Month: February 2021

  • Learning to Receive God’s Love

    A few years back I was sitting in a coffee shop with a friend (oh how I long for the days of sitting in a coffee shop with friends) and we were talking about our ability to receive love. I confessed to her that for many years it was hard for me to receive love from others and especially from God. I mean how could God love me when I kept making mistakes or breaking my promises to really change for the better this time?

    But that’s the great thing, God’s love is not conditional, rather it’s unconditional. It’s not based on our successes or our failures or if I have earned it, rather His love is always there for us, we just have to receive it. Do you ever find it hard to let God love you?

    As we sat in that coffee shop that day, I was reminded of John 13 where Jesus was bending down to begin to wash the feet of his disciples. If you are familiar with the story, you may recall that when Jesus gets to Peter, Peter refuses to let Jesus wash his feet. Peter is rejecting Jesus’ act of love. How many times have you rejected receiving Jesus’ love because like Peter you feel it would be selfish, or that you were not worthy to receive such a lavish gesture?

    If you look at verse 8, though, Jesus responds by telling Peter that “unless I wash you, you have not part with me” (NIV). Then in verse 14 Jesus goes on to say “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet” (NIV). This isn’t just a one-way gesture. Jesus isn’t just instructing the disciples to give, but also to receive as He just showed them how to do.

    The nature of God’s love is generative and relational. God’s love towards us creates new love for us to give back. We have the opportunity to multiply love when we receive it, but when we refuse to receive love, we diminish its possibilities. When we do put into practice the act of both giving and receiving love, Jesus reminds us in verse 17 that that’s when we “will experience a life of happiness enriched with untold blessings.” (TPT)

    So how do we receive God’s love? There is an exercise I practice and recommend to others. The truth of God’s love for you is woven throughout His Word and so I encourage you to go on a love scavenger hunt and find the verses of God’s love that speak directly to you. Once you find 5-10 of these verses, read through each statement as you picture God speaking these words over you. In each statement, place your name in the verse. For example, if I were reading Zephaniah 3:17 I would speak out loud “Dawn, for the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs” (NLT).

    You might find it helpful to write each of the verses you find down on index cards or post-it notes so that you can easily flip your way through them as you go through this practice. Repeat this exercise daily for several weeks and soon you will find that these seeds of love begin to take root in your heart.

    Here are a few other verses to get you started:

    “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10, NIV)

    “This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5, NIV)

    “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

    Remember God loves you just as you are. God’s love is the purest form of love. So pull down the barriers that have prevented you from experiencing His love and allow Him to show you how much He loves you. And as He shows you, receive it. Allow His love to come into your heart, for my dear sister, you are His beloved.

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  • This is Love

    Not too long ago, my family and I celebrated the Advent season together. As the Christmas season approached, I went searching for an Advent calendar to keep us focused on Jesus and connected to each other through the season. I ended up choosing one on “the names of Jesus.”

    Each day we turned over a different card with one of the names of Jesus written in beautifully scrawled lettering, surrounded by soft, Christmas-y designs. I bought it because it was beautiful, but I soon discovered how impactful it was to dive into those twenty-four different names of Jesus and the deeper meaning behind each one. I began to experience a fresh understanding of the vast-ness of God with each new name we discovered. He’s so all-encompassing that there’s really no way to sum up what He’s like in one, two, or even twenty-four names! Each day’s name was so simple yet so profound. “Shepherd.” “The Word.” “Messiah.” “Redeemer.”
    One after the other.

    One of His names especially seems to get mentioned a lot, especially this time of year: “Love.”

    Love. Everyone wants to experience it, to know what it feels like, and to know what it looks like. But will we ever agree on the answers? We were all created with a need to experience love.

    Some people might think Valentine’s Day holds the key: “Well you buy cards and chocolate and lots of balloons, and you eat at a fancy restaurant, and maybe there’s a proposal, and that’s what “love” is!” Well … maybe that’s not the whole story.

    I don’t know if we will ever fully understand what it means for Jesus to be the embodiment of “Love,” but let’s take a closer look together because I believe there are some amazing treasures to be found along the way. Let’s start with a look in the Bible.

    When the New Testament was written, there were four different words in the Greek language used to describe love. I wish we had four different words for love! The variety of experiences we call “love” each look vastly different from each other. Between our families, our friends, our romantic partners, our coworkers, the larger world around us, and even our own relationship with God, there’s just no way that we could sum up all of these experiences into one single word. And that’s how it is with Jesus – there is no way that His love could only be expressed one way. And yet He alone is able to offer sustaining love to all of his creation in the ways that they need it the most.

