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A Conversation about love

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Me: You tell us to love one another and I was wondering if this is an all-around, across-the-board type of love. ‘Cause I have to tell you, I’ve run across some folks that are just plain unlovable. I hate to say that, but it’s the truth.

love 1

God: A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

Me: Yes, I’ve heard you say that, but I’ve been having some trouble. You see, there’s some people out there who just drive me crazy. I don’t agree with them but they keep on talking to me. I try to talk and they don’t listen to me. And some of them, well, they’re just plain mean. So, I was hoping that maybe you had some exceptions to the rule that would help me out.

loveGod: (I think I heard Him let out a mournful, soft sigh) Love one another deeply (1 Peter 1:22b).

Me: You’re not gonna make this easy, are you? Look, I’ve been trying but, lately, it’s been so hard.

God: (He leans down close to me, His voice is gentle, not condemning) But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even “sinners” lend to “sinners” expecting to be paid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

Me: (in a very small voice) You mean like to way You have been kind to me, even when I love3don’t appreciate it, even though I can’t possibly pay you back? (even smaller voice) I don’t think I can.

God: Remember the words that I gave to my servant Paul: “Now about brotherly love, we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). I have already shown you how to love. As I explained it to John, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us….since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:10-11).

Me: (my voice barely above a whisper) Could you go over it again?

love 5God: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1b). Do everything in love (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Me: (I can’t look up, I slump down at His feet) That’s a tall order, God.

God: My child, you are already rooted and established in love (Ephesians 3:17), so live a life of love (Ephesians 5:2) by serving one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

Me: (I dare to glance upwards) I love you, Lord. I will try.

God: My love is already within you, along with joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).

Me: Will you help me?

Matthew verse

God: And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age

Me: Amen

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Dancing in the Waves

beach-2A storm had blown up the coast a few days before and the ocean was still reeling from the power of that wind. The surf was rough and the waves could knock a grown man down. From my sand chair, I watched a little girl of about 5 or 6 as she jumped in delight as the water came close to her toes. Her mom was keeping a close watch on her as she danced at the water’s edge. She reminded me of the sandpipers who scratch about as the tail end of a wave thins out on the sand. They follow the wave as it retreats. Then, just as the water p1020687regroups and slams another wave upon the sand, the little birds scatter before the water only to follow the waves retreat in an endless cycle. I find myself chasing down memories of my own children playing in the surf. I can reach back even further to my own childhood spent on a New Jersey beach. It was a little game of “You Can’t Catch Me!” that we played with the waves, running in just enough to get our toes wet and then scampering back to the safety of dry sand. What we really wanted was to ride those waves but we were too small to risk it, especially if the waves were rougher than normal. So this little girl flung her arms above her head and spun her feet into the sand and jumped high just as the edge of the wave crept close.

beachAs we get older and learn the art of keeping our balance and diving through the waves, we forget about that childhood dance that had kept us entertained for hours. But I was watching this child and remembering how it felt, a curious thought struck me. We still love to tempt fate. We still get a thrill out of leaning into risky behavior just enough to get our feet wet and pull out just in time. Why else would we gather round to watch a schoolyard fight before stepping in to stop it? Even something as innocent as window shopping takes us dangerously close to coveting. Most of us consider speed limits to be suggestions rather than a law and have no trouble driving just fast enough to still be under the radar.

Why, O Lord, do you put up with us? Why do you continue to love us when we are so reckless? You offer shelter and we turn our back, wanting to feel the exhilaration of the storm right up to the moment that the lighting gets too close and we are forced to run for cover. And still you will hold your arms out to gather your wayward children in. As we dance before the waves, You love us. As we grow into other, more dangerous thrills, You still love us. You provided us with questioning minds that always wonder, “What if I do that? What would happen?” And in this way scientists have invented, artists have dreamed and explorers have crashed forth into adventures that expanded the boundaries of our knowledge. Guide us, O Lord, as we continue to dance at the water’s edge and never let a wave go by unchallenged.

Dance on, little one! Your time will come.

