Is This What Love Looks Like?

“Choose Love, not Hate.”

I believe it’s an excellent proposition. Everything in me agrees with its message.

But as I watch the behavior of many who presently proclaim that message, I find myself confused.

How does throwing water on people just trying to attend a party demonstrate love? When did hurling insults at strangers—or spitting on them, for that matter—become an expression of love?

Yet people claiming that “Love trumps hate” are doing these very things. In the name of denouncing prejudice and discrimination, they project hatred toward people who have done them no personal offense except to think differently about something.

Isn’t that discrimination, dear one?

What about the right to have an opinion? Isn’t that a human right?

It’s amazing what fear can do unchecked in the human heart. It brings out the very worst in us. And make no mistake. That’s precisely the intent of the one who invokes it.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7

Whenever fear governs us, God does not. Instead we have allowed the deceiver to whisper his vain imaginations into our hearts and received them as truth, giving him control of our thoughts. That control allows him to manipulate our wills. And what he incites us to do will always reflect the ugliness of his nature.

Jesus clearly defined that nature in John 10:10.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

We are seeing these truths played out before us on our streets and video screens. People are randomly destroying property belonging to the very humans they claim to love and fight for—people they don’t know and who have done them no personal harm—out of an irrational fear of the power one man holds. A man the enemy has convinced them to hate.

Now they act from that hate while proclaiming a message of love. And they are blinded to their own hypocrisy.

This, dear one, is why Jesus came. He came to sever the power and influence the deceiver of the world wields over the minds and hearts of man. He came to restore love and prove its power over hate.

I can’t help thinking of Jesus’ words as He hung on the cross, He Himself a victim of the destructive power of a mob incited through fear.

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

How is it possible that people can be so deceived about their own actions?

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4

Our unseen enemy deceives and distorts, hindering our ability to see truth clearly. Jesus proclaimed that He came to restore our sight and set us free from the oppressor.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Luke 4:18

You see Jesus became to us wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30). He came to reveal truth, to enable us to see.

James 3:13-18 reveals how we can distinguish between the wisdom that comes from the prince of this world and the wisdom that Christ brings.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (emphasis mine)

Oh, beloved, may we seek God to become a people of true wisdom—wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, impartial and sincere. To receive that wisdom, we need only ask its source, the One who created wisdom before He created the earth.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Psalm 51:6

We have great and precious promises through the Word of God. But we must seek to know true wisdom through Christ, or we will be tossed to and fro. If we aren’t careful, the hatred of the mob will draw us in, and the pure love of Christ within our hearts will grow cold.

Jesus said it will happen to many in the last days.

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:12-13

Oh, beloved. Let’s not follow lawlessness and be counted among the cold.

Love is our answer. Only enduring love can save.

The Power of “What If?”

Sometimes life is just hard. Things happen we don’t understand and can’t explain, although we usually try to. And very often we let our thoughts run away from us, allowing fear to drown us in questions and rob our hope.

Today I’d like to share an article by Dr. Michelle Bengtson that I pray will help you to practically apply faith when fear questions your future. Our thoughts and words carry power. Let’s learn to use them to release life!

Seven Powerful Truths to Remember When You are Tempted to Ask, What If?

by Dr. Michelle Bengtson

I wonder if you’re anything like me.

“I hate to tell you this, but you need to go home and get your affairs in order.”

How could that be? We were young, and still considered ourselves newlyweds despite having been married 14 years. We had waited 12 years to have children, until after I had finished all my years of schooling to become a doctor, and then the requisite years of internship and post-doctoral training. Now with a toddler in tow, the oncologist was telling us that cancer was going to rob our son of his father.

Fear and worry assaulted me at my core.

I knew what it was like to grow up without a father. Mine was taken at a young age from a fatal heart attack. I remember the pain from the lack, and I pictured the same for my son.

Fortunately, as a toddler, he was too young to feel the sting of cancer’s razor sharp tear in the fabric of our family’s tapestry. Grandparents descended upon our home to fill in the gap with the caregiving so I could be at doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy treatments.

While doctor’s predictions were for my husband to live but a short couple of years, God had a different plan, and He is, after all, the one who plans our days and orders our steps.

Even after all the treatment, we continued to return every three months, then every six, then eventually once a year for repeat PET scans to monitor for a relapse, each time holding our breath. Each time wondering, “What if?”

“What if the treatment didn’t work?”
“What if the cancer returns?”
“What if he doesn’t defy the odds?”
“What if the scan doesn’t show what’s really there?”
“What if the cancer metastasizes like predicted?”
“What if…?”