    Let’s go back to the beginning for a minute. The VERY beginning. To the garden of Eden. Genesis 1:27 (ESV) says, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  

    There’s a simple yet profound truth I’ve come to understand in recent years about God and His image – the image that He created you and I to bear. I didn’t hear this truth in a church service, and I didn’t hear it listening to a podcast or going to a conference. It happened over time during my own personal quiet times reading the Bible and observing how God has interacted with His creation throughout history.

    The truth I discovered is this: God experiences emotions! 

    Maybe you already knew this and you’re thinking “THAT’S your big discovery?!”  Or maybe you’ve never considered this thought before in your life and you’re thinking, “wait … what?!”

    As I read through the Bible, I encounter story after story where God expresses emotions and feelings. Jesus also expressed an immensely broad range of emotions while on earth.

    John 11:1–44 tells us the story of Jesus and his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus became sick to the point of death and word was sent to Jesus asking Him to come. When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany and encounters Lazarus’ death and the grief of His friends, the Bible says that “Jesus wept,” John 11:35. Jesus was moved by the sadness of His friends. He knew what was going to happen next. He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet He still allowed himself to feel the grief of the moment with his friends. Different translations describe Jesus during this story as being “moved,” and “touched,” and state how much Jesus “loved” this family. So why did Jesus allow himself to feel so much pain when He could have avoided it and just focused on the joy that was to come – raising Lazarus from the dead? I believe there’s an important truth here.

    Jesus allowed himself to feel all the big feelings of being human. He didn’t shy away from them. We, as people made in God’s image, need to realize that Jesus set the example for us to experience this broad range of emotions in life: joy, grief, sadness, anger, thankfulness, compassion … love. Most of us will spend a lifetime learning to identify and unpack the emotions that surface inside us on a daily basis. It’s hard work, and often really uncomfortable! But from what I read in the Bible, allowing ourselves to experience this range of emotions is appropriate, and is actually an example that Jesus himself set for us.

    If you go back and re-read stories from the old testament through this lens, you will begin to notice over and over again just how often God expresses big emotions regarding His people: compassion, love, anger, mercy – some of which we ourselves experience, and yet we sometimes condemn ourselves for having them. Having emotions, even the difficult ones, does not define us. Emotions do not have the power to make us bad, shameful or wrong. In fact, it’s totally normal! It’s part of being made in the “image of God” to feel all the many experiences of life. Where we get to encounter God is in our response to our emotions. This is where we get choices – choices to sin or not sin. Choices to stay stuck in a difficult emotion, or to cry out to God for help. Choices to remain faithful to our word or not.

    “But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!” Eph. 2:4-5 (NLT)

    This rich mercy of God toward us, His creation, overflows into all of His actions. Because of God’s great love for us, we get to experience His grace that saves us, His resurrection that brings us to life, and His presence that sustains us. Throughout history, God has never once failed to keep His promises to His people – His promises to remain faithful, to care for us, to redeem us, and to cleanse us. This is such a humbling reminder! As I follow Jesus day by day and become transformed to be more and more like Him, I hope to gain a greater capacity to experience the many emotions of life and also continue to stay in tune with the Father and His goodness, and His purposes for my life.

    “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He (GOD) will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him.” Ephesians 3:16-17a

    “This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us.” 1 John 3:16a (GNT)

    As we approach Valentine’s Day, ask yourself what it looks like to let God’s love overflow from your heart onto those around you. Maybe it’s through a card, or a thoughtful gift, or a phone call, or even simply a prayer. It’s ok for that love to look a little different in each one of us.

    Whether married or single, surrounded by family or alone in our homes, let’s remember that no matter who else we may or may not have in our life, God promises to be with us. This Valentine’s Day if you’re single, know that married women still have to lean on God. And if you are married, remember that your husband is not God – he is simply a man in need of mercy and love, just as we are.

    Let’s remember that God is Love – He is the very definition of it! Without Him, we cannot fully experience the love, joy, or peace we were created to feel. Without holding back from the pain of relationship, God made us in His image, came to earth to have a relationship with us, and then gave himself up to redeem that relationship. This Valentine’s Day, I’m especially thankful for Jesus and the love that He gives us so freely.

    This is love.

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  • Experiencing Belovedness

    It had been one of those days. You know when you just feel like you can’t do anything right and everyone is mad, or at best, annoyed with you? One of those days when my insecurity seems to have me firmly by the reigns, controlling my every thought and word. The kind of day when tears sting behind my eyes, blinking with sheer will-power not to lose it completely, at least not before lunchtime. “Let me get through half the day without a meltdown, Lord” I silently pray.

    I would love to blame it all on tiredness and hormones, as nursing mama with young baby, but the truth is I woke up not feeling very beloved that day. And it felt like everything around me was confirming that lie. My husband was running late that morning and barely had time to inhale breakfast and head out the door with a distracted goodbye. The kids with whom I had spent at least two hours the night before doing homework with, were cranky and tired and complaining about more school work ahead today.

