Friday, July 22, 2011

My Brain Just Exploded

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

I don’t even know how to express how amazed I am over verse 20. The God of the Universe, Lord over nations, peoples, waters, land, animals, sees and knows every detail of your life. He knows your dreams, your desires, your fears, your secret wishes, and every place you’ve been. Now think of the wildest thing, your biggest hope or wish, and move past it. It’s not possible for our minds, but it’s possible for Him. And He doesn’t just go a little past what we dream of, he goes “immeasurably.” To infinity and beyond. My brain has not the capacity to think of it, but God does and it’s not even hard for Him. Incredible is not a challenge for God. It’s the same as us opening our eyes when we wake up on a weekend morning after sleeping in. Effortlessly. Are you fired up? He is able to do that for you and for me.

Now to the entrĂ©e. He does more than we can imagine “according to his power that is at work within us.” As someone who grew up in church from a young age, I had an early case of legalism. I wanted to be good enough for God. I was very focused on works and making myself look good and sort of forgetting that I actually needed to be saved and I couldn’t do it myself.

Now, if you noticed the earlier entries, which did we encounter first? Grasp God’s love or compel God to love you because of all your beautiful, lovely, good works? The latter doesn’t even show up. Who is it that does the work in us? Us? No. It’s God. Praise the Lord, it is God’s power at work in us. God loves my sorry self just as I am. I don’t have to earn His love. He wants me to be dropped right in the middle of it, to fill me with Himself, and then to work in me to create more than I can ask or imagine. Is that not the most unbelievable, gracious, compassionate thing ever? I have nothing to say but, “who am I that You would be so good to me?” And the answer, my friends, has nothing to do with who I am. It is all about who God is. He loves and gives what we do not deserve. And He brings glory to Himself because of it.

And may all glory belong to such a wonderful, majestic God for all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

An Order of Love. Hold the Fear, Please.

For so long, all my life practically, I have not loved. You know, the 1 Corinthians 13 way that puts others above myself with love that is patient, kind, and never failing. The reason I love is to receive something in return. I love as an exchange. I love out of insecurity and fear. And it is a poor substitute for loving the way God’s love intends. When I receive a favorable response, I am relieved. When I don’t, I am crushed and devastated. And that is in no way, shape, or form how God planned it to be. That is not genuine love.

I want to love unselfishly. I want to love standing on the grand, unfathomable love of my God being able to give completely and freely, knowing whatever I have given He will replenish. That I don’t need a return from others because His love is enough. “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10. Reading a verse like that makes me think, who am I to try to protect myself when God Himself will restore me?

On the way to a movie, a friend and I were talking about how we feel so much happier when we are content with ourselves and our actions. This evolved into resolving to do good for others without fear of their reactions. Sometimes we feel vulnerable doing something that shows love because we’re afraid of how the other person will react. What if they don’t like me/love me as much as I do and now they’ll know by this action? What if they freak out because I’m showing more regard than they’re ready for? What if they think I’m weird?

But a light bulb turned on and I said, “Why should we be the ones that feel bad when we do something that is good and kind for someone else?” Are you really the one with the problem when you’ve decided to do something kind and generous for someone? Who cares about seeming forward? Shouldn’t we just love? It feels so much better knowing you’re doing what you’re supposed to instead of worrying about how someone will react.

You can always spot that kind of person immediately. I love meeting someone and getting the sense that they are truly interested in me and care about me. I’m drawn to it. I want to be like that. I want to build up and encourage those around me. I want to be gracious and compassionate. I want to be the hands and feet of Christ. So often I put my needs first, but I’m praying day by day I will be crucified with Christ so that it’s not me living, but Christ in me (Galatians 2:20).

Questions: You know what I mean? Have you ever felt that way too?

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Post that Should Have Been Titled "Love That Surpasses Knowledge"

“and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:19

I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS PART!!!!!! For reals, caps lock does not do it justice. The words should be bounding out of your computer screen right now.

“Know this love that surpasses knowledge.” Every time we know His love, we are experiencing something supernatural. His love can’t be known because it surpasses knowledge, but we know it because of the Holy Spirit. Because God enables us to know this love that is wider, higher, deeper than we can imagine.
And then, “filled to the measure” aka full capacity with the fullness of God. Not the partness of God, not the halfness of God, or the sure-you-can-have-some-of-my-attention-while-I-keep-the-universe-in-place-ness of God. It is the fullness. And even more incredible is the fullness can be in us, filled to the measure.

