When was the last time you wrote a letter? No, not an email or a long text message. No, not even a thank-you card. I am talking about a handwritten, heartfelt letter to a loved one. If you are like me, you probably have not written a letter in the past 5 years. Decades ago, long before social media and smartphones, young couples would write letters when they were in love. Love letters, as they were known, contained messages of humor, reality, and of course, expressions of love. Young people looked forward to receiving mail in the expectation of hearing from their “special someone”. Like winter snowflakes, no two love letters were alike. Each was unique its own way. Love letters were a revelation of the nature of the couple’s relationship.
Did you know that you are a love letter? The apostle Paul once wrote, “You are like a letter from Christ.” (2 Corinthians 3:2 CEV). You, my dear reader, are a uniquely gifted and potential packed letter from Jesus to the world. That question that begs to be asked is: what message are you communicating?
As a Christian young adult, I have noticed that my generation struggles with a pessimistic faith. We tend to focus on our difficulties, often at the expense of our faith. Let’s face it. Life is hard. School can be challenging. Work can be overwhelming. When faced with the realities of everyday life, we often stow our smiles and complain of our busy schedules to any listening ear. Sometimes, instead of verbally complaining, we muse over our difficulties and internally whine. We trudge through life with heavy burdens. Burdens of fear, worry, excessive stress, and haunting memories. Instead of leaving our financial, academic, and social burdens with Jesus, we snatch little pieces of our burdens from His back. As our burdens become heavier, our outlook becomes darker. Gradually, many of us turn away from Jesus, only to wonder why hearts are filled with sadness.
When life is difficult, we easily forget our purpose. We forget that we are love letters in a world devoid of love. We forget that joy is an essential aspect of the Christian life. Perhaps, we struggle to be joyful because we do not understand what the love of Jesus truly means.
From personal experience, I have learned that I am happiest when I rely on the love of Christ. If you have been blessed with loving parents and siblings, you can relate to the feeling of being consistently loved. Like the love of Jesus, family love looks past your imperfections and sees your potential. Such love is inspiring and motivating. Personally, it drives me to courageously strive and joyfully conquer. Knowing that I am loved gives me confidence when I have none. I can’t help but be happy when I am truly loved. If earthly love is this powerful, consider the love of God. It is infinitely deeper than the love of family and friends. Understanding and experiencing this enables me to conquer life’s challenges. When I feel like a failure, Jesus reassures me that despite my weakness, He will always love me. Through His word, He reminds me that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate me from His love. This gives me hope and empowers me to smile when circumstances dictate otherwise.
Unfortunately, there have been many times when my attitude or actions have misrepresented the love of Christ. Like an empty envelope addressed from a special person, I know I have often failed to relay the message of God’s love to those around me. Instead of being a love letter, at times I have allowed myself to be an empty envelope. At times, I have unintentionally been a misleading letter, leading people to make wrong assumptions about character of God. Maybe you have felt the same way, and have become discouraged. Slumping into the discouragement, my friend, is not the same as falling at the feet of Jesus. The love of God that was displayed at the cross does not leave the fallen in tears. It heals the broken and motivates the crestfallen to try again. Empty envelopes can be filled. Misleading letters can be re-written into beautiful messages of love.
You and I can fulfill our purpose as love letters from Jesus. We do not have to succumb to the pessimistic pitfalls of our generation. We can show the world that living for Jesus can be, and is, a beautiful experience. In a world devoid of joy and happiness, we can be sources of hope and confidence. Let’s stop sending conflicting and disappointing messages to the world. Instead, let us allow the love of Jesus to transform our hearts, and help us to appropriately express His love. Experiencing this, my fellow love letters, is the secret to rejoicing in Him. It’s that simple!
What follows is a story from my experience, followed by some scriptural advice on how to deal with doubts, especially in your Christian experience.
Most people can easily imagine their average day, but when nothing novel and exciting is going on, it’s quite hard for me to tell the difference between today’s lunch, yesterday’s lunch, and what’s that they call the day before that? Yeah, that lunch. The one rushed to, rushed through, and forgotten. The lunch that you devoured sometime during the week after you decided that you needed to slow down, chew your food, and take the time to cheer your friends instead of chewing till the eating ends. Let me tell you, this particular Sunday was nothing like that lunch. It was lit.
Or at least that’s what my imagination told me the day would be like. When many of the guys asked me whether I was going, I told them I was. I couldn’t wait to get to Dr. Celestine’s house and spend time hanging out in a new place. I couldn’t wait to get to know some of my friends in strange and unfamiliar circumstances. You never know how someone will respond to cold water until you push them in. My mind was filled with expectations and visions of the great time to be had and of plans for what to do when I got there.
