He believes we can fly

By Erika Rizkallah 

Yesterday morning during my quiet time with God, my feral cat Moo Moo, began to bark. These were strange sounds coming from a kitty who’s named for a cow and meows like a mouse.

I looked up to see him standing on his hind legs on the back of my sitting room chair. He swiped furiously at something in the corner of a casement window. He’s a weird dude, but this was unusual behavior, even for him.

My big burly guy has a teeny-tiny girly voice except when he’s “hunting” indoors  — he’s terrified of the outside.

I got up to look and noticed a bee hovering near the top of my leaky window. It was a sunny and windy day so I figured I’d do him (and me) a favor and send him on his way.

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I popped open the window to give him plenty of room to fly. Instead, he flattened his wings and clung to the glass. I waited, thinking surely it’s a better option than death by cat, but he didn’t seem to agree.

So then I grabbed a magazine and gave him a gentle push, but he clung to the magazine. I helped him further by shaking the magazine into the wind, and instead of flying, he seemed to fall.

I yelled, What’s the problem you dumb bee? You’re in your element. God gave you wings!

Just then, a small still voice spoke into my spirit, Look who’s talking. You’re in your element. I gave you gifts. I gave you wings and yet you cling and refuse to pursue the purpose I have in mind for you. 

God. Smacked.

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Can you relate? Do you feel like God’s been calling you to something more and yet you choose to bide your time, waiting in fear or apprehension?

Sometimes he uses the pressure of an enemy or a gentle wind to shake us out of complacency. Sometimes he pushes us out of the window himself.

I wanted to share my lesson with you today because I feel like someone needs to hear it.

Our Heavenly Father created us with purpose and a plan to fill this broken world with love and light. He’s the only one who truly knows what we’re capable of, and he’ll do whatever it takes to push us toward the goal.

He won’t let us fall — he believes we can fly.

 

 

 

Boating with Jesus

By Erika Rizkallah

Yesterday I had lunch with Kathy, a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. As we settled into our seats at Panera, a woman rushed up to us.

“I saw you sitting here and I just had to pop over and say hello,” she gushed. “You’re a hard woman to get in touch with, always so busy.”

Emily introduced herself to me and apologized for interrupting our conversation. I didn’t mind. Kathy runs a successful children’s theatre program and though we both moved to town at the same time, it seems like she knows everyone.

Emily asked several questions about the program and Kathy directed her to the website to get the information she needed. Kathy said, “It’s all on my Facebook page. We just updated it.” Then the discussion turned to social media and they talked and talked.

I said, “I’m hardly ever on social media so I’ll have to check out the page too.”

“Oh, you’re lucky,” Emily said. “It’s better to stay away from it or you can get sucked in.”

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I explained that I needed to be on it more – though I don’t like to – because if I’m not, the world passes you by; people rarely reach out to me. We share so much through platforms and devices now, I’ve become disconnected. My nephew broke his arm last month and I didn’t know because I wasn’t on Facebook.

Before she left Emily said, “It’s nice to meet you.” I thought she was talking to me but it quickly became apparent she’d never met Kathy in person — she’d only “seen” her online.

Her words, “You’re lucky” made me pause. Luck has nothing to do with it, intentionality does.

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It reminds me of a passage in Mark 3. Jesus has just pissed off the Pharisees after healing a man on the Sabbath, against their religious law. He withdrew to the lake and large crowds followed him.

Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. Mark 3:9

Though needed and followed by the masses, Jesus deliberately withdrew. He kept his distance, not allowing the crowd to press into him. We often see him withdrawing to quiet places and spending time with God in solitude. We often see him getting into a boat.

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Like Jesus, we too need to get away from the crowds for a time, even if they’re virtual. Then we come back better grounded in reality and stronger.

Is the world pressing in on you? Do you need to spend more face time with your friends and take a break from a demanding crowd?

It’s ok to give yourself permission and press the “off” button for as long as you need.

Just tell them you have a boat ready and a date with the friend who loves you the most!

 

Sharing the hope of Christ

By Erika Rizkallah

The other day my son and I drove one of his buddies home from school. I got the chance to listen in on an interesting conversation. His friend, Matt, is part of a growing movement of Millennials who believe the earth is flat.

