What if we were to reverse the waste, abandon the greed, destroy what is self-serving to instead become drenched in the overflow and get back into the business of doing exactly what it is we were created to do? To do love and to be love. To be hearts in the shape of Christ, walking it out step-by-step across the planet until Heaven comes. It may sound far-fetched, but who cares? If we carried love into the darkest places the whole world would be brighter and everyone could see where they are going. Jesus made it simple when he said in Matthew 22:37-40 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” If we love God and love others, the full extent of the law is being fulfilled in us.
I don’t know about you, but when my time passes and I meet my maker, I want but one great accomplishment to be stamped across my earthly file. SHE LOVED WELL. More than I want to be pretty and in good shape I want to be love. More than I want to accumulate riches I want to drip love. More than I want to be a notable author, I want to live love. More than I want to raise children to succeed in the world, I want to raise children who are love. More than I want to be remembered for knowledge or wisdom, a talent or ability, I want to be remembered for love. I want to love when it’s hard, when it hurts, when it seems impossible and to love with a love that stops the flow of tears and turns frowns upside down. I want to love with a hope that can never be undone, and with a fury that makes demons cry. I want to be of the love that defeats evil, the most excellent kind of 1st Corinthians 13:4-7 love; “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” And when I’m gone, I want my love to remain, to keep working, and to keep loving. I want to leave a legacy of love.
The only way we can feasibly love the way God loves us is to first receive the full offering of His love and let it steep. Let it be. To let love be our DNA, our ground-wire, our equalizer and neutralizer. God’s love is in us so that we can be love to the world. Let us let love be.
**Thank you for reading this Let Love Be series. I'll be posting more like these. If you'd like to make sure that you don't miss anything, please sign up to receive my updates to your email.
Nehemiah 9:16-17 “But they and our ancestors acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks and did not obey your commandments; they refused to obey, and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them; but they stiffened their necks and determined to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them.”
Hold.Up.Wait.A.Minute! Like me, are you wondering how your biography wound up in the book of Nehemiah? Stiff-necked much? Oh the ways I have refused to obey.
I have remained in situations that God asked me to step away from.
I have worked with stubborn persistence to try and force outcomes.
I’ve withheld encouragement from those who needed it.
I’ve celebrated the failures of people I secretly dislike.
I have worshiped my children.
I have disrespected my spouse.
I've been selfish, greedy, judgmental....
This list could continue for pages but the bottom-line is …I’ve ignored Jesus when my own will has struggled for control.
There are two paths to choose in this life, my own or His. When I choose to ignore Him (disobedience) and create my own path, I am stiff-necked.
Think literally about a stiff neck for a moment. Regularly I wake up in the morning with a sore and stiff neck due to the position in which I sleep, and as I get older the problem worsens. At times I have trouble turning my head to see when I’m driving to change lanes or merge because my neck is so sore. When I’m standing and someone behind me calls out my name, I have to turn my entire body around to communicate because the range of motion in my neck is limited. Literally, my neck is too stiff to look.
If you have naughty children or naughty pets, you may have experienced times where you discovered something they’ve done that they shouldn’t have and so you raise your voice with a disappointing tone to get their attention. It’s not unusual for me to find a mess and approach my youngest son, Shawn, with my mommy tone and say, “OH SHAWNIE – what happened here?” In his wildest dreams, he believes that if he doesn’t acknowledge me (sitting 2 inches away from his face) and doesn’t look toward me, that I might simply let it go. This is stiff-necked, the refusal to acknowledge disobedience. We refuse to look because we know. We know exactly what we’ve done or not done and we simply cannot bear the eye-contact, the confirmation. We’d much rather pretend it never happened and hope for a redemptive do-over. The error in that though is that the redemption comes when we look toward, not when we look away. When we look to, we see a God who sees us with unfathomable love.
Such beauty and comfort and joy find my heart in these words. “Abounding” is a word to describe a sense of overflowing, something that has been well provided, while “steadfast” simply means firm and unwavering. Hope lives here in the love of God. Even when we are disobedient, when we ignore the wonders of the Lord and when we choose slavery to this world over freedom in Christ, God loves us with an overwhelming, firm and unwavering love that overflows. Unstoppable love. Timeless, His love knows not only no end but also no beginning. He has always loved us. Pure, there is nothing more amazing as the healing, saving, perpetual condition of being loved by the One who gathered dust in His hands to form the first man, thereby breathing life into each one who would come next. Yet we’ve spent millenniums confusing what we were created for, substituting all manner of waste for the one thing that truly can never be wasted... love.
LET LOVE BE
Africa and her orphans have done something irrevocable to my soul, having shaped me into a messenger and an advocate for the motherless, hungry and other vulnerable children in her heat. After years of finding ways to bring water or food, provide school fees, blankets and other needs, what they keep thanking me for is my love. But I know this love and it isn’t mine. For it to be mine would imply that I brought it up and out and gave it away but only Jesus can do that. So, I’ve looked at His life and studied His feet, sensed the movement of His Spirit and all that I can see is love. Soft love. Hard love. Even disciplinary love and ultimately unfathomable sacrificial love. And the Bible asks, even challenges us to live and walk like He did. We know how difficult that is but still His example hangs stretched out before us. Do we watch and observe or look away? I believe we are supposed to imitate Him until it becomes real in us, His love that works wonders, because after all we are the ones charged with carrying out his mission of love. Every single thing He has done demonstrates our way. This is the challenge - that we would let His love be in us so much so that we become love at every turn and every standing still.
This may be complicated but yet it is this simple … that we would let love be the underlying, common denominator in every aspect of our lives, what drives the things we do day in and out. That love would be our bottom-line in relationships, at work, and parenting. That love would be the motivation in why we carry out tasks and chores, resolve conflict, acquire things and that it would be the object of our desires … love to a world of hurting people.
Sometimes we try to place our love in people, things and experiences, which is misguided at best. Let’s ponder this, that Jesus invited us to “follow” him. In repeated instances the New Testament shows us that Jesus would ask his disciples as he chose them, one by one, to leave whatever they were doing (working, family, etc.) and walk with him. We can imagine it as him saying something akin to “follow me and I’ll meet your needs for work, enjoyment and relationship.” In this modern age, however, we tend to focus first on meeting our needs for these things and then to give Jesus whatever we might have leftover; a couple of minutes for prayer or possibly a few moments for devotional or Bible reading. I believe we are tragically missing out. Jesus’ focus for healing was love, as was his focus for salvation. He rescues because he loves and redeems and restores out of and because of His great love. Love was his constant motivator, his reason for everything. It is possible for us, and maybe even necessary for us to live with the same set of desires and intentions. To let love be the reason for everything.
In order to let love guide our hearts, focus our minds and lead our lives, we have to be intentional about putting it in front of us and then to go where it goes. What if we thought about every little (or big) thing in terms of love? Love that is patient and kind, that puts others first and recognizes the weaknesses and wounds in others to know that they might need special handling? I believe we can do this. With God’s power, anything is possible.
His sister, Princess Marlena, is in college now. What a ride for our African beauty.
His oldest brother is in the work force making bank.
His other older brother is rocking 6th grade and flipping across the SE USA, aiming high.
But he, he is in 3rd grade following goals and objectives designed by me and his IEP team. His academic days are filled with modifications for everything including assistance with shoe tying and buttoning. The overall goal is for him to do his best, be his best, feel loved and valued at all times and ...
Like most of America, I have boarded the Joanna and Chipper Gaines train. They are our spirit animals. We salivate uncontrollably, united in solidarity for the shiplap craze. The Magnolia enterprise isn’t merely our design inspiration but possibly also our marriage muse. They are faith centered, home-grown, hand-made, soil turning, vintage lamps along dreary paths and they are adorable. They are our Ma and Pa Ingalls.
Just this morning I placed an online order from Magnolia Market that will arrive in 5-7 business days. My order includes vases, cotton-ball stems, wall hooks and wire baskets. I am drinking their Kool-Aid. The hubs and myself are in the process of purchasing our own fixer-upper under extremely unique circumstances. The house in its current state looks like an old run-down barn. I’m going to call this house the “Hoedown House” (wink wink). It’s 1900 square foot and we have an all-in budget of
It is smack dab in the middle of my favorite verses of Scripture in the New Testament. I have read it, taught it, shared it, believed it and have even called it my life verse - but I've only just begun to understand it.
I was focused on words like "perseverance", "steadfastness", "strength", "maturity" and "complete." Take a look at James 1:1-8 and see the foundation of my hope. I married these verses back in 1999 (<--- by the way, not the party I was expecting. RIP Prince).
Have you ever had a word jump off a page and smack you in the face? I've had plenty, but in this case
I want you to know that he is a humble man. Humble, mild-mannered and soft-spoken. You wouldn't necessarily view him as a world changer. I doubt he ever woke up one day thinking that he'd take bold, irrevocable steps for the Kingdom, but he did and still does. I am going to skip over all of the social enterprises, the generosity and the deep love he has for his people, the Filipinos. I'm not even going to mention the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of lives he has supported, impacted and changed.
I want to tell you of his relentless pursuits.
I met Manny in the Philippines. He is probably, roughly 65 years old now. He didn't believe in Jesus because he was doing alright without Him, even though his wife didn't share in his unbelief.
At the age of five, their daughter developed a brain tumor. Her symptoms were severe, including loss of speech and inability to walk. Manny was devastated - as everything he knew and loved about life was suddenly far and wide outside of his control. There were numerous doctor visits, bad-news meetings, hopeless dead-ends and raging fear. Ultimately there was a plan to operate but they had been warned the operation was probably going to kill their little girl. Meanwhile, the tumor was growing larger and the symptoms more devastating.
Some people regularly gathered nearby to pray and Manny always passed them by, but on this day, Manny was drawn in. He was desperately searching and begging his own heart to help believe in the power of prayer .... to help him believe that there is a God who hears them. Manny joined in the prayers and felt a presence he hadn't ever known. Somehow he just knew that God was with him. He took his belief into the bedroom of his little girl and laid his hands on her, knelt over her, held her and prayed for healing. He prayed over her constantly for several days and then returned her to the hospital for testing.
Scans revealed that the tumor was gone.
(And yes, of course, this rocked the medical community. Doesn't it always?)
Manny had relentlessly pursued healing for his daughter, going so far as to believe. Not that "belief" is far away - its just one step. His pursuit touched the heart of God and in one fell swoop - both of them were healed. His daughter is a healthy, successful adult now.
Manny has two sons. Soon after his daughter was healed, the two sons began pushing the boundaries, walking fine lines and dancing with devils. They both became addicted to drugs and one even began to sell them - engaging himself in the underbellies, navigating in the pits.
These two brothers shared a bedroom. Horrified that he was losing his sons, Manny began to go into their bedrooms when they were sleeping and sit on the floor between them to pray. Sometimes his boys would wake up and try to get away from him, so his method changed. Instead of keeping his prayers secret, Manny began crouching between the boys and he would grab a wrist of one boy in his left hand and the other boy's wrist by his right. He would squeeze them tight and hold them fiercely as he prayed aloud for God to heal their addictions and to open their hearts to Him. They couldn't escape.
I can't exactly recall how long Manny said this went on - but today both boys are grown men. Both are Pastors. Manny is now a pastor too - and He mentors other pastors and takes the Gospel to the Indigenous Peoples (tribes) of his area in the Philippines. Truthfully - if that were all he does it would be more than enough - but his efforts are so much more.
Manny didn't just volunteer these stories. We weren't at a conference. Our time with Manny was a meeting at his house (after touring one of his social enterprises). We had been invited to dinner in his home - and we asked him a series of questions. Thank God for MY big mouth - "soooooo, Manny, how did you become a pastor?"
As he very (oh so very) humbly shared these stories, often with his eyes not really focused on any one of us, tears poured out from my eyes and pooled up in the 45-year-old creases in my neck. All I could think of is how scripture teaches that we can reflect Christ in our lives, that we can live in Him and walk in Him - and that "they will know we are disciples if we show love one for another".
I don't have a good relationship (or relationship at all) with my earthly father - so sometimes I'm just super sensitive to these things.... but in Manny I saw my Heavenly Father. Not metaphorically, but actually.
In the story of Manny's daughter - I see him as Jesus, the one relentlessly pursuing our healing. God wants nothing more than for us to be whole. In Him, we are never less than.
In the story of Manny's sons, and his firm grip on their wrists while he spoke powerful prayers over them, I see him as Jesus...the one relentlessly pursuing our salvation. Even when you can't feel Him, you are clutched in His hands and He is praying -(the Holy Spirit prays for us) - for you to be released from yourself.
I had never visualized Jesus loving me quite this way - that He relentlessly pursues us for His glory - to dance in the light of His Holiness and to display His loving-kindness as He relentlessly pursues others.
Jesus is so real.
I've been having difficulty deciding how to publicly share the remaining and continuing parts of this story. It's very big to me and it exposes the kindness of the God in very detailed ways - I don't want to screw it up.
For now, I'm going to be revealing bit by bit over on Facebook at a page I just created called Scripture & Shenanigans. If you would like to join there, please do. It is a closed group but I will approve everyone that requests to join. Why? Because I want share it in small spaces first and I want you to help me get it right. If something I say isn't clear, I want you to help me make it clear. If something isn't sound, I want you to help me get to the root. If something is arrogant, I want to be humbled. Please join me there for this continuing story. But also stick around here - I will continue posting as God continues breathing into me. *You can subscribe to this blog via email over in the right margin of this page if you don't want to miss anything.
Scripture & Shenanigans
From the moment I arrived in the Philippines to the moment that I departed - I had zero grasp on why I was there. If I can be brutally honest, I had very little to offer. The children were poor and were facing horrible challenges - BUT - their mommas and daddies loved them. They were kept.
As much as I want to feel horrible for those who are poor and marginalized,it's difficult for me to see them as less than rich when there is monumental evidence of powerful family bonds.
I see wealth in togetherness and treasure in family. Even in bamboo huts and makeshift tents. Especially there.
There wasn't a single child that needed a hug from me. (I did get a little hug therapy, but I'll tell you about that later.) But the kids, nah, they didn't need that.
Day after day, the people of the Philippines blew me away. They are a people unlike any I've ever met. Resilient, hopeful and steady... so impressive, especially those who've seen that the gospel is the solution to the problems of the world, and work tirelessly to walk the walk.
So, I met Richard. I've been home now for 3 weeks and still processing the magnitude of his work. Richard is a former gang member.
In the area where he lives, there are 21 gangs, some of them well-known international groups. Richard's story is worthy of a book - but the cliff notes are as follows, and I'm guaranteed to forget something important.
Richard pulled away from gang life a few years ago. He'd had an encounter with the gospel and surrendered his heart to the Lord. From there, he really wanted to become a pastor. All the while, Richard was praying very specific prayers and asking God to be very specific in His answers and direction. All of Richards prayers were answered ((these were prayers for direction, not prayers for Mercedes!)) An opportunity came up for Richard to go to bible college - a new college nearby. His tuition was sponsored. Funny thing though - Richard was the single ONLY person to enroll. He attended his classes for 2 years - still the only student, and then he graduated. He was a class of one.
And friends, I need you to know, we may as well all be a class of one - because the gospel is no place for competition.
The school closed after Richard graduated. You see.... this was the way that God chose to creatively answer the creative prayers of a young guy leaving gang society and seeking to have his life hijacked by Jesus.
So what then.... well, it's just such a big story.... I'm not even sure how my little words can do it justice, but I'll try.
Richard began connecting with leaders from all 21 gangs. In his very calm and gentle demeanor, but still commanding respect - he has been infiltrating the leagues with the ways of Jesus. Over time, Richard's methods and his testimony have penetrated a culture and slowly changed it. He's teaching them that violence and crime doesn't have to be their path. (**In broken English, Richard explained to us that he used to climb walls.) <-- I really like that image.
Listen, these guys are the real deal. They have murdered, raped, stolen and assaulted. They have tattoos commemorating kills. These dudes were not friendly neighbors. But that is changing. Richard, with God on his side, is single-handedly reshaping a generation. He's leading the way in the redemption of a deadly culture.
I didn't sit in a field with Richard like I had seen in my vision. He and I didn't look eye-to-eye, hold hands and have a moment. But we are very much in a field together.... and I couldn't be more delighted to be a witness to the next bountiful harvest.
Richard is sowing seeds of redemption.
To be continued....