How Can We Know God’s Heart?

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you know how much I love sharing books and other resources to help us grow closer to Christ. This month features a series of powerful little books by Ty Saltzgiver, and we’ll be giving away a different one every week.

Today’s post is from My First Thirty Quiet Times, a day-by-day devotional that has sold more than 600,000 copies. In this excerpt from Day 5, Ty asks some really good questions: How can we know the Father’s heart? How can we be sure that God really is GOOD, and that He truly CARES for us? And how can we be sure we can trust Him?

Here’s Ty:

So often, Christianity is presented to us as a set of beliefs to adhere to and a set of rules (or commands) to obey. In other words, we must believe what is true and do what is right. If we do, then we are a Christian, or to the degree that we do these well, then we are good Christians.

Certainly, there are things to believe and a way God wants us to live, but they are not “in order to be” a Christian. Rather, they are “because of” the reality that we have a relationship with Jesus, where we’ve received His love and invited Him to live in our hearts and trusted Him with our lives.

It is a huge thing to entrust our very lives to God, to give Him the thing most precious to us–our hearts. Therefore, to trust God, we must be convinced His heart is GOOD and that He truly CARES for us. How can we know the Father’s heart?

(That’s a great question. And the answer, Ty says, is not by knowing doctrines or following rules or even seeing God’s beauty in nature. The answer to knowing God’s heart is by looking at Jesus.)

Jesus says essentially, “Let me tell you a story to try and describe for you my Father’s heart.” And then he tells the Prodigal Son parable. He says His Father is always standing on the porch waiting and looking for us who are lost or hurting. Then, when He sees us, He rushes to meet us and showers us with kisses, healing and restoring us.

Jesus represents (and therefore reveals) His Father as the One who pursues and accepts us. Even when there is infidelity or inattention on our part, God’s acceptance is always absolute, no retribution or payback is required. No one could invent a god like this–one who pursues and accepts sinners, one who becomes human and hangs out with us.

All other gods despise sinners, condemn them, and withhold blessings from them.

Not Jesus’ Father. Not our Heavenly Father.

Of course, Jesus’ death on the cross tells us more about the Father’s heart than anything else. Can you imagine the Father’s agony over His Son’s suffering and death, all so we could be in a relationship with Him? When someone dies for you, you no longer question if that person cares for you, or if you matter to them.

You can trust their heart with yours.

❤️

Heavenly Father,

No one has ever seen you, but Jesus–your one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with You, has made you known. (John 1:18)

Thank you for sending Jesus to not only be the way to You but also to show us who You are. Help me to know You more and trust You more.

Amen

 

P.S. (and book giveaway scoop):

Salt Resources

Ty Saltzgiver (above) spent over 40 years with Young Life, and he’s particularly gifted at making complex spiritual issues easy to grasp. My First Thirty Quiet Times comes with short scripture readings, thoughtful application steps, and a prayer every day. The book is designed for a new Christian, but I’ve picked up it up countless times over the years when I want straightforward answers on topics ranging from sin and forgiveness, to what to do when doubt comes, to knowing God’s will for my life.

If you’d like a free copy, post a comment here or on Instagram (@Jodie_Berndt) or Facebook (@JodieBerndtWrites) for your chance to win. Or, since the books cost just $1.99, go ahead and order one–or ten!–and share this great resource with someone you love!

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An A+ for Israel

We’ve just returned from 10 days in Israel.

(That’s me, atop Jerusalem’s walls.)

There were 32 of us on the tour–mostly from Colorado Springs, but a handful of y’all-ers represented the nation’s southeast. We connected via a mutual love of Young Life (an organization that thinks every kid, everywhere, should be able to experience the hope Jesus offers), and we were privileged to meet some of the Middle East Young Life leaders and talk with a few of the teens. And as news outlets blared reports of yet more fighting in the Gaza strip, it was nice (amazing, actually) to meet Muslims, Christians, and Jews who were getting along. And even singing, sometimes.

But we saw all other stuff, too. Lots of it. All the places, in fact, that you read about in the Bible: The Sea of Galilee. Capernaum. Caesarea. The Dead Sea (in which even Robbie, who has .2% body fat, could not sink):

And, of course, we got baptized in the Jordan. True confession? Coming from a tourist town where people get salt water taffy and tattoos “just because,” the prospect of getting dunked in a river was not something I thought would be all that special. I thought I’d feel like one more lemming in a rented white robe.

I was wrong. It was (and remember, I am not given to a lot of emotion)…really great.

