Sunday, March 16, 2008

Believing God loves me with Unfailing, Limitless, All-sufficient, All-Forgiving, Transforming Love

(This is what I shared at our Women's Retreat a couple weeks ago. You'll just have to imagine the hand-gestures and dramatic pauses.) Maybe next weekend or sometime I'll get the song I ended with on here too. Yes... It's very long!!! Don't feel bad if you don't want to read it all. : )
If I were to ask you what you know about God's love, I bet you all could tell me a lot. If you were looking in the book of Psalms, you might quote Ps. 57:10 "for great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness to the skies." Or Psalm 36:7 "How priceless is your unfailing love." Or Psalm 32:10 "the Lord's unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him." Or maybe Psalm 136 where it repeats 26 times "His love endures forever! But what I really want to ask you right now is do you really believe it? Are you experiencing God's love to be unfailing and enduring and priceless? John 8:31 says "To the Jews who had BELIEVED HIM, Jesus said, 'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'" The truth will set you free—if you know it, and hold onto it and believe it! Just like a key is of no use if you don't use it, truth is of no use if you don't believe it and act on it! Will you join me in praying? Lord, we agree with the Psalmist who wrote Psalm 63 and we say "O God, you are our God! Earnestly we seek you. Our souls thirst for you, our bodies long for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water. We have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because Your love is better than life, our lips will glorify You. We will praise You as long as we live, and in Your name we will lift up our hands. Our souls WILL BE SATISFIED as with the richest of foods; with singing lips our mouths will praise You." Reveal your love to us today! We also recognize this is a battle, Lord. And in Jesus powerful name, we say that the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish – even right now – arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God – against the knowledge of God's love – and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. We say satan, you have no power or authority in this place to keep anyone here blinded to the truth and command now that everyone here be released to believe, know and experience the love God has for them. In Jesus Name, amen! Life here on earth, walking with God, is a journey (or a series of journeys at least!) And in taking any kind of trip, it's really helpful to have a map! A map, however, isn't very helpful if you don't know where you want to go. And once you know where you want to go, you still need to know where you are to start with. Once you have those two points figured out, you can determine how to get from where you are to where you want to be. The problem for most of us is we aren't very good navigators. We often aren't sure where we're going or where we are and even if we know those 2 things, we often have no clue how to get where we want to be. Do any of you have one of those fancy cars w/a GPS system or onstar? I am so grateful that on this journey we are on, we aren't travelling alone. God is actually the one showing us on the map where He wants to take us and He can tell us exactly where we are AND He will even lead us and walk with us as we head toward where He wants us to go. So where do we want to be? Where does God want us to be? What would it look like if we really believed God loves us as much as He does? Loving someone can be nice… but knowing the one you love loves you back is a totally different thing! Think of someone you had a crush on when you were younger (maybe even a movie star or singer) and how it would have made you feel and behave if you knew that he loved you, too. I worked at McDonald's in high school and would occasionally get flirtatious boys coming through the drive-through. I was actually pretty shy about boys (I hardly dated at all) but once got a note from a guy (who was in college no less!) through the drive through saying I had pretty eyes or a pretty smile or something like that. I don't even remember exactly what it said, but I remember how it made me feel! That same year I did actually for brief period of time have a boyfriend, but I realized not long into the relationship that I wasn't in love with Joe. I was in love with the idea of having a boyfriend. I realize now I was in love with the idea of somebody loving me. Now, think about getting a love note from the King of the Universe, the real Prince Charming who IS coming back on a white horse to get His Bride someday. Imagine that it said He loved you with an eternal, undying love… that You are beautiful and priceless to Him… that He would do anything & has done everything to make you His. That should fill us with an incredible, profound confidence and peace! It should give us strength and patience and kindness and humility and joy knowing we are always protected, filled with hope. It should set us free to love other people! Sisters, WE WERE CREATED FOR LOVE. Knowing and experiencing that very real, powerful, transforming love that God does have for us is where God longs for us to be. And if we're honest with ourselves, it's where we long to be too. (Turn in your