First Love

In the episode Wedding Bells for Aunt Bea, Aunt Bea is convinced she should marry Fred Goss, the dry cleaner, because she thinks she’s hampering Andy from pursuing marriage for himself. The trouble is, she can hardly stand to be around him. She fools everyone around her until Opie, recently educated on love from Andy, asks her if she has that deep-down-inside love feeling for Mr. Goss.

It’s the one time she can’t pretend. She sits still as a statue, tears welling in her eyes.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus speaks about a church that has lost it’s “first love” (from the NASB). Revelation 2:4 (NIV) says,

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”

When we become believers, we love Christ with the sort of love Andy’s talking about: the deep-down-inside love. But over time, something often happens to that love. We let the love become battered by things that happen to us. Time erodes our love and, before we even know it, we find it wasn’t what it was.

Sometimes I think genuine believers sit like Aunt Bea, still as a statue, tears welling in their eyes, as they try to love God as they once did. Maybe they feel wounded by Him. Maybe they are struggling to trust Him. Maybe they wonder if He’s really love. Maybe they’re frightened that, in the end, they’ll be disappointed by Him.

The words that describe the church in Revelation remind me of how Aunt Bea tried to act towards Mr. Goss: “hard work” . . “perseverance” . . “persevered” . . “endured hardships” and “not grown weary”.

All of these things are gifts from God, but only when they are given through love. Jesus says to the church in Revelation,

“Consider how far you have fallen!” (v. 5a)

Here there’s a big difference between Aunt Bea and us. Aunt Bea never loved Fred Goss, and had good reason not to. But we are captivated by the love of our Savior when we first meet Him. At least, I hope we are. How sad if a believer has never truly grasped how much (s)he is loved by God!

As our faith is tested, we can so easily hold onto our tenacity and let go of our affection. After all, in a dangerous or difficult situation, it seems far more important to cling to courage than to cling to romance. And yet this is the very thing that the church in Revelation represented by Ephesus needs!

During practical times, we tend to look at romance as non-essential. Yet it is the “deep down kind of love” we have for Jesus that makes every good quality of our character matter. This issue of non-love is so severe that Jesus warns,

If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (v. 5c)

How do we get back that first “deep down kind of love”? This verse tells us. We “repent”.

We find favor with God when we go before Him and plead for Him to forgive us for treating Him like Mr. Goss instead of as the Redeemer of even the most fragile heart and the Savior of even the weakest soul, the Ransom for even the tightest bound captive and the Healer of even the most shattered leper.

Why not right now, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, stop and thank God for loving you so much . . and cry out to receive a deep down love for Him?

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Published in: on August 1, 2014 at 10:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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From a butterfly

“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
–Hans Christian Andersen
butterfly

I’ve been struck increasingly more deeply by these words.

So many people are “just living”.  They go through life as though the only thing they can expect is nightfall, storms, bondage, drought, and badlands.  These people walk through great deserts of the soul, never imagining anything could change their fate.

Why does the Christian assert Christ?  Why does the Christian say only Christ can be the eternal sunshine, freedom, and flower?

Because God is the great game changer.  The turn in the plot that not even Satan could foresee.  God has created the happily ever after, because He is the only one to do so.  And with it abundant life.

God died to give us life.  And sometimes when we think of life, we think of it in sterile, religious terms.  Not at all!  The life Jesus gives is the life of sunshine, freedom, and flower.  The life He gives is to accept that you are indelibly and delightfully cared for by the God of all the universe.  The life He gives is to understand that you are forgiven of all your sins, even the very worst, by the most just of all judges.  The life He gives is to receive a love so intricate that none of the relationships we have on earth can fully explain it–one of a servant to a king, or a child to a father, or a sheep to a shepherd, or an outcast to a suitor, or a wife to a husband.

One must indeed have “sunshine, freedom, and a little flower”.  “‘Living’ is not enough.”

God gives us the full package of life when we receive Him.  Today, let’s remember to open it, even if we only get so far as to undo the ribbon and pull the twine off the brown paper.

“Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (Jesus, John 10:9b-10, NLT)

 

 

Published in: on July 16, 2014 at 7:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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The power of a name

I have a fear of forgetting people’s names. Really, I have a fear of calling someone the wrong name. So I usually avoid calling someone by their name unless I know them very well, for this reason:

“Well, hi, Beth, how are you today?”

“My name’s not Beth. It’s Rachel.”

I mean, where do you go from here? What do you say?

“Hi . . Rachel. I know the name Beth doesn’t sound like Rachel, and I don’t even know anyone named Beth who reminds me of you, but I do want you to know I remember who you are and I care deeply about our friendship.”

*buzzer sound*

Before Ben and I were ever married, I warned him about my fear of calling him the wrong name. And I have. At least three times. There’s nobody on earth I love more, and I have called my beloved, my soulmate the wrong name. How do I explain that? Thankfully, I’m blessed with an understanding husband.

Recently one of our pastors at church said that many people’s favorite word of all is their name. And many people don’t get to hear their name nearly as often as they long for.

I’m inept with names. But God isn’t. Scripture tells us that God identifies each star with ease (see Psalm 147:4). And if we think He’s forgotten us, we can think again. In a passage about His love for Israel, His chosen people, He tells them that He has their names on His palms. Surely God does the same for His people today.

Imagine God, with a ballpoint pen, writing your name on His palm. Whenever He turns his hand over, He looks down at His palm and sees your name. And He thinks of you.

See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:16a, NLT)

Safe

It is usually wise to have a backup plan.  But not in eternity.  There you can free fall into the arms of the Savior.

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, NASB)

Published in: on June 11, 2014 at 9:49 am  Leave a Comment  
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Sal’s

Over the summer I stayed with Ben’s parents, Ben and I found our dating spot: Sal’s, a pizzeria close to his church in Elizabethtown.

Sal’s had the best pizza.  The best burgers.  The best Caesar salad.  And the best dessert pizza.  And all of it was made better because I was with Ben.

We’d pick a booth and crowd in together on one side.  Or, for serious conversations, we’d sit across from each other.  We spent hours in Sal’s talking and talking and talking.

I miss Sal’s.  The laughter and the closeness we shared there make me long to go back.

Do you have a Sal’s where you go to be with God?  God isn’t a mystical force or a leaf in nature.  God is a very real Person, not in the sense that He is a human (although Jesus is), but in the sense that He feels, He thinks, and He acts.

It might be hard to think of a friendship with God.  But the Bible tells us, when we receive Christ in our lives, the Holy Spirit lives within us as a gift.  Anywhere we are, anytime, we can talk with Him more personally than we can even our closest friend.

If you’ve been a believer for a long time, it’s possible you’ve forgotten just how special this communion is.  Although we can and should go to God any time of the day, it’s important to have a special Sal’s planned to be with Him too.

For you, it might look like 7 o’clock in the morning over coffee.  Or, it might look like 7 o’clock at night after dinner.  Your Sal’s might be your bedroom, living room, patio, the subway, or your office over lunch break.

Why have a Sal’s?  It’s a matter of the heart.

“Devotional time” when you read God’s Word and pray to Him and listen for His leading isn’t about a check box or a task on your to-do list.  It’s a time to get together with God and show Him how special He is to you.  And you need this time–desperately.

Can you imagine dating someone once a year to get to know them?  Or marrying someone and facebooking them every couple months?  Relationships deepen with time.

Since we ache to be around sinners like us who we love, how much more should we ache to be around God who is perfect and who has imparted His perfection on us at the cross!  God was willing to die for us–how heartbreaking it must be for Him when we don’t make a Sal’s for Him to be an honored part of our lives.

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.” (Psalm 27:8, NLT)

Published in: on June 6, 2014 at 12:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Coca-Cola of Hospitality

In Paraguay, I got to discover the Coca-Cola of hospitality.

As we went for home visits, families would spend their hard-earned money on a liter of Coca-Cola–for us.  Coca-Cola is the drink of choice, we found in Paraguay.  And Coca-Cola is the drink of hospitality in Paraguay, too.

One night we went to a little home for prayer and fellowship with a family in need.  As we shared stories and laughter, the mother sent her son out for Coca-Cola for us.

There is something I wish I could describe here that I am struggling to find the right words for.  Here we were, sitting on an old sofa in a house that, by American standards, would be in a condemned state.  Yet our hostess–a mother with plenty of needs of her own–had dressed up for us and was spending a part of what little money she had on a special drink to treat us–and we were supposed to be the ones comforting her.

She served us the Coca-Cola and sat attentively while we drank, eager to offer us refills.  In the meantime, she and her son drank nothing, saving the precious soda they’d bought for us.

It’s truly humbling to compare her attitude of hosting to mine.  I so often look at hosting as a time to impress others with my cooking or decorating skills, so they’ll think more highly of me.  And I only want to invite people over when our house is clean and I feel it presents me in a good light.

But that’s not what Paraguay taught me.  Paraguay taught me that hosting is about the heart.

I want to serve the Coca-Cola of hospitality, too.  The question is, Am I willing to give of my heart to do so?

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
 (Romans 12:13, NLT)

24/25 kids win the raffle?

Raffle Tickets

One year, the counselor at our school decided to call a school-wide assembly and give away prizes to the children with 100% attendance.  He had prizes of all kinds lined out along the stage and a bucket with the students’ names inside.  One by one, he called students to come up and pick from the plethora of prizes.

Over times, the prizes slimmed, and so did the kids who hadn’t won anything yet.  One by one, each child won something from the raffle until there were two children left and one prize.  Quite not on purpose, the counselor had 24 prizes donated and 25 students had gotten perfect attendance that quarter!!

Before the last name was drawn, the counselor promised to have a prize for the other student!

Can you imagine 24 out of 25 elementary students winning a prize–and a little kid being the one to miss out?  (He was only a kindergartener or first-grader!)  I still remember him sitting patiently, criss-cross, as every other student’s name was called for a prize.  (Happily, immediately after the raffle, he got to go down with the counselor, who found another prize in his office to give away!)

You know, sometimes I think we view God with the fear that we’re sitting in an assembly waiting on a raffle.  We wait on pins and needles to hear our name.  We’re afraid that we may be that 25th kid–the unlucky one, the one who misses out on Heaven.

God doesn’t leave our eternal destiny up to chance.  Rather, He gives each of us the opportunity to be fully confident in our salvation through Jesus Christ.  We don’t have a ‘ticket to eternity’ stuffed in a hat somewhere with a million other names, hoping God pulls ours out before He runs out of patience.  Rather, we have a God who paid for every single person who chooses to receive Him.  Salvation is a free gift up to Christ to give: and He’s chosen to give it to us all.  All that waits is whether or not we will choose to receive it.

There’s no 24 out of 25 here.  It’s all about choice.  Our choice.  God loved us so much that He gave us the choice: eternity with Him, or not.

Even the worst, most down-and-out, biggest loser of a sinner can have the same assurance as the ‘best saint’ when (s)he receives Christ.  Jesus has paid for all of our sin, no matter the amount.  Debt-free is debt free, whether you owed $60 dollars or $6 billion.

With Christ there is no arduous wait and nerve-wracking time hoping for salvation to be announced.  Salvation is here, and salvation is now.  With no raffle to be found.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:15, NIV)

The Heartbeat of Character

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Do you want to have the highest character you can possibly have?

Do you want the finest jewel of self quality?

Then love.

Yes, love.

1 Corinthians 13 spells it out: the most precious, the best, and the most valuable gift you can have is to love.

Love.

Not a frilly, lacy, doily love that’s set out for Sunday brunches, but a real, in-the-depths-of-need love for breath-to-breath living . . and for eternity.

Love, real love, love that changes the world, love that changes you, is love from God’s heart.

Love is the heartbeat of God.

So if you want to love, you must listen to God’s heartbeat.

And you can, because it’s rhythm is recorded, in EKG calligraphy, in 1 Corinthians 13.

Listen to His heartbeat.

Love.

Listen to it, and you hear its supernatural, only-from-God rhythm.  The only way you can ever have it is if God gives it.  And He does.  Freely.

Ask Him to touch your heart, to change its dead pulse to His thunderous beat of everlasting love.

And you will have the heartbeat of character.

Love.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT)

 

 

 

 

Published in: on April 26, 2014 at 7:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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Love is as love does.

Heart.

There’s a famous saying from Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Agreed, and, more importantly, Love is as love does.

Love is as love does.

Do you want to know what real love is?  Look to God.

John tells us,

God is love.  (1 John 4:16a)

Read 1 Corinthians 13 and substitute God’s name for love each time you come to it.  To make it more personal, substitute different names for God,

Jesus.  The Great I AM.  The King of Kings.  The Prince of Peace.  God the Father.

And so on.

Love is all that is lined out in 1 Corinthians 13, but best of all, all the things love is are things love does.

Now read the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  And now you see.

Love does.

This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10, ISV)

 

 

 

 

Published in: on April 24, 2014 at 7:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Reflection from Good Friday

When you realize who Christ is, how can you possibly stand not to love Him?

Jesus Washing Feet of Man

Man of sorrows Lamb of God
By His own betrayed
The sin of man and wrath of God
Has been on Jesus laid

Silent as He stood accused
Beaten mocked and scorned
Bowing to the Father’s will
He took a crown of thorns

Sent of heaven God’s own Son
To purchase and redeem
And reconcile the very ones
Who nailed Him to that tree

See the stone is rolled away
Behold the empty tomb
Hallelujah God be praised
He’s risen from the grave

–from Man of Sorrows, Hillsong

See, my servant will prosper;

he will be highly exalted.

But many were amazed when they saw him.

His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human,

and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man.

And he will startle many nations.

Kings will stand speechless in his presence.

For they will see what they had not been told;

they will understand what they had not heard about. (Isaiah 52:13-15, NLT)