How to Know if God Likes You

lt used to be enough that God loves you. You remember those days, right after you internalized, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in might not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

And it felt so good, so freeing. All of a sudden, you felt humility and self-worth bleeding together, overlapping. But it didn’t take long. A few sermons, a few calls to start serving, to do your part, to use your gifts, to fulfill your “calling”; a few failures, a few skipped Bible studies, angry outbursts or nasty thoughts and suddenly you aren’t so sure God likes you.

Sure, sure, He loves you. He promised to never leave you and you know all the verses about His lovingkindness that endures forever, but yeah, not so sure He’s really all that proud of you. His love is obligatory, kind of like a parent’s. But He’s not calling you His friend. You’re pretty nervous to imply that you and God are all that close. So you cringe a bit when it’s your turn to pray out loud. You pick up dime-a-dozen devos instead of the real Word of God. God loves you, He has to, right?

You’re not the first Christian to feel this way. That’s why most of us spout off, “We are saved by grace through faith and not by works”, but then try ever so hard to do just the right things. The pulpit preaches that Jesus paid the price and we cannot earn salvation, but then, once we’re saved we discover the checklist of all the things we ought to do to insure our salvation. Sound familiar?

But if it’s true that God’s gift of salvation is free, then how is it possible that the maintenance of the same is so expensive? And if security does not come at a cost, then how can we convince our hearts to rest in the truth that God not only loved us enough to save us, but that He likes us enough to stay present with us in all our failures, to endure our screw ups, to fellowship with us in our weaknesses, to invest His Holy Spirit in us, to speak to us, to comfort us, to assure us of our salvation?

The secret is much simpler than you might fear. It is gratitude. In the KJV, Hebrews 12:28 says, “Wherefore we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:”.

In the English Standard Version, it reads, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,”.

The word translated as “grateful” in the second version is the same as is translated “grace” in the the King James. A succinct definition of the Greek word is this: The spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace, the merciful influence of kindness by which God, exerting His holy influence upon our souls, turns them to Christ.*

In both translations, it is easy to see that the kingdom has already been received, therefore the readers (you and I) are assumed to have accepted Christ as our personal Savior. The next step is to worship the King of this kingdom with gratitude.

When we gather around the thanksgiving table each November, it’s common to pass our plates with the query, “What are you thankful for?”. This is the same principle we must apply to our worship: What do we worship for? What are we grateful for?

The difference between “love” and “like” is gratitude. The concept of love has the potential to remain nebulous, but when that love is expressed in terms of gratitude it takes on a gritty tangibleness. Thankfulness requires knowing someone, recognizing their contribution. Thanksgiving requires that we internalize God’s love and recognize Him as good.

The next time you are fearful that you’ve let God down and imagine Him standing over you saying, “I will always love you, but I’m so disappointed, I don’t like you very much right now,” pause to thank Him. Thank Him for the factual evidence of His love. In this thankfulness it will become apparent that He does indeed like you. His affection for you overflows the boundaries of unconditional love into the confidence that He treasures you, has secured you and that you have no need to impress Him.

* Lexicon and dictionary notes taken from Blueletterbible.org

The Rules Have Changed

The Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

I bet if you stopped a random, professing Christian on the street and asked, “Who gave us The Golden Rule?” their confident reply would be, “Of course, Jesus did.”

I’m here to challenge that. I mean, if we’re going to Love Like Jesus, don’t you think we ought to know how He thought we should love?

Love your neighbor as yourself, is pretty easy, pretty safe as rules go. It leaves the measure of love open ended, held only to a very subjective and personal standard. Any moralist happily endorses The Golden Rule.

It leaves a remnant of plausible morality for an unbeliever; you don’t have to believe in

Jesus to obey it. The Golden Rule creates generous atheists and friendly agnostics. In the end, usually The Golden Rule is quoted with an index finger pointed at someone else’s chest, while the speaker happily forgets that there are three fingers pointing right back at himself.

