Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 8

First, I want to say I'm sorry it's taken me so long to post since part 7. My intentions were to keep on schedule and post 3 times a week. However, as you've probably experienced yourself, life took over. At this particular time, it's building a house and getting to a point where there's lots I can do (digging a trench around and waterproofing our basement.) My muscles are aching, but God has been working in me as I've been working on our house, and I wouldn't have it any other way!

During part of that time working, I reflected on this series of loving others and what my next post should focus on. Was there more to be said about loving kindly, or was it time to move on to loving without envy?

The answer is another post emphasizing kindness in love.

Very closely related to patience, kindness is much easier to talk about than to practice. I want to be kind, but I am not always.

One recent discovery for me goes back to how our minds, bodies, and spirits are related. While I've known about this relationship in how God created us for a long time, I've been experiencing it in fascinating ways recently. Due to a variety of circumstances (and honestly, just plain being at the end of my rope with how I felt), I made some major life changes in my eating habits. I've eaten "healthy" for a long time, but also ate the "fun" stuff and sometimes too much. On my pursuit of feeling better, I found out that even some considered healthy foods weren't cooperating with my body. So, I got really overwhelmed and then I determined to make some changes.

My weight still isn't consistently going in the direction I want it to (I'm giving that time), but over the last month of making major eating changes, I feel so much better!

What I'm finding as I feel better is that I'm a better person. I'm more able to put into practice the character traits of following and loving Jesus my heart desires to exibit.

So, this thought came to me: Are we able to love better, more kindly, more Christ-like when we take better care of our bodies? Click to Tweet

I believe the answer is yes. I also believe scripture shows us the importance of taking care of our bodies for this and other reasons.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit 
within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 
for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Our bodies are the vessels from which we bring God glory. Isn't that what loving others is ultimately meant to do? Bring glory to God? Shine His goodness and His love? Share His Gospel Truth with others?

Jesus said the world would know we're His disciples if we love one another. (John 13:35) We want people to know we're His disciples so we can point them to Him and the salvation that comes only through repentance and faith in Him.

We want to love other's kindly so that God will be glorified. Click to Tweet

We want to take care of our bodies so that we can love more kindly, so that God will be glorified. Click to Tweet

Do you see the connection?

When we are run down, tired, sluggish, and exhausted, we are less likely to love kindly. This is not always connected to how we physically take care of our bodies, but God has been showing me that quite often it is (especially in our culture where very little of what we eat is actually food provided by Him).

Sometimes we dig into scripture, pray more about being kind, muster up every ounce of energy we can, and then still snap. At our children. At our spouse. At the person on the other end of the line (although maybe not directly to them). At that other driver. At the grocery store cashier that isn't moving fast enough. We fail miserably at loving kindly. Not because we don't want to. Not because we aren't working on it. Not because we haven't determined in our minds and sought the Lord to empower our spirits, but because we've neglected our bodies - the temple of the Spirit of the Living God.

Now, granted, even when we renew our mind with the Word, surrender to the Spirit, and treat our temples with the greatest care, we will still fail at loving kindly all the time. This is simply because we remain in the flesh as long as we're here.

However, we will make great progress in loving more kindly, more godly, when we implant God's Word in our mind. We will also make great progress when we pray for God's Spirit to empower us. Failing to take care of our bodies will not negate our hearts desire to be more like Christ, but we won't ever be as effective at loving well without addressing all three areas.

To care for our minds, spirits, and bodies is the trifecta of surrendering to Christ and becoming more like Him - including loving more like Him: with kindness.

Taking care of our mind, spirit, and body is the trifecta of loving kindly. Click to Tweet

I hope this isn't discouraging to you, but encouraging! No matter where we are, there is always room to grow. And when we rely on God in every area of our lives, He will continally transform us to be more like Him. Loving. Kind. And so much more.

Friday, August 11, 2017

How to Love your Neighbor - Part 7

Love is kind...

As I began to reflect on this 2nd characteristic, or checklist item, on how we are to love those God puts in our path, the memories of two ladies came to mind. Both of whom seemed to emanate kindness and love. These ladies both loved the Lord and also exibited the other aspects of loving in a godly way, but one of the most descriptive words I'd use for them is kind.

As I pondered over what the difference was in these ladies, and what kind love looks like, the concept of going out of one's way for others came to mind.

