Monday, May 26, 2014

Living a Jesus-Kind-of-Love

"Follow," that's what Jesus had said to me last May, when I retired from my position at Arizona Christian.  It's just one word.  It sounds simple.  When someone says, "follow," you follow.  It doesn't get any harder than that.  You simply do what they do.  Go where they go.  Seems easy enough...unless it's Jesus you are following; and, some things are just downright difficult (example: rejoicing in the midst of trials)!  So, while I've been following a little more attentively this past year, there's one stand-out, fall-short, heart-wrenching, I-don't-do-well-at item that Jesus does well:  love.  Yes, love...plain and simple.

I've argued with myself over this fact.  The truth is, I thought I did love just fine.  Yet, over the Easter season, as I dove into the prayer of examen, this one word kept creeping up.  Fact is, real love, for me, is like trying to take a running jump across the Grand Canyon.  Impossible.  The Lord has his ways of driving his point home.  Practically every passage of Scripture I land on has to do with loving others. Every podcast I listen to...yes, love is the theme. Then I went away for a weekend retreat, and the focus of the retreat centered around a book I mentioned last week (on love, of course).  It's like everything has collided in synchronization simply to show me this need to learn Jesus-like-love.

The exclamation mark came this week, as I continued on in my own study of 1 Peter 1.  Last week, the Lord so sweetly reminded me of His love for my sake, in spite of the fact that I am just one annoying little grain of sand (which by the way, is the stuff of what pearls are made).  God shows me His So-Great-Love through Jesus.  I am amazed by it!  Humbled.  Truly brought to tears over it.  However, lest it draw me into self-centeredness (which is such a temptation), like all things on my spiritual journey, the Lord has led me through that truth to drive home the more important (and, he, now, uses his Apostle, Peter):

Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable.
1 Peter 1:22-23(a)

There it is: sincerely love, fervently love.  Here's how I know I don't understand a Jesus-Kind-of-Love.  Digging deep, I uncover what a Jesus-Kind-of-Love really looks like in a Jesus-Follower:
Deals kindly.
Responds faithfully.
Gives generously.
Doesn't hold grudges.
Treats patiently.
Responds rightly, not out of emotional impulse.
Sacrificially commits (in spite of, anyway)
Stubbornly persists and pursues.
Always focuses on the positive.
Resets itself quickly (Ok, I have to spend a minute here.  This is what I do  Whenever conflict arises, and it does, a Jesus-Follower overlooks offenses.  It isn't centered on having to be right.  True Jesus-Kind-of-Love doesn't look for fairness.  In fact, it is totally an unbalanced love; because a True Jesus-Kind-of-Love always attempts to outdo The Other. It isn't moody, touchy, grumpy, or fragile-spirited.  It never pulls away, or pushes away, but leans-in to The Other at all times.  True Jesus-Kind-of-Love never allows an ugly space to grow... Oh, Lord, HELP!)

See, just as I said, Grand-Canyon-Impossible!  EXCEPT for Jesus.  Look at what follows in Peter's admonition to love: for you have been born again!  Born again (in some circles that has become a taboo phrase, but it's the phrase Peter uses) to new life.  Born again, because there has been a death to self, and a surrender to the Spirit of God, which produces a new heart in us.  A new heart that I learn to grow into... The good news is that it's impossible for me, but not for Jesus-in-me.  I tend to forget that to grow into that new heart of flesh, it's a continual cycle of surrender, death to self, embracing my new identity, and living loved.  Over and over...until one day, with practicing righteousness and loved-ness, I live rightly. I live loved.  I live "hesed" (the Hebrew word for a Jesus-Kind-of-Love). Oh, Lord, please keep making me like you!  If we all lived that way...well, it would be heaven!

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Little Sand Theology

I have walked sandy beaches all my life.  I practically grew up on a beach.  The Lord has always used a beach to blow away the cobwebs in my brain, and clear out the spiritual wax in my ears.  Somehow he speaks louder when Im walking through sand and surf.  Recently, he did so again, this time as I pondered the following verse:

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but was made manifest in the last times for your sake...
1 Peter 1:20.

Think about what Peter is saying. God knew from Genesis 1:1, in the beginning, before the world, as we know it even existed, that there would be a Peg Forrest.  He knew, even before he created me, and planted me as a seed in my mother's uterus, that I would need a Savior-Rescuer-Redeemer-Lord. Back then, he had already begun to grieve over me.  Back then (how long ago was the beginning?), he made a plan, for Peggy's sake; and he probably grieved again, knowing what that plan would entail. I mattered, but lest you think this is just a case of spiritual narcissism, so did you.

