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Posts Tagged ‘God’s love’

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Do either of these statements describe the way you see God’s love for you?

1. God loves me, but (or as long as) _______.

2. God loves me, period.

Is God’s love for us something we control by our actions or behavior? Is his love contingent on what we do or don’t do?

In the biblical parable of the Prodigal son, Jesus tells us the story of a young man who thoroughly insulted his father by asking for his inheritance or “death benefit” early and leaving home to do as he pleased—to go hog wild, so to speak. After he partied all of his inheritance away, he found himself destitute and starving. He came to his senses and realized he’d been a wretched fool and his only hope for survival was to return to his father and beg to be made a slave. But as he neared his father’s estate, his father saw him from a distance and ran to meet him, embraced and kissed him, overjoyed at his son’s return.

Was the father’s love for his son based on the condition that the son return to him? Or did he love him all along?

I wonder if some of us see God’s love as conditional, based our actions, strivings, and obedience to him. I wonder if some of us need to see that God’s love is not like human love; it is not capricious or waning like that of humans. He doesn’t give the silent treatment when insulted or hold an offense over our head. His love does not tire like a discontented mate and send him in search of someone new.

I have often despaired of ever being good or pleasing enough. I struggle with the constant challenge to do better, to be better, to try harder. Yet I fail. I am inherently flawed and prone to mistakes. I can only follow Christ and serve him with his help, and even then I fall short of my aims.

But . . . then I read the story of the prodigal son and am reminded this represents the Father heart of God. Jesus paints a very touching picture of a father’s love, and more importantly, our heavenly Father’s love. I am so moved by this story, straight from the mouth of Jesus himself, which describes the holy, righteous God of the universe as an incredibly loving father.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not moved by the fact that the son got away with reckless sin and was forgiven without question, as though I were looking for a way to justify or excuse sinfulness. I am just awed and touched by picture of the Father’s steadfast love. The father didn’t lift his chin and turn to his friends and say, “Well. At least he’s back where he belongs, that takes a load off my mind. Lucky for him he came to his senses. But he has proven himself a disappointment and won’t soon forget what he did, I can guarantee that.”

No. He celebrated his son’s return to him. Wholeheartedly, with exuberant joy. He was so moved to emotion that he ran, breaking cultural codes of propriety. He not only ran, he embraced his son and kissed him. Couldn’t contain his joy at his son’s return. Unreservedly expressed his love before his son had a chance to speak a word of remorse for his sin. Showed lavish grace and forgiveness without another word about what the son had done.

I wonder if those of us who grew up either fatherless or with dads who were unloving or abusive have a particular need to be reminded of the “Father heart” of God. I am not suggesting that we should ever forget that he is also God of the universe, the absolute holy, righteous judge. But those of us who have lived under the thumb of someone who rules by cruelty and intimidation may have a harder time understanding how so good and loving a father can be at the same time so exacting in his judgment and so thoroughly demanding of holiness. It’s simply who God is (and more than can be addressed in a blog post.)

We must do our best to keep in mind the big picture perspective of all that God is, and not pick and choose our favorite attributes. He is fierce both in his love and his holiness. His love is everlasting—to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:17) Not fear him in the same way I once feared a stepdad’s return home from work every day, but a reverence for him in all his righteousness and holiness. AND his love. Embrace the total truth of who God is and allow Him to embrace you in return.

And don’t forget: he is running to embrace you long before you’ve even arrived.

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“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”

Psalm 55:6-8

I have heard people say, “If I could just get over this health issue,” or “If only I had more money.” If only I had less stress, more help, less pain, more support, etc, etc.

 

Have you ever been there?

If only . . .

If I could just . . .

 

Between these words, I hear a cry for relief. Not only relief from difficult circumstances, but also from hopelessness. What if I become so sick or anxious or overwhelmed or so deeply in debt that I can’t function? What if my circumstances never change? What if it gets worse?

 

Thanks to our Adamic inheritance, we live in a fallen world, full of sin, disease, dysfunction, injustice, abuse, brokenness—the list is endless. You may be dealing with something that could wreak more damage than a hurricane. Whether from external circumstances or personal struggles within, the weight of constant suffering can be unbearable and make us hopeless for a way out, no end in sight. No hope for relief.