Getting there was the hard part. Rumor said that the party was starting somewhere around 9:30am, and I wanted to be the first to get there. Running hither and yon like a headless chicken, I stopped each moving vehicle that seemed to be headed in the right direction and asked if I could hop in. As I settled into the first car that seemed to contain the right demographic and buckled myself in, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps I should ask where the van was headed. As we rounded the corner outside Weimar’s front gate, I poked my head around to the driver and asked,
“Hey, where are you guys going?”
He replied, “We’re headed down to play Frisbee!”
Seems I had made a bit of a mistake. Quickly asking the driver to stop, I slid out of the van and stumbled back to find more vehicles to accost. Though I was a bit embarrassed, my purpose hadn’t wavered—I was going to the party, and I was going to get there first at all costs. When I saw Jonathan’s SUV, confidence and joy bloomed inside my heart. This was the right vehicle, and it was going to take me where I longed to go.
Unfortunately, Jonathan, or whoever was driving, apparently didn’t share my enthusiasm for the party. The vehicle and all its occupants were dead set on going shopping, and in the end, I simply had to get out and find another vehicle.
Nobody seemed to be rolling around much, so I rushed into Hilton to find my people. Caleb A. Whiting was quickly tying his shoes, and by the look in his eyes, I knew that I had found my man and found my ride. He was also on a mission, and when he replied that I could join him, life suddenly became good. We dashed down to the Hillside parking lot and hopped into JJ’s old beater van. Ironically, when we swerved out onto I-80 heading west, I was too engrossed in getting Caleb’s GPS working to ask where we were going.
It was just about when we passed the Ophir Rd. exit that I began to realize that something was not quite right. That’s when the first shades of doubt began to cloud my enthusiasm. I had never been to Dr. Celestine’s place before, but I had the sudden and distinct impression that he did not live past Auburn. Quickly checking the address on my phone, I realized that I had made the ultimate mistake. Dr. Celestine does not live in the Roseville-Rocklin area, and JJ’s old van was faithfully bearing my tormented soul with its faded pool flip-flops past Loomis and steadily closer and closer to the Ultimate Frisbee game that I had tried to avoid earlier.
In the end, I gave up. As I ran back and forth as the newbie in the game, I consoled myself with the thought that remembering how to throw a Frisbee was a worthy challenge and that I did need some aerobic exercise after all. When I next met Dr. Celestine, we concluded that my Sunday-that-was-going-to-be-lit was entirely due to fate. Something about not exercising regularly enough must somehow have made it almost impossible to avoid. Strange thing: I still haven’t been able to visit Dr. Celestine and hear him tell his stories in the environment he’s accustomed to telling them in.
You’d be forgiven for concluding that the character in this story suffered from an almost pathological lack of doubt. In his haste to get to the party, he didn’t take the time to doubt whether he was using enough patience, directional skills, and effective communication to get him there without mishap. It may seem counterintuitive, but I believe that doubts are essential to real faith. To avoid temptation, healthy doubts are important, especially doubts concerning our motives and the reasoning behind our actions. It is even important to consider replacing our reasons for studying the Bible, for right actions don’t fix misdirected attitudes. When men study the Bible, there is often “a certain pride . . . mingled with the consideration of Bible truth, so that men feel impatient and defeated if they cannot explain every portion of scripture to their satisfaction. It is too humiliating for them to acknowledge that they cannot understand the inspired words. They are unwilling to wait patiently until God shall see fit to reveal the truth to them” (Steps to Christ, p. 108).
This trap has my name written all over it, because I like to think highly of my own intelligence. This spirit of self-sufficiency can have no association with finding truth. It turns out that God is the only one who can give us understanding. On the next page Ellen White says, “We (that’s me, John Hartman) are to beware of deifying reason, which is subject to the weakness and infirmity of humanity. If we would not have the Scriptures clouded to our understanding, so that the plainest truths shall not be comprehended, we must have the simplicity and faith of a little child, ready to learn, and beseeching the aid of the Holy Spirit” (Ibid, p. 109). If you are experiencing doubt about God, his love for you, and the truths in His Word, it is important to not only recognize the true nature of the problem, but also the true nature of the remedy. Instead of doubting God and your Christian experience when confronted by something that is too big for you, use it as an opportunity to grow. Here’s how.
When was the last time you beseeched anybody for anything? Even in my haste to get to the party, I didn’t think to beseech my friends to change their plans and take me to the party. That would be next-level asking right there. Perhaps now is the time to start doing more of this kind of asking. Make haste to do this: as you study God’s Word, ask Him to grow your mind to understand it, and know that He will do it. Keep the following texts in mind, and know that when doubts arise, the way to victory is to doubt yourself enough to seriously ask God for answers, and to expect that He will give them in His time.
“My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee.
Keep my commandments, and live; and the law as the apple of thine eye.
Bind them upon thy fingers, write them on the table of thine heart” (Pro 7:1-3 KJV).
