“Nothing ever changes” …Really?

Driving to Pulmonary rehab today I was reminded of one of the most frequent things said at lunch with other pastors over the years. “Nothing ever seems to change no matter what I say or do.” Its corollary was: “We’re supposed to be catalysts for change, but I don’t know what else to try.”

Just then, as I was reminded of what might be depressing thoughts, we rounded the bend onto a beautiful bank of fall colors…

I I had to chuckle at the moment for it brought a powerful truth to mind that has many times given me courage to try again, to keep imagining the possibilities and not give up on God’s promises:

Spiritual transformations are more often like the subtle change of the seasons than the volcano blowing the top off the mountain.

EVERY season is needed to make the most brilliant colors – the most of what God has given to this life we live. And with those subtle seasonal changes come the diversity of colors that cheer the soul.

Let’s don’t grieve over the passage of time without evidence of major change. Sometimes the changes need to come more slowly to create a deeper and more diverse glory for which only God can be praised.

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6 ESV; cf. Isaiah 55:9-11; Mark 4:26-29)

Have Faith in God

Yesterday I had an afternoon with my beautiful daughter. We went to see the movie Christopher Robin and then we walked a bit in the mall and both of us bought some jewelry. On the way home we talked about Mark 11:22-23:  “And Jesus answered saying to them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.'”

Jennifer said she thought as we grow in our faith in God, our thought is not about what mountain we want moved but what mountain God wants moved and that is the thing for which we ask. Our concern becomes less about our own will but more about His.

Then this morning I read this from Oswald Chambers: “What God calls us to cannot be definitely stated, because His call is simply to be His friend to accomplish His own purposes. Our real test is in truly believing that God knows what He desires. The things that happen do not happen by chance— they happen entirely by the decree of God. God is sovereignly working out His own purposes. . . As we grow in the Christian life, it becomes simpler to us, because we are less inclined to say, ‘I wonder why God allowed this or that?’ And we begin to see that the compelling purpose of God lies behind everything in life, and that God is divinely shaping us into oneness with that purpose. A Christian is someone who trusts in the knowledge and the wisdom of God, not in his own abilities. If we have a purpose of our own, it destroys the simplicity and the calm, relaxed pace which should be characteristic of the children of God.”

My cousin Christine Currie is fighting cancer again and she commented they pray in faith, asking for healing as they surrender to God and His perfect plan and will. That spoke to me about asking God to move mountains. Sometimes it has seemed as if adding “but Your will be done” to the end of a prayer was giving God an out. Yes, He always answers prayer, but sometimes (and too often from our way of thinking) He says “No.” So we look at that prayer and say, “Well, it just wasn’t God’s will.”

Our son-in-law preached on those verses last week and told a story of a man who prayed for something, and when it didn’t happen, he said, “I didn’t expect God to do it.” He pointed out that praying in faith and with faith expects God to act and is surprised if He doesn’t do what we asked.

Putting Jennifer’s thoughts on that verse and Christine’s approach to prayer I have to rethink many of the things I’ve prayed for over the years. Have my prayers been for what I want, pushing aside what God wants, blaming my lack of surrender to God’s purposes on God’s doing His own thing contrary to my will? Have I looked at prayer as a time to instruct God on what He should do rather than as a time of fellowship with the God of power, strength and love, coming to a deeper understanding of who He is and what He is about in my life?

I write out many of my prayers and I can look back over the years and see what I ask God to do and what the complete results were. I am amazed that most of the prayers that went unanswered—from my perspective at the time—were actually things that I was glad in hindsight God had ignored. But as I looked farther, I realized that though God did not do what I asked Him to do, He met the need of my heart. I have come to the conclusion that as I pray, the Holy Spirit in me says, “Father, let Me reword that. The true desire of her heart is this, she just doesn’t know it yet.” Then God grants the desire of my heart, not the surface words I spoke to Him. His answers were deeper, fuller, and better than my original request.

