Friday, December 14, 2012

Plea From the Heart

Dear Friends

     I write this with an aching heart. For many weeks a message has weighed heavily on my heart: In view of God’s great love, grace and mercy lavished upon us, we are compelled both by His love, and by Scripture, to conduct ourselves in love toward one another. In recent weeks I have begun to hear this same message going out from several other pulpits and platforms. It has grown more and more pressing in me as we approach a day set aside for celebrating God’s most profound act of love towards a humanity that had thoroughly offended against His holiness – His gift of love given simply for the sake of reconciling us to Himself.

  • This week three people died in a mall shooting in Portland.
  • This week a friend’s sister was starting a normal day at work, and in an unexpected moment, flat-lined for nine minutes before emergency personnel were miraculously able to bring her back. She now lies in a critical care unit of a hospital, having come close to slipping into eternity.
  • Today, twenty young children and six adults have been killed in a school shooting in Connecticut.
  • This week dozens of people lost friends and loved ones - never to get to say goodbye one last time; never to get to take back lacerating words spoken in anger; never to get to speak words of appreciation and love one more time.
     This mortal life is but a brief flicker on the screen of all eternity. Eternity is but a breath, a step away. Just one moment, and we find ourselves standing before the eternal God who lavished His love on us when we did not deserve it. I imagine myself standing before Him, trying to explain why it was so necessary and important to disregard His injunction to love one another, and instead hold on to offenses, judgments, criticism and hostility towards others. There would be no words! If I cannot justify this before Him then, I can most certainly not justify it – to Him, myself or anyone else – now! How dare we fly in the face of His love and Word, and offend Him so!
     Of all the prayers that Jesus could have prayed for us, His followers, right before His death, He presented this request before the Father: “I pray… that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in me and I am in You… that they may be one as We are one… May they be brought to complete unity…”
     The Apostle John, “Apostle of Love”, picks up this theme in 1 John, and writes these words in a letter in which he repeatedly appeals to us as “beloved children”:

If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin… Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him… How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! … We should love one another... Anyone who does not love remains in death… Let us not love one another with words or tongue but with actions and in truth… This is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another… Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him… since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…

     Throughout Scripture we are urged over and over to show the same love, grace and mercy toward one another, that God has showered on us. To disregard these words, is to respond to God’s love and sacrifice with our contempt – and to remove ourselves out from under His blessing.
     In fact, John tells us in this same book that holding on to hate towards one another is the same as murder! When we hate others, we are no better than the mall and school shooters! 
     Among many other passages, consider the following:

Do away with… the pointing finger and malicious talk (Isaiah 58:9).

See to it… that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Hebrews 12:15).

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit… Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you… live a life of love, just as Christ loved us... (Ephesians 4:29 – 5:2).

Rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience... forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3:8 – 14).

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).

How good and how pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity… for there the Lord commands His blessing (Ps. 133).

      Brothers and sisters in Christ; family of God; friends… I plead with you: We have only this one life through which to live out the love of Jesus. All too soon, it will be snatched away. Every word we speak to and about others; every action we take and decision we make, leaves a legacy in the lives of others – and a lasting deposit in eternity. Can we surrender our hearts and wills to the One who loves us perfectly and completely? Can we release His giving, forgiving love to spill from our lives into the lives of others? Can we commit ourselves to NOT leave a legacy of offense and bitterness in the world, but instead a legacy of love?
     This is the will of God and the prayer of Jesus concerning us!
“Precious Holy Spirit, help us to not grieve You with our attitudes, words and deeds! Transform our seared and calloused hearts into hearts tenderized by and filled with the love of Jesus. Give us generosity of spirit, and grace and mercy for people in our lives who are Your own treasured possession. Forgive us for desiring grace and mercy for ourselves, yet speaking and executing judgment on others. We surrender our wills, lay down our lives, and open our hearts to Your transformational power at work in and through us. Father, as we consider Your great gift of love to us in Jesus Christ this Christmas season, we ask that Your love will be birthed anew in our own lives, and released through us, into lives around us. For the sake and honor of Your all-surpassing Name, we submit ourselves to Your Word and Your Lordship.”


