Coming After Me

Sheep & baby

This post was first shared at inspireafire.com. Enjoy!

Anyone living in my region has probably noticed the freak snowstorms we’ve had three of the last four Wednesdays. I’m pretty sure it’s my fault.

Let me explain.

Winter

The other day I was listening to a video where Cory Asbury talks about his song Reckless Love. And no, watching the video wasn’t directly causal to why we’ve had a flurry of snow squalls, but stick with me. Cory talked about Luke 15, where Jesus tells the parable of the good shepherd going after the one lost sheep. “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home” (Luke 15:5).

Can you picture that sheep? Scattered, lost, possibly bruised and banged up. Most definitely frightened. Being swooped up by strong arms, and carried, safely, atop the shepherd’s shoulders.

I’ve seen lambs carried this way. They may let out a “baaa” at the sudden perspective change, but most of them look downright happy on their new perch, surveying the world from a whole new vantage.

I can tell you that I do not feel like that found sheep.

I feel more like I am being dragged kicking and screaming through the valley of the shadow of death. There are burrs in my wool, thorns in my path, and rocks bruising my feet. My bleating is closer to a death wail than the triumphant “baaa” of return.

Perhaps this is a sign that I am still running.

God warned the Israelites when he brought them into the promised land that if they turned away from the one true God they would be handed over to their enemies. An iron yoke would be placed around their neck (Deuteronomy 28:48). Destruction, confusion, anxiety, and despair would ensue. And that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Contrast this with the yoke Jesus offers in Matthew 11: A yoke that is easy and provides rest for our souls. A leader who is gentle and humble in heart.

All we need to do is come to Him.

I don’t know why I seemingly choose the iron yoke time after time. Why don’t I let my Shepherd pick me up and place me on His shoulders? Why do I run bleating through the wilderness away from the One who can calm my fears and set me on the right path?

I don’t know why; but I know I do. And I am coming to know, deeper and deeper, just what it means for the Good Shepherd to keep pursuing me no matter how far or how hard I keep running.

God knew, for example, that there was a certain Bible Study I needed to attend. I wanted to attend, but another class conflict was going to allow me to attend just the first couple weeks.

Until it snowed. And my class got cancelled and Bible study did not.

And then it snowed again. And my class got cancelled and Bible study did not.

And then it snowed again. And my class got cancelled and Bible study did not.

And that was the week I needed to be there. That was the week I had people speak words into my life that I needed to hear. That was the week I had people pray with me specific prayers I needed to pray. That was the week I took one more step toward not running.

And one more step, I am coming to realize, is a big deal. Because Jesus may be gentle, but He is also relentless. He will orchestrate weather – as many times as needed – to allow for that one more step. He will inconvenience others – as many times as needed – to allow for that one more step.

He will come after me. He will come after you. And I may never look at an inconvenience the same way again.

I may be disappointed by a cancellation or a freak storm, but here is a new window into that same story: it could be that because of that very moment, someone’s soul is being saved. Jesus is lifting a lamb to His shoulders. Or at the very least, the lamb has paused, looked back, and is considering this gentle, relentless shepherd that is coming after.

Mercy. A Story of Unrequited Love

This post was first shared at http://www.inspireafire.com, and I wanted to also share with you!

I’m conducting a little Bible study. You’re welcome to come along if you’d like.

Love Never Fails sign

It starts with the second greatest commandment – to love our neighbor. In Luke 10, the expert in the law wanted to know how to define neighbor, but I’m more interested in the other key word in this commandment: love.

Fortunately, in the exchange that follows, we get the answer to this question, too.

After telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asks the expert in the law which of the men in the story was a neighbor. The reply: The one who had mercy on him.

And there we find the answer to not just the who, but also the how. To love others is to show them mercy.

“Go and learn what this means,” Jesus told the Pharisees. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13)

If Jesus told them to go learn what this means, then I think I better go learn it too. Here is just a tiny scraping of what I have learned so far.

The Greek word used here for mercy is eleos, and has a meaning of active compassion, of helping another. Mercy is not just something you have or something you feel; mercy is something you give.

Our modern word mercy comes from a Latin word that refers to the price paid for something. In other words, to show mercy to someone is to pay the price for them.

When someone is hungry, you may show them mercy by paying for their meal. When someone needs help, you may pay the price of your time to help them out.

Those are the easy ones.

Then there are the times when someone hurts you. Or when you feel like someone is taking advantage of you. Or when you’re already paying the price for someone else’s actions through no choice or fault of your own.

Then you pay the price of forgiveness.

And this, not of your own doing, lest any man should boast.

There are some things that are impossible to do on our own. Perfectly loving others, and sometimes even imperfectly loving others, is one of those things. Oh, it’s easy when you’re in a loving relationship to jump at every opportunity to demonstrate your love through concrete acts of mercy. It’s easy when there is a basic reciprocity so that everyone’s needs are being met. But here’s the thing. If everyone’s needs are being met through simple acts of human effort, then there is no space, nor even need, for God.

The harder kind of mercy is when no matter how much you give, it feels like it’s dropping into a dark abyss and there is nothing positive coming back out. This kind of mercy can only be given by God. And when you stop drawing on the relationship itself, when you stop drawing on any kind of reciprocal payment, then you cry out for God Himself to supply the mercy. When you have nothing of your own left to give, then you start giving from whatever God provides.

Three strands and cross

And God always provides.

“Go and learn what this means,” Jesus said. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” And if we turn to Hosea 6:6, which is the verse that Jesus was quoting, we see something remarkable. There is an “and” at the end of this quote. There is more to this sentence. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”

How do we love even when it hurts? By acknowledging God. By drawing first on his mercy and on his perfect love with which he loves us, so that we may only then turn and love others.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

The Law is Gentle

 

No Parking Signs

I first posted this thought at http://www.inspireafire.com/the-law-is-gentle/

Martin Luther famously said that God’s Law serves three purposes. First, it acts as a curb to prevent violent outbursts of sin. Think of a curb along a road, or a curb bit in a horse’s mouth. The law is like that barrier saying “you can come this far… and no farther.”

Danger SignSecond, the law acts as a mirror. When we compare ourselves to the perfection demanded by God’s law – perfection not just in outward action but in thought and desire, too – then we begin to see ourselves in a new and unflattering light. Like a little league star tested against the professionals, we suddenly realize we might not be such hot stuff after all.

Finally, the law acts as a guide. Although we can never attain perfection on our own, we know from the Law what it looks like. We know what to aspire to. We know what to ask God to help us achieve.

And God does help us.

So often when we think of the Law we think of the rules and regulations. We may think of these curbs, mirrors, and guides. We may think of how far we fall short. But today, I’m also thinking of Jesus, weeping over Jerusalem with the words “How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” (Matthew 23:37).

All of the law’s harshness can be summarized in one gentle command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

Like chicks under a protective wing, we are called to press against Jesus. Do not beat against the curb, distress over the mirror, or try in vain to follow the guide. There is another way.

Bible in MirrorLove God.

That’s it. Love God.

Pursue Him. Run after Him. Seek Him. Love Him.

It sounds so simple, but there’s a catch. We have to want it. We have to want God more than anything else. More than any other relationship, more than any other passion, more than any other pursuit.

It is a gentle command. Which means it can be so easy to ignore. God will pursue us, but He will not force us to obey. We can choose to love so many other things. And I have found through my own wandering ways that when other loves begin to supersede the First Love, life begins to unravel in devastating ways.

The greatest command, Jesus said, is to love God. That one comes first.

Not second. Not somewhere down the line.

First.

Love Never Fails signAre you struggling? With loving others or loving yourself? With sin you can’t shake? With broken relationships, broken dreams, broken hope?

Refocus. On. God.

Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these other things will be given to you. “You shall seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” saith the Lord (Jeremiah 29:13).

It is not a harsh command, but it is the most important one.

Love God.

Love Springs

Toy groundhog in plants

I posted this earlier this week at www.inspireafire.com/love-springs. Enjoy this re-post, and Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

I heard that Punxsutawney Phil is predicting an early spring this year. Legend has it that this Pennsylvanian groundhog can predict the approach of spring when he sticks his head out of his den on February 2nd. If he sees a shadow, he flees back down into his hole to slumber for another 6 weeks. This year, no shadow means spring is on its way.

clouds parting

Regardless of how much trust you have in this furry, four-legged prediction, the real question we should be asking is: What season follows spring?

I often picture spring as a gradual transition from winter into summer. The days get longer and warmer; little buds appear and then begin to pop. Color flows seamlessly from winter greys to joyful hues.

But that’s not how it happens.

More often than not, spring approaches like last year’s rusty tractor. It roars to life only to sputter and fade. It coughs and wheezes and jerks into motion only to stall half-way across the yard. It promises summer only to retreat back into winter.  You may need three different weight coats just to make it through one day, and the next day you may need to wear the same three coats in reverse.

Welcome to spring.

Winter

Ah, spring! Not only is it the precursor to summer, it is also the season of love. I think of that when I see my daffodils shoot out of the ground one day only to be blanketed with snow the next. Or weeks later when  they raise their yellow blooms toward glorious sunshine only to be whacked across the face with a deluge of ice pellets. Anyone who thinks that spring is gentle has never really paid attention.  And anyone who thinks that love is gentle has never really been in love.

What season are you walking through in your relationships right now? Equally important, what season is coming next?

Perhaps you’re in the thrall of romance. Absorb it like rays of sunshine, and let it grow deep roots to sustain you.

Perhaps you’re in a season of dark desperation, not sure how much more battering you can take. Hold onto the truth that the Son will never leave you. Seek Him harder than you have ever sought Him before.

Or perhaps you’re in a season of turmoil as chaotic as spring itself – blown about by life’s demands and twirling in confusion. Identify just one small thing that you can put in order, and start there. Sometimes changes to the smallest tributaries can divert the most raging torrent.

Desert flower

Love is not always easy, but we know that love is always worth it, because God Himself is love. No matter what season of love you’re in, pursue God with open arms. Through rain and snow and sleet and sunshine, seek God. He can bring order. He can bring healing. He can bring joy. One day, you will find that your arms are no longer empty. You are holding onto Love.

Because here’s something else about spring: it never gives up. No matter how many times winter throws another punch, spring always gets back up. In the end, spring always wins.

And so does love. Even when it hurts.

Lessons from the ‘Hood

Sheep & baby

This post originally appeared at www.inspireafire.com/lessons-from-the-hood.

I wanted to hear from those who have been there. Not just read about, visited, or studied it, but those who have lived it.

So I pulled up the contact list on my phone, fingers flying over the keys. Yes, I’ve got some friends in the ‘hood. Motherhood, that is.

I sent an impromptu poll: What’s one thing you’ve learned from motherhood – first thing that comes to mind?

Geese and baby

Lessons from Motherhood for all of us.

Within moments a flood of text messages came back. And one of the most remarkable things is how many of the responses are relevant not just to motherhood, but to all of us.

We may not all be mothers, but all of us – young or old, male or female, married or single – can learn important lessons from those who are. I am reminded of the time Jesus’ mother came to visit him and he said to those around him, “Who is my mother? Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

There is no doubt that mothers have a special calling, and the experiences they’ve had hold lessons for all of us. Here is some insight from those on the front lines:

  • Everyone wants to be heard, no matter how small they are. Take the time to listen.
  • There is more than one right answer.
  • Patience!
  • If you knew everything that motherhood entailed, you would never willingly choose it. Once you have it, you can never imagine life without it. A nice conundrum!
  • Make sure that the first face you give your child in the morning is a positive face so they know they are loved and safe.
  • Nothing is impossible.
  • Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Love-never-failsReflecting on these thoughts in light of the scriptures I couldn’t help but see similarities. We know from God’s word how Jesus encouraged the little children to come to him, and how he listened, cared for, and encouraged “the least of these.” He mystified the scribes and Pharisees and enthralled the crowds with his teachings and wisdom. He taught that with God, all things are possible.

Love, we learn, is patient and kind. Love trusts, protects, hopes and perseveres. Love willingly lays down one’s life for another and counterintuitively finds joy in some of the hardest places. And love beckons us, not to wait, but to act now. “Encourage one another daily,” we are told. “As long as it is called today.”

Whether you’re part of the ‘hood or outside it, you too can put these lessons into practice. Within our own special calling, we should all go and do likewise.

Have more lessons from the ‘hood? Add them in the comments below!