The Truth About Love

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“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (2:15-16).
The heart and soul of true love is the love of God. This is perfect love (1 John 4:18). And it is nothing like the “love” this -world desires. In our culture today, “love” means “anything goes.” Love, in the modern sense, is unrestrained permissiveness. If I claim to love you, I should never stand in the way of you fulfilling your desires. But what if I know that your desires are self-destructive. Should I, in “love,” allow my granddaughter to play with the phone charger? That’s her little heart’s desire. Or should I keep her from something that can hurt her? Shouldn’t I also care about someone blindly following the whims of this sin-sick world into self-destruction?
Today, eros “love” – sensual love – has taken hold of the culture. “Love” has become anything that satisfies the flesh, no matter how perverse or damaging. And responding in “love” means we affirm and applaud this twisted version of love. But that is not love. The truest expression of real love was at the cross: “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loves all humankind, and He knows that sin is not in our best interest, but salvation is. He acted out of perfect love to provide what we needed most.
What this culture calls “love” is often nothing more than self-indulgence. Real love is holy love. And because He is the definition of love, anything outside of God is not love. Friend, it is time for us to speak the truth in love about love.

When the Tears Fall

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It’s six o’clock in the morning and my granddaughter is crying. I can hear her from my study. It’s probably just a diaper change – she hates those. But it’s breaking my heart. I’ve gotten up from my desk twice now and started back to see about her and stopped myself. Oh, how I want to comfort her and make whatever is making her cry go away. I think about all the times in her life she will probably cry – all the skinned knees and the times she doesn’t like hearing “No” and the broken hearts and disappointments that are coming. I wish I could protect her from them all. But I can’t. I know that. Still, every time she cries, my heart cries with her.

If I have such a response every time my granddaughter cries, how do you imagine God feels every time you and I cry? I am sure His great heart aches when ours breaks. In Psalm 56:8 David said that the Lord “Puts my tears in Your bottle—are they not in your record?” God is paying attention. When you cry, when the tears drip from your chin, He catches them, one by one. Do you know what that means Beloved? He is very near. He has drawn you into His arms so that He can gather every tear that falls. Your tears are precious to Him.

All is quiet now in Joy’s room. A clean diaper, a fresh cup of milk, and warm snuggles in her mommy’s arms work wonders. Her tears are gone and she is back in dreamland in her soft pink pajamas. My Nana-heart is happy.

Let the tears fall Beloved. God is near, like a good, good Father. Oh, how He loves you.

Becoming Like Jesus

See the source imageI asked God to teach me how to love people as Jesus did. He brought people into my life who were hard to love. I asked Him to help me trust Him and He took away everything else I trusted in. I asked Him for peace and He set me in a storm – then sat with me as it raged. I asked for greater faith and He put mountains in my path. I asked Him for wisdom and He set challenges before me. I asked Him to give me a kind and gentle heart, and he allowed me to face heartbreak and disappointment. I asked Him for joy and – well – He sent Joy!

I thought He would just make my heart grow three sizes, and make trust and faith shoot up like a well-watered plant. I thought He would just infuse me with peace, and give me a shot of wisdom. I thought he would just change my nature from grumpy to kind and gentle. I thought it would be easy.

Maybe it’s been different for you, but God and I have always had to do things the hard way. I don’t think I’ve learned a single life-lesson without some blood, sweat, and tears along the way. Even the Joy in my life came with a struggle.

We love to quote Romans 8:28 in times of trial and trouble: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” But what is His purpose? Read on. “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (v. 29). Everything in your life is designed to make you more like Jesus. The writer of Hebrews said that God made Jesus “perfect through suffering” (Heb. 2:10). Why, Beloved, do you think becoming like Him would be any different?

Valuable in God’s Eyes

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I have never thought of myself as important or of value. Probably because I’ve had so many people tell me by their words and their actions that I wasn’t. But something happened one day on a beach trip that changed my heart. We were in one of those kitschy gift shops and I saw a figurine made of seashells I liked. I picked it up and almost dropped it when I saw the price. My husband said, “They must really like their stuff – they’ve priced it so no one will buy it.” I realized that the true value of an item is not the price tag the merchant puts on it, but the price the buyer is willing to pay for it. The figurine was pretty, but it wasn’t worth what they were asking for it. I put it down and walked away. Then God spoke to my heart, “I was willing to pay a high price for you Child. You were worth the life of my Son.” I’ll never be “important” and that’s okay. But God has placed great value and worth on me.
 
