It was one rough arff.
At 4 am in Italy this morning, the song coming through the open window of my b&b farm bedroom was of an old, tired dog. I'd been sleeping well up until that point. At first, I wasn't even sure it was the sound of a dog but soon I decided that it was, the occasional gruff arffff of one old and bored. He remarked about 10 times over a 30-minuted period and then silence lulled me back to sleep.
One hour later, singing through the same windows were the morning songs of a variety of birds. Birds in foreign places is one of my very favorite sounds because their songs are not American in any way. They are singing of a different life altogether, but occasionally I hear hints of familiarity. It's also one of my favorite things about this world as a whole. So different. So same. If only everyone understood this. One bird in particular this morning was composing such a song in my ear that it nearly made me cry. It was so beautiful because it was so different. Such a gift to me.
Yesterday for me was filled with traveling shenanigans. Planes, trains and automobiles. Wrong trains but right places. I'm driving a spunky little car with 1/2 a map - meaning - the place I'm staying is literally off the map, but the map got me to the edge, both literally and emotionally. I must have missed a sign somewhere - probably while dodging all the haphazard norm of Italian streetcar drivers. Then I couldn't stop to ask directions because there is no parking here. I swear, if they could, these locals would park on top of each other. Only a sweet miracle from Jesus was going to save me, and He indeed did ....(again).... Not only a parking place, but a sweet Italian woman about my age who helped me find my way back to the edge of the map so I could start again. I found the sign I had originally overlooked and then eventually made it to my stopping place - the home of the songs of Italian birds and dogs.
Today is so new and so fresh. The most glorious morning breakfast spread I have ever seen. I'm even braving new foods. I spent time in the fresh air on the stunning grounds this morning and looked in wonder and awe at the views of Tuscan countryside - a dream come true. I couldn't be more grateful to be here.
Yesterday was my one gruff arff.
Today is my Italian bird song.
**Thank you to my Momma who helped me finance this trip before I return back to Zim to see my other family. And to my husband who has worked extra shifts to help pay for all of our missions trips this season. I love my people. Oh and me - I worked hard too. And to those friends and family who bought jasper or donated to my mission fund (the Zim portion) thank you again and again.
Suffering belongs to us. It’s part of what we own as believers in Christ. Not that we have to suffer but that we get to as part of our forming discipline. The apostle Paul shows us the beauty of suffering in his letter to the Romans.
Romans 8:16-18 “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
In Philippians chapter 3, Paul describes to the church at Philippi that his own desire is to experience a suffering for the sake of Christ so that he can also attain the resurrection from the dead. Paul seems to have digested the likeness quotient - to be like Christ and to live in Jesus, to walk in His way is to be willing to suffer as He suffered. Obviously Paul knew and we know that we cannot suffer in the very same way because we can’t process anyone’s salvation paperwork and we cannot save humanity, but, can’t we preach and defend the word? Can’t we agree that our faith is a declaration to uphold the word and to be willing to die for it? The word is Jesus and Jesus is the word. John chapter 1 tells us that the Word became flesh. To me, this means that the Word is alive and that there is no difference between God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Word. Our suffering serves a purpose; to promote the saving grace of God. Who gets to rise without first dying? What motivates a person to walk in faith and to serve the Kingdom cause if we don’t first recognize that suffering is a meaningful part of our journey?
So, when I’m reading a book (or essay) like this one and the writer promotes pain like it’s a good thing, I begin to wonder if they had a pitcher of margaritas for breakfast. If you don’t back it up I’d really rather not hear it. So, for the sake of supporting this argument, I don’t mind exposing some of my sufferings that have led to my passion for the Kingdom and my desire to help lead others to the hope that is in Christ and embrace the suffering that comes with it.
Even though my father is still alive, I have spent the majority of my life fatherless. A passion for the fatherless arose in me and led me to advocate for orphans. Over my lifetime, I’ve been abandoned by two of my best friends. The rejection and pain opened my eyes to the needs of others to live in close relationship with one another. As a result, I am a much better friend than I used to be and this translates into the strengthening of bonds. I know how to choose my community and I better know how to honor the communities that also choose me. I’ve been broken free from the chains of greed and learned how to be generous. I’ve overcome divorce with a new opinion of marriage, love and commitment. And while there are numerous other examples from my 46 years (obviously far too many to mention) I’ve also been well acquainted in my inner circles with depression, addiction, death, wayward children, abortion, deceit, and fraud. And I would walk it all again for the sake of Christ. I would live it again to attain the resurrection from death into an eternal life, and to bring along some friends, enemies and strangers.
