Last week, we talked about what it could mean to practice the wrong things; how practicing something the wrong way over and over again, does not lead to perfection. I hope that you took my call to action and applied it, and this week, I'd like to talk a little about what we should be practicing.
It is an obvious one folks, and I'm going to keep it short and sweet today.
What should we be putting into practice?
Do you know how many times the word love is in the Bible? That's ok. I didn't either. It varies, depending upon the translation you might be reading. For me, I have an NIV, so I used this site to find out. From there, you can change the translation you're reading to find out yours.
The word love appears in the standard NIV Bible 574 times in 526 different verses. That's a lot. The names Lord, God, and Jesus appear more often. Also, there are less significant, two and three letter words which appear more often. But I have searched many words, and not even the word pray appears more often than love. It's not even close.
Of course, it is important to pray, but what is the one thing that plays on repeat over and over again in the teachings of Jesus, and the teachings of the New Testament? Have we ever read/heard/seen anyone love the way that Jesus loves? I can barely stomach being in the same room with someone who has the stomach bug, but Jesus didn't run from the sick. He didn't turn from the hurting. He didn't chastise the broken.
Jesus walked among the broken. He embraced the hurting, and he cared for the sick. He corrected, and he rebuked, but more often than not, He taught by example and parables, frequently revolving around loving people.
We read of him washing the feet of others, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. We read of him laying down his life, in great suffering, for the sake of not just his friends, but his enemies as well. Page after page after page, we see examples of this love, and yet we so often walk around with chips on our shoulders, as though the world owes us something. We are quick to anger, quick to judge, and quick to throw tantrums when things don't go as planned. Why? Because those things come more easily to our sinning nature, because we have practiced the wrong things!
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:
"Love your neighbor as yourself."
What is it that we have "learned or heard or seen" from God? The teachings throughout the Bible, and more specifically the teachings of Jesus, are repetitive. So should our practices be. It takes work, and it takes repetition to make changes. It's a good thing we have a manual for that.
But don't take my word for it! A great place to start is the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' longest sermon, found throughout Mathew chapters 5,6, and 7. Just like Paul stated in Galatians 5:14, even this can be largely summed up with love.
I have a guilty pleasure. Don't judge me, ok?
I like to watch The Bachelor. And not just The Bachelor, but every spin off and every aspect of the franchise. I'm talking Bachelor, Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, Winter Games; you name it, I've watched it. I'm not proud of it guys. Please still be my friends...
Anyway, a really common theme among contestants in these shows, is when they talk about wanting to find a 50/50 partner in life; a teammate if you will.
As someone who has played team sports, most of her life, let me just tell you, this is not how teams work. 50/50 does not make a successful partnership. Half of each partner, does not make a whole. If you are going halfsies on everything, you are setting yourselves up for failure. This goes for any relationship, teammates, family, friends, significant others, spouses. Are we all going to be 100%, 100% of the time? NO! Because try as we might, we are not actually Christ Himself. But that is precisely why 50/50 will never work. If 50% is your bar; your best, on your best day, to meet that relationship half way, then your bar is too low, my friend. What happens when you have a bad day? God didn't call us to go halfsies in love. He called us to be all in, 100%, and He showed us what that meant.
While we were still sinners, while we were less than our best, Christ died for us. He gave 100 for us, and he asks this of us as well.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
He so much as told us that we should give people our all. He gave all of Himself, for us. He died for us. He didn't give us 50, and wait for us to come the other 50. No! He gave 100! He came all the way. He meets us right where we're at, and He loves us.
And in marriage especially, He tells us that we become one.
So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.
If you take two pieces of clay, and slide them together so that they are touching, you have 50/50. They have met half way. They've met in the middle. But what are they sharing? They are not sharing anything but that space in the middle where they touch. They are saying, I've come this far, but I go no farther. That is not really sharing a life, is it? That is being equal, being two parts of a whole piece, that refuses to get messy. Those two halves are very easy to pull apart.
But when you take those two pieces of clay, and mold them together, that is when they become one piece. They are no longer standing there, side by side, saying they will meet the other half way. They have joined together. They have given all of themselves to the other, and then become impossible to separate.
A very wise man, who counseled my husband and me in our premarital counseling, once told us that for a marriage to work, it should be 100/100. Basically, that if I am putting my husband first in my decisions, and he is putting me first in his decisions, we will be as one; not half the time, all the time. This is more then meeting in the middle. It is showing the person you love that you're willing to come all the way. If you are both doing this, from there then, compromise becomes easy.