The world and Satan continually work to focus our thoughts on what is wrong with us. The world says that we are flawed if we are not the right weight or body shape, don’t have the right hairstyle or an exceptional career. Satan continually reminds us of every failure, every wrong thought, and every harsh word; he drags us even deep into the pit by insisting that in God’s eyes we are worthless. I see you nodding your head in understanding.
Beloved, God wants you to know that Satan and this world are liars. The ultimate evidence of your worth is the price God was willing to pay for you – “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed…but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, 19). The truth is that Jesus thought so highly of you He gave the most valuable thing He had to redeem you – He gave Himself. You are so precious in His eyes.

And Who Is My Neighbor?

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This week our Ladies studied the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). I ran across this modern adaptation of the parable and it spoke volumes to us. (Disclaimer: This has been edited for space and application.)

[Jesus is speaking to a group of Southern Baptists:]
An elderly couple was mugged and robbed by a group of thieves outside a restaurant. As the couple lay dazed and bleeding on the sidewalk, a Methodist preacher walked toward them on his way to Bible study, but instead of stopping to render aid, he crossed to the other side of the road and continued on his way. A short while later, a couple of Baptist preachers came along, but since they were running late to their prayer meeting, they also crossed over and hurried on their way.
Finally, an atheist came along and felt compassion for the couple. He rendered whatever medical aide he could, then helped them into his van and drove them to the nearest hospital. He paid the deductible cost of their insurance and made arrangements to further pay any amount not covered by their policy
[Jesus then asked], “Which of the people who came upon the couple acted as a neighbor to them?” The Baptist replied, “The one who had mercy on them”. [Jesus then commanded] “Go and do likewise”.

The man who asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” wanted to know whom he was required to “love” according to the Law. Jesus said the point is not the limit of the Law, it is being the one who goes above and beyond in compassion. Beloved, who needs you to be a neighbor today?

Joy and Delight

Photo by Ashley Andrews

From the day they moved in with us, we have made it a point to sing to our granddaughter. Poppy makes up songs with her name. I sing hymns and songs from my childhood, like “This little light of mine,” “Jesus loves me,” and “Oh, little playmate, come out and play with me.” I sing them fast and silly when we’re playing and soft and slow when I’m trying to soothe her or rock her to sleep. We’re pretty sure she sings to us too when she oohs and aahs back. I guess you could say singing is our love-language with her.

Last night she was playing beside me, standing at my footstool when I looked at her, overwhelmed with love and started singing her favorite song – “I love you a bushel and a peck.” She lit up in the biggest grin, threw her head back laughing, and started jumping up and down. It blessed my heart so much to see her Joyful reaction. I sang it again and again, holding her sweet little hands while she jumped and laughed. Let me tell you – nothing this world can offer will ever compare.

It gave me a glimpse into one of my favorite verses, Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Imagine this with me. You are doing life, going about your normal day – or maybe it’s not a “normal” day. Maybe it’s a hard, painful day, or a dull, colorless day. God looks at you and His heart swells with delight and He breaks out in a song – a song just for you. Maybe it’s a soft melody to “quiet you with His love,” or it may be a happy song of rejoicing. But it is inspired by the pleasure He finds in you. Yes, YOU! You are a delight to God, just as my granddaughter is a delight to me.

How should you respond? Just like Joy-Joy did – with a big grin and a holy laugh and yes, even a happy jump or two. Your delight in God delights Him. It’s a never-ending circle of mutual gladness. Maybe that’s the secret behind Psalm 37:4 – “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. When God is the desire of your heart Beloved, He will be your delight.

It’s Time to Put Christmas Away

 

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I’ll be taking down our Christmas tree today. Packing away the ornaments, wrapping them carefully so they won’t get broken and schlepping them back to the storage shed in the backyard. I’ll throw the tree on the burn pile and sweep up the pine needles and try to restore my home to its normal disorder. We also have to get the house ready for a mobile baby so she can roam safely to her little heart’s content. Christmas has to give way to everyday life.

But I’m not going to pack away the essentials of the holiday. I’m keeping out the hope and peace and faith and Joy and love. I liked focusing my mind each day on the good stuff, and I think you did too. I think we have to keep those things front and center every day in every season least we lose them – and lose our way. Do we need a refresher?

Hope – the confident expectation we have as we look for God, always considers His faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, and lovingkindness. Peace – the quiet assurance we have in God – is the fruit of hope– and it grows in the soil of faith – which is stepping out on His promises and knowing our feet will meet His hand. It blossoms into Joy – an unshakable sense of cheer even when there’s little to be jolly about, all of which find their strength in the love of God – the wide, long, high, deep and perfect love of God.

The calendar may say that Christmas is over, but your heart doesn’t have to surrender the experience of the holiday. Hold tightly to everything you received this Christmas Beloved – no, not the stuff that was under your tree – but the true expressions of the season. Hope. Peace. Faith. Joy. Love. You’re going to need them all year long.

