Peaceful Tides

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Recently, my husband and I made a day trip to the beach. It had been too long, and a lot of loss had occurred in our lives since our last visit. I can tell you that getting my feet on the sand and back in the water was long overdue! The beach has always been a place of solace and comfort for me. It is where I feel most connected to myself, to nature, and to the One who created it all. I feel God’s Spirit all around, and He speaks to my heart in ways that bring new perspectives and realizations. It is where He soothes my broken heart or wraps His arms around me in my grief or trouble. I can stand there for hours just listening to the sound of the waves as they tumble onto the beach around me. We all have places like this, places that touch our hearts and still our souls long enough for the noise of this world to fade into the background so that we can hear or see what we NEED to hear or see.

This life can be so complicated and layered. There is so much going on around us all the time. It is a frenetic pace and, if we aren’t careful, everything within us takes on that pace and the chaos that comes with it. We get so used to the noise of living that we forget how to actually live. The endless distractions or things clamoring for our attention manage to absorb our time and energy. It becomes the “norm,” and we don’t even recognize it anymore. We have endless and continual information rushing at us like an unstoppable tidal wave of distractions, tearing up everything in its path. As people of faith, we can get so caught up in trying to keep up with the pace and then we wonder why we struggle to feel connected to our Father. I can’t help but think of how He tells us, “Be still and know that I am God” (Isaiah 46:10). If I want to truly know Him and be confident in who He is and how He moves, then I must become still.

Being still is not an easy thing to do these days. Not only do we struggle for time in our schedules to do so but becoming still actually stirs movement in other ways. As a child of God, it is almost impossible to sit quietly for very long before we start to reflect, and when we reflect, our spirits turn to the One who created us, redeemed us, and lives within us.  We hear the still, small voice within and sometimes it reveals things we need to change. Other times, it reveals truths we couldn’t see or hear in the cacophony of our daily lives.  Noise can drown out so much, and as our world continues to become faster and faster, it is so incredibly important to slow down so that we can truly hear, see, and feel those profound things that He desires for us to understand.

Standing on the sand recently, with the waves lapping around my feet, I found myself back in that old familiar place. I found the stillness in every fiber of my being and the world began to make sense again. I’m not saying that situations in my life suddenly changed, or griefs I’ve had were suddenly gone, but rather that my perspective lifted higher, and I could breathe again.  I love to stand and see what is revealed as the waves recede back into the sea. Beautiful shells or rocks appear, and they shimmer in the sunlight as it dances across their surface. Incredible sea creatures, different and colorful, stretch out into the warmth around them and provide a glimpse into the intricacies of God’s creation and the depth of his unending creativity. I don’t think twice about the fact the waves are constantly rolling back into the sea because there is beauty in what lies upon the sand as a result, things I may have never seen otherwise.  These moments center me, and it wasn’t until after we returned home that something struck a chord in my heart so strongly that it reverberated through my mind. 

There are times in life, certainly in mine, where I feel God’s presence all around me. Sometimes it comes through time spent in nature, with family, or in the embrace of a friend; sometimes it comes while standing with other believers, praising Him in song or sitting together as His family, spending time together with Him. But there are also times when it seems like maybe He’s not as near or that I have somehow lost my ability to hear Him, yet He has promised that He never leaves nor forsakes us. He is still with us as an endless sea of love that does not disappear, but rather ebbs and flows around us. There is a beautiful rhythm in the way He moves in our lives, sometimes seemingly nearer than others, but if we spend our entire life being so focused on watching the waves recede, we will never turn our vision to what is revealed when they do so. We will miss some of the very things our Father is trying to show us. He doesn’t recede to abandon; He recedes to reveal!

I am constantly amazed at how He speaks to us as His children. He finds ways to meet each one of us where we are, in whatever place we find ourselves at any given point in time. He knows exactly the language to speak that will open my heart, my ears, and my eyes so that I can find peace and understanding – not in having the answers, but in knowing that HE does. Those “languages” could be in images or scenes that come to mind, an impression of His voice within, the laughter and love of family or friends, or countless other things through which He speaks to us but make no mistake about this: If you are His child, He is speaking to you and your heart. The best way to hear Him is to be still and listen.