You sir, how do you love?

So, if Jesus didn’t leave us with The Golden Rule, who did, and what did Jesus command us to do?

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus quotes The Law of Moses in response to a question. The greatest commandment given through Moses was indeed, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

But, if you lived in the days of Jesus, would you be content to simply hear a sermon, then head off about your normal duties? Or, would you have been a disciple?

Wouldn’t you want to follow Him everywhere, ply Him with questions, sleep under the stars on the Mount of Olives with Him, be ever so intimate with the Man who loved you like no one else ever had?

If so, then let’s follow Jesus to a private place. I want to hear His words reserved for the company of His hand-picked friends; be one of those who would have experiential understanding of this love.

Let’s share the Passover with Him one last time and be attentive to His final words in the sacred setting:

“A new commandment I give to you, that  you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” To be known as His, it is not enough to love others as we love ourselves. As mentioned before, anyone can do that.

At the end of his life, the same man who recorded Jesus’ instruction to love others as He loves us, the man who called himself, “the disciple Jesus loved”, felt burdened to remind us of that commandment and to describe that love more explicitly.

Read 1 John 4.

To love as Jesus loved us, is to:

  1. Love before we are loved (1 John 4:10)
  2. Love beyond the world’s standards of reason
    In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says over and over, “You have heard it said…, but I tell you…”. Jesus offers and demands something far different than moralism.
  3. Love verbally, confessing Christ and crediting Him as the one who first loved us  (1 John 4:15)
  4. Love others before they repent (while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, Romans 5:8)
  5. Believe and never forget the love God has for us, even when we fail to love as He did. We cannot continue to love as God does if we forget He loves us in our failures.
  6. Love fearlessly (1 John 4:18)

Jesus demands of His followers far more than the world expects. At the same time, He has not left us without means. Let us follow Him closely and learn from Him.

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Matt. 11:29

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” John 14:27

An Invitation

Hi Friends!

I have something new for you today…an invitation.

Your kids are headed back to school. Most of your life is narrowing into a straighter line, a tighter tunnel. Not so much less busy as it is just more focused: classes, ball games, practices, lessons, homework. Monday through Friday – wash, rinse, repeat.

So, I’m wondering, are you headed into deeper study of Jesus? While your kids are learning the fundamentals of arithmetic, literature and history, are you studying the one and only thing that will fundamentally prepare you to face each next chaotic day, each next difficult relationship, each new phase of parenting or married life?

Several months ago, a very dear friend introduced me to Good Morning Girls, a groud-breaking group of women who have harnessed the Internet in order to internationally declare Jesus and to bring to women everywhere a feeling of community as they study God’s Word.

I am finishing up the training to become a leader/facilitator for the next Good Morning Girls Bible study that starts on September 2. We will be studying in the book of Luke, following the theme, “Loving Like Jesus.” I’m inviting you to join me in this study!

The simplest of explanations: The study is conducted on Facebook. We will have a secret group once all of our participants have joined. Each day you will individually “SOAP” (Scripture, Observe, Apply, Pray) a passage of Scripture. Then, beneath a heading on the Facebook page, everyone will leave their comments about that day’s lesson. There will supplemental, short reading from Good Morning Girls and the authors of the study. The FB group will become interactive as we read each others’ insights, talk on a personal level and share our lives. I’ve done four studies like this now and I love it!

Again, the study starts on September 2, and enrollment, which will allow you to have access to the materials (reading guide and printable book) is from August 19 -September 1. Please let me know here by a comment or email that you would like to participate in my group and I’ll keep you informed with the details.

In the meantime, I wrote this poem today, an overflow of my study in Good Morning Girls, “Women of Influence.”

