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Drawn Away — The Lesser Loves

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Passion.  Covenant.  Intimacy.  Faithlessness.  Jealous love.  Relentless pursuit.  The book of Hosea weaves a poignant story that displays the depths of God’s heart and His relationship with His people.  In summary, God tells a prophet named Hosea to take a wife.  And not just any wife – He wants Hosea to marry a prostitute.  Hosea’s marriage became an allegory for God’s covenant relationship with His people.  To me this seems unfortunate, because God’s people were continually unfaithful to Him, throwing their devotion away on loves that were lesser than His.

First we need to set the stage with some backstory.  It has always been God’s plan to live in a covenant relationship with His people.  A covenant is a formal, binding agreement between two parties – in this case, God and His people.  This covenant relationship is a solemn promise to be faithful to Him in every way and receive His love even as we give Him the whole of our devotion.  If God’s desire is for a covenant relationship, why did He give His Old Testament people the Law?  God had to give the Law because His people couldn’t abide in the boundaries of the covenant.

The problem with the Law is that it requires no relationship, merely a Law-Giver and some Law-followers.  Throughout Scripture we see God continually calling to His people, alluring them into true relationship with Him – into covenant.  The book of Hosea pinpoints the problem with God’s people, the reason they couldn’t live in pure covenant with Him.  Though idolatry is a major issue, the underlying cause of their idolatry is a spirit of harlotry:  “For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray, and they have played the harlot against their God” (Hosea 4:12).  Again in chapter five we see that “they do not direct their deeds toward turning to their God, for the spirit of harlotry is in their midst, and they do not know the Lord” (v. 4). Harlotry is not just sexual; it is a destructive spirit that taints everything it touches – it invariably causes pain and ruins lives and relationships.  Hosea’s wife was a prostitute and didn’t try to hide it.  Much like Hosea’s wife, God’s people were continually running to the arms of their various “lovers” – their vain idols and lesser loves, those things that they cleaved to more than their King.  The Israelites mistakenly thought that it was these other loves that provided for them, that satisfied them and filled them with good things.  They failed to comprehend that it was God who was providing for them, blessing them, and caring for them.

Lesser loves always turn out to be empty hopes.

Lesser loves always turn out to be empty hopes.

This is the bitterest draught of harlotry – the selling of one’s heart for something that is nothing but an empty delusion.  God’s love burns strong and deep for His beloved people, and throughout this book of Scripture I see reflected in Hosea’s pain the agony of God over His unfaithful Bride.  As I read through this book again, I found my heart twisting to think that I, just like God’s Old Testament people, had ‘“transgressed the covenant”’ (6:7).  How many times have I ‘“spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant”’ (10:4)?  I am false to my first Love in that I give away pieces of my heart to lesser things, things that do not last.  Anything that becomes more important, more sought-after in your life than God is a lesser love that entangles you in the deceptive chains of self.  Even dreams and plans, if not kept in perspective, can become lesser loves in our lives.  And to cling to lesser loves is a sin.  I say “lesser loves” because God’s love is so perfect, so passionate and pure, that everything is made lesser in its light.  So often, though, we are drawn away by these lesser loves, and all too quickly we are snared by things that cannot satisfy but sap us of our strength and our life.

The truth is that there is no real beauty in lesser loves – any beauty, any attraction is but a fleeting illusion.  “Because Ephraim has made many altars for sin, they have become for him altars for sinning” (Hosea 8:11, emphasis added).  This verse is saying that when we delight in or depend on other things more than we delight in and depend on our Lord, we build altars in our hearts for those things.  Then, as we continue to cherish these unholy altars, they become places for sin to reign in our lives.  “They became an abomination like the thing they loved” (Hosea 9:10).  This powerful but painful verse is connected to the earlier verse.  God’s people let sin into their lives and became like the vile things that they loved above their God.  Like the Israelites, the things we pursue dictate what we become.

God’s heart is to heal His people of their unfaithfulness and love them freely.  As His love saturates us, it brings beauty where there was none.  Think of Hosea’s wife, Gomer.  She left him and transgressed their covenant relationship over and over again.  She was a prostitute, and she continued to prostitute herself after their marriage, leaving Hosea and her children multiple times.  There is nothing beautiful about that.  We don’t really know quite how Hosea’s story ends.  He brings Gomer back into his home – again – and with an air of finality declares that she is his and will remain with him; she will not play the harlot any longer.  What we do know is the end of God’s story with His people, the glorious ending that has been written since before time began.  Take a look at these verses from the last chapter of the book:

Like an olive tree

Like an olive tree

‘“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him.  I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon.  His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like the olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon.  Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine.  Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon.”’ – Hosea 14:4-7

There was no beauty in God’s people; there was nothing lovable about them.  That is the mystery of God’s perfect love: it creates beauty out of brokenness and makes its object lovable.  Not one of us was worth loving; not one of us was truly lovable.  But then Jesus came.  He loved us before we even knew Him, before we were lovable; and He chose to die on our behalf.  As Romans 5:8 tells us: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

So often we fail to grasp the depths of love behind Christ’s sacrifice.  Yes, He died to reconcile us to God, but do you realize that, just as Hosea did when he bought his wife back from slavery, God paid for what was already His?  When God redeemed us with the blood of His Son, He bought back what already belonged to HimThat is what it means to redeem something – to buy back what is yours.  We already belonged to Him – He is our Creator and our Father – but we chose to prostitute our hearts to lesser loves and sell ourselves to the chains of lesser laws.  His unfathomable, eternal love demanded that something be done to restore us to Himself, pure and undefiled.

