The Depth of True Love

Do you remember the excitement when mom and dad announced they were going out and your favorite babysitter would be there any minute?  What was it that made those nights so special?  For me it was knowing that for the next several hours the rules did not apply.  I could stay up a little later.  I could eat whatever I wanted.  I could make a fort in the middle of the living room, and I could watch the scary movie.  And mom and dad would never know… or so it seemed.

In a kid’s world that is a dream come true, isn’t it?  No rules.  No limits.  We can do whatever we want and not have any consequences.  What could be better?  But, would we have traded our parents for the babysitter? Maybe in the moment, in the mind of a 7 year old we would… for a second.  But all it would take would be one scary dream (from watching the scary movie we weren’t supposed to) when mom and dad suddenly became the most priceless commodity in our life.  How could we have ever entertained the thought of life without them even if it was only for a second?

And yet, I would bet that if you asked my babysitter, or yours… especially your favorite one, they would tell you that they loved you.  And most of them would really mean it.  They loved sitting with you, playing with you, allowing you to break a few rules here and there, being the fun sitter that you asked for by name.  That love was genuine.  But, is it the same kind of love as your parent’s love?  Of course not.

The love from our parents included limits, boundaries, and rules.  It was annoying, irritating, persistent, and unrelenting.  It was standing over us as we cleaned our room for hours when it would have taken them 20 minutes.  It was staying up late with us watching us finish homework that we put off until the last minute and didn’t tell them about until bedtime.  It was staying awake to hold us in the middle of the night so we could sleep when sickness or fear overcame us.

We use the same word.  We call it love.  But I think we all agree, that kind of love is a love that runs much deeper than the love from our favorite babysitter.  It is sacrificial.  It is messy.  It is tough.  It is at times uncomfortable to receive because its limits deny us from getting what we want.  But it doesn’t end.  It doesn’t go home at the end of the night.  And it’s the love that’s there for us when we break those rules and push those boundaries and have to pay the consequences.

Our Country is celebrating what some are calling a great victory.  What is most tragic to me is not that the Supreme Court ruled as they did.  The decisions of mankind even of the highest court in our great land are just that… the decisions of mankind.  They are of no surprise to God.  They neither diminish His authority, nor dissuade His passion for us.  What is most tragic to me is that, to use our analogy, the babysitter’s love is being touted as greater than the love of a parent.  That is not true.  And belief in it will fail those who trust it.

The truth is that no matter what our government sanctions, whatever laws or rules we are allowed to break the rules of the house don’t change.  Going to bed at a decent hour, eating healthy, keeping the living room neat and tidy, and staying away from scary movies didn’t just disappear when the babysitter showed up.  They still existed.  We just had permission to ignore them.  Do you remember making the argument to your parents, “But the babysitter lets me do that?”  How did that work out for you?

True love does set limits.  It sets limits that are uncomfortable.  It sets limits that absolutely go against our nature.  It sets limits we sometimes don’t understand.  It tells us at times we can’t have what we want even if what we want seems to be what everyone else has.  It doesn’t seem fair.  But that doesn’t mean it is not love.

To my LGBT friends: There is One who sees you, knows you, and made you exactly the way that you are.  He knows where you are at and what you have been through.  He knows your struggle.  He loves you so much that before you even existed in this world, He looked at you and who you would become and then said to His Son, “Son, it’s for her… it’s for her that I’m sending you into the world to die.  Because I want to have a relationship with her that will last forever.  I want her to have everything you have as my Son.”  He’s not a mean parent who doesn’t want you to be happy.  He’s a Parent who loves you so deeply that He sets what seems to be unrealistic limitations because what He has for you is a life that is better than what the babysitter can offer you.  It is true relationship with the God of the universe filled with deep and passionate love that will last forever.

I know that may be of little comfort to you when your heart is aching for a person that you feel fulfilled by, one that you believe completes you in a way no one else can, the one you want to build your life with.  But I guarantee you, that He will be there for you in the middle of the night when no one else is.  He will be there to guide every decision and help you through every difficulty.  His love is real and yes, it does have limits even on those things that feel natural and right.  Don’t settle for the babysitter’s love.  It will fail you.  Don’t judge His love as hate because it sets limits, or because those who supposedly know His love have judged or mistreated you.  Christians are sinners too and tragically do not always love as He loves.  But He is the real deal.  He knows what sacrificing the love of His life feels like… He gave up His own Son for you.

I also want you to know, my friends, that I share this with you as someone who has struggled with her own identity.  My experiences may not be the same as yours, but I believe I understand your struggle from first-hand experience.  I have chosen to put God first, to follow His rules, and to dedicate my life to Him.  That has meant in some cases, going without, being different, not fitting in with what everyone else in society seems to have.  All I can tell you is, I know His love is real.  He has not failed me yet and I know by faith that He never will.  He has been a part of my darkest hours and I wouldn’t trade Him for a temporary happiness that will ultimately leave me spiritually empty.

Lord, my prayer is your heart’s desire… that all will come to know your love.  Thank you for that love.  Help me and all those who follow you to show that love to others and especially to those who are struggling with sin – whatever that sin may be.   Thank you for your great grace.  Thank you for a passion that can never be deterred by the laws and decisions of man.  Your love is real and deeper than the deepest ocean.  You are real.  Thank you for sacrificing your own Son so that we could have a restored relationship with you that will last forever.  I love you and I need you, Lord, every day.  Thank you for being there to meet us where we’re at.

SUGAR!

c-h-granulated-sugar-lrgEvery Sunday morning about 25 members of a small Spanish-speaking church gather in their meager church kitchen to make burritos.  Using a combination of food taken from their own refrigerators as well as donations they’ve received, they cook whatever they have and form an assembly line to make as many burritos as they can.  They pack up whatever they’ve made and travel to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the area.  There they meet those who are homeless and give them everything they’ve made.  They set up tables and chairs and shade covering so that everyone has a place to sit and eat and fellowship with one another.

When I asked if I could come with them one Sunday I asked the leader of this small group, Gloria, if there was anything I could bring.  She said simply, “We need sugar.”

“Sugar?” I asked.

“Yes, for the coffee.”

It seemed so simple and so small.  I knew that this church was poor.  Gloria told me that herself.  She told me they would come together on Sundays never sure how much they would have to give.  I felt guilty.  I persisted in asking her, was there something more I could bring?  Was sugar enough?  She assured me it was.

I have to admit I struggled a bit with this task.  In the days leading up to that Sunday it just didn’t seem like I was bringing enough.  I reluctantly went to the store but the whole time I wondered if I should be doing something else, something more.  Even that morning I was a little embarrassed to only be carrying a 5 lb. bag of sugar as I walked through the back alley to the church.

As I walked up to the kitchen one of the ladies spotted me and the bag I was carrying from several yards away.  She yelled out, “SUGAR!” as she came running out of the kitchen.  She joyfully grabbed the sugar from my hands, graciously patted me on the back, then called out to Gloria in Spanish, “We’ve got SUGAR!”  before running back inside.

It was the warmest and most unusual greeting from a stranger I have ever gotten.  It also put me completely at ease.  So much joy from a simple bag of sugar.  It was what they needed and I was so glad I didn’t let my doubts sway me from following through with that simple request.

That morning was an unforgettable experience.  The amount of food this small group was able to provide was amazing.  Although Gloria had told me they were never sure how much they would have each week she also told me they always had enough.  God provided enough each week, sometimes from the most unusual sources.  She said she would often get calls the day before from bakeries or markets asking her to come by to pick up food that would otherwise go to waste.  Every Sunday was a surprise as to where the food would come from, but there was always enough.  God made sure of that.  That week I was a small part of God’s miracle.  They had no sugar until I arrived.

I recently read the story in John 6 where Jesus fed the five thousand.  What stood out to me most in this story was the faith of Jesus’ disciple Andrew.  After seeing the large crowd gather Jesus challenged his disciple Philip with this question, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” (Jesus already knew what he was going to do.  He was only testing Philip with his question.)

Philip responded, “Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

But then, here comes Andrew.  Andrew said, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far with they go among so many?”

5-loaves-2-fishEven though Andrew wasn’t sure how far it would go, he at least had faith enough to see the potential in this boy’s lunch.  How easy it would have been for him to ignore those measly scraps,  chalking it up to impossible and joining Philip in the “we don’t have enough” rant.  But Andrew didn’t do that.  He brought to Jesus what he had.  As we know from the story it was more than enough.  With that small offering, Jesus was able to feed the 5,000 (which was most likely 15,000 if you include women and children) and have 12 baskets of leftovers to boot!

How many opportunities have I missed because I think what I have to give is too small?  Whether I am coming from a place of wealth or a place of poverty nothing is too small for God to use in miraculous ways.  After all it’s not about me!  It’s all about Him and bringing Him glory.  It’s about offering what we have no matter how big or how small and giving it to the Lord to do with as He wishes.

Lord, forgive me for the times that I have missed being a part of your miraculous touch in someone else’s life. Forgive me for making it about me.  All I have is yours.  Help me to live that way, not just say it.  Lord, put me in tuned with your Spirit so intimately that I know His nudge, His voice, His urging to reach out with little or with much to show others your great love for them.  Continue to bless Gloria and the ministry you started in that little church to make an eternal difference in the lives of so many.  Thank you for their faithfulness and their example.  Use me and what you have given me everyday for your glory.  In Jesus name, amen.

“Go Back” or “Follow Me” – Which Do You Choose?

CHILD-BEAUTY_141615245694I don’t watch the show but it happened to come on after another program I do watch.  I’ll be honest, it was sort of like watching a train wreck.  As horrified as I was I just couldn’t seem to make myself turn the channel.  It was the reality show about young children who compete in beauty pageants.  Not usually my kind of TV show, but on this day I sat and watched the whole hour.  Here’s what had me hooked…  In this particular episode (not pictured), they introduced a young woman, I believe she was in her early 20’s.  She was initially introduced as one of the coaches or advisers for one of the young contestants.  They showed her giving instructions to the little girl on how to walk and how to perform.  However it wasn’t long into the episode that they revealed that this coach was also a competitor.  This particular contest was very unusual in that it had no upper age limit.  So, having grown up in the child pageant world, this young woman entered as a contestant as well as a coach.

At one point they interviewed this young woman’s mother.  She said something to the effect of, “I had hoped by this point in her life we would be looking at entering her children into these contests, not her.  But, oh well… this is where we’re at.”  (The young woman was not married and did not have any children.)

The show ends with the suspenseful crowning of the winners in multiple categories. And who is crowned “Best Overall?”  …of course it was this young woman.  She was the only competitor over the age of 12 and yet she proudly stood up on the stage to receive her crown.  Next to her stood all the runners up.  She towered over all of them by more than a foot.  It was so sad, such a pathetic sight.  This woman’s potential was far beyond a children’s beauty pageant but she didn’t see it.  She went back to what she knew, what was comfortable to her.  I can only assume she was afraid to step out into the life and purpose that God had for her to live.  I was embarrassed for her to be so proud to receive that crown.  It was worthless and meaningless compared to what she had to gain by stepping out into her life.

I recently read John 21.  In that chapter we see someone else who went back to what he knew, to the life that was comfortable, not seeing his full potential.  That someone is Peter.  Yes, the same Peter who walked on water.  The same Peter who confessed that Jesus was Lord and Savior before any of his fellow disciples had the courage to do so.  The same Peter that said he would never leave Jesus’ side – he would always defend him.  Enter, Peter’s failure.  It was right after that bold statement of Peter that he was put to the test and he failed.  He denied ever knowing Jesus!  And he was heartbroken.  He had blown it – big time.

It’s in John 21 where we see the impact that Peter’s failure had on him.  He’s back in the fishing boat.  He’s not spreading the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  He’s not telling about all the miracles he witnessed.  He went back to what he knew.  He went back to his old life as a fisherman.  I can only imagine the heartbreak and turmoil swirling in his soul that caused him to go back to that life.  Surely he must have thought there would be no use for him in God’s kingdom.

