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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A Heart Captivated.

We have all been in a season in our lives where we are not the biggest fan of how situations are turning out, but have you ever been in a season where you are watching the amazing work of God’s love in your life and love the process?  That is current my season.  I am learning much and growing in a new way and my heart is captivated by the situation and God’s love and direction through it all.  It’s felt like a loooong time coming…but God is never late.

You see, lately I have been actively feeding on His faithfulness (Psalm 37:3)…which simply means to be rejoicing in all that God has done for me.

He pursued me in my sin and brokenness and called me holy. (Hebrews 10:10)
He pursued me when I felt ugly and called me lovely. (Psalm 45:11)
He pursued me when I rejected Him and ransomed me anyway. (Hebrews 9:15)

God’s love has pursued me (as well as it does you) and captivated my heart.  His love at work orchestrating situations (as I trust Him) has captivated my heart again and my heart sings about His faithfulness.

We all have times in our lives when we want to do anything but rejoice…but let’s remember that the Israelites 11 day journey turned into 40 years in which many didn’t even make it to the Promised Land.  Why? Because they refused to feed on God’s faithfulness, rejoice in what He had miraculously done for them, they chose instead to complain and had hearts far from Him.  Personally, I want the 11 day journey.  In fact, maybe it’s not so much about the Promised Land as it is about the journey…will we sing and hold onto hope through it or complain and let our hearts be far from God?

May you be encouraged today that God has not forgotten the promises He has made you, He has not forgotten the deep desires of your heart…for you are unforgettable.  I am a firm believer that what matters to us matters to God.  May this month be a time where your heart is captivated by what God is doing (and has done) in your life; that you see His love at work and are able to walk in joy knowing that He is sovereign and working on behalf of those who trust in Him. (Isaiah 64:4)

So go ahead and post the lyrics to Nat King Cole’s Unforgettable on your mirror and let your heart be captivated by the One who loves you…remembering all He has done and rejoicing in all He will do.

His Love Brings You into the Promised Land

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Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah (and Abraham) what He had promised. Genesis 17:21

Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.
Joshua 21:45

Are there promises from God that you have been waiting on?  Words He has spoken to your heart that you are waiting to see the fruition of?  You are not alone, just remember Abraham, Sarah, Hannah, Moses, all of Israel, heck all of the disciples too.

God promised Abraham and Sarah.  God promised Isaac and Rebekah. God promised Jacob and Rachel. God delivered His promise because He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) and as Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?”

Were there people who didn’t make it to the promise? Yes, those who didn’t trust, complained even after all God did for them…an entire generation of people.

Want to make it to your promised land?  Worship, cry out in praise, refuse to complain, and refuse to believe the lie that God’s love isn’t enough to get you there.  Refuse to believe the lie that God’s heart isn’t towards you and that He is good.  Believe that His word, His character, and His love is true.  Believe.

Psalm 26:3 says, “For I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.”

Psalm 37:3 says,

“Trust the Lord and do good.  Live in the land and feed on truth.” (NCV)

“Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.” ( NKJV)

“Trust (lean on, rely on, and be confident) in the Lord and do good; so shall you dwell in the land and feed surely on His faithfulness, and truly you shall be fed.” (Amplified)

As a practical way to feed on God’s faithfulness try doing to two things:
1)      Post His word (scripture) on post its or sheets of paper everywhere-remind yourself daily of God’s character and His heart for you.  Remember the enemy didn’t just deceive Eve into sinning, but He was able to get her to doubt God’s heart for her.
2)      Make a list of things God has done for you; you should have a lengthy list, if you don’t try re-examining.  Review that list and “feed” your heart with God’s goodness and faithfulness.

May this New Year be the year you live in your promise and in the meantime… feed on His faithfulness.  Remember, His love will get you there.  Happiest of New Years!

The Weight of Grace

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Dictionary.com defines grace in many ways, one of them being the manifestation of favor, especially by a superior.  It also defines it as elegance or beauty of form, manner, motion or action.

Lets face it, sin is ugly, it’s consequences are ugly and not exactly what we would call lovely, in reality it disgraces.  Even though that is the goal of evil, to disgrace the human heart, Jesus came and bore the weight of disgrace to bring grace.

In reaching out to women who are (or have been) sexually exploited I see one common theme…disgrace.  That is probably the one word to best describe what evil has done to them.  Yet, my heart rejoices, not because of what they have been through, but what Jesus has done and what He will do in their lives.  My heart jumps at the thought of the passion Jesus has for these women and how He longs to reveal to them that He has removed their disgrace.

Jesus bore the weight of our sin, He bore the weight of our disgrace and rendered it powerless.  In other words, what Christ did on the cross reversed the curse. Jesus returned our grace, He returned favor, and possibly most important to the heart of a woman…He returned beauty.

Not sure about you, but I quite humbly, in the presence of God, feel quite lovely.  Knowing that Jesus died bearing my disgrace so that I could live here on earth (not just in heaven) in grace.  You see, what Jesus did was not just for the hereafter, but for the here and now.  If you are living today feeling disgraced, ashamed, discouraged, unlovely or unloved – please know that there is One who sees you, sees your pain, sees the disgrace of your past, but sees you not as you see yourself.  He sees forgiven, He sees holy, He sees lovely…He sees grace because He carried the weight of it like no one else ever could.

So from now on when you look in the mirror, ask God to see yourself as He sees you…ask to see the grace.  I guarantee your heart will forever be changed.

 

*Image from Flickr

Love looks ahead.

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Characteristics of love series

When Jesus died on the cross He wasn’t looking backwards…He was looking straight ahead.  Hebrews 12:2 says, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before Him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Emphasis my own) We were and are still that joy.  He was looking ahead, He knew His purpose on that history making day, He came for us.

I find this extremely comforting when I have flesh out days and lose my temper with my kids.  I find it extremely freeing when shame or regret tries to grab ahold of me because Jesus endured the cross and the shame for the joy that was set before Him…me and you.

You see, love looks ahead.  It offers new mercies each and every day.  In fact, it says in Deuteronomy 30:15, “See! I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction,” which means that each day God sets before us life and death.  No matter what we choose He is there and the morning comes and His everlasting patience sets before us life and death again.  Now, I am not saying that when we sin there are no consequences, what I am saying is that Jesus paid for our sin…period…it is finished.  We look back, hold records of wrong against others and ourselves and wait for the axe to fall.

If we just understood who we are in Him, we would choose life more and more.  If we understood that love keeps no record of wrong (1 Corinthians 13 and Psalm 103:12) and it knows the end from the beginning we would live differently.  If we understood that God, who IS love, doesn’t love like we mere humans understand it, because His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8).

Walt Disney once said, “Keep moving forward.” Well, you can’t move forward very well if you keep looking back. Think about this: He sent His son while we were still sinners, knowing full well that not everyone would love Him in return and we get so lost in our past and at times our present.  Yet, I believe God in His infinite wisdom looks ahead.  Maybe today He wants us to know that He knows there is a better tomorrow, but today we need to know He loves us no matter what.  That is life changing.  That’s the love I want to know more.

Characteristic of love #5: it looks ahead

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.