Along the way, our guides ranked all the sites that we saw. “A” meant that folks are sure something happened there; the synagogue at Magdala, for instance (a chill-inducing spot on the tour, and one I wrote about on Facebook and Instagram last week), is a place where we know Jesus taught:

They awarded a “B” ranking to places that seemed likely, based on all the stuff that we know. The house in Capernaum, where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (a miracle detailed in Matthew 8:14-15) is one such place. They’ve since built a BIG church on top of the house, but it’s somewhere in or under that circle of stones.

(Not sure Geoff and Charlie would want to live with me in that small of a space, even if I did wait on them like P’s mo-in-law did.)

And “C” places were those where something probably did not take place, but it’s possible–and if it wasn’t “here,” it was someplace “like here.” The garden tomb–the one everybody visits to be sure it’s still empty–is one of these spots.

(Tour guides rate this place as a “maybe” because the stones date to Christ’s time, and because of things like the presence of an olive press in the garden, which would indicate that it belonged to someone rich. Someone like Joseph of Arimathea.)

(And, I imagine, because it’s a good place for a gift shop.)

Even though the Garden Tomb is a “C” (or a “Z,” if you believe the only ordained guy on our tour), it was one of my favorite stops. It was not peaceful (you could barely hear the Muslim afternoon call to prayer over the sound of the nearby bus depot and the varied groups of Christians from all over the world, singing praise songs in their native tongues), and yet, as our group took communion together, the spot was transformed. It became beautiful. All of a sudden, we were not in a “C” place at all. We were in the midst of a story–a love story–one where all the love in the world had been poured out for us, and all we had to do was receive.

If you go to Israel (and I highly recommend that you do), you’ll see all of this stuff. But even if you never get there, you can still experience the best part of the story. Because Jesus really does love us–still–enough to die on the cross, and his power–his resurrection power–continues to transform our lives every day.

And every time we celebrate communion (every time we remember our Lord and his love!) it’s 100% real. It’s unimpeachably true. It’s what we’d all call, in tour-guide speak,  an A+.

Notes:

I’m still processing the firehose of information we sucked down between bus rides and bathroom breaks (and there were plenty of both), and I’ll probably blog at least once or twice more about the things that we learned. If Scripture-spiced travelogues aren’t your style, please check back in May. I’m working on a printable gift for you mamas out there, and hoping to finish by Mother’s Day.

Also…for more info on Young Life in the Middle East, click here. And if you want help planning your own trip to the Holy Land, you’ve got to meet Andre and Tony, the guys behind Twins Tours. They know way more history than you do (even the American kind), but don’t worry. They are patient. And kind. And if you’re nice, they might even tell you you’re “brilliant.”

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Let there be light!

Let there be light!“We need more lights.”

That’s pretty much how Robbie opens Christmas season at our house. Every year when he crawls into the attic and pulls out the boxes, he seems disappointed with our stash. Christmas lights, I guess, are like bathing suit bottoms; they spend the off-season lying in the dark, plotting all the ways that they will not work properly when you decide that you need them again.

And so, come December, Robbie heads out to the store (Christmas lights being one of three things he likes to buy; the other two being surfer gear and Fritos).  This year, he came back with 12 boxes, all white.

“It was buy one, get one free!” he crowed.

That would have been fine, except that after three hours of wrapping pretty much every bush and branch in our yard, he came back inside, looking for his car keys.

“Don’t tell me,” I said.

“Yep. We need more lights.”

And off he went.

I, meanwhile, stared at my un-decked halls and the naked tree that Robbie had erected in the family room. It had lights, sure, but no ornaments. They were still in the attic, nestled alongside my beloved collections of santas and nativity scenes, which I keep in separate storage boxes for theological reasons. Ever since my godly mother told my daughters that there was No! Such! Thing! as Santa Claus (“Do you really want to lie to your children?”), making them instant celebrity pariahs when they carried the news into preschool the next day, I have been very sensitive to the Santa-Jesus debate. (And to anyone reading this who had children at Atlanta’s Northside Methodist Preschool in the early 1990s, can I please just apologize again?)

(Seriously. I am sorry. And believe me, I totally understand why you didn’t let my girls come play at your houses that December. I would have shunned your children, too. I shunned my own mother that year.)

Anyhow.

My decorations are still in the attic, and Christmas is just two weeks away. Robbie may be all HoHoHo, but I am just not feeling it this year. For one thing, we don’t have any kids home. For another (and this is embarrassing, but true), I am still cleaning up from the second wedding. And for a third, I think the tree hates me. It’s dropping needles faster than the dogs drop hair. And you know how I feel about that.