Shocked, I struggled to keep my mouth shut and just listen, but I had to butt in.

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“Matt, do you seriously think the earth is flat or are you joking?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am, I do. I’ve spent months researching it and there’s compelling evidence out there that proves the earth is not round.”

“No mom!” my son shouted, “Don’t get him started — he’ll never stop talking about it.”

Let me first say that Matt is a super smart kid, very respectful and a self-described  “super hard-core Christian.”

And my son was right, once he got going, he didn’t want to stop. I expressed my skepticism and he had answers (good ones!) for every challenge I issued. In fact, a few of his questions made me really think. I admit to doing a little research of my own when I got home.

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He said, “How can you be certain we landed on the moon? Did you see it yourself? No, you were told about it in school and you accepted it as truth. Do you know that most pictures of earth are computer generated models? And what about the fake picture of the moon walk?

He told me he wasn’t just going to accept what the government told him about the world without researching it first. He also said his tactics sometimes got him in trouble with school administrators.

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While I don’t share his views, they’re popular with a group of people known as the Flat Earthers — an organization founded centuries ago by The Flat Earth Society.

His diligence and unbridled passion about the subject reminded me of the Apostle Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 

Matt taught me a lesson that day — I need to be equally prepared and courageous enough to share the hope of Christ with others. I must be willing to gently argue my case and tell my story to skeptics.

Maybe my efforts will pay off and help someone dig deeper into the message about His love for them.

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How about you? Kids say the darnedest things! What lessons about God have you learned from them?

 

 

 

 

Lessons from a Liar

By Erika Rizkallah

Have you ever heard the Bible story about Ananias and Sapphira? This couple carries the unfortunate legacy of being some of the most dishonest people in the New Testament.

Their story is told in Acts 5:1-11 — it’s a warning for the ages.

To fully understand it we must read the previous passages in Acts 4:32-37. The author tells about a special time in the early church. Jesus has ascended to Heaven and the persecution of his disciples has begun. The Holy Spirit settled on the believers who’d gathered together and formed a close-knit community.

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The Bible says: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4:32.

The apostles boldly testified about Jesus’ resurrection and there were no needy people in the community. The generosity was so great that some individuals with land and property sold it off and gave it to the apostles to distribute to anyone with need. They practiced Christ’s command of brotherly love. One man who did this was Joseph, who they nicknamed Barnabus, which means Son of Encouragement.

This sounds Utopian, but there’s always a snake in the garden.

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Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostle’s feet. Acts 5:1-2

Peter knew something was up. He said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” (v.3,4)

When Ananias heard this he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. (v. 5)

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The story continues with Sapphira, who wasn’t there when the offering was made. She arrived three hours later and Peter questioned her, asking if they withheld any money. She lied and Peter said, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” (v. 9)

Then she dropped dead!

In hindsight, we could read this and wonder why they did the things they did. But we might also feel sympathetic — haven’t we been tempted to lie or hold out on God?

Did pride cause Ananias to lie? Greed? Maybe it was both. Or maybe he wanted to be like Joseph — maybe he wanted to be called a Barnabus. I know when I see a friend do something awesome, I want to be like her.

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What about Sapphira? Didn’t she have a clue that something might be wrong when her husband didn’t come home? Maybe she feared what he might do if she told the truth.

Either way it’s a sad story that hurt their loving community.

It’s also a reminder to us. We must continually check our hearts for evidence of greed and dishonesty. We must always remember that our enemy — the great serpent — lives to tempt us into grieving the Holy Spirit.

His goal is our destruction and the dissolution of Christianity.

 

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We must remember that like those in the early church, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and his grace is sufficient for us.

Heavenly Father, we praise you. We ask that you give us the courage and strength to rely on you for all our needs. We ask that you make us aware of any evil in our hearts and keep us from the temptations of the evil one. Above all, we seek your glory and not our own. Amen

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. John 4:24

 

 

Living with Chronic Pain – Rise and Go!

