Live a Life of Love

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Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

Live a life of love.  It almost sounds easy.  It offers a warm and inviting, harmonious fix to our relational problems.

Why then would I want to live my life more selfishly? Real life loving requires strength that I don’t have, if I am honest.
Am I really taking to heart the life of Jesus and the instructions to imitate His life of love? He lived love.  If our wonderful Lord Jesus gave up his “rights” to reconcile me back to God, someone that did not deserve such mercy, why wouldn’t I want to be transformed to have this same sacrificial mind and heart?  Christ Jesus is the maker of all things; nothing exists without Him.  He is the Son of God, and He alone stands preeminent above every other power or authority.  And, yet, Jesus did not choose to live for Himself or grasp at the “God” rights.  His love was a giving, extravagant kind of love.

The very sad reason I chafe at living a sacrificial life of love is that I default easily to loving myself more, more than Jesus, and more than the people around me. I want easy comfort.  I don’t like relational messiness.  I don’t want to give sacrificially and extravagantly like Jesus did for me.  I often set standards that must be met before I will love freely.  I live like love should have to be earned.  But, I don’t know any of these perfect people.  Life can get really messy.  The person I want to love has weaknesses and failures.  I am ashamed that often I demand so much from others, which seems especially terribly when I have been given the truest love generously and without a price tag.  pleasing-fragrance-grace-god-ephesians-5-2I have this ongoing need to have these self-centric desires removed and to return again and again to my first love, Jesus–every single day.  So, that out of the joy of His love for me, the comfort of never being abandoned by Him ever, the confidence of every spiritual gift given to me to fulfill His purposes for me, and the resurrection power of His living Spirit working in me, I will have a quiet heart to do His will and live a life of love to Christ first above all, as well as in my relationships. I am dependent on Jesus to love like He loves. When it is easy and also when it is hard, my strength will come from Him as I live in Him and for Him. I could never live a life of love without the presence and power of Christ living in me, and gloriously that is exactly what is offered through His triumphant and generous grace.
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Reflection of Glory

brilliant sun

Your Word, O LORD, is a forever Word, firmly fixed above us in the heavens, unmovable, unchanging, existing in permanent relevance. Your reliability is reality. And this world stands today; only because you rule. Ultimately, all things serve your will. In love, you call us to yourself, away from the ruin and destinies of pain in this world.
To any who believe, love, and trust you, Jesus, you have entrusted your good news of love and rescue to share, an exquisite, invaluable treasure offered to others in a vessel as weak as ourselves.  Wow!  You designed for your glorious love to be shared through us!  It is like putting an one-0f-a-kind, priceless treasure in a disposable, red plastic cup, easily broken or tossed away.  You allowed it to be this way on purpose, so that every one will know that the power came from you and never from us.  So each new day, as we look to you, Jesus, a part of our old self dies; so that, your life in us, Jesus, is seen more and more by others.  And as we fix our eyes on you, our Morning Star, we are being transformed into Your image, from one degree of glory to another.  So, by your grace, every-day-dying is at work in us, so that your life, Jesus, is reflected, your Light in us.  We are made to be in oneness with the Beauty we see.

          “We are to shine as the sun, we are to be given the Morning Star.” ~ C. S. Lewis

 

One Passion to Rule Them All

Unite My Heart Art“Follow your heart” is a maxim often repeated today, as if the heart knows all and is generally regarded as a good leader.  But, is the heart a good leader?  Mine can be fickle at times, so then what?

The heart is often spoken of as the center of desire, the most intimate part of a person reserving room for our deepest longings.  Desire is the passion of the heart and determines what we want and what we will do to get what we want.     

