Love: Join Together & Get Creative

I had the opportunity today to contribute to the #loveis series over on the Facebook page for Sweet to the Soul Ministries . So thankful to share alongside some lovely ladies who have taken time this month to consider what the scriptures say about this thing we call love. My focus was on Hebrews 10:24:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds…

The entire book of Hebrews has something to prove. The author was worried that his audience was waffling in their faith. He implored them not to go back to the old, comfortable way they’d always known, approaching God by routinely making sacrifices, checking off a spiritual box. He went to great lengths to show that Jesus is our high priest and no other sacrifice is needed.

God is really really smart, y’all.

He knew that even when we came to understand that Jesus is our center, it would only be a starting point. Our faith is a lifelong process of trusting and learning to love like Jesus did. He knew we would get discouraged easily. He knew we, too, would waffle back and forth in our faith at times.

He knew we would need some strategies for sticking with it, for moving forward in our faith when life got harsh. For when it seemed too difficult to center our lives around a Savior who was all about showing love in practical ways.

So what did God give us as an answer to these difficulties? Two things stick out to me from Hebrews 10:24:

First, He gave us other believers. The verse says: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Us. We. One another. The words used here don’t signify any of us being an island. We need each other to keep the momentum of love & faith going. We need to encourage each other to put God’s love into action.

The second thing God gave us is creative minds. Other translations of Hebrews 10:24 tell us to “think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” and to “see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out”.

Oh, I love that. What a challenge! He wants to see just how out-of-the-box we can get in demonstrating love toward others.

So friends, let’s take on that challenge. Let’s just get all kinds of creative in how we show His love today. Forget about how we will be perceived because of it. And let’s not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by how difficult life may feel at the moment. God knew it would happen, and He’s given us one another to figure out how to creatively persevere in showing His love to all people.

I’d love to hear what you think about this. What comes to mind when you think about God asking us to be inventive and creative in love? Who is a person in your life who spurs you on toward love and good deeds? How do they do this? Tell me about all it! Your thoughts will spur even more of us on toward encouraging love and good deeds today.

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How Do You Know?

A couple of weeks ago I was at an evening service at church, which is a rare thing since we don’t have one of those churches that has a Sunday morning & evening service and another on Wednesday. Nothing against any place that does, but we’re just not like that. When we have some large gathering any other time than Sunday morning, you know there’s something special going on, as was the case on this particular night.

Our pastor has recently returned from his first ever sabbatical (in 30 years! He was wayyyy overdue, I’d say!) and we as a fellowship are now reaping great rewards from that concentrated time he spent with God. We’ve been having some Sunday night “overflow” services, which is exactly what they are…a chance to get more of what we’d never have time for in our regular weekly meetings. So there we all were, drinking in all the challenge and inspiration that we could, and the discussion turned to making a list of the ways we know we’ve been changed since we met Jesus. I’m not even sure if that was the actual “title” of the list, if there had been one, but that was the way it was manifesting itself. So many people shared the evidence they have in their lives. Some said they remembered chasing after things so badly like success, wealth, prestige, etc… and that those things mean very little if anything to them now. One person mentioned that they were formerly dead and now they have life. Now, to some that can sound like a cliché, especially if you have some familiarity with the bible enough to know where those words come from in scripture, but truly it is an understatement. Others mentioned how they see people through God’s eyes rather than just looking on the outside now. There were many, many other comments presented as evidence too, and I wish I could remember them all.

But I do  remember the thing that wasn’t on the list. The very first thing I thought of when challenged with the whole how do you know? question. I was going to share it but there were so many folks offering thoughts and our time together just never seems to be enough. So I’m sharing it now. How do I know? How do I know that Jesus is real and that I’ve been given a new Spirit to live by? How to I know I’ve had an encounter with the God who is real and has invited me into the grand story that He has always and forever been writing?

I know because now, I notice.

Thought I was gearing up for some big profound kinda business, there, didn’t ya?