Yesterday I returned to church after some excruciating back pain kept me from going last week. My husband was playing on the worship team and had to be there early, so that left me to get all four kids out the door and to church by myself, and mornings are still the worst time of day for my back. We managed. We got there only 5 minutes late, which is the earliest we've been all year. We took our seats, and since the music was already playing, I stood to sing. After a while, my back wasn't feeling great, so I sat down.
A war almost immediately broke out between my two daughters for the closest space next to me. A war that my oldest would never win, because all of the older siblings will sooner behave themselves and forfeit to the baby, to avoid getting into trouble causing a scene. Forgetting that I had a whole other side to sit on, my youngest was pushing my older daughter away from me. She did not want to share. I gently tried to explain that she could sit on my other side, but she continued to push her sister around. Finally I just lifted her up and tried to place her on my left side, which was wide open! And she screamed, "NOOOOOOO!" and pulled that stiff as a board toddler routine so that lifting her was almost impossible and added additional strain to my back.
I lost it.
Throwing caution to the wind, I swiftly lifted her kicking and screaming over my shoulder, and carried her out to the toddler room. With several walls and doors between us and the sanctuary, I sat her in a chair, and sat down across the room from her. She proceeded to kick and scream even louder now, because she really loves worship music and wants to be out there. Me too, kid!
After her third warning about rocking the chair that shouldn't be rocked, so that the legs slam into the floor, I took her to the couch in a side room, and closed her in there by herself. The screaming became louder, because now she really wanted to be with me. She didn't want to be alone, even if it was only a door between us.
As I sat there, near tears myself, from the frustration of a 4th child who tends to take up all of my energy and most of my time, leaving scraps of a mommy for her siblings, I realized how much like her I have been.
Last week I was unable to sit at the computer to type up the Monday message, due to horrible back pain. I had to record my message on Instagram instead. For those of you who may have missed it, click HERE. I talked about how this back pain seems to be an ongoing lesson of mine. See, I allow my world, my life to fill up with distractions, and I ignore God, not completely, but just enough to be able to do what I want and then cry to Him when things don't go my way. I find it difficult to hear Him and listen to Him amidst the noise I, myself, have created. I believe many of us, if we're being honest with ourselves, struggle with this every day.
Then, when things don't go my way, when I become hurt because of my own poor decisions, I immediately blame Him. Just as Charlotte was mad at me for removing her from the worship service, and couldn't see how this was a direct consequence to her own actions, I too cry out to God as though He is the reason I am suffering.
And when I feel as though He isn't there, as though I am suffering all by myself, it takes me far too long to come to the realization that my separation from God is my own fault.
As Charlotte cried out for me from the other room, she realized something. She knew that even when she was mad at me, she didn't want to be without me. Her cries changed from screams of frustration, yelling about what she wanted (and couldn't have), to crying out, Mommy! Mommy! Can you be with me, pleeeeease!?
Any parent who has been through something similar knows the heartbreak of hearing your child cry out for you, when you are trying to teach them a lesson. Because we love our children! We want to be with them, we want to hold them when they cry, and take away the hurt, and wipe away the tears. We do not enjoy their suffering, even when, or especially when we know it is self inflicted. Nothing can separate them from our love.
No matter how loudly she screams, no matter the size of her tantrum, no matter how embarrassing it may be to drag her from a public place, looking like the world's worst mom, I will never stop loving her.
Folks, this is how God feels about us! He wants to be with us. He wants to hold us in our suffering. He wants to comfort us in our pain. He doesn't even care if the pain we're suffering is at our own hands. He loves us still!
Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, but we sure do know how to distance ourselves from Him when we want to. The next time you're feeling alone or abandoned, check yourself, because you could be allowing distractions, anger, frustrations, or your desire to just do what you want, to distance yourself from Him. He is always there, just waiting for an invitation.
We have to stop kicking and screaming long enough to invite Him in.
Last week, we talked about where our confidence should be placed; in man or in Jesus? This week, I'd like to elaborate more on how others can effect our own walk. Every now and then I have a conversation with someone who doesn't share my faith, about why they don't believe. Every now and then I also have a conversation with someone who does believe, but doesn't like church; their church or church people in general. And it is interesting how similar those conversations are.
