Perfect Love

I think we’re going to have to start here—with me saying that I understand that I am treading on dangerous ground, boldly going where many won’t. Many already have and many shouldn’t. But here’s the thing, I have to. It’s part of what I’m called to do.

I hope that though you might disagree with me, you can respectfully disagree with me and we can still love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Have you ever fallen in love? Do you remember that early stage where as Lady Gaga says you were “on the edge, the edge, the edge” but you were scared? Scared of letting go, scared of getting hurt, scared of going here again because remember what happened last time? But then you did it. Because deep down, you knew, love was worth it. Love is always worth it. If you aren’t loving, you aren’t really living. So you let go, you faced your fears and you loved, with your whole heart. And maybe it was glorious and maybe it was terrible but most likely, it was a combination of both.

Because love always cost us something.

The bible tells us that perfect love cast out all fear. (I John 4:18) Here’s how I have experienced this in my life: The closer I draw to the heart of God, the more intense my desire to love others becomes, the less afraid I become. Over time, my desire to love becomes bigger than my fear. Until, I can’t help but love—no matter how crazy it might seem to others, how dangerous it might be, no matter what it might cost me.

It’s this love that sends folks on the mission field to minister in hostile nations. Their desire to love is greater than their fear. They simply have to love people in the way that God has called them to. Please hear me. What I am not saying is that we are somehow sub-par Christians if we are not sharing the gospel in a hostile country because maybe the Lord has called us to share the gospel in our workplace right here in America. And if we are doing so faithfully, praise God! What I am saying is that we shouldn’t ever let our fear stop us from loving in the way God has called us to.

How has God called you to love the people around you? I don’t know. I mean, the bible is pretty clear about feeding, clothing, visiting, caring for widows and orphans, those in prison. What does that look like in your day-to-day life? I don’t know. But you do. You know what he’s calling you to. You know who he’s called you to mentor. Where he’s called you to volunteer your time or give financially. Or maybe even who’s he’s calling you to share your home with.

You also know where you are letting fear hold you back from doing those things. Some of you might be called to do those things in other countries. Maybe you are afraid of what others will say, or of physical safety. Maybe you are afraid of letting go of American luxuries. You fear you are not cut out for it.

God has not given you a spirit of fear but of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). You are no longer a slave to fear. Let your desire to love grow so large that you are no longer afraid.

If we died in the process of loving the least of these, wouldn’t our lives be well spent?

This week can we spend some time asking the Lord to show us how he wants us to love the people in our world? Could we ask him to show us where fear might be standing in our way and then stand on the truth that perfect love casts out all fear?

No Longer Slaves

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Starving Fear

I was a teenager when my brother was engaged in a battle royale with cancer. Only one of them would come out alive. He needed a bone marrow transplant to aid him in his fight. I was honored to be his match. It seemed like a bad time to mention I was also very, very afraid. My fears turned out to be irrelevant as the cancer returned with a vengeance before we could move forward with what was said to be (at that time) the very painful procedure for me of extracting my bone marrow and dangerous procedure for him of transplanting it in him.

I’ve known fear in many shapes and sizes over the course of my life: Fear of what an illness would do to me, what it would do to others, fear of the end of relationship, fear of losing loved ones, fear of living without said loved ones, fear of never being forgiven, fear of what someone else would do to me, fear of being hurt, fear of my kids being hurt, fear of the plane going down, fear of not being able to provide, fear of letting the pain take over, fear of surgery or its outcome, fear of being ruled by fear, fear of never fully being or doing all God called me to, fear of getting it all wrong, on and on.

I clearly remember the day they took my brother away in an ambulance, telling a friend so matter of factly that I would kill myself if my brother died, that I could not live without him. I could not even think of living with pain that great. How I feared living without him.

I’ve heard it said that fear is completely dependent on us to feed it in order to stay alive. I wonder what you fears you might be feeding today?

Psalms 16:1 says, “Keep and protect me, O God, for in You I have found refuge, and in You do I put my trust and hide myself.”

Psalms 56:3 says “What time I am afraid, I will have confidence in and put my trust and reliance in You.”

I cannot tell you what the outcome will be in any of the circumstances that you face, but I can tell you with absolute assurance that you can trust the God you serve. I cannot tell you that you will not hurt along the way, but I can tell you without absolute certainty that the comforter himself will be with you every step of the way. I cannot tell you that your strength alone will be enough, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that through his strength all things are possible. When you feel afraid, remind yourself of who God is.

He is mighty.

He is madly in love with you.

He works all things together for your good and his glory.

He is love.

He is mercy.

He is justice.

He is beauty.

He is life.

He is hope.

He is healing.

He is redemption.

He is freedom.

He is creator.

He is giver of all good and perfect gifts.

When you feel afraid, you can trust in him.

You can trust him to be who he says he is and do what he said he would do.

You don’t have to be ruled by fear.

You can starve your fears to death. Starting today.

