The One Whom Jesus Loved

cross

This year I’ve been studying the book of John with Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). Reading John’s account of Jesus’ life, one particular truth stands out.

John refers to himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved‘. (John 13:23, 19:26, 21:20)

The one Jesus loved.

Years ago, reading this for the first time, John seemed kind of arrogant to me. The ONE Jesus loved – who does he think he is?’

Was he saying he was MORE loved than the other disciples? That idea didn’t seem consistent with Jesus’ character in the rest of the Bible. Confusion fueled the desire to know more.

And you know what? As I’ve studied the Bible, learning about God’s character and attributes, I identify myself more and more as John did.

I can tell you with certainty, it is not arrogance.

John knew he wasn’t more loved than his peers. John was Jesus’ friend and eye-witness to His life. He walked alongside Jesus daily, watching Him love everyone He came into contact with.

Everyone.

No matter how sinful, no matter how much they loved or didn’t love Jesus back – Jesus loved ALL people.

Jesus’ love is SO important to John that he replaces his own name with Jesus’ love – John’s most important characteristic.

So often, I succumb to a wrong-view of myself. I focus on negative aspects of my personality, image or actions. When who I believe I am doesn’t match who God says I am, my day is robbed of joy. Then too easily, this wrong-thinking infects my actions, thoughts and relationships.

What we think about ourselves needs to be rooted in truth. Who better to tell us who we are than the one who created us in His own image?

How do you identify yourself?

Often, we identify ourselves by what we do – mom, dad, scientist, manager, teacher, student, child, sister, brother, volunteer…

What we do is important, but have you considered your more important, all-encompassing identity?

Not what you do, or who you do it with, but WHO you are.

Jesus Christ knows each of us, inside and out. There is nothing you can hide from Him and nothing He doesn’t know about you, good or bad.

We are fully seen.

Fully heard.

Fully known.

And fully LOVED.

Do you know this truth in your bones?

As celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, will you take time to reflect on who HE says you are?

YOU are SO loved that He purposefully came to earth – fully God and fully man – to save you.

He lived a perfect life, demonstrating perfect love as He interacted with the people HE created.

He knew every sin of every person as He spoke truth in love. He lovingly healed their bodies and their souls.

He laid His life down on purpose.

Jesus is the perfect, unblemished Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

His perfect, sinless blood reconciles sinful, UNHOLY man with God.

We can be united with the holy God who cannot be in the presence of our sin. He is SO holy, He needs to be described by repeating holy 3 times.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.

Now united with Him through Jesus, what if we lived out our identity as John did?

Who are you?

The _________ whom Jesus loved.

You see?

The mama whom Jesus loved so much He died for her so she can spend eternity with Him.

The daughter whom Jesus loved so much He laid His life down so she can be forgiven.

The manager whom Jesus loved so much He purposefully died on a cross to bear her punishment.

The father whom Jesus loved so much He came to earth to reveal His perfect Father in heaven.

The blogger whom Jesus loved so much He chose to suffer so that she can share in His glory.

The one whom Jesus loved and longs to reveal Himself to – so you know you are fully seen, fully heard, fully known, and despite all your shortcomings, are fully loved.

Will you ask Him to help you believe it?

He is Risen! – But We Must Have Faith To Claim Victory In Our Everyday Lives

John 1633

This Easter, the best way to celebrate the gift of Jesus is to share what God has been doing in my life this past year. Last year, Easter exposed a void in my faith that I ddin’t even know was there. Deeply painful at the time and very personal even today, I wasn’t sure I would ever share this here – but the work of God and His victories in our lives is always worth sharing, even when it is beyond our comfort level. Sorry, this is going to be a long one…Here goes…

Last spring, the women’s bible study studied the book ‘Fearless” by Max Lucado. After the first session, I arrogantly (and ignorantly) told my husband, “The book seems good, but I really don’t struggle with fear”.

Somehow, I thought that learning what God’s word has to say about fear didn’t apply to me –  a grievous mistake. We completed one chapter of the book before Easter.

You know how some years Easter seems to creep up on you? I’ve had plenty of years when I’ve neglected time with the Lord and haven’t been in His Word as much as I should have been. But, last year, I had been studying the book of Matthew in BSF. For months, I studied Jesus’ life and ministry. Last year I felt ready for Easter with the study of Jesus’ life and death fresh in my mind. I anticipated an Easter with family, filled with gratitude, joy and peace.

I entered the weekend on a perceived spiritual high, having no idea what was about to hit me. I was woefully unprepared.

With family visiting, we were invited to join the rest of my husband’s family at his mom’s church on Easter morning. The idea of those we love, standing together and worshipping the Lord is a joyful one.

What could go wrong?

We walked into the church (which is not our home church), and joined our family. As we took our kids to children’s programming, I noticed tables with donuts and pastries, a treat for the special day.