Lest you think that this blows me up with pride, now try to wrap you mind around the following.  What began as a little beach-walk, quickly turned to a theology lesson.  As I looked at the sand, The Lord reminded me of his promise to Abraham; the promise that said, "Your descendants shall be as the sand along the seashore."  (See Genesis 22:16-18)  I am one of those descendants.  No, I'm not Jewish, but as a believer in Christ, I qualify by adoption. I'm a grain of sand.

Ever picked up just a grain of sand? It's teeny. It's hard to distinguish from any other grain of sand. As a result, it's easily lost...easily washed away...easily tossed about by the wind. It's insignificant and worthless. It's annoying (especially when it gets under your fingernail, or between your toes). Oh, and, we can't forget, it's DIRTY!  But, for the sake of a grain of sand, The Lord saw, knew by name, and LOVED...Jesus, God the Son, incarnated himself. On my behalf, he chose to give up his rights as God, humble himself, and take the nature of a servant, so he could die. Honestly, I'm bowled over by the grain-of-sand-theology.

Do you see it?  Right there, on the tip of my finger...that one little grain represents me.  You're in there, too...

What does that theology change in me?  It so makes me want to get over myself.  I'm humbled. AND, while it changes my identity from insignificant and worthless, and raises my value; it does so much more in me.  I have to quote the words from a book I just finished, because this quote GREATLY resonated in me:  "If you see the gospel only as a proposition that you believe, that reshapes your identity, you can easily slip into a kind of gospel narcissism where "Jesus for me" just makes you touchy.  (If this is so), you've never moved on from Jesus's death for you to your death for others.  Jesus is only good for your self-image, but he hasn't mastered your life. He doesn't own you."  (Paul Miller, A Loving Life)

This is the change my grain-of-sand-theology is producing in me - a greater desire to die to self, to humble myself, and to love as Jesus loved.  It'll be a process, but I know it has taken seed in the soil of my heart, and maybe, just maybe, begun to sprout.

Now, I highly recommend finding a sandy beach somewhere, taking a walk, and pondering the for your sake of Peter's words...

Jesus love changes everything!

Monday, May 12, 2014


In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed (also translated, grieved) by various trials.
1 Peter 1:6

Trials.  Don't like them.  Don't want them.  I've certainly had my share of them, however.  If you have birthdays, you have, too.  Life isn't life without them.  Learning how to walk through them with joy seems to be the Apostle Peter's focus.  Something inside of me pushes against the whole concept.  When in the midst of a trial of any kind, joy is illusive, grief and distress are realistic.  Wallowing in self-pity seems to be a natural default, at least for me; but, Peter negates this default, and asks his fellow believers to rise above it.  In my words, he's telling them, "Wait, no wallowing! You were made for so much more!"

So.Much.More!  It is the So.Much.More. I want!  Really, I do.  When I find myself up against a various trial, I want to find what the Apostle Paul did when he told the Philippians that he had learned the secret of being content.  I want these men to whisper that secret in my ear!  So, for the past couple of weeks during my quiet time, I keep coming back to the first chapter of Peter's letter, and reading it CAREFULLY.  Perhaps, somewhere in between the lines, I will hear those whispers straight from the lips of the Spirit of God, Himself.  I've let too many birthdays, and too many trials pass by me without the kind of joy-in-the-midst with which Peter challenges.  

With that in mind, I have unpacked this verse word by word.  I'll spare you technical details, but can I just say that it has been intriguing?  Each word has been a mystery to be solved in itself.  The end result has been that the beginning (I'm not finished yet) of this study leaves me with truths I need to tell myself over and over again.  I'm learning that the secret to contentment is work...mental work; and, mental work can be exhausting, especially if I default to pushing back.  Yet, as I read on further in Peter's letter, he tells me in verse 13 that I have to "gird my mind for action."  Literally, that means to "prepare for action by renewing one's mind."  One usually prepares beforehand.  If I really want the So.Much.More., then I have to lean into these truths that Peter lines out while in a state of in-between.  I'm a list maker.  So, right now, while the trials of my life aren't as dark and hard, I'm going over my Truth List on a day-to-day basis.  As I study more, I'm adding to it.  Let me share some of my So.Much.More.Lessons that will, hopefully, help me rise up above distress and grief when those times hit.

1. I have a Heavenly Father who has saved me (past), continues to save me (present), and will one day save me (future) and take me to a grand inheritance, where Jesus himself holds me, heals me, and renews me.  This is to be my FOCUS of GRACE at all times.  