For The One Who Thinks God Could Never Love You

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“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

I asked her to tell me about her son. “He’s a smart boy, really smart. He can add stuff in his head faster than I can write it out on paper.  And oh, he can sing – he has such a good voice.  I think he could be a singer if he tried. But he gets bored easy.  That’s why he gets into trouble at school.”

We met for coffee so she could talk through some difficult things she was facing, largely brought about by this boy.  But before I asked about her son, she told me about herself. She told me that she didn’t believe God could ever love her. She had done things that she was ashamed of.  She was pretty wild in her youth, disrespectful to her parents, and teachers.  She got drunk the night of the prom, slept with her boyfriend, and became pregnant.  She and the baby’s father tried to make it right by getting married, but now – 17 years later – she was three failed marriages down and living with a man she met at a bar.  She had started coming to our church a few months ago in a last-ditch effort to straighten her son out.  That is until the deacons told her the boy was not welcome after he played too rough with some of the younger students and somebody got hurt.  The very next day the police were at her house with a report about her boy and the neighbor’s little girl and the latest nightmare unfolded. Yet, as much as her son’s actions weighed on her, I could tell something else was even heavier on her heart.

“How could God love me?  I’ve made a mess of my life and I’ve even screwed up my kid.”

“So you probably don’t love your son anymore after all the trouble he’s caused you.”

“What? Of course I still love my son! That’s crazy!  Why would I stop loving him just because he’s made some mistakes?”

“I just thought – since you believe God quit loving you because you messed up, you must have quit loving your son too.”

She looked at me as if an entire block of lights had gone off in her head. The weight of so much guilt and fear disappeared from her eyes while tears dripped off her chin and onto her sweater.

Beloved, I don’t know what you’re carrying around today. I don’t know your past. I don’t even know your present. But there is one thing I know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  If Christmas is about anything at all, it is about God pouring out His unfailing love on messed up people.

Why O. Henry Got Christmas Wrong

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“The Gift of the Magi” was published in 1905 and is a sweet tale of love and sacrifice at Christmas focused on a young couple who wanted to give their beloved a gift. But money was scarce and so, unbeknownst to the other, the gift-givers sold their prized possessions to buy something special for their spouse. Della sold her long, beautiful hair to buy Jim a chain for his pocket watch. Jim sold his heirloom pocket watch to buy Della a set of bejeweled hair combs. O. Henry finished his story with a nod to the Magi – the Eastern wise men who traveled long to bring gifts to the Christ Child. He wrote: “The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”[1]

While I appreciate this lovely story, I think O Henry got one thing wrong – Christmas presents didn’t originate with the Magi – the first Christmas present was given by God. The story of the Young’s Christmas is a shadow of the real story of Christmas. The young lovers sacrificed their most treasured possessions to give to their beloved, God’s sacrifice was far greater. He gave His One and Only Son to redeem men from their sin. The gifts they gave one another were costly – the watch chain Della bought for Jim costs $21; the gift God has given is priceless. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18, 19). Their gifts – and the sacrifice that enabled them – were given from love, but their love pales in comparison to the great love of God. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” (John 3:16). In fact, in O. Henry’s story, the sacrifice is part of the gift; in the Gospel story, the sacrifice God made is the gift.

Have you received this gift? Watch chains and hair combs can never express love like the cross can. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior Beloved? He is the greatest gift of all.

[1] http://www.online-literature.com/o_henry/1014/

God’s Christmas Gift to You

 

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“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15

My oldest brother opened a Christmas gift that contained a single bar of soap.  He looked at it, shrugged his shoulders and tossed it into the pile of wrapping paper in the middle of the room.  My other brother opened a box that also held a bar of soap.  But he decided to dig a little deeper, thinking that Mom had something up her sleeve.  He peeled back the wrapper on the bar and found a $100 bill wrapped around the soap.  My older brother took one look at it and made a dive into the pile of wrapping paper to retrieve his.  Mom had struck again.

God has presented us with a gift far more valuable than a $100 bill.  He has given us the gift His never-failing love.  But for so many, the gift seems valueless and it is tossed away as we search for something “better.”   The world offers a different kind of “love,” but it always leaves us empty and wanting something more – something real and lasting.  That is because at the very core of every human being is a longing for the love only God can give – and it can never be satisfied with anything less.  The more we chase after other loves, the less satisfied we become.

The first humans choose sin to fill that deep yearning and humanity has followed suit ever since.  The desire for love remains, but our sense of what will fill that desire has been crudely twisted away from God.  And the hunt is on.

Jesus came to reveal the Father to us, to show us that the love we crave is only found in Him.  He came to be the bridge between sinful men and women and our holy, loving Creator.  The gift of holy love is available to anyone who will accept it.  Beloved, don’t toss away the most valuable present you’ve ever been offered.