It took just one child running by me, carrying a pastry, dropping bits of almond on the floor for paralyzing fear to seize me. Our son has a nut allergy, and I had forgotten the Epi-Pens and Benedryl at home – an hour away. It isn’t that an Epi-Pen means safety. It does not! But not having it with me was negligent. It showed my lack of preparation and foresight that I usually have before walking into any unknown environment with our son.

I was as unequipped with his medications and planning, as I was in my own faith on a spiritual level.

I dropped him off in his room and had a sigh of relief as the staff asked me if he had allergies before I could tell them – even with it on the tip of my tongue in my now hyper-aware state. Initially they weren’t planning to provide a snack, so I felt comfortable that the room would be safe, even if the hallways were littered with nut-contaminated (albeit TINY) crumbs. I joined our family in the sanctuary and waited for the service to begin.

I tried to keep it together, but felt rattled. Unsettled.

A woman from the childcare came by and showed me a dixie cup of cookies and asked if my son could eat them. I told her without a label to read the answer was no. They came back later and asked about graham crackers, but again, no label. My anxiety climbed in the very room designated for the worship of the all-powerful God.

As the service began, I sang but the words came out hollow. I prayed for peace and protection. But I was preoccupied, fearful and frustrated with my own poor planning the entire service. My prayers pleaded but were powerless as fear exposed my unbelief.

It felt like both the longest and shortest Easter service I’ve ever been in. I longed for it to be done so I could hold our son, but I longed for it to continue so I could find peace and worship Him fully.

When it ended, people all around me were joyful. I felt defeated.

And still very afraid. I could not shake it. I was so ashamed that my faith was so weak. I was discouraged that it took so little to leave me feeling exposed and that I could not find peace. This was beyond anything I had ever felt or encountered before. It hurt.

I ran to our son and found him safe and sound. He had a wonderful time and told me all about how Jesus had risen. We met our family in the hallway. Many of them had donuts. I kept him close to me. As my son looked around, he asked for a donut. Squatting down, I told him that we were going to grandma’s to eat and had plenty of treats. I showed him how his mom, dad and sister didn’t have a donut either.  But as one might expect, he got upset. Tears welled up in his big brown eyes.

He lashed out, pushing me back and crying out in frustration. He was right. This wasn’t fair at all.

Now choking back my own tears, I signaled my husband we were leaving and scooped our son up as he wailed and ran to the parking lot. By the time I reached the car, we were both in tears. And now the poor child thought he was in trouble for pushing me. We were a mess. There was no way I was going to discipline him for being frustrated because yet again, he could not eat what everyone else was having. I was frustrated too, but grateful we were in the car, away from the crumbs.

I told him I was sorry he couldn’t have the donut and just hugged him until everyone else came out. I was afraid to say anything more because I didn’t want him to sense my fear. As we drove to my mother-in-law’s house, I tried to shake it off. I didn’t want to talk about being afraid in front of our son, so I didn’t talk to my husband about it.

The fear and startling lack of peace remained.  All day. As our children delighted in their lovingly and carefully prepared nut-free Easter eggs and baskets, as we laughed and talked, and as we celebrated the victory of Jesus Christ over death, and the sacrifice He made to save us from our sins.

Who would expect something as simple as a donut could bring me to my knees, shaking in fear on Easter Sunday? Certainly not me – I was on a spiritual high, remember?

Easter. The day that highlights the POWER of God and the sacrifice, love, grace and mercy of a willing savior. I was there to worship Jesus, who chose to come to earth, humbled in a human body, choosing to serve and forgive His own creation, even as they rejected Him – A creation that should have known He was their savior – A creation that scorned Him, plotted against Him, and ultimately killed Him although He had never sinned. Not once.

He chose to do it, and in doing so, He took upon Himself, not only my sins and but your sins if you believe, confess and call on His name. He died, willingly, not using His power to stop the pain, suffering, and injustice. Instead, He cried out asking the Father to forgive the very men who were crucifying Him. Then, of His own power, He died, and rose again 3 days later, conquering death and sin. He saved me. He chose me. Jesus is now in heaven, alive, mediating on my behalf, and God the Father now sees me through the lens of Jesus’ blood. Forgiven. Sinless. Holy.

If Jesus Christ is all this…how could I not believe that He could protect our son, whom HE created and loves, from a peanut?

As I wallowed in fear and sadness, Satan was momentarily victorious in my life on a day when I should have been joyously celebrating the victory of Jesus Christ. What more could Satan want than to steal the praise of God as I surrendered to fear? In doing so, I made the day about my own fear and lack of trust. A starling defeat in a season when I had been growing spiritually.

In the days that followed I felt shell-shocked. I downplayed my fear when I mentioned it my husband before bed that night, and then he left on a business trip in the morning. I couldn’t figure out why the fear remained and was so powerful. I decided not talking about it would make it go away.

