Tag Archives: pursuit

On Submission, Choice, & Love That Stays

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DSC09435God will not love me more if I obey Him. He will not love me less if I don’t. He loves me, every piece of me, completely, unwaveringly. I cannot change that.

In middle school, I told a friend that God couldn’t go with them where they were going. That was a blatant lie, and telling it is one of my biggest regrets, even after they’ve forgiven me. I believed what I said; I believed it about them and about myself. But it was a lie. He would leave ninety nine to find one that was lost.

I have been afraid of where He wants to take me. Sometimes because I’m nervous, but sometimes because no part of me wants to go there. It might make me a little angry, but more than anything it makes me confused and hesitant; it has made me scared to go to Him fully open. But then He told me:

“If you decide not to follow me where I want to take you, I will follow you where you want to go. It’s you and me. I’m not going to leave you.”

If God responded to our disobedience, to our no’s, by leaving us? It would not be love anymore. Love gives, and love allows choice. “Obey me and I’ll stay, refuse and I’ll leave” is not love– it is manipulation.

Love without choice is manipulation.

It isn’t love at all.

God does not give or remove His love or His presence in our lives based on our submission to Him.

Here’s the thing about submission: if it is forced, it isn’t submission– it’s control. In order for me to submit myself to Him, there has to be the option not to. Submission is a choice, and by giving us that choice, God also submits Himself to us. He wouldn’t ask us to love Him in ways He Himself does not love. Love is sacrifice, is generosity. And He embodies that. He is love.

He never forces me to do anything. He knows what is best for me and He has shown Himself trustworthy, so submission is something I get to do out of deep love for Him and out of that trust– not out of fear or duty. But I could always choose not to submit, because love does not force anyone to do anything; love is given, it doesn’t take. And because I see His love in the fact that He lets me choose, it is easier for me to choose to submit. I want to. He loved me first; I love Him in return. We both give, we both receive. No one has to take.

He has always said that He doesn’t want our sacrifice if He doesn’t have our hearts. Because sacrifice without love is theft; it is one-sided, duty-driven, an attempt at control. Love is given; it cannot be demanded. He doesn’t want what we have to give: He wants us. He wants to be genuinely loved by us, willingly, affectionately.

Because that’s the way He loves us.

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   -Psalm 23:6

On Stewardship, Speculation, & Love’s Pursuits

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“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).

journal in leavesThese words are important, and it matters that we understand why they were penned.

We can read in Acts 20 (particularly verses 29-35) that pretty much from the beginning of his work in Ephesus, Paul was aware that the people there would experience and be tempted by false teachings, and that these teachings would be birthed from their own church– from them. He made sure to spend a good amount of time (three whole years) with them, teaching them that the truth and reality of grace had to be the source of their work and the way they treated each other, because from it they would be built up and brought into their inheritance.

About a decade after Paul left Ephesus, he sent this letter to Timothy, whom he had commissioned to oversee churches that were having trouble, including the one in Ephesus. Paul knew the false teachings he’d predicted had indeed come into the church. And he told Timothy:

“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculation rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1:3-4)

Speculation rather than stewardship. That is where the false teachings came from.

In their attempt to sharpen their minds, the Ephesians lost their focus. They forgot that the goal of everything they were called to was love; that instead of having to spend their energy discussing what-ifs and finer details, they had been given something substantial, something they were supposed to take care of and use: they carried grace in their chests. And that grace, even with unanswered questions, was enough to live a full life.

They didn’t need to speculate anymore– they already had something to steward.

It was neglecting that stewardship that brought about the issues the church was facing. After Paul reminded Timothy of their mission of love and what it’s fueled by, he said: “Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (1:6-7)

These false teachers were not necessarily menacing. They sought to be knowledgeable and to share what they found; they probably believed what they were saying. But they left out the true goal of the church: using love to spread the reality grace. They weren’t pursuing the mission. They lacked love’s pure heart and good conscience and sincere faith, so regardless of how many sources they searched and how many discussions they had, they could not reach understanding; they could only make assertions about the things they found in the endless process (things Paul recognized as myths and loose interpretations). These people were not rooted in love’s pursuits, so they could not find the answers, because love was what held them. What they needed was already in their possession– but they deemed their pursuit of finer theology more important.

