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I watched as she gasped for breath, struggling to talk. A warm summer breeze blew through the open sliding door and ruffled a few loose strands of her gray hair. Nearby a pulsating machine pumped oxygen to her through a small hose with the end clipped to her nose. Somehow she managed to prop up her frail, thin body in the living room chair.

She was dying and yet this feisty woman I had known for years was still very present. She didn’t care for the help hospice offered and she told the social worker to leave. She was tired of people asking, “How are you doing?” She was tired of people visiting her. She was tired and just wanted to be alone, yet she let me sit there with her and listen to her complaints.

This was often how my visits with her would go. Yet with each visit over the last six years she would open up a little more about her troubled past; about the trauma she experienced in her life. She would share her anger and frustration with family, friends and workers in the assisted living place. Sometimes we would talk about religion and faith, but she would always stop discussing it when it became personal. I could never quite get her to the point of talking about having Jesus in her life.

In these final moments of her life I longed for her to know the peace of Christ, but she would not have it. I hoped that in some way I was able to at least help her experience the love of God just by sitting with her and listening to her. After about 45 minutes she told me she was tired and apologized that she wasn’t better company. I told her it was okay, gave her aged and frail body a gentle hug and said, “Love you.”

Then this tough, old woman, who told me she would rather be alone, said to me in a strained voice, “Love you too. Thanks for stopping by.” I smiled and repeated, “Love you.” As I left the room I wondered if it would be the last time I would see her. I was sad that I was not able to get her to see that Jesus Christ could give her the peace she longed for in her life.

Later, when I talked about this visit with someone, they assured me that just being with her was showing the love of God. “But I have no idea whether she is saved or not?” That’s when she told me, “Salvation is not a formula. God is a much better judge of the heart. Just be glad that God invited you to join him in his work.” She was right. I only needed to be grateful that I was able to be there with her.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. – Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)

The news was not surprising, yet it was still hard to hear. Hospice was being brought in because it looked like the end was near for my wife’s stepmom. In the last few months she had told me not to visit because she was not feeling well. I suspected her cancer was getting worse and she did not want me to see her.

As I thought about the inevitable, I reflected on how this feisty woman in her 80s had been such a blessing to me. She could be offensive at times, full of insults, swear words and anger toward people, particularly religious people. Yet she taught me so much about God’s love; taught me that God’s love and grace is even for the so-called unlovable.

Because of her temperament, my wife’s stepmom did not have a good relationship with the family. Over the years, her sharp tongue didn’t help bridge that gap. As it turned out, by God’s design, my wife and I were the only ones with her when her husband died six years ago. Afterwards I felt compelled to visit her at her home more than just around holidays. She lived a few hours away so I would visit her maybe 6-8 times a year. Usually when I was in town on business.

Eventually her health declined to the point where she had to move to an assisted living facility. With each visit I saw my heart transformed from being a bit scared of her to a genuine love for her. When I first started to visit her, I thought maybe I could change her to becoming a follower of Christ. Instead I was the one changed by her.

During each visit she would share stories about her life over the last 80 some years. As her tough exterior veneer began to peel back, I learned about the pain and abuse she had suffered at the hands of others. I began to understand why she was so bitter and angry, I started to empathize with her. I learned that God knows people from the inside out. He sees through our exterior veneer and knows our true self and our pain. He wants to heal us if we’re willing to let him. God is the one who equips us to offer his love and grace to people who desperately need it.

I’d like to say she eventually came to Christ, but I do not know for sure. She never expressed it to me, that is between her and God. Occasionally we would talk about God and religion, but she never showed an interest in going deeper. But at the end of each visit I would give her a hug and tell her, “love you.” It was sincere and from the heart. Ultimately I felt she was the one teaching me about God’s love, teaching me how to love the so-called unloveable. Showing me that he is the one that gives us the strength to do what we often see as impossible. Demonstrating that sometimes all an unsaved person needs is to feel God’s embrace and the words, “love you.”

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

This past week I was once again shown how much I take for granted the little things in life. A week ago I had surgery on my right hand — the hand I use to write and type. Subsequently I was unable to use my right hand for several days for even the simplest of tasks such buttoning a shirt or opening a jar. I quickly discovered how much I depend on my right hand for many tasks throughout the day. Blogging had to wait until I could get enough movement back in my hand to cradle my phone and type on the touchpad with my thumbs.

It gave me pause as I contemplated the many things in my life that I take for granted each day — the many things I owe to God. Even the simplest movement of my hand is because God gave me that ability. The fact that a surgeon had the ability to operate and fix my hand — the fact that it is now healing — I owe to my Creator God. He knows every fiber of my being because he “knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).”

