Love

A Prayer for the Lady

Dear God,

Please bless Laredo on this, her fourth birthday. Help her to know how much we all love her and how much YOU love her. Help her to always believe that you have created her—your beloved child, fearfully and wonderfully made—for wonderful works and wonderful purposes. Help her to embrace her identity in you, with confidence AND humility. Help her to grow each day to be more like you in every way.

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And when she fails—WHEN, not IF—help her to know that we and you still love her, as much as ever. Help her to believe the truth that NOTHING can separate her from the love you have for her. Help her to fall more and more in love with you with each passing day and each passing year.

Thank you SO much for the blessing that she is.

Amen

Dust

Psalm 103:13-14

“As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.”

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Well, I finally got tattoo #8 yesterday. I’d been thinking about it for some time, but the logistics only just fell into place. Whenever people see a tattoo in another language, the first thing they ask is what it means. Well, in this case, the Korean symbol on the back of my ankle means “dust.” It isn’t the only symbol for dust in the Korean language, but this one means, “soil, earth, clay, dust, ground, terra.” And that seems pretty close to the meaning of dust in the Bible verse above. WE. ARE. DUST.

I think we forget that sometimes. We think we are greater than we are, more invincible, more in control of our own destiny. Or maybe we are constantly beating ourselves up because we aren’t as great as we think we should be; we aren’t as kind, honest, or righteous as we are called to be. We fail. We fall. We disappoint ourselves, and those around us, and presumably God. But the verse above suggests that our God is a God of compassion, understanding, and unconditional love.

We also need to remember that, just as we are formed from dust, so are the people around us. They will fail. They will fall—and the higher the pedestal you’ve put them on, the greater the fall will be. They will disappoint. They will betray. And God remembers that they, too, are but dust.

Now, does this mean we should throw in the towel and dispense with all the good we know we should do? Does it mean we should do away with our efforts to promote justice and righteousness? And does it mean we should try to avoid the consequences of our actions, or protect others from suffering the consequences of theirs? No, no, and no. Paul makes that abundantly clear in Romans 6:1-2: “What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? By no means! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?”

We should do what we know to be right and good. As Micah 6:8 commands, we must seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And as Jesus stated (Luke 10:27), we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Still, as hard as we try to obey God’s instructions, we will fail at least some of the time. And no matter how hard our fellow believers try to keep those commands, they will fail. And no matter how much trust and loyalty we place in our leaders, they too will fail. And maybe, just maybe, if the God of the universe—holy, righteous, and just—can show compassion toward such dusty creatures as you and me, then perhaps we could too.

Who I Am–Part VI

Matthew 6:7-8

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans,
for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them,
for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

A while back, about a decade ago now, I spent some time in northern California, making some great friends, great memories, and great self-discoveries. I will always remember those times, and look back on them fondly. Indeed, I’m long overdue for a visit back—but that’s another story. For now, I want to tell you one story in particular that relates to tattoo #6.

At a friend’s, I noticed a stone sitting on a coffee table with a symbol chiseled into it. I liked the design a lot, and wondered if it would work as a tattoo. But when I asked what it meant, my friend replied, “Om.” Om—as in, a mystic syllable, considered the most sacred mantra [appearing] at the beginning and end of most Sanskrit recitations, prayers, and texts. Hindu culture considers it to be the root of the universe and everything that exists and it continues to hold everything together.

“Oh,” I replied in obvious disappointment, “I guess I can’t get a tattoo of it then.” I mean, its meaning certainly wasn’t in keeping with my Christian faith, right? But my friends described it in a few different ways, trying to clarify or maybe qualify its essence. And finally, one described it this way: “It’s kind of like prayer without words.”

That stopped me in my tracks. “Oooh, I like that!” I thought about it for a few months; I pictured it in my mind. I thought about that last meaning, prayer without words. We know, as Christians, that the Spirit intercedes for us with groans that we can’t even comprehend when we say the wrong things, or when we have no earthly idea what or how to pray at all. There are times like that. In those moments, it seems like the idea of prayer without words would bring peace and comfort.

Besides, I reasoned, it will be a reminder to pray for people of other nations, cultures, and religious beliefs. I’m loathe to admit, though, that its placement on my lower back is not always conducive to my seeing it and remembering to make those prayers and petitions. I need to work on that.

It seems like we hear and see “Om” all over the place now…at the natural food co-op, on the window outside the yoga or massage parlor, in the movies, everywhere. Perhaps now it will serve as a reminder to you of the importance of praying continuously, and of praying even without words. Or perhaps you’re like me and you need the reminder to pray for those who are not like you—no matter the source of those differences. God most certainly sees and loves us all, and will honor our efforts to better love Him and our fellow man.

