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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Where is My Heart Home?

10437336_886594004696690_560646586782056199_nI have been thinking a lot about “home” lately.  If the hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) which I have been diagnosed with does not go into remission, my pulmonologist believes that it would be wise for my husband and I to move from Oregon where everything stays wet and creates a prime habitat for my HP triggers to grow (aspergillus and aureobasidium pullulans.)  I was surprised at how sad his medical advice made me.  Of course, I don’t want to move away from my sons who currently attend college here.  But, I also don’t want to leave my beautiful new home or my beloved church family, either. My husband has worked for a biomedical company for twenty years, and it has been a good fit for him; so, moving would mean starting over with a new company. Only a few years from retirement, this doesn’t really sound like fun.  I realized, though, that “home” to me actually represented relationships, security, and easy comfort.  My heart is being tested to see if I will trust my good Father God to orchestrate my life with perfect wisdom and then to  happily rest in His faithful goodness come what may.  I am thankful that God has renewed my heart making it ready to release these lower loves if asked.  My eyes are fixed on Jesus and my desire is to steadfastly love Jesus more than all other lower loves, even the ones that are considered worthy ones.

Jesus is the joy of my heart’s desiring; and the more I know Him,  the quieter my heart becomes in His sweet love — He is my “heart home.”

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” – Corrie ten Boom

“You will never know the fullness of Christ until you know the emptiness of everything but Christ.” – Spurgeon

All Things: From,Through, and For Him

God was wisely sovereign when I heard the words on my birthday, “Your chest x-ray is abnormal.”  I had already been struggling with debilitating vision.  Now, I was being told that my lungs were being damaged by an overactive immune system which was attacking this much needed organ for breathing.  Over the last three years I have been struggling with unexpected and weird, even rare, health issues.   And, yet, I am being cared for with a sovereign wisdom that is perfect.  I don’t have to understand the why or know what will happen next; I just need to know my God, for then I will most happily trust and rest in His active care.

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God’s ways are inscrutable, because, honestly, I cannot even come close to knowing what the right questions should be to ask. God surveys all time in one gaze. He knows and sees everything, all at once, all the time. I can’t even begin to go there. I remember some of my past. For, today, well, I am here in the moment. And I have no ability to tell you what is going to happen next, because I frankly don’t know; and even what I suspect might happen doesn’t necessarily mean it will. Not so with God. He is beyond time. He is present in all time. And He controls the minutiae of every day in the universe as well as the invisible world beyond that which we can perceive. There is so much I just don’t know! How can I even begin to control what I can’t understand?


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Not only is God wisely sovereign over everything, but He is also dedicated to completing His work in me; so that I am made able to finish the works that He Himself ordained for me to do (Philippians 1:6).  I am confident that I will not have one unfinished task, because of His divine promises to me, His faithful love over me and His power to accomplish what He says He will do. God is able and trustworthy, so I am assured that He will complete everything concerning me.  When I actively believe these truths about my God, it makes me happy and at peace in and with my God, even smack dab in the middle of difficult days.  God always acts in a way that is beautiful and above reproach, and He is laying up His goodness for those who trust in Him.  “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” (Psalm 31:19).   The apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica sharing how he prays for them, “…that by His power He may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.” Paul writes in another letter, “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?  He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”  So, if God is for me, then I am being held by the safest, strongest, and most worthy hands.


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Who I am and whatever I possess originates with God.  I didn’t create me.  I didn’t decide when I wanted to be born, or where, or into which family.  I have absolutely nothing to do with my existence.  Which is kind of crazy to wrap your mind around, because when things go wrong in our lives it is common to feel that you deserve a bit better in your life.  But, I don’t even exist on my own.  The breath in my lungs doesn’t originate inside of me.  God is generously giving you and me every breath.  It is all from God.  So, when I think about the good life plans ordained for me by God, and more specifically the tasks He has ordained for me to do, I must consider that none of which I was created do comes from me.  Everything comes from God.  It always starts and ends with God.  Even when I do the things I was designed by God to do, I am only giving back to Him what belongs to Him anyway.  God is not any richer by my giving to Him.  God is not needing anything that I can do for Him.  It is similar to a child giving a birthday present to their parent which they purchased with their parent’s money!  My behavior and good gifts will never put God into my debt; everything always comes from Him!  All glory, honor and power belongs to Him.  

Doxology

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36

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(All images used are believed to be in the public domain.)