Whether you find yourself in times of sunshine or rain, abundance or want, joy or grief, remember you are never alone. Your Father, the One who loves you most and sacrificed Himself to make a way so that He could be with you again forever, is with you always. He knows exactly where you are and how to reach you…and He will never let you go.

Blessings!

An Opening Bloom

Many years ago, I was having lunch at a famous Chinese restaurant in San Francisco and experienced flowering tea for the first time in my life. If you aren’t familiar with flowering tea, it is exactly what its name infers. It is normally a mild tea that contains an actual closed flower in it that, when steeped, opens and blooms. It makes for a truly gorgeous cup of tea.

With the recent deaths of both my mom and dad, it has been a challenge for me to not close myself off to things around me. When we endure trouble and difficult times, it is so easy to curl up and just want the world to stop for a while.  Believe me, I get it! I realized yesterday morning that it has often felt like I am waking up from a very long dream but paralyzed in some way.  Today, however, I can’t help but think about how God has provided so many things in my life to help keep me putting one foot in front of the other, even if it’s only an inch at a time some days.  Throughout all the turmoil, He has continually been walking me through every single moment of every single day. So what does this have to do with an interesting cup of tea?

Flowering tea cannot be done with cold or even cool water because the flowers just won’t bloom. It takes extremely hot water to cause them to open up and reveal their colors. I can’t help but think of how this is also true of our lives and the trials through which we walk. Sometimes it takes enduring extremely difficult and even painful times for our hearts to open and begin to bloom again. Sometimes it is through the heat that we are forced outside the shadows and into the light. If asked, most of us would say we much prefer comfort to pain, yet pain is a result of growth. There is a pendulum that swings between the growth from pain and the healing of comfort, and both are needed in their respective times. Too much pain in life and we will collapse; too much comfort and we will atrophy. If we give up in the middle of the journey on which we walk, we may never see what could have been.

Merriam-Webster defines endurance as “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity, especially: the ability to sustain a prolonged, stressful effort or activity.”  We’ve all had at least some measure of experience with endurance. Enduring, by nature, will wear you out, but there is something beautiful that happens when we push through life’s pains and find the stamina to keep going. When we endure, we are gifted with golden moments in time that we would never experience if we just gave up. Sometimes these moments come at the end of a journey, but often they come all along the way. God not only has a way of strengthening us through ways we could never imagine, but He also provides respites for our weary souls as we travel onward.

Recently, I shared with someone that sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest (instead of the forest for the trees). It is easy, as a person of faith in times of distress, to say God is in control and we know He is working everything out for our good. Although true, that perspective is like a view of the forest. It is great to step back and remember that God is always making a way through our situations and emotional turmoil, but it is just as important to sometimes step forward and take notice of all the little trees that make up that forest. Those trees might be the people in our lives, organizations to which we belong, the beauty of nature, a text from a family-member or a late-night conversation with a friend. For me, there has been a grove of trees in my life over recent months within the church I attend, and I would venture to say that most of the people involved haven’t a clue of their impact on my journey, or how God has used them as a salve to some of the broken places in my heart. I look at these individual trees with wonder in my heart tonight. I am in awe of how my Heavenly Father continually weaves together a net of His grace to hold me up through individual people and experiences. Yes, the forest of His overwhelming love and grace in taking care of us is a beautiful scene to behold, but each of the trees that make up that forest are unique and special when you look a little more closely. It is in the balance of these two perspectives that I fall to my knees in gratitude to the One who knows the end from the beginning and how to handle every turn of the path along the way.

God is good even when life isn’t. Joy and happiness may be related but they are not the same. We read in James 1:1, “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” You might be wondering how that is even possible! This isn’t about being happy in our trials, but rather finding joy in the fact that our trials are evidence of God working in our lives. Just like an athlete who endures the stress and pain of training so he or she can run a race with maximum strength and efficiency, God is allowing our trials to strengthen us to run the race that is set before us (Hebrews 1:1-2). It is this perspective that allows joy to flow through us even when we are struggling. We read a few phrases later in James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James is referring to what he said in verse one about understanding our trials from a different perspective, that we should (and can) find joy in the assurance God is working in our lives and strengthening us. If we can’t seem to be able to do that, then we simply need to ask God for wisdom necessary for that higher perspective, and He will give it to us.

