For the Love of God

Vile. Disgusting. Evil. Anti-Christian. These are just some of the words Nathan and I have used this past week while discussing the horrific events and mindsets on display in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is unconscionable that in this day and age people still have so much hatred toward another person simply because of the color of his/her skin. It is truly shocking. The part that messes me up the most, though, is that there’s an incredibly likely chance that at least one of those torch-wielding venom-spewers is a church-goer who calls himself/herself a Christian. Utterly mind-blowing. Let’s not spend time beating around the bush: hatred is in DIRECT OPPOSITION to all that is godly and all that involves Jesus. How do I know? Because I spent some time this past week researching what the Bible says to us, as people made in the image of Jesus, about our responsibility toward and capacity for sharing the love of God with others. And it doesn’t require that we be waving a Nazi flag at a rally to be in need of a reminder about our job as Christians, especially during trying times such as these.

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that there are so very many scriptures throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament, that discuss the love of God and the ways in which we are expected to share that love that I could never fit them all into this post. I found verse after verse describing how GREAT and unfailing the love of our Father is, and how it supersedes anything we could ever do or say, no matter how awful we allow ourselves to become. One thing we’d be remiss to overlook is God’s purposeful repetition of this topic. Why so many repeated instructions to His children about loving each other? Because, by nature, we are haters. We point fingers, we judge, we tear down, we shun, we hate. But for those who are TRUE Christians, who believe in our hearts that Jesus is the Son of God, who was crucified, only to be resurrected three days later, the following scriptures should be our daily manual for how to live our lives, no matter our circumstances or the beliefs and attitudes of those around us.

“If I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. If I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody). Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food…but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing. Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. It is not conceited; it is not rude and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it. It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person…it endures everything without weakening…And so faith, hope, love abide…but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13: 1-7, 13).

“For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us…And He died for all…” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).

“This is My commandment: that you love one another [just] as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

If anyone says, I love God, and hates (detests, abominates) his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, Whom he has not seen. He who loves God shall love his brother also” (1 John 4:20, 21).

Y’all, I could list out the scriptures for you for at least another page or so. The bottom line is this: “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and anything that’s not exemplary of love is not exemplary of God. If you and I declare to be Christians, if we parade through life conveniently tossing about that title, then we must understand something: we are telling others that our hearts are full of Jesus. Jesus was and is love. Pure and simple. If what we put out there isn’t love–ACTIVELY loving our neighbors, no matter what they look like or sound like–we aren’t Christians. We don’t deserve and haven’t earned that title. In the above verses, God does not mince words. It’s clear that He feels very strongly about those of us using His name while displaying oppositional behavior. Take time to notice what He says: Are you so outwardly religious/spiritual that you can speak in tongue, yet you don’t have the love of God within you? God calls you a noisy gong or clanging symbol, two things that irritate others, grate on others’ nerves, and cause people to turn quickly from you. Nothing you say is of value; you simply make noise. Are you full of faith but without the love of God within you? God calls you a useless nobody. Despite all that faith, because you’re missing the crucial element of God (hint: it’s LOVE!) you cannot be used to further His kingdom. Do you give your money and possessions to the poor, but you do so without the love of God within you? You will gain nothing…no blessings, no heavenly rewards. Your deeds are without merit. And lastly, do you claim to love God while simultaneously speaking (or feeling) hatred toward someone else (for any reason)? God Himself calls you a liar. God Himself has deemed your declared love for Him a complete and total lie. While you hopefully don’t need it, let me sum this up for you: NO MATTER WHAT YOU CLAIM OR DO OR GIVE IN THE NAME OF GOD, IF YOU ARE WITHOUT HIS LOVE IN YOUR HEART, YOU CANNOT BE BLESSED BY OR USED BY GOD.

And maybe the scariest part of the whole thing is that our children are watching. They’re watching and they’re waiting for our reactions and our guidance. Silence is acceptance in many ways, so let your kids hear you tell them that while you can’t control everybody, your household serves the Lord. Your household embodies His love and believes in its purpose to share that love and not Satan’s hate. Choose to make your Christian stance on the hatred being displayed around our country very clear to your children. But you know what? They didn’t just start watching. They’ve been watching us. They watch us closely every single day: at restaurants, inside grocery stores, at the movies, etc. They’re listening to how we talk about others, especially those people who are different, in any way, than we are. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, let’s all agree today to stop giving the kids in our lives “Biblical lip-service.” Let’s put those scriptures we so love to quote and share on social media into actual action. Let’s show our sweet babies what Jesus really looks like.

