All You Need Is Love

When Jesus speaks of the perfect life, He is very clear: “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” -Luke 10:27. In perfect love, God desires our wellbeing, our fellowship and obedience.

Obedience is a hard word for me to hear, let alone to say or do! But obedience to God’s precepts ultimately make us better, stronger, healthier and happier. God’s law is no longer imposed, but encouraged in love. It’s not offered in oppression, but in freedom from sin through a life of tangible fellowship with the Creator of the Universe. Obedience to a perfect God is to seek the love Jesus speaks of.

Love gets more complicated when we are concerned for our well being, when others threaten our way of life, our freedom or interests. This is when we must chose between our own understanding or trusting God.

I am fascinated by the intensity of the discourse after this very unusual and surprising election. I have had to remind myself that God is eternally sovereign and we are not.

Living out our faith is about love in action, showing love without favoritism, loving the unlovable, practicing grace and gratitude. It is helpful to recognize our hypocrisy and self-righteousness, avoiding demagoguery, so easily embraced.

Personal spiritual transformation is the true source of social change. It is born in Love. God’s Spirit guides us. There is no other way.

God is sovereign and everything, even political power, comes from Him or is allowed by Him.

We have a lifetime of opportunity to live out values like kindness, humility, forgiveness, bravery, sacrifice, integrity, generosity, and compassion. We might easily claim these as our own, and overlook them in others, but love is the champion of justice and truth.

More than anything Jesus is saying to me, “trust God, surrender all to Him and love each other like there is no tomorrow.”

Perhaps John Lennon had it right; “all you need is love!”

1 Chronicles 15; James 2. Secret: Amos 9; Luke 4

A New Covenant

But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.Hebrews 8:8-9

As I read about this New Covenant I wonder: Why did we need one? How does it work?

God once made a covenant with His chosen people. These were the descendants of Noah, and the children of Abraham. He promised to bless them and save them; and to save the world through them. They, in exchange were bound to his law, essentially the Ten Commandments. Law that focused primarily on loving God and each other, putting God above all while striving for purity and relying on ritual sacrifice to receive God’s atonement for sin.

As I read through the book of Kings and 2Kings, it reinforces the tremendous disappointment God experienced in the almost constant rebellion of his people. Though God appeared at crucial times, rescuing His chosen people, offering many signs and wonders, still they turned away — worshiping other gods, sacrificing their children, and leaning on their own understanding.

The New Covenant came despite God’s disappointment, perhaps even because of it. It came as an expression of His constant love for people. This is not His plan “B” but the final reconciliation, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Considering our tendency to rebel, it’s remarkable God extends salvation to us. When we receive God’s grace, in an instant our sins are washed away and we are made righteous by faith! No longer under the power of the law, we are set free in Christ and given freedom to pursue a relationship with the one true God. A holy God who declares our innocence, though we are guilty. A self-sacrificing God, who takes our place on the cross and dies for our sins so we don’t have to.

The New Covenant is based on an act of love that restores the fullness of God’s intended relationship with us — His created beings. Once set free from sin, we are able to pursue holiness in the power of God’s Holy Spirit and a life in the presence of a living God who offers everything we cannot attain on our own. In this way we are blessed with peace, freedom, power and joy in the truth and security of an eternal, dynamic relationship with the very creator of the universe! This is the New Covenant. Thank you God!

Reading: 1 Chronicles 1–2; Hebrews 8; Amos 2; Psalm 145

Happiness Isn’t Everything

Many thanks to my friend Erin Straza who was so gracious to agree to write for Bible Journal this week. Her encouragement as a friend and a fellow artist has been a blessing to me over the last year. She is an insightful and heartfelt writer. I am looking forward to her new book about comfort detox that releases in February.

I first met Erin when she was the staff writer for Spread Truth Ministries ( This team is best known for their amazing condensation of the bible to a brilliant, compelling, five minute animation which is inspiring millions across the world in thirteen languages and soon to be twenty two!

