Rely

I’m going through Beth Moore‘s Loving Well Bible study. Again. For the third time.

This is partly because it’s the study the director of women’s ministry at my church chose. But, let’s be honest, it’s mostly because I don’t love well.

Anyway, the bulk of the study focuses on the latter half of 1 John 4, where John illuminates what God’s love is, what our love is, and how the two are connected.

What caught my attention this week during Bible study was verse 16. For context’s sake, here is 15 and 16:

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

Hmm.

Know and rely?

A lot of days I know God loves me. But do I rely on His love? What does that even mean anyway?

Well, I think John is speaking to our relying on God’s love for salvation through Jesus. Verse 9 reads, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” Christians are putting all their eternal hopes in one basket, and that basket is labeled, “Complete Forgiveness through Faith in Christ”. We’re relying on the love God has for us, believing that love spurred Him on to send Christ to die for us. If God didn’t love us enough to send His Son, we’ve all been duped. Worse, we’re all still in our sins, and when we die we’ll have to explain ourselves to the Lord.

But I think we can also rely on this same love – the love that went to extreme lengths to redeem us – in our daily lives.

When we’re worried about paying bills that are bigger than our paychecks, for example, we can rely on the love God has for us by recalling that time He loved us enough to send His Son to redeem us. We can trust that that same love will work out our financial needs.

When we’re feeling lonely or frustrated or angry, we can rely on the love God has for us by believing that the love that sacrificed Jesus for us is still loving us today. We can believe God is with us in our hard times and wants to comfort us with His love.

When we have no idea what we’re doing with our lives – what job to take, what ministry to serve in, whether or not to have another kid, where we should live, etc. – we can rely on the love God has for us by thinking about the compassion for us that prompted the Lord to send Jesus out of Heaven, to Earth, through extreme beatings, to a slow, violent death on a cross in order to win us back. We can have faith that that same all-encompassing love will guide us in our life decisions and won’t let us fail anymore than we need to in order to better know Him.

It’s easy to know intellectually that God loves us. It’s all over the pages of our Bibles, it’s in the lyrics of the worship songs we sing each week, and we can recall times in our lives when God really made it abundantly clear that He cares for us.

It’s much harder to consistently feel like God loves us and, in turn, to rely on the love He has for us. I think learning to actively depend on God’s love is more of a learned skill than a natural inclination of the Christian’s heart.

I wonder what would happen – how my mindset might improve – if the next time a challenge arises I ask, “How can I rely on God’s love for me in this situation?”

I know, answering that question takes effort. (I’m grumbling myself at the thought of doing this exercise.) It’s hard to see the forest for the trees, and even attempting to when you’re the one stuck in the brush may take more emotional energy than you have to spare. But I think it’s a question worth answering.

How He Loves Us

“Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

This sentence stole my breath yesterday.

I came across it in the Gospel of Mark, where an account of Jesus’ interaction with a rich man is detailed.

Mark 10:17-22 reads like this,

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Some things strike me about this account.

The rich man obviously respected and revered Jesus, falling on his knees and calling Jesus “good teacher”. The man appeared to be a devout Jew, upholding these major commandments Jesus mentions. And, yet, the man was very concerned that he might need to do even more to inherit eternal life… It seems this guy wanted Jesus, a leading Rabbi, to confirm that he had dotted his i’s and crossed his t’s when it came to his salvation. He wanted assurance, something, ironically, he would not find in doing anything more.

There he was, pleading his case to Jesus that he had done everything required of him by Jewish law (or at least the “important” things as expressed in the 10 commandments), but he didn’t get it. He didn’t understand that his eternal destiny didn’t depend upon him doing anything…

Instead of wringing the man’s neck in anger… instead of shaking His head in disappointment… instead of throwing His hands up in frustration… Jesus looked at him and loved him.

Jesus validated this man’s worth by looking at him instead of away from him, and Jesus loved him in spite of his failure to understand what Jesus was saying to him. 

Jesus continued, explaining to the man that what he really needed to gain eternal life was to place his faith in Jesus, by way of selling his possessions and following Christ. Unfortunately, this man wasn’t willing to do that.

Two thoughts cross my mind.

