Lessons From A Large Love

Have you been entrusted with a ‘large love’ in your life?  A love that is equal parts gift, privilege, responsibility and vulnerability?  I believe those loves are to give us a glimpse of the love God has for each and every person.  Learning to steward such a love takes a lifetime!  It requires embracing the love and then living the legacy it creates.

This piece is a stewarding of a love our family enjoyed–and it is offered to help you steward the loves God has given you.  It is offered to turn your eyes to the love of God that is the greatest love of all.  Love transforms when we allow it.  Let’s love well.

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The large love that captivated our whole family entered our home just six years ago.  Scout arrived as a 16th birthday gift for our daughter.  He loved his ways into everyone of our hearts.

He was 10272773_10207170337528839_2400701400572314300_onever a demanding dog–he never needed to be.  His gentle presence lulled you into giving him most anything he wanted.  Even at 90 pounds, he lived as a lap dog.

He simply loved and taught us how to do the same.

The Bible is the place to go for the best definition of love.  1 Corinthians 13 is the ‘love chapter’ and I know it well…but head-to-heart learning has to be lived.  This precious dog reminded me of truths about love too beautiful not to share.

Love it patient and kind…It does not demand its own way.

It’s wonderful to be around love, but it’s an even greater joy TO LOVE.  The nature of this 46897238_10215414416865670_8701322365503537152_n (1)gentle giant wooed everyone.  His size made it common for him to 46514110_2120609104669020_1511515110198214656_nget his way–but he never demanded it.  He was a quiet giant who loved cats, bunnies and doves…and his nature was such that they loved him too!    The love of Scout was felt by the tiny animals he adored–and they quietly loved him back.

 

Love is not irritable and it keeps no record of wrongs.

Like most dogs, Scout lived in the moment.  Any wrongs were forgotten and love always his offering.  Miraculously, the nature of this precious boy led us to emulate the same beautiful characteristics.  90 pounds of dogs takes up a lot of space, creates a lot of mess and eats a lot of food.  It never mattered–until he wasn’t here and then the absence of those things just proclaimed his love more intensely.

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful,

and endures through every circumstance.

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The same soulful eyes that talked to us daily, pleaded with us as the pain set in and his heart grew weaker.  The love he taught still pleads with us to not give up on love.  It is worth the grief to have loved well–and to have been loved.

But all of this is truly for a deeper purpose than the love of a great pet. For you see, love is from God.  We thought Scout was a birthday gift, but really he was a gift from God to us as a family.  The gift of Scout was to remind us what real love looks and feels like.  It was to remind us each what love accomplishes–and how to love better.  Scout was to remind us how God loves us and what that love will do if we will really live in the ‘large love’ of God.  Real love transforms!  Have you let Him transform you?

 

 

Advent 1: He’s Coming!

Anticipating the arrival of a loved one is a joyful time, isn’t it?  A Christian’s heart has the possibility of that joy every moment of every day…and at ‘Christmas time’ we have an open door to discuss that joy!  Are you ready to grab the moments that come your way?While we’ve never been part of a church that liturgically celebrated Advent, it is our family tradition to prepare our hearts in the days prior to Christmas. I wanted to share some of that with others this year.

We live in a world that has so secularized Christmas that its original intent is often obscured.  We must not let that happen to our own celebrations.  While the reality is that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th anyway, the world gives us an open door with its Christmas celebrations.  Even the secular world turns its eyes to God in this season.  Let us use the world’s preparations to proclaim the love, grace & mercy of Jesus Christ that more might be won to the Kingdom.

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When we fix our hearts and eyes on Truth, it flows into our days…and people see the Word in our walk.  That is how it ought to be.  When we celebrate richly, others will take note.  Today begins the Advent Season for this year.  In the midst of busy-ness, consider how young Mary welcomed God’s interruption of her life plans.  A young woman, betrothed to a man….and told by God she would soon be carrying the Messiah in her womb.  That was an ‘interruption’ that was likely to cost her impending marriage–and quite possibly her life.  But Mary’s response was “Be it unto me according to thy word.”

“Mary’s faith is a wonderful example for us.  Rather than resentfully looking at her pregnancy as unfair and embarrassing, she understood that she had been uniquely blessed by God.  John MacArthur, Jr.

