What is Love?

Besides being the title of a song, it is also the topic of an upcoming blog series I am working on for the purpose of keeping track of a study I am starting looking at the life of Christ.  Whether you are a Christ follower or not you have probably heard the song “Jesus loves me”, but as I think of this I have to ask myself what does love mean?  Our culture has many different ideas of love: that it is permissive, tolerant, approving, that it doesn’t hurt feelings, and that it always strives to make everyone happy and comfortable all the time.  I think love can be these things but I also think that it can be so much more.  Just yesterday I was having a conversation with my six year old encouraging him to to act in love towards his family. I said that we should look at the Bible and see what it says about the way love acts and we could figure it out together.  He looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, “But, Mama, don’t you already know what the Bible says about that?”  I thought for a minute and realized that while I do know generally what it says, when it comes to day to day living the specifics get blurry.  How do I treat those I disagree with with love? How do I discipline with love? How do I express my hurt and frustration with love? As I started to mull over these ideas I realized that I didn’t have a tried and true answer, and… if I am being really honest…I often feel confused and torn as if these difficult questions cannot be answered by the word love.  I have grown up in a generation of believers where love means you do whatever you can not to hurt people, even if it means closing yourself off and never expressing how you really feel.  We are so desperate to get other people to like us, to see that not all Christians are bigots and hypocrites that we sugar coat the truth of love to make it more palatable.  We live in a culture where truth is relative and tolerance and  acceptance rule the day.  So I have decided to read through the Gospels and see how Jesus loves all those he comes in contact with.  For the foundation of this study I will use the verse John 3:16, “For God so loved the WORLD, that He gave His only Son that WHOEVER believes in Him may not perish but gain everlasting life.”  The key here is that Jesus came for ALL, the whole WORLD, so as I read through the Gospels it will be with idea that ALL of Jesus’ interactions with ANYONE were through the lens of his love for them.  Please read along with me if you want, I will be posting updates as a I proceed through starting in Matthew, I would love comments and to hear what different peoples’ opinions of the verses mean in relation to Christ expressing love. Hopefully by the end we can all have a better picture of what love looks like in both easy and hard situations and can grow daily to become more like Jesus.

Dying to the Flesh

In the face of suffering…

I am ashamed to admit that for the past few years I have avoided acknowledging the suffering in the world, I have been afraid of the overwhelming emotions that come with facing the suffering of others and feeling helpless to do anything. It has been a fear that caused me to turn off the radio, change the channel when the news came on, or even avoid conversations with people about current events. For me the suffering of others and my lack of ability to help has the potential to literally paralyze me with grief and overwhelming emotions. Maybe you can relate? In our culture whether by constant immersion and desensitization or the ability to fill our time with more pleasurable pursuits, many of us don’t give much thought to the presence of deep suffering. Because we don’t know how to help, how to deal with our emotions, it becomes easier to ignore, less painful. And so we become a fortress with a giant door marked “DO NOT ENTER”; us against the big bad world, don’t let them in. We become focused on our own personal dramas, and the things that we should be bringing to The Lord and laying down, walking away from, trusting Him with, become all consuming opportunities for worry and selfishness.
But, the last few months God has been wrenching my door to this scary world wide open. Not just opening it, tearing it off it’s hinges and throwing it into the fire. It wasn’t even something I noticed He was doing until it was done, and although my heart will never be the same I am so thankful for that. It started when sweet friends of ours who are missionaries in South Sudan came home on furlough early because war broke out. I could sense their heartbreak as the people they so dearly loved and felt called to minister to were in danger of their very lives. It was at that time I started actually seeking out news about the suffering in South Sudan, actively praying and walking through the heart wrenching struggle of a nation in turmoil. Then another missionary friend’s son was diagnosed with cancer. God laid them heavily on my heart when they first started sharing about everything they were walking through. There were many days that I felt the paralyzing sorrow of their suffering and all I could do was pray and ask God to intercede on their behalf. Then more news stories caught my attention: Ebola raging through West Africa, killing hundreds, the IS slaughtering thousands of Christian believers in Iraq and Syria, so many heartbreaking things that I, we, are literally powerless to change.

