Monday, August 23, 2010

Love

So I was working on something else completely last week when God laid the subject of love on my heart. Well, if I’m being honest, I was sitting around after a conversation I’d just had and thought, ‘Can’t we all just love one another?’ And, by ‘we’, of course, I meant ‘they’.

With this in mind, I started to look at the quintessential chapter on love, I Corinthians 13. You know, the one you find painted on signs that adorn our homes and quoted at every wedding? In case you missed it, I’ll write it:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13: 4-8)

So there it was. And boy, did I find that I’m pretty good at it. I mean look at that list. God’s idea on how to love is easy, right? So incredibly natural for us that it should be like breathing: an involuntary response that we don’t have to try at or even think about. (Can you hear the sarcasm in my voice?) Why is it when you’re trying to pray for others to get things right, God so often reminds you that you’ve still got it all wrong yourself? Yeah, love it when that happens. So here’s what I’ve figured out over this past weekend, and I’m so far from being done. Apparently, I am a work in progress even on the issues I thought I’d mastered.

First off, love is really, really hard. Not that I didn’t realize that before, but maybe I just needed a reminder. Oh, yes, the song says, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing’, and it is, when it’s directed at you. But when you’re the one that has to do the loving, and you just don’t feel like it, well it isn’t always so ‘splendored’ then. I think Jesus felt this when he contemplated dying on the cross for us. Look at Luke 22:44 as he prayed in the garden. At this point, Jesus clearly was warring over what was to come and didn’t necessarily feel like doing it. I mean, the man was sweating blood, trying to figure out another way. So, WHY did Jesus die for us? And we’re not talking a ‘let’s take my last breath and lay here and die’ death. No, we’re talking crucifixion. A nailed to the cross, spit on, beaten, very painful, death. The answer is quite simple: love. It wasn’t the easy choice. He knew we didn’t deserve it. He knew those that claimed to love him would turn away from him, some would even be in the crowd. But he still chose it out of his love for us. Yet, I can’t muster up a loving response to you today because you’re stepping on my last nerve. Oh sure, that’s understandable.

Second, I realized that there are no conjunctions in love. You can’t say you’re going to love someone and then add a condition. “I will love you if…”, “I will love you, but…”, or even “I will love you, and”. It has to just be “I will love you.” Did you catch that period? Yep, that’s how you end it. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Jesus surely didn’t add a condition onto His love for us. Romans clearly tells us; “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) He didn’t require anything from us. He didn’t ask us to be perfect. He didn’t ask us to give him anything. He just loved us when we so did not deserve it. He just loved. Period.

That last one alone should be enough for us to love others. It should have us out of our seats, jumping and hugging everyone around us. When we realize that amazing love God gave us, how can it not overflow? Unfortunately, we are stuck in these bodies and war with the feelings that play over us. So we start to make excuses, and that was the next one God called me out on. Love doesn’t use excuses. Just as I said above there are no conditions, well, there are also no excuses either. God called us to love one another. He made it very clear and repeats that commandment over and over again throughout the Bible. We cannot escape it or put it on someone else's shoulders. It won’t matter if they looked a little funny, were in need of a shower, spoke differently or drove their car way too slowly in front of me. I’m supposed to love them. Or, and here’s the harder ones; it won’t matter if they’ve hurt me, disappointed me, or are completely in the wrong. I’m still supposed to love them. When we stand before God one day, I won’t get to use someone else’s actions as an excuse for why I didn’t do what God has called me to do. Love them. (Now, as a small side note: this doesn’t make us doormats. There are some people in your lives who are healthier to love from afar, yet you still must love them.)

As I sat this weekend with these thoughts, I realized they all sounded well and good, but what I really wanted was an out. I wanted God to understand that I wasn’t so sure I could do what He had done. What He does on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis. He wasn't going to give me one. Nope, not so lucky. Instead he reminded me of the words I shared a few weeks ago about my genetics. His DNA runs through me, and I cannot escape that nor - if pressed - do I want to. And here’s what the core of his DNA is. God is love (I John 4:16). And if He IS love, and He lives in me, then I should be able to exhibit that love. It’s not going to always be easy. I’m going to be asked to love imperfect people. I can’t use excuses. I don’t get to ask that the other person comes to me first. I don’t get to ask that they love me more, or that they make the first move. I’m just supposed to love them. Period.