Jesus’ words, “Have faith in God” are so powerful. The more I get to know Him, the more I understand about His great love and holiness, the more I surrender to His perfect plan and will, the deeper my faith grows. The more my faith grows, the more fearlessly I ask for the closer to His desires my desires become. My life begins to be one of simplicity and calm as I get to that relaxed place of seeing God behind everything, and resting in His wisdom and love.

I Can’t Take It Anymore!

YouTubeIn 1996 we suffered a spiritual firestorm at our church that threw us into deep conflict over ministry vision, vicious personal assaults, and lack of confidence in me as the pastor. For three long years those humiliating months stayed lodged in my soul, lacing everything I did and said with caution, and causing me in my relationships to hold many at arm’s length for fear of repeating the hurt. Feeling the slide toward despair over finding freedom in ministry again, I often cried out to God, “I can’t take it anymore! Help me!”

God did send help in the blood of his Son.

At the end of 1999 churches of our community gathered in what we called a Solemn Assembly. Midway through that incredible week of sensing the nearness of Jesus, and drawn to repentance from worshiping so many things other than God, our small groups were deep in united prayer. As we prayed, someone began softly playing the hymn, “Nothing but the Blood.”

Heb 9 22_28The soft piano music brought the small groups back together in singing, except for mine. Our group stayed huddled about me, praying for me, a man deeply shattered by a vision of Jesus’ blood flowing like a river from the foot of his cross.

In that moment, the Lord reminded me of how much he had forgiven me, and then said something like this: “You don’t have to take it anymore – the offense. Let me have the offense of others against you. Simply, cast those offenses into my grace flowing from the cross.” As I knelt there in a bath of tears, I saw myself doing that very thing, and instantly felt freedom from the years of crushing hurt.

When we feel we can’t take it anymore, let’s go to Jesus. We don’t need to take offense, but can give to him and find he is able to deliver us from the burden of carrying it ourselves.

Heb 9 22_28 (2)


You can listen to the hymn, Nothing But the Blood…

For an upbeat version, capturing how I felt after that time of prayer, listen to it in the middle of this YouTube rendition featuring Charity Gayle from People & Songs. This recording of People & Songs begins with the song Cleansed and is followed by Look at What the Lord Has Done: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqnT9JRm8dA

For a traditional rendering go to this video featuring Buddy Greene on harmonica and the good folks at GaitherVEVO singing together: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJnD272vmns

For a history of this hymn as used in Methodist hymnals, go to the following article by Dr. C. Michael Hawn (Distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology): https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-nothing-but-the-blood


What Will You Choose?

A poster I saw this week has been stewing in my mind for the past few days. It said: Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional. I’ve been playing it against the reality of the week for myself and for a number of my friends and family. Between us we’ve had major invasive surgery, chemotherapy that caused extreme nausea, severe back pain, a beloved grandfather die, minor aches and pains, a marriage painfully end, fleeing for your life because you’ve been put on a hit list because of your faith in God, and those are just the ones I can think of at the moment.

Pain is inevitable. I have no problem with that. It’s the suffering part that puzzles me. The dictionary defines it as “pain that is caused by injury, illness, loss, etc.: physical, mental, or emotional pain.” That sounds pretty inevitable to me as well. I know someone who was hurt so much as a young child that they have the ability to block pain to the point where they seem to step outside of themselves to avoid it, making it appear as if the pain is happening to someone else. That has taken them into some nearly disastrous situations. Pain is given to us as a warning that something is wrong. To ignore it is foolish.

The message the poster was trying to make is that dwelling or wallowing in pain is a choice. It should not become something that defines us.

It reminded me of visit we made to the Wedgewood factory on our second visit to England. As we walked through the section dedicated to showing us how this beautiful pottery is created, we stopped at the place where the intricate white ornamentations are made that decorate their signature blue or grey pieces. A small ball of white clay is placed in a mold and the artisan uses a wooden hammer with a two-and-a-half inch mallet-like head to pound the clay until it fills the mold. Using a pin, the clay is removed so it can be examined. If it conforms perfectly to the mold, it is set aside to dry. If not—if there is a bubble or a place where the clay failed to completely fill the design, it is rolled up into a ball and the whole process is started again.