Well, that’s really, truly it. I know that Jesus lives in me because ever since I turned my face toward Him, I notice things now. Endless multitudes of things.

I notice things about this world.  I see all of creation as not just interesting accidents that make you go hmmm…. but as unique, artistic expressions of the most brilliant creative Mind that has ever been. I notice the fuzziness of a bumblebee, the swirl of a fingerprint, (really, we all get our own original?!) the never-ending variety of shapes and textures and depths I see in clouds on a daily basis. I notice the blending of colors in the abundant fall leaves all around me… watercolors only wish they could replicate it. I notice that there are zillions of species of birds and fish and bugs, even ones we haven’t discovered yet. Some that are microscopic and some that are enormous. I notice the things that seem perplexingly strange to me, like pitcher plants that digest insects, and patterns like the Fibonacci sequence that seem appear in everything from pine cones to plants to people.  There’s an amazing concert of creation playing out all around me, all of it with a specific purpose. I breathe more deeply now, and I notice these things.

But most of all, I notice the people who are God’s creation. His masterpieces. I notice their faces, which are just storefronts to who and what they really are. I notice the incredible diversity in their hair, their skin, their hands, their voices. I notice how amazingly different we all are from one another, but how strikingly the same we can be. I notice the variations in our laughter….deep bellowing chuckles to shrill soprano snorts. I notice the thick eyelashes of my young students as I watch their eyes move across the page they they read, and I wonder who they will become someday. And the eyes…everyone’s eyes! How large and round or small and slanted they are….and more importantly, how they can light up in anticipation and can dart toward the ground in shame. I notice how they weep in hurt and disappointment, how they close slowly with a soft sigh of relief. I notice how everyone’s eyes are searching for the exact same thing….for something beautiful to fill them…for Someone beautiful to capture them. I notice how my own eyes have a light in them I never had before I met Jesus, and how nothing else even comes close to putting that same light there.

I notice other things about myself too, like how  I am a part of this lovely creation, which means I was created for a purpose too. I notice that I’ve been given things, like the ability to encourage people, and that is an incredible privilege and a scary responsibility. I notice that I don’t always carry that responsibility out well. I notice that I am at my best when I am loving freely and allowing myself to be loved fully, and that it really does work like that. I notice that the harder I clench my fist to hold onto something, the less able I am to grasp anything else that may come my way. I notice that although I stammer and stutter my way through this life, it matters. My life matters, as does the life of every single other person around me, whether I like them/approve of them/extend love to them or not. I notice that my joy increases as I do extend love and it  decreases substantially when I hold it back selfishly.  I notice that things like compulsive shopping and worrying and lying and manipulating used to be regular parts of my life and that, because of Jesus shining that light through me, they really aren’t so much anymore. I notice that the more things I throw off that don’t matter, the more I can see that only one thing really does.

I notice that I actually care how I make other people feel now. (Maybe I should have started there. That right there says enough about how much I’ve been changed. I coulda saved about a thousand words!)

I notice that I don’t really have to look that far to see Jesus all around me….all around you. He’s always here. He’s always going to be here, and as long as we live, we have the chance to notice Him too.

Still Listening…

If you’ve never read The Color Purple by Alice Walker, please go get it ASAP. It’s one of those read-before-you-die kind of books. Here is an excerpt from the book… it’s a conversation about God between two women, Shug and Celie:

Listen, God love everything you love – and a mess of stuff you don’t.  But more than anything else, God love admiration.

 You saying God vain?  I ast.

Naw, she say.  Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing.  I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.

 What it do when it pissed off?  I ast.

Oh, it make something else.  People think pleasing God is all God care about.  But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.

 Yeah?  I say.

Yeah, she say.  It always making little surprises and springing them on us when us least expect.

You mean it want to be loved, just like the bible say.

 Yes, Celie, she say.  Everything want to be loved.  Us sing and dance, make faces and give flower bouquets trying to be loved.  You ever notice that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk?