God is evident in the smallest of details in my life. Yet too often I get distracted by struggles and suffering instead of being in awe of God’s miraculous work, his love and grace. Today I only need to look at my hand and see my fingers moving to remind me of his marvelous deeds; to remind me of the healing I have experienced in the past week. I should “declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all people (Psalm 96:3).”

The very breath that gives us life should call us to vocalize our gratefulness to God. The movement of my fingers should remind me type praises to our Lord.

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being (Rev. 4:11).”

There are times in my life when I want to hide in a deep dark cave; times when discouragement causes me to retreat from the front lines of God’s work; times when the attacks from my enemies cause me to respond in fear instead of faith. It seems one moment I am fearless for the Lord and the next minute I am fearful of those who attempt to thwart God’s plans. It is in that moment of fear, that moment of vulnerability, that the evil one sows seeds of doubt that suddenly take root. It reminds me of Elijah.

In 1 Kings 18 Elijah has a show down with the prophets of Baal. In verse 37, Elijah calls on God to “answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Instantly, the fire of the Lord consumed the burnt offering, wood, stones, dust and water in the trench. Then Elijah slayed the prophets of Baal and a few verses later he outruns Ahab to Jezreel. Elijah has declared his allegiance to God and it appeared he was unstoppable until he realized he was a major target of the evil one.

Fear, doubt, loss of confidence, these are all tools that Satan uses to attempt to stop us from doing our work for the Lord. Elijah was unstoppable until Jezebel stated her intent to kill him in 1 Kings 19:2. The next verse tells us, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” He had a target on his back because he took a public stand for God. The seeds of doubt sprouted into fear in Elijah’s life which thwarted his work for God. By verse 4 he is discouraged and cries to God, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Yet God does not give up on Elijah. He pursued him, nourishing him and encouraging him ( 1 Kings 19:6-7). Yet he still hides in a cave, with the seeds of doubt now fully grown to the point that Elijah is paralyzed with fear (verse 9). What I find interesting in the next verses is that the Lord isn’t in the powerful wind, earthquake or fire, but in the gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13). This is what draws Elijah out of the cave to get him back on track. In this moment of solitude, in the gentle whisper, God said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah (verse 13)?” God tells Elijah he is not alone and instructs him to go back the way he came. He reassures him that there are thousands who remain loyal to God.

How God treats Elijah’s fear is so comforting to me. It is like a loving father bending down to encourage a scared child hiding in a dark corner. He doesn’t yell at our disobedience, but encourages us with a whisper. His gentle voice tells us, “There’s nothing to fear. I am with you as are thousands of other believers.” He whispers truth that is not always evident to us. It reminds me to stop in the midst of my fear, to pause and listen for the whisper of God in the midst of the storm.

The silence is overwhelming, it pierces my ears

I hear a light wind rustle through the evergreen trees

The snow gently swirls downward in the cold air

In this temple of God’s creation, I feel his gentle hand upon me

I feel his gentle grace, his love surrounding me

It is a moment of solitude away from a turbulent world

A world where a storm rages within humanity

A world where people deny your existence, yet secretly hope you truly exist

Outside the noise and confusion of that worldly place

I find this escape into your creation

It fills me with your spirit of hope, love and truth

Against the cold chill of this world

I see your light piercing the darkness; it warms my soul

Your light gently touches my face, it tells me to trust you and your way

The trampled snow ahead seems the way to go

But God you tell me this is not so

“The path I’ve put you on is full of troubles and struggles.”

He points toward the deep snow, pure white

I do not know where this unmarked path goes

But I do know its ultimate destination

There we will bask in the presence of God’s glory

But for now I must press on, clinging to his hope, trusting him

Letting my faith in God guide me along this uncharted path

“He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth — the Lord God Almighty is his name.”

— Amos 4:13

As the woman approached me in the aisle of the store I noticed her long face. I did not know this woman, but the next moment she passed me and I had this sense that she was burdened by something. I took a few more steps and then I felt the need to pray that the Spirit of God would fill her with hope; that she would feel the presence of Jesus Christ easing her emotional load. After that short prayer I turned to look back and she was no longer in the aisle.

This brief encounter made an impression on me. It made me think about how God looks at people — about the love and grace he offers us in the midst of our struggles. To see people as God sees them is to feel their burdens and pain; to experience the hopelessness people feel in life without Jesus Christ. When our heart is oriented toward God our desires become God’s desires. We share a longing for others to know Christ Jesus and the hope he brings.