Woman in South Sudan caring for her children amidst war, famine, and disease

Woman in South Sudan caring for her children amidst war, famine, and disease

House marked with the symbol for Nazarene or Christian to let the IS know where to find and kill them

House marked with the symbol for Nazarene or Christian to let the IS know where to find and kill them

Man with Ebola (which has a 60% death rate) being cared for in Liberia

Man with Ebola (which has a 60% death rate) being cared for in Liberia

Cancer, war, disease, human depravity. These are real things and when we can no longer ignore them and their very real presence in our world, we must ask ourselves: What do we do now that the blinders are off, now that there is no veil between the pain that is out there and the sorrow that crushes our hearts? How do we cope when prayer doesn’t seem like enough and even if we had the loudest voice or millions of dollars we still couldn’t stop this heartbreak? Why, why face this suffering, why bear it up? Doesn’t all the pain of others just flow all over everything? How can we leave our heart open to endure suffering and yet still have God’s unconditional love flow out? How can we find the joy of God in this!?
Or, is that maybe the answer? That the suffering, the love, the joy are all mingled into one, beautiful, messy, bittersweet True Love. When we open our heart to the suffering of others, be it our friend next door, the cousin we barely ever talk to, or the strangers half a world away we are opening our hearts to receive their burdens and help carry those sorrows before the feet of the Healer, the Matchless One. We become the conduit, the channel between the suffering and the pouring out of the Father’s unconditional love that He has so generously lavished upon us. We have the opportunity to know and allow others to know joy unspeakable, that is deeper, and different than anything we have ever known. This doesn’t mean that there will be no more suffering, but what it does mean is that we no longer have to bear it up alone. And maybe, just maybe we will be able to take down the imposing “DO NOT ENTER” sign and not only carry the heavy burdens of others’ suffering before the Lord but also learn to lay down our own to Him in pursuit of something so much better. True Love. Let us aim to lead lives that are less self-focused, less protective of our own hearts and more focused on the heart of God. Seeking all that it means to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)

Dying to the Flesh

Shepherding our sheep

This is post is for those parents out there who are weary and worn down and have a lot on their plate.

I have bewoman-sitting-on-a-basket-with-head-in-hands.jpg!Blogen weary and worn down lately, struggling to find joy in my circumstances, overwhelmed with all that is going on in my life.  I have been letting my fears and worries of the known and unknown over take me and have lost my joy and with it my gentleness towards those who are in my immediate vicinity.  That means my husband and especially my kids.  I have been begging the Lord to fill me with more of Him and as I met Him in His word last night He did just that.

I was reading the story of Jesus feeding the 5000. I read in all 4 gospels the same account of Jesus withdrawing to a secluded place with His disciples.  (Matt. 14:12-31; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-13). In Matthew we see Jesus mourning the loss of a dear friend, cousin, and a man who lead the way for Him.  John the Baptist’s loss is hard to bear and Jesus asks the disciples to go somewhere quiet with Him so He can process.  In Mark and Luke we see that the disciples, His chosen, prayed about friends, have just returned from being sent out to spread the Good News in the surrounding areas.  He has missed them and wanted to talk with them.  Because of this Jesus asks them to go somewhere quiet so He could connect with them.  Then we see in John that it is almost Passover so there is a lot going on and it is really busy so it is a struggle for them to get their hearts into the right place.  So Jesus asks them to go somewhere quiet so they can prepare their hearts.  I believe that these are all the same story and Jesus is dealing with all of these things at the same time, it seems overwhelming to say the least.

But as we continue reading in all 4 Gospels we see that all the story lines merge into one and as Jesus steps off of the boat in that “quiet, secluded place” He is greeted by many people seeking healing and wisdom from Him.  And what does He do? He lashes out at them and is angry, what about me and my time, and what I need? No, the Bible says: “He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34)

And that is where the conviction begins for, Jesus is hurting, and tired, and has been so busy, busy, busy taking care of everyone else.  And yet, and yet…He sees the masses and has compassion on them.  Then He nurtures them through healing, then He gives them wisdom by sharing God’s truth, then He serves them by feeding all of them.

