How Do I Choose? By: John Ortberg

MARCH 3, 2015

How Do I Choose? John Ortberg

“…See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut…” Revelation 3:8a (NIV)

Life is full of tough decisions.

How do I know if he/she is “the one”? Which college should I go to? What should I major in? Which job should I take? Which church should we attend? Should I change careers? Now that the kids are grown, should we downsize? Is now the right time to retire?

People hate making decisions. Mostly because we’re terrified of making the wrong one.

Choosing thrills us. Choosing scares us. Choosing comes from the core of who we are. When we truly choose, we have no one to blame and nowhere to hide. And that can be downright terrifying.

My wife, Nancy, and I were at a restaurant once, and the waiter responded to every choice we made by saying, “Brilliant,” “Perfect” or “Excellent decision.” This happened so steadily throughout the meal that I finally asked him if he ever told anyone they made a lousy choice. He told us that the restaurant managers had discovered diners are so afraid of choosing the wrong thing, they actually print a list of “affirmation words” that the wait staff is required to say in response to everyone’s order.

Think about that. Even a question as simple as, “Soup or salad?” renders us so vulnerable that restaurants have to turn their wait staff into therapists!

In a way, we do the same thing with God. Terrified of making a bad decision, we lay all of our choices at God’s feet and ask Him, “What is Your will for my life?”

But, what if God’s will for us is that we develop the wisdom and discernment to make our own decisions in light of His Word, and the faith and confidence to know He will be there guiding us regardless of which path we choose?

Doesn’t that sound freeing?

God wants us to learn how to choose well. That may be why, when we look at the Bible, there is no chapter devoted to ’How to know God’s will for your life.” Paul doesn’t write about “6 Steps to Determine If He’s the One” or “5 Ways to Discern God’s Best Career Path for You.”

What we do see are statements like this: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you” (James 1:5, NRSV).

Or “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best” (Philippians 1:9-10a, NIV, 1984).

So the next time you face a difficult decision, instead of asking God what His will is for your life, begin by asking for wisdom. And don’t live in fear of making the wrong decision. Even if you walk through the wrong door, as long as you walk through it with the right heart, God’s will will be done.

Remember, God’s will for your life is not about whom, or if, you should marry, which job you should accept, or which neighborhood you should live in. God’s will for your life is that you become a magnificent person in His image, somebody with the character of Jesus. And nothing can stand in the way of that.

Dear God, we know that You are the God of the open door. Every moment of every day is an opportunity for us to grow and serve and make a positive impact on others. Because of Your love, we don’t have to be afraid of failure, nor do we have to live under the tyranny of always making the perfect choice. We pray You will give us the courage and wisdom to walk through whatever doors You open before us. And we pray that through our actions, Your will will be done. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY: Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (ESV)

Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (ESV)

The Beautiful Unique YOU By Me (Marita)

