A Spiritual Wilderness through Heaven’s Eyes

original photo credit: Genista via photopin cc
original photo credit: Genista via photopin cc

Most of us have been there. We’ve had those seasons—sometimes very long seasons—when God has felt terribly distant. Seasons when life feels hollow, foggy, and often dark. They are times when doubtful questions fill our minds, while meaningful answers are slow to be found.

I’ve spent more than my share of time in desolate spiritual territory and so I know it all too well. Through the process, I’ve come to a powerful realization: the outcome of a wilderness experience—and all of life for that matter—depends upon our perspective.

Those who attempt to navigate a spiritual wilderness in the fullness of their own wisdom will emerge—if they emerge at all—hardened and cynical because of the difficulties they’ve faced. On the other hand, those who learn to see their challenges through heaven’s eyes will find themselves stronger, braver, and more compassionate. Their faith in God will not have waned, but have flourished.

When faith is absent, life feels harsh and difficulties unfair. Through the eye of faith, however, God’s glory and love abound—even in the harshest of environments. It’s all a matter of how we orient ourselves when things don’t go our way, or when life appears to make little sense.

original photo credit: USACE Europe District via photopin cc
photo credit: USACE Europe District via photopin cc

Recently, I took on a major home improvement project—replacing our driveway and the adjacent retaining walls. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I expended a lot of effort shoveling dirt, and sometimes heavy mud. Pressures of time and money made completing the project all the more difficult. I was not a happy camper!

What really helped was for me to adjust my perspective along the way. What an exercise program—shoveling and lifting block! Gone was the need to join a fitness center. And my tan?—well, it rivaled any that I ever gotten by spending gross amounts of money on a beach vacation. Finally, I found gratitude in being blessed by God with a nice home, and the strength and resources to make it a little better.

Let’s face it: life on this earth will be filled with challenges and difficulties of many sorts. Only by gaining heaven’s perspective can we keep hardships from becoming grievous. In fact, gaining heaven’s perspective in the midst of a spiritual wilderness is the only way that our spiritual lives can survive desolate territory.

cover design by Nathan Miller, Copyright 2013 Search for Me Ministries, Inc.
cover design by Nathan Miller, Copyright 2013 Search for Me Ministries, Inc.

We are now in the process of making my newly released devotional—Champions in the Wilderness—available for sale. It’s an excellent resource for those making a difficult transition, such as a student heading off to college, or someone who has just lost a close relationship(s). Champions is also a great tool for married couples or church small groups. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share a few concepts and/or excerpts from the book, along with information for ordering.

Whether you take an interest in my particular book, or not, getting heaven’s perspective will transform the very fabric of your life. It will be more than worth your effort!

On a final note, we almost ready to complete the switch to our new website which will continue to feature my blog. We will soon phase out the use of this site, so if you would like to remain subscribed to my “blogotional”, you can do so by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.

Do This in Remembrance of Me?

original photo credit: steakpinball via photopin cc
original photo credit: steakpinball via photopin cc

It’s easy to get confused when trying to understand how the Mosaic Law relates to the New Covenant of grace. I am intrigued by Romans 4:14-15 (NASB):

For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

Our initial reaction upon reading this verse might be to think that it is impossible to sin now that we are free from the requirements of the Mosaic Law. We would do well to consider the context of this passage. Paul was writing to Jews about both Jews and Gentiles, and how they were to respectively gain their right standing before God. His point was that Jews could not be justified by their age-old reliance upon obedience to the Law. This does not mean, however, that the Christian faith is entirely void of all laws.

The kingdom of God is governed by one primary law—the royal law:

 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. James 2:8 (NASB)

Jesus raised the bar even higher in John 13:34 (NASB):

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

City of Brotherly Love
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This is where our second Greek word for love, philia, comes into play. And in case you were wondering, this is where the name Philadelphia finds its roots as the city of brotherly love—although I’m not exactly sure how accurate that description is in our day. I’ll be perfectly honest here—the problem isn’t limited to the city of Philadelphia; I think that very, very few professing Christians pay any serious attention to Christ’s command for us to love our brothers and sisters of the faith with the same measure of love modeled by Jesus.

Why do I feel this way? Well, it may have something to do with the fact that heaping judgment and contempt on other Christians is more of a common practice than a rare exception. What we don’t seem to understand is that Jesus is personally affected by our treatment of His covenant children. (see Matthew 25:31-46). Whenever I look down my nose with contempt at one of my Christian brothers, I might as well have Jesus Himself in my sights. What a scary thought!

