Live a Life of Love

007f4c70ad538c6adcee81413b531bbd

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.
heart-of-butterflies-resized

Advertisements

Making it My Own

maxresdefault-1

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)
109668-oswald-chambers-quote-sin-is-not-weakness-it-is-a-disease-it-is

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.
peace-with-god

 

 

 

 

Don’t Give Up!

Banished on the island of Patmos, can you imagine what the apostle John must have felt when Jesus’s beloved friend heard the voice of “one like a Son of Man”?  How long had it been? 16 yrs? . . . did he remember the breakfast smells of freshly caught fish wafting from the shore kindly prepared by a risen Lord? hope in the clouds Did he remember the day His dearest Friend left, his departure so stunning as he effortlessly ascended into the drifting clouds?  John’s own brother had now been killed by King Herod . . . faithful Paul, too, had been martyred. I wonder what he felt in the persistent silence of aloneness? John himself had been exiled for his testimony of Jesus, and now he was waiting weary & longing, patiently persevering.

Christ now stands in the midst of the churches, and we read what John records, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, & the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” The coming King . . . don’t give up, John. Remember who I am. The foundation for our faith, courage and endurance is laid on this cornerstone. Oh, how He loves His church! Jesus is still the Shepherd of His sheep, leading us safely home.

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.  
broken_heart_by_fabu

 

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!

one_consuming_passion_00014198_titleonly

 

 

The Cup

the-cup-300x186
All of hell was held in that cup.
The dark wine of God’s fury filled to the brim.
In just a few hours, Jesus would no longer be the Beloved Son,
but rather the one Cursed by the Father.
If Jesus had not drank the cup of God’s wrath,
we would have to drain that bitter cup ourselves.
Together, God in the Father and God in the Son suffered
to atone for our many violations and the very intentions of the heart.
Silence.
Separation.
Thunderous, quaking judgment of horrible proportions,
as God abhorred his soul.
Jesus, you drank the cup of wrath without mercy,
so that I could receive your mercy without wrath.
All glory, honor and power be yours!
Receive the cup of His mercy, O Sinner, and live!

Sibbes more mercy than sin in us

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

What Happens When the Author Disappears?

Pages rustle.  Turning.Pages.of.Medieval.Bible
The overhead fan blows the thin, opaque pages of the book causing them to flutter.  This book is like no other…for in it God speaks, revealing His story, every page whispering hope for the world.

 There is a remaining longing written in our hearts…our sorrows often refresh the deep ache…it reminds us of REAL LOVE and the pang of separation. In a way, it reminds us of the appeal of fairy-tales & fantasies which irk and annoy modern literary critics for as we well know people still flock to those kind of stories. once upon a timeYou know the stories…The Lord of the RingsThe Beauty & the BeastKing Arthur and His Knights of the Round TableSleeping Beauty…Pinocchio…they all stoke the flame kindled in our soul somewhere before the once upon a time.  The great stories didn’t really happen…BUT LOVE IS REAL and our hearts really do long for happy endings. But even though we know they really didn’t happen, there is an inescapable, emotional longing deep within us for the supernatural…
for true love that never fails and never, never ends…
a desire to triumph over evil, for good to always win…
for the possibility and wonder of never growing old.  The well-told stories laced with those essential ingredients enchant our hearts. Daughter’s eyes shine for their daddy’s open arms of embrace. We love heroes. The Lord of the Rings bristles with bravado. We weren’t meant to die, and Sleeping Beauty is freed from her eternal rest through the power of love sweetly posed as a kiss from a dashing prince. Beauty and the Beast causes our hearts to hope for a love strong enough to break the curse of our beastliness. And our hearts really wants the world to be free from its sadness. Our hearts never want to let go when the love reaches deep.
So, the beauty of Christmas reminds us again…of a Father who did let go…of the Father who sooooo loved that He gave His only Son…infinity to infant.

Yet, did you know? That in between the soft leather covers of your Bible, in between the Old Testament and the New, there is a large empty gap, a looming void in the historical record of God’s metanarrative. The main character is hidden.  Did they notice God’s leaving?  For 800 years, there had been no miraculous interventions of God in the story.    What happened?  For 500 years, angels sent by God had not showed themselves to men.  Worst of all, did the people hear God’s hush?   God went darkYou see, for 400 years, God kept deafeningly silent.  No spoken Word…no prophet to bring the Word to the people for so many, many years.  Did God change?  Did He give up on His people?  Did the Author of Life quit writing the story?  Would God really remember His promises to do only good? Shriveling to a shadow of what used to be, Israel remained with only two tribes and without any status; and men and women’s hearts were very cold and faithless.  They had no king, and their hopes were bitter now.  But what about the beloved King David, whose throne was promised by God to be established forever? Alas, your royal son reigning now seems inconceivable, even impossible. There was only thunderous, ear-splitting silence.

An old promise, a worn-out hope to some, would not be forgotten; God would finish His story, and nothing would ever be the same

The night is silent again.  Now all is calm.grotto nativity 2015
God comes.
Infinity to infant.
God comes quiet.
A kingly birth hails from a defeated throne.  The Branch of David, the rightful heir to the throne, is a banner of salvation to all of the world.  The babe is Lord at His birth.  Emmanuel.  God is here with us.

So, what is this story of Christmas? 
Is it nothing more than a made up fairy-tale?
This story is true for it is written by God Himself.  It isn’t “once upon a time”; for this story never ends which is why eternity is written on our hearts.  
Jesus is the promised Deliverer sent to set us free from all of the sadness, darkness, and separation.  He breaks the chains of our beastliness and reconciles us to the open arms of the Father.  The king reigns over the grave’s steely grasp and death’s venomous sting.  He has come.god-was-made-man-1024x576  The story didn’t end.
We wait knowing that God truly did intend for our good and that the King will return.  During God’s hush, Hope was born, & nothing would ever be the same.

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.”