It is not about how much knowledge you have but about how much love you have. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” -1 Corinthians 8:1. I really am questioning a lot of things, thinking who am I? Who am I supposed to be? As a young Christian you question what is this all about and who am I called to be but I’m starting to realize that I am truly called to be myself. I used to think that now that I’m a Christian, I need to act a certain way, present myself a certain way, and to be honest I didn’t want to completely change what makes Marita special. I wanted what Christ offered me of course; love, security, a relationship with him and I was and am willing to give up everything for him but I didn’t want to completely lose the good sides of Marita. I didn’t understand that what changes is not a sad thing, it’s a good thing that the bad characteristics and ugly sides of me are now going to be worked on by God himself and I don’t have to do it alone and what a privilege that is! I used to see these images or ideas of what I thought a “Christian” was; some virginal picture perfect woman who never swore, dressed very plain or conservative, wasn’t outspoken, clean cut with no tattoos, didn’t listen to “worldly” music or dance, didn’t go out to parties, didn’t partake in an alcoholic beverage, etc. the list could go on. That is legit what I thought and let me tell you, I am the polar opposite of all those things! My style is described quite frequently by my boyfriend as “loud” and by others as “whimsical”. I am the girl who has had pink hair so I am not at all conservative! I do have tattoos. My friends will tell you that I am very outspoken and opinionated and not always in a good way (but that is something God is helping me with). I am a music and dance lover and I do listen to a wide variety of styles and not limited to Christian music. I like to go to parties and hang with my friends and yes I do enjoy a good glass of wine. I’m not an alcoholic and I don’t abuse things but what is so wrong with that? So I had/have a very hard time conforming to who I thought I was supposed to be but what I realized is that the quirky, funny, outspoken, colorful aspects of Marita is who I’m called to be. God made me. He crafted me a certain way, he gave me certain talents, certain gifts, and these things to use to not only be myself but to serve him of course. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” –Psalm 139:13-14. God has truths set aside for me that he will reveal to me when I’m ready. It’s not for me to worry or understand right now. Of course we should be open to learning and always learning more but what we should do with learning and knowledge really is help build us up more in Christ and being a better example of him. Now that I’m bought back with a price, I don’t think God wants me to change all the things that make me special, I think he now wants to transform and purify those aspects of me to use for his kingdom work. I think that he wants me to appreciate those gifts and things that make me different while serving him. The things that change is my attitude and the quality of the fruit I’m producing. Here’s an analogy for you. Imagine that I’m a house. Technically I am the house that houses the Holy Spirit so now that the Holy Spirit moved in, he needs to clean up and polish the house. He doesn’t want to destroy the house and rebuild it from the ground up, he wants to take what is there and restore it. He wants to furnace the house with light and love and allow God’s light to flow through the windows of the soul. He wants to take what’s there such as a great backyard and spruce it up to serve his needs. He takes all the different parts of the house, cleans it, and adds to it, makes it better, more appealing, and more desirable to visitors. Is this making sense in relation to us as houses for the Holy Spirit? He doesn’t want to take away what is special or the great things God made you with, he wants to add to it. That is his job, to purify you, to build you up, to make you better not worse. It isn’t something to be sad about. All of us have things about us that need transforming. For instance I need to love more in my life. I know that I can be bitter and that I can be selfish and what God is doing is transforming me bit by bit to having that of more of a servant’s heart. I know that without him I could not do it because I need the power of his Holy Spirit working on the inside of me prompting me to change my attitude, my outlook, my way and I can tell you that he is transforming me and I cannot explain it but it’s happening. I guess the biggest thing that I’m trying to get at here is that you don’t need to change what makes you you to be a Christian. You don’t need to fit into this cookie cutter image of what you think a Christian should be like. God will change you and show you the type of Christian he wants you to be. You just need to allow him to do so. I can tell you that I struggle with this in my life because like I mentioned I really thought I had to stop hanging with my friends, and not go anywhere near an alcoholic drink, etc. Now everyone is different. Some things I did need to stand on my beliefs that my friends might not agree with, like celebrating Halloween. That is something I choose not to partake in anymore but my friends still do. I used to but now I don’t. They are fine with it and we have respect for each other’s decisions. I don’t judge them and tell them why I think it’s wrong. They might ask for my opinion and I will tell them but I’m not going to condemn them for making that choice, that is their choice and I respect them for it. I might not agree but it’s not going to change my love or friendship with them. Another example for instance if you had friends who were or are a really bad influence like they prompt you to do drugs, get drunk all the time, judge you for going to church, and don’t except the person you want to be then obviously that is a change that you might need to make and cut your ties. I’m blessed in the sense where my friends are very excepting of my walk with God. They don’t judge me. They might not understand it completely but they do not judge me. My friends were not the type of people who pushed me to be an alcoholic or do things I wasn’t comfortable with, they might not be so called “Christians” who attend church but they are true friends who accept me no matter what so I am blessed that God placed these people in my life who have been excepting of my relationship with God. Now I believe that God is using me to help others like them just with me being me. I don’t need to push people and say “turn or burn” haha or preach to people and I’ve learned that the hard way. I can have this opinionated side of me as I mentioned and once I started learning more about God and the Bible, I thought that I knew what was right and others didn’t and that it was my job to inform them but in reality all I was doing was preaching to people that came across in a judgmental or arrogant way and that was not my intention at all. My job and responsibility is to relax, have my personal relationship with Christ and let him do the rest. I think that’s all that he wants me to do is make me “comfort-able” The type of person that he can use to comfort others and lead by example. By allowing him to work through me and transform my life I don’t need to transform other people’s lives, he will use me in any given situation whenever he wants. I don’t need to go out on some sort of crusade mission haha. It really is about allowing him to do everything. I’m just here for the ride. I don’t need to change who I am, God will transform me in the way that is according to his purpose and I need to trust him that he will obviously keep intact the special sides of Marita that make me unique, the Marita that he originally crafted for his purpose and now that I accepted him it’s time for him to really use those special gifts or talents he created me with for his purpose and to serve and help others. My encouragement to you is that you don’t need to change who you are to go to God or have a relationship with him. He beautifully made you with special talents, gifts, and personalities so don’t conform to this cookie cutter image of who you think you need to be. Go to him as you are. I will quote this again… “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” –Psalm 139: 13-14. He will do the rest in transforming who you already are into someone even better. Trust him and don’t think you need to do all the work. God wants you to give him your burdens, your heartaches, your everything! Give it to him; be thankful for the faith he has given you and the salvation of knowing that you are gloriously saved and forever in the kingdom of God! God Bless you!