Kindness is going beyond what is expected to pour good into someone else's life. Click to Tweet

Kindness is choosing to sacrifice willingly and joyfully. Click to Tweet

Kindness is giving of yourself for another's benefit without begrudging the cost. Click to Tweet

Kindness is meeting someone where they are and valuing them for who they are. Click to Tweet

Kindness is loving someone as they are with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Click to Tweet

Kindness is calm.

Kindness is gentle.

Kindness is an overflow of knowing God intimately and receiving His lovingkindness through His abundant grace and mercy.

I think of one of these kind ladies confronting me about something she disagreed with. It was in such a gentle and respectful manner that it didn't even hint at harming our relationship.

I think of the other of these kind ladies, who made calls every week to anyone who missed a Sunday at church. Everyone in our small group class felt loved.

They embodied all of the definitions of kindness listed above.

How do we become more kind? Click to Tweet

I know for me, my level of kindness to others depends on several variables. Am I spending time in the Word? Am I feeding my brain with media (TV, radio, reading, etc.) that feeds my brain with unkindness and snarkiness, or the Truth and gentleness?

Am I taking care of my body? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I eating healthy so I feel better and have more to give? Am I exercising, moving my body as God created it to move?

Am I spending time in prayer? Am I fixing my eyes on Jesus? Am I intentionally keeping an eternal mindset? Am I praising the Lord?

These are a lot of questions to ask. To look at them all at once can certainly be overwhelming. However, we don't love more kindly by trying harder. Sure, we can have some success by grinning and bearing it or talking ourselves into being kinder. But true kindness, lovingkindness, is an overflow of a healthy relationship with the One who created us.

We will never consistently love more kindly simply by trying harder. Click to Tweet

Notice anything about the questions above? They naturally separate into 3 categories - mind, body and spirit. I would certainly say that they're not in order of importance. If there's a best place to start in seeking how to love others better, whether it be in the area of kindness or another quality of biblical love, seeking God and His kingdom is always a great place to begin.

However, if we neglect any one of these areas, we won't be as kind as we could be. God created us humans as a sort of trinity. We are fearfully and wonderfully made so that there is an intrisic connection between our mind, body, and spirit. Each one affects the others and works in cohesion with the others.

So, if you looked at the list and thought these characteristics of kind love are out of your realm, you're right. In and of ourselves, it is impossible to love other people - especially difficult people - with complete kindness. But don't stop with that thought!

With God, nothing is impossible. 

He has poured out His perfect, everlasting, never-failing love on us. Because of His lovingkindness, we can love kindly. By seeking Him, seeking His strength, His joy, and His kindness. He will provide both the will and the ability for us to love with kindness.

Monday, August 7, 2017

How to Love your Neighbor - Part 6

I thought after my last post, I was done talking about loving patiently. But as happens (with
seemingly more frequency these days), God led me differently. One more post, He said.

In all transparency, I thought it'd be two. I planned on writing the new posts all last week, but because of school planning (we've officially started our new school year today) and other ups and downs of life, it didn't happen. Then, as I was praying through, I realized there weren't two more posts needed, but one.

This is the verse that prompted one more post:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.
Numbers 21:4

I've heard the story of the Israelites dozens of times. Of their grumbling and complaining. Of their lack of staying faithful to praising the Lord for His deliverance. I'm not sure, however, this verse about their impatience has stood out before. This time, it did.

The people became impatient on their way. They wanted to reach their destination. They were ready to arrive. Even millenia before our fast food, information in an instant culture, people grew impatient with the journey.

I've been learning a lot about staying patient in the journey over the last two and a half years of building a house. (You can read a little more about that here.) I want to get to the destination. I'm ready to move into my house. But my house is not ready. And God has me on a journey. He desires to work in me on this journey. For my heart to be open to His work along the way, I must be patient.

God has us on a journey and desires to work on us as we're on our way to our desired destination. Click to Tweet

This is great! But how does it relate to loving our neighbor, you might ask. I'm glad you did!

Not only do we get impatient along the way of our journey, we get impatient with others on their journey. We want them to know what we know. Have the revelation we've had. Grow up. Become self-sufficient. Be self-motivated. (I hope you want these things! These are important goals, especially for us to have for our children. Our job is to love them and teach them to love the Lord as we help guide them on their journey to becoming adults.)

While many of these goals are on target, we often get impatient on the way. We get frustrated and yell (I can't be the only one, although I'm learning a great tool to defeat this negative habit. I will definitely share in a future post.) We take over and don't let them finish a task because we can do it quicker, and right. We don't show compassion and love as they struggle to learn, grow, and become the person God created them to be.

