How Big Is Your Love?

I grew up believing that God was the ultimate, most important thing about life.

Yet then it struck me, around eleven, that perhaps something else was more important, or at least just as great. The more I grew, the more I realized the wonderful and deep value of love. Yet if God was surely the most important and greatest of all, where did love fit in? Was it only a close second? I couldn’t comprehend how that could be, but love surely couldn’t exceed the importance of God. It was all very confusing.

I wrestled with this for weeks, and I still remember the very day the answer came. I was sweating and uncomfortable in warm clothes on a hot day, inside a little church building, for the funeral of an unknown mother of a family friend. But my ears perked up as my eyes were opened to the pastor’s words: God love and He is love; in loving others, we are serving God. 

It all made sense then and I grew very relieved that I could give to both equally, serving God through my love, and loving when I did God’s will.

I wondered, How big can my love become? I knew it was just tiny then, but I had hope for more in years to come.

After the message, we sang:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

~~~

Now I work at a Thrift store five days a week. Like anyone who works in customer service, I have a “survival smile,” and a painfully fake happy voice I can use on command. Half the time, I pretend to show interest in the little stories of woe and joy I am told.

Because the days are long and I’m tired at the beginning, middle, and end.

Because the questions are unending. “Can I see this?” “How much is that?” “Where are the other Thrift Stores?”

Because the demands won’t cease. “That’s horrible that you charge tax!” “Show me that!” “That’s mine!”

Because people swear and yell over their opinions on our organization and prices, sales and hours. Because others steal, concealing under clothes and switching their dirty shirts for ours. They make a mess of inside out tops and jeans in baskets on the floor.

As the days, questions, demands, and offenses pile, I grow in bitterness, slowly but surely resenting all those in and out of sight. Hating the very ones I vowed to love.

The more I live, the more I resent. The man who swears and yells; the woman who leaves her dirty shorts in the dressing room. The imperfect people, living in their grit and grime, unwilling to change, aware of their guilt, but seemingly unashamed.

How big is your love? I hear from a Voice within and above and around.

“This isn’t about love!”

HOW BIG IS YOUR LOVE? I hear it again, but it’s time to cash out and pack up and drive home.

How big is your love? The wind whispers hollowly, but I’m fast asleep, dreaming of a new day.

~~~

It’s several years since I was at that funeral where I learned that God equals love and that love is the best thing we can give. Sometimes, I forget for split seconds or minutes, hours, or even days how seriously God requires this. Perhaps I even forget how much He pours this love over me.

And it’s been weeks now since they’ve come and “terrorized” my little store front and made me work extra hard and apologize to paying customers. But still the anger and bitterness and utter resentment burn in my heart.

Now we set up tables and carry bags of food from the nearby trucks. My head is spinning a little, knowing I might see “some of them.” Some of the people I’ve grown to resent.

We work together, facing the crowd of hungry people. I smile in spite of myself.

Suddenly, I see her. She’s picking clothes out of the full bags we’ve brought, trying to find at least one suitable top. But she doesn’t make a mess this time.

Her frame’s as forlorn as ever. She weaves in and out of the garbage bags and other hopeful souls, searching for something to fit her tall but tiny body.

She is made vulnerable to my eyes and I gasp inside while handing out sandwiches. How big is your love, Elizabeth? How great and wide? How deep and strong and firm and vast? Apparently not very big, I realize, suddenly coming face to face with my own hidden shame.

“I am no more deserving of this love than anyone else.” The realization hits me like a dart.

How big is your love? 

“Not as big as it should be. Not big at all. Tiny. Pitiful. Sinful,” I answer, truthful at last.

And she, the long-resented woman scurries off into the deep blue summer night while I watch in shame. She’s reminded me of my unlove, my sin, my disgrace. 

How big is your love? 

From this day on, it shall be bigger. Much, much greater and deeper and stronger and firmer and ‘vast beyond all measure’.”

Why?

Because my Father is love and He first loved me. 

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

 

 

Holier Than Jesus?

Some people try so hard to please God that they want to be even more perfect than He is. Usually, I point fingers at those “some people” as others. Today, I point the finger right back to me.

Last night’s sermon was convicting in more than one way. You know those questions that a pastor will often ask? Well, I was nodding my head at quite a few of them…

I have a confession. I’m a hypocrite. A pharisee. I am self-righteous beyond belief.