-Marita

Lessons Learned From The Last Crusader By: Mary Southerland

Lessons Learned from The Last Crusader Mary Southerland

Today’s Truth

Faith means being sure of the things we hope for. And faith means knowing that something is real even if we do not see it (Hebrews 11:1, ICB).

Friend to Friend

I have a love-hate relationship with the movie, “The Last Crusader.” The hero Indiana Jones is constantly hovering above some bottomless pit, or dodging bullets, flying knives, as well as hoards of sinister enemies and nasty creatures trying to kill him and prevent him from completing his mission.

It is exhausting to watch.

One part of the movie stands out above the rest as terrifying moments go. As usual, Indiana is on the run and comes to a chasm he must cross in order to obtain the Holy Grail. No bridge. No net. No ropes or hat tricks – just air, and nothing but air.

At this point in the movie, I am looking for a tangible resolution to Indiana’s predicament. Maybe a hidden elevator built into the side of the abyss or an alternate route to the treasure. You know, something you could touch and see and … well, explain.

Instead, the treasure map dictates a ridiculous solution that makes no sense at all – but demands a huge step of faith – literally. If Indiana will just step over the edge of that bottomless pit … a bridge, a rock wall will appear.

Right!

How about that bridge appears and then Indiana traipses across it?

Nope.

That is not the plan.

Even though I have seen the movie several times, my stomach still lurches as Indiana closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and cautiously steps out into air above the seemingly bottomless abyss. If the treasure map is wrong, and the wall does not appear, Indiana Jones will surely plummet to his death. Fortunately, the clue is correct, the wall does appear, and Indiana Jones races across to safety, resuming his quest.

In order to experience the power of God, we have to be willing to step out in faith, even when it seems there is no way and no solution to the problem at hand. And if that is not hard enough, we often have to take that step of faith when every ounce of human strength is gone.

And there you have it … the perfect setting for one of God’s miracles.

God will strengthen us as we go. He is the Way Maker. The only thing that really matters is the fact that God sends us.

The Coast Guard has a motto: “You must go out, but you don’t have to come back.” A powerful life is fueled by the kind of faith that steps out in obedience and lets God worry about whether or not we come back.

At the center of every challenge is an opportunity for trust in God to work.

Every problem contains a concentrated opportunity and offers the option of stepping out in faith.