Living life with one love describes the heart won by Jesus and sealed by His Spirit.  But, even though, I truly love Christ, I personally find my heart can be divided in its loves.  With sincerity, I may speak of Christ as my all in all, the center of my devotion; but, in reality, it is easy to get distracted with other interests.  Paul writes to the believers in Corinth about the complications and diversions that captivate our attention.  He says, “From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.  For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties.  … I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint on you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”  (I Corinthians 7:29-32, 35).  What?  Exactly, what is Paul saying?  Don’t get distracted with every day life?  How then are we to live in the world?  Paul actually does make sense, because he understands the heart.  The heart is the center of the personality, the place where your commitments exist.  Whatever your heart is most passionately trusting in & deeply loving sets the course for everything else.  But, if your heart is divided, and you do not have one single, consuming passion, then your heart pulls in multiple directions.  It can get so tangled up, that the disordered loves actually pull in opposing directions.  
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Disordered love leads to an eventual break-up. Loving secondary things as if they were the primary naturally leads to consequences that reflect the conflict.

True freedom and self-control
involves rightly ordering your loves.

 

Self-control is loving supreme things supremely with undivided attention & affection.

Paul gets the importance of this kind of united heart in the Christian’s life and emphasizes the need for centering on one primary goal.  He uses an athlete to illustrate it further, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. ”  (I Corinthians 9:24-25).  Live life with your eyes resolutely fixed on the prize!  Let your eyes be fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith!   Let one consuming passion rule!

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The Not So Simple Act of Forgiving

Forgiveness is a tricky thing. Nobody can “just forgive,” not even God. First, it is impossible to “just forgive,”to just let the wrong go.

Forgive

Dictionary definition of the word Forgive.

“Let it go” sounds nice, but forgiveness is not a simple thing and never easy.  Every wrong has a cost. Someone always pays.  The cost of the wrong is paid in sleepless nights, damaged relationships, regret, lost trust …well, you get the idea…and that is just the beginning of the incredible cost. Besides, what if we really care about the person who violated what is right?  Is it in the best interest of the person for us to magically “let it go”? Would it be loving or just for society to overlook evil?   How much more so with God?

God’s justice is wrapped up in His essence. Psalm 85 10, 11If there is a God, there is a real justice.
If God lets injustice go, then there is no right or wrong.
If there is no absolute right or wrong, we have a paper doll god.  Please, don’t give me a paper doll god cut out in one dimension, a god of my own making.

Forgiveness gets really messy and complicated. Perhaps, that’s why we love fairy tales that serve us poetic justice and a “happily ever” after ending. So, bottom line…how does a real God deal with real wrong?

The one real God absorbed the wrong. All wrong has a cost, and God Himself chose to pay that price.  Together, God in the Father and God in the Son suffered for our great violations. There is a glorious complexity to the cross! A God who just forgives is not a holy God. A God who won’t forgive is not a loving God. A God who cannot forgive is not wise, for He does not know how to satisfy love and justice. In the cross, love, justice, and holiness are fully satisfied…”even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom.”Tim Keller wrath and love satisfied
On the cross, wrath and mercy were satisfied.  And on the cross, love wins.
This personal ransom is paid for me and for anyone who desperately needs real forgiveness and is willing to trust Him for everything.  Oh, how we need Him for everything!

 

 

The Son of Man takes the wrongdoer’s destruction and sets the heart free to love and forgive others.  Only a real God can satisfy so completely the high cost of righting wro
ng.

 

 

 

 

Tim Keller ransom for me

Love Found Me in Murky Waters

“If what you believe is the truth, and indeed you care about knowing the truth, why should you be afraid of challenging it? If the evidences backs it, your truth with be justified, and if not, why do you wish to continue believing a lie?”

I grew up in the south which used to be considered the Bible belt of the United States.  I was raised in a conservative church environment that focused primarily on sovereign grace doctrine and even more heavily on the external behavior of a person, rather than on the heart of a person before God.   barn with hailI have experienced a great deal of pain from wrong teaching and a legalistic subculture, but I cannot say that about God. For awhile,  I became very distrustful of pastors and most churches because of those experiences.
But, God never changed.