When God chose Saul to be renamed, to be given a new identity in Christ, He had a purpose. Saul was a Jew who had vehemently denied Jesus as the Messiah and fought with determination to ruin him, but God had a different plan. God revealed himself to Saul and gave him the mission to preach the word among the gentiles even though Saul had been made famous for crucifying believers.
In Acts chapter 9 we are given the story of Saul’s conversion and his new name, Paul. In his travels preaching against the gospel, Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. His encounter would rock his world and change everything. Powerfully, Jesus would give Paul his new assignment and make him into the primary author of the New Testament. The Lord chose Paul, (Saul), the man who had fought most violently against Jesus and reshaped him into the leading voice for Jesus. And in this process, Acts 9:15-16 says the Lord proclaimed “This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
I have pondered this a bit …. “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” This may not be theologically sound - I really don’t know …. But I almost wonder, did Paul have to suffer because he had first inflicted so much suffering against the very people that he had opposed? Because he had so ferociously brought on the suffering of others that he now had to suffer equally? Or did Jesus want Paul to have a clear understanding of the ways Jesus had suffered for the gospel? And just exactly what kind of suffering?
I do believe this, that there is no such thing as wasted pain. Suffering and trials are meant to shape us to be more like Christ and ultimately to serve His kingdom purpose. Pain isn’t something that we should abhor, reject, dread or begrudge, because it is a component in our faith journey that has the potential to be the very most transformative. I’ll admit that it’s no fun. I’ll even admit that pain has the potential to derail everything. The key isn’t to avoid it, but to be open to finding gratitude and joy in the midst of the trials because Jesus is in the middle. He is right there and He is the Prince of Peace. He is constantly present in the heart of the believer. His Spirit is dwelling in our innermost depths and He is working all things out for the good of those who love Him. These are promises that He is made. He WILL heal our broken hearts. He WILL restore our joy. He WILL use our trials to mature our faith. And at the end of our final breath, He WILL bring us home.
Suffering is a form of fellowship with the Lord. It connects us to His mission. It unites us with His purpose … to bring us all out of suffering.
Heartache breeds compassion. Suffering breeds mercy.
Let us let love suffer.
Lord of all creation, only You know. Some of us already understand this facet of faith but many do not. I pray for them, Lord, that you would powerfully move to stir their hearts and minds to know that you are real and to believe that you are the provider of peace in the midst of our trials. Give them that peace, Lord, so that their knowing will run deep and their hearts will never turn from you. Use our suffering to Your glory. Help us to know that our pain is never wasted. In Jesus, Amen.
LET LOVE SUFFER
My guess is that you didn’t see this blog heading and squeal in excitement. The notion of suffering divides the saints and it is downright offensive to the skeptics. Suffering and the reality of it is precisely what makes large numbers of seekers keep their feet on the ground because it is hard to fathom what benefit could exist in a realm where one would leap into an agreement to suffer. Yet, it’s biblical.
This feels like a great opportunity for me to remind you that I didn’t go to seminary and I lack any credible degree in this arena, but I also maintain an authority by the Holy Spirit to share here because suffering is what led me straight to Jesus. Well, that’s likely true for many of us, but specifically, my heart was opened to Jesus upon hearing the verses about suffering in the book of James. He got my attention through these very verses and they are what led me to leap….and never look back.
James chapter 5 displays the connection between suffering and faith and attributes the need for suffering in our lives so that we can experience God’s compassion and mercy. This helped me so much as I was transitioning from a non-believer to a believer, that I couldn’t have known His compassion and mercy (and all out redeeming love) if I hadn’t walked through periods of suffering in my own life.
James chapter 1 describes the outcome of our faith being tested through various trials and suffering, that it will lead us to a mature relationship with God through Jesus whereby we cannot lack anything. Similarly, this helps me to know that nothing I ever walk through, not any amount of suffering can strip me from all that I have in Christ. In Him I cannot be robbed, nor can I lose, nor will I miss out on anything. Suffering through trials and trouble is what gets me to that level.
