It Takes Two

It’s a sobering thought that reconciliation sometimes will not…can not…happen between two people estranged.  Forgiveness is a solo choice.  I can decide to forgive for Christ’s sake, for my own health, whether or not the other person ever repents, or is even still a part of my life.

But reconciliation (the building of bridges and mending of fences, the mutual changing from enemies to something else) — that takes two people willing to turn and look at the other, to try to understand and step into where the other one lives.  And sometimes a face seems set in stone.  Sometimes the door has closed on the opportunity to make things right.

Where does that leave a heart longing for a change?  It leaves us leaning on the heart of Jesus, Who of all people knows how it feels to pursue reconciliation with ones unwilling.  Yet one more way we can share in His sufferings, and get a glimpse into His dear heart.

Lord, help me to hunger for Your resurrection power in my life, bringing new life into all the hopeless places I am tempted to give up on.  Help me to lean hard on You when I feel the wounds of sin, because you bore those wounds in Your body so that I might be healed.  Help me to trust You to make all things new and throw open all the doors and windows of possibility in my life.  Hallelujah, Christ is risen!

Bridge Building

It is Easter Week, what is commonly called Passion Week, and we think of Christ’s drawing nearer and nearer to the cross, dreading the pain and horror of it, setting His face towards it with no turning back.  His passion all for us to come to the Father: us separated from our own Creator by our own filthy hands and hard hearts, Him still pursuing in love the creatures who had all, like sheep, gone astray, each of us turned to his own way.  “Irreconcilable differences,”  we said, and that was that.

But God, in His unquenchable love, would not leave it at that, or leave us to our misery.  It is His nature to fix what is broken, to bring peace to those at war, to heal the wounded, to bring justice to the oppressed, to build a bridge so the lost ones can find their way back Home.  Isaiah foretold it and Jesus declared it true on a certain Sabbath day in Nazareth, in front of the wondering people who had known Him all His days on earth thus far….”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me…to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:16-22)  God declaring that a Way was being made, forgiveness was coming, and there was a Good Shepherd who could find the sheep gone astray….everything made new.  No such thing as irreconcilable differences when one of the parties is the Ruler of heaven and earth.

And now He calls us to be bridge-builders, to reach out across the differences and make friends and brothers.  It’s not just a choice to forgive, but a choice to invest– to step into someone else’s shoes and understand where they live and why they do these things, hear their hurts and see the things that shape them, and find mutual ground.  Be reconciled.  The word in the Greek means to change mutually.  God toward us, in the shape of a man, in the shape of a cross; us made new by Christ, then stretching out of our comfortable places toward others… changing the shape of our hearts to include others…letting His love shape us into something that resembles His bridge-building Passion.  Everything becoming new in His resurrection power.

“…God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:19-21)

Your Love Never Fails

There is this current underneath it all, one I have learned to paddle through, all these years– a constant undertow that could drag me under if I let down my guard for even a minute.  In a way it has become part of my inner landscape, so that I could almost accept it as normal.  Except that God’s Word reminds me that it isn’t and calls me to set my feet on firm ground.  It’s been decades learning how not to swim.

I confessed this on Wednesday night, that I was a “recovering perfectionist,” in a joking way that didn’t do justice to the weight of such expectations.  Maybe it shone a light for someone else who struggles– illuminated the fact that they are not alone on the sea.  Because one thing I have discovered in all these years of leading women’s small groups, is that most of us hear those voices in our heads that tell us we don’t measure up.  Some of the voices come from the past– parents, siblings, teachers, friends– and some of them come from our own sensitivity and pride and desire to please, but all of them echo the lies of The Enemy.

And the only way to get out of the current and stand on solid ground is to recognize the lies and replace them with truth.  And this is the first and most important truth, learned as children and maybe, because of that, too often ignored: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

It is the basis of our trust: that our God is who He says He is, and He loves us, He loves us, He loves us.  “Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.” (Psalm 36:5 NLT)  If I know that deep down in the center of my being, I can stop swimming against this undertow, just get right out of the water and stand, feet planted in truth, despite my failures.

“Nothing can separate, even if I run away; Your love never fails.  I know I still make mistakes, but You have new mercies for me every day; Your love never fails.  You stay the same through the ages; Your love never changes. There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.  And when the oceans rage, I don’t have to be afraid, because I know that You love me.  Your love never fails.  The wind is strong and the water’s deep, but I’m not alone in these open seas. Your love never fails….You make all things work together for my good…Your love never fails.”  (Your Love Never Fails, Jesus Culture)

This is one of my favorite worship songs that we play in church.

Becoming Like Christ in His Sufferings

In this Lenten season we turn our eyes to contemplate the Cross of Christ, set it in the center of our days, to watch and wait for Resurrection Sunday.