So, that’s what I’m going to try and do. At times, it’s what I’ll struggle to do. But, if I want to show others the love of God, I cannot do it without loving them myself. They simply will not be able to hear anything I say. Going back to that chapter on love in Corinthians, it starts out by saying that without love I am nothing but a clanging gong. Every effort I put into life will be nothing without love. Love needs to be the base for every one of our actions. I don’t want to be just some noisy person, clanging about wherever I go. I want my voice to be heard, clearly and full of God’s love. And though I may mess up, if I’m leading with His love first then I have this promise. His love never fails. Thank you, Lord, for that.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blahs

So this weekend I’ve been fighting The Blahs. You know, where even the things you like to do you don’t feel like doing. I didn’t dare say ‘I’m bored’ because I still fear my mom will pop out of nowhere and dump a basket of laundry on me to fold. So, I wandered around all weekend, moping.

When I started this blog, I had set a goal for myself of writing once a week. It was a completely self-motivating goal, and one with the purpose of pulling me closer to God. Spend some quiet time in prayer, search the scriptures for ideas He laid on my heart, and practice my writing. All things I love, all things that are helping me to grow in my relationship with God. And just as I’m starting to enjoy it, BAM, the Blahs...I couldn’t even muster up a sentence. I couldn’t even call it Writer’s Block because I didn’t have the desire to write.

So I sat at my computer today, deciding I’d just sit to type and come up with something brilliant. Yeah, I’ve got nothing. How’s that for honesty? I even started to peck away, hoping that something would come, and still…..nothing. Not just nothing, even an absence of wanting something. I had just thought to myself “what would it really matter if this week I didn’t follow through?”, when it hit me - yep, another ‘love shove’. Not following through was exactly what satan wanted. (Yes, I know ‘satan’ is a name, and by English writing standards is thus considered a proper noun that should be capitalized. I however, find him undeserving of such a thing.) Anyway…

There are so many times in our lives where we don’t ‘feel’ like doing what we are supposed to be doing. And, as adults, isn’t that our choice? But, as a Christian we can’t play by those rules. God’s word clearly says, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No,’” (Matthew 5:37). He doesn’t say it only counts when I feel like it, or when I’ve made the promise to someone other than myself.

Then there’s also the point I made a few weeks ago. The spirit of God lives within me. So, I should be exhibiting His spirit, right? When I don’t keep my commitments I’m failing on that, as one of the Fruits of the Spirit is faithfulness (check out Galatians 5:22). When I looked up faithfulness I found this definition: “Adhering firmly and devotedly, as to a person, cause or idea; loyal”. Again, I searched, and nowhere could I find a scripture that says I only have to fulfill that definition when I feel like it.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that there are many, many times where I don’t feel like doing something I’ve already committed to doing. It doesn’t matter how big the commitment or who it was made to, I am called to be faithful. How would we like it if God gave into The Blahs?

“But God, you promised your provision.”
“Hmmm, yeah, not feeling it today. Sorry.”
Or
“But God, you said your angels will guard me in all my ways.”
“Well Gabe and Mike just weren’t feeling it today. Good luck, I’m sure you understand.”

We are a generation locked into only doing what feels good at the moment. What we don’t realize is that puts us right where satan wants us. Not only do we become unreliable to people around us, but we never grow, and we never help anyone besides ourselves. Is that really who we want to be? Is that really who God wants us to be? I realized my answer for both of those questions is NO. And I also realized something else. Sometimes the first step is the hardest, but once you’ve taken it you get hungry for more. The Blahs will strike, they always do, but all I need to do is walk away from them and walk towards God. He’ll meet me every time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

God's Beauty Guide

There are beautiful people out there. I’m not even going to try and pretend there aren’t. People with flawless skin, gorgeous smiles, silky hair and figures they don’t even have to exercise for. Women who’ve never had to experience a break-out when they look in the mirror and whose teeth gleam white even with their morning coffee habit. Yep, there are naturally gorgeous women out there. And no, I am not one of them.

