Monday, August 20, 2018

The Call to Love.

God's divine work never ceases to amaze me.

I am baffled at how He put this idea into my head, helped me map out my year, only to find that each month has offered me something I didn't know I needed until I started hashing out each Call for all of you. I know some of you have probably benefited, but I know for sure that these Calls God put on my heart have definitely be life-giving and life-altering for me. It feels a little crazy that He does so much to work in our hearts and lives, right? 

The Call to Love naturally comes right after the Call to Receive His Heart. We truly cannot love the way God intends if our hearts are still full of self. And that is exactly what I've been wrestling with this month. 

I would never claim to be full of self-control, though I cleverly come up with elaborate methods for helping me get things done... sometimes. And all this month, while I have been trying to figure out my inability to write about the Call to Love, I have been struck over and over with how selfish I am. Even when serving my family, I usually only hop to it when there is some reward in it for me. Clean kitchen, laundry put away, meals planned and groceries bought - those all make my life easier, better. But ask me to do something that only benefits someone else and I'm likely to grumble, put it off, or find some way to make it beneficial for myself. 

None of this is of God. And that is tough to swallow. However, I do see God working in me in that I am not full of despair while confessing it. For a bit of the month, I just dove into other things trying to avoid it, thinking I could figure it all out eventually. But when my spirit could no longer stand it, God enabled me to see my selfishness for what it is and helped me start to lay myself down. 

Again, we need God's heart. 

This doesn't mean that we simply also love the things He loves, but that we get rid of the things we love more than Him, the things He cannot stand. We must abide in Him in order to love like Him. In John 15:9-11 Jesus says that we need to remain in His love, and we do that by obeying Him. 

When we see that our actions are not God's actions of love, we have to stop. And when we see the right thing to do and refuse to do it, we must confess that as sin (James 4:17). 

We want our loving of others to be an overflow of God's love in us, not just actions (like what 1 Corinthians 13 warns about) but how can we pursue this? How do we seek to love others when we still feel like God's love is not abiding in our hearts the way we desire, the way we wish it was?

We must look to Jesus.

Looking at His example, I see three things we can consider and make progress in, things I know will bring our hearts into a posture God will use to love others. I know this because if God will use someone as selfish and lacking in self-control as me, He will work in you too :) Here they are...

1 - Understand what Love is.
2 - Understand the value in it.
3 - Be willing to give up anything.

Love is Sacrifice.

We see what love is through Jesus' example in Philippians 2: doing nothing from selfish ambition, considering others as more important than self, and giving our life (even parts of it that are wonderful) for the benefit of others. Love equals giving, and not just out of our abundance.

Our sermon yesterday was preached by the pastor of one of our sister churches and he gave a great example of this from Acts 16. Paul and others are imprisoned for upheaving the local economy by releasing a slave girl from an evil spirit. When an earthquake releases their shackles and opens the prison doors, Paul and the others stay as they are, despite their wounds and unjust imprisonment. They deny their own rights, choosing to ensure goodness and life to the prison guard, who would have been a dead man for losing track of all his prisoners. The loving sacrifice of Paul and his companions is turned into the love of God for this guard, who then becomes a believer along with his entire family.

This is the love of God. Jesus gave up what was rightfully His, something beyond fantastic, and took on punishment so we could experience glory with Him. We cannot love well, or love the way God desires if we do not understand that loving others will require sacrifice. If we think we can love and serve others and not have it cost us anything but the extra we seem to be blessed with, we are deceived. 

That's why we need to see the value in it. 

Jesus saw the value of giving us fellowship and glory in the presence of God. He knew His sacrifice would be worth it. He knew that what awaited for us in eternity would be no match for what He gave up, so He gladly took the form of a man forever instead of staying in His Godly existence (whatever that looks like). Paul also speaks like this in 2 Corinthians 4:17, saying that this momentary affliction will be nothing compared to the glory waiting for us. 

Pleasures forevermore? Sounds good! No death, weeping, darkness, anything? Sign me up! Rewarded 100-fold and receiving treasure that can never be destroyed? It's kind of ridiculous that we don't already chase after all these things!

Knowing all this, we must make a decision.

Are we willing to give up what the world offers in exchange for the life God offers? 

That is really the question you will need to answer. 1 John tells us that we cannot love the world and love God. God's love cannot abide in us if we think getting what we desire here on earth is more important than giving God's love to others. And this has been what I am wrestling with even as I type. My kids need me, my husband needs me, other people need me, and I just want to get done what I want to get done! But is that love? Is all my planning, my big agenda, really so much more important than loving others more than myself? Why is every small inconvenience in my day such a frustration? Because God's love is not dwelling in my heart. 

I know that feels rough. I am feeling it too. But I know God's love is in there somewhere because I do feel His grace in the way He gently reels me back in. 

Sure, we can do lots of loving things for others, but if we do not have His love running through our veins our shallow motivation will run out. At some point, we will revert back to our flesh, trying to figure out how we can do the right and good things while still getting what we think we need. His love has to remain in us. We must be connected to it on a regular basis.

What am I doing with all this? What can you do to get on this path away from self and toward God? 

Invite God in. 