Being patient in the journey is essential to loving our neighbor well - whether our children, another family member, coworker, or geographical neighbor. To recognize that they, like we, are on a journey and they, like we, have not arrived at our final destination. That God is working in their lives (and maybe we need to pray that they'll be open to God's work!). That the journey, and the lessons learned on the way are important.

Being patient in the journey is essential to loving our neighbor. Click to Tweet

This will help us to love our neighbor well, with patience, right where they are. Just like God loves us - right where we are, on our journey to becoming more like Him.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 5

With my voice I cry out to the Lord;
with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lordpour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.
Psalm 142:1-2

Remember I mentioned in the last post we might touch on how to love patiently again? At that time I had no idea what the next post on loving our neighbors (i.e. everyone who crosses our path) would entail. I thought I knew, but then God worked a new message in my life. Well, not really a new message. More like He reminded me of an old one.

You may have read the verses above and wondered if I included the wrong scripture. Or scratched your head at what crying out to God and pouring our complaints before Him has to do with loving better. More patiently.

However, what God has revealed to me in the last couple of days is that these two concepts are closely linked together!

What He has shown me is that when I don't cry out to Him with my complaints and troubles, I end up spilling my complaints and frustration out on those around me. In other words, I'm short-tempered and not patient with others.

It's not that I haven't been praying about situations and for patience. It's that I haven't been spilling my guts to the Lord. For some reason, I felt this would be disrespectful or complaining or whiny.

Yet, when we peruse scripture, especially the Psalms, we see God's people lamenting to Him constantly. Granted, sometimes they are simply being whiny, but that doesn't diminish that God wants all of us, all of our hearts - even the parts that are ugly.

God wants all of us, all of our hearts - even the parts that are ugly. Click to tweet

It's not like He doesn't know our every thought and feeling anyway. He already knows it all, so why not pour it all out to Him.

This is part of surrendering all of who we are to the Creator and Sovereign Lord of the universe. Handing over our doubts, frustrations, lack of understanding, questions, desires, brokenness. Laying it at His feet, lifting it up to Him in prayer, letting it go for God to do as He wills.

This crying out, lamenting, pouring out of our complaints frees us. It frees us of holding onto and carrying the burden. It frees us from axiety and worry. It frees us from continued pain and anguish. It frees us to draw closer to the Lord.

Crying out, lamenting, pouring out our complaints to God frees us to draw closer to Him and love others better. Click to tweet

It frees us to love others better. More patiently.

We no longer feel the need to cry out, lament, badger, or complain to our loved ones. This doesn't mean we don't share our thoughts, feelings, or opinions. But it allows us to do so from a place of knowing we've surrendered these things to the Lord and He is working in them.

So, as in doing anything more like Jesus, we must live more like Jesus. He constantly went to the Father in prayer. I doubt he held anything back. Neither should we.

...the Lord hears the needy... Psalm 69:33 Click to tweet

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 4

Love is patient...

Finally! The first element of godly love. How we're to love our neighbor.

This is what I thought as I began this post. My next thought was, "Oh, no! Patience!!"

I feel so inadequate to write on patient love because I fall far short of this characteristic quite often. I was once told I was the most patient person someone knew. While I appreciated the compliment and do often exhibit patience in difficult situations, there are plenty of time I get to the end of my rope - quickly.

Patience is something I've learned a great deal about in the last couple of years. For the last 28 months, my family of 6 has been living with my in-laws. In a 3 bedroom house. That's right. You got the math right: 8 people:3 bedrooms.

It has by no means been a bad situation. My in-laws love us and my children greatly. However, there are certainly challenges. A major one being that nothing has gone according to schedule with the house we're building.

It took 7 months to get the plans finished. 8 months of wrangling with the county permit office to get our building permit. Framing, which was supposed to take 6 weeks, took 4 months. Fixing some issues while doing the plumbing and electrical ourselves has taken 6 months. This has been a LONG process.

And I have learned so much! Not the least of which is God's timing is not my timing. And, it's not about what I want when I want it.

God's timing is not our timing. Will we trust Him in the waiting? Click to Tweet

This is also true in learning to love patiently. It's not about us.

Selfishness and self-seeking pleasure is rampant in our culture. It's not unique to our culture, however, or our time in history. We wouldn't read so much about dying to self and commands to love others if selfishness hadn't always ben a human problem.

To love others well, biblically, the way that Jesus loved others, we must also follow His command to die to ourselves. To our schedules. To our comfort. And often to our own (fleshly) desires.