As we watched the process for several minutes, I found myself praying, “God, as pain comes into my life and I am pounded down, let me come up looking beautiful, not resisting the process so it has to happen all over again before I come out of the mold looking like Jesus.” I was reminded how my grandfather often called pain or trouble God’s hammer of love, something that shaped us into strong, loving people.

I collect tea cups and one of my favorite ones was a gift from my daughter and son-in-law that they brought home after a summer of living in Romania. They stopped at a pottery store on an excursion to Bucharest and after explaining to the owner that they wanted a special cup and saucer for their mother, he invited them into the back of the store. There he served them tea as he brought out his special cups to show them. They selected a cup he had made by kneading the clay, pounding it into shape, molding it just the way he wanted. He then fired it in a kiln, painted it with bright blue flowers, and fired it again.

I treasure that cup and saucer, even though I continued the pain the clay went through by dropping the cup on the floor and breaking it into a dozen pieces. (I think it’s the only time I cried when I broke something I owned.) I lovingly collected the pieces and glued them back together. It will never hold tea again but it looks beautiful on my shelf. It also serves as a reminded to me that brokenness is not fatal. The purpose of that cup has changed, but it has not been made useless.

As I look at my friends and family I see strength growing in them through the struggles they are going through. Sometimes it takes testing to show ourselves that we are stronger than we think we are, that we do have the capacity to move ahead. I am so proud of them for not wallowing in pain nor letting it steal their joy of living. I would change the poster to read, “Pain is inevitable, Suffering happens, But growth and joy are possible. Choose well.”

What about core weariness?

I can see nowRecently I’ve been learning a new way of thinking about relational wisdom from Ken Sande and his team at rw360.org. I highly recommend his work to anyone who wants to have healthier relationships and get upstream of conflict.

Pastoral counseling has been a huge part of my life one-on-one, in group settings, and in public teaching, but not until now have I seen as clearly the answer to a couple of things. The tools provided by rw360 are wonderful, and I’m beginning to make use of them daily. Management of my emotional responses is getting better in the hope that I reflect the Lord Jesus as He truly is. How to respond to others, when feeling anger or frustration, delight or satisfaction is now much clearer, and therefore the follow through to peace is becoming easier than it has ever been.

Waking up to relationships

The best kind of life is truly one in which relationships are thriving – molded by selflessness, joyful expressions of delight in each other, and cooperative effort to walk together in whatever opportunities or challenges life brings.  That means that the first thoughts I have in the morning do not remain on how I’m feeling or what I’m going to do in the day, but move to how God and those around me are feeling about this day and what I might do to become a helpful part of what can be done together.

30-emotions - nerissa golden-001Emotions are God’s gift

There is built into every one of the core emotions the possibility of enrichment (see table below). I’ve heard that all emotions are a gift from God and meant to be an integral part of a whole, together-kind-of-life.[1] And yet I have especially struggled to accept the negative ones, failing to see why I should embrace them rather than running from them or fighting against them.  When I’ve been depressed, for instance, I’ve done everything in my power to be rid of the depression but not to discover the benefits hidden inside those feelings. I have grown through those times, but usually only with hindsight. Now, however, my mind and heart are changing toward these things that have been so much a part of my living.  I can see now that it is possible to be “emotional,” and be energized in a good way whether the emotions be positive or negative, as long as my spirit is aligned with my Creator (cf. Matthew 26:36-46).

The question remains

fatigue-coffee kecuteh_blogspotWhat about core weariness? How do we deal with the relational difficulties of living with weariness of body or soul? With chronic illness comes chronic weariness.  With persistent struggles to do good toward, and with other people who can be very selfish, deceptive and mean comes weariness of soul. With persistent effort to keep a worldview centered on the Lord and to understand a complex and messy world comes weariness of mind. How can I love the Lord with all my, now very tired, body, soul and mind, and how can I love others as weary as I sometimes am of life?