And before closing, I want to be clear: this is not a political post. This is a post (I hope) to remind us of our responsibilities as REAL Christians in the world today. It’s a post to remind us of what it means to serve a God who also goes by the name of Healer and Father, and, most importantly, Love. Look back at those scriptures. Our Father has made abundantly clear what He expects of His children, especially with regard to how we treat all our “siblings.” Those frequently communicated expectations aren’t just for times when it’s not too much trouble to show love, or when we’re dealing with the people most like us. The truth is this: we are all alike. We were all created by the same God who made us ALL in His image. We are all sinners in desperate need of the free-for-everyone saving power of Jesus Christ. Racism, sexism, ageism–all the negative -isms– have ZERO room in a heart that’s supposedly inhabited by Jesus. Our hearts should be so filled with the Holy Spirit that there’s simply no room for anything else. So, friends, for the literal love of God, let’s start doing a better job of exemplifying Jesus in this hate-infested world. Let’s use this divisive time to better ourselves and our families. The Bible tells us that God can use all things to our good, so let Him. It might be uncomfortable; it might even hurt a little. But I encourage you to pray the following prayer with me so that God can mature our walks with Him in a way that glorifies Him daily, showing others just how loving He truly is and what it really means to be honored with that title of Christian.

Dear Lord, thank you so much for sending your Son to this world in order to save me from the hate and sin that threaten my very life. Father, I know that I am a sinner, and I know that without Your help and guidance I will never rid my life of prejudice and hate. I ask, Lord, that you please gently show me these ugly areas so that I can work with You–through prayer and reading my Bible–to eradicate them from my spirit. I love you, Lord, and I want others to feel Your love for them through me. Help me to be the best example of what it means to be a Christian. Thank you for hearing me and for the honor of calling myself Your child. I want to treat all of Your children exactly as You would. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

 

 

 

Dry Bones

After being prayerful about what God would have me discuss in this blog post, I was lost. I had no ideas and felt that no topic was “the one” He was leading me to write about. Then I was peeling boiled eggs, talking to God (don’t act like you don’t talk to God while you peel your eggs!), and explaining that I was really trying but coming up empty. I said to Him, “God, I am trying to hear from you about this blog, but I’ve got nothing. My idea tank is bone dry.” And God replied, “How about you start there, with dry bones?” Can you believe that mess? He’s amazing. So I got out my Bible, turned to Ezekiel, and guess what? God led me straight toward what I felt He needed me to say in this post.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones, I highly recommend that you take a minute or two to read it for yourself. It’s a quick chapter but speaks volumes about the power God bestows in us when we speak His Word over our circumstances. The portion of the Bible we’ll focus on today is from Ezekiel 37, and before we start talking about what it means for you and me in today’s world and in everyday life, let’s look at the first few verses:

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. (2) And He caused me to pass around among them, and behold, there were very many [human bones] in the open valley or plain, and behold, they were very dry. (3) And He said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, You know! (4) Again He said to me, Prophesy to these bones and say to them, O you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. (5) Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath and spirit to enter you, and you shall live.”

Clearly, our friend Ezekiel was in a bad spot. You’ll notice in verse two that the bones surrounding him were very dry. I think it’s fully worth noting that God takes time out to specifically address the condition of these bones. These are not the bones from recent deaths. These are bones that have long been without skin and sinew, bones that are no longer in the process of drying out but that are very, very dry. We, too, find ourselves at times within our lives surrounded by our own “very dry bones.” What “dry bones” do you have in your life right now? What elements of your life have you essentially given up on, deeming them unable to be revived:

  • your love for your spouse?
  • your attraction to your spouse?
  • your marriage?
  • your health?
  • a friendship?
  • a relationship with a family member?
  • your finances?
  • your job?
  • your future?
  • your compassion?
  • your attitude?
  • your personal relationship with Jesus?
  • your gratitude?
  • your belief?
  • your trust?
  • your hope?
  • your belief in yourself?
  • your purpose?

You know what, no matter which of these areas you find that have dried up in your life (or some other area not even listed), Ezekiel teaches us exactly what to do. It’s time to quit living in the desert and start using God’s Word and His promises to bring life back to our circumstances. Let’s learn from Ezekiel, shall we?

Take a look back at verse one. No doubt that being surrounded by all of this death and dryness and barren landscape was a scary place. We’ve all been there–and maybe you’re there right now. It’s lonely. It’s isolating. It’s even terrifying at times. But notice what Ezekiel says from the very start: “The hand of the Lord was upon me.” Guess what…the hand of the Lord is upon you, too! He’s right there, waiting to guide you through your own personal desert, just like He was for Ezekiel. I know it might not feel like it, and I know it probably doesn’t look like it, but God is in the midst of this with you. Ezekiel didn’t see signs of life, either. He didn’t stand face-to-face with God, but he knew to trust God despite his circumstances, to believe that God was present despite the disparity of the situation. So on our mission to bring life back to our dead areas, it seems to me that a good first step is to choose to believe that God is right here with us.

