Tuesday, October 21, 2014

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” ~ Mark 6:31

Well, I'm going to be honest. Taking time to rest is rarely my problem. My problem is probably taking too much time to rest. What I struggle with is using that time of rest to seek God and daily renew my relationship with Him. However, I have a lot of people in my life who I love dearly who struggle almost daily with the idea of rest. They have so much to do - good things usually, important things even - but they get bogged down by all that doing and feel ashamed when and if they ever allow themselves to rest. This post is for them...because I love them...and because even more than that - God loves them and calls them to rest.

“Lord Jesus, make my heart sit down.” ~ African proverb

“My soul finds rest in God alone;” ~ Psalm 62:1a

There are many things in our lives vying for our attention - work, school, family, friends, exercise, TV/movies, church activities, etc. Most of these are good things, things that we should be doing. Things that aren't harmful to us. The problem lies in doing any one thing too much, or letting everything we have to do overwhelm us. Our culture is a busy, busy, busy one and we all feel the push to do everything at once, to multitask, to schedule and reschedule and overschedule our lives to do it all. We think that doing all these things will make us happier, healthier, wiser or better in some way. And there is some good. But we've forgotten moderation and many of us have forgotten the importance and the beauty of rest.

“Remember, tho’ we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way around – we get afraid because we struggle. Are you struggling, resisting? Don’t you think Our Lord says to you ‘Peace, child, peace. Relax. Let go. Underneath are the everlasting arms. Let go, I will catch you. Do you trust me so little?’” ~ C.S. Lewis

“Cease striving and know that I am God…” ~ Psalm 46:10

We all want to control things and to rest often means that we have to let go of the things we want or feel we need to do. It can be difficult to do that. We don't want to let others down. We don't want to look like a "bad" Christian. We don't trust anyone else to do the things we do. We think that rest is a waste of time, that it means doing nothing, that nothing = nothing good. However, because of the hectic lives we lead, we often are so overwhelmed and burdened that we need much more rest that we'd ever allow ourselves the opportunity to have. We get so emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually overwhelmed that we often find ourselves at a breaking point.

“We don’t have to think it’s funny when we feel like we need some extra comfort. I sometimes sing about that to children, but, as you know, I believe there’s a child somewhere in each of us. We all have times like that – times when an extra measure of care is needed. We need comfort and so does everyone else. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of.” 
~ Mister Rogers

“Under His wings you shall take refuge.” ~ Psalm 91:4

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” ~ Jeremiah 31:25

When we find ourselves at that breaking point, we can only turn our weary bodies and minds over to God and say "Help." If we can allow ourselves to let go of some of the things we "have" to do, allowing others the joy and privilege to come alongside of us and carry some of the burden. We don't have to feel alone - God is there to carry the burdens that no one else can carry, that we should never have to carry. And He's provided family and friends in our lives who can come alongside with a meal, a shoulder to cry on, a willing desire to be helpful, or the ability to take over those things that have to get done. It's scary to let things go, to not be in control, to be vulnerable. But there is also great joy and love and peace in letting go, in not being in control, in being vulnerable. It allows us to see how much we are cared for and loved - by God and by the people He's placed in our lives.

“‘God, the Master, says: From now on, I myself am the shepherd. I’m going looking for them…I’ll rescue them from all the places they’ve been scattered to in the storms…I’ll feed them…And I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep. I myself will make sure they get plenty of rest. I’ll go after the lost, I’ll collect the strays, I’ll doctor the injured, I’ll build up the weak ones and oversee the strong ones so they’re not exploited.”
~ Ezekiel 34:11-16

“He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart;” ~ Isaiah 40:11

God sees our struggles and He hears our cries even when they aren't spoken aloud. He loves us and wants us to depend on Him. He is our Shepherd - He will seek us and find us and call to us. We just need to listen to His voice and follow Him. To trust Him to take care of our needs - to rest secure in knowing that He is in control and we don't need to be afraid or worried. He wants us to snuggle into His arms and hear His voice speaking His truth and love into our lives. Unless we rest and be quiet, we won't hear Him. Unless we rest, we aren't able to quiet our minds and hearts enough to know what He wants to share with us.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
~ Matthew 11:28-30

“Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee, O Lord.” ~ St. Augustine