The highest truths God has to offer are rarely wrapped in a beautifully wrapped package and handed to us on a silver platter. I am convinced our Father takes heaven-sent treasures, buries them at the heart of a huge problem, then watches and applauds when we have what it takes to break that problem apart to find the wealth hidden inside.

And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness – secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name(Isaiah 45:3, NLT).

Some things cannot be learned in the light. The greatest treasures are often buried in the deepest pits, and require a step of faith to discover.

We all have faith. We go to a doctor we don’t really know and are handed a prescription we cannot read. We then take that prescription to a pharmacist, a total stranger, who presents us with a mysterious bottle filled with pills that we proceed to swallow – all in faith.

Our problem is not so much a lack of faith. It is where we place that faith that matters.

Faith means being sure of the things we hope for. And faith means knowing that something is real even if we do not see it(Hebrews 11:1, ICB).

Faith is built upon trust. God wants us to trust Him – even when we do not understand what is happening. Even when nothing makes sense, and everything seems wrong.

It is easy to trust Him when the seas are calm, and the skies are clear. But the strength of our faith is measured in the midst of a raging storm.

A crisis always reveals what is really inside. What life does to us depends on what life finds in us. Faith is a deliberate choice to believe God, to walk through our fear, knowing we can trust Him every step of the way.

Let’s Pray

Father, I am tired of living a life that can be explained and understood in human terms. My heart longs to walk by faith, counting on Your strength instead of my own. Today, I choose to trust You instead of demanding an explanation for what is happening in my life. Right now, I choose to walk through my fear and step out in faith.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Now It’s Your Turn

What is the greatest storm in your life today?

What step do you need to take to face that trial with faith instead of fear?

What is keeping you from trusting God and stepping out in faith?

When Your Rooster Crows By Sharon Jaynes

February 23, 2015 When Your Rooster Crows Sharon Jaynes

Today’s Truth

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV).

Friend to Friend

I sat on my back porch, wrapped in my fuzzy worn robe—the one that’s 20 years old that I just can’t seem to get rid of. The birch trees waved “good morning,” and the newly planted gerbera daisies stretched their faces to the sun…just a bit higher than the day before. Then I heard him. The rooster.

ER-er-ER-er-ERRRR. I’m not sure where he lives, but it’s within earshot.

ER-er-ER-er-ERRRR. I thought of Peter. I thought of me. I thought of you.

You know the story. At the dinner table, on the night before Jesus went to the cross, he said to Peter:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31).

A few hours later, Peter did just that. Denied that he even knew Jesus. Three times. And then the rooster crowed. ER-er-ER-er ERRRR.

“And he went outside and wept bitterly.” He cried and cried and cried.

(I’ve messed up big time and cried and cried and cried before. Have you?)

The next morning, the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered his failure.

And the next, and the next, and the next.

With every squawk of the bird. A fresh reminder. First thing in the morning. Have you ever been there? I have. I have failed. And I have remembered…the rooster crowed. And even though I had asked for forgiveness, and I knew that God HAD forgiven me, the rooster crowed in my heart, and I remembered my failure anew.

What did Jesus have to say about Peter’s failure? Three strikes, you’re out? Not hardly.

After His resurrection, Jesus pulled Peter aside…

“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus removed the shroud of shame hanging from Peter’s guilt weary shoulders, and called him to get back to the ministry to which he was called.

God’s forgiveness is always complete, total, and comprehensive. “If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action]” (1 John 1:9 AMP).

However, the accuser continues to crow—reminding us of our past sins and failures. He tries to drown out the song of grace with the caw of shame. He crows. We remember. Perhaps even weep with Peter behind the wall.

You know what I’ve decided? Rooster makes a fine meal. Let’s wring the rooster’s neck and cook him up once and for all. Don’t let the enemy accuse you of what God has already forgiven you of? Don’t let him fool you into thinking that the cross wasn’t enough.

