Stubborn Love

Before you start reading here, flip to Jeremiah 32:26-44.

Don’t you just love how the Bible is a living document? Every time you read it, something new pops out. 66 books, 686 pages and it never gets old. I think that’s proof enough that our God exists!

With all the tragedies that are happening in the world lately, I’m feeling a pressure put on my heart to start memorizing verses. My gut is telling me, and I don’t think I’m the only one, that our time for free worship is coming to a close. Without being overly paranoid, I do believe that soon Christians will be limited in their public worship. And when that time comes, I want to say that I have God’s word embedded on my heart and mind. I want to know that I haven’t wasted my time expecting the world to stay all fine and dandy.

That being said, I flipped to a verse that I love this morning and decided to start memorizing it. Which, by the way, is so much easier than when I was a kid. I chose Jeremiah 32:39-42 to memorize.

“I will give them singleness of heart and mind, so that they will always fear me for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. This is what the Lord says: as I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity {or: bring them back from captivity} I have promised them.”

I love this verse. I think it’s absolutely gorgeous! God has built it into our hearts and our minds to follow him. We naturally have an urge to find him and follow him. And not only that, he will NEVER stop doing good to us. He is excited to do goodness for us, he will give us prosperity and bring us back from captivity as he has promised us.

After I read this verse and thought “Wow, this is amazing! What other God can say that they stubbornly love their people like this and will provide for them this well?”, I glanced up to the top of the page and saw another verse I had highlighted.

“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything to hard for me?” vs. 26

And I decided to read from vs. 26 to the end of the chapter.

Jeremiah is coming to God, begging him to save the people of Israel and Judah from the Babylonians who are about to make a final attack on the city in order to completely destroy it. He’s also confused. God has just given him instructions to purchase a piece of land…What? But the city is about to be taken over! Look kid. Just do what I’ve said and trust me. I am the Lord, the God of ALL mankind. Is ANYTHING to hard for me?

I just love it when God talks back to people. He doesn’t mess around, he doesn’t sugar-coat things, he’s pretty sarcastic and it’s pretty hilarious. Humbling, but hilarious.

I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything to hard for me? Therefore, this is what the Lord says…” (emphasis by me…duh…when have you every seen underlining in the Bible).

“You know, the Lord? The God of all mankind? The God that has control of everything and nothing is impossible for Him? Yeah, this is what that Lord says.”

And then God goes on to point out how much the people of Israel and Judah have screwed up, how they’ve hypocritically turned their backs to him but still claimed to be Christians, how they’ve worshiped other gods IN his house, how they’ve provoked God into anger, how they’ve defiled his name, how they’ve refused to listen to him or respond to his discipline. Basically, God is so angered with them he wants to remove them from his sight.

But. God is the God of all mankind and nothing is to hard for him.

So instead of giving Israel and Judah what they deserve, he’ll give them singleness of heart and mind to follow him. Instead of allowing them to be destroyed, he’s going to make a promise to them that he will not stop loving them. Instead of allowing them to be defeated, he’s going to “rejoice” in doing good to them, he’s going to give them a home, prosperity and take them out of captivity.

Think of all the times you’ve been a hypocrite. What about that time you showed up hung-over for church? Or that time you lied? Or that time you denied what you knew God was trying to tell you? Or that time you created an idol out of money or work or relationships instead of spending time with God? (Oh wait, is that just me? Am I the only one? Insert winky face because I know we’re all in the same boat).

If God was in human form he would be standing in front of us telling us how much he loves us while he bled on the floor from the effort. And he would be rejoicing while he did it.

We have a God with stubborn love. We can do whatever we want and he will refuse to give up on us. And we know it. We have a God Radar build into us that is constantly reminding us that he’s wanting to spend time with us. And while we are out doing our dirty deeds, God pouring love into our lives and planning our escape from captivity…even as we defile his name.

And if you want your mind completely blown, think of how he’s asking us to have this same love for those around us.

So. Two things.

First, how about we start responding to this stubborn love? Lets have some stubborn love in return. Even when we don’t feel the emotions we want to feel towards God, lets actively, stubbornly, chase after him.