It is His jealous love that relentlessly pursues each one of us, because He is eager to redeem His Bride, His beloved people, His Church.  His love makes us able to love and be loved; His love makes us beautiful.  Let go of the lesser loves, for they do not satisfy; they will not make you whole.

‘“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her.  I will give her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth….And it shall be in that day,” says the Lord, “that you will call Me ‘My Husband’ and no longer call me ‘My Master…’”’ – Hosea 2:14-16

Arise, beautiful one, for Hope is calling.

Arise, beautiful one, for Hope is calling.

The King of Kings is alluring you into deeper intimacy with Him; He is ready and waiting to break off those chains of lesser loves and lesser laws that have so long held your heart captive.  He is giving you a door of hope through relationship with Him; He is restoring you to the passion and the love you first felt for Him.  He does not want to be merely your Master; He wants to be your Lover and you His devoted Bride.  He, in the passion of His jealous, perfect love is drawing you gently back to Himself, your first Love.  Do you feel Him wooing you?

‘“I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.”’ – Hosea 2:19-20

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Open My Eyes

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Driving to Dallas -- yes, there WERE ten of us (two people were avoiding the camera...).

Driving to Dallas — yes, there WERE ten of us (two people were avoiding the camera…).

After only two weeks back at college following Christmas break, I and nine others (the faithful few!) set out from North Dakota for Dallas, Texas, to spend a week working with Urban Plunge, doing ministry in the inner city area.  Eight girls, two guys, four days in an 11-passenger van, and four days of dawn-to-dusk ministry – you’d better believe it was interesting!

What did my team and I actually do while we were there?  Honestly, we did mostly “behind-the-scenes” service, those unpleasant and typically tedious aspects of ministry that aren’t often lauded.  We cleaned a shower house and an apartment.  We sorted and organized clothes.  I dressed the mannequins at a charity store.  We sorted and organized clothes.  We served at a soup kitchen for the homeless, tutored kids at an afterschool program, and played Bingo with the residents at an assisted living center.  And did I mention we sorted and organized clothes?! (That was kind of a theme for us; at one location, our team of ten spent four hours in a 6-by-20-foot space doing that very thing – and we did get on each other’s nerves a bit that afternoon!)

At this point, you are either thinking, “Wow!  A mission trip – how exciting!” or “So when exactly did you do ministry?”  That’s how most people view missions: either it is something exciting and enviable, or you wonder when the real ministry starts.  What is “missions,” then, and what is ministry?  What do those frequently-used “Christian-ese” words even mean?  What makes those things, those activities, authentic and impactful?  What is the standard we must meet in order for them to be “worth it”?  Do you need to travel far and preach the gospel message to people whose skin is a different shade than yours or whose language and culture are different?  Or do you need to sell everything you own and go cuddle orphans in Africa?  Perhaps – but perhaps not.

I really want to break down these questions here and share some thoughts.  Missions and ministry and kids – those are my passions (aside from writing, of course!), and I can say with full confidence that I got to experience them all during my week in Dallas.  But wait, we really only did the “dirty work” for ministries.  That’s not real ministry – right?  Not so.  You see, ministry, very simply, boils down to this:

ministry = seeing needs and meeting them

That’s it – that’s all.  It is no more complex than that.  Missions and ministry have at their core the meeting of needs.  And missions particularly seeks to meet those needs with the powerful, life-altering message of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.  Doing missions and doing ministry don’t mean you need to go far from home.  If God asks you to give up everything and move to a country in Africa, that’s awesome!  But you know what else is awesome?  God asking you to meet needs (do ministry!) right where you already are.  No matter where God takes you in your life or in this world, you are always called and always able, through God’s mighty strength, to do ministry and live missionally in the place where you are.   

I’ve already been a foreign missionary for four years of my life, and I’ve been a PK (pastor’s kid!) for all my life.  Basically, I’ve been there, done that.  I’ve done more and experienced more than many people get a chance to in an entire lifetime.  Right now I’m going to a small (but amazing!) Bible college in North Dakota; I haven’t been in Africa for a year and a half.  I love Africa, and I want to move back someday with my own family.  But even though I have left Africa for now, I’m still on the mission field – I’m still a missionary.  I am a full-time student, but I am also in full-time ministry.  How?  Because I see needs and meet them wherever I am, and I take all the simple, everyday opportunities to live missionally by sharing God’s truth and grace – praying with people, letting people cry while I hold them in my arms, baking cookies for someone, offering encouragement and a listening ear, or giving out much-needed smiles.   Ministry and missions are real and oftentimes raw — they are life.

