Love is always the right answer

Weighing in on the side of Love

“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.” 1 John 4:7 The MSG

4:00 AM Prayer:

What a mess I am, God. I don’t love nearly enough or nearly the right way. I let petty things get in the way far too often. I miss way too many opportunities. I’m too critical of people and I am tired of it, I just want to love. I want to build people up instead of tearing them down because tearing down can become a habit. But so can building up. Can it be that simple? Help me to have peace and let me get a glimpse of You in this still hour while everyone else is asleep. Help me to fall asleep for just a while. Stop these thoughts, quiet my mind. Jesus……Jesus……Jesus.

Right after I prayed that prayer I allowed my mind to fill with a vision of what life would be like if we all truly lived by the Spirit and allowed Him to control our words, our deeds, our plans. And while I was still pondering that I fell asleep. About an hour later I awoke with an indescribable feeling of what could only be described as a “golden peace.” It was as if my heart was lit from the inside out, and I felt the peace that I recognized as the one only God can give.

I write this as if it happened just this morning but it didn’t. It happened as I lay awake on my brother’s couch last week the 17th of May. And I am still trying to piece together just what I dreamed because I can’t remember a thing, only that wonderful peace when I awoke. We get those gifts sometimes and when we do we are always amazed. I am anyway.

I never got a WWJD bracelet when they came out, but in any given situation should we not ask ourselves that question? More importantly maybe we should ask: “How would Jesus love in this situation?” This culture we are in, it’s not a culture of love. All we have to do is look at the headlines. Really, has any culture ever been about love?

Peter sliced a guy’s ear off when they came to arrest Jesus. But somewhere between that time and when he died (tradition says by crucifixion upside down) he learned how to love like Jesus did. I can’t even get my mind wrapped around that kind of love. I have a very long way to go.

But that peace I experienced that morning, and the joy and wonder and grace I experience so often tell me that Jesus still loves me this I know.

We’re all broken and in need of healing. If only we would let down our walls long enough to turn towards each other and help each other mend. That’s the Spirit of reconciliation God wants and desires for each one of us. Especially in the church.

Too much of what we take part in here in our modern world is unnatural–that’s why we don’t have peace. We don’t even know how to get it. In reading the Psalms, praying in the quiet hours and spending time outdoors we can begin to relearn what we have forgotten.

Teach me to love, God. Teach me to love. And thank you for loving me.

The Reluctant Prophet

 

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It was one of those mornings…….the dawn was bursting over the Superstitions and the birds kicked up their chorus a notch as those rays touched earth.  We had some rain recently and they were celebrating what the earth had brought forth. God always births new days and each one is miraculous. Yet some come and go with little celebration, or I am too busy or overwhelmed to notice. Others however, like this one are like the hosts of Heaven are all raising their glasses in a toast to the new day.

At every turn in this life there are moments that breathe life and death. They reside side by side like the wheat and the tares growing in the field together waiting for harvest at the last day. God in His grace and mercy raises us up to resurrection after sleepless nights of worry, out of those times of deep disappointment in ourselves and others, times where it takes all we have just to get out of bed. Sometimes that’s the greatest miracle of all.

But today, this morning, God’s mercy and love take my breath away. When I opened to the words in Jeremiah tears immediately sprang to my eyes.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

I read the words again and again………”Before I formed you, before, before……….” the words echoed and lodged deep in my soul. I know this verse refers to the prophet Jeremiah, but it also applies to us. Those of us who know Him. There is something of the ancient in that verse. Almost as if I can imagine what it must have been like in the dawn of Creation when the morning stars sang together.

This world and the people in it can do its best to steal our joy, but the joy God gives is eternal. It springs up from somewhere deeper and older than we can imagine. Circumstances might snatch it away momentarily, but this joy that springs up at unexpected places and times is God giving us back what has always been ours. In those moments of extraordinary grace we experience our Redemption all over again.

They called Jeremiah the reluctant prophet. He said he was too young and couldn’t speak well. Aren’t we all just as full of excuses? But God stood by his side and protected him when the news was anything but good.

