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.

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

 

A New Page

In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. Psalm 139:16

Some time ago, a man came to the church I attend. He had many encouraging things to say to the people in the congregation, and gave many testimonies about what the Lord was doing in India, where he was from. I had an opportunity to speak with him briefly after the service. He told me that when he looked at me, he saw a new page. He said that the pages that went before were filled with many scribbles. Things were crossed out, cancelled, but that now he saw a clean, fresh page. He told me not to let anyone scribble on this new page.

Later, as I relayed this to my daughter, she reminded me that a couple of years before, she had come into my bedroom shortly after I had awakened. She had asked me if I had had any dreams. I told her that I had had a strange dream. I dreamed that I was holding a book and there were scribbles on the pages. It didn’t make sense to me, and I quickly forgot about it.

You have taken account of my wanderings; put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book? Psalm 56:8

At the time I had that dream, my life felt like it was a shambles. I was a recently divorced, single parent struggling to function with a broken heart. I can remember asking the Lord to help me go through the motions, but to numb my heart so that it wouldn’t hurt anymore. I didn’t want to feel anything. I just wanted to be His puppet, to do and be everything that I needed to do and be, but without pain.

The Lord did better than that, though. He healed my heart instead, because that’s what He does. That’s one of the reasons Jesus came.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners. Isaiah 61:1

However, the healing didn’t completely happen overnight.  Healing is a process. Even now, the Lord continues to heal me of things that have been buried too deep and for too long to even remember. But HE remembers, and He steadily works to bring those pains to the surface where He can clean me and heal me.

I have wondered why He waited until now to do some of this deep cleaning, and I think I understand now, at least partly. See, after my divorce, I told the Lord and anyone who asked that I never wanted to be in another relationship – ever. I never wanted to hurt like that again. My family and friends told me that I would change my mind, that the Lord would bring me someone – HIS choice. I continued to refuse to even consider it, until one day, reluctantly, I said that I never wanted to be in another relationship…unless…God changed my heart, the man loved Jesus more than he loved me, and he’d have to sweep me off my feet. Well, much to my surprise, He did, he does, and he did.

Because the Lord loves us so much, and wants this relationship to glorify Jesus and be everything that it can be, He is clearing away the debris so that what grows will have the best possible chance for success.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2

I know that what He has done for me, He will do for you. Just talk to Him. Ask Him for a new page, and don’t let anyone scribble on it. Ask the Lord to do the writing. When He does, the result is unbelievable. And if you are experiencing heartache, Jesus is the Great Physician and will heal your heart if you just ask.

Cause me to hear Your loving kindness in the morning, for I trust in You. Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, for I lift up my soul to You. Psalm 143:8

Not Abandoned

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will take care of me.  Psalm 27:10

A couple of weeks ago I had an awful dream.  Long after waking, I was still filled with the emotions that I had experienced while dreaming.  The effects lasted a couple of days, I’m sorry to admit.

In my dream, my beloved and I were having a mountaintop experience, literally.  It was a dream come true…or at least it should have been.  Upon arriving at the destination, however, things took a different turn.  There were people everywhere, talking and laughing, and we became separated – twice!  To make matters even worse, when I talked with him later (still in the dream), he admitted that he hadn’t even realized that I wasn’t with him the second time we were separated!

To say the dream was on my mind that day would be an understatement.  I knew it was important, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason it was staying with me and bothered me so much.  It wasn’t until a few days later that the Lord showed me what was going on in my heart.  One dream, two revelations.

Revelation #1:  The Lord showed me that I’ve done the same thing my beloved did, but on an even greater scale.  How many times have I gone about my day, got busy and forgot about Him?  Made decisions, made plans, spent time with family or friends, and not included Him?  He longs to be included in everything we experience.  He is our constant companion, the lover of our souls!

Revelation #2:  I’ve written before about how I lived with fear for most of my life, and it was such a part of me that I didn’t even recognize it.  Even as a Christian, it was with me, until the Lord took it away.  You can read about it here if you’re interested.  He healed me from feelings of rejection, too, but that’s a story for another day.  Well, I also lived with something else, and I didn’t recognize that, either!  This thing was behind many of my bad decisions.  It clouded my perception and judgment and negatively affected every relationship I’ve ever had.  This thing, this chain, kept me bound to a poor self image that no amount of compliments, encouragement, or personal accomplishments could erase.  The chain that bound me was a feeling of abandonment.

I was blown away by the revelation.  I grew up in what would be considered a fairly stable home with both of my parents, stable in that life was pretty predictable.  I went to school, did what was expected of me, and started earning money as soon as I was old enough to babysit.  I didn’t physically lack for anything.  I later married, and divorced, but my ex-husband and I remained on good speaking terms, so I still didn’t think I had any reason to feel abandoned.

Over the course of a few days after that dream, though, the Lord began showing me things that had happened early in my childhood and throughout my life, things long ago forgotten, that left me feeling very unimportant, unloved, and very much alone.  Kind of abandoned.

When I was a child, a common saying was that children were to be seen and not heard.  Talking about feelings just wasn’t done, so I kept them all inside, where they piled up but were never addressed.  They just became a part of me.  Hurts covered with invisible bandaids.  And to be fair, many parents at that time were raised the same way, so they didn’t talk about feelings, either.  I don’t believe they knew what to do with their own feelings, so they didn’t how to reach out to their children.  There are always exceptions, though, and if you were raised in a home where there was open communication, you were blessed.

I am learning, though, that the Lord doesn’t like bandaids.  He prefers to remove them so that He can do a deep, thorough cleaning so that true healing can begin.  And begin it does.