Friday, December 7, 2012

What A Gift!

     Love gives!
     For God so loved the world that He gave
     In his book “Love Does”, Bob Goff points out that love is not so much a feeling, as an energy that has to be discharged. God so loved you and I, in spite of our profound offense against His holiness,
     that He gave His one and only Son…
     The extravagant love energy of the Godhead was discharged in an unprecedented act of giving that transformed the course of all of human history, and will continue to ring throughout eternity for all eternity! God loves so deeply that He did not merely give humanity something out of heaven’s plentiful resources: He did not sprinkle a blessing or two, or dispatch an angel, or convey an encouraging message, or provide a quick answer to prayer.
     He gave Himself.
     Love is self-giving – the giving of self to another.
     The sacrifice of Jesus did not begin when He submitted Himself to the agony of the cross on our behalf. The sacrifice of Jesus began when He stepped down from heaven’s throne, shed His royal robes, set aside His kingly crown… And instead took on the form of a helpless baby, dependent on the very humanity He had Himself created!
     His sacrifice continued as He gave up the perfection of heaven to instead walk through all the mess of humanity - along with its wrongdoing and pain and treachery and fear and betrayal – and everything else that goes with a fallen world. Although it must have been a stench to His holiness, He walked right through the middle of it all, showing no distaste for the refuse He walked amongst, discharging His unflagging love energy through the giving of Himself tirelessly
          to those who were hurting
          to those in despair
          to those who were sin-sick
          to those trapped in bondage from which they could not free themselves
          to those who responded with disdain
          to those who rejected Him and the love He offered…
     He looked past all of this into the depth of the fractured human heart, and forgave…
     Love is not only giving… it is forgiving!
     As we celebrate the baby born as Emmanuel, “God with us”, we remember that through Him, God has made us the recipients of the gift of His lavish, undeserved, self-giving, forgiving, extravagant love, poured out into our impoverished hearts and lives.
     At this time of year, we may strain our brains and our bank accounts in an effort to come up with the “perfect gift” for others. Often we lose sight of the truth that we give these gifts in remembrance and celebration of the greatest gift ever given - by God Himself.
     But stay! Can we cease our frenetic activity for a moment, and consider the question: “what is that you have in your hand”? For as recipients of the overwhelming gift of God’s love deluging and delighting our lives, we have a gift of unprecedented value to give away: The same love, given to us by God, spilling from our lives…
          giving love
          self-giving love
          forgiving love 
… gifted into the lives of others who are
          in despair
          trapped in bondage from which they cannot free themselves…
and yes! Also the giving of self in love, into the lives of those who
          treat us with disdain
          reject and hurt us
          don't "deserve" it...
     Why? Because the cry of a Baby who humbled Himself for the sake of love, echoes in the cry of a Savior who sacrificed Himself and suffered for the sake of that same love. He it is who beckons you and I now, to follow by the way of His cross, allowing Love’s great cry of grace and mercy to echo through our lives.
     “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt.10:8).
     Now that’s a gift!
     Love gives. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Do You Get What's Coming to You?


For two solid months, from mid-September to mid-November, I woke up every single morning with the words of the same song playing over and over through my mind:
“Oh Father won’t You forgive them
They don’t know what they’ve been doing.”

     The Holy Spirit has not only been speaking to me, but faithfully reminding and encouraging me in this area, holding before me the example of Jesus as He hung dying on the cross. Here is the first verse and chorus of the song, titled “Losing” by Tenth Avenue North:
I can’t believe what she said
I can’t believe what he did
Oh, don’t they know it’s wrong?
Maybe there’s something I missed
But how could they treat me like this?
It’s wearing out my heart
The way they disregard

This is love, this is hate…
We all have a choice to make

Oh Father won’t You forgive them
They don’t know what they’ve been doing
Oh, Father, give me the grace to forgive them…

     “Give me the grace…” But what IS grace?
     Somehow we’ve acquired the idea that grace is some kind of intangible virtue expressed through personal poise and decorum. This is a misunderstanding of what “grace” means in the Bible!
     The “grace” of the New Testament is articulated by the Greek word charis, from which we derive our English word “charity”. It is best understood in an active sense: as being proactively charitable towards another. In terms of God’s grace towards us, it literally means “a proactive favor that we do not deserve, acting in and upon our lives”.
     Grace is not some kind of nebulous, esoteric abstraction that God gives us in some intangible way! God’s grace is an active force working to produce undeserved favor on, in and through our lives. It works in three ways:
1.      Psalm 103:10 tells us that God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. Scripture tells us that God views jealousy, bitterness, slander, and gossip (to name a few) as just as sinful as murder and immorality. We can never claim the moral high ground before Him! What we see as our own “righteousness” is little more than filthy rags to Him. The expression “filthy rags” refers to what in that culture was considered to be the most disgusting uncleanness. This means that every last one of us deserves nothing less than God’s punishment for wrongdoing that is disgusting to Him!
     Yet instead God’s proactive and forceful favor – favor we do not deserve – goes to work in both taking that punishment on Himself, and lavishing on us His favor, bestowing His own unblemished righteousness on us as a free gift.
     At the very point of this grace in action, as Jesus was pouring His life out for the sake of humanity, His gift of grace was met with contempt, disdain and mockery by His onlookers. Yet rather than retaliating in judgment, He spoke those timeless words of undeserved favor upon His tormentors: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
     Just when we most deserve His judgment for all our "uglies", God responds favorably towards us with His grace and forgiveness: the power of undeserved favor He pours out upon our lives!

2.      God’s grace additionally works in our lives, as an active force enabling and empowering us to go through trial, heartache, and opposition in strength and victory. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul tells the believers, “God is able to make all grace abound to you…” “Abound” means that this favor never runs out, but keeps being replenished, over and over. Three chapters later, in sharing a deep struggle of his own, Paul says that God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in (your) weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Here God’s grace works as an enabling power, giving us His strength to proactively engage our most difficult experiences in favorable ways!

3.      We are recipients of the lavish, undeserved favor of God! And yet… how do we respond when in turn somebody hurts or offends us, is hostile or malicious or mean-spirited or rude towards us, betrays or slanders us…? While we are only too grateful for the grace of God extended to ourselves, are we simultaneously guilty of wanting others to “pay” for their "uglies" – or at least acknowledge their wrong and “stand corrected”? 
     The grace God gives us is not only intended as a gift to be received. As recipients of the abundance of His grace poured out into our lives, we are simultaneously empowered to in turn give what we have received: Grace, spilling from our lives into the lives of others. Grace to those who don’t “deserve” it; grace as a force for good, given freely from our grace-filled hearts into our most difficult relationships and encounters. 
     Often the most “difficult” people are those whose hearts most cry out for grace. Why not give it away, since God has so generously given it to us when we did not deserve it? This is the grace of God working through us to others. We don't have to wait until we're "feeling it" before we respond this way: when we choose this by an act of our will, the enabling grace of God is activated to come alongside with His strength to release His grace through us.

     In just a few weeks we will be celebrating the birth of a baby born as the greatest gift of God’s grace to you and I: God Himself, who took on human flesh, just so that He could personally bear the punishment, in our place, that our sins deserve.
     As we consider what gifts to give one another in celebration of this event, can we open our hearts to give what He has so freely given us? Gifts of grace, poured into the lives of others who don't "deserve" it, in forgiveness and kindness, out of a generosity of spirit that reflects the character of the One who gave Himself for us. Jesus said, "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8).
     It is ourselves we rob, when we withhold this. We cannot have a closed heart towards others, while maintaining an open heart toward God. When we close our hearts to another, we close God out also, and rob ourselves of intimate fellowship with Him. When we do open our hearts to Him, we hear His voice clearly telling us to walk in the love, compassion, and forgiveness we ourselves have so generously received from Him. Additionally, to choose to be instruments of grace, is to choose personal growth and deepening maturity. Conversely, holding out stunts our personal growth, and keeps us trapped in immature patterns.
     This alternative is further sobering, as expressed in Matthew 18 and many other New Testament passages: To the extent that we withhold these things from others, God will withhold them from us; to the extent we criticize and judge others, God will judge us. But to the extent that we freely give to others, God will give to us, pressed down, shaken together and running over (Luke 6:38).
     I pray that as we remember God’s greatest gift of grace to humanity, the active grace of God will be poured out afresh in each of our lives in proactive power that will transform hearts, interactions, and relationships. And as His grace is poured out in abundance, may we each become powerful instruments of His grace into the lives of others who, just like us, are also treasured by God.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Shifting Seasons

  “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will restore us, that we may live in His presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth” (Hosea 6:2, 3).

     Recently a close friend and I set aside a few days for a time of personal retreat together. On one lovely autumn day, we set out on a walk with the express purpose of each finding ourselves a quiet spot in which to be still before the Lord, and hear what He had to say to us individually.
     I was particularly drawn to a sprawling tree, still heavy with golden leaves. Beneath it spread a carpet of the golden leaves that had already fallen. It had rained during the previous night and the ground was wet, but the day was dry and mild, so I spread my rain jacket at the foot of the tree, and sat with my back resting against the tree trunk. This reminded me of Jesus’ disciple Nathanael, of whom Jesus said, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you” (John 1:48). I prayed that Jesus would “see me” under my tree also, because I longed to hear His words to me personally!
     In the hour or so that followed, God spoke to me clearly in several different ways. One of those ways was to do with the golden leafy canopy over my head, and the golden carpet of leaves I sat on. I gradually became aware of the faint smell of plant decomposition. When I looked more closely, I saw that underneath the immediately visible golden layer, was a further layer of the leaves that had fallen earliest from the tree. These had already turned into brown fragments that would shortly become indistinguishable from the soil on which they lay.
     I am a summer, sunshine girl! The hotter the weather is, the better I like it! I love the vibrant color and light of the summer months, and often deplore the passing of that season. Cold weather is not my friend, and winter is my least favorite time of year! As much as I love the colors of autumn, I mourn the passing of the summer.
     Yet as I sat under my tree on this autumn morning, my eyes were opened to the God-given intention in what was happening around me: Leaves fall from a tree when the season is over. For a while, as they fade, they look beautiful, but ultimately their falling and decomposition seems like a kind of death. And yet there is great purpose in this. Those dead leaves are not wasted. Instead they are absorbed back into the soil in order to nourish it so that, replenished with nutrients, it is restored to ground fertile enough to support and nurture the new, vigorous growth and fruitfulness of the next spring and summer.
     I was overwhelmed with a sense of God urging me not to be sad for what seems like a death from a season that has passed – that nothing has been wasted, but instead the very thing that seems to have “died” will provide nutrients in the soil of my life to bring forth new, vigorous growth and even more fruit in the season to come.
     Winter is a time of rest in the natural world. Yet it is not a season of redundancy. Rather it is a necessary period during which plants and seeds are being prepared for the burgeoning life of spring. Without winter’s repose, spring’s vigor would not be possible.
      The same is true in our own lives: When a season in life or ministry has past, there may come a period during which it seems something has withered, and “nothing is happening”. We should accept this not as a time of redundancy, but rather as a period of rest and preparation for the abundant life God has purposed for us in the season to come. Instead of mourning, we should open ourselves to His work deep within us, in the secret places of our spirits, allowing the Holy Spirit to replenish, renew, reinvigorate, and prepare us for His new season of fruitfulness to come through our lives.
     If we embrace this process and surrender to the Lord in it rather than resist it, surely the time will come when we will again hear the voice of our Beloved calling, “Arise… and come with Me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land” (Song of Solomon 2:10-12). 
     He is Lord, sovereign over our moments and our days. Let us rest in and embrace His purposes for us in every shifting season of our lives.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Construction or Demolition?

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen (Eph. 4:29)

     This verse has been on my mind for many months. It appears in a passage that talks about how to “live a life of love” as “children of light”.
     The words we speak to and about others are a reflection of our living lives of love as God’s children of light… or not! If living as children of light results in life-giving words to and about others, then the reverse is also true: words to and about someone that tear them down, come from a place of darkness!
·         In the same way that unwholesome food breaks down the health of the body, “unwholesome talk” tears other people down:
Ø  These may be words we speak to someone else - words of criticism, judgment, complaint, accusation, rejection, attack…
Ø  Or they may be words we speak about someone else behind their back – criticizing them, complaining about them, slandering them, tearing down their reputation, casting suspicion about and aspersion on them to others, leaving others with a negative view of them…
     Such words may provide some temporary relief in getting things “off your chest”, but this “satisfaction” is short-lived, and we are left with even more yukky feelings inside ourselves. Unwittingly, we are encouraging “darkness” in our own hearts by doing this.
·         Like wholesome food that builds up the health of the body, talk that is “helpful for building others up according to their needs” entails words that benefit another:
Ø  Life-giving words of encouragement, affirmation, appreciation, kindness… spoken to another
Ø  Positive words spoken about another to others
            Note that these words do not come out of a self-focus and self-interest, but out of a heart that is concerned about the needs of others. When we do this, both the speaker and the listener are left feeling built up!

What should we do?
·         The Bible is full of “one another” passages, showing us how to love others out of the love that Jesus has poured into our own hearts. Living out of a heart of Christ-centered love, we work to build others up through the words that we speak.
·         If we are carrying an offense against someone, Scripture tells us to lovingly confront the other person directly, with the motivation of reconciliation and restoration. We are to talk to them about the issue, not talk about them negatively to others! Furthermore, our honest addressing of the issues involved should not leave the other person feeling lacerated by our words. Rather, our words should “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). This applies not only to what words we say, but how we say them.

What if I’ve been hurt by the words of another?
     You may have been on the receiving end of words that have torn you down – either hurtful words spoken to you that have left you wounded, or words spoken about you to others who now regard you in a negative light. How should you respond?
     First of all, know that God promises His protection and vindication of those who have been wrongfully maligned by the words of another:
     No weapon formed against you will prosper, and every tongue that rises up against you will be shown to be in the wrong. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from Me,” declares the Lord (Is. 54:17)
     … You keep them secretly in Your pavilion from the strife of tongues (Ps.31:20).
     Then, in spite of the hurt, you and I can still choose to “live as children of light” in the face of such experiences. In this very same passage in Ephesians, Paul goes on to say, “Be tenderhearted (kind) and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (v.32).
     The unkind words others speak very often come from the “darkness” that is inside themselves – they may be carrying their own woundedness, feelings of rejection, turmoil, insecurity, etc. However, rather than speculating about what lies in their hearts, we should simply keep our own hearts open, and ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with the love of Jesus for them, until we overflow with His tenderness and compassion. When this happens, forgiveness comes easily!
     Then, as opportunity allows, we may in turn speak words that are “helpful for building them  up according to their needs”, setting aside our own needs in the situation in spite of our hurt. In this way as “children of light” we spread light and life and love into someone else’s “darkness”. In this way we live out the life and love of Jesus, rather than pursuing an “agenda” of our own.
     Instead of retaliating, we respond, with the help of the Holy Spirit, out of a heart captivated by, and filled with the love of the One who hung falsely accused, insulted, rejected, mocked and in agony on a cross and said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
     Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Whatever happens to be filling our hearts, is what is going to spill out of our mouths and lives! Poisonous words are an overflow of what lies in the heart. If we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to fill us with the extravagant love of Jesus, this love is what will spill out of our mouths and lives into the hearts and lives of others.
     It is easy to give extravagantly when we are rich! God offers us the opportunity to be “rich in love” so that we are in turn able to give love away extravagantly, knowing that there is always more available to us at the Source!
     Today, no matter how others treat us, let us speak life-giving words that build others up according to their needs, out of hearts captivated by God’s extravagant love. We will find our own hearts lighter and filled with joy when we do this!
     Let us “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24) and be builders up, not demolishers, of the people in our lives who are so precious to God.

Saturday, October 20, 2012



 Have you looked in the mirror today? What do you see reflected there? Perhaps you see dark circles under your eyes, reflecting too many hours of work, or lack of sleep, or even sorrow or worry or stress... Or perhaps you see a glow of health, reflecting wholesome eating habits, regular exercise, good sleep, satisfying relationships and fulfilling work!
     What we see of our faces in the mirror often reflects whatever dominates our lives – whether that be chronic worry and stress, or personal fulfillment and enjoyment of life.
     Hebrews 1:3 says of Jesus that He is the radiance of the Father’s glory, and the exact representation of His being.
     Have you ever wondered what God is like? Look at Jesus! Look at His life, His character; hear His words; witness His heart of love expressed through the way He engaged with people; see His power manifest in all He said and did. Jesus is the exact expression of the glory, majesty, love and radiance of God Himself.
     In fact, Jesus said of Himself, “Anyone who has seen Me, has seen the Father” (John 14: 9). His name is Immanuel which means God with us!
     The Bible exhorts us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (Heb. 12:2). Not only does He perfect our faith, but when we make Him who is “the radiance of the Father’s glory” the focus of our attention, something amazing begins to happen in us. This is described in 2 Corinthians 3:18: And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
     Our thoughts, our emotions, our relationships, our lives reflect whatever dominates our attention. And when Jesus is the One who has captured our hearts, and is the One who holds our gaze, our lives begin to reflect Him and His radiance!
     The Victorian Scottish writer, Thomas Carlyle, once said that people become like the gods they serve. Whatever or whoever predominates in our lives and dominates our attention and consumes our thoughts and captures our emotions, is what or who is going to be reflected in and through our lives. In our words and conduct, we begin to mirror that person or thing. In making Jesus the One upon whom our attention, thoughts and desires are centered, we have the opportunity to reflect Him who is the radiance of the Father’s glory.
     What does “unveiled faces” mean? It simply means that we open our hearts completely to allow Jesus to reveal Himself to us, and pour His love into the depths of our beings - not "veiling" our innermost selves in a way that denies Him access. And then, with open hearts, we turn and engage with others around us, allowing the glory of who He is and His love, to spill from our lives.
     We are a people marked by love: The consuming, extravagant love of God lavishly poured out. His love has an amazing effect on our hearts – it causes them to both fill and expand. The more we look to Jesus, the more He fills our hearts; the more He fills them, the more He increases their capacity to both contain and give more and more of His love to others.
     What may be some of the reasons we keep our faces, or our hearts “veiled” – closing them off to God’s love; sealing them away from others? There may be a variety of reasons why we are tempted to shut down in this way: pain, disappointment, fear, shame…
     For some reason we think that we need to get our hearts and lives “fixed” before we can open them completely to the Lord. But the Word of God encourages us to come just as we are – to bring our hearts to Him no matter what condition they are in… and just open them to all that He is. "God is bigger than our hearts" (Pastor Dan Hammer).    
     Psalm 34:5 tells us: Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
     Recently I had a conversation with someone who I know has been through tremendous difficulty for many years. I had not seen her in a while, and when I asked how she was doing, with tears in her eyes, she said, "I feel so incredibly blessed. I have been overwhelmed by the love of God, and I have realized it's not about how much I love Him - it's all about how much He loves me! And realizing this has enabled me to let go and stop trying to be in control, because I can rest in the knowledge that in His great love for me, He will cause all things to work for my good."
     In spite of the problems, she was radiant with the love of the Lord, and no longer the downcast person I met a couple of years ago!
     Can you allow your heart too, to gaze upon His radiance? Let the barriers down, and open your heart to receive the love He yearns to pour out into you. The result will be a heart and life transformed by the experience! A heart that continues to hunger for more and more of this One who is the radiance of the Father’s glory. And before you know it, your life too, will begin to reflect His radiance for others to see. You might remain oblivious to your own radiance, because your attention is not on yourself, but on the Lover of your soul. But others will see it… and begin to want what you have… and it will draw them to seek the same transformational Love…
     Who or what have you been “looking to”? A person? A relationship? An ambition? A career or a job? A strategy for success? A methodology to fix your life and circumstances? A desire that consumes you?
     For a while each of these things may seem to hold the answers we have been seeking. But sooner or later we end up striving to address what still leaves us dissatisfied in our obsessive pursuit, trying harder and harder to gain the satisfaction we so desperately seek - yet ultimately ending up hollowed out and empty handed.
     Until a still, small, compelling voice begins to call, “Seek Me”.
     What if…? What if we began to pursue Him with the same intensity that we so often employ in chasing after other people, relationships, activities, strategies, methodologies… He longs to reveal Himself to us. He longs to pour out His extravagant love into our lives. He longs for us to encounter the radiance of His glory. If we would only focus our attention on Him and allow our gaze to be filled and consumed by all that He is…
     We will become a people marked not only by His love, but stamped with His radiance. And everything else in our lives will come into alignment with the glory, majesty and infinitely good purposes of a God whose extravagant love for us draws us ever deeper into Him.
      Would you open your heart and allow Him to fill it with Himself today? He has been waiting for you to come…

Monday, October 1, 2012


 Break my heart with what breaks Yours:
Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause…

     These words have been my personal prayer for many years. It is what I call a “dangerous prayer”!
     Why dangerous?  Because when God looks upon an open heart tender towards Him and hears these words, there is no telling how He may answer such a prayer. In that sacred moment when we pray it, our hearts may hold the glow of some vision of God’s calling and purpose through our lives – but it is a vision at best hazy and rose-hued until we begin to walk in the reality of God’s response to our prayer.
     For God does not only begin to pierce our hearts with His love for broken lives around us: He also begins to allow our own hearts to experience their own brokenness, in order to mold them into the shape of His vision for us.
     What does this “breaking” entail?
     It may come through many kinds of life experiences. It may even entail being vilified for the very love that we pour out:
     I am reminded of two different instances of women who each broke an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, one pouring it out over Jesus’ head, the other anointing His feet with her offering:
·         In each case the woman concerned poured out the very best she had, out of extravagant love for Jesus.
·         In each story the offering the woman brought involved personal sacrifice.
·         In each instance the woman and her offering were criticized: one by Judas Iscariot; the other by Simon the Pharisee.
·         In each case the critics were contemptuous of the love poured out by these women.
·         Both women’s hearts had been pierced at some point by the love of Jesus, and Jesus was at the center of their attention

     Jesus’ answer to Simon the Pharisee is significant: He pretty much told Simon that he was unable to comprehend love poured out because Simon himself “loved little”. Simon was unable to recognize his own great need for forgiveness, and could therefore only find criticism in his heart for others' expressions of love. He considered himself beyond reproach, and found fault with everyone else - including Jesus. He had not been forgiven much, and therefore was unable to love much either.
     Judas Iscariot, on the other hand, was completely self-absorbed. Jesus was not the center and object of his devotion. He was only interested in what would be of benefit to himself. Being self-focused, he too, could not understand what it is to "love much".
     Has there been a time when you have poured out from the depths of your being the most precious of all you have to offer, from a heart pierced by the extravagant love of Jesus? And in doing so, has your offering been despised and diminished and misunderstood and dismissed?  This can leave us feeling as if all we have given has been worthless and fruitless. The result is a broken heart – and a baptism of pain.
     How we respond to this brokenness, is crucial. On our response hang our destiny and calling. We could become defensive, angry, resentful and bitter, and seal off our seared hearts in self-protection. We will then face a long, hard journey of unresolved pain and thwarted purpose and lost opportunity.
     Or… we could embrace the brokenness, choosing to surrender our aching hearts over and over at the foot of the cross. God is then able to use our lives to become a fragrant offering for the sake His kingdom and precious lives for whom Jesus gave His.
     When we do this, we relinquish the need to have our love gift acknowledged and valued by anyone other than Jesus. Just as in the stories of the women who poured out their costly perfume, we can rest in the assurance that Jesus sees, understands and values our offering of love. The opinions of our critics lose their power. And in that place of rest in Him, we can accept that we may never know until eternity, what fruit our offering bore.
     Very recently, a reading from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest resonated in my own heart. To quote: “… He gives us a tremendous, riveting pain to fasten our attention on something that we never dreamed could be His call on us… This call… has to do with being made broken bread and poured-out wine. Yet God can never make us into wine if we object to the fingers He chooses to use to crush us… If we are ever going to be made into wine, we will have to be crushed – you cannot drink grapes. Grapes become wine only when they have been squeezed… To be a holy person means that the elements of our natural life experience the very presence of God as they are providentially broken in His service” (September 30).
     Whose fingers has God allowed to crush you? They may even have been the fingers of someone whom you trusted with your heart. No matter who or what has been instrumental in squeezing you, allow God to use the experience to produce life-giving wine out of your life. Allow the Holy Spirit to teach you in ever deeper ways, what it is to love selflessly, out of a Christ-centered, cross-embraced life.
     In 2 Timothy 4:6 Paul writes, For I am already being poured out like a drink offering…
     Through the heartache and the tears, my own prayer is, “Yes Lord – for the sake of precious lives for whom you gave Your own, pour me out also like a drink offering - spilled from a heart pierced by Your love.”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lord Who?

 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” Luke 10:27

“… there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” 1 Cor. 8:6.

     The marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton; Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee; the 2012 Olympic games in London... These extravaganzas, along with the TV series "Downton Abbey", have reawakened the world's fascination with the British peerage, as through our television screens we are "introduced" to Lord This and Lady That.
     The simple dictionary definition of “lord” is “a master, a ruler” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary).
     Whether or not we live in a country with a royal family and nobility, each of our lives is governed by one ruler or another. Who or what is your master or ruler? As Christians, many of us would say, “Well of course, Jesus is my Lord!”
     But is He really? Let’s examine that statement in light of the following criteria:
     If God is truly Lord of your life, then your
would be governed by and directed towards the expression and accomplishment of His purposes in and through your
No matter what the circumstances look like; no matter what desires stir in your heart, your single-minded focus would be living a life out of the core surrender of your will and desires to His will, His way, His timing, His purpose.
     On the other hand, if in practice something or someone else is lord in your life, then your
would be directed towards trying to get both God and others to serve the purpose of that person, relationship, aspiration, possession, activity or ideal that holds preeminence in your life. Instead of trusting God with this area of your greatest priority, your
attention and energies will be consumed with trying to get God and others to help accomplish what you want in this area of your most intense focus.
     The destructive effects of this state of affairs are widespread:
·         You devalue your relationship with God, “using” Him to serve your own lesser "lord".
·         You devalue your relationships with others, “using” them similarly, reducing their intrinsic worth in your life to the extent to which they help you serve this priority also.
·         You expend your own energies towards who or what is “lord” in your life to an extent that begins to destroy you from the inside out.
·         You sacrifice your God-given identity and destiny on the altar of your “lord”.
·         You sacrifice the fullness of God’s glorious purposes in and through your life, on this same altar.
     Can you just let go? Can you release the person, relationship, aspiration, possession, activity or ideal you hold so tightly in your cramped fist, and relinquish yourself as well as him, her or it to the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Can you trust that God in His consuming love, wisdom and faithfulness is at all times working for your highest and best good – so that the abundance of His life will cause you to flourish?
     Or are you determined to maintain your grip on your lesser “lord”, continuing to exist in a sad wilderness of wilted potential while you strive for what can never truly satisfy your deepest longings?
     To choose the Lordship of Jesus Christ in your life is to choose life. To choose the Lordship of Jesus Christ is to choose to trust Him to cause you to flourish. To choose the Lordship of Jesus Christ is to choose to live your life out of a place of freedom, authority, healing and redemption.

“… choose this day whom you will serve…” Joshua 24:15

“… Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” Deut. 30:19