2.  Trials come by divine appointment for an express purpose (this is the literal translation of the word, necessary).  The Lord IS USING all things to work good for those who love him, and are called according to HIS PURPOSE.  That purpose will be to conform me to the image of His Son, Jesus.

3.  The Lord loves me too much to let me stay the same...He no longer wants for me to live, and respond as I always have (hence trials)!

4.  Trials are always for a SEASON.  In scope of eternity, they are for just a little while (this is a must to tell myself when trials seem to drag on, and sometimes do, for years)...

5.  The trials that come are many colored and multi-faceted (the translation of the word various).  They are like the paint swatches at a hardware store...from light to dark, and every trial wears many different faces.

6.  Further study reveals that God's grace is also described with the same word various.  This reminds me that for every shade and color of trial I go through, God covers me with the same equal shade of grace!

7.  As I fix my eyes on Jesus and His grace, as I remember all that he has done, is doing, and will do because of His grace, I can find joy in the midst of sorrow, because in His presence is fulness of joy.  

In the middle of a trial, there will be distress and grief, I am not to minimize the sorrow.  Yet, there is a So.Much.More. available if I put these things into practice by remembering, girding up my mind, and preparing for whatever shade of trial is to come next.  Again, it seems, the Lord has affirmed what I am studying through the words of song. I had already written this when I heard this brand new anthem from Casting Crowns.  Let me leave you with this link, which says what I am saying, so much better!  We were made for so much more than ordinary lives.  It's time to more than just survive; we were made to THRIVE!

Did you catch the result?  Joy unspeakable; Faith unsinkable, Love unstoppable...anything is possible!  Yep, I was made for So.Much.More!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Heaven is a Wonderful Place

In this you greatly rejoice...
1 Peter 1:6a (emphasis mine)

I just can't get over the word, this.  To be able to rejoice the way the word is really defined, there has to be a full understanding of the this. You can't get around it; you can't jump over just have to study it and hope that it's reality is driven deep enough into your mind and heart, that the right response is a given.

In order to know what-in-the-world Peter is referring to, I have gone back over and over his introductory remarks.  I know that he's writing to a group of exiled, displaced, lonely, and terribly persecuted believers.  I know he's reminded them of their incredible chosen-ness and the immensity of God's mercy and grace.  There's more, though, and I think this is what he's trying to get across to them in the midst of all the messiness of their lives - in light of the inheritance you will obtain (the inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and will not fade away), in comparison to eternity, and in regards to your protection until that day, there is a reason to rejoice that is almost unfathomable.  That reason, the what-in-the-world Peter is referring to, is heaven. The challenge is for them to keep the out-of-this-world in view while they navigate the stormy waters of life as they know it.

That's our challenge, as well.  So, we need Bible words about heaven to help us.  All my Christian life, I've tucked away snippets of truth about heaven, and it being a wonderful place.  I've been reminded that we'll be in the presence of Jesus, that the streets are like gold, and that the myriad of colorful jewels that surround the throne reflect the glory of God.  I tell myself often that it is a place of great healing, and comfort, of joy, and NO FEAR!  These things leave me wishful, and longing for the day, but I don't yet rejoice the way Peter describes.

This weekend, we went to see Heaven is for Real.  The experiences of a little four year old, who was privileged to glimpse heaven, left my eyes wet, and my heart tender.  My take away was the reminder of the people-gone-before that I would get to see again and KNOW!  The other piece that struck me was the one where Jesus holds us, and wipes away all tears.  That was the part of the incomplete puzzle that started to stir my soul.  Not the wipe-away-all-tears part, but the idea of Jesus taking me in his arms, and holding me close.  To be embraced in the arms of my Savior, and to return that embrace, in love and gratitude began to get my heart thumping and leaping.

Sunday's worship resulted in an even further stirring of joy deep inside.  The team led in a Hillsong chorus, I had not heard, but, wouldn't you know it, focused on heaven (what else, right?).  What did the chorus emphasize?  Being held by Jesus.  For some reason, I had never let that possibility be a part of the images of heaven I've gathered over the years.  That Jesus would be present, of course!  That in his presence would be fulness of joy, absolutely!  However, Jesus and me, up close, and personal, not so much.  Unworthiness always blocked that image, I guess.  However, as The Lord is giving me another possibility, I am understanding the fulness-of-joy part a little deeper.  It might be coming soon...the part about being able to greatly rejoice in matter the messiness of life and the circumstances thrown my way!

(Here's the link to the Hillsong chorus: