More songs, poems, books, and movies have been written about love than any other subject. We love love. We long for it, hunger for it, diet for it, scheme for it.
To yearn for love is not only natural, it is Divine. God has given each of us a hunger for true love. But too many of us look to satisfy that hunger in the wrong way, with the wrong people. And we end up unhappy, hurt, and broken. That kind of love fails us, again and again.
The Apostle John is known for his themes of love. In his gospel, he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” In his letters, he tells us that God’s love is so great, our response should be to share that love with others. In his Revelation, John longs for the day when we will be able to spend eternity loving Jesus in spirit and in truth. John fully embraced the love God lavished on him, and he responded with humility and wholehearted commitment.
We will never be fully satisfied until we accept the love God has for us – unfailing, perfect love. When we look to other people to fill that God-sized hole inside us, we will always be disappointed. But when we live in the light of God’s love, we are free to love others without limits, without unrealistic expectations. We can be full of joy, even in difficult circumstances, because we know that God will never leave us or forsake us, that his love is eternal.
God has been working on me about that particular question, lately.
I know the right answer: “To glorify God.”
But do I live it out?
I start out my day with Bible reading and prayer, but then what? Does the Word of God change me? Does my time with the Creator of the Universe permeate my thoughts as I go throughout my day?
I know the answer should be “Yes. Of course!” I want that to be the answer. But the reality is that it isn’t always the answer. I can get to the end of a day and realize I have “handled” everything since my morning devos entirely on my own.
But if I really believe that I am here on this earth to glorify God, then everything I do should reflect that. Rather than thinking about what I want and what I need, I should be seeking to know how God wants to use me – not just at the start of the day, but every moment of it.
Rather than handling the events of the day – my thoughts, my family, my students – on my own, I should release them to God, ask how He wants me to think, to love, to teach.
As much as I believe and preach that the Christian life is a 24/7 prospect, I am convicted that I treat it more like a check-up – “Hey, God. We good? Got anything for me today….? Oh, that’s nice. I like it!….Okay, then. Thanks. Talk to you tomorrow.”
I am here to glorify God.
I am HERE to glorify God.
I am here to GLORIFY God.
I am here to glorify GOD.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30
Good Friday – the day Christians remember Christ’s work on the cross.
But what, exactly, is that cross? What does it mean? And is it really important?
I see the cross everywhere – in earrings, on necklaces, in children’s craft projects, even as decorations on flip flops and magnets on cars. None of that is bad, necessarily, but I fear that we are so accustomed to seeing the cross that we have forgotten what it actually represents, what it means. It has become merely a symbol of our faith. But it is so much more than that.
On Good Friday, Jesus was led to his execution. He was sentenced to a death so horrendous that it was reserved only for non-citizens of the Roman Empire. Not even the worst Roman citizen would have to endure this. And he was sentenced for one reason:
Because he claimed to be God.
He wasn’t killed for being a good person, for being a wise teacher, for hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes. He was killed because the Jewish leaders of his day found his claims to deity to be blasphemous. They did not believe he was the promised Messiah. And they understood – rightly – that that is exactly who he was saying he was.
But Jesus was the Messiah. He was God in the flesh, come to earth. He lived a sinless life, qualifying him to be the only one who could pay the penalty for our sins.
Sins separate us from God. But God loves us, and he doesn’t want us separated from him. And so he sent his son to die the death that we deserve so we can have eternal life with him.
And that is what Jesus did on the cross. He didn’t just suffer excruciating physical pain, he also bore on his body the sins of the world. I can’t even begin to comprehend that.
And he did that for us. Because he loved us so much.
Today is the day we remember that death, that price that our Savior paid for us – for all who believe on him.
So while cross necklaces and magnets and decorations are highly visible this time of year, I want to be careful that I’m not forgetting what it represents, the magnitude of the work done there. The cross is more than a symbol. Because Jesus chose to go to the cross, you and I have the opportunity to choose Him, to choose eternity with Christ, to choose a life with Christ here on earth.
If you haven’t made that choice, yet, make it right now. Make this a truly Good Friday.
Listen to the words of this wonderful old hymn….so rich, so true. May it be our prayer this Resurrection Weekend.
Every year, the week before Spring Break, our school takes students on missions trips. Some groups stay local and serve in the Tampa/St. Pete area, others go to a different state, and the rest go overseas. I had the privilege of going with 20 students to Orphanage Emmanuel in Guiamaca, Honduras.
We lived in Costa Rica for a year, so I thought I was prepared for what we would see when we landed in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. I was not. Honduras is far poorer than Costa Rica – we passed a community who lives in a dump, houses made out of materials gathered on the mountains. As we drove the two hours to the orphanage, we saw village after village of literally dirt poor families striving to survive.
