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OVER THE TOPDiscover God's Extravagant Love
By Margaret Feinberg
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Margaret Feinberg
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePopping with Surprises
The love of Christ both wounds and heals, it fascinates and frightens, it kills and makes alive, it draws and repulses. There can be nothing more terrible or wonderful than to be stricken with love for Christ so deeply that the whole being goes out in a pained adoration of His person, an adoration that disturbs and disconcerts while it purges and satisfies and relaxes the deep inner heart. A. W. Tozer
One lazy Sunday afternoon, Mariam found herself with a craving for popcorn. Instead of simply heating up a bag of microwave popcorn as she had on previous weekends, Mariam decided she wanted to do it the old-fashioned way: she chose to make stovetop popcorn. She pulled a frying pan out of a kitchen cabinet, placed it on the stove, and slowly heated the vegetable oil. When the oil began to simmer, she added a small handful of kernels. She watched with delight, impatiently waiting for the kernels to pop. The pan continued to heat. She looked around the kitchen for a lid for the pan. Unable to find one, she decided she wouldn't need one.
Unfortunately, Mariam failed to take into account the name of the food she was preparing-POPcorn. After a few minutes of waiting, she watched as the kernels of corn went flying in all directions, even overflowing onto the floor. Rather than be upset at her miscalculation, she found herself laughing at the entire scene. For months to come, Mariam found popcorn, as well as unpopped kernels, all around her house. Each one was a reminder that popcorn in an open pan just can't be contained!
Mariam's story is a simple but powerful glimpse into what can happen when we take the lid off all God wants to do in our lives. Like popcorn in a heated, open pan, God is not one to be contained. He wants access to all our hearts and our entire lives, even into the crevices and areas where we may not see Him working right away. Like Mariam's popcorn kernels, God often uses the little seeds of His Word to make big changes in our lives. As those seeds grow, we find ourselves changing in unexpected ways. We find ourselves loving, giving, and serving in areas we never expected. At times, God will call us to do things we think are difficult, if not impossible; but He is with us every step of the way. Indeed, God is always popping with surprises.
1. Have you ever had a kitchen mishap like Mariam's? What happened? What was the result? 2. In what ways has God been popping into your life lately? How has He been surprising you with His presence in everyday life? 3. In the space below, describe a time when you felt God was lifting the lid off His relationship with you. What was the result?
God's love and care for us exceed our wildest imaginations. Need proof? Just consider the apostle Paul. In his early life, Paul (then named Saul) imprisoned Christians and did everything he could to destroy the early church. God stepped into Paul's life, and he was transformed forever. Paul is now known as the Apostle to the Gentiles (non-Jews). In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul prayed that the Ephesians would praise God for His awesome work as seen in His Son, Jesus Christ.
4. Read 4. Ephesians 3:14-21. What did Paul specifically pray for in this passage? Make a list of his requests in the space below. Do you ever pray these things for others? Why or why not? 5. What was Paul in awe of in 5. Ephesians 3:20? 6. In what ways have you found the things Paul described in this verse to be true in your own life? 7. Are there any ways in which you have been putting a lid on something God wants to do in your life? Explain in the space below. 8. What steps can you take to remove the lid, or limitations, you may have placed on God's work in you?
God is over the top when it comes to His love for you. His work in and through you is greater than anything you can imagine.
In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul explained how he found a way to be content in all circumstances. Reflecting on this passage, who was it that gave Paul strength? How have you found this true in your own life?
Write Philippians 4:11-13 on a series of note cards or sticky notes. Post them anywhere and everywhere around your house, workplace, and car. Use this passage as a reminder of God's infinite strength.
Chapter TwoColoring Outside the Lines
God loves you right where you are, but he doesn't want to leave you there. Max Lucado
Ann remembers the first time she encountered a state line on a road trip with her parents. She was in fifth grade and had just spent an entire semester memorizing the names of all the different states and their capitals. The test at the end of the semester was difficult and challenging, yet she managed to earn a B+.
