LAW OF LOVE

Recently a memory surfaced of a time I met a friend for coffee. Sipping cappuccinos with extra foam, we chatted about all kinds of things. Communication with her had always flowed effortlessly, so it didn’t take long before we were lost in warm conversation. Mid way through our time together, she asked me to pray for a family she knew. The husband and father of this family became critically ill and he had to stop working. My friend wept as she talked about him and his wife and their two young children, as if their story was her own. I laid my hand on top of hers.

“I can’t imagine what his poor wife is going through,” I said. “If that were me, I’d curl up in a ball under my bed covers and never want to come out.”

“Oh, she is strong,” said my friend. “You would marvel at how she’s going through this. It’s amazing…her faith.” She smiled through her tears.

“I can’t even imagine.” Sorrow coiled around my mind like a snake. “Let’s pray.”

Unexpected tears came and my heart ached, like it had broken into a million pieces. I sat quietly after we finished, still holding my friend’s hands. In the silence, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” I let the sacred words roll around in my thoughts.

“This is why she is strong,” I said, speaking of the wife. “This…” I waved my hand back and forth between my friend and me, and then wiped a tear from my cheek. “Our prayers…right now…we’re helping to lift her burden.”

A sense of joy encouraged me as I recognized the holiness of suffering for others in prayer. That revelation is forever etched in my heart.

We’ve all lamented over stories of illness and loss. Sometimes our stories begin with sudden heart-wrenching news, and we are taken down by some foreign pressure squeezing our chest half to death. Other times, we are gradually ushered into infirmity and gently weaned from what we call normal. How ever stories of pain are written into our lives—they change us, and I believe that is one of the things they are intended to do.

It’s impossible to round up all of the accounts ever lived and told, and I am certain that this world—apart from God—is not equipped to hold the sum of them. Just one instance holds the potential to devastate us forever. Yet from generation to generation, through tremendous fear, disappointment and anguish, humanity endures. Only by God’s great love.

I have lived through what could have been my own life-shattering story—my husband’s battle with stage four cancer. I was bewildered that I did not want to crawl into a hole and hide. People prayed for us and God responded by giving us amazing peace, though I was left scratching my head.

“Maybe I just don’t get it, God…Maybe I’m in denial,” I’d pray, wondering why I wasn’t in a panic over what was happening to us.

Then one day the Lord spoke again, “I’ve given you My peace. It is a gift. And now you want to give it back because you can’t explain it?”

The Lord’s question demanded I search my heart. Did I need to know how things would work out with my husband before I could accept His peace? The depth of my faith in God Himself was being challenged, not a hopeful outcome of my circumstances.

Would I choose to believe God for His peace that stretched beyond my capacity to grasp, without answers or explanations? Even if other people (and the devil) called it foolishness?

This kind of peace makes no sense, and because it doesn’t require us to understand it, it’s easy to think it isn’t attainable or even real. But when faith rests in who God is—period—God’s peace comes. All other pseudo-peace falls away.

“God, I want Your peace. I want You,” I said, vowing to never question it again.

I can’t explain God, but I can tell you that He gave me greater security and contentment in His faithfulness and sovereignty then ever before. (More of what I cannot explain.) And I couldn’t deny that He moved people on our behalf—even some we’d never met—to love us and help bear the heaviness of our load through prayer when Rick was sick. “Why us, Lord?” I’d ask, but I quickly realized it wasn’t about us. It was about Him. It is always about Him.

And like the prayers my friend and I prayed for that precious family God loves so much, we were able to rest in His peace in spite of the outcome.

Dear friend, if you are facing a hard thing and “what if’s” are haunting your thoughts and suffocating your hope, please know there is another way.

Ask faith-filled people to pray for you—to help carry the weight of your suffering, and give God full control of the outcome. He is who He says He is—the great I AM, the eternally constant Father, always good and always present. God is our ultimate burden bearer, and He blesses His people with supernatural peace that refuses to bow to this world’s afflictions. His love for us is that unfathomable, and attainable.

ARE YOU WILLING TO COMMIT TO JOY?

The room was filled with hungry writers soaking up wisdom and encouragement from the seasoned editor. She provoked hearts to dig deeper, to trust, to go-for-it.

"Claim your gift, then commit to it." Her words settled firm in mid-air before me.

Before I could examine her persuasive statement she continued with a few key questions to help us recognize whether we had been given a gift to write.

”Do you have a passion for writing?…Does writing bring you joy?…Do others acknowledge your writing?…Are they encouraged?…Inspired?”

The answers to these questions came quickly as if I’d been waiting for someone to ask.

I love to write. I especially love to write about stuff that stirs my heart. Putting words to things in deep places provokes me to examine life in a truthful way.

Passion, check. Joy, check. And though I had received kind commendations toward my writing, they held little weight. Subjective opinions offered some approval, but often felt trivial. My bad. Acknowledgement, meh…okay, check. Yes’s across the board. I actually felt hopeful.

Later that day, a professional author/writing coach asked me, after reading some of my work, if I was an English major.

“No,” I chuckled. “I didn’t really go to college.”

“Wow. You write better than some who are,” she said.

Wow was right! An actual professional author whom I had grown to admire and respect thought I wrote well. It was the push I needed to take my gift seriously.

Finally the “real” issue with my relationship to writing was calling me out: Are you willing to commit?

For years, I dodged this driving question with excuses of why I couldn’t commit. It wasn’t about could or couldn’t at all . . . but will or won’t. The ultimate question that determines whether we succeed or fail was unavoidable: Am I willing to do whatever it might take—to learn, to labor, to sacrifice—all to walk worthy of my gift?