How often are we hurting, in need of friendship, overwhelmed with the busy-ness of life?  How often do we let those things get between us and our children and the joy that the Lord wants us to have?

And then I see it, the answer to why Jesus can be so selfless, why He nurtures, and gives, and serves even through the pain and looking past His own needs.  And it is like fresh rain on the face, it washes the tears and the brokenness away and gives us hope for a better tomorrow.

Jesus meets with His Father, He prays and finds the renewal of His heart in communion with the Creator of all hearts.  We see that after the day is done He sends everyone away, the disciples, and the crowds alike.  He has given and met the needs of those around Him and now He must be refreshed by the only one who can bring peace.  “After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray.” (Mark 6:47).  It says that it was evening time when He started praying and that He went out to the disciples on the water around the 4th watch which was 3am.  So He didn’t just say a quick prayer, He soaked in all the goodness that God had for Him, all the comfort, peace, and renewal for a weary heart.

As we struggle through our daily tasks, sometimes we are laden down with things along the path.  Let us remember to be like Jesus and seek God and all the peace that He wants to extend to us through our weary, broken, heavy-laden times.  That we may be refreshed to nurture, give wisdom, and serve our children.  We only have them for a short time, may we lead them with gentleness and compassion and may our example be one of seeking the Lord in the good times and the bad.

Dying to the Flesh

Stepping out on the water…

Our God is so good, He brings us to new things and gently leads us by still waters, He guides us with His mighty right hand and causes His face to shine upon us.  But, sometimes in the midst of life, in the midst of the busyness we forget God’s goodness and we question everything around us.  I found myself in this place, waking up one morning about 2 weeks ago wondering, “how did I get here?” Angry, critical, frustrated and exhausted.  I am surrounded by God’s goodness and His blessing, He is guiding us down a path we have yearned for so long to go down.  I have looked down this path for many years now, looked at it with anticipation but didn’t realize all that it meant for us.  You see, my little family of 5, we are joining Africa Inland Mission to become missionaries in Uganda.  And my heart rejoiced for the healing we will see, and the people we will meet, and the lives that will be changed.  I just never anticipated, never recognized how much our lives would be changed going down this path.    I didn’t realize how hard it would be to say goodbye to family and friends that we deeply love.  My children will have to say goodbye to the only family, church, friends, house, life they have ever known.  And my heart has broken, again and again as I see what it is we are moving away from.  But, instead of leaning into, throwing myself upon the loving, strong arms of my Guide I have been running in the other direction.  No longer finding joy in our journey, or in any of the daily joys of my children, husband, friends around me.  I have been refusing to soak it in, terrified of eventually having to let go of all of this.  I thought I held everything with such an open hand, ready to move when God said go, ready to lay aside everything for His glory.  Indeed I am not afraid of living a simple life, in point of fact I am looking forward to it, I am not afraid of the adventure of new lands, languages, faces, or friends.  It is the leaving of those I so desperately love here, the chance that in this lifetime I might not ever see some of them again.  And I cry, and mourn, and my heart turns to stone because I refuse to look upon the face of Love that wants to hold me in my hurt.

Thankfully, oh, how thankful I am that God hears our hearts when they are breaking, He has not left us without hope in the midst of our grief.  Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.  And He has, He has given me rest, and so much more: Freedom! This does not mean He has changed my situation, we are still heading down the same path, but He has lifted the heavy yoke of sadness, the oppression of my enslavement to despair.  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1.  I am once again able to see Him, seek Him, worship Him, relish the joys of life and the smiles of my children and husband.  The anger, frustration, and exhaustion are falling away and I am reminded of His goodness.