Lest you think you have some writing to do, God uses the same language from Proverbs to promise something:
“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33).
Paul the Apostle takes both of these texts a bit further, saying in Second Corinthians,
“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).
The promises Paul refers to are found in the previous chapter. He quotes Jeremiah,
“For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Cor 6:16).
God promises, so ask Him to deliver. He delivered me.
The story is told of two friends. Two friends, that when observed, could easily be labeled as best friends. One friend had been blessed with great riches and wealth, while the other friend was rather poor. Despite their differences, they loved spending time together. From school, to work, to church, to even free time, they could almost always be seen together. Even in the moments they were apart, they would think about each other and tell others about each other. Now the wealthy friend loved to share what he had with anyone who asked and even those who didn’t ask. He especially loved giving gifts to his best friend. In fact, one of his favorite things to do was to give gifts to his best friend as a surprise. To the outsider, their friendship was the epitome of perfection. However, there was something peculiar about their friendship. They never really conversed with one other. Odd as it may seem, it was true. Aside from saying “hello” in the morning and a few casual words throughout the day, nothing else was really spoken. This broke the heart of the wealthy friend. He longed for the day when they would once again have a meaningful conversation, like they used to. He tried to tell his best friend that two-way communication was vital for their friendship, but all he would typically receive was a nod. As time passed, their friendship began to wane, and although the wealthy friend continued to give his friend gifts, there was no acknowledgement that they were received at all.
While this is a true story, it is not your typical one. Why? Because this story of a strained friendship has been seen in over and over again in ages past and in the present day. If you hadn’t guessed it, God is that wealthy benevolent friend, and you are that poor friend. Far too similar to the story, God is mistreated. The facts are simple and the question is relevant. There’s you and there’s God. Are you best friends?
The good news is that God has claimed you not only as His child but also as His best friend. This is a great spot to be in! The God of the universe calling you His best friend! More than just claiming you as His child and best friend, He treats you as such. “The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon the earth to share His watch care, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son” (Steps to Christ p. 100). He treats you as if you were the only soul in need of saving. Do you treat Him as your only Savior and best friend? The facts are still simple and the question remains. You and God. Best friends?
There is a lack, a piece missing in the puzzle. Far too often, prayer is the one point in your friendship with God that is lacking. Friends that have one-sided communication can hardly be called friends, let alone best friends. Communication, the foundation of friendship, is a two-way street. However, even when it is two-way, it does not mean it is the communication of a friendship. Through times of ease and prosperity, it is easy to thank God and praise Him, but when life goes horribly wrong, is it your first inclination to turn to Him? Even if it is, that doesn’t mean you are treating God as your best friend. Far too often, God is treated like a vending machine; going to Him when you have wants; praising Him when you get what you want; being frustrated when there is an outcome that is wrong in your eyes; and thinking you didn’t say the right prayer when nothing comes out. You and God. Best friends?
Every morning something special happens. While you are still asleep, your best friend is waiting. Waiting for the perfect time to wake you up so you can spend the entire day together. When the appointed time comes, He wakes you up. As your eyes begin to open and you realize it’s time to get up, His heart leaps for joy inside, for the long awaited time has come for Him to commune with you. But His heart is broken as He sees you get out of your bed, flip through your Bible pointlessly, and begin your day, leaving Him behind, and losing that special appointment with God. You rush off to class, to work, to the various appointments throughout the day, doing your best not to be late. All the while, not realizing that you were not just late but completely neglected your appointment and privilege to commune with God. You and God. Best friends?
Real prayer is more than treating God as if He’s done nothing for you, missing your appointments with Him, and treating Him like a vending machine. To truly commune with God is so much more! Communing with God is not just having your mind continually drawn to Him. “In order to commune with God, we must have something to say to Him concerning our actual life” (Steps to Christ p.93). Your wants, joys, sorrows, cares, and fears are to be kept before the Father. Every minute detail that affects your day-to-day life is to be shared with God. This is what it means to commune with Him. As blessings are continually poured out throughout your day, will they go unnoticed? Or will every evidence of God’s watchcare be a reason for praise? As you rise each morning, will you miss your appointment with God? Or will it be your greatest joy to commune with God? God longs for the day when the facts and question are still there, but have changed. You and God? Best friends.
I got your text about the “knowledge of God”. Honestly, like you, I’m really struggling to understand what it is. I read the chapter in Ellen White and looked up every verse I could find with some form of the “knowledge of God”.