Finally, through years of questioning, years of pleading, years of laying down my doubts and fears and concerns at the cross, God asked the most important question.

“What if…you trusted me?”

“What if, you believed that the same God who defied the odds before and healed your husband of cancer the first time could protect him and you in all your tomorrows?”

Wow. Yes, Lord. What if?

You see, He’s been teaching me about the power of two little words: “What if?”

The enemy of my soul uses those two words against me to incite fear and worry and anxiety. Those two words steal my peace from today as I anxiously focus on tomorrow, rather than sitting in His presence in the present.

Fast forward 15 years, we find ourselves in a similar scenario.

The day that we had been looking forward to for years, the day of the release of my first book, “Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression,” we heard the words we hoped we’d never hear again: “Your biopsy results came back positive: you have cancer.”

The doctor revealed that while my husband had been healed of his cancer from years before, the current cancer was considered “a secondary cancer” meaning it was a result of the chemotherapy he received to treat the original cancer.

Immediately our focus shifted from release party festivities, interviews and marketing plans to blood work, PET scans, bone marrow biopsies, port placements, and more doctor visits than we could remember without a calendar. And sadly, what if’s…

“What if the very thing that was used to save his life before is what kills him now?”
“What if the chemotherapy doesn’t work this time?”
“What if we aren’t so ‘lucky’ this time?”
“What if my sons have to grow up without their Dad?”
“What if I become a widow?”
“What if…?”

I immediately jumped into old, familiar ways of coping: doing and staying busy. Alerting family and friends of the news and answering the plethora of questions with what little information I had. Planning freezer meals for the weeks when doctors’ appointments and chemotherapy kept us too busy to shop or cook. Rearranging my schedule at work to accommodate the myriad of new appointments that needed to be worked into the schedule.

In my effort to control the uncontrollable, the busyness overwhelmed me and left me depleted and exhausted until finally one day, I collapsed in a pile on the floor and I wept uncontrollably. How had we gotten here and what were we going to do?

As I cried out to the Lord in my desperation, I heard his familiar question yet again, “What if…you trusted me?”

“What if you believed that this didn’t take me by surprise?”

“What if you believed that I really do work all things together for your good?”

“What if you remembered that I know the plans I have for you, and I have declared that my plans for you are good, and they include a future and a hope!”

“What if you remembered that I am good, my ways are good, and my love for you is everlasting?”

“What if you remembered that I proved myself faithful to you when you went through this before, and knowing that I am the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, believed that I will be faithful through this as well?”

“What if you stopped listening to the father of lies who fills your mind with ‘What ifs?’ and kept your eyes on me and listened only to the voice of your Heavenly Father who speaks truth and love?”

As I dried my tears and finished my prayer time with the Lord, I found a new determination to let go of the anxiety-producing “What ifs?” and take hold of the peace that prevails because of Him.

Do you need to do the same?

Because of Him, #PeacePrevails!

Visit Michelle’s blog for more encouragement and discover how Hope Prevails.

Are You Ready to Change the World?

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 2 Thessalonians 1:3

Our opening scripture holds great promise. Where God is present and unquenched, faith and love will increase.

The next verse reveals the catalyst for that growth: persecutions and afflictions.

I want to suggest to you that this very moment—these days of great affliction and increasing persecutions—offer a backdrop to exponentially expand the faith and love of God’s people.

God has commissioned us to change the world and positioned us to see it done. The question is, are we willing?

I’m going to be honest for us. In most cases, we aren’t. We talk a good talk, but when the time comes to actually fulfill the role God has set before us, we offer all kinds of excuses. We act a bit like Jonah, running from God’s presence rather than boldly stepping up in obedience to our calling.

Then we blame God for not revealing more of His power.

But what if God has a message to speak to us through Jonah’s life, dear one? What if His Spirit stirs even now, daring us to hope for the miraculous? I think all of us can easily relate to Jonah’s stumbling. But what if we could also relate to his triumph?

Imagine it, beloved. Jonah’s story led to one of the greatest revivals recorded in history. A flawed, selfish man finally humbled himself, walked into the great city of Nineveh, and spoke eight words. “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4).

What happened next defied logic.

And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Jonah 3:5

Did you catch it, dear one? A pagan, rebellious people believed God.

Eight words spoken by a submitted prophet changed the heart of every citizen in Nineveh, from the least to the greatest. Amazing, isn’t it? One man’s obedience unleashed repentance and deliverance for an entire city—a city so big that in Jonah’s time it took three days to journey through it.