Bibles to….) Ephesians 3:16-19 says this: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." If we look at this passage a little bit at a time, we'll see it all starts with Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith – which we receive as God (out of his glorious riches) strengthens us with power. We cannot come to Christ in our own power. But once we receive Him, we are then rooted and established in LOVE. And the Word says no one can pluck us out of His hand! Once we are established, we are established! But next, we need more of His power to help us really understand and grasp how wide and long and high and deep his love is… and then to KNOW it: to believe and EXPERIENCE it and LIVE it, so that then we can be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God! So where are we now? Let's take a look for just a minute at where we end up when we "know God loves us" but we don't really believe it. We get confused. We worry. We get anxious and afraid and feel guilty and ashamed. We compare ourselves to others and we beat ourselves up for not being good enough or trying hard enough. We end up tired and disappointed and feel like we're a disappointment to everyone else, too. We try to love others, but it's hard! We try to break free from our sin, but can't seem to figure out the right combination on the lock. We get discouraged and not sure that things can or will ever change. Am I the only one who has ever felt this way? Why does this happen? (Holy Spirit, I ask You to show us right now the truth about why it's sometimes so hard for us to receive Your love. And no power of darkness can keep the truth from being known in Jesus' Name!) The problem is SIN. But you need to understand something very, very important. Before we surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives, our sin separates us from God. If you have never given your heart to Jesus, you are still separated from Him. But once we have accepted God's gift of forgiveness, offered to us through the blood of Jesus, OUR SIN CANNOT SEPARATE US FROM GOD ANYMORE. And even when our sin separated us from God, HE STILL LOVED US. Romans 5:8 says "But God demonstrated his own love for us in this. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 8:38 says "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Nothing can separate us from His love. But sin is still a problem because it can keep us from experiencing the love of God. It can keep us from accepting His love. When we have done something wrong or failed even though we've tried so hard to do everything right, we feel guilt and shame and like we aren't worthy of God's love… so we refuse it. Other times we are hurt by others when their sin affects us and we end up wounded and angry and we refuse love because we don't want it. Love hurts too much and we aren't interested, thank you! We end up wearing masks that make it look like we're fine and we're trying really hard OR that we don't really care what God or anybody else thinks anyway, while underneath the mask we're hurting. What's the problem with not experiencing love? WE NEED IT. We need love when we are born and we never outgrow the need to be loved by God and by others. (God created another person for Adam because it wasn't good for Adam to be alone. We were not created to love God and be loved by God alone.) We were created for LOVE – to receive it and to give it. We were created to breathe love in and breathe it back out freely and effortlessly… to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and to love our neighbors and ourselves. So what do we do? According to the authors of this book (called Truefaced that I truly wish every one of you could read b/c it is amazing) Love is the process of meeting needs. God promises to supply all of our needs and even before Adam and Eve sinned, they needed God to meet their needs. We are all created with needs and as God supplies those needs, we feel loved. We experience love. Some of the needs that God's love supplies for us are: Attention – met through God's servant love (John 13:5-20) Salvation – met through God's sacrificial love (John 3:16) Forgiveness & Acceptance – met through God's unearned love (Romans 5:5-8) Comfort – met through God's committed love (Zephaniah 3:17) Security – met through God's faithful love (Lamentations 3:32-33) Guidance – met through God's loving discipline (Hebrews 12:6) Truth – met through God's instructional love (Psalm 33:4-5) Protection – met through God's jealous love (Exodus 34:14-15, Hosea 11:1-2) Significance – met through God's affirming love (1 Timothy 1:12) Identity – met through God's adoptive love (I John 3:1) The list could go on about the ways God's love meets our needs. (And if we aren't getting these needs met by God, how can we?) The authors make these points. 