Throughout the week, pause each day to refocus on the blessed truths of the One who is coming…

Monday          Luke 1:35-38               Heart Focus:  Obedient Submission to the will of God

Tuesday          Jeremiah 29:11-13     Heart Focus:  Trust in the plans of God

Wednesday    Proverbs 16:3,9          Heart Focus:  Enjoy the story God is writing for you

Thursday        James 4:13-15             Heart Focus:   Let God give you the details as He wills

Friday             Psalm 37:4-7                Heart Focus:  Be rooted & joyful in the love of God

Saturday         Luke 1:39-41                Heart Focus:  Loving others is loving God

As we celebrate this season, may we keep in the front of our minds that Jesus is coming again!  He will not be coming as a vulnerable baby–but as the conquering King.  Let us do all we can to encourage others to prepare Him room.  See you next Sunday!

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Thank you for the Candle  Best Animations !

Thankful Unselfishness

We’ve just enjoyed our Thanksgiving holiday…the annual American nod to thankfulness that launches ‘Christmas’ consumerism into overdrive.  Thanks-living is a heart attitude we need to give much more time to!  In fact, it ought to be the perpetual norm for we who claim the name of Christ.  It is the very character of our Savior, who gave everything up to save us–His enemies!

Heartbreakingly, our actions show an attitude that is quite unlike our Savior.  For most of us there’s always something new or more we crave.  All that wanting erodes our thankfulness.  Christ never evidenced that trait. Examining His example helps us aim higher!  Consider what thankful unselfishness looked like in the life of Jesus Christ:

  • The One who always was willingly left heaven—and all its glories to be born in a barn to an unwed teen…
  • The One whose family had to flee for his life…
  • The One who had no place to lay his head…
  • The One who was rejected, spit on, whipped and killed for the sins of others (you and me)…

…that One NEVER evidenced an attitude of craving anything except the will of the Father.  Jesus trusted that God would give Him all that He needed to accomplish exactly what the Father willed…and for that He was thankful and unselfish with all He had.

That pierces me as I think of the many times I fall short of thankfulness–and unselfishness!

The Apostle Paul put it like this:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich 2 Corinthians 8:9

Jesus gave it all so you and I could have great riches.  Too often, we forfeit our riches to chase after things that impoverish us.  Thankfulness for all Jesus has done ushers us into the inheritance that cannot be lost!  Check this out:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  Ephesians 1:3

We are lacking nothing!  Now there’s a thought that sparks a thankful attitude!

Unselfishness is the next attitude goal to set our sights upon.  Everything that Jesus had He put on the altar for you and I…and all who would believe.  Everything we receive is to be held with the same attitude of thankful unselfishness…and offered back to God for His glory and good purposes.

To learn to receive and share freely – as beloved children of God because of Christ – is a necessary step in our transformation toward Christ-likeness.  Developing the character traits of thankfulness and unselfishness prepare us to receive more from our good and generous God.  He loves to give us gifts and He wants us to be like Him.  May we receive His gifts with unselfish thankfulness  and allow that sweet spirit to surround us as we enter into the Advent season and celebrate the Light of the World!

 

Be JOYFUL Always!

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?  Be joyful always.

Maybe your heart is saying, “Really?  Joyful?  My parents fight; someone is always mad at me.  My dad never acts like I matter.  I can’t do the work I’m expected to do.  I never do anything right.”

Or maybe your head voices sound like, “Nothing I do is every enough.  The bills never end.  Something always needs—or at least wants—something more than the money allows.  The house is a disaster.  I don’t remember what joy feels like.”

Yet the words stand.  Be joyful always.  It is part of our Christian identity.   Joy is a character trait that should be found in every Christian!  Like many aspects of faith, joy is the result of deliberate action.

The actions that lead to joy are found in the next two verses.

  • Pray continually.
  • Give thanks.

Pray continually.  Put those mountains that block your joy into the hands of Jesus and walk into the presence of God!  Trust that Jesus will move them aside and clear the way to the life God desires for you.  Joy comes from the presence of God.  When we allow the stuff of life to keep us from the beautiful presence of God, we fall short of His desire—fall short of the joy of the glory of God.

Give thanks.  Thankfulness is as natural as breathing when we rest in the presence of God.  Do you remember when you have been in His presence…really seeing Him and feeling Him as the Word describes Him?  All powerful.  Supreme Authority.  God of Love.  God of Comfort.  Holy.  Just.  Righteous.

Thanks flows from a heart that sees and rests in Him.  And THAT is the essence of the last verse:  the will of God for you in Christ Jesus!  Jesus came that we would have abundant life.  JOY is the flavor of that life.

God’s desire is for you to have joy in Christ Jesus.  If your life does not taste like joy, talk with one who spends time in the presence of the GREAT GOOD GOD of Scripture.

Strong & Flexible

Have you ever been disappointed?  You expected to do something or get something that you never got?  You gave your best but things didn’t turn out as you hoped?