Ministry and missions are simple – but they are not easy.  They are beautiful, but you have to first let our Heavenly Father open your eyes to the needs around you before you can begin to meet them.

So after the work was done, we decided to live it up in the big city -- group date to Krispy Kreme!

So after the work was done, we decided to live it up in the big city — group date to Krispy Kreme!

When I let five-year-old Marguerite “do” my hair at the afterschool program then cuddled her on my lap, that was ministry.  Her finger-combing was tear-jerking for me, but she was so delighted.  My whole trip was worth it for that moment.

When I chatted with a mentally handicapped man during Bingo, that was ministry.  I don’t think people usually talk with him much, but he was obviously longing for some conversation and companionship.  My whole trip was worth it for that moment.

When my team spent over twenty-some hours throughout the week “debriefing,” talking about our experiences, praying for each other, and sharing what God was doing in us, that was ministry.  It was amazing not only for my team but also our facilitator, Andrā, who was totally blessed by our passion for the Lord and our commitment to serve selflessly.  The whole trip was worth it for that.

The whole trip was worth it for the people we got to meet and pray with; it was worth it for the ministries we blessed with our labor; and it was worth it for the God-orchestrated fellowship that my team had as we served side by side (very literally in most cases!).  It was worth it for the things God did in us and through us on the trip.  But let me tell you why it was worth it.  It wasn’t actually “worth it” because of what happened – that was all always in God’s hands.  It was worth it because we stepped out in obedience to the voice of our Father and let Him open our eyes to see the needs around us.

After we returned to North Dakota and I was enjoying the manifold comforts of a warm shower and a bed (and probably experiencing withdrawal after spending so many hours in extremely close proximity to my nine team members), I was praying for the people we’d met on the trip and thanking God for all that He had done in us and through us.  I prayed (and this is word-for-word from my journal), “that lives would be changed because of our service on the trip.”  And immediately I flinched.  My motives were right, but my methods were all wrong.  God began to speak to me in that moment.  My service change lives?  Hello!  Is my name Jesus Christ?  Did I live a sinless life, die out of love for the sin of broken humanity, and rise again in victory over sin?  No.  So why pray that my service changes lives?!  I should be praying that, through my obedient actions, I was (and will continue to be) a carrier of God’s presence and a facilitator of His Holy Spirit, who is already at work in the hearts of people.

Let me share one wonderful thing that God keeps showing me:

The beautiful thing about ministry and missions is that we are only responsible to be obedient to God and meet the needs before us; the outcomes are His responsibility.

We may have experienced some culture shock. (Don't be deceived by the grain elevator posing as a tall-ish building on the Ellendale skyline!)

We may have experienced some culture shock. (Don’t be deceived by the grain elevator posing as a tall-ish building on the Ellendale skyline!)

Transforming lives is His job, not ours.  I don’t know about you, but that makes my heart feel light and free.  I can do full-time ministry and live missionally every day of my life and leave the impact in His capable hands.  I love what Paul says regarding the spread of the Gospel message:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.  So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but it is God who gives the increase….Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” (1 Cor. 3:6-7; 4:1-2)

My dear friends, let us be faithful caretakers of the priceless Gift we have been given, Jesus Christ, and live outrageously obedient to Him who first loved us and draws us near through His kindness.  May we learn to live missionally and do ministry by simply meeting the needs around us.

Father, open our eyes to see the needs; open our eyes to see as You see.  We give you all the glory and all the responsibility for outcomes; we will be faithful in obedience and extravagant in love.  We can do no less.  Amen.

Here is a brief glimpse of my team’s ministry in Dallas:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12yvFLturZA&feature=youtu.be

Timeless Trust

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A very wonderful and wise lady at my church said that we wouldn’t have to say, “I trust you” if there were no question of the path.  Isn’t that so true?  “I trust you” isn’t something we randomly say to start a conversation like a “Hey, how are you doing?” sort of greeting; it is something deep and personal that we say when we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.  Real trust is always revealed in the face of uncertain circumstances.

Yet trust is a tricky thing because it makes us vulnerable.  Trust is about relying on someone or something other than yourself to come through for you, and that can feel scary – dangerous, even.  And that is where we run into trouble trusting God.  Oh, we know we are supposed to trust Him, knowing that His plans are best and that He is good.  So, like good Christians, we place our “trust” in God – but just in case He doesn’t come through on His promises, we devise a back-up plan, a Plan B to implement when Plan A just isn’t working out.