Committing to the craft of writing, or any other activity or calling made me think about my life as a Christian. I am committed to a person—Christ Jesus. God is not passive, but dynamic and requires my willingness to commit my life to knowing and loving Him. My salvation wasn’t earned, like my gift to create, but I must work out my own salvation that God is working in me. Whether to be a Christian—a God-given and Christ-sacrificed atonement that pursues me, or to be a writer—a God-given talent and personal desire to pursue, my willingness is required in the relationship.

To be counted worthy of doing anything well we know we must be dedicated to learning and growing. And we must be willing to labor, to work it out, and to sacrifice for the namesake of the call.

Being an author can and often does become ‘me’ focused. Instead of writing to bless others, it’s easy to become more concerned with pleasing ourselves. The need for acceptance, acknowledgement, and accolades can overtake us. Soon our only joy is found in what others think. This me-focused mindset will always bring failure no matter the success we think we’ve achieved. Leaving our joy in the hands of other people is risky and exhausting. Burn out and resentment will become our fate. Therefore, we must resist engaging our egos to determine our value.

It’s not uncommon to fall into this same trap as a Christian. I shouldn’t be ashamed of what others think when I choose to live my life differently. My defining value is rooted in who Christ is and what God thinks. To know the Lord by studying His words, to love and live like Christ, to labor in prayer and put others first requires my willingness to give up the need for approval from others, and the nagging notion that I must earn God’s love. He has put His salvation in me. The question becomes, am I willing to work it out?

My passion for Jesus beckons me to write. My soul seeks His attention and my desire longs to draw attention to Him. And joy overflows when I am smack dab in the middle of my gifts—writing for Him, with Him and about Him. In His presence is fullness of joy.

What is your passion? Are you single-minded in your pursuit of that passion or are you being tossed between two conflicting opinions?

Commit your will to work out the gift God is working in you. Joy is abundant there.

”Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant.” Galatians 1:10

ADDICTED TO FALSE SECURITY

I had been mourning over some really painful things for days. Life doesn’t always go the way we expect it to. People let us down. We let ourselves down. Life…it lets us down. Learning to let go of what we expect things to be is just painful. We fight to make things right—rather what we perceive to be right. We wage war within our minds over our bad choices, replaying scenes as if to find the missing key that will unlock the door to security once again.

As a Christian, my hope is in Jesus Christ. I am, for the most part, resolute in my faith. I take no credit for the strength of my faith because I am naturally cynical, distrusting, and fearful. But God has set within me a foundation of faith in Him I cannot explain. How does one explain the unexplainable? All I know is it is supernatural.

However, every faith is tested. It must be. And sometimes God has to show us what our faith is really made of. Though He determines the measure of our faith, the impurities of our flesh offer no help to grow it, but the opposite. And I was about to learn something about mine.

Things I counted on were failing. It felt so burdensome, like a heavy jacket too big for me. I wanted to strip it off and give it to its rightful owner. Go to God, I thought. Just pray, read His Word. You’ll feel better then. I did those things. Multiple times. And I didn’t feel better.

This morning while texting with my friend, I tried my best to offer hope to her in her pain. I had to admit I struggled to see clearly through the heavy burden I currently bore. Failing marriages of women I love, failing health of cancer stricken people I love, failing news of Sri Lanka Christians referred to as “Easter Worshippers” blown to pieces while worshiping Jesus—not Easter; my husband’s unemployment for nearly the fifth month, uncertainty of the future, uncertainty of anything.

In the middle of our conversation the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart. “I intercede for you with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26) I paused and realized that was what was happening. As I bore the pain for others, the Lord was bearing the pain for us all.

I grabbed my Bible and flipped to Romans 8 to read the scripture in context. From verse 1 through the end of the chapter God answered. He answered my grief and my confusion and He put a word to the heaviness I couldn’t shake. Insecurity. That was the heavy coat I desperately tried to throw off—the cumbersome weight of false security. God showed me that there are times I choose to wear that coat. All I could say was, “I get it now.”

Rick came in with his coffee to where I was sitting, with my Bible opened wide to Romans 8 across my lap.

“Can I please share with you what God showed me this morning?” I asked. He graciously let me.

I cried as I read Romans chapter 8 out loud to my husband. Not just a little tear that moistens your eyes, but sobs. I could hardly make out Paul’s words on the page at times. I had to take breaks because I couldn’t speak clearly. I grieved, I rejoiced, and I grieved again. Noticing the look on my husband’s face, I imagined he probably didn’t understand what was happening to me. I apologized for concerning him, but how could I explain what I could barely grasp myself? As I reached the end of the chapter, verses 38 and 39 broke me even more, as if that were even possible. I wept in my hands.

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I heard God like never before, through Paul’s words, through my own voice. I was being set free from the power of a million pound lie while grace and peace flooded in. My only true security is in Christ and for the first time I believed it.

Are you feeling insecure about something?

Do you wish you could just do something? Change something? Be something?

Please read Romans 8.

It will tell you we live in a completely insecure world—corrupt by sin. All of creation, humanity—corrupt. And we all continue to grip so tightly to the things of this world expecting, demanding, hoping, forcing it all to offer us the security it has no capacity to fulfill. No marriage, no job, no government, no friendship, no remedy, no army, no bank account, no contract, no promise from creation is capable of providing the security we so desperately crave.

But Christ.

The pills we take, the therapy we need, the books we read, the education we attain, the false religious ceremonies we perform, the addictions we practice, the lies we believe (and tell), the money we hoard or spend to gain false security is killing us.