More often than not the reasons come down to one simple fact. People have failed them.
Humans have a way of doing that. Church members, church volunteers, church staff, even pastors are human. They are held to a higher standard, and perhaps they should be, but they are still human. They will fail you. It's not a matter of when or if, but if you spend enough time there, it will happen. They might say or do something you don't agree with. Or they might have an opinion about something that offends you. They might even be having a bad day, and behave angrily in such a way that does not reflect God at all.
How do you respond?
Because the thing is, you don't have any control over their behavior, and no matter how much you want them to be, they are not going to be perfect. You can only control your response. Are you going to let their humanness effect your life? Are you going to allow their mistakes to lessen your faith.
It's not about them. Your faith is not about anyone else. Yes, God places people throughout our lives to help us in our journey of faith. That is certain, but because of our humanness, and free will He does not control us. He knows our decisions, but does not dictate them. So when people act out of His will, when people make mistakes, when people hurt or disappoint us, that is not God. God did not fail you because a person hurt you.
And when we allow their actions to turn us away from Jesus, we are showing Jesus that our faith lies not with Him, but with man. Our relationship with Jesus is and should always be our own. Our friends, our families, even our church should not have such a stronghold on it, that when they stumble, we do too. When one person falls, we should not all collapse like dominoes, and yet, I have seen this exact thing happen within churches, time and time again.
Put your faith in Jesus, your trust in His Word, and then, when those people fall from the pedestal you've placed them on, instead of falling with them, you could lift them back up.
When I was a very little girl, around the age of 4, I absolutely loved the song, Broken Wings, by Mr. Mister. To this very day, I will tell you that this song is my all-time favorite song because of how much I loved it as a child. Also, there is something magical about the nostalgia that comes with listening to a song you once loved, and the memories attached to it.
For me, it was more than that. I have always been able to find a word from God, often within very secular songs or movies, never intending to minister, but I realized today that this must have begun at a very young age. With the vivid imagination of a child, who lived in a rural area where MTV was not a cable option, I had created an elaborate imagery in my brain, to this song, and it often played like a music video in my head as I would listen to the lyrics.
Take these broken wings
and learn to fly again
learn to live so free.
When we hear the voices sing
the book of love will open up and let us in.
Take these broken wings.
As a very small child, I could not comprehend the lost love between two adults, as this song sings of. The imagery in my head, which I still remember today, was that of a dragon. I cannot imagine that at the age of 4, my knowledge of dragons was much greater than that of love between grown ups, but that is what I saw. The other image which has never left me when hearing this song, is that of a large book, opened upon what looked like a pulpit. I don't remember thinking that it was the Bible at that age, but I do remember that as it opened, a bright light shown down on it, and the dragon flew away.
Someone with the gift of interpretation, might be able to discern what God was possibly trying to show me at a very young age. I cannot pretend to know in full. But I will tell you, that as an adult, this song still does not play out for me as the writers intended; as a tragic lost love between two people. Listening to this song and remembering the imagery from my 4 year old self, I get an overwhelming feeling of restoration.
Sometimes (often) we allow our brokenness to overtake our lives. We allow ourselves to feel defeated, and find ourselves stagnant in our spiritual lives, with broken wings, unable to take off. We cling to them, because broken or not, they are still our wings.
What if we were just to say, "Take them! Take these broken wings!" What if we sought God's healing and restoration earnestly? Throughout the Bible there are so many promises of healing and restoration! Yet we allow ourselves to stay broken, sometimes even blaming Him for our brokenness.
What if we sought Him earnestly? He promises to restore our hearts, but listen, that does not mean restoration as our worldly brains might think of it. The transition is not about perfecting our lives or our circumstances. He promises to restore our hearts. It is an inward change with an outward transformation. In doing this, our perspective will transform our circumstances. We will no longer be looking at our lives from a viewpoint of broken hopelessness. No, we will be soaring, with healing and restoration, with a completely transforming vantage point. We will see our circumstances with a life-giving hopefulness which only comes from allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our lives.
We have to learn to fly again; learn to live so free. There is freedom in the transformation of the Holy Spirit. There is freedom in God's Book of Love. Allow yourself to be transformed!
As a wife, mom of 4, and business owner, finding time to spend in the Word, can be difficult, so I get it! Come join me each Monday for a simple message of hope, faith, and encouragement amidst some honest mommy moments.
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