In The Princess Bride, Westley told Buttercup that he would always come for her because that is what true love does – it keeps promises and always prevails.  Always, Westley said.  Now, long story short: Westley left, Buttercup ended up engaged to the horrid Prince Humperdinck, Westley came back only to be parted from Buttercup again.  Then the prince was going to force Buttercup to marry him.  At the wedding ceremony, Buttercup waited in all the defiance of her certainty that Westley was coming.  She goaded the prince, gloating that Westley was coming to rescue her.

And then the hasty ceremony was over, and her words broke something deep inside me: “He didn’t come.”  He didn’t come.  How often do we say that about God?  We find ourselves in situations, waiting expectantly for certain, even promised outcomes, and then we hit the point where our situation becomes so hopeless, so unalterable, that we give up on trusting Him.

"He didn't come."

“He didn’t come” — Do you sometimes feel like that?

The problem is that we put limits on our trust – particularly time limits.  When things don’t happen and promises aren’t fulfilled according to our concept of a “timely manner,” our trust falters.  After the marriage ceremony, Buttercup’s trust in Westley failed.  She had gone past the point of no return, and so she jumped, in a matter of minutes, to her back-up plan.  As she prepared for suicide (a dramatic but not entirely uncommon back-up plan), Westley revealed his presence.  Of course, she is delighted to see him but is also grieved at her recent marriage to the prince.  Yet Westley announces that it wasn’t what it seemed – she isn’t really married to that cad and is free to leave with Westley instead.  You see, Westley and Buttercup had different perspectives.  Buttercup was so caught up in her disappointment that things weren’t “working out” that she failed to see circumstances as they really were.

I find that this is a very honest depiction of our relationship with God: time-bound trust, unmet expectations, uncertain outcomes – and a back-up plan to “save” us from disappointment and make us feel secure.  My dear friends, we have to give up our back-up-plan way of life.  What does that mean?  It means that you give yourself fully to what God is doing in you and through you.  It means that you don’t plot out what you will do if (insert promise here) doesn’t come to pass (even though God said it would).  It also means – and this is very important – that you don’t plan how you will be “happy” if God doesn’t come through for you. 

Now, don’t get indignant about that statement; let me explain.  I don’t mean that we shouldn’t be content with life or that we shouldn’t find joy in simply being in relationship with our King.  After all, that is more than enough because He is more than enough.  But we cannot spend our time planning on how we will be good, happy Christians if God’s promises fail because that is the same as renouncing our trust in Him; if we are thinking this way, we are basically affirming that He isn’t “coming for us.”  I have done this many times – even recently (as in yesterday): sitting and thinking about how I will decide to be “content” even if my God-dreams never become reality.  Warning bells should have been going off in my head long ago – or perhaps they were and I was too busy being a “happy Christian” to hear them.  There is a MAJOR problem here: this kind of thinking is reliant on lies about God’s goodness and faithfulness (or lack thereof).

I never considered it bad to have a back-up plan, and I never considered it incongruous to have a back-up plan even as I claim to trust God completely.  In fact, I never even realized that I had back-up plans for my life until I realized that none of them would work out.  Sometimes God has to take all other options away for us to realize that our trust needs to be in Him alone.  I’m not even out of college, and I had back-up plans for my back-up plans for the rest of my life.  I sensed the Lord smiling knowingly as He asked me this last week, “And how is that working out for you?” as I stood amidst my crumbling, last-resort plans.  Obviously it wasn’t working out so well.

Now, take note that nothing happened to break God’s promises in my life; the only thing that had a break-down was my plans for “just in case” God’s promises don’t come through.  This brings up an interesting point: not only can we follow our own plans for our lives, we can also (and perhaps more dangerously) be following God’s plan for our life in our own strength.  That is why we desperately need to listen to the heart of Proverbs 3:5-6:

The path is straight and sure, but that doesn't mean you can see its end.

The path is straight and sure, but that doesn’t mean you can see its end.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct [make smooth, make straight] your paths.”

The truth is that, in order to “trust in the Lord with all your heart,” you actually can’t lean on your own knowledge, your own strength, your own back-up plans.  Relying on your own strength will make your path confusing and fraught with worry, and when you are trusting in your own strength – even while following God’s plans – you will never be able to see the fullness of His blessing and faithfulness in your life.  According to these verses, all we are required to do is trust Him; we don’t have to strain or struggle to discern the route or try to “figure things out.”  And notice that the promise that God will direct you, making your path smooth and straight, doesn’t mean that you get to see your path beginning to end.  God calls us to take part in His adventure, and He guarantees His goodness toward us.

It is hard to give up your back-up plan when your every fear rises up to scream that you need to protect yourself and that God’s promises cannot be trusted.   But we can refute and lay aside these fears with strength and victory, by the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace.  Know all His promises are “yes and amen” (2 Cor. 1:20) and that He is always faithful even when we are faithless because He cannot deny His nature (2 Tim. 2:13).