What makes me even more insane with amazement is what being filled with the fullness of God means. When we are completely full of Jesus, we can love genuinely, give graciously, live obediently, and have every need met. How I want to know an absence of fear because I am filled with the fullness of God. How I want to love others just because. No strings attached.

The fullness of God in me means being able to love and give without needing anything in return. Having the power to walk in obedience, knowing He will provide. Having confidence to do more than I can on my own. To go forth and do what’s asked without thinking about how I look or how I’ll be treated. Knowing God in every corner of myself. There’s more of God in me than myself. Seeing what I would normally be blinded to. Being completely satisfied in Him.  Having the ability to bring forth who I am intended to be with no insecurities, no fears, no doubts. I would not be afraid of failing. I would not be afraid of being judged. I would not be afraid my next step wouldn’t be there. It would be living fully. Having the fullness of God—Having the creator, His whole complete self in you. You would never walk alone because He resides in you. I would not be relying on my self, strength, and abilities, I would be relying on Him. What this does for my future is amazing to me. A future relying on something other than my weakness is so much brighter and exciting. It is more than I can ask or imagine like the next verse says. To be a part of something broader and bigger than myself, His love that stretches farther than the universe. It gives me hope. Living in my strength makes me tired just thinking about it, but living in His gives me hope.

A song lyric that helps me articulate what I think about this is from Jill Phillips, “I will not have to fear anymore. All I’ll be capable of is: Holy, holy, holy, holy.” I want to have a single-minded focus to praise the name of the Lord. To live a life that glorifies Him in all I do. When that is all that matters, what have I to fear but not living up to that? And I am equipped to do that when I am filled to the measure with the fullness of God.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Love that Surpasses Knowledge

The next part of focus is Ephesians 3:17b-18.
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”

“may have power”- so it takes an ability. I’m guessing this is because it is beyond what we can know naturally as humans. It is bigger and more genuine than the purest love we’ve known from another person. We need God to enable us to know His love. In 1 John 4:10, John says love doesn’t resemble the way we love God, but how He loves us, including the sacrifice of His Son.

Also, there’s a togetherness, a community with the statement “may have power together with all the saints”. This gives me a visual of worship. All His people gathering together to worship Him. We also help each other know His love when we are in Bible study or small group talking about what He’s done in our lives.

A couple of years ago, I was coming off of a rebellious time and was ready to seek God again. For a few months, there was distance. I was going to church, but I was not the same. There wasn’t a deep, passionate desire to get up and read my Bible and spend time in prayer like what I had known before. Then one day, I went to a small group and we started to talk about who God is and how we saw Him work in and around us. It reminded me of the times He had delivered me and been faithful to me and as I shared it with the group, I felt that passion and desire come back. It felt like a huge break of whatever had been separating me from Him.

So maybe this is what is meant by having the power with all the saints. Maybe it’s coming together with fellow believers and talking about God’s love toward us. Whenever I get to experience that I usually just feel it expand in and around me.

Another point I get from this verse is the verb “grasp.” I love the Message’s version of this verse because it uses all kinds of actions up in here. “Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!” Knowing God’s love is an active experience. With a love as massive as His, I can see why to best experience it you can’t stay in one place.

So how can we actively learn about God’s love when we can’t literally “plumb the depths” and “rise to the heights”?

These are some ways I’ve experienced His love and I’m sure there are more:
Pray to know it. Paul is praying for the Ephesians to have power to grasp His love, so wouldn’t it make sense that we pray to know it for ourselves also?
Think about how He’s been faithful and loving to you in the past. Like I said previously, I felt an awareness of His love when I thought of how He’d proven it in the past. He has sacrificed His Son who took on all of our sins so that we might never have to be separated from Him. And He doesn’t just leave us there. He’s made plans for us to have an abundant life (Jeremiah 29:11, John 10:10). He has made the dead alive. He has brought good from evil. What has He done in your life that revealed His love?
Obey Him. When I know God has commanded me to do something and after putting it off for weeks, I finally do it, I know I’m so much closer to Him. I know that what He asked me to do was for my good. Obeying Him and seeing His provisions in that obedience shows me a God who cares enough about me to be involved in every detail. It shows me when I trust Him, He doesn’t let me down.

Questions: How else can we grasp God’s love?

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Arbor Edition: More on Roots and Branches

I remember being a teenager in Sunday School or at church camp and having the option to choose what I wanted to hear about. About 90% of the time I chose something like “How Do I Know God’s Will for My Life” (the 10% was “Boys: How Do I Know God’s Will for Them in My Life (just kidding)). I also recall one of the verses they would use is “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). Um, OK?? But how do I know what college I’m supposed to choose? Another one was something about Jesus being a vine and me, the branches.