Like Jeremiah, God wants to use us. He speaks out of the deep eternal today. He says, “Tell others of My joy, give them a reason for the hope that lives in your heart. Be my love for them and my mouthpiece not so much in your words, but in your actions.”

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

Trust in the gray areas

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“Uncompromising trust in the love of God inspires us to thank God for the spiritual darkness that envelops us, for the loss of income, for the nagging arthritis that is so painful, and to pray from the heart, “Abba, into your hands I entrust my body, mind, and spirit and this entire day—morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Whatever you want of me, I want of me, falling into you and trusting in you in the midst of my life. Into your heart I entrust my heart, feeble, distracted, insecure, uncertain. Abba, unto you I abandon myself in Jesus our Lord. Amen.” Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God. 

Faith is not only the belief that God is waiting on the other side of the foggy shore of whatever murky stuff we are going through, it’s the certain knowledge that He is there, and will be there walking through it with us. Forever. Unless He takes us through those times where the path is obscured and the way seems blocked, we won’t experience the stretching of our faith whereby we can encourage others.

I find that when things are exceedingly dark, it can sometimes be easier to trust Him. It’s a natural reaction to grope for a comforting hand in the dark. And when things are going well, it’s also easy to trust Him, why shouldn’t we?

For me, its those gray areas that get to me. When I can’t see the road ahead. I like to see what I am getting into so I can mentally prepare. I don’t like being blindsided.

I remember the fog in California, when it would last for days. People would head to the foothills just to get out from under it and see the sun. But some of the most beautiful views are found in the fog. I got a picture of these roses taking the family dog to the vet one morning. And on the way out I got a cool picture of a turkey perched on a fence, his body outlined through the mist.

In fact, now that I think about it, three of the most powerful and comforting Spiritual experiences of my life occurred on foggy days.

Lately I have been grasping onto the familiar, the known. With both hands. And digging in with my feet. I am a person who burrows like a hermit crab into predictability and security. I like to see exactly where I am going and the year ahead will be a year of uncertainty, a year of change. Yet in this fog I am learning to trust Him with each day.

And here is one thing I know to be more true than anything else. That on the other side of anything and everything this life has to offer, Jesus offers life more abundantly. Whatever we give up for Him will be replaced by something better, something only He can give. I also know that my true security rests in Him alone. He is my provider. There is not one time I can look back on and see that He has failed to supply my needs.

Joy starts when we thank Him in advance for what we know He’s gonna do.

Grab onto the abundant life Jesus offers today, right now. Especially you there, standing in the gray areas of uncertainty. The way may not be easy, tears may have soaked the pillow the night before, but ours is the hope of joy in the morning. The joy of the Resurrection, His and ours.

The Son is coming out.

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Seeking the Quiet Place

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It is becoming more and more crucial that I seek the quiet place. That we all do. As the fever pitch of the world increases and the voices shriek for attention, I wonder things. I wonder why the greasy wheels still get the most attention. I wonder why the quiet ones, the ones who work behind the scenes and never ask for any glory are not rewarded more often. I wonder why it seems that some people make plans that never go awry. Then I remember:

You are always righteous, LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? Jeremiah 12:1

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Why does it seem that the world is getting crazier, louder, more brash, less graceful? Is it just me? I see how hard people are working as I sit here in the parking lot at work. I see where they park to keep their cars shiny and free from dings. I feel their effort because it’s mine too, the press to keep it all going. It’s enough to make you want just to let it all go and move somewhere simple and raise goats. Maybe that’s just me. All the while, the rich seem to get richer with less effort. Then I remember:

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Psalm 37:7

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When you’re in the quiet, you can hear things, but only with your soul’s ear to the ground. The Spirit is on the move.
Just below the unrelenting roar of the world, the scarlet Redemptive thread of God’s Holy Spirit is moving through the people. One church dies, and a people are scattered. Ten more come to life. Where they scatter, they regroup. They meet in bombed out buildings and shelters. The Spirit is moving,  I have read the stories of the Redeemed. People of every tribe and tongue all over the world are answering the call, called out of the darkness into His marvelous Light.
When I enter the Sanctuary, I remember.
Evil can prosper, but only for a season. Satan is having a heyday, for he knows his time is short. And whatever happens in this life, I know that the Hope I have is lasting.
When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Psalm 73:16-17


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The very same Spirit who brooded over the Genesis waters and stirred the healing pool of Siloam is moving in the world today. Even now, He whispers to me in the waves. And once when I stood on a deck in the half-light of midnight I saw water as far as the eye could see. He was there too.

