Chosen to Belong

Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession. Deuteronomy 14:2

As a teen, I remember frequently walking the halls of high school with my eyes glued to the floor. I guess I felt that if I didn’t make eye contact I could slip into obscurity. If I didn’t see them, they couldn’t see me. Irrational, I know, but you do what you can to protect yourself.

Most of the time, I felt very much alone. I became quite good at hiding my pain, but emptiness followed me. Plagued by the notion that I was somehow not “good enough,” I did the only thing I knew to do:  I strove to be.

But my actions rarely brought about the results I had planned. The people in my life didn’t cooperate with the expectations in my mind, and my heart translated each disappointment and hurt as rejection. Each new wound reinforced these two inner truths that I came to know and recognize with resounding clarity:

  • I must not be worthy of love.
  • I must do my best to earn it.

In an attempt to earn the love and acceptance of those around me, I pursued perfection. I wouldn’t do anything unless I could do it well, and that often left me sitting on the sidelines. Security continued to elude me, and I rarely felt safe in relationships. I often felt as though I would never belong anywhere.

Have you ever struggled over your own sense of belonging? I imagine you have. A common thread appears to weave itself through many tattered lives: the aching wound left by the sting of love withheld.

What’s your story? Perhaps a parent or spouse that doesn’t know how to show love, peers that only offer their friendship when it suits them, or the lingering pain of offering your heart to someone who took it and ran. Regardless of the manner, we’ve all faced the sting of rejection.

Praise God for Romans 1:6, “And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.”

We have been called to belong to the King of Kings!  Jesus desires you. He chooses you. And He will never forsake you. We don’t have to convince Him to love us; He already does.

I discovered later that during those years of loneliness when I was convinced that nobody wanted me, Jesus had been pursuing me. He wanted me. He loved me . . . enough to die for me . . . and for you.

Zephaniah 3:17 offers this wonderful promise, “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

I am so grateful for the day my striving for acceptance came to an end and Jesus quieted me with his love. Nothing particularly significant marked the day. It was simply the day I turned toward Jesus in answer to His call. He asked me to love Him, and I responded with the life-altering realization that I wanted to trust Him with my heart.

From the moment I opened my heart to Him, He began to fill the void cut deep in my core by all those years of rejection. As I sought His Word to discover who He really was, I found a Savior who chose me, loved me, took great delight in me, and accepted me just as I was. I didn’t need to become something I wasn’t to earn His love. He just loved me, in spite of me.

A miraculous thing took place in my life as the striving ceased. The acceptance and love I had sought after for so long was suddenly offered to me without my seeking it! I found myself surrounded by a circle of friends who loved and accepted me, flaws and all.

It wasn’t until later that I even realized what had happened. Jesus’ love had healed the crippled and broken pieces of my heart, making me finally able to receive love. And then, the Giver of all good gifts lavishly gave.

Jesus delights in you. He asks you to delight in Him, and His petition comes with a promise.

Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

He chooses you to be His. Accept His invitation to belong and discover a love beyond measure. Jesus, dear one, is worth the risk.



The Sacrifice of Praise

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name." Psalm 100:4

Many of us will join with family or friends tomorrow to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving. We will gather around beautifully set tables filled with tantalizing dishes that entice our stomachs and enthrall our senses, their aromas warming our hearts with the familiar comfort tradition brings. Many will pause before they feast to offer a word of thanks, choosing this day to recognize publicly something they have to be grateful for.

Some sitting around those tables will be wearing forced smiles, trying to mask the sorrow in their hearts. As they listen to words of gratitude escaping the lips of those around them, they know they should rejoice with them, but envy swallows any feelings of joy over their gladness. Instead of rejoicing, bitterness gnaws at the heart, and the temptation presents itself to rail at a God who appears to pick others as favorites.

Sometimes, our human nature feeds us the lie that we have nothing to be grateful for. Circumstances overwhelm us, pain engulfs us, and we begin to drown in a sea of sorrow as disappointments and heartache crash over us in unrelenting, crushing waves. The weight seems too much, and the thought of fighting our way to the surface seems impossible. So, why even try? Why, indeed.

God offers this promise in Isaiah 51:3.

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.”

Do you know that we serve a God whose specialty is the rebuilding of ruins? Who turns wastelands into fruitful gardens? Who replaces emptiness with joy and gladness with such radical transformation that the recipient’s heart cannot help but respond and overflow with thanksgiving and praise?

