religion

The Potter’s Hands

As I look on my life, I see the way the potter’s hands have shaped and molded me to be who I am today. I see the gentle way those hands guide me to form me. I see the times when the hands put slight pressure on me and times when they relaxed to let me breathe out. But more than that, I see the times that I, like the clay, fell apart in those hands, in the middle of them trying to turn me into a masterpiece. And each time I can point to my life or myself falling apart, those hands picked up all the pieces of clay and used them to reshape and mold me anew, to make a new masterpiece with the same clay that seconds before was in pieces on the ground.

Oh how loved we are that in the moments when life is dark, in the times when everything has seemingly fallen apart, those potter’s hands know that I was created from the beginning to be a masterpiece. Those hands know that they selected the exact amount and right type of clay for me to be what they envisioned me to be. The potter knows that by picking up the same clay, and reforming it, the most incredible masterpiece is still possible.

How beautiful it is to see that all the parts of me from the beginning will in the end become this masterpiece. How amazing to know that the clay I thought was broken just needed new life, a new form. How incredible to know that the same situation that made me crumble would also become the situation that would transform me.

Three years ago was one of those times when the clay fell apart. The clay of my life became dry and crumbled to pieces in the potter’s hands. I see now that the potters hands calmly gathered all the scattered pieces of clay and formed them into a ball. Then they put the ball on the potter’s wheel and began to guide and shape my life, using all the pieces that fell apart before, but having reworked them and rejoined them in a new way so that this time they would stick. With calm patience, those potter’s hands continued to work, bringing new life to the dried clay that had previously been there. They added water like the waters of baptism to strengthen me and make me new. As the hands continued to shape me into something new, they continually met me where I was.

May we all be potter’s hands to each other. In times when someone’s life has become dry or fallen into pieces, may we, like the potter, meet them where they are. Without trying to change the clay material that makes them who they are, may we help them gather all of who why are, put all the pieces of themselves into a ball and place it on the potter’s wheel and leave it to the potter to reconstruct new possibility of life in them. For through the potter’s hands, portals of hope are formed and new life is given. We don’t need to become something other than who were were originally created to be, we need only to place all of ourselves on the wheel and let the potter’s beautiful hands work to turn us into the masterpiece he envisioned us to be.

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The Foot of the Cross – The Source of Love

“Come with me” he says. “Come follow me.” “Come deeper with me.” “Trust me.” He tells me this constantly. He comes to me in my moments of despair, in my moments of weakness, and in my moments of great joy and tells me to come with him. To go with him to that place on Calvary where he died, because he has more to show me.

Then he takes me there. I am walking through the desert with him by my side. We walk up the hill of Calvary. At the top of the hill he points to the cross. There he is. He is on the cross. He is suffering. He is in so much pain and so much hurt. He is weak and wounded. The air is filled with a deep somber sense as if the entire world has been paused.

We walk up to the foot of the cross. I am standing right at the foot of the cross. His blood is pouring down on me. I can hear him, hear him struggling for breath, crying out. I see him looking up to heaven, to his father, wishing for relief, wishing all the pain he was experiencing would be taken away and healed. But although he hopes so dearly for the pain to go away, he courageously accepts the knowledge that God’s will and God’s plan is greater than his own human desire to never experience pain. He has perfect trust in God his Father and the plan that God has for him. He embraces his cross with a strength so unknown to this world.

Then He looks at me. He looks right at me. When I dare to look back up, directly into his eyes I feel as though I can see straight into his soul and he into mine. His eyes are full of pain. I can see every part of his body is in intense pain. I have never seen so much pain in my life. But although he is in great pain, there is something else in his eyes that overtakes the pain. There is love. There is love, great love in his eyes. It is a piercing love like I have never experienced before. A love so deep and so pure. It is a love for me. A love for my husband. A love for our children. A love for each and every person who has ever existed and who ever will exist in this world. This love in His eyes is the calm in the storm.