    As my cheerfulness faded to irritation, and feelings of being unappreciated surfaced, the tension in the room rose. I sulked at my husband and was short with the kids, because honestly, I felt like they were all sucking the joy out of the room. I barely had any reserves and they were zapping the last of them with all their negativity and distractedness. I got the kids out the door and off to school, all of us a little worse for wear, and as I sat in my now quiet car, the nagging sensation of conviction set in.

    In the stillness, I began to reflect over the truth of how the morning had really unfolded, separate from my tiredness and fragile emotions, and began to see things more clearly. When my husband was in a rush and hollered “bye, love you” on his way out the door, he wasn’t loving me less by neglecting to swoop in and embrace me Gone-with-the-Wind-style, he was just running late. When my kids were frustrated about school and homework, they weren’t unappreciative of the help I had given them, they were sharing their real feelings about school and homework being a drag. It had nothing to do with me, but somehow, I internalized everything hard that day. And just like that, the enemy had me right where he wanted me–feeling invisible and doubting my own belovedness, and neglecting the belovedness of those around me.

    When I start to doubt my own belovedness, my focus turns wholly on me. The temptation is great to stay powerless in that place, feeling pitiful and dangerously justified because, yes, families should appreciate and love one another and show it. But they are also human and ultimately not responsible for my happiness, confidence or sense of belovedness. That, my dear friend, is an inside job.

    I drove slowly home and offered a meek prayer to God. “Lord, I feel small and powerless and discouraged. How can I feel “beloved” when it feels like the enemy and the world around me is trying to strip me of my belovedness at every opportunity? I need you to take care of me and remind me that I am loved and cherished and precious. Help the kids have an okay day today, and help this afternoon to go better. Amen”

    It felt like a selfish prayer, with more uttered on my own behalf, than that of the ones I had been cross with that morning. But there it was, simple and honest.

    I got home and opened my Bible app, only half believing that I would stumble across a verse that would lift my spirits a bit. Ephesians 3:19 jumped up and smacked me right between the eyes. 

    May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

    Ephesians 3:19 NLT

    I mouthed the verse softly aloud a few times, thinking about the ways I’ve experienced the love of Christ. His love has been made known to me in so many ways. In the lean times, when money was tight and He provided for us, in the times when blessing seemed to overflow beyond anything I could imagine, through the friend who just “had me on her heart” and thought to reach out, only to discover it’s what I desperately needed in that very moment. He has loved me through His Word, pouring out His words of love.

    As I remembered how Jesus interacted with others in the Bible, I see Him relating to me as well. Tender, patient, kind and cherishing me not as just a person who is loved, but as one of His beloved. Set apart and precious, worthy and treasured. More than liked or tolerated, but worth dying for. A deeper love than I could ever imagine, just like the Bible says, “too great to understand fully”. I was experiencing the love of Christ in that very moment as I reflected on Him, instead of me.

    It was then that I felt my worth return, then that I began to feel truly beloved again, because it is from experiencing the love of Christ that all-sufficient grace flows. It is the place from where I draw my reserves, where I find contentment and peace that passes understanding, and where I find the strength and patience to plod ahead on tough days.

    The love of Christ sustains me when I am weak and restores me when I am weary. And true to God’s promise, it was then that I felt complete and content. Refilled and ready to live in the fullness of life again, instead of the empty place where the enemy would have left me. It was then that the power of the Holy Spirit that comes from God, lifted me out of my funk and set my feet back on solid ground.

    I picked up my kids with a different attitude that afternoon. My circumstances had not changed one bit, but my perspective and the source of my power had shifted dramatically. Instead of feeling small and powerless against my own emotions and the emotions of others, I felt steady and secure. God had reminded me of who I am and that He alone determines my worth and my belovedness. And when I stopped to remember how I have experienced the love of Christ, and who I am because of it, it changed everything.

    We went on to have a lovely day after that and by God’s power, I was able not only to be content in my own belovedness, but I was able to affirm to my family that they are God’s beloved as well. The change in the air was palpable.

    While I have shared about a situation with my family, any of us can find ourselves in the same murky waters in any season or circumstance of life. There are plenty of opportunities out in the great big world that can easily wear on our sense of belovedness. A harsh word from a friend or co-worker, wrestling with loneliness, insecurity or heartache, being overworked and burned out, or just plain waking up on the wrong side of the bed. The devil is always on the lookout for ways to get us stuck feeling less than beloved. But Jesus is ever present, all powerful and faithful to pluck us up out of our despair, and restore us to wholeness in His love.

    Today my dear friend, that is my prayer for you. That you may experience the love of Christ, even though it can feel like a bit of a mystery, so that you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Lean into His love, make your home there and let His joy and peace fill you to overflowing.

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