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,


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