Just Love Each Other

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.  Psalm 36:7

I had my first ever dream about Jesus, Yeshua, a few months ago.  I have thought of it often.  To be quite honest, it was a bit convicting.

In the dream, I saw a hallway with several white doors.  The doors opened and a person came out from behind each door.  We all then entered a common room where Yeshua was.  The group was made up of both men and women, probably in their 20s and 30s.  Yeshua looked around the room and said, in an exasperated yet pleading voice, “Just love each other!”  I immediately awoke.

Confession time.  I have not always been a loving person, and I still struggle with this at times.  Even as a Christian.

Isn’t love the trait that sets believers in Jesus apart from others?

By this, all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13:35

Isn’t that one of the greatest commandments that Jesus spoke of?

Love the Lord your God will all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. Luke 10:27

So how can someone say they are a Christian and not love people?

Well, different reasons, I suppose.  We all come to Jesus with baggage.  We have all walked through life and picked up scars along the way.  Rejection from peers, the painful end of a close friendship, verbal or physical abuse from parents or a spouse, harsh or embarrassing comments from a teacher or supervisor, the heartbreaking end of a relationship or marriage, just to name a few.

None of us are immune.

In my case, there was fear of being hurt by people.  It was safer to make my heart a kind of fortress, where only a few select people were allowed in.  I didn’t do much outside of time spent with those select few because it was safe there.

What I didn’t understand was that what I thought was a sanctuary was actually a prison.

Thank God, He loves us baggage and all, and He bids us come to Him and leave the baggage at His feet.  Letting go is a process, though, because we’re often not even aware of the baggage we’re carrying.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

Slowly, as we spend more and more time in God’s presence, praying and reading the Bible, He shows us what we’ve been carrying, and then He enables us to give it to Him. That thing is then no longer a weight to carry, but becomes the very thing the Lord uses to help set someone else free.

I’m so thankful that the Lord doesn’t leave us the way He finds us.

The more time we spend with Him, the more we become like Him, and He is love.  He fills us with love for others.

But how do we really love in a practical way, day to day?  I’m still learning, but one of the things that has helped me is a question I heard somewhere that really stuck with me:  why do we assume a person’s worst intentions when they hurt us, but expect them to assume our best intentions when we hurt them?

Can’t we assume that their actions were never to hurt us?  Can’t we believe the best, and look for the best?

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8

Can’t we forgive when necessary and not get offended every time our toes get stepped on?

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

It’s not easy, is it?  But it is possible.

We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19

Looking at His love, at His sacrifice, and seeing our own sinfulness…knowing that even when we were in our filthiness, our unloveliness, recognizing how truly wretched we were, how can we, who have been loved and forgiven much, not do the same?

There are so many ways to love others.  We can encourage people when we see them struggling.  We can pray for them.  We can offer physical assistance if needed.  We can help them financially.  Whatever gifts the Lord has placed in us are to be used in serving each other, and by doing this, God is pleased and honored.

I have found myself crying out to the Lord, more and more, to help me love people with His love.  To help me see people the way He sees them.  To be filled with his compassion.  I believe these are prayers that are dear to His heart, and He is answering.  He is transforming me with His love.  I know He will do the same for you if you ask Him.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8

Lord, help us to love others the way that you do.  So fill us with your love and compassion that it overflows and touches everyone we meet.  Give us eyes to really see the people around us, and give us the empathy to want to relieve their pain.  Lord, Your Word says that he who waters will himself be watered.  You water us continually with your love.  Help us to do the same.

Worth More than Many Sparrows

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand. Psalm 37:23-24

The text read, “My husband noticed that one of the turbines on your second story roof is broken and opened up.  If it rains you could get rain in there and then a leak into your house.”

Sigh.  The second story?  An added expense with the holidays right around the corner?  Another sigh.

I was thankful that my neighbor had noticed, and was somewhat surprised that I hadn’t noticed it myself.  We had had several windy days over the last week due to a tropical storm off Florida’s coast.  Branches had fallen down from the trees that had already been pruned by Hurricane Irma.

A quick review of the money in hand and upcoming expenses led to the realization that hiring a repairman was out of the question.  Someone was going to have to gather up the courage to brave the second story roof, and that someone was going to have to be me.

I don’t know about you, but I am no fan of heights.  I don’t even like ladders.  This began during my first pregnancy, when I was standing on a small ladder and suddenly felt dizzy.  It has remained with me even after more than two decades.