By Erika Rizkallah

“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:19

In the passages of Luke 17, Jesus spoke to his disciples about temptation, sin and forgiveness. He told them that if a brother sinned against them seven times and repented seven times, they must forgive him. This would be a hard pill for anyone to swallow — sometimes it’s hard to forgive even once.

His disciples urged him to increase their faith. He explained that if they have faith as small as a mustard seed they can command a mulberry tree to uproot and plant itself in the sea. And the tree would obey!

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Is Jesus simply using hyperbole? I think not. I think he’s trying to teach them that faith — even a small amount — is powerful and they have more authority than they realize. I think he’s also teaching them that the increase of faith is their responsibility.

It requires action. The tree will uproot and plant itself if they command it, but it won’t do it on its own.

At this time, they’re heading to Jerusalem, passing between Samaria and Galilee. Ten lepers met them as they entered a village. By law, lepers were considered unclean and outcasts from society. These men, standing at a distance, begged Jesus to have mercy and heal them.

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He called out and told them to go show themselves to the priest, a requirement for anyone healed of disease. So they left and were healed as they went along.

Think about that for a minute. Jesus didn’t actually touch the men, he told them to go and they did. I think this object lesson showed the disciples two important things:

They had the power to command and faith requires action.

Notice that all ten men left believing they’d be healed and declared clean.

However, there’s another important facet of the story. Before they got to the priest, one man came back, fell to his knees before Jesus and thanked him. Before, he stood at a distance, and after, he sat at Jesus’ feet.

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Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

The foreigner was a Samaritan — a hated enemy of the Jews.

Living with chronic pain can make us feel like lepers. Sometimes we feel like outcasts standing on the fringes of life, unwelcome and alone. Jesus doesn’t see us that way. In fact, I think he wants us to understand that even small faith is powerful.

I’m commanding my pain to plant itself somewhere else.

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We can live with anticipation of knowing that at any time, Jesus can appear and send us on the journey to healing.

So rise, start journeying and don’t forget to praise God!

 

Returning God’s grace

By Erika Rizkallah

The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas, and established it on the waters. Psalm 24:1-2

For the past couple of years my rhythm has been off. To say I’ve not been myself is an understatement.

I don’t like it one bit but I’ve had to make necessary adjustments to guard my home. I’ve been raising teenagers and they like to stay up late. So I’ve stayed up late to watch over and guide them.

Trouble often seeks us out in darkness.

Today I woke up at 4:00 a.m. (4:30 used to be my sweet spot) and I had the pleasure of watching the sun rise above the ocean. Sea birds are especially busy in the mornings. Pelicans glide inches over the water, gulls cackle and circle above and ducks fly in formation.

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As I watched the sky turn orange, saturating the world in a peachy glow I prayed, this all belongs to you God. Everything we see and take pleasure in on this earth is yours.

How blessed we are to be beneficiaries of God’s amazing grace. How blessed we are to watch him work — to daily enjoy his creation and be part of it!

I wonder if he feels the same way about me when I rise in the morning?

I think so. I think he looks at each one of us as a vessel filled with the dawn of possibility. I bet when we stretch and scratch and begin the day’s work, we’re no less beautiful than the sea birds just doing their thing.

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Let’s be filled with wonder and gratitude each morning. Let’s try to live in a manner that pleases him and returns the grace.

Good morning!

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

Marriage and a wife’s self-esteem

By Erika Rizkallah

Recently, I had an enlightening discussion with a gentleman in my writer’s critique group. He’s a man dedicated to God and is writing a book that will help other men.

He submitted a devotion about marriage – an analogy based on his time spent hiking the Appalachian Trail. His piece promoted perseverance and commitment and offered help to husbands using four Biblical principles. Well written and informative, our small group (all women) thoroughly enjoyed it.

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However, I told him one sentence “tweaked” my spirit.

“Tweaked?” he asked.

“Yeah, you know. Pricked? Tugged at?”

He just smiled.

Has that ever happened to you? Where you read something and you think Hmm I’m not sure about this or maybe, I’m not sure I agree with that statement. 

The passage spoke about how husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. This is correct and true. But then he wrote something like, “A wife draws her self-esteem from her husband.”

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Those were the words that tweaked my spirit.