One of the things I've learned in the past few years is how to draw closer to God. Oh, I'm not perfect and I don't do it all the time. But I've learned the importance of sitting down with His Word and soaking up the truths He has given us. I've marveled at the height and depth and breadth of His all-consuming love for us - His people - His beloved children. I've been challenged to dig deeper and to learn more about what God says and how it impacts my life. I've been blessed by spiritual truths that calm my heart and heal the hurt feelings. One of the verses that really has spoken to me is this one:

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

I'm not really sure exactly what it is, but it speaks volumes to my heart. I suppose it was as though my faith had dried out. It was there and I believed in God and trusted Him, but it was dry and lifeless. Until I was challenged and I felt passionate about what I believed and a deep desire to know and fight for those beliefs. As I read through God's Word in The Message, I could feel my heart and mind being watered by God's truth and love and grace. The more I read, the more I wanted to read. The words that I read seemed so fresh and clean and healing. I kept feeling this sense of exclamation and joy and my Bible has become filled with underlined passages, exclamation points, stars and notes proclaiming God's amazingness. I think that verse just kind of sums up what I've been learning and making me feel full - content - blessed in a way that I can't really explain.

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” ~ Exodus 33:14

“Christ, who loves us with an everlasting love, understands our struggles, and can be trusted to provide us with a rest we can never find on our own. His strength is enough for our weakness, making Him our “sanctuary for the heavy laden.” ~ Bill Crowder

“The LORD will fight for you; you need only be still.” ~ Exodus 14:14

We don't have to be strong all the times. We can put our trust and faith in God and lean on His strength which is far greater than any strength we might have. And in our times of weakness, if we choose to depend on His strength we can know we are safe and secure. I know I struggle with this many times, but in the times when I remember to trust Him there is a feeling of security that comes only from God. We sometimes worry that we need to try harder or work more to make God happy with us. But this couldn't be farther from the truth. God simply wants us to come to Him and admit that we can't do it on our own, that we are hopeless and helpless without Him and to place our trust and our hearts in His more than capable hands.

“That is the absolute truth. God loves you passionately, right now. He knows everything about you, your hopes and fears, your dreams and disappointments. There is nothing you can do today or tomorrow to change his love for you. Not only that, but he is in control. You don’t have to fight to make things happen. You don’t have to feel threatened when God blesses someone else’s life; you can celebrate it! You won’t miss a thing that God has for you. Because God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (with us all the time), we can rest.” ~ Sheila Walsh

“Be still, and know that I am God.” ~ Psalm 46:10

I have always been drawn to the beauty of God's creation. Amazed by the varieties of colors, scents, textures, and tastes of His beautiful world. When I am in nature, I feel closer to God. Especially when near the ocean or a peaceful garden. It's often in these times I can settle my mind, clear my thoughts and focus on the wonder of God and then I am able to more easily listen to what He might be saying to me. When I went on my mission trips over the summers of 1996 and 1998, during Training Camp we had daily hour-long devotion time. We were encouraged to find a small bit of nature, do our assigned Bible reading and spend time talking to and listening to God. I loved those times and know I could do better at doing the same in my daily life now. Also those summers, we spent a final few days debriefing in a beautiful coastal town called Cayucos. We stayed at a church very near the ocean and those few days were so restful and full of peace.

I've been back to that town many times since then, and for my husband and I, it is a place of deep peace and true rest that we are drawn to every year. Sometimes for only one night, and occasionally almost a full week. Each time we return refreshed and relaxed, but happily anticipating the next time we can visit. Our time with God should be like our times in Cayucos...or wherever it might be that brings you feelings of rest and peace...a place where time slows down, there isn't much that "has" to be done, and there is time to feel the rest and recuperation that we all need. And at the end, there is joyful anticipation of the next time you can be in that place or in His presence.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.” ~ Nahum 1:7

“…but what joy for all who take refuge in Him!” ~ Psalm 2:12b

We all need rest. We all want rest. God created us this way. He does not need rest, yet He chose to rest on the seventh day. There are many things He could have been doing, many good and noble and important things. The fact that He chose to rest should say something to us about how important God feels rest should be for Him and for us. You don't have to be afraid to let some things go. You can choose to delegate or allow someone to come alongside and assist you. If you feel yourself at the end of your rope, feeling overwhelmed and burdened by life's stresses - settle in God's embrace and have faith that He will see you through. We can trust Him for He is faithful. And even if you don't feel overwhelmed or stressed...rest is just as important for you. Setting aside time to focus on God and your relationship with Him is a vital part of our lives.