The best thing any of us can do is to recognize God for who He is and to understand who we are in light of that truth. He is worthy not only of our praise and worship, but also of our trust and faith in the way in which He is directing our paths or the paths of those we love. Storms may rise but we so often need to simply be still and let God move. We need to have a conversation with ourselves that reminds us of the truth that God is in control and there is no need for worry. A dear friend recently shared with me the words to an old hymn, and although the poetry of the original lyrics is so beautiful, it is the message the writer is giving to her own soul in times of distress that moves me to tears and inspires my heart. I share them with you in the phrasing I speak them to myself today. Be still, my soul; the Lord is on your side. Patiently bear the cross of grief or pain. Leave it to God to put things in order and provide, because in every change, He will remain faithful. Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly Friend will lead you through the difficult and painful paths to a joyful end. Be still, my soul for God has taken it upon Himself to guide the future as He has the past. Don’t let anything shake your hope and confidence. One day you will see and understand the mysteries you have now. Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He lived here on earth. Oh soul, be still when dearest friends depart and everything is darker in the valley of your tears. Be still and then you will better know His love, His heart who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears. Be still, my soul and remember from His own fullness, your Jesus can replace everything He takes away. The hour is growing near when we will all be forever with the Lord. When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone, sorrow will be forgotten and love’s purest joys will be restored. When change and tears are past, we will all finally meet and be safe and blessed.”

Whether we are walking through times of distress, grief or pain, there is beauty in what God is doing in us and through us. There is a purpose in the fires through which we walk, and God is always working through the searing pain that flows around us. Every trial we endure is as that glass of flowering tea, and the extreme heat we may sometimes feel will destroy us is the very thing necessary to set us free to bloom. Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning. I pray for stillness for your soul, that it is reminded we can rest in the arms of our Father and trust Him. We can feel a blessed security not only in His promises, but in the truth that neither He nor his promises will ever change because He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. It is overwhelming when our souls are stilled and our vision is cleared. I am so grateful for that clarity, and I cannot wait to see the bloom of the flower this season of life brings forth.

Blessings!

The 11-Day Journey

Murmuring, grumbling, complaining.   We are all guilty of it, and we really don’t stop to think about what it costs us.   Not only does it turn us into people that others don’t want to be around, it can actually change the course of our journeys.  We say it’s just harmless venting, and yes, there are times that we need to vent a little bit, but spending our time complaining or murmuring about our situations, or about other people in our lives, is something we should not be doing.  Period.

shutterstock_614595179When God delivered Israel out of their bondage in Egypt, He intended for them to inhabit the Promised Land.  The journey from where they were to where they were going was an 11-day journey (Deuteronomy 1:2), and yet it took them FORTY years to make it (Numbers chpt. 14).  They wandered around in the desert for 40 years because they did nothing but murmur and complain at almost every turn.  In Numbers chapter 14, God even said, “How long will these people treat me with contempt?  How long will they refuse to believe in Me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?  How long will this wicked community grumble against me?”  God goes on to say He was going to destroy them, but Moses interceded and asked Him to spare them.  God agreed to spare them, but then said not one of those who murmured and complained against Him would see the Promised Land.  The consequences these people experienced as a result of their complaining cost them far more than they would have ever expected, and an 11-day journey became one of 40 years.  God still took care of them during their 40 years of wandering, but it could have all been over much sooner, if only for a change of perspective.