Here’s what I’ve got so far:
In this life of our’s, we are called to seek a knowledge of God. A knowledge that should affect all things “that pertain to life”. A knowledge that brings us upward and onward toward virtue, glory, and “the divine nature”. In 2 Peter, an encouragement is given to“grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Knowing God is the stuff of the Christian’s life. With a knowledge of God you will not sin (1 John 3:6), and without it, you cannot love (1 John 4:8). We know Him “if we keep His commandments” (1 John 2:3-4). In a place where “there was no knowledge of Him;” His “people was destroyed for lack of it” (Hosea 4:1, Hosea 4:6). The Christian’s life is the “fragrance” of this knowledge to the rest of the world (1 Corinthians 2:14-17). If man is to “glory” in anything he should glory in that “he understandeth and knoweth Me” [God] (Jeremiah 9:24), A knowledge of God is eternal life (John 17:3).
Instead of clearing up this issue, the above paragraph sounds more like a riddle than a description. After some prayer and some thoughtful quotes from the Spirit of Prophecy, I think we can synthesize it down to what it is instead of what it does.
But to do that, I need you to tell you a story.
There was once a family doctor, beloved of all his staff and patients. He often would get into trouble with his staff for spending too much time with the patients — which I suppose is better than the alternative. For you see, he genuinely wanted to see his patients improve and do better. One of these patients was a man who had been a chain smoker for many years. Each time he came in with his various ailments the doctor would begin to ask the patient about his smoking habit. As if on cue, the gentleman would simply respond, “I know what you’re gonna tell me Doc. ‘Quit smoking’ — well it’s not gonna happen.” The doctor would stress how much this choices was going to hurt him in the long run, but the patient simply wanted to smoke.
However on one such trip to the doctor’s, the conversation took a very different turn. The physician looked at his chart as he walked to the exam room, knowing this man and his typical ailments very well. He stopped short in the hallway as he read the purpose for the gentlemen’s visit: Wants To Quit Smoking read the chart.
“Just can’t be…” the physician squinted at the words. This man had for years on end had refused any and all encouragement to stop smoking. “What could have changed his mind?” “Some new scientific study maybe…no it couldn’t be that.” “Perhaps a friend of his has passed away due to lung cancer?” “What could have possibly changed his mind.” The baffled physician stepped into exam room #3. Before he could even ask the question-the gentlemen, looked up, and met the physician’s confused look.
“See, doc, I’ve just got to quit — you have to help me quit.” The doctor taken aback by the unusual sincerity in his patients’s voice answered, “Believe me, I’ve been wanting to hear that from you years, but what could have possibly changed your mind?” “You were committed you would never quit…” Such a shift of gears seemed to jolt the physician’s usual flow. As if a dam had broken, and his patient had lost all of his fight.
“Well Doc, it happened like this.” “My wife and I were visiting our grandkids, which is probably one of our favorite things to do. Our youngest granddaughter who’s just the cutest little thing you ever did see, she loves to talk, play house, and sit on my lap whenever I come to visit.” The physician could see the gleam of joy in the old gentleman’s eye as he continued his story.
“One evening, my little granddaughter had on a princess dress and was pretending she was getting married. I watched her prepare and go through all the motions and mid-“wedding” she ran over to me and sat on my lap- looked up at me and asked me a question. “Grandpa?” “Yes,” I replied, “Do you love me?” she asked. “Of course I do,” I replied. “Are you going to be at my wedding grandpa?” “Yes of course I will be there — wouldn’t miss it for anything!” She then replied, “But if you love me and you want to be at my wedding than why do you keep smoking?” “If you keep smoking grandpa you won’t be at my wedding ‘cause you may not live that long grandpa.” With that she jumped off my lap and continued her wedding preparations.
I realized she was right. And I supposed, just supposed, that maybe if I kept at it, smoking that is, her little wedding play is the closest I’d ever get to the real thing.”
“Boy that got me.”
“I’d never seen it that way. Got kinda choked up.” That’s why I called in here to get an appointment as quick as I could. Please Doc — tell me what to do.”
Take a minute.
Adoniram, that’s where the story ends. That man is still in the present tense as far as I know. He may have gone back or sworn off of smoking ever since. But let me ask you to play pretend a little bit yourself. You’re the doctor now, what’s your prescription? More science? Counseling? Electronic Cigarettes? What would you prescribe?
Stay with the granddaughter.
“Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” (1 John 3:6).
The devil’s greatest ploy is not to get you to make mistakes. It is to separate you from the “little girl” — the knowledge of God. It is to twist and malign that knowledge so that your knowledge of God is powerless. He doesn’t exist, He does but He doesn’t care, He does and He hates you, or the all time favorite — you are God: the ultimate authority. In many ways the descriptions I have just listed are the true idols we worship. Not of wood and stone, but of ideas and culture. Powerless unlike Philippians 3:10 which reads, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.” The power of His resurrection is the power of living a victorious life.
Who then could crush these ideological idols? 1 John 5:20 sums it up nicely, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”
“We must know Him as He reveals Himself. A knowledge of God is the foundation of all true education and of all true service. It is the only real safeguard against temptation. It is this alone that can make us like God in character. This is the knowledge needed by all who are working for the uplifting of their fellow men. Transformation of character, purity of life, efficiency in service, adherence to correct principles, all depend upon a right knowledge of God. This knowledge is the essential preparation both for this life and for the life to come.” -Ministry of Healing p. 409, emphasis added.
