Belonging. I think if we could break through the rough exteriors and the walls that so many of us put up, we would find that we all desire to belong. Belong to a family. Belong to a club. Belong to a friend group. Belong to a community. Any kind of belonging that keeps us from feeling alone. Feeling like we belong and are allowed to occupy space is critical for good mental health.
I’ve been on this planet for 5 decades and in that time, I’ve lived in 5 states and lots of cities. Moving around and trying to find where I fit in took up a lot of my time and that meant that I didn’t often feel like I belonged. Last weekend, sitting on a wall with my feet dangling into Lake Washington, I felt a deep sense of belonging in my community. Not because I know a lot of people or because I’m known by a lot of people, but because I’ve spent 14 years of my life in this city and it is truly my home town. I’ve never really felt that before and I was definitely overwhelmed by the warmth of belonging. It was a gift from heaven.
Another space I feel belonging is in Jesus. I believe fully that all are welcomed and all loved by Jesus. I don’t believe He makes distinctions about people or cherry picks who is “acceptable” or “unacceptable”. In Jesus I find community and unconditional love and acceptance and that is deep belonging. I know that not all people feel that and I’m always heartbroken when I hear of people turned away in a church. That isn’t the Jesus I follow, the Jesus I follow loves you and wants you to know you belong.
Where do you feel like you belong?
Where do you feel like you don’t belong?
Really looking at questions like this can help us determine areas where we may need to work and also, areas where we may need to leave. Belonging takes some effort because people aren’t perfect but I believe that the more authentic we live, the more we increase our opportunities to feel like we belong. And the more we feel like we belong, the more we actually belong.
You are valuable.
You are remarkable.
“For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.””
Romans 10:12-13 ESV
Everyone who calls out to God will be met by God with love, grace, peace, mercy and salvation. You and I may never see any outward change in a person and that doesn’t mean they haven’t found their way to peace in God. We must stop judging people.
Earlier in this passage in verses 6 and 7, Paul calls out quite plainly that we should not go around asking who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell and yet, I hear those very words from far too many Christians today. Making a proclamation that someone is going to hell for a choice they are making seems all to prevalent and it is making a judgment on someone we are truly unable to actually make. I don’t know anyone elses heart, only my own. And if I’m being honest, sometimes I don’t really even know my own. I can’t possibly allow myself to be arrogant enough to say I know who has or has not found their way to God.
Our job, our call as followers of the Christ, is to love God, love people and talk about our own experiences with God. Our role is clearly stated in many places in the Bible and it is never stated that we are judge. We don’t have enough information and we can’t see into the heart’s of others. There are no distinctions, no exclusions, made in heaven and there should be none made here on Earth.
Love all people. Share what God has done in your life. Stop saying anyone is going to heaven or to hell. Honestly, I think (and quite frankly hope) that we will be suprised to see just who all is in heaven and we need to be far more concerned with our own path.
I love that from the very beginning, God has been all about creating a way for us to be in relationship with Him. I’m not a fan of rules, I’ll just be honest, and yet I find deep beauty in the law because of its purpose. It was meant as a pathway to God and that is lovely. It is also daunting.
Following the letter of the law is overwhelming and quite truthfully impossible in and of ourselves. No one can follow every single law set. (Most of us don’t even know all of the laws in our own towns!) So we do our best and we fall short more than we know. We take pride in how well we follow the rules, we beat ourselves up when we fail, and all of it becomes about us. That’s too much pressure and God knew it from the beginning.
The Messiah, Jesus, lovingly walks up to us and says “Here, let me carry that load you’re struggling with”, and He takes it all on Himself. In that moment, the moment we can shift and believe that Jesus completes it all, we find that all is made right and that divine approval is not based on us doing anything more than handing it all over. There is deep and amazing freedom in believing Jesus made it all right. There is also deep and amazing struggle with abdicating the control. It’s an interesting battle that we wage in our hearts and minds. I’m convinced we make it all harder than it has to be.
God made a way for you and I to experience Him without shame and guilt at not measuring up. None of us are able to live out the law in our own ability and so God had planned from the beginning to show us grace through Jesus. The law didn’t go away so you are certainly free to try and follow it. I’m going to choose to give up and give it all up to Jesus.