Now Erin’s fine work:

God’s Comfort Distribution Strategy

If our country had a national emotion, it would certainly be happiness. The pursuit of it is written into our founding documents. It’s become the highest aim of our lives and even our in-the-moment choices. Although being happy isn’t wrong, it isn’t the only emotion we will experience in this life. When other feelings show up and crowd happiness out, it’s easy to feel like a failure.

Something I appreciate about the Bible is that the authors are real people who experience real feelings—and not just the socially acceptable ones. Even Paul—who seems to be a persistent, get-it-done, no excuses sort of guy—admits to a whole host of emotions.

Today’s reading includes a portion of Paul’s second letter to the believers in Corinth, in which Paul admits to the entire church that he had been depressed (v. 6) because their “bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within” (v. 5). We’ve all had seasons when nothing seems to be going well and it robs us of rest physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Although we don’t know the extent of Paul’s despondency, whether it was short-lived discouragement or debilitating depression, he willingly confesses his struggle, his pain, his weakness.That’s a brave soul, indeed.

Admitting these needs is necessary, however, if we are to receive the comfort of God. He is our Comforter, our solace for every trouble. We know this—in theory. But in practice? Well . . . we all could use a bit more practice!

Practicing the practice of finding our comfort in God takes a concerted effort. We’ve been conditioned by our culture—and ultimately, our sin nature—to grasp for comfort everywhere else but God. Our efforts fall short because God made us for Himself, as Pascal has said. To this end, I see two principles in 2 Corinthians 7 that help us practice finding our comfort in God.

No Hiding: Learn to Receive. When I’m downcast, reaching out to others for help takes all the courage I can muster. I need courage to be real like Paul was—upfront, no mask, no hiding. But mainly I need courage to be tended to in my moment of need. Inviting others to draw near and be close when I am at my lowest is a place of great vulnerability. The people I invite into this tender realm must be trusted allies who speak full truth in full love. Coming to others with my full self requires that I allow others to come to me with their full selves too. This is the mark of Christian community, where everyone is “walking in the light;” it’s essential if we are to enjoy true “fellowship within one another” (1 John 1:7, ESV). Learning to receive help and comfort from others is foundational to a healthy fellowship—and a healthy person.

No Hoarding: Learn to Give. In this world of trouble, it’s tempting to back away from people like Paul who confidently announce their needs. But a healthy fellowship cannot have members who only know how to receive help and comfort—they must also know how to give it away. Sometimes I withdraw from others because I don’t want to invest the energy required to be a comfort. Sometimes the magnitude of a need just plain scares me. But as a recipient of God’s mercy, I am now commissioned as a steward; hoarding the comfort I’ve been given is not becoming of God’s redeemed. Paul explains how comfort is meant to be the gift that keeps on giving:

“But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you.” (2 Corinthians 7: 6–7)

Paul received comfort from Titus, who got it from the Corinthian believers. Ultimately, the comfort came from God who, it seems, “comforts the downcast” through His people. We are truly His comfort agents, commissioned to give away all that God has given us, wherever we find a need. Comfort is never meant for a single, onetime use. It grows in power when we pass it on.

In sum, all comfort comes from God, as He is “the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). But God often uses flesh-and-bone people to deliver it. Comfort abounds when we readily admit our own needs and readily tend to the needy. In this life, happiness may come and go with our circumstances, but God has a comfort that prevails when His people refuse to hide and learn to give.

Today’s reading link:  2 Samuel 14; 2 Corinthians 7; Ezekiel 21; Psalm 68

Erin Straza is a freelance writer, editor, and marketing communications consultant. Her first book, Comfort Detox: Finding Freedom from Habits That Bind You, releases February 2017 from InterVarsity Press. Learn more at

Contrast and Choice

Life leads to death, but from death comes life.

Contrast is how we evaluate things. Usually this is on a relative basis. We compare one thing to another and it is easy to tell the difference. If we try to compare too many things we are easily confused. The bigger the contrast between things the easier it is to choose one thing over another — but not always.

Everyday we make choices. By comparison deciding between one thing or another and by contrast we are able to make our clearest choices. Sometimes the contrast between two things is so stark that it seems impossible to miss the importance of the distinction.

Comparison and contrast is usually easier if we consider things in pairs. Sort of like having our eyes examined. Discerning something clearly from a large group can be very difficult, but when we can get two things side by side it is much easier to select our preferences, even between things with subtle variation. By comparison, starker contrast make our choices even more certain, harder to miss.

Having recently been away from home for a couple of weeks, living in a big city for most of that time, I was amazed at the sharp contrast as I drove back to Bloomington from O’Hare Airport. imageWe had been living in a rooftop apartment in Paris, undoubtably one of the most magnificent cities in the world. Still, it was good to be heading home. Past the Chicago Metro fringe, at that perfect time in the early evening when the stark contrast of the green fields under the big blue sky seemed unreal.image

We had been living in grey’s and brown’s of limestone and marble. Now I was bathed in the beams of new light that opened my tired eyes. As we drove southbound Interstate-55, I looked toward the expanse of the heavens, to clouds painted by the fluttering of the wings of angels. Majestic thunderheads building before patterns of scattered cirrus, shaded with the pastels of the setting sun and twilight shadows. I’m not sure I have ever seen more beauty in that prarie I’ve called home for the last twenty one years.    image

In today’s reading, what stood out for me was Sampson’s riddle.“Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” Eating honey from a lion’s rotting carcass certainly represents an extreme contrast. It made me think of how Jesus was born from a rebellious nation, one that rejected God’s prophets and incredible blessings, often turning towards their own understanding. The savior of the world reflected the contrast of God among us, in the midst of people so confused and broken that they rejected and crucified the very source of love and creation. But this didn’t stop Jesus from transforming the lives of believers and He is still doing it today.

The contrast of a changed life is extraordinary. A life filled with love, patience and peace, once filled with strife, anxiety and self seeking is hard to ignore. The contrast of sin and its destructive emptiness when considered against the healing power of God’s grace shows us who we are, with and without God. It shows us who God is. It opens our hearts making us long for perfection.

For me it wasn’t until the latter stages of my life that the light of truth began to shine and despite my imperfection and brokenness it continues to get brighter.

I thank God for His truth everyday. In His grace I am bathed in forgiveness and the power to continue to change. Jesus I praise your holy name. You are the way, the truth and the life.

Judges 14; Acts 18; Jeremiah 27; Mark 13

Putting God First – My Testimony

Reading Link: Leviticus 6; Psalms 5–6; Proverbs 21; Colossians 4

One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is to make God first in every aspect of my life. This should be easy, right? Especially since God, the ultimate creative power, put everything into motion. Honoring God should be automatic, but it’s not. Because God is invisible, getting to know Him has been challenging. Because He is personal, He gets me, even better than I get myself. Remarkably, God desires fellowship with people, which becomes possible by faith through Jesus.

But I Through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you. -Psalm 5:7

As a child, I had a simple and easy faith which prevailed even through some early hardships. Then, when I was fourteen, my step father John died unexpectedly at thirty seven, I was devastated. He had been one of my closest freinds, my mentor and the present father I had lacked for the seven years since my parents had divorced. My faith was derailed. Instead of trusting God to help me work through my grief, I turned away dissapointed and angry even though God was there for me. I replaced my faith in God, with faith in me.  A big mistake!

In the next fourteen years, my rebellion was filled with the pursuit of what I thought was freedom in order to pursue my pleasures. Then, to prove my worth in the world, my efforts eventually led to self glorification. I was going to do everything on my own, and take all the credit. This was comical really, considering how proud I was of the many aspects of my life which I had no control over. Being born into a certain family in America, in my time, or benefiting from some ancestor ‘s success from the 1800’s, or the countless people who helped me out in so many ways that I never even asked for. These were all beyond my control. Looking back I see even my limited achievements often occurred in unexplainable ways, yet I still took the credit. Luck or destiny, either way these were blessings, not accomplishments. Truthfully, despite all the glory I tried to claim for my self, I was never consistently happy, and it was never enough. There were many great highs, but they were always followed by lows; and the saddest thing was this: my life was simply slipping away as I drifted further from discovering my true purpose.