It Is Well With My Soul

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“Humility is like the lead in the net, which keeps the soul down when it is rising through passion; and contentment is like the cork which keeps the heart up when it is sinking through discouragement. ”

Thomas Watson

Truth to Hang Onto on Difficult Days

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This morning the spring winds were especially blustery.  As unseen winds pushed up against my house, eerie howls encircled the windows of my home leaking in creepy noises.  I heard strange thumps and groaning creaks as the house bemoaned the gusty punches.17854851_1401467119876040_4599875741995813320_o In our front yard, a large limb from our street tree snapped under the pressure and fell hard to the ground.  My neighbor’s children were playing basketball outside next to it when it happened.  I am extremely grateful that none of those precious kiddoes were harmed!  I am writing with a grateful heart this morning and have an unexpected desire to hug those little people.  But, it also reminds me that the breaking of the limb evidences the strength of the wind, that though unseen, it still can damage what is not strong enough to endure the persistent pressure.  

In the same way, the persistent pressure from life’s turbulent stresses can cause us to bend and even break, to fall hard, and to realize real damage to our souls.  If I don’t have a strong root in truth, my weaknesses will succumb to the blustery beatings.  On those difficult days, what can I hang onto?  What is the truth that cannot be shaken?

In one of his letters, Paul addresses the problems of life and how to continue faithfully through them.  Here is what he wrote:
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Okay, when I am experiencing the strong winds of difficulty, what is the truth that firmly holds and keeps me unmoved?  What can I rely on?  I need to know and understand God’s heart toward me, so I have taken the same Pauline words and re-written them using my own words striving to understand how this applies to my everyday real life.  God’s Word tells me that I can know and believe that I will experience trials and testings that are common to the human experience.  None of my trials are a special exception, but are just normal like everyone else’s.  But, I need to know this, my God is faithful; so, I can trust Him.  My God sovereignly rules and will impose boundaries on my trials, so that I will not be tested above and beyond what is right (even though it may not feel like it, this is the still the truth.)  I also need to know that God promises to provide a way out of the trial with His help, so that I am able to walk in faithful obedience while enduring the stormy, gale-force pressures and difficulties I will encounter again and again.

This is truth that cannot be shaken no matter how fierce the winds blow!  Matt Chandler speaks about the good news of the gospel applied to trials in this way:

The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is regardless of our circumstances, we get God, and he’ll be enough. On the day of trouble, we’ll cry out, and we will hear, “Here I am.” When marriage is difficult, and we cry out, we will hear, “Here I am.” On the day the doctor says, “Can you come in? We need to talk,” we will hear as we cry out to God, “Here I am.”

He will not abandon. He will not quit, and he will not cut out his children. He is ever present, ever chasing, ever hoping, ever putting his Holy Spirit’s power into us to sustain us and hold us up regardless of life’s circumstances. This is how he blesses those who are saturated in grace. He is present. He is enough.

So, when the difficult days come-and they will-remember the faithfulness of our Father and the ever present nearness of our wonderful Jesus, and the resurrection grace and power granted to us by our Helper, the Holy Spirit, and do not be shaken.  Let the Word of truth be a deep root to secure your faith in Christ.

No Delay for Help

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What is a “right” that belongs to you?  What comes to mind?  We joke and jab, “Oh, you just feel like you’re so entitled.”  In particular, I think Americans seem to have a general belief that as individuals we have a claim on certain “rights.” I don’t whole-heartedly believe this myself, but this attitude permeates our culture subtly affecting our personal views. Interestingly, I have observed that it irks us when someone uses a benefit they did not earn or have a right to access.  Then there is the millineum generation who recoils at the frequent accusations against them for having an attitude that one is inherently deserving of privileges. Sometimes, we feel entitled to a benefit because we believe we have rightly earned it. Either way, we grapple with how to claim our expected advantage.  The need to claim a benefit reveals a dependence on the other party.  The rights of entitlement necessitates a relationship between two parties exists where there is an expectation that when necessary one has the right to ask for help.
maxresdefault (2)This idea of entitlement came to mind as I read the Psalms this morning.  In Psalm 70, David is very urgent in his requests before God, to the point it almost sounds demanding, “God, deliver me.  Hurry to help me, LORD! …I am afflicted and needy; hurry to me God.  You are my help and my deliverer; LORD, do not delay.”  David insistently asks for God to help him.  In his relationship with God, the Psalmist believes he has a right to speak to Him in this way.  How does he know that it is okay to be that aggressive in his prayers?