You’d never know it by looking at me or just knowing me or even reading what I write. But isn’t that exactly what a hypocrite is? Someone who says one thing and does another.

And that is exactly who I am, sadly. I profess to be great at forgiveness because of what God has taught me, yet I’ve been finding unhealed wounds that I’ve bitterly left for years. My general motto is that God loves everyone, but recently I learned that I’m sometimes apt to think He loves me more than some. I write these posts about modesty being a non-issue and how there is grace in God. But whenever I see a girl in really trashy clothes, I look down on her and pride myself in my “more than modest apparel.” So much for being forgiving, loving, and modest, right?

Truly, Jesus was all of those traits that I’m not. He forgave the whole world. He loves the whole world. And he never once bragged about either of those amazing attitudes.

And as my pastor reminded me last night, Jesus ate with those very people we look down on. Maybe I don’t know any tax collectors or prostitutes, but I know lots of sinners. I know people who have fallen from Grace. And somehow I think I’m holy enough because I’ve been a Christian for longer, I wear crew neck shirts, and I go to church twice a week. But when I do it that way, I’m just trying to be holier than Jesus, an impossible feat.

Because Jesus didn’t come to condemn, but to save. He didn’t come to love some, but to love everyone. He didn’t come for the righteous, but for the unrighteous. And if I really want to have the attitude of Jesus, I need to lose my hypocrisy and really, truly live like He did. Prostitutes and tax collectors at dinner and all.

Your Faith Has Saved You

They called her a ‘sinful’ woman. She was a prostitute, perhaps. The Bible doesn’t specify about her except for the fact that she was undoubtably and undeniably sinful. For that reason, she probably kept away from ‘righteous’ folk as much as she possibly could.

But then she heard that Jesus was in town! Jesus! He was the son of God. Well, some people said that he was. The woman wasn’t quite sure if she believed that or not. But the woman did know that he was a good prophet, a kind man who healed people. She wondered, is there room enough in his heart to heal a harlot like me?

When a woman who had lived a sinful life in the town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume…

Luke 7:37

In a way, I can be just like that woman. The word ‘sinful’ could serve as a description for each and every one of us. And I know for a fact that I am very sinful. I may not be a prostitute in the literal sense of the word, but haven’t we all been some kind of prostitute? I know I have forgotten God and prostituted myself to idols time and time again. I’ve been a prostitute to constant sin. I feel like it feeds me though it really just eats away at my soul. In many ways, I am just like that sinful woman.

But Jesus always saves. I know that from Sunday School and the Bible. I know I can always find my way back to Him, despite my sins. I think about it and realize that he probably has enough room in his heart to forgive me once again.

But when the sinful woman entered the room, she realized that not only was Jesus enough — He was more. He loved her, despite her many sins. Somehow, he cared for her more than anyone had ever cared before. Even though the righteous disliked her, this man, who was more righteous than all of them put together, was her friend. And the woman was overwhelmed. She did not think of herself anymore or even of impressing him with the perfume. Instead, she knelt down before him and began to cry. She wet his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed him, and poured the perfume on his feet as a final touch. She loved Him and He loved her. She was so unworthy, but somehow, He was worthy enough.

and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume on them.

Luke 7:37-38

So many times, I’ve gone to church or just opened my Bible, with thoughts like this woman. Maybe He can save me again. And then I enter into his presence. Suddenly, all my fears, worries, and even failures melt away in an instant. It’s only Him and me. He is beautiful and I am ugly in my sin. But as I kneel before in worship, He wipes those sins away. Jesus refines me and makes me beautiful again.

But the ‘righteous’ men did not like the woman. They looked down on her and thought Jesus to be false for His kind treatment of her. To them, she was sinful, dirty, and not meant to be loved.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him, and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.’

Luke 7:39 

Sometimes, I feel bombarded on every side by people who hate me. I am judged by sinners just like me. Yet somehow I am ‘more sinful’ to them. I am caught in a snare because to them I am not worth enough.

But it didn’t matter to Jesus for he was more righteous than the pharisees’ self-righteousness. He was worthier than all of the woman’s unworthiness. Jesus had the power to stand above righteousness and fill the ‘sinful’ woman with worth.

Jesus answered him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you. Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?

