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 Little Longer

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God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His word to my heart is never ending. I am getting married in just a few short weeks and with all the excitement, the endless list of to do’s, preparation and more it has been hard to keep up with so many things…as you might see my blog being one of them, but more important my time with the Lord. He is my light, the One who lifes me, strengthens me, speaks directly to my heart and often moves me to tears of joy. So, I find condemnation easily besets me when I don’t give Him my time either in worship or reading the bible, journaling, and the list of what I am not accomplishing with excellence, or just accomplishing goes on. There is a song Jenn Johnson of Bethel Music wrote back in 2004 that I came across when hunting through my worship sheet music to just sit and play something, it is called A Little Longer. I loved this song when I first heard it years ago, and I was reminded of why I love it still. As I sat frustrated with myself over all the unaccomplished things, half done things, or things I deem done without excellence, especially not giving God the undivided attention His is so worthy of…I pulled this song out and played. As I sat and my fingers embraced those keys, something of much more importance embraced my heart. The words of my heart, somewhat matching the words of the song were, “what can I do for you God, I know I am not doing enough…” and my mental, but heartfelt list of self condemnation went on. Until God, in His infinite wisdom and love, drew my attention to the actual lyrics of the song instead of the lyrics I was reciting…

What can I do for you
What can I bring to you
What kind of song would you like me to sing
I’ll dance a dance for you
I’ll pour out my love to you
What can I do for you beautiful king…
Then I hear you sing to me
You don’t have to do a thing
Just simply be with me and let those things go
It can wait another minute
Wait this moment is too sweet
Please stay here with me
And love on me a little longer
Cause I’m in love with you

Need I say more? Goodbye list of undone and to do’s…I have a date with the King of my heart.

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

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.

The Alls

Characteristics of Love Series

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8

Once, the Lord said to me that I needed to know that He loved me in the mess before He removed me from it.  That stuck with me, as most things He speaks to my heart do.  It occurred to me that He said this because we tend to have the habit in our thinking that He loves us deeply only in our “perfection.”

I have been thinking about the statement “love covers all,” and how profound that is to our human frailty and weakness.  God loves us so much that He provided for the “all” in our lives.  We need the love of God in our lives not just to cover “the alls” in our lives, but to help us love each other deeply to the cover “the alls” in other’s lives.

Recently, on an outreach to exploited women in my community I kept hearing words that spoke of their shame and I thought about how the love of Christ covers and obliterates shame.  It is love that covers, whereas shame makes us believe we need to cover ourselves…just look at Adam and Eve.  When we allow the love of Christ to touch and transform us we can then share that same love with others and be blessed to witness heaven in action.   Characteristic of love #2: it covers all

We needed a love in our lives to cover “the alls,”….enter Jesus who upstaged it ALL with His very life.  This is one girl who believes in the power of Jesus’ love and will gladly let Him cover my “alls”…will you?

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 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.

Unrestrained and often unrequited

Unrestrained Love.

To love someone unconditionally is something that changes your life.  I am not referring to a child or a family member.  To love unconditionally is to love without expecting anything in return and can be a challenge as a human being.  When we love we expect to be loved back.

While on an outreach yesterday, I had the privilege to experience unconditional love.  I was able to witness God’s furious, passionate love by reaching out to others.  Others who may have never experienced someone saying, ‘I love you’ or say that they are beautiful without expecting anything in return.  That is just like God though, He loves us no matter what, knowing full well that many will not love Him in return.  Jesus died on the cross for us knowing full well that many would not believe in His existence, let alone believe that He died because of a furious love.  It was an amazing opportunity to be a part of God’s unconditional, passionate love for people who do not even know Him.  To give them love and gifts without expecting anything in return was a perfect way to experience what it is like to love without limits, without restrictions, without hope of anything in return…true unconditional love.

Remember, Christ loves unconditionally…you and those who do not know Him.

We as human beings cannot love perfectly, but we can know and experience a perfect love, an unfailing and never ending love.  We can also, despite our imperfections, do a simple act of unconditional love (without expectations) for someone and watch the world change one heart at a time.  I know my heart is full, and I wasn’t even the recipient in this case.

**For those whom I may have offended by using God’s love and furious in the same sentence: according to dictionary.com furious also means unrestrained energy….

God is unrestrained love.