Ask yourself this question, “who do you cheer for”? A couple of years ago I attended the bridge ceremony at our Elementary School because my 5th grader was becoming a 6th grader and would transition to middle-school at the end of summer. It’s a rite of passage and is ceremoniously acknowledged with a bridge crossing. I managed to hold myself together well without tears, not even the threat of tears. But when sweet Ryan crossed the bridge into 6th grade, I lost it. Ryan isn’t mine. He’s an awesome little boy with Down syndrome. (Thank God I have one of these angels of my own already.) Ryan has several challenges including speech and sensory sensitivities. When he was very young he required ankle braces to help him walk and he requires an aid to be with him at all times during the school day. It was Ryan’s turn to walk the stage from one end to the other, to bridge over to his new status. Ryan isn’t quite the attention hog that my own angel with Ds is. My kiddo, when it becomes his time to rock the bridge, honestly, he will hard-core rock it like no other and I anticipate roars of laughter because it’s what he demands. But not Ryan. Ryan slowly ascended the stairs and took slow, small steps toward the center of the stage where he became distracted by the balloon decorations and remaining unaware of the audience. The applause and shouts began at a typical rate and steadily increased in both noise and tempo. As the noise increased, Ryan became more aware of his surroundings and glanced to notice that there was an audience. The more that his precious mind absorbed the reality that he was center-stage, Ryan began to smile an expression of humble delight. He waved cheerfully to everyone and then continued in his slow and steady pace to the opposite side of the stage where he was greeted by the new principal and then he descended the stairs. The cheers nearly brought the roof down. The applause was like thunder. Ryan was celebrated so vigorously because he undoubtedly endured a complicated journey to get there. He had to walk real hard. Ryan, his dedicated team of educators and his family endured hardship, heartache and a long-list of unnamed periods of suffering to be able to get him to the bridge in the first place - and everyone knew it.
Guess who wasn’t celebrated with that level of thunderous shouts and applause? The kid that exited the womb reciting the times tables. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we celebrated those who impressed the socks off of everyone - but it wasn’t with thunder and roars. Ryan received our kindness and compassion and the mercies of all of his team because he had endured so much struggle. It wouldn’t have been as glorious if it had been easy. And neither will our lives. Our suffering will bridge us over to glory. It’s part of the deal, thunder and all. According to Scripture, our sufferings are reason to celebrate because they are the bridge that leads to an unwavering faith.
(to be continued tomorrow)
(continued from yesterday)
I am a hiker. In warm or cold weather I love to put on my boots and a pack and climb steep ridges on paths that weave in and around rocks and roots. Depending on the temperature and my pace I am quite capable of exhausting myself to the point of dehydration. If you participate in any sort of rigorous exercise for fitness or for work, you may be familiar with that point in the activity where it seems you just cannot take one more step. Everything in you feels weak and fatigued. Maybe you even feel like you’ve failed. This is what Paul is talking about when he says that Philemon refreshes the saints. His description leads me to think that Philemon has a way of showing up to encourage others in moments where they feel they cannot keep going. In their work or mission for Christ – either without seeing the fruits of their labor or not being remembered in crucial times, he brings them love in such a way that they feel refreshed and find a renewed energy to keep going. Maybe Philemon is able to bring this sort of love into their lives because he knows what it feels like to need that boost, a spiritual pep talk, but I’m sure that his gift to refresh is meant to teach us another approach to living in love.
There is another aspect to this refreshment that appears in Philemon. Near the end, in verse 20, Paul tells Philemon of his present wish; “I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.” As a stand-alone verse, without context, it might not make much sense to us. It must be possible for Philemon to refresh Paul’s heart in Christ, but how?
Recently I was talking with some girlfriends about a situation where a young man went out of his way to make our kids feel special and appreciated. One by one our kids lit up with beaming glows across their faces. I remember one of the other moms saying, “it’s so refreshing to see such kindness from a stranger.” The young man who stopped by our kiddos to pay them some special attention took us by surprise with his actions. He could have ignored them or he could have been indifferent altogether, but instead he offered a gift of refreshment to all of us just by taking a moment to notice and to participate. From my perspective living in the same exhausting world as you do, I see that notice and participation can go a very long way in refreshing the heart of another person. It can grab the attention and interest of an unbeliever and it can be the boost of energy a saint needs on her mission with Jesus. Are we finding or are we making opportunities to be a source of refreshment for someone who is exhausted?