Beauty is not just skin deep. At least that’s what we tell each other and our daughters. Being a mom of two little girls, I desperately want them to believe it. I know it’s the state of our hearts that really shows our true beauty, but looking in the mirror I sometimes forget that.

And what do my daughter’s hear more clearly? When I tell them they’re hearts are what make them beautiful? Or, when I stand in front of the mirror and my day turns horrible because of that one hair that will not cooperate, suddenly making it a Bad Hair Day. And ladies, we all know what bad hair can do to our day. God says he gave us our hair as a ‘crowning glory’ but some days I seriously challenge that statement when I see the mop on my head.

Let me give you some background. I am a six-foot, long legged, not small boned, brunette with lily white skin in a land of classic, petite, blonde Dutch girls who get a beautiful golden glow in the summer and have toothpicks for bones. I was one of only two six-foot girls in my high school. The other girl was talented in sports. I trip over my own two feet (ask my hubby, he’s nicknamed me ‘Grace’). And, this was all before they made clothes for tall girls. Oh, let me take that back, I could shop in the Tall Girl shop where apparently only polyester could stretch long enough to cover our bodies.

So, I grew up comparing myself to these girls around me and falling miserably short. You know what happens when you’re insecure? You become a mean person. In my early teen years, I was terrible to people around me, but blessedly God reached down and changed me. It was a painful process, but one I will always be thankful for. He even gave me access to his Beauty Guide. It’s one I still refer to, some days more than others, and would be lost without.

God’s word tells us clearly about what true beauty is. Proverbs 31 starts to hint at it. Yes, I mentioned it. The Proverbs 31 woman. I’ve often wondered if he really needed to put that in the Bible. I mean, how are we ever going to live up to that chapter? But I think God knew what he was doing, (isn’t that a given?) when he made sure that chapter was included. Not to condemn us for not reaching it, but to encourage us and give us something to work towards. It was a ‘must’ when he wrote this Beauty Guide. And, I have to say it’s much better advice than what you’ll find in Glamour or Cosmo.

So let’s get back to Proverbs 31. Here it says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” See, ‘beauty is fleeting’. God shoots straight with us. Outward beauty is not a permanent thing, but the state of our hearts is. These old bodies aren’t going to last forever, so why not start working on what will remain, rather than what is fleeting?

That brought me to I Peter 3. Ohhh, listen to this and let it speak to your hearts!! “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.” I'm sorry, but that just begs an Amen!!

See, we can put all the pretty clothes and jewelry on ourselves that we want. We can have the best Hair Day in the world and lose those extra ten pounds all of us constantly talk about. But, that’s not where true beauty comes from, at least not in the Beauty Guide I’m reading! And the best part is, this Guide gives us a way to ‘unfading beauty’, not ‘fleeting beauty’ (this only means more to me as each birthday passes:) ).

Here’s the thing though. We may know the truth, it may even want to set us free, but it can’t do that unless we believe it’s the truth. We’re like a bunch of Ugly Ducklings, swimming around and comparing ourselves to the wrong thing and thinking we don’t fit in. All the while, our Father is watching us, beckoning us to compare ourselves to Him so we can see our true beauty. Let him be the mirror you use today, you’ll love the reflection you see.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Genetics

So I wrote last time about names we believe belong to us. God’s really been using this idea in my life lately, revealing different names to me in different ways. Guess I’m going to stick with that thought process for a bit. And, I realize that having this blog at times is going to call for some transparency. So here goes nothing.

I am not always such a happy, go-lucky gal. (Cover the gasps that just escaped, people) Nope. You know that verse in the Bible that talks about being ‘slow to anger’? (James 1:19) Yes well, that doesn’t always apply to me. Oh, it should, but it often doesn’t. And, it’s really not my fault. It’s in my genetic make-up…(at least this is what I told myself for a long time, long enough to believe it).