Perhaps we have misunderstood the promise of blessing given to us in Christ. Sometimes we interpret abundance in Christ to mean that we should suffer no pain, but that’s not what His Word teaches. Jesus Himself said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus does not promise us a trouble free life. Unfortunately, until Christ returns to establish His eternal kingdom, we will all have to deal with pain. What He does offer is the means to overcome our troubles when we cry out to Him in the midst of them.

God delights when we bring our petitions before Him, and we should boldly approach His throne of grace to seek His aid. But one, singular response in us begins our transition from the wasteland to the garden: the sacrifice of praise.

Psalm 8:2 teaches, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Praise silences our enemy and begins to move us along the path to joy and restoration. Why? Because when praises to God escape our lips in our time of greatest need, those words we utter reflect a deeper seed taking root in the depths of our heart. They constitute a release of faith.

Praising God in the midst of our pain says, “I don’t understand, but I trust you.” It speaks to both God and our enemy that we are certain of things we can’t currently see. It says, “I know that God is here, I know that He loves, and I know that He does not fail.” Offering our praises to God lifts the shield of faith, and according to Ephesians 6:16, extinguishes all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Our enemy can’t hurt us with his lies if we refuse to believe them.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Hebrews 13:15). Let’s make every day a day of thanksgiving, asking God to shift our focus away from our troubles and praise Him for the many blessings we really do have to be thankful for. Sometimes praise does feel like a sacrifice, but when we offer it anyway, we open the door to grace.

Praise Him, dear one, and experience the miraculous as bit by bit the Spirit of Christ causes your heart to follow your lips. And,Joy and gladness will be found in [you], thanksgiving and the sound of singing” (Isaiah 51:3). Oh, glorious day!



Tested by Fire Leader Guide

We're offering tools for teachers and small group leaders who would like to use Tested by Fire in a classroom or small group setting.

Enhance individual study lessons by sharing your insights!
Resources Include:
  • Introductory session notes to establish your purpose in doing the study and get you started
  • Guided questions pertaining to each day's lesson to help initiate response and steer discussion
  • Some additional Scripture to enhance the lessons

To download study guides for each week, simply click on the links below and print.

          Introductory Session

          Discussion of Week One

          Discussion of Week Two

          Discussion of Week Three

          Discussion of Week Four

          Prayer of Commitment



Tuning to the Voice of Truth

“Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” Isaiah 55:3

Self-doubt and insecurity have plagued me for as long as I can remember. From the time I was a small child vying for attention within the bounds of my own family, I would hear in my head the whisper that I was not good enough. It was not a message that came from the lips of those surrounding me; it came from within.

Frequent feelings of rejection delivered an internal message that I was not valued, and I began to withdraw. I pasted a smile on my face to give the appearance that I was fine, but I kept my distance from people, building a protective wall around my heart. Very few were invited beyond its boundaries.

I can still remember the logic driving my thoughts, “If you just keep to yourself, they won’t hurt you. Don’t do anything that invites criticism, and you’ll be fine.” Makes sense, right? The only problem was, the action meant to protect me brought about the very criticism I sought to avoid! Quietly keeping to myself earned me the label of a self-absorbed snob. The very thing my inner logic said would help me only made matters worse.

We all have an inner voice. It’s the one that convinces us to take action, the one we trust to guide our steps and pulls us like a magnet into each bad choice. Unfortunately, that inner voice we loyally follow consistently leads us down the wrong path.

You know the voice. It’s the one that says. . .

  • “What harm could it do to look this once?” . . .But then you can’t stop looking.
  • “You don’t need anybody. You’re better off alone.” . . . But your loneliness consumes you and breeds hate.
  • “She doesn’t deserve forgiveness. You shouldn’t let this go.” . . .But the bitterness eats away at you and empties you of joy.
  • “If you do this, he will love you and never leave.” . . . But then he does.

Dear one, we have spent our lives listening to the wrong voice. Proverbs 14:12 teaches, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” This Scripture is so important to us that God chose to repeat it again in Proverbs 16:25. The way that we have known, the path that seems right to us, leads to our destruction.

Do you know why? Jeremiah 17:9 reveals an important Truth. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”

Your heart deceives you. The mantra, “Just follow your heart,” held out to you by this world’s prince is designed to lead you down a path to pain. The reason, friend, is that your heart isn’t free. Sin holds it captive, chained by a bond of slavery to the Deceiver. The inner voice that you hear compelling you to repeatedly make those choices you regret is his.