I didn’t know what the job would entail, but I needed something that would last through the holidays until I could hire someone to fix it properly.  A metallic tape that I had used before seemed like a good choice, so I grabbed the roll and a pair of scissors and made my way to our back balcony, which provided easy access to the first story roof.

I made my way carefully along the roof to the peak, where the two roofs were the shortest distance apart.  Turning around slowly so that I was facing away from the second story roof, I cautiously sat down on the higher roof.  My feet barely touched the lower roof below me.

My heart was beating rapidly as I viewed the street below.  My daughter smiled at me from the grass below, with phone in hand, ready to call 911 if the unthinkable happened.

She prayed, I prayed, and soon my heart slowed to a normal beat.  I slowly scooted backwards up the roof toward the peak, where the turbine sat crookedly.  Inch by inch I drew nearer, and was soon examining the turbine, where I discovered that a large screw had come out of one of the brackets that held the turbine in place.

Well, that was good news, right?  Just a screw?  Yes!  Well, except for one thing.  The thought of climbing down and repeating the climb back up was not exactly appealing.

I sat up there for a moment, trying to decide whether or not the tape might do to secure the turbine until I could gather up the courage to do this again.

As I contemplated the situation, my eyes were drawn to the other side of the turbine.  To my surprise and delight, not more than four inches from the turbine sat the missing screw.  Four inches away, on a slanted roof, after days of high winds.  Mind blown.

I twisted the screw back in and covered it with the tape for good measure, and slowly made my way back down, thanking the Lord with each little scoot.

A verse immediately came to mind.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Luke 12:6-7

And if He remembers even the little sparrows, and cares enough to keep a screw on a slanted roof just for me, certainly He is more than able to help with the bigger things, too.

I think the Lord allowed this not only to build my faith, but the faith of my daughter.  See, my daughter knows how I feel about heights.  She had just seen her mother face her fear, and not only live to tell about it (smile), but experience the miraculous.  Maybe, just maybe, when she is faced with something that causes her to fear, she will resolutely face her fear, step out in faith, and will experience the miraculous, too.

Yeshua (Jesus) was tempted in everything we are, and yet was without sin.  He knows our struggles.  He knows our fears.  He doesn’t ask us to do anything that He Himself wasn’t willing to do.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 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 4:14-16

When Peter wanted to walk on the water with Him, “Come.”  He says the same to us.  Keep your eyes on Him.  If you falter, rest assured that His hand is there, ready and willing to catch you.

Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”  And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind stopped. And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!” Matthew 14:28-33

Perception vs. Reality

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. Psalm 32:8

Did you ever see the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?  In one scene, Indiana Jones must cross from one side of a large cavern to another.  There is a steep drop, blackness so dark that you can’t see the bottom.  He refers to the quest as the Path of God.  It seems an impossible task, and requires a step of faith.  His faith is rewarded as he lands on a solid, yet invisible (from his perspective) bridge, which enables him to walk across easily.  When he reaches the other side, he tosses dirt on the bridge so that he can easily find his way back.  As the camera angle changes, however, you can see that the bridge was there all along, clearly visible from another point of view.

Indiana Jones would never have known the bridge was there if he hadn’t stepped out.  It certainly didn’t make sense.  Based on what his eyes could see, it was foolish.

Isn’t that the way life seems sometimes?  Haven’t you felt like Indiana Jones, knowing that to move forward, you have to take a step into the unknown?  You wish for just a little dirt on the path so you can see where to go.  You want to grasp someone’s hand to walk along side you, but deep in your heart, you know that this is something you have to do yourself.

The process of reaching that point can be difficult.  It’s easy to give in to fear and refuse to move forward.  Staying where you are is comfortable, for a season, but then, like a treasured piece of clothing from your younger days, it just doesn’t fit anymore.  You have to move forward, like it or not, and take the leap of faith.  You land, get your bearings, and it’s at that point that your faith truly becomes your own.  You realize that though you can’t see Him, the Lord has been leading you all along, just as He promised.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand. Psalm 37:23-24

That movie scene reminds me of a dream I had awhile back.  In one part of the dream, I opened what appeared to be a closet door.  Inside was blackness, so dark that I couldn’t see anything except for a couple of feet of a rope bridge suspended over nothingness that led into the darkness.  All of a sudden, one of my dogs walked onto the bridge, expecting me to follow.  I quickly called him back and closed the door.  I have wondered about that dream many times, and I believe it is very much like the Indiana Jones scene.  In my dream, at least I could see the bridge, but I couldn’t see where it led and wanted no part of finding out, even with my trusted companion.

