Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Grief...

     There are a few things brewing that I would like to write about but God keeps bringing me back to this one. I gave Him a list of reasons why I didn't want to write about grief. However, this is what He has laid on my heart to write about. If you came here in need of encouragement, we'll get there. Sometimes you have to go through the darkness to get to the light!

     Tomorrow it will be one year since my Grandma died.  A lot has happened in that year. I've learned from the journey through grief that I've been on. She wasn't the first loss I had experienced in life, there have been others. I entered this journey with certain expectations based on past experiences as to how it would go. I found that this journey was much different. Perhaps that is the first lesson...each journey through grief is different.

     My mother's parents died  many years ago in a nursing home. After their funerals, I never had to return to their rooms in the nursing home where we had spent time together. However, Grammy died in her room at my cousin's house. I have had to return there many times since and it has been incredibly difficult. A few weeks after she passed, her room was freshly painted and my aunt moved her things into it.  I spent hours in there sorting through Grammy's things because my aunt was too sick to do it. She had piles and piles of papers and cards. She must have saved everything her ten grandchildren had given her. I found a picture that I had drawn for her when I was nine! Instead of sitting in the room and visiting with Grammy, I was sitting in the room and visiting with my aunt. My heart ached each time I did it. I would go home and be unable to sleep at night after my visits because my mind would see Grammy in her final hours in her room. It took quite a few months for that to stop.

     I had been there hours before she died and hours after. I wasn't planning on being there, but I had an urgency to check on my cousin and see if she needed anything as she cared for Grammy.  I won't dismiss an urgency as easily as I might have before this. It was because of that urgency that I learned another very important lesson. Grief is an opportunity to be God's hands and feet.  God brought me there to bring food, to hold cousins, to crack jokes, and to tell stories.  God in His infinite wisdom knew that those things would knit our family closer together and open the door for a whole year's worth of witnessing opportunities. 

     Grief is a tool God can use to shape us if we let Him. We let Him by choosing to run to Him in our moments of grief instead of running away or trying to handle it on our own. He does a lot with very little material. He has taken a song on the radio that was difficult for me to hear or sing without crying, and has made it precious because it reminds me of where we've been together. As I drove home the night that Grammy died, the song 10,000 Reasons played on the radio. I believe that God wants us to praise Him when it's hard as well as when it's easy. When it's hard it's a sacrifice. That night it was hard as the words, "And on that day when my strength is failing, The end draws near and my time has come, Soon my soul will sing your praise un-ending. 10,000 years and there forever more. Bless the Lord oh my soul,Oh my soul,Worship His holy name. Sing like never before, Oh my soul, I worship Your holy name." played on the radio. I sang along that night. I sang loudly, off key, tears pouring down my face, but it was my sacrifice. I chose to run to Him and let Him comfort me. This is what I've been doing since and in thousands of little ways He has been my comfort.

     I had my own time table in mind as to how long I thought my journey through grief would last. I have to confess I didn't expect to journey as long as I have. What I've learned is that it's just like any other journey God takes us on. You don't get to decide. He does. He has things He wants to work in us through our sorrow to completion. We will all have to journey through grief. Grief  can take on many forms. Grief can be grieving the loss of a loved one or it can be grieving the loss of a dream. Maybe you are grieving the loss of a job or the loss of a relationship. Perhaps you are grieving poor decisions you or a loved one has made.  Whatever it is, don't journey alone.  Psalm 62:8 says, "Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us."  Indeed He is!

    

   
    

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Love...

       Rich Stearns, President of World Vision of the United States, writes these words in his book Unfinished: "Simply stated, living in the Kingdom of God means we must try to live as Jesus lived, love what Jesus loved, and obey what Jesus taught."  He goes on to say, " Everything Jesus did was an expression of His love for the Father and His love for people. He embodied love as no one else ever has."  Rich Stearns writes that Jesus' approach to people can be characterized simply with that one word: love.  This has me asking, can the same be said of me?

     If I am to try to live as Jesus lived, love as Jesus loved, and obey what Jesus taught, then I need to embody love like He embodied love. Rich Stearns said that everything Jesus did was an expression of His love for the Father...shouldn't it be the same for me and other followers of Christ? Shouldn't everything we say and do be birthed out of our love for God?  I confess that I find myself sorely lacking. How about you?

      These verses in Matthew may help us find some answers " And He said to him,'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" Matthew 22:37-39. In all the times I have read them, I never noticed the divine order to them. Jesus first says  to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" then He uses the word SECOND when He goes on to say, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  The order leads me to believe that to truly love the way Jesus loved, we must FIRST love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. What does that look like anyway?

      The words heart, soul, and  mind remind me of the words thoughts, will, and emotions. Are my thoughts, will, and emotions submitted to God?  If I truly love God with all of my mind, do the things I think in private show it?  If I truly love God with all of my heart, do the feelings I have toward others reveal it?  If I truly love God with all of me, with all of my soul, do I want His will to be done or my will to be done?  If I truly love God with all of me, won't it be evident by whether or not I am loving my neighbor as myself? Isn't love supposed to be an action word...something tangible?

     Jesus' love for others was tangible. He didn't just love with His words. His love resulted in action. His love healed the sick, made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, and raised the dead to life. His love made people whole. His love made the ultimate sacrifice and went to the cross. His love went to the cross for ALL people, not just His disciples or the easy to get along with people. All of this was born out of His love for the Father. Jesus truly loved God the Father with all of His heart, soul, and mind and out of that came the action of loving His neighbor as himself. Jesus left instructions for us to do the same, " As I have loved you, so must you love one another." John 13:34

     This is such a tall order if we truly take into account how Jesus loved! As Rich Stearns said, "He embodied love as no one else ever has."  This kind of love requires sacrifice. This kind of love takes action. This kind of love doesn't pick and choose who to love . A person who loves as Jesus loves, loves everyone because they already love God with all of their heart, soul, and mind. They love who He loves and how He loves. A person who loves as Jesus  loves chooses to love those they disagree with, find difficult, don't like, and aren't like them as well as those they find easy to love. A person that loves like Jesus loves, loves unconditionally. They choose to see others through God's eyes, knowing His is the only vision that is accurate.

      Is anyone else feeling challenged?  We have been loved so extravagantly, sacrificially, unconditionally, and intentionally by our Lord. Jesus knew that the best way to love God was to be a concrete form of God's love to others. I want to do the same. Will you join me as I make it my prayer this year to embody His love?  

Saturday, January 4, 2014

One...

   In John seventeen Christ prays for His disciples and future generations of followers to be one as He and the Father are one. This seems like such an impossible task to me. Christ prays this knowing that Judas will betray Him, Peter will deny Him, and Thomas will doubt Him. Yet He prays it anyway. He prays it before heading to the cross. It must have been important to Him. In verses twenty and twenty one He prays, " I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me."

    Jesus wanted us to have the same oneness with each other that He enjoyed with His Father.  Jesus was the Son with whom God was well pleased. There is no record of Jesus criticizing God the Father or His plans. Jesus desired to glorify His Father. What about us? Do we want to glorify Christ and glorify our Heavenly Father by having the same oneness with each other that they have? 

     There is far too much criticism within the body of Christ today for us to be one.  We get so caught up in who is doing church right and who is doing church wrong. We criticize our pastors...they are too merciful or not merciful enough. Their sermons are too long or too short. They forgot to give me a hug hello but they always greet the new people. We criticize our worship leaders. They smile so much it has to be fake. They are too emotional or not emotional enough. The music was too loud or not loud enough. We tell other ministry leaders how they can do their jobs better or worse yet we show them. We accuse each other of being immature or we accuse each other of being too spiritual. We all want to be leaders when Christ called us to be followers. When political issues outside of the church arise we are so concerned with taking a side that we don't see that it's never really about sides it's about people...souls in need of a Savior. We also criticize other churches. They are too liberal or they are too conservative. They are too traditional and therefore must not know how to think outside the box.  Just as we find ourselves unable to be one Jesus takes it one step further later on in John seventeen... 

     " The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me." John 17:22-23.  Did you catch that? Christ wants us to be PERFECTED in unity AND  He says that God loves us even as He loves Jesus.  If God loves each one of us the same way that He loves Jesus...then how does He feel when we criticize our brother or sister in Christ? How would He feel if we criticized Jesus?  Do we realize that when we criticize our brother or sister in Christ, we break the heart of God because we are speaking against His child that He loves?

     I have read John seventeen many times and have not seen it in this light before. This past week I have found myself in various situations in which I heard criticism of other brothers and sisters in Christ... or read it on facebook. It's not like I have never heard it or read it before. To be honest there have been times in my life that I have been a participant.  So what was different this time? I felt sad. It weighed me down because one of the people being criticized was someone I love. Just like everything else in this life, God used it. When I told Him how I felt He quietly pointed me to John seventeen in order to show me how He feels. Now, I don't even want to break His heart by listening to it. I sit here wondering if that is part of the key to unity...not listening to it. Who wants to speak their mind when there is no audience?  The truth is criticism often disguises itself as just expressing an opinion or just showing a concern.  We don't realize we have participated until it's done and we have broken the heart of God.  God's Word has the solution to the problem...no surprise there. It is found in Psalm 141:3 and may be a good thing to pray each day before getting out of bed. Psalm 141:3, "Set a guard O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips." And as for me, I plan to add the word ears to that too!

     I leave you with these thoughts...what would the church perfected in unity look like?  What impact would it have on our world?  Jesus answered those questions in John with these words, " so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me".   When the world sees us loving each other regardless of our differences,because of our differences, and because God has loved each one of us as He loves His own Son...they will know that Christ was sent by God for them as well.  Let's make it happen.