Lately, God has been revealing to me how those verses apply to knowing what He wants me to do in my everyday life and how I’m to make decisions. The answer I’ve found is not in looking for an answer, but simply looking for Him.

God doesn’t just want us to seek Him for the answers. He wants us to seek Him for life. I never know His will more clearly than when I am focused on chasing and seeking Him. Very easily, I usually become obsessed with hearing what He wants me to do, so much so that His answers become idols. Don’t get me wrong, it is soooo important to seek out what He wants for my life and your life. I just have to be careful about how I go about it and how I see it. When seeking answers becomes an idol is when that is all I come to Him for. I don’t acknowledge He is the creator of the universe. I don’t acknowledge I would shrivel up and die without Him. I don’t acknowledge He is the one granting me the next breath I take. All I want is for Him to tell me what to do so I can go about on my merry way and make it happen because I want my life to be good and blessed. Does that make sense? The attitude is all wrong. I am not in love with God. I am in love with what God can do for me.

So instead, I need to plug in, be rooted in Him for my nourishment, for life, for growth. Just focus on Him. More often than not, in those moments when I acknowledge He is all I need and desire, He gives me clear direction. If I wasn’t aware of that and He revealed His will, most likely, I would be doing it out of selfish ambition, become insecure because I’m doing it in my own strength, and fall flat on my face. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5. See, Jesus had to say it twice within 30 seconds. Apart from Him, we can’t do anything. But with Him, we get to see Him working. We get to see Him making old, broken things new. We get to see Him heal what was sick, give life to the dead, give strength to the weak. We see Him enable us to do impossible things.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Love Was Made For Me and You

The love of God has always fascinated and astounded me. I don’t get it. I could spend hours thinking about it and it would still be a mystery. It is huge, it is marvelous, it is perfect. God loves when He should not. God’s love is the key to everything. It casts out fear (1 John 4:18). It allows us to do His will. It saves us from our sin (John 3:16).

It’s been impressed upon me to go on a mission to discover God’s love with my head and allow Him to let me know it with my heart. I want to see how my life can change for the better when I know His love that never fails, never lets go, and never lets harm touch me. I want to see the active result in my life from that knowledge and transformation.

So I want to share everything I’m discovering with you so that you might know it too and be blessed by our gracious, great God and live the life He meant for you to.

For me, it started with Ephesians 3:17-21. Ever since the first time I read them, these verses became instant favorites, and last week I decided to break them apart to get all the meaning I could out of it. I would encourage you to do the same with some of your favorite verses. Take note of the verbs, the meaning of phrases, write down everything you think of as you read a few words. It is amazing to see the Holy Spirit reveal new meaning. This is why the Bible is called the Living Word (Hebrews 4:12).

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, 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. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Amazing, right? But so often, when I take in all these verses at once, I have a tendency to have this attitude that says, “Oh, that’s nice. I feel better,” walk away and forget about it in approximately 2.085 seconds. Yes, that is the number my tests came up with. So to combat that, I’m going to focus on verse 17b.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love”

The words that catch my notice first are: rooted, established, and love.
So let’s think about all that goes along with rooted. Rooted comes from having a seed planted and growing. There can be roots before there’s evidence of a plant. I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable of the seed thrown out. So we can make a connection that God has planted the seed of His love. How it grows depends on the condition of the heart. I also think if we are rooted, we are held down. We are steady. We can be a bit swayed by the wind, but we aren’t going anywhere.

Next is established. Established is a known fact. It was created with purpose and stands firm. I think of a foundation. Laid out and smoothed to support whatever structure may be placed on top of it.

It helps me to think also on what the opposite is. Personally, I am usually rooted and established in insecurity and fear. I love so people will be nice to me. I love so I might be loved back. I love selfishly, to receive something in return. I’ll speak more on this in a later entry. It just helps me to identify what in my heart has been the substitute for where God’s love should be.

So love is our root. Love is our foundation. The confidence, the hope is building in me just thinking on that. God’s love holds. God’s love is a foundation that can’t be shaken and we can know that security. Our gifts, the good things we do or create come from His love that we are rooted and established in.

But it has to start there at His love if it’s going to last. I can’t go off on my own and hope God gets with my program out there because I’m doing what I think is right. The only way I can stand firm or be truly productive for His kingdom is to start at His love. To remember He loved me first and sacrificed His Son so that I may know Him.

Questions to think about: What am I rooted and established in? What other connections can be made from rooted and established?