What is a knowledge of God?
You know when people try to explain a seed sprouting? All the different things that have to be just right? Water, light, soil…and then…it just starts. That’s it. It’s that thing that makes a seed that goes from dormant to living. I think its that moment when all the Bible study, prayer, service, baptism…and then…it just starts. Your life just starts. Eternal life just starts.
And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (John 17:3).
When was the last time your knowledge of God changed?
Without your knowledge of God would you be in the same place in you life? I hope I wouldn’t. There’s a country song I heard recently called “That’s How I Got to Memphis”. I’m not a huge country fan, but I really like this song. Look it up if you get the chance. There’s a line in it that goes something like this, “If you love somebody enough, you’ll follow wherever they go, that’s how I got to Memphis”. Definitely a sappy song, but essentially this fellow ends up in Memphis because he’s looking for his lost love. Story goes that the word “Memphis” is interchangeable with wherever the listener is. So how did you get to Memphis? To where you are now? Hopefully it was out of a knowledge of God.
If there was a first step to the knowledge of God I think it would be this.
His Memphis was Calvary.
So in all our righteous desire to know God, to follow Hosea’s exhortation “Let us know, Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord,” remember that He first knew you and loved you (1 John 4:19).
That’s how He got to Calvary, It was the knowledge of us, Adoniram, that got Him to Calvary. Such is the narrative we are called to emulate — to reproduce. Remember that the power of the knowledge of God is found not in your ability to “know God,” but rather in that you are “known by God” (Galatians 4:8, 9).
We’ll talk soon,
It was mid-July. You know, that part of the summer when it is sticky hot and all you want to do is – nothing. Well, I was definitely busy. My sister and I were leading out in kids programming at a week-long deaf camp meeting. These kids were all very special to me; most of them were CODAs, which means that they were Children of Deaf Adults. Our job was to teach them about Jesus while their parents enjoyed their grown-up camp meeting experience.
When I had seen the kids at the beginning of the week I had thought, “Wow, this is going to be an interesting week!” They all looked bored and tired and hardly responded to anything that I said. I had worked with kids in the prior to this was not surprised by their reactions.
One thing about working with children is that you don’t always know what is going through their heads. Sometimes, I wonder, Do they get what I’m trying to say? Am I making any connections with them? Are they learning anything?
It was an exciting time in Israel’s history. King David had finally prepared a place for the Ark of God to be moved to his new capital Jerusalem. And today, the Ark would be moved to its new home. Unfortunately, this day of rejoicing and excitement quickly turned to one of fear and anger. Uzzah, one of the sons Abinadab in whose house the Ark had been kept, reached out and grabbed the Ark in an attempt to stabilize it on the ox cart that it was riding on and was struck dead. David decided that it would not be a good idea to continue with the moving of the Ark that day, so it was placed in the house of one of David’s soldiers named Obed-Edom. I wonder what questions Obed-Edom thought about. Would he and his family die, like Uzzah? Or would they be blessed by the presence of the Ark in their home? Maybe nothing would happen at all. Like me, he must have tried to predict what the outcome of his actions would be.
Well, he was in for a surprise. The Bible says, “And the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and all his household” (1 Chronicles 13:14). But wait. Obed-Edom did not do anything out of the ordinary. All he did was open his home to the Ark of God. He welcomed the sign of God’s presence to his household for three months. That’s all. But God did not leave this simple act unnoticed. In fact, God was so pleased with that He blessed Obed-Edom and his whole family.
The week of camp was nearly over. We dismissed the kids as usual and sent them to their parents for lunch. It seemed as if the kids were constantly under our care, and meal times were the only times when we did not have to supervise them. This one day, my sister and I sat down at an empty table. Tired and hungry, I silently prayed for my food and all the kids that we had been working with. Even though we had spent nearly a week with these children, I still was not sure if the kids were connecting with us and what we were teaching. With these thoughts, I proceeded to eat. I had barely started eating, however, when I felt a little tap on my shoulder and heard a little voice say, “Can we sit with you?” When I turned around I saw several of “our” kids coming towards us with their trays of food. I thought to myself, Awww, of course! I wasn’t about to keep them from sitting with me! In no time at all, they filled the surrounding seats at the table and chattered excitedly as they ate. Later, I overheard some of the children enthusiastically telling their parents what they had learned that day and about the activities they had done with us.
Inevitably, we reached the end of the week. As we packed up to leave, I thanked God for the awesome week that I had experienced. I also thanked Him for the connection that my sister and I had been able to make with the children. Like Obed-Edom, I did not do anything out of the ordinary. It was just a simple week of lessons and fun, and nothing fancy. But I learned so much about Jesus and His love through these children. It was like God was telling me that He saw my work and was blessing me through these children.
