Take the Pressure Off

How-to-Relieve-Christmas-PressureToday is Christmas.

Whether you have anticipated it or dreaded it, be patient with yourself and others today.

Whether you spend the day with family and friends or you are alone, choose joy and peace.

Whether the day goes as you prefer or planned or not, be grateful.

Refuse to expect perfection. Refuse to be disappointed when that person offends or ignores you again. Refuse to let the pain of the year override the possibility of new memories. Refuse to make today about yourself. Refuse to focus on the negative. Yet also refuse to compartmentalize this day and swallow the pain just to put on a brave face and stay comfortable. Let yourself shed a few tears if needed. Perhaps more than a few. Listen more than you talk. Be willing to share a piece of your heart. Be honest with others. Give a hug. Share a smile.

Be generous.

God certainly was, is, and will be.

Let’s

92881749Sometimes I use the word “let’s” to spur God in the direction I want to go. As I talk with him, I say such things as “Let’s get this over with,” “Let’s be strong,” or “Let’s move on.” But I need to let him direct our “let’s.”

Let us.

It means we’ll do something together.

He’s the primary guide.

He makes the best suggestions and prompts in the best timing.

My intentions might be good (most of the time), but his are better.

I’m ready, God. Let’s take the next step together. How about you lead?

 

A Walmart Run-In

It has been a tough morning. I went to church, and it was filled with bittersweetness. I was teary and tired, but I needed to buy some groceries, so I decided to push myself and go to Walmart. I’d just “run in.”

That’s what we all say, right?

kai-oberhauser-224745I hoped I wouldn’t run into people who wanted to talk. I wasn’t in the mood. I love people, but sometimes I don’t like interacting much with them. Perhaps you can relate.

The store was crowded, but I somehow didn’t run into anyone I knew well. I was even able to help a few people find what they needed. I am a “mission shopper,” so I appear to know what I’m doing and where I’m going; therefore, I tend to get the “Do you happen to know where…” question often. I don’t mind a bit. Even when I’m irritable, helping people becomes a soothing salve to my heart.

I checked out and breathed a sigh of relief: no run-ins.

Just as I was leaving, someone I knew walked in. I hadn’t seen her for a while, and I enjoyed our light chatter for a minute. Then I asked her a question about how something was going in her life – something I’d encouraged her through in the past. She teared up. We talked. Then she asked me a question. And I teared up and explained. People walked in and out around us, but it felt like we were the only two people in the world in those few minutes. We laughed at ourselves through our tears. I invited her to a study group meeting that week, and we hugged and thanked each other for a willingness to stop and authentically share and listen.

When we saw each other later that week at group, we both smiled. Neither of us was in the mood to talk that day. Neither of us planned to cry in Walmart. But we were thankful.

Sometimes, unwanted run-ins are just what we need.

God provides, and we get to experience the sweetness of that provision when we’re available and willing.

Love for Friends

pureloveblogGreater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)

What a sweet sentiment—having a friend who would lay down his or her life for us. Who wouldn’t want that? So, we use this verse to let our friends know how important they are to us. That’s beautiful and touching, but it’s not exactly what this verse tells us.

Jesus spoke these words. He really did lay down his life for us. And by “us,” I don’t mean just the people who hung out with him. Remember, Jesus tells us to love our neighbors and love our enemies. That’s the same love through which He laid down His life. He died while carrying the burden of our sins, because it’s a burden we couldn’t bear and overcome. He covered our sins, because we can’t actually cover them; we just have to deal with them if we try to do it on our own. His love is powerful. And he laid down His life.

There’s something else in this verse, and it’s what causes us to use it as a friendship commitment and reassurance verse. Of course, it’s the word “friend.” Jesus actually calls those around him “friends.” Not subjects, servants, followers. Friends.

In the Old Testament, only Abraham and, by implication, Moses, are called friends of God.

Did You not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and give it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? (2 Chronicles 20:7)

But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend. (Isaiah 41:8)

Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent. (Exodus 33:11)

Then, in this verse in the New Testament, Jesus extends the claim of friendship to all believers, those who obediently follow Him. Spiritual friendship is not to be taken lightly. We can’t take what we have experienced in earthly friendships and project that onto our relationship with Jesus, assuming we’ll have the same experiences, rights, disappointments, etc. He is a friend like no other. Because of that, He gets to define friendship. He becomes the standard.

Does being friends with Jesus mean we can have fun with Him? Absolutely! God fills our lives with joy, and He gives us vast freedoms. We often make faith about what we can’t do, but it’s so much more about what we can. No rationalizing, just live in loving obedience, and you’ll find abiding love in the freedom of faith.

Does being friends with Jesus mean we get what we want? Yes…and no. When we truly live fully in God’s love, we want what He wants in our lives. His desires become our desires. We yield and trust Him to consume our thoughts and actions, so when we ask for something, it is within His will because of what He desires, not because of our distortion of His desires. If we’re asking for ourselves without letting God drive our requests, without residing in the center of His will, the foundation of the promise to ask and receive isn’t firmly under our feet.

Does being friends with Jesus mean He’s approachable and available? Yes. Always. No exceptions.

 

Dear God, thank You for Your friendship. Help me to understand what it truly means and how I can stand firmly on the promises of friendship with Jesus. I don’t want to make assumptions or misunderstand. I want to honor You through the friendship and be an encouragement to others. I praise You for Your love.  

Love Position

pureloveblogBut they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. (Matthew 23:5-7)

People loving position isn’t a new concept. Location, location, location. We want to be respected, and location—whether it’s a physical location or a position of recognition—seems to bring respect alongside it.

Sometimes we seek a location because we think we deserve it, or we’ve occupied it for so long that we think we have a right to it. (Not to step on anyone’s toes here, but what about those “saved” seats at church that have no visible names on them, but we all know who sits in them?) Some positions and locations we intentionally seek out and others we just keep a tight grasp on once we have them. In fact, we’re a little surprised that we’re as attached to them as we are. Since we didn’t really try to get there, who knew we’d actually want to stay there once we arrived.

Losing position seems to equal losing respect. But that’s only when we put the respect of others above respect from God. God respects us with His lavish love when we are just where He intends for us to be. And because He wants us to constantly grow, we’re not going to be in the exact location or position for long. He changes us even when our surroundings don’t seem to change. God doesn’t need real estate; he uses people to change the world. We are His people. We are His vessels. But we have to be willing to be used and changed.

The men Jesus was admonishing in these verses loved the place of honor. They loved receiving respectful greetings, being called by titles with authority. But God is pleased with our service. He values humility. He works through us as we submit to His will. If we’re more focused on where we are, what others think of us, and what names of respect they call us, we are turning God’s priorities around. We cannot seek the positions of the world and find contentment and purpose in where God has us. We cannot seek the respect and authority among people and expect that God’s respect and authority will follow.

The position we need to love the best is the position in which God places us—right now. It will change, but it doesn’t change because we want it to change. It changes because God changes us and moves us in the process.

God’s position for us isn’t just about where we are but it’s who we are in relationship with Him. He is our Creator. We are the created. He is God. We are not. He is Father. We are His children. He is Master. We serve Him.

When we try to usurp position, we will always end up losing. Just because it looks like we got what and where we want, we don’t necessarily win. We lose when we’re not in God’s will. We lose out on what He wants to give us. We miss out on the abundance of His love.

But it’s never too late to start where you are and go with God to the next place or season of Your life. It’s never too late to yield to Him and follow His will, stepping into the footprints He’s laid out for us. Following God isn’t easy or convenient, but it’s worth it. If you want to love position, love the position God places you in. He knows what He’s doing.

 

Dear God, I want to be just where you know is best for me for this moment and season of my life. It might not be where I most want to be in my flesh, but above all, I want my desires to be consumed with Your desires. I want to fully submit to You. Use me where You have me. Help me not to crave a position or location that isn’t intended to be mine. I trust You, and I yield to You.

Easy Love

pureloveblogFor if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same (Matthew 5:46-47)

Tax collectors were not the group of people anyone longed to be compared to in Jesus’ days. They were usually more committed to the Roman government than Jews in their own communities. They often collected more tax than was required because they wanted commendation from government officials. Money was and still is a powerful temptation!

Needless to say, tax collectors weren’t seen as the most loving group of people, so if even they would love people who loved them, holding ourselves to only that standard as a minimum certainly was frowned upon. To love with the love of God went above and beyond. Loving those who love us is easy. Loving enemies isn’t.

How often do you take the easy route, loving the people who are easiest to love, or loving the way and extent that is easiest? We can get into the habit of looking for the people who appreciate the love we give them. We can repeatedly pour into the people who respect us. We all like to hear “thanks,” and we like to receive love in return for the love we’re giving, so we’ll usually pursue those relationships that are reciprocal.

But loving the easy people to love isn’t God’s way. He loves each and every person He has created. It’s hard to fathom. Some people have done some horrible things, but the thing is… God knows how to separate out who someone is and can become from what he or she does and currently is. He doesn’t love the mess of people’s lives, but He loves the people themselves. He knows the power of His redemption. He knows the extent of His grace and mercy. He knows how far His love reaches.

We don’t. We have limited view, and we have limited love when we rely on our own love. When we try to do it on our own, we’re like the tax collectors. We take the easy route. But we don’t need to love with our own love. We shouldn’t love with our own love. It’s not necessary, and it’s not God’s plan. He gives us His love, and He intends for us to live it out in daily life in the same way He expresses it. He is bold with His love. He is consistent with His love. He is generous with His love.

God doesn’t intend for us to live in a bubble of protection. He is our protection. When we’re in His will, we have His protection. But let’s not distort His protection any more than we would distort His love, compassion, mercy, grace, redemption, etc. He doesn’t protect us from everything that we see as harmful. He protects us from what is outside His will.

So if you share God’s love with those who don’t love you and those who don’t associate with you because you’re just too different from them, it’s not guaranteed to go well by your own standards. Everyone is not going to openly accept God’s love from you. Everyone isn’t going to be grateful. Some will be antagonistic and just plain mean. Some will attack, retaliate, judge, and persecute you. Don’t be surprised. God tells us it’s going to happen.

But when you do it God’s way, it’s the right way. It might not be the easy way, but He will honor your obedience and your efforts. You will glorify Him in your submissive trust and reliance on Him.

 

Dear God, give me Your boldness. Let me not shrink back in timidity into the easy love. Help me to reach beyond the easy love into the challenge of loving those who oppose me or are unlike me. Help me to notice who You have placed within my circles of influence but far enough from me that I have not seen them. Get me out of my comfort zone and challenge me to love the unlovable. I will not try to do it in my own strength but will trust You for all provision.

Grace in the Dark

graceBut you are a chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. You were chosen to tell about the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Ponder It.

  • When have you experienced oppressing or frightening darkness?
  • How has darkness intrigued you in a situation? How has darkness frightened you?
  • What is a shadowy area of your life that needs God’s grace?

Receive It. Grace meets us in the darkness, which can be a frightening place. The night-time can be beautiful, but most of its beauty comes from the results of a light source. We see the aura of the moon or the twinkling of the starts; we see the patterns of glistening light as the moon shines catches water drops or fluttering leaves. Most of us don’t live somewhere that is void of light. Even if we close ourselves into a dark room, it’s difficult to shut out all light sources, and if we do, as we sit in pitch blackness, we see, with any certainty…nothing. Spiritually, when we’re in the dark, we are disoriented. What we think we see isn’t accurate. The darkness can seem oppressive. We can even get to the point where there is something comforting in the darkness, because we don’t have to deal with what’s in the light. We can begin to fear the reality of the light more than the uncertainty of the dark. Once we find comfort in where we are, we don’t want to leave even though we cannot fully see, live, or move in the dark. That’s where grace meets us if we’re willing to reach out. We don’t need to see what we’re reaching for; we simply have to know to whom we’re reaching. When we call out to God, no matter what is going on in our lives, God hears us and meets us. He often doesn’t immediately or completely rescue and restore us. Restoration is a process that includes preparation for what’s to come. We need steps in order to experience and appreciate how God reveals himself to us. We need his timing, not our preferences. And we always need his grace no matter where we are. As long as we live on earth, there will be areas—whether large gaps or tiny spaces—that are dark. God reaches into the dark, shadowy spaces and sprinkles his grace. And we’re able to see what he wants us to see…if we’re willing to fully open our eyes and hearts.

Live It. Find a dark space. Close your eyes, trying to shut out all light for a full minute. Before opening your eyes, ask God to call attention to the dark places in your life, then respond by inviting his grace to consume those spaces.