I wonder what went through Peter’s mind the next time he heard the rooster crow. I think he smiled and thought of God’s amazing grace. That’s what I’m going to do tomorrow when I hear that rooster crow.

What about you? The next time the devil reminds you of all the times you’ve failed, will you stand with me and answer the caw of shame with the song of grace? If so, click over to my Facebookpage and leave a comment that says, “Thank God, I’m forgiven and free!”

Let’s Pray

Jesus, thank You for forgiving me totally and completely. Help me to not listen when the devil tries to make me feel guilty and ashamed. I’m standing on the truth that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…and that includes me.

In Your name,

Amen.

Now It’s Your Turn

What do you think Peter was feeling when Jesus confronted him by the fire?

What do you think Peter expected from Jesus after his denial?

What did Peter receive?

What is Jesus offering you today?

“Daughter, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know that I do.”

Remember Whose You Are By: Tracie Miles

FEBRUARY 17, 2015

Remember Whose You Are TRACIE MILES

“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12 (NLT)

Because of mistakes in my past, I spent a lot of years not liking the woman who stared back at me in the mirror.

Maybe you’ve been there, too. Maybe you’ve even played the “wonder” game, like I did, for far too long.

Wondering who you really were. Wondering if you were forgivable. Wondering if you were worthy. Wondering if you were loved by God and others. Wondering if you were lovable. Wondering if you were beyond repair. Wondering if what someone did to hurt you stole your value. Wondering if you were a good enough person, wife, mom, employee, boss, sister, daughter, friend, servant. Wondering if you measured up in any area of life.

Maybe you still wonder if your life counts for something beyond your responsibilities and obligations, or if you were just meant to march through your daily routines with no real purpose or direction. Maybe you wonder if the lies you hear in your head are true: that not only does your life not matter to God, but that you probably don’t matter either.

Today’s key verse is a reminder that these whispers from the enemy are nothing but lies. We are each royal heirs to God’s kingdom, but sometimes life gets in the way of that truth. We think we are either too sinful or too messed up to be loved by a Savior, or that our past voids our chances of being loved by God, much less useful to Him.

Whether we are the sinner or the victim of a sinner, shame can slither in and shape the way we see ourselves. Then it becomes easy for the enemy’s deceptive and damaging schemes to weave a web of lies deep into our hearts and minds. Gradually, we lose sight of who we are in Christ, which is exactly what the devil wants us to do.

Satan’s ultimate goal is to get us to believe the lies, and live them out in our everyday lives, apart from God. But it is up to us whether he reaches that goal or not. We can thwart his plans by claiming God’s sovereignty over our hearts once and for all.

It’s possible you have been living in the shadow of the enemy’s lies, either because of your own mistakes or because of someone else’s choices to sin against you. I wasted many years believing the enemy’s lies were absolute truths. When I finally began to believe I did matter to God, I thwarted the enemy’s plans and began to follow God’s instead.

If you have been living the lie, too discouraged to allow yourself to believe how much God loves you, or too ashamed of your past to accept God’s gift of grace and mercy, let today become the day you begin seeing yourself in a new light with a new reflection looking back at you. Be proud of who you see in the mirror, not because of who you are, but because of Whose you are.

Today’s key verse reminds us that we are, without question, beloved children of God. As Beth Moore once said, “If you are not royalty, He is not King.” We are rightful heirs to God’s kingdom — and His love and acceptance. You are a royal and dearly loved daughter, and He is the King of all kings!

