When Love Supersedes

How many hearts have been broken by love ended? And how many faith journeys have been shaken when God has seemingly not answered the prayers for peace and harmony in a struggling relationship?  God is all-powerful.  His Word says that He places a very high regard on marriage. So why would He allow a marriage to fail when there has been much prayer asking Him to save it? Those are very real questions in this world of brokenness.

What do your prayers look like in those situations? I can tell you the gist of my prayers in the past. “God, it hurts me when he ____. Please make him stop. Make him ____ instead.”

While the desired end result (a more loving, peace-filled relationship) was certainly healthy, the means by which I wanted God to achieve that goal were not healthy. When we take our broken understanding of love and try to apply it to God, we can come up with some very unloving ideas about what He ought to do on our behalf.

But God doesn’t make anyone do anything. His kingdom is about love – and love requires free-will. He is not interested in coerced love. He doesn’t manipulate, condemn, or shame.  He doesn’t do that to you to get His way with you, nor will He do that to your spouse to get His way (or your way) with your spouse. His kingdom is built on earning trust through sacrificial love. Yes, God is all-powerful. But He values non-coercive love more than He values power.

So I invite you to change the tone of your prayers. Shift your perspective. Ask God to empty you of your broken self and fill you with more of Him. Ask Him to teach you how to communicate clearly, love gently, and to know Him better. It is through beholding Him, contemplating His love, and understanding what He’s about that you will naturally change on the inside so you can begin genuinely acting differently on the outside. And the bonus is that as you are changed, those around you will see a reflection of Jesus and will be impacted in a positive way.

Hemerocallis Gentle Shepherd 6805I pray that today you catch a glimpse of the tender love God has for you. If you don’t know Him, I invite you to read this blog and this blog to learn how to know God in the scriptures.

Jesus came to show us the Father. He came to save, not to condemn.

Jesus is the hero. And it’s good news!

A Love Story

I snatched the book out of my mail box Saturday morning before heading out for a day of camping. And I’d finished it before I headed back home today. It’s the easiest hard-to-read book I’ve read in some time. And I was so moved by the story that I think everybody really ought to read it.

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The title suggests the pages will speak of peace and grace. It certainly has that, but it’s also full of love and redemption.

Kara’s story starts as a youngster in a home with an angry father whom she struggled to please. After rebelling from the pressure and unattainable expectations, she was introduced to Jesus. His love drew her in and her life took a drastic turn away from the destiny she had been carving for herself. Shortly afterward she met a young man, Jason, who became the love of her life and the story unfolds as the two of them, and eventually their four “littles”, learn to love in a way she had never experienced previous to that. The same vulnerability that was required for her to walk that journey with him is what makes the story so compelling for the reader. She openly shares so much of her raw struggles of humanity that her story becomes all of our stories.

The depth and love of the story is beyond beautiful. The ending – tragic. The particular “hard” for Kara mentioned in the book title was breast cancer. She found a  deeply grace-filled, loving God along that journey.  Her “hard” eventually took her from this here, this now. She passed away about a year ago.

The book presents an amazing quality of relationships that few of us experience. Her marriage to Jason really seems to have been blessed and rare. They were endlessly focused on loving with kindness. But as Kara points out in her book, the best we have here is simply a shadow.  We are living in Shadowland. The real love story that can fill our hearts without compromise or end is available to all of us. It is the love of our Savior, Jesus.

So while I would wish for you a marriage and relationships filled with grace and peace, above all I would wish for you a relationship with Jesus. It is through the author of Love that we can learn to know Love. And when we allow Him to be the hero of our story, grace and peace are promised – even in the midst of hard.

Making Music

The young lady walked into the college music hall surrounded by silence. It was after-hours. She slipped onto the piano bench and quickly opened her sheet music. Perhaps she could play for a while in the big hall before supper was finished and others arrived to use the practice rooms.  The song started softly but grew to a crescendo, the notes reverberating off the walls and filling the space. So consumed was she in her passion of playing that she didn’t see him arrive. His heart swelled with the music.  He also loved to play and knew the passion and dedication required to play as she was. He immediately liked that about her and found himself drawn not just to the music, but to her as well.