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Peter

Garner State Park 12

John 21:15-17

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” 

John 21 tells the story of the miraculous catch of fish. Let me set the scene. Jesus has died and been resurrected. He has appeared to Mary Magdalene, the disciples, and Thomas. Then Peter and the others decide to do a little night fishing, at which time they catch nothing. In the morning, they see a stranger on the shore who instructs them to cast their nets out one more time. They do as they’re told and come up with a net full. At this point, they realize that this stranger is the Lord. Peter immediately jumps into the water and swims the 100 yards to Jesus. The others follow in the boat and the friends enjoy a nice breakfast together.

After breakfast, Jesus takes Peter aside and asks him three times to reaffirm his love. When many read this passage, they presume that Jesus is making Peter profess his love three times to make amends for the three times he had earlier denied him. But what many don’t realize is that, in this passage, Peter is not answering in the affirmative. Not really. You see, Jesus uses the word agape throughout the exchange. But in each of Peter’s replies, he uses the word phileo. Both mean love, but they are not synonymous. The latter describes a brotherly love shared among friends, whereas the former refers to an unconditional, sacrificial kind of love. So, in essence, Peter’s response to Jesus is more like a, “No. I really want to love you like that, but I don’t. I can’t.”

Jesus goes on to tell Peter that he will in fact be crucified for his faith. I used to think that Peter’s love for the Lord must have grown during the ensuing years, and that he was somehow transformed into one with a sacrificial love for his Savior. And maybe that is the case—it does happen. But I’ve recently become convinced that Peter already had an agape kind of love for Jesus. After all, when he recognized Jesus on the beach, he couldn’t even wait another minute or two to see Him face to face. He threw off all dignity and hurled himself headlong into the sea and toward his Lord. I think he loved Jesus with every fiber of his being.

He was just scared to say it out loud. He had espoused this love before when he had pledged his loyalty to Jesus just prior to His crucifixion. And when he failed, he became riddled with self-doubt. For many people, to hear straight from Jesus that their destiny was to be martyred for their faith would be the most frightening revelation imaginable. But I believe that, for Peter, this prophecy brought an uncanny sense of comfort and relief. Jesus restored Peter’s confidence by basically saying, “Peter, I know that you’re doubting yourself, and the conviction of your faith. But trust me. As surely as I foretold that you would thrice deny me, I am telling you now that your love and commitment to me are true. You can boldly proclaim your love for me—as agape—because you WILL remain faithful. You have my word.”

Oh the weight that must have been lifted off of his shoulders in that moment—freed from the burden of his past and commissioned for his future service. What a sweet, sweet time that must have been for him. And may you and I also embrace that same forgiveness, allowing God to use us in His service, confident that He has made and is still making us new in Christ Jesus.  

Resilient

In this life, there will be pain. Many of you know that all too well, because in this life there has been pain. Or in this life, there is pain at this very moment. We collectively and personally experience pain of all kinds. We witness natural and manmade disasters; physical, emotional, and spiritual battles; financial hardship; and other tragedies. Other than to fault a fallen world, we often have no explanation for the pain we experience. But do you know what I’ve discovered over and over again in the midst of great pain? Resilience.

There’s a song that I love by Gungor that says:

“You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust;
You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.”

And I see this in those around me who have suffered, yet carried on. I can picture your smiles, your experiences, your relationships, and all of the amazing opportunities you’ve had as a result of that pain. I find encouragement from watching others suffer well, even though I know we would all prefer a pain-free existence—at least we think we would until we realize the ripple effect (often positive) that our reaction to this pain can cause.

I also find encouragement in a number of scripture passages that give strength in times of trial and hardship, and that help me know that—when I too face hard times—God will sustain me.

  • “I can endure allthese things through the power of the one who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 CEB). I love the versions of this verse that highlight its true meaning. Many translations claim that we can “do all things” through Christ’s strength in us. But this not-so-subtle distinction takes us from a place of control, initiative, and confidence to one of dependence, vulnerability, and weakness. Thankfully, it is in that weakness that God’s power is made perfect and is displayed for all to see.
  • No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37). More than conquerors. We are not simply survivors, we are not even simply victors. We are MORE than conquerors through him. We will win and we will prevail—no matter what shape that victory takes in the end.
  • Love … always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:7). Many times our pain and loss result from our willingness to love sacrificially, in a way that protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres—in a way that, frankly, calls us to risk everything. Understanding this risk, we may be tempted to avoid love altogether. But love perseveres, and when we have love, we too will persevere.
  • And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Love remains, no matter what. No matter what our circumstances, no matter what our hardships, we are in a position to love. First and foremost, we must love God. When we do that, we will love others by extension. And when we love others, we aren’t called to love selectively. We are called to love those who curse, persecute, judge, hurt, and betray us. We are also called to love those who grieve, those who are persecuted, and those who suffer loss.