One, do we approach the lost this way? When we share the Gospel and people don’t get it, do we look at them and love them anyway? Do we treat them with dignity and respect? Do we continue to care for them in our hearts?

The second thought I have is far more personal. I am often the rich man in this story; I don’t get what Jesus is saying to me, or, worse, I get it and choose not to follow Him. But just as He did with this man, Jesus looks at me and loves me anyway. His is a beautiful compassion that does not waver in response to my behaviors or short-comings. 

And He feels the same way about you. No matter where you are in your journey with Him, He is looking at you with the loving, healing, calming, faithful gaze that only our perfect Savior can sustain. May your heart be steadied by His look and His love today.

When All Feels Lost

When the world starts to turn upside down and my stomach turns with it, it can feel like the whole globe has run clean off its orbital path, veering into the vastness of dark space waiting to swallow it whole.

When all feels lost
image via chrisroll at freedigitalphotos.net

When order and routine and the expected and all that is right get disrupted, it’s easy to believe God has lost all control and the whole system is nothing more than rotating chaos.

I give up hope. I sit down and throw my hands up in despair while I watch the whole thing fall apart through doomsday glasses. At least I think it’s going to fall apart. I’m so easily convinced God can no longer redeem.

Something inside knows better. An inkling rises against the apparently hopeless fate of the world – of me – and I am spurned on with a defiant, “No! All is NOT lost! It cannot be!”

So I put on my space suit and swim into black. I put my lasso around the Earth and try to muscle her back to where she belongs. Sweat on my brow, I pull. I pull. I pull and nothing happens.

Defeated, I drop the rope and drift. Wherever weightless space wants to take me. All feels lost. I feel lost.

And then, God.

“Time out!” He yells. “I’m still here!”

“And nothing has really changed!” He continues. “I have loved you with an everlasting love! I knit you together in your mother’s womb, and I know all the hairs on your head! I have called you by nameyou are Mine! You are precious and honored in My sight, and I LOVE YOU! I take great delight in you! I have good plans for you! I will never leave you or forsake you! I am with you always! When you walk through the fire, you’ll not be burned! Come to Me, and I will give you rest! Put your hope in Me – in My unfailing love! Trust in Me with all your heart!”

And everything else?

“I am working all things together for your good,” He says.

The truth is nothing is out of His control. Ever. The world feeling like it’s off its path? That’s just a feeling. It’s not reality. The heart is deceitful above all else, and so is Satan, the father of lies. It’s just an illusion that the Earth isn’t exactly where it should be – that I’m not exactly where I am supposed to be.

And if that’s true – if it’s true that God is sovereign, that nothing is out of His control – there is no globe petering out into infinite darkness that I need to fret over. There is no world completely off its course that I have to drag back to its proper path. I am neither helplessly doomed nor responsible for righting all that seems wrong to me…

My job is simple – to fix my eyes on Jesus. Minute by minute, hour by hour. Whether I feel right on course or lost in the depths of outer space. I must resist the urge to cry, “All is lost!” and fight the pressure to control everything. Neither action is fitting for one who is intimately acquainted with the Lord.

I will fix my eyes on Jesus, and simply say, “I trust You.”

What to do When People Hurt You

Sometimes people hurt us.

Insightful, no?

Accidents happen. Feelings get hurt. Egos get bruised. People get overlooked. And, every once in awhile, people may purposefully take a stab at our hearts out of anger or bitterness.

Most of the time this kind of thing happens in isolated incidents. Especially the hurting that is inadvertent. We swallow it, and move on. Or we talk about it, resolve it, and move on.

But what do we do with the relationships in which we know the other person is going to hurt us before they actually do so? Sometimes people aren’t safe or mature or good at loving other people, and, if we had to guess, they are going to hurt us sooner than later.

There are a lot of clues we may be dealing with this sort of person…

Maybe they have a track record of hurting us, and we’ve just come to expect that from them. Maybe we’ve observed them hurting others before, and we figure it’s only a matter of time before they hurt us too.

Or maybe the person isn’t intrinsically hurtful, it’s just that we’ve been around the block enough times to realize that loving others is risky. The more emotionally vulnerable we are with someone, the more deeply they can hurt us.

So what do we do?