Ask Him to change your heart and expect Him to do it. 

Be willing to do whatever it takes. 

That last step feels really hard! It requires an abnormal amount of faith to set down something you love here and now in exchange for something you'll get after you die. But it is more sure than anything else we cling to. 

I would encourage you to take a read through 1 John. It will prick you, be sure of that, but it will also open up places in your heart that God wants to dwell. You might be scared to go there, you might think you can just put a godly twist on your endeavors and therefore make them acceptable to God, but that is not how He works. He wants all of you. Until He has it, your love might bless other people here and there, but it's not the love God has for you. The goal we are after is being fully immersed in His love forever. And it can start today. Go to Him. Ask. And be ready to receive. You really will receive more than you can ever give. 

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." 1 John 1:15-17

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Contemplating Steadfastness.

I am a bit behind on life. It's pretty understandable, after purging many of our belongings, living in a hotel for six weeks, then moving back in and setting up the home for guests, homeschooling, and more. The last week and a half have been filled with cardboard, screws, cleaning, organizing, building furniture, and more. It's been wonderful to be back home but I am feeling a bit cautious about my daily routines.

I would never claim to be very self-disciplined, so I compensate by forcing things upon myself in certain ways, so I know I will not succumb to the temptation to do less than I wish I could do. In case that makes zero sense, here's an example.

I am really athletic, but I don't always like the idea of exercising. I mostly enjoy it while I am doing it, but getting started is SO hard. So I do things like signing up for CrossFit. This also solves my problem of trying to get up early in the morning, at least on the days I attend. If I have nowhere to be each day, nothing specific to be done at a certain time, I struggle to get out of bed, or to even set my alarm. So needing to be at CrossFit at a certain time in the morning takes care of both of these problems for me.

This year will require either a lot of self-discipline or a lot of discipline-inducing activities. I'm a bit nervous about it, but this morning God gave me sweet examples of what it means to be steadfast and consistent in my work and in my life.

I spent some time reading from Exodus this morning and then opened up Rosaria Butterfield's book The Gospel Come with a House Key. The chapter I read was about life with her mother as an adult (in which I cried WAY too much) and she brought up this verse.

"And in all things let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, 
lacking nothing."   James 1:4

The patience it takes to live while waiting for God's promises to be fulfilled is enormous. The confidence I need to have in God's plan, in order to continue working and giving and serving and still LOVE well, is far beyond my own abilities. But God makes us fulfilled and complete by persevering in that work. 

The verse stuck with me and made me sit and think for a while. I decided to finally put a verse on my lettering board, as it has been hanging on the wall blank since we moved back in. As I was arranging all the letters (and realizing there would be no room for the reference) I had a hard time finding all the specific letters I needed. This verse has a lot of F's for how many I have in total, and I struggled to find them in my assortment of letters sprawled across the table. 

As I got to the end, I was still missing two letters. I decided I would simply start to put the letters back into the bag and grab them one by one. It only took a few seconds before I found the first letter I needed. As I continued to put just one letter or two in the bag at a time, I noticed a letter clinging to the inside of the bag. At first, I kept putting more letters in, then I took another look and saw that it was the very letter I was looking for. Immediately, I felt God's goodness in talking to me through this simple task. 

To be steadfast in my life, I may often need to simply start the small work, and do it over and over again. Putting the letters in one by one, despite not knowing when the end result would come to pass, is what enabled me to find the letters I was looking for. Had I not just started the work, it might have taken me even longer to achieve my goal. 

To be steadfast in my life, I need to be unhurried and attentive. If I had just grabbed handfuls and handfuls of letters without paying much attention, I may have missed the letter I needed, stuck in the bag.

In all the things God is doing in my life, my steadfastness will make that work more effective. It will complete God's work in me, not hinder it. Being steadfast is a gift. Bearing under the weight of time, longstanding effort, and the daily struggle of being a human is working in us to make us what God desires us to be. 

This comes as such a relief to me this morning. God's work is not hindered by the length of time or number of times I have to work on something. My willingness to endure is actually a help to the process. If I am grumpy and frustrated at the length of time God's work takes, it is a hindrance to that work! 

The more patient and willing I am to endure the long work God is doing in my life, the more complete I will be be, the more perfected I will end up. 

I can do my work happy today. I can breathe deep, relax, and just enjoy the interruptions, the road-blocks, the tasks that take longer than I could have imagined. Yes, you read that right: I can enjoy them! They are perfecting me, sanctifying me, making me complete. And that's the goal right? To be complete in Christ. 

Lately, I cannot help but see how a willing spirit is the key to making the most of almost anything in life. Willing to navigate hardship, willing to do the menial job, willing to sacrifice self for the well-being of others... it makes or breaks jobs, relationships, and more. So if I am going to focus on anything as the summer break is coming to a close, it's on my level of willingness. 

I want to be willing to walk through whatever it is God ordains or allows. I want to be willing to navigate whatever challenges arise during my pursuit of the endeavors He has placed on my heart. I desire to willingly work for the good of those around me, without bitterness, and without regret. A willing vessel is what God uses, and what He desires. Being steadfast is a matter of being willing to endure. And I want to be willing. 

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