattainable. We believe God is letting us down because our desires — even our basic needs — are going unmet. We struggle to understand why, then read a verse like this:

Make God the utmost delight and pleasure of your life, and he will provide for you what you desire the most. (Psalm 37:4, TPT)

If we are doing our best to follow God, yet our desires are unfulfilled, this is a hard verse to swallow. We might believe there is something wrong with us. We might believe we aren’t good enough. We might believe we aren’t doing enough to make God happy. After all, God is perfect, so there can’t be anything wrong with Him; the problem must be with us, right? We believe far more life is outside our grasp. We feel helpless and hopeless, that we will never reach it. I’ve been there. Have you?

Too often we think God is like Santa Claus; if we are good, He will give us the things on our wish list. But that’s not how God works! He wants to be our biggest desire. One Psalmist states it this way:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25, NIV)

Can you say this? I confess that too often I cannot. I desire God a lot more than many things, but there are still relationships and desires that compete for the #1 most desired slot in my heart. Far more life recognizes that desiring God is far superior to everything else. This is where we find fulfillment.

But God knows we are distracted by other desires. He doesn’t condemn us for those, but He may not fulfill those desires. Because He knows they are not the best for us in the long run. And He wants what is best for us.

When our desire for God is our top priority, that is far more life. We begin to see life from His eternal perspective. We are fulfilled. We are satisfied. We have passion and enthusiasm for life. Our desires change to line up with His. We want for everyone to acknowledge God as Lord. One prophet declared:

Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. (Isaiah 26:8b, NIV)

Satan tries to convince us that making God our utmost delight and pleasure means that we will miss out or be dissatisfied. But God’s Word offers this truth:

What the righteous desire leads only to good, but what the wicked hope for leads to wrath. (Proverbs 11:23, NET)

Our righteous desires lead ONLY to good! We are guaranteed a good outcome when we follow those desires. Sometimes the good results are not quickly evident. When I was a new graduate, my desire was to stay in that city and help reach people there for Christ. But it took several months to find a job that met my financial need. I still do not know what “good” came out of paying for necessities on a credit card and going into debt. Maybe my character grew. Maybe I had an eternal impact on someone without knowing it. But I trust that my righteous desire led to good. Why? Because it doesn’t depend on me.

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. (Philippians 2:13, NLT)

God is the source of our righteous desires. And He is working in us to not only desire what is good but to do it. Isn’t it awesome that He does it all? He makes us righteous. He gives us righteous desires. He empowers us to fulfill those righteous desires. He causes good to come from them. Far more life embraces God-given righteous desires and uses His power to live them out.

God will meet our basic desires perfectly, even when they look different than we expect. He offers us perfect safety (Psalm 4:8 and Proverbs 18:10, NASB). He offers us perfect security (Proverbs 3, NASB). He offers us perfect belonging (Romans 14:8, NIV). He offers us perfect purpose (Exodus 9:16 and Romans 8:28, NIV). He alone offers far more life!

Sisters,
When you read Psalm 37:4, does you feel good or bad? If bad, what do you believe about God or yourself that is distorting this verse?
When have you thought of God as Santa Claus? Commit to pursuing a relationship with Him instead of just giving Him your wish list.
What competes with God for your desire?
How have you seen God give you righteous desires and power?
Find far more life this week as you make Him your biggest desire!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso


Overflowing

I love this prayer for far more life that Paul raised to God on behalf of the Christians in Philippi. It is so rich!

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding. (Philippians 1:9, NLT)

What does overflowing love look like in our lives?

  • Imagine God’s love filling you to the brim and naturally flowing out of you NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS. When you encounter a difficulty your first words are genuine praise to God for giving you the opportunity to grow in Christ-likeness. That is overflowing love.
  • Imagine your understanding and experience of God’s love enveloping those around you. When someone mistreats you, God’s love enables you to sincerely forgive and bless them on the spot. This is overflowing love.
  • Imagine having an eternal perspective on the challenges of this life. When you receive bad news, your immediate response is to thank God for giving you all you need in this life and for your future with Him in heaven. This response is overflowing love.

We overflow with God’s love when we immerse ourselves in Him. Some of us find this easy and dive headfirst into God’s love, drinking in as much as possible and reveling in it. We are quickly filled to overflowing. But others are hesitant and cautious. They may slowly tiptoe into the depths of God’s love, stopping to test the water before each step. It takes time for them to truly believe God’s love is safe because human love has been hurtful. Regardless of the path, we are filled once we are immersed. And when we are filled with God’s love, it naturally flows out of us and touches those we touch. It is part of us. Far more life overflows with God’s love.

Being immersed opens the door for the second half of Paul’s prayer: growth in knowledge and understanding. As we study God’s Word, we learn more than historical facts; we gain insights about His character and plan. This knowledge increases our understanding of what God has instructed and why. Increased understanding deepens our appreciation and love for God. We see Him as a Person and desire to know Him better. His Word is not a novel we read once from cover to cover. It is a love letter that grows more precious with each reading (Psalm 119:97-104). We come to view God’s Word as a guidebook filled with principles, practicalities, and warnings that enrich our life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The more we experience the benefit of following God’s Word, the more we seek it out. Far more life is pursuing deeper knowledge and understanding of God.