Soon, the car was packed and it was time to say goodbye. The kids were sad to see us leave. They hugged us tightly and promised to invite all their friends to attend the next year’s kids’ program. I could tell that they meant it with all their little hearts. It was an emotional parting. At home, I reflected on this experience. If anyone had grown during that week, I certainly did!
Sometimes we do not know how things will turn out when we serve God. What we can know is that there is something special when you give what you have and allow God to turn it into something beautiful. There is something special about watching God transform our actions into a blessing. Do you get what I mean? You can only know this by experiencing it!
Stuck. Like strands of tough paper mache, my bad habits seem to enclose me with their relentlessly fragile grip. Every time I try to break free I hear another side of myself protest, But I like the paper mache. It’s pretty and it covers up my raw image. I’m comfortable here. Is it really worth it to break free just to have more freedom to fall?
At the same time, God created each of us with a desire to grow—to move forward. But somehow I believe that God’s desires for me to walk towards Him are overshadowed by His hatred of sin. Forgetting that God hates the sin but loves the sinner, this feeling of guilt holds me back. I am stuck.
This experience is not unique to me. As Christians, we often find it hard to hope for a change in our lives. Though Christ’s omnipotence has been unquestionably demonstrated, somehow we limit God’s power to change us. Often, we consecrate ourselves to God and resolve to do better. We believe that He is working in us and think that perhaps we finally are moving forward! But, alas! The devil’s temptation eventually proves too strong for our frail human will and we stumble and fall. Discouraged, we lie in the mud while he gleefully slaps on more paper mache. The spirit of resignation tempts us to stay there.
Who am I to think that God will help me? Just look at the mess I am in! Maybe I wasn’t sincere after all. Maybe I never have been. Perhaps…perhaps I am not the kind of Christian God can change.
Wait a minute! What are you saying? There is no limit to God’s power and there is also no limit to His desire to change you. The love of the Omnipotent Father was powerful enough to enable Him to give His Son for the very people who held no remorse for putting Him to death. What you should be saying is this:
Who am I to think that God can’t help me? Just look at the mess I am in! God hates this sin even more than I do. I may not always have the hatred for it that He does, but He is able to give it to me as He has promised. For “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). Perhaps…perhaps I am just the kind of Christian God wants to change.
But you cannot change unless you believe this. You must reach up the hand of faith to grasp God’s outstretched hand of Omnipotence. He will help you up out of the mud and set your feet again on the firm path. He will wipe the stains of your failure from off your soiled paper prison. And then He will begin to teach you how to change.
“I will walk ahead of you”, He says. “I will walk backwards so I can face you and hold your hands. I know the trail. Keep your eyes on mine, beholding my love for you. I will point out the beauty along the way. I will show you the right steps. Do not look down at your paper but up to the real joys and struggles of the road which I have prepare to teach you.”
And though your prison holds you in an awkward gait, He encourages you—one step at a time. And yes, sometimes you stumble and sometimes you forget to look Him in the eye with honesty and trust. It is then that you fall. Again. But each time He has hold of your hands. He never lets go but gently encourages you to believe His power to change, to grow, and to mold you into His image. And so you walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Because when you occasionally steal that quick peek down, you still see the paper mache. But He keeps asking you to believe. So you determine to do so. Because, by this point, you love those eyes. And you are beginning to trust them too.
And then one day, the two of you reach the gate of the city of God. Fear is in your eyes because you wonder if you are worthy to enter. But the gate swings open and you safely pass through. Then He stops and says “Look deep into my eyes.” As you do, you are surprised. For they act like a mirror which allows you to see yourself through His eyes. In place of your paper mache habits and faults are strands of thread, each a different color. Together they are woven into a robe of many colors. In amazement you ask, “Where did my papers go, Lord?” He gently answers, “When you stopped looking at yourself but looked instead to Me, it was then that I could remove them. I took away each one and replaced it with good. It was painful and you often felt the road becoming steep as your muscles were made to work for the first time once free from the paper. But as you looked unto Me, you were changed into My likeness—a righteous child of God.”
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are change into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Am I a Christian?
Do I look like Him?
What do people see when they look at me?
Yes, He’s promised that His work will be seen. So if His love abides inside, it will be more than obvious. And if it doesn’t show… that means it isn’t there.
But sometimes, I’m too good at pretending. Better than I would like to be. I can keep the “looks” in pretty top shape. No one would ever know whether I’m really like Him on the inside, through and through. And in the world of confusion we live in today, genuine seekers are often treated like outcasts, while blatant hypocrites are perceived as pious and honorable.
Maybe it’s because we’ve all forgotten what loving Him really looks like. Maybe we’ve just settled on a standard of formalities, and we can’t even visualize the freshness and depth of a real relationship with Him.