 

I am blown away by my pastor. For too many reasons to list here, but for one in particular: He suffers terrible migraines. These are horribly painful to the point of making him physically sick. He can’t think or do anything but lie still. With a family and a loaded plate of pastoral responsibilities, he doesn’t have time to be sick, and yet he somehow presses on, with the diligence of a faithful, caring shepherd. He asks God for healing and asks others to pray, and yet the headaches continue. When a migraine strikes on a Sunday, we’ve seen God answer prayer many times by giving Pastor enough strength and relief to deliver his sermon. What amazes me is that in spite of this suffering, this man is absolutely unwavering in his faith in Christ. His life is an inspiring example of steadfast confidence in and obedience to God. The fact that God has not yet healed him doesn’t stop him from serving the Lord with his whole heart, with truth and grace, every minute of every day.

 

He continues to ask God for healing. And we should keep asking God to relieve us and others of suffering. I know he can. And many times, he does. But what if immediate relief isn’t part of his plan for us right now? What if God is more interested in how we weather a storm (or an entire hurricane season) than he is in rescuing us from it?

 

The Apostle Paul talked about his “thorn in the flesh.” I think Paul came to terms with the fact that relief for him would not be coming. I also think he became grateful for the thorn, because it drove him closer Jesus.

 

How does being closer to Jesus help when we face difficult circumstances?

 

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

So I’ll never fail to bear fruit. Awesome. But what good is fruit when I’m suffering?

When we turn our lives over to Christ, his Spirit moves in and begins the work of making us more like him. God’s word and presence feed, sustain, and transform us. This transforming work is evident by such “fruit” as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Not a pretense pulled down over us like a goody-hoody, but a God-kind of gentleness and peace that springs from the place in our soul where Jesus lives and works on us. This fruit not only lets others see God in us, it reminds and assures us of his sanctifying power and love. This assurance comes from experiencing God in a way that teaches us we can trust in his goodness, his provision, and his constant faithfulness.

 

If storms feel endless and unbearable, maybe we need to stretch our roots deeper in God’s stream. When we make him our Source, nothing can destroy us. No drought, famine, wildfire, (debt, depression, cancer) can steal our love, joy and peace when we are nourished by The Stream. Yes, storms may shred our bark, and our fruit might be knocked off and crushed, but we will never wither. We will sprout new leaves and blossom again. What tremendous hope we have!

 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

Romans 8:35-39

We might be battered for a season, but God will be our strength and sustenance. If he is allowing us to go through difficulty, he will provide what we need. And he won’t let us weather a storm alone! He is a “friend who sticks closer than a brother” and will stay beside us all the way to the other side, whatever that may be. He will never leave or forsake us!

 

Sometimes, the response we get to “If only” or “If I could just” isn’t the relief we desperately want. I know, not very comforting, I’m sorry. Relief from suffering may come soon, later on, or it may not come at all—in this life. But even if we suffer the sting of some particular thorn for the rest of our lives, we won’t suffer forever. An entire earthly lifetime doesn’t even compare to forever. It may feel like eternity, but no matter how long our suffering lasts, God promises us it will not last forever. He also promises to be with us, strengthening and providing. Let’s set our hope in him, and look forward to a joyful forever yet to come, where all difficulty, sorrow, and suffering will be forgotten.

 

Paul could say this with full assurance, thorn and all.

 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing
with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Romans 8:18

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

 

Are you in a season of suffering? Can you share a time when circumstances felt too unbearable? Have you “reached your roots” into the stream of God’s provision and strength?

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Have you ever met anyone with a cold, unapproachable demeanor that made you think twice about talking to them?

You know, the If You Take One Step Closer I Will Bite You type?

curmudgeon

How do you usually respond to people like that?

I confess: I’m a fraidy cat. If someone’s expression or body language tells me they don’t want anything to do with me, I am quick to oblige and pass on by. And if for some reason I’m forced to speak to someone who’s stabbing me a hundred ways with their eyes, I’m sure I put off some kind of hunted prey fear hormone, making the encounter all the more nerve-racking.

Just once, I’d love to be that radiant soul who smiles anyway and has the nerve to clap the grump on the back and shower them with sweetness and light.

But life—and some great examples in fiction and film—have taught me that people are not always what they first appear to be. I am *learning* not to let a gruff demeanor fool me or keep me from reaching out or from caring. I didn’t say I’m finding it easy. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s so needed.

I personally have this weird soft spot for fictional curmudgeons. An example I’ll never forget is Margaret, in the novel Some Wildflower in My Heart. A woman named Birdie in the story is a beautiful example of the power of friendship. If you like the tough shell/broken heart type of story, you’ll definitely want read that one.

Speaking of tough shells, in Like a Love Song, Sue shoots off prickly vibes when she’s forced to hire Joe at her ranch for foster kids. She’s a no-nonsense gal with a tough demeanor. Joe is personally challenged to show Sue the love of God, despite her manner, and this woman doesn’t make it easy. But before long, Joe begins to see that her demeanor is only a protective shield for a deeply wounded heart.

The curmudgeon I’ve most recently fallen for is Ove from A Man Called Ove (novel & film). Have you met him? What a fascinating, heart-tugging contradiction he turns out to be! And how our feelings about him change as we get to know him. (I highly recommend this story; it will SHRED you.)

Ove 8-31-19

I’m convinced that God also has a soft spot for curmudgeons. He can see far more deeply into our neighbors than we ever can, and he’s not intimidated by a gruff demeanor. He knows the hurt, the disappointment, the loneliness. He knows what pain is being guarded by that prickly exterior. And not only is he not a fraidy cat, he’s interested in bringing a healing touch to those hurting places.

And I believe he’s interested in helping us fraidy cats muster the nerve to look beyond the “CLOSED” sign and give a lingering smile, offer a little friendship.

Let’s Talk: What other story comes to mind with a character like Sue or Ove—cold and unapproachable, but inwardly hurting and alone? Do you hesitate to approach people who seem to want to be left alone? Are you inclined to stop and speak anyway, or do you tend to pass on by? Have you ever gone out on a limb and approached someone who seemed gruff and found them to be surprisingly receptive?

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Between the Pages header

Hey, there!

I’m kicking off a new series of monthly blog posts under the heading Between the Pages. We’ll be taking a look at precious gems of Truth found in fiction and film. Each week, we’ll talk about some of the novels, characters, films, and other forms of story that have left an impression on our hearts, or have impacted our lives in some way.

Bridge-to-Haven_3001I recently read Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers. It’s a beautiful allegory, and it doesn’t take long to see how Ezekiel and his son Joshua—a carpenter—symbolize God and Jesus. How a fast-talking charmer deceives and lures the main character, Abra, away from those who love her and into a path of ruination. How quickly she becomes enslaved, and how, with every bridge she burns, she feels more and more separated from her father. How unforgivable and unlovable she believes herself to be.

It’s a powerful and painfully raw story. But life is often painful and raw. Gritty. Enslaving. And the consequences of our choices often hurt more than we ever anticipate. But to me, the most heartbreaking consequence isn’t Abra’s lost innocence or the degrading enslavement she finds herself in. It’s the assumption she is too far gone, and her bitter resolve to keep running away from God and never look back.

sad girl bridge

Have you ever believed a lie like this? Felt you’d burned too many bridges? Believed that God is fed up with your repeated failures and you might as well just give up? We see God through human eyes, and assign him human qualities, such as impatience, resentment, frustration, etc. Even the enemy of our souls, the father of lies, knows that God will not write you off, let you wander off, lost and alone.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  Luke 15:3-7

Jesus leaves the 99 and goes out in search of the one, his precious lost lamb, his beloved. He won’t force us to come home, but he will climb every hill and ford every stream and beckon to us, show us there is no place we can go that he has not already gone, no place we can hide that he is not already there.

The idea of leaving loved ones behind and believing oneself beyond redemption runs through my next book, Wings Like a Dove (Dec 2019). We’ll talk more about Anna’s story soon.

But in the meantime, let’s talk about burned bridges.

  • Have you ever burned a bridge with someone in your life? Left a trail of burned bridges? 
  • Have you ever felt you’d reached a point of no return with God or people in your life? 
  • Have you ever wanted to make amends, but didn’t know where to begin? How did you deal with it? If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
  • What advice would you give someone who feels they are truly unforgivable?
  • What stories or characters have left a lasting impression on you about the relentless love of God?

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I recently read a quietly deep, beautifully written novel called Some Wildflower In My Heart (Bethany House Publishers, 1998) by Jamie Langston Turner. The story is told by Margaret, a deeply wounded woman who has spent decades closed off to love, relationships, and especially God. She ensures distance from others by being cold and unapproachable. Yet In spite of her brusque demeanor, she finds herself the recipient of the persistently kind, friendly attentions of a woman named Birdie with an inexhaustible capacity for love.

In the real world, anyone behaving like Margaret is sure to go to their grave friendless. But because one woman’s love for Jesus flows like an underground spring and touches everyone she meets, there may be hope for Margaret.

I try to imagine myself being persistently gracious and kind to someone who continually rejects the kindness. I can’t really see it. Could you? Would anyone you know continue to show acceptance and grace to someone continually cold and unresponsive?

What’s intriguing about this story is that it is told in Margaret’s point of view. If I were only able to observe Margaret’s outward behavior, I wouldn’t be interested in her story. But her thoughts tell a very different tale. What Margaret is only telling the reader is that she was inexplicably drawn to this kind woman. And that drawing rattled her. She tells how Birdie’s gentle, persistent love eventually broke past Margaret’s cold shell and brought warmth to the painful, neglected places in her heart.