Appropriate that our lesson is about forgiveness this week.  The immensity of God’s choice to forgive us, wretched unrepentant rebels that we are… not out of any deserving on our part but solely out if His love, His mercy, His desire for our benefit and His own glory…it leaves us hushed and breathless as we see it unfold in Scripture.    “In [the Beloved] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” (Ephesians 1:7)

Lavish grace, wonderful to receive, but much harder to give to others.  Wounds rise up, calling for justice, and it is hard to remember Whose job it is to repay– funny how strong our moral sense can be at such times, though conveniently dull when our own choices need to be made.  Emotions cloud perspective, and we forget Who is really in charge of this situation and every outcome.

But Jesus is unrelenting in His law of love: “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  (Colossians 3:13)  This is the standard He gives us, to bear the painful consequences of someone else’s sin humbly and patiently, as He did, and so take up our cross and follow Him.  The miracle of it is that the same resurrection power that surged through His broken body on Easter morning, beats in our wounded hearts, making us new creatures in Jesus’ image.  It’s the Easter transformation happening every day in those who choose to follow the resurrected Lord.

This is what I choose in this season of Lent, to stand in awe and praise of God’s forgiveness, and to extend it to others.  Love, the rugged choice to do what is right, leans on the Father’s love and trusts Him to rightly judge all men.  All that is mine to do is what He asks of me: come to the cross and follow Him.

“But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”  (Isaiah 53:8)

“Given the reality of sin, love and forgiveness are inextricably bound together.”  (Dan Allender, Bold Love)

Carrying One Another

I have been traveling lately, in a busy season, one week away and then one home, a weekend trip here, then packing up again for the next journey.  I miss the familiar routines of being at home and the sense of being in touch with our church family.  Funny how a few weeks away can leave you feeling disconnected.  My father, wintering states away from us all, tells me they pray for their grandchildren every day, by name, lifting their particular needs to God; it is the little they can do for these young adults who are making life-shaping decisions, the way they can stay in touch with the people they love.  And I tell him it is not a little thing at all– it is the fitting work of God’s people to carry one another’s burdens, to lift their needs up to the Father who carries us all. And so as I travel, the Spirit brings this one and that one to mind, and I pray that needs are met, that faith will grow, that hearts are encouraged and comforted.  It is a connection across the miles, because I am still part of this Body, despite the distance.

Paul said: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2)….that is, the new commandment that Christ gave to “Love one another as I have loved you.”  Just as Christ bore the burden of our sin, because we could not, so we are to come alongside one another and bear the burdens that are too much for one person to carry alone.  Burdens of temptation, of fighting the Enemy, of doubt, of persecution, of sin (and the painful earth-shattering of its consequences), of heart-weary Homesickness.  Stepping into another’s life offering the strength and resources needed.  That is how we love as Jesus did; that is how we fulfill His law of love.  And to do that I must stay connected and pay attention, looking out for the interests of others and stooping to come alongside.

Easier to be strong for others than to be needy though.  Letting someone bear my burdens means admitting my own lack of ability….taking off the mask to let someone else see the weakness and fear.  And Paul sees us clearly: “For if anyone thinks himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”  He says it plain and simple, how we pretend to be something we aren’t….too put-together to stoop under a load.  Who do we think we are to try to run this race alone?  Only Jesus is the Author and Finisher of this journey of faith.  He went this way first so we don’t need to go it alone; we get to share the heavy lifting.

Truth is, we need each other if we are going to follow Christ through this world.  It’s both privilege and responsibility to be part of a Body, all connected.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”   (C.S.Lewis, The Four Loves)

“Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”  (Gal. 6:2-3, The Message)

Loved Unconditionally

If there were one gift I could give these precious sisters, it would be this: the heart-deep knowledge that they are loved.  Unconditionally, fiercely, eternally.

We are all so hungry for it, in so many ways.  It shows up in the way we worry and struggle for more and grieve what is lost.  It shows in the sharing of our stories and all the ways we look for connection.  It even shows in the ways we distract ourselves with trivialities, wasting our time so we don’t have to face the bigger things that matter.  Underneath all of it is the one foundation question of a woman’s heart.  Does anyone love me?  Am I pretty enough…good enough…capable enough to deserve love?

And of course we are not deserving, and we feel it– the Original Sin at our roots– so that we give silent assent to the whispers inside, the constant reminders that we have fallen and are failing.  It is our broken piece that Woman carried from Eden, this hunger for love and the separation from the relationships we were meant for.