That’s when He pulls me aside, and reminds me what really matters on this journey.
“…Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
So easily, I fall into the habit of focusing on “the looks.” But that’s not what He thinks of. He looks at the heart. To Him, it doesn’t matter what I look like, how many times I’ve fallen, how many sins stain my garments, or how broken I am. In His eyes, I am beautiful, because He sees beyond all that. He sees my heart, and He values it more than anything. He wants to hold it in His hands, and give me His heart in return. But so often, my heart is the very thing I withhold from Him. I willingly give Him my outward looks, my superficial service, and my checklist Christianity. But I hold on tight to my sinful heart, refusing to open my hands and accept the heart He wants to give me.
But what if that changed? What if I let go of everything? What if I gave Him my heart?
Then, His heart is mine. And nothing is the same. My focus isn’t on “me” and “my heart” and “my looks” anymore. Instead, I can’t take my eyes off Him, and I can’t stop thinking of Him. All I want is to see Him, to know more of Him, to be with Him, and to please Him—to fill His heart with joy.
That’s the miracle of being in Love with Love Himself. A new life is born inside, and this love grows until it overflows. Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance are poured out like a fountain. Following in His steps, reflecting His character, and being pure even as He is pure aren’t items on a checklist anymore. They’re actually a picture of our relationship. It’s what the union of His heart and mine looks like.
And my taste is ruined for fake formalities and pretensive pageant. I don’t want a picture-perfect, on-the-script religion. “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning…but let it be the hidden man of the heart, …even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.” (1 Peter 3:3-4) I won’t be satisfied with anything less than a real relationship with Him. His heart in mine. Filled with His Spirit, His Love.
And herein is happiness. “Every burden is light, for the yoke that Christ imposes is easy. Duty becomes a delight, and sacrifice a pleasure” (Steps to Christ, p. 39). Burdens don’t go away once you’ve joined hearts with Him. Neither does duty, pain, or sacrifice. One day they will—but right now, we live in a world of sin. And even life together with Him will hurt sometimes. But it’s so much better to hurt together than to hurt alone. The pain will be inescapable, no matter what life you choose to live. But the special thing about life with Him is that pain doesn’t kill joy. Love is worth the pain, and so even when love hurts, we smile through the tears. We press a little closer together, and our hearts are united a little bit more, and in the end, we have a little bit more joy because now it’s a little bit more worth it.
…I stand back for a moment to take it in. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something quite so beautiful. Beautiful? Yes. Because there’s nothing more beautiful than His heart. Love is beautiful. And when His beauty, His Love, dwells in you, and overflows from you, everyone else can see it too. And they’ll get a little glimpse of how beautiful He is.
No, He doesn’t worry about the outward appearances. But He doesn’t do away with beauty, either. He knows how to make the outside look good. Life with Him is beautiful. There’s no question about that. But if you try to do it on your own, you’ll either lose the beauty, or you’ll lose Him. You can’t create that beautiful life by yourself. Beauty without His life is impossible. And life with Him can only be beautiful. He never disappoints. He never gives anything less.
He’s really the only one worth living for. So long as you have Him, you have everything. The happiness, the beauty—all those things will follow, as we seek Him first. It’s okay if you’re broken. It’s okay if your heart doesn’t look perfect. Let go of your heart, and let Him give you His own. Cling to Him. Delight yourself in His Love. The less beauty you see in yourself, the more you can see His beauty. The less is seen of you, the more His glory is revealed. Let Love consume you, and choose to live the most beautiful life.
Faith. What a short word, yet we unpack it and find a world of meaning—a world we didn’t even know existed. And as we look deeper and deeper into it, we realize that there really is no end to its significance.
Faith isn’t passive. It doesn’t just stand still in a crowd waiting for someone else to make the first move. It doesn’t wait around—it moves when no one else will. It is active. It is constantly advancing, searching for new truths. And this faith, it is strong. It holds on even when the waves crash over and over and over again. Even when the dungeon shuts out every last ray of light, it keeps it hold. It simply will not. let. go.
Oh, Lord, this faith. How I want it.
I ask myself the question: “Why can’t you just have faith?” My answer echoes through the stillness and bounces off the walls: “Because it is hard.”
As pathetic as that answer is, it is true—but that does not mean it is impossible. However, as fallen human beings, we have become content with accepting that the impossible is simply that: impossible.
Oh yes, it worked for David, Daniel, and Enoch, but it just will not work for me.
Yet there is still something in our weak hearts that longs for it to be true. We crave the peace that comes from being accepted by God, and that is just what we need—God’s peace, deep and abiding. A peace that will fulfill every desire and plea. A peace that will assure us of our acceptance with God.
