Friday, April 18, 2014

Loving the Church People

Caleb's junior year of college, he took a class entitled Marriage and the Family at a non christian college. I, ironically that same semester, took a class entitled Marriage and the Christian Home at a Christian college. 

We spent many nights that semester on the phone discussing the differences between these two classes with similar names and subject matters. 
While I was discovering family bias's, gender roles, and learning how to place God at the center of all relationships. Caleb was being taught something very different. 

One particular night he was exceptionally fired up after a frustrating class. The professor was pretty cynical when it came to love, specifically the dating relationship. This particular class the professor used an example of how guys pay for dinner and/or express love with the notion the girl will provide something in return. I understand he was very specific in what the girl was to return, if you know what I am saying. The point being that love is conditional and, therefore, superficial.

I sat in my tiny dorm room while Caleb and I dissected all of our thoughts on love over our flip phones.

We are old, people.  

We ultimately agreed to disagree with that professor.

However, all too many times this is exactly how the world views love. It looks at love as conditional, superficial, and reserved only for those who look, sound, and believe just like me. 

Our churches are filled with people shouting love, love, love. Love the orphan. Love the homeless. Love the unloved. 

But at the same time our churches are splitting over neck ties, song choices, and auditorium temperatures.

I find it fascinating that Jesus shares these words to his closest followers, while most likely wearing sandals, 2,000 years before any 90 year old ladies complained about the ministers choice in footwear at the pulpit. 

"I am giving you a new commandment, and it's this: love one another! Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."  John 13: 34-35

He tells them to love one another AND by this they will know they are His. 

Jesus knew in order to get people to buy into this life of sacrifice and love, the disciples, the very ones he put his faith into continue sharing the gospel, MUST LOVE EACH OTHER. 

If they weren't united, then it wouldn't work. 

If Peter loved the poor, but didn't love John, then it was superficial. 

If James only loved Matthew when he agreed with everything he said, then it was conditional. 

And if Timothy adopted an orphan, but wouldn't even acknowledge Andrews existence, then it was pointless. 

When our love becomes superficial and conditional, it becomes something people run from rather than run towards. 

Is it possible that the unlovable person in your life is your own brother or sister in Christ? Have we become so outwardly focused that we have failed to cultivate and preserve the relationships with each other? What if "the church people" have become the very people we want to run from?

What good does it do to love those who don't yet know Jesus, if we can't even love those who already do? 

I believe it is counterproductive. 

I am not asking you to abandon all efforts of outreach or evangelism.
 I am not asking you to abandon your preferences on dress or worship, necessarily.
I am not asking you to stop buying TOMS.  

I am asking you to think about who among your fellow believers you are failing to love.
 I am asking you to offer respect to those believers who may not agree with everything you say. 
I am asking you to offer compassion instead of defenses when with your body of believers.
 I am asking you to work through your problems instead of spreading them to others. 

I am asking you to love one another. 

I am asking you to be a community of people so committed and engrossed in love that outsiders want to be apart of it. 


It is intertwined with God. 

Christ loved the church so much that he was willing to die for it. 

I think it is time we try to do the same. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Forgiveness and Freedom

Imagine you are on vacation with your family at the beach.  You are sitting in your chair with sand between your toes, a cold drink in your hand, the warm kiss of sun on your skin, the smell of sunscreen and salty air filling your nose, and the soothing sound of waves crashing at your feet as your thoughts and eyes drift away.

Suddenly, you are jarred awake by panic and screaming in an all too familiar voice. You jump to your feet and see your spouse flailing and yelling in your direction. You can hear the voice, but you are unable to comprehend the words. You quickly look to your right and see one child, where is the other one?

Before you know what is happening you are running towards the sporadic splashing of ocean water. You search for your sinking child. Your beautiful, smart, funny, wonderful blessing is sinking and you reach out to him. I am here. I can show you the way, your eyes speak.

He is calling your name, however, he is resisting your touch. He won't let you save him. He is drowning. The more you try to rescue, the more he resists. You cry out, "let me help you, I know the way to dry land. I can erase this from your life, give you life. I can save you. I love you, please stop pushing me away." He insists he needs you, but will not let you near. With each splash of water you can feel him drifting from you.

With tears streaming down your face and salty water entering your mouth, you make one last effort to grab your sweet, perfect child and carry him to safety. But life leaves him and he drifts away.

~ ~ ~

"My sin is so great, the creator of the entire world could never forgive me."

"The guilt of my former life eats away at me day after day."

"My failures are so large, no one could ever forgive me, especially the God of all things." 

"If I had known participating in sin would've had such a huge effect on me after all this time, I would have stayed away from it." 

These are just a few statements I have heard from women over the short course of my adult life. 

I asked my husband if past sin left him with unimaginable guilt, he responded, "what do you mean?" I attempted to further explain, but was left with the all too familiar blank stare in which my husband looks as though I have suddenly begun speaking in tongues and all comprehension is lost. 

I quickly took this response to confirm my suspicions that this is an issue which mostly haunts women. 

We tend to have a difficult time forgiving OURSELVES. 

Long after our slate has been wiped clean by our redeemer through baptism and grace, we are still hoarding those sins in our hearts and minds. Leaving ourselves trapped in the bonds of sin despite the forgiveness that has been so freely extended to us.

