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.

The Miley Epidemic

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I cannot help but reply to the flurry of words hurled into cyberspace and social media airwaves, if you will, about Miley Cyrus’ risqué performance at the MTV VMA Awards.  I want to shout…

“WHAT DO YOU EXPECT!?!”

We live in a culture where nearly everything is hyper-sexualized.  We allow our daughters to wear shorts that should be known as denim underwear and watch music videos on MTV that are extremely sexual in nature.  We have an ever-growing problem in the United States where our daughters are being lured into sexual exploitation, while the majority of Americans decide to ignore this epidemic of sex trafficking (exempting those who are actually ignorant of this issue).

We take our daughters to places like Victoria’s Secret for their underwear…why?  Our boys are plagued with images of half naked women nearly all their lives and we have millions addicted to pornography.  We have a thriving billion dollar strip club/ and pornography industry that is visited by Christians and non alike…

So please, do not let this heartbreaking performance of a moment pass you by.  Instead of posting nasty words about Miley (all the while ignoring the married man on the stage), do something about it.  What can you do?  Stop shopping at places where they forgot to sew on the rest of the material on that skirt or pair of shorts.  Stop buying into the lie that our kids “need to experience” things in life that they have no business “experiencing” until they are in the right situation and it is a good experience.  Stop watching porn, stop visiting strip clubs and for crying out loud gain a little compassion for those trapped in it.

Talk to your kids, give them some boundaries, let them know they are made in the image of God and their bodies have great value…and not for the lust of another.

During a recent outreach to exploited women, my heart was broken to hear in their voices and experiences the hypocrites they have encountered.  These women have been visited by the very same people shouting about this Miley situation…people of faith, people in prominent positions, the average parent, and so on.  When have we become a society that embraces the devaluing of another human being?  Why are we spouting jargon from one side of our mouths and acting another way in secret?  Should we be outraged?  Yes, but we should be outraged by all of it.  Our words and our actions have weight and the world is paying attention…and more importantly, so are our children.

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.

A Garden of Truth

It amazes me how God can reveal truth to us in just about anything…well, He is God.

This is my second year gardening and I am growing to love it and this is my second year that God has revealed a truth to me through gardening lessons.

As with most gardeners who are protecting their investment, I had my battles with gardens pests (even rare ones), too much rain, too little rain, soil issues and more.  Yet I kept fighting for the harvest I wanted (yes there is a lesson in that, but we’ll save that for later.)  I was winning many of my battles, but what was curious to me was the shape my cucumbers were growing into, different shapes and sizes…still delicious, but not the “normal” looking cucumber, so I did some research as to what was wrong.

I found many different responses and reasons why cucumbers would grow like that, but the one that stuck out to me the most was, “we have become so used to what vegetables look like on the mass market that we feel there is something wrong when we home grow our own and the harvest doesn’t look like all the rest,” (my own paraphrase).

Don’t you know, that when I read that I immediately felt a tug on my heart, oh, how we human beings apply that to everything.  We have generations of people who have struggled for decades with the fact that they don’t look, act or sound like everyone else.  The magazines and other media outlets weekly and even daily portray “beauty” or “real masculinity” (for our men out there) and we fall head over heels into someone else’s version of “true self.”

What we loose, especially as Christians is that God has fashioned and formed us individually, not on an assembly line in mass production.  There are no two fingerprints alike and there is much more that shouts our individuality.

When I first started leading worship at our church I struggled with feeling the need to sound like other mainstream worship leaders.  God in His goodness and grace kindly reminded me that I was not those other women leaders, but He created me in a separate moment in time and therefore I am as He designed me to be.  That is when I began to flourish in the gifts He gave me.  Haven’t we as women also struggled with feeling beautiful and comparing ourselves to other women on a daily basis?  That is a dangerous habit to take up.

Psalm 45:11 basically says “the King is enthralled by your beauty…” and if He thinks so…isn’t that all that matters?

Beauty and even individuality is not mass marketed…it’s created, it was created the moment you were conceived in the heart of God.  So it’s time to let go of self-inflicted expectations that you are to be like everyone else or even just like the woman who passes by you in the store.  It’s time to let go of over examining our weaknesses and faults and take time to build off of our strengths (no, I didn’t say ignore weakness).  It’s time to get comfortable in your own skin and stop trying to adapt to someone else’s.  It’s time to love you the way God does.  You are an amazing person, an individual unlike any other.

Hey, there are no two tomato plants exactly alike, right?  Right.  Well, you get the point.