When Paul asked Philemon to be a benefit to him by refreshing him in Christ, there is a relevant back-story that we also need to process. Philemon had been a slave owner. Onesimus was a young man that Paul met in prison and while together, Paul led him to be a follower of Christ and in their time together they became like father and son. Paul loved Onesimus dearly and knew that he had once been a slave to Philemon. What little there is to read about this situation suggests that Onesimus had “escaped” slavery and that Philemon no longer held mastery over him. (As a reminder, Paul and Onesimus have now become like father and son.) Paul could have kept him close and continued in their friendship but he felt that in all fairness to Philemon, Onesimus needed to be returned. In the letter, Paul informs Philemon that he is sending Onesimus back to him but with that he issues Philemon a challenge. Instead of taking him back as a slave, Paul encourages Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ. More specifically, Paul asks Philemon to view Onesimus the same way as he would view Paul, as a friend and as a partner. At the point that Paul asks Philemon for the benefit of refreshing his heart, Paul is asking Philemon to do the right thing and suggests that for Philemon to receive Onesimus as friend rather than a slave, would be the very refreshment that Paul needs.
The implications of being a source of refreshment in this way would be easy to miss but I see many details in this tiny book. We can be a source of refreshment when we welcome a slave (a slave to sin) because we each have been slave to some form of sin in our own lives. We refresh when we do the right thing, as in accepting a former slave, loving them and in helping them face their pasts for the purpose of maturing to usefulness.
God’s love is so refreshing.
Merriam Webster defines “refresh” as to restore strength. Refreshing is defined in this way: (adj.) Pleasantly new, different or interesting. Making you feel more rested, energetic, etc.
Keeping this definition in mind, how do you perceive the following verse in Acts 3 vs 19? “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”. If I look at this against my own life, I see that if I repent (turn away from MY will and walk IN God’s will for my life), I will experience times of refreshing. Awesome – I’ll be pleasantly new, more rested and energetic. That’s pretty cool but there is more. I will experience times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. In what way might the Lord be present for me? I believe it is through other Christians. He will send someone else to refresh me through acts of love, acceptance and kindness or through good deeds done unto me.
This must also mean that I will be used by God to refresh others, that He will be present in me and use me to carry out acts of love, acceptance, kindness and good deeds unto others.
According to John in the book of Acts and to Paul in the book of Philemon, there is a call to be refreshed and to be a refresher.
Sweet Jesus, do we miss the gift of your refreshment? Are our eyes so cloudy that we fail to see every way that you give us new breath and hope to take one more step? Lord help us know the ways You keep us going. Give us courage and determination to refresh others as they need it, because we all need it. That your love would encourage us to pour out every mercy you have poured in. Jesus, help us love like you. Amen.
LET LOVE REFRESH
the support of love
Quite frankly, I’ve been giving a great deal of thought lately to how exhausting this life can be. Around every corner is a reason to throw my hands up in despair and give in to the doubt that God would use me to make a difference. The devil and his minions are out there to throw us off course, to confuse us by making us feel weak and to introduce varying forms of persecution in the center of our missions with Jesus. For me personally, I feel that I have a solid understanding in my spirit that the world is a harsh place pervaded by evil and darkness in men, women and even children. I’m rarely surprised by the evil unfolding by un-believers. But what continues to throw me off is the lack of love in the body of Christ including within many churches. I’m not talking about “the church” but a church. I believe that “the church” is the whole body of believers, the bride of Christ. “A church” is a building with an address for believers and seekers to congregate.
Both inside and outside of church walls there are Christians missing the mark. Often we witness more tearing down than building up, or closed doors verses opened arms. We see rejection and conditional acceptance thriving in an atmosphere that is supposed to be void of both. Christians, in confidence that we are walking in the way, the truth and the light – wound one another with an arrogance that we have borrowed from the dark side without even knowing it. We reject one another because our heart is lacking the great compelling of God to love.
Other unfortunate experiences within our “church” communities is this: that we may be fortunate to know the purpose that God has created us for in this life and that we work patiently to fulfill our ministries but fail to be able to see the fruits of our labor. Maybe you’ve poured into someone’s life for years and they are still the same hopeless pessimist. Maybe you’ve volunteered at your church for years and they don’t check on you when you take leave to have knee surgery. Maybe you know a group of Christians who will show up for every homeless ministry event in their city but aren’t there to help you in your time of need.
At my wits end - why am I doing this?!