I know sadness will return again as we continue to move down this path and that if our lives continue in His great commission, sharing His wonderful Gospel light with the those lost in darkness, the grief will visit from time to time.  But I will strive to not let it settle, I have been made free in Christ, I am no longer slave to those old ways and I no longer have to live in frustration and anger, turning away from my Love.

So as the new year dawns and with it all of the gambit of emotions, lessons, new and old things that my Father has in store, I choose to lean into His open arms of freedom.  I choose to follow Him out onto the water, where there is mystery and unknown.  I choose to call upon Him and seek His face above all that may arise.

Won’t you join me seeking Him above all else and choosing to embrace Him in all that He has for you?


God’s Grace

Sometimes life brings things our way that are so hard, so painful, that we are unsure how to process, where to go from here. Where is God? I need to tell you about God’s Grace. It is the sweet in the bitterness of the struggle. If we allow this pain to bring us to our knees, draw us into the arms of our loving Father we will find a depth of peace and grace that alludes others. God’s grace is known more abundantly through our struggles than through our times of ease, we just have to seek Him. So many of us question how can a good and sovereign God allow His people to be in such pain? To experience such hardship, such ugliness, such tragedy, such depths of despair there seems like there is no way out. But I have come to believe through the struggle that God allows such pain because it draws us into the depth of His presence like nothing else in life could. In our pain we can come into His presence dragging our mangled, deformed brokeness, such things we might never share with others because of the pain it causes to even say the words out loud. And He, He meets us there! The Creator God, King of all, the Prince of Peace, Abba Father, He stoops down and scoops us up into His arms and carries us, bears us up, speaks truth into our brokeness. Stop and think about this for a moment, the God and creator of all the vast, never-ending, universe, all the stars and planets and galaxies, to the tiniest building blocks of you and I, all the atoms and cells and microorganisms. He, Him, that God cares about YOU! Not only that but He wants you to know Him deeply. He wants you to know that His heart breaks for you and all that you are going through, He wants you to know that He promises us He will care for us if we will allow Him to.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ” -Matthew 11:28-29

Our skinned knees, broken limbs, that we hide from the Father because we are so afraid that the cleaning will cause pain, we miss that even if there is pain, there will be healing through it. If we can just trust Him we will find that as we repeatedly cast our cares on Him, minute by minute, sometimes even second to second, He trades our pain for His grace, for His peace, for His love. We grow to know Him in ways that we did not ever know before this. His grace is the sweet in the bitterness, it doesn’t mean the bitter never happened, won’t hurt, won’t leave a scar, a reminder of the pain. But what it does mean is that His sweetness is with us as we choose to seek Him in the hard places. His grace can abide in us…

Dying to the Flesh

Refiner’s Fire

I have felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit for some time now encouraging me to write down the events of this past year and share them as an encouragement to others.  I hope that it might be so for you as you read all that God has done in our lives over the last year.

In the beginning of last year my husband was working about 70-80 hours a week at a job that was difficult and demanding, I struggled with being home alone with the boys for days on end as we only have one car.  I also desperately missed my husband and his companionship, support, and help.   We had been praying about this circumstance for many months seeking the Lord and hoping for some reprieve from the hectic schedule and hopefully putting priorities in the right place.  As we approached April we both strongly felt the Lord’s leading for Dan to leave his job.  We were so excited and felt such a peace about this choice, we knew that this was what God wanted even though Dan didn’t have another job lined up yet, we felt that God was asking us to trust Him.  So as we neared June, when Dan would be leaving his job, we looked forward to it with anticipation.  Dan did not look for another job, we trusted and felt God leading us to wait on His timing.  About a week after he left his job he had an interview for a great management position, we just knew that this was what God had been planning for him and we were so excited.  He, however, did not get the job and we were both quite upset, really questioning what we had both felt that God had led Dan to do in leaving his job.  But we prayed that God would help us to trust, and He did.

Later on in the summer Dan had another very promising job interview that also did not result in the job we were hoping for.  This was devastating to me, it really brought me to my knees, I was so angry, so hurt that God would lead us here and then leave us.  I begged God to be close to me, to let me worship Him and find joy even in this hardship.  All that He said was: “Go lower.”  I knew that what He was saying was a hard pill to swallow, He wanted me to humble myself, He was basically saying what He said to Job in the storm: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” Essentially who are you to question my sovereignty and plans?  So through tears, and heart broken in my hands I wept and sang, I worshiped my Father, because after all He is still worthy of our praise, even in the storm.

We were starting to get discouraged, and starting to run out of resources.  I don’t think a day passed by where I didn’t literally cry out to my Father, bringing my weeping brokenness before Him. I was so afraid we would lose our house, not be able to feed our children, where would we go?  Did He really lead us here?  I wanted faith that was unshakable, I wanted to be filled with Him, I wanted a humble heart, I had prayed for these things, but did it have to come this way? Wasn’t there some easier way?

There was some beauty amidst the struggle, we found out we were pregnant with our third son, which was such a wonderful anniversary present.  And Dan was able to pick up a few odd jobs doing janitorial work and mowing lawns.  As October rolled around and we continued to pray we felt God leading Dan back to his old job, the one he had left more than 4 months before.  We didn’t know if his boss would even take him back, or if it was something we felt up for, but we trusted and followed God’s leading.  We felt very much like the Israelites in the desert, not moving unless the cloud moves, and when it does you better go!  Dan’s boss let him come back and agreed to less hours so that Dan could be home with us more often.  What a blessing!  We now know that God used that precious bittersweet time to draw us deeply into His presence, as much as I begged God to provide a job for Dan I knew I would miss that desperate, fully dependent relationship with God.  Lean times lend themselves to a depth of relationship that in full times it is a struggle to experience.  God graciously carried us through the next few months while Dan was still working 3 jobs because of commitments he had made.  I learned that I didn’t mind if my husband worked many hours, I was thankful that he had a job and that he was loving us so sacrificially.

As I was nearing the end of my pregnancy Dan woke me up around 2am telling me that there was a fire in the house.  There was smoke pouring out of our heating exchange.  We quickly gathered the children up and sat out in our van in front of our house in the very cold night air as 4 fire trucks filled with firemen unloaded and trudged through our home to inspect and extinguish the fire.  We had a fire in our heating/cooling system that by the grace of God (and Dan’s procrastination) was caught early enough that there was no damage done to the house.  Thankfully that night we could sleep at our house, although restlessly.  But the next few nights we had to stay at a friend’s house because it was so cold and our heater was damaged enough that it could not be operated. We had someone come out and inspect the damage of the heater, it was extensive, but there were so many things wrong with it, and all of them saved our lives.  The vents leading into and out of the home were not installed correctly which forced the smoke into the home so we caught the fire quite early.  The system was actually pumping CO into our house that we had no idea about and it could have been very dangerous for our baby if it had continued to go on.  And the system itself was old and in need of replacing anyway, it was such a blessing that it happened this way because we would not have been able to afford to replace it.  At this time it was close enough to my due date that we needed to get back into the house with heat as soon as possible as I was planning a homebirth.  Thankfully through some adjustments and very kind people we were able to get our heating system replaced within a few days, not the few weeks we had been quoted.

Our son, Ari, was born several weeks later at home and because it happened so quickly only my husband was present for the birth. (that is a whole other story)  Unfortunately after he was born he was struggling to breath correctly and we chose to take him into the hospital where they admitted him and put him on a breathing machine.  He was in the hospital for 7 days receiving hard core antibiotics for a suspected infection.  It was hard seeing our son in that place, Dan and I took shifts so that he wasn’t alone for more than a few hours.  We were at the hospital for hours everyday and even overnight sometimes, but it allowed us to have special time with him that we might not have had otherwise.   Being the youngest of three doesn’t get you as much attention, so I suppose he needed to do whatever he could to get ours.  It was wonderful seeing our family really come together and help out, we will forever be grateful for their sacrifices so we could be with Ari.  God had us in this too, He overwhelmed us with His joy, strength, and peace.  After the full week was over he came home and we were so pleased to have our whole family together again.  But he was in the hospital again about a week later after a very scary choking incident, I was so afraid that we were going to lose him.    I was so overcome with emotion as I held him on the way to the hospital in the ambulance that I could not even remember my birthday. Once again God was gracious and comforting, holding me as I held my little son.  Thankfully we went home that night, but all I could think about was God’s grace.  I was overwhelmed with it, I could not understand why He would be so gracious to me to allow me to keep my son. Our God is good and He gives good gifts, even when they might not look that way from the outside.

Things were simple for a few months up until several weeks ago when once again we had to call 911 for our oldest son, Eli.  (I have called 911 more in these last 4 months than I have in my entire life!)  Eli was playing outside with Dan and Liam when he fell against a 3 foot long 4×4 that had a nail in it.  The nail had been hammered to the board so did not seem to be a cause for concern but some how Eli got his leg caught on it.  Between the fire department and the paramedics they could not figure out how to remove it, so they just took Eli with the whole 3 foot long 4×4 attached to the hospital.  I was so overwhelmed with emotions that I could not even stay outside with him for fear that I would upset him more.  Dan thankfully was with him and rode with him to the hospital.  I had a friend come watch the little boys and headed to the hospital as fast as I could.  All the while praying that God would be a comfort to Eli and that his body would not be in pain.  When I arrived at the hospital they had just got done doing X-rays and he was smiling and happy to see me, 4×4 still attached.  I thought for sure they had given him something for the pain because he was acting so normal, but they hadn’t yet.  God had heard my prayer and was so present with Eli.  They were able to remove the nail without having to do any stitches and there was not damage to muscle or bone.  God was so gracious to him, although I worry that Eli will never get the chance to tell his truly epic story because there probably won’t be any scarring.  We did stay the night at the hospital to make sure no infections came on but the next day they let us go home.  After that the hardest part was getting him to not run around and play!

After such an exciting year I am looking forward to everything else God has prepared for us.  I always wanted to live a life of adventure, I just never pictured it looking like this.  I am so thankful for all that God has taught me over this past year about who He is, who I am in Him, and how much He loves us.  I feel humbled that God would love me so much to allow me to walk through these things with Him so that I might come to know Him more deeply.  Who am I that He would choose to allow me to know Him in such an intimate way?  That He would love me and carry me through all these things?  All I know is I am so thankful that He tore the veil and there is no longer separation between us. May He take you into His refiners fire and remove all the dross, He does it ever so gently…


Can opinions kill?

If we must give our opinions let us do it for the betterment of others not to the detriment of relationships.  Let us not assume that opinions given in such liberal a fashion as any public forum provides will bring anything but grief to those who might be so inclined as to disagree.  We should consider our relationship with Christ and His desire for our lives before our opinions. “‘Everything is permissible’- but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’- but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-24  In these verses Paul is talking to the Corinthians who were using their freedom as believers to make excuses for poor choices- poor choices that affected their witness and hurt their brothers in Christ.  He is quoting them as saying roughly: [In Christ] everything is permissible. Paul responds by saying yes- but not beneficial, not constructive.  The believers were struggling with doing what was right in the sight of all.  Paul goes on to say (paraphrased 10:31-32) Do all things for the glory of God that you might not cause your brother to stumble.  And here is the kicker in verse 33: “even as I try to please everybody in every way.  For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”  Seems to me like the only thing Paul cared about was spreading the gospel.  These verses are a few of many that talk about putting others before yourself and that our witness is important. At the end of the day our ministry to others and our desire to see not only non-believers come to know Christ but also our believing friends grow deeper is more important than our potentially divisive opinion.

So before you update your status about the latest political or social issue consider that your net is wide in the scope of public forums.  No matter how fiercely you believe in what you are writing know that there might be a friend out there that was just hurt or someone you have been ministering to that just turned away.  And unless you can select your specific audience to be only those that agree with you, there will be people hurt.  It is not worth losing even one heart to say our opinion in such a public and indiscriminating way.  Words once written and read can not be undone easily.