Oh Lord, how I want to break free from the pain and shame of my past and embrace who I am in You. Cleanse my heart and mind of the lies I have believed, and transform the reflection I see in the mirror into a dearly loved child of God. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY: Psalm 139:14, “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous — how well I know it.” (NLT)

Matthew 10:31, “So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” (NLT)

What Fruits Are You Producing In Your Life? By: Me (Marita)

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately. Reflecting about my life, about who I am, about what I’m doing, about what I believe, and about my purpose here on Earth. I know this sounds all very deep and I guess it is but I’m kind of a deep person. As you know Valentine’s Day just passed and it made me really reflect on love and the effect love has on people and this world in general. Those of you probably know I am a producer who works for a Christian based company called Salem Communications. I work for the Boston radio station group under that company. Something you might not know is that while working there I came up with an idea, well I feel like God gave me that idea (that’s another story) that helps all of us workers at Salem focus on different biblical topics or themes. Well I created this board that highlights each week what that given topic is and I post a new topic every week or just about every week that I feel led to go on. Boards are kind of my thing, which is funny for those of you who knew me in college and Curry Theatre knew that I decorated the show boards highlighting our current shows…so you’d be happy to see that I’ve continued doing boards in the workforce! Haha anyway this past week the topic was love because it’s February and it was the week leading up to Valentine’s Day so I thought it was appropriate! Well in doing so a lot of the staff shared their favorite scriptures about love and it really inspired me in many ways. I even used some of the scriptures shared to talk about on the Sunday Night Worship Explosion show that I host and the theme of the show was all about love! Well it really inspired me personally in my life that really no matter what you belief, what religion, what doctrines in that religion, what spiritual or belief system you have it really is all about love. Yes I am a Christian and I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior but I believe that I respect other religions or belief systems as well. Well I can’t get behind satanism but that’s about it HAHA Seriously though sometimes I find different Christian denominations’ knocking other religions or even other Christian denominations and I always had a problem with it because I think who are you to say what is right and what isn’t. Just because there is a certain truth I believe in doesn’t really give me the right to turn around and tell you what to believe. I can tell you what I believe and why but don’t you think that if the basis of what you believe really is love and about spreading love then why is that such a bad thing? I think if we stopped criticizing one another about the technicalities and started focusing on love than that would be actually contributing to making this world a better, more desirable, pleasing place to God. I know some Christians reading this might think I’m wrong and they might think that there is only one way. They will say that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” and yes I do believe that and like I said I believe that Jesus truly was the son of God who died for our sins and promoted love but it goes back to love doesn’t it? Hear me out here okay. God is love. God’s only son Jesus Christ is God in the form of a man therefore he is love. Jesus taught love, promoted love, and criticized the religious folks who directed their life by laws not love. When you look up love in the dictionary it should be a picture of Jesus okay. So what I’m saying is that if Jesus is the “way, the truth, and the life” yes he is because he represents love and symbolizes love. Love is the most powerful, overcoming weapon there is and therefore yes he is “the way, the truth, and the life” because so is love and that is Jesus. One of the most popular scriptures out there that I feel almost everyone knows Christian and non-Christians alike is 1 Corinthians 13. I will quote a couple verses from that. The most popular is probably verse 4-7 and that is “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Then I will skip ahead to verse 13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Those verses of scripture I feel really hold the essence of what life really is all about. I want to share that because the Bible teaches many things but in my opinion love is probably the most valuable lesson and characteristic to have. If you take anything away from the Bible it should be about love because like it mentioned, it’s the greatest of all.
Now while I’ve been talking about love I want to relate it to being that of a fruit that you produce in your life. Are you producing the fruit of love in your life? This is a question I really started asking myself and the answer was no I am not. I know that I am flawed, that I can be selfish, that I can complain, I can be very easily angered, ungrateful, and so forth. I will share something with you that happened to me. I started recognizing and analyzing my life and what I was doing and how I was impacting others and my work and so forth. I started seeing all these character defaults and flaws and while yes we are human and not perfect I believe we all have flaws that need to be fixed and can be. We might still stumble and fall down with those flaws but we can recognize them and continue to try and improve. Love is an area of my life where I can say that I need a lot of work in and that is worrisome because if love is the only way well I have a lot of work to do! That’s not to say I don’t have any love, it’s just to say I certainly need to work on choosing love more in my life. I was talking