Insecurity. This is the world on sin.

HIS BELOVED

As I began to read the apostle’s final words to the church at Philippi, my heart swelled.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” Philippians 4:1

I take a deep breath, attempting to slow the pounding of my heart. But I cannot restrain the stirring within me. It is the Holy Spirit. He presses me—“Stop here. Stay in this place for a while.”

My eyes open wide to such great grace bestowed upon Paul. This man who once persecuted those who loved Jesus unto their death, begins chapter 4 with undeniable affection for such believers.

In context, it is overwhelmingly evident he had taken on the nature of the persecuted Christ-follower himself, imprisoned for the very thing he—in times past—self-righteously abhorred and rejected.

I read and reread the words of Paul, once called Saul, who believed it to be commendable the slaying of Stephen and others like him. Those truth-telling lovers of Jesus the Nazarene—blasphemers of the highest rank—were his enemies. And everyone knew it.

But here in verse one, Paul calls people like Stephen his.

He writes, “my beloved brethren”…“my”…“mine”…”you are mine”.

I feel a lump surface in my throat and I close my eyes. I imagine this man chained to a Roman guard, with tears in his eyes. Not for himself, for them—his brothers and sisters in Christ. The people he once condemned he now shared such glorious affections.

I imagine him thinking on what is true and honorable, right and pure, lovely and admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. The bountiful promises of the Lord were such as these things, and Christ Jesus himself—full of truth and reverence, righteous and perfect, acceptable and pleasing, gracious, virtuous, good, and worthy of all praise.

And I imagine him thinking such will be Christ’s Bride, his beloved, divinely loved by God’s Beloved Son.

How can I bring myself to read past this powerful display of heavenly love and ownership? Paul says, “you, my beloved,” and I am undone.

Why?

Because a sinful hater of God’s true children, and even God himself, now displays the miraculous with all the love of Christ—loving Jesus to the point of dying to self.

That, my friends, is the epitome of the handiwork of grace.

And that is my story—once a hater, now a lover. Only Jesus. Only the Cross. Rejoice!

. . . . .

“In that day the Lord of hosts will be a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty, to the remnant of his people” Isaiah 28:5

THEREFORE

There’s a phrase in Philippians 2:12 that gets me every time. The verse starts out like this:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but how much more in my absence,”

Therefore. Let’s stop for a moment. This word “therefore” (hoste in Greek) is really important. In context, Paul uses it to direct us back to the imperative—which is most often a firm command of vital importance. In a sense, Paul is taking a yellow highlighter, underlining, emboldening, and maybe even drawing arrows to connect the previous verses in chapter two to what he writes next in verse 12. And this is where I halt.

“. . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling;”

Work out (I love working out) . . . your salvation (Thank You, Jesus!) . . . with fear and trembling. Stop!

When I think of working out, I automatically think of my physical body. To stay healthy I believe it’s important to exercise. Working out strengthens our muscles, heart, and mind.

I understand there are those who don’t enjoy working out. Exercise takes time, effort (lots of effort) and commitment for it to be beneficial. Putting in time and effort won’t be enjoyable to someone who’s never experienced the benefits of a committed exercise routine.

Then there are people who just don’t have time to go to the gym. Long workdays and family takes priority, while good, healthy habits easily slide into empty intentions. Soon traction is lost and focus grows fuzzy as to what is beneficial to be on our game (i.e.: physically, mentally and emotionally).

Those jeans don’t quite fit as well. Clarity of mind grows dim, and the ugly things we tell ourselves about how lazy, fat, or weak we’ve become is just a few negative results of neglecting our bodies.

Through this example I see great insight into Paul’s intention for believers to “work out your salvation . . . ” He is exhorting us to exercise our salvation, to put it into action. As if to say, “Put lots of your time into knowing what your salvation is about. Oh, and lots of effort. And be committed. Until the end.” Paul is a prime coach.

Just like God formed us in our mother’s womb and gave us earthly bodies to occupy, our bodies require us to participate in its health.

As an adult, it’s my responsibility to feed myself or I starve. It is my obligation to get enough rest or I crash. It is my duty to learn and understand what’s good for my mind and avoid that which is not. And it is my privilege to engage in relationships that build me up, challenge me to grow, and comfort me. With a lack of food, sleep, focus and friendships it’s impossible to thrive. And, if what I habitually take in through my mouth, mind, or heart is unhealthy and damaging, the consequences are a gradual rotting away.

Do you see the connection?

Working out my salvation—though initiated by God through His perfect and sinless Son’s life, death and resurrection—requires my participation. Always.

If I neglect what God requires of me how will I have the confidence to know God’s gift of grace is for me? How will I have courage to stand firm?

Without confidence we are resistant to stand.

The word for "work out" is katergazomai. It comes from the same word used for the phrase “having done” in Ephesians 6:13:

"Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and (having done) everything, to stand firm"

I like what the early English minister, Joseph Benson wrote about “having done everything”:

“Having exerted yourselves to the utmost, and used the grace conferred upon (granted to) you, and the means and advantages vouchsafed (permitted) you, according to the will of God, which indeed it will be absolutely necessary for you to do; or having gone through all your conflicts, and accomplished your warfare” (emphasis added).

God’s will is that we exert ourselves in taking hold of His grace and every advantage He’s given us to work out our salvation, and remain fit to stand firm.

As we read God’s Word, the advantages are more than plenty. His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. But we must take hold of everything.

How about you? Do you take advantage of all things God has graciously bestowed upon you . . . or just some?