I believe I finally understand the meaning.

I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes and trusts in Me [as Savior—all those who anchor their hope in Me and rely on the truth of My message] will not continue to live in darkness. John 12:46

Jesus is the Light of the world. After His death, burial and resurrection, He ascended to heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. If He is seated in heaven, how is He then a Light here on earth?  He is a Light through us who believe in Him and have surrendered our lives to Him.

I have lived, for the most part, a pretty safe, comfortable life.  I don’t do things to get myself in trouble, try to be kind and encouraging to others, and try to please the Lord, who loves me and gave Himself for me.  Those are all good things, right?  But am I not also called to be a light in the darkness?

Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds and moral excellence, and [recognize and honor and] glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16

Ahhh, and that’s where the trouble within me lies.  If I don’t step out of my comfortable, predictable little bubble, how can I be a light?  Instead, I must venture out, and learn to navigate in the world around me, comfortable or not.  Not to walk in darkness, but to be a light in the darkness.  Not to be afraid of the darkness, but to know that His Light overcomes the darkness.

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You. Psalm 139:7, 11-12

We are never out of His sight, never out of His reach, and never alone.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, on those who hope for His lovingkindness. Psalm 33:18

In looking up the verse above, I found that the Hebrew word translated lovingkindness is chacad, which means merciful. I really like the Amplified Bible version, which translates the verse this way:

Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon those who fear Him [and worship Him with awe-inspired reverence and obedience], on those who hope [confidently] in His compassion and lovingkindness. Psalm 33:18

The Lord is merciful, loving, compassionate, and kind.  He is wise, and knows the end from the beginning.  He knows how to lead His own, and His compassion requires that I – that we – be the light that He has called us to be.

There is an old song sung by musical duo Harvest, entitled, “Send us to the World.”  Here is the chorus:

If we don’t believe then how will they know?

How will they hear, if we never go?

Oh, Lord, send us to the world!

If we don’t believe, then how will they see?

How will they know that they can be free?

Oh, Lord, send us to the world!

Two bridges.  One unseen but there nonetheless, and another seen but leading into the darkness.  One led to the other side, where he found what he needed.  The other outcome wasn’t certain, but would have been taken with a trusted, faithful companion, had I had the courage to step out and bring light into the darkness.

We must remember that we do not walk alone, and we do not go unprotected.

You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

May we have the courage to walk where He leads, to be lights in the darkness, and to bring the message of hope, freedom and redemption to people who don’t know the Giver of those things.  Jesus would.  Jesus did.  May we walk by faith, and not by sight, and so please Him.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the certainty of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Hebrews 11:6

 

Where the Wind Blows

“Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.  He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; who makes lightnings for the rain, who brings forth the wind from His treasuries.” Psalm 135:6-7

A few days before Veteran’s Day, I was driving in an area where American flags were displayed on utility poles up and down the main street.  The city does this every year for this holiday as well as Independence Day.  It’s a beautiful sight, and always brings a smile to my face.

On this particular day, while stopped at a red light, I was looking at the flags and noticed something interesting.  Some of the flags were waving proudly, while others hung there limp.  Although the flags were all on the same street, some were being moved by the wind, and some were not.  It had nothing to do with the flags, but everything to do with the wind.

“He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow.”  Psalm 147:18

We are the same way. When we are being filled and led by the Spirit, we move where the wind of the Spirit blows us.  Some will move with fierce intensity, while others will have a slower, gentler motion.  Some may not appear to be moving at all.  The Lord uses just the right amount of wind to move us into different seasons of life, and to new places within a season.  In Him we live and move and have our being.  It won’t look the same for any two of us. As long as we’re willing to be moved, we’re being used by the Lord, and the Kingdom of God advances.

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  John 3:8

There have been many times where it felt like I was barely hanging in there.  No visible wind, just hot, stale air.  It’s not something I enjoy, but I believe it is necessary.  Sometimes we are in a time of waiting for the Lord to do in the background what we can’t see with our eyes, and sometimes we simply need to rest.  And then God, at just the right time, breathes on us and sets us in motion again.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.” Acts 2:1-4

Are you feeling stagnant?  Ready for a new season?  I know the Lord hears when we ask Him to breathe new life into us.  I believe He delights in it!