I’m not sure yet how it all works out, but for me one of the greatest difficulties in responding well emotionally to life’s challenges is how tired or unwell I’m feeling in body or soul. Those times of core weariness add confusion and a sense of helplessness or hopelessness that bring on irritability, impatience, and self-pity – all enemies of the best kind of relating.

Hoping in answers because of what Jesus said

Not everyone today feels soul-weariness, or the crushing weight of past sins, failures, hurts, and rejections. But when you do, the words of Jesus may be your greatest reason to hope. Jesus said…

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB)

Because of what Jesus said, I can imagine being at peace in the midst of any storm.  I can dare to imagine being loved and forgiven – when I’ve been at our worst. I can dare to imagine teaming up with the Creator – when I can’t imagine facing another day.


emotions-different-faces steemit_com[1] Emotions are a gift of God

“We were given emotions by God, being made in the image of God, not from sin. So why throw away a gift from God? In moments of despair or grief we wish them away. Yet the right response is not to run from them, but to learn to deal with them and use them. We cannot just let our emotions go but we don’t have to pretend they are not there. These emotions of ours are tools God has given us: tools to grow, tools to love, tools to inspire.” (Brandon Fusco, theodysseyonline.com)

“We have wrongly concluded that negative emotions are from Satan. The Scriptures teach that emotions are a gift from God. They motivate us to take constructive action. Anger motivated Jesus to clear the temple of robbers and thieves. Emotions call us to engage the mind and to make wise decisions on what needs to be done. When we make wise decisions, emotions have served their purpose.” (myemail.constantcontact.com)

From solutions-recovery.com…

8 Basic Emotions solutions-recovery_com

Joy: Jesus’ Plan for Us Together, Before Creation

Joy in the Journey - Emboidery PandaSo where’s joy to be found if today is mixed with soul numbing routine, character testing, and the uncertainty of confusion and conflict? For me, greater joy is not found in the absence of those things, but in recognizing that I have the opportunity to walk with Jesus through them in fellowship with Him.

Charles H. Spurgeon’s “Tested and Battered” devotional on Job 14:14 caught my attention recently. He comments on several reasons for being joyful in our earthly life which usually includes suffering of mind and body, and testing of character. But the one of Spurgeon’s list that got me thinking again that everything on the path of obedience following Jesus Christ is meaningful is this one:

“We would not have full fellowship with Christ if we did not sojourn for a while below, for he was baptized with the baptism of suffering among men, and we must be baptized with the same if we would share his kingdom. Fellowship with Christ is so honorable that sorest sorrow is a light price by which to procure it.”

Phil 3-10 agodman_comThese comments by Spurgeon seem to turn on its head the notion that the only reason Christ entered our world is to save you and me from suffering and death. Just as Christ created our world and mankind for fellowship with him (with who he is in his heart of hearts), and just as he planned and spoke into being a man and woman whose human nature was fitted to the one he would want to embrace for himself, so now, as we live out our lives on an earthly plane, we live them out as he chose to live it himself (in the only way he could live it given who he is in his basic nature as the Son of God). His plan, or design, for our life preceded the actual execution of the plan in the creation moment. And that plan arose out of who he is personally, and what he could choose to experience himself. There is such Glory that we share in this that it’s hard to put it in words (Psalm 8)!

Colossians 1 16 pinterestYes, as the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 8:9, Jesus did become poor for our sake that we might become rich. It is proper to draw principles for living from such mercy and grace. But, to draw the greatest joy from that truth, we must come to realize that it was not just for my sake or your sake. Christ’s choice to live among us was clearly also and primarily so for his own sake, or his glory in other words – that he might fulfill the creation purpose he designed into everything (see Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 1:4-12 and Colossians 1:13-24).

