Love & Hate

To be holy is to hate what is unholy. To love a holy God is to hate what is evil.

You who love the Lord, hate evil! He protects the lives of his godly people and rescues them from the power of the wicked. (Psalm 97:10, New Living Translation)

To hate something (the Hebrew word here is ‏שָׂנֵא‎, sane, pronounced saw-nay) means to be set in your mind and heart against it. To truly love people (1 John 2:9; 3:11; 4:7, 19-21), I must hate that which destroys their souls. Satan is the author of evil and he uses it to crush people.

While that is true in a general sense, I must personalize this verse.  I must be careful about hating the evil that is affecting other people more than I hate the evil that is affecting me. I must learn to utterly despise the sin, the unholiness, in my own life. I must see it as something that is putrid, ugly, and to be avoided at all costs. God will protect me against this evil and rescue me from the power of the wicked if I give him control, Lordship, over my life. I do this not just once, but every minute, every time I have a decision between evil and holiness to make.

I choose to be holy and I can do this only in the presence, by the power, with the protection, and for the purposes of my holy, sovereign Lord!

Leader, how do you view unholiness in your own life? To be a vessel that God uses to overflow his love and power, you must remove the filth. Otherwise the filth will overflow from you. You can live a holy life only in his presence and power, under his protection, and ultimately for his, not your own, purposes.

How do you see the unholiness in others’ lives? Jesus saw the flaws in other people with a compassionate heart and he sought always to lovingly heal, not condemn.

Lord of the Darkness: Trusting Jehovah When Suffering Comes

Psalm 88 must be the darkest psalm of them all, and one of the bleakest passage in the Bible. As I read this today, I kept waiting for the yet or however or but that you find in other psalms, but there are none. The author, Heman, goes on and on about how bad his life is. Read my journal entry with more of the background and my commentary on this psalm here.

In all his dark despair, Heman did not give up on God; he did not stop coming to him in prayer. He addressed God as Lord, Jehovah four times in this psalm. Jehovah is the name for God that stresses his covenant relationship with his people. Heman recognized that God was still true to his promises. This gave Heman hope even in his hopelessness.

Every one of us as followers of Christ and as leaders in his kingdom will face suffering and pain and unanswered questions. At some point in your life you will, if you haven’t already, come to a place where you are wondering where God is. You’ll feel forsaken. You’ll ask God for help that only he can give and you’ll hear only quiet. This may feel very dark. 

In the midst of the dark, painful circumstances of our lives, we must hold on to God’s promises. We must be a covenant people. We must remember that God has made a covenant with us and we have made a covenant with him, so that when times get tough, we don’t give up … as the world does. We hold onto the covenant, we keep our promises, we trust in Jehovah Jireh, our Lord Provider. 
Simply put, we trust our God more than we trust our circumstances.

7 Ways to Respond When God Does Not Feel Like “Immanuel”

What do you do when you are struggling and God seems far away?

Especially during this season of the year, it seems many of us are hurting. We desperately want to know Immanuel—God with us—but he seems more like Exmanuel–God used to be with me, but now I feel like he’s left me … or I feel like he is so external to my current experience.

You are not alone.

Many others feel this way too. People in the Bible often felt this way. Jeremiah, King David, Martha and Mary, and even Jesus himself felt as if God was not near or had forsaken them in their times when they needed him most. So what’s up with this?

People in the Bible often felt as if God wasn't near when they needed him most. Click To Tweet

In Psalm 77, the author, Asaph, was struggling. He believed and trusted in God, but he was questioning where God was in the moment of his pain. This is difficult for us to understand. Sometimes when we are lonely or hurting or both, we cry out to God and hear nothing. We do not sense his presence even though we are seeking it. We are filled with questions: Why? Where are you, Lord? What is going on here? (Read Psalm 77 and look at Asaph’s questions in verses 7-9; we are not alone in our questions!) We just want to understand and know he is still there for us. And yet, inexplicably … nothing.

Later on—maybe days, weeks, months, perhaps even years later—we can look back and see how God was moving. Later on we understand God’s sovereignty and timing. But we often don’t see that in the moment of our despair.