Second, lets try to have this type of love for those around us. This world is quickly becoming a world filled with obvious hate. Think of how God loves us even when people treat him so badly and lets make an effort to reflect that in our daily lives.

I’m going to read over these verses a few times. Maybe spend a few days thinking of how crazy God’s love is for me and really allowing myself to soak it in. And then spend a few days reading over it as though he’s asking me to love those around me with this type of stubborn love.

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Love

Yesterday, as I worshiped in church, I closed my eyes and saw myself in front of God. There was complete love and pleasure in his expression as he looked down on me, “My girl, my beautiful one” he said, a warm smile across his face and his eyes twinkling. I was draped with something, something that covered my sins, my imperfections and my humanity and because of that covering, I was sinless and blameless in God’s eyes.

I needed that reminder. I’ve really been struggling with self-image lately. Unworthiness. I’ve felt undeserving of God’s love and attention and it’s been a struggle to remember that through everything, he adores me and thinks that I am beautiful.

The pastor hit on this as well; why is it so much easier for us to think of God loving others unconditionally, but when we look at God loving US like that, we question it?

The image of God looking at me with such gentleness and love started the tears. I have to admit, I love crying in front of God. It feels good and safe to be vulnerable in front of him like that. But why, when I think of his love for little old me, does it bring me to tears so easily? Why is it so shocking to remember that he is in love with me?

I know my thoughts, I know my actions, I know my disobedience, I feel the disappointment I am to others, I know where I fall short, I know my imperfections. We are our worst critic. That’s probably why. We look at others with rose colored glasses, for the most part. We don’t see what they don’t want to show us. So it’s easier to think that God would love the someone they choose to present to the world.

Close your eyes. Ask God to show you what he thinks of you. Imagine yourself standing in front of him and his eyes, so filled with love and joy as he looks at you, his beloved one. Allow yourself to meditate on his pleasure of you for a moment. Soak it in. Feel it. Enjoy it.

He has a plan. You can’t screw it up. He created you just the way you are and he loves every part of you.

Breathe.

…Breathe…

God’s Covenant

Aside

When I left my husband, the feeling that there was a wall between me and any other man was impossible to get rid of. No matter what I tried, no other man could come close to making me feel like my husband had. It didn’t matter what they did, there was something always holding me back from being fully invested in the relationship. It wasn’t a continual comparison, it wasn’t anything specific that just didn’t measure up…there was just a distance between my heart and theirs that I couldn’t shake.

Memories would come up at the most inconvenient times, feelings, longings, heartaches. Even though I refused to admit it, there was a connection that just couldn’t be severed. It felt as though I couldn’t help but love my husband, even when I was trying to do the exact opposite.

Our marriages are meant to be a reflection of God’s relationship with us. That is the actual point of marriage and why God created this deep relationship. The thought of how our marriages and our feelings towards our spouse are meant to mirror God’s feelings towards us, has been rolling around in my mind. If it was this impossible for me to ‘move on’ from my commitment to my husband, even when I wanted so desperately to, how much more is it impossible for God to stop having loving feelings towards us?

I know how it is to try to find a replacement after leaving my husband. Once you have joined your initial spouse in covenant, it cannot be broken. “Until death do us part”. That is what you have committed to, regardless of your spouses behavior or how your feelings (“For better or worse”), or theirs, seem to change. You have agreed before God that you will love them until death. And that is what God holds you to. There will never be a marriage, a boyfriend, a lover, that comes close to filling that place in your heart like your spouse does. Once you have said these vows to God, your initial spouse is tied to your heart with a spiritual bond that cannot be cut, regardless of how the world defines your marital status.

God has made a covenant to us as well. He is tied to us with a bond that cannot be severed and, no matter how hard we try running from that bond, we will always have an ache to return to him. God, literally, cannot give up on us. He can’t help but chase after us, it’s built into him to love us passionately, to desire to have us as his own, to want deep, meaningful relationship with us. Once God created us, we had a special place in his heart that just can’t be replaced. He loves us so deeply, so unconditionally, and nothing else can come between that.

I can’t help but love my husband. I know that running from my marriage couldn’t stop that love and I know that, regardless of what he does and how he acts, I will always love him. Because I committed to a covenant with my husband, until death do us part, it will be impossible for me to love anyone else. It’s so amazing to me to know that, if my heart is tied to my husband this strongly, God’s heart is tied to mine even more. There’s nothing I can do to stop his love for me. There’s nothing I can do to stop his commitment to me. Wow. What a overwhelming thought!

 

Aside

In order for something to be good, it needs to be new. Isn’t that what our culture teaches us? Second hand, cringe. Trying a relationship again, nuh-uh. Even working at an existing relationship to make it better isn’t something that is accepted or even encouraged.

New is best. New, shiny, exciting, that’s what is going to make you excited!

Divorce is accepted because there’s no way the wrongful person will change. Move on, improve yourself and find someone you deserve. Hashing through the same old arguments and expecting that person to have a change of heart is just putting yourself through unneeded torture. People don’t change and there’s someone out there that will accept you for who you are, that will give you what you need and that will love you in the way you need to be loved.

I was reading in Ezekiel last night, flipping through my highlighted verses, and skimmed over Ezekiel chapter 36.

On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will settle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt.

Ezekiel 36:33

I’ve read this verse many times. Over and over. I just love how, regardless of how many times you read something, new lessons always pop up.

Isn’t it interesting that God didn’t tell the people “I will build a new city for you, I will give you the homes and land of your dreams!”. Nope, he said “You’ll stay where you are and I will rebuild your towns and all the ruins around you”. I wonder how many people heard that and thought “Drag, I totally wanted to move somewhere new. This rebuilding stuff will be a lot of work…”

This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden;

Ezekiel 36:35

God’s plan wasn’t just to rebuild their lands to their former glory. It was to completely renovate them. To make them so beautiful that people noticed and that they would compare them to the garden of Eden. God’s plan wasn’t to give them back what they had before, but to give them a place that they had only dreamed about. A beautiful, lush land. A place where they had pure relationship and interaction with him.

God is into restoration…but more than that, he’s into transformation. If you obey God, if you return to him, on that very day, he says, he will cleanse you and he will resettle your towns and rebuild your ruins. I love the end of verse 36:

I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.

Ezekiel 36:36b

It’s a neat practice to put accentuation on different words in a verse. If you put accentuation on the second ‘I’, it shows that GOD will be the one that works, HE will be the one that does the rebuilding. If you put the accentuation on “will”, it shows that God WILL do it! He has said it and he won’t back out of it! God never goes back on his word, he never changes his mind, what he has said he will do, he WILL do!

Just because God is promising you the Promised Land, doesn’t mean that this land will be a new place for you. It doesn’t mean that it will be somewhere different. It could very well be that God’s promise means that such an immense change will take place that you won’t even recognize your current land. That it will be everything that you could have ever dreamed about and more.

I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake.

Ezekiel 36:32

He is restoring your land, he is building your garden of Eden, not for your sake…but for his. This isn’t about your glory, it’s about his. Everything you’re going through is about bringing God Glory. Your life isn’t about making you happy or making people notice you, it’s about bringing people to the recognition that God has given us everything we need and is the reason our lands have been restored and transformed.

If you are praying for transformation in your life, for restoration, God will do it. HE will do it. You need to step back, to be still and allow him to work. He will transform your life, your lands, your marriage, your children, your parents, your job…whatever it is, into something you never expected it to be, into a garden of Eden that people step back and notice. Not only will God be the one to do the work, but he will do it. He has promised and God doesn’t make false promises. Be patient. Don’t set boundaries of time. Give God space to work and with the time you would have spent worrying and making demands, spend that with God instead and you will be amazed at the changes you’ll see around you.

Aside

Freewill. That’s a hard thing to explain in a Christian life. We have been given freewill, that’s part of the uniqueness of being human, a feature that God purposely put in us. But freewill means that we can choose to do what we want, when we want, how we want…and potentially live with the consequences, good or bad.

This could mean though, that we subconsciously tend to think of God as an errand boy. A force that picks up the pieces behind us and deals with how we have decided life should go. We often get confused about God’s roll in our minds and hearts and how his influence in our daily lives actually leads us to decisions and choices that without his direction we would not have come to. Because this just wouldn’t be true ‘freewill’ would it?