You can look your fears in the eye and say, “Only one of us is coming out alive.”

Jesus already gave you a transplant. His blood runs through you.

You are no longer fighting in your own strength.

When you feel afraid, you can trust in him.

Freedom Behind Bars

Today, I have the pleasure of (once again) introducing you to my lifetime friend and cheerleader, Courtney Garza. After you read her words, you’ll want to steal her from me. A word of caution: I am scrappier than I might appear at first glance. Do not attempt to mess with the bestie. Now, Courtney currently hails from Birmingham, working at the University of Alabama. She can kick your tail at Scrabble and put anything together regardless of whether or not she has the instructions. She’s a faithful friend, gifted writer and lover of Jesus. Enjoy!

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We hold services at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, along with half of the correctional facilities across the state of Alabama, every week. There is a desperation, a hunger that these women have that challenges me. I don’t know many of their names yet, but they are a part of our church family.

A few weeks ago during worship, two guards walked in. Without being directed, the women all sat down. It was time to be counted. I followed their lead and sat down as well. They didn’t interrupt the one prisoner in the front of the room with her face buried in her hands. She never even noticed they were there. As soon as the guards were finished counting, everyone stood back up so we could continue in worship. And tears streamed down my face as I thought, “They can’t even worship without being reminded that they’re a number.” Mid-thought, I heard the voices in the room rejoin to sing the chorus:

I owe it all to you my Savior

I owe it all to you alone

Your sacrifice has won my freedom

I was bought by Jesus’ blood

Freedom. With all sincerity, they, in their white jumpsuits and behind bars, declared that they are FREE because of what Jesus did on the cross. Maybe some are just following the words on the screen without absorbing it, maybe it hasn’t quite hit their heart, and maybe it doesn’t seem to fit their situation. But their declaration is still powerful. Yes, their worship was interrupted because they needed to be counted, BUT they could still proclaim truth and find hope in the promise of eternity, even if their circumstance won’t change tomorrow (a wise pastor once taught me the importance of staying on the right side of the BUT).

Several years ago, I was sitting with a room full of women during a Captivating book study session. We were provided a time of reflection to answer questions. During this time, I remember clearly the Lord speaking to me about the cage that I had constructed to keep my heart in. The cage was meant to protect it, keep it from harm. But it had, in turn, become a prison. God reminded me that my heart was never meant to be caged. The door of the cage was open. Freedom was available. It had always been available. All I had to do was acknowledge it and accept it.

Friends, even if the bars are not literal, is there an area where you are captive? Did you place yourself there for protection? Was it a result of your own choices? Did someone else make that decision for you? Whatever it is, freedom is yours. Jesus won it when he defeated death, Hell, and the grave! Will you accept his freedom today?

Jesus’ Blood by Life Worship

Seen

It was last December and time for my first post-PICC line follow-up doctor’s appointment. In all honesty, I was feeling like death—to be clear, like death might be the preferable option. Those days of improvement seemed as if they’d been a cruel trick. Now I felt trapped in a rapid, fixed descent never to return.

As usual, the doctor and I discussed life and the latest while he investigated test results and reflexes. Tell me about Ryan, he prodded. So I did. I told him about what a hard worker my husband was, about how he loved me well, and took care of our kiddos when I couldn’t and honored Jesus by honoring me, about how he was funny in a dry way and wasn’t easily shaken. By now, Dr. Lerner was quietly listening taking all of my words in. He gently put his hand up to stop me and said, “He sounds like a fine man but listen, you think you’re the schlep in this relationship…but Ryan married up.” Silently, tears ran down my face. Because, really, what he said to me that day was —- I see you. Beneath all the symptoms, the struggle, the pain, the fatigue, the inability to care for the people that you love, I still see you.

I imagine this is what it’s like for the homeless person when someone sees them as not a homeless person but a person. When someone looks beyond the dirt and grime, the hunger and despair and says, I still see you.

There’s something about being truly seen. It’s like a reflection in a mirror that reminds us who we are, giving us the courage to go on.

Maybe there’s a student in your classroom who needs you to look beyond the behavior and see the hurt and ultimately the potential. Maybe there’s a coworker who needs you to look beyond the need to control and see the fear of loss and the unknown. Maybe there’s a grown up child that needs to know you still see the little boy or girl you adore in spite of all they’ve done wrong.

Because that’s what Jesus did for us. He came to this earth, he put on the uniform of humanity and so many missed him, they didn’t still see him. But in spite of all that we had done wrong, all the times we’d spit in his face, he “wrote his heart across the sky in blazing shade of red” and said

I still see you.

There is someone in your world today, crying out to be seen in spite of their mess, in spite of their pain. Can you make time to see them? They might be in your own home. People you’ve become so accustomed to seeing on the surface, you’ve forgotten to take the time to really see. Today, can you turn to them and in some way say the words our hearts all long to hear?

I still see you.