Luke 7:40-42

And Jesus forgives me just like he forgave that woman. His righteousness and worthiness makes up for my lacking. He fills me with all that I need, including His unfailing love.

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much.

Luke 7:47

So Jesus forgave the woman. Even though she was sinful, He loved her without holding back. And He loves me like that, too. Jesus dismisses my failings and replaces my fears with his amazing love. He turns to me, as he turned to that woman and tells me my sins are forgiven because my faith has saved me.

It’s interesting that Jesus told the woman that her faith had saved her. The Pharisees in the Bible and lots of “churchy people” now like to make up extra rules and judge people for what they don’t do. But the truth is that we are all sinners who are going to mess up. And that is why nothing but the blood of Jesus can save us when we put our faith in Him.

Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you;go in peace’

Luke 7:50

Remember that He didn’t say your purity or good works has saved you. We could never do or be enough for that. It’s not our righteousness, money we give to the poor, or the way that we dress ourselves. We would never be worthy if it were based on those things. It’s not how many days we go without sinning because the truth is that we all sin every single day. Instead, it is the grace of God that becomes ours when we put our faith in Him.

Have you put your faith in Jesus? Remember, it’s never to late. You may be sinful, but we’re all sinful. And Jesus accepts us just the way we are — broken and dirty. He makes us whole and clean through his blood. So come to His feet now and he will say, “My child, your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Hope Amidst The Humbug

December rolled in this week and with it, the beginnings of Christmas. The first Sunday of advent came and went, a candle was lighted, and the kids in sunday school started practicing their Christmas Carols. I got ingredients for the shortbread and snowballs and other goodies that I like to make and worked hard all week with rehearsals for my next play, A Christmas Carol, coming up in just ten days. Forgetting the 25th and all it stands for was not a possibility this time. 

However, I found the Christmas cheer a bit harder. It isn’t painful this time. I’m not sad or grieving like I was last year. It’s not that, yet I usually don’t feel like the happy person that most people make me out to be every single second of the time. I haven’t felt sad per se–just tired, lonely, confused, and restless. I often just feel like saying, “Bah! Humbug!” to it all, as Scrooge would.

Today, it was all pounding on me. I wanted to wake up at 7:00 but I slept in until 8:30 instead. I felt like writing but the words wouldn’t come. At a show promotional, I almost felt like I would fall asleep while singing Christmas Carols. When I came home and tried to do something productive, I only lazily watched my favourite episodes of The Waltons. And I struggled with odd feelings and sinfulness and desire for things for ahead in my future and again I said “Humbug.”

But just like Scrooge, my heart was changed.

I marched in a parade tonight, for Christmas, that very event that seemed to start it all. My feet were frozen even in their ski socks, and I looked like I had an outdated fashion sense in my Dickens costume but suddenly, I didn’t care. I saw people I knew and I waved to them, the music played as we walked along and I sang it loudly. I looked around me at my other cast members and I felt joyful. My friend beside me smiled harder than she has in a while and proclaimed that she was happy. There was no humbug in that moment.

God rest ye merry gentlemen. Let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ your Saviour was born on Christmas day. To save us all from Satan’s power when we have gone astray. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy! Oh, tidings of comfort and joy!

The singing did not leave my lips as easily as it normally does. Tonight, the words resonated with me and I heard this old song in a new way. It was telling me to rest, for Jesus Christ had been born, to save me from Satan’s power. Oh, comfort and joy indeed! No more humbug for me!

I’ll be the first to admit that life is hard and sometimes I really do get tired of living. I don’t pretend that joy comes easily to me because it doesn’t–that is, without Jesus. But with Him, joy is true, it is real, and so very comforting.

So may God rest you, this holiday season and always. No more humbug! Jesus was born to save us!

He Passes The Ball

A soccer/football ball.

Image via Wikipedia

I have always failed sports. I’ve never been able to kick or throw or catch anything properly. Choose me for your soccer team? You’ll lose for sure. Pass me the ball? What are you thinking!? But one day, someone chose me for his team.

“Come play soccer with us,” my friend, who was also a talented soccer player, persuaded.

Normally, I would have said no right away, but something in his kindly eyes or the way he asked me changed my mind. Perhaps the fact that I was at acting school far from home helped, too. I really don’t know what made me say yes, but I did.