I politely questioned the statement saying, “I definitely do not get my self-esteem from my husband because he is imperfect. My self-esteem comes from Jesus Christ and who He says I am.”

He replied that his sentence is a biblical truth stated in Ephesians 5:33.

Our group got into an honest discussion about love and respect – what wives and husbands need (which coincidentally) is the title of a popular Christian book written by Dr. Emmerson Eggerichs. The book is widely read within the church.

We talked openly about our marriages and what we desired from our spouse. I learned something in our discussion. We all have different ideas about this issue. Ideas influenced by where we live, our life experiences, various teachers, and cultures.

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But nowhere in the Bible can I find any reference to a spouse’s self-esteem coming from their partner. Ephesians 5:33 states: However, each one of you must also love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Love and respect are Biblical commands and I don’t believe they’re mutually exclusive. My husband and I desire both things from one another and the practice of this has made our 23-year marriage strong and healthy.

I’m writing about this for two reasons:

The first is to illustrate how important it is to know what the Bible says, so we’re not influenced by merely human ideas. The second is so that when we seek esteem, we turn to Christ for validation. I love what the Apostle Paul has to say about us:

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Acts 17:26-28.

Your Turn: Has your self-esteem been influenced by other people’s ideas? If so, how?

 

5 Bible Verses for the Brokenhearted

By Erika Rizkallah

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1

Six weeks ago, we buried Taryn, my daughter’s best friend and “my daughter in the Lord.” Though she no longer walks this earth, I am and always will be her “extra mom.”

At 21-years old, she seemingly had her whole life ahead of her. I believed in my heart she’d have victory over her many struggles – I’d been praying over her for eighteen years.

The shock and pain of her death is overwhelming and raw.

I officiated the funeral in a room filled with wailing family and friends whose faces are seared in my mind. Strangely, it comforts me because this child was convinced that few people truly loved her. But oh how wrong she was!

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During one of the most difficult times of my life, God gave me this divine assignment.

Her family doesn’t believe in God.

They don’t believe in eternal life or that Taryn is at rest in Heaven, free from heartache and pain. They didn’t know that a few months before her death, she’d asked Christ to be her Lord and Savior.

Frankly, it doesn’t mean much to them – because we don’t know what we don’t know. I think God chose me for this task because long ago I was in their shoes. As I sat with her mom the day before the funeral, the rush of sadness and loss washed over me. I remembered the crushing grief of my father’s death and how hopeless I felt.

But God is mysterious. That same grief eventually brought me into a relationship with Jesus and turned out to be my greatest gift.

The night before the funeral, I asked my best friend to pray over me. We asked for God’s grace to help me stand firm and for mercy on all of us. On the way to Taryn’s funeral I was overcome with nausea and I begged God, please help me through this. The enemy did his best to thwart my effort but I knew I was covered in prayer.

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I gagged as I walked past the mourners, trying with all my strength not to vomit. The funeral director ushered me to the podium and the organist (an old man in his 70’s) said, “Ma’am? Are you the preacher?” I said, “Yes, I am.” At that moment, God’s peace rested on me and the nausea vanished.

I felt His presence and love pour out on everyone in the room.

The Bible tells us God is close to the brokenhearted and we are comforted so that we can comfort others. He also calls his children to be light for the dark and broken world in which we live.

As believers, I urge you not to waste your voice. Pray for your friends and family members and tell them over and over that he loves and wants to know them.

Those who are lost and live apart from God suffer unimaginable pain. Only he can fill that void and bring peace to the shattered.

Please. Before it’s too late.

Here are some verses to share with those who need it most.

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Be strange. Be weird. Be a blessing.

By Erika Rizkallah

I was watching Fox News the other day and happened to see the story about a group of Evangelical church leaders praying over President Trump. Maybe you saw it too.

Erin Burnett, a CNN news anchor, did a segment on it and said, “all these people sort of touching him” was “very strange.” I guess to people unfamiliar with Christianity, the picture may indeed seem strange. However, it’s a basic doctrine of our faith and is called “laying hands” on someone.

The use of hands in forms of worship and prayer is not unusual in many cultures and religions. But I wonder how many “influencers” would object or comment negatively on them . . .