Which one(s) do you typically avoid? How many have you yet to realize?

I know I’ve got a long way to go and I pray with all my heart that today will be the day we commit to exercising our freedom and privilege in Christ more vigorously by learning to apply all He’s granted to us.

We can confidently trust and thank God we aren’t required to do this in our own strength. To be honest, we can’t. But by the power of His Spirit, God is working in us who believe, and giving us the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.

May we commit to working out our salvation with profound reverence (that’s fear) and a wakeful conscience (that’s trembling) because the day is coming when every knee will bow at the name of Jesus, and of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10-11).

And that’s what “therefore” is there for.

“Therefore, my beloved . . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling . . . to fulfill His good purpose.” Phil. 2:12-13

TO KNOW HIM IS TO LOVE HIM

In the quiet of the morning, I opened my bible and flipped through its thin pages to the book of Philippians—the book of joy. My fingers slowly traced the apostle’s words looking for treasure.

I read over and over again, the first chapter of Paul’s love letter to the church at Philippi, inspired by his affection for God’s people and his enthusiasm to both magnify Jesus Christ and his reason for his imprisonment. They are one in the same. Paul calls himself a bondservant of Jesus, and he certainly is, both literally and spiritually.

His testimony is riveting and it brings to my mind the promise Holy Spirit spoke to my heart a few weeks ago as I began my search for joy—

“Joy is found in a deeper understanding of God. Gain wisdom, know joy.”

Excitement rekindled in my heart as I began to uncover what God had for me in this beloved, though familiar book.

I couldn’t help but stop at verses 9 and 10. I must’ve read it a dozen times.

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ” Philippians 1:9-10

And there it was. The key to joy—love God.

As believers, we know this is the first and greatest command. And the second is just like it, love others as yourself.

To love God and love others is the high calling of the Christian. Paul makes this very clear as if Jesus Himself is speaking to the church at Philippi.

I can almost hear him saying, “Yes, I know you love God. That’s wonderful. And I know you love each other. Praise God! You even show your love for those far away. You’ve really got it. But, I want you to love more. Excel in agape.”

Love more. More? Now that’s a noble challenge. But what does that look like? And how can I make myself love Him and others more than I already do?

Without the insight from God’s Spirit we can only imagine what love is, what it looks like, and how it ought to feel. To know God and love like Him is absolutely impossible without a renewed mind.

Paul illustrates this very thing in the book of Titus:

“For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, (Titus 3:3-6).

Then it all began to make sense. I sat there amazed by this simple, yet powerful insight: to love God and people requires God. And to love God and people more requires more of God.

Oh, how I relish in these deep truths. I think that’s called joy.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Grace. What a beautiful word, full of depth and meaning. There’s something about the way it flows from my heart and bubbles over with sweet joy from my lips. As I read Paul’s letter to the Philippians I have to believe he felt the same way. And just as some parents have chosen to name their newborn baby girls after this lovely expression of gratitude and undeserved favor, I’d have to say the apostle is most well deserving to own it too.

In his salutation to the church at Philippi, Paul greets his readers with the most amazing blessing:

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:2).

Notice what’s first—grace. This word in the Greek is “charis”. It signifies favor, gift, benefit, even credit.

Paul knew it was the most important thing needed for the people he loved. Why? Because everything true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy flows from grace.

There have been times in my life where troubling circumstances have provoked fear and anxiety deep within me. Like a noose around my heart, worry threatened my sanity. I know I’m not alone in this. And I am ever grateful Paul was keenly aware of this battle for our minds. Not only was he inspired by the Spirit of Christ, who is all grace, but also by his own personal experience. Paul knew grace. He reveled in the glorious reality of grace more than he retreated into the raw reality of his problems.

On a good day, I’ve done this too. But not all days are good. And if God’s grace is abundant and abounding, what makes some hard days easy to endure and others painfully difficult?

I believe Paul has the answer.

There’s a word in the fourth chapter of Philippians that jumped out at me as I meditated on this most priceless word, “grace”. Its “thanksgiving”.

Paul writes this:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

The word “thanksgiving” in verse 6 is the word “eucharistia”. In the Greek it’s “eucharistos”. It means to actively express grateful language to God, as an act of worship. Eu meaning “good” and the rest being a derivative of the word “charts”, eucharistos simply put: be deliberately grateful for good grace.

Could it be that in those moments when I’ve struggled just to keep my head above the fierce waves of despair, I’ve forgotten to practice eucharistia?

Paul exhorts us to put into practice whatever we’ve learned or received or heard from him. And we must. The peace of God is waiting to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus if we only receive His good grace with great gratitude.

BOTTOMLESS GRACE

Holding a plastic cup of deep red juice between my fingers, I gazed intently into the insufficient depth of less than an ounce.

I closed my eyes to pray as our pastor led us in Communion.

“This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

The blood of Jesus. Heaven and Earth’s greatest mystery of all eternity represented here in my feeble hands. Who can grasp the meaning of such divine wisdom?

In the midst of a thousand people, I opened my soul to God in faith. This isn’t nearly enough to cover my sins, Lord.

“It’s plenty,” He said in a still, small voice. “Even a drop will do.”

Of course, I thought. It wasn’t the amount, but the One—Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrifice, the Great High Priest and the One who forever lives to apply it. The Trinity. Always three-in-one.

I held my eyes tight and let my God love me with the truth that the same blood shed for me over two thousand years ago still speaks a better word. Jesus' blood is more than enough for the whole world. And Even though a drop would do, He emptied Himself completely. For me . . . for all . . . who humbly receive.

Suddenly, the little swallow of grape juice I was about to drink down was undeniably sufficient. In remembrance of Christ’s self-sacrifice, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. “I will spend the rest of eternity thanking You, Jesus.”

A movement distracted me a few chairs down and I opened my eyes. It was my daughter. She had taken a seat next to her fiancé. I watched my future son-in-law take the tiny cracker from the second cup provided and carefully empty half his juice into it. Then he offered it to his future wife to share in the sacred act of remembering Jesus.

In that moment my heart swelled and tears wet my eyes. I knew God was displaying for me the beauty of Chad’s love for Kyra but also, the bottomless grace of Christ.

Even a drop will do.

. . . . .

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7

IT'S NOT ABOUT ME

Some people love talking about their work. Others love to talk politics or pop culture. I’ve been a stay-at-home mom and homemaker for twenty-two years. I’ve learned to take great pride in this undervalued job thanks to my encouraging husband. (Thanks, Honey XO.) However, there’s only so much I can talk about that anyone cares to hear. Most people want to be intrigued and at this point in my career, doing laundry and paying bills does very little to hold a crowd. And politics . . . well, I know enough to engage in a conversation, but care to discuss it about as long as the length of my arm. 

Ask me about Jesus and I have plenty to say. If you spend any amount of time with me you’ll soon find out He comes up often. And if you like talking about Him too . . . man, we’ll be here for hours.

I remember being on a walk with a friend about a decade ago. It wasn’t the only time we walked together. Living around the corner from each other afforded us countless walks over the years. And countless conversations. We’d talk about mom stuff, and politics, and current events. And more often than not we’d talk about God. She loved Him too so naturally He was infused into nearly every topic. 

I learned so much about being a godly wife and mother from her during those years. That was also when I discovered my passion to talk about Jesus and how amazingly awesome He is.  

“God just might use you to share with a lot of people,” she once said.

On the surface, I rejected that idea immediately. Who am I? I’m nobody, I thought. Safely, I suggested I was confident in a one-on-one conversation; even pretty comfortable in a small group scenario. But a room filled with people? With a microphone? Absolutely not. Heck, I blew the fourth grade Spelling Bee on the very first word—“should”—all because of that dumb microphone. (Scarred for life.)

But in spite of my insecurity and fears, deep down I fantasized about telling a massive crowd about how Jesus saved me and is still saving me. The thought thrilled me. Would God really want to use me like that? . . . Nah, not when there are so many brilliant, articulate, passionate believers whose testimonies have been forged by greater transformations than I could claim. (Answering our own questions always works because we know best.)

Fast forward ten years later. My friend was right. She saw something in me that I never would've chosen on my own.  Public speaking. About Jesus. With a microphone. Oh, and video-recorded. (The younger me cringes to consider watching that. Oh my gosh, look at my hair . . . did you hear me mess up there?

But, I’ve come a long way through this mind-torturing, self-centered process to discover God's calling on my life. A long way.

The first time I was asked to share my testimony to a room full of women, I said 'yes'. And I bombed. How do I know? Let me just say . . . you know. 

A few years had gone by when a kind unknowing person thought it was a good idea to ask me to share at another women’s event. "I can do this," I prodded myself. I prepared my notes. I studied Scripture. I prayed. And I didn’t tell anyone. One, because I didn’t want to seem braggy that someone asked me to speak (red flag); and two, because if I choked (again) I wouldn’t have to tell anyone if they asked, “How’d it go?” 

Can you say, “deja vu”? It was not good. Like the first time, I was all over the place. I stumbled over my words. I lost my place in my notes. I flopped.

And then it hit me. I was so worried about how “awesome” I needed to be that I forgot the real reason why I was asked to share in the first place.  It wasn’t about me, but them. And Him.

Have you ever had sorrow sweep through your gut like a whirlwind? That’s what it felt like when God showed me my pride. Even the pride I had when I realized I had pride . . .  it was too much. Pride upon pride. I cried. For real.

I wanted to disappear even more than that day I awkwardly sat center stage among my peers in the elementary school cafeteria. “Should. S-H-O-U-D . . . “ Nooooooo! But, it was too late. I couldn’t take it back. And that’s how I felt about my, not one, but two chances I was given to talk about my Savior. Sorry, no good. You blew it. Even on your do-over. Nooooooo! Embarrassment and disappointment taunted me as I regurgitated every personal public failure. But why? Isn’t that so like the world. The grace we as Christians fail to give ourselves (or others) looks nothing like Jesus sometimes. 

About three months later I was approached again. Our pastor’s wife asked me if I’d share about the Lord’s Supper and present communion to the women’s ministry. “God put you on my heart,” she said.

Me? I quickly took inventory in my mind. One ill-experienced Jesus freak with wounded pride and stage fright plus one hundred God-fearing ladies, maybe more . . . I can’t. Is she insane? Did the others say no? I say 'no' too!

“I’ll pray about it.” I said, graciously. (After all, isn’t that what most spiritual people say?)

I hung up the phone. 

And then God spoke to my heart, “You will do this.”  

“I know,” I responded, with my head down. Literally. I dropped my head down during our internal conversation. 

Good news for this over critical, self conscious girl—it wasn’t so bad that time. Yeah, I was a bit stiff, I fumbled a couple words, but something was deeply different. Maybe not so much on the outside, but the inside. I cared far less about what I looked like and far more about the women listening. I knew I honored the Lord. I took a deep breath and exhaled with a smile. “Thank You, God,” I whispered. 

Over the last couple of years, I’d said ‘yes’ many times. And any time I start to get freaked out or wonder if I have anything worth saying, I remember something a dear friend instructed me to do as we prayed together, “Love them with your words.” 

And I say this to you: if you have the gospel of Jesus Christ living within you, it’s worth sharing, no matter your stage. So, keep saying ‘yes’! It's your calling too.

. . . . . . 

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house." Matthew 5:14-15

WAITING FOR YET

When I was a kid, we’d visit my grandparent’s once a month. I always looked forward to it. Grandma knew the best card games and made the best fudge. She also made sure her candy drawer was stocked when the grandkids came over. Those Brach’s Butterscotch ones with the yellow wrapper were my favorite. 

And she gave us coffee. From her electric percolator she’d pour about an ounce of fresh brewed coffee into delicately decorated china teacups and then fill them to the top with milk. We got to add the sugar. (Oh, the liberty!) While my little brother gripped the dainty cup with both hands, my sister and I practiced holding out our pinky finger as we sipped coffee with Grandma. I felt so mature. 

We always took the freeway there. The freeway meant it was far. I’d sometimes doze off until wafts of strong citrus from the orange groves announced we were getting closer. But to a kid, a mile felt like ten, so if it weren’t my brother, or my sister, I’d certainly speak up. “Are we there yet?” 

“No, not yet,” my mom would say.

Next question: “How much longer?” 

“Fifteen more minutes,” she’d answer, with a tone that carried a silent 'Don't ask again because you've done this before' tagged to it.

One of us kids in the back seat would let out an impatient sigh. Gotta love that bold rebellion.

I could taste the pale brown sugar milk waiting for me so I’d try to will my mom to drive faster in my mind. It didn’t work. 

But like every time, it wouldn’t be long before Mom would say “We’re here,” and we’d scramble up the stairs to greet our grandparents with a hug, then bee-line to the candy. Yet had gloriously transformed to now, and all was well.

Waiting for yet isn’t just a kid thing. I do it now. And as a Christian, I probably do it more than ever. It happens a lot when we talk about those mind-consuming prayer requests that go unanswered month after month, year after year. 

“Ah, trust the Lord,” we tell each other. “He’s always working . . . you just can’t see it yet.” [It] being the thing we so pathologically pray for. 

I’ve heard this persuasive vote of confidence so many times that I’ve adapted it myself. It sounds so good, so promising. It puts God in a generous and responsible light, and wards off our impatience. It’s that unassuming little three-letter word at the end of the phrase that keeps us praying, trusting, hopeful. Yet. 

Definitely, God is always working. I believe this with all my heart. He is incredibly dynamic, always active, always blessing, always moving. So the times I feel like my pleading for Him to change things is wearing me out, I’ve held on to the yet

But lately I’ve been pretty convicted. Waiting for what I’m begging God to do can become more important than God Himself who is often silent as He orchestrates it all perfectly. I realize I'm not as content in His plans and timing as I should be. Could it be I'm not content in Him?  

He owes me nothing. Just because I pray for something one time or a thousand doesn’t mean He’s obligated to let me see what He’s doing behind the scenes.  The word “yet” presumes an expectation on God’s performance. What if the thing I’m waiting to see isn’t to be seen this side of heaven? If at all. Yet, I hold on to the yet.

And how often have I attached a time frame to God’s big reveal of what I think is best?

“He’s working, Dana . . . you just don’t see it yet.” 

Oh how those words tempt me to hold out for that treat in God’s candy drawer. Like a sugar addicted, (pretend) coffee drinking child, I convince myself that because God loves me so much He'd never withhold a good thing from me.  

God is gracious. Beyond gracious. His grace stretches far beyond the cross. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift and He answers prayers. The thought of His awesome gift giving skills humbles me. God can do anything. Anytime. Anywhere. God has definitely blown my mind a time or two, or three . . . 

But, here’s the thing—He doesn’t have to. He owes me nothing. And when I get so focused on waiting for "my" it to arrive at yet, I miss the greatest answer—who is a Him and not an it—to my greatest need even though He is revealing Himself to me everyday. 

. . . . . . . . 

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14

 

GIFT OR GRIND

We have this running joke in our house. It's about Lola. She's our 14-year-old Shih Tzu. Yeah, she’s like 98, but she can still kill us with those ASPCA “poster child” eyes every time we leave her.

     “Don't turn around . . . don't look back . . . don't be like Lot’s wife,” someone'll say.

We all kinda chuckle because we know the temptation to linger, to pacify Lola (and our guilt) just a little bit longer before we finally let the door close in her face. We feel bad for her, and for ourselves. Well, because . . . that face. That sweet, helpless little face. 

I do love our little girl, but I’m not a dog lover per se; not like my family. I can walk away. I have no problem not looking back. 

     “She’s a dog,” I say. “She’ll be fine. She has no concept of time, anyway.” They don't buy it.

Whether that’s true or not, my family thinks I’m a little cold for my indifference. I’m not too bothered.

But, I started thinking about my attitude toward this little creature. Convicted? A little, maybe. Like I said, I love her. She is the cutest thing, but she is the most high maintenance dog I’ve ever known. Special prescription food, special shampoo, special medications for her skin, for her eyes, for her ears. On and on it goes. And we all know special means expensive. She’s old—I get it. But this stuff has been going on for a decade. 

     “Its her breed,” they say.

Whoopee. Fine.

But what about her need to have ice cubes in her water? Or her canned food microwaved? Or smooth jazz streaming through the T.V. music channel while we’re gone? This dog may be adorable, but I think we have a problem here. 

Except one thing; I forbid Rick to buy one of those dog steps for next to our bed. Call me heartless, but that’s just weird.

I suppose its no wonder she gives us (not me—my family and especially my husband) those sad eyes when we leave her. She’s got it made. So she works it. Or rather, she works him. (Arrow pointing up to the words "my husband".) She sees he's a sucker for dogs and for the most part he tends to her every whim. It started out sweet. But he's created a monster; a fourteen pound, yellow feather wearing (I'm assuming because her name is Lola it automatically gets her the diva treatment from the groomer) monster who's entire identity revolves around him.  

Yet, I can relate. Though I know my identity is in Jesus Christ I have gotten caught up in the attention of others too. A lot of attention equals valuable. A little attention, not so much. And the rollercoaster begins. Without seeing it coming, I'm swooped into the cycle of measuring my worth by the level of attention and approval I receive.

Am I of any value to their circle of friends? Do they care about what I think? Have I been a good enough, fun enough, godly enough person to keep around?

This is when the beautiful gift and authentic enjoyment of relationships becomes a grind. How can I elevate my worth? Oh the drudgery of it all.

Even my relationship with the Lord. It's a gift. He is a gift. The true gift. The ultimate Gift-giver gives Himself. In love and mercy, God gave His Son for me and He chose me. Not because I was worthy of being chosen, but because I was chosen, I am made worthy. 

But from time to time I fall back into thinking my self worth is gaged by my performance with Him too.

Do I satisfy God to the standard He requires? Do I stay long enough with Him in my quiet time or am I too quick to leave? Is Jesus, like Lola, watching me with lonely and rejected eyes as I walk away? Does my occasional indifference toward the things that matter to God only prove I am cold and heartless?

The guilt. The shame. The condemnation. My natural reaction—make it up to the Lord. Cover up my lack. Perform. And then it starts to happen: the gift becomes a grind. But it’s not supposed to be that way. 

If the Lord were like Lola . . . or like me, I’d have to play Him a nice song to soothe His forlorn feelings. Heaven forbid. To pity God is foolish. And where I go really wrong is when I think my love and attention toward Him makes Him worthy. If that were true, my God would be small. And neurotic.

Thank God His worth isn’t based on humanity. And that’s exactly why I love Him so much. As incomplete as my love for Him is today, I am learning to rest in our glorious relationship because it is built on Jesus Christ alone. God-initiated, God-sustained and God-perfected. And worthy of all I am.

. . . . . .

Father, please forgive me for ever laying on others and myself the expectation to define Your worth. And forgive me for expecting other people to define mine. You alone are God. Amen.

 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. EPHESIANS 2:4-10

USED BY GRACE

The soles of my running shoes slapped the rubber conveyer belt of my favorite treadmill. The end one. An obvious reminder of unpredictable claustrophobia. One after the other, my legs responded to my mind's demand. I don't want to be here. But . . . those cookies. Guilt is almost always a good motivator to commitment.

An agonizing situation forces its way into the forefront of my thoughts and a lump rushes to my throat. I don't stop it and begin to grieve the used parts of my heart and whine over the unfairness. To myself. To God. Whoever'll listen. 

Convicted by my internal trash talk to self protect, I back peddle the scandalous thoughts. Don't go there. Focus. Worship. Run. 

Pressing my ear buds in tighter, I order my mind to praise Jesus after I take a quick swig from my water bottle. I push to find that harmonious stride of body, mind, spirit and soul. Just give yourself a few minutes.

Then it happens. The undeniable speaks over my wounded life. "Do you want Me to use you?" Stunned and defensive, I swallow hard. Divine inquiry is often painful because the truth asks hard questions. Is this really what's going on here? No! I demand. I try to refuse it. But His examination brings weeping. 

Sweat mixed with tears wet my cheeks. I slow the speed on the display panel and wipe away the muddled mess of striving and self-preservation. How could I have missed it all along? Because being used by grace actively working in humble and quiet places looks a lot like passive suffering—victimhood.

To be used by people really hurts, but to be used by grace . . . well, that hurts too. I want to run away. I just want to run far away where I don't have to be used anymore.

I look down to track my feet. Somehow this pushes me to drive my legs harder as I raise the speed. I notice a new hole at the tip of each big toe. Quick mind shift. I feel accomplished by the evidence of how hard I work out. How easy it is to wander from the Lord's most difficult commands. 

A not-so-random question redirects my mind. "Does your Bible show the same wear?"  I answer myself. "Well, yes . . . yes, it does." I picture its loose, wrinkled pages and unraveling spine. Feeling good about my goodness again, another question comes: "Do you not expect to sweat and weep when you spend time there too?" In that moment I realize that being used by people and being used by grace does look and feel the same. 

But there's one difference. Perspective. And that changes everything.

. . . . . . . . . . 

 27 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is thatto you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." LUKE 6:27-36

THE HARDEST PART

As a Christian, I'm called to be like Jesus.

Be like Jesus. I take a deep breath. Jesus loved difficult people. He was flat out selfless. He served people He knew would turn on Him. Still, He loved. He even loved people He knew would one day drive long stakes into his sinless flesh and smugly taunt Him as He died a criminal's death.

Not even His closest friends were able to endure a day of sacrificial prayer for the Savior of their souls. Jesus gave and He gave, but they could never give back what His heart needed. They didn't have the capacity to love their Lord the way He loved them. Jesus' relationships were definitely one-sided. Except one. God the Father. He loved the Son perfectly and provided all the comfort His humanity required, while giving ultimate value to His sufferings.

Jesus might appear to be a doormat. He was no doubt used by the multitudes for what He could do for them, as many walked away, thankless, dusting their filthy shoes off on the ground He created. That hasn't changed.

(I squeeze my nails into the palms of my hands. I refuse to be a doormat.)

But, lets not be unaware. Jesus set clear boundaries with people. And He still does. His boundaries are grace and truth. Set in such an infallible way, He mercifully bestows upon mankind the choice to be in relationship with Him—not the other way around. 

Jesus was never a people pleaser, like me, but a God pleaser and a God lover above everyone else. This commitment hardwired Him to love His enemies and enter into a loving relationship with them. 

Be like Jesus. The crux of such a high and holy calling is loving people. Yet its the hardest. Loving people is so painful at times that my soul screams for release. Sometimes I despise the hard command—to love people. Especially people who come against me, who hurt me, who hurt people I love. 

Sound harsh? Are you surprised? Or are you thinking, "Finally someone is telling the truth"?  

Let's just be honest—loving others the way Jesus loves is not natural. Actually, its impossible. And pretending to love people "like Jesus" defiles my soul more than anything. Jesus wasn't pretending when He hung on that cross and my fake love is the greatest insult to His salvation. The often practiced fake-it-'til-you-make-it mantra is only a cunning appeal to my self-righteousness. It's insincerity cloaked in niceties tell lies to my heart that hypocrisy will eventually turn into love. Not in my strength it won't. Only bitterness and resentment will flourish there. 

"Just be like Jesus . . . love like Jesus", I'm told. As I write this the answer hits me as to why a rebellious urge to resist God's supernatural work in me to love unloveable people moves front and center, aiming to push Jesus out of the way.

Its not because I don't love God, but because I love myself more. Loving difficult people, even praying for my enemies threatens that love. Threatens me. My soul screams, "I can't! I won't!"

Tears stream down my cheeks. In His presence, I am broken. Because my soul truly longs to love like Jesus. It yearns for more of Christ to love like Christ. And with God's help, I am able to love Him and love others—even those who hurt me—a little more today than yesterday.

Because God gives value to suffering. 

I pause at that unexpected notion and I chew on it a while. It tastes like nothing I've ever experienced. 

. . . . .

Father God, thank You for loving me. I am unworthy. My love is prideful and self centered. Please help me to love like Jesus. Please help me to love You. I can't love right without You. Amen.  

"Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:3

CROWN OF LIFE

I take advantage in this sacred moment. A call to retreat, alone, where nature shows off its splendor. 

A rare summer breeze delicately brushes my cheek while a song of life in the trees dances with a symphony of birds and air. I smile.

God is here. I see Him and I hear Him. And He is in me. His Spirit tabernacles in the deep place where my soul sings its own melody to her King. 

Listen. Can you hear? The sweet whisper—a tender symphony all His own—responds. His secret voice, intimate and sure, swells truth and love and goodness. His bidding for me never ceases.

"Be crowned today with life, My love. Yesterday is forever spent. It dissolved like damp earth into hardened clay; clinging to history is not how you grow. Cast aside the rubble of last week's failures. Roll away today's lies that crush joy. And tomorrow's fears that wrestle against God-peace, these are no place for good fruit to grow. Receive life, receive life from the Lord of today. Let I Am cultivate your soul. He pours fourth His mercies fresh everyday, a crown of life for my Beloved to adorn."

 "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." —Jesus (John 10:10)

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO HUMBLE A MAN?

The fear of losing everything is not enough to bring a man to his knees. 

Fear is inadequate. Overrated and misunderstood, fear provokes pride. Inner pride in dark, secret places. Pride that demands my right. It may not reveal it's bitter reflection at first, but in sunless chambers incubation can't help but produce it's defensive refuge of self preservation. Fear promotes false protection and deceptive strength. 

Who am I really—but a vapor—protecting myself and my rights? This is a seriously ridiculous flaw in my thinking.

When I examine the Scriptures I undoubtedly discover God's holy omniscience. He is EL ROI, "The God who sees".  The One who so mercifully gives me breath, the One who sustains all life. The God who sees all things.

Yet, the first and shortest question asked of man by God is this: "Ayeka?" "Where are you?"  Oh, the penetrating brilliance of our Creator's rhetorical words, to cleverly shine light upon the inner strife of man's guilty shame and nakedness. Nevertheless, my thoughts focus on the one who hides. His name is Fear. Fear's need to hide is insistent and unyielding.

God surely giveth and He taketh away. If I lose all things by the Sovereign hand of my Author and Perfecter, who is it I contend with? Is it God Almighty? 

No. I contend with my flesh.

I love me. And regardless of the degree I may despise this or that in myself, I can't help but think of me. 

What I need. 

What I want. 

What I deserve.

The death of self is a grievous concept. To die willingly is most unnatural. It pushes against man's innate desire for self-preservation. If I fear losing my rights, my life, I find myself gripping tighter still, to all that is comfortable, self-serving and obedient to my will.

What does it take to humble a man?

Fear is no match for pride.

The answer is love.

Sincere, devout, sacrificial love.

Reverent love.

A love that knows no fear.

A love so strong and selfless, willing to face the cost of all loss, hands freely open, arms stretched wide.

Within the convoluted layers of my heart, the Spirit of Truth, in meekness and severe honesty, exposes precisely what I deserve.

Death.

O LORD, I need Your grace to die to self, so that love may live.

“Whoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
— Luke 17:33; Psalm 139:23-24