The natural tendency is to allow very few people into the depths of our hearts. Keep them on the surface so if they do something insensitive or flat out stupid, it won’t hurt very badly. And if the handful of people we let in ever do hurt us, we quickly learn to construct a wall to keep them out for good so they can’t ever hurt us again.

In other words, we protect ourselves.

Except the only problem is that’s not how Jesus did relationships. 

Jesus had a friend named Peter who swore his faithfulness to Jesus up and down (Luke 22:33). As good as Pete’s intentions were, Jesus knew better, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me,” (Luke 22:34).

Jesus knew Peter was going to hurt Him. They had been great friends, doing life together daily for the better part of three years. I can imagine the pain in Jesus’ heart – the heaviness – at the thought that Peter was going to deny even knowing Him. How hurtful…

Sure enough, after Jesus was arrested, Peter was questioned about his relationship to Jesus, and Peter denied knowing Him (Luke 22:56-60). “Just as [Peter] was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter,” (Luke 22:60-61).

I don’t think Jesus was shooting Peter an “I told you so” look. That’s not in our Lord’s character. Rather, I can imagine the look was mainly one of great sorrow and hurt. Jesus had known it was coming, but it didn’t hurt any less.

All that to say, when Jesus was in a relationship with someone He knew was going to hurt Him, He didn’t back away. He didn’t build a wall. He didn’t self-protect.

He let the hurt happen. 

And then He continued to love Peter well and do what was in Peter’s best interest by serving him and sacrificing for him – even unto death.

It was not fun. It was not easy. Peter hurt Jesus deeply. But Jesus chose to respond in love.

And we are called to do no less.

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way 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). 

How to Have the Same Mindset as Christ Jesus

It’s been a crazy two weeks for our family. An unexpected event has turned our world upside down. We’ve grieved. We’ve felt angry. We’ve felt hurt. We’ve had to process those emotions with the Lord and with others. And then we had to start making several significant life changes for our family that weren’t even on our radar 2 weeks ago.

The Lord doesn’t waste turbulent times like these.

His biggest challenge to me in the midst of this craziness has been to take a look at my heart and to really examine how well (or how poorly, as the case may be) I love other people

There’s a passage of scripture that reads, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 2:3-5).

Ah.

This is a convicting knife to the heart when you’re feeling wronged and hurt by someone else. We still have to value them? We still have to consider their interests? We have to think about them as Christ thinks about them?

What, exactly, is “the mindset of Christ”?

Verse 7, “…he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” and verse 8, “…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death…” (Philippians 2:7, 8).

Christ’s mindset toward others – all others, even those who don’t “deserve” His love – is to serve them humbly and to die to Himself. When Jesus hung on that cross, He didn’t do it because it was in His best interest. When He was beaten beyond all recognition, Jesus’ thoughts weren’t fixed on Himself. He was solely concerned with doing what was in our best interest.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters,” 1 John 3:16.

Even our brothers and sisters who hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Even our brothers and sisters who repeatedly hurt us? Yes. (Matthew 18:21-22)

I struggled long and hard with that last one. I wrestled all last week, looking for scriptural loop holes. I came up empty. The Lord kept bringing me back to two thoughts:

  1. If I give up on those who hurt me, how will they ever grow?
  2. How many times has Jesus given up on me?

That second thought puts a lump in my throat every time I think about it. Jesus has never, for any reason, ever refused me another chance. How dareever consider, for any reasonrefusing to give someone else another chance? Jesus has forgiven me too much for me to wash my hands of someone else (Luke 7:47).

Having the mind of Christ toward others is longing to see them grow in their relationships with the Lord no matter what it costs me. 

One Reason God Loves Us

I don’t know a lot about knitting. But I know it’s a verb, and I’m assuming it requires the knitter’s attention to turn out halfway decent.

I bring this up because the Bible says God knit us together – you and me and every other person – in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13).

That means He actively creates us, rarely, if ever, taking His eyes off of us, and never diverting His attention from us. For 9.5 months straight, on average.

I don’t think I’ve ever done anything with that kind of commitment for that long. God knits us together 24/7. But even if I give myself grace and allow myself to sleep, I still haven’t done anything with that kind of intense focus and investment for almost 10 months.

I did read through the Bible in a year once… but that only required focus 15 minutes each day.