We need refreshment that is both given and received from a posture of love. Recently I was struck by some verses in Paul’s letter to Philemon that had not ever stood out to me before. Philemon is such a tiny book in the New Testament, one short chapter with only 25 verses and yet mysteriously it contains the whole gospel and a treasure of a roadmap for how we might live love by letting love bring refreshment.
From a Roman prison, Paul wrote to his friend Philemon and included some friends who were holding church regularly in his home. Paul tells Philemon how thankful he is for him as he continually hears about how much he loves the saints. (Saint is a term that refers to people dedicated to God through belief in Jesus, therefore it is you and me). In hearing of this love, Paul tells Philemon in verse 7 “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.”
Although we do not know exactly what Philemon did or how his life served as a source of refreshment to other believers, we know that somehow he served them in such a way that the news of it traveled. This tiny little one page book in the bible could have been left out entirely, but that we might miss the command to love by being a source of refreshment. Philemon refreshed the saints and the news of this gave Paul joy and also encouraged him. Joy and encouragement are byproducts of love that refreshes.
I've never been completely sure what is hiding in her eyes, but I can tell you what it isn't. Trust isn't there. It isn't in her. It wants to be, but trust is a tricky thing.
From the day that I brought her home, nearly 3 years ago, I've been learning about trust and respect. It has taken a horse to show me even more clearly how boundaries are necessary with people. Every move that she has made with me has taught me something about myself. See, her past is tricky because there is evidence of abuse. Someone used fear tactics and pain to try to make her perform. I applaud Halle for defending and protecting herself in those times and for not becoming the showpiece that someone wanted. I applaud any human being today for defending and protecting themselves in their decisions to not be the showpiece someone expects.
Trust cannot be forced. No matter how much someone desires and tries to convince me that they will never discard or betray me - whether or not I trust is up to me. It's my choice, ultimately. You cannot make me trust you. We can exhibit trustworthy behavior until we are blue in the face, but the decision to trust or not trust rests solely in the heart of the person being asked to.
Lack of trust might be irrational. If someone never betrays you, year after year, and you continue to withhold trust, most likely there is an old wound inflicted by someone else being used and held against the wrong person. As broken humans, we can have a tendency to carefully fold up those wounds, pack them neatly into our baggage and carry it right along to the next relationship - unpack it and neatly tuck it into its new space, every ready at the fingertips.
I believe this ..... love drives every decision and trust determines its course. Love and trust or the lack thereof. We go nowhere without these.
I posted a photo of myself and Halle on Instagram a few weeks ago that said this.. "She has been one of my greatest life lessons: trust takes time and it must be earned - and our faithfulness is evident in consistency. If she can't trust me tomorrow - there's no good reason for her to trust me today."
I had thought that we were turning a corner. Halle had returned from trail training where she had improved by leaps and bounds. I went there and rode her myself under the supervision of her trainer. But once we were home, her dangerous behaviors made a gnarly appearance. Gnarly. For several days I tried to find balance with her but she wasn't having it. Maybe she prefers her trainer over me. Maybe she preferred the safety and security of the trails that had become so familiar. All I really know for sure is that after the 3rd time that Halle endangered me, something shifted in both of us ~ and as if two humans had sat across from one another at a divorce table and spoke to say "I don't trust you" and "Yeah, well I don't trust you either" ~ just like that, it was over. I looked at my husband, walked away from Halle and said "I can never ride her again" and then I sobbed for 30 straight minutes.
I'd had to tell Halle that I don't trust her either. If I can't trust her tomorrow, there is no good reason for me to trust her today. It shattered me. Trust is two ways.
Our new relationship based on defenses has been devastating. I feed her twice a day, pet her and tell her I love her but this doesn't comfort her at all. She still jumps and spooks - afraid I am going to hurt her because she knows that she hurt me. She expects me to retaliate. She's carrying old wounds and sincerely, I don't blame her.
I still carry around some old wounds too. A few weeks ago I ran into an old friend of mine. She was my favorite friend for 17 years and then she broke me. It literally took 5 years for me to get over the pain. Seeing her brought up possibly the most bizarre emotion I have ever felt. As if 15 years hadn't slipped away - everything was the same. Eerily the same. From her squealing my name, hugging me tight, holding my hand..... she was so very right there in the flesh messing me up. How could she hold my hand like that? How could she be her, with me? It was so wonderful and so devastating because it only lasted for a few minutes. It was suggested that we get together - but I can't. Because I can't trust her tomorrow. I have grieved all over again.
So Halle. Halle-Looyah .... I believe the best thing for her is a sanctuary where she can be with a herd and just be a horse. A horse that no-one no one rides, who doesn't force her outside of her comfort zone. Another friend of mine who rescues horses is welcoming Halle into her family next week. All they do is love and rescue, love and rescue, love and rescue - with nothing expected in return. They already know and love Halle and Halle already knows part of their herd. It's a sanctuary and that is what Halle deserves.
Almost 3 years ago, I rescued Halle, and next Monday I will rescue her one more time. It's one of the hardest things I've ever done - and just when I think I'm out of tears, more come. Sometimes the right thing is the hardest thing.
This is the burning question I suppose. Do you allow your heart to be burdened with delivering the love of Christ into the world? I believe that Christ has asked for that to be our burden and for us to carry it willingly and intentionally. Well, do you?
When In Romans
Often in our culture when someone dies, a family member or close companion will make a statement about carrying out the late person’s legacy. Or we often hear the saying, “his legacy will live on”. I think of people who have left a tangible legacy, such as fighting to find a cure for a disease. Jerry Lewis, the renowned actor and comedian, year after year continues to raise awareness and raise money for finding a cure and treatments for Muscular Dystrophy. When Jerry is no longer with us, he will long be remembered for and associated with this great cause. Working tirelessly with firm conviction and an unwavering commitment to conquer the disease will long be something he is remembered for; a significant piece of his legacy, and most likely someone else will lovingly continue to carry that on. I site Mr. Lewis as a general example just to point out that he is someone absolutely creating a legacy that will be carried out for a long time, if not forever. In this example he is one advocate and one voice for one very specific cause. MD is just one of thousands of diseases and despite how very well publicized it is, MD is considered to be a very rare disease. In other words it doesn’t impact a large number of people. According to 2012 data from RightDiagnosis.com, MD is only diagnosed in 1 out of every 544,000 people. So a very rare disease has a very massive awareness because of a legacy that one man is building and the momentum he has started will continue long after he has gone. If a cure is ever found, it will save the lives of 1 out of every 544,000 people.
Now, let us look at the life of Jesus again. He spent His entire ministry loving others and teaching others how to love others. Then in the ultimate act of love, He died for us and in doing so He made a way for our transgressions to be covered by His love. He taught, modeled and commanded that we love others … and the measure by which evidence is determined to satisfy that we walk in Him or we don’t, is whether or not we obey this command. His legacy is love, and this love has the power to impact every single one of us because each of us has been infected with the not so rare condition of sin. Every one of us should hope to die with love being our legacy, the thing that people most remember us for. We should be able to leave a trail of love because God has made it possible for us to have access to an abundance of it. Romans 5:5 reminds us
“... because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” If this is true of us, and God says it is, then we have no excuse.
Romans 12:9-21 “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
This incredibly detailed description of love is not just an instruction; it works well as a “how to”. And this is how we can reshape our understanding of what love is and how to accomplish it for the glory of Christ. I can accomplish love when I keep my spiritual fervor. You can accomplish love when you practice hospitality. We accomplish love when we refuse to retaliate against persecution. And one of my very favorites, we accomplish the command to love when we share with people who are in need. Oh that this should be our legacy indeed.
Love, for the Day is Near
Romans 13:8-10 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is fulfillment of the law.” Let love rule!
A couple of things really strike me as interesting in this scripture segment. First, did the apostle Paul really say “and whatever other commandment there may be” as if he didn’t know all ten of them? It feels to me like he may have been rattling things off rapidly in such a way as to indicate something like this (my words) “Hey, I could give you a gigantic list of what not to do to uphold the law.... don’t do this, don’t do that and the other, but it all basically just comes down to this one thing: Love. If you’ll just love the way that Jesus taught us to, you don’t have to worry about that big long list of what not to do”. Paul taught 2,000 years ago something that many Christians continue to this very day to get backwards. To honor God, we don’t need a list of behaviors to avoid; we just need to follow the instruction to love. To hell with lists! (Hint: say that out loud. It feels so good.) Put a little love in your pocket and never leave home without it, because in debt to love one another, we always owe someone at least a morsel and we should never be caught empty-handed without some love to spare.
Love fulfills the law. According to these words, love makes everything right. Love rights wrongs. As we have seen woven through the pages of God’s word, love covers a multitude of sins. Love blinds God with its glaring beauty! Yes, people … let us hurt His eyes and make Him weep for joy. Let us bless Him so greatly with the love he has poured into us that He would snatch us up, seat us facing Him in His lap and drench our faces with His glorious kisses. And let’s heal the world of darkness and evil while we’re at it.
Oh Father, burden me with love for the lost. Weigh me down with ointment, salve and your miracle cure for the wounded. Give strength to the legs, backs and hearts that carry heavy loads of love to those who are depleted. Strengthen us to bandage the wounds that threaten to bleed out. And Lord, etch the description of Romans love in our hearts. Lead us with water to quench the thirst of our enemies, open our doors to the downtrodden, steer us from revenge and cover us with Your love that endures forever. Yes, Jesus. Amen.
There are many times that I have deserved to be reprimanded by Jesus that he hasn’t. He just isn’t a punisher although I hardly stop to reflect on just how generous He is with grace that overflows, His love miracle. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” And to top it off, He has loved us in such a way that His love has covered our sins, completely hidden from His view. Romans 4:7-8 “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” The thing that floors me the most about Jesus is that He had the power to bring calamity upon anyone. He could have extinguished any soul from existence. But instead of causing what people really deserved, He holds out for redemption. Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him as much as He knew that Peter would deny Him. In neither case did Jesus try to stop them nor did He punish them after the fact. He simply continued to love. Sometimes love is carried out by withholding the reprimands that we deserve. Peter looked Jesus in the eyes and swore he would not ever deny him and then while Jesus faced a brutal public lashing and crucifixion, Peter (also known as Simon Peter) denied Jesus three times. Jesus had not only known with certainty that this would happen, he announced in advance that it would. Then this Lord, the beholder of miracle love, loved Simon Peter so much that just after Jesus was resurrected from the grave, He appeared to him first. The Bible is not specific about their encounter but by the way that Peter carried out the remainder of his life in ministry, Jesus must have loved him boldly in those private and likely difficult moments.
What if we were to adopt this model instead of aiming to give people what they deserve, whether it is our stubborn children, the friend who stabs us in the back, or the co-worker who never commits her fair share to the workload? What if our bold, Christ-like love could motivate people into a life that blesses others? What if we were to sew so much love that a harvest of bountiful beauty would completely shield a world of transgressions from His sight? That He would pick you because you loved so well and that He would pick the one right next to you because your love covered the multitude of her sins too. I’m telling you, this miracle of love… it is the key to all things. It is the key to joy and comfort. It is the key to the eradication of fear. Love is the key to curing hopelessness and it is the key to preventing evil from raging like wild fires.
No wonder Jesus revised all of the commandments down to two: Love God and love others. And no wonder we are challenged to see that if we love Jesus we ought to walk as He walked, and that the evidence of our allegiance can be seen in our travels, whether we walk in love or whether we walk without leaving any trace of it at all.
What if loving others more without grumbling would in fact help to keep their sins covered... covered in grace and redemption? And what if that very same love covered us as well? A covering of blankets keeps us warm. Tent covers keep us shielded. Some covers keep us hidden. What if Jesus is saying that the more we love, the more our sin is hidden from His view? Love, the miracle cure! Sweet Jesus.
There is a beautiful example of the vast coverage of love in the book of Acts, regarding the disciple, Stephen. Stephen was said to be a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. In the early days of the Christian church, Stephen was added as a disciple and he spread the message of Jesus. Eventually he was seized by those who were against his message. In Acts 7, verses 59 & 60, I notice something powerful and inspiring. Look with me at what happened while Stephen was being stoned to death. To death, people. “While they were stoning him Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.”
Am I in such a posture with Jesus that I would be able to show love, forgive, and ask God to cover the sins of others in the midst of my stoning? Are you? Maybe we begin now by offering our enemies and our desires to retaliate against them to Jesus, and ask Him not to hold their sins against them. Oh, what love would cover!
