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1410371904-christian-love

I’m an idealist. I believe in the Biblical standard, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

I don’t care if your skin is black, brown, white—or a funky “Sunset Orange” from the tanning booth. Pigment does not make the person; God does—and each one is created to be unique and beautiful.

You might vote as a registered Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian in November. And, gasp, in a season like this, you may decide no vote is better than any vote. I won’t allow differences of political conviction to sever relationships–even if we strongly disagree with each other

Are you a Buddhist? A Muslim? An atheist? Well…I’m a Christian and I’m going to love you enough to tell you about my Jesus….to raise your name up to heaven before the One who I know is the Way—because I care about where you spend the life after this one. What sort of friend would I be if I refused to live my faith out loud because of my own fear of rejection?

In this splintered, broken world people murder each other in cold blood because of prejudice…hatred…and unbridled, misdirected emotion absent of rational thought.

In a world of people crying out for peace, rogue policemen steal the breath of innocent men because they are draped in the beautiful, bronzed skin God gave them. An embittered man destroys five heroic souls who proudly wear the color blue–an emblem signifying a willingness to stand in the gap for those they serve.

Terrorists fill our streets with the blood of their hatred and the world shrinks back in fear—uncertain of the future and dreading the next brutal attack.

It seems the world has gone mad. It’s been ripped off its axis and sent spinning into a black hole of war and anarchy.

I want to remind my heart and yours…God is not pacing in His throne room.

He knows the beginning from the end. The evil and suffering in the world do not go unnoticed and soon—perhaps much sooner than we think—the Lion of Judah will return for His people.

Until then, we who already know Jesus must love others. How else can a groaning earth and aching people have any hope? Any chance of experiencing Christ? Any promise of eternal life unless we who know the Truth follow His example and just…love…others.

Scripture for Reflection

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (1 Cor. 13:13 MSG)

 

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:35 MSG)

 

I can’t impress this on you too strongly. God is looking over your shoulder. Christ himself is the Judge, with the final say on everyone, living and dead. He is about to break into the open with his rule, so proclaim the Message with intensity; keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple. (2 Timothy 4:2 MSG)

 

 

 

psalm 73

 

All of my self-created, self-proclaimed, self-protective vows could fill a book. You know, the ones whispered under my breath when I’ve been near bursting with anger…fear…judgment…hurt. Those silent promises and I-will-nevers intended to set a personal standard or to protect my own heart or the hearts of those I love. They’ve often proven impossible to uphold and are usually a hindrance to personal, relational, or spiritual growth.

You know what I mean, don’t you? We all have our nevers.

The divorced woman who has vowed to never marry another man—but lives as someone’s common-law wife. The woman who swore she would never smoke cigarettes after watching a loved one die of lung disease now burns through at least one pack a day. The grown man who was determined he would never treat his child that way—and hears the same ugly words of his father or mother erupting from his own mouth.

We all have our nevers. Read Peter’s words—his never—spoken boldly to Christ just prior to being turned over to the authorities.

31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” (Matthew 6:31-34).

Did Peter intend to live up to his words? Yes.

Was his motive wrong? Of course not!

Then what is the matter with Peter’s I-will-never? Is there something wrong with our nevers?

The problem begins with the words I will. Peter’s driving force—his strength—was centered on self; not on the sustaining power of God the Almighty. And self can only carry a given distance. Peter’s personal best? He made it as far as the walls of the court before betraying both Christ and his fervent I will never!

Let’s look to Jesus as he seeks solace in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his arrest.

And going a little farther he (Jesus) fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Did you notice it, Friend? Jesus—who knew of the beatings he would endure and understood the shame of the cross—said, “Not as I will, but as you will.”

Isn’t that remarkable? Christ didn’t choose self. Self-protection. Self-interest. Self-will. Instead, he chose the will of the Father. And the best of Christ joined to the will of the Father resulted in unimaginably beautiful forever-life at the intersection of nail and flesh.

The next time a personal I will never thrusts itself into my thoughts, my hope and prayer is that I would it turn it over to God.

Lord, what is Your will in this situation?  In this moment?   In this hurt?

 And even more—would that I could bravely whisper, “…but as You will.”

 

Scripture for Reflection

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. (Ephesians 6:10)

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.         (Isaiah 40:29)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

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The familiar ping of the phone alerted me to a new message. A hurting friend and I had been sharing our thoughts and discussing the razor-edged struggles of the hard in her life. A loved one had said things….done things. She wanted to know–could the relationship recover?

I paused before responding. I don’t see the way. I don’t know how the hurt can be redeemed. I don’t have any great wisdom to offer. The words I chose? With God all things are possible. And you are worth it!

Tears blurred my miniature screen when this dear one answered —I feel worthless.