I don’t know about you, but I love the feeling I get when I can grasp even for a moment that God cherishes me. That I bring Him joy. That He thinks of me as the “apple of His eye”, someone of beauty and deep value. It is my daily prayer that I never forget these truths and that I never lose sight of how expansive God’s love is for His people…me and you.
When I do lose sight of God’s love, it’s usually because shame has moved in between me and Him. Shame tells me God can’t possibly love me because of this thing over here that I’ve thought, felt or done. It’s too big, too bad, for someone like God to love me. I’m damaged goods. All of that language, all of those emotions, can feel crushing and they push us down into darkness. And God sits with us whispering over and over words like beloved, child, friend, mine. God’s love goes to whatever darkness you are sitting in and it lights a match so that you know you aren’t alone.
Life is hard, that’s just the plain and simple truth. God’s love is strong for you. He is in your corner, wiping your tears and believing in your best. He’s well aware of your flaws and, you are still cherished.
You are the apple of His eye.
“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
Psalms 27:14 ESV
Waiting stinks, let’s just be honest. Waiting is some of the hardest work we do in life and it is rarely fun. Waiting is where faith is most active because we are holding out all hope that what we are desiring for in the future IS going to happen, but we have no guarantee.
The value in waiting, though, is rich and awesome. In waiting, we find strength we didn’t even know we had. How many times while we wait do we say, “I can’t keep doing this…” and yet, we live to wait another moment and another day. In waiting we also find courage. Faith (being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, Heb 11:1) is on its own contrary to common sense and takes courage. In faith, as in waiting, we have placed all of our eggs in one basket and now we can no longer see the eggs or the basket! And in that moment, the moment the dream takes hold and becomes an act of faith, we wait.
I don’t know what you’re waiting for God to do today and all I can say is…keep waiting for the Lord to move. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Stay faithful in believing and hoping. Wait for the Lord.
I talk about and write about love a lot. Loving people, all people, the way God has directed is how we as followers of Jesus make an impact in the world. It’s how we show the world who God really is and bring light into the darkness.
In the book of Mark, the religious leaders of the day are trying to trip Jesus up. They didn’t understand Him or His message because He pushed the boundaries and shook up their world. They come to Him asking which commandment is the greatest. His answer back doesn’t win Him any friends because He doesn’t choose any of the commandments already given! Instead, He summarizes them all in new language:
* Love God unconditionally with ever fiber of your being AND love everyone around you unconditionally too.
If you make the choice to follow Jesus, you don’t get the choice to not love unconditionally. This love, agape, means things like selfless, sacrificial, unconditional and unreserved. This love seeks to esteem the other person and serve them so that they are able to see God well through you. God will change hearts not us, but He will use us to soften hearts through love.
God wants to reach all people (2 Peter 3:9). God wants all people to experience His love for them so He sends us out. Some He sends to foreign countries and some He sends to small communities in hometowns. There is no call greater than another because there is no person greater than another. No matter where God has placed you or what people group He has placed in your heart to love, He will empower you to do what He has called you to do: love unconditionally, unreservedly and selflessly. You will have opposition from those around who don’t understand and that’s ok, opposition doesn’t mean to stop going and doing what God has called you to do.
Love the people in your part of the world well. God split the Trinity apart, came to Earth as a man, died horrifically and rose again all because He loves us. He loves all of us unconditionally and uses us to love each other. Unconditional love is a universal call of all followers of Jesus.
There were no baskets full of candy, no fluffy dresses and no big celebration lunches on that first Easter morning. As a matter of fact, it was a day full of confusion. Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and assumed someone stole the body of her beloved, Jesus. The disciples who came to see what she was talking about saw the empty tomb and then simply went home, one believing and one not.
Everything about Jesus was low-key even though the things He did and said were beyond comprehension and true understanding. He showed up as an infant, born just like everybody else. He lived a simple life for thirty years, working as a carpenter. He was a traveling Minister for three years and often asked people to not tell anyone else about the miracles they experienced. He died without resisting, only forgiving. He rose from the dead quietly, folding up the fabric wrapped around His body. Astonishing, and low-key.