Yes, Spurgeon is right. We would not have full fellowship with Christ if we did not sojourn for awhile below. I for one find great joy in knowing that I have the privilege of sojourning here as he himself once chose to sojourn.

To enjoy the entire devotional referenced above, go to the following link: https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/daily-devotionals/5/6/0/

Further teaching to inspire confidence in what God is doing with us today…

“Always guard against self-chosen service for God. Self-sacrifice may be a disease that impairs your service. If God has made your cup sweet, drink it with grace; or even if He has made it bitter, drink it in communion with Him. If the providential will of God means a hard and difficult time for you, go through it. But never decide the place of your own martyrdom, as if to say, ‘I will only go to there, but no farther.’” – Oswald Chambers [From <https://utmost.org/the-supreme-climb/> ]

“Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there, but all of it is totally meaningful.  Every millisecond of your pain from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that. I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen. When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say ‘That’s meaningless!’ It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory. Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and care for.” ― John Piper [From “Though You Slay Me” – Shane & Shane featuring John Piper | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyUPz6_TciY&list=PL08dGtQFa7F2SjbErTvmO4xbehxdFq49P&t=0s&index=1]


Did Jesus ever have a head cold?

Paleo-Chicken-Soup-Recipe-2 Living Well Mom

We don’t know if Mary ever served chicken soup to Jesus.

And so I was wondering this morning how much He could relate to my dripping sinuses and chest congestion. I wondered why He would protect us throughout the winter from colds (which in Julia’s case with the IPF is a huge blessing), but then now in the spring He would let it take away this weekend from us. We had opportunities to serve our church family and our immediate family, and they’ve all been put aside. In addition, there’s little energy to tackle home projects. So what’s up?

I remember that He is here now in me, experiencing this cold. When I pray that it be taken away, and it isn’t, I remember Jesus in me is choosing to bear it for this time. What are His purposes in this? For one thing, I’m sure He isn’t wanting to go with me into discouragement or grumpiness. That’s not where He goes in the midst of a cold! I’m also sure He is showing me again how much greater is fellowship with Him than the temporary misery of one weekend “lost.”

soup vzxfunnynimatedgif_blogspotIs it too bold of me to say, “I don’t know if He had a cold when He walked this earth, but today, in me, He’s got a whopper!”? That statement seems to resonate with the following scripture passage, and so I’m drinking deeply of the best kind of chicken soup to be had – chicken soup for the soul.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies….So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…” (2 Corinthians 4:7-18 ESV)

Dare To Be That Daniel

“Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8 (NIV)

Who would not want to be like the biblical hero Daniel?

Most of us dream of waking up some day and being like the golden boy of ancient times. Daniel was physically handsome and strong, emotionally stable, socially poised, and mentally quick. He was spiritually gifted and a persuasive speaker. He was able to manage people, affairs of state, his home life, and still remain regular and passionate in his devotional life before the Lord. Daniel rose to the top in the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar and then stayed near the top under succeeding rulers. He seems to have been a golden boy who had everything going for him in terms of his gifting, position, and prestige.

However, did any of the things mentioned above get him through the tough times? Ezekiel mentions him along with Noah and Job as one who remained righteous while going through testing (Ezekiel 14:12-23). How tough could it be for this golden boy of ancient times?

To begin with, we should not forget that Daniel had been exiled from his homeland and family in Judah as a teenager. He was taken by force to serve in the emperor’s court. From the beginning of his Babylonian life, he faced constant temptation and pressure to worship the idols and culture of Babylon. In government service, he faced a lifetime of opposition and hatred from fellow government officials and national religious leaders. He constantly had to adapt his language and methods through the turmoil and uncertainty that comes with changes in administration of empires. And yes, he was thrown into a den of lions! So much for a golden existence for our golden boy! And so much for us wanting to be like him.