Asaph came to a turning point in his perceptions in verse 11: “I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago” (Psalm 77:11, New Living Translation). This is one vital reason why it’s so important for us to read God’s Word. The powerful stories remind us of his faithfulness, strength, and love. They give us perspective. They lift us up out of our current circumstances to help us see God is, indeed, in control. We can also look back at our own lives as well and see the way he has worked in more personal ways.

Remembering God’s greatness and sovereignty naturally leads us to worship: an acknowledgement of who God is and how powerful he is. Worship is vital in the darkness of the valley.

For me, at least, all I can say in the midst of this is, I will continue to trust you, Lord, no matter how I feel. I’ve come to a place where I know I must worship God even though I don’t feel like it, and don’t even necessarily sense his presence with me as I call out to him in praise for who he is. It is an act of the will at this point.

I know I must worship God even though I don't necessarily sense his presence. It is an act of the will. Click To Tweet

That was Asaph’s approach:

“O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you?” (Psalm 77:13).


So, let’s get practical. When God does not feel very much like Immanuel, God with you …

  1. Remember all he has done.
  2. Read God’s Word and look for his faithfulness and power in the midst of the trials.
  3. Reflect on a time in your own life when God seemed far away, yet he came through.
  4. Trust him—this is an act of the will.
  5. Turn to worship him.
  6. Don’t go it alone. This is the time to be with a community of friends.
  7. Serve someone else. Turn your focus upward and outward.


Thankful Through the Valley

I am thankful today that I have the privilege of having a loving Father who is BIG and powerful! Bigger than any circumstance or situation, more powerful than anyone or anything that comes against me. I’m thankful that though he is so big, he also is concerned and involved in the minute details of my life. He is Jehovah Jireh, my provider. He knows me not only as one of millions of his creations, but individually, as his treasured child.

As some of my good friends and family know, this past year has been difficult in many ways as I’ve walked through a dark valley of the soul. But God’s promise in Psalm 23 is true. He has walked through this valley with me. I would not wish my circumstances over the past year on anyone, but I would wish that each of my friends and family could experience the Father’s closeness and power that I’ve felt during this time. I’m thankful that God is trustworthy and true. Draw close to him and he will never be far away from you. Delight yourself in him, and he will give you the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4).

What are you thankful for?

Thanking God for Temporary
Thankful for God’s Jealousy, Vengeance, and Anger
Snow Day Devotional

When Life Isn’t Making Sense, Ask the Right Questions

When you are walking through a dark valley of the soul or when the circumstances in your life are not making sense, it’s vital to ask the right questions.

In Psalm 73, the people, in the midst of difficult and seemingly unfair life situations, are dismayed and confused. “Does God realize what is going on?” they ask. “Is the Most High even aware of what is happening?” (Psalm 73:11, New Living Translation). 

This is the question many people still ask today, especially those who follow God from arms length, the Sunday-morning church-goers who have never counted the cost of being a disciple of Jesus. People look at their circumstances and ask, “Where is God in all this?” But when we, even we who have counted the cost and are walking in a trusting relationship with God, ask such a question, it reveals our own hearts.

When I am walking closely with God–making my relationship with him my #1 priority; spending time with him each day to hear what he wants to say to me that day; loving him with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind; trusting him regardless of my circumstances; delighting in him and in his presence with me–I don’t ask that question. I know God knows what is going on, because I’ve talked to him about it, and I know he was listening. I know he is aware of what is happening because I know he is indeed the Sovereign Lord who knows everything. I know he cares about the situation because I know he is my loving Father; he is a compassionate shepherd who wants to give us peace and rest. I know he can change the circumstances if he chooses to, because he is all powerful. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have questions. I do.

And so this raises the question that I do ask: God, I don’t understand. In my human understanding, I don’t know how this is all going to work out and I can’t see how you are working in this. What are you doing? How are you going to work all this out for the good of those who really love you and are called according to your purposes? Please, Lord, show me just a sliver of your plan and purpose. Regardless,, Lord, help me to hang on and to continue to trust in you, to continue to trust in your timing.

The interesting thing is that these questions actually draw me even closer to God, which, I believe, is part of God’s big-picture purpose when we walk through these dark valleys. “Yet I still belong to you; you are holding my right hand” (v. 23)!

What Do You Do When Life Sucks?
Bribing God
When God Puts You on Hold

What Do You Do When Life Sucks?