I’ll be honest here, I’m having a hard time this year with the fanfare we pull together at church for Easter. Big lights. Big bands. Big songs. Lots of exclamation points. Jesus didn’t live like that, die like that or raise again like that so I’m struggling to understand why we are drowning out the message of today in a show to pack the house at church. The message that Jesus rose from the grave, breaking all of our bondage to death, is enough.
“I have seen the Lord”, that’s how Mary Magdalene began the discussion with her friends after being the first recorded person to see Jesus. Those are powerful words that deserve acknowledgement and repeating. They are story-telling words. They are life-changing words. They are world-changing words.
I have seen the Lord…and that has changed my life forever because now I have hope, love, joy and peace. That’s the Easter message for me. How has seeing the Lord changed you?
These things I command you, so that you will love each other. John 15:17
In the book of John, chapter 15, verses 1 thru 16, Jesus spends a great deal of time explaining His desire for us to stay connected to Him. He uses a brilliant and easy to understand analogy through branches and a vine. Branches only grow and bear fruit when they are connected to a thriving vine. We are branches, God is the vine and love is the fruit. If we aren’t well connected to God, we cannot love like God.
So what does it mean to love like God? Once again in this passage we see God use a term for love which in the original text means an unconditional, self-sacrificing love for another that seeks to raise the other person up. This isn’t a casual “I love ya” type of love, this is an “I’m with you in the muck” type of love. It’s hard and pain-filled, beautiful and life-giving. It’s the love of Christ who gave up His life.
Jesus’ heart is that we show the love of heaven while we are here in Earth and we do that by being empowered through God. We won’t do this perfectly so don’t make that a goal. Love is sloppy and messy and, it’s real so that’s all ok. Abide in God, and He will guide you and help you.
Abide to love.
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34 ESV
Forgiveness. Forgiveness is tough for us because many times it means that we have to bestow grace without receiving any justice for pain that has been inflicted on us. Forgiveness says that we are most concerned with connection, not vindication and that’s hard.
In some of His last words before His death, Jesus gives us a great example of forgiveness and shows us yet again how to live connected. He’s just been beaten to a bloody pulp, forced to carry a heavy wooden beam, nailed to a cross and mocked the entire time. All of that pain was poured out on Him because of His identity. He hadn’t hurt anybody, on the contrary He healed people. He hadn’t lied or stolen, He had told the Truth and provided. Jesus was being His most authentic self and that terrified people so they killed Him. If anyone deserves to have righteous indignation and a strong need for vindication it’s Jesus.
But Jesus doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t scream from the cross curses at the Roman executors. He doesn’t pleasd His case on why they should take Him down. Instead, He speaks words of love, asking His Father to forgive them all. I can’t image having that much love in the midst of that much pain and the truth is, that’s our example.
The world can be a harsh place. The darkness can be so thick it’s hard to shine your light. Some situations can feel like there is simply no way you can forgive people and yet, if you follow Jesus your example is just that, forgiveness. No matter how wrong they are, no matter how much pain you’re in, seek forgiveness. Seek to forgive them and seek to do them no harm. It’s hard, sometimes it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and with God it is possible.
Here are a few other verses giving us guidance from Jesus on forgiveness:
* Luke 6:37, Luke 17:3-4
* Matthew 6:14-15, 18:21-22
* Mark 11:25
Here’s the good news for today: God’s faithfulness to you is not impacted by your faithfulness to Him. Did you catch that? Let me say it another way: God will never stop being faithful to you no matter what you do.
Take a deep breath in and release the peace that comes with knowing that God is always for you. At no time in your life has God or will God be petty, it’s not His nature. He cannot deny who He is and who He is is a God who loves His people (you and me) so much that He will remain faithful regardless of how badly we may treat Him. Wow. That’s serious love.
Whatever you’re facing today, whatever feelings of confusion or anger at what’s unfolding in your life, know without a doubt that God is remaining faithful to you. He’s over the moon for you and He is present with you.