And so I will leave you with the words of the Lord from Isaiah 55:10-11.  May these beautiful words of life stir up a fresh hope within you as you wait for the sure promises of our Lord, who always comes for you; and may He expand your trust beyond the boundaries of time into the limitlessness of eternity:

spring buds“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may bring seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

 

Love Covering

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While reading through Proverbs again I was particularly struck by this verse: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins” (10:12 NKJV).  A companion verse is 1 Peter 4:8, where Peter was quoting the original: ‘And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins”’ (emphasis mine).

But what does it mean for love to “cover” sins? 

Junk under a rug is still just junk.

Junk under a rug is still just junk.

I think this is an issue we as the Church and as individuals often face.  Sin is, well, SIN – are we supposed to casually ignore it because we are being “loving”?  Not at all.  True love, as we find in 1 Corinthians 13, is always truthful (v. 6) – and oftentimes the truth is painful to both the giver and the receiver.  God certainly doesn’t just say, “Oh, no big deal.  Everyone sins sometimes.  Let’s just forget about that, shall we?”  No – our sin, our disobedience, brings Him great pain, and ultimately it will cause us and others to suffer as well.

The real problem is that our concept of what it means to “cover” is misinformed.  Love does not hide sin, sweeping it under the rug of ignorance; love always brings light, and with light comes life.

And then I had a beautiful God-thought: love covering.  That is what love does – it provides a covering.  Not to hide the ugliness of sin but to purify and redeem what it touches.  Like the garments God provided for Adam and Eve after they realized their nakedness (Genesis 3:21), our love covering strips away shame and offers wholeness.  Likewise, when the prodigal son returned to his father’s house, the father brought out the best robe and clothed his wayward child (Luke 15:22).  This is what our Heavenly Father does for us.  The love covering He provides is not something that hides sin, but rather it removes filth and shame and guilt, covering the nakedness of sin with the pure warmth of grace.

Now, of course, what Adam and Eve and the prodigal son received were but a shadow of what we now have; our ultimate Love Covering came through Christ: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, emphasis mine).  It is the power of the cross through the resurrection that allows us to lay our ashes at the feet of Jesus and exchange them for a holy garment of purity and fellowship with God.  In that moment, we are accepting His love as the covering that alone makes us whole.  It is exquisite.

This is easy. Loving is difficult.

But that is not the full extent of the love covering.  God convicted me of this recently.  Only Jesus can provides the atonement for sin and thus the final Love Covering, but we as His Church are called to extend His love covering not only to other believers but to a world that doesn’t know what true love looks like.  Love is wonderful when it is aimed at us, but we often shy away when the time comes to direct it toward others.  I know I do, at least.  After all, it is so much easier to show where someone has gone wrong than offer a solution.

It is so much easier to walk past when you should reach out.  It is so much easier to focus on self than it is to focus on other.  Loving hurts, and that is why we avoid offering a love covering to others, that extension of God’s grace that brings life.

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” – Romans 10:13 ESV

We are very good at pointing out faults – sometimes we act as though it were our job and not the Holy Spirit’s to convict others of sin – but we don’t often offer a love covering.  People need to see the love of God demonstrated through our actions and words.  Sometimes providing a love covering means that you step in to fill the gap where you know another is weak.  True love offers strength and hope; instead of just pointing out the “gap,” love stretches to cover and fill it.  True love builds up and does not tear down.  It gives when it does not receive and endures when all else crumbles.  And this love, this glorious covering, needs to be extended just as much to unbelievers as to believers, for it is the proof of His Love living in us:

‘“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”’ – John 13:34-35

Unfortunately, we are quick to rescind this love covering when others make mistakes.  We draw back and begin to cling to hatred, allowing its little roots to settle in our hearts and minds.  Hatred, though, is a two-way poison.  I am sure we can all agree that hating is an ugly thing.  No one thinks well of hateful people.  But did you ever stop to think about the hated person?  The truth is that, just as hating never made anyone better, so being hated never made anyone better.

Your Savior loved you before you were lovable (Romans 5:8), and His love is what makes you loving, lovable, and lovely.  Jesus Christ already died for every sin – past, present, and future – and it is not your job to decide who should receive the covering of His love.  He gives freely and without measure to all, for His Love has already covered every sin.  Hatred is a bitter cup to bear, whether you are giving or receiving, but God’s love is the wellspring that never runs dry.

Will you choose with me today, this very moment, to set aside hatred and extend His love covering?  Only the covering of His gracious love denies the authority of evil and breaks the bonds of sin.  Only True Love redeems, and only True Love never fails.

love-heart

May we give as we have been given and cover as we have been covered, for His love heals, blesses, and restores that which has been cast aside as broken, cursed, and bruised.  May the Lord expand in you and through you His glorious Love Covering as He teaches you how to love as He loves.

Are there any areas of your life where you need to receive God’s Love Covering?  Are there any people who you specifically need to extend a love covering to?

Unveiled

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Have you ever wondered what God’s will is?  I know, I know – it’s a rhetorical question.  All of us who are following Jesus have wondered that at some point.  Of course, if you ask such a question, you might get the “preacher answer”: it is God’s will that you be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3).  Because THAT really helps.  Very practical, right?  What does it even mean?  You really just wanted to know what to do.  And so with a sigh you return to the frustrating task of determining the deep and mystical will of God for your life.  Or perhaps you just give up.