How many times have you or I extended the amount of time we had to spend in certain circumstances just because we refused to stop complaining, gossiping, or getting caught up in the opinions of those around us?  Sometimes we can be swayed by group complaining.  After all, negativity is far more contagious than anything positive.  We get into situations where we feel justified in talking bad about someone, because we feel they deserve it.  People who have mistreated us, or even made poor personal decisions that affect us, are easy targets of our complaining, but we better be careful.  The more we complain, the more we “wander” until we change our perspective.  Israel eventually stopped complaining and trusted God, but it was at such great expense.  A generation of people (and complainers) died in the wilderness and never actually got to enter the Promised Land.  They missed out on the most amazing blessings and stayed stuck in a difficult and discouraging situation, because they chose to complain about everything instead of being grateful and trusting God to work things out.  Again, I ask how many times do we extend our own challenges because we do the same thing?

shutterstock_1017742099God tells us over and over to be grateful, but He also tells us to stop complaining!  Philippians 2:14 says to do all things without grumbling or arguing.  Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  There are many other verses that tell us to speak words that lift up and encourage, not tear down and destroy, and even with all of this knowledge of what God expects from us, we just don’t seem to be able to stop the grumbling.   We can’t seem to let go of criticizing others around us for not responding to things like we think they should.  We walk around thinking our way is the best way, and eventually it diminishes our ability to actually listen to the people around us.   You’ve probably heard the saying, “God gave you two ears and only one mouth, because you should listen twice as much as you speak.”  We are losing the ability to listen for the purpose of truly hearing, and it is harming us and our society.

When we listen to others, we are able to discern far better the reason for their reactions and even emotions at times.  We learn each other and can read between the lines to the deeper meaning (or problem) behind the words someone is speaking.  But listening this way requires humility.  You cannot truly listen to someone else while being full of yourself.  Being so convinced we are right takes up all the space inside us that is needed for seeing things from another point of view, one that may actually be better than our own.  We have to humble ourselves in order to listen, and we need to listen as though we are trying to learn something.  When we have an interest in something, we listen to information and instruction about it completely differently.  We WANT to know all we can about the subject.  The same is, or should be, true about listening to others.  We should love each other in such a way that we want to know all we can about each other – not for the purpose of judging, but for understanding how to help and encourage each other more effectively.  Based on the way we listen, it’s obvious we aren’t nearly as interested in each other as we claim to be.  I recently came across a verse that has become a prayer for me, even though Isaiah 50:4 is actually a statement of something God has already done.  Two of the phrases struck me and have become this prayer: “Lord, instruct my tongue with a word to sustain the weary, and waken my ear to listen like one being taught.”   I want to love and care for others in a way that causes me to humble my spirit and speak words of encouragement.  I want to set aside my expectations of who or what they should be and listen as they teach me who they are, because that kind of perspective can change the world one person at a time.

shutterstock_294695897We all have situations in life that are extremely difficult at times.  We deal with all kinds of problems and challenges, some that are gut-wrenching or heartbreaking, and it’s easy to see why we might fall into a perpetual state of complaining.  When we are hit with trouble from every side, it’s hard to keep pressing forward or even to hold to our faith while standing still.  Romans 4:8-9 reminds us, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”  That sounds encouraging, but the truth is, in the heat of our troubles, we don’t believe those words are true.  Not only that, it feels good to complain!  It really is true that misery loves company.  We’ve elevated complaining to an art in our society.  We’ve become a people who actually tries to “one-up” each other in the difficulty of our circumstances.  It’s like we wear our troubles as a badge of honor!  We’ve all known people who seem to only have words of negativity about themselves or others around them.  They are the ones always looking to gossip or share negative things about someone else, often in an attempt to make themselves look better or seem more important.  We’ve known people who complain or grumble in order to look more like a martyr for doing something.  We’ve known people who also live like Eeyore with a “poor, pitiful me” mentality.  As people of faith, when are we going to wake up?!  When are we going to admit that our complaining comes not just from a place of feeling slighted by others, but by believing we have been slighted by God (though we probably wouldn’t admit that out loud)?

