Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Uncrushable Hope

Earlier in the semester my oldest son Noah and I had a little butting of the heads. He had been invited to a birthday party by one of his friends who wanted everyone to wear their favorite basketball jersey. Noah wanted to wear his upward uniform. Because his upward game was going to be that following Saturday morning, I told him he could wear the jersey, but the t-shirt and shorts he would have to save. Noah was crushed. He was so upset because the jersey was incomplete without the right shorts or shirt under it. He worked himself into such a fit I could barely talk to him. Finally I went to his bedroom and began pulling out other shorts he could wear under it. After a while, Noah began to realize that the clothes I was choosing for him worked just as well as what he wanted, and he would still be able to wear a fresh uniform the following day. He found an outfit he could be happy with and quickly regained his composure. After a little while had passed I knelt down to talk to him. As I pulled him close he began to go through an apology, because he thought he was getting scolded. Instead I said, “You don’t have to apologize. I just want you to know that you can trust me, that I love you, and that I am working things out for you in a way that will be good for you.”

Even as I was saying those words I knew they were Holy Spirit inspired God words. I believe these are the words that God speaks to every person He loves. Yep that would be everyone. Sometimes it is so hard in the middle of disappointment and heartache to hear them, just like it was hard for Noah to see that my plan for him was good, even if it looked different from his.

So many times I hear the stories of disappointment and despair from people who are heartbroken because life hasn’t turned out the way they wanted it to. My heart aches for them. I know deeply the pain of loss; I remember well the sting of my own dashed hopes. When I hear these life stories coming out of a place of complete brokenness and inabilitiy to comprehend, I feel the resonating anguish. The deep places within me recognize it and rush forth to meet the grief with empathy and compassion. But the deep places in me recognize something else that the person in pain is not quite ready to see. It is the promise of God’s love that meets the person where they are, gives them a new understanding of His love for them, and then blesses them with a new vision for themselves that is born out of His uncrushable hope. Ephesians 3:14-21 expresses it best:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom ever family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generation, forever and ever. Amen.

The one thing I have learned about God more than any other is that He is really into redemption. What that means is that He chooses the broken and desperate (even dead) places of our lives to be the birthplaces for His new life revealed in us. It is the message of the cross that He reinvents over and over again through our ordinary lives. He loves to see His resurrection power displayed in the exact spot of our hopeless despair and grim resignation. Often times we are too hurt to see past our own pain to understand the beautiful new thing He is bringing forth. That’s okay. He gets that about us. I believe it is why He gives us to one another. While you are in your grief and can’t see out of it, I can hold your hand and see God’s grace and mercy for you. When my head and heart are weighed down with burdens I can’t carry, you believe in God’s goodness and strength for me.

The gift of disappointment is that it helps us come to know our true identity. We are hurt and disappointed often because something or someone is removed from our lives that we didn’t think we could live without. We believe that without that something or someone we cannot be complete and worthwhile people. Yet when life removes something we believe gives us our value, we have the opportunity to learn that our value comes from Him, from being His child. We have worth because He made us, He loves us, and He is working out His purposes in our lives. When the crutch of that something or someone is gone, we learn to stand in God’s truth of us rather than remaining dependent upon an outside source to know our worth.

And let me just say, once we can stand tall in His love and value of us, He is ready to accomplish abundantly far more in and through our lives than all we can ask and imagine. The hope of resurrection ceases to be an abstract and distant historical happening and becomes to us the very power by which we live our lives. People see and take notice because God is released to do what on He can do: show off His glory!

What does this mean? It means that your heartache is not the end of the story. It means that there will be a day when you can look with joy upon your life, when your disappointment and grief are but a faint shadow. It means that there is coming a moment when you will know your labor and your tears have not been in vain. There will be a day when you will see with your own eyes His power accomplishing in your life far more than you ever thought to ask for or even imagine. You can trust Him to bring goodness to you. You can trust Him to redeem, make right, turn around, make beautiful every disappointment and despair that you offer into His hands.

I share these things as an encouragement, especially during this season of Lent. While you may be in a season of looking toward the cross, the one that Jesus died on as well as the cross of disappointment and heartache in your own life, remember that the end of the story has nothing to do with death and everything to do with resurrection. Jesus didn’t just tell His disciples beforehand that He would be delivered into the hands of His enemies and killed, but He also said that on the third day He would rise again. I am as confident that this as is true for Jesus showing up in your life story as it is for the one He lived here on earth. You are His. He loves you. He delights in You. And He is waiting for that day when He can resurrect the broken places of your life and show forth His power and glory through you to all the earth. Hear His sweet words spoken to your waiting heart: “I just want you to know that you can trust Me, that I love you, and that I am working things out for you in a way that will be good for you.”

This is me trusting,


Thursday, March 17, 2011

First Love

First love. The phrase brings back all kinds of memories (not all of them pleasant) of my first foray into serious romantic endeavors. I look back at the 16 year old girl that I was, so thankful that I’m not her now. Quite honestly I had no concept of what kind of love God desired for my life. That lack of understanding cost bought me a heap of wisdom that I’m so thankful for today. Since then I’ve learned so much more about love and loving. As I compare the love I felt as an awkward teenager to the love I share now with my sweet husband, I can’t help but have a heart overflowing with gratitude and thanksgiving. God has brought me so far; He has healed so many things; He has restored so much that I thought could never be restored. I can honestly say that my sweet husband is the love of my life. But God is my First Love. And that has made all the difference. It is His Love that makes every other love possible; it is His Love that makes every other love sweet. Although my precious husband is the only one who rings my bell, God is my First Love.

What we love first makes all the difference. We cannot love anyone or anything before God without costing ourselves a world of heartache. Quite simply, nothing and no one but Him can hold the fullness of our hearts without dropping something. Only God is worthy to be our First Love, because only God’s hands are big enough to entrust all that we are to them. Only God is powerful enough to redeem, restore, and recreate all of the wounds of our past. Only God can bring back to life that which has been rendered dead within us.

This message is so simple yet so profound. Love God first. Let God truly be your First Love. In Mark 12:29 Jesus shares the greatest commandment: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the lore your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the most important thing. When we get this right, everything else finds its proper place in our lives.

I just finished having lunch with a young woman who is so dear to me. She has experienced heartbreaking loss, and yet she refuses to let anything separate her from God’s love. When I am with her I feel the light of Christ just all around. When others who experience devastating heartache withdraw, shut down, and shut God out, she has tenaciously held on to her faith, desiring to be His even when each day for her holds the hurt of deep grief. She courageously reaches through the pain of her grief to grasp the hand of God. I praise Him for her. By doing the only thing she knows to do to get through her grief she is showing others the way out of despair and into the arms of a loving, all encompassing God. I’m so grateful for her witness, and so touched.

We are in the season of Lent, that liturgical time of year when we turn our faces toward the cross and walk with Jesus toward the crucifixion and His resurrection. During the forty days leading up to the remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross, Christians for centuries has reserved this time for the practice of spiritual disciplines which help to leave earthly desires behind and prepare the heart to receive God’s presence in a fuller way. When I was a 16 year old love struck teenager who didn’t understand the true dimensions of love, I would give up drinking Dr. Pepper during Lent. But love means so much more now. God has shown me with gentle clarity the depths of His Love for me, the precious gift of His eternal salvation opened for me on the cross, the sweetness of His daily presence to lead and to guide. Lent this year has become more of a Love Song, with my clumsy yet deliberate notes echoing His Love Notes in my life. I want my Lenten sacrifice to open up space in me to love Him more. I want to meet Him in Love, and enlarge my own capacity to live in the Love He greets me with each day.

If you are like one young man who used to be a student of mine, giving up Dr. Pepper would do that for you. Bless his heart, he would rather have had a Dr. Pepper infusion than a blood infusion! Because it was so much a part of him, to give it up would have really been difficult. And the point is in the difficulty to turn our hearts to Jesus, to ask God to come into the empty space left by unfulfilled desire and fill us up, to seek to love and desire God as much as that thing we want that we can’t have.

I believe this season of reverence, spiritual discipline, and self-denial is essentially an invitation. When Jesus emptied Himself and came to us (Phillipians 2:5-8), ultimately giving His life for us on the cross, the Bible tells us that He endured it for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). His joy was to open up eternal and abundant life to us, to redeem our lives from the pit, to put His Holy Spirit within us so that we could taste and see the goodness of God. When He invites us to take up our crosses and follow Him, He is inviting us to a journey that will ultimately lead to our heart’s desire. The pain of self-denial is really just the path to our deepest joys fulfilled.

So join me this Lenten season in walking a path of Love. Listen for God’s word to your heart for the spiritual discipline that will lead you closer to Him. Perhaps it is the soft drink deletion that will make the difference for you. Maybe it is to fast from complaining. Maybe He simply wants you to stop putting yourself or others down, to replace negative words with positive ones. Maybe He wants you to read your Bible daily, or even read through the Gospels. Whatever it is, say yes. And let the Love of the Lord lead you to fall more deeply in love with Him.

This is me trusting,