Love Quest – Walk This Way

The truth of God’s love is irrefutable. Yet, why do you and I still spend so many minutes, hours, and days settling into lovelessness? Souls aching to be enveloped in strong, warm, tender embraces; not just hearing, but to knowing, in the innermost places, ‘I’ve got you and I won’t let go’ – from God.

Instead, we feel naked and lonely, tired shoulders pressed into the biting wind and asking, ‘Where is the love?’

We know the truth – that God has always loved His creation; He walked with it in perfect relationship before the fall and He consistently cared for it after.

That Jesus, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells, is love personified and exemplified, and ‘God so loved the world’ and ‘God loved us and sent His son.’

This is all utterly true.

But, do the unloved feelings still linger?

May I share another truth that God has been weaving into the fabric of my understanding of His love?

The truth is we’ve been loved by God before we could even say ‘I love You’ back to Him. The truth is these unloved feelings are not a reflection of God’s attitude toward us (though I have a tendency to send the blame that direction), instead they are a reflection of my attitude toward Him. They are a reflection of my direction – the way I am walking.

You and I have a role to play in our experience of God’s love.

It’s called abiding.

One definition of abide is to continue in a particular condition, attitude, or relationship.

Jesus says it another way: “Just as my Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” John 15:9-10 NASB

So how do we abide in His love?

By continuing to walk in His ways instead of our own.

The same way Jesus abides in the Father’s love: obedience.

One key component of experiencing God’s love and abundant life here and now, is the way we chose to walk. The whole of Scripture is an invitation from God to His creation to walk His way and enjoy His love.

“but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.” I John 2:5-6

This isn’t an issue of our obedience earning His love. His love for us is unwavering. This is an issue of how we experience God’s love.

Let me give you an example:

I love my children. I love them no matter what – whether they are charming and kind or defiant and rude. My love for them will never change. But the way they experience my love is partially up to them. My husband and I provide a safe warm home and food for them to eat. If one of my children were to run away because they didn’t want to obey the rules of our house, they would no longer experience that care and love, but it would still be there.

Do you see it?

His love is always there, but sometimes we refuse it. And yet His love remains.

We have the choice to rest in the loving arms of Christ and to walk His way or to bear the cold loneliness of our prideful self-will on a path of our own choosing.

Here are some of the ways God has been reminding me to walk lately:

  1. Humbly Cast Your Cares on Him (1 Peter 5:6&7). I like to figure things out on my own instead of humbly admitting my need and asking for help. Maybe you’re struggling under a burden right now. Whether it was brought on by your own wayward choices or not, have you stopped tapping into your own flawed and frail logic long enough to humbly admit you don’t have the answers and you can’t solve it on your own? We don’t even give Him or His love a chance when we greedily cling to our problems – even the small ones.
  2. Give Thanks (Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:18; Ps. 30:40; and many more). There is an element of humility involved in giving thanks. When we give thanks, we acknowledge that we have received something, not earned it. Giving thanks forces me to recognize to Whom praise is due – and it’s not me. Maybe you feel like you have earned a lot on your own, but who is it that makes us prosper? Every good and perfect gift is from above – we have nothing to boast about. If pride keeps us from giving thanks, it’s no wonder that it keeps us from abiding in God’s love.
  3. Stop Worrying (Phil. 4:6-9). Does it seem impossible? Maybe it is, at least of our own strength. But that’s why the cure is communication with God and includes #1 and #2 above. (I’ve done some study and teaching on this topic. You can read more here).

These are just some of the ways God is helping me to course correct – to walk more closely in step with Him. So many more come to mind – Romans 12:1; 1 John 1:9; 1 Peter 3:15; Matthew 11:29; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Peter 1:15-16; 1 Peter 2:19; Ephesians 4:1-6; well, pretty much the whole book of Ephesians…..for that matter, the whole Bible!

I want to abide in His love, experience it. My guess is you do too.

Let’s walk His way together.

This verse is my prayer for you and for me:

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God [!!!!!!!!!!].” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Fear – Be My Guide

“Fear is a deceitful aid. It can embitter one’s pleasure, make life laborious and miserable, make one old and decrepit; but it cannot help one to the Good since fear itself has a false conception of the Good – and the Good does not allow itself to be deceived.”

Soren Kierkegaard

Maybe I’ve got fear all wrong. Maybe instead of protecting it’s been oppressing.

If you haven’t read it yet, read my blog post Confronting Worry: My Story (Part 1). It’s about my new found fear of flying – especially over the ocean.

After my terrifying flight across the Pacific, I was elated to be grounded and I never wanted to lift my little toe off of planet earth again. So, when my husband asked if I would consider going, once again, on the same mission trip to Japan, I’ll admit, I seized up with panic. The ‘holy’ response would have been, “Yes! That will be great! I love to serve God and I love ministering with my husband.” But, my actual inner response was, “AHHHHH! I don’t know if I can possibly fly over the ocean again! If I do, is there something I can take to knock me out for the entirety of the flight?”

I simply told my husband I’d think about it, pray about (because that’s the pious thing to do, right?), and get back to him.

But I knew, in that goading of the Holy Spirit kind of way, I just knew that I must go on this trip. Because my sole reason for saying no was fear.

What am I to do with this fear?

Should fear be a more trusted guide than the Holy Spirit?

What if, when fear screams ‘no,’ it’s a signal to boldly answer, ‘yes’?

What if the frightening, completely out-of-my-control path, is exactly the one God wants me to take?

What if fear was always meant to make us run, but we’re just running in the wrong direction?

What if, as Kierkegaard says, fear will never help us on our path to the Good – to God?

What if giving in to fear is giving up my privileges as a child of God?

What if I’ve been letting fear beat me up when I should be letting God lift me up?

George MacDonald says:

“… that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.”

Fear makes us all slaves.

As I contemplate this, I hear that whisper of a question that Jesus asked Peter 2000 years ago. The question Jesus asked Peter after he had fled the scene of Christ’s crucifixion. The question which reveals our true motivations. Do you love Me?

Like Peter, I’ve often feared the opinion of others and feared for my life.

Jesus, through His questioning of Peter, offered the only antidote for fear – love. Specifically, the love of God. (Were you starting to wonder what all this fear talk had to do with love? ;))

I’m beginning to recognize in myself that fear for my life is anti love for God. The two can never coexist. The only fear compatible with love is the fear of God Himself.

“Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.” (Psalm 86:11)

Fear of anything besides the Lord reveals double-mindedness in our souls, and that, as James tells us (1:6-8), leads to an unstable life; tossed around an off kilter by all the loves, fears, desires, and temptations the world has to offer. Unity and stability are only found in fear-mingled-love of God.

So, because I want to serve God and not fear, in two weeks I will walk down that cold plastic tube into an awaiting airliner and soar over the ocean with faith. Not faith in the pilot or aircraft, but faith in the Sovereign over all. The One who holds the keys to life and death. The only One worth loving. The only One deserving of my audacious defiance of fear.

  

Don’t get me wrong, I still want to tremble when I think of what’s coming. And fear has influenced my decision – but in the opposite way it usually does. My fear for self propels me into obedience of my Savior. So in an inside-out way, fear is my guide.

“The issue is not the absence of fear, but whether or not we are building the way we live on a memorial to fear, or a memorial to trust.”

Margaret Manning Schull

 

I choose to build my life as a memorial to the only stable, sovereign and faithful One. I choose a legacy of faith in the Lord rather than a legacy of fear.

Overcomer

I bought a new pair of running shoes today. Out with Nike and in with Brooks. Though I must say, it saddens me a bit. I’m not a brand-loyalist, but as some of you may know, the word ‘nike’ is a Greek word that means victory. And, as a Christian, I just love the idea of running in ‘victory.’ 🙂

Another way the word ‘nike’ gets translated in the Bible is ‘overcome.’ Just the thought of that word makes me kind of giddy inside. Because, guess what? That word defines me, and you too, if you’ve trusted in Jesus.

We are overcomers!

Let me show you:

You are of God… and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:4-5

We are overcomers because of our unity with Christ who has already done the overcoming!

I have overcome the world. John 16:33b

What is in the world that we need to overcome? Sin, darkness, death. Worry, anxiety, fear.

It’s hard to wrap my mind around the idea that even though I am still living in the midst of a fallen world, I am an overcomer. Present tense. Not in the process of overcoming. Not striving to overcome. Not hoping to overcome. An already-won-the-victory overcomer. And I didn’t have to do anything to win the victory!

It was already won the moment Jesus rose victoriously from the grave. And because He is in me, so is His victory.

Even spending just a few moments contemplating the implications of this truth leaves me overwhelmed with privilege, awe, humility, courage, thankfulness, and praise!

By this point, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with worry. Let me explain.

The first part of John 16:33, which I shared above, says this:

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

And there we have the key to overcoming worry: peace.

And not just any peace, the Peace of God.

As believers, we have the unique position of being an overcomer as well as dwelling in a peace that only God can offer. His true peace is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Jesus came to bring this peace to the world (John 14:27).

But how can we grab a hold of that lifeline of peace when we are sinking in worry and anxiety?

The apostle Paul, who at the time of writing his letter to the Philippians was imprisoned and awaiting his death, had this to say to his readers:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (4:6-7)
So much has already been written, taught, and preached about these verses, but I want to hone in on one main point. Worry attacks the mind, but God’s peace acts as our mind’s bodyguard against anxiety.

Maybe you’re like me, and sometimes your bodyguard has dozed off or become more of a couch potato than a protector. That’s why Paul goes on to share in verse eight how we can get that bodyguard in a state of active anticipation so that we might enjoy God’s peace.

Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.

That’s our mental training program. And that’s what strengthens our bodyguard and allows us to experience peace.

Isaiah 26:3 says it in a different way:

You will keep him in perfect peace,

Whose mind is stayed on You,

Because he trusts in You.

Is there really any more I can add?

I will still be running whether I wear Nike’s or not.

But I get to run my spiritual race in ‘nike’ every day. Because I’m an overcomer, and you are too.

Let’s get comfortable in those spiritual nike’s, and start training our minds to think Philippians 4:8 thoughts. Then the peace of God will swiftly chase away our worries!

Confronting Worry Part Five: Assurance

I was only about six or seven, so I didn’t completely understand what I was witnessing. I stood in the doorway of my parents’ bedroom. I saw my mom, kneeling by the bed with her head pressed into her folded hands. She was praying, but this wasn’t a ‘normal’ prayer. She was audibly crying out to God, begging for His salvation. She rocked back and forth, and cried, and repeated herself over and over again.

It wad strange because I knew my mom was already a Christian. She had trusted Jesus as her Savior in her early teens, after listening to a Billy Graham broadcast. She grew up in a Christian family and her dad had helped start a Christian school and also did his fair share of preaching.

Why was she begging for something God had already given her?

I learned many years later that those were some of the darkest moments in my mom’s life. She had suffered many deep wounds – spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. These wounds led her to anxiety about her standing before God. She doubted her salvation. She feared she had committed the ‘unpardonable sin.’

At one point she sought counsel from a well-known Christian leader. But this leader’s heretical teaching led my mom down an even darker path; she was led to believe that because of her struggles she just may not be one of God’s ‘elect.’ This left her with almost no hope. Hell seemed like her only option.

As I grew older, I began to understand, to a lesser degree, some of those same feelings. Feelings of unworthiness, spiritual uncertainty, doom, and worthlessness. And I can’t imagine someone telling me, in the midst of such  darkness, that because I struggled I just must not be chosen by God to be a Christian. How devastating!

Our Adversary thrills at the chance to plant seeds of doubt in their relationship with the Lord. That doubt can cause crippling worry and anxiety.

Worry about our relationship to God can darken every square centimeter of our being so that even experiencing the best circumstances in life is still miserable. Because why does life even matter if we can’t be sure of God’s salvation and love? What else is there?

If we cannot find rest and peace in Christ, there is no rest or peace to be found anywhere else.

Have you ever felt like God is just waiting for you to mess up? Or that He will be angry with you if you make the wrong choice? Does it sometimes seem like God is constantly putting you to the test to see if you will measure up? Do you fear His punishment? Do you dread His disappointment? Do you feel like you have to be the perfect Christian in order to receive God’s love and approval?

You are not alone.

But when we dwell in these feelings we dwell in lies.

We must continually fill our minds with God’s truth so that we don’t drown in the false feelings Satan delights in feeding to us.

I have learned to be confident in my salvation, but I still often struggle with the ‘now what’ aspect of my walk with the Lord. There are still trials, temptations, difficulties, doubts. I know I am saved but sometimes I don’t always feel loved or cradled in His caring arms. But those feelings are a lie.

The only cure for a lie is the truth.

So, prepare yourself to be invaded with some serious Truth!

When you feel guilty or ashamed:

          “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 8:1

When circumstances lead you to despair:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

Romans 8:28

When accusations come:

“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Romans 8:33&34

When you doubt God’s love for you:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

Romans 8:35

When life seems pointless, hopeless, purposeless:

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6

When you feel like you don’t belong:

“For our citizenship is in heaven”

Philippians 3:20

When you feel overtaken by fear:

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

2 Timothy 1:7

When you feel unworthy:

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Hebrews 4:16

When you feel trapped in sin and darkness:

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1:13

You know what my favorite part is about all these beautiful truths?

They are unconditional.

Not a single one of these verses says that we have to do anything to be accepted, loved, secure, forgiven, rescued, or receive grace.

We do nothing. He does everything. That is a PEACEFUL place to dwell.

No fear, no worry, no care, no trial, no sin, can disrupt our identity in Christ.

My mom’s story does not end in a place of despair. By the grace of God and her determination to travel through the valley of the shadow of death, in order to break free from Satan’s foothold in her life, her story is one of victory. She sought out and found God’s assurance.

Now, she is the most godly woman I know! She knows God’s Word better than I do and probably better than a lot of pastors out there! She is grounded in His truth and seeks to live it out day by day.

I praise God for the work He has done in my mom’s life and in my life too – helping us both to renew our minds with His Word.

I know He can do the same for everyone.

Remember, if you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, you already have all the assurance, love and acceptance you could possibly imagine.

There is absolutely no need to worry about how God views us. He loves us as much now as He did before the foundations of the earth and that same love will continue on through eternity!

“And I’ll stop this pretending that I can somehow deserve what I already have.”

Barlow Girl – I Need You to Love Me

Confronting Worry Part Four: Acceptance From Others

We all need love and acceptance and that can lead us to anxiety about other’s opinions of us.

I am judgmental. In those deepest, darkest places of my soul, that do their best to remain hidden, I can chew someone up and spit them out, maybe better than most. I hate that it is a part of me, and I’ve seen the Holy Spirit’s work in that area of my life, but it still lurks – ready to seize the day if I give but a millimeter.

That intimacy with judgment makes me keenly aware of being judged by others in return. I hate that too.

The result is that I have become most cruelly judgmental of myself.

Maybe you know the feeling?

I want to feel love and acceptance. It was an especially agonizing desire in my teens and early twenties. A desire that led me astray. Away from my identity in Christ.

I gave control of my identity to my peers and family. I sought people’s praise instead of God’s. And through that I lost myself. I was comfortable in academics, but insecure in relationships, so I became a friendless good student. I was so anxious about being judged by my peers, so cautious of every move I made, that I made almost no attempt to take any relational initiative. The me God made me to be was swallowed up by the me that craved acceptance.

I was anxiously ill before and during school, church functions, and family get-togethers. I lost my capacity to function as a child of God. And I was an unfit conduit for God’s love to anyone around me.

Maybe you know that feeling too?

We are not alone in these feelings.

The Bible is full of people who worried about what others thought.

Moses was worried about being God’s mouthpiece because in the eyes of man he was no great orator. So he argued with God. (Ex. 4)

The reverse was the case for the prophet Samuel. He took on the role of judge, assuming that God would choose one of Jesse’s tall and handsome sons as the future king, not young David. God corrected Samuel’s misguided judgments. (1 Sam. 16)

Annanis and Saphira sold some property and wanted to look good to others by appearing to give all the proceeds to the church. So they lied. And then they died. (Acts 5)

Peter succumbed to pressure from the Jews and so fell back in to certain Jewish practices that Christ specifically had come to free us all from! He ‘began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision’ (Gal. 2:12) and so failed the gospel. So Paul rebuked him.

And one final example – my twin. Yep, I didn’t know I had one for quite some time, but then I found her. She was busy preparing food and keeping house during Jesus’ visit, while her sister Mary just sat there and listened to the conversation.

Martha. I cringe to admit it, but I see so much of myself in her. Martha was obsessed with duty and responsibility, probably out of an unhealthy concern for what others thought of her. This had a tremendous impact on her decision making process. I can identify, can you?

Martha’s decision to spend her time taking care of the details aroused anger inside of her towards her sister, Mary, who sat listening to Jesus. That led Martha to ask Jesus to reprimand Mary. The audacity! But she didn’t get what she wanted. Quite the opposite. Instead, Jesus reprimanded Martha for neglecting Him and His words. Ouch! Oh, and he praised Mary for her choice to be with Him (that rubs salt in the wound!).

Because Martha let her sense of duty and worry about other’s opinions be her guide, she ultimately ended up displeasing God and missing opportunities with His Son!

(See Confronting Worry Part Two for more on how worry divides our devotion to God.)

Martha gave up control to those she thought would judge her instead of to the One who already loved her.

We give control to those who judge us, and love to those who accept us.

Who is your judge? Whose acceptance do you seek? This is the one who controls you.

In reality, God alone is our judge. It’s because of Jesus Christ that we are accepted by God too! This is such good news! Because He has judged His Son as righteous, and we are in His Son, He has judged us as righteous too. Not only that, He gives us the love and acceptance He has for His beloved Son, Jesus. And living in His perfect love will cast out our worries and fears.

As I have come to let that truth settle down in my mind and heart, it has been easier to fall under God’s control rather than people’s. And it’s been a joy to experience more love between My Savior and me!

I don’t know in what way you may be living for the approval of man. But know that God’s approval is eternal and it’s yours if you have trusted Christ as your Savior! How I hope and pray that you might journey along with me and come to a place of peace and rest in our Heavenly Father!

There is an old hymn that I can’t help but think of as I write about this topic. The title is “Accepted in the Beloved.” I especially like verse two and the chorus:

In the Beloved – how safe my retreat,

In the Beloved accounted complete;

Who can condemn me? In Him I am free,

Savior and Keeper forever is He.

In the Beloved, God’s marvelous grace

Calls me to dwell in this wonderful place;

God sees my Savior and then He sees me

In the Beloved accepted and free!

Let’s live in the freedom God has so powerfully provided for us!

***If you missed the first three parts of the series ‘Confronting Worry,’ go back and take a look. May you find encouragement as you live your life besieged by God!***