Archive | July, 2017

What Does Love Cost?

How do you really describe the trauma your heart endures when you pour so much of yourself—the very best part—into another soul only to find there must have been a hole somewhere or a hairline crack just deep enough that all your love ran right through?

Used up, gone, vanished into the thin air you’ll absorb as your own next breath.

If we knew the ending, would our own self-protection deny vulnerability?

Would we really have invested precious time, or would we have held back? God’s word tells me that every word spoken, every prayer whispered in faith, every bit of love poured out matters.

Even in the ending that I never wanted. Even when my heart tells me a different story.

Jesus laid out what it means to become His disciple in Mark 1:17. “Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Discipleship is relational. First to Christ, then to others. Following Jesus means a life anchored in Love.

Willing hearts distinguished twelve flawed men as followers of Christ. Their imperfect steps remind me that they were recipients of grace, just like me. Their questions, their failures, and their relational struggles remind me that God cares most about the heart.

Jesus’ disciples recognized that the results weren’t up to them; they were dependent upon Jesus every step of the way. These men had no idea what the outcomes would be, but they went where Jesus sent them because they learned to trust Him.

These twelve relied on Jesus’ compassion when they lacked love, and they depended on His provision when they had nothing left to give. Discipleship is marked by a willingness to learn and go and serve. Disciples of Jesus also willingly face rejection.

The book of Mark poses two types of people: opponents of Jesus or followers of Jesus. The choice was simply reject Jesus, or be rejected because of Jesus. The disciples, over time, would identify with Christ—with His rejection, His suffering, and ultimately, His death.

One of the hardest, most costly aspects of discipleship is a willingness to let our hearts break.

I’m struggling with this one today, because it seems too difficult, too much. Jesus knew He’d be rejected, but He loved the world anyway. He washed the feet of His own betrayer and willingly gave Himself though many would never choose Him.

My heart does not have the capacity to love like this, but Christ in me does.

That used up sensation throbs when there isn’t a relationship where one should have been or could have been, or where one used to be, and isn’t any more. Relationships can be messy, but we are tethered to the One who is relationally perfect.

Jesus will never lie or leave or exploit.

Anything God leads us into can be used for our good, because He is with us in it—even in that ending we wish we could rewrite. All the love God asks us to pour out is overflow from His unending love supply.

Love is never wasted; pain isn’t either. God uses it to mold us and transform us, to shape us into the likeness of His Son. Discipleship includes a willingness to trust beyond understanding, a willingness to go and give and live beyond comfort, and a willingness to love regardless of outcome.

What does love cost? Everything. It cost everything. It is no wonder Jesus said, “Come take up your cross and follow me.”

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The Simple Side of Faith

My man and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary back in May by taking a kid-free trip to Napa Valley. The gorgeous scenery and fine wine were just the backdrop. The quiet was everything I knew it would be and more. Getting away reminded me just how much I love hanging out with this guy.

Napa Valley

At each vineyard we visited, I caught myself considering Jesus’ words from John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” I don’t often think of farming when I pour a glass of cabernet, but I learned that wine-making is a complex process.

The intricate relationship between the vine and the branches drew my heart to the sovereignty of the One who oversees the growth in my own heart.

The care with which the vine is tended, the way the fruit matures, and the process that manifests itself in a beautiful bottle of wine is anything but simple. Such extensive labor and creativity goes into making wine that we heard it called art.

We are the Father’s work of art, ever changing and growing, becoming more beautiful with time.

Later in the week, I grabbed my bible and read more of Jesus’ words in John 15, certain that He wanted to speak to me though this intriguing illustration. In just ten verses, He repeats the word remain eleven times. Abide, another interchangeable term, means to continue to be present, to be held or kept.

In my everyday moments, this looks like resting in God’s thoughts about me; it looks like claiming my identity in Christ, the true vine. When I take every thought captive and line it up with the truth in God’s word, I realize my part really is breathtakingly simple.

Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The times I’m most defeated, discouraged, and doubtful are the times I’m trying so hard to bear fruit on my own. Jesus says it’s not possible.

Apart from His love, nothing will grow.

I am the vine; you are the branches.

His love is the only love that’s pure and perfect and able to produce good in us.

Jesus continues, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9, 16-17)

After Jesus describes His own extravagant love, He gives the command, Love one another.

It’s beautifully straightforward yet I wrestle with the simplicity of it.

It’s beautifully straightforward, yet I wrestle with the simplicity of it.