Next, let’s think about our attitudes toward whatever it is that seems dead in our life, our feelings toward our spouse, our jobs, or our marriage, etc. Are we approaching God, asking and expecting Him to revive us? Are we trusting that He can breathe new life into our troubled areas? Or are we grumbling to anyone and everyone who’ll listen, complaining about our spouse or our finances or our coworkers? In verse three, God refers to Ezekiel as “Son of man,” and when we let our doubt and our discouragement and our resentment take hold and dry out various areas of our lives, that’s exactly what we are: sons of man. Plain ole powerless humans, with no ties to the power and supernatural ability of a God who can fix anything that needs fixing. In this verse, God asks Ezekiel a question, and Ezekiel replies by saying, essentially, “I don’t know, God. You’re the one who knows everything. Why don’t you just tell me?” I’ve been there…haven’t you? I’ve been hopeless, convinced of all those lies that the devil has told me, sure of the fact that I’m alone and that there’s nothing that will get me past my set of circumstances. Determined to wallow in my distress and make sure everyone knows just how hard I have it…just how dry my bones are. (Makes me cringe just thinking about my attitude and my serious lack of gratitude during these times.)

Look at what God tells Ezekiel to do: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, O you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord” (vs. 4). Y’all, nothing is going to change in our lives, no life is going to reenter these dead areas, until we tell these areas about the might and promises of our God! We must be active; we must speak the Word of God over these problems. Grumbling and complaining removes our power, keeping our hopes and our lives dry. But as we can see in the Word, we’ve been given the power to speak life back into our hollow hearts and/or circumstances. Use it! Don’t let Satan fill your head and your heart so full of lies that God’s promises turn to dust. Fuss right back at him. Declare the power of Jesus and the might of His blood over your desert! Remind that devil and those dry bones in your life what the Bible says. With our faith and our decision NOT to give in the those feelings of death and hopelessness, we are promised that God will be there, that His presence will reinvigorate our lives: “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath and spirit to enter you, and you shall live” (vs. 5). So that attraction for your spouse that you swear is gone and will never get back? Nonsense. God can and will breathe life back into that relationship. That job that you feel is going nowhere, that you dread going to every morning? God can rectify that dryness, too. Have a health concern that you’ve been dealing with for months or years without any relief? Speak those promises of God over yourself and your condition. Believe in the presence of the Lord and His ability to make those dry bones stand up and walk.

Friends, there is nary a situation, no matter how destitute it might appear, that God can’t breathe life back into when we ask and truly believe. However, we can’t ask God to work while also holding tight to a “woe is me” attitude, full of grumbling and complaining. Take a lesson from the Israelites in the desert with Moses: their journey was one that should’ve taken 11 days, but because of their poor attitudes full of ingratitude and their choice to focus on their problems instead of their God, they spent FORTY YEARS in their wilderness. Thankfully, you and I do not have to do the same. We don’t have to passively wait around for our situation to change. We don’t have to spend our time trying to figure out why it’s happened or what we did wrong or which aspects we can blame on someone else. If we are surrounded by dry bones in any area of our life, it’s OUR job to breathe new life into it. It’s OUR job to read the Scriptures and learn what God says about His promises for our lives, and it’s OUR job to speak those promises out loud over these desert-like conditions we’re facing. It’s very, very hard to hear God, to sense His mighty presence, when our heads are so full of the noise of our own complaints. You are better than that. You deserve better than that. And you serve a God who provides blessings so much better than the dry, brittle bones of our lives that we’ve allowed to remain for far too long. Let’s decide that this stops now: our poor attitudes, our hardened hearts, our hopelessness. Speak life over those dry bones, and watch God bring life anew back into these previously dead areas. Go ahead. Do it. I dare you.

Dear Lord, thank you so much for the promises that are in Your Word. Thank you, God, that when I call on You, I get answers and solutions and new life breathed into situations that seem dry and barren. Lord, help me to trust that You are with me, even when I look around at all the dry bones and feel despair. I no longer want to complain and grumble, Lord, for I am grateful for my life and all that is in it. Thank you for breathing life and spirit into every single aspect of my life, and help others glorify You when they see big, wonderful changes happening in my life and my attitude. You are great and You are powerful, and I choose to believe that You are currently working supernaturally on my behalf. I believe, Lord, that Your blessings for my “dry bones” of life are right around the corner. Thank you for hearing me, Father, and for guiding me with Your Word. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

“If you had been the only person on the earth, Jesus would have gone through all His suffering just for you.” –Joyce Meyer