Guilt literally eats away at us, while we miss out on the freedom our Father has extended to us. 

While the example above may seem ridiculous and extreme, I fear it is all to real to the Christian woman(and maybe man, sans my husband) today. We are calling out to God to save us and he is standing with open arms. I already have.

"If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I'm not going to judge them. That wasn't why I came. I came to save the world, not to judge it.  Anyone who rejects me and doesn't hold on to my words has a judge. The word which I have spoken will judge them on the last day." 
John 12:47- 48, The Kingdom New Testament

If Jesus came to save, why won't we let him save us?

If I am not willing to be saved, what good is a savior?

Sin is real. Judgement is coming. Death will happen.

However, through Jesus, we have been given an opportunity to break free from these things.

New life and hope has been breathed into believers who seek and follow Jesus. The old has been removed. We are cleansed. We are set free.

If our old lives of separation from God consume our hearts and thoughts, then we are unable to experience and fulfill the love, joy, peace and goodness our Savior brings us.

Satan is binding you to your sin by your guilt. He has you in his stronghold and is laughing as you drift towards him and away from freedom.

If you are burdened with the deep scars of sin from the past, I ask you, to let your Savior save you. Let Him draw you out of the deep waters of guilt and shame the enemy is binding you to. Allow God to provide you with peace and joy.

Offer forgiveness to yourself as your Father has forgiven you. Move along onto better things, my friend.

"If you remain in my word," he said, "you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." John 8: 31b-32

Join me as we let go of the old and forge ahead with the new. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Little Encourager

Our little Presley will turn 2 in July.  From the moment Presley was beginning to form in my womb, she has been a firecracker, so its only fitting she was born 2 days before the 4th of July. 
 I became very sick a week before I even knew she was developing.  Baby girl was so strong her earliest kicks were visible from the outside. Caleb and I began to play a game nightly to see how far she could kick an object off my growing belly. 

I will never forget one night in our hospital room hearing a baby cry down the hall  in the nursery and looking at Caleb and saying, "that's Presley". The nurse walked in giggling while Presley was red faced from screaming her lungs out. The experienced nurse gently said, "I have never seen one get so worked up the moment she was hungry. She was fine and then she wasn't and she let me have the whole way here."  We all laughed because we had heard her as they made the entire walk through the halls to our room. 

My brother recently commented about Presley being the most opinionated baby he has ever met. 

Its true. 

Its a running joke in our family that if you sit with or around us during Sunday morning worship, you need to be prepared to duck in the event of flying objects. You see, if you offer Presley a bowl of goldfish and she wants raisins, she doesn't just nod no or turn away. She takes them and launches them back at you. Despite my best efforts, this is still her response. 

These are characteristics of Presley that people notice. These are the things that speak the loudest. These are the things she is known for the most. 

However, in the simple moments of bath time, ball practices, car rides, and playing in the living room floor, Presley is a beautiful encourager. 

Brady recently lead a song and prayer at a singing service. He did an excellent job. For the entire 30 minute drive home, Presley exclaimed at the top of her lungs, "Yay, my bubba, Yay!". 

At Brady's ball practice, she passes the time by cheering and encouraging her brother from the sidelines. 

Go, Bubba, Go Go Go!!!

While Rylan (a friends 1 year old I watch during the week) figured out how to work a toy, Presley was there shouting, "Yay, Baby Ry! Luh you!". 

When I hand her her blanket and paci in the car she sweetly replies, "Thank you my Momma! yay!" 

When a waitress at a restaurant brings food, Presley yells, without fail, YAAAAY!  I have yet to see a waitor or waitress walk away from her cheers without a smile on their face. 

In a world where everyone seems to seek personal gain and spotlight, Presley loves sitting on the sidelines and cheering others on. She has her desires, wants, and opinions. She makes them VERY clear. But she is genuinely happy when others seek and find their desires, wants, and opinions. 

I am in the midst of studying the book of John. Recently while studying chapter 3, this very lesson Presley has been teaching me jumped out and smacked me in the face.
John the Baptist is being questioned because Jesus is now baptizing more people than John. John the Baptist once again exclaims he is not the Messiah and continues into a story of how the bridegroom gets the bride, not the bridegrooms friend. 

 Then John the baptist turns the world upside down with this response. 

 At the end of verse 29 through verse 30, John the Baptist states "Therefore I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater, and I must become less." 

Joy at his success. 

Not my success. 

I become less and in this I find joy. 

As Presley finds joy in the success of her brother, my heart is softened to search where I need to become less and find joy.

I also am reminded that the encourager has a huge role in the kingdom. The encourager keeps spirits high, the encourager motivates to keep going, the encourager moves people to seek the Lord working in their lives, the encourager brings us back to focus, and the encourager challenges those to run faster. 

The encourager is important.

I am so in love with our little encourager and I beg you to never overlook the encourager in your life. 

I beg you to appreciate them, learn from them, and encourage them in response.

My prayer today is that I can help Presley see the importance in this gift of encouragement she has been given. I pray I can provide an environment which allows her gift to flourish. I also hope to become an encourager myself through her innocent example.