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Archive for April, 2012

Last week, we looked at some ways we can know God loves us. For me, learning to trust in the unwavering love of Christ has been critical to my emotional and spiritual healing and maturity. Knowing God loves me gives me the hope and confidence I need to press on through various challenges. It also helps me accept correction and repent when I make mistakes.

Some people might see God’s unwavering love as an open invitation to complacency or sin. Maybe resting in the knowledge of God’s love isn’t everyone’s key to spiritual growth. But for me, it’s been a powerful catalyst for change.

If you’ve been anything like me—sorry!—maybe you’ve also needed to wrap your head and heart around the Father’s love. Maybe you needed to know this Father will never come home drunk and belligerent. He isn’t going to blindside you with a knuckle rap upside the head or cuss you out when you can’t figure out how to fix the lawnmower. He will never, ever humiliate you in front of strangers or verbally beat you down just to see you cry. He will never tire of family responsibilities and bail on you, move to another country, and send a postcard every five years to tell you about his new wife and kid and forget what grade you’re in.

No. God is a Father unlike any you’ve ever known, good or bad. And he loves us far more than we can possibly understand.

And yet, we’ve been challenged to try to understand.

The Apostle Paul prayed this prayer:

14For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19

This prayer seems contradictory, doesn’t it? Paul asks the Father to empower us to know this love that is beyond knowing. He wants us to grasp it. Seize it with our hands. Put down roots in it. Be saturated with it.

Why is it so important to know and take hold of the immeasurable love of God?

To make us happy?

It may do that, but knowing I’m loved does far more than simply make me feel good. The assurance of God’s love gives me hope and strength. It renews, heals, and motivates. But best of all, it’s empowering.

To do what?

Anything God asks.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  John 15

What do you need power to do?

 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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The Bible overflows with professions of God’s love for his children, like this one:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  Psalm 103:8

But what if the reality of his love just isn’t jumping off the pages at you? What about those times you need to feel it? Take a deep breath and just lean on it?

Are there tangible ways God demonstrates his love to us? I’ve listed few, and if you think of more, please leave a comment and share.

Creation

I live in view of a gorgeous 11,000 ft mountain (sorry, not this one…but isn’t this gorgeous?).  I can gaze at the pristine, snow-capped peak and never tire of its majestic beauty. Autumn leaves bursting with fiery color take my breath away. I love the soothing sound of waves lapping at the shore. The sound and smell of a rushing river. The scent of Lily of the Valley and the taste of ripe peach. The power of a raging sea. Endless blue sky. Bird song. Music. Seasons. The list is endless! How much we appreciate the beauty of creation varies with each person, but I believe God created the amazing splendor and harmony around us because he desires to delight us. I sense his love for me in creation.

Relationships

Healthy relationships are a reflection of God’s love. We have the ability and need to love and be loved. The affection we share with friends and family, and the two-become-one bond of marriage are gifts from God. I believe close relationships we now enjoy are only a tiny sample of the mind-blowing, unfathomably fulfilling love we will enjoy when bask in God’s presence for eternity!

Provision

God has answered countless prayers for help with finances and other needs. In lean times, the exact amount needed for an expense we couldn’t cover has come in the mail, out of the blue. We’ve prayed about a broken appliance we couldn’t afford to fix or replace and were given an appliance by someone who didn’t even know we needed it. And his provision doesn’t stop at material needs. He’s answered prayers for physical healing, given peace, a shot of courage, patience, wisdom, the right words in a difficult situation. He provides through answered prayer, but he has also provided protection in situations when I didn’t even ask. These things build my faith in him. But they also speak to my heart of his amazing love.

Gifts

I’m amazed at how God sometimes steers little treats my way. I might be at the office feeling a little down and chilly and thinking a vanilla latte sure sounds good, then someone shows up bearing a vanilla latte. (Okay, I know God doesn’t deliver Starbucks, but I’d give him credit before chalking it up as a coincidence…) Or we’re crunched for time and searching for keys or something we need, toss up a prayer, and suddenly think of a place we hadn’t thought of, and find that thing we need. Or maybe we need a job that needs to earn x amount. We ask God for the job and add specific things we’d prefer, like reasonable distance and hours around the kids’ schedules and others factors that aren’t critical but would be really convenient, and God provides just such a job. (This happened to me.) I could make a long list of all the kind little bonus extras God has given me. Perhaps he has his reasons, like giving us a chance to give him credit (glory) to help a lost soul find him, or to remind us of his faithfulness to help our faith grow. But I think he also gives us special things sometimes just because he’s a loving father.