So how then do we set aside our tendency to grumble and complain?  We do it by changing our focus.  I realize that is easier said than done, but some of the best advice on what we should be doing is found in God’s word.  Philippians 4:8 tells us exactly what we should be thinking about.  “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  This isn’t just advice for people of faith, but for all mankind.  How do we stop complaining?  By dwelling on THESE things!  I’m not saying it is easy to do, but we absolutely have the power to focus on whatever we choose.  We need to surround ourselves with friends and family who can listen to us vent for a bit, but then gently help us shift our focus.  Thinking on the things mentioned in Philippians 4:8 doesn’t mean we won’t feel the emotions that sometimes overwhelm us.  We will still get frustrated, sad or even angry, but we don’t have to continue ruminating on the difficulties we face day in and day out.  My great-grandma liked to say, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you don’t have to let it build a nest.”  We can’t keep thoughts from popping into our head at times, but it doesn’t mean we have to let them take up residence!  And by the way, we also don’t need to let everything that pops into our heads pop out of our mouths!

shutterstock_228591001This world is in need of joy; WE are in need of joy.  That means we also need each other!  We need to focus on loving each other and helping each other, rather than “wallerin’ around in our troubles” (and yes, I just used the word “wallerin’”).  When we complain, we end up cutting off support we would otherwise have, because people don’t usually want to be around a complainer.  More importantly, it grieves God to hear us continually complaining about our lives.  He loves us and has promised He is working everything out for our good.  He just wants us to trust Him because He sees a much bigger picture than what you or I can see.  So often, we are just like the Israelites wandering in the desert, complaining about where or how God is leading us.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to risk wandering around in my own personal wilderness for 40 years, when I could have walked through it in 11 days by trusting God, focusing on the good, and simply biting my tongue.  Lord, instruct my tongue with a word to sustain the weary, and waken my ear to listen like one being taught!

Blessings!

 

Liquid Courage

shutterstock_101290495For years, California has been in a historic drought.  This week we have been hit with torrential rains which have caused all kinds of issues, including flash floods in many areas.  Weather events can bring all kinds of challenges and even destruction, but that’s not the point of this particular post.  Instead, I want to talk about an idea I call “spiritual irrigation.”

There is a great difference between something being watered by irrigation or by rain.  Deuteronomy 11:10-11 makes a contrast between the Promised Land as being one that “drinks water of the rain of Heaven,” whereas the land of Egypt being a land that is “watered with your foot.”  In other words, Egypt required irrigation, and the irrigation was achieved by fetching water and dispersing it, and partly by digging trenches with the foot.  Mechanisms were also used that were powered by men sitting on the side of the machine using their feet to create the power.  It was a predecessor to our modern (and amazing) irrigation processes today.

So why does it matter, and where in the heck am I going with this?  Humankind has, from the beginning of time, searched for ways to rely more on themselves than on God.  That is a reality none of us want to consider, but it is true nonetheless.  We, as human beings, do not like the idea of having to trust God for our needs because we think He may not supply them on our timetable – and often He doesn’t.  We like security, safety and predictability.  Boy how we like predictability.  We want to have enough money in the bank so that we can take care of ourselves in the way WE want to be taken care of.   We won’t admit it openly but we, as people of faith, are afraid God is going to let us down.  Maybe it comes from the fact that we have been let down by others in life.  It’s hard to find someone who is true to their word, always and in every circumstance.  It is hard to trust someone implicitly and yet we are told over and over that God will “never leave us nor forsake us.”  We are told in His word that He will supply all our needs.  So why do we spend so much of our time trying to take care of ourselves?  Because we don’t like the rain, we like irrigation.

shutterstock_93784720Irrigation allows us to be more in control of our destiny.  We can plant crops where they wouldn’t normally thrive because we have found ways to transport water from one location to another in ways it wouldn’t occur naturally.  Irrigation certainly requires less reliance on God to provide the rain we need – or think we need.  We have gotten so used to doing things our way that we forget the source of our blessings.  We start thinking we are truly in control of something as basic as water itself.   Oh sure, we pray for God to bless us with rain but if we get too much, we start to complain.  After all, we’ve been watering our crops and now that it’s raining, there’s too much water!  We wring our hands and wonder what we are going to do.   We’ve all seen buildings (or cities) built in areas where there is little doubt they will be flooded or even washed away if there is a lot of rain.  We actually criticize people in these areas and say, “well what did they expect?  They built in the middle of a flood zone.”  But why?  Because the rains don’t always come and after a while, no one actually believes they will.

