Love deeper

I spent a few days on a tall hill, a mountain in Arkansas, appropriately named Mt. Moriah. It’s the third year in a row that my dearest sisters in Christ and mentors and I have made the trek, and each time we have been blessed with life-changing lessons. This year was no different. Some of us met discipline, and some of us expected discipline but received grace.

It was in the midst of a rain storm on the top of the hill when grace met me. I was desperate. I was there to lay my life on the altar of sacrifice, to see His face and to walk away dead but alive. I sat in the middle of the circle, begging Him to rid me of myself, to show me my sins, and to scold me for my failures. Only He was silent. If I could put the moment into words, we had a staring contest. Both of us looking at this altar and neither of us moving, only waiting for the other to. Finally I made a spiritual rush, took my place, laid out on a table, arms spread wide, fully submitted, waiting for lightening. It didn’t come. If God would “tsk” at us, this was that moment, and in my heart I heard three words, “It is finished.”

I sat up and listened.

“I love you, Leslie. You don’t have to get it to receive it. You don’t have to understand it, but you have to accept it.” I imagined Him looking me in the eyes as the lesson continued, “You spend so much time apologizing for your failures, and pointing out your flaws to Me when you don’t really get that I don’t see you through those things. You wait for my wrath, the same bitter cup of wrath and judgment that my Son drank in for you. He drained that cup. It’s empty. My justice was satisfied.”

I swallowed these Truths, and listened for more.

I am love. And, I love. Everyone. It’s hard for you to fathom, but I have just as much love for you as I do the most despicable ofcreation. I love the murders, the pedaphiles, the adulterers, the thieves, and I long for them to know this!”

I considered that as I recalled the scripture verse in Ephesians: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

How wide: You can’t escape it. We try. We cling to a million different things in the hopes that they will meet our needs, but they don’t and as far as we run, we find ourselves surrounded by His love.

How long: There is no breaking point. God doesn’t say, “I love you to this point and then you are on your own.” Our strings break, our patience thins, but His love goes on and on and on.

How high: You can’t attain it. There is not a bit of good that you can do that earns His love. It’s like building a tower, no matter how high you go, no matter how many materials you possess, you aren’t going to reach the end of it.

How deep: I think this is where we lose sight of His character most. We forget that His love can reach beyond any pit we find ourselves in. We think He can’t possibly want anything to do with us when we are struggling, tempted, or publically condemned. Or, more likely, we think He won’t redeem the greatest sin, the deepest obsession, the darkest evil. We doubt His love for the least of these. We gloss over passages that mention that Jesus spent His time with the “worst of sinners.” In our heads, we imagine tax-collectors and prostitutes, but it’s also highly likely they were murders and thieves, pedaphiles and molesters. I imagine with one look into His eyes, they were undone. His love was penetrable. He didn’t have to speak their sin, they knew who and what they were. He didn’t have to point them out because they were already pariahs. And still, His love reached deeper than that.

It’s hard for us to imagine. We stand in pride and say “Look at me. I am worthy before God because… “ and we rattle off a list of accomplishments, and God says, “So? I mean really, thanks for that, but if you didn’t do it for love, I’d rather you not do it at all.”

Love. There is a reason why it’s the greatest commandment and the greatest gift. When we set our selves free to love, we are free to live – without condemnation, without guilt, and without shame. When we spend more time thinking about what we can do for others instead of what we’d like them to do for us, then we really get the kind of love He is talking about. When you can look with the same endearing smile at the man that smells of urine and has no teeth as you can at the sweetest most innocent child, then I think we might be feeling it. When you can speak as encouragingly to the single mom stripper as you can to the stay at home mom, then you might be expressing His love.

I challenge you. Love deeper. Because, whether we get it or not, love is what it is all about. Nothing else we do matters, if we aren’t first, His love.

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Getting my goat

Christians can be very proud. Have you deducted this? Have you seen any of this played out lately? One area that I find Christians particularly proud in is the area of charity. It’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? To brag about “good works,” isn’t that almost to negate them? It kind of leaves the message, “I didn’t really do this for you. I did it for me, but you get something out of it.” Or, this is the message that we are sending whether that is what we intended or not.

