Love is Hard.

We have all heard the phrase, “Love is a choice.” Sometimes that choice may feel easy, but lets face it there are many times when that choice feels hard. It feels easy when our children are smiling and obeying, but when the laundry and dishes are piled high, you are flat out exhausted and your children are throwing a fit because you didn’t cut the crust of their sandwich…it can get hard. It may feel easy to love when your spouse is being sweet and thoughtful, but when they are short with you, or say something thoughtless…it can get hard.

It’s not so much choosing to love, but choosing to respond in love that can be hard at times. I struggle with it, we all struggle with it. Recently, I saw this great picture of a scripture verse out of Romans 5:8. The scripture reads, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this; While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NIV) The image paraphrases the verse and says, “I loved you at your darkest.” Wow. In my darkest moment God loved and still loves me. He also calls us to love like that, except it is much harder for us to do. That is why we need His help.
As I write this, Ed Sheeran’s song “Photograph,” is playing in my mind.

Loving can hurt
Loving can hurt sometimes
But it’s the only thing that I know
When it gets hard
You know it can get hard sometimes
It is the only thing that makes us feel alive…

Loving can heal
Loving can mend your soul.

It isn’t hard to love the “lovely,” but what about the homeless man you see downtown that hasn’t bathed in a while? What about the woman who spits in your face when you tell her she is worth more than the $50 her pimp is getting for her? What about the person close to you who breaks your heart? I think about what Christ endured; the ridicule, the physical and emotional pain, the sting of death. And what for? Love. The cross wasn’t easy. Therefore love isn’t always easy. Yet, it is the most vital. It encourages, uplifts, frees, heals, restores, makes new and is desperately needed.

Remove the word “is” and you get…love hard (and with all you’ve got).

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Worry Stones

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Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

We live in an age where there is plenty to worry about. Just watch the news for a half hour and you’ll be tested. Yet, the Word of God says in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that there is nothing new under the sun. I’m pretty sure things seemed quite dire to the Israelites when they were hanging out at the edge of the Red Sea or even to David when he was hanging in the caves and wasn’t on a spelunking mission. We are not the first ones to feel like the world may be coming to an end and we won’t be the last. We are not the first ones to feel the weight of worry which is why God tells us in 1 Peter 5:7 to cast our cares upon Him because He not only cares for us, but He can handle it.

First, let’s look at that word cast. Thesaurus.com also describes cast as fling, toss aside, hurl, heave, launch, eject, thrust and the list goes on. Just replace the word cast with one of its synonyms to give the scripture a new perspective.

Heave all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you.
Fling all your anxieties upon Him because He cares for you, etc.

This gives us an amazing picture of the heart of God and the weight it bears. Jesus can handle anything we cast at Him, as my dad once said, “There is nothing that can knock God off His throne.” That includes anything that brings you angst. Just give it to Him.

I remember years ago when I saw two teenage girls come out of a new age shop on a busy city street. They carried in their hands “worry stones.” The idea is that you were supposed to put all your worries onto those stones. My heart broke and I went to them to share a story about a man who came to carry all their worries over 2000 years ago. The love of Jesus Christ that came to bear the weight of their worry and fear. A love that doesn’t have a heart of stone. Worry is just like that stone. The only useful purpose it has is to be a weight.  With worry you end up with a burden you weren’t meant to carry.

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. –Corrie Ten Boom

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? –Jesus (Matthew 6:25-27)

So…let it go, it is weighing you down.
Let it go, He carried it for you already.
Let it go, you are in His hands.
Let it go with a ferocity and remember that He cares for you.

A little R&R…

Characteristic of Love Series: It gives…and is meant to be received.

“For God so loved the world…He gave His only begotten Son…” John 3:16

My dad has this saying that always touches my heart, “The cross didn’t gain God’s love for us…it came from His love for us.”  God already loved us when He gave His all.

So often we want to deserve God’s love, which really means we want to earn it, but can we?  I say no, true love is not earned.  True love gives without expecting anything in return.  God gave His all at the cross knowing not everyone would love Him back and He did it anyway.  Jesus didn’t die just for those who would say yes…that is true love.  True love gives.

We may not be able to earn it, but we can receive it and then respond from there.  Receiving leads to response…love and giving in return (to God and to others).  This is God’s order otherwise we may just become religious robots doing our “duty” as Christians and I am pretty sure Jesus didn’t die so we would be dutiful.

We were designed to receive and then respond, otherwise we can get all out of whack.  We begin a steady decline of trying to earn God’s love; a decline that leads us away from intimacy.  We need to let God love us and from that let our works line up…give from a place of having received a love as great as this (John 15:13).

Best summed up: receive and respond…a little R&R.

Characteristic of love #4: it gives and is meant to be received.

Love is looooong.

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Characteristics of Love Series

The scripture passage in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 about the qualities and characteristics of love is probably one of the most quoted parts of the Bible, but may be the hardest to live out.  You know the one…”love is patient, love is kind, etc.”

The first part of (v.4) says, “Love is patient,” and while most versions say “patient,” some say, “Suffers long” or “long-suffering” such as the NKJV.  I don’t know about you, but at times being patient does seem like I am suffering long…so I can see why they are used interchangeably.

Dictionary.com defines long-suffering as:
adjective
1. enduring injury, trouble, or provocation (angers, irritation, instigation) long and patiently.

noun
2. long and patient endurance of injury, trouble, or provocation (angers, irritation, instigation)

Being patient sometimes means we suffer a little bit, never really anything too life-threatening or damaging to our self-worth.  I experienced a little long-suffering last night, but soon realized how it was for the benefit of another…and really wasn’t suffering compared to what someone else was going through.

A friend and I went out to eat to meet up and chat.  The restaurant we had chosen was closed and so we went down the road a ways and found another.  We sat down, ordered waters (as if you need to know that) and waited…and waited…and waited to order.  I was beginning to get a smidge perturbed that our waitress had not returned and was no where to be found.  The restaurant was not empty, but not super busy either.

It wasn’t until I realized that this woman was the only waitress (and bartender) for the whole restaurant and then I spotted her there behind the bar…crying.  “Ok, God, my food isn’t so important.”

All too often we do not see why we need to be better in the long-suffering department.  We don’t stop to think that our patience will positively affect another person.  To me long-suffering isn’t just about being patient, but caring about other people around us.  Not being door mats, but a little less self-centered.

It would have been easier to remain annoyed at that waitress and not be understanding.  It would have been easier to get up, leave and go to another restaurant instead of asking her if she was ok.  It would have been super easy to not leave a very good tip.  Yet, people need to know that someone cares, is patient and isn’t so self-centered in their moment of stress…that they are more important than burgers and sweet potato fries.

Remember, that love isn’t just “long in the tooth,” but it is also loooooong-suffering at times too.  It is also probably good to remember that God doesn’t command us to do something that He doesn’t do daily (love thy neighbor).  He is pretty patient and loving with us.

 Characteristic of love #3: it is looooong.

Never Alone

Characteristics of Love Series

There have been times in my field of work, better yet field of ministry, when I have been overwhelmed with the heartache and tragedy that people have gone through.  Times when I have just wanted to cry at what I was hearing, tragedy beyond our imaginations.  Yet, due to the goodness of God, there have been more times when I have cried at the power of His love at work in the lives of people (and even my own).

Psalm 23:6 says, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me ALL the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  (emphasis my own)

So as much as evil seems to follow people around sometimes, the love of Christ follows harder and relentlessly.  According to Psalms 23:6 we are never left without His love…never alone.  Even Romans 8:38-39 proves that the love of God never leaves us.  It is the love of God that sets people free from all sorts of bondage, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  It is the love of God that never leaves us in our dark times, pain or brokenness.  It never leaves us when others do.  His love makes the ultimate commitment and that fact overwhelms my human heart.

Has there ever been a time in your life when instead of feeling that you are never alone, you feel quite the opposite…forever alone?  Remember that the bible is a character reference for God…it describes who He is.  If God promises that He will never leave you, then you are never alone.  Characteristic of love #1 : it never leaves us alone.

a heart awaits.

Isaiah61wallpaper-1The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bing up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…Isaiah 61 (NIV)

The world around us is filled with the brokenhearted and the causes seem endless.  Divorce, homelessness, disabled veterans, post-abortive women, victims of sexual exploitation, modern day slaves, the sick, the unemployed and the list goes on.

An article by NBC News states that in 2011 the number of homeless in the United States is over 630,000 and according to the Polaris Project there is an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today and according to the APA the divorce rate in the US is about 40-50% of married couples, if this doesn’t indicate that there some broken hearts who need a dose of unconditional love I don’t know what does.*

Maybe that is you, maybe you need an unconditional embrace from your Heavenly Father whose love for you goes deeper than any ocean and is more passionate than we can imagine.  God is there and waiting.

Yet, the love isn’t for storing up.  Love is meant to give.  As the body of Christ, the world needs us.  It needs to know the greater message, not one of condemnation or shame, but the message that a love which is greater than we are is pursuing them.  A love that heals, saves and delivers.  A love that provides for every need, comforts those who mourn, is patient, never fails (because we do) and is waiting.  We need to allow God to fill us overflowing with this love and in turn go out into the world and pour it out.  God doesn’t need us, but wants to partner with us to reach the brokenhearted.

There are so many areas we can get involved in and reach out.  So, what are you waiting for?  The world awaits….better yet, a heart awaits.

Organizations who reach out to the brokenhearted:

*World Relief http://www.worldrelief.org

*Wounded Warrior Project http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org
*World Vision www.worldvision.org

*Agape International Missions www.agapewebsite.org

*Feeding America www.feedingamerica.org

*Salvation Army www.salvationarmyusa.org

Be sure to check out your local church to see what they are doing to reach out to the community!  You can also partner with For Such a Time Ministries and the work Kelly is doing in the community for the sexually exploited.

*Because I always cite a source:

1) http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/01/18/10177017-homeless-numbers-down-but-risks-rise?lite

2) polarisproject.org

3) http://www.apa.org/topics/divorce

a sufficient scandal.

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I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!  Galatians 2:21 (NIV)

I am not sure how many times I have cried out to the Lord, “If I could just encounter you face to face, like the woman who touched the hem of your garment, I would never be the same.”  There have been many times in my walk with Christ that I have been superbly agitated with my imperfection.  Why, afterall, can’t I get it right?  I “know better” because I know what the word of God says about a particular situation.  I haven’t always rejoiced in my weakness because it reveals the strength of Christ (2 Corin. 12:9)…I don’t know that I have always even fully understood that.

The law could not prevent sin, but only to point it out and when Jesus came along and began saying He was the son of God and the way to heaven was through Him…well let’s just say that was scandalous.  Jesus was speaking a shocking language, if you will, they called Him all sorts of names and eventually He was crucified.  Yet, while the human mind and weakness (and the enemy for that matter), thought it was their will He die, it was all a part of God’s plan.

Jesus died to prove something, that because of the love of God we could be free, we could live in His grace and not by the law in which we would continuously break.  (Yes, we all know grace is not an excuse to sin.)  Jesus came to make access to the Father easy…it is by faith, this was the opposite of what had been tradition, which was by works.  This can be scandalous to our human minds and wills, because we think, “I’ve got this.”  Scandalous is just another word for improper or shocking and grace can be very shocking to our human will and weakness.

The other night as I was laying in bed talking to the Lord, I was reminded of the times I had cried out, “Lord if I could just encounter you face to face, all this mess would just break away and I would never be the same.”  Then, the Lover of my soul spoke directly to my heart and said, “You need to know I love you in the mess.”  …insert a profound heartfelt sigh…

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  – Ephesians 2:4-6 (emphasis mine) NIV

We all need to know He loves us in the mess, because that is His grace being sufficient.

He’ll show up.

Recently finishing up the coordination of an amazing training called Hands that Heal left me meditating on a fact about sex trafficking and exploitation…it cannot be done without Him.  Ok, so before I alienate or peeve non-christian abolitionists, I am referring to myself.  I have no desire to do this without Christ.  He gives me what I need to hear the stories, push through the set backs and to see the “unlovely” as they really are in His eyes…lovely.

Sometimes watching endless documentaries, listening to all the stories, reviewing statistics, listening to the dollar signs add up as to the financial cost of recovery and restoration can let the winds of discouragement and hopelessness settle in.  I view the winds of discouragement that whisper, “it is too much,” “she’ll just trigger and go back,” “the problem is too large,” like that of a quiet tornado.  It sneaks up, whirls around you and leaves a path of destruction and general feeling of hopelessness.

Yet, there is a greater wind that brings a refreshing, courage to go on, restores hope, and dismisses the discouragement…it is the wind of the Holy Spirit and the presence of God.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8

I even liken the work of restoring brokenness as what Nehemiah went through when trying to restore the wall of Jerusalem.  God gave him everything he needed.  People, supplies and courage.

Nehemiah 4 says starting in verse 10…

“…Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.  Also our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.’ ”

Let’s stop and see the similarities… “there are so many obstacles to reaching and restoring these women and children, including people becoming weary and enemies all around.”

Back to Nehemiah and the answer to all of this, vs. 20

“Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there.  Our God will fight for us!”

God is the one who fights the fight.  He is the one who rescues, saves, and restores.  We are just hands, feet and mouth pieces…it is a partnership with The Healer.  The battle is won.  We must gain our direction, wisdom and strength from Him.  Evil can be too big for human hands alone, BUT because of who we are and who lives within us with can do all things through Christ.

God brings hope and love into the deep places of despair, it is who He is.  There is no place that God cannot reach, that God cannot pull people out from and there is no evil that God has not already conquered.  We must remember that God’s love never comes up short (for the victims of exploitation or for us), it always shows up and certainly never fails.  Worship and get into the presence of God for a refreshing wind…He’ll show up, He always does.

**All scripture references come from NIV

for the sake of the dance

A time always comes into our lives when we are consumed with what needs to be done, work, errands, chores, school work, grading school work (in my case) and the list goes on…it always does because a to-do list never really goes away, right?

When this happens though, the most important things tend to be forgotten or pushed to the back burner.  Here is a thought provoking questions…what happens when you leave something on the back burner and focus on those things that “need” your attention now and always “need” your attention now?  Those things on the back burner, if kept there, will eventually burn and generally it is our relationships that get placed back there.  Especially our relationship with God, seeing as He isn’t in our face daily to ask us when dinner will be ready or is requiring something of us.  Sometimes we need a reminder that relationships are the most important things in life, not to-do lists.

I know this has been me lately, event planning, work, finishing up the homeschool year with my kids, dozens and dozens of daily emails to respond to and oh by the way God… “hi and thank you for today.”

Whenever God and I become “passing ships in the night” and I don’t stop to protect my time alone with him, (which goes far beyond just spending time reading the bible and devotions) exhaustion, frustration and lonelinessImage can set in.  I am talking about sitting down and having a “date” night with the Lover of your soul.  I am talking about not just having passing conversations, but taking time to dance with God in private worship.  If you are married, have children or friends for that matter, what develops more intimacy, passing conversations or sitting down and having dinner together?  Passing conversations are a part of life and needed, but I am talking about something deeper.

I have been focusing on all that needs to be done, including the “dance” steps of my relationship with God, like reading the bible and the list can go on.  Well, tonight in worship I felt the lover of my soul speak deep into my heart and say, “you are focusing too much on the steps and not just dancing with Me.”  Just dance for the sake of the dance, stop focusing on making sure that you are carrying out the right steps.  I am pretty sure that if you are looking towards the One who gave His all just to dance with you, He won’t mind if you step on His toes ;)  Not to mention, when we are looking towards God and allowing Him to lead we naturally follow in His step.

Just enjoy the dance.

(And if you want an idea for a great family time…turn up the radio and have a dance off!)

A Full Access Pass

I was sitting down with a nice cup of coffee and decided to read Esther again.  I was stopped halfway through chapter one…at the point where King Xerxes is fuming with Vashti and is asking his advisors about what to do.  It lists the names of his advisors and then a certain little phrase caught my eye… “special access.”  Those men had special access to the king.

Of course, God took off with that beautiful phrase in my time with Him.  Esther had special access to the king, because he loved her deeply.  We have special access to the King of Kings because of His deep, passionate, unwavering, never ending, solid as a rock love for us.  We actually have a full access pass to God because of the sacrifice Jesus made for us, but do we use that pass?

It was given so we’d take advantage of it and enter in constantly- remember God desires relationship.  Yet, our fear, not our sin, our fear of our sin keeps us outside the inner court fretting about what He will say to us.  Better yet, we stand outside His throne room and try desperately to straighten ourselves out, clean ourselves off, fix anything wrong with us before we go in…and we end up in the outer hallway all our lives instead of where we belong…in His presence.

I encourage you today to bask in His presence, He loves you and your issues don’t bother Him.  Nothing is too hard for Him and as we come to a greater understanding of His love for us…those things fade away, the healing comes, and we no longer walk in anything that is less than His great plan for us. His presence has the power to do that.

Time to use the full access pass, you’ll enjoy all the benefits.