I understood. These words? I owned them for years. And I wonder…how many of us have been in that place? How many of us have felt the thrust of the enemy’s arrow digging into the tender flesh of our hearts with messages that seem more real than the love letters written so many years ago through the hands of those empowered by God himself.

Maybe you’ve believed the lies, too. The messages burning in your heart may have been lodged there since childhood—the result of words spoken by a parent, a teacher, or peers. Perhaps you were burdened with the weight of worthlessness when a marriage begun with promise ended in betrayal. Is it even possible that your own past—the sins you can’t seem to forget—prove you are worthless?

But Jesus wants to affirm you. He’s not offering a positive mantra for personal repetition or a feel-good, I-believe-in-you word of false praise. He wants to give you so much more!

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Listen… do you hear his voice? Just as He did with the disciples, Jesus is calling you to follow him. He shouts out your name–a personal invitation to leave your nets behind–those things that entangle and threaten to drag you into dark waters. Leave them in the sand, Friend. Like refuse scattered along the water’s edge after a storm, you can shed your hurts…cast off the lies…release your burdens.

I’m not suggesting Jesus is an easy answer. The world is still a place of broken people. Suffering continues. Tears still flow. Certainly, Jesus didn’t mince words when he said, “I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

So what does Jesus offer? He gives Himself! The God who gave you life reassures you of His love.

“Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? Even if that were possible, I would never forget you! See, I have engraved your name on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:15-16 NLT).

The God of the universe and creator of all things loves you so passionately that when He spread His arms wide on the cross He was thinking of you! You are that valuable. What a beautiful, amazing affirmation!

Friend, in all of our difficulty and doubts let’s respond to Jesus. Will you follow after Him? Because one beautiful day we’ll celebrate a heavenly homecoming and Jesus will have been our destination.

 

Encouraging Bible Verses

 (Exodus 33:17 NKJV) So the LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.”

(Psalm 100:3 NKJV) Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

(Isaiah 43:1-3 NKJV) But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. {2} When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. {3} For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…”

(John 10:3 NKJV) “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he callshis own sheep by name and leads them out.”

LIVEFREETHURSDAY

Squat, aluminum spaces enclosed by unwelcoming barbed wire or steel gates are located randomly around the city. Marked by such signs as Storage-R-Us and The Space Place, people like you and I gather “stuff”—undesirable items and maybe-we’ll-use-them-someday-things—and pay hundreds of dollars every year just to have a video camera supervise our favorite junk.

While storage units can effectively meet a short-lived need, they were never designed to store clutter for months or years at a time. Yet, 50% of all units are filled with unwanted castoffs—furniture, old toys, and unused clothing—secret places clogged by material surplus.

Clutter

 

Like a personal storage unit, my mind is often full of spiritual clutter. The uneccesary…the unneeded…. even the unwelcome. Misguided self-perceptions, worry, unkind words spoken by another, past sins I hold onto out of guilt. Like a jumbled collection of debris tucked away in a rented lot, my self-created storage space grows crowded. Sometimes I’ll dig through the mess and rediscover a memory.

You’re worthless.

The carefully guarded words reemerge from the past—taunting me.
What was I thinking? I can’t believe God could forgive me for that.

Self-accusation robs my joy and disregards the mercy of the cross.

The accumulated rubbish stands testimony to my inability to let go—to give the One my faults…my hurt…my self-accusation. Then, he gently reminds me. Stop holding onto this debris! It does nothing but fill empty space when I promise to fill your heart.

Let me take it—all of it– for you, Child. Let me have your spiritual clutter and I’ll give you freedom.

 And when I set aside the unwanted castoffs? I no longer pay the price of keeping a tight hold on the stuff of the past.

Instead?  I’m rid of the spiritual clutter.  Friend, let’s remember to give Jesus our mess!

Scripture for Reflection

he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. 

(Titus 3:5)

 

 

 

LIVEFREETHURSDAY

 

 

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As Jesus left the house, he was followed by two blind men crying out, “Mercy, Son of David! Mercy on us!” When Jesus got home, the blind men went in with him. Jesus said to them, “Do you really believe I can do this?” They said, “Why, yes, Master!” He touched their eyes and said, “Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw. (Matthew 9:27-28 MSG)

 It was a journey. An agonizing process that at times seemed interminable. But, on a certain day in 2015, a prayed for…cried over…hoped for transformation occurred in the deepest part of who I was. God had scrubbed and swept the dark places, gathered the pieces of my brokenness into his hands, and reshaped that which seemed impossibly shattered into a complete, healed woman.

It happened. I could feel the difference—inside of that place where people are their most human.

This was no small feat—after more than forty years, 1,460 days, and 2, 102, 400 minutes—this was a miracle that defied explanation. I am convinced that God walked into the moment and heard my cries for mercy…grace…restoration.

In that moment, I became.

Now, I’m reading Christ’s words…feeling His heartache as He traveled from place to place.