 Well, us talk and talk about God, but I’m still adrift.  Trying to chase that old white man out of my head.  I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make.  Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?).  Not the little wild flowers.  Nothing.

Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool.

This is one of my first memories of myself thinking about God. I mean really thinking about Him. I had to read this book for a class. I was only a teenager.  I wasn’t even close to being a believer of any flavor, let alone a born-again Christian. I just remember the moment I read this, then read it again, and then over and over, I realized for the first time that God might be something (or someone) I had never dreamed of before. He might be more than “White Jesus” (this is the name I unaffectionately use to refer to the fake presentation we see mostly in those awful paintings with a glowing fishbowl around the head of a stark-white, blue-eyed, cojone-less sort of saintly figure who doesn’t really possess any power other than to make others feel guilty for not being as saintly or as white. Capisce?)

I briefly allowed myself to wonder, could there be more to this God thing?

Right after that I probably went about my everyday business of partying or whatever mess I used to get into back in those days. I didn’t have some big, light-shining-down moment that changed me forever. My journey was and continues to be much, much more subtle, but I’m convinced that it started way back then. It started when I first thought of God as more than a “He” and more than a keeper of cosmic scorecards, of which mine was dramatically marked up with a lot of red X-es. I began to see the idea of what might just be God as more than just something you experience when or if you go to church.

I’ve always been a lover of nature…not one of those going camping every weekend types…but almost childlike in my love, awe, and appreciation for all things around me that happen and exist naturally; a buzzing honeybee, the foam created from the ocean kissing the sand, the delicate veins in a perfectly symmetrical maple leaf, and…clouds! Oh how I loved (and still love) looking at clouds! I just figured I was a person who enjoyed things like that, I never thought anything else about it. But over many years I have come to realize that these things…these moments when I notice the small things around me that have been created by God, I know they are the artwork of the One who loves me and wants to delight me with His creation.

Could it really be…God is mad about me, not mad at me? It almost seems scandalous. The Creator of all the universe, the One who breathed and spoke everything into existence, loves me and is trying to get my full attention on a daily basis?! It’s true, my friends…and it’s certainly not just true for me, but for every one of the 6+billion people on this planet, all created in His image.

“…God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” -Romans 5:8

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”                    -Romans 8:1

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:38-39

Like I said, I never had this big, monumental sign that God was real and He loved me. It happened in a thousand small moments that accumulated into me finally admitting that I couldn’t ignore the clues anymore…I couldn’t push away the fact that I was starting to see all the loosely bound connections firming up into definite pathways. I was no longer interested in chasing after all the various things I had been, none of which ever resulted in giving me peace. I came to a place where I was pretty sure I was ready to surrender myself to something that was way more vast, way more good than I’d ever dreamed. Then I heard this song by a band that called themselves a Christian rock band, which I’d never even heard of before. “Christian” music that I actually enjoy listening to? Whaaaaatttt??

I looked for you in
The fire and the wind
But you weren’t there as far as I could see

I thought I’d hear you shout
But then I figured it out
That all along you’re whispering to me

And I’m still listening…

That was me. I knew it was. I knew that while I had been busy looking for “it” all over the place, searching for some huge moment in my life that would define me and validate me and encourage me and strengthen me and show me what life was really about, all along I had missed the hints and whispers of what was right in front of me. I knew that this band, these singers who were followers of Jesus, were talking about looking for and finding God. I felt a little like Celie in The Color Purple.

“Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool.”

But that foolish feeling quickly turned into a peaceful rest that I’ve really known ever since. Not perfectly, not without wrinkles and tears in the pages of my life since it all began for me. But a peacefulness that keeps my eyes willingly wide-open to these things, so I can share them with others and point out the whispers that are around them so they don’t miss the good stuff that God is trying to catch their attention with. But just in case they do miss it, and in the not-totally-unlikely event that I also miss it, I take comfort in knowing that God (as Alice Walker so simply put it) will just make something else to catch our attention.