I love Paul’s heart for these dear saints, revealed in the next part of his prayer:

For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return. (Philippians 1:10, NLT)

A deeper knowledge and understanding of God changes us! It opens our eyes to the difference between our limited insight and that of God, the Creator of the universe who knows everything. It frees us to pursue what really matters: a love relationship with God and people. Without this, we can get caught up in pursuing things that ultimately don’t matter — influence, popularity, security, escape, pleasure — and miss experiencing far more life in Christ. When our hearts are transformed by Christ and our minds are renewed by His truth, we want to pursue what matters to God. Our desires change to line up with His desires. Far more life eagerly pursues God and His purposes.

Notice that living a pure and blameless life comes AFTER we are overflowing in love, have gained knowledge, and understand what really matters. Too many Christians think that striving to live a pure and blameless life will lead to a changed heart and renewed mind. (The popular phrase, “Fake it ’til you make it,” supports this mindset.) Even if their external actions look good, they are not living far more life. God takes the opposite approach: get to know Him, embrace what He says matters, and THEN you will have the power to live in genuine righteousness. We find far more life in the places where our heart, mind, and actions are in alignment with God. We are refreshed and energized as we obey Him. And this encourages us to bring more areas of life into alignment with Him.

Paul concludes his prayer with a challenge:

May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God. (Philippians 1:11, NLT)

The fruit of our salvation is a righteous character that produces good works. Gardeners know that fruit is the desired outcome, the result. It is what we get excited about. Fruit is evident to all who look at the plant or tree. The fruit of righteousness — the power to overcome sin and act rightly — is available to everyone who has accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

It would be nice if we changed from fruitless (sinful) to righteous (completely sinless) at the moment of our salvation, but that is not God’s plan for us. Yet Paul’s encouragement is that we ALWAYS be filled with righteousness. His prayer is that we are always filled to overflowing with God’s love so we are eager to do good to and for others. Every day. As we mature spiritually. No matter our circumstances. This is how we bring the most glory and praise to God. This is where we experience far more life.

Sisters,
What helps you to continue going to God to be filled up?
How would you summarize what really matters to God?
What is the quality and quantity of fruit in your life? What is hindering its growth? How will you overcome that hindrance?
Pray these verses for yourself and overflow with far more life this week!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso

Safe or Good?

“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion” …

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver … “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

-C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The more I meditate on this exchange, the richer it grows. In this story, Aslan represents Jesus Christ and Susan is a child preparing to meet him. She wonders what all of us would wonder when meeting an unrestrained lion: is he going to use his strength and power to hurt me? What a vivid comparison to our concerns about God’s role in our lives!

We want God to be safe, meaning we want Him to be tame, predictable, and under our control. But this is not who God is. God reminded Job of this after listening to Job’s lament about the difficult circumstances he faced:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?… Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?…Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn its place?…Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail?…Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?…Do you give the horse its strength or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?…Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high?…Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? (Job 38:4a, 8, 12, 22, 35; 39:19, 27; 40:9)

If you want to read more of this exchange, look up Job chapters 38 through 42. God’s power and knowledge is very humbling! But even this excerpt makes it clear: God is not subject to our desires and preferences. He is the Creator. He is in control. Embracing His role as King and our role as His subject is far more life.

Although God determines His own actions, Scripture assures us repeatedly that He is good.

Good and upright is the Lord. (Psalm 25:8a, NIV)

Taste and see that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8a, NIV)

You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. (Psalm 86:5, NIV)

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever. (Psalm 100:5, 106:1, 107:1, 118:1, 118:29, 136:1, NIV)

You are good, and what you do is good (Psalm 119:68, NIV)

The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. (Psalm 145:9, NIV)

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. (Nahum 1:7a, NIV)

No one is good—except God alone. (Mark 10:18b, NIV

But the fruit of the Spirit is…goodness. (Galatians 5:22, NIV)

…you have tasted that the Lord is good. (I Peter 2:3, NIV)

Because of God’s goodness, we can trust Him to treat His children lovingly. The Bible is full of accounts that prove this over and over. One of my favorites is the account of Gideon in Judges 6 and 7. God had a special job for Gideon and told him about it. Gideon was slow to believe it was really God speaking — he asked for several reassurances — and God patiently provided each one. God told him step-by-step what would happen, and it all came true. God led Gideon and his army to a great military victory, even though they were greatly outnumbered. But God, in His goodness, looked at their hearts and provided just what they needed to trust and follow His instruction.

In my own life I have seen God’s goodness through His protection. Once he protected me from physical injury when my car was struck by lightning. Another time he protected me from a financial hardship by selling our house shortly before a major mechanical failure took place. He didn’t speak to me in the way He spoke to Gideon, but I believe His goodness was at work in those situations and many others I have faced.

So why, despite evidence, do we continue to doubt God? I think one reason is because we cannot see the whole picture. From our limited human perspective, we cannot see what might have happened without God acting in goodness on our behalf. We can only see what does happen, and sometimes it does not appear good to us. And we have an enemy, Satan, who doesn’t want us to see God clearly. He tempts us to focus on the hard and bad things God allows us to suffer. When we fall for that focus we forget to thank God for protecting us from worse situations (John 17:15). And for being with us through the hard times (Hebrews 13:5) and providing all that we need (Philippians 4:19).

We live far more life in the moments we release our idea of God conforming to our definition of safe and instead embrace the truth that He, in His goodness, provides all the safety we need. As we let Him be God, we are free to notice and enjoy His provision along our journey. We will encounter valleys along the way, but His goodness — and the opportunity for far more life — is always with us.

Sisters,
How are you tempted to make God be “safe”?
What evidence have you seen of His goodness in your life?
Pray for His perspective in the difficulties you face so you can see His provision this week.
Thank Him for being with you and providing all you need.
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso