Wednesday, July 30, 2014

“The inspired Word of God is written for our instruction for living.” ~ 2 Timothy 3:16-17

This past year I did a lot of things I've never done before. I disagreed. I confronted. I read. I learned. I prayed. I cried. I yelled. I argued. I felt broken. I felt mended. I felt discouraged. I felt hope. I felt loved.

Okay, so yes some of these things I had technically done before. But not in the same ways. I sometimes feel like my whole life, especially my spiritual life, has been shaken up like a snow globe. Everything was topsy-turvy and confusing and scary for awhile. It seemed like everything had changed. But I'm starting to feel like not that much is different. So some things are in slightly different places and the world looks a little fresh and new. But the essentials are still there. The foundation never changed.

I had a crisis of faith, but it wasn't one that caused me to question whether or not I believed in God. I never thought I wasn't saved. I never stopped trusting in God and His control over my life and all life in general. The question was what did I believe about God and why do I believe those things about God?

"Do you believe that what you believe is really real?" ~ Del Tackett

I did believe that it was real. But I wanted to know why. Not why my parents thought so. Not why my church said so. Not why my school or my job or my friends believed. Why did I believe what I believed and did I believe it was really real?

“I want to understand why I believe what I believe. I want to grasp the significance of it all. I want to believe what I believe because I really and truly believe it, not just because it’s what my parents believed. Too many things begin to seem inconsistent, and it’s not sitting well with me. I’ve become uncomfortable with the matter-of-fact black and whiteness of every issue, and of every aspect of God. It seems more and more that things are far more complicated, that they settle somewhere in the grey, that the possibilities of ways in which one can connect with God are endless.” ~ Christine Berghoef

So I started studying God's Word. I just dove into the Bible and was continually amazed by the truths and instruction and so many things that seemed to be written just for me. Just for my situation. Just for my current confusion. Things started to make sense. I started to understand why I believed certain things. I was opening my heart and mind to the wonder and beauty of God's love letter to us and I just felt so overwhelmed...but in a good way. I felt like parched earth and His Word was like much needed rain. It was like the first time I ate at fancy restaurant and enjoyed a delicious meal that I'd heard of, but never experienced before.

“He will come to us like rain.” ~ Hosea 6:3

"God - you're my God! I can't get enough of you! I've worked up such a hunger and thirst for God, traveling across dry and weary deserts...I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. it's time to shout praises!" ~ Psalm 63:1, 5

The more I read of the Bible, the more I wanted to read and know and learn. Yes, much of it was familiar and things I already knew or had heard before. But so much of it seemed new and so much more relevant to my life. My eyes were opened to God's instructions and it was both confirmation of what I already knew and conviction about what I needed to know and discover.

“We come to Scripture not to learn a subject but to steep ourselves in a person.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. This is my command: Love each other.” ~ John 15:12-13,17

I started to see a pattern. God's love for His people - they worship Him - things get hard - they turn away from Him - He pursues them - they turn back to Him with love. Again and again this happens. Again and again I do this...we all do this. Life gets hard and we feel like God is far away. Of course, it's an illusion that we create and we often make worse by making choices that take us further from His will. But He never leaves us or forsakes us...He is always there. Loving us, wanting us, willing to take us back. Again and again. It's crazy, but wonderful when you begin to personally experience it.

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ~ Micah 6:8

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him,” ~ Colossians 3:17

God's Word is full of instruction that is helpful and necessary to our daily life. As I started to saturate myself in the Bible, I began to see and experience things more clearly than ever. While on our own we are incapable of being righteous, with Christ in us we are capable of being a light to others. When we listen to His instruction and obey, our lives can become a living testimony to God's grace and truth and love. We begin to want to do things not because they make us look good, or will save us, but because we love God and want to please Him. Because we have felt that grace and acceptance and we want to pour that back out to others in our lives.

“When we are focused on loving Christ, it doesn’t mean we do less. I used to do many of the same things I do now, but I was motivated by guilt or fear of consequences. When we work for Christ out of obligation, it feels like work. But when we truly love Christ, our work is a manifestation of that love, and it feels like love.” ~ Francis Chan

When I read that quote in the book Crazy Love, it reminded me of an experience last summer. We had flown to New Jersey for the wedding of our beloved friends. On the way, I had told my husband Josh that I was hoping to not have to do a lot of work at the wedding because I just wanted to enjoy it and experience it as a guest. However, as soon as we arrived we were put to work - assembling wedding favors, packing decorations, etc. The bride had recently moved to NJ from CA (like the week prior) and the wedding was to be held several hours away in New York. There was a LOT to do and much help was needed. As we stayed up long into the night, it became clear how much our help was needed and appreciated. It became my goal to say yes to anything the bride, groom, or family needed because I could see how much there was to be done and how much it meant to them to have assistance.

Upon arrival at the wedding location, Josh & I became in charge of all things reception related - set-up, decorations, caterer/florist/etc liaison, clean up and all around helpers. But a funny thing happened - the more I helped, the more joy I felt. I began to see that this was a gift I could give the bride and groom that was far greater than traveling across country to attend the wedding or any present I could have purchased. This was a gift full of love and sacrifice, but it didn't feel like work or too much to ask or even like a sacrifice. It was love - true unconditional love. Expecting nothing in return. My heart felt full, my feet felt light, and I wanted to do anything and everything I could to make this a beautiful day for our friends.

It was an amazing wedding - very special and sentimental and romantic and full of humor. It was unique - an identical twin marrying an identical twin. It was fun and full of special touches that the bride had spent much time and attention planning and implementing. Yes, it was terribly hot and humid. Yes, we forgot a few things. But it was a wedding full of love. As I sat there at their reception (we did get to have fun and enjoy), I was struck by the spiritual connection to what I felt in this experience. Serving God should be like how I felt serving my friends - like a beautiful gift and an amazing outpouring of love and devotion.

“Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us.
His love was not cautious but extravagant.
He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us. Love like that.” ~Ephesians 5:2

More than any other experience I can remember, I felt like I lived that verse last summer.  I am so grateful that I didn't let my feelings prior to the trip impact our time with them. I am so grateful to have been able to give that gift to our friends - it was not expected, it was not forced, it was not done grudgingly or with a bad attitude. It truly felt like the more we gave, the more we wanted to give.  And our friends were so appreciative - time and again, they would hold our hands, whisper "thank you" and "I love you", look across the room at us and you could just see in their eyes their appreciation and thanks. There was so much love among all of us and it deepened our already strong friendship and made us truly family. I never want to forget how that felt and I hope that I will remember to love God that way and love others that way. It's not easy of course sometimes...but it's overwhelming in the best way when you do.

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for your written Word to us. Thank You for providing a way for us to read and know Your thoughts and desires for us and about us. I thank You for the things You've done in my life. Even the hard things, because as I have gone through them and begin to learn the lessons You had for me I can see why they were necessary. And even in the times when I can't understand the why, I want to choose to trust You anyways. Thank You for loving us so much more than we can ever imagine. Thank You for allowing me the opportunity to love others and help me to be extravagant in that love and not cautious. Thank You for the friends and family and all the people You place in my life. Please be with them today. Help them to know You personally, help them to place their trust in You and help them to feel Your incredible love for them. Thank You for the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with others through this blog and please help my words to be used for Your glory and purpose. Thank You for loving us. I love you. Amen.

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