This is Love…

Our world has some messed up ideas of love. And, truth be told, in our best moments our love is still pretty selfish. Turns out that all the Disney fairytales aren’t love. All the Hollywood steamy scenes aren’t love. All the happily ever afters aren’t earthly. 

In John 15 Jesus gives the definition of perfect love without even telling us that’s what He’s doing. “As the Father has loved me,” (John 15:9a NIV) Gotta stop right there and think about how the Father has loved the Son. Without conditions, completely, nothing held back, perfectly.

He then says: “so have I loved you.” (John 15:9b NIV) That would be you and me He’s speaking to. He has loved us with a perfect love. He gives all of it to us, asking nothing in return.

Can you and I love like that? Probably not – at least not consistently. We are fickle. The least little transgression and there we are holding back. Offended, folded arms. Hurt, walking away.

“Now remain in My love.” (John 15:9c NIV) Let His love be enough. Don’t seek any other fulfillment. Stay with Him. When all that love we’re looking for comes because we stay close to Perfect Love, maybe we won’t so easily withhold our love, or only offer it when someone ‘deserves’ it.

When our husbands, our children, our friends are set free from being our source of love – I bet they’ll find us a whole lot easier to love. Lovely is the person so wrapped up in God’s love, that she loves others along the way without expectations.

This is work for me. You? But it’s not really optional.My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12 NIV) It’s a command. Just before that verse (verses 10 and 11) He made it clear that obeying His commands keeps us in His love and fills us with joy – complete joy. Isn’t that what we want?

So how can we be sure God’s love for us is perfect, that He makes our joy complete? “This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 GWT)

 

Peace Like…

Perhaps my friend nailed it recently when she determined the reason pressure never seems to let up is that we live in an impatient world.

In just a few decades we’ve gone from looking through a catalog and paying ‘shipping and handling’ to scrolling through too many choices and it arrives tomorrow. Everything is transmitted electronically in seconds. We’ve gone from 9-5 to 24/7.

Expectations of instantaneous everything are set – including no time to think about what we want to say or how to say it. All this impatience manifests in short tempers, unrealistic expectations, and burn out. And our soul longing for peace is greater than ever. Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (John 14:27a NIV)

If that is true, how is it we can’t seem to find peace anywhere? Maybe we’re looking in the wrong places. Jesus didn’t say, you’ll never have any worries again. Or you’ll have plenty of money in your bank account always. Or you’ll never get sick. Even if we had all those things, there would be other concerns, heartaches.

Jesus went on to say “I do not give to you as the world gives.” (John 14:27b NIV) There’s the heart of the matter. How does the world give – anything? With conditions. And often gives only temporarily. So when does Jesus give us His peace? The moment we accept Him as Lord. And it has no conditions and it’s forever.

We have just a tiny role in all this – our attitude. Jesus finishes the verse “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27c NIV) If peace escapes us, it isn’t because He has removed His. It’s because we are letting our hearts and minds run ahead of us. We’re letting fear run the show.

Oh so easy to say, a little harder not to get sucked into. Yet the very things that help us realize His peace are the ones we often overlook or don’t make time for. The peace that falls when falling in bed with prayer and praise on our lips. The peace that lifts up when we acknowledge God is bigger than our seemingly impossible situation.

Peace that says: ‘this world, this stuff – this isn’t all there is. Someday is closer than you think – so do not worry and fret. Seek the peace I have left with you. Peace like only I can give.’

Which Way…

Stepping out of one year into the next – a last day becomes a first, as seconds tick one into the other.

Odd how we think up ‘resolutions’ or aspire to better this or that just because of a date on the calendar. We’re all about the doing – and really it’s just about the being. “Praise the LORD, my soul! All my being, praise his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1 GNT)

No doubt you’ve heard ‘God has a purpose or a plan for your life’. Indeed He does. Yet, you and me, we live like it depends on us. We head out and set out to do the plan, wondering which way is the best. 

Turns out it’s not about us fulfilling His plans and purposes. It’s about being surrendered to Him so He can fulfill the amazing things He created each of us to accomplish. Amazing? Yes, for even in the diaper changing, in the going to work one more monotonous day, in the seemingly unnoticed parts that seem to be the whole of our lives, He can do the wondrous.

“I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do–yes, they will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12 GNT)

We get in the way: ‘this year we’ll _______________’ or ‘today I’ll _____________’. But time – years and days and hours and minutes – God is not constrained by these. When we have open hands and hearts inclined to His, He can – and will – show us the way.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NIV)

Yes, it is all about being. Being all He made us to be by letting Him be our everything. Then we can confidently step into a New Year, or the next hour, not wondering which way we should go, but following the Way and finding the Truth and living the Life we were meant to live.

 

 

 

 

Heart Beat…

Christmas Eve…Where are our hearts?

Too often scotch tape and shiny paper wrap our souls. Time to break free and be wrapped – with wonder, with the Gift itself. Instead of wrapping up boxes and details, how about we just give rapt attention to Jesus come.