about 1 Corinthians 13 in the paragraph above and there is another part of that chapter that I want to quote that really made me start analyzing my life and decide to really start making some changes. That is verse 1-3 of chapter 13 and that declares “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophesy and can fathom all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all that I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” This verse hit me hard when I was reading it aloud with my boyfriend. It made me realize that I have these characteristics of being a good “Christian” but I am not demonstrating love in my life. Yes I do talk in tongues and have the gift of the holy spirit on the inside of me and it’s a beautiful thing, yes I have faith that can accomplish things, and yes I have been generous and given to the poor but do I really have love in my life? I am living my life in a way that seems like the “right thing to do” but am I loving life and the people in it and enjoying the things I have? Am I just reading scripture, attending church, writing, and studying as much as I can but not applying love in my life? Am I getting too caught up in my own self-made doctrines of what I think is right but not really doing the number one thing that is right and that is loving myself, this body, and the people in my life in a non-self-righteous way? The answer to all of these is probably yes, which is sad. I’ve been searching for answers for the truth and for help with my spiritual gifts and talents that no one understands and the answer has been there all along in front of me and that is love. It’s no wonder it’s so hard for me to recognize because my life has been a series of hurts, traumas, pain, disappointment, confusion, you name it and I do not know or understand love because I’ve experienced everything else but that that love seems foreign to me. That was until God came into my life and gave it to me but I didn’t get it, didn’t understand, and might have subconsciously not even accepted it. Well not anymore. I think it’s time to just let love flow in my life and let it happen, let it flourish. I know I’m not the only one who has been taunted in this life, prone to being a foreigner to love but recognizing it and changing is the first step. It’s hard for someone who literally doesn’t understand love but the help and hope is there. I found it in Christ and needed a wake-up call even though I was a Christian, I still need wisdom. I know that a lot of people think that religion or spirituality is bullshit to them or they don’t get it or understand and believe me I was there too. I even went to a catholic school for 7 years and I hated it. It may seem like I come across as some sort of “bible thumper” or “holy roller” but in reality I am spiritual in the sense where I recognize and know first-hand from the experiences that I’ve had in my life that God does exist and that I want a relationship with him. I’ve struggled with trying to be something I’m not when God wants me to just be myself and wants a relationship with me in whatever way I can give it to him. I don’t’ need to be this picture perfect “Christian” because I’m not. I like to dance, I like to go to a good party and hang out with my friends but in a respectful way that doesn’t make myself look like a total jackass but hey if I mess up God’s right there forgiving me when I do. I will have a drink, maybe too but I’m not going to get myself belligerent and lose control. How am I supposed to represent love, give love, and radiate love to others if I’m not living in the world where I do go to parties, hang out with friends, or do other things that 24 year olds do? I mean let’s get real here. Jesus himself didn’t keep himself locked away in the temples only praying and preaching the word of God in the temples. He took it to the streets and legit just interacted with people who the “religious folks” deemed unclean or sinners”. I don’t care who you are if you are a Christian, Buddhist, Jew, whatever God can and will use you in any given situation in the world to help others with love. It’s about producing good fruit and that is love. One last scripture that I was reading that really made me think hard and start working on changing is found in Matthew 3:8-10 that says “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance, And do not think that you can say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” That scripture really just made me think to my own life that just because I am “born again” does not give me an excuse to not produce good fruit like love in my life. That was something that I feel God revealed to me in that scripture that just because I legally belong to him does not mean I don’t produce fruit in my life. It’s actually more the reason to produce fruit in my life and truly be the person I am supposed to be. One last thing that I believe I might have mentioned a while ago is the comparison to olives. You are probably thinking what? Olives? Yes we are like olives, or at least I feel like I am. Olives are bitter and in order to produce the finest most valuable quality of the olive you need to crush it to make olive oil and it goes through a cleansing and refined process. Well isn’t that like me? Like us? We are bitter, we are hardened by this world and crushed if you will and then God comes along, and allows the world to affect us in the way it does because he knows that it will bring out the better, more humble, more appreciative side of us because by being crushed it shows us that we can withstand the hardest things and it shows us our true strength and makes us more of a pillar of strength for others who are dealing with the same type of hard things of being crushed. It gives others hope that they too will get through the “crushing” process and made into a stronger, more desirable person who appreciates the blessings and beauty of life. The kind of perfect who can produce good fruit. You know what’s funny? Did you know my name “Marita” in Hebrew means “bitter”? Talk about irony huh? God Bless!