It doesn’t always feel good.  We like our bandaids.  We like to keep the pain buried so we don’t have to think about it or keep experiencing it.  Out of sight, out of mind.  But that isn’t His way.  He wants us to be whole, to be able to give and receive love, and to experience life fully.  He wants us to experience the abundant life that He died to give us.  He died, but He didn’t stay dead.  He rose from the dead, and in so doing, raises us from the dead, too.

Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.  Isaiah 49:15

Here’s the thing.  I didn’t even know I had a bandaid, or that I had these feelings of abandonment.  It was news to me.  He brought it out in the open, though, in His gentle way, and healed that part of me.  With every healing, I find that I can hold my head a little higher, and because I no longer view things through that particular filter, I am able to see things a little more clearly.  I am learning that things are not always my fault, and that sometimes people hurt us because they are hurt, too.  As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people.  True, and I am truly sorry for those I have hurt because I was hurt.

But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.  Malachi 4:2

I know there is more there that He wants to heal, and I am confident that our great Physician will do so with the utmost care and gentleness, in His timing, as I am able to bear it.

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed.  Luke 4:18

Jesus said that He came to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.  I have been brokenhearted, and I have been held captive by the pain of the past.  If you have, too, I encourage you to ask Jesus to remove the bandaids in your own life, and let the deep cleaning begin.  I can’t promise it will be easy, but it will be worth it.

He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young.  Isaiah 40:11

About a week after the Lord dealt with my feelings of abandonment, one of my very favorite writers, Jamie Rohrbaugh of From His Presence began a series on that very subject.  Here is a link to the first article in the series:  http://www.fromhispresence.com/4-signs-you-have-a-stronghold-of-rejection-and-abandonment/.  I can’t tell you how much I have learned from her posts, and how much the Lord has used her in my life.  She is a tremendous blessing to me, and I believe she will be to you as well.

Dip Your Toes In

“How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!  And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.  They drink their fill of the abundance of Your house; and You give them to drink of the river of Your delights.  For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.”  Psalm 36:7-9

Isn’t that passage just absolutely wonderful?  There’s so much there.  God’s merciful love, His protection, His abundant provision, His bountiful gifts, His life-giving presence, His holiness.  It shows the Lord’s involvement in our lives, His deep care and concern for all of our needs, and His great generosity with His children.  It’s enough to make you want to just jump right in, doesn’t it?

I have had a picture in my head all week that just won’t leave.  It’s a picture of the priests at the Jordan River as the Israelites were ready to cross into the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering through the wilderness.

“You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua 3:8

Like the Israelites, I have spent some time in the wilderness, too.  In the beginning, all I could focus on was getting through and getting out.  Many times I cried out to the Lord, begging Him to just hurry up and get the lesson over with so I could learn it and move on.  I didn’t understand then that the focus was never supposed to be on the destination, but on Who was on the journey with me.

As I attempted to navigate through that strange, unwelcomed place, I found myself reading God’s Word more and more.  I spent a lot of time in the Psalms, and grabbed onto every promise I came across.  I spent hours with Him daily, not necessarily because I wanted to at first, but because I had to – because it was the only way I could make it through the day.

During that time, I read a devotional by Amy Carmichael that spoke about the Lord turning our pain, our desert places, into something beautiful and useful.  The verse she used was for Israel, but I knew that it was for me, too, and it gave me hope.

“Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody.”  Isaiah 51:3

The wilderness time was finally over.  The Israelites had learned to go when God said go, and stop when God said stop.  The hope of the promise was soon to be a reality, as the Israelites were finally ready to cross the Jordan.  The Lord required something of them first, though.  It was not enough to stand there and wait for the Lord to part the water.  They knew He could do it – He had done it before.  No, this time they were required to literally step out in faith.  As the priests stepped into the water, it parted, and like before, the Israelites walked across on dry ground.

What a picture for us!

Are you walking in the wilderness right now?  May I encourage you to let the Lord comfort your waste places, too?  He can take what is dry, broken and lifeless, and nurture it back to life.  You will live again, you will laugh again, and you will sing again.  The Lord is faithful, and He always keeps His promises.  You will be able to say with Job, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”

Maybe you’ve already come out of the wilderness, feeling as if you’re standing on the bank of a swiftly moving river, wondering how you’ll ever get across.  If so, pray for direction, seek wise counsel, and then step out in faith.  Dip your toes in, and watch the Lord do the miraculous.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, as the God of Israel I will not forsake them.  I will open rivers on the bare heights and springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land fountains of water.” Psalm 41:17-18

Going Beyond

“Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it.” Psalm 37:5

Do you ever see a theme that keeps repeating itself, over and over? My theme for this week seems to be Going Beyond. It started last Friday, and it has continued every day since then. It started by reading a post on Facebook, which then turned into reading a whole series about going beyond. Then it was a devotional reading, then a free book offer, then a blog, then a blog by a different writer…something new every day. So…going beyond. Going beyond our current understanding, going beyond our current experience, going beyond our current dreams.

In a book excerpt by Myles Munroe, Understanding Your Potential, I read about going beyond with regards to our potential. It said that potential is dormant ability, unreserved power, untapped strength, unused success, hidden talents, capped capability. All you can be but have not yet become. All you can do but have not yet done. How far you can reach but have not yet reached. What you can accomplish but have not yet accomplished. He said you must never be satisfied with your last accomplishment, because there are many accomplishments yet to be perfected. Sounds like going beyond.

The Lord says that we have potential – the potential He put in us when He created us.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

So going beyond is His idea, His way of stretching us to reach beyond what we think we can do to what He created us to do. What is your dream? If you don’t have a dream anymore, ask Him to give you one. He may surprise you by breathing life on a dream that you long ago tucked away and forgot about. Maybe you thought that season was over, and there was no room in the new season for the old dream. Maybe you lived out your dream, and now you long for another one. Go for it. Go beyond. Adventure is waiting.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generation forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21