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Small things done with great love

images (4Our neighborhood supermarket closed a few months ago and I had to find a new one. There is a great market one town over but it is very busy and always crowded. I’ve had to make some adjustments, which is never easy but it seems to be working. One thing that I struggle with at this new store is probably the most trivial, yet I drives me crazy. They lock up their shopping carts and you need a quarter to unlock it. All the carts have a chain with a lock on them that inserts into the next cart in the line to keep them together, but a quarter inserted into the slot will unchain one. When you are through shopping, you return the cart and as you lock it to the other carts, your quarter is released. I like the concept. It keeps the parking lot free of stray carts. My problem is remembering to take a quarter with me. I keep a few spare coins in the cup holder of the car just for this purpose but it doesn’t help me if I always have to return to my car to retrieve the quarter that I so consistently forget.

Yesterday, as I went to insert my quarter, I saw that someone had left their quarter and not locked the cart. I’ve seen this before, some kind soul who understands the frustration of not having change on hand had left the coin to make someone’s day a bit easier. I resolved to leave the quarter in place and so pass on the act of kindness to the next person so they don’t have to fumble in their bag or reach into empty pockets in search of elusive quarters.

I felt good as I left my unlocked cart, passing on the caring gesture to the next shopper. I returned to my car and saw the spare change sitting in the cup holder and suddenly realized what an empty gesture that stupid quarter really was. It didn’t cost me anything. That 25 cents wasn’t going to break the bank. I had no right to be so pleased with myself for doing something so trivial.

And then I remembered a quote from Mother Teresa:

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or perhaps this quote that I read:

“There are no great things, only small things done with great love.”

Think of all the little unimportant things that you can do each day to brighten another one’s life. Saying “Thank You”, holding a door open or sharing a simple smile. images (5)We may not get an opportunity to make dramatic difference in someone else’s life every day but we if we keep our eyes open we will find a hundred little “nothing” things that we can do each day to lighten someone’s load.images (6)

Lord, I ask you to help me to see the needs that are all around me. Give me the courage to reach out and help even if it may cost me dearly. But help me also to see the value of the little things. Help me to see the beauty of that particular shade of green that you chose for the grass outside my window right now. Show me how to be grateful for all you give me, including that soft heart that caused someone to leave a quarter in the cart lock so I didn’t have to trudge back to my car for change. Help me to see the beauty in all the “small things done with great love” that have been done for me. And help me to do the same for others every day.   Amen


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a Faith that moves mountains

 

 

mullins faith quote

Every time that I read a quote from the late Rich Mullins, I think to myself, “That is sooo good, he really nailed it with that one.” But this is probably my favorite one. It speaks of faith, just faith.

“If faith is all we have, then maybe faith is all we need.”

 (from Wounds of Love by Rich Mullins)

 

I’ve seen God move incredible mountains in my life. Sometimes I thought those mountains weren’t going to move. I had cowered in their shadow for so long, that I figured they were just part of the backdrop of my life. But God does move the mountains when we come to him with nothing but faith and empty hands that don’t need to hold onto anything because they are stretched out in faithful prayer.

Those same hands have held onto a lot of anger over the years. I was mad at things that had happened, words that had been said to me and words that I had said to others. I was mad at circumstances that had formed boundaries around my thoughts. I was mad at God for the things that He had allowed to happen to me. When I began to seriously follow Christ, the hardest lesson for me was the one on forgiveness. I have long since stopped working on that one and now try to rely on prayer.

I have nothing but a simple faith that if this is something that God says I need to do, then He will enable me to do it. What I have found is that when push came to shove and I needed to act in a forgiving manner, I was stunned to realize that it wasn’t just an “act” anymore. I was no longer holding that anger that had taken over so much of every waking hour. It just wasn’t there any longer. It had been wiped away, as far away as the east is from the west. I don’t remember a moment when the weight had been lifted, but suddenly when I thought that I would have to put on my best happy face and fake it, my face was truly joyful. I had been praying for a long time that God would teach me how to forgive. What I found was that God had lifted the resentment from my soul without my even realizing it. He had taken away the sting that anger can put into words so that when I spoke to the object of my anger – the anger was gone and only love was left. Sorry to be sounding so preachy and outright corny but I don’t know of any other way to put this. I was able to forgive when the moment came.

So am I the queen of forgiveness now? I Wish I could say “yes” to that, but the answer is a great big fat “No”. Anger is one of those mountains that I let grow to astounding heights and it won’t be knocked down overnight. God will chip away at it slowly and patiently, only teaching me lessons as he makes me open to them.