“35 Jesus traveled around through all the cities and villages of that area, teaching in the Jewish synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And wherever he went he healed people of every sort of illness. 36 And what pity he felt for the crowds that came, because their problems were so great and they didn’t know what to do or where to go for help. They were like sheep without a shepherd.

37 “The harvest is so great, and the workers are so few,” he told his disciples.38 “So pray to the one in charge of the harvesting, and ask him to recruit more workers for his harvest fields.”         (Matthew 9:35-38)

In every place, Christ encouraged…offered Himself…loved others—one by one.

The discarded? The helpless? The hopeless? These were God’s people! These were the one’s He stepped out of heaven to rescue—as they are today. And in a very personal way, Jesus changed lives. He’s changed mine.

Like the disciples following after Jesus—regular people surrounded by their own mess—I’ve experienced God do the unusual and the unexplainable. I just can’t keep Jesus to myself! How could I?

So I’m praying that in my touch-and-go following after Jesus I’ll imitate Him enough…care for others enough…offer love enough that others will see in my regular life the extraordinary, personal God who still moves…still works…still rescues—because the hurting and the lonely? The needy and broken? They need to meet Jesus, too—one by one—through me. Through you.

Will you join me?

 

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Big God

 

The small, golden statue sat immobile on my roommate’s shelf—its eyes boring into me while I studied, laughed with friends, and slept. When Victoria was away for more than a day or two, I spun her statue toward the wall—gratefully tossing a shirt or towel over its broad, grinning face.

I didn’t fault my friend for seeking meaning…for expressing her faith…for her belief in a religious system so unlike my own. But the miniature, man-made deity set my spiritual nerves on edge when we shared the same space.

As a young Christian with limited personal insight, I didn’t realize that I harbored my own set of little gods. Like a modern-day Rachel (Genesis 13), I covertly questioned the power of an unseen and inaudible Almighty God and–in an effort to feel more in control of my seemingly directionless life–I tucked away my personal idols for safekeeping—away from prying eyes.

While my friend proudly displayed her minor god, mine was disguised in the regular, day-to-day of young adult life. The lesser idols—a desire to please family or friends and an inward-facing, struggling self-image—were rarely noticed or, they adopted more acceptable labels. Rather than seeking approval? I was dedicated. Instead of severely limiting the food I ate? I had great self-control.

As the Father began to teach me about the woman I am in Christ, the shackles of unintentional idol worship started dropping off one by one. Slowly, year-by-year, I’ve begun to realize how big God really is.

He has healed miraculously. He has rescued regularly. He has protected inexhaustibly. My God is able!

There are still times I fashion God into my image—the picture of a small God smiling benignly as He sits idly by on a bookcase—and the worries, concerns, or priorities of this world threaten to grow into a something greater than they should be. Then? I return to the promises of scripture…prayer…the counsel of a trusted mentor. And I am reminded that a manufactured idol has never given its life for someone; a self-created god never offers peace.  Only Christ–the  One who left a tomb standing barren–is a big enough God to do these things.

Scripture and Questions for Reflection

Exodus 15:11

Who compares with you among gods, O God?
Who compares with you in power,
in holy majesty,
In awesome praises,
wonder-working God?

 

Complete this sentence.

*Complete this sentence.

“God is too small to take care of my (finances, children, health, ______________”).

*Is there an idol you’ve hidden away? Have you allowed any area of your life to have more value or importance than Jesus?

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His pockets were hanging heavy–pulling at the waistband of the aqua swim shorts. Shells nearly burst through the white netting as his small legs carried him along the water’s edge—taking him first in one direction and then another like the miniature sanderlings sharing the beach.

“Look, mama!” Ben’s tiny hand wrapped itself around another sandy treasure—shells of all shapes and sizes now shining iridescent from the washing of water. Scampering toward the place we’d located bags, towels, and sunscreen Benjamin carefully unloaded the contents of his sagging trunks into a plastic orange bucket.

“Ohhh…aren’t they beautiful?” my little boy whispered. And gently, he added each shell to the growing collection—precious, cared for treasures.

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In recalling this moment, I begin to wonder…what do I treasure? Where do I find joy? Does the beauty of God’s creation thrill my heart?

I have to admit that I’m often so consumed with the day-to-day of managing life that I forget to live. I don’t always notice the small things—that day’s gifts. The sunrise. The smell of rain on a chilly day. My child’s smile.  I overlook some of the things I should notice. A friend’s kind remark. An encouraging comment on Facebook. My husband’s warm embrace.

So today? My prayer is that I will delight in the little things—that I’ll start each day with the intent of gathering and collecting those things that matter eternally. My own precious treasures.

What about you, Friend? Do you need to stop managing and start living? What sort of heart collection will you focus on this moment…this day…this week?

 

Scripture for Reflection

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! Psalm 100:4

LIVEFREETHURSDAY

 

 

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