Daniel in Lions DenThe amazing thing is that it was not Daniel’s good looks, strong body, his quick mind, or his prominence in government that rescued him in, and out of the den of lions. It was God Himself delighting to walk with him, uniting His power and wisdom to the strength of Daniel’s moral convictions. The New Testament book of Hebrews mentions Daniel among people of living, overcoming faith. His life was built upon a solid foundation of trust in the one true and living God walking with him.

Daniel did not deserve or make his own way. God is the one who gives or withholds favor to us in the physical, mental, and social gifts he bestows. And, no matter what, he is to be praised and worshipped. Daniel was not a preacher or a priest, but he was willing to say to his godless contemporaries, “When it comes to matters of the heart, and God’s place in my heart, I will not be moved. I cannot go where you want me to go.”

On the outside, Daniel was a handsome, powerful, favored Babylonian administrator. On the inside, he was a humble servant of Yahweh that used the gifts God had given him to step bravely into the opportunities open before him. Let us dare to be that Daniel!

A classic hymn I enjoyed singing as a boy…

Dare to Be a Daniel | Philip P. Bliss, 1873 | © Public Domain

Standing by a purpose true, / Heeding God’s command, / Honor them, the faithful few! / All hail to Daniel’s band!

Refrain: Dare to be a Daniel, / Dare to stand alone! / Dare to have a purpose firm! / Dare to make it known.

Many mighty men are lost, / Daring not to stand, / Who for God had been a host / By joining Daniel’s band.

Many giants, great and tall, / Stalking through the land, / Headlong to the earth would fall, / If met by Daniel’s band.

Hold the Gospel banner high! / On to vict’ry grand! / Satan and his hosts defy, / And shout for Daniel’s band.

From <http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/Dare_to_Be_a_Daniel/>

Daniel 2:19-23 (NIV)

During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said:

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
    wisdom and power are his.
21 He changes times and seasons;
    he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the discerning.
22 He reveals deep and hidden things;
    he knows what lies in darkness,
    and light dwells with him.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
    You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
    you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

When is Enough Enough?

Seven years ago became a two-girl family. No, we hadn’t had a baby—that would have taken a class “A” miracle! Missionary friends sent us their daughter in 2009 when she became college age. Then in 2011 a second missionary family, who are great friends and live out of the country, sent their oldest daughter to live with us. We became something we never imagined—a haven for young adults who were formerly ex-patriots.

Our two girls could not have lived in countries that were more different. Emily came from Mongolia, a dry, barren part of the world that spends nine months of the year below zero and where the main diet is meat and root vegetables. The other girl, Sarah, lived in a poor fishing village in Mexico, two blocks from a beautiful beach in that lush, semi-tropical country where seventy-five degrees is considered really cold and the diet consists of a huge variety of fresh fruit and vegetables but very little meat. One thing they both have in common is a familiarity with a large variety of people and living conditions. Needless to say, there was a never-ending list of topics for conversations at our home.

One thing that experiencing other cultures adds to your life is an appreciation for the little things we are blessed to have here in the United States. Sarah speaks of putting an electric rod in a bucket of water to heat it up and then using the heated water for showering. Emily talks of how she enjoyed going to their outhouse on forty-below-zero mornings just as the sun was coming up and being amazed at the glorious colors of the sunrise. Their shared bathroom at our home may have had the most unusual green fixtures ever seen, but at least they functioned in the normal American way. There wasn’t, however, the sound of the surf or a view of the sky.

Somewhere along the way, Americans have come to believe that the way things happen in the United States is normal. We consider our mere existence as being enough to make us deserve comfort and ease. Too many Americans function as if the world owes us something. Fortunately, most of the world cares nothing about our petty demands. Millions of people accept abject poverty as a way of life, working together as communities to help each other through the difficult circumstances around them. Much of the world scrubs their clothes in rivers, digs trenches for latrines, and cooks their food over open fires. The idea of a bedroom for each child is unheard of in most cultures. Many of the rooms in my house are larger than the average home for much of the world. People are too busy making a life for their families to complain or even contemplate that there could be a different way to live.