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him;” ~ Psalm 37:7a

This time with God doesn't need to become another burden or another thing to add to your list. It should be something to look forward to. Like a vacation that you've been anxiously anticipating all year long. But it's something you can enjoy at any moment. Revel in God's creation - a beautiful sunset, a delicious meal, a good book, the scent of flowers, the kindness of a friend, anything that makes you feel thankful to God. Choose to take that moment and enjoy it, thank God for it, rest in it. No, it isn't always easy. But it is a choice and I'm fairly certain that once you make the choice to rest in Him you will discover the joy that comes from His presence and love.

Thank You, Lord, for arranging the circumstances of my life so that I must stop and rest and sit at Your feet in quiet solitude. Thank You for the healing I find there. Thank You for the new truth and redefined purpose for my life. Help me apply the truths I find when sitting at Your feet. 
In Jesus’ name, Amen. ~ Girlfriends in God devotional 8/14/14

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for providing us with the benefit and privilege of rest. Help us to remember that choosing to rest in You is the right choice and not something we should feel ashamed or guilty about choosing. Help us to spend time resting in You and listening for the things You want to tell us. Be with those who struggle with letting things go and resting in You. Help them to find a way to let go and refresh their faith and their lives in You. Please provide them a place and a time where they can draw closer to You and feel the refreshment that Your love and peace can bring. Quiet their minds from the accusations of the devil who wants them to think rest is a waste of time. Help them to rest in Your love and grace and enjoy the rest that You desire for them. Help me to be of assistance to those who might need me to come alongside them in their feelings of being overwhelmed. Help me to not be lazy, but full of joyful willingness to help. Use my life for Your purposes God. Thank You for the opportunity to write this blog and please guide my words to be a blessing and encouragement to others. Thank You for loving us and we love you too. Amen. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

“If any of you lacks wisdom, [she] should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to [her].” ~ James 1:5

Sometimes it can be scary to ask questions. We fear sounding uneducated, we're afraid someone will question our faith, we worry that our questions might sound dumb. It's hard to live in fear. I step into the fear zone way too often. I don't like to draw attention and asking questions requires attention. I've been afraid to share my thoughts and worries - most recently for fear of being accused of not being a true Christian. Although how someone can weigh someone else's Christianity now sounds silly since I know only God can know someone's heart. But I've been afraid and I remember how it feels to worry about asking a question.

Never be afraid to ask questions. The Samaritan woman wasn’t shy about pressing for answers and didn’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Sometimes we’re afraid to wade into theological waters with someone more knowledgeable than we are for fear we’ll ask the wrong questions or appear foolish. Take the risk. Find out what you need to know. If the Lord has provided a teacher, be a willing student. If she hadn’t asked all her questions about living water, the woman at the well would have gone home with nothing but a pot full of lifeless liquid and a dozen unanswered questions burning in her heart.” ~ Liz Curtis Higgs

In the past, I don't really think I ever truly struggled with knowing what I believed. I had wonderful examples - parents who loved God and lived out their faith every day in all ways; pastors and youth pastors and Sunday school teachers who loved God, loved people and helped me to learn and grow in my faith; mission trip leaders, Christian school teachers and relatives who lived their faith and taught me much about deepening my faith; and honestly I always felt close to God and didn't have any doubts or reasons to dig deeper for truth.

“There are tremendous thoughts expressed in God’s Book, and unless we have learned to rely on the Holy Spirit we shall say, ‘Oh, I shall never understand that.’ But the Holy Spirit in us understands it, and as we recognize and rely on Him, He will work it out, whether we consciously understand or not.” ~ Oswald Chambers

All this changed for me when someone in authority began saying things that went against what I believed to be true. It stirred up questions and anxiety and anger and frustration. Although I disagreed with what I was hearing, I also wanted to know "why" I disagreed. I knew that it couldn't just be "because I thought so". I wanted to know the truth about what God had to say in His Word and so I began to dig deeper.

I had intense discussions about the topics that caused me to struggle. I began reading the New Testament in more depth, searching for answers. I began to seek out theology and doctrine and not just those which supported my current beliefs. I read the suggested readings of the person whose words I had disagreed with. I also read things from the opposite perspective. I cried and prayed and struggled and questioned.

“Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice.” ~ Psalm 55:17

“God rewards those who seek Him. Not those who seek doctrine or religion or systems or creeds. Many settle for these lesser passions, but the reward goes to those who settle for nothing less than Jesus Himself. And what is the reward? What awaits those who seek Jesus? Nothing short of the heart of Jesus.” ~ Max Lucado

As I read more and prayed a lot, I began to deepen my faith and understand why I believed what I believed and why I disagreed so strongly. I began to try to understand the reasons why there are many on both sides of these types of issues who are true Christians who have earnestly sought God's truth and come to differing conclusions. I began to understand that while I did feel strongly about what I believed, that it was possible to come to a different conclusion. The important thing I discovered was that we will likely never know for sure (until we get to heaven) and ultimately it wasn't important who was "right". We want everything to be either/or...but God has made many things both/and...and this seems impossible to our human understanding.

“As believers we cannot always know why, but we can always know why we trust God who knows why, and this makes all the difference.”
~ Os Guinness

“I had to be willing to live inside the mystery…Some things in life will never make sense. They won’t be made right or explained. At least in our lifetime. They float around in a swirl of mystery. I wanted God to explain all that mystery to me before I agreed to trust Him. But I discovered it doesn’t work that way. He is God, and He doesn’t have to explain anything. When I understood that, then I could surrender to Christ and step inside the mystery instead of stand back and resist.”
~ Robin Jones Gunn

What is important is trusting God and loving Him with all my heart and mind and soul. If I can surrender and trust that He is in control, that He understands, that He is my only truth then my faith is secure. The important thing is believing that Jesus is who He says He is...believing in His death and resurrection...believing that He is the Son of God. Everything else is secondary and while it can be well and good to study the Word and form thoughts and opinions from that study, it's not what matters the most. I can disagree with someone about those secondary issues and I don't have to question my faith or theirs.

“Honesty is often very hard. The truth is often painful. But the freedom it can bring is worth the trying.” ~ Mister Rogers

What I came to realize is that while I was able to agree to disagree, not everyone is able to do this. This required some difficult and honest conversation that ultimately led to us stepping away from that person in authority. It was handled about as well as I was able and while perhaps it could have gone better, I also did not say or do anything I regret or feel badly about. I had to be honest...and it was very painful...but the freedom I've felt since leaving has been far greater than I could have ever imagined. Yes, I still feel afraid at times. Yes, I still struggle with understanding. Yes, I still have questions and doubts now and then. But I know that no matter what happens, God is with me. He is faithful, He is able, and He is trustworthy.

“God can handle honesty, and prayer begins an honest conversation. My belief is that when you’re telling the truth, you’re close to God. If you say to God, ‘I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don’t like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You,’ that might be the most honest thing you’ve ever said. If you told me you had said to God, ‘It is all hopeless, and I don’t have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand,’ it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real – really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.” ~ Anne Lamott

One of the great joys I discovered in this time of struggle was the beauty of God's Word. One of my favorite discoveries was in Psalms. I found that as I read through the Psalms there was a cycle of praising God, crying out to God and asking God to curse and cause pain to one's enemies. After reading through this cycle a few times I was struck by the thought that God made our emotions - He knows that we have a full range of them and that we are constantly cycling through them. Perhaps the Psalms was His way of assuring us that it is okay to struggle...to question...to be angry...to be hurt...to be happy. The truly important thing is to be honest before God with all those emotions...to hold nothing back from Him and to ultimately trust Him to know what to do with our concerns and feelings. He wants us to be real...really REAL...and although He already knows everything about us, He wants us to choose to share it with Him. This was a life-changing insight for me and took a huge weight off my shoulders...to know that I can be real about my feelings and my questions, but to give them all to God knowing that He can be trusted.

“Authenticity implies honesty, struggles, questions, desert times, shaking fists, and hopeful silences. I can only model what I am experiencing. Anything else is either behavioral modification or ‘faking it’ – neither of which is transformational…God lives in the struggle. It is there we find Him.” ~ Nancy Ortberg

I think we get afraid sometimes that having questions or raising doubts is something that a "good" Christian never does. But I'm discovering that this isn't true at all. We all have questions - God made us to be curious and He is not frightened or worried or diminished by our worries and doubts. God wants us to be honest...so if that means you have questions - be honest. If that means you have doubts - have faith that even if you can't understand that God does. We may never know all that He knows, but we can still trust Him.

“Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart, and learn to love the questions themselves.” ~ Rilke

“Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking.” ~ Oswald Chambers

There is always something new to learn about God. And having questions or concerns or even doubts is never a bad thing. What matters is whether or not those things lead you closer to God or drive you further away. If we can learn to let those questions draw us deeper into relationship with God, deeper into study of His Word and deeper into conversation with Him through prayer and thanksgiving...then those struggles are worth far more than we can imagine. While I would never willingly choose to go through struggles (who would?), I am so incredibly grateful for the questions and doubts that arose in the past few years. The reason - because it drew me closer to God and made my relationship with Him more real and true than it had been in years...perhaps ever.

"Experience is never your guide; experience is the doorway for you to know the Author of the experience. Get at the knowledge of God for yourself, be a continuous learner, and the truth will open on the right hand and on the left until you find there is not a problem in human life that Jesus Christ cannot deal with." ~ Oswald Chambers

"Never stop learning. People stagnate, not through backsliding, but because they stop learning and harden into a wrong mental poise." 
~ Oswald Chambers

Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't be afraid when doubts arise. Don't be afraid to wrestle with your faith. Let those things draw you closer to God. He is able to handle your fears. He is capable of withstanding your doubts. He is faithful to meet you where you are and lead you to the place He has for you....but you have to make the choice to place your hand in His and trust Him. God loves you and He wants to have a relationship with you. You must choose to be real with Him and love Him too.

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” ~ Psalm 10:17

Dear heavenly Father, thank You so much for being big enough to overcome our fears and doubts and questions. Thank You for listening and being patient about our sometimes endless questions. You are a loving Father and we thank You for never growing tired of our curiosity. Thank You for giving us a full range of emotions and for being kind enough to suffer through our cycles and depths of emotion. Thank You for times of struggle and the ways that it can lead us to deeper relationship with You. Help me to remember to seek You when I feel afraid, to trust You when I have doubts and to ask You when I have questions. Thank You for the people You've placed in my life who've helped lead me to deeper knowledge and understanding of You...and for showing me what it means to be loved and for allowing me to show love to others. You are the mighty God and I thank You for loving me. I love you too. Amen.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” ~ 2 Cor. 5:17

Did you ever wish you could change your past? Do you ever think that maybe what you've done is the worst thing and that there is nothing that can change and you're doomed to be a "bad person" for the rest of your life? I think we all have moments in our past that we wish could be different, that we wish we could be better or do better.

I don't know if you know this about me, but I have a soft spot for villains and "bad guys." Like Heathcliff from the book Wuthering Heights, Lex Luthor from the TV show Smallville, or Regina and Rumplestiltskin on the TV show Once Upon a Time. What I have is hope for them - hope that if they received a little more love, affection, affirmation...then they might be able to rise above their evil nature and become good. We all want love and sometimes when we don't get it, some choose to seek out attention in negative ways. Some choose to hurt other people, some choose to hurt themselves.

We are created with a deep desire for love. God made us this way and in a perfect world we would receive this love easily. But our world is broken and sinful and often we don't receive love from our parents and our family or friends the way God intended. We feel lost and alone and unloved. We seek any kind of attention and "love" that seems to fill our need. Or we turn hard and bitter and lash out at anyone who tries to get close. We feel love is a lie and not to be trusted. All of this can lead to choices that we might come to regret.

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” ~ Romans 3:23-24

But there is hope - and His name is Jesus! God loves us - individually and unconditionally - and even though our world is broken He created a plan to allow us to come back into relationship with Him. By the life and death and resurrection  of His only Son Jesus, we are able to confess our sins and accept His sacrifice in our place and have that loving relationship we've been searching for! Isn't God good? He's made a way for our past to be forgiven and forgotten and for us to have a hope and a future.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” ~ Isaiah 43:18-19

The experiences of our past may be difficult and we may wish that we didn't have to go through them. But God can use all of our experiences and bring good. Sometimes through the ability to share with someone that they aren't alone - that they aren't the only one. Sometimes our struggles help us to realize that we can't do something on our own and that we need to depend on God. Every single thing we go through helps to shape us into the person we are and how we deal with those experiences helps to determine who we will be.

“This is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” ~ Corrie Ten Boom

“It’s the hard things that God really uses. The things we hate going through, the things that push us to our limits. When we look back, we may never want to go through the pain again, but we’re grateful for the results.” ~ Jeri Odell

“But if I would show the good that came of it I must talk about things other than the good.” ~ Dante

When we come to discover that we aren't capable on our own, that we need something more...and we realize that what we need is Someone more, that is when there is light at the end of the tunnel. When we can see God for Who He is and we accept the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. It isn't about doing something or working hard or becoming "good". All we have to do is plop our messed up, hurting, scarred and unloved selves in God's open arms and say "I'm sorry. I need You. I love You." We aren't expected to be perfect, we don't have to be "fixed." It's not about what we do, but about what God will do in us.

"Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up. The opposite may be true: We may not be able to get it together until after we show up in such miserable shape.” ~ Anne Lamott

“God loves you not because of who you are or what you have done but because of who he is. Our behavior does not impact the heart and character of God. We think that on good days, God is proud of us; and in our not-so-attractive moments, he loves us less. This is applying human logic to the heart of God, and it will always come up short. There is life-changing truth in the message of these three little words: God loves you!” ~ Sheila Walsh

As we turn over our lives to God, and turn over our past, He begins to work in us and the more we trust Him the more like Him we'll become. As we come to know God by reading His Word and speaking to Him through prayer we start to see how much He loves us. As the more we feel His love, the more we will want to chose to do those things He calls us to do. Not because He will love us more, but because we love Him more. Just like in our relationships with other people - when we love someone we want to spend time with them, to do special things for them and with them, we want to shower them with our love and attention and affection. And no one who loves us - even those who love us a lot - can ever love us as much and as unconditionally as God loves us.

I read this quote somewhere (wish I could remember where) and it's been taped to my computer at work ever since as a daily reminder:

God didn't even love you....He so loved you.

Not - "Oh, I guess God loves me, even though I did this and that and I fail and I'm not perfect and so on and so on..."

But - "God loves you soooooooo much, not because of anything you've done or not done, but just because He's chosen to."

We will never be perfect and we will make mistakes and fail sometimes. But what happened in our past, once we've asked God for forgiveness, is gone. We don't have to worry that He might bring it up again to throw in our faces when we fail. Satan will do that to us...he'll try to convince us that we aren't truly forgiven. That we can't possibly do good or get better. But we have to remember that he is a liar. God forgives and, even more amazingly, He forgets.

“If God forgives us we must forgive ourselves otherwise it’s like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Once we give our lives to God, we will still have struggles. We will still be tempted and we may sometimes succumb to temptation. The key is to admit our failure, ask for forgiveness and move forward. Give it to God and then let it go. We will face difficult experiences, we may feel overwhelmed by our fears and doubts, but if we remember to turn to God, to remember that we can depend on Him, then we can have a firm foundation. God will never leave us, even when we feel alone - He is always there.

“Friends, when life gets really difficult, don’t jump to the conclusion that God isn’t on the job. Instead, be glad that you are in the very thick of what Christ experienced. This is a spiritual refining process, with glory just around the corner.” ~ 1 Peter 4:12-13

“You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry” ~ Psalm 10:17

God works everything together for our good. The bad times, the hard times, the good times - all of it works together to create in us the purpose He has for our lives. And through it all, we can depend on the truth that He loves us. He loves us completely and unconditionally. It's never dependent on what we do or do not do. It's all Him and when we know we are loved, we can be who He has made us to be. We don't have to be afraid, we don't have hurt ourselves or others, we can rest secure in the love our heavenly Father showers over us day after day.

“Jesus never fails to see us with love, even though we have scars of sin and a rumpled nature that shows in our stutter-step faithfulness.” 
~ Our Daily Bread devotional 3/15/13

“God told them, ‘I’ve never quit loving you and never will. Expect love, love and more love! And so now, I’ll start over with you and build you up again,’” ~ Jeremiah 31:3

Our past does not have to define us. God can take the experiences we've had and turn them around for His good and His purpose. He showers us with His overwhelming and unconditional love and fills the empty places in our lives and heals the hurts. Once we know how much He loves us, we are able to overflow with that love onto others and toward God. We can be a new creation in Christ - we can turn away from our villain status and become a hero. That is the power of love - God's love. We are made new. What an amazing gift!

Dear heavenly Father, thank You for the wonderful gift of Your incredible love. Thank You for making the sacrifice of Your only Son so that we can be reconciled to You. Even though we may not always be proud of our past experiences, thank You for the ways that You use our past to teach us, to draw us closer to You and to share our lives with others. Thank You for your gift of forgiveness. Help me to desire Your will for my life, to trust You when I feel afraid and to remember that You are in control and that You love me. For those who feel that their past is too bad, that they are too "villain-like", that Your forgiveness can't possibly apply to them - help them to see the truth. Help them to see that You do love them, that You will forgive and forget, that Your grace is sufficient. Thank You for loving us. We love you too. Amen.