Confusion and real questioning left me in murky waters for an extended period. I did read the Bible, but what I heard from the pulpit did not match what I read alone in the quietness of my own home. Slowly, I began to understand that the focus on externals was nothing more than trying to legislate morality in an attempt to find continued acceptance from God. It was a tiresome treadmill of trying to do better and better that left me exhausted, defeated, and finally bitter toward the split personalities of hypocritical lives. During this time, I began to realize that even if my outward actions were deemed good enough to climb the ladder to God, my heart would betray me. How do you conquer motivations that are self-seeking? I began to “see through” those around me that talked the loudest about our duty toward God. There were holes in all the religious did or said. Life became a fish bowl.  C. S. Lewis correctly pointed out seeing through everything eventually leads you to see nothing: “You cannot go on ‘explaining away’ forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it…If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.” (The Abolition of Man, p.81).   I could not “see through something” to see.  Brown's creek
I remained stuck in the muddy creek bottoms struggling in murky water, unable to see; for there was a great disconnect between my life and the presence of God. And that was the one thing God wanted me to “see through” to more than anything…
4x4 mud tyres
Disconnected.  I did not understand His incomprehensible Father love toward me, nor did I know how to be his child. You see, the gospel itself teaches clearly that God never did expect me to climb the ladder to get to Him, but that He was the Deliverer who was willing to come down to the skull mountain with radical redemption in order to restore a broken relationship with me.

Love was missing.  old country church
Empty religious performance creates the phony facade that everyone eventually sees through.

But, God’s love is not phony. It is the one thing to be remembered.

When I started asking God to see His love, He made Himself real and tangible to me in such full-disclosure and heart intimacy that I am left convinced and stupefied at a love so compelling and incomprehensible. I just flat out cannot deny the irresistible presence of God. The Scriptures were now streams of light piercing through the roily, high waters of confusion.  Where before it was merely academic knowledge acquired, now the words are God-breathed to my soul, keenly powerful with the scarlet thread of His love deftly woven  from page to page.  So, although I identify with the struggle, the questions that come…I have been convinced by His irresistible love.

Love was the critical angle
where light passed through

the murky, clouded waters.  
refractionUnderstanding who God really was and what He had done for me was slow…there were a lot of working errors that had to be stripped away.  I had misunderstood so much of the Bible having been taught it as a manual of how to measure up and “be like Jesus.” I can never be like Jesus; it is impossible, for purity cannot be corrupted. Our planet has never been home to a person so pure save the holy child who was born Lord at his birth.   God never asked us to climb a ladder of do’s and don’ts to become accepted and loved by Him. No, God sent His Son down to us. It took “God here with us,” Immanuel, to satisfy justice and open the door to a Father-child relationship. So, the Son of Man, with a perfect life, came to satisfy the law’s demands. For if each of us are honest, there is no one whose heart does not deceive, who has never committed a wrong, and who is not indicted for anarchy against the Highest King. Yet, it is God’s very holiness that also transcends in love that ordained this sacred redemption. The Son of God emptied Himself of all privilege, made Himself nothing, and offered His body as bail; so that, justice would cry no more against us. “He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him.” (Colossians 1:13-14). There is no one that loves like that–there is no greater love. There is no one that can love me unfailingly, laying it all down in order to attain intimate relationship with someone who had turned from that love.  There is no one whose presence is so tangible that I cannot deny it, even if I wanted to, whose love will never be dissuaded, and whose daily song over me is His love.  There is no one who will never break a forever promise, never ever abandon me, but remain eternally true.  Jesus is a strong lover of my soul.

It isn’t about what I do that makes Him love me.  No, it is all about His love performing change in me. His love infused me in such a authentic way that it is my final evidence for reality. No one has to make lists for me on how to live this life any more…there is a spilling out of what is now inside…love God…love each other. It is a spreading goodness.  I continue to ask questions, but I am now regularly amazed at the answers found in the Book. The murky waters are moving, clear waters now, flowing freely from the Eternal Fountain.
falls of spreading goodness

It is written that God has “created all things for His pleasure.” At first thought that sounds selfish, until one realizes that His pleasure is that of giving His all. He’s not looking for something to get from us to fulfill His desires or to please Himself, but rather His pleasure is to give.   –Christopher Bernard

“If you remove the enjoyment of God from faith, it ceases to be faith. 
If you remove enjoying God from everyone of the thousands of acts of obedience, it ceases to be obedience. If you remove the enjoyment of God from life, it ceases to be life. ……It is remarkable that God has made joy the central point of those pieces.”   ~John Piper

 

love you….