Of course, you have.  Everyone knows the dismay of disappointment.  That’s why this Christian Character Trait matters so much.  It is a trait we need to bear the weights and blows of life:  FLEXIBILITY.

Things often do not go as we expect or hope…but we don’t need to let those things break us or even bend us out of shape.  We need the strength to be flexible and this verse is the key to spiritual flexibility:

Set your mind on things above not on earthly things.  Colossians 3:2

What we choose to think about determines our strength and flexibility!  If our eyes are not focused on eternal truths of God, we will be rigid and unbending.  We’ll be hurt and we’ll hurt others.  We want to have the trait of flexibility so we can stand up in the weighty times of life!

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In our physical bodies, muscle flexibility is a desirable companion to muscle strength.  All muscles work in pairs – biceps & triceps, quadriceps and hamstrings and so on.  When one of the pair is used more than the others two different types of weakness happens.  The unused muscle is flabby weak and fails to stabilize its partner muscle.  Joint damage is a common outcome.  The other weakness will be in the ‘strong’ muscle.  That muscle will be tight and vulnerable to tears and injuries.  A lack of flexibility creates discomfort and damage.  Spiritually the same truth can be seen.

Rigid, unbending faith that puts God in a box is a weak faith.  It is a demanding faith that places great strain on self and others.  Faith is the substance of things NOT seen.  Faith without flexibility is not faith it all—it rests on what has been experienced, what one can do, what is known as ‘fact’ — there is no room for a supernatural God.  God never violates His character as revealed in the Bible but He is bigger than any of us.  The Word reminds us no one knows a matter fully.  There is always more to discover about God; He doesn’t fit in any box we can create!  Growing the muscle of faith requires balance between discipline and discipleship.  We must do all we know to do and seek to know God more!

Do you remember when Jesus confronted the Pharisees?  They were religious people who had gone from believing God to believing that good work was the way to God.  The Pharisees even bullied others to be like them but Jesus said they had missed more important things than what they were doing:  justice, mercy and faithfulness.  The Pharisees were strong in small things but their ‘faith muscle’ was tight and weak.  They were trusting in themselves and not God!

Hebrews reminds us that the only way to please God is FAITH!  Faith is a muscle that becomes weak and tense when it is not used.  We use our faith muscle when we trust God for greater things than we can do in our strength.  Real faith takes us beyond our ‘boxes’ and our comfort zones.  Strong faith in God is the road to an abundant life that changes the world!  Faith makes us flexible enough to take the hits of life and keep running toward the glory of God!

Where is God helping you grow your faith muscle?

Determination & Endurance

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2.

Determination and endurance are ingredients of any significant accomplishment.  Every worthwhile endeavor will include the temptation to quit!  Making an effort to do well, to

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improve is an uphill climb.  Coasting only works when you are on a decline.  Scripture is full of fellow believers who inspire us to be determined to endure.  If your passion for goals you set is dwindling away, consider some encouragement from the Word.

Remember Joseph: sold off by his brothers, lied about by a sinful woman and forgotten by those he helped.  He lived so consistently for God even a pagan ruler declared, “Who can find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”  Joseph’s confidence in God’s power and goodness never faltered.  It guided him and he shared it with his brothers (his betrayers) to calm their fears about his taking retribution.  Joseph’s endurance flowed from his determination to honor His good and all-powerful God.

That same determination was expressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians.  Paul said, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  Paul was determined that his focus would remain on the love that led Jesus to the Cross.  That is a determination that will hold us on course!

Remember Esther:  a Jewish orphan girl chosen as a candidate for the role of Queen of the massive Persian empire.  She was one candidate of many–and not being chosen would doom her to an empty life.  She determined to honor those in authority over her and that surrender garnered her favor in the eyes of King Xerxes.  Even then, determination was necessary.  Circumstances forced her to risk it all–including her life–to help God’s chosen people, her people, the Jewish nation.  Her determination earned her (and her family) lasting honor.  Even today, Esther’s determination is celebrated every year with the Feast of Purim.

God does great things with determination that focuses on Him.  Jesus, Himself, had focused determination all his days on this earth.  Luke 9:51 tells us, “As the time approached for him (Jesus) to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.  Determination doesn’t take us on the easiest road.  It takes us toward the purposes and plans of God.

We all have many places to practice determination but our primary determination must be to seek God.  In every activity, in every conversation, we must be determined to seek God.  He will bring good to us and those around us when we do that.  God promises us the strength we need to seek Him.  When we set our will to do that, His goodness and power works on our behalf.

Indeed, we can do all things through Christ…we can mount up on wings of eagles.  Determine to do so!