Nervous but determined he approached the bench watching her fingers dance on the keys. The young lady, unaware of any change in her surroundings, finished the song.  Her eyes closed in peaceful bliss as the notes drifted away and silence once again surrounded her.  Suddenly the silence was interrupted by a single person clapping right behind her. Simultaneously her body and mind spun.How had he gotten in here? How long had he been standing there? How dare he interrupt her solitude like that! Are his eyes really that blue? No – Wait! How dare he? … He has a sweet smile! … But he could have at least knocked or something before intruding into my space like that.” 

The young man’s smile broadened as he sensed her reluctant pleasure at the attention she was receiving. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “That was beautiful!” He extended his hand in greeting.  “My name is Ted, by the way.”

She regained her composure and clasped his out-stretched hand for the obligatory shake. “Oh, thanks! My name’s Sandy. I’m in the music program here at the college. Someday I’d like to perform on stage.”

“Then I’m sure you will one day.  You are very talented,” Ted replied in support.  When Sandy blushed but didn’t speak, Ted continued on. “I love to play piano as well. Would you be interested in trying a duet sometime?”  She agreed with a nod. That sounded … interesting.

The two began to meet in the music hall every week. The hall had two grand pianos facing each other – a perfect arrangement for playing duets. Their timing, as their conversation, was a bit awkward at first. But their shared passion and dedication to the music drove them on. After a few weeks they found the experience so enjoyable they decided that waiting a whole week between duets was much too long and agreed to meet in the middle of the week as well. And then soon they were sitting at the piano benches at every possible opportunity they had.

A year of making music together quickly slipped by. Then one day Sandy arrived at the hall to find Ted sitting at her piano bench. She tilted her head in an unspoken question. His eyes danced to the rhythm of the song beating in his heart. He rose to his feet as she approached. He was nervous, but yet not. He couldn’t imagine the rest of his life without her. As she arrived in front of him, he dropped to one knee and extended his hand to her once again. But this time his hand was not empty. It held a little box. As she dared take her eyes off of his to look at the box, he opened it wide. The diamond sparkled in the lights of the music hall. “Will you marry me, Sandy? I love you and want to make music with you for the rest of my life!” Her squeal of absolute delight made a reply unnecessary but she spoke it, sang it, and then shouted it for all to hear over and over, “Yes!”

Now, I don’t know if that’s how it really happened. I didn’t ask. But here’s what I was told when I asked an elderly lady how she was adjusting to her move to a retirement home. “Well, there certainly are a lot of changes to get used to. But probably the hardest change has been the piano. My husband and I have been married 60 years, but we’ve been playing piano duets for 62 years. Our new place only has room for one baby grand and we’re having to learn to play on the same piano.”

She found it to be an adjustment. I found it to be sweetly romantic that they were so dedicated to each other as to continue making music together after 62 years. I could imagine them at the bench, their fingers now intertwining on the keys, sometimes awkward, but ever learning and growing, laughing and loving.

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There is a love story in the Bible of which we know very little. Perhaps it was too intimate to reveal in detail. Perhaps it wasn’t shared because we each need to learn our own duet with God rather than focusing on how someone else did it. What we know about the relationship goes like this:

When Enoch was 65 years old, he became the father of Methuselah. After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch lived in close fellowship with God for another 300 years, and he had other sons and daughters. Enoch lived 365 years, walking in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him. (Genesis 5: 21-24 NLT)

What a beautiful duet that must have been! What a perfect rhythm they must have developed – a oneness of mind and spirit.

During this season when there is special attention and focus on romantic love, let us also daily remember and grow in our romance with our Savior, our Redeemer, our Lord, Jesus Christ.  I challenge you to a year of making music with God. Even if you don’t think you know how to play your part, show up. He’ll be there. The Master Musician is anxiously waiting.

Warm Fuzzies on a Cold Night

“No, Mom, no! Don’t make us do it again! Can’t you just forget about it?”  You would think I was invoking some form of ancient torture.  “Where did you come up with this idea anyway?  Who told you about this?”  – as if they might go do something revengeful to that non-existent person if they could just know who was to blame for the dreaded exercise.

What is this most horrific thing I require of them?  Every Friday evening for the past couple of months, plus or minus a week or two, we’ve been handing out warm fuzzies.  Here’s how it works:  We all get one small piece of paper for each of the other family members.  So, for us, we all get 3 pieces of paper.  Then we are to write something that we appreciate about each person.  It can be something we admire about their character, something kind we saw them do or experienced thanks to them, or an achievement we want to acknowledge.  You get the idea.  Then when we’re all finished writing, we take turns going around the table reading them to each other.  We’ve been keeping our slips of paper in a vase.  That’s it.  Nothing earth-shattering.  Pretty simple.