The bible says that God directs our paths, that we might make our own plans, but that it is his plans that ultimately come to pass (Proverbs 16:9). God is in control of every single little detail in every single little persons life. He has set out the times for us, Acts 17:26 says, the exact places where we will live. He’s not piecing the puzzle of our choices together in order to clean up a mess in our wake, he’s directing our every step and thought in order to bring us to a specific place. A place where we acknowledge him with everything we do, a place where we realize that without him we can do nothing, a place where we give him all the glory…a place where we have relationship with him.

We need to be careful about how we think about freewill. The world teaches us that we are entitled to freewill, that it is our right. But (a) we aren’t actually entitled to anything and (b) true freewill is following the path that God is setting out for us and knowing that the best choice is to follow his direction.

When I was running from God people would often ask me about my hometown and at the end of my reply I would always, without exception, add “But I’ll never move back”. And every single time these words would come out of my mouth, a little voice in the back of my mind would whisper “God’s going to make you move back”. God was working in my life, directing my path, allowing me to make certain decisions that would lead me to know that he was the only satisfaction I would find…he was gently directing my steps back towards his throne. It didn’t matter what plans I made for myself, he was putting desires in my heart and setting my feet in a certain path in order to bring me back home.

I lay in bed one night and God called my name. He asked me, once again, to pick up his word and start reading again. And so I did, but I told him, point blank, I would only read one verse a day. That’s all I had time for. But God knew, he knew that once I picked up that bible he would flood into me and I wouldn’t be able to stop reading after just one verse. He knew that he would put a hunger in me, such a strong desire for him, that it wouldn’t be quenched with just one verse.

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

You can make your plans, tell God how it’s going to go, but God already knows. He has lead you to that spot, he’s allowed and placed everything in your life to lead you to every decision you’ll ever make. And once you stop fighting him, once you allow him to take your hand and lead you in his way, you will see that it’s so much better than trying to forge your way through the mess of life.

There’s two ways to get what you want. Either push your way towards your goals and fight your way to the top or allow God to take control, lead you and have the peace of mind that whatever happens is in his hands. Either way, in the end, you’re going to end up just where God wants you. You might as well just surrender your life to him, it’s so much more simple.

A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?

Proverbs 20:24

 

Aside

Diving back into Exodus again this morning. I just love how God whispers into my heart as I read and allows things to jump out at me.

I’m in Chapter 6 and I’m reading the genealogy of Moses and Aaron. And, honestly, I’m about to skip over this part. Boring. Who reads genealogies anyways? A bunch of people, another bunch of people, someone lived for a certain amount of years…someone had this kid or that…ok ok, skipping this part and moving on into the ‘meaningful verses’. But this time, instead of skipping the genealogy, I Googled it. “Significance of genealogy of Moses and Aaron”. A Jewish write-up came up and I skimmed through it. I am, after all, a student of God, I might as well educate myself further in these things.

The author points out that in Exodus 6:12 Moses is talking to God and put some blame on to the Israelites for not listening to the message God gave him. But then, in verse 30, the bible seems to repeat itself by saying basically the same thing. The difference is, in verse 30, Moses leaves out the part of the blame against the Israelites. Interesting.

After the genealogy, Moses leaves out blaming the Israelites.

After Moses is reminded who he is and where he came from, Moses stops blaming his people.

This is cool. Moses is reminded that he has a responsibility to these people, he is one of them. I’m thinking it would have been hard for him, growing up in an Egyptian palace, raised by a princess and having that life engrained in him. It was normal for him to think that he was Egyptian. Egypt was home for him, Israel wasn’t. Their traditions weren’t his, their God was new to him, their slavery wasn’t a part of his direct history…he was born an Israelite but it had never been an actual part of his life. Actually, I’m thinking it was probably something he had tried to hide.

But suddenly, when God became real to him, Moses needed to confront the fact that he belonged to these enslaved people and they belonged to him. He was a part of them. They were his family.

And so I finished my reading and started praying. And suddenly God started talking.

The troubled people around me are my people. I might have been rescued out of the muddy river by a God that is full of grace, I might have been delivered into a better life like Moses was, but I was once a troubled person too. Not too long ago, I struggled with their struggles. I understand them, my heart grieves for them, I can feel where they are. I am a part of them and they are a part of me and I have a responsibility to them, to lead them out of their slavery and to show them the life that God has promised them.