He doesn’t say anything to me while our eyes are locked but it is as if his gaze speaks directly to my soul. I can hear his soul speaking to mine and he says “I love you. You are a daughter of God and you are so deeply loved. You have so much immense worth. I have so much planned for you and it is greater than you could ever imagine. I forgive you for all that you have done and all that you will do. There is nothing you can do that will change my love for you. There is nothing you can do to make me stop loving you. I love you. I love you exactly where you are, who you are, and no matter what you do. I will love you at every moment of every day for eternity. I want you to accept my love, to let me love you. But I want you to choose my love. I freely give my love to you at all times and through all things. I will love you if you accept my love, if you reject it, deny it, run from it, ignore it, or embrace it, because my love for you isn’t based on what you do, it is my conscious choice to love you no matter what. I love you with all that I have. I suffer for you. I rejoice for you and in you. I delight in you.”

When I feel his immense love for me I am paralyzed. I can’t move. I fall down. Fall straight on my knees with my face on the ground and my hands raised to heaven. I am overcome. Overcome with this love that I cannot understand. This love that is greater than any sin or anything in this world. This unconditional love like I have never experienced. This love that he pours down on me overtakes me. It overtakes every part of my being and fills my soul. It fills my soul with everything I could ever want and everything I could ever need. For the first time in my life I feel complete – I feel full – I feel alive – I feel like I am who I am meant to be, who I was made to be. I am so full of His love that all I want to do is give this love to others.

Then Jesus takes me up on the cross with him. He unites my suffering to his on the cross. And while I am up there I see everyone who has ever hurt me. I see them standing at the foot of the cross and I am looking down at them. Sometimes it is many people, sometimes just one person, and sometimes it is myself. Then he says to me “see them as I do. Look at them through my eyes.” He shows me how although I may be hurting, they are hurting too. He shows me how I have played a part in their suffering, pain, joy, and triumphs. It’s so humbling. He opens my eyes to see those in my life in the most incredible ways, to see how he sees them as His children who are so incredible, special, and important to the world in their own individual ways. For each one of us is a part of His body and as a part of His body has an integral role to play in the salvation of this world. But as He lets me see each person through His eyes, He also shows me how broken and hurt each one of them is. He always has me focus on my spouse in a particular way since He especially calls me to love my spouse as He loves.

He reminds me that He loves me for where I am in each moment. He shows me that although I have failed Him and hurt Him, He has never left my side. He gently reminds me that for all the times I have betrayed and hurt Him, He has forgiven me. He loves me in my imperfection and He wants me to love others in that same way. He wants me to meet those in my life where they are, for who they are, and embrace and encourage them to grow into who they were created to be because that is what He does for me. He sees who I should be, who I was created to be, and yet loves me when I fall short.

To help me love those who have hurt me, He fills me with the same love that He has them. He says to me that I am to forgive for any wrong or hurt that I have felt. And while I am up on the cross with him, all I want to do is forgive. All I want to do is pour out my love to them. All I want to do is offer up my suffering, my pain, and my love to God for their healing, their forgiveness, and their peace. All I want is to continue to pour out my love for them with all that I have forever and ever. All I want is to show them, to tell them how much I love them and to pick them up, embrace, and comfort them in their woundedness. All I want is show them how amazing they are, to show them how inspiring they are, to show them how loved they are. All I want is to take away all of their hurt, all of their pain, all of their suffering, all of their loneliness, all of their frustration, all of their confusion, all that is hurting them and all that is holding them back and replace it with love. All I want is for them to know their immense worth in the eyes of God. All I want to do is tell them how sorry I am for all the ways I have wronged them. It’s amazing how much we all fall short and wrong those in our lives. While I am up on the cross looking down at them through His eyes, all I have is compassion, forgiveness, and love for them.

And while I am on the cross looking down with the same love for them in my heart that Christ has for me and my suffering united to his for the greater glory of God, He urges me to say these words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

 

Forgiving those who aren’t sorry

Perhaps one of the hardest challenges we face is forgiving someone who has not apologized. What do you do when you have been hurt by another but they aren’t sorry and haven’t asked for your forgiveness?

I think the story of the prodigal son shows us how to respond. While the son left and squandered his father’s wealth, his father didn’t go out after him to tell him he was wrong. He didn’t seek out his son and expect his son to apologize. He didn’t angrily lash out and hold on to the bitterness he probably felt.