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Since we started doing this I have found myself being more observant of the kindness, personal responsibility, and positive qualities of those I live with.  Sometimes I’ll think “Oh, that would be perfect to write,” – but by Friday night I will have forgotten what it was I had in mind.  I could remedy that problem by more often just saying what I appreciate at the moment I notice it.  Warm fuzzies written on a piece of paper are nice, but knowing you are appreciated throughout the week is nice too.

I came upon a website today chock-full of ideas that sound like they have potential to promote growth and well-being.  So the kids can breathe easier. I’m sure I’ll move on to some other form of torture before long.

Not by Sight

Sometimes I smile and later I feel happy.
Sometimes I give and later I feel generous.
Sometimes I wait and later I feel patient.
Sometimes I go forward and later I feel courageous.
Sometimes I walk and later I see the path.
Sometimes I am vulnerable and later I feel safe.
Sometimes I am washed clean and later I feel forgiven.
Sometimes I obey and later I understand why.
Sometimes I reach out and later I am held.
Sometimes I hurt and later I am comforted.
Sometimes I am quiet and later I hear His voice.
Sometimes I jump and later He catches me.

Crazy Love

I contacted a friend the other night, needing someone to commiserate with concerning the trials and tribulations of the dating world.  Turns out we are both in a similar boat and the opportunity to share was much appreciated.  As often happens in the world of relationship conversations, things quickly turned to the deeper questions in life, like – what is God trying to teach me?  What is the meaning of happiness?  How much work in a relationship is too much?  How much waiting is too long?  What motivates our deep desire to give and receive love?  Can someone be loved enough to heal a past injury? Are we setting the other person up for disappointment if we think we can love away the hurt- knowing we are only human and prone to fail in our attempts at some point and to some degree? Can we stay close enough to God to provide unconditional love without becoming impatient, selfish or anxious when it doesn’t look like it’s going how we’d like?  Can love endlessly flow from us while being filled only from God?  Does God put love in our hearts for others so He can love them through us even when they don’t appear to accept it?  Is this all crazy?

Then I look at God.  I did nothing to reciprocate before He told me He loved me.  I, in fact, didn’t even like Him before He loved me.  I was dressed in stinky, smelly rags but yet He unashamedly told the whole world of His love for me.  I was not worthy but He didn’t care.  He didn’t give me a time-line I had to comply with or risk the removal of His love.  He had no guarantee as to whether or not I would accept His love.  He took all the vulnerability on Himself. While He tells me what I can do to please Him and show my love for Him, He doesn’t require me to do any of it for Him to love me.  His love makes no sense at all.  It is the most selfless, patient, generous thing I’ve ever encountered.  For God so loved me, that before I even looked His way He gave me the very best He had to offer, waiting with anxious anticipation to see if I would love Him back. He is absolutely, over-the-top, CRAZY!

I Saw Jesus

I was not exactly sure where I was going.  I had a lunch date at a restaurant I’d never been, in a part of town I rarely go.  Downtown.  As I rounded the corner a parking spot opened up.  Gold.  I hadn’t seen the restaurant yet but I was sure it was near.  I’d take the spot. Walking back toward the intersection, I saw him sitting at the edge of the sidewalk holding his cardboard sign.  A beggar. I was disgusted.  “Why can’t he go to the mission?  There are people to help, beds to sleep on and food to eat.  Why does he have to come litter the city with his cardboard sign?” My thoughts invaded my good day and I moved toward the other side of the sidewalk.

After a tasty lunch, entertaining stories and laughter, I headed back to my car.  The beggar was still there.  But as I passed I caught sight of another younger man nearby.  He had a backpack and was rummaging around in it with one hand.  The other hand was extended out toward the beggar.  “Could you use these?” the man asked, offering a toothbrush and toothpaste.  “Oh yes,” replied the beggar, his voice enthusiastic.  And I felt a pang of envy at that moment.  I wished I saw the world through the eyes of the man with the backpack. I wished I had brought a gift for Jesus.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25: 35, 36 NIV

Have you seen Jesus recently?  What gift did you bring?