One example in  my life I think of quickly is my desire to spend time by myself. I am one of those odd I/E people. On every personality test I've ever taken, I've come out smack dab in the middle of being introverted and extroverted. While I love people and being around them, I love equally being alone. I need it to recharge and rejuvenate.

Imagine how much alone time I get in a house of 8 people (not to mention the interactions required for every day life, building a house, and homeschooling). It doesn't happen often. Which means when I hide away in my room, I'd like at least an hour by myself uninterrupted. Which happens even less.

I've noticed recently that when my children interrupt my alone time, I don't love them patiently.

This is not the only area I fail in patient love.

When my husband doesn't do what I'd like him to be doing, I don't love him patiently

When someone makes a negative comment about something I'm doing or not doing, I don't love them patiently.

When people do or say things that are hurtful (even minor offenses), I don't love them patiently.

God has given us so many opportunities to love others! While I embrace and by His grace love others regularly, I also fall short too often.

God gives us many opportunities to love others. How can we love them patiently? Click to Tweet

The failing on my part is not keeping my focus God and priority on spending time getting full on Him. When I soak in His presence and love, I'm enabled to love like He does.

To me that's great news! I don't have to muster up patience, bite my tongue more (although, that's usually not a bad thing), or try harder to be patient. Instead, to love patiently, I simply need to seek God and His Kingdom on a daily (often hourly) basis. I also need to trust that God is always working.

This is easy to say: God is always working. However, it's much more difficult to live this way. It means we're not in charge of changing people, fixing situations, making things happen in our own timing and our own way. Again - counter to what our culture tells us.

So how do we love patiently?

We trust that God is working in others lives so we don't feel the need to fix them or nag them into doing the right things.

We let go of how things are "supposed to be" and meet people right where they are.

We recognize the importance of being present with those in front of us (or on the other end of the line, or computer).

We listen.

We pray for them.

We take a deep breath when we need to.

We let them be who God created them to be.

This list feels incomplete (there may be more on patient love coming!), but is accurate. (Think: includes, but isn't limited to.) Love is always taking action that's in the best interest of the other person. In many cases, that means taking the time to talk, listen, and do. To get out of ourselves and our comfort zones and do something that expresses love.

Love always takes action that's in the best interest of the other person. Click to Tweet

However, loving others patiently can also means not doing for them. Letting them fail. Watching them make mistakes.

It keeps coming back to not trying to fix them. That doesn't mean we don't speak life and truth to those we love. To withhold those wouldn't be loving to them at all! But what we are not to do, is try to be the Holy Spirit for them. We do not have the power to control, change, or coerce the people we love to live godly lives.

BUT! We do know the Holy Spirit. And He is the secret to loving patiently.

He is the One who is working in those we love.

He is the One who works in us to love patiently.

He is the One who fills us with everything we need: to live this life and to love our neighbor - no matter who that is - patiently.

Monday, July 24, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 3

One of the questions I have often found myself asking is:

How do people who love God and know the Bible fail so much in loving other people?

Then I look at myself. I love God. I pray. I read the Bible regularly. Even study it and commit it to memory. Yet I regularly fail in loving others.

Because I'm human. Selfish. Faulty.

This morning, another answer came to me. Could it be, at least in part, that the church has been at time (including the recent past) such as checklist culture?

It doesn't happen overtly anymore (at least on the scale it once did), but it seems to me the church adopted culture's organized, business-like tendency to keep records. I didn't grow up going to church, except when I spent the summers with my grandparents, but I remember the board at the front that kept track of the number of people present and the offering for the day. There were other categories that I don't recall. I've also heard of people talking about having checklists in Sunday school asking things about bringing their Bible, a friend, reading their Bible during the week, praying, etc. A checklist. "Did you do everything that shows you're a good Christian?"

None of these things are bad, and I believe the heart behing this kind of accountability was probably in the right place, but it was the wrong method. It checked behavior, not the heart.

Church checklists had/have good intentions, but they check behavior, not the heart. Click to tweet

Jesus cares about our behavior, but He's after our hearts. When our hearts change, our behavior will too. Not the other way around.

As I mulled over these thoughts in relation to learning to love better, I thought, "That's the problem. There's no checklist for love."

Then, I thought, "Maybe there is!"

Is there a checklist for love? Click to tweet

1 Corinthians 13 is like a love checklist. Certainly, it's not as objective as "Did you read your Bible? Did you bring a friend? Did you bring an offering?" However, according to what I read in scripture, it's a much more important checklist.