I did complete 17 years of schooling in 9 month intervals… but that only required focus 15 minutes each day. (Public school, baby.)

I did grow two humans for 38.5 and 39 weeks… but I was a pretty passive observer on account of God doing all the actual knitting. I handed Him “yarn” in the form of prenatal vitamins and “nutrients” from my weekly pieces of fruit, but He really did all the work.

All that to say, God does some pretty awesome work putting babies together.

  • The moment a baby is conceived, all the DNA is present to determine eye color, hair color, height, personality quirks, etc.
  • God makes the baby’s heart beat within the first 18 days after conception. (It might be even sooner, but we have yet to develop the technology to prove that.)
  • The spine and eyes are clearly visible by 24 days.
  • By 6 weeks we can detect brain waves.
  • At 7 weeks the baby has its own blood type and develops 100,000 new brain cells every minute.
  • By 8 weeks the baby has all the organs an adult human has.
  • At 12 weeks the baby’s rubber bones harden.
  • The second and third trimesters are spent growing so the baby can live outside the womb on its own.

(I’d be remiss not to point out the strictest laws in the US allow abortions to be performed until 15 weeks. But that’s another post.)

As these ideas tumbled around in my heart the other day, I realized something. Maybe part of the reason God loves us so ridiculously much is because of how much time and emotional energy He puts into making us. He methodically crafts us, cell by cell, intensely concentrating on building us just the way He wants to build us. And as the weeks go by, His already limitless affection for us only increases. (I know, this doesn’t make sense, but neither does infinity plus 1 equals infinity. Nevertheless, it’s true.)

I remember the day I fell in love with my first child. We went for an ultrasound at 19 weeks to find out if she was healthy and what gender she was. I hadn’t seen a ton of ultrasounds in my day… maybe not any. When a picture of my baby popped on the screen, my breath was gone. I could see every vertebrae, every bone in her hands and feet, her sweet profile. And all of a sudden she was real and she was mine and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I didn’t know one thing about her, but I knew I loved her with all my heart.

One Reason God Loves Us

The Lord feels that way about you and me. He felt that way the day He conceived of us in His mind; He felt that way every day He spent creating us in our mother’s wombs. And He feels that way every day He spends continuing to fashion us into the image of Christ. He is highly emotionally invested in us simply because we are His.

Everlasting Father

Some 700 years before Jesus was born, a prophet said of Him, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” (Isaiah 9:6).

The Trinity… right there in the Old Testament…

Everlasting Father… I read the words again. Is there anything sweeter? permanent dad, to hold us and love us, to delight in us and rejoice over us… forever?

I marvel. It’s too wonderful.

In a world full of failing – of fathers gone wrong or just plain gone, of children gone wrong or just plain gone – there is One who knows His role and shines in it always…

God – the Everlasting Father. There never was a time, nor will there ever be a time, when God was not our Father… Before the creation of the world, He was our Father. The day each of us were born, He was our Father. He is our Father today, and He will be our Father forevermore… Everlasting.

Matthew 5:48 describes God as our perfect Father.

Mine and yours.

He claims us as His, and He fathers us – guiding, protecting, loving, disciplining, correcting, providing, encouraging, listening, affirming, supporting, nurturing – perfectly.

It’s too wonderful.

My flesh objects, “But!”

“But, Lord, how could You? How could You choose to love me when You know the evil in my heart? How are You not disappointed in me when I fail? How can You think so highly of me when You know the lowly things I think and say and do…?” I search His eyes for answers, reassurance.

And He says, “I just love you…. nothing else… just love. I am the Everlasting Father, and I have loved you with an everlasting love… nothing else…. just love,” (Jeremiah 31:3).

My heart quickens at the thought that it could be true. It could be true that I am loved!

“There is no ‘could’ about it,” God says, “It is true.”

Love with no strings attached? True affection that withstands all the ugly that seeps out of my heart and all the broken that still hides inside? Love that doesn’t wane when I make mistakes? Or, even worse, when I choose to do wrong?

I’ve seen glimpses of this kind of love in people… and now I understand…

He’s been showing me human examples – free samples – of His Everlasting Fatherly love all along, using people to reflect His love to me in ways I can see so my faith in the Love I can’t see will grow…

God. Everlasting Father with everlasting love. For you. For me.