Personal Encounters

I promised to share this story in my last post. About 20 years ago, I was a young mom. I’d been following Christ since I was a teen, but the fact that I was still a believer twelve years later was a miracle. As a teen and new believer, I didn’t understand who I was in Christ and how God wanted to heal the broken stuff in me. Instead, survivor chick that I was, I worked really hard for several years to give myself a churchy-girl makeover. I didn’t mean to fool anyone initially, I just assumed I was supposed to look and act like the nice Christians I saw at church, and I desperately wanted to fit in. Unfortunately, ignorance, a warped self-image, and misconceptions about God turned my life into a dangerously dual existence. As the years progressed, the conflict and gap between my outer façade and my inner self grew until it all caved in, wounding people and nearly finishing off my teetering faith. But Jesus, in his mercy, opened my eyes to the destructive lies I’d been believing, brought me back to him, and helped me start fresh. Over time, he guided me in his truth and grace to unlearn all those misconceptions I had about myself and him.

But there was still so much work to be done in my troubled heart. Twelve years after becoming a Christian, I was now on a clumsy but steadier path to trusting daily in Christ. But the road was slow, and shoving down shame and reminders of failures and seeing crappy stuff still present in me were taking their toll. Wearing me down.

One night, I felt especially drained and discouraged. Empty. I’d been focused on caring for our 3 young kids and keeping the home running smooth for my hard-working husband. We’d recently moved to new town and were basically between friends and without a church family. About two a.m., I was rocking my baby girl back to sleep as my boys and husband slept nearby. Yet in that moment, emotionally empty and depressed, I felt incredibly alone.

I remember pouring out my pain to God, all the while wondering what he thought of me and the way I was feeling. I closed my eyes and whispered in the dark, “God, you’ve done so much for me and I’m grateful for everything you’ve done, but . . . I’m just really struggling here. I know you care, but do you love me? Do you even like me?” I laid my daughter on a blanket and stood alone in the dark. Vulnerable. “God, do you love me? Because I’m not feeling it, and I just need to know. Do you?” I stood there, heart totally bared and tears streaming, hating to be so vulnerable. Vaguely wondering if I looked and sounded as pathetic as I felt.

I expected nothing in the stillness of that chilly February night. But I stood there anyway, letting the tears fall. Knowing I was taking a huge risk, asking for rejection that would only deepen the emptiness. I could either cling to what little hope I could scrounge up and keep plugging away, or just give it up now and let the need in me quietly die. Like the widow who gave up her last bits of oil and flour for the visiting holy man, knowing it meant certain death because it was all she had left. I gave up, and left the next move up to him. Held my breath. Braced for silence.

In that silent moment, I felt something I still have a hard time describing adequately. It was like a warmth that poured down and around me. I felt a wave of peace and an unmistakable sense of his presence washing over me, surrounding and filling me. I can’t explain how, but it felt like love. I felt God’s love for me. Tears pouring, I knew he loved me. He cared. He answered my doubts…again. He was with me and wanted me to know.

I’ll never forget that night. I have sensed his presence and love since, but I think he knew I would later need that special “pile of river stones” to remind me I am loved when I need reminding. To refill my oil jar when hope begins to run out. Because hope is such a powerful thing.

I hope you are not scraping the bottom of the jar. If you are, I pray these thoughts will encourage you today.

We may not always “feel” God’s love, but we can be sure he loves us more than we can grasp. Whether or not we feel it, we can see his love demonstrated in our world and in our lives. Most importantly, we see his immense, unwavering love demonstrated at the Cross.

God’s life-giving word speaks volumes of his incredible love. And if we wait in the stillness and really listen, it may just jump off the page.

Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:2-5

Question: Can you share an example of a tangible way God has shown you his love?

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Jesus loves me, this I know . . . For the Bible tells me so . . .

Have you ever felt God’s love in a real, unforgettable kind of way?

Recently I threatened promised to tell how a boatlaod of perfectly aligned factors tied a knot of shame and insecurity deep inside me, and how God in his kindness and patience has unraveled them, thread by thread. And I will, eventually.

But for now, let’s just say for many years, I struggled to really know God’s unwavering, unconditional love. To know it in my heart of hearts, tangibly, beyond the pages of my Bible. To actually feel it, if that’s even possible.

Is it?

The Bible tells us countless, enormous truths about the love of God. We try to comprehend the immensity of the kind of love that would sacrifice an only beloved Son. That Jesus would live a perfect life that qualified as my substitute, then let them nail him to a cross, and give up his life. That’s enormous, incomprehensible love! That should be enough. It is enough!