Chasing Off Demon John

This is John, the resident guard mule at the farm where we board our horses, Gretchen & Scooby. Isn’t he gorgeous? His coat glistens; he lives at rapt attention; and he owns the space he occupies. He also detests being handled. John came to the farm that way. The Demon Johnowner tried simply sitting in the field with him, working to gain his trust. Eventually he allowed her to approach him without running away. He would let her get close enoughImage may contain: horse, tree, outdoor and nature that he could spin and wallop her with that strong hind-end. She tried getting a rope on him to have a vet check him…for which John dragged her through the field and woods. Bruised and sore, she resigned herself to letting John live in the fields free from human interaction. His beauty can only be admired at a distance because he is possessed by whatever his life once included.

I call him Demon John because he reminds me of the many people held captive by the evil one-those who resist all touches of love. This week when we arrived to work our horses, we found Demon John had taken up residence in their field. Observing his techniques and body language revealed clear parallels to the work of the enemy in lives all around me. I thought perhaps you would enjoy a glimpse of a principle Elaine Davis (Unbridled Faith) refers to as:

“If you read it in the Word and see it in the herd, you’ll believe it!”

The first thing we notice was how John had separated our usually inseparable horses. He proceeded to show us how he controlled their movements.  Gretchen was assigned the far corner of the field; Scooby had been placed in a wooded area near the barn. JohnDemon John my domain stood at attention between the two. He fixed his eyes on us as if to communicate, “This is my domain.”

Division is a tool of the enemy because unity is a passion of the Father.  Christ’s prayer in John 17 for his disciples (those of that time and those of us today!) was a plea for unity.  The enemy loves to step in-between us and our closest allies.  He controls our attention and prevents pro-active connections by forcing us to continually re-act to him.  In a masterful switch, we begin to believe the isolation is the fault of the other person.  We become blind to the work of the enemy.  The isolation deepens without intervention…without Jesus.

For our horses, we were the intervention that changed their reality.  As Riesa approached Scooby, John stepped in to place himself between them.  Scooby is never difficult to catch, but John moved him out into the field.  John kept himself on Scooby’s ‘dominant’ side…a few steps ahead but able to dive in and bite as needed.  He also moved him in a direction he really wanted to go–toward Gretchen.  The body language of Scooby shows him looking back to Riesa–and even listening to her call as John moves him away from her.  But John has convinced him he is more powerful and able to hurt him; Scooby has acquiesced to John as his leader.

The enemy uses a similar tactic on people.  He sees the Father approaching, calling to his precious creation.  The devil steps in to our dominant side–our strengths and our lusts–and bullies us away from the One who calls.  Like Scooby, we step toward what we want relying on our strengths (ie hard work, knowledge, skill).  We move away from the voice that calls us to relationship and connection.  We never even notice we fare ollowing one who cares nothing for us and will never give us what we long for.Gretchen I choose youAs John drove Scooby toward Gretchen, his attention was divided.  Gretchen, seeing an opportunity to be free of his domination moved toward me.  The bond Scooby has with Riesa was able to slip into the crack created by John’s loss of focus.  Riesa haltered her boy and kept John at bay while I haltered Gretchen.  Then began a fascinating glimpse of John’s impact on Scooby’s attitude and connection ability!

As children of God, we must maximize our connections with others.  There are opportunities where those we love are able to hear our call.  We must passionately pursue those in our lives with Gospel of Peace.  It must be what we are always prepared to do!  When the opportunity arises, we must be ready to connect and move our loved ones away from the pull of the enemy.

In our pasture, John’s presence remained and his impact seeped into the ‘working time’ we planned with our horses.  John maintained a close proximity to Scooby, and his Scooby you dont control mebehavior showed it.  His normally happy personality was irritable–he crow-hopped and resisted Riesa’s leadership.  Having lost his position in the herd, it seemed he was intent on establishing himself with Riesa.  Working with him, Riesa decided to help him drive Demon John out of the work area.  Watching him rise to the task and return with prancing joy at his victory will make your heart smile!

 

Consider where you have seen this with people.  Unhappiness comes out in resistance to the ones we are closest too. There are negative, unhealthy consequences to moving away from relationships.  Those who have lost control in one area often strive to take control in another.  Someones it is done in a positive way (eg a determination to exercise); other times it is a clearly destructive effort of control (eg bulimia).–always it falls short of the wholeness God desires. God’s desire is that we partner with Him to chase our enemy and march together in victory!

Scooby and Gretchen had a sit-com ending to their story.  It was resolved in a morning.  Life doesn’t have sit-com situations very often.  Life is messy and the after-effects of ‘demon johns’ needs commitment and love to resolve.  We need fellow believers to come along-side us and help us fight for the kingdom of God to reign in our lives.