The first – and perhaps only – real problem is that we see the will of God as “mystical.”  We even say “the will of God” in reverent tones as if it is some hallowed, unknowable truth we must somehow ascend to or that we’ll only understand after we die and “go to be with Jesus.”

That’s just nonsense.

Don't make "confirmation" your fail-safe.

Don’t make “confirmation” your fail-safe.

We so often want Him to tell us what we should do – what is the right thing, the right choice.  It is important and good to pray, staying in continual contact with God, but it is also very important to recognize our own motives in asking for “confirmation.”  Let’s be honest: we often ask for “confirmation” not because we truly want to know what is right but because we are afraid.  We are so afraid of failing that we want security so that, if anything goes wrong along the way, we can blame God.

This safety-net mindset, however, denies the guiding presence of His Holy Spirit in your life, and it also embraces a view of God that is contrary to His nature.  God isn’t going to trick you, and He isn’t going to let you choose something not good without warning.  You, of course, are free to choose, but you will know if what you are doing is wrong because He is living and active within your spirit!  It is not as though we will get to the end of life and stand before Jesus only to have Him say, “Oh, you know thirty years ago when you got that offer to take the job in Phoenix and you decided not to take it?  Well, I really wanted you to take that job, and I just wanted to let you know that you have been outside My will since then” or “Wow, your life really could have been better if you had three kids instead of two; you were in my will but you really didn’t experience My best for you, sorry.”  It sounds laughable to say it like that, but that is how we treat God’s will most times, so let’s just clarify some things here.

For starters, we should understand what we are talking about when we say “the will of God.”  What exactly does that phrase mean?  God’s will is, quite simply, all His thoughts and desires and plans for His creation, of which you are an integral part.  Never deny your special place in His will!

This is not the fullness of your hope in life!

This is not the fullness of your hope in life!

And secondly, God’s will is not some fine line that we follow from point A to point B.  We are not trains on the railroad tracks of His will that, if ever we should deviate, we suddenly find ourselves derailed and unable to recover.  Life is an adventure, every day of which has been written in God’s book before the foundations of the earth were laid (Psalm 139:16) that we may walk in all the good things He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).  It is a skillfully-wrought story with a plotline that twists and turns, has its joys and its sorrows, but always remains in the control of God, the great Author and Finisher (Hebrews 12:2), who works all things together for the good of His people (Romans 8:28).

Does that sound too simple?  Good.  Because it is precisely that simple.  It breaks my heart when I see people desperately trying to discern God’s will.  God doesn’t want you to be confused, and He isn’t asking you to determine what His will is.  He sent Jesus in order to reconcile all things unto Himself, drawing earth and heaven, sin-bound time and glorious eternity, into beautiful collision, just as He always intended it to be (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20).  In doing this, He “made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself” (Ephesians 1:9).  Do you understand what that is saying?  It is saying that it is His pleasure to let you know what He desires; and not only is it His pleasure to do so, He has already done so!  Then, to go beyond even that, when we choose to allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds, we are transformed and made able to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2)!

Many hundreds of years before Jesus came to redeem us, David had the right idea:

“The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, and He will show them His covenant” – Psalm 25:14

In the same Psalm, David speaks repeatedly of how the Lord corrects us and teaches us His ways.  We are not left to wander aimlessly, nor are we in danger of “falling off the track” when we are seeking to please Him.  Our Lord is mighty enough to correct you, and, as our Heavenly Father, He is also loving enough to guide you rightly.  He has unveiled within you all the mysteries of His will and taken authority over any darkness and confusion that held you back from knowing it.  Declare your trust in His goodness toward you today!

Are you ready to unveil the adventure of your story?

Are you ready to unveil the adventure?

Flow

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Poppy, camera pouncer -- only a few weeks old

Poppy, camera pouncer – only a few weeks old. It was love at first sight.

On Monday I lost my sweet lovie from South Africa; my mom had to have Poppy put down.  I will never cuddle her again, my quirky yet faithful companion for the five most difficult years of my life.  My heart hurts, but this post isn’t really about my dog’s death.  More than any other death I have encountered, losing Poppy has laid me bare.

There inside my dream
I heard the river roar;
I stumbled through the darkened mist,
But I couldn’t find the shore.

Now this might seem silly to you.  After all, it’s way more tragic when people die because people have souls and are more important – right?  But let me tell you something.  Creation didn’t choose sin; people did.  Poppy’s death has left my heart in anguish, but not merely for the reasons you might think.  I miss her because I am human and I loved her – love her still; but that is not what truly hurts most.  You see, the consequence of sin is brokenness, and creation is powerless to stop that which people chose.  Though we deserve the death brought by sin, creation does not; it is subject to the consequences of our guilt.  Creation cannot choose something better.  Poppy could not have chosen to make her life better by thinking better thoughts or doing better things.  Her little body, like all of creation, fell prey to the brokenness of sin.