We can mark off all these "good Christian" behaviors every day of our lives and never be changed by the Holy Spirit or love others better - or in other words, live out the greatest commandments given by the Lord.

The first few verses of 1 Corinthians tell us this: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

None of our actions mean anything eternal without love. Not even the best we can put forth. Click to tweet

The checklist for what love looks like comes immediately after the verses above. These are what we're going to focus on for the next few weeks. Because they show us how to love - our neighbors, our family, our coworkers, our world.

In my last post, I promised to get to the first of these love characteristics today, but alas, once again my plan has gotten derailed. That's okay, though. God's plan is even greater!

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Next time, next post, we'll talk about how to love patiently (God-willing, by His grace and for His glory).

Friday, July 21, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 2


It's a word we hear often. It gets floated around constantly.

We love food, outfits, family, TV shows, friends, ideas, places.... The list could go on and on. In some languages there are different words to reveal different meanings of love, but in good ole' English, we just have one. Therefore, our love of fictional characters, apple pie, a sports team, our husband, children, and God get the same word. This seems wrong to me. Even though I've used the word love in each of these cases, plus many more. (Maybe we should start using those different words again, or make up our own.)

The word love also gets misused regularly. People use this word to lie and get what they want. To get ahead. To misuse someone. As an excuse to enable someone in sin. Or put blanket approval on things that are abhorant to a holy God.

"God is love and He loves everyone," is a prominent saying. While this is true, God's love is a perfect and holy love that's always for our good, even if that means disciplining us. I think, perhaps, we don't read enough of the Old Testament, of the Prophets, or maybe just not enough of Romans, to understand the full definition of God's love.

God's love is a perfect and holy love that is always for our good, even if that means disciplining us. Click to tweet

Only through continual abiding in God's Word and presence can we understand what He means when He commands us to love.

I feel like I've been going down a rabbit trail before actually getting to today's focus, but before we can talk about how to love our neighbor, it's important to understand who God says is our neighbor and what God means by love.

In the verse where God commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves (which is also found in the Old Testament), the word used is "agapao." Agapao is a social or moral love. A love not prompted by gooey feelings or mutual benefit, but a love of another person created in God's image simply because God created that person in His image. Just like He did me. Just like He did you.

God calls us to love others because He loves each one of us the same and we each have the same value to Him. Click to tweet

So how do we love others?

Our spouse...our children...our parents...our siblings...our in-laws...our church family...our geographical neighbors...our friends...strangers...homeless children on the other side of the world...homeless alcoholics in our cities...the difficult co-worker...

How do we love others - no matter whether they're in our lives for 5 minutes or 50 years - no matter whether they're easy to love or difficult?

1 Corinthians 13 is known as the love chapter, and I think has more answers on how to love than we realize. Okay, maybe it's just me. Or maybe not. As I look around me, observation tells me many others have just as many problems putting biblical love into action as I do. Thus, this series.

As much as I hoped to get to the first "way" of loving a neighbor today, I think we've covered enough. I pray that you will pray for me and with me, as I will for you, as we dive into God's Word and truly open ourselves to what He has to say about love. And surrendering our flesh and it's desires to put those words into action.

So join me again on Monday, for the next post on the first "way" God calls us to love.

(Hint: "Love is patient...")

How do we love others - no matter whether they're in our lives for 5 minutes or 50 years? Click to tweet

How do we love others - no matter whether they're easy to love or difficult? Click to tweet

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How to Love Your Neighbor - Part 1

Who's my neighbor?

Welcome to this new series on my blog! I'm so glad you're here and hope you'll take a  moment to say
"hi." This new series is simply inspired by God and some questions I believe He prompted me to ask myself. My brain is always going, and this time I'm actually getting some of these thoughts down on paper (er, computer). I hope they are a blessing to you and draw you closer to the Lord.

Who is my neighbor? And how do I love them? Click to tweet

This question - who is my neighbor - was asked by a lawyer to Jesus. He was trying to justify himself to the Lord. (Notice how this never worked? Wait. Don't we do the same? Gulp. Okay, moving on.)

The man wanted to know who he was supposed to love. He was looking to earn his way into heaven and seemed okay with the greatest commandments of loving God and loving his neighbor. But I'm guessing he felt his neighbor didn't include EVERYONE.

I've always wondered about Jesus' answer to this quesion - who is my neighbor. He tells a story about a man beaten and robbed, who ignored the injured man, and who helped him. Then Jesus asks, "Who do you think proved to be a neighbor?" (paraphrased) It seems like Jesus would have focused on the man that needed help in being the neighbor to love, but instead, he shifts the focus to the Samaritan (who would have been abhored by a Jewish person) - the person doing the loving action.

