Challenge 66: Love Patiently

woman-with-a-suspicious-look

My 6 year old loves omelets. If he could eat one every day, he would. Last week when I agreed to make the semi-labor intensive treat, he kept asking me, “Is the omelet ready yet?” “No, Nathaniel. It will get ready quickly once I begin cooking it, but I have to first prepare the ingredients so I can cook the omelet.” It frustrates me sometimes that this is our constant conversation. He asks for an omelet. I clean and chop the ingredients. He asks is it done. I explain the preparation before the cooking. And then I sigh. But as we went through another round of this last week I saw that Nathaniel is like we are with God.

We have been waiting for our ministry or job promotion, a spouse, a financial breakthrough or some other promise we believe the Lord has for us and we. can’t. wait! We want what’s ours now. Yes, God has promised us something, but we still have to go through the preparation process before we get it. We may have to learn to speak gently, be faithful to assignments, submit to authority or mature in some other way. He wants us fully equipped so we can fully appreciate the promise. Otherwise, our promise, just like an omelet with missing ingredients or undercooked, just won’t be fulfilling. If we receive our promise before we are ready our life won’t be what God intended.

Sometimes God uses us in someone else’s preparation process. In this instance, it may be the process of being broken from the bondage of not knowing how to receive love. The person has been wounded so often for so long, she doesn’t know what genuine love is. We have to continue to extend ourselves, and ignore the lack of gratitude, the suspicious looks, and the refusals to accept our love offer so she gets a picture of what unconditional love is. She needs to witness patience and faithfulness beyond the pages of Scripture. She needs to see love in action. We may have to alter the way we show love, like send the person a token gift remotely, if her rejection becomes too much, but we likely have to press on. We may be the one person God has chosen to help someone finally get her breakthrough. If we stop, the person may remain in the bondage longer than she has to. Remember we are ambassadors of Christ, reconciling folks back to God and His love design (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). We don’t know how God may use us. We just need to be available so He can use us.

Take a Risk Challenge: This week pray for God to reveal to you the person who has rejected your kindness to see if this is the one He would like you to be integral in helping break the chains of rejecting love. Helping someone freely receive love is a radical act of love.

Challenge 65: Love Sacrificially

MLK and quote

Love is an action word. You’ve probably heard that many times and know that people love you by what they do and not just by what they say. We know this to be true when we look at God the Father and what He did for humankind: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The action God showed was giving. He didn’t, however, give lightly but sacrificially. We are called to do the same.

I have been meditating on our call to sacrificial love after my husband’s sermon yesterday, “A Fasted Life.” He told us that as Christians we are not just called to abstain from food and other habits during a fast, which is common for churches (and individuals) this time of year, but all our lives should be that of sacrificing something for the greater good. Jesus left the perfection of heaven to come to sin-filled earth; he clothed his glory and took on human flesh, with all its trials and tribulations; and he didn’t demand the respect due him but instead walked in humility (Philippians 2:4-8). He gave up his rights so that others could have the right to eternal life; he died so that we might live (1 John 4:9).

As we are called to “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,” let us sacrifice for love just as Jesus did. We have to believe in love so much that we are willing to die for love: die to our emotions, die to our comfort, die so that others might live. We should want others to have the security of physical and financial blessings; the comfort of emotional support; the direction from wisdom; a soul that is well; and above all a spirit that is saved. We must allow the Holy Spirit who has filled our hearts with love to use us to fill others’ hearts with his love (Romans 5:5).

So today, as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the great American leader of love, let us examine our lives to see how we can actively sacrifice on behalf of others to embody our spiritual and cultural heritage. We, others, and our world will be better as a result of our love.

Take a Risk Challenge: This week pick at least one way to sacrifice on behalf of others by either 1) providing for their physical or financial security; 2) comforting them emotionally; 3) directing them with wisdom; 4) helping to anchor their soul (mind, will and emotions); 5) sharing salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ or 6) doing something else that comes to mind. Whatever sacrifice you choose is a radical act of love.

Challenge 64: Don’t Hoard

Family Sledding

Before the temperatures in Detroit reached arctic cold last week, our family went sledding. I made sure all the children were layered in sweats and snow pants, but the jogging jacket that my youngest had on seemed a bit thin. So I made him wear a knit sweater about a size smaller than he normally wears. Someone had given us the sweater but, seeing that it was not his size, I had planned to give it way. When he put on the sweater I knew we had to keep it. The arms on this designer sweater came down past his wrists. Not having many sweaters that he can wear to church I told him to take off this nice fitting sweater so he could wear it on Sunday. He didn’t want to take it off, but I had my mind fixed. I already knew what he could wear to church so that eliminated my later guesswork. He begged me to let him wear it, pleaded with rapid-fire intensity as I glanced in his closet and immediately saw at least two other Sunday outfit options. I gave in. I was depriving the boy of such a joy because of what was easy for me. While it’s true that my husband and I did an annual purge of items in our office (two garbage bags of stuff) and packed a small bag of clothes to give away, I don’t consider myself a hoarder. What I do looks nothing like the picture below, but I know how to keep things, like that sweater, back. I wanted to hold on to that sweater, keep it at my finger tips so I had no outfit guesswork, though that guesswork would only be a few seconds.

hoarders29

Too often I hoard—my time, my way of giving to others, my advice—and only give what is easy for me. If more is required of me, I fight hard, if only in my mind, to withstand giving something else because giving something else will take more work for me. Are you like that? I didn’t want to give Justus the best I had in the moment because it was going to cost me later. When we hold back our best for those who need our love we may only see how giving so much will cost us later. We forget that we belong to Jesus, the one who paid in full the cost for our salvation, which included the price of our sanctification, living lives pleasing to Him. He is capable of giving us “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20-NKJV). If He gives us the best and we share that with others, surely He can give us better to share with another. Holding back deprives others of what may be the best for them and doesn’t give us opportunity to see Ephesians 3:20 at work in our lives. We are saying that we know what’s best instead of trusting God to give us what is best. Don’t hoard. Doing so may cause you to withhold love and to cause love to be withheld from you.

Take a Risk Challenge: Give your best in time, talent or treasure to someone you know you have withheld from. Doing so is truly a radical act of love.

Challenge 63: Love Despite the Offense

Offense

Last New Years’ Day I got hit with news I never thought I would hear. I was told I would no longer be a contributor to a ministry that I had come to love. I was devastated. While I knew the ministry was undergoing some structural changes, I didn’t think I would be asked to stop contributing before the changes were complete. Not only did a professional relationship end but that severing marked what I believed was the end of the solid friendship I had formed with the ministry leader. On the first day of the New Year I received a blow that could have made or caved in my entire year. I had to make a choice.

Don’t you know a blow came my way on the first day of this year too? I was on a phone call when I went to visit relatives. I had returned the call to one of my former mentees who’s trying to get her life back on track and has reengaged me in that process. I wanted to spend quality time with my family so I made the call in route to their home and was finishing up the call as I entered their home. As soon as I got off the phone one of my relatives began to berate me, saying, “Who do you think you are? A movie star? You think you’re so important that you have to be on the phone? You can’t say hello?” My mouth just dropped. How did he get all of that from me being on the phone? I could have been on the phone with someone in a really desperate situation that I needed to tend to or doom would surely come. Though my former mentee was not in such a delicate state, I felt talking to her for a few minutes so I could spend the rest of the evening with my family who loves and knows me (so I thought) so they would understand. His words told a different story, an old story.

My relative had longed viewed me as an educated woman who didn’t know how to handle domestic affairs or anything else outside of the professional realm. One day when I shared with him a meal I cooked and helped my sons with some guy stuff he said, “Oh, you can do that too and that?” He had singularly pegged me and surprised when I didn’t meet his expectations of me. But after having to take him to a series of doctors’ appointments and make calls to his various doctors to get information and check on appointments, his heart softened toward me. He began to greet me warmly and initiate conversation with me beyond inquiring about my latest professional venture. For the last eight years we have had a demonstratively loving relationship. So when he judged my motives for being on the phone, I flashed back to more than eight years ago when I gave too much time to wondering why he thought like he did about me. Like last year, I had to decide if I would allow this blow to make or break my entire year. I chose the former both years.

I knew the enemy was coming hard after me to throw me off in the moment and for my entire year off. Why else would an unexpected blow happen on the first day of the New Year? We have heard the saying, “How you start is how you finish,” but we know this is not always true. Though the enemy started strong in attacking me, I wasn’t going to allow his weapons formed against me to prosper the entire year. In fact, the Bible declares that no weapon formed against us shall prosper and that every tongue that rises against us in judgment God will condemn (Isaiah 54:17). Sometimes the weapons and tongues seem like they are prospering because we have allowed them to continue to beat us and eventually defeat us. We surrender to the pain, disappointment, anger, frustration, or insecurity. We allow the weapons, the words, to define our position and point us to a destination never meant for us. We wallow in self pity and despair and believe we can never do or be who God has called us to. When we get this way, unable to love ourselves enough to say enough, we have difficulty loving others. The command to love others as we love ourselves requires great self love. When we decide to believe God and not allow life’s challenges to negatively define us, we are perfectly positioned to love ourselves and give love the way others deserve because God requires us to.

This year (if you haven’t already) when you get disappointing news or an attack on your character I want you to know 1) this is a weapon that is formed against you but it won’t prosper; 2) you have a choice how you will respond to the blow; and 3) the weapon can definitely make you stronger (Romans 5:3-5).

Last year, I asked the Lord to show me why the severing from the ministry I contributed to was necessary. Over the months as I sought Him with great desperation and passion, He revealed that I worshipped my position and the friendship that I had formed. Those things needed to be taken away so I could focus on Him, the only one that I should worship. So this year when my relative attacked me, I remembered last year, knowing what Satan meant for evil, God meant for good. I asked to Lord to show me if there was any truth in what my relative had said. Understanding that my relative, for whatever reason, still wants to define me though he has seen who I really am helped me conclude that he is just going to have to work out his problem with me. I will not fret over his words and never let them define me. Make sure you conclude the same when others attack you. God will definitely help you.

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:8-10—NLT).

Happy New Year! May 2014 be a year of conquering offenses, using them for your good and God’s glory!

Take a Risk Challenge: As you recommit to loving others in a radical way this year, I urge you to remember that offenses will come. Though they come, we must allow God to do His perfect work in us through them so we can love ourselves in order to love others. This week, take time to examine an offense toward you and see how God intends to use it for your good and the good of others.