Jordan Feliz has a song called Simple. These lyrics resonate particularly well with my soul: “In my dirt you call me worth it…” Sometimes, it’s so hard to receive perfect, unconditional love.

This occasional struggle in my soul plays out when I look to another love to sustain and carry me, when I’m anything but present to the whisper of the Spirit, or when I all-out reject my God-given identity, because accepting God’s love means I have nothing to prove and my selfish ambition becomes just a hair skeptical of this lavish love Jesus offers.

Receiving God’s love doesn’t have to be complex.

God does all the work. All we do is trust Him, believe Him, and let His love carry us. Then we watch how it changes the way we love others.

God is responsible for planting, tending, pruning, and plucking. This part is hard, complex. The produce at the end of harvest holds endless possibilities and combinations. Every minute detail gets adjusted to achieve the desired outcome.

The farmer—that’s God—is responsible for planting, tending, pruning, and plucking.

Harsh frost, direct sunlight, and changing seasons pose all kinds of threats to the fruit growing on the vine. Farmers use windmills to move cool mountain air along down the valley so frost cannot damage the grapes. They even consider the angle of the sunlight onto the fruit in the planting process.

The branches are not responsible for these challenges; they are the Vinedresser’s responsibility, and He knows exactly what He’s doing. The fruit He produces lasts for eternity.

Jesus, the true vine and true way back to the Father’s love, took care of the complicated part for us.

The vine produces fruit; the branches bear the fruit. This part is natural and straightforward and overwhelmingly… simple. But our part also requires a response: obey. “Do what He tells you,” wise words straight from the mother of the One who changed water into wine.

Abide in my love and my love pours out of you.

Fruit takes time. Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit we can count on when we’re united with Christ: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

This isn’t a list of rules, but a list of character traits, evidence of how deeply our character is altered when we put on the righteousness of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t a remedy for our sin; it’s evidence of Christ in us.

Christ is the only remedy we need.

Abide in my love and my love pours out of you.

Simple yet so complex. Profound in every way. Let’s leave the complicated part to Him and rest in the simplicity of reckless love.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The Most Effective Defense Against Comparison

The enemy is after our relationships. He knows his method, though quiet and subtle, can bring us to a paralyzing halt. He comes after beauty with every evil intention to kill, steal, and destroy.

As a woman called to serve women, he’s come after every friendship, every sister relationships, every good and perfect gift God’s ever given me in another woman.  Because he hates beauty, and he is scared out of his mind.

The Most Effective Weapon Against Comparison

Cathy, a friend I admire and respect, shared with me her strategy against the comparison attack. Her beautiful wisdom has made such a difference in my life. She didn’t hide her struggle with comparing herself to other women; but she also hasn’t let the enemy gain any ground. Her advice was profoundly refreshing.

“Do the most with what God has given you. Do your thing, and do your thing well. Don’t be jealous of others; instead, learn from them. Be motivated by them. Give God thanks for the beauty you see in others who are using their gifts.”

Give thanks for the beauty you see in her.

Giving thanks takes our attention off ourselves and back onto God, the Giver of good gifts. When we start to hold ourselves up to another, we can ask God to show us the beauty He sees, and then thank Him for it.

One of my sisters throws parties unlike anyone else I know. Birthday parties, showers, weekend get-togethers, holidays—you name it. Not only does she throw unique, one-of-a-kind parties, she loves every second of it. I’ve watched her. She doesn’t get stressed out. She is a beautiful host.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

My other sister is a vibrant athlete. After having three kids. She is energetic and always, always, always on the move. It suits her and her family. She thrives in action, and she exhibits spontaneity and excitement. She’s taught me that you’re never too old to play with your kids (or against them.) She is a beautiful mom in her own unique way.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I have a friend who makes anything look good. She has a way of putting things together, whether it’s pairing a fun summer outfit with a bright shade of lipstick, or a room full of eclectic furniture with a one-of-a-kind piece of art. Comfortable in her own skin and confident in her own style, she isn’t afraid to speak her mind or laugh too loud.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I have another friend who is a natural connector. She knows everybody’s name and important bits of their stories. I always find myself right at home no matter what we’re discussing. She is such a good listener, because she listens for all the right reasons.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I have a friend with a magnetic personality. People are drawn to her because she is funny, truthful, and a blast to be around. But when she talks about Jesus, there’s something that draws you in further, makes you want to know Jesus the way she knows Him.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

My other friend is a prayer warrior. When she bows her head and opens her mouth, the most eloquent, powerful Spirit-led prayers emerge. She approaches the throne of grace with boldness and awe. She shows up and offers her gift willingly and confidently.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I could go on and on about the beauty I see in the women all around me, but I picked these few because I am so very different than each of them. And it is ok. God really did plan it that way!