Alright, let’s look at that verse in James that I just talked about. Yes, it does say we’re supposed to be “slow to anger”. It also says we are to be “quick to hear and slow to speak”, and you really need all three. The problem was, this is not the way I was raised. Let me be clear, I did not grow up in an abusive home or one where I felt no love. But, we all have struggles, and a quick temper was one in my home. We are a reactionary family. And if I look back through the generations before me, I can see where this came from. Again, lots of love in my family, but we sure know how to speak first and listen later. It’s a trait many of us have had to work on, mainly me.

This trait does not come in handy as a harried mother of three little ones. Add to this the fact that we felt called to homeschool, and my husband has had to work some extra hours, oh and the family dog who barks a lot, just to name a few. Well, you get the picture that sometimes life can be a bit tense. I love my children, but never have I done anything harder than raising them. And at times, it feels like all three are ganging up, and they’ve honed in on my weak spots. It was on a day like this, several months back, where God again spoke to me with a wake up call.

The morning had been long. Neither of my two who are school age wanted to do any work, and they were very vocal about it. My youngest was clinging to me and whining to be picked up because she was tired. The dog was barking because he wanted to be played with and I had the distinct impression that I was failing as a mother because I could not teach my children – either manners, respect, or their math lesson. I lost it. I was not anywhere near the “quick to hear” or “slow to speak” that my tired children needed in that moment, but I was definitely quick to anger! And when I finally allowed the anger welling in me to spill over, it came out in loud and angry words. No swearing, no calling them names, just good old-fashioned yelling. And by the looks on their suddenly quiet faces, they heard me. Sure, they were finally quiet, but at what cost?

I took a deep breath, told them mommy needed a few minutes in her room, and headed down to my bedroom where I promptly fell on my face before God. It had been a long winter for me, I’d had my thyroid out and my hormones were everywhere. I laid these reasons out before God, along with the fact that my family for generations has fought with this temper issue. I knew it was wrong to snap at my children (we’re not talking about discipline here, which was needed at the time, but my spewing anger all over them). Yet, it was in my genetic code, I couldn’t change it, so how was He going to fix it?

Have you ever been smacked up side the head by God? I’m talking that friendly kind of tap you give someone when you’re amazed they just said something crazy and you want them to see it? Well, I had a mental picture of a ‘love shove’ from God as he said to me, “Wake up! I’ve already done something, when are you going to believe it?” I stopped my blubbering and sat up. He had my attention. Suddenly verses rang through my mind of the characteristics of God. Over and over again in the Bible God is described as “slow to anger”. Exodus 34:6, “…the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger…”, Numbers 14:18, “The Lord is slow to anger…”, Psalm 86:15, “You Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger,”…there are many more, too many to reference, and that right there is where He got me.

You see, I’d been believing that my genetic code predetermined me to be a quick tempered woman. There wasn’t much I could do. I’d slapped the name Short Temper on me and was living it. Only one problem with that, I was also a Christian. The Spirit of God lives within me, and his Spirit has no problem with his temper. I may have health issues, knobby knees, poor eyesight (I’d list my positives too, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make right now), and a host of other genetic issues that just come with the parents God blessed me with, but they are my earthly parents (a little thanks goes in here that they raised me to know You!). My spirit, however, belongs to my Heavenly Father, and the characteristics I possess in it come from his genetic code – AMEN!! He did not create me to be “quick to anger”. It is not even in his genes to pass on to me, so why was I allowing that belief to have any control over my life? Why did I believe that was who I was? Simple – I was letting the wrong person name me, not the One who’d created me and already knew my name before time began.

Well, I dried my tears and began to give thanks. I already had the tools I needed. I had my Father’s blood running through my spirit, and I was going to start acting like it. Oh, I am far, far from perfect, and thank God He loves me anyway. But I am not going to forget my spirit’s genetic code. I’m going to start feeding it and growing, reading my Bible, praying daily, taking time to listen before I speak, so I can look just like my Father. Amen again!!

Do you see the beauty of this? It’s not just me. We all have struggles, but we also all have the same Father, if we just believe in him. Once we do, his genes run through us, and we begin to take on his characteristics. Our spirit grows, just as our bodies do. Only, one day our bodies will die, but our spirits will remain! And I pray that when all that’s left of me is my spirit, I’ve grown into the spitting image of my Father. How beautiful will that be?