God’s love is the fertile ground of my creation. When I forget that, I become stuck in the mud of lust or buried in the snow of fear. God’s love isn’t like other foundations; it’s loose, loving, and giving. Like a freshly plowed field, His love is open and ready for growth. His love never constricts or confines because He knows love won’t survive when contained. Love requires freedom and room, and God gives both.
Firm foundations are necessary for buildings, but love is alive and needs space for its roots to reach down, its flowers to bloom, and its fruit to ripen. I keep trying to capture love. Like cutting a beautiful flower, its beauty is mine for a moment. Love must stay connected to its source or it will wither like a cut flower. God is the vine from which all love grows; when I forget that, the withering begins.
I suppose it’s human nature to want to cut flowers, bring plants indoors, or hold on things meant for a season; but God’s ways are not like mine, and that’s why I must trust Him when it comes to love. Fertile ground is where plants belong, and I have to keep my love deeply rooted in God’s love if I am to thrive as He desires. Unlike the growing season for plants or the limited time for blooming flowers, God’s love never dies. The only limitation on God’s blossoms or the fruit of His Spirit is me. I can choose to let my heart go through a cold winter or lie fallow for a season; it’s completely up to me.
Until I arrive in heaven, I suppose I will continue to cut blooms or cover my heart with icy snow. God’s love thaws fear, so the blooming that takes place in heaven is something I can only imagine. The beautiful news is that my growing season can be extended thanks to Christ’s precious and perfect love. The Holy Spirit is a gardener like none other, and He will connect me to the fertile ground of God’s love if I stop trying to garden on my own. He will bring blooms in the snow, and that makes my heart smile.
A beautiful bouquet of cut flowers may take my breath away, but God reminded me this morning that the blooms will only be mine for a moment. The love He has in mind for my heart lasts forever, cannot be confined, and is never defined by a season. When I remember Who God is, the choice is an easy one.
Psalm 100 is one of my favorite psalms. I memorized the KJV as a child and love the phrase “joyful noise” in verse one. Eugene Peterson’s “Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence” in The Message is also a very vivid image. Whatever you call it, there is no sound that delights a parent more than joyful noise coming from their children. God reminded me this week that joyful choices also bless a parent’s heart. Hear David’s beautiful song.
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.
Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. (KJV)
There is great wisdom and comfort in this beautiful psalm. I can sing myself into God’s presence. He made me. His home is my home. He is beautiful, all-generous, and I can count on Him forever. His truth is passed from one generation to the next for eternity. That encourages me to be thankful and make joyful choices which will allow me to become who God wants me to be.
Choices come with every step and determine the direction of my heart. Joyful choices are not about happiness or fulfillment; they are about becoming who God created me to be. Our parents play a big role in our decision making process, and Pastor John told me his father was always asking, “Chi e chi fa?” He describes the phrase and what it came to mean in his message on Genesis 12:1-4 (“Fully Arrive or Fully Thrive” March 16, 2014)
“Among the values my father cultivated in his three sons was a reflective nature prompted by a light-hearted question posed in Sicilian, ‘Chi é chi fa?’ which we understood to mean, ‘What are you doing?’ Or, ‘What’s going on?’ Or perhaps, ‘Who are you that you are doing this?’ Rather than becoming cliché in our family, over the years this question moved us beyond, ‘What are you doing?’ as in right now, today, to, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ ‘What are you making of yourself?’ ‘Where are you going in life?’ ‘Who are you going to be?’”
The simple Sicilian phrase and a picture of Salvatore in John’s office were part of the lessons God had for me last week. In the picture, Salvatore is on the floor beside his granddaughter Jennifer with his chin in his hands. There’s a playful grin on his face and a sparkle in his eye. I imagine God has the same look as He asks me who I’m going to be. Daddy had a few questions of his own, but they reflected a much different tone. I constantly heard, “What in the hell are you doing?” or “Why in the hell did you do that?” Foy’s face was usually twisted with anger as he vented his frustration with my choices. Salvatore was more subtle than Foy, but both parents shared a sincere desire to know what their children were doing, where they were going in life, and who they would become. God has the same desire.
All fathers want their children to make good decisions. They know good choices make all the difference in life. Mothers know the same. As parents, we want to fix bad choices or make the way easy for our children, but we know that never works. Children must make their own choices and live with the consequences of those decisions. God knows bad choices teach tough lessons, but that doesn’t make it any easier for Him to watch our suffering. Daddy did his best to keep me from making stupid decisions because he knew they would hurt me. His intentions were good; he simply wanted the best for me.
The lessons last week were difficult ones, but I’m a little closer to the me God wants me to be. If I took a wrong turn on a road trip, I wouldn’t sit and complain for hours or beat myself up for making a bad choice. I would turn around and get on the right path as soon as possible. Moving forward sometimes means turning around. God will always be patient as He continues to ask, “Who are you going to be?” or “Where are you going in life?” I know He smiles broadly when He hears, “Whoever you want me to be and wherever you want me to go!” Joyful choices are the ones that show I want the same thing God wants for me. What God wants is so much more than anything I could ever imagine on my own. The journey is what matters. As Pastor John says, “It’s better to thrive in obedience than to think we’ve arrived on our own efforts.” I agree!!
