People are always worth it

Casting Away Stones – Ecclesiastes 3
Week 8 – Ecclesiastes 3:8

Day One: People are always worth it: a time to love
Day Two: The ugly H-word
Day Three: Wars and rumors of wars
Day Four: But now in Christ…
Day Five: Searching for mommy-peace
Heart verse:
In overflowing anger for a moment
    I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord, your Redeemer.
Isaiah 54:8
Day 1 – People are always worth it: A time to love

The Bible is full of fun and real life instances of love. I am reminded of the time at youth night when we had our Bibles open to the story of Isaac and Rebekah and my husband, who is ever wonderful and goofy, stood up and proclaimed loudly, “Pay attention! This is the one with love at first sight.” He then proceeded to act out the entire story as a one man show with dramatic motions and sweeping arm gestures. We were all in stitches, and if you read the story in Genesis 24, you’ll see why. Note how many times the word “behold” is used. And the intensity of Isaac and Rebekah’s eyes meeting in verses 63-67. The story concludes with “and he loved her.” It’s so sweet and, most importantly, so real.

And there’s so many more stories of romantic love, both beautiful and painful, in the Bible.
Jacob and Rachel’s love amidst family scheming…

Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” (Genesis 29:18)

Leah always seeking Jacob’s love and approval…
Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore his name was called Levi. (Genesis 29:34)

Hannah’s husband asking, “Aren’t I enough?” (1 Samuel 1:8)

The friendship love –
Of David and Jonathan…
Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. (1 Samuel 18:3)

Of Jesus and John…
One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side (John 13:23)

Of God’s love for his people –
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1a)

Even in anger –
    I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord, your Redeemer
(Isaiah 54:8)

Love is not optional, as an objective thing or as an emotion. It is a gift from the Father, with the Son and the Spirit, that we can not live without. We were designed to receive it and to give it. We need it like we need air and water. It is the sustenance of life.

It is the first and greatest commandment. And the next is like it.
And he said to him,“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

Are we on the same page?
We need love. Biblical Truth.

But in our Ecclesiastes passage this week, there are three little words in front of love that change our discussion a bit. Let’s look and see. Read the passage and fill in the blank below in relation to the word love.

a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”

_____ __________ _______ love


Atime to love…

This passage would insinuate that there is a time not to love, and indeed if we look at the Ecclesiastes 3 context, there is, in fact, a time to hate. Yikes.

Here is my take on it all. We know Jesus, so we are always filled with His love and always called to love. The difference is that it may look a whole lot different than we expect in different seasons.

God is love (1 John 4:8). He lives in us, by His Spirit, so we are never without love. Living in a season without love is just not our New Testament reality. But our experience and expressionsof love in life may not scream love the way the world would understand it.

There will be times in love when we feel lonely. There will be times when we feel lost and sad and left behind. There will also be times that we will be called to love in a way that looks a whole lot like expressed anger and frustration, and a removal of time and energy in a relationship. Our experience of love may look a lot like “a time to love, a time to hate” woven together. Not in a willy-nilly, hap hazard throwing around of emotions, but a casting out and pulling in of relationship in order to care for those who need to be cared for at any given time. To share life in a real and legitimate way, instead of an inauthentic love that smells of flowers and chocolate.

It’s exhausting to discern. Relationships always are. But we have an inexhaustible God, who lives in us, and frees us for the challenge.

I was telling my tale of relational woe to a friend the other day and her words stopped me in my tracks, “Well, it’s like you always say…
‘People are always worth it.’”

I didn’t even know I always say that! But evidently I do. And there’s a reason.

In this life, that is the dance of love and hate and struggle and joy and seeking and receiving during our short little time here on earth – people are always God’s primary concern. And so they will be mine.

Through the pain and sorrow of figuring out relationships, to the sharing of love by hugging and laughing or hating idols and toppling them in one another’s lives, I’m all in. I’m not going to be halfway in, protecting a corner of my heart where no one gets in. I have an all-in Savior, with an all-in love.

Isaiah 54:8 from earlier speaks the truth of this in our lives…
In overflowing anger for a moment
    I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord, your Redeemer.

Love poured out in a face hidden. This may look so different than we would normally label love, but it doesn’t change the truth of it.

When have you been forced to express love in a different kind of way? Has God ever taken you through a season of loneliness or sadness to show you the depth of His love? Where are the dark places you can show love, by toppling idols that don’t belong?

It’s a challenge, but I promise you – 
People are always worth it.



Discussion questions:
When have you been forced to express love in a different kind of way?
Has God ever taken you through a season of loneliness or sadness to show you the depth of His love?
What dark places can you show love by toppling idols that don’t belong? (Think about issues like abortion and human trafficking, or individual relationships like speaking up against someone’s affair.)
What are other alternative expressions of love that you can think of, that the world would deem unloving or even hateful?

Love, assumption, and discernment

photo made with the #vrsly app, photo subject…a very much loved Zeke-y. 🙂
                            
Day 5 – Discernment is Excellent
So much is excellent in our lives. We know that every good and perfect gift is from above. All the gifts we have come from the Lord. Look around you, take a moment, and praise Him by lifting up some things, some people, and some moments in life you are thankful for. He is truly an Awesome God.
Today we are going to reflect on one more form of “excellent.”
Philippians 1:9-11 tells us that we can approve what is excellent, we can discern that which is excellent:
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Again Romans 2:17-23 reflects the same phrasing:
“But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.” 
I added the emphasis in the ESV translations above, but can you see the similar phrases stick out this way?
The Greek word in these passages for excellent is diapheronta, which means to carry through, to show what is different, to surpass or excel. Let’s use Scripture to interpret Scripture.
I love the way the passage in Philippians says, “that your love may abound more and more…so that you may approve what is excellent…”
It is in love that we are able to see what is excellent. When we look at everything around us. We look with the rose colored glasses of God’s love for His people.
Occasionally, our zeal for the law, our legalism for things that are, in fact, excellent and righteous even, blind us to being able to see what is Christ. Certainly the Gospel cannot be understood apart from the Law, but we can be so wrapped up in how we think the law or the gospel should look, that we miss it standing in front of us. Let’s let our discernment be Christ’s discernment in us, not our ideas about what is right and wrong, but firmly planted in God’s Justice and God’s Grace, revealed in His Word.
Romans 2:21 above, asks, “you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?” It is only in being the constant learner that we can discern. 
We identify our assumptions and call them out for what they are. We approve what is excellent by sitting as Mary sat at Jesus’s feet, by letting Grace sweep over us; letting dishes stay unwashed and work left undone. We daily are invited to pick up the Word, and use a moment to bask in His purity, His goodness, and His Words of Excellence.
Excellence in the passages today is discerned in the daily life with Christ. It’s not found in the Sunday morning box we check, but in the authenticity of the journey because we firmly believe in an authentic God, and He gives us His authentic Word to learn and grow and love.
What, therefore, is excellent to you? What do you see around you that surpasses because it is of Him? That may be your church (It is excellent! He created it!). It may also be your garden, it may be the laughter in your home or the tears of a friend shed over a shared life. It changes our idea of what is excellent, because to be excellent, it simply needs to be touched by Him, redeemed by His Grace.
Go and discern, ladies. We have something a little different to share. Something that will carry us through. This life, this walk…excellent.   

Index card notes and never ending Love

Romans 8:39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What a beautiful way to end a series of devotions.  No mountain you have to climb, or valley deep and dark can separate you from Christ. Nothing in creation- no person, no place, no danger, no toil, no frustration, no job, no broken relationship – nothing can separate you from your Father, who loves you.
In the marriage relationship, love waxes and wanes. It changes and grows, certainly, but you will have seasons when love is vibrant and seasons where love is dull and even seemingly lifeless. Because of the one-flesh relationship being the most intimate one we will ever experience on Earth, we often relate God’s love to our experience within the marriage relationship. This happens without even thinking about it. In the times we feel unloved and devalued by our spouse, we wonder if there is a God who finds us valuable, who loves us no matter what. We can learn two things from this.
First, this verse speaks truth into our lives. God does love us, come what may. He always has and He always will. Nothing in creation, nothing around us or in us, or happening to us, can change His love for us. We cling tightly to these verses as Christians for a reason – our basic need to be loved, to be known and loved in spite of all of it.
Second, what can we do in our lives to help our spouse know the truth of this verse? What are we doing daily to grow in love together, so that God can speak to them through us? This may be one of the primary means that God uses to speak His love in to the lives of those around us. If our marriages were unbelievably strong, others may take notice of a God whose love is so deep, so wide and unfathomable, that divorce rates and life challenges and petty arguments have no hold on our marriages. It would be obvious that He is clearly the one at work. This model may be more valuable to the life of the church than anything else we ever do.
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Thank you, Lord, for your inseparable Love. Thank you, Lord, for being perfect in our imperfect marriages. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