“Love you.”
We postscript it.  We call it out as our kids hurriedly grab their lunches and run out the door.  We are sure to say it to our grandma after a sweet visit and a hug.   We also say it when we don’t know what else to say…
It can be the veil that shrouds the true meaning of the heart.
When does it become REAL?  Organic and raw.  Uttered from the deepest, most guarded vault of the heart and whispered with sacred awe.

Well, the wise old shabby Skin Horse knew the answer.  We would do well to listen in on this conversation…the secret of loving held the answer to real…as the very loved and worn horse knew.  velveteen rabbit & skin horse

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”  (Williams, Margery, The Velveteen Rabbit).

Ah!  Loving becomes a doing which must require time, patience, and well, some rough handling.  Love involves being carried around absently without proper appreciation or  being handled with clumsy hands that do not know how to carefully hold you.  Love involves comforting and being squeezed too tightly with wet teardrops smattering your best clothes.  Love gets terribly messy engaging in day to day honest life; the dirt of adventure and the hot sweats of fever bring glory and fear, deliver delight and despair, breathe familiarity and heartfelt hand squeezing. But, loving is belonging.  Loving is giving.  Love takes time.  Love gets a little rough, because compassion is a heart moving toward someone…
Loving is meeting a need.

Heart S T R E T C H

pear and roseWafting aromas of home-cooked goodness helped to create a warm coziness in our home this past holiday week.  The meals filled us to plumb happy as we gathered together around the table, and we now need to exercise this home-cooked goodness off our bodies!

About that…
Can I talk about the importance of stretching?
The after-workout bulge of muscles can make a person appear extra buff; but what is really happening is the pumped up muscles are still shortened in contraction and full of lactic acid and other by-products.  Overloaded muscles are shortened by the exhausting reps which only use a partial range of motion.  The build-up of lactic acid causes the familiar muscle soreness.  The muscle might loose some of its bulge, but stretching out the muscles helps them to become looser and to “remember” their original range of movement.  It also helps get rid of the lactic acid and other waste-products.  Although not “pumped up” as much from the tightness of the contraction, the muscle needs the loosening to return to its originial full range of motion.

But, there is a muscle that needs stretching far more than any other muscle…to the limits…as far as you can reach…and it needs to be done constantly.

Heart – s t r e t c h i n g

Did you know that Peter, a rugged fisherman in the Bible, actually talks about stretching out? Perhaps, being a fisherman made him keenly familiar with sore muscles? Fishing in ancient mediterranean times was hard, complicated work that required substantial and intensive manual labor.  Fishermen developed thick muscles and a strong physique through the strenuous activity involved in their trade.  casting1.jpg 19th century drawingImagine the wind blowing through Jesus’s hair as he walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee watching two burly brothers with muscles bulging as they cast their heavy fishing nets into the waters (Mark 1:16-20).  It was demanding work that required endurance.

Peter, a fisherman by trade,  called to be a disciple of Jesus, was then appointed an apostle of Jesus Christ to the church.  Having done very physical labor, he writesDragnet2
using “muscle building” language, “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spiritin sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart.”    The word “fervent” is the Greek word ἐκτενής (ektenḗs) and can be used relating to the body; it means without ceasing, fervent, stretched out.  Peter wants the church to “stretch out” their love muscles to their absolute limit, reaching as far as possible. He also wants them to “remember” what is the most important thing,  “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.”  Love is to be “stretched out” in a full range of motion getting rid of the build-up of self-aggrandizement.  Love must be stretched to its limit to cover many sins -not mere mistakes- but wrongs inflicted, not just once- but over and over- for there will be hordes of things to cover.   stretch“Stretch out” in order to hide the knowledge of wrongs against you.   Reaching out our genuine love muscles helps them remember what they were intended to be:  kinder, gentler, more humble, less self-seeking and to love authentically from a pure heart.  Jesus gave us instruction to love others as we have been loved by him.  That’s a whole lot of stretching!  But, this stretching does not hinder growth; instead, it enhances flexibility and intensifies strength building.  So, it is with our faith, hope and love “muscles”; but the greatest of these is love.

“Love knows no limit to its endurance,
no end to its trust, no fading of its hope;
it can outlast anything.
It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.”