These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:10

And the clowns the politicians and the rulers and the whiners and the liars will continue to yammer on and it doesn’t matter, not now not ever. The world whips up its best and brightest but it still won’t be nearly good enough.

I think King David said it best:

One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, And to inquire in His temple. Psalm 27:4

 

A morning like this…….

My future belongs to Him

Sitting in the dark this morning, I imagine what it might have been like; a morning much like this one. Maybe the stars were still out as they started on their way to the garden tomb, moving quietly with their little bundles of materials and spices up the path.

We all start the day a little like them, don’t we? With a mix of trepidation and grief and a little hope mixed in that what He said was really true. I sat in the quiet this morning, in the dark, the stars still visible and the Holy pink of dawn just starting to color the sky.

Sitting there, I imagined the little Holy processional……I heard the crunch of feet on the rocky pathway. I saw each head bowed down in sadness, watching the path as pink dawn just began to touch the earth with Holy light.

I imagine they heard the first bird too, just as I did, singing of hope despite everything. He always does. I continued to sit, and wait. I needed to start my day, I needed to get going. Still I sat. Some things are more important. I think of this world as it is today, the Miracle has already happened.  Still only part of the world has truly grasped it.

The women rounded the corner and as they did, the earth rumbled and shook. The guards struck dumb as beings of impossible light sat on the stone and said those words that lit Heaven and Earth with all the hope we will ever need:

“He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.

In fear and trembling and joy, they ran back to tell the others. Their little bundles were useless, for now they carried something far more important, tangible hope. And we’ve been running back to try to tell the others ever since. Sometimes we don’t tell it right, and sometimes we don’t live it right, but we’re still trying.

Some still don’t want to hear it. And there are times we fall prey ourselves to the same conspiracies that started way back then. We get sucked under by everything we see and hear and forget the living hope we still have. But it’s still there. Because He’s still here.

At that very hour after His resurrection the stories swirled, and conspiracies were cooked up. The stories have been swirling ever since except now they swirl faster and even more furiously. Back then they invented a big lie and as the Bible puts it, “a very large sum of money” was changed hands and the rest is history.

Stories, lies and large amounts of money. Sounds like our modern politics. Some things just never change.

As for me, I know the truth. I’m throwing my useless bundle of death to the side and embracing Hope. Time to get this day going.

 

 

 

The Still Small Voice

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This morning when I went out for my quiet time, I was assaulted by the rush of traffic from the street nearby. It seemed louder than usual, almost as if the cars were angry after the long weekend at having to go back to the daily grind. I don’t blame them. I am so blessed to have 3 and 4 days off in a row. The days I put in are long, but many people put in long days and have few or no days off. Ever.

It was a bit chilly so I lit up my little propane heater and I was reminded of those who have no heat, (thank you God for this warm little place where I can greet you.) I settled into what silence there was against the backdrop of the hum of commuters and I wondered about all the people passing and what things they might be facing. I wondered if they had a good weekend or if their hearts were still trying to recover from being battered and bruised and hurt.

Sometimes the battle we face in life is so loud and angry. We’re desperately longing for that quiet place, that little shady rest stop along the road. Or that little patch of sunlight where we can sit and warm up and lick our soul’s wounds for awhile.

As I was meditating on these thoughts of recovery and rest, I heard the soft coo-coo of a mourning dove nearby. “There it is,” I thought. That still, small voice against the roar of the world outside. Even now, with the hum of the clothes dryer here at my desk in the kitchen, I can still hear him (or her) outside.

How can I turn the world down and Him up? By being intentional. By not letting this world get to me. By minimizing all the political garbage on my Facebook news-feed. By throwing open the windows of my soul and letting some beauty in. By reading and focusing on the Word, His Words that will last long after this old world is through.