When is enough enough? The idea of contentment is becoming a foreign concept to people in our country. Instead of being thankful for the blessings we have, we protest that we can’t have it all. After all, we deserve it. We are Americans.
As I listened to our girls talk with delight about the places where they grew up, I realized their fond memories were not about things they had but about the people who surrounded them. Emily enjoyed putting on plays with friends and having deep conversations with neighbors. Speaking of cooking together as a community and freely dropping into each other’s homes makes Sarah’s eyes sparkle. The joy of working together to accomplish a task and sharing resources so the entire community could celebrate together are highlights of their lives. There is no talk of personal rights or accumulation of “stuff”. The joy of their lives are more basic. It’s all about family and friends.

I may have been the “mom” of the family, but I had much to learn from our “daughters.” Traveling into other cultures is not new to me, but I must confess that a public water closet in Evion, France that was a simply a hole in a concrete floor was way beyond my comfort zone. But as we lived and worked together, my list of basics shrank and my “Dream List” came to contain more relationship goals than physical stuff. Sharing our home for a few years was very good for me.

Julia, Do You Love Me?

This morning I read again the story of Jesus meeting His disciples at the sea shore after His resurrection and how He spoke to Peter, asking him three times if Peter loved him.(John 21) How those questions must have tugged at Peter’s heart knowing, that just days before, he had forcefully denied that he even knew Jesus. Jesus was so tender with Peter, asking him if he loved Him and then giving him the task of feeding His sheep. As I read the story, my heart once again felt Jesus asking me those same questions, “Julia, do you love Me?”

The word Jesus used for love was the Greek word agapaō. When I typed the word in my prayer this morning (I usually write out my prayers to God.) I typed “agape”. The Thesaurus told me that the word means open, astonished, amazed, openmouthed, surprised, shocked, and agog. Those words seem to fit the kind of love I have for God. I am often amazed and surprised by how He loves me and how He works in my life. Yet Jesus wasn’t asking Peter, and He is not asking me if I am amazed by Him, He is asking if I love Him with total commitment and devotion.

Over the years I have struggled to apply the word love to my life. I am not a people person. I have lived my life surrounded by people, interacting daily with them, teaching and leading them. I am energized by many of those interactions but also drained by some. I don’t naturally enjoy being around others. I would say I am an introvert who has lived her life as an extrovert. Many times I have said I don’t like people in general. That struggle has even worked its way into my relationship with God. Do I love people as God asks me to love them? Do I obey the great commandment and love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength?

When I attended Grace University we had assigned seats for chapel. I sat next to a very strange guy who one day wrote the same sentence over and over in his notebook. That sentence was, “Love is the feeling that we feel when we feel a feeling that we’ve never felt before.” My problem has been that I have looked at love as a feeling, an emotion or some sentimental, unexplainable emotion as portrayed in a Hallmark movie or a chick flick. After examining the word over the years, my conclusion is that it is not so much about emotion as about exactly what Jesus asked Peter. “Do you love Me with total commitment and devotion?

After explaining to a friend about my struggle with loving people, he asked me a question that has helped me tremendously. He asked, “Julia, when people leave being with you, do they feel that you love them?” I had to answer yes, because many people have thanked me for loving them. As I thought about that question, I realized that love is action. It is caring, listening, making time for people much more than an emotion. It is an attitude that lets others know they are important to you, that you have their back. It is being committed to helping, sharing, or teaching so that the other person’s life is made better. It is devoting your life to others.

As I think about God asking me if I love Him, I realize that I do. I am completely committed to hearing Him, following Him, obeying Him. I am devoted to God and would never think of giving up on Him. He is the most important person in my life. And with that realization, I also understand that I really do love many people. I am committed to being their friend, willing to do whatever I can to help them work out their problems, grow in their knowledge of God, or simply enjoy sharing life with them.
So as I think about an answer to the questioning of Jesus, my answer is yes.