Faith is an unlikely thing,
In the trembling hands of a prostitute, a crimson cord.
Faith, unlikely in an ancient man to wait another year,
nine months, youthful years.
Faith, unlikely in a puny army,
To route the enemy at the hand of a woman.
Faith, unlikely in the sands of Egypt, the hungry woods,
After nine plagues, after forty years.
Faith unlikely, is an untimely thing.
Forever tardy, slipping in on the last cool breeze,
The dying breath of hope.
Faith untimely after 400 years of Heaven’s stony silence.
Through generations of sunrise, sunset.
Waiting on. Baited breath.
Past a wish. After hope. Often after life.
Faith slips in on the last cool breeze,
Hope’s dying breath.
And grips with one last talon,
The shred of light remaining.
Faith clings till sunrise, one more time,
And sees just a little farther, over the horizon,
And waits…

Love Isn’t What You Thought it Was

Love is NOT an action. Love is NOT a verb.

Maybe I’m taking it too far. After all, it is the well-meaning marriage counselor staring across her office at the young couple engaged in an only slightly contained version of offensive PDA, who says it. She wants to warn them that the honeymoon phase won’t last forever.

Or, it’s the aged and experienced pastor, reminding his flock that love endures all things, it doesn’t give up as soon as the circumstances no longer feel good.

That’s what we mean, right? We’re trying to say that love doesn’t always evoke warm fuzzies. It isn’t always carrying a long-stemmed rose. Love doesn’t necessarily pal around with happiness. Love has guts. Love digs in, hangs on, fights through and comes out on the other side. 

So I agree, love is not a feeling. But I stand by the truth that love is not an action either.

First Corinthians 13 is the “Love Chapter”, known by Christians and unbelievers alike as the quintessential description of the highest, most unattainable, unhuman-like love. It’s what we strive for and then console ourselves when we fail saying, “we’re only human”.

When I read that long definition of LOVE, I’m am struck more by what Love is not and what it does not do than what it is or does.

“…love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing…Love never ends.”

To me, this says that for those of us who are learning Love from the Savior who IS Love,  we will need to exercise more restraint from what comes naturally, than effort to perform a list of lovely actions.

The Bible doesn’t say Love is an activist. It doesn’t say Love sets out to change the world. In fact, some things in this list suggest that such actions are often attempted without love. Frequently, our intent to change the world looks like we’re fighting for our own way, behaving rudely or being resentful.

Love doesn’t constantly offer advice. (This includes counseling, nagging and reprimanding our husbands, kids or friends.)

People with Down Syndrome are known for their ability to love far beyond what we deem normal, even without the full capacity to do many things. We admire the limitless love of our pets, referring to their unconditional love, even as they cannot verbalize their emotions.

How well do we feel loved by a bed-ridden grandma who really can’t do anything for us anymore? Or do we experience love through the prayers of a church body we’ve never seen? Or do we admire the love and joy emanating from an impoverished African child, who has little ability to do much for anyone?

Love isn’t an action.
Love isn’t a feeling.
Love is a person, and those who know Him best ought to be those who radiate it most brightly. Just as those standing closest to a candle will be most illuminated. Love is a Being, not a doing. A Being who always IS with us and doesn’t run from our unloveliness.

Waiting to be…

“I have always, essentially, been waiting. Waiting to become something else, waiting to be that person I always thought I was on the verge of becoming, waiting for that life I thought I would have. In my head, I was always one step away.” Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life

I felt so guilty as I drug my family, friends and my God through the dregs of my eating disorder. I remember thinking so many times, “I’ll get this right tomorrow, then they will love me again.”

“I won’t be such a disappointment when I weigh enough, finish the program, eat cake with everyone, go out for pizza, etc.”

“God, I know you must be so fed up with me, so tired of my relapses and recurrent fears. When I finally get well, then you can use me. Then you can be glorified in me.”

A well-rehearsed Bible verse echoed in my mind, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8

How on earth can God be glorified in you? My heart accused me. You have so little faith, you can’t even eat!  What godly fruit are you evidencing? Why would anyone believe in your God? You’re a terrible example. 