garden-of-the-gods_f_mobiThe very next Psalm gives an insight into the writer’s thoughts, “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!  In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!  Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.”  Here, the Psalmist reveals his foundations for coming so boldly in prayer.  He argues, “I have a relationship with you that involves covenantal promises.  You agreed to save me.  You agreed to be my protection.  Because of your word and promise to me, I have the right to come and ask for the benefit of your help.  Not only that, you initiated relationship with me, and I have put all my trust in you. I know you are righteous and will only do good, so I know you will do good toward me.  You have the power to change my situation, so I am asking you to advocate for me.  I want to you to be my safe place continually.”  The Psalmist takes a stance of sweet assurance based on his covenantal relationship with God.  He is not in alliance with another god to be his resource; it is to His own God, a very personal God, that he turns to for help.

542924312_fd0f3c488fEarlier today, with crumpled blankets pulled to my chin, I snuggled in the quiet dark of the morning not wanting to face another hard day.  My husband laid close beside me, his hand holding mine.  He listened patiently as I shared the struggles of living with a chronic disease.  I did not call up my friend’s husband to pour out my heart to; or turn to any other man, but my own (this suggestion sounds ridiculous, I know.)  My point is that I did not feel that it was inappropriate to talk like this to my husband, exactly because he is my husband.  I am in heart union with this guy.  Years ago, we made solemn vows to each other, to be there for one another, no matter what.  The marital promises were strict and binding “…till death do us part.”  Now, I was laying claim to those promises without any shame.  It did not seem weird to me to be talking about the ugly bits of life, like trying to get up each morning when I really don’t feel well.  I am entitled to that privilege based on my relationship to my husband and the promises we made to each other.  Best of all, I know he loves me, no matter what.

In the same way, the Psalmist does not feel weird to go to God with his desperate cries for attention. 147023388e45710f85848a48ec302727 God had made a promise to help him.  God has a heart of tender love toward his needy child.  God is good and will do good.  The LORD God is powerful and has the ability to bless and benefit those who belong to him, and this is on a daily basis! God’s faithfulness to all of his promises prompts intense prayers of reliance, and his love assures the heart in hope for He truly cares.  Come.  Come again and again.  God has given the command to save, and his righteous help will never disappoint.
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So, today, I will go to my God,
who is faithful, good, powerful and true,
and ask for His righteous help,
because I know His everlasting love to me,
because I trust His never failing promises.  

Beautiful Grace

The desire of God’s heart of grace isn’t just to make us pretty externally, but to create new & authentic beauty from the ashy, charred, deep parts of the soul.  Physical health, material wealth, & personal happiness are nice, but not what I need most.  My heart being changed by His loving heart of grace is what matters most.beautiful-cherry-blossom-09

Alive in You

2f5648382740548387acff1d05daa755 (1)Dear Jesus, I love you. I can’t do life without you.  There are so many times that I am enticed to handle life on my own and end up in a sinful mess.  Forgive me for not living the miracle of new life through you.  I confess that I present myself to serve my own sinful desires instead of you.  Forgive me and cleanse me from the sin that so easily entangles me.  I am sorry and grieved for my sin.

Sometimes I feel disempowered and unjustly treated in political arenas, business contracts, etc. …
Often I struggle with knowing I am loved by others…
Or other days I feel criticized for what I consider good, and I can’t see the “kernel of truth” in the message…
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No matter the temptation to handle life on my own, be near me.  Remind me through your Holy Spirit that I am crucified with you (I am dead, “powerless”) and my “old life” has been rendered inoperative.  I died with you on that day on the cross, but I also was resurrected with you, Jesus.  d674ba538084102ec3cd7918106f6d34 - CopyI am alive in you, Jesus, and have been given a new heart, a new life; and I am filled with the power of your Spirit within enabling me to do whatever you ask of me.

Let me learn of you!  Let these truths transform my life!  Teach me, Spirit of the Living Christ, that I am set free from sin.  I serve you, Jesus, with my life; and my life in you bears fruit in holiness, only because I live in You, until that day You bring me safely home to enjoy your glory forever.9c3c86cf8d619b7d03375cd944b05641

 
Thank you for your justice & mercy.
Thank you for your faithfulness.
Thank you for your love.
Thank you, Lord Jesus.

Making it My Own

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He was pierced for Sheila’s trangressions,
He was crushed for Sheila’s iniquities;
the punishment that brought Sheila peace was on him,
and by his wounds Sheila is healed.  
(Isaiah 53:5)

The ancient words written by the prophet Isaiah didn’t really  read quite like that.  He didn’t know me.  He didn’t use my name in the text.  But, the text was written about me.  It was also written about you.