I was recently at the way too overwhelming local Chuck. E. Cheese when I saw someone with a t-shirt that read, “This shirt fed 40 people. What did your shirt do?” Okay. On the surface, I get the point. They gave some money or did some act of service or sacrifice, which was a good thing, to help feed starving people which is a very good thing, but the shirt portrays an attitude that negates the ambivalent nature of the giver. I don’t see a t-shirt that says, “I paid twice as much for my canvas shoes so that someone else wouldn’t go shoeless.” I don’t even think such a shirt will ever be made, or should be. And yet, I see Christians wearing t-shirts that make charity seem selfish. The argument could be made that it is to raise awareness for world hunger…well, wouldn’t a shirt that said, “Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger. How’s that burger?” That would raise awareness and address gluttony in America, and guess what? No one gets credit…and someone looks twice at the burger they are eating. Perhaps that person paid enough for that shirt that 40 people were fed, but it isn’t boasting. No one knows but that person and God…and perhaps the little guy that handled the order. And, that’s okay.

In the Bible, Jesus tells us not to let the left hand know what the right is doing. He instructs us to do our good deeds in private. But, then no one knows what we did, so how will we find reward? Well, He goes on to tell us, “Your Father in heaven will see your good deeds and reward you.” Oh but, Leslie, people’s rewards are much more instant…yes, and far less rewarding. Which leads me to my next point, we somehow think that we deserve something for our good works. For instance, I mentioned my frustration at seeing this t-shirt to someone the other day, and I expected this person to take up my cause, after all, we are both serious about ministry! Instead, the response was to smile and say, “Heck Yeah, I have that shirt! I suffered through 30 hours of hunger to get it!” Wait. What? I know that my jaw had to have dropped open! Since when is sacrifice about anything more than…well, sacrifice? But, this person isn’t alone in this. Recently I saw a campaign for a popular Christian music group to build wells in third world countries. I was standing in line as one of the spokespersons for the group was telling about their initiative and that if you gave X amount of dollars you would get a free shirt and a CD. Commendable…until the person in front of me asked, “So what is the least amount I have to give to get the stuff?” Wait. I think we missed the point.

I’m not a huge John Acuff fan, but I do like some of what he says. I will never forget the blog he posted on “fasters” – those people that observe the spiritual discipline of fasting…not to be confused with pastors that get you out of church by noon every Sunday. (Ba dum pum.) Anyway, he was talking about the ones that feel the need to announce to the world what they are doing, when God’s Word clearly says not to make a show about it because that’s what the religious folks do and their reward is found in the praise of man. He quips about possibly telling the next person, “Man that stinks. Now that you told me that your only reward is what I have to say…so, way to go, bro! You fasted for no real reward!” (Not an actual quote but that was the gist.) Really! What kind of reward is that? I’d rather keep it to myself and simply have the reward of knowing that I sought God and denied myself food or pleasure in order to understand His will in my life. I admit though, I have announced before that I was fasting, but not in an effort to make myself look good, but rather in a desire to see others join me. In my mind, if one fasting can bring clarity to a situation then all members fasting can put it in the sky on wide-screen and surround sound! But, that is neither here nor there.

The point is this. Let’s not boast about our good doing. Don’t post on Facebook that you and your family bought a herd of goats for a village in Tanzania. Don’t tweet about how many kids you sponsor. Don’t wear t-shirts that make people feel bad that they paid $5 for theirs at Old Navy and didn’t serve any purpose than to cover up a hairy chest or a muffin top. Don’t publicize your good works and make Christians look worse in the eyes of others…who might actually do more good and don’t expect a reward. There are things that you CAN do to promote help and support, like: Post links to great organizations and encourage donations and gifts for others. Wear World Vision t-shirts and then answer questions when people ask if it’s a world-wide Optical service. Support your local food banks and feed the homeless in your city, or even volunteer time at a local shelter, but don’t expect a t-shirt…or even a pat on the back…but I can tell you this: the smiles from those you serve, the looks of humble appreciation or amazed gratitude, or the profound look of relief that there is another pair of hands to bear the load, those are gifts from God…and no one can take that away, and unlike a t-shirt, they don’t shrink.

Check out these great links, and please help those that cannot help themselves.

http://www.worldvision.org/content.nsf/give/ways-to-give

http://www.30hourfamine.org/about/what-is-the-famine

http://globalgiftguide.worldconcern.org/category/animals/one-goat

And if you want to read more of Acuff:

http://www.jonacuff.com/blog/  (You’re welcome.) 🙂