While he’s in that boat, no doubt drowning in his sea of self-deprecation, failure, and woe Someone calls to him from the shore, “Have you caught any fish?”  Peter has to admit that even at fishing he’s a failure!  “No,” he replies.  Then the One on the shore says, “Put your nets on the other side of the boat.”  As Peter and his fellow fisherman do so, their nets become full of fish.  John then turns to Peter and says, “That’s the Lord!”  Peter wastes no time with the fish.  He jumps in the water and swims to shore to be with his Savior.

Once on the shore, Jesus has an amazing interchange with Peter.  Three times He asks him, “Do you love me?”  Three times… the same amount of times that Peter had denied Him.  He graciously gave Peter the opportunity to be restored.  He knew Peter’s sin, but He also knew Peter’s heart.  And with each answer that Peter gave, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you,” Jesus commissioned him to be the rock upon which His church would be built.  He did not have to go back to fishing.  He had a purpose.  He had a role in the kingdom of God.  All he had to do was follow Jesus.

It’s the end of this chapter that I love the most.  After Jesus’ declaration of Peter’s purpose, Peter turns and sees John walking behind them.  He asks Jesus, “What about him?”  Jesus basically tells Peter, it’s none of your business what I do with John, we’re talking about you right now.  I used to think that this was an indication of Peter’s competitiveness.  That he was wanting to know what Jesus was going to call John to do in comparison with what He had called Peter to do.  But recently I had another take.  John was known as “the disciple Jesus loved most.”  Granted, John gave himself that title throughout his book, but scholars agree he was very close to Jesus.  He was the one reclining with him, leaning up against his chest on the night of the last supper.  They were close.  I now wonder if Peter was asking about John because he know how much the Lord loved John.  In other words, was Peter asking, “Are you sure you want me to do this?  I know how much you love him and he didn’t screw up?”  Either way Jesus’ response to Peter was – “Follow Me.”

I guess I’ll have to ask Peter in heaven what he meant with his question to Jesus.  But in the meantime I identify so much with his failure and with his turmoil.  I understand his desire to want to go back to fishing.  I get what that must have felt like to think, “I’m out.  He’s going to use someone else.”  BUT…once we know that we are called by God for a definite purpose – even if we don’t know exactly what it is yet – we cannot go back.  We cannot stand on a stage amongst children proudly accepting our worthless crown when our Savior is beckoning us to “Follow HIM!”  We can’t go back to our former lives as fisherman barely eking out an existence when the God of the universe is calling us to join with Him in the furtherance of His kingdom.

Lord, forgive me for the times I have gotten caught up in my own failures.  Give me the courage to take the steps I need to take to follow you rather than going back to what is comfortable for me or what may feel safe to me.  You are my comfort.  You are my safety.  I want what you want for me, Lord.  Give me the courage of your Holy Spirit to follow you.  Thank you Jesus, for the example of Peter and for loving us always even when we fail.  I love you, Lord!  In your most precious name, amen.

Attending to Nudges – Not Always Convenient, but Blessings Await

for-lease-sign-304xx600-400-0-1I drove through the parking lot slowly and stopped in front of the vacant store front. Where did it go? I doubled checked my surroundings to make sure I was in the right place. I pulled into an empty parking stall and walked up to the locked doors. As I peered through the windows, I saw that it was true… the place where I had gotten my hair cut for more than a dozen years was gone. There were small remnants of the paint decor still visible on the walls but all the mirrors had been taken down. There were no sinks, no chairs, no cash register. The place was completely vacant.

I had seen the same hair dresser for those 12 years as well. The idea of having to start over with someone else was not what I had in mind that day. What I loved about my hair dresser was that I never had to make an appointment, I could just drop in and usually within 30 minutes or less my hair was washed, cut, dried and styled. She was amazingly fast. Not only that, she knew me. She knew my hair. She knew what I liked and she just did it. I loved it every time. I’m not sure I’d even know where to begin if I had to explain what I wanted to someone new.