I was wrong. Once you’ve experienced paralyzing fear, it is far too easy to let your mind wander to what could have happened. It is far too easy to let your mind dwell in dark places that only heighten the intensity of fear and fuel it with more power. I tried to ignore it, but instead it consumed my thoughts, running rampant.

Looking back, the entire situation caught me off guard for a few reasons. First, I had not yet experienced seizing fear about our son’s peanut allergy, even when he was diagnosed two years before. Why? I controlled his environment and food. I had never really had to trust Him because I was trusting myself. Second, my lack of preparation forced me to see my lack of control over our son’s safety. I never forget the Epi-Pen! Third, I tried to pretend I wasn’t afraid because I knew in my head I should trust God, but lacked the perspective and trust to surrender my son’s life.

While doing all I can to keep him safe is absolutely my job, there is simply no way I can control everything. Practically, I should have simply had him sit with us in church, because that would have been the safe and wise choice. And my lack of preparation was a problem I do not plan to repeat. But this was much more than just forgetting the Epi-Pen and being surprised by a donut. There was a much deeper heart issue. I had been so prepared up until that point that I had a false sense of security. By feeling like I had everything under my control, I didn’t have to face reality. I had never surrendered to or even considered the fact that I don’t have this all buttoned up. I never asked myself if I trusted God in this area.

Not having control and ability to keep our son safe was a new feeling – one I still don’t like. But it is the reality all parents face. We will all face fears; of allergies, strangers, accidents, bullies, and choices they will make. We will face the reality that we cannot possibly control everything in our children’s lives as they grow up. Whether we want to or not.

In the middle of the night, my husband out of town, I found myself seized by fear, and crying. Not just weeping, but I think I’ve heard it termed –ugly crying. That following Tuesday, still struggling, I shared with our bible study what had happened. In a rare show of public emotion, I not only teared up, but I sobbed. I choked on my words.  Women dug in their purses and handed me tissues, squeezed my shoulders and gave hugs. They offering wise and Godly advice. They prayed for me. I left encouraged instead of embarassed. They blessed my socks off

They changed my thinking by pointing me to a powerful God who can conquer all of my fears for me if I give surrender to Him and trust that He has them under control. This time, with the truth spilled and prayers of wise Godly women spoken on my behalf, when I then asked God to give me peace, I felt it. Tangible. Powerful. Real.

It wasn’t that the peace wasn’t available on Easter Sunday. It was. But I trusted what my eyes saw – nut covered pastry crumbs – and not what my faith and the Holy Spirit were shouting within me. I learned a very powerful lesson. Fear is a not to be underestimated. It cannot be ignored. It has to be addressed. It cannot be stuffed, or we will give it reign in our life. Delaying the admission of my fear was wrong, and at my detriment.

Fear must be named and brought into the light.

I know now that despite being deep in the study of God’s word, I had neglected to ask God what I was holding back. Self-reliance and thinking we are in control of anything is nothing but pride in disguise. It is dangerous. God was gracious to me by letting me experience the fear 2 years before I have to send our son to Kindergarten. Now I have time to learn to trust God all-the-more before that day. And as I gradually have to surrender my control of our son’s life as he grows up, I need to trust MORE and MORE in God’s control and sovereignty.

I still struggle with fear. As I’ve shared before, it rises often, and has surprised me time and time again this past year. In fact, I have struggled with fear this past year more than ever in my life. The situations I cannot control are not going anywhere and are increasing in frequency. They will continue without ceasing, until both of our children are adults and on their own.

But I refuse to give fear victory in my life. With every test of fear, with every prayer for peace and with every moment I surrender fear to God, the more powerful the light of Jesus shines and the less I dwell in the stifling darkness and oppression of fear. I am learning to turn to God rather than to allow rabbit trails of fearful daydreams. The greatest thing I have to report today is that I have consistently seen victory in the area of fear on a daily basis. It is not easy. Fear for me is an ongoing struggle but with daily struggle comes the opportunity for daily victory. And let me be clear – without the power of Jesus in my life, I am helpless against this fear. There is no victory without Him for me.

As I prepare for Easter this year, I look at Jesus’ victory over sin and death a little differently. Same Jesus. Same sacrifice. But I feel more victory in my life. I see how He has worked in me this past year to deepen my faith, to rely less on my own strength, and to strengthen and prepare me for new challenges. I have felt the peace and comfort that can only come from surrendering to His will and trusting that He will be with us. I know to my bones that no matter what I cannot control, He will still be God, He will still be good, and He IS faithful. I cannot hold onto anything too tight – even our children. I cling to the truth that they were HIS even before they were mine.  He loves them even more than I do.