No one else ever said those words, but I believed them deep in my heart. The feelings of failure served only to push me deeper into depression and deeper into anorexic habits fueled by fear and hopelessness. What if God gave up on me?

Just this morning, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to another Bible verse that I’ve known almost all my life. I can hardly believe I didn’t see the full truth, the full counsel of God’s Word before!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23a

The fruit that glorifies God and that identifies me as His disciple is not my performance! It isn’t how well I demonstrate Christian behavior. The fruit that I marks me as belonging to Jesus is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the very same Spirit that He sent to teach me all things and remind me of everything Jesus said and did for me. (John 14:26)

But the best news was yet to come. Jesus also said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9

I began to trace the references of God’s love for Jesus through the New Testament. In John 11:42, Jesus was confident in God’s love and that God heard everything He prayed. In Matthew 3:17, the Father shouted from the heavens that Jesus is His beloved son and that He is pleased with Him. In John 15:24, Jesus said that the Father loved Him before the foundation of the world.

Hallelujah! Even in the midst of my darkest days, God still loves me. He sees a forgiven me through Jesus’ blood even when I despair and get discouraged. Because of Jesus, every moment of my life, I am loved, pleasing to my Father, heard by my Father – from the foundation of the world.

Believing Beautiful, being a part of it

images

I could sing of your love forever!
It rises, steam from snow soaked clay,
Warmed by soft rays of day.
Light dapples my lowered eyes,
And plays a joy-theme across my face.

What hell would be not to know,
From whence, from whom
This precipice of perfect emerges.
The crease between dawn and day,
Here I sit, here I am raptured.
How frail my worship seems.
It is drunk by your love, drunk by your presence.

And pleasure is found prostrate here,
In the crease between, in the budding light.
In the singleness, oneness of moment, morning, me and you.

Believing Beautiful at Haven Journal

The Right Way to Want

There are two philosophies about success.

  1. Take what you want, look out for yourself. Be self motivated, self aware and self-driven. Look deep inside, learn to love and respect yourself and do what it takes to make yourself happy. 
  2. Be utterly self-effacing. This attitude is often touted from the pulpit as the Christian way to behave. Supposedly, by neglecting your own desires and elevating the aspirations of others, you will find supreme fulfillment.

Is either way true? From my experience, no. On Monday, I shared with you what I am learning about want in the foundations of my struggle with anorexia.

It was so sneaky that even I did not recognize my greed. An anorexic appears to be in need. The life of an anorexic is an exercise is asceticism, self denial, ultimate self control. But for me, it was ultimately a ploy to get everyone else to condescend to all my demands. That’s a pretty ugly naked.

Greed can wear two disguises, one flashy, the other demure.

I was reading a rather familiar story in Numbers 32. It is the story of Moses finally leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, or at least very close to it. This is one of those accounts that I have read and assumed it must have a deeper meaning than what I am able to scrape off the surface.

The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, ‘Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon— the land the Lord subdued before the people of Israel—are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. If we have found favor in your eyes,’ they said, ‘let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.’

And then I got it! Do you see it?

I continued reading the chapter. Moses was pretty upset with the three tribes’ brazen request for what they thought was best for them. Instead of following the original plan and accepting what God had planned for them in Canaan; instead of marching into battle for conquest of the Promised Land, these guys were asking for they wanted!

But God said, “OK.” God heard the request of the Reubenites and Gadites, and honored it. I gleaned several things from this about my own needs and wants and how and when to ask for them, as well as how and when to surrender.

  1. The Reubenites and Gadites acknowledged that God had blessed them with abundant cattle and they believed that this portion of land would allow them to practice good stewardship of His blessings.
  2. They were attentive to God’s provision and they asked for God to generously give them this portion of land.
  3. They asked humbly, heard Moses’s response and listened to his criticism.
  4. They did not cower in guilt at Moses’s rebuke, but stood up for what they thought was good.
  5. They continued into battle with their fellow Israelites in order to secure God’s blessing for the other tribes as well.