We are so much like them.

We can have our questions and curiosities, and we can and should grow in our theology. But we cannot forget what our constant and consuming mission is, what demands our attention and our energy. When our focus shifts from pursuing love to pursuing ideas, we trade in stewardship for speculation; we lose something. With a focus of love, fueled by a pure heart and good conscience and sincere faith, we have what we need; we have the reality of grace, and it builds us up and brings us into our inheritance. Everything we need comes from grace, from Him. We are not lacking.

We cannot be so enamored by speculation that we forsake our stewardship. We have been charged with the spread of love and grace; neglecting that charge is not only foolish and disobedient, but it is destructive for us and for all who cross our path, because our theology always becomes our actions. We teach our ideas, with our words and by our example, every single day, even if we don’t intend to. And if our ideas are untrue, we become false teachers, instead of stewards of God’s deepest truth– the truth that He loves and has grace for us. If our theology isn’t rooted in love, our actions aren’t either.

And we must never forget what He calls pure and undefiled religion: “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). To Jesus, if we are seeking to be close to Him and to love others they way He does, we have the truest theology. When love is our theology and when we live it, it proves and grows itself.

May we participate in the dispersion of love instead of in useless discussions. And may we be so engulfed in love and grace and the spreading of it that we have no room left to speculate.

The way Paul ended his letter is a suitable ending for us, too:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain.

Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.

Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.

(1 Timothy 6:3-6, 11, & 20-21, emphasis added)

The Alcoves, The Dream, & The Search

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A week before college started, I visited my uncle with my mom and brother. He took us to the lake, and we simply rode around in his fishing boat for an hour, maybe two. I sat in the very front, and it was wonderful to feel the wind and the splashing of the waters.

Meanwhile, my brain was full of thoughts and worries, but you’ll understand that in a minute. Back to my story.

When we first started cruising around the lake, I noticed many little alcoves. They were beautiful to me– the sunbeams, the towering trees– and I wanted to go in them. But we continued on going straight, following the narrowing lake “path.” For some reason I was almost SORROWFUL to miss the alcoves, even angry! But I kept feeling the wind and water, kept watching. I was hopeful. I was also confused, because I was feeling all these things so strongly! Normally I don’t feel a ton, and now I was overcome with emotion over nothing? I waited to see why.

I looked up pictues of the lake; didn't take this one!When we got to a darker, narrower, calmer area we had to slow down. We went under an interesting bridge, and soon after my uncle stopped the boat. I was looking at (you guessed it) an alcove when he said, “Tessa, look over here.” I looked in front of me– and there was a waterfall. It was so pretty. I became content, MORE than content. I reveled in that waterfall and the message that I had just understood. Jesus was saying, “Chase after ME and long for ME. Give him up, entrust him to me; don’t search for your husband anymore.”

And I responded: “Deal.”

Imagine the alcoves are things I’ve valued and desired greatly. If I stop in those, I’ll never get to where I want to be with Jesus. He is better. I cannot, should not, and will not settle for less. I’m not saying that I can’t have anything I desire, I simply shouldn’t chase those things. He says, For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:30-32) He wants to bless me, but if I only have His blessings and not HIM, what do I really have? I don’t have the ability be content with that. I must be seeking Him; I won’t lack anything, even if He’s the only thing I have. He must be my one and only pursuit, and He makes that possible. He has asked me (and you) to allow any desire but the one we have for Him to die. To love Him radically and recklessly, like He loves us.

What are you holding on to? Have you stopped in an alcove instead of moving forward, or are you longing for the alcoves? Keep going. Enjoy the water and the wind; you will reach that waterfall and it will be so much better than your dreams.

And the part about husband searching? Well…

There’s a guy in my life. And we’re just buddies, but he’s a lot like how I imagine my husband. I won’t go into details (especially since I pretty much already told you everything; it’s not that complicated, haha!), but basically: it’s hard to be patient. I don’t quite know what I feel for him, but I wish I did; I wish I could just know if I’m investing more hope than I should be. As you can see, letting the search die is hard.

But Jesus is merciful.