Gratitude can turn any threat into encouragement.

I don’t throw big elaborate parties, because I’ve had to let go of the Pinterest perfection that doesn’t exist in the first place. Big parties stress me out, and I always end up yelling at my kids on their birthdays. One on one conversations with my people is where I excel.

I am not an athlete, but my mind is always working, processing, noticing. Pale shades and neutrals hang in my closet and cover my home. They calm my soul and remind my prone-to-striving heart to rest instead.

I don’t know everybody’s name or everyone’s story. I have a few close friendships, because my close friendships are for life. God made me a quiet introvert, but He gave me a voice, too.

God has gifted me with ways to serve, and He has given me a unique purpose within the body of Christ. The same is true of you. Whoever you are and wherever you are. You are needed and you are valuable to the kingdom of God.

There are women in your life, too, I imagine, that are so very different from you. Friends. Sisters. Maybe you view them as competition, or maybe you believe that noticing their beauty means you need to become more like them.

The only One we’re called to be like is Jesus. No one else.

Beauty begins with you being you.

At one point, I hit a wall with comparison in my life. I asked God how to stop comparing myself to other women, because I knew my thoughts about myself were not honoring Him. Do you know what He said to me?

Quit.

That’s it. Just one little word. Four letters. Q.U.I.T. I kept listening, waiting for more. I wanted a detailed action plan that better fit this monumental struggle in my life, but that was all He said.

If you want to stop comparing yourself, then quit. Just stop. 

God asked me to leave a way of thinking. He revealed how unhealthy this habit was. God encouraged me to give up trying to be someone I’m not. He led me away from a false view of myself, so I could discover who He created me to be.

God invited me to just be me.

I struggled at first to admit that comparison was my hidden addiction, destructive for me and harmful for my relationships. Some days I still wrestle with how to be me, the real me.

I know I’m not alone in this fight, because my relationships aren’t the only ones that threaten the kingdom of darkness. My only defense against comparison for so many years was striving. Try harder, do better, be someone else. Striving only left me wounded.

Gratitude is a much more effective defense against comparison. Give God thanks for the beauty you see today.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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God at Work Within the Unchangeable

If you are faithful, expect enemies. The sixth chapter of Daniel opens with this in-your-face truth. If you’re a child of the King, you are a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Daniel’s enemies were accusers, and so is ours.

We’ve been studying the book of Daniel at church all summer long. Week after week, every story narrated, every vision revealed, every dream interpreted points to the rising conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. This tension will reach a fever pitch at Christ’s first coming, and again at His second coming.

We live in the space between. 

King Darius, desiring power and position, made a rule that all must bow and worship him for thirty days. Daniel continued praying, worshipping, believing and trusting the living God. Daniel did what he’d always done, and the story reaches its climax as he stands accused and gets tossed into a den full of hungry lions.

I tend to read through this story and forget it really happened. These were real lions, real hungry lions that had their mouths shut by God. Scripture doesn’t say God filled their stomachs and satisfied their appetites. It only says He shut their mouths. These weren’t sweet cats purring all night long. They were angry and frustrated and confused. And still very, very hungry.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den.

Daniel, prompted by prayer, exhibited gratitude in the middle of a horrible life-or-death situation. King Darius, stressed out and anxiety-ridden, decided in his own strength to try and rescue Daniel himself.

Before you get all tender-hearted for this hero-wanna-be, I’m pretty sure Darius’ rescue mission had to do with losing his best man, a key figure in his administration. The chapter opens with his great plans to promote Daniel to an even higher position. So, this had nothing to do with Daniel; this was about Darius and all he stood to lose if Daniel became dinner for some lions.

Darius could not deliver Daniel. In the meantime, Darius began spinning out of control. He was not only sleepless and peaceless, he was flat-out hopeless.

Daniel exhibited hope and peace. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “We do not grieve as those without hope.” We still grieve, but we have living hope. Faith helps us recognize the character of God when the all the world can see are the circumstances.

Our response is evidence of our faith.

When Daniel received bad news, he gave thanks. Daniel wasn’t thanking God for the bad news; he just knew there were plenty of reasons to give thanks based on God’s character rather than his circumstances. Gratitude prompted peace in his heart.