“…and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.for the trangressions of My people He was stricken.” (Is. 53:6, 8).

You see, when I dare to personalize peace, I also must look at the heinousnes of my crime, “the evil that excites the severity of divine wrath,” as the old Puritan would say.  How hard is it to go low to the depths of humiliation to say what God already knows, “I am a sinner.  I have sinned against You, God. “?

It is ugly.  It is not what I like to think about.

Still, it is the truth about me.

And it is true for all of us, for God says, “each of us has turned to our own way.” Oh, we must admit we love our own way.  We so love to be in control, and for the most part we tend to think we do okay choosing our own way.  Preoccupied, we forget about God.  We wake up each morning figuring out how to make our own selves happy.  We do not rise in thankfulness to worship God by finding our deepest satisfaction in Him.

There rises on  a hill a great piece of evidence against us to remind us of our guilt.
The old Puritan prays,
“Show me the enormity of my guilt by
the crown of thorns,
the pierced hands and feet,
the bruised body,
the dying cries.
Thy blood is the blood of incarnate God, its worth infinite, its value beyond all thought.  Infinite must be the evil and guilt that demands such a price.” (Valley of Vision)
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You see, what I may call insignificant, God doesn’t.  We tend to grade our behavior by our own self-made, shifting standards of morality.  We joke about our “one weakness.”  Not God.  Our holy God is just and completely righteous.  He does not dwell in the gray, and His immutable character is eternally the same.  But, it is the purity of His love and justice that demands that all wrong be made right.  Where we might wink at wrong, God understands the devastation of evil.

The old Puritan’s pen scrawls hope for the guilty,
“Yet thy compassions yearn over me,
thy heart hastens to my rescue,
thy love endured my curse,
thy mercy bore my deserved stripes.”

The ancient prophet Isaiah writes, “…and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin…
After He has suffered,
He will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by His knowledge My Righteous Servant will justify many,
and He will bear their iniquities….For He bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.”

God sent Jesus so that I can have peace with Him.  I see the love in this indescribable gift of forgiveness. “For God so loved Sheila that He gave His one and only Son, that when Sheila believes in Him she shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for Sheila.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Truth must move from our head to our heart; we must make it our own. Do you believe? Our own hearts must confess our sinful turning away.  Our own hearts must trust that only Jesus’s blood can cover the sin and set us free to live reconciled to God.
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The Crime of Stealing Glory

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To be recognized and esteemed by those around us is a struggle fought deep in the heart.  So, although one may believe in Christ Jesus as the Son of God, the love of being known and esteemed in this world swallows up the greater healing of being known and loved by God eternally.  So, the heart must confess its desire for lesser glory:

O heavenly Father, our mighty God, give to me a heart like Your suffering Servant who came to fulfill all the Scriptures and all of Your holy will.  For Your Son Jesus is the exalted King above every name, and He came as Your Servant sent to save the world.  In Jesus is all of Your glory seen.  You, Father, commanded all that Christ Jesus, Your anointed would say, all He would speak.  Jesus said, “What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”  
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Reshape my heart by Your Spirit so that I will not love the fading glory that is in this world more than I love the Glory that comes from God.  Of Christ, our glory, it is written, “And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name.”

 Forgive me, O God, for any claim to Your glory.  Humble my heart in the hope of the cross. How dare I substitute shameful glory for the surpassing worth of Your great name!  Let me walk in those footsteps to Calvary and only desire to do what You have spoken.  Thank you for covering these sins of mine in the gushing red flow of Christ’s suffering.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  Let my life live outloud the worth of this name.   

 

I cast my mind to Calvary
Where Jesus bled and died for me.
I see His wounds, His hands, His feet.
My Savior on that cursed tree
His body bound and drenched in tears
They laid Him down in Joseph’s tomb.
The entrance sealed by heavy stone
Messiah still and all alone
O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
Then on the third at break of dawn,
The Son of heaven rose again.
O trampled death where is your sting?
The angels roar for Christ the King
O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
He shall return in robes of white,
The blazing Son shall pierce the night.
And I will rise among the saints,
My gaze transfixed on Jesus’ face
O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
O praise the name of the Lord our God
O praise His name forever more
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
Oh Lord, oh Lord our God
Songwriters: Dean Ussher / Marty Sampson / Benjamin Hastings
O Praise The Name lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group