This week, I had a dream that I got married. The face of my groom was a blur, but I could see everything else, and none of it was like what I picture– the location, my dress, the amount of guests– nothing. Yet: my wedding was perfect. I loved my groom, he loved me, and we were confident in God’s will for us. We were honorable, pure, righteous, and JOYFUL before Him. I absolutely adored my wedding. I had a flashback in the dream, of the day before the wedding. I was sitting with my fiancé and we accidentally touched hands. That touch? Electric, butterfly-filled, amazing… one simple touch of the right person’s hand was magical. And when I woke up, I knew what Jesus was trying to do. He was saying, “Now do my plans look better than yours?”

Yes. They do.

Patience is worth it. Trusting Him is worth it. Girls (or guys, for that matter), we don’t need to worry about the details when we let God do His thing. When we surrender our dreams to Him (and not just ones about marriage), He will give us joy that looks a bit like this: from Pinterest

It’s hard to let go, to stop searching and not “control” anything. But Jesus, your plans are better, they are worth it! Take the search from me! I surrender it to you knowing I’ll try to steal it back, but don’t let me. Fulfill the dreams you have for me. I want that more than anything. I want you.

“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”  -Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Keep My Heart Alive: The Breastplate of Righteousness

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But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it–the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  -Romans 3:21-26

I always secretly wondered what righteousness was. I grew up hearing the word used, but even after I began pursuing Jesus I was a little unsure. How could I know if I was righteous? If I wasn’t, how could I become righteous? It was confusing and I didn’t understand. It took a long time for me to begin believing I was righteous, but Jesus used Jason Gray’s song “I Am New” to start convincing me:

Forgiven. Beloved. Hidden in Christ. Made in the image of the Giver of life. Righteous and holy. Reborn and remade. Accepted and worthy–this is our new name.

Everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him. (1 John 2:29) I am righteous! I may not do all I should, I may not be perfect, but I have Jesus living in me now. His righteousness is inside me. It is nothing I’ve done. Without Him, I’m the same old mess of unrighteousness. It’s Him and only Him. He turns me into the person He tells me I am! The trick isn’t to seek righteousness itself, but to seek God whole-heartedly. That’s what righteousness is: the imitation of Him. Trying to be righteous alone always fails. We’ve all tried, but you just can’t do it! God doesn’t need you to be perfect; He just wants you to love Him. Unbelievers in Israel gave us this example: Being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:3) You’re not seeking righteousness for yourself. You need to want it because He has it and it’ll bring you closer to Him, not to improve yourself. He put on righteousness as breastplate long before we even knew it was possible (see Isaiah 59:17).

You’ve probably heard it said that The righteous shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4) Righteousness without faith is failure, empty works, legalism. Unless you have faith, your would-be-righteous acts don’t mean anything deeper than the act itself. Faith is the key. Faith is what makes it all matter, makes it part of you. Before I had faith, I tried to do everything in my power to be a good, pure person in hopes that Jesus would love me. Unfortunately, my power is small and weak. Not only could I not be righteous, I couldn’t make Him love me even when I did something good– He already loved me. I simply had to believe that. Being righteous is NOT a way to make God love you; it’s a product of the love He’s already given you. When you have faith in Him, righteousness begins to grow in you. Because you love Him and know He loves you, you do all that you do out of that faith, and that makes you righteous. Faith is the source and the fuel. Believe in His love and His promises. That’s what counts. (see Genesis 15:6)

As a piece of armor, righteousness works as a breastplate. What does it do, exactly?

  1. It’s your front. A breastplate goes straight onto you; it’s probably the first thing someone would notice on you. You’ve heard people say, “So-and-so has this kind of front”, meaning they put off a certain air? Righteousness has its own air. You can usually tell when someone is truly striving to imitate Jesus. It effects the people around you, simply because you live it! The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. (Isaiah 32:17)
  2. It tells others who you fight for. Many knights would wear their family crest or the king’s symbol on their chest. It was a silent declaration of loyalty, but it also let other knights know if they were on the same side or not during battle. Likewise, your righteousness is a symbol of your loyalty to Jesus and fighting for Him; it shows you care enough to try, to commit the way you live to Him. However–it also lets the enemy and his warriors see whose you are; it makes them hate you and fight you. Psalm 37:30-33 explains and encourages: The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. The wicked watches for the righteous and seeks to put him to death. The Lord will not abandon him to his power or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial. We’ll be under attack, yes, but we won’t be defeated. He will protect us.
  3. It protects your most vital area: your heart. There are so many verses in the Bible that speak of righteousness being life-giving. I know first-hand that sometimes it just doesn’t look appealing to do the right or moral thing, but I also know that every time I act on that I start feeling weary, beat-down, lifeless. Those moments of defiance and disloyalty remind me what a difference He makes in me. Loving Him is what makes my blood flow. If I don’t live out my love, my heart is defenseless; it can easily be penetrated by the enemy’s attacks. Put on righteousness out of love for Him, or you won’t make it! The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)