As Ann's family drove between North Carolina (state capital: Raleigh) and Florida (state capital: Tallahassee), Ann waited with great anticipation for the moment they would cross the border into Georgia (state capital: Atlanta). As they passed the large sign that welcomed them into Georgia, Ann stared at the picture of the big, juicy peach. Suddenly, she was grateful she didn't have to memorize all the state fruits.
Ann searched the ground for a state border. After months of studying the maps of the United States, she fully expected to see hand-painted borders between the states. Confused by the scene, she asked her mom where the black lines were located. Had she missed them? Her mom tenderly explained that the "Welcome to Georgia" sign was the only physical notice of a border between the states. Ann was upset. She figured since someone placed all those lines on a map and made fifth graders memorize all the details, the least government officials could do was put the same lines on the land. In her ten-year-old mind, a map should be fully representative of the land it describes.
Looking back on the situation, Ann laughs and admits she had a lot to learn about topography. But she also says the lesson from that road trip years ago has stayed with her. She recognizes parallels in her own spiritual life. Ann says, "In my desire to know God, I have discovered lots of black, painted lines in my own life. Like the lines on maps, these lines are more a result of perception than reality. God is welcome only in some areas of my soul. I welcome Him into my gratitude and even my repentance, but I shut the door when He wants to go deeper into my doubts, fears, and innermost thoughts. I welcome Him into a Sunday morning service but quickly forget Him when I'm pumping gas on the ride home later that afternoon. It's as if I have these thin black lines drawn throughout my little world of where God is and where He's not, forgetting that He's everywhere."
Ann says that she is slowly learning to erase the lines she has drawn in her relationship with God. In the process, she is discovering that God wants an all-access pass to her life. Just as in Ann's life, God doesn't want to be held back by anything in our lives: not by fear, doubt, insecurity, pride, bitterness, or anger. He wants full access to our hearts and our lives.
1. While lines on a map are easy to see, it's much more difficult to recognize boundaries we may have put in place in our relationship with God. Can you think of any areas in which you recognize a boundary or line you've drawn in your relationship with God? If so, write it down in the heart shape below:
[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] 2. What are some of the causes of drawn lines in your relationship with God? (Examples: disappointment, frustration, etc.) 3. What is the result of drawing a line in your relationship with God? Whom do you think the line hurts more-you or God?
Unlike states, God doesn't need boundaries to tell Him where to be-He is everywhere. He is unlimited. In King David's well-known Psalm 139, he mixes praise and wisdom to describe the unending qualities of God.
4. Read Psalm 139. How would you describe the tone of this psalm?
5. What emotions are evoked as you read this passage?
There is no place so high, deep, or wide that it is beyond God's reach.
6. In the charts below, draw a line from each reference to its matching Scripture:
Job 42:2 "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." Psalm 115:3 "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted." Matthew 19:26 "For nothing is impossible with God." Luke 1:37 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.
7. Reflecting on the Scriptures in the above chart, do you think drawing lines in your relationship with God is a healthy or unhealthy way to live? Explain. 8. By removing the boundaries in your relationship with God, what can you expect to be different? Explain.
God wants us to walk in wholeness. In His love, God wants to erase every line that separates us from Him.
David knew what it felt like to have a crushed spirit. Psalm 34 is connected to a time in David's life when he was forced to fake madness to escape the courts of the Philistines (1 Samuel 21:10-15). Read Psalm 34:18. In what ways is it comforting for you to feel God near? Have there been times in your life when you have been brokenhearted and crushed in spirit and experienced God's presence? How has God's presence been a source of comfort for you?
Over the course of the next week, make some time to spend alone with God in prayer. Specifically ask God to reveal any lines you've drawn in your relationship with Him. On a piece of paper, write any revelation you sense from God's Spirit. Ask God to help you remove anything blocking you from a closer relationship with Him. Then shred the list of boundaries as a symbol of the work He is doing in your heart.
Chapter ThreeGrace Abounding
Love that goes upward is worship; love that goes outward is affection; love that stoops is grace. Donald Grey Barnhouse
When we hear the name "La Guardia," many of us think of the smaller airport in New York City. However, the airport was built by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia-also small (under 5'5")-during his term as mayor of New York City. Originally named Floyd Bennett Field, it was later renamed LaGuardia Airport. Mayor La Guardia lived a legacy. Serving during the Great Depression and World War II, he had a lot to fix in New York City. He took a hard stance against crime, supported the New Deal, and looked out for the good of the people. He is even remembered for reading the comics to children over the radio during a newspaper strike.