We see Jesus modeling this compassion in Matthew 14:13-14. In this passage Jesus had just learned about the beheading of John so he climbs into a boat to seek a place of solitude. When he reaches shore he is greeted by a large crowd. He wanted to take time to grieve, but scripture tells us “he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

God knows our hearts and he knows our needs. Jesus reminded us of this in Matt 6:8: “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” God knows when we need someone to touch our lives to ease our burdens and he knows when we should reach out to others in need. He uses the Spirit to nudge us to help one another whether it is a short prayer, a conversation or helping with a need. As a community of believers in Jesus Christ we need be attentive to the Spirit’s leading to help us see people as God sees them.

As I look to a new year, I wonder if I have grown closer to God in the past 12 months. I examine my life and contemplate if I am any better at truly having a heart for God; any better at truly trusting him. The struggle remains in how much I am willing to follow the Spirit of God over my selfish desires.

Psalm 119:1-24 is instructive as I look at how to align my life more with God’s desires. Verse 2-3 encourages me to “keep his statues” not just out of compliance, but because I desire to seek God with all my heart — to follow his ways. That desire is expressed in verse four, “Oh that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!”

Verses 9-16 give us practical advice to guide us to “the path of purity (9).” This passage encourages us to live “according to your word (9);” to seek God with all our heart (10); to hide the word of God in our heart (11); to be open to God’s teaching (12); and to not grudgingly follow God’s decrees, but to rejoice “in following your statues (14).”

Verses 17-24 remind me to be teachable and to learn from my mistakes. Asking God to “Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in your law (18);” to seek to be “consumed with longing for your laws at all times (20);” to not just read the word of God, but to “meditate on your decrees (23).”

I praise God that he is a loving God filled with compassion and grace. I am thankful that he continues to pursue me as a counselor (24), pointing out my faults and working to shape me according to his laws. I pray we can all be resolute in the new year to seek God with all our heart.

As I walked in the darkness

With a lone candle in my hand

I happened upon a haggard man

Stumbling as he wandered the land

When I neared he covered his face

My small light too bright to bear

I offered to help, show him the way

But he screamed he did not care

“There’s no need to stumble along,” I said

“No need to be lost in the night.

Let this lone light be your guide

This light will forever burn bright.”

But he rejected the eternal flame

Told me the darkness was alright

Then he turned and walked away

Stumbling along, lost in the night

But my care for him did not cease

I bowed and prayed he would see

Christ’s light releases the grip of darkness

And puts us on the path to be free

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1:5

There are a lot of things that separate us from each other in this world. Anger, miles, language, and broken relationships can all create division at home, work, school and in the community. Sometimes the split is so severe that it seems the divide will never be bridged.

At times we may have the same feeling toward God. Events in our life can cause us to feel angry and distant from God. We may feel like we can’t talk to him, that our connection to him is forever broken. But Romans 8:38 tells us nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Like a coiled steel spring, the harder we push God away, the greater his force in reaching out to us. It is only our pressure on the spring that attempts to push God away. No matter how hard we try, we can never separate ourselves from the love of God.

Living a life for Christ means building the character of God inside of you, letter by letter, word by word, page by page. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, 23a life renewed from the inside 24and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. (Eph 4:24 MSG). As you grow in Christ, your life changes from a collection of misspelled words that don’t make sense to characters that spell out a holy life in Christ. When you break down the word Holy into its individual letters H-O-L-Y, it shows the characters you need to bring glory to God instead of yourself:

H: Honor

 The tendency of the world is to bring honor to self instead of Jesus. When we follow Christ, we seek to bring honor to God. John writes in 12:26 “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” (NKJV) It is by God’s will that you were created and it is He that deserves honor by living your for Christ. Remind yourself each day that God is worthy of honor and praise with Revelation 4:11:“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power. For You created all things and by Your will they exist and were created.”

O: Offer

Do you offer what you do each day to God, or is it all about you? When we act on our faith and offer our time and resources to Christ, we are working to build his kingdom instead of riches in this temporal world. “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:5) It is a life that replaces self with service to others for Christ. “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” (Phil. 2:17)

L: Love

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30) When the love of Christ permeates your entire life, he becomes the focal point, not your selfish desires. Love for Him gives you the ability to do things you could not do on your own. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matt. 5:43) The love of God is shown through you and your love of Christ. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Y: Yearning

With Christ as the love of your life, you yearn for others to know Him; you yearn for fellowship with God. Before Jesus was crucified, he said to his disciples, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15) Paul repeatedly expressed a yearning to spread the gospel. “So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. (1 Thess. 2:8) In Romans 10:1 he says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.”

By bringing honor to God, offering your life to Him, loving God and yearning for fellowship with Him, you will have the character to live a holy life.

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