Fearless Love

Memories of my childhood are happy ones. We played with a tamed raccoon. He’d try to wash his cracker snacks off in the tub and we’d laugh as his treat disintegrated in his paws. We fished for salmon in the ocean. We’d tease each other by yanking on someone’s fishing line when they weren’t looking, making them jump to action thinking they’d caught a big one. We camped in the woods of Wisconsin. We’d roast marshmallows over the campfire and go for bike rides on the trails. We helped with camp pitch the week before camp meeting. After our jobs were done, my siblings and I would explore with the other pastors’ kids before the remaining meeting attendees arrived. We tagged along with our parents on the weekends. Saturday nights were often spent in the conference office doing odd jobs or racing each other on wheeled chairs while our parents worked.

Life was carefree. It’s not that nothing ever went wrong, but when it did I believed my dad could fix it. It’s not that I was never in a dangerous situation, but I knew he would always protect me. It’s not that I had all I wanted, but I trusted he would give me all I needed. It’s not that I never fell, but I had faith he would always catch me.

His love set me free. No worry, just trust. No anxiety, just hope. No fear, just faith. No restlessness, just the peaceful slumber of an innocent child. No apprehension of the unknown, just fearless forward motion with him beside me. I believed in me because he believed in me and I believed in him. I know now he is human like the rest of us. Fallible. But I didn’t know it then. All I knew was that he loved me. And that was enough.

Dear God, I want to know love like that with You.

A Daddy’s Love

I laid on the couch after a long day of travel.  My dad in his home office clicking away on the computer.  My mom at her desk clicking away on her computer.  And I settled into the silence of it all, letting it soothe my soul.  There was much I wanted to talk about, but the words could come later, after the calming quiet. 

Home.  A place where I don’t have to prove anything to anybody.  Home.  A place where I can just exist.  Home.  A place where I am loved because of and in spite of who I am.

We’ve never been a family who has spoken our affection in words much.  Instead, I see it when my dad gets up in the middle of the night to keep the fire going so nobody gets cold.  Or when he orders a large hot fudge sundae when I asked for a small just because he thinks I might enjoy more- knowing some of it might go in the trash.  Or when he drove 20 hours one way to be with me while I picked out a funeral home.  Or when he used some of his prime fishing season to help me clean my garage because I was ready but unable to do it alone.

My dad- my most faithful cheering section, my most thought-provoking challenger of my ideas, faithful, enduring, stead-fast, patient, wise, self-sacrificing, tolerant, dedicated, even-tempered, optimistic, and cause for a lot of laughs with his sense of humor.  I think he knows without my saying that he is all those things to me.  And he’ll be reminded of it when he hears me whisper, “Love you, too, Dad” when I leave.

So I was laying on the couch soaking it all in and thinking, “My dad.  He knows more about me than anybody else on this planet.  And he loves me still.”  And another thought washed over me, “God knows you better.  And He loves you more.  Find your peace in Him.” 

“God has bound our hearts to Him by unnumbered tokens in heaven and in earth.  Through the things in nature, and the deepest and tenderest earthly ties that human hearts can know, He has sought to reveal Himself to us.  Yet these but imperfectly represent His love.” SC p. 7

“As the inspired apostle John beheld the height, the depth, the breadth of the Father’s love toward the perishing race, he was filled with adoration and reverence; and, failing to find suitable language in which to express the greatness and tenderness of this love, he called upon the world to behold it.  “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!” 1 John 3:1″ SC p. 11

“Dear Father, thank You for letting me behold Your love in so many ways.  Thank You for adopting me as Your child.  Let the significance of that wash over me today and soak into the fiber of my soul.  May I be so saturated with You that You flow out onto those around me today.”

Reflections on My Rock Garden

If you haven’t read the last blog “My Rock Garden”, take a minute to go back and read it.  I think there are many morals that could be drawn from the story.

How many times in our lives do we decide we’re going to do something despite words of wisdom being said all around us to the contrary?  Then when we “drop the rock” and we “smash our finger and howl” we turn around to our Heavenly Father and say, “God, why did You let this happen to me?”  Too often.

How many times does God want to save us from the pain of trying to do it ourselves, but loves us so much that He lets us make our own choice?  I believe every time.

How many times when we mess up does God patiently wait and then bring us the “ice bag” to comfort us?  Every time.

How many times would God work in our behalf if we’d just ask Him to take the “rock”?  Most certainly every time we asked.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  Matthew 11: 28-30

“Coming, Father…”