I’m a big fan of index cards. I buy them in bulk. One thing I do in our house is leave “index card notes” for everyone. On one side I write a Bible verse that I want to share with them and on the other side I write a small note. Sometimes it’s just encouragement, sometimes it’s to apologize for something, sometimes it’s a thumbs up for something specific.
It’s easy and not something I have to do every day, but just as the Spirit guides.
What ways do you share God’s love funneling from you to your spouse or those you love each day?
I’d love to hear them!



At home date night- Just Do It!

Romans 8:23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 
When the spies went into Canaan, they came back with a single cluster of grapes so large that they had to carry it on a pole between two of them (Numbers 13). That is a mighty fine bunch of grapes!
We also have firstfruits like none seen or experienced before, in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in us creates real and vibrant faith, the Spirit comforts us in our weaknesses, the Spirit wells up in us to go and to do His work in the Kingdom. All of which we could never do without the Spirit.
Matthew Henry states in his commentary on the New Testament that
“We, having received such clusters in this wilderness, cannot but long for the full vintage in the heavenly Canaan.”
One of our favorite at home date nights is two wine glasses of red wine, a tiny square of dark chocolate, and some British TV. While this may not be your ideal date night, you can appreciate the idea of relaxing and feeling satisfied in the presence of one another and in His bounty. Date night isn’t just valuable because it’s fun or a break, but it’s valuable because it give us a chance to sit together as one flesh and take a breath and recognize the Spirit working in our lives and moving in our marriage. Our marriage growing is the mirror for the bride growing more and more into the head, which is Christ. Therefore date night isn’t just an extra to be tacked on when we have time, it is the very work of the church.

The table of the Eucharist also beckons us to partake in His fruits in a very real way. It unites us with Him and one another. It gives us a foretaste, and we long for that full vintage found in the New Creation. In longing, we also have assurance, the Spirit is working, growing us, and growing the church. We wait eagerly for the feast. We hunger for it, and for Him, and we will be filled.


*I’d love to see pictures or hear about your at home date night! Tell me about it in the comments or send a picture to deaconessheidi@graceplacewellness.org and I’ll share it in blogs to come. 🙂

Oh Christmas Card…

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.       Luke 2:19

I love Christmas cards. I love receiving them, I love giving them. I like gold foil and nativity scenes and family photos. I look forward each year to getting the letters that tell, however brief, our friend’s stories, of their life and their year. 
Each year we also receive a few Christmas miracles. They come in the form of cards that look like this:
 
 

Now, sometimes these cards contain little presents and those are wonderful too. This year they made the difference in getting our kids some of their special requests for Christmas. But really, that’s not my Christmas miracle. My Christmas miracle lies in that this card exists at all, and that someone went to a store and looked for it.
 
Someone stood in front of a card rack and searched for a card 
just for their pastor. 
Someone read through generic cards and decided 
that this one was it. 
Someone wrote a note thanking my husband and our family 
for faithfully serving.
Every Christmas congregational life touches my heart in a new way. I look at my harried husband, crafting sermons, leading services, checking on shut-ins, and eeking in all the extras for Christmas, and then I look around at people and wonder if they notice. Not notice him, or me, or anything earthly. But do they notice that our God is a God who came to them, just for each of them, and it’s a struggle in this world to bear the load of a thousand people who don’t know and don’t care. 
Then the cards come. It goes a long way in a pastor’s heart to hear that what they do makes a difference in someone’s life. That just by being them, by being faithful, by representing a God of Love and Comfort, people have been touched and it has mattered. It goes a long way in my pastor’s wife heart to not be the only one telling him that. 
 
So thank you card companies and thank you members of the Body. Your Christmas card has a special place in our lives and a special place, treasured in our hearts.