What’s worse is your heart can’t free itself from the deception; it’s “beyond cure.” We are born into sin (Romans 5:12), and once sin has taken root in our hearts, it rules and reigns, erasing our right to choose. “As it is, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me” (Romans 7:17). On our own, we don’t have the power to exit the path of destruction. Praise God, there is One who sets captives free!

Jesus’ death on the cross tore through the veil of sin, removing both its power, and its consequence. We no longer have to remain enslaved to our sin-ravaged nature and succumb to its deceit. Jesus has returned our right to choose!

Unlike your captor, Jesus will not force Himself on you. You are free to continue on your way, living the life you know and trusting yourself to set your own path. Just know that choice will lead to pain and regret, and will bind you to the enemy for all eternity.

Or, you can receive the gift of salvation held out to you through the cross by choosing to follow a new Master, Jesus Christ. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6.

Jesus is the Way to your redemption. He is the Truth that frees you from sin’s deception. He is Life itself, offering both abundance on this earth and eternal life in heaven. He desires to pour His grace into your life. He simply asks you to believe.

Dear one, reject the rule of sin in your life and come to the cross to receive His forgiveness. You no longer need to follow the self-destructive path of your deceitful heart. You can follow the voice of Jesus.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28


An Invitation to the Thirsty


I have spent much of my life in pursuit. As a little child, I sought to please in pursuit of praise. As a teen, I tried to conform in pursuit of acceptance. As an adult, I vainly strove for perfection in an attempt to earn both, not realizing that what I was truly after was the virtue I believed praise and acceptance demonstrated: love.

The pursuit of love lies at the heart of all man’s striving. God’s Word teaches in Proverbs 19:22, “What a man desires is unfailing love.” At the core of our beings, driving all our decisions, pursuits and dreams, rests a longing, woven into the fabric of our souls by the hand of the Creator. Left unfulfilled, this longing evokes a restlessness that robs our peace as it sends us in search of the One who can quench its thirst.

Unfortunately for us, God isn’t the only being weaving desires into the depths of our souls. A veil of sin, expertly crafted by the hands of the Deceiver, obscures our vision of the only source capable of satiating our thirst for love: God, Himself.

Seeking to steal God’s glory for his own, the Prince of this World draws our gaze to the trophies of this realm with unrelenting tenacity. Human relationships, wealth, knowledge, and power beckon our pursuit, promising to satisfy our need.  We set our hearts on possessing them, striving after the fulfillment we believe they will bring. Occasionally we even grab hold of them and experience a rush of momentary pleasure!  But our victory proves itself fleeting, and is invariably followed by an emptiness that sends us out in pursuit once more.

Allow your Creator to show you the reason for this perpetual cycle of unsatisfied expectation:

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13

Dear one, the trophies of this world—the wealth and power, even the people through whom we hope to find the safety of love—are broken cisterns. They simply cannot satisfy. We find ourselves unable to draw from them the life-giving refreshment we crave because they, themselves, are empty. To experience the fullness of life, we must draw directly from its Giver.

I am awed by the love of God poured out to the broken people of this world through His Son, Jesus. Knowing we could not find Him through the enemy’s veil of sin, Jesus came to the earth in pursuit of us! And as He stretched out His arms on a cross:


“. . . darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out in a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.  When he had said this, he breathed his last.” Luke 23:44-46


One terrible afternoon, as Jesus took the sins of all mankind upon Himself, the Son stopped shining, and creation reflected His loss. His sacrifice split the veil that had separated man from the Presence of God from top to bottom. And after He had breathed His last, the Son rose once more, bringing with Him the opportunity for all who would believe on Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords to pass through the veil He had torn.

The True Light that gives light to every man (John 1:9) beckons your approach. He speaks to you the same words uttered centuries ago to a thirsty woman at a well who was trying to draw water from a broken cistern,

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water . . . Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:10, 13-14

Thirteen years ago, I met Jesus at my own well. I didn’t even realize at the time how incredibly empty and broken I was, until I responded to His tug at my heart and chose to open it to His love.

Jesus’ love has so profoundly transformed my life that I desperately desire to lead you to the spring so you also may drink in its life. My prayer is that if you have not met Jesus personally, I may have the humble privilege of introducing you to Him. If you know Him, but haven’t yet learned how to love Him and drink from the life-giving flow of His Spirit, may our journeys together through His Word empower you to embrace all that He died to give you.

I hope you will join me in seeking to draw from the One True well. If you’d like to partake, I’ll meet you here on Wednesdays. Until then, know Jesus loves you.