While the lawyer was trying to find out who he needed to love, Jesus pointed him to the fact that when we love, we become a neighbor. However, another thought struck me as I mulled over this lesson. The neighbor in need of love (the man beaten and robbed) was a stranger. The Samaritan "just happened" to cross paths with him. And chose to take notice of him. Chose to help him. To love him as he loved himself. To love him radically.

To love our neighbor as ourself means to love them radically. But who is our neighbor? Click to tweet

Does that mean we are to love everyone who crosses our paths? Yes.

That means we are to love our spouse - radically.

Love our children - radically.

Love our in-laws - radically.

Love our extended family - radically.

Love our actual neighbors - radically.

Love the grocery store clerk - radically.

Love our pastors - radically.

Love our coworkers - radically.

Love those we go to church with - radically.

Get the picture? I am getting it, and if I'm completely honest, it scares me. Because I know how very far short I fall of this.

I do love the people in my life, but usually in easy ways that don't really cost me anything. I'm not really good at stopping my progress, pausing my agenda, noticing the needy person on the ground and loving them radically. Loving them in a way that costs me. Costs me my comfort. Costs me my schedule. Costs me emotional investment.

I don't do this well. But the goal of this journey, of digging into this question of how to love my neighbor, is to do it better. To get my flesh under submission and surrender to God. To not only think about doing radically loving things, but to actually do them.

Now that we know that everyone who crosses our path in this life is our neighbor, next we will examine what it means to love them radically.

I hope you'll join me on this journey! I look forward to hearing what God reveals to you and works in your life as you pursue Him and living His way.

What does it look like to pursue God and live His way? Click to tweet

Thursday, July 6, 2017

God brings us to His Safety

But the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
Acts 27:43-44

I've been reading through Acts the last several months, slowly, taking only a chapter or section at a time. It's been truly amazing! What God reveals of Himself in the faithful telling of the early Jesus followers. The miracles He performed. The power He gave. The love, justice, and callings. It's been such a blessing!

I may go back and look over my notes (I've been reading with some friends and we share our thoughts and lessons God's teaching us) and share some from previous chapters, but as I sat down today to write, the last couple of verses from chapter 27 came forward.

In chapter 27, Paul is being transported to Italy as a prisoner. He's spent somewhere between 2-3 years in prison already, and now he's making a treacherous trip via ship. We can only imagine the discomforts of traveling on a cargo ship with almost 300 people 2000 years ago. For weeks. In a storm for days.

I'm sure the passengers and crew were weary. Tired. Scared. And ready to give up.

We don't have to experience those exact conditions to feel the same way. There are a variety of life circumstances that bring us to the end of our rope. During these times, it's hard to remember that God is still sovereign and He is still with us.

Like Paul did.

During the whole retelling of this journey by Luke (which seems to be a firsthand account, since much of it is written using "we") it never seems that Paul loses his cool. He doesn't seem frightened at all. Actually, he seems full of confidence. There is only one place this kind of confidence comes from - from a most intimate relationship with the Lord.

By truly living in a way in which every single detail of your life is surrendered to the Lord, as I believe Paul did.

We can too. Because living surrendered means we trust that God will bring us safely to shore. That He'll sustain us through the storm. That our life is really His, not ours.

Paul had this calmness even though he faced possible death once he reached his destination. This is because he knew He belonged to God and owed God his very life. God provided temporary safety for the boat passengers and crew after the ship ran aground, and He will do the same for us.

But the most important safety God brings us to is eternal safety. If we can keep our eyes fixed on that, we will experience the same peace Paul did despite any storm that comes our way.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Religion or Relationship?

Jesus never called us to be good people. When we attempt to live a life good enough to be worthy of the calling of Jesus (or, more detrimental, when we attempt to be good enough to earn our salvation) we are like the rich young man who was so close, but missed eternal life because he thought it depended on his actions.

We are also telling Jesus that He is not enough. His living a perfect life is not enough. His sacrificial death on the cross taking the full punishment for our sins is not enough. His resurrection revealing the power and glory of God is not enough. His free offering of grace, mercy, and forgiveness is not enough. His fulfilled promise of indwelling us with the very Spirit of the Lord, Creator, and Sustainer of the universe is not enough.

It sounds good to say that we are good. That we follow the rules. However, this causes some major problems (other than the main problem of essentially slapping Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the face).