He stayed home.

He stayed home and prepared himself for the possibility that his son would return. During that time his son was away he must have been humbling himself, forgiving his son, and softening his heart so that when his son returned he could honestly hold out his arms, embrace his son, and rejoice in his return. He spent the time in between being wronged by his son and his son’s apology practicing forgiveness and getting his heart ready to be able to forgive his son if or when he returned home.

How often do we spend that time in between being wronged and receiving an apology allowing ourselves to soak in the bitter feelings, replaying the hurt we feel, and holding on to anger? How often do we refuse to forgive someone because they have not yet asked for our forgiveness? How often do we allow ourselves to be held prisoner by our feelings of hurt and anger instead of allowing our hearts to be softened by forgiving? How often do we seek out the person who has wronged us, tell them about how they wronged us, and want them to apologize? How often do we continually remind those who have wronged us of the things they have done to make them feel bad and remind them of their past mistakes?

How precious is it to spend time humbling yourself in forgiving another?  What a greater gift can you give to another than being ready to honestly extend your forgiveness when they ask for it because you have already forgiven them in your heart? What spiritual effect might it have on a person to already be forgiven by you even if they don’t know it yet?

It is such a great act of humility to be wronged by someone and, before they have a chance to apologize to you, look at the cross and allow the reality of the cross to sink in. To look to the cross and realize that God knew all the times you would wrong him and yet he continually forgives you. It is in knowing that God forgives us that we can ask him to give us the grace to forgive, even to forgive those who are not sorry.

Our forgiveness changes lives. It changes our lives by making us humble and replacing hurt, anger, and bitterness with love and mercy. It changes others’ lives by extending grace and mercy.

You may never receive an apology, but in preparing yourself for the chance that it may come, you have freed both yourself and that person. Through your forgiveness you can then respond to them in the future out of love.

When that moment comes – when your forgiveness is asked for – will you have already forgiven them and will you be able to look them in the eye and say with all your heart “I forgive you”?

Metanioa – Transforming Love

I have been transformed by love and as a result my love has been transformed.

I heard a new word the other day: metanioa. It means a transformation, a change, in your way of life as a result of penitence or spiritual conversion. It originated from the Greek word metanoein which means to change one’s mind. As I look back at the last year of my life where I have studied, prayed, and contemplated what it means to love – to truly love – the way God calls us to love as Christians I have seen my thoughts, my actions, my whole life be transformed. I am changed and I can never go back to who I once was. This year I realized one thing that changed me forever – love is not about me.

I always knew love was selfless. I had heard and read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 so many times. I knew the words – “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Although I knew the words, I didn’t live them fully.

Love is not about me. How easy is it to look at your spouse and silently as yourself the question – what do they do for me? How do they make me feel? Do they treat me the way I deserve? But love, selfless love, is not about what your spouse does for you – it is about what you do for them. It is about how you lay yourself down for the other. It is about how you give yourself, all that you are, as a gift to your spouse. This love is about the gift of yourself and your love.

As I sat contemplating the cross in a moment of darkness a year ago I saw love in Christ in a way I had never seen it before. Love so perfect because it is freely given without asking for anything in return. Jesus suffered and died for me and in doing so gave himself as the perfect gift for me out of love. He knew I would reject him. He knew I would fail him. He knew every sin and every mistake I would make but yet chose to give himself, all of himself, up for me as a gift. How humbling.

So often we see the picture of love as roses, laughter, joy, and happiness. The world tells us to look for a fairy tale version of love – a happily ever after – as if love is easy or comes without challenges. Where in our culture do we see the picture of a love like that on the cross? A suffering love. Is a suffering love really any less love than one filled with joy? I would argue not.

It is in a suffering love like that of the cross, that love is perfected. It is in this kind of love that the illusions are torn away. When love is suffering, it is like a stone in the ocean. The currents of pain and suffering roll over the stone taking away the rough edges and creating a smooth stone. It is moved, it is changed. Love through suffering does the same. It takes all our sinfulness, our pride, and our misconceptions and removes them from the core, leaving only love. When you learn to love through the suffering and your misconceptions of love are taken away, you are able to see love for what it truly is – a sacrifice, a gift, an outpouring of grace and mercy.