-Marita

The Shape of True Love By: Alicia Bruxvoort

FEBRUARY 13, 2015

The Shape of True Love ALICIA BRUXVOORT

“God sent His only Son into the world so that we could find true life through Him. This is the embodiment of true love: not that we have loved God first, but that He loved us and sent His unique Son on a special mission to become an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:9b-10 (VOICE)

The first time I danced with my husband my nose came up to his armpit. We were swaying straight-armed beneath the disco ball at our eighth grade graduation party, and I joked about how I hoped he’d used plenty of deodorant that day. His face turned crimson, the red rising from his neck, as he solemnly promised that he was protected with a double-dose.

I’d stood on my tiptoes in an effort to shrink the gap, but even with my hair ratted and sprayed as high as an ‘80s girl could manage, that boy loomed tall above me.

Of course, I had no idea I was dancing with my future husband that night in the junior high gym. I never would have guessed that six years later we’d trade the sheen of a disco ball for the gleam of rings and pledge to love one another ‘til death do us part.

Though we were no longer gangly teens on our wedding day, my groom still towered 10 inches above me. But I wasn’t bothered by my armpit view on that special day; I’d set my sights on the heights of love.

I’d given my husband a hand-written letter just hours before I’d walked down the aisle, the words scrawled across the page capturing my hopes for the future: “No matter what life sends our way, our love will always stand tall …”

It was a poetic line, not unlike one you might find on a Valentine’s card this month. But after 21 years of marriage, I’ve come to believe my sentiments were wrong.

Love is, indeed, a sacred and lofty gift, but two decades of loving and learning has taught me that the mark of true love isn’t height, it’s humility. True love doesn’t stand tall; it bends low.

As we see in today’s key verse, God sent Jesus to demonstrate how true love is sacrificial at its core.

True love stoops to pick up the trash bag sitting near the kitchen door and crouches to look a sullen child in the eye.

True love bows to change diapers and to shovel snow, to deliver goodnight kisses and offer hugs.

True love bends over the dishwasher and over the sick child. True love hovers over the hurting and kneels quietly in prayer.

True love chooses to be righteous instead of right, servant instead of master, humble instead of haughty.

Let’s be honest, true love isn’t headline news. It’s not greeting card verse. It’s not blockbuster buzz. True love is Heaven’s hope, as we see in 1 John 4:10: “This is the embodiment of true love: not that we have loved God first, but that He loved us and sent His unique Son on a special mission to become an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

God didn’t declare His love for us with a bouquet of red roses. He didn’t wrap up a box of fine chocolates or a flowery card. Instead, God wrapped His only Son in wrinkled flesh and proclaimed His undying love on Calvary’s cross.

It’s crazy when you think about it, the way the truest love of all stooped the lowest — so we might know the summit of His glorious love.

I didn’t realize it as a starry-eyed bride, but the heights of love can only be discovered in the depths of surrender. It sounds unnatural, doesn’t it? Impossible … on our own.

But 1 John 4:14-17 tells us that when we confess Christ as our Lord, He perfects His love in us. And as the stooping Savior makes Himself at home in our hearts, our lives proclaim the truth that the whole world longs to hear:

The shape of true love isn’t a diamond. It’s a cross.

Dear Jesus, Thank You for loving me with a true and unshakeable love. Grow in me a humble heart so that Your perfect love can shine through my imperfect life. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY: 1 John 4:11-12, “My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us — perfect love!” (MSG)

I John 4:17, “God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us …” (MSG)