“Love yourself and make yourself happy,” is a mantra in our society. Adding confusion, is the Christianese admonition to overlook one’s self. The TRUTH is, God wants us to look to Him for blessings. He wants us to expect Him to be good. And He longs for us to be grateful for His generosity. Finally, God wants us to extend that same favor to others.

The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. Ps. 145:15-19

Redemption Birthdays

Monday was my birthday.

I was raised right –  you always write snail mail thank you letters. My morning quiet time didn’t start out to be such, but as I sat cross-legged in my monstrous, blue prayer chair, it just kind of bubbled out of my heart.

I promised this year that I would be naked with you. That includes unveiling private prayers and praise. That includes confession met with kindness which leads to repentance. And it includes the birthdays of redemption stories. So, here is my journal entry on Monday.

Jesus,images

Seventeen years ago, I woke in an angular, gray-blue bedroom, in a treatment center because I was starving myself. I wished away the emotional power of the day and the exacerbated loneliness, the sense of abandonment by my parents and sister asleep in a nearby hotel room. Monday.

Since then, there was my 30th year, crying alone over a rumble of boiling noodles while my husband spent his energy on a computer game.

And so many other March 11th’s. Year 23, at Fort Bragg, at work. Loneliness always tempered by your presence.

How is it that you have never failed me? Never even left me to myself and my upturned, shaky hands crying, “I’m done, completely, all done.”

I do truly love you more every single day. Maybe really, it’s a sharper knowing of how much I need you, that I couldn’t live or breathe without you. The priceless beauty and value you have put into my life, Savior.

My heart would drain out on this page. How you contain and spill your love for me through vessels of a tender husband, his daily deeper understanding the needs of my heart. You warm the morning air and tinge the skies, ochre, amber, slate to clear. As if you hold my shoulders and spin me round to drink that pressed of patience; feast on the produce of your passion.

I am overwhelmed by your love, Savior.
Overcome by your awareness of me.
In you, I have seen my own created beauty, the blossom
and flourish of your skilled heart, touch, breath,
That I live!
That lungs still spread in my chest,
And suck in gifts and glories,
I would have turned away.
It is your mercy.
It is your…nay,
It is you.
Only you.
All of you,
That I live in and for.

First comes love, then comes marriage?

Last weekend Patrick and I participated in a marriage retreat called Strong Bonds. True confession, as this blog is entirely about, it was emotionally difficult for me. Sometimes, I feel as if I’m mulit-lingual in the languages of love and that my hubby hasn’t even learned to sound out words. [That’s my pride talking, a subject I’m am constantly re-submitting to the Lord.]

We are learning, or I should say, I am learning, how to communicate. Wouldn’t you think that the girl who can’t shut-up would have this communication thing figured out?

As you all know from reading here, Patrick and I have been through some major mud, over towering hurdles and through the lowest of valleys. And actually, our sustenance has been, the trick to all of this is, learning to believe in God’s LOVE for us, both corporately and individually. Because when God’s love become progressively more real, we cannot help but see His reflection in each other and personally glow with His radiance.

Wrapping up this month of LOVE, I’ve still hardly scratched the surface of C.S. Lewis’ wisdom in The Screwtape Letters. So, we will carry on in March, looking for modern application of this book and alternately peering into the depths of the One Word: Naked.

After this past weekend, it really comes as no surprise that God brought us to Lewis’ chapter on love, sex and marriage. Consider this nugget:

The humans are to be encouraged to regard as the basis for marriage a highly-colored and distorted version of something the Enemy really promises as its result.

Do you see that? Kinda makes you think for a second, doesn’t it? In a generation that wants legal marriage for all and at the same time argues for no-fault divorce, it’s pretty obvious that humans believe love is the foundation for marriage. But what if that’s not as God intended?

Perhaps, and it seems evident in the Garden of Eden, marriage, oneness – is the foundation, the fertile ground for love.

Thoughts?