And yet it’s there, over and over, so why is it so hard for us to hear?  “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5) ….”Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands . . . (Isaiah 49:15-16)….”This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed His life for us.” (1 John 3:16)….”As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Abide in my love.” (John 15:9)

The simple truth shines out like a beacon, in the middle of our lesson on putting love into action…“The energy for love flows not out of any effort, but simply from being loved.” (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage)  In order to love others we must know first that we are loved undeservedly and completely, not out of anything we can do– because then we would spend all our days trying to do enough– but because of who God is.  He is love.  Unconditional, self-giving, faithful love.  Poured out daily on His creation, and lavished on His children.  Pure grace that mends the broken places, frees our hearts to love others.   Receiving His love is the place we must start.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph.3:14-19)


The Languages of Love

I saw it again last week, how differently family members mesh together, and the need to bend into the curves of another’s shape in order to connect, build relationship. Even when we love one another, we use different ways to say it, and if we aren’t looking, we might miss it altogether just because we don’t understand the language.  Tragic result of our Fall, that we could live together for a lifetime and never understand each other’s hearts.

Both my children have the love language of physical touch*, which was easy when they were small and depended so much on me for physical help.  Now that they are young adults I have to slow down and just sit close on the couch with them, stand in long hugs, hold hands.  It’s not my language, so I tend to get bored and hurry on– so much easier to bake cookies and vacuum and organize closets… to me that is splashing “I love you” all across the walls.

My daughter is starting to realize this and bends herself to stand and cook with me in the kitchen, join with me on projects and talk while our hands work, busy together.  That is a language that I hear loud and clear: I love you. I want to help you, partner with you.  She is good with gifts too, brought home a handful of her scarves this week, “ones I thought would look good on you, so you can wear them.”

My son just wants to be with us, and it doesn’t even matter what we are doing.  Car rides, watching movies, eating in a restaurant, playing a game, or taking a hike all speak the language of love.  He wants that quality time, undistracted and unhurried.  I must slow down and bend into the shape of his heart, so he can hear my love.

My husband values affirmation and encouragement himself, takes time to give them to others.  I can see him bending to speak love to others, with words they can hear; I bend back to tell him what is good, to thank him and build him up.

If we are to speak each other’s language at home, we will have to slow down, pay attention, and really listen to one another…. pay attention to the ones we love and recognize how to say it in a language they can understand….bend to fit their shapes instead of forcing our own.  Love speaks many languages, and God made them all, communicates in every way possible to us.  Here we can practice how to speak them all too, so that Someday we can love as He loves.

* The 5 Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, New York Times bestseller since 1992.

“Of the countless ways we can show love to one another, five key categories, or five love languages, proved to be universal and comprehensive—everyone has a love language, and we all identify primarily with one of the five love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.”  (From

“Love never ends….now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:8,12)

Beauty in Clay Pots

We are still stuck in 1 Corinthians 13….agreed to read it every day for another week.  It keeps our minds focused on real love, and points out how easily Self gets in the way.  As I read it over and over, the words are taking up residence in my head, and I turn them over, examine them throughout the day…like gems, they catch the light in different ways as they turn, new truth constantly becoming clear:  “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…” (Heb. 4:12)

Last night I had that familiar weight of inadequacy hanging over my head; this morning I woke with “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels…if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries…if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains…but have not love, I am nothing” running through my head.  What is it about us that wants to have those grand spiritual abilities?  We all want to be the gorgeous vase on the mantle that everyone admires, or at least the good china to pull out for special occasions.  Loved, put-together, accomplished.  Who wants to be the drab clay pot with the chipped edge that carries the water?

But notice that Paul doesn’t even bother to say: “If I spend Saturday mornings distributing bread to the poor and have not love….”  He is not admonishing them about the excellence of love when they are taking that lonely college student home for dinner.  He is not reminding them of the necessity of love when they are hugging that weeping sister in the hallway after Sunday School…. or sitting at the desk at home writing notes to people on the prayer list….or rocking babies in the nursery so that young mothers can go to Sunday School.  He doesn’t have to, because these people already “get it.”  They are content to be “stewards of God’s grace” (1 Peter 4:10) however He chooses to use them.  They know the truth: that they are only clay pots, ordinary and not very sturdy, but so very useful to the Body-group when God’s glory is within, shining out through the broken places.

The Corinthian church was immature and full of ambition and comparison, and what we call The Love Chapter was actually a scathing rebuke to them for their lack of love, for their desire to Be Somebody within the Body of Christ.  Often we are not so very different.  I have spent most of my adult life so far arguing with God about the way He made me, and why did He ever call someone like me to ministry like this anyway?  But at some point in our growth, faith has to bow to the Creator in submission and acknowledge that He is the One who made me just this way, and knows not only who I am but who He is making me to be… put Self to death and acknowledge that He put me here for His plans and purposes, for His own pleasure.  It’s not about me at all.

