Thursday, May 26, 2016

God's Love Demonstrated Part 1

Every so often I find myself in need of revisiting the great love of our God so for the next few weeks I will be writing on the different ways God has chosen to demonstrate His love to us. So often we say we know God loves us, but our actions don't convey that we truly believe it. When trials and temptations come we often find ourselves hearing the enemies voice trying to convince us that we have been forgotten, deserted, or at the least less loved than others we know.

As a young believer, I believed God loved me only because He created me. That belief didn't translate into a passionate, radical, and personal love that a perfect Father has for His children. In my mind it was more like a love of obligation and a sense of "I will put up with you" because I have to kinda love.

One day when my first child was waking up from his first nap in his "big boy" bed, he realized he could get out of the bed by himself. I heard his little feet hit the floor and he ran down the hall and slowed just as he got to the corner and peaked around at me to see if it was okay for him to come to me. I remember my heart beating faster as I heard him running down the hall and I held my arms out for him and he smiled big and ran into them. I sensed in my spirit the Lord saying to me that that was the same love He had toward me. That mean that His attitude when I approached Him in prayer, wasn't impatience. That meant I wasn't a bother demanding His attention. That meant He felt towards me the same kind of delight I felt towards my own child. I realized at the time that I had a hard time accepting that God delighted in me. Over the years I have tried to notice all the different ways God shows us His love. Today, I want to look at one of the most significant ways God demonstrated His love towards us--that is in the person of Jesus. We know God's word says Christ demonstrated His love by dying for us, but He also demonstrated His love by living among us.

The coming of Jesus was in no way a new plan conceived at the last minute by a desperate God watching His children walk in sin. No way! For in eternity past the plan was born in the heart of God. The Creator, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Sovereign God, chose to veil His glory and leave the incomprehensible beauty of His heavenly home and grow in the dark confinement of a human womb. While His heavenly position entitled Him to be born in a palace and wrapped in purple linens, He opted to be born in the middle of a sheepfold, wrapped in swaddling clothes. He by-passed a gold inlaid cradle for a simple manger so prophetic of His mission as Jehovah's sacrificial Lamb. He chose to limit His limitless abilities and powers to show us He understands us and is a sympathetic High Priest tempted in every way we've ever been tempted, yet without sin. To put it simply, to tell us He loved us Jesus chose to become a man.  

It is hard to comprehend a love deep enough that it would motivate Christ to leave His heavenly home as a baby and become dependent upon a woman who was His creation. It is also hard to understand how He would choose to grow up in a home with half brothers and half sisters who didn't recognize Him for who He was or what He came to do. It's hard to comprehend a love so outrageous it would cause Him who spoke the universe into place to become an apprentice in His stepfather's shop. There He no longer could use His limitless creativity as His medium was hardwood and His tools were tools made by human hands. Rather than speaking things into being, He chose to be limited to the use of His human hands--hands that now became dirty, callused, and rough--just like ours. Yet, those same strong hands revealed God's tender compassion by gently reaching out and blessing the children that followed Him. They were also the same hands that restored sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and mew life to leprous flesh. They were the same hands that washed His disciples feet and healed hurts that were buried in the deepest parts of men's souls.

It is hard to understand a love so outrageous that it would motivate God to take on a human body and become vulnerable enough to experience physical  discomfort like our own--He was prone to hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. He even experienced emotional needs and found it necessary to ask three of His friends to pray for Him as He was facing His impending death. It is hard to understand a love so outrageous that it would motivate Him to set aside His own needs to meet the needs of those pressing in on Him. If they needed food, He provided it. If they needed healing, He healed them. If they needed comfort, He wiped away their tears. If they needed knowledge, He taught them through sermons, parables, and life lessons. If they needed courage, He encouraged them. If they needed rest, He took them aside to get it. If they needed freedom, He fought for it by casting out demons that vexed their souls. Even when His own emotions were raw and painful, He still ministered to others.

With the same voice He had used to speak the universe into place He comforted those who mourned. With the same voice He had used to calm the angry seas He dispelled the fears of His disciples and offered forgiveness to sinners. With the same voice that confronted the Pharisees, calling them vipers, He offered blessing to the children  and mercy to the guilty. It was the same voice He had used to comfort two sisters whose brother had just been laid to rest that turned the situation around with power and majesty, ordering the Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. It was the same voice that spoke with authority to cast out legions of demons that spoke so kindly that it healed the deepest shame of an adulterous woman.

It was His eyes that were capable of seeing everything that could penetrate the hardest of hearts. His eyes that sparkled in the early morning light as He communed with His heavenly Father also shed human tears when He saw the people were like sheep without a shepherd. It was His eyes that were the only eyes that had a right to condemn, but instead, being motivated by outrageous love, chose to use His eyes as instruments of saving grace. For as He gazed into the eyes of people broken by their sin and shame, it is obvious He conveys the heart of the living God--a heart so full of tender mercies, beating with a passions so strong and so outrageous Jesus chose to be the one to make it known by becoming a man. Oh, that we would truly begin to comprehend the outrageous love of God from which we can never be separated. It is not a high and lofty love, it is a rich deeply personal love that has that power to save, heal, and transform.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Oh, Those Refining Relationships

"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another."
Proverbs 27:17

I had the joy of spending three weeks with my granddaughter in Washington. She is delightful, smart, and very tenderhearted. She told me about a close friend whose parent's are getting divorced. I listened and asked questions, giving her a chance to verbalize the emotions she is experiencing for her friend. She, of course, was sad for reasons she explained quite well for a nine year old. I told her I was sad for the same reasons, but that I was mostly sad because I believe relationships are a tool God uses to help people become the best people they can be. I know some divorces are inevitable, but often when people give up on relationships they don't always become better people.  

I wasn't sure she understood, but later in the week she shared about a classmate who is struggling in all of her relationships. She tends to bully, starts fights, and lies to teachers to get others into trouble. She's been advised by her parents and teacher on how to handle the situation so I simply reminded her not everyone will like her and that doesn't mean she is a bad person. I encouraged her to follow the advice she had been given and asked her what she would like to do in this hard situation. Very thoughtfully she said, "I think I want to become the best Katie I can be." I was so proud she understood the connection between the difficult relationship with which she was faced and the refining process it could bring about if she practiced choosing to be true to the person she wants to be. It won't be easy, especially in the face of bullying, false accusations, and hurtful behavior and they may never become friends, but she can still grow to be the best Katie possible by how she chooses to respond.   

Our discussion left me doing a lot of reflection on God's refining process. Sometimes it comes through trials and tribulations like illnesses, financial stresses, and natural disasters, However, most often the refining takes place in relationships. The people God uses in our lives may be authority figures, acquaintances, close friends, or family members. They may be enemies--the overt ones, the subtle ones, and the passive ones. Any person God has places in our lives, no matter how brief or how long, can be used by God to sharpen us.

Some refining relationships that I have had were easy and fun relationships. They were mutually enjoyable and had minimal conflict. In most of those the people were encouraging people who spoke God's truth into my life, helping me tear down strongholds that were a result of lies I had grown to believe. They helped me identify those lies and then repeatedly spoke His truth until I could own it as my own. These relationships allowed me to experience love that was unconditional, patient, and kind which is the love God pours out on us. That experience of love broke down strongholds that kept believing I was unloved and unloveable, which has changed drastically how I live.     

Some refining relationships I have had were very hard. Some were riddled with conflict that stirred up fears I didn't want to face. These fears included the fear of anger, both mine and that of others. The fear of my anger came out of my fear of the sinful behaviors and ugly thoughts that often arise out of unresolved anger. The fear of other's anger flowed out of a desire to avoid their harsh words or actions that deeply wound. It also included the fear of being rejected, keeping me from confronting when God called me to confront and causing me not to be true to myself. It included the fear of being totally unloved and alone, which led to ugly codependent and clingy behaviors. It included the fear of having others find out how perfectly imperfect I am. These fears sometimes drove defensive behaviors, making me quick tempered. Sometimes they came out as self-protective behaviors which caused me to withdraw, closing my heart off from those who wanted to know it. Sometimes the fears silenced me, causing me to become invisible. Essentially the fears hindered my ability to love well.