If you would like to hear all of “Fully Arrive or Fully Thrive,” go to Podcasts FBCBC
Jesus spoke with authority, and that upsets those who place a lot of faith in their own authority. The Pharisees, Sadducees, religious teachers, political leaders, Zealots, and Essenes disagreed with Jesus differently, but they shared an unwillingness to give up their own authority. I have the same problem. That was not an easy lesson this week, but it was a very freeing one. We all have issues with authority at some level, and that causes us to miss the life God intends for us to live. Mark 1:21-28 says,
“They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out,saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.”Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.” NASB
It’s easy to talk about God’s love and power as long as I don’t apply the lessons to my own heart. The unclean spirit in the demoniac knew exactly who Jesus was and what He was capable of doing. Shouldn’t I have the same knowledge of His power? I struggle with my issues, but I wouldn’t have to if I would relinquish my authority and believe in His. Why is that so hard to do? It may be because I’m comfortable with my issues. They are mine and define who I am. Letting God define me means I have to change who I am, and I’m not sure I’ll be comfortable with the new me.
God’s timing and ways always amaze me, but this week’s lessons have been so very powerful that I don’t know if I will ever stop shaking my head in amazement. In addition to Mark 1:21-28, I’ve been studying David’s anointing in 1 Samuel 16:1-13. I would never put those scriptures together on my own, but God connected them in a powerful way. Tony W. Cartledge says in the Smyth & Helwys commentary on 1 Samuel,
‘The surprising truth about the spirit of God is that we do not do something to get it. We do not have to become more attractive or even more worthy. Our openness is enough. Our not knowing is enough. Our willingness is enough. The Bible makes it clear that God delights in surprising the world by doing great things through small people. We may never be anointed with royal oil, as was David, but we can be anointed by the spirit of God. We can look forward to a future that is filled with unknown opportunities for life and service and joy. We can become the persons God wants us to be; there is no greater goal in this life.”
I was struck by his last statement. No greater goal in this life!! Giving up my authority and letting God have authority isn’t easy or we would all be doing it. The demoniac and David had something important in common; they trusted God. They both learned that God saw them in a way they could not imagine on their own. They trusted His authority, and it made an amazing difference in their lives. God will do the same for all of us.
I’m not sure what I had in mind when I thought of unclean spirits, but I think it was the stuff of horror movies that didn’t apply to me. When I realized evil spirits are my need to control, my anger, my insecurity, my lack of trust, my bitterness, etc…I was taken aback. Jesus has authority over all my issues if I will acknowledge and trust His authority and let go of mine. There is a degree of comfort in the known evil. When I let go of my issues, God will redefine me. God’s definitions of the demoniac and David were not the same as the ones they or the people in their lives had. The transformations God has in mind will always be a shock. Perhaps that’s why I hesitate to let go of those old habits and issues.
Whatever the reasons for my hesitating and complicating when it comes to my issues and authority, they pale when compared to Christ’s authority and His precious love. Together, they make for an amazing transformation. I feel the peace, love, joy, gratitude, and grace God has in mind when I surrender my authority and embrace His. Seeing those pesky issues as demons helps me call on Christ to help rid my heart of them. The Wizard of Oz theme continued into this week; God used images of those flying monkeys to make me smile and realize that I can’t handle my issues on my own. Christ already knew that; He was simply waiting for me to ask for help. It is something I must do daily if I am to live the life He desires. There is a place over the rainbow, and it doesn’t have to stay in a lullaby. I can enjoy its peace here and now. The happy ending is knowing God’s transformation will allow me to be who he wants me to be. There truly is no greater goal than that.
Choices can be confusing, so I like it when they are simplified for me. I want to choose without being overwhelmed. God’s lessons this week have been crystal clear. He offers two choices, and I can have one or the other. I can have the life He wants for me or not. It’s completely up to me. Love and fear will not abide in the same place. Anger and peace cannot coexist. Unforgiveness and grace do not mix. Insecurity hates trust, and comparisons kill gratitude. I cannot have control and surrender at the same time. Living in the flesh prevents me from living in His Spirit. The choices are simple, but I have the tendency to hesitate and complicate things. When I stop and think, I get into trouble. When I trust and love, the right decision is much easier.
My small group is reading “She’s Got Issues” by Nicole Eunice. God is using the book to help me see clearly that my issues are, as Nicole says, “joy stealing and love sucking.” I love that phrase because it creates a vivid image of what fear, anger, unforgiveness, insecurity, comparison, and control do to my ability to love as God desires.
Letting go of control allows me to surrender.
Gratitude puts comparison in its place.
Insecurity falls away when I remember God is trustworthy.
God’s infinite grace reminds me of His forgiveness and opens the door for my own.
The peace that passes understanding comes when I let go of my death grip on anger.
Fear doesn’t stand a chance in the face of love.
Spirit reminds flesh of its temporary nature, and resurrection living becomes possible.