Giving to the Giver a sigh of surrender, taking a deep breath cleansing us with the Holy Spirit, and ears listening for Heaven’s very heart. A heart born beating for us so ours will never stop beating – no not ever. “But God’s gift is eternal life given by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 CEV)

And the gift we need but seem to miss no matter how many bags we open: peace.

Peace, the Good News wrapped in cloths – and someday Peace will reign forever – and ever. “When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.” (Ephesians 2:17 HCSB)

The merry in our Christmas is not a sentiment – the merry is Sacrifice, the merry is Risen, the merry is Returning soon.

Untie our heart strings from the stuff of life and let our hearts be captured in awe of You, God in flesh. Everything we could ever want arrived lowly, left having been pierced for us, but will return in Alleluia and Victory. And the gift of eternity will take our breath away like no other Christmas morning present.

Joy to the world – joy to you and blessings of amazing love!

 

 

 

 

He Comes…

Christmas can’t be contained in a date 2,000 years ago. There was that one special Bethlehem day – but daily now is the coming.

Then there’s the day you found Christ – right there with you all along. And there’s today when the next thirsty soul drinks deep the coming of Jesus into his heart. He comes, moment by moment – always the free gift.

“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8 NLT)

The ‘holidays’ often are lonely-days even when we’re surrounded. Why is that? Because our soul longs for the final coming, that great day He returns and makes all wrong and despair disappear forever. When lonely feelings set in, it’s because we forget: He left a deposit right inside us. A Holy Spirit deposit guaranteeing all we long for. 

He’s right here in our trying chaos – a mess of shiny ribbons, He’s bowing close to untangle us. He’s right here in our loss and grief – when all the twinkly lights go out, the Light comes to us. “The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:4-5 NLT)

And…He never leaves. It may seem like it, but that’s just you and me forgetting to unwrap His presence.

Just a few more days and we’ll move past remembering His coming. We’ll start up a New Year and hope for a good one.

But what if…we acknowledge He comes right out of 2019 into 2020 with us? He always does – into days bright and long nights too. He comes to be with us…always. 

“And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b NLT) This is the Christmas miracle – He comes, never leaves – and eternity is already ours.

Get Up…

Sometimes sleeping til the alarm clock goes off just doesn’t happen. Usually I’ll lay there trying to find my way back to dreamland. Lately I just give up and get up.

I’m thinking it’s a wake-up call and I’m finding the Caller knows what I need. Those things that I thought woke me up like a neck ache or a sinus headache disappear as I come into His presence, His Word, and prayer. I find more comfort in those than I ever did snuggled under covers.

There’s just something about listening in the quiet moments before the day rushes in. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” (Matthew 6:33 CSB)

Some key words there: first, God and His righteousness, things.

First – not giving Him the leftovers of our time. It’s a heart thing. Putting Him first – and sometimes that’s not at 5am with Bible in lap. A busy mom may put Him first by looking at a verse on her phone as she picks up her waking infant. He asks only that we seek the important – Him – in all the ins and outs of the day.

God and His righteousness – not just checking off the ‘Christian’ I read the verse, listened to the song, prayed the prayer thing. Giving our hearts to Him in everything at all moments. Praying when He prompts us, focusing on pleasing Him, repenting when we blow it.  We aren’t righteous – but we received His righteousness when we said yes to Jesus. 

Things – like enough sleep, or not. Or like enough food, or gas, or cash for bills. I’ve been on the short end of all those – and yet here I am. It is sometimes because of the shortfalls we have the wonder of looking back and seeing His faithfulness. When we are faithless, He is ever faithful.

So as we head into the giving season, let’s bring our first gift to the Giver – ourselves. So deep is His love that our heart is all He wants. Just get up and give… “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NLT)

The Giving…

I’m in to reading then listening to old hymns these days. I didn’t grow up with them – because I didn’t grow up with Him. What I’ve learned is the soul’s need is timeless.

Today I listened to a refrain and thought about all of us. About going into the Christmas season and all the giving. This is the ‘giving season’ – at least that’s the intent. But the heart’s intent is what counts. And the heart of God – no one can give like that.

“Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.” (Psalm 36:5 NIV)

So this old hymn’s refrain goes like this: “His love has no limit; His grace has no measure; His power has no boundary known unto men. For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!” (He Giveth More Grace)

The writer probably couldn’t say enough that God gives, then gives again, and doesn’t stop. And still we ask. And still He hears. And the more we take of all He gives (be it material or in our spirits) our thirst continues. Because all here doesn’t satisfy and because all we take of Him makes our longing for Him deeper still.

Yet what does the Giver get? Usually our leftovers – or maybe our desperate pleas. But He doesn’t ask for gifts or rituals or anything – but one thing. One thing that He formed Himself – our heart.

Ann Voskamp says it best: “And the greatest gift we can give our great God is to let His love make us glad.” Let’s remember the reason for the next few weeks – a birth long ago. A birth so phenomenal, so outlandish it still rocks the heavens and earth with its magnitude. The birth of a Savior – One who gives and gives some more and makes forever ours.

“How great is God’s love for all who worship him? Greater than the distance between heaven and earth!” (Psalm 103:11 CEV)

A Day of Giving…

So here in America we set aside a day every November and call it Thanksgiving. Lots of big meals are prepared, shared from soup kitchens to lush mansion tables. Some bow heads and actually give thanks – to the One who has provided. While in other places football drowns out any thought of all this food coming from anyplace other than the supermarket.

How have we made a day of giving thanks into a time of harried families travelling, TVs blaring, and shoppers lining up outside department stores? Was a time when if you forgot the potatoes or the cranberries, there wasn’t a store that was open – it was more important that their employees were home with their family.

This is the post-Christian society we now live in. “God says, ‘I will save those who love me and will protect those who acknowledge me as LORD.” (Psalm 91:14 GNT) “But those who turn to crooked ways the LORD will banish with the evildoers.” (Psalm 125:5 NIV)

So I propose that in the days leading up to Thanksgiving we start a conversation – with store clerks, people in line, and wherever we are. Maybe say Happy Thanksgiving – and even add on, I’m thankful for your help today – or thank you for the work you do. At least it would give pause for thought.

What if the wheels of progress dared to stop for a day and bosses thanked their employees for their services and employees thanked their bosses for their jobs. This is way too radical, right?

Back to reality. But it only takes a spark to start a revolution. Why do the current ‘revolutions’ have to be about things that are detrimental to life and well-being, to faith and family. How about the heart of America starts beating once again – and revolts against darkness and evil?

“Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11 NLT)

How about we insist the TV is silent while we share what we’re thankful for and then acknowledge Who has given it? How about we dust off the Bible and read about the Provider? How about a Day of Giving…not only thanks but of ourselves – to the God who gives us our next breath along with the turkey on the table? Radical.

A Covering…

Today’s temperature is struggling to stay in the sixties and the wind is blowing. Roll your eyes if you want, but this south Florida girl is shivering. Where’s the blankets?

There’s a new trend, supposed to help with sleep, with anxiety, and all kinds of things: weighted blankets. I picture a comfy couch, soft lights, and peace. The weight of the covering relaxing frayed nerves and tense muscles.

It’s a lot like God’s grace, love, peace. He covers us in them, the weight freeing us from the weight of our sin and the weight of the world. “He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” (Psalm 91:4 NLT)

I have a grandson who loves his blanky at bedtime (and when those shaky legs are trying to learn to walk). Shaky legs are ours as we learn to lean on and into living for God rather than for self. The world wants us to buy into things, into power, into government, into anything other than the freedom that’s ours when our comfort comes from the Comforter.

“God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.” (2Corinthians 1:3b NLT) I scooped up my two year old grandson recently when he hit the slippery floor and cuddled him til the tears stopped. I was his comfort as the hurt subsided. Our Father holds us right into eternity, no more tears or hurts forever.

So whether the temperature outside is freezing or sweltering, there is a perfect covering. One who covers all our shame, all our regrets. Who looks on us and sees the covering of Christ’s righteousness and smiles in love.

My prayer for those grandsons, for myself, and for you is that Jesus is who we reach for when everything appears to be too much. No more will we listen to the voices of criticism or doubt or empty promises. But we will listen the voice of the One whose love is a covering for all seasons.

 

 

 

Better His Presence…

Sometimes the most fun days are those spent sitting and laughing with someone we love. My hubby, my best friend, my children, and now grandchildren. Their presence making life sweet.

Sometimes a quiet, no-interruption day complete with breezes and mountains and a good book are the best.

It is amazing in this harried world with so much evil abounding that peace and joy are still ours to be had. And often they are found not in things but in people and in moments.

Recently heard a wonderful man of God who works in an area of severe Christian persecution. My heart resonated with two profound statements. The first was: “Better His presence, than His promise.”

Yes, we all want the promises and, as Christians, we have them, nothing can change that. The sweetest promise being that death is conquered and eternal life is ours. But do we want the promise more than we want the Giver? We are selfish by nature, so I’ll admit that I cling to the promises and when the going gets tough I cling to the Giver. I’m working on that. I want to cling to Him and long for Him – finding my waking hours seem empty if not for His presence.

“You will show me the path that leads to life; Your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever.” (Psalm 16:11 GNT)

The second statement He made was essential. When asked over the years what his favorite version of the Bible is, he answered: “Open Bible is the very best version.” If our Bibles aren’t open, then we’re not learning from them. So if they gather dust it really doesn’t matter what version they are.

The more I study it, the more I learn. There are few books I re-read. Of those, even fewer I learn more with each subsequent reading. But the Bible, it has new messages, insight, help every time I open it. It is indeed a living manuscript. “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 HCSB)

As we head into the crazy ‘holiday season’, my prayer is we’ll start each of those crazy days requesting His presence and savoring His goodness. That before we read texts or posts we’ll open our Bible. Better His presence than any presents.

 

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Mandy Hughes

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