Friday, February 22, 2013

Make you feel my Love

There's a song that always makes me cry. To me it's the story of Jesus, the love of God. I always imagine God singing this to the suffering people of the world, and especially to me when I need His big shoulder to rest my head on. This is one of those moments.

Make you feel my Love
by Adele

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love


When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love


I know you haven't made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I've known it from the moment that we met 

No doubt in my mind where you belong

I'd go hungry
I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love


The storms are raging on the rolling sea
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain't seen nothing like me yet


I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn't do
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
To make you feel my love

To make you feel my love

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rebelling against a culture of niceness

Do Christians have to be nice?

This is a hard question for me to answer. For several years I would have said yes. Yes, it is mandatory that Christians, at least good Christians, are to be nice. But.... is that biblical?

Really the heart of the question is what "nice" means to you. For me, "nice" meant being pleasant, it meant saying "yes" to someone in need unless you really really REALLY can't do it. It meant giving money to everyone who asked, spending time with everyone who wanted to. It essentially meant bending over backwards for other people.

I have lied in the name of niceness. I have cheated for the sake of niceness. I have done good deeds with a bitter and frustrated spirit in order to achieve my vision of "Christian niceness". I was afraid of what people would think of me if I wasn't nice.

And I never knew I was biblically off-center. Even in Bible school I didn't accept the idea that Christianity and niceness (my idea of it, anyway) did not always go hand-in-hand. But then, how are Christians supposed to behave?

Over and over again, writers in the New Testament emphasize love. Love God. Love your brother. Love your neighbor. Paul sums "love" up beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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.

Love is patient, kind, humble, forgiving, honest, truthful, and persistent. It is not always nice. 
Maybe you ask, as I did, what's the difference between "kindness" and "niceness"? 

My best answer, through my experiences with God and with people, is this: kindness is ALWAYS obedient to the will of God. In action, it sees a person through God's eyes, sees the underlying need, and asks God to be used by Him to take part in bringing healing, hope, and satisfaction of that need. Niceness, takes the person or situation into your own hands and attempts to generate a result of happiness or satisfaction. The underlying difference is in motive... are you working without reward, in obedience to God? Or do you expect to see some result of your efforts (however selfless you think those results look like)?

In Matthew 15:21-28, a Caananite woman approaches Jesus asking for healing for her daughter. Jesus' response is not very nice. First, he ignores her. His disciples, annoyed by this woman, prompt Jesus to send her away. Even when the woman gains audience with him he says,  "It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs". That's not a very nice thing to say. Bearing in mind that Jesus is Emmanuel (GOD with us), the son of God, the Messiah.... what does that say about this woman? What does it say about God and being Christ-like?

The heart of the matter in this passage is that Jesus came to earth to fulfill Jewish prophecy (and eventually save the world through his sacrifice). God's will for his life and ministry was completely for the Israelites. It was in his death and resurrection that allowed Gentiles like me to approach the throne of God apart from Jewish law. Jesus may have not been nice to this woman, but in his kindness He first submitted himself to God's will (ministering only to Israel) then secondly, seeing that God was in this situation ("Woman, you have great faith!"), allowed God to work in Him to serve her. 

I just recently read the Johns (1 John, 2 John, 3 John). The author repeatedly states that anyone who does good is of God. Anyone who walks in light is in the light of God. Anyone who does otherwise.... is apart from God. The source of a Christian's salvation, transformation, and growth is in God. Which means.... unless God is telling you directly to be "nice".... you don't have to be "nice". But you ARE required to love.

So, what's the point of making a distinction?

In short, it's to drive out any fear in our lives. Even passive fears.

It's not to give us license to be jerks, or to hurt people's feelings through "blunt" honesty (a.k.a. rudeness). But personally, as a "nice" Christian, I have struggled with confronting friends with the truth. I have "bit my tongue" about the Bible. I have listened to people insult my beliefs and said nothing in return.  I live with just a twinge of fear that people won't like me otherwise. A big enough twinge that it affect my actions on a regular basis. None of these things are Biblical. But they are nice.

Instead of trying to so hard to be nice, what if we let love shine? Which may mean confronting some things or people, being less well-liked, being more humbly aware of the impact of our actions and words on an eternal level. It's quite a few notches harder than just being nice, but I bet it's also a lot more rewarding.

For all you nice introvert Christians out there.... let's quietly rebel against the culture of "Christian niceness"; and rather embrace love and the fearless trust in Jesus that goes with it.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  ~ 1 John 4:18

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Celebrating God's Timing

This coming Valentine's Day will mark our first anniversary of being a couple. In February 2011, we hopped on Skype to have our first "date". During this date, Jeff asked me to be his girlfriend.

I wanted to celebrate this milestone with pomp. I researched B&Bs, unique date ideas, gifts, etc. I was excited to create a "getaway" with my honey. This morning, as we were getting ready for church, I suddenly realized that this Valentines Day.... well, it will be during "that time of the month" for me. Suddenly my plans, and ideas on how to romance my sweetie, took on a different light. But I wasn't upset or disappointed or miffed about how that may disorient my celebration of our relationship. I consider every day with my husband a celebration anyways, so what if plans are pushed to another day, week, or year? So what if my ideas will manifest itself into something less glorious when the appropriate time comes?

And then.... I thought about God. All the times I've complained and whined and collapsed in despair because my plans with God were delayed. All the times I thought about giving up on everything because my timeline was stretched, manipulated, broken. All the times I threw my soul up in tantrum because the glory of it was gone.

Compare that to our Africa adventure. Months of stepping out in faith where sometimes the rewards are tangible and sometimes the reward IS the joy of obedience. Months of waiting, hoping, praying, planning....

I have been waiting for this step since I was 18 years old. I am 26 now. After eight years of waiting, hoping, praying, planning.... I am okay with where we are. I am ready to be in Kenya, but I am also rejoicing in every day I have here in the States. I can't help but thank God in utter humility for allowing me to grow from who I was to who I am becoming. To find myself desperately clinging to obedience for the sake of MY life, happiness, and strength.

"... and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." ~ Romans 5:5

Today, I am focusing on the discipline of celebrating God's timing. It becomes remarkably easier when I believe wholeheartedly that, whether according to my plans or not, what God has promised He will fulfill. My hope is beyond wishful thinking. It is rooted in the greatest truth I know. So what if it's not today, or according to my plans? When it does happen, it will be exactly when it is supposed to happen. Isn't that the greatest comfort of all?

Stand firm in your faith. Stand firm in God's character and in His promises. And celebrate His timing.