One of those problems is rebellion. Remember, some people embrace rules. Others fight them with every ounce of energy they have. They rebel, run, and live reckless lives because rules are not enough. The church trying to be perceived as good and reigning down judgment on those perceived as bad have kept many, many people away from the kingdom.

Another problem that’s created is an atmosphere of “how much can I get away with.” When rules are clear and people believe they just have to follow the rules, there are going to be many who want to know how far they can go and still stay within the technicalities of the rule. They will push boundaries and limits just far enough to still be “good.” This mentality is dangerous because if something isn’t found on the list of rules, it must be okay. Or it’ll be okay until someone decides otherwise and I’ll still be “good” because I didn’t break a “rule.”

I’m reminded of when a certain artificial sweetener was released. This is the mentality I had. It was a great replacement for those other artificial sweeteners that studies had shown could have adverse effects. I’d use it until they found something wrong with it. And they eventually did. I’ll never know how much damage I did to my body by ingesting that substance for a period of years in ignorance.

A rules oriented way of thinking lead to the same problem. We will still be looking out for our own interests and changing our actions only, not our hearts.

So, if God’s desire isn’t for us to be good, as we’ve seen in scripture and other examples, then what does He want from us?

The answer is much, much more difficult than a black and white list of do’s and don’t.

What God wants is for us to be totally and completely surrender our very life and every aspect of it.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Lord is Trustworthy - A Prayer

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
Proverbs 3:5-7

Thank You for being trustworthy. I praise You and lift up Your holy name to be honored and glorified throughout the earth. Thank You for being a loving guide. Your love, wisdom, grace, and mercy go beyond my comprehension. Your faithfulness abounds. Your shelter and protection never fail. Let me never forget who You are. Continue to teach me more about You. Forgive me when I allow other things to pull my gaze off of You and distract me from the details of Your plan for my life. Help me to not trust in or act based on my own understanding. Forgive me when I don't acknowledge You. You alone are worthy of all praise! Give me the strength to turn away from all evil. Let it not get as much as a toe-hold in my life. Let me not compromise or be complacent. Help me to be committed to the things You've called me to do and love well those You place in my life. Let every day of my life be filled with service and love.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Closer Walk

Do you ever feel like there's something holding you back from a closer walk with the Lord? I think everyone I know on the journey of faith has felt a barrier at some point. I most certainly have.

As I've moved along my journey, I've seen a variety of things inhibit digging deeper in my faith, growing more mature, and becoming more intimate with Jesus. One of those things is our very own sin. Another can be life challenges. Ignorance of Biblical truth is yet another. And one that I've noticed more and more is deceptions:

* About what the Bible actually says
* About who God really is
* About our standing without faith
* About what faith adds to our lives
* About how our relationship with God is to impact our lives

When we're talking about eternity, these things are essential. Yet, even those of us who have entered into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus can also be deceived and robbed of an authentic, vibrant, abundant life here on earth. We can also miss the great blessing of sharing the gospel with and seeing others come to faith.

This particular adventure and endeavor is to tackle many of the myths that Christians have integrated into our thinking. These myths negatively affect our faith walk and by busting them, we will also bust down barriers to drawing deeper in our relationship with the Lord.

A bit scary, but better than the best roller coaster or vacation in the world, it will lead to peace, joy, and transformation that will outshine the sun.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

God and Your Journey

One thing that I absolutely love about social media is the opportunities to access encouragement throughout the day. I know it depends on who your friends are, but I have very strategically placed almost all positive people in my social media sphere. And it benefits me greatly!

However, once in a while I come across a saying or platitude that's meant to encourage but in reality drives me crazy. This is usually because it's not grounded in biblical truth. It may sound good, make us feel good, but if it isn't based on scripture (accurately), it's worthless and may even be damaging.

I came across one of these sayings today. Someone posted something to the effect of: "Don't forget, God is with you on your journey."

This sounds so encouraging! But it fosters a wedge between us and God. It is based on the premise that the journey is ours and God's just hanging out, along for the ride. Yet that's not His greatest desire for us. Or what's best for us.

His best for us is for us to be completely and totally surrendered to His will. He wants to be the guide on our journey, not the passenger. And wouldn't we want the all-knowing, perfectly-loving, ever-faithful Lord to lay out our steps for us? 

So, yes, God is with you! But not for your journey. He is with you to lead you into a life beyond what you could imagine or steer yourself into on your own.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Is God Enough?

Have you ever asked the question: "Is God enough?"
My first reaction to this question is: "Of course He is!"
However, every time I choose my own way instead of surrendering to His way, my actions show that I'm not really sure God's enough.