We live in a society that seems to strive to uncover every sin so that it might visibly rise to the surface. We have learned to search for it, point fingers at it, talk about it in private and scream about it in public. We employ magnifying glasses, phone records, fingerprints, paper trails and then the never-ending tactic of he said/she said. Every sin gets dug up and dissected for the whole world to see and in the process toxins leak out, spilling into the depths and crevices of souls and hearts and minds until finally we are all toxic. But Jesus inspired a verse about love covering sin. Today He might look into your eyes and say something like “If you will practice love above all else, I’ll hardly be able to see your bad side because I will be so blinded by the miracles you perform with your heart.”
I had been disheveled, unfocused and barely attentive. In my inward chaos I rear-ended Jesus and then He healed me with His miraculous love. Today I am able to say that I love so much more often than I sin. I think it’s fair to believe that He is recording the love left behind from my fingerprints and yours while wiping away the incriminating evidence of our sins. Oh yes, Lord!
I decided to explore this theory with one of my children. My middle son sometimes chooses to live by his own set of rules and man he can be a hot mess. I’m just like any other mom who wants their children to behave well and offer only good things to our society. Often I’m quick to excavate to the root and expose the weed and then yank it out as fast as possible, which is a challenging when he is being stubborn. When he was 7 years old, my beautiful boy ignored a rule and did his own thing. I had to very consciously do this but I made the decision not to expose it but to cover it instead. He knew he had stepped way outside of the boundaries and he anticipated the typical ramifications but I rear-ended him with a huge heaping helping of love instead. I grabbed him to place him on my lap facing me and I kissed his entire face no less than 20 times. What followed surprised even me. I burst into laughter and soon so did he. Then I made hefty deposits into his heart by telling him all of the things I adore about him and all the ways that he is unique and wonderful. I did acknowledge that he had not followed instructions but told him I knew that he would begin making better decisions because he would see the value in obedience. He was so uplifted and overjoyed, not because he had escaped a negative consequence but because he was basking in the love that I was pouring on him. I’m not saying that this one calculated exercise cured us both of each and every sin we have ever thought about committing but I know it covered us both that day. Love ~ it heals. Love ~ it changes us as recipients and as givers. Love ~ it covers a multitude of sins. Love, when expressed in the name of our sweet Savior ~ is a grace filled miracle.
LET LOVE COVER
the miracle of love
It wasn’t a fast pace by any calculation but rather uneventful and boring. There were not any perceived dangers but my mind was still twisted and contorted by the events of the prior day and somehow I just slammed into his rear bumper. It seems impossible that I could have been so aloof. His car was pretty and expensive and it looked very new so certainly he would ask me where in the hell my brain had been and he would have had every right to be disgruntled by my senseless lack of attention and the untimely disruption during his morning commute. He got out of his car as I fearfully anticipated some nasty remark about women drivers, but instead he looked at his bumper and then asked me if I was okay. I let him know how sorry I was and then the unthinkable happened. This tall, very physically fit and beautifully dressed black man looked at me and said “I’m just glad you are okay. Don’t worry about my bumper”. He got in his car and drove away. Maybe it didn’t occur to him in that moment that he loved me, but he did, and I felt it. He loved me by not getting angry and by not placing the appearance of his car over the condition of another human person. He loved me by letting his tender heart cover a multitude of wrongs that day. And he didn’t just love … he loved deeply, allowing the love in his heart to interrupt a collision.
The day before had been September 11, 2001, the day that evil overwhelmed and succeeded in shaking and rattling America as we knew it. I believe in the moment that I plowed into the back of his shiny car, that sweet man realized that there was something bigger than he or I causing commotion in the world. He knew I had been shaken too. He knew that shiny metal and fancy chrome emblems had little value in comparison to the value of the love our world so desperately needed. In that moment he gave me what the whole planet craves; grace, a do-over, forgiveness and a hope for redemption. In every way, he interrupted the standard. The day before 9/11, he might have been angry and responded very differently to me, but on the day after he had an entirely different perspective; a perspective we all need from time to time. Love is a miracle just waiting to happen and who doesn’t need a miracle? Jesus has this perspective of us and we need to know it. He loves us just as much the day after our collisions as he did the day before. He knows what is going to hit us even when we don’t see it coming and He is prepared for every crash and burn.
“The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” 1 Peter 4:7-9. Wow. Love covers a multitude of sins! Do you know what I think might be going on here? If we are supposed to love deeply and not grumble because love alone can conquer sin, then I just bet we are exposing a multitude of sins every time we get upset or angry. If love covers then anything less must reveal, or worse, expose a multitude of sins. Just maybe that is the miracle of love.