After reading about Birdie, the phrase “Love keeps no record of wrongs” keeps coming to mind. I wonder if I could be anything like her, always quick to forgive the thoughtless words or deeds of others. Why don’t I simply turn the other cheek when someone is thoughtless or unkind?

Maybe it’s an accounting mentality. We are wired to keep accounts of what others have done. This is so typically human, isn’t it?

Please tell me it’s not just me.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Would Jesus go to God and complain about me behind my back? Would he criticize me for the mistakes I make (which are…ahem…numerous)? Avoid me when he sees me coming?

No. And not because I don’t deserve it.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails . . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-13

Faith, Hope, Love.

The Bible says that without faith, it’s impossible to please God. And humans need hope in order to thrive. But according to this scripture, the greatest of all life’s needs is love. This kind of love. The selfless, unfailing, “unoffendable” kind.

Can I really love this way? I mean, is it possible?

Maybe it helps to remember that since I am in Christ, there’s no “tally sheet” or file being kept on me. God keeps no record of my sins. Because of Christ in me, when God looks at me, he sees no offense, harbors no grudges.

Perhaps likewise, because of Christ at work both in me (his life-changing power) and for me (clothing me in his righteousness), I too can look at others and forget their offenses. Hold nothing over their heads. Give them a new clean slate every day.

The love of Christ keeps no record of wrongs. With his help, we can do it. And it seems only fair, since this—the way of grace—is how God (thank you, Jesus!) deals with our offensiveness.

Just my thoughts. What are yours?

Q: Do you desire the kind of love that keeps no record of wrongs?

 

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I recently thumbed through a 10+ year old journal expecting to be entertained, if nothing else.

Good grief. IRS instructions are more riveting.

The pages were filled with tedious moping about all the things I longed to change about myself. On and on and on, like a broken record. Just skimming over that stuff now is depressing.

Journaling is healthy, of course. I’m all for it, especially when it comes to keeping track of answered prayer and God’s faithfulness—that’s important to remember. But some journaling, while good for getting gunk off your chest, is just self-centered, navel-gazing pathos (yeah, I know, it’s probably just mine). What I find sad about those years is how long I pined for change—to be a slimmer woman, a holier Christian, kinder mom, more pleasing wife, truer friend, etc. How sad that I clung to such a singular focus for so long, especially when the journals show no indication I ever arrived at the changes I so desperately sought.

At some point I quit journaling. Maybe I finally got fed up with the monotony of repeating myself and the despair of continual failure. Who has time or energy to change when you spend all your time in front of the mirror cataloguing all your flaws?

Actually, I think God finally lured me away from such a self-centered focus. I think he wanted me to stop believing lies about who I was supposed to be, and start making the most of what I have right now. Begin accepting who I am, cellulite and all. Embrace the gifts and interests and purposes God placed in me when he made me. ME, not some air-brushed, magazine cover girl.

I haven’t journaled in well over a decade now. Looking back, I can see many positive changes that have occurred over time. Quiet, lasting changes that came after I gave up trying to bully that unhappy woman into being someone else. Somewhere along the line, God gave me a truckload of patience. And grace. And a great peace in knowing that “he makes all things beautiful in its time.” (Ecc. 3:11)

Maybe it’s a Rapidly Nearing Five-O thing, but now I find the things I stressed about for so long don’t really matter all that much. What matters to me now is to live and love people today instead of putting it off. Listen more. Pray more. Care more about what Jesus thinks and less about what people think. See eternity in every moment. Live each day like a heaven-bound soul.

Q: What about you—have you ever needed to let go of some elusive longing in order to embrace life now?

 

 

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A Very Blessed Day

I’m taking my friend Beth’s advice and taking a little breather after all the buzz and revelry of the past week. But I did feel the need to give a brief recap of The Wedding.

 

I know I may sound slightly biased, but that was by far the loveliest wedding I’ve ever seen.

 

What an amazing day! It began with worship to the Lord, followed by food, friends, family, & fun.

The couple chose such a moving, perfectly fitting ceremony, and the whole evening flowed like clockwork (in spite of the passing train that caused a slight pause) reinforcing what so many of us have observed: that God is indeed in the midst of this marriage and these two joined lives.

Her dad & I are so proud of our daughter and her husband. And we are so grateful for all the many hands that helped make our day special, beautiful and so enjoyable!
*
We are very grateful to the Lord for blessing this couple’s marriage right from the start with such a lovely wedding, grateful for sons & daughters who love Jesus, and for friends & family who love us. We are so incredibly blessed!

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