Resilience. Perseverance. Strength. Victory. Love. If you’ve lived these out in front of me, I thank you for the inspiration you’ve been. I pray that God will continue to sustain you, for his glory and your good.

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Go in Peace

2 Kings 5: 18 – 19

But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”

 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.

These are times of great change in our nation and our society. Some see these changes wonderful and progressive, and others see them as an almost personal affront. Truth be told, many Christians fall into this second group. We tend to have strong beliefs and convictions about what is right and what is wrong, in God’s eyes and in our own. We then hold the rest of the world to those standards, often disregarding others’ beliefs and convictions. We make it our business to transform the beliefs systems of others, or at least to enforce our own upon the masses.

But in all honesty, others’ decisions and actions are not our responsibility. Free will applies equally to all. We say that we don’t want to celebrate or facilitate sin. We say that we don’t want to water down the weight of others’ iniquity—even though our own has been washed away entirely. We claim righteous indignation, but we display plain old self-righteous hypocracy. We use our convictions as an excuse for discrimination and even hatred. For most of us, this is unconscious. But if we look at the way our convictions influence our choices, our relationships, our Facebook posts—it’s much less deniable that love is NOT our motivation after all. Nor is grace, mercy, or reconciliation.

The fact is that we have no business sitting in judgment against our fellow fallen humans, deciding which sins are ‘more grievous’ than others. We have no business refusing to work with or for another person, simply because they don’t subscribe to our beliefs and convictions. We certainly have no business refusing to SERVE them. For crying out loud, Jesus Himself said that “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). What in the world? Where do we get off? The more I think about it, the more I read about it, the more I realize just how absurd we’ve been, as a people—and as a Body.

So how do we reconcile our beliefs and convictions with those of others, while being true to our faith and to our God? I personally have been incredibly blessed by the account presented in 2 Kings Chapter 5. Our pastor shared this scripture a few months ago, and I’ve turned to it repeatedly since then. Long story short, Naaman, who is an aide to a king who worships false gods, suffers from leprosy. He learns of a prophet of God (Elisha) who can heal him of this affliction, and travels to see him. Upon being healed, he recognizes the power and sovereignty of the one true God, and vows to worship Him only. But one of his duties as aide to the king of Aram is to assist him in visiting the temple of Rimmon, a false god. And the king must lean on Naaman’s arm to bow down, and by extension, Naaman must kneel next to him. I love Elisha’s response when Naaman asks God’s forgiveness for this one thing: “Go in peace.”

Go in peace.
Love.
Serve.
And go in peace.

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How Then Shall We Love?

1 Peter 4:8
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

As the untrusting, pessimistic cynic that I tend to be, I often look around me and notice a multitude of sins. That is, I notice a horde, a mass, a swarm, an abundance…droves, heaps, piles, tons, dozens, hundreds, thousands, millions, gazillions, bajillions (at least, those are some synonyms for multitude offered by Google). I notice the sins of loved ones and strangers alike. I even notice my own sins with a keen sense of awareness that some might consider overkill.

And frankly, those sins—all of them—are difficult for me to overlook, to forgive. It’s especially difficult when they are repeated over, and over, and over again. They might not always be exactly the same. A new day, a new manifestation of the same root sin—you know how it is. But then again, Jesus did say that we should forgive one another “seventy times seven” times (Matthew 18:22). But how?

Peter gives us the answer: LOVE. And not just any love. In 1 Peter 4:8, he says to love each other deeply. And what does that look like? Well, according to Ephesians 5:2, we should love the way God does:

Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love.
Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant.
He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us.
Love like that.”

Until a few months ago, I’d never read The Message version of Ephesians 5:2. But it really spoke to me. God’s love for us is not cautious, but extravagant. I thought of all of the words I could think of to use in place of cautious that would reflect the same idea. For example, God’s love is not reserved. It is also not tentative, hesitant, self-conscious, half-hearted, calculated, insecure, guarded, fearful, or timid. Wow. And God calls us to “love like that.” He calls ME to love like that. Love. Like. That. Word.