So there I was, staring at nothing and wondering if “My tree hates me” was a legitimate reason to seek professional counseling, when Robbie came back inside.

“I need your help to get this tree out to the dock.”

Excuse me?

I knew we’d gotten a second tree (it was a thank you gift from Young Life), but I didn’t realize “we” had decided where to put it. Robbie, though, had a plan.

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Sigh. I do love my man.

We got the thing up and then, sure enough, Robbie grabbed his car keys. “More lights?” I asked.

“Uh-huh. And…more extension cords!”

Robbie was thrilled with his handiwork. He couldn’t wait until dark. And when the sun finally set, he came into the kitchen and wrapped his arms around my waist. “Are you looking out at the tree?” he whispered.

“No, Honey. I am unloading the dishwasher.”

I suppose our holiday season would have gone on like this for the next two weeks, a couple of Christmas caricatures:  One living like Buddy the Elf, the other too tired to even think about taking anyone’s last can of Who-hash.

But then, early this morning, I got up and looked out the window.

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I couldn’t help but smile. Light just does that.

And how clever of God to bookend the Bible with light. Genesis 1:3 kicks off with the familiar “Let there be light,” and Revelation wraps up the whole story with the promise that the time is coming when we won’t need a lamp or even the sun, because the glory of the Lord will be our light and – cue Handel’s Messiah, which yes, we are going to, again – he “shall reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 22:5)

If you’re feeling a little Scroogey and you don’t have your own resident Buddy to string up some cheer, never fear. Just pin up a strand someplace (the Young Life kids who were here the other night made human Christmas trees, so I guess you could maybe try that), and plug it in. And then open your Bible.

Because God’s Word is the best light of all.

Psalm 119:105 says it is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Next week, I’m going to share a few of my favorite ways to help us get this light into our lives in 2016 (I’m all about that plan, don’t you know!), but for now, I’ll leave you with a few choice bits to chew on as you look at your tree. Because even a Grinch like me can’t help but feel her heart growing with encouraging verses like these:

The light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. (John 1:5)

How happy are those who have learned how to praise You; those who journey through life by the light of Your face. (Psalm 89:15, Voice)

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

Let there be light! (Even if it takes a few new extension cords.)

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Would You Rather Play a Family Game?

“I would rather suck an old man’s toes.”

That’s what one of our daughters said, a few years back, when we suggested she attend a Christian summer camp. We’d done the research (James Dobson and other family gurus pointed to the value of the Christian camp experience—a theory that was backed up by reality when we polled our friends’ older kids about what had mattered most in terms of strengthening their own faith), and we were planning to send her, whether she wanted to go or not.

Better parents might have been appalled by our gal’s somewhat, um, graphic response, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Robbie and I burst out laughing.

And “Would You Rather…” became an instant classic in our family.

If you’ve never played this game, the idea is to come up with two choices and have the other player (or players) choose which one they would “rather” do, have, or be. You can buy the official board game at Target, but we liked making up our own scenarios. And last year, I put some of our favorites on a few sheets of cardstock and cut them up to make game cards to give as Christmas gifts. (I also sewed little envelopes for them out of burlap, using old buttons and twine as closures, but I am a little Amish that way, and if you’d “rather” put your cards into a plain envelope or a little bag from someplace like Michael’s, that works.)

Your questions can be important, silly, or—if you have teenaged boys or a husband like mine—even a little gross. And if you’re looking for a way to inject a little “God” into your family fun, you can throw in a random Bible question or two: “Would you rather be David going up against Goliath or Daniel heading into the lions’ den?”

Need some ideas? Here are a few favorites from our list, just to get you started:

Would you rather be considered slightly annoying or generally dull?

Would you rather be caught lip-synching on The Voice or taking steroids in the Olympics?

Would you rather have peace or joy?

Would you rather always spit when you talk or always be spat upon when people talk to you?

(See what a deep and intellectual family we are?)

And of course, the classic: Would you rather suck an old mans toes or have an old man suck your toes?

If you’re looking for a way to spice up (if not elevate) the conversation around the dinner table this Thanksgiving, why not try this game?

And while you’re at it, consider putting a gift certificate for summer camp under the tree for your kids, even if you think they’d rather suck an old man’s toes. Our family loves Young Life, Kanakuk, J.H. Ranch, and Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Fatherhood (which I hope Robbie will guest blog about one day soon!).

(And just in case you are wondering, I think I would rather have an old man suck my toes. But I would feel badly about it.)

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