As I listened to a message called “Rhythm of Kindness” this morning, I realized I wasn’t very kind to myself. The entire service encouraged me to get into a rhythm of kindness and think seriously about how kindness can become a natural part of my life. Lent begins on Wednesday, and I have been praying about how to observe this most holy time.
On Ash Wednesday last year, Lillyann asked if I would come to her church. I told her I would come one day. She said, “Will you come tomorrow?”
I told her there wasn’t a service until Sunday, and I would go then. I wasn’t expecting anything more than a one-time visit, but God had something else in mind. As I prayed about Lent and what God would have me do, I knew I had to give up control and let Him lead. I wasn’t expecting Him to ask me to change churches. I was active in my church, loved my ministers, taught Sunday School and chaired several committees. I couldn’t just up and go; I needed time to transition.
God had different plans, and I went with His. I knew after my first visit I was where God wanted me to be. I’ve been there for over a year, and I marvel at all God has done in my life in a year’s time. I still have connections with my previous church and volunteer there one day a week. The two churches are coming together for outreach in the community, and God continues to bless in ways I could never have envisioned. I would still be transitioning if I had gone with my plan.
I have a long way to go when it comes to giving God control, but the forty days of Lent helped me take a big step in the right direction. That’s what Lent is about. It isn’t about denying as much as it is about changing. It is most often associated with giving up and doing without for forty days and then going right back to whatever was given up. Punishment, not love.
For me, Lent has always been about punishment. Love has been the same. With the Holy Spirit’s help, I’m growing and learning that love is so much more. The things I need to give up during Lent are things I need to give up period. If I give up something for forty days, I can do without it forever. If I do something positive for forty days, I will develop a good habit. Losing control has been painful, but very good for me. I’m glad I let go, listened, and allowed God to change me. I plan to do the same this year as I heed His call to be kind to myself. I’m hoping it will be a habit that sticks with me.
I don’t have a problem being kind to others, but I am very uncomfortable being kind to myself. The message this morning touched my heart and helped me see that I must be kind to myself before I can be kind to others just as I must love myself before I can love others. It’s about filling up before going on a trip. If I don’t have enough fuel, I’ll end up stranded. That’s just what happens with compassionate lovingkindness. I need to fill up so I will have enough kindness to share. I often feel depleted and defeated, and I realize it’s because I don’t take the time to be kind and loving to myself.
It’s easy to become bitter when you are always doing for others, and I find myself having a little pity party when my heart is on empty. I plan to use the image of a full car ready for a new adventure as I go through Lent this year. I plan to make a concerted effort to be kind to myself every day during Lent. This is certainly going to be a new kind of Lent; since Lent is about growth, I’m thinking I will experience new growth in the process. I still plan to fast and pray and look closely at what needs to go, but I plan to do it in a way that shows kindness and love. Here I thought last year’s Lenten season was a challenge. This year promises to be even more challenging, but I trust God to know what He’s doing. He is God, and I’m looking forward to all He will teach me about compassion in the next forty-three days.
1 John 4:18-19 reminds me that fear and love cannot exist in the same place. Christ came to cast out fear, and He did just that when He rose from the grave.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.We love, because He first loved us.” NASB
The beautiful lesson this week was that I must choose whether love or fear will rule my heart. Fear wins by default if I refuse to choose, and I lose the love, joy, and peace God so wants for me. Love causes fear to flee from me, and that changes everything. Fear is at the heart of all that keeps me from loving and being loved as God desires. Insecurity is a particular type of fear that forces me to miss out on life. It’s insidious nature causes me to second guess myself and worry about how others will see me.
Love frees my heart and lets me see and love myself, flaws and all. Security isn’t having it all together or having it all; it’s accepting what is and not letting what isn’t keep me from living the abundant life God has in mind for me. My need for approval has been debilitating because I’ve focused far too much of my energy on getting attention and approval from others. God is always paying attention, and He approves of His creation. He doesn’t expect anything but love from me, and that comes out of my imperfection.
Flaws are part of who I am. God made me flawed so I could understand my need for Him. The desire for perfection was the downfall of Satan, and my pursuit of it will cause a similar downfall in me. I see myself as not needing God or too flawed to deserve His love. He loves me as I am and uses my flaws as tools for teaching and growing me into His disciple. Only one of God’s children was perfect, and I am perfected by Christ’s precious and perfect love. Being perfected is not the same as being perfect. Christ satisfied all the requirements for my salvation when He expressed love in a way that makes no sense to the world. I don’t have to be perfect because Christ is perfect for me.
God’s love is perfect, and it casts out fear. Walter Brueggemann says in his commentary on Genesis 2:4b-3:24, “Perfect love casts out fear. But the man and the woman in our narrative learned another thing. Perfect fear casts out love and leaves only desire (cf. Gen. 3:10) Paul also held the vertical and horizontal together: In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself,…and he gave unto us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-19)” That helped me to see fear and love in a new light and understand the story of the fall in a way I never have before.
Fear flees from love. God’s love embraces my flaws. An amazing lesson if I ever had one!! Thanks be to God for His Son’s precious love.