A dear friend once pointed out that clay pots, as uneven and cracked as they might be at times, have the most potential for leaking out what they carry…which is immensely meaningful when what they carry is the life and light of Christ.  So I bend my will to be content as a lopsided, drab pot, and in humility accept that the Creator God knows what He is doing in my life.  All I have to do is be obedient to what He puts in front of me each day, one day at a time, and love Him, love others in every way possible.


“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them…”  (Romans 12:4-5)

“It’s all about You, Jesus, and all this is for You, for Your glory and Your fame.  It’s not about me, as if You should do things my way. You alone are God, and I surrender.”  (Jesus, Lover of My Soul, Paul Oakley)

The Trap of Doing

It’s easy to get off-balance in loving God, and loving His people.  We talk about “getting involved” and “ministering to others” as if that were the important thing about church.  It may be the most obvious thing to our own eyes, but it does tend to take our eyes off the most obvious thing of all: that church is people gathering to tell God how much we love Him, a Body-group of people who are not the same, learning to live together in love the way He intends us to.  True, there is much work to be done, of teaching and building up, and helping those in need, and speaking out the good news of the gospel– but it just becomes so much busy-ness if we don’t put first things first.  And first of all, we are commanded to love, to put on Christ-likeness, to be transformed from the inside out.  All the doing will follow, quite naturally.

Like Paul said, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clashing cymbal.”   So why is it easier sometimes to fill up with doing instead of the all-important business of loving?  Maybe we feel more comfortable with the work of our hands than risking exposing our hearts.  Maybe if we focus on the doing we don’t have to face the difficulties of forgiving, or of talking through the conflicts.  Maybe if I keep busy I won’t have to stop and see how poverty-bare of love this heart can really be.  All the noise of busy cymbals drowning out the still small voice that says, “Come away with Me awhile and learn of Me, abide with Me.”

And of course that is right where The Enemy wants us, scurrying around using our abilities for God and forgetting that it is not the same thing as loving God.  So easy to make idols of good things.  We needed that commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your  heart and with all your soul and with all your might” and with it the reminder to “teach [these words] diligently to your sons and talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up….and you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  (Deuteronomy 6:5,7,9)  A whole life built around loving God with every breath, the framework for everything else to fall into place.  Being right with Him first, then doing for Him….in Him….as response.

Our real work on Sundays and every time we are together is to open our eyes to see people where they are, to open hearts to accept them, to come alongside and listen, to pour out praise and thanksgiving to God as a Body-group because He has knit us together into a family.  Love God, love people….it’s all relationship and who we are becoming.  This is what He wants from us, first and foremost.

And the spiritual gifts He has given are simply personalized ways to love others with His Spirit’s strength, whether it is by praying in faith for their needs, or teaching them the truths of Scripture, or helping them with willing hands, or encouraging the weary and wondering….“as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”  (1 Peter 4:10)  Again, doing flowing out of being.  It’s just a matter of putting first things first.

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

    “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:39-42)

Unearthing a Treasure

We have agreed to read 1 Corinthians every day this week.  A King James version lies open on my nightstand, an English Standard version open on my desk, to remind me.  I keep coming back to one verse over and over: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (v.7).

Bears all things?  Some things no woman should have to bear.  But I know women that do, and keep forgiving, making excuses, staying on.  Is that what You really mean, Lord?  I keep looking and the verse before it answers, “Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth”….ah, so not everything.

This is not a love that picks up after the person wreaking havoc and keeps silent.  It faces things and looks them in the eye, grieves at the brokenness, calls it what it is, speaks truth.  This love finds joy in right-doing, with evil all around, pressing hard.  So what is it bearing?

I finally dig it out, and unearth a treasure.  The root word in the Greek means “to roof over, to cover with silence”.…the way this roof covers our home, protecting us from everything outside, joining with walls to define the space that is our family’s and no one else’s.  Love chooses to be patient with the flaws of the ones close to us, to carry the stresses of life’s ups and downs, to take them in as “ours”– something we will own together and work on together.  Love roofs over sin with repentance and reconciliation. Love covers over life’s problems by standing shoulder to shoulder.  Love doesn’t complain about doing for one another.  All is freely given and freely shared as we bear these burdens together as a family, in love.

Paul adds to it in another letter: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8 ESV)  When I choose to set my mind on these kinds of things it becomes much easier to bear with others, to cover over them with the roof of God’s love.  When my mind focuses here, love can believe that God will accomplish His purposes.  When I think about such things, love finds hope for the future.  When I look at these things, all that God has done for me, love can endure in this world.  Love bears all things…. covers over us like a roof against whatever will come.


“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
(Colossians 3:12-14 ESV)