By remembering the sweet moments from the past weekend. How we laughed after the movie yesterday, over a glass of wine at the second of my picks (two in a row now) with a story-line involving an elderly mother dying. (Her Mom died this past year) I promised that the next 3 picks would be hers. And before that, in Macy’s after I almost put the jeans back twice because they cost too much and she wouldn’t let me, then finding out they were 50 percent off at the checkout.

We’ve got to hold onto the good moments when they come as if our life depended on it, because in truth, it does. Jesus promises us abundant life and peace in the midst of chaos. It’s crazy but true. Clinging to Him in the storm is the only way we can make it safely to the other side.

I love these verses from Romans 12 in the Message version:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. Romans 12:1,2

I pray a day of recovery for you today and of some peaceful moments, knowing that the Lord will always bring us through, whatever it is. He has promised it. This life is a little river flowing out into a sea of eternity we can scarcely imagine.

But it’s there.

 

We are all One in Christ Jesus

Love one another

But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:26-29

I remember when the Berlin wall came down. It was a historical moment. Here is a little snippet of Reagan’s infamous “tear down that wall” speech:

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I understand the fear of war and the pain of division that afflict this continent– and I pledge to you my country’s efforts to help overcome these burdens. To be sure, we in the West must resist Soviet expansion. So we must maintain defenses of unassailable strength. Yet we seek peace; so we must strive to reduce arms on both sides.

Jesus was the original “wall leveler.” He smashed walls right and left, and it got Him into a lot of trouble. He addressed women, as equals, he ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. He mingled with the rich and poor and he approached lepers and the outcasts of society. He never refused anyone who came to Him.

It’s been said that the ground is level at the foot of the cross and I believe that. There are no levels in Christianity, you either are or you aren’t. We are all clinging to the cross each and every day if we are to be honest with ourselves. I don’t know why, but we tend to grade each other and ourselves, but Jesus never does. God really doesn’t care how many times a week we go to church. He cares about the motives of our hearts. This needs to be said.

Paul spoke about walls and divisions when people in the church were starting to break themselves up in different “camps.” And we tend to do the same thing with our Pastors and each other. It’s just human nature I guess.

But this is the truth…….we are all in just as much of a dire and desperate need of Jesus as when we first believed. If we think differently, then we are deceiving ourselves. Most of the time, we fall somewhere between Billy Graham and Mother Theresa and the prodigal son and Peter when he hacked off the Roman’s ear. They were all in different places in their journey throughout their lives and so are we.

Christianity is simply this, that each day we come anew to the cross. Each day we celebrate a new Resurrection from death to life. Each day we try our best and admit our utter failure in ourselves and our utter belief in Jesus.

Jesus is praying for unity. He is praying that we love, and forgive. We are all on a journey to meet Jesus face to face someday. This means you, if you have ever said yes to Him. Look around, there are no “Super-Christians” here. Just people who have humbled themselves and responded to the Invitation.

In the quiet of night when only God saw.

In the middle of a church service.

With your arms around a fellow believer.

Even after you said you never would.

You get up, and you go. Against the odds, with all eyes upon you.

This means you, if you’ve ever felt the lump in your throat and tears spill over at Amazing Grace, or How Great Thou Art.

If you’ve ever known the unmistakable tug of the Spirit in the middle of the day.

This means you, even if you haven’t darkened the door of a church in a while. He knows you’re His and there is nothing you can do to change that.

You, who no longer have to be judge jury executioner of your own life, that’s so exhausting isn’t it?

I love how the Message puts Romans 3:21-24:

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

I like to think of it like this. When you are out on a hike, there is a kind of rule. It’s unspoken but it’s there. I like to call it the grace of the trail. We are all on different levels, but we respect each other just for being out there under God’s blue sky. We give each other grace, we step aside so the faster ones can pass. Always, we try to greet each other with a smile of encouragement.

This is what we need to do as for each other as believers.

So grab a walking stick and come along with me. Extending a hand of Grace is a lot easier at the foot of the cross, the trail-head always starts there.

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