A suffering love is joyful because it rejoices in the gift it gives without looking for anything in return. A suffering love finds its peace in the quiet, constant stream of love it extends. Love requires sacrifice. It requires laying down your life. Too often we hear that laying down your life is sad – it is not. When you willingly choose to lay yourself down for another, there is no greater joy in the world because this laying down of yourself for another is the same kind of love that Jesus modeled for us on the cross – His perfect example of love.

As the circumstances of my life and my love have changed with time and I have experienced times of suffering love, I have been transformed. I have come to a new understanding of what it means to love and seen a new side of love I never knew existed before. The trials and challenges of life change us – metanioa.

Do you love me?

The unspoken question we all ask in most of our daily interactions – do you love me?

We long for love, search for it, and pursue it. We wish to be reassured of how we are loved. We subconsciously know we need it. After all we were created with a void in our hearts that only God’s love can fill. 

Christ patiently waits for us to love him. He continuously and endlessly pours out all his love for us. We can accept it or reject it, but it is always there. We can only experience it when we choose to accept it because God does not force his love on us. 

Christ not only gives us his love, but he asks a challenging question of each of us – do you love me?

Christ is in each of us and is continually asking in every moment and every interaction that we have with others – do you love me? He asks us if we see him in everyone we meet. He asks us to treat others the way we would treat him because he is in them. 

Jesus is radical – he tells us to love our enemies. How is this possible? Only by the grace of god and in seeing christ in our enemies.  

Jesus asks his disciples – did you feed me when I was hungry, clothe me when I was naked …..  He asks those same questions of us and they all boil down to one simple question – for you love me?

If you look in others eyes you can constantly see Christ asking:

Do you love me to forgive those who wronged you?

Do you love me to go out of your way to make my day and be kind to me when you feel I don’t deserve it?

Do you love me to put aside your to do list and just be there for me? 

Do you love me to help me with a project when you are tired?

Do you love me to give me a hug after a long day?

Do you love me to take care of me when I am sick?

Do you love me to stay by my side no matter what and care for me?

Do you love me to take some of my burdens?

Do you love me?

When I have been deeply hurt by someone it can be hard, but I always remind myself that God is in that person. I look I to their eyes and imagine that they are the eyes of Christ. How could I say, “no I do not love you” to Christ? How could I not do everything I can to show my love?

When I see a stranger who is clearly having a rough time do I see Christ in them and take a moment out of my busy day to ask what I can do and let them know I am there – they are not alone.

When there is a rift between me and my loved ones do I work to repair it and show my love?

Do I treat each moment and each interaction as an opportunity to answer Christ’s question – do you love me?

By answering that question and showing my love, I not only further the kingdom of heaven but I also become Christ’s  agent to help fill that void that only Christ’s love can fill in each of us. I become his hands and his feet and have the grace to be Christ to that person, remind them how much Christ lives them, and be Christ’s love. What an incredible honor to be called to be God’s love, our deepest longing, to all those I see each day. 

Am I not enough?

Sitting under the stars in the middle of the night after a rough day wishing for a connection, understanding, and love when a gentle but strong voice says through the wind, “Don’t you know how much I love you? You are so precious to me. I am here with you – am I not enough?”

A love so powerful that nothing can contain it. A peace so calm that it cannot be disturbed. A gentleness so sweet its like a soft kiss on the lips.

Is He really first in my life? Do I really believe God is all I need? Have I really surrendered to the point that He is all I need – that His love is enough? Have I forgotten how He laid His life down for me – gave everything for me – out of love, His great love for me – is that not enough?

There are times when we feel like the world has forgotten us. There are times when we wonder if there is anyone who is really there for us – who truly cares about us. Sometimes we feel like everyone has a hidden agenda, like everyone is expecting things from us. Some days it feels like no one cares about us. Sometimes it feels like no one understands us. 

Do we turn to Christ in those moments? Do we say “Lord, I know you are with me and I know you are all I need. Help my unbelief”? Do we open ourselves up to allow him to fill us with everything we need?

But most of all, do we trust that what He has given us is what we truly need? Do we trust Him to know our needs better than we do? Do we trust in His will and His providence? Or do we mistake our wants and desires for His will? God didn’t promise us that he would give us everything we want or everything we think we need but he promised he would give us all we need. Do we trust Him? Do we trust that who he is and what he has given us is enough? 

He gives us small gifts while here on earth. These are the gifts we so often pray for – material things, relationships and loved ones, work, all things of this world. But the gift he really gave us is our salvation – eternal peace and happiness and unity with the Father. Is that not enough to weather us through any storm or obstacle in our way today? Is the price paid for our salvation not enough to not only satisfy us but bring us to our knees?

If that is not enough, then what is? If that is not enough, what are we saying is more important over our salvation?

In our deepest moments of pain, sadness, regret, and loneliness, can we truly look our God, our maker, our redeemer in the eye and say “you are not enough”?

He is enough. The alpha and the omega – beginning and the end.  He is everything and he is always enough because whether we realize it or not, He is what our souls long for. We may mistake cars, houses, friends, family, money, power, children, our spouse, etc for what we want, but ultimately all of those things will let us down and won’t satisfy our deepest needs, because the only thing that can satisfy our souls, the only thing that is forever in this life and the next, and the only thing that never fails is God. 

It takes great courage to let go of what we think we need and believe that God is all we need. 

Where in your life are you looking for satisfaction and fulfillment from anything other than God?

Where in your life is he saying to you “am I not enough?”

One body

Why is it that we are so quick to dismiss and walk away from people in our lives who hurt us?

What would happen if we truly looked at our brothers and sisters as being one with us in the body of Christ? How would our responses to others change if we looked at each person in this world as a part of the body of Christ, where Christ is the head of the body and each one of us is a part of the body?

When I look at others through this lens, each person’s worth and value becomes so much greater. Not only are they my brother and sister, but they are integral in my salvation and my life. I begin to see how we were created to help each other and to work together.

If you think about the body, it is miraculous how all the parts of the body work together to keep you alive. Each part has a specific role and function unique to it. The body of Christ is the same way. Each one of us has a specific role to play based on the gifts and talents that God gave each of us. When each one of us uses our gifts to their potential and works together, the body of Christ is strong and healthy. However, sin and turning away from these gifts can cause a cancer in the body of Christ and our community.

It starts small, one small sin against a brother or sister, but since we are all connected it impacts the entire body in ways we cannot see.

Many times, our natural response to being wronged or hurt is to either seek revenge or cut that person out of our lives. However, God calls us to love everyone – even our enemies. He calls us to forgive and heal. I think the reason he says this is because we are so interdependent in ways that only God can see and understand.

But what if we think about it this way:  If your wrist was broken, would you elect to have it amputated, would you seek revenge and make it worse, or would you work to heal the broken bone? Most would choose to heal the broken bone. If we believe we are one body and your brother or sister in Christ has done something to wrong you or is hurting in some way, shouldn’t we try to help heal the wrongdoing and therefore heal the entire body rather than cutting that person off or leaving them without aid?

What happens when we look at the world in this way? Does it change the way we interact with others?

This is why the family – marriage and parenting -are so important. They are a model for the world of this kind of oneness and love that we should have for everyone. 

It starts small with loving, forgiving, and caring for your spouse. The two of you were joined and became one in marriage. So this type of oneness and unity in love is shown through your marriage. You work to heal wrong doings and preserve and strengthen your marriage. The marriage is the joining of two to become one team who respects, protects, supports, and heals each other. When mistakes are made and the relationship is injured, it requires healing and sometimes rehabilitation. 

Then that same love you have with and for your spouse is extended to your family, your children. You love your children and they love you and together you all are a unit, a family, and you care for, protect, and love each other through healing forgiveness and mercy when one of you is hurting. Because if one of your family members is hurting, you all are affected. 

This love is further extended to all you meet in the body of Christ for we are all connected through him. 