This past year I have been given tangible evidence that He longs to carry our burdens, knowing I am ill-equipped to carry my own. He has shown me how thinking I don’t struggle with fear is an open door to let it consume me. I must be prepared and be willing to ask myself where I have not surrendered to God because I am controlling things and trusting myself instead of HIM. I find myself grateful for the struggle because the victory is so sweet. This fear is no joke. It rises up and it when it was exposed it felt like a wound ripped open that might never heal. But slowly, I’ve been equipped and althogh it rises up, the fear loses it’s power as I claim Jesus’ victory and promises in my life. I am grateful that instead of letting me dwell in fear, He redeems it and makes me stronger for the next time. At the cross, we become heirs to peace, and heirs to His victory.

“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 (NIV)

He is risen! But we must walk in faith to share in His victory and we must let Him be God.

May He bless you richly as you consider His sacrifice this holy week.

Happy Easter.

Practice Gratitude (and 6 Topics to Start Filling a Gratitude Journal)

rejoice always

A few years ago in a BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) group, a woman continually asked for prayer to have a grateful attitude in all areas of her life. To me, the request seemed trivial. As I ignorantly passed judgement, I had no idea the impact her wise words would have on my life. Three years later, her words rang in my ears during sleepless nights with my son.

My son’s first year was challenging for all of us. He was in serious pain and we could not soothe him. He was treated for severe ‘silent’ infant reflux (GERD). By ‘silent’, I mean he never spit up; it burned coming up and it burned as he gulped it back down. His name is Aiden, which means little fire, and his little throat was on fire. It is no exaggeration to say he cried much of the day and ALL night long. He could not stay asleep and slept a few 40-minute stretches each night until he was 10 months old.

I was defeated. I knew his pain was not my fault but it was my deepest desire to fix it. I questioned the Lord as I prayed for healing but the hurt continued. I lost my thankfulness for a smart, growing and otherwise healthy child. I wasn’t grateful for the medicine that took the edge off his pain, because it didn’t cure it. I neglected to be thankful for my husband who was steady and supportive to a wife who was depressed, and focused only on our son. I was exhausted and emotionally drained. I began to pray for a grateful attitude because while I knew I had much to be thankful for, I didn’t feel grateful.

Gratefulness. Again and again, the request to be grateful NOW was offered up to the Lord. But my efforts at gratitude were meager and simply for survival.

I clung to the doctors’ promises that Aiden would get better.  He did. At 11 months, he crawled, muscles were strengthened, and he slept a little more. At 15 months, he walked and slept all night. We weaned him off of the medication.

Since then, I have focused on gratitude only sporadically.  Sporadic gratitude means that when trouble comes, I’ve forgotten how to look at my situation through a filter of gratitude.

When I left my job last June, I was scared but excited to finally be a stay-at-home mom. My husband and I worked hard to make this possible. I thought I had realistic expectations of what stay-at-home life would be. I knew staying home was going to be challenging, but I expected it to be natural and to bring joy. I didn’t expect loneliness, days were all I felt was drained, or the way my poor character traits would be reflected in my children. I did find joy in many moments, but overall I found myself feeling unfulfilled. Six months in, I had a life altering realization.

It wasn’t my circumstance that made me unhappy, it was my ungratefulness.

I began to try to make gratitude a lifestyle. A practice. I don’t just mean being polite and saying thank you.  I mean taking a step back to SEE what I HAVE. I started a Gratitude Journal and researched how others have practiced gratitude. I took time to recall and record answered prayers; to count the ways the Lord IS faithful.  I tried to start every day praying for gratefulness and end each day with my journal.

Here are 6 topics that repeatedly fill my gratitude journal:

  • Jesus: my Lord and savior, and His grace and faithfulness
  • Spouse: my husband who works hard, loves me, and is my best friend
  • Children: my children, their unique personalities, laughter and playful, funny spirits
  • Community: our family, church and friends – people we do life with
  • What I ALREADY own: focus on being happy with what we already own, not what we want
  • Simple pleasures: kindness of strangers, good advice, beauty in nature, teachable moments, etc.

Slowly, I began to feel change. Gratitude makes it hard to feel anger or self-righteousness and generates JOY. It makes room for more gentleness and patience. When ‘stuck’ at home for days with sick kids and a traveling husband, I feel less stir-crazy. I recognize how much my husband’s long hours and travel schedule are his sacrifice and gift to me so I get to stay home. I desire to seek the Word of God and feel the Lord changing and softening my heart.

After months of effort, gratitude is slowly penetrating my attitude and life, yet I have only scratched the surface.

When I forget to practice gratitude, I am quick to return to selfish, impatient, and ungrateful habits. Sometimes I just get BUSY and distracted. I am not proud o say that sometimes I don’t feel like being grateful and choose not to be. One of the main reasons I started this blog is to explore further what it means to practice gratitude. I am still in pursuit but know it will be a lifelong journey. There is no such thing as being grateful enough.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

practice gratitude