Fortunately I rediscovered the God of my childhood who was still patiently waiting to restore the fullness of the fellowship I had once enjoyed. And still I hesitated.

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. -Proverbs 16:9

With open arms, like the father of the prodigal son, God has welcomed me back to His family. Making me whole in Jesus, forgiving all, and asking for the surrender of my will; not for Him, BUT FOR ME! And still, I’ve hedged my bets, tentatively investing in my relationship with God despite everything I have learned. It is only in my full subordination to God’s will that I receive the full measure of His blessing

God does not ask us to give Him everything, for everything is His. He simply asks us to recognize this fact, and live accordingly. We Are His creation, each splendidly unique. One of a kind as David LaFrance eloquently pointed out on Tuesday.

Once reconciled we begin to discover God’s plan for our lives. Each of us was created for a special reason; to uniquely point the way to God, to glorify Him like no other person could. Only in our genuine relationship with God do we find true freedom and purpose. This is the greatest life we will ever know!

The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD. -Proverbs 21:31

So what am I waiting for?

Light in the Darkness


Links to today’s reading: Exodus 31; John 10; Proverbs 7; Galatians 6

What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? -Job 38:19

Early one morning I was trying to understand the multitude of world religions; many of which were compelling in some way. Could different belief systems be pointing to the same God like some people said? Was it possible to reconcile these without taking glory away from God, not ignoring the urgency and importance of sharing God’s story? I believed truth was found everywhere; but that didn’t mean everything was true. If there was a specific, profound, absolute truth that all people could discover, I wanted to know it; if it was applicable for everyone, I wanted to share it.

As I contemplated the idea of truth, the image of a large stone temple atop a great pyramid popped into my head. There were hundreds of meticulously cut stone steps, leading past sprawling terraces, to the massive doors of a mighty fortress on high.

Along the steps, and throughout the terraces, were statues of great men and women that had lived extraordinary lives, and of the world’s great beasts, elephants, lions and bears, all carved from the finest marble.  On each terrace were courtyards where splendid gardens grew; these were also decorated with statues of animals, and jeweled models of planets, solar systems and galaxies. Attached to well shaped trees were reptiles, mollusks and insects, formed from precious metals.

The air was heavy with moisture and the smell of spring and nectar. As inviting as this place was, something very important was missing — there was no light. None. The world that surround the Temple Mount was enveloped in total darkness, leaving the sojourners to wander these grounds, and climb the great steps; forever groping in the dark. They spoke to each other, describing the statues and models, which they often felt with their hands. Each believed they described a greater truth about this world they were blind to; some in wonder, some in humility, and some with arrogance. Each in their own way believed that something pointed the way (perhaps even offering a key) to the entrance of the temple, a thing, somehow, they knew in their hearts. Inside the temple, they believed, resided every good thing which was missing from their present lives. And each was certain that the entrance was at hand, calling out to the others, “come hither.”

One day the door of the temple opened, and out shone the most brilliant light, blinding the sojourners at first. Then, at the door of the temple, a lamb appeared, wearing a crown of light and calling out, “follow me.”

Now as the sojourners’ eyes adjusted to the light, they saw the things they had been describing to each other for the first time. Some were embarrassed that they had been so sure about the location of the door, or the ridiculous descriptions of things they could only feel. Others, when they saw the lamb at the door, immediately bowed down, knowing it was he who had opened the door to the fortress they had been searching for. Those who knew the truth then arose, and climbed the stairs to the entrance, there they were embraced by the king, who welcomed them. Surprisingly, many of the others remained behind, in disbelief. They were certain that which they had described in the darkness was still true; clues that would someday reveal the key and the door. Then the lamb called out, “come to me,”over and over to those who remained, but they could not hear. Eventually the door closed, and the darkness returned forever.

When Jesus spoke to the people, he said, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. -John 8:12