On a frigid night in 1935, La Guardia traveled to a neighborhood night court to serve as magistrate in one of the poorest parts of the city. One of the cases over which he presided that evening involved an elderly woman who had been charged with stealing a loaf of bread from a local vendor. The vendor wanted justice to prevail in the case of this woman who would dare to steal from him. He also wanted the community to be taught a lesson about what happens to thieves. When La Guardia asked why she stole the bread, the woman told the mayor about her life. Her son-in-law had left her daughter with two kids to care for. Her daughter was ill and her family was literally starving. Being penniless, the woman felt she had no choice; she had to take the bread for her family to survive.
After a few moments of silence, La Guardia stood up and announced to the court that the woman had to be punished. He told them he didn't have a choice; the law must be enforced. Then the mayor reached into his wallet and pulled out a ten-dollar bill-the amount of the elderly woman's fine. In addition to paying her fine, La Guardia fined everyone in the courtroom fifty cents for contributing to a town where someone would feel the need to steal to end starvation. He asked the bailiff to collect the fine, even from the vendor, and present it to the woman. Stunned, she left that night with $47.50 in her pocket.
On that unforgettable winter night, Mayor La Guardia showed grace to the elderly woman. He extended overwhelming kindness to someone who didn't necessarily deserve it. He stooped down and poured out unmerited love, asking for nothing in return. God's grace is similar. Just as La Guardia showed grace to the elderly woman, God shows grace to us. We don't deserve God's grace; we deserve the penalty for our actions. Instead, God extends His unmerited favor toward us. One of the most generous displays of God's grace is His invitation to know Jesus and accept the free gift of eternal life. It's completely undeserved, but it's just one more demonstration of the abounding grace of God in our lives.
1. What is surprising about La Guardia's response to the woman in this story? 2. How do you think the people watching in the courtroom responded to La Guardia's ruling? The vendor? The woman? 3. Have you ever been in a situation in which you experienced grace and forgiveness like the woman in the story? If so, describe. How does it make you feel to receive something you know you don't deserve?
Unlike other religions, Christianity doesn't offer a way to buy entrance into heaven. You simply cannot purchase love from God. Instead, God gives His love freely. God extends grace to each of us.
In his letter to Titus, Paul described grace. He asked Titus to remind the people of Crete about God's wonderful grace-the undeserved salvation designed for blemished humans because of God's love for us.
4. Read 4. Titus 3:4-7 below. Circle or underline the words kindness, love, mercy, and grace. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. Reflecting on Titus 3:4-7, how does it make you feel to know that God did all of this for you? On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult is it to accept the gift of His grace and love? What holds you back from fully accepting the gift of God's grace and love? Easy 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 Difficult
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote one of the clearest and best descriptions of salvation. He began Ephesians 2:1 by reminding everyone they were once "dead in [their] transgressions and sins." He went on to describe the new life available to us when we accept God's grace.
5. Read Ephesians 2:4-9 below. Circle or underline the words kindness, love, mercy, and grace. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast. 6. According to this passage, what are some of the benefits of God's gift of grace?
Not only is it important to accept God's grace through His Son, Jesus Christ, but it is also important that we extend grace to others.
7. What are some ways you can replicate and extend the grace of God in everyday life? Grace is a free gift from God that cannot be earned or purchased. Through grace, not only do we have the opportunity to enter into a relationship with God, but we are saved and empowered to do good works.
Read Ephesians 1:7-10. According to this passage, what has been lavished on each of us? We are called not only to accept God's grace, but also to live a life of grace. Toward whom can you show grace today?
Look for an opportunity to show grace to someone this week through an act of generous kindness. Give a gift. Perform an act of service. Offer a kind word. Write an encouraging note. Put your faith to work in a tangible way.
Excerpted from OVER THE TOP by Margaret Feinberg Copyright © 2010 by Margaret Feinberg. Excerpted by permission.
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