Sin always manifests itself in brokenness – this is the curse of sin that creation has been forced to bear.  Romans 8:20-22 tells us, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.”  What is this “hope” for which creation was subjected to brokenness?  The hope is the revelation of the sons of God through Jesus Christ, which brings with it reconciliation and restoration – the redemption of all created things (Romans 8:19-25).

I could have asked, “Why?  Why my Poppy?  Why is there so much pain?”

Happy memories of life around the world with my Poppy.

Happy memories of life around the world with my Poppy.

But asking “why?” can become a dangerous addiction when the answer is very simple: brokenness.  So I am choosing let Him flood my being with His peace.  Peace doesn’t take away the hurting.  Instead it allows me to recognize that suffering is part of life in a broken world and, in doing so, exchange my ashes for beauty at the feet of Jesus.  He is revealing new depths of His gracious love in the midst of the brokenness of creation.

A voice within the mist
Said, “Tell me what do you seek?”
I said, “I have a mighty thirst
But I feel so tired and weak.”
He said, “I am the river

Full of power and truth.
You’ve been looking outside yourself
When it’s there inside of you.”

Those verses I quoted from Romans 8 are followed by a well-known, oft-quoted verse: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God…” (v. 28).  I claim that promise.  As tears run down my face, I can without hesitation proclaim my unwavering trust in God’s working all things together for my good.  Not to say that all things are good in themselves or that pain is not valid, but to recognize that I am free to rest in the surety of His goodness.  I don’t live a glass-half-empty life, but I don’t live a glass-half-full life either;  I live a life that is always full to overflowing, everyday living all-out, a testament of the fullness of His gracious love.

My mom pointed me to Ezekiel 47:1-12.  This passage never fails to move me deeply.  I encourage you to read it devotionally when you have an opportunity to do so, because there is so much more than just what I am going to draw out here.  Ezekiel is seeing a vision of the new Temple and the New Jerusalem that God is preparing for His people, which, as Jesus-followers, we understand to extend far beyond mere physical fulfillment to spiritual reconciliation with the Father and His purpose for His creation.

Bursting with vivid imagery of the restoration of creation, these verses in chapter 47 describe the river of water flowing from the altar in the Temple.  As Ezekiel is led forth, the river becomes broader and deeper until it is utterly uncrossable.  ‘“Son of man, have you seen this?”’ asks the man leading Ezekiel (v. 6).  Oh, can you hear what that question means?  Have you seen, have you comprehended what the Lord is doing?  The river flows down to the sea, and by its waters the sea is healed.  Where the river goes, its water brings life and healing: “everything will live wherever the river goes” (v. 9).  And the life of the river brings abundance.  The sweet waters of the river tenderly restore everything receptive to its touch; healing flows as part of the life it gives.

And the river will flow,
The river will flow.
Through all of the times of your life
The river will flow.
And the river is love;
The river is peace.
And the river will flow through the hearts
Of those who believe.

Revelation 22:1-5 echoes, almost word-for word, the vision of Ezekiel – except that Revelation has an expanded vantage point because the Messiah, Jesus, has already lived, died, and rose again.  In the previous chapter John writes of the beauty of the New Jerusalem with a view expanded with the knowledge of Christ our Messiah; here, we need no temple, for “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22).  John speaks of seeing a “pure river of water of life,” flowing from the very “throne of God and the Lamb” to bring abundant life (Rev. 22:1-2).  Then comes the awe as the manifestation of full redemption is revealed in verse 3: “And there shall be no more curse…”  The flow of the River wipes away the curse of brokenness that comes through sin.  All who thirst, all who desire, may come and take freely of the water of life (Rev. 22:17).  So I ask: are you thirsty and dry today?

So put your hands in mine.
Oh, put your hands in mine,
And let us all go down
And kneel by the river’s side.

We’ll cry our tears of joy,
Cry our tears of pain.
We’ll let them fall down from our eyes
To be washed in the sacred stream,
Even the secret tears
Buried in our memories;
Let them all be swept away to the depths of the endless sea.

The lyrics of this Whiteheart song beautifully capture the heart of the River passages of Ezekiel and Revelation.  When the song says that the river “will flow through all the times of your life,” it is explaining a special verb form that doesn’t translate into English very well.  What the song and the verses are saying is that there is already a release of the River, and the River is flowing continuously.  And what is this healing River of life?  It is Jesus Christ, the Living Water who causes His Life to bubble up within us as an eternal spring that never runs dry but flows abundantly through our hearts and lives (John 4:10, 14).  There is pain, there is joy, and there are secret tears – all are swept up in the River and cleansed that we might receive restoration.  Pain should never define us; instead we should allow it to refine us to a place of deeper strength and greater longing for the fullest outpouring of God’s redemption and restoration of creation.

the river will flowLet the River flow.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Amen.