I love it when God speaks to me, when I know that the Holy Spirit has just opened my eyes to a message he wants me to see.

“Since I speak with faltering lips…”

Exodus 6:30

I don’t always have the right words or the confidence to say them, but it doesn’t matter. I have a responsibility to my people and I have instruction from God and all I asked to do is be obedient. When I am meant to speak, he will give me the words. All he needs is a vessel to work with. Obedience and a willingness to listen.

 

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

 

I’m working my way through Exodus. It’s been a couple months in this book and I’m on Chapter 5. Go me. I’m not a slow reader, but I have so many books on the go that it’s hard to finish one reading project before I start another…there’s just so many great books out there and so little time!!

The other night I was laying in bed, starting my reading for the evening, and I decided that Exodus would be the chosen book. It wasn’t quite what I was thinking I needed that night, but I felt like I should.

Ever heard that saying “never should on yourself”? I love that saying, so true. But this time it was a good thing that I should on myself.

Chapter 5. Moses has been told by God to go to Pharaoh and tell him to release the Israelites. Aaron goes with him and between verses 1-21 they present this idea to the king of Egypt.

God was pretty clear, he said he would release his people if Moses went to the king and asked him to release them. So when Moses did this, when Moses was obedient to God and Pharaoh didn’t release them…he, instead, made their lives so much worse…the people turned on Moses saying “May the Lord look upon you and judge you!” (vs. 21).

Imagine, this strong, confidant man who has seen a flaming bush in the desert, who has clear and obvious instruction from God. Who has seen his stick turn into a snake, who has witnessed water turning into blood. This man goes before the king of all of Egypt, a king he can see, he can hear and who rules and punishes before his eyes. He can physically touch this king. And he takes this bizarre idea to this king, this idea that everyone would have thought was crazy, and truly believes that Pharaoh will release an entire nation of people because of it. But Pharaoh doesn’t. Matter of fact, he does the opposite. He punishes the people. He makes their lives impossible. He sets expectations that can’t be accomplished and then he beats them when they aren’t completed.

And Moses is confused, hurt even. Why would God do this to him? Why wouldn’t God do what he said he was going to do?

We all know the end result of this story, Moses presents this idea to Pharaoh several times and finally, after it seems like it just couldn’t get any worse, the king releases the nation of Israel.

God didn’t give Moses a timeline. He gave him instructions and a promise. Moses knew what he had seen, he knew he wasn’t crazy, he knew that God existed and had spoken to him. He knew what he knew what he knew. God had told him he would release the Isralites and so he kept going forward in faith, knowing that God would complete his promise.

God doesn’t promise that life will be easy in our obedience. He doesn’t promise that there won’t be suffering. He doesn’t promise that it will happen in the timing we expect. But what he does promise is that he will complete what he has started. He promises that he will be with us every step of the way and he promises that he will show himself when we need it most. All he asks of us is that we continue to do what he has asked of us, even when it doesn’t make sense. Even when there is an entire nation shouting insults at us, asking us to leave them alone…we answer to God. Not to the people around us.

Did you wonder why I put that line in there “He can physically touch this king“? Because sometimes, when we look around and see the disobedience of those around us or lack of movement, we see what is happening in the physical world, we forget that what we can see with our eyes has nothing to do with the work God is doing in the spiritual realm. You can see what is around you, you can’t see God, and some times, most of the time, it’s easier to trust what you can see rather than trust what an invisible God has told you.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Hebrews 11:1

God asks us to walk in faith, to trust him and to not pay attention to what we can see with our physical eyes.

“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”

Romans 8:24-25

God works in and with the impossibilities. He works beyond what we can see with our eyes. And he wants all the glory. He wants to bring us to a place where all we can do is give credit to him. Where there is no other way that we succeeded other than by his hand.

God will do what he has said he will do. It won’t be in our timing. It won’t be how we expect. But he will move mountains, he will set the captives free, he will bring us to the land he has promised and he will show us miracles along the way.

Our God is good. Our God is loving. All we need to do is be obedient, put one foot in front of the other, listen, breathe, walk with him and watch him work. He has never promised that it will be easy, but he has promised to carry us through.