     * Is He really enough to carry my pain?
     * Is He really enough to change my loved ones?
     * Is He really enough to be in charge of how I spend every minute of every day?
     * Is He really enough to lead me right every time, all the time?
     * Does He love enough?
     * Is He good enough?

The resounding answer is YES! Of course He is!!
So why is it so hard to surrender to Him?

Oh, if only I had an easy answer. But after focusing on surrendering to God for years now, I have found out that it is much more complex than I ever thought. I've also discovered that the more I desire to surrender, the more my selfish, self-centered, self-gratification-seeking flesh fights it. I have fed my flesh too regularly and that's why it rears its ugly head.

I'm reminded of Paul's lament about his struggle with the war between the flesh and the Spirit:

And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. ~Romans 7:19-21

I'm relieved that I am not alone. The struggle (the most intense, impactful) is real. God knows. And He has provided a way out. The way is to know Him, rely on Him, trust Him, and obey Him.
I know I'll never do any of these perfectly, but God has provided a way to release me from the trap of sin through His Son Jesus (Romans 7:24).
I am free to surrender to Him. Or I can stay trapped in the slavery of sin, even though He's given me the key to let myself out.
So today my prayer is that I will get it from my head to my spirit that God is enough. 
For everything.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dear Broken Heart

Dear Broken Heart,

You were once untouched. Unblemished. Pure, like the snow-white lamb with her super soft wool and silky bow. But you, like her, refused to remain on a shelf to watch life pass you by. To be an observer only. If you had, you'd have stayed pure. Unblemished. 
Untouched. Untouched by life. By laughter. By love.

Instead, you were dragged along the adventure of life. Dragged through play dates and arguments. Outside in the sunshine and rain. Cuddled with at night and rubbed thin. Wrapped around a finger too tightly and forever changed to get loose.

You were washed, like the little lamb. She with soap and water, you with blood of The Lamb. But never to be pure again. Unblemished. Untouched. Not here, anyhow.

You, like her, are no less loved, however. With your smudges  and bruises. With your stitches and scars. With your tattered threads and cracks. 

You are just as loved. More so, even.

You were loved enough not to be placed on a shelf, for without being dragged through life, you'd have missed out on all the good. The laughter. The excitement. The joy. You were loved enough to be bought, cherished, brought along on the journey of life.

So, Dear Broken Heart, don't hold on to the injuries. The hurts. The "imperfections." Instead, cling to the Healer. The Father. The Lover. For He has been with you every step of the way, holding you tenderly, even more so than those little growing hands which loved, caressed, and brought along that little lamb.

He is the Lamb who loves with a perfect love. An everlasting love. Aimed right at you. Bruises, scars, cracks, and all.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36:7

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Perfect Day

Several years ago I read the book The Cure for the "Perfect" Life. There's a huge amount of information in it! I found it so very relevant to me and my life. Some lessons I already had learned and put into practice. Some lessons I'd learned previously and needed a reminder of. Some new lessons that are a nudge to deeper greater growth. 

Here's a reposting of how God used it in my life:

It's rich beyond many books I've read. And practical. It doesn't give you a bunch of information and leave you wondering what to do with it. It gives you lots of ideas to implement and steps to take to both bless your journey and grow deeper in your relationship with the Lord.

I highly recommend it.

I'd also like to share just a sampling of how God's used it with me this morning. My book has been sitting on the shelf for a week or more, unfinished. I had a few things to take care of (writing deadlines, laundry, procrastination...). Last night I decided to finish those last three chapters. And I did. (Yay!) In one of them, Cheri or Kathi included a quote from a devotion in Sarah Young's Jesus Calling. This morning I got up and as part of my quiet time read today's devotion (something I do regularly, but not every day). Imagine my surprise when I read the exact devotion quoted in the chapter I read just last night! And with that, God reminded me that: 
His timing is always perfect and He is in all the details

Once again, He reinforced what I already know: my job is to trust in, rely on, cling to, and obey Him. If I simply seek His face and follow His guidance, He will lead me perfectly. I don't have to be perfect. There's a lot going on in my world at the moment that's up in the air (waiting for a lot of answers that will come in the next week and month that could change SO much in my life!), but today, all I have to do is rest in His love and let that overflow in my obedience. 

Praising Him that today I don't have to stress about a single thing. I do have work to do, but He will strengthen me for everything He's called me to do. What a great way to start the day. Now to start every day from here on out like this...