If you would like to dig more deeply into the Word revealed in the herd, check out:

James 4:7

2 Corinthians 2:14

Deuteronomy 20:1-4

Victory as an Act of God

It’s Always Too Soon to Quit!

Character. It is a critical aspect of each individual. Character is the substance of an individual.  We live in a world which encourages us to indulge ourselves and never give a thought to our inner character. It is a tempting encouragement.  Pleasing ‘self’ seems like a good idea.  Unfortunately, though, character is never grown in a soil of pleasure. Character is not found in a church pew or a book.  Character is built through sacrifice and hard choices. It has been said that life is God’s gift to man; what man does with that life is his gift to God.
God’s Word tells us that character is developed through perseverance. As we trace the source of perseverance, our hearts will tremble—for the source of perseverance is suffering. For the Christian, suffering can be a source of joy BECAUSE the hope of God is a certainty that sustains. The hope of God produces eternal blessing that outweighs and outlasts every heart ache. A character rooted in God’s grace and built on faith in Christ will produce blessing all around!

“It’s always too soon to quit.”  Daniel Baker

Perseverance–pressing on, not quitting–is a trait we must develop!  Our perseverance is not solely fixed on our purposes, though.   In fact, focusing our perseverance on our goals (purposes) can discourage us.  Things don’t always turn out the way we plan; Scripture is full of such stories.
But God’s purposes are never in jeopardy.  The purposes and goals we set are a tool God uses as we travel through this life.   BUT glory to God, His purposes are woven into the journey itself…and His purposes are grander than ours!
God is busy with things we can not even imagine.  Success is trusting Him in the midst of life; the goal is enjoying His presence. Our goals are far too small.  Let’s take and apply the words of William Carey, “Expect great things–attempt great things.”  
We are to set goals that are good and in line with the purposes of God–and then leave the results in the hands of God.  The only way to do that is continually pressing in to see His face, feel His love and being filled with confidence in His plans.
Struggles teach perseverance, perseverance is entwined with character and hope–certainty of God–springs forth.  That is the only worthwhile success.

But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.  2 Corinthians 3:18

Persistently seeking the Lord will transform us into His image.  I love the old saying of “Praise God I am not what I was and I am not what I will become!”  Just as God’s changeless nature is a rock-solid foundation, so our transformation is a glorious promise.

Focused on Purpose

Whether we are riding a horse, driving a car or trying to get through the school year, the same truth applies: where your eyes are sets the course of your path. If we spend a lot of time looking at what we ‘can’t do’ or the things that we would rather do or all the terrifying possibilities, we won’t accomplish all God would have us do. We need to fix our eyes on TRUTHS from the Word of God and trust Him to help us over the rough patches.

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“Can’t” is a detour with a huge PIT. When our eyes focus on what we can’t do, we miss the path to what we can do. Can’t will keep us from a struggle but it will never strengthen us or accomplish our purpose. Can’t is a word we need to shorten to can. Focusing our eyes on what we can do will help us get where we need to be.

“Want to” is another powerful force; the human will is where most ‘want to’ comes from. God gave us free will. The greatest gift we can give to God is to surrender that will and echo the words of Jesus to our Father, “Not my will but thine.” When we accept the purposes of God as our own, great and mighty things come from our lives.

“Fear” is the last detour we’ll consider how to avoid. Fear goes by many names…sometimes it masquerades as ‘common sense;’ other times it hides in ‘comfort zones.’ F.E.A.R. is often just ‘false evidence appearing real.’ The bottom line of the matter comes straight from Scripture: anything not of faith is sin. Faith and fear don’t live on the same street.

Setting our eyes on the purposes of God will take us beyond our abilities, give us new desires and call us outside of our comfort zones. Let’s choose God’s purpose as our own. Refuse to focus on ‘can’t’ and ‘want’ and see what God will do!

Determined!

“Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.”  Proverbs 4:25

Do you ever struggle to ‘stay the course’ when you have begun a project?  I do!  Our bulldog, Barnabas fulfilled his role as “Encourager” this week as he set his mind to a task.  After receiving a new ‘toy’ – a tractor tire – he set his mind on finding a way to bring the toy into the house.  Enjoy this little slideshow and think on Barnabas when you are finding a project daunting!

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While stubborness is as witchcraft according to Scripture, learning to ‘fix our face as flint’ as Jesus did is necessary in the Christian life.  Our great and glorious God is worth every effort!  As Nehemiah admonished those rebuilding the temple, ‘Think on our God, great & glorious and fight for your families and your homes.’

Be determined to do all God puts on your heart!

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