Sometimes a new season can seem scary.  There is so much unknown to us.  We want to see the whole staircase, but the Lord only gives us enough light for the step we’re on.  Then, at the time of His choosing, He shines the light on the next step.

“When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’  Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’  And He said, ‘Come!’ And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’  Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind stopped.  And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, ‘You are certainly God’s Son!’” Matthew 14:26-33

I’m so struck by Peter’s courage to get out of the boat and walk on the water with Jesus.  He wanted to be with Jesus!  He wanted to do the miraculous!  And he did!  Then he took his eyes off of Jesus, and the next thing he knew, he was sinking.  As soon as he called out to the Lord, the Lord took hold of him and brought him to safety.

Are you afraid?  Afraid that if you step out of the boat, you’ll sink?  I’ve been there, too.  If you call out the Jesus, though, He will rescue you, just as He rescued Peter.  He loves you dearly, and His hands are outstretched toward you.  He is so faithful.  I have learned that it’s better to walk in the midst of a storm with Jesus than remain safely in the boat without Him.

I want to be bold like Peter.  I want to walk on the water with Jesus.  I want the Spirit to blow so strongly in my life that no one can look at me without seeing Jesus and His mighty power at work in me.  Take a step of faith.  Allow the wind of the Spirit to move you out of the boat and onto the path that God planned for you before you were even born.  His plans are good, because He is good.

He raised the dead to life.  He healed the brokenhearted and set the captives free.  He breathed new life into Israel.  He will certainly do the same for us.

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones.  He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry.  He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, You know.’  Again He said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones and say to them, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.”  ‘Thus says the Lord God to these bones, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.”’ So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them; but there was no breath in them.  Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they come to life.’”’  So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, “Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.”  ‘Therefore prophesy and say to them, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,’ declares the Lord.’”’  Ezekiel 37:1-14

People of Courage

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

Fear. It can steal our sleep, our health, keep us in jobs that we’re not suited for or unhappy in, make us stagnant, and it can bring discord into a family. It can keep us from enjoying the life that God has given us. As Jason Gray, one of my favorite musicians, sings, “There’s no thief like fear.” Do you know that you don’t have to live in fear? I didn’t.

Growing up, and throughout nearly all of my life, fear was a constant companion. It was all I had ever known…and because it was such a part of me, I not only didn’t see it for what it was, but I didn’t know that I could be free from it.

There was nothing traumatic in my life responsible for the fear I felt, as far as I’ve been able to determine. I wish it were that way for everyone that experiences it. It began as shyness, but it grew to eventually impact every area of my life.

Then one day, while sitting in church, the Lord showed me something. God’s Word says over and over not to fear. I read somewhere that the Bible says not to fear 365 times, once for each day of the year. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that we’re commanded to not fear. So…if it’s a command, then that means we have a choice, right? We can choose to fear, or we can choose not to fear.

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Every day we are bombarded with messages designed to strike fear in our hearts. Through social media, television, radio, the newspaper, and magazines in the check-out stand, our minds are inundated with these messages. The enemy of our souls uses fear to bring disunity to our homes, our cities, and our country. But there is a better way.

We have a Bible filled with God’s promises. What helps me is refusing to be afraid and choosing to speak those promises out loud. “Your Word says that You will never leave me nor forsake me, so I will not be afraid.” Or “Your Word says that I am clothed with the armor of God, so I will not be afraid.” You get the picture. I have noticed that the more I proclaim God’s Word aloud, the less often fear even tries to take over. I no longer walk in fear, and you don’t have to, either. The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear, and the more we spend time in the presence of God, the more we are filled with His love for others, the more fear loses its hold.

One of the main characters in the movie Courageous said, “Where are you men of courage?” But I also have to ask, where are you women of courage? Although the movie was about fathers accepting their God-given roles and responsibilities, women have vital roles to play as well. When we live in fear, and make our decisions based on fear, everything suffers, and our priorities get mixed up. Not only are our spiritual lives affected, but our families suffer and sometimes fall apart, and other things in our lives unravel in the process.

It is never too late to break the fear cycle. We can begin today, knowing that the Lord is faithful, that He came to heal the brokenhearted, that He can take all of our past mistakes and work everything together for good – He can turn ugliness into something beautiful. My favorite words in the song Courageous are, “The only way we’ll ever stand is on our knees with lifted hands.” Amen. May we come to Jesus and let go of our fear, and instead, find forgiveness, renewal, strength, restoration and peace. May He make us people of courage.

“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6