So today it struck me, this thought of spiritual irrigation.  As people of faith, we often build our lives on what we think is best.  We make our plans and if they don’t really fit with where God may be leading us, then we find ways to make it work.  We “irrigate.”  I’ve heard my own uncle speak of his call to the ministry and how he really didn’t want to be a pastor.  So instead of doing what God was leading him to do, he tried other ways to get the conviction to stop.  He taught Sunday School classes.  He led the choir.  He got involved, but in his heart, he could not escape his calling.   Most of us do the same thing.  We know what God wants us to do but we would rather do it OUR way than His.  It’s funny to think the Bible tells us “His ways are not our ways,” and yet we still can’t seem to get it!  God is rain and we keep trying to live by irrigation.  We not only want to create the path ahead, we want to control the flow of the water.  We live this way and then when God does exactly what He has promised to do, we often complain that it “isn’t the right time” or “it’s too much,” so we wring our hands and start looking for ways to minimize the effects.  We feel God leading us to something else and we find all kinds of reasons not to go.  Or we feel God calling us to stay right where we are and we find all kinds of reasons to still leave because staying isn’t what WE want.  Believe me, God is not only capable of bringing the rains, but taking care of the drainage when it’s necessary as well.  He knows how to control the flow!

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Waiting on the rain isn’t easy.  It is often terrifying.  To be honest, faith itself is terrifying!  Waiting for God to bring what we need, WHEN we need it takes a strength I sadly admit I do not often possess.  It’s hard not to start irrigating when the rains don’t come.  The more we rely on ourselves and our plans/abilities to make things work, the greater the chance we may build where we shouldn’t.  The more we irrigate spiritually, the less we appreciate the rain.  Just like the farmer who relies solely on irrigation, rain becomes a nuisance.  We want it to rain (or snow) somewhere else so that we can store up the water and then use it as we see fit.  Yes, we want the rain, but not necessarily directly.  Yes, we want God to work in our lives, but not directly.  We want Him to provide our needs in ways that allow us to control the flow.  Whatever happened to the truth of the Doxology?  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

shutterstock_73938031I am tired of being a “spiritual irrigator,” and my definition of a drought is probably much different than God’s.  I want to live with a faith that follows God’s leading and trusts Him to provide the rain.  When we shed our need for control and put on that cloak of trust, we get to experience the most amazing moments.  We get to dance in the rain because we know from where it came.  We start seeing God’s providence instead of looking at Him as if His ways are interrupting our great plans.  From our perspective, it is better to plan and execute rather than follow and trust.  But from God’s perspective, it is far better to simply trust Him for everything we need and then dance in the rain when it falls.

Blessings!

Love Really Does Win

shutterstock_290942954Hate.  Anger.  Turmoil.  It seems we are surrounded by it constantly these days.  We could attribute it to recent tragedies or the political season, but I think it’s more than that.  We are a rich country.  I’m not saying everyone is rich, but even the poor in our country have access to more food, shelter and services than many other places.  Here’s the thing about prosperity:  It’s easier to have more time on our hands, and when we have more time, we have the choice to think about the blessings in our lives or all of the things that are not as we would like.  We have more time to think, and yet our thoughts don’t always rest on what the Bible tells us in the book of Philippians: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise – meditate on these things.”  (Philippians 4:8) Instead, it seems our thoughts go to those things that are more selfish and divisive.

In our country, we’ve endured a long period of time in which a very strong focus was placed on noticing and appreciating our differences.  As a result, we have gone to great lengths to point them out more and more.  Maybe it is race or heritage, lifestyle or political beliefs, or a host of other things, but we’ve focused on continually highlighting what is different about each other rather than pointing out what is the same.  Diversity (in all of its buzzword glory) has been celebrated and our sameness has been ignored.  The problem is that when we see ourselves as different, it becomes much easier to judge or fear, or to be angry and lash out.  So as a result of our nation’s prosperity – the prosperity our parents and grandparents worked so hard to secure for us – we have had more time to nitpick and tear each other apart.  We have celebrated our differences so much that now our differences are most often the only thing we see.  The beautiful thing about God is that He doesn’t see what we see when we look at each other.  He doesn’t see what is on the outside (and I am not referring only to our appearance); He sees our hearts.  Unfortunately, I think what He now sees disappoints Him more than we can probably imagine.  After all, He suffered and died for every single one of us regardless of our race, heritage, preferences or even our sins!  To Him, sin is sin even though WE like to pick and choose which ones He disapproves of the most.  Of course, it’s never the ones with which we personally struggle, but that’s a blog for another time.