But if we walk away only hearing a try-harder, have-more-faith pep talk, we’ve missed the point entirely. These things—hope, peace, gratitude, faithfulness—aren’t ingredients for the perfect recipe for righteousness or a remedy for sin.

The recipe for righteousness and the remedy for sin has always been and will always be Jesus. Just Jesus.

These characteristics represent the visible fruit that comes from an invisible but thriving faith in a God who is greater than our circumstances. They depict how deeply our character changes when we put on the righteousness of Christ. Hope and peace and joy point to Christ within us.

It’s not about the size or the quality of our faith; it’s about the object of our faith. Mustard seed faith is all we need, Jesus says, as long as that faith is fixed on Him. As long as long He is the object of our faith.

As a young man Daniel relied on God not his circumstances. He is an old man at this point in his life, and this chapter reminds my heart that fruit takes time. Transformation is a gradual process.

Faith in God may not change every set of circumstances, but our faith in Christ over time changes us.

I remember when we got pregnant for the first time. We had tried for over three years at that point to conceive and infertility had left battle wounds all over my heart. My faith felt shaky, but we celebrated our hearts out, clueless that more heartbreak was right around the corner. We told everyone our news.

And then I miscarried.

Sitting in our living room, surrounded by devastation, my husband and I discussed how we would un-tell all these people. I remember so vividly this conversation with my husband, because God used him to speak truth into my life. I asked him, “What are we going to tell people?”

He looked right at me and said, “We’ll tell them God is good.”

My husband’s words to me were evidence of God at work within his heart, at work within our heart-breaking circumstances. His response was evidence of his faith. What will we tell them? We will tell them that God is good, because He is.

Even when circumstances aren’t good, God is still good. God’s goodness does not fluctuate because He does not change; He cannot change. God is constant.

Daruis’ signature on the decree meant Daniel’s situation could not be altered. Irrevocable. The stone at the mouth of the lion’s den and the king’s seal also indicated an unchangeable situation.

Daniel recognized His unchangeable God in the middle of his unchangeable circumstances.

Daniel knew nothing could change God. Nothing.  Not persecution or slander or oppression or rejection or accusation or life in a hostile culture. Not even a den full of lions. This incredible story highlights three aspects of God’s character that will never change.

God’s plan to rescue and redeem and restore cannot be altered.

King Darius was a powerful king, but he was powerless to change Daniel’s situation. The king’s plan involved keeping Daniel from the lion’s den altogether, but God’s rescue mission involved entering the lion’s den Himself.

God’s pursuit of us will never diminish.

God’s love fuels His plan. We are pursued and lavishly loved by God. Love prompted Jesus to willingly enter the dark, sin-infested pit of this world to suffer and serve and confront the lion. It was for love—so that we might live with God in an ongoing relationship forever and ever. Moved by a love that’s unchanging, God paid the price that we never could.

The power of the Holy Spirit within us cannot be revoked.

God promises the gift of His Spirit to all who believes in Jesus as an irrevocable deposit. His Spirit within us is proof of His promise. No matter how hard life gets, no matter how far we fall, God has promised He will never remove His Spirit.  This same Spirit was strong enough to shut the mouths of hungry lions and raise Jesus from the dead.  That’s the power at work within us!

God didn’t remove the threat from Daniel’s life; He rendered the threat powerless over Daniels’ life. The lions remained a part of Daniel’s story, but the lions could never overpower God.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den. 1 Peter 5:8 says that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Our enemy will try to scare us into compromise, or get us to settle, back down, or stay in bondage, but he can’t touch our souls. He cannot harm us.

The lion is part of our story, but God has revealed how the story will end.

The conclusion of Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den mirrors Paul’s description of the very, very end for all who have claimed their salvation in Christ:

So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23 (emphasis mine)

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Jesus will return, and when He does, we will be lifted out of the lion’s den. Until then, God’s unchanging plan, pursuit, and power remind us that He is with present, working all things together for our good and His glory.

May we embrace the promises of a God who never changes even as we are dealt heartbreaking disappointments. Let us give thanks, in all circumstances, especially the unfavorable ones.

May we cling to the One who holds in His hand the whole mess of our lives and every broken way we take, the only One able to rescue and deliver us. May we rest in the companionship of Jesus, knowing that no matter what unfolds in the here and now, His love will usher us into eternity blameless and unscathed.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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