As I watched my husband turn over the soil in our gardens last weekend, I saw him repeatedly bend down to throw aside the rocks that had worked their way to the surface over the freeze and thaw of winter. Every year there will be rocks and my husband will patiently toss them aside. I can’t help but wonder how many times that God has done this for me. Constantly tilling the soil of my life while tossing the hard, cold stones of anger, bitterness and resentment that result from an unforgiving spirit. I know that this will be an ongoing battle because every time I find myself in a position of being hurt, I find my anger slipping back in – every single time!

I have nothing but faith.

Faith that God will continue to knock down those mountains that block my vision.

Faith that God will love me even when I allow hate and anger to get foothold.

Faith that He can take the corners of my life and shake me out of those angry traps that I allow myself to get caught up in.

Faith that He will lift me over the mountains so that I can see the wonders that He has for me.

I don’t need the easy answers that say, “Just let go of it”.  I need the faith to pray, “Lord, lift me above it” and keep praying that prayer daily. It gets easier, never really easy, but definitely easier, because I now live in a world where my anger is met with Love.

                 In faith, I can see a larger world that truly is full of wonder and leaves me free to wonder.mountains and flowers

 


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Pink Elephants

pink elephant

 

Ever seen a pink elephant? No? Well, maybe in a cartoon or a children’s book. Seeing pink elephants was a way of saying that a person was delusional, or possibly had tossed back a few too many. But this little guy is the real deal. He is a very rare albino elephant spotted by tourists in Kruger National Park in South Africa. He could be in serious danger since his unique color makes him a target for predators. Surprisingly, the herd has accepted him. Indeed, the other adults don’t seem to notice that anything is different about him.

No one wants to be different. Most of us go thru life trying desperately to fit in because the truth is that those who don’t fit the mold of “normal”, won’t get many party invitations. If you look different, act different or think differently you will probably face a struggle for acceptance every day. Our society likes to think that we encourage individuality. Even within the church, we love to point out verses that tell us how we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. Each one of us is as unique as a snowflake, as individual as our fingerprints are. Though we strive to teach our children to celebrate those differences, the sad truth is that being different can be very lonely.

I made a decision about twenty years ago that has impacted every area of my life. I decided that I had messed things up enough and it was time to let someone else take over. That “someone else” was Jesus and He has turned my thinking, actions and the way I see the world around me upside down. Everything is different now and I can see that reflected in how others look at me.

What might surprise you is that I am not so concerned with how my old family and friends treat me. They are actually quite respectful of my choices and I love them so much for that. It’s often how my church brothers and sisters look at me that can be hurtful. When I don’t view an issue exactly as they do, they will wait for that moment to “lovingly correct” me. As I get older and feel more secure in my relationship with Christ, such things do not bother me as much. I don’t need the approval of others as much as a “well done” from my Savior. However, I see the same concerned correction happening to the next generation as they try and stretch their wings. As much as I value the advice from experienced elder saints, I am put off by the smugness I have encountered and if I dare to admit it – sometimes shown myself. If only we could learn to respect the individual journeys that we are all on. Sometimes the mistakes we make are the very things that teach us the deeper lessons. So, I guess that while there are times to advise, there will also be times to keep my mouth shut. Oh Lord, I pray for the wisdom to know the difference.

For this God is our God for ever and ever, he will be our guide even to the end.

 Psalm 48:14

The definition of a Christian life should be one that is led, to the very end of his days, by Christ. Where He leads me is bound to be different from where He will lead another. Perhaps we are simply at different points on the path so our perspectives may look at different horizons. Rather than look to “correct” those who seem to follow a different path, let’s ask for discretion to know when to help and compassion to console when wrong turns are taken.

We are all different; fearfully and wonderfully made and loved by a God who won’t be put off if we are pink instead of gray. He will accept us as lovingly as the elephant herd accepts its “different” baby. Perhaps they have learned to look beyond the differences to a place where such things no longer register to their eyes. That, after all, is the way God sees us.

father child hands.


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The Better Angels of our Nature

violence at rallyOr Hope Lives Despite Ourselves….

Jesus warned us that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). Abraham Lincoln echoed that thought in a famous speech during the American Civil War. But, sadly, this is a lesson that is difficult to learn. Mankind will continue to argue rather than talk, fight rather than discuss their differences. In this year’s presidential elections, candidates seem to prefer wallowing in mudslinging rather discussing the issues.  And all of this is a  reflection of the society that we ourselves have created. Haven’t we,over several generations, seen our artistic tendencies slide down towards expressions of the ugliness of mankind rather that the beauty? I think of the music, movies and television shows that glorify negative role models and make morality seem like a quaint oddity. Not that I am calling for a return to starched collars and measuring dress hems. Such surface civility only hides the ugliness of humanity which will bubble to the surface regardless of how we try to hide it.

We like to think that this unraveling of our society as something new but the problem stems from ancient times as evidenced in the Scriptures.

“The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men.” Psalm 12:8

And, honestly, if I had stopped reading at the end of Chapter 12 today, I would have been left saddened and discouraged. But I could feel my eyes being drawn to the next Psalm even as I tried to close the Book and end my morning reading. Actually it was my notes that were written in the margin, probably from some long forgotten sermon or study that caught me. I had written “the circumstances” next to verses one and two. David is crying out to God asking “How long, O God? Will you forget me forever?” It’s as easy today to blame the downward spiral of our culture on God as it was in David’s time.

The notation besides verses three and four read “the conflict as he focuses on circumstances”. He acknowledges that though things are going badly, he needs to turn to God for help (such a simple plea, “Give light to my eyes”). Finally, in verses five and six, “confidence as he focuses on God”.

“But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.” Psalm 13:5 and 6

This conflict has been ongoing for many centuries. David felt the struggle of sin’s grip on our world as he grappled with whether or not he would reach for God. Abraham Lincoln lived this battle as he tried to reunite a country bitterly divided. I wonder if he had read Psalms 12 and 13 before giving an inauguration speech in which he said:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

He saw the brutality of war and was able to look ahead to hope. David, too, saw his pitiful circumstances yet looked upward towards hope. These men were followers of the One Most High and they knew where their focus had to be. Both men, living in such similar and yet vastly different circumstances, understood where hope comes from.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.” Hebrews 6:19

Even though David had not met Jesus, he understood Messiah. Mr. Lincoln, whose faith in Christ was strong in perilous times, knew there was hope for mankind despite the atrocities around him. Today, we can still see hope in the curtain of the sanctuary, in the cross of Christ and in the Scriptures He entrusted us with.

“O LORD, you will keep us safe.” Psalm 12:7

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Being Still

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Being Still

The other day I wrote about the dragons that we all fight as we battle through life. In Exodus 3, God had a beautiful land waiting for the Israelites but they would have to fight their way through a desert to get there. We all have choices to make every day, battles of temptation to overcome every day. I’ve often said that being a Christian is not for the proverbial timid church mouse. Today I am reading in Exodus 14 and came across this verse:

The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still. Exodus 14:14

I think of all the times in the Bible that men like David and Joshua and countless others led the Israelite army into battle and realize that there are just as many times that they are told to “be still” and let God do his thing. So I wonder how do you know when to step up and fight and when do you need to “be still”.

Just today a friend was telling me that several times in devotionals ever the last two days, she had read verses that emphasized the need to be still. She felt that it meant her need to stop the hectic pace of her daily life and just rest in Christ. This is how I have always viewed verses about being still and it’s a very important practice that should be the foundation of your daily prayer life. But reading this verse in the middle of the very active story of the Israelites flight from Egypt, the whole idea of “being still” seems a bit out of place.

Then I realized something that has been nibbling at the edges of my thoughts as I read these passages about Moses in Exodus. There were times when Moses was called to do battle with Pharoah and there were times when he was told to lay low.

“Stretch out your arm”,

“Stretch out your staff”,

“Stand before Pharoah and say…”

These are all the things that Moses had to do before God would “lay bare His holy arm, in the sight of all the nations, and the end of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (Isaiah 52:10). Moses had to make a choice each day about whether he would obey God. God sent plagues, pillars of fire and parted a whole sea but always allowed Moses to make his own choice first.

I’ve come to think that the dragons that we face in daily battle are the choices we must make in response to the temptations that we do battle with. Every day, in multiple ways, we are faced with the choice of whether or not we will follow God. As we slay each dragon another may rise up and we will fight again and again. What we need to keep in mind is that as difficult and dangerous as our individual battles may be, Jesus has already fought the biggest battle of all. The cross is the place where He won, and where we should be still. We have nothing to prove, there is nothing more to do and we can rest in assurance that Christ has prepared everything for us. That battle has been fought, swords have clashed and He has won. In that, I can be still.

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Be still before the LORD, all mankind… Zechariah2:13