Are we ready and willing to heal the wounds and hurts in the body of Christ? I think it starts with focusing healing yourself, then your marriage and family, and then extending that to the world. 

Breathing Love

You can’t give what you don’t have. 

The first step in loving those who don’t love you is to first be filled with love yourself. If you don’t have love in you, you can’t give it to others. It’s impossible. The question is how can you be filled with love when you don’t receive love from that person. The answer is in the word love itself. God is love so we must go straight to God to receive the love we need for this seemingly impossible mission. 

I once heard that receiving God’s love is like breathing. If your lungs are empty, you become weak and cannot live for long. We cannot live or love fully without God’s love. When you inhale it’s like receiving his love. Your lungs fill with his love and you receive life. You are filled, satisfied, and can delight and treasure his love. But you can’t keep your lungs full constantly and you have to exhale and let the air out. This releasing part is what happens when God’s love overtakes you – there is so much that you cannot contain it inside and must share it with those around you. When God fills you with love, he gives you more than you need so that you can then be his love to those around you. 

God desires to fill each one of us with his love, not just to make us feel loved, but to fill us so full of love that we can’t contain that love and want to love others like he does. This is his greatest desire and makes him so happy. 

In every moment he is longing for us to surrender to him and to let him love us. He wants us to open up ourselves to him to receive this love. To do this we have to be willing to completely surrender. He can’t force his love on us, so we can only receive it when we are open to it. When we do let him love us it is life giving and life changing.

This love I have received from God has filled me so fully in ways I never knew were possible. It has opened my eyes and completely changed my thoughts on love. It has given me everything I need and more to love those in my life even when I don’t “feel” like it or when I don’t feel loved by them. In the moments in my marriage where I feel unloved or hurt, God’s love has sustained me, reminded me of my immense worth as a daughter of God, and given me so much love to pour out on my husband. 

In my moments of frustration and hurt when I wonder how I can love someone who I don’t feel like loving or someone who isn’t showing me love, I breathe slowly. Each time I inhale I ask God to fill me with his love. I hold my breath for a second, just thinking about his love for me. Then I exhale and imagine the air I exhale as being the love I want to give and respond with that love that God had placed on my heart. 

Just as God can’t force his love on us, we can’t force others to receive our love, but we can choose to love them anyway. God is the source of love and he fills us with the love we need to love others when we don’t feel loved by them. When we let him fill us we receive love and can then give to others what we have received. 

For me it’s a simple reminder to always breathe love. 

Love your enemies

“Love your enemies,” he said. “Pray for those who persecute you.” This was considered radical at the time Jesus said it. But isn’t it really still radical today?

How often do we really love our enemies? How often do we pray for those who persecute us? Aren’t we much more likely to harbor feelings of hurt and resentment? 

But if you really think about it, this statement is even more radical than it may appear on the surface. For God sent his son Jesus to be our example of how to love. He showed us that loving means choosing the other person and putting them first in a selfless love. He showed us that loving means forgiving as he did on the cross – forgiving even when we don’t feel like it and even when forgiveness isn’t asked for or even deserved. He showed us that loving means sacrificing for the other. After all he made the ultimate sacrifice for us by giving his life. If we are to love in this world, we are to use that as our basis and example. 

Do we love our enemies in this way? Or even close to it?

How much would our world change if we truly lived out just this one statement Jesus made? Wouldn’t it be radical? 

What would happen if we chose to love instead of returning injury? What would happen if we chose to love instead of just ignoring the person? What would happen if we prayed, truly prayed for those who have hurt us?

Isn’t this ultimately what Jesus did on the cross for each and every one of us? We are all sinners and our sin is why he died on the cross. But although that is true, he chose to love each one of us with all he had. 

He isn’t just telling us not to seek revenge on our enemies. He isn’t just telling us to be kind to our enemies. He is telling us to love them with all we have, just the way he loves us. And if we are to love our enemies in this way, how much should we also love those who aren’t our enemies?

One small statement, if lived out, could have an impact on the world greater than we could ever imagine. 

Which people in your life have wronged you that should be loved in this way? 

Can you love those who seem unloveable in your eyes right now? More on that later….