What happens when we transgress God’s royal law of love? We heap condemnation upon ourselves—especially when we profess our devotion to the New Covenant in Christ.

photo credit: Evan Courtney via photopin cc
photo credit: Evan Courtney via photopin cc

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 (NASB)

Does it really matter how we treat the body of Christ–our New Covenant brothers and sisters? Absolutely! Do you truly want to honor God with your life? Let love govern your behavior–all of it.

The topic is worthy of far more time and effort than a single blog post and so I will address it with more detail in my next book. For now, however, these are essential thoughts to ponder. The King of the Universe cares more about our love—or lack thereof—for one another far more than most of us will allow ourselves to believe.

A Love Song for Eternity

Original photo credit: kelsey_lovefusionphoto via photopin cc
Original photo credit: kelsey_lovefusionphoto via photopin cc

I’ve never written a love song—I am not gifted in music—but I’ve certainly listened to a few in my day. Love songs, it seems, run the gamut from what might be more appropriately called lust songs to those that idealize faithful and long lasting devotion. Titles are even more diverse, including famous hits like “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” “Baby Love,” “Lean on Me,” and “I’ll Be There.”

If I had the ability to write a love song about God, I think it would be titled, “Perfect Love”. No human example can even begin to compare to the mind bending agape love of our Creator. Let’s face it, selfless love is highly regarded and yet we all have a whole lot of selfishness that somehow manages to contaminate just about everything we do.

[Agape] Love of God means total commitment and total trust (Mt. 5:29–30; 6:24ff.). In particular, it involves a renunciation of mammon and of vainglory (Mt. 6:24b, 30ff.). It also calls for resistance to persecution, which is a fiery test of the loyalty of love (Mt. 10:17ff.; 5:10ff.).[1]

Hour of the Soul
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The context of the New Covenant is clear: our agape love for God is far more than a momentary feeling of excitement that comes when we realize how much He has blessed us. The depth of God’s love for us was never meant to be a one way street. He has never failed to give everything for our sakes, nor will He hesitate to expect the same measure of devotion from us.

“And a lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.’” Luke 10:25-28 (NASB)

I don’t know about you, but I have difficulty seeing Christ’s command to love God as anything but all encompassing.

“with all your heart . . . with all your soul . . . with all your strength . . . with all your mind”

Are you willing to:

–        Go wherever He calls?

–        Do whatever He asks?

–        Surrender anything He requests?

–        Give all He desires?

photo credit: Chris Van Den Berg via CreationSwap
photo credit: Chris Van Den Berg via CreationSwap

Being a Christian is not about following a list of rules, but living by one law (love God with all that we are) that governs our every action. Until we get this one thing settled, it’s virtually impossible to address specific types of behavior. People who draw their meaning of love from pop culture will be in the habit of practicing selfish love, if such a creature exists. They will find a way to justify almost any action under the banner of grace.

I realize that this all sounds rather heavy, but it’s not nearly so much about the “have to” as it is the “get to”. Love, in its purest form flows out of a desire to give fully of oneself to another. What an awesome, undeserved privilege it is for us to even have the chance for such a mutual relationship with the King of kings and the Lord of lords! Despite my selfish tendencies, this is not an opportunity that I want to squander. How about you?


[1] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. (1985). Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (8). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.

Love that Never Dies

original photo credit: Yale Law Library via photopin cc
original photo credit: Yale Law Library via photopin cc

Critics of the modern Christianity often complain that our modern Bibles lose something in meaning due the difficulties of language translation. In part, they are correct—although I have found that digging deeper into the original languages is common practice for most of the scholars and pastors who approach Bible interpretation with a great deal of care and humility.

There is one particular Hebrew word, extensively used throughout the Old Testament, that is rich with meaning but does not translate well into English. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains (DBL Hebrew) defines the Hebrew word hesed (also spelled chesed) as:

loyal love, unfailing kindness, devotion, i.e., a love or affection that is steadfast based on a prior relationship [1]

One of the best known uses of this ancient word can be found in the sixth and final verse of the much loved twenty-third Psalm:

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photo credit: Waiting For The Word via photopin cc

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever. (NKJV)

The word translated as “mercy” here is actually hesed. Various versions of the Bible also translate hesed as “love” (NIV), faithful love” (HCSB), “unfailing love” (NLT), and “lovingkindness” (NASB). As you can see, limitations in the English language make it difficult for us to get a full understanding of the word’s intended meaning.