But this revival didn’t just touch the people. It transformed its king.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” Jonah 3:6-9

A godless king suddenly believed God held the power to destroy and redeem. And that belief brought him to his knees.

God responded precisely the way scripture promises He would.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. Jonah 3:10

Oh, beloved. What if we could see this kind of miraculous transformation in our own nation? Our hearts cry out for revival! But like Jonah, most of us would rather not be the instruments God uses to bring it.

I wonder, dear one. What kind of storm will it take to humble you before God? Whose lives are you willing to risk?

Whether we care to admit it or not, our rebellion allows pain and disaster to increase around us. Our disobedience puts lives in jeopardy.

Just ask Jonah. His defiance stirred up a storm that threatened everyone aboard the ship he fled on—until Jonah finally stopped running and acknowledged his responsibility. Facing peril, his heart changed, and the lives of the men on board became more important than his own. Overcoming the selfishness that sent him running, Jonah offered his life to save them.

He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Jonah 1:12

When they hurled him into the sea, the raging ceased, and they “feared the LORD exceedingly” (verse 16). But Jonah’s story wasn’t over. He spent three days and nights in the belly of a great fish. There he learned the beauty of the fast. And he prayed.

God moved in response to his prayer, causing the great fish to spit him out onto land. And Jonah—humbled, yielded, changed, and anointed—traveled to Nineveh to deliver the message God had given him, saving thousands more.

What circumstance in your life has you in the belly of the fish, beloved? What is God asking you to surrender so that He can move through you in power? What will God unleash through you when you walk in the power of your own anointing?

Jonah’s success had nothing to do with his own talents or eloquence. It came from the presence of God working through him. When he finally denied his own desires in humble submission to God, the Spirit poured forth in power.

And an entire city repented, from the least to the greatest, including their king.

Immense hope looms before us, dear one. The miraculous redemption of our nation is possible if we believe.

But resurrection life first requires death.

So here’s the question before us. Are we willing to put to death our own desires to save those who are drowning?

Beloved, God’s power flowing through your life emerges from death and resurrection.

 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

We must first live the gospel in order to share the gospel. Otherwise, our self-righteous hypocrisy refutes the message. But when we are undone—crucified to the flesh—the Spirit flows in power.

The early church proved that to be true.

 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. Acts 11:21

Let’s stop running and own our responsibility. Let’s descend to the depths with Jesus and rise to new life.

Submitted. Selfless. Holy. Anointed.

Then we will change the world.

A New Perspective to Unlock the Power of the Gospel

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Philippians 1:3-5

Paul got excited over these Philippian believers.

Look at his words. He thanked God every time he remembered them. And always, every time he prayed for them, he lifted his prayer with joy.

What made these believers such a source of joy and thanksgiving? Their partnership in the gospel.

I’ll be honest. For a long time I looked at those verses and thought that Paul simply rejoiced because they were helping in the work of kingdom building. But recently God took me deeper. He asked me to consider what that word partnership really meant.

So now I invite you to join me on the path He led me down. Let’s start by defining the gospel itself. Paul defines it for us in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

 The gospel that saves hinges on three important truths.

  1. Christ died for our sins
  2. He was buried
  3. He was raised to new life

Here’s the heart of the gospel, beloved. Death. Burial. Resurrection.

And here’s why I believe we witness so little of the gospel’s power in our own lives. We carry the message of the gospel—Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection— without participating in the gospel ourselves.

We want the resurrection power the gospel proclaims. We just don’t like the means to experience it. Beloved, death and burial must precede resurrection life.

And this, I believe, is what made Paul so excited about these Philippian believers. They had partnership in the gospel from the first day they heard it. They themselves participated in the death, burial, and resurrection, experiencing the transforming work of the cross within their own hearts.

You see, the original Greek word translated partnership in Philippians 1:5 is Koinōnia, which means: close association between persons, emphasizing what is common between them; by extension: participation, sharing…fellowship, communion.

These believers shared in Christ’s suffering, choosing fellowship in the death and burial of their flesh nature, so that they could also experience Christ’s resurrection power. And this led to Paul’s often quoted proclamation in Philippians 1:6.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Beloved, what if we chose to begin this year with a new way of thinking? What if our partnership in the gospel could be more than just sharing creeds and faith? What if we committed to fellowship with Christ in the power of the gospel instead of just sharing His message?

Oh that Jesus would look upon us with the same joy that Paul felt for those early believers at Philippi! May our lives prove the message of the gospel and proclaim Christ’s kingdom.

For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 1 Corinthians 4:20