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worship-2289770_1920In Christianity there are no less than 29 passages of scripture on this practice, which has a long history spanning both the Old and New Testaments. It can signify separation of a person or groups of people for a specific task:

And you shall bring the Levites before the tent of meeting and assemble the whole congregation of the people of Israel. When you bring the Levites before the LORD, the people of Israel shall lay their hands on the Levites, and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that they may do the service of the LORD. Numbers 8:9-11

It can also signify blessing, as was done by Jesus when parents brought their children to him:

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away. Matthew 19:13-15

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It’s a practice also used in healing, reassurance and comfort. I’ve had many hands layed on me over the years and I’ve layed hands on many others.

I’ve experienced healing, reassurance and comfort and am glad our President is a willing recipient of prayer. Even though some folks think it’s “weird.”

One of my favorite scriptures about this is found in Matthew 9:18:

As he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”

The ruler – an important and powerful man – didn’t let his pride or position get in the way of doing all he could to save his daughter.  As a result, she was raised to life.

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There will always be mockers – people who sneer at our faith and belittle our practices. Jesus told us to expect it. But you never know. A skeptic may also turn to us in a time of need, accept a prayer and a hand of reassurance that all will be well.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10

So . . . Be Strange. Be weird. Be a blessing!

 

The cure for spiritual teenagers

By Erika Rizkallah

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

I have three children; two adult daughters and a 15-year-old son. It feels like I’ve been in this stage of parenting forever. And I do mean forever!

Teen girls are difficult but raising my son is harder because our thought processes are completely different.

I mean, why would you do this when I told you not to . . ?

 

Most days I dread waking him up. It sounds awful but I’m just being honest. He’s my baby and our tight-knit bond is unraveling. I know his need for independence is a good and healthy thing. But I’m often nostalgic for the good old days when he wasn’t embarrassed of me and I wasn’t irritated by him.  

Some weeks are tougher than others and this is one of those weeks. When I came across the Romans 8:28 verse this morning, I reflected on this question:

           Who doesn’t want good things?

The gentle me said, “Everyone. We all want good things.” angel-640996_1920 

But my inner cynic shoved her aside and snapped, My kid doesn’t want good things, otherwise he wouldn’t be such a pain in the butt. (I named that voice – I call her The Commander).

She looks like this . . . 

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The Commander is mean and she lies. A lot.

My son does want good things. He just thinks his wants are the good things and my wants are irrelevant. He’s obstinate and acting his age – he’s excelling in rebelling.

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I loathe rebellion. It annoys and frustrates me because I know my want is greater. For example:

He wants to drink soda all day.

        I want his teeth to stay in his mouth.

He wants to stay up late at night.

        I want him to be ready and alert for school.

He wants to take Driver’s Ed.

        I want him to obey house rules before road rules.

But the more I think about it, I realize that unless we’ve spent years walking with Jesus, we grownups can also act like self-involved spiritual teenagers.

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God loves us no matter our age or stage but his wants are always higher.

Always.

Jesus is our standard and pattern for living. He was devoted to Our Father’s purpose and plans for his life. He was obedient in every word and deed. The same obedience is required from us despite our wants and it’s not easy. 

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He said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” John 14:21

Obedience often has negative connotations in our culture unless it pertains to children or animals. In Biblical terms it’s not demeaning. It’s a yielding of self and when we offer ourselves we receive much more. We receive his love and look at those last few words . . . he shows himself to us.   

We can learn from his example and pattern our lives after his. This is called discipleship and not only benefits us, it changes the world. 

Obedience is the antidote for the harmful effects of sin. When we keep our hearts focused on loving and serving God, our perspective changes. Those harmful desires that trap and keep us in spiritual bondage begin to melt away.

Parents wanting good things for their children won’t allow them to wallow in immaturity.  We want them to live full lives and that’s what God wants for us. As disciples, we’ll be drawn ever higher, ever deeper, and ever richer into the fullness of Christ.

 

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His death on the cross gives us strength to keep walking forward. He gives us hope as we push through the squirmy emotions and resentful attitudes we encounter from ourselves and others.

He’s working all things for good!