I had several errands to run that day so I continued to check them off my list while I contemplated my hair dilemma. I thought about ways I might track down my stylist but I wasn’t sure where to start. I had no idea how long ago the store had closed or how to get a hold of her. With each errand I gave up a little more hope. I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to find her and frankly I didn’t have time to look. I couldn’t wait another week to get it cut.

The place that had closed was a part of a chain. I remembered that there were two other stores in the area. One near my work and the other near my home. As my hope unraveled of finding my hair dresser, I decided I would just go the one near my home and start over. If I had to start over at least it will be convenient to start over close to home.

There was still one more task on my list I needed to get done. I needed to mail a package. My original plan had been to go to a postal annex place close to my work. I had used them the week prior and was impressed with their customer service. But since the hair dressing dilemma had thrown a wrench in all my plans I decided I was much closer to the local post office. So off I went.

I pulled into the parking lot of the post office and took the package from my back seat. Before I left my car I sensed a nudge in my spirit. It wasn’t strong but it was nagging. My own words echoed in my head. “You said you were going to that other postal place.” I rationalized my decision to myself. “Yeah, but I’m already here.” Still the nudge persisted.  Enough so that it stopped me in my tracks. Was this a God thing? Did He want me to go to the other postal place for some other reason? It was so persistent that I put the package back into the car, left the post office and drove several miles to the other postal store.

My experience at the postal store was nothing spectacular,  I sent off the package and went back to my car. “Well, Lord?” I asked. Nothing. “Was there something I was supposed to do there?” Nothing. I pulled out of the parking stall and as I made my way through the parking lot I saw the other haircut store. I had already resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to find my hair stylist. I had already decided I would go to the one near my home, not this one. So, now what? Finally I decided, “Well, I’m here now I may as well go in.”

The gal took me right away and I sat down in her chair. She was polite and made small talk as she cleaned up her station and began to get me ready. She asked if I had been there before. I explained I used to go to the store that was now closed and I mentioned my hair dresser’s name. Her eyes lit up. “I know her!  And I know where she went.” Now my eyes lit up. Then she asked, “Do you want to see her instead?” I said yes and before I knew it she was on her way to the front desk to make a phone call. As she looked up the number she asked me my name. When I told her she said, “She told me about you! She told me if Chris Wolff ever came in to my store that I should tell you where she was!” Within a few moments she was on the phone with my hair dresser making an appointment for me. And… about 30 minutes later, I was sitting in my hairdresser’s chair getting my hair cut. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier or more thankful for a haircut in my life.

It was the nudge that made the difference. I do believe it was from the Lord. And I believe He cares about who cuts our hair! It would have been so easy to rationalize it away. I had already done that!  The post office was more convenient! The hair cut place near my home was more convenient! Trying to find my hairdresser was too much of a hassle – not convenient. But that wasn’t what God had for me. He had a blessing waiting for me. He prepared the whole way. It was amazing to hear my name come out of this perfect stranger’s mouth. She didn’t know me but she remembered my name. God did that. He prepared the way for me. I had given up. But that wasn’t His plan. He had a blessing in store for me but I had to be obedient to His nudging.

Obedience to God is not always convenient. In fact, I’m not sure it ever is. If it was I think a lot more people would be doing it. But when we attend to the nudges of the Holy Spirit within us God will come through. He will bring us His blessings. He knows us. He knows what we like. He knows every detail about us.  He knows our name. And He has a plan that He has prepared for us in advance.  We just need to follow Him.  At times that means giving up what is convenient and rational… His ways are not our ways. 

Lord, help us to pay more attention to the nudging of your Spirit.  Only you know how many blessings we have missed by engaging our rational minds instead of being faithful in following your lead.  Give us the faith to pursue you wholeheartedly in everything we do.  And help us to pay attention to the opportunities you give us to share you with others… even those who cut our hair.  Thank you for knowing us so well and desiring to bless us.  In Jesus’ name, amen.