I practically just stood there in the field, like I always did, letting the star players kick the ball and run about. This wasn’t my game. I would just lose. I watched my friend, undoubtably the most talented of the group, running and kicking with skill. He would surely get this next goal. Yes, I knew that he would! But he chose not to score a goal himself. No, instead my friend passed the ball to me.

Overwhelmed with shock and self-doubt, I kicked the ball quickly and unskillfully. Although I did my best to aim it towards the goal, a member of the opposing team soon got a hold of it and my friend’s gift was lost. Oh why did he pass it to me? I wondered, feeling ashamed and sorry. He must be sorry that he did that. He’ll never pass it to me again now! Amidst this sorrow, I recalled the gift that my friend had indeed still given to me, although I had misused it. From then on, I decided to play the game like I meant it. I would fight hard to thank him for his gift.

I ran and ran, harder than ever before. I chased that ball and longed for it to come to me. I wished that I could score a goal for the sake of my friend who had sacrificed for me. I watched him run, and marveled at his skill. He could out-run anyone, dribble for longer, and defend that ball like it meant the world to him. If only I could be like him! But I didn’t need to be any better for him, as he passed the ball back to me without a second thought.

There was no remembrance, no grudge, or even worry, it would seem. Even though he was the best player and I the worst, my friend still passed that ball to me. He passed it more than once but several times. And most of those times I failed miserably. Sometimes I passed it successfully to another team member, or almost made a goal, but I never scored. But he always forgave, trusted, loved, and gave me a second chance.

Why my friend passed me the ball time and time again, I’ll never know. He could have scored half a dozen times but instead, he lovingly gave me a chance. I’ll never know why he made that choice, but I’m sure glad that he did.

Just like that friend saved and forgave me time and time again that night, I have been saved and forgiven from all of my wrongdoings, by the One who created me. My countless wrongs have been washed away, and my slate is clean. Even though I’ve failed miserably, I have been given another chance at life because He always passes the ball again, no matter how badly I miss the goal the first time.

Have you taken the ball yet? I know that God has passed it to you, and He is waiting for you to give it your best shot. It doesn’t matter how many times you have failed – God will always be your friend, passing you the ball.

Not A Judge

It happens the minute I enter the room. I look at their clothes, the way that they walk, and how they talk and suddenly, from my short analysis, I know everything. Or everything, at least, that I need to know. It’s the judgement.

From these observations, I either like or dislike, befriend or snub, talk to or ignore this person. I can tell what kind of individual they are, and I treat them as such. There is no consideration for anything other than the surface, no thought for the whys or hows of their dress or conduct, just the judgement.

It pains me to say it, but I am so guilty of this cruel action. I’ve done it not once but countless times to a thousand people. I see what they wear, hear their few words, and watch their personality and suddenly, I know them. I forget their hearts, their minds, feelings, and pasts and instead I focus on judging them.

And then there is the day when I realize that I have been oh, so wrong. Yes, very wrong. The clothes that they wear aren’t because of what I thought at all. The words that they said that day don’t define their personality as I assumed. Their conduct has to do with something deeper than I ever dreamed. I have merely dismissed the heart and judged the surface. In judging, I’ve missed the most important part of the person.

It’s far past my time to stop this judgement. I should have changed long ago. All I can say now is this: “I’m not a judge but I’ve acted like one. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”

Grace Like Rain

c. 1632

Image via Wikipedia

The following post is a re-told version of my experience of a production of the Passion Play during my trip to Mexico.

I sat there, eyes watery, heart pounding, holding a slip of paper with my worst sins written out in a letter to God. I had always known that what I did was bad and that I was a terrible person but writing them out had really shown me the magnitude of them and I was now overwhelmed.

A man in a long white robe came towards me, and lifted me from where I was standing. He took my slip of paper and with it my guilty feeling. I felt refreshed, and relieved. As the man left, I realized that it was none other than Jesus! I ran after him, hoping to speak to him, praying that he would not disappear.

He hadn’t been too far in front of me but for some reason, to my dismay, Jesus was gone when I arrived. I stopped, sighed, and leaned against a palm tree for strength. I had been running hard and I needed a rest. I was weary, disappointed, and guilty again.

Suddenly, out of no where I heard shouts and cries and a piercing scream. I turned around to face the worst sight of my life. Guards accompanied a man carrying a cross while women and children wept and walked behind him. This wasn’t any man though, it was Jesus, my Jesus and He carried my sins with Him. I wanted to scream but no sound could come from my lips. I was too stunned, too scared.

They nailed Him to that cross with haste. I stood there, watching in silence. Tears clouded my eyes. I had always known that this was coming but I did not know how very much it would impact me. The blood streamed down his body. Blood that should have been mine. Blood shed because of my nasty, sinful behaviour. Blood shed by the King of Kings for the wretch that I am.

 “I’m sorry God, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I didn’t know. Oh I am so sorry.” I uttered quietly. The tears kept flooding and the screams from the others grew louder. “I’m sorry!” I almost shouted, as if that would help. It didn’t. He still lay there on the cross, bleeding, in pain for my sins.

“I am so sorry…”

I felt awful. I was sweating and crying.

“Forgive me God!” 

The tears were pouring down my cheeks now.

Then, like a crash it was over. The crying died down and my tears stopped. Music sounded from the distance.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see so clearly. Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me. Hallelujah, all my stains are washed away, washed away.

And then I heard His voice, so strong and firm and lovely, despite the pain. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

His voice seized me and filled me with joy and hope and then, even though He was dead, even though He had shed blood and been tortured and had died for my undeserving soul, I felt fresh and new and I could sing. For grace like rain was falling down, and all my stains were washed away…I had been forgiven.

Lyrics: http://www.christianlyricsonline.com/artists/todd-agnew/grace-like-rain.html

Because You Forgave Them All

A re-working of Matthew chapters 18-35, using an experience from my personal life.

There once was a girl who had two teachers whom she loved very much. One taught her how to live and the other taught her a dearly loved hobby. The One who taught her to live was perfect and blameless while the other was a sinner. The first was God and the latter a mere human. The girl loved both very much.

Now, being human herself, the girl sinned against both of her teachers. However, we shall focus on the sins that she made against the first teacher, the Perfect One, as these were of more consequence and occured in a  larger quantity. She lied to Him, said evil words against Him,  rejected His love, refused to spend time with Him, disobeyed His wishes, among other things, on a daily basis. Every night, she would go to Him and confess these sins and in return He would only say “My child, your sins are forgiven.” The girl would then thank Him humbly, remembering just how her sins had been forgiven…by His sacrifice, His blood and His sweat, by His life…on the cross as people mocked and cursed.

“How could He do this?” She wondered. It was hard for her to understand such a great love.

Then one day, the other teacher, the sinful one, committed a wrong doing against the girl. Now, this wrong hurt the girl greatly, especially when the teacher did not apologize. The girl was so upset and angered that even though she loved her teacher, she refused to forgive her and harboured this sin against the teacher.

At this point, the Perfect Teacher stepped in. He was very displeased. “Why will you not forgive her this one folly when I gave my life for all of your sins? Did you not reap anything from what I gave you?” In turn, the girl ignored Him, or at least His thoughts on forgiveness. Every time she would hear Him say this either in her mind or through her bible, she would refuse to listen, telling herself that her other teacher’s sins were just too much to forgive, just too hard to make light of.

Now, as you can imagine, this angered the Perfect Teacher, so much so that, although He still loved the girl, He threw her into a dark, uncomfortable prison until she agreed to apologize. He did not do this out of spite but rather, out of love for He knew that the only way that He could teach the girl, the only way for her to be truly happy again was through forgiveness.

One day, just over a year later, the girl, almost suffocated by the horrid prison of a hateful heart which had only grown over the past months, decided, through God’s influence, to forgive the teacher who had wronged her. Suddenly, the chains of pain were broken, and the bars of hatred knocked down, the darkness was lifted and light pervaded: she was free!

This new feeling of freedom was more wonderful than anything she had ever experienced! To be free in Christ, to be alive in love was an amazing gift, much better than anything she had ever experienced. She hoped that the debtor that Matthew wrote about had realized this too and forgiven the man who had wronged him as well and she thanked God that He had not left her sins unforgiven like she herself had done.

Though our hearts are filled with sin, you forgave them all.

Psalm 65: 3

Picture Source: http://www.all-about-the-virgin-mary.com/catholic-mass-cross.html

Elizabeth