But when it’s not . . .  in those moments when we need to know, to feel God’s arms around us . . .

I have a story about feeling God’s love and presence in a moment I desperately needed it.

But first, I’d like to hear from you.

Have you ever felt God’s love beyond “knowing” it in your head and heart? Have you ever experienced a moment when God’s love poured over you and left you without a doubt of his amazing, steadfast love and presence? If you have a story, please share.

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve wondered on occasion if God really loves me.

 

Remember when Jesus said take my yoke on you, for my yoke is easy and my burden light? Imagine a thick wooden yoke with slots for a pair of oxen and Jesus strapped into one side. He not only offers to help shoulder the burden, but I think he carries the bulk of the weight, gives us the “light” end. He positions the wood across his shoulders in such a way as to lighten our load. I love that picture.

 

It’s Good Friday and I’m reminded that Jesus carried another piece of wood across his shoulders for me—alone. Not a yoke, not a shared burden, but a lonely task. To bear the weight of all my sin.

 

Before I realized this week’s post lands on Good Friday, I was planning to write about why I dislike being accused and unfairly blamed. Yes, it hurts and angers me when my motives are under false suspicion or when my character is doubted. But since I’ve made mistakes and given valid reason to be doubted, I don’t have much right to get too indignant. The only person who never deserved any of the accusation, judgment or suspicion directed at him was Jesus.

 

Jesus lived a sinless life, making him the only person eligible to be an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of the world. He was the only one capable of fulfilling the righteous requirement of a holy God. If he had given into one temptation, one lustful thought, one word of gossip, one tiny white lie, he wouldn’t have qualified, and we would be without hope.

 

God made him who had no sin

to be sin for us,

so that in him we might become

the righteousness of God

 

Even if we wanted to spare Jesus the trouble and pay for our own sin by offering ourselves to die on a cross, we could never qualify as an acceptable sacrifice. We are blemished. Isn’t that a nice sounding word for what it really is? On our own, we are hopeless.

 

But because we are hopeless, God came to earth and took on the form of a man willingly. Resolutely. Jesus never wavered, not once. He suffered temptation, poverty, hardship, and sorrow just as we do, to feel our pain, to sympathize. But that wasn’t all he came to do. Jesus also came to serve, teach, heal, lead, touch, deliver, love, feed—but that also wasn’t all he came to do. Ultimately, Jesus came to qualify. He came to die.

 

Let’s look at the first “Good” Friday. (Isn’t calling that day “Good” a terrible oxymoron? Yet isn’t what he did by far the greatest good ever done for mankind?) Even as plots were forming for his betrayal and murder, Jesus spent the evening with friends, preparing them and himself for his death. Praying alone in the shadows, without the comfort of his sleeping friends, overwhelmed with sorrow, his agonized heart laid bare before God, Jesus asked to be spared, and yet yielded to his Father in loving surrender.

 

Unwavering.

 

He was betrayed, disowned, deserted by his closest friends, and then arrested. He was falsely accused, conspired against. Condemned. He was beaten, whipped, and forced to carry his own instrument of execution. He was insulted, cursed and humiliated. He was nailed to a tree and left to die a slow, excruciating death. Even those condemned beside him heaped insults on him.

 

His response? “Father, forgive them.”

 

I sometimes wonder what Jesus was asking God to do in that moment. Pardon them? Reconcile them? Perhaps he was asking God to spare them the fire-shower certain to fall for their blasphemy. Or, maybe in his final plea to God, he was thinking about me. Maybe in that moment, when Jesus said, “Father, forgive them,” Jesus was asking God to look at him instead of me, to transfer the focus of righteous wrath onto himself.

 

And then, because he who knew no sin became sin, Jesus suffered the most agonizing sorrow: separation from God. Utterly abandoned, in every way broken and alone, Jesus died.

 

He didn’t deserve any of this.

 

Yet he went willingly. Took the beatings. Answered insults with silence. Let them nail him to a tree and then stayed on that tree when he could have called down a firestorm from heaven to destroy them all and save himself. He would have been fully justified to punish his tormentors, silence the blasphemies, expose the lies, demand justice.

 

He had every right to let all hell break loose on the lot of them but he didn’t. He didn’t waver in his purpose.

 

Why?

 

In hopes to win my heart and yours. To make us whole. To give you a chance to spend eternity with a fiercely adoring God who loves you enough to go to hell and back for you.

 

This to me is the mind-blowing, breathtaking, unwavering love of God.

 

Please Lord, may I never forget.

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