Then we pulled into the gate of Orphanage Emmanuel. It was like an oasis in the desert. Beautiful buildings and landscaping, pristine conditions – even drinkable water! There were greenhouses where they grow fruit and vegetables for the residents, mammoth tanks where tilapia are raised, hundreds of chickens and pigs…
Then there were the children. 500 precious souls who live at Emmanuel because they have no other home. A few are true orphans, but most are brought here because their parents do not want them, or they have been removed from their homes by the government. Many have experienced unspeakable horrors at the hands of their families.
We were there to spend time with the children – to treat them to snacks at The Store, to play soccer and paint nails and do crafts. We thought we were there to be used by God in the lives of the children. But, as we quickly learned, the real reason we were there was for God to change us.
As our group shared on our last day there, we each had learned something different. Some had been challenged by the missionaries who worked there – their testimonies were faith-filled examples of the power of God in the lives of his servants. Others were touched by individual children – their love and joy in spite of difficulties. I was moved by the children, as well, but in a different way.
Because I am able to speak some Spanish – I’m not fluent, but I can carry on conversations – I spent a lot of my week talking and listening. And, because I naturally gravitate to teen girls, I spent most of time talking and listening to them.
Here’s what I discovered: These girls have dreams and plans, they have boys they think are cute. They have music they love and movies they watch over and over again. They complain about rules being too strict and skirts being too long. They fight with other girls and some of them hate school. A handful are sure that, if they can just leave Emmanuel and get out into the “real world” – a world without rules and uniforms – their lives will be so much better. They are, in short, just like the girls I teach! They aren’t a picture on a missions poster, a sad story someone tells. They are real girls with real names and real histories and real feelings. They are the daughters of the King who understand, some far better than I, just what it means to adopted as heirs of Christ.
This picture – taken of a sweet little girl named Catarin – best explains my experience…
If I had seen this picture on a postcard or a website, I would have assumed this poor girl was forced to work. I’d imagine her as a Cinderella or Cosette with evil adults ripping away the joy of childhood and requiring her to slave away for her meals.
But here’s what I know – behind me, there was a joyful game of soccer being played by girls who had just finished their morning devotions. Catarin had prayed, sang, and reviewed her Bible verse, holding hands with her friends. Afterwards, she picked up that broom, not because she was forced to, but because she thinks it’s fun to sweep the floor. That’s her game of choice. She did that until it was time to get in line and head to school. I saw her the next day, doing the same thing. Having fun, laughing, talking, and sweeping.
My husband and my daughter were on this trip with me – each of us returned with different stories, different lessons, we each were impacted in different ways. But one thing we all agreed on – this trip was life-changing and amazing. We are so glad we went, and we would encourage everyone to do the same. s my husband told the group, education is far more than time spent in the classroom. Our “teachers” in Honduras gave us far more than we could ever give them.
In my almost-30 years as a believer, I have prayed for all kinds of things– from requests as seemingly insignificant as a parking space in the rain to literal life-and-death issues.
Right now, though, I feel like God is teaching me to take a step back from the way I’ve always prayed. In the past, I have prayed very specifically — not that praying that way is wrong. In fact, God used the answers to specific prayers to bolster my faith and encourage me that He is there, He is listening, and He cares for me.
But specific prayers can be very selfish (“Lord, give me that job, that house…”). And I can often confuse real prayer with wishes. Though I know God isn’t a genie, I treat Him like that when I am constantly bombarding Him with “I want…” and “I need…” and “Please give me…” requests. Worse - I am assuming I know what’s best, that God should listen to me and do what I say.
Right now, for example, our family is in limbo. Again. Where will Dave work next year? Where will the kids go to school? Where will we live? I want to pray specifics – “Let us stay HERE. Don’t move us again! Or if You do, move us back to where we were before. Not someplace new. Haven’t we done that enough…?”
But, lately, as those prayers have surfaced, I have sensed God saying, “Not so fast.” Rather than praying for specific – selfish – requests that I think are best for us, God is teaching me to pray something different.
He is teaching me to pray for willingness to obey His leading, for peace to trust His guidance, and for strength of character to endure whatever difficulties might lay ahead. He is showing me that my character is of far more consequence than my comfort. And, while I don’t have to like my “limbo” status, I don’t need to focus on finding a way to end it so much as I need to concentrate on what God wants me to learn through it.
Life today is quite different from life in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve would surely be shocked to see cars and planes, televisions and cell phones. They would probably be disgusted at what we eat and wear, but impressed with what we have built and invented. Despite all those differences, though, the first couple would likely recognize that, in our hearts, we are still just the same.
In Genesis chapter 3, we see that Satan’s tactic with Eve was to question God’s sovereignty. “Did God really say not to eat the fruit of the tree?” And, once he gets her questioning that, he assures her that God’s warnings (“You shall surely die”) are not true. God is, in fact, tricking Eve, Satan argues, because He doesn’t want her knowing as much as He does. Eve believes the lie and, within hours, realizes God is indeed sovereign, Satan is a liar, and her idyllic life is dead.
I’d like to believe I’m better than Eve. But I’m not. As usual, though, I see sin in the lives of others more easily than I see it in my own life. I see it when students cheat on a test or essay, or when they admit to having sex before marriage. I have seen sin destroy destroy friends’ marriages because of adultery or selfishness. I have seen sin wreck churches.
And in every case, the offender has an excuse, a reason why what he or she did really wasn’t wrong. It doesn’t matter that God says to obey authorities, students argue, that test was just too hard and my parents will kill me if I get a C, so I HAD to cheat. I know the Bible says don’t have premarital sex, but that’s impossible nowadays. The husband who left his wife? She wasn’t meeting his needs, so he “deserved” to go out and find someone who would. And on and on.
The bottom line is that we buy into the same lie Eve bought into. “Did God REALLY say…” that you need to obey authorities? save the gift of sex for marriage? remain faithful to your marriage vows? Or is God just old-fashioned? Unaware of the difficulties of 21st century life? His word is fine to slap on Instagram as a positive-thinking slogan, but when it comes to keeping us from doing what we really want to do…? No, thanks.
But friends, whether we acknowledge it or not, God’s word IS true, God IS sovereign. He allows us to choose to disobey Him, to turn from Him, to do our own thing. But, eventually, just like Eve, we will face the consequences for those decisions. Not because God hates us or wants to keep us from enjoying life, but because He is holy. And because He knows far better than we ever will what is best for us and for those around us.
So don’t fall victim to the same lie that has ensnared people for millenia. Don’t make excuses. Don’t justify your sin. Deal with it, confess it. Or, better, avoid it. Run from it! Don’t presume upon the grace of God. Don’t miss out on God’s best by trying to create your own Eden. God is God. You are not. There is great freedom in living in that reality.
“…If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31b-32
I hate when my students don’t listen. I give instructions in several different ways: talking, writing on the board, emailing, inputting on the online lesson plans, repeating…
Invariably, though, there is “that” student: the one who, after all of the instructions, raises his hand and asks, “What are we doing today?”
And, worse, he acts shocked if the plans for the day include a test or quiz. “What?” He asks, eyes wide with shock. “I didn’t know we had a test today!”
*Groans* *Pulls hair out* “Seriously?!”
I was thinking of that today, as I got frustrated – again – for being ignored – again.
And God gently reminded me that, far too often, I am “that” student.
He has told me to expect trials (James 1:2); He has warned me that I will face temptation (I Cor. 10:13). I have read these warnings more than once, heard them more than once, even experienced them more than once.
Yet, I still respond in shock when it happens. “I have to go through a trial?! That’s SO not fair. I thought you loved me!”
Does God groan and pull his hair out?
Of course not. He, thankfully, is not like me. He gently helps me through the trials, the temptations, the difficulties. When necessary, He allows me to fail or to fall when I am trying to go about life on my own strength and ignoring His clear direction. And He is always there to help me up when I realize – again – how desperately I need His help and guidance as I go through each day.
God is a Master Teacher who has left us with very clear instructions. May we all be students who listen to His voice and are well-prepared when tests come!
Tattoos are incredibly popular. There are tattoo parlors all over the place – in storefronts, in malls, in the city and the country. There are upscale tattoo parlors, non-smoking tattoo parlors, tattoo artists working alongside make-up artists and hair stylists. Tattooing is a statement, it’s art, its fun, it’s meaningful…
But it’s not for me.
I’m not saying it’s wrong. Lots of people I know and love have tattoos. I’m just letting you peek in my head (be careful, it’s messy!) and see how I came to my conclusions. You, of course, are free to make your own choices. Unless you’re still living at home or being supported by Mom and Dad. Then you need to do what they say, whether you like it or not. When you’re making your own money you can go out and get a tattoo of you getting a tattoo while your parents look on in horror. Until then, just content yourself with doodling on your hand with a ball point pen.
Let me address a few reasons people give for getting tattoos and my personal response to those reasons. Feel free to disagree below. I love hearing from you!
But I want to get a tattoo of a cross or of Jesus so everyone will know I’m a Christian.
Seriously? We show our love for Jesus by our actions, by how we treat others, by how we forgive, how we encourage, how we help those in need and comfort those in pain. No one is going to come to Jesus because he lives on your shoulder. But they will come to him when they see that he reigns in our hearts.
I want to get a “Mom” tattoo because I love her so much.
Let me just say, as a mom, I would much rather have flowers. Or chocolate. I’d rather have you visit me when you’re grown, have you take care of me when I am old and sick. But tattooing me on your body? Not so much.
I want a tattoo of my favorite (sport/hobby/TV show/superhero). When I was in college, a classmate came into our Communications class sporting a shiny, huge, incredibly colorful tattoo of Sylvester the Cat on his forearm. A cartoon character. On his forearm. I looked at him and shook my head. We were seniors. He’d be out interviewing for jobs soon. With Sylvester the Cat on his forearm. I could hear the resumes being shredded. Don’t put something on your body that will embarrass you at any point in the near or distant future. Which brings me to the last argument…
I’m going to get my tattoo in a location no one will ever see. It’ll just be my fun little secret. So what’s the point? Why get it? And don’t tell me it’s so you’ll remember something or someone special. If you need a tattoo to remember someone or something, he/she/it isn’t really as important as you think he/she/it is. Seriously.
That is why I choose “Not” to tattoo. That, and this….
This week was “Show Week” at my school. For those who have participated in theater – whether behind-the-scenes or onstage – you know that week is crazy. Lights, sound, costumes, hair, make-up, set and props must all work together in harmony with the acting, singing, and choreography so the show can be the best it can be.
You also know that, almost without exception, there is a point during show week where the cast and crew think, “This is going to be a train wreck.” But, also almost without exception, the show ends up much better than anyone expected.
“Bye Bye Birdie” was no exception on either count. We had a couple rough rehearsals. Lines were dropped. Props were dropped. Even actors were dropped! (this is my daughter, playing Mae Peterson, being “let down” by her Sonny Boy)…
But, on opening night, everything came together. The cast and crew were fantastic, and the audience was thrilled. It was a phenomenal production! The others directors and I were so proud.
Life is often like that. “All the world’s a stage”, after all! But our Director, unlike us fallible humans, is perfect. He knows everything. He is never taken by surprise.
But we sometimes forget that we’re a work in progress. We’re in the middle of “Show Week” – working towards our “opening night”. Things are going to get messy. We’re are going to make mistakes, to question where we are going. We’re going to let people down. We’re going to let ourselves down.
In those moments, we need to listen even closer to our Director. Cling to His Words, go where He tells us to go, say what He tells us to say. Even when it doesn’t make sense to us, we need to trust the One who knows far more than we do!
We can be assured that, if our hearts belong to Jesus, “opening night” is going to be far beyond our wildest dreams. An eternity with the God of the Universe, in a new body, a new heaven and a new earth. Wow!!
So live in the mess. Thrive as a work in progress. Trust your Director. And enjoy. Because, in the glittering words of Conrad Birdie, “You’ve got a lot of livin’ to do”!
Earlier this week, a police officer knocked on our front door — in the middle of the night.
Dave and I were both sound asleep, and my first thought was that we were being robbed — obviously I was sleep deprived. What robber knocks?? We warily approached the door, where a very nice lady cop was standing, her car in our driveway. Dave opened the door and the officer apologized for waking us.
“But,” she said. “Your garage door is open, and we have had some robberies in the area. I wanted to make sure you were all right and that you knew to shut and lock your garage.”
We thanked her and promptly obeyed, walking around the house to make sure no unsavory characters had made the same discovery the cop had made.
While we didn’t enjoy having our sleep disrupted, we were grateful. Who knows what that nice officer may have saved us from!
I’ve been thinking about that incident the past few days, and I can’t help but compare that police officer to the Holy Spirit. Just like Dave and I left our house unprotected, sometimes we leave our minds and hearts unprotected — we put ourselves in situations where the door to sin is wide open. The temptation is right there. The Holy Spirit warns us – through a gentle reminder, the words of a friend or pastor, a passage of scripture that comes to mind– and we have to make a choice.
Sadly, I find that it was far easier to obey that cop than it is to obey the Holy Spirit. I didn’t argue with the officer. I didn’t justify why leaving the garage open would be all right. I didn’t say, “No one will come to MY house. I’m going back to bed.” I shut that garage! Then I locked the door to the garage. And, for good measure, Dave stuck the key in and set the deadbolt on the door to the garage. We even checked the other doors, just to be sure our house was safe from would-be robbers.
How sad that I care more for my house than my soul.
When the Holy Spirit warns me — “You need to forgive that person.”; “You shouldn’t be watching that show.”; “Respond with gentle words, not harsh ones.” — I rarely obey immediately. More often than I should, I ignore the warnings: I don’t forgive, I keep watching, I spit out a mean response. Then later, I reap the consequences. I ALWAYS regret not heeding the Spirit’s voice. Why do I refuse to listen?? When He is giving me help far greater than any police officer on the planet?
God used that officer for more than just a physical wake-up. It was a spiritual wake-up, as well. A reminder to heed His words, His warnings, to stay within His protection.
“Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” II Timothy 1:13-14