Adding yet another layer of significance to Psalms 23:6 is the Hebrew word for “follow” (yirdpuni), which, according to the DBL Hebrew can be translated to mean chase, pursue, and even hound.[2] Do you see it? God’s faithful, undying love will pursue His children all of the days of their lives! God loves everyone ever born, but His hesed is now only fully expressed to those who have entered into a New Covenant relationship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ. What an amazing privilege it is for us to be the apple of God’s eye!

photo credit: Candida.Performa via photopin cc
photo credit: Candida.Performa via photopin cc

Plumbing the depths of God’s undying love for His children, however, is not my primary purpose for addressing this concept. The nature of New Covenant Christianity merits a paradigm shift from following lists of rules (in order to gain God’s acceptance) to returning God’s faithful love with a faithful love of our own. Just as two married people are to be faithfully devoted to one another for all of their days, so, too, God’s children are to practically live out their love for their Lord and Savior.

There is nothing nebulous about genuine love. God’s grace both frees us and compels us to live in a manner which is very different from the cultural mindsets that constantly seek to define us. The Christian life is in no way defined by adherence to the Mosaic Law, but by a faithful covenant love that finds its expression in three specific areas as identified by three Greek words for love –agape, philia, and eros—that were used in the writing of the New Testament.

Over the next several posts, we’ll use this foundation to build a framework by which we can see how New Covenant love is to govern the manner in which we live out our Christian faith. I know I’ve gone a tad technical with this post, but this stuff is too good (and important) to ignore!


[1] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

The Grace Dilemma

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The New Covenant is amazing! We are free from the requirements of the Old Testament Law and now have a profound measure of freedom under God’s paradigm of grace. I have, however, made it clear over my last several posts that grace is not a license to live in any manner imaginable, and that our Savior fully expects us to die to our old sinful natures.

The connecting point between freedom and obedience creates a huge point of confusion for many of us. If we are no longer under law because of grace, and if grace empowers us to a new lifestyle, how do we know exactly what’s acceptable to God and what isn’t? On the surface, it all feels very nebulous, but if we dig a little deeper, we can find a basic New Covenant framework to help guide our actions. We begin by examining God’s primary expectations under the New Covenant:

 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. John 15:9-10 (NASB)

Photo by Sam Hakes
Photo by Sam Hakes

In a previous post, I laid out the two predominant commands of New Testament Christianity: faith and love. For the purpose of our current context, we’ll focus primarily on the Bible’s central command—to love God with all that we have and to love those around us (Matthew 22:34-40).

Love, according to the Scriptures, is so much more than our culture’s definition of love. How often do we see Hollywood celebrities getting married because they are deeply in love, only to hear of them filing for divorce a couple of years later?

I can’t help but contrast their example with that of my late neighbors, John and Roseann Palilla. As they aged well beyond the age of retirement, John and Rosanne continued to set a powerful example of faithful love, both as parents and as spouses. Sadly, Rosanne developed Parkinson’s disease, and although her mind remained sharp, her physical issues created a huge burden for both her and John. For as long as he was physically able, John faithfully cared for his frail wife’s every need—even to the point of exhausting himself. Eventually, they had to enter a personal care home where they lived together until death came knocking.

Love, in its very essence, is both free and constrained. John Palilla, for example, freely chose to marry Rosanne, but the strength of that love constrained him to be a one woman man—and a faithful one at that.

Palilla love, as opposed to Hollywood love, would undoubtedly be closer to heaven’s standard. Faithful, sacrificial, selfless love, according to the Scriptures is to be the driving force that governs our decision making processes. Thus, the one law that defines New Testament living is the law of love (Romans 13:8-10), which James also calls the law of liberty (James 1:25) and the royal law (James 2:8).

Dilemma
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Understanding these things doesn’t answer all of our questions, but it does point us in the right direction. In my next post, we’ll take a brief look at what I like to call covenant love and then we’ll address three specific applications that will help us to understand that our dilemma isn’t as much about confusion over what’s right and wrong as it is about a struggle between loving others and selfishly pursuing what we want.

The Boston Marathon Attack: Another Wakeup Call?

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I don’t think that there is such a thing as a pleasant sounding alarm. Even elevator music has an obnoxious feel if it serves to wake me from my slumber, forcing me to face the difficulties that may lie ahead. The wear marks on any snooze button stand as evidence of this reality. How we give that snooze button a workout as we repeatedly slip in and out of slumber!

Worse than a pleasant sounding wake up call, is one that may seem to be disturbing in its own right. For example, a loud funeral dirge in the morning will not contribute to anybody’s happiness. A rude awakening can be considered the worst kind.