But what we so often do not realize is that this peace is a gift that is so lovingly offered to us by God. We do not have to wrestle it away from His hand. All we have to do is reach out and grasp it.
We repent. We confess. We consecrate. We ask for the cleansing and the new heart that only God can give. And then? We believe.
But the best part is that our belief does not have to be blind like so many other religions. It is not just arbitrary acceptance. We have something to base it on—actually, multiple things. And these things, they are not whimsical. They are solid foundations that will never fail. What are they?
God’s promises are for us, if we only believe. Jesus taught this lesson as He sojourned on this earth. As He moved from town to town, He healed the disease and lame, but He could only heal them if they had faith in His power. Faith=Healing.
Through Jesus healing, He helped people in the things that they could clearly see with their eyes, and this inspired them to have faith in the things that they could not see. This led them to believe God’s power to forgive sins.
As we read the simple accounts of Jesus’ healing, we learn how to believe in His power to forgive our own sins.
The paralytic at Bethesda is a perfect example of this. From all appearances, the man was utterly helpless. How would you feel if you had not been able to move your appendages for 38 years?
But Jesus loves working with the impossible.
In seven simple words, Christ offered the invalid what no man was able to give: complete healing.
The man could have doubted. He could have been like so many of us today and denied Christ’s healing power. But, no, he simply obeyed Christ’s command, accepted His gift of healing, and made a decided effort to walk. God gave His word, the paralytic had faith in and acted on it, and he was made whole.
We are sinners, but we have hope. Christ promises to do the same for us.
What a concept! One that so many of us find way too radical, but in reality, how could it be more simple?
Believe, confess, give yourself to God, and will to serve Him. We have the promise. It is fulfilled if we believe. Do not wait to feel it.
God is longing for us with a passion no man can comprehend. Do. not. draw. back.
And you know what is so beautiful? God loves when we come to Him in our weak, sinful state. He longs to strip us of our filthy garments and replace them with His pure robe of righteousness.
Every longing in our little hearts for something more is God’s spirit lovingly drawing us. He is waiting, waiting so very patiently, to welcome us into His arms of love.
Have faith—His promises are yours, and He longs for you, too. Will you reach out and grasp His hand today?
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering: (for He is faithful that promised).” – Hebrews 10:22-23
Surrender. When people think of surrender they often imagine the wave of a white flag during battle; the last resort when there is nowhere else to turn. What if I told you the very thing the world deems as utter defeat is actually the very thing that will set us free? It is surrender to God and the renewing of His love that breaks even the tightest chains of sin and darkness. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to realize this.
I grew up in a culture that told me that if I gave my life to God I would be missing out on so much that the world had to offer. I found myself running from the very thought of giving my heart to Him – after all, how could I trust a God that had allowed so many bad things to happen in my life and the lives of those whom I loved? But the thought of completely abandoning the faith scared me even more than it did to surrender to God because I feared the consequences of my sins. So I decided to have one foot in the door and the other out, truly believing that a partial commitment would give me the peace I longed for. The Bible says in Mark 8:36-37, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Even after this half-hearted commitment, somehow I was still empty and the things that the world told me were supposed to satisfy only left me more spiritually and emotionally hungry. On the other hand, the things that the church told me would give my life purpose seemed powerless; where was the change in those who professed to be followers of this so-called “Savior”?
The same hands that had been pushing Jesus away for so long soon became the hands that desperately reached out for Him. My scarred, fragile heart could no longer resist the healing God had to offer. In humility, I remember falling on my face (quite literally), surrendering my life to Him for the first time. I had never experienced such a relentless, patient, all-consuming love as I did in Jesus and it awakened hope in my heart. Who are we to withhold our love from God? Until we realize our need for the Savior, and learn of His everlasting love for us, we will not be changed, and surrender cannot be the joy it was always intended to be.
Often times we see it as a burden to choose God’s way over our own; how then could it be a joy to surrender to Him? We must first understand that because God loves us so much, His will has our best in mind. A few Bible verses on this topic are Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11 and Psalm 37:4. They read:
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”
“Delight thyself also in the LORD, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”
When we hear the voice of God we need to trust Him! There is a peace we can receive in knowing that we are safe in the palm of His hand, come what may. Whether it be surrendering to Him in temptation or choosing what to do with your future, His ways are best. God will not ask us to give anything up that is for our good, only that which is harmful to us. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8). When we try to take matters into our own hands, everything will crumble due to a lack of God’s sound judgment and ways of selflessness.
It comes down to a choice. Will we choose to follow God and everything He asks of us (having the ultimate best in mind for you and others), or will we choose to follow Satan for temporary pleasures that in the end do us so much harm? “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other,” (Matthew 6:24). Choosing Jesus’ way is a daily battle, and we will struggle with our old, fleshly desires. However, we are not alone in this controversy, for Jesus has made provisions for us to be His and His entirely: entire surrender to God.