1. If we can't identify our needs, we cannot know love. I wasn't so sure about this at first… thinking a baby can't identify their needs… did this mean they couldn't know love? That wouldn't make sense. Then I recalled babies DO know what they need and they try very vocally to communicate those needs to us… we just often don't know what they need! But when we figure it out, if we are able to meet the need, they feel love and that's how bonding happens. So similarly, we need to know what we need or we won't know love. 2. If we deny we have needs, we won't experience love. If we say we don't have any needs and don't let God or anyone else meet them, we won't know love. 3. If we withhold our needs, we can't receive the love others have for us. God wants to meet our needs, and often through His children, but if we won't let Him or others love us—if we hide behind the walls we have built to protect our hearts—we won't know love. (Share example of previous night when I needed food (especially b/c I had been sick)… I asked and the need was met. If I had withheld my need, who knows what would have happened.) 4. If we don't know love, our wounds won't heal. I Peter 4:8 says to love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins. The Greek word for "covers" means more than concealing or hiding something. The word is related to the Greek word for "steal." Love steals away and removes the effect of sin in our lives! So, how do we move from knowing about God's love but not fully accepting and trusting in it to grasping the vastness of it and experiencing it and being filled to overflowing with it? 1. Let God show us what we need. 2. Realize that having these needs met is experiencing love. 3. Admit that we desire to be loved. 4. Ask God to teach us how to receive love and how to love others – not out of guilt or obligation, but out of love and obedience. As much as I didn't want it to be true, the more I studied about love, the more I discovered that love and obedience cannot be separated. They are intertwined in the Bible (John 15, I John 4) making it clear that if we love God, we will obey Him and we will love others. As I asked God to help me understand it, I believe He showed me it is because loving others completes the process of loving – just like exhaling completes the process of breathing. We will naturally obey God if we trust Him and believe He loves us. And the more we let God love us, the more we will obey and it will be much, much easier to love others. But we have to let God love us first. 1 John 4:19 says "We love because He first loved us!" Finally, how do we take the next step on our journey into God's love? God doesn't want us to "know" He loves us. He wants us to receive and experience and LIVE in His love. He wants us to be rooted and established in love – and from there He will show us what we need. He wants us to have power to grasp how long and high and deep and wide His love is – and know that His love will supply all of our needs. He wants us to KNOW this love that surpasses knowledge – as we admit we desire to be loved and accept the love He has for us. So we can be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God – when we will experience His love transforming us and freely overflowing to everyone around us. In a minute, I'm going to play a song, but first I want to read the words to you. It's called "I Need You to Love Me." Why? Why are you still here with me? Didn't You see what I've done? In my shame I want to run and hide myself But it's here I see the truth I don't deserve You But I need You to love me And I, I won't keep my heart from You this time And I'll stop this pretending that I can Somehow deserve what I already have I need You to love me I, I have wasted so much time Pushing You away from me I just never saw how You could cherish me 'Cause You're a God who has all things And still You want me! But I need You to love me And I, I won't keep my heart from You this time And I'll stop this pretending that I can Somehow deserve what I already have Your love makes me forget what I have been Your love makes me see who I really am I need You to love me I want to give you the opportunity right now to tell God that you need to and want to experience more of His love. Ask Him to heal your wounds of shame and set you free from the bondage of trying to deserve His love. We will never be able to earn or deserve His love. Yet He freely offers it to us anyway! If you have been pushing Him away because you think you aren't good enough yet for His love, He wants you to stop! And even if you already are experiencing lots of God's love, then you know that He always has more. God's love is like an ocean and He is longing to share it with you. He might want to take some of you to snorkel in the coral reefs, or sailing on the open sea, or surfing in Hawaii or scuba diving in the ocean depths. Or He might be waiting to take you to some safe and peaceful and secluded island where you can just REST. I don't know where His love will take you – but I do know you have to be willing to TRUST HIM and get into the boat. I am just like everyone else on the planet. I need God's love to keep healing me in the places of my heart where I'm still hurting. I am really just learning how to accept God's love. So as I play this song, I want to invite you to join me up here where I'm going to be on my knees before my Father telling Him I need His love. And I know what He does when His children ask for what He longs to give them. He answers. So if you want to join me, this is just a time for you and God. Nobody is going to ask you any questions or attack you up here. But after we're done, if you want to pray with or talk to any of us up here, we would love to do that as well.

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts and heart with me.