I am of the opinion that the church in the U.S. has been asleep for many years now. Collectively speaking, our primary concern has been more about our own comfort and happiness than about the necessary advance of God’s kingdom. Horrendous events such as happened at the Boston Marathon seem to provide rude, but only temporary, awakenings from our slumber. After an onslaught of social media calls for prayer, we will seek a return to the status quo as quickly as we can.

Looking back on the tragedy of  9/11, many Christian leaders felt that it would be a defining moment for the U.S. church as people flocked to houses of worship. Less than a year later, however, life was pretty much back to normal, albeit a little less comfortable. The overall levels of anxiety and depression have probably increased since that time, but not enough to compel us to any type of meaningful action.

photo credit: gnuckx via photopin cc
photo credit: gnuckx via photopin cc

What we fail to accept is the fact that bombings such as the one at the Boston Marathon take place on a regular basis across the globe. And in many cases, medical care for the victims is grossly inadequate. Are the lives of these people any less valuable in the eyes of God simply because they are somewhere over there?  Yet, for reasons both just and self-centered, we mostly choose to turn a blind eye to what happens outside of our sphere.

The problem with our isolationist mindset is that evil is never content to stay in its home territory. Evil is active and alive; it will never rest until it achieves total domination. The church’s slumber will give evil free permission to advance, and when she finally awakens, the threat will be upon her very doorstep.

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If I see this correctly, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil will only increase in number in the coming years. Already, we are becoming fearful and hardened—far from the qualities of a free society or a vibrant church. Our answers, however, lie not in fear, mistrust, or bitterness, but in faith and love. This isn’t rocket science. Momentary changes mean nothing. By necessity, active faith and passionate love must become a way of life for those who profess the name of Christ. May we pray with all of our broken hearts for those affected by the Boston marathon–and may we continue to pray (and labor) for the kingdom of God to be realized all over the world.

Repulsed by Old Testament Judgment? Good!

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photo credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc

Have you ever taken the time to think about God’s character? John 3:16 is a popular passage that speaks of how much God loves us.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

On the other hand, those who read through certain sections of the Old Testament will envision a wrathful God pouring out harsh judgment for seemingly obscure reasons. These conflicting perspectives make it very difficult for some people to put any type of real confidence in our Creator. But it doesn’t need to be that way! The contrast makes perfect sense if we understand the nature of God’s relationship with the human race.

There were times of judgment before Moses arrived on the scene, but they were few and far between. I already highlighted the flood of Noah, which probably affected a relatively small number of people. (The Earth wasn’t nearly as populated in those days.) God also poured out judgments against Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, against Egypt for their cruel treatment of ancient Israel, and against the Amalekites for attacking His favored people. However, one particular event during the lifetime of Moses drastically changed the picture. What was it? The arrival of the Mosaic Law, including the Ten Commandments.

photo credit: functoruser via photopin cc
photo credit: functoruser via photopin cc

Before the the Law, it seemed to take a long time for God’s anger to build before He would render judgment. But after the Law, judgment was both frequent and furious. However, it wasn’t God’s character that changed over the course of time but rather the manner in which He related to humanity. Law breeds judgment.

What we fail to understand is that living by law was man’s choice, not God’s. There was only one rule in the garden of Eden, meaning almost unlimited freedom. But in choosing to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve chose to live by standards of right and wrong rather than by a love-motivated relationship with their Creator. Laws of various sorts now govern the motivation and behavior of the human heart.

The Mosaic Law was not the first of its kind. In fact, there are three or four other legal codes on record that predate Moses. Again, living by law-based standards is innate to the human heart. Thus, in giving the Mosaic Law, God was giving the opportunity for humans to relate to Him on our terms. This point should not be taken lightly! When we find ourselves repulsed reading about the judgmental acts of the Old Testament, we should realize that God was also repulsed. He judged, not because He enjoyed wreaking death and destruction, but to allow us to taste the full fruit of a law-based existence.

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc
photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

It is interesting to note that in speaking of the Old Covenant Law, Jesus never called it, “My Law” or “My Father’s Law”. Instead, He called it, “the Law”, “the Law of Moses”, or “your Law”. In the end, the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to point us to Jesus Christ who came to us full of grace and truth.

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. John 1:17 (NASB)

Christ related to us on His terms; in Jesus we find an accurate representation of the Father’s heart. While this may seem to be just another point of doctrine, grasping the full ramifications of its reality is nothing short of transformational. Are you repulsed by all of the judgment found in the Old Testament? Good. Your heart may be ready for some much-needed grace!