shutterstock_300707297I am a white, conservative, heterosexual Christian.  I also have friends and loved ones who are of all colors, religions, backgrounds and creeds.  I love them all equally.  I may have more in common with some, which leads me to spend more time with some, but I do not love them more.  As a result of my perspective on love, I have some very deep and meaningful relationships with people that others may not understand.  Some would even say I should not have these relationships based on my own “classifications.”  What a load of crap!  I would not turn my back on those relationships simply because we have different opinions or perspectives.  Even the people I encounter and find extremely difficult to even tolerate (let alone love), I am still to love them.  Loving as God has commanded means that I will love others and see them as God sees them.  And in God’s eyes, they mean so much to Him that they are worth dying for!  Do I always succeed at that?  Sadly, I do not.  Like many of you, I struggle to not get caught up into the anger that comes as a result of one side or another (on any issue) becoming belligerent, uncaring and unloving – even if I might agree with their actual position.   Everyone likes to point the finger at others and say they are the “judgers,” but everyone shares that trait in common!  Everyone is a hypocrite at one point or another.  As a result, we end up living lives that are not abundant.  We stress and fight and get tied up in knots internally over the issues that face us, while at the same time God is looking at us saying, “Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)  God wants us to rest!  He wants us to rest because resting from our labor should be refreshing.  When we get quiet, our minds should turn to Him and to a true reflection of ourselves – not the image we try to portray to others.

The  truth is that if I am honest and understand exactly who I am, then it doesn’t really matter who you are.  Let me explain.  If I’m focused on my own relationship with God and what I need to adjust in that relationship – whether it is to ask for forgiveness or to be more committed or love more purely – then I will not be focused on what you are doing in your relationship with Him or others.  If I am going to try and love the way I am commanded to love, the only way I can succeed in doing so is if I am keenly aware that without Him I can do nothing – without Him, I am nothing.   That isn’t meant to be a self-depreciating flagellation; It is a reality that I did not and do not deserve His love, mercy and grace, yet He gives it freely and continually.  I should be keenly aware of that fact – without any rationalization of who I am, the impure and sinful thoughts that I have, the words that I say, or acts that I commit.  If I am honest with myself and recognize how imperfect, and even hypocritical, I am, then I won’t see you as less than me.  That’s what love is.

shutterstock_419615524After the recent Orlando tragedy, there are a lot of “love wins” quotes once again being circulated.  I realize that phrase has been used for one particular cause, but the reality is that truest love DOES win – the love of 1 Corinthians chapter 13 DOES win!  It wins because it will cause us to be honest with ourselves and take off our masks so that we can see ourselves for who we are.  It allows us to face the truth of Matt 7:3-5 that says, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite!  First take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” 

So in light of recent tragedies, and tragedies that are certain to come over the course of time in an imperfect world, love wins.  In light of a political season that is filled with hate and anger from both sides of the aisle love wins.  In light of selfishness and meanness, love still wins.  Why?  Because loving as God love will allow us to not be first and be perfectly okay with it.  It will allow you to forgive, even if no one ever says, “I’m sorry.”  Love will allow you to treat others with compassion – even those with whom you disagree – and trust God to sort it all out.  It may not be the way we want, and it may not be in the timing we want, but my responsibility is to “do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly before my God.” (Micah 6:8)

After all, God didn’t say it was an option.  He didn’t say, “Love the way I do if you feel like it.”  He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”  (John 13:34).    And if you aren’t sure what that kind of love looks like, then I would encourage you to take the time to read 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

Blessings!

(For an in-depth post on the nature of pure love, click here: Love Is Not Grey)