And the river will flow;
The river will flow.
Through all of the times of your life,
The river will flow.
And the river is love;
The river is peace.
And the river will flow through the hearts
Of those who believe.

 

Take a few minutes to listen to the full Whiteheart song here:

“The River Will Flow” — Whiteheart

Called By Name

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The concept of a name is so important.  Your name is your title; it is your label.  A name expresses who you are and who you will become.  (Or at least, it should.  I admit to having a pet peeve about parents who grace their child with the first “nice name” that occurs to them without paying attention to its meaning – but I’ll try to stay on track.)  Names can build you up – or they can tear you down.  They can declare and defend destiny, or they can reduce you to nothing more than a human parasite, existing only to take and offer nothing in return.  (Did I mention I also have a major issue with “name-calling”?)

Nobody likes a parasite.

Nobody likes a parasite.

I recently watched a video series about personal identity in Christ.  The pastor was talking about how, when we are made new in Christ, we get a “new name” that trumps every “old name” – every bad thing that was ever spoken to us or over us – and reveals who God created us to be.  In part, I think this pastor was right – we are certainly made new in Christ, and our true identity is revealed only in Him.

But we are not given new names.  Rather, we are given our old names – our first names, the names that only our Heavenly Father knows because they were forged in the depths of His heart and woven into the epic tale of His creation since before time began.  That is our true identity.  God does not give us each a “new” identity when we turn to Him in the sense that it did not exist before.  Instead He calls each one of us by the name that only He knows, that sweet outpouring of His love and life into us.

Sometimes our identities, our true names, become shrouded in the mire of false labels.  But God makes no mistakes; He gives no bad names and no wrong names. Before each one of us was born, our identities were in place, and they do not change.  When God calls you by name, He calls you by the name that He has given you, by who He has already created you to be.

When I think of God calling His children by name, I think of Gideon, whom most of us think of as a mighty man who rescued Israel from its enemies and ruled over the nation as judge.  However, that is the later part of his story; Judges 6 reveals a beginning very different from what we might expect of such a bold warrior.  Gideon, a young Israelite, is hiding in a winepress to thresh his grain because he is so terrified of having what little he has stolen by the enemies who have overrun his nation.  We get this brief glimpse of Gideon, and then the Angel of the Lord comes.  ‘“The Lord is with you, mighty man of valor!”’ says the Angel to Gideon (v. 12).  Wait, what?  I had to read that again.  Mighty man of valor?  Gideon is hiding!  I think I would have said something more like, “What are you doing, letting these enemies oppress you and your people?!  Don’t you know that you are my chosen people and that I am mighty on your behalf?  Quit being a coward and go make a difference!”  But when God looked at Gideon, He didn’t see a coward; He saw the man He created Gideon to be – a mighty man of valor – and called him by that name.  Does it strike you as interesting that Gideon ended up becoming a mighty man of valor?  I am awed by it every time I read it.  When God speaks your name, declaring and defending your destiny in Him, you grow into the person He has created you to be.  It may not be an easy way to go, but God longs for all of His children to live up to the names He has given them.  And remember, God looks at the inward things, not at outward appearances (1 Samuel 16:7).  He is your Father; don’t think He doesn’t know your true name.

It's sad but true that people can really be like this...

It’s sad but true that people can really be like this…

The thing about having this God-given name is that it means we are known and loved.  When I was small I had a friend named Zach.  One day I was at a pool, swimming with some older girls who weren’t very nice to me.  While we were there, these girls began oohing and aahing over some cute boy who had come to the pool.  This cute boy was my friend Zach, and when he spotted me, he ran to me, arms open wide, calling my name.  He picked me up and spun me around.  Those mean girls were angry and jealous, but it didn’t matter because I was safe in the arms of someone who knew and loved me.  They couldn’t hurt me or bother me anymore.  Just like the mean girls at the pool were angry at my knowing and being known by Zach, our enemy, Satan, is angry when God calls us by name.  He is angry because he is terrified of what will happen when we embrace our true identity and walk out the destiny that has been declared over our lives by God, the King of kings.

Other names try to impose themselves upon our identities, snaring us in a trap of deceit.  Some of these names might be “guilty” or “worthless,” “weak” or “impulsive.”  Maybe you have been called by names based on your appearance: “fat,” “skinny,” “too short,” “too tall” – I have never heard anyone call anyone else “just right.”  Maybe “angry” or “bitter” are names you have been known by, or perhaps “immature” or “unloved.”  All these names speak of your faults and failures, the things that are “wrong” with you.  None of them are your true identity, and you are not required to embrace a single one of them. 

The beautiful thing is that God calls you, “Mine.”  Because you are His and He knows and loves you, you can ask Him to tell you who He sees you as.  We are each created unique, and He has a name that He is whispering over you that is unique.  As a child of God you have the authority to declare and defend destiny in your own life and the lives of others by speaking truth over identity.

Keep Calm - You Are Mine