What do you do when life sucks? What do you do when it seems everyone and everything is against you? What do you do when your marriage isn’t what you want it to be or you are struggling with your kids? What do you do when your pile of bills is way bigger than you can pay? What do you do when you’re trying to lead but things are not going as you expect and hope? What do you do when you feel totally discouraged, hurt, and afraid?

Have you been here lately? Are you here now?

I want to encourage you–and myself–today. God is working, regardless of what you have done or are doing. He is at work, regardless of how you feel or the circumstances you are in. He cares for you and has a plan for your life no matter how long you’ve been asking and waiting.

In Psalm, 69, David tells God about his dire circumstances and opens up about how he is feeling. He said he was exhausted from crying for help (v. 3). Have you been there? I have.

After sharing all this for 12 verses, David says an important word: “But.”

“But,” he says, “I keep right on praying to you, Lord, hoping this time you will show me favor.”

  • When life sucks … keep right on praying.
  • When your circumstances are bad … keep right on praying (see Philippians 4:12-13). 
  • When you feel depressed, hurt, mad, confused, or whatever … keep right on praying.
  • When you’re not hearing any answers … keep right on praying.
  • When you’ve been praying a long, long time … keep right on praying (trusting in God’s, not your own, timetable).
And one more thing: as you keep on praying, keep delighting yourself in the Lord, as well. Worship him. Put him and his kingdom and his righteousness first. Trust him, regardless of how things seem or how you feel. Take a walk outside and delight in God’s creation. Hold a baby and delight in God’s miracles. Read the Bible and delight yourself in God’s Word. Care for a friend and delight in the opportunity to serve. God promises that when you delight yourself in him, he will give you the desires (favor) of your heart … in his timing, for his glory. (As you delight yourself in him, I believe his desires become your desires, and he is glad to to give you those!) 
How will you respond when life sucks? 
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Why You Should Stop Inviting Jesus to Your Small Group Meetings

“Lord we invite you into our presence.” 

I’ve been in lots of small groups–and worship services for that matter–in which leaders began with words like these. Their intentions and hearts were good, but their words revealed what I believe is one of the most overlooked and undervalued kingdom principles that Jesus gave us:

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). 

When we invite Jesus into our midst, I wonder if he quietly responds, “I’m already here!”

Another indication that we don’t get this principle occurs at the end of really good meetings. Have you ever been to a great small group, worship service, conference, or some other Christian gathering and heard people proclaim, “Wow! God really showed up!”?  Of course he showed up. He always does when we come together in his name (or because we are his, as the New Living Translation puts it).

I encourage you to try a more biblical approach:

  1. You be sure to show up. 
    • Remember the fact that you’re not just meeting with a few other Christian friends. You’re meeting with Jesus. What an incredible honor that is! 
    • Show up as the real you. You may think you can fool some of your fellow group members, but not Jesus … and, truthfully, probably not even your other group members. Open yourself up, trust others to accept you as you, and allow the Holy Spirit to work as you reveal your true heart. 
    • Be so real that other group members say at the end of the meeting, “Wow, ____ [your name] really showed up!”
    • Show up with an expectancy and anticipation for God to move. 
  2. Gather in Jesus’ name, for his sake, because you are his. Don’t just meet for the sake of doing a study or because you are a member of the church and the pastor expects it! Meet in Jesus’ presence, for his purposes, and in his power! 
  3. Welcome Jesus into your presence. We have a religious term for welcoming him; it’s called worship. This “worship” does not have to take the form of your Sunday-morning experience. It doesn’t have to be traditional. It can be (and perhaps should be) a simple outflow of welcoming Jesus into your meeting time, recognizing his leadership and power, honoring him as if royalty just walked into the room. He has. 
What else can you do to welcome Jesus into your small group and to remember he is present throughout your meeting time?

Bribing God

There are some “if … then” passages in the Bible, and it is vital how you interpret and apply them! Here’s one I read this morning:

“If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, my Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18, New Living Translation). 

Some people interpret this legalistically. In other words, they think, God will not have any communion with me if I don’t first confess my sins to him. Some Christians even set up their prayer times by being absolutely certain to put confession before supplication. When we do this, we can easily make things like adoration, confession, and thanksgiving holy bribes to soften up God before we ask him for what we want.

Psalm 66:8 is talking about the condition of our hearts, not some legalistic thing we must “do” to blackmail or even to lure God into listening to us. God is concerned primarily about our hearts. God listened to David because David came to him with an open, contrite, humble heart that allowed David to honestly confess his sins to his Father.

The same heart condition was in play in another “if … then” passage when Jesus talked about the necessity of forgiving others in order for God to forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15). In other words, Jesus was saying, if your heart is so hardened that you cannot forgive others, then your heart is not yet ready to reconcile with your loving Father who is waiting patiently to forgive you and receive you back into his arms. It’s about your heart being open, not about God putting a legalistic barrier in place.

When our pride gets in the way of being able to confess, repent, and forgive others, God puts us in a place where we can be broken and humbled. That’s what God lovingly did with David (see Psalm 51), and he still does this today with us. It’s up to us how we respond to him in these circumstances.

When God Puts You on Hold

Quite often, God puts his children on hold. King David experienced this. “I wait quietly before God,” he said in Psalm 62. (Actually, David wrote often about this act of waiting on God.) I’ve experienced this and so have you. Perhaps you’re on hold right now.

God is always with us. It’s not as though we’re sitting on hold while he talks to someone else on the phone. God is omnipresent and, although I don’t know how, he can be listening to a thousand other people and me at the same time. He is not just omnipresent (as if that’s not enough!) he is fully present with me and others at the same time. He is listening and paying full attention, with all his compassion, to me … and you.

And yet, he often has us wait for him. He has his own purpose for this. I think a main purpose is so that we develop the relationship with him first. I find that the longer I follow him, the more I sometimes need to wait for his response. As a new Christian, he often responded to me very quickly, but now I need to wait on him more. Back then he was encouraging me that he was there. Now he is teaching me patience and trust.

Note that David waited “quietly” (the God’s Word translation says “calmly”). That means I come to him and I do not talk. This is hard! My brain is always talking! My Father wants me to be still and know he is God. He wants me to quiet my self-talk so I can hear him, not my own voice. He wants me to get rid of the distractions from the world so I can be attentive to his voice. More than anything, he wants me to trust him alone!

God may want more than a 5-minute “quiet time” that I rush through each day, where I’m doing most of the talking, or I’m reading someone else’s words. Spending time with God may mean spending more time than we think we have so that we are actually putting him, not out agendas, not our own plans and purposes, first.

King David said, “I wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.” David trusted God and so he did not get anxious as he waited. God’s got this, no matter how long I wait for him to answer me.

If God has you on hold right now and you are waiting for him to answer you, God has you right where he wants you! Trust him. All power belongs to him (v. 11). His love for you is unfailing. (v. 12).

What’s God doing while he has you on hold? How can you trust him more as you wait?

Why Don’t We Worship More in Small Groups?

Worship belongs in small groups, but some groups don’t worship together regularly. Why not?

·       Intellectualism.When knowledge of the Bible is the main objective, God gets crowded out. Agendaitusis the problem. The group simply does not have time in their tight schedule for worship and meaningful prayer. They may have Martha’s Syndrome: they are too busy doing things to sit at the feet of the Master.


·       Self-Centeredness. “I don’t want to worship in our small group. I can’t sing.” The focus of worship is not on our voices; it is on God. The question must be asked, “For whom does this group exist?” If the answer is “me and my family and our needs,” it’s time to go back to the beginning and discuss purpose and mission.


·       Never Thought of It. Many existing, long-standing groups simply never put “worship” with “small group.” Worship has never been held up as small group value.


·       No True Experience in Worship. Some group members may not have experienced real worship and the power of prayer personally, so they don’t look for it or miss it in the group. Jesus said “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23). Unfortunately, some Christians have not learned to worship in spirit and truth.


·       A View that Worship and Evangelism Are Diametrically Opposed. Non-Christians may not be able to enter as completely into the worship experience as a fully devoted follower of Christ, but even being in the room with sincere people who are praising God – and seeing God move in response will draw a person to God. Worship changes people. Just like it changed the Philippian jailer and his family!


·       Spiritual Warfare. Satan does whatever he can to prevent us from spending time with God. He hates when we come together to worship God in spirit and truth. He wants to lead us into being me-centered or us-centered rather than God-centered.

So what would you add? How do you worship in your group? Please share!

Excerpted from Leading From the Heart, Chapter 7, “A Heart for Worship and Prayer.”