Some of the hard relationships exposed my sin and I hated that. I wanted others to think well of me, and most of all I wanted to think well of myself. But some of the difficult relationships exposed unresolved anger, impatience, frustration, unbelief, and insecurities. Some of the the relationships exposed selfishness that made me care more about a slight than another person's heart. Some of the relationships exposed pride and a demanding attitude that flowed from the pride that made it hard for others to hear the needs, desires, and wants I poorly and angrily expressed.

Some of the hard relationships were difficult because others didn't know how to love any better than I did. That often drove me to do everything I could earn love that they were incapable of giving, which was exhausting and left me feeling frustrated and alone. God used those relationships to teach me to be be satisfied in Christ's perfect love and to learn to focus on demonstrating love instead of trying to get it from people who didn't have it to give. 

Many years ago I told our pastor that I could be really good and sin a lot less if I could live alone. But, with four kids under the age of five at the time, being alone wasn't possible. Luckily the wise silver haired pastor smiled and told me relationships were the tool God most often used to refine us and He would never be through refining this side of heaven. Over time it became more obvious to me that the sin residing in me wasn't caused by others, it was merely being exposed and that in itself isn't a bad thing. It is good because it is proof that God is working in me. As I began to grow in an understanding of God's love, grace, and sanctification, I became more accepting of refining relationships and my humanity. I quit wanting to run from the hard of the relationships I had.   

From those refining relationships, the ugly and judgmental thoughts about others reveal more about my heart than it does their's. I can choose to either deal with my heart and become more gracious and loving or I can stay judgmental and grow more ugly and judgmental. The defensive words that sometimes erupt from this mouth reveal old wounds that need healing or lies I believe that need to be taken captive with His truth. I can either choose to do that business or I can grow more defensive and hot-headed. The ugliness that occurs in my relationships exposes my selfishness and my lack of skills in communicating. I can either choose to deal with my selfish heart and humbly learn communication skills that help me speak in loving ways or I can choose to nurse hurt and grow angrier, more disagreeable and become a pro at demanding. 

The refining processes has taught me it isn't all about me, while at the same time is is all about me. By that I mean another person's words, behavior, and attitude is about their heart and their relationship to God, not me. However, God desires for me to care about their heart instead of personalizing their behavior. He often desires to use me to invite them back to the truth so they can know His heart. It is about me in that the emotions that surface, the words that can lie on the tip of my tongue, and the attitude writing itself on my face in response to another is mine to own. It is an opportunity to choose to be refined or not.  
Even my relationship with Jesus is a refining relationship. There were times He hasn't answered prayers my way, exposing a lack of trust on my part. There were times I was hurting and He remained silent. At first I believed I wasn't being seen or heard by Him, but learned His silences ware an invitation to keep pouring my heart out to Him until the sin, the unbelief, and the pain were drained, allowing His truth to sink deeper and my intimacy with Him to grow as my deepest heart needs were covered by His love and His grace. I've learned the only way out of the painful shame I bore was to accept both my humanity and His deity. This allowed me to walk through the heat of the shame of imperfection as He continually covers me with His blood and cools the shame with His acceptance.  

The refining God has done with me has helped my faith grow and I'm confident of my relationship with Him, of His love, of His grace, and of the goodness of His plans for my life. The refining He has done has removed toxic shame and helped me learn to walk in the truth of who He is and who He says I am because of what Christ has done on the cross. The refining has helped me come to understand that this life isn't about me getting everything I want, but about me resting in His love and learning to love well. 

Oh, those refining relationships...they can be hard. But they are the tool that God uses to whittle away at all that is not holy and all that keeps us from bearing His image. It is those refining relationships that allow His glory to shine through these cracked earthen vessels that we are to a world that desperately needs Him. 


Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!