To learn more about the traits of a righteous man, read the book of Proverbs.

Are You Ready For Love?

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Song of Songs 3:1-5–

[continuing with SHE]

On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not. The watchmen found me as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her who conceived me. I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.

What I found: She had such a longing for Him, but could never find Him. Finally, when she left her comfort to search for Him, and when she was open and honest and transparent about her search, putting herself in danger for Him, she found Him! She didn’t even stop holding Him close until she took Him with her to her most special place. I can see myself here. I remember when I knew something was missing, but didn’t know what. I dreamed and dreamed until I couldn’t do anything but go out and look for it! My missing piece was Him. Do you know that He’s yours, too? I saw deep truth about searching for Him behind this passage. We grow up being told that when you are comfortable and happy, you fulfill the purpose of your life, but in reality the exact opposite is true! Love is perfect and everything we need, but it’s not easy. Is there something God might be asking you to do for Him, in your heart or physically, that makes you uncomfortable or afraid? I encourage you to do it! Make sure it really is Him speaking, and do it. Wouldn’t you put yourself in danger for the one you love? Risk something for Him because He’s worth more to you? Why wouldn’t you bear a little discomfort for Him, then? The lyrics to “Are You Ready For Love” by Audio Adrenaline explain perfectly: Are you ready for love?/ Are you ready for real emotion?/ Are you too comfortable to join the revolution?/ This love is revolutionary when it’s inside of you/ It’s just so simple/ I never realized it, I never had a clue/ I fall down, I fall down to my knees/ I fall down and weep/ with joy/. What do you hear Him saying? Are you willing to respond? Be honest about what rules your heart– Him or another. Be open in admitting you desperately need Him and reject what is not for Him inside you. Pursue Him, and you will find Him, He promises that. When you do, the experience is unlike any other. You’ll weep for joy like Audio Adrenaline and hold Him as close as you can like the girl in the Scripture! I’m not just saying this for those who don’t know Him; those of us that already do still need these things, because we make mistakes. We ignore Him and we forget how important He is to us. That’s when His love comes in! The girl in the passage tells us that this love is so special, and one of the most amazing parts is that she didn’t know love until she knew Him. After all, God is Love! She did not stir up or awaken love until it pleased, which means that this is part of God’s plan! He knows we’ll mess up, He knows what we’ll do to Him, but He knew this from the beginning! He took the risk! Jesus is ready for love. He always has been. Are you?

What do you see in our Scripture today?

Lost Without You

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Song of Songs 1:1-7–

SHE

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you. Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers.

OTHERS

We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.

SHE

I am very dark, but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has looked upon me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept! Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who veils herself beside the flocks of your companions?

What I found: Firstly, we learn about Him. He is very much desirable and held in high esteem. Just the sound of His name is love-triggering. He is someone to rejoice in to both His lover and His friends. I agree! We also learn about her (really, US!). She has known pain, but she is still beautiful. She has neglected herself because she was working for others. Still, she longs to meet her Lover so she can unmask herself to Him. This definitely sounds like who I used to be! As we go further into this study, I think we’ll see a lot of our testimonies in her story. You were probably like this, too– trying to earn love. In today’s passage she’s found that it doesn’t work that way, and begins to see that He is what she really needs. Her eyes are being opened to see that He is the one she loves with all her heart. I had that moment, too, when I was thirteen and genuinely worshipped Him for the first time to the song “Wonder” by Chris Rice. Have you had this realization? If not, get to know Him better, and you will. It’s like the first few verses say: Your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you. To know Him is to love Him!

This is what I observed from our Scripture today. What did you find?