Loving like God

Things change.

Life gets harder, seasons alter, people move on. It can hurt. A lot. But through it all, we can, and need to, trust in God’s impeccable timing and love to get us through. This past year has been the greatest, and hardest, year of my life. As seen in my previous posts, I started dating the boy I have had a crush on since I was nine. Aside from my family and God, he became my everything. I gave almost everything to that boy; my time, my trust, my dedication, my love; the title of being my first boyfriend, my first real “I love you,” my first kiss. He was a huge chunk of my world and I thought I was going to marry him. God, however, had other plans. Three months have gone by since we broke up, and despite it being some of the most painful times I have ever gone through, they have also been necessary for my growth with God. I was growing too weak. I had placed Bennett as my source of joy and love when it needed to be God all along. My happiness can not rest on the shoulders of a mortal. My joy can only come from God and God alone because He is the only One who can truly love me the way I was created to be loved. We as humans may try our hardest, and trust me, I’ve seen it, but we always fail. Why? Because we’re human. We weren’t created to be the source of love, joy, or peace for other people. We were created to benefit from God’s ultimate love, joy, and sacrifice. And that’s where I stumbled. I gave too much away to someone who could never love me with the unending love of God that I wanted and needed. And I could never love him with the kind of love he was seeking. We both placed each other as the “god” in our lives, replacing the true God and His everlasting, unfailing, unwavering love. We tried, but because we didn’t have God as our focus, and because we weren’t truly founded first in His love, we failed, and we will keep failing, unless we are grounded in Him.

Glenn E. Schaefer wrote

“Our love, however, is easily misdirected. Its object tends to become the creation rather than the Creator; it loses sight of the eternal for the temporal; it focuses on the self, often to the exclusion of God and others. We become idolaters, focusing a part or all of our love elsewhere. We are ‘love breakers’ more than ‘law breakers'”(“Love”).

We as humans were created to love, and to be loved. This year has taught me, however, that we can’t truly love unless we have and seek first the ultimate love, that which comes from Christ. Every other effort we may try will fail until, and unless, we have the Lord as our strength and love. I believe a reason for this is because of the way we see “love.”

To us as Americans, we “love” a lot. We love that girl’s dress. We love our new hairstyle. We love our cat. We love our families. Our love is a “one size fits all” kind of love. It’s become something both powerful and casual and I think that we often confuse the powerful for the casual in our every day lives. We don’t realize the importance of the word as much as we should. In the original hebrew and greek of the Bible, “love” was not just love. There were multiple definitions for the one word we have. There was “phileo” and there was “agape.”  Both meant love, but with different definitions and values backing the words.

William Evans defines agape as “the highest, most perfect kind of love (Latin, diligere), implying a clear determination of will and judgment, and belonging particularly to the sphere of Divine revelation”(“Love”).

This is the kind of love that our God has for us. It is the never ending, unwavering love Christ offers us daily, despite our constant failures. It is the kind of love that comes from our Savior giving up His life in order to save ours. It is the kind of love that comes from the Father giving His Son to save His children. It is love to the highest degree and it is the kind of love that we as humans were made to have from our God. It is the ultimate love between Creator and created.

Our love for one another as humans, however, is smaller, weaker, and unlike God’s unending love, our love ends. We love through phileo. It is the love of human to human, not of human to God. Our love is strange, it is not eternal, and it is often based on our own desires and feelings rather than those of the other person. And this is why it fails. It is humanity’s love, and not God’s. It is based on the mortal, on the secular, and on the selfish. I have learned that this love may not always be true love, but a strange, twisted version of it. If we place our trust, our hope, our future in this kind of love, it will not be able to succeed in a way that will be beneficial or healthy. We were made for agape; the unceasing love of God made entirely of love.

1 John 4:7-8 says “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Our God is Love. He loves and He is loved and He is Love. If love is fresh water flowing from a spring, God is that spring. He is the ultimate source of love. No man, no thing, can ever replace or compare with this. His love reaches from one end of the universe to the other. It is never ending, never ceasing, never failing. 1 John 4:9-10 states “ This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God’s love is eternal because He shows it through His son, Who is eternal. His love is everlasting to everlasting. It is agape; love in the purest form. And yet we choose phileo. Why?

1 John 4 continues with verse 11; “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

We are commanded to love. This may seem easy when we think of it in terms of phileo. It’s easy to love with humanity’s feeble, fickle love. It’s not as simple when it comes in terms of agape. That, however, is why God offers us the promise at the end of this verse.  “12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 

If we love one another, and if the God of perfect love lives in us, He will carry out that completion of love in our lives towards others. Then, and only then, can we truly love someone the way they were meant to be loved; with an unselfish, compassionate, kind love. Any other kind of love will fail.

This past year has been a year of joy and love; phileo love. It has also been a year full of hurt and change. I have seen first hand the difference between human’s love and God’s love and I have truly seen that without agape, all attempts at loving will be lost.

I encourage you to dig deeper into God’s agape love because without that, we will never succeed in life or in love. We may try our best, but as experience shows, our phileo love will fail unless it is first founded in the agape love of our Father. Seek Him first and allow yourself to fall into the vast ocean of love He has for you, learning then how to show that love, in return, to those around you.

1 John 4:7-21

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Schaefer, Glenn E. “Love.” Bible Study Tools, Bible Study Tools, http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/love/.

 

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God’s Faithfulness…and my Guy

His name is Bennett. I’ve written it a hundred times since I was little, “I love Bennett.” I OBSESSED over him as a girl. He was my first real crush and that crush lasted a long, long time. Countless sleepovers with his sister were spent with me talking about him and her quietly listening, being the support I needed as I rued the fact that he and I would never be anything but friends, since it was pretty dang evident that he had no feelings for me whatsoever. But that didn’t keep me from daydreaming and obsessing and praying that the cute boy from church would eventually like me.

By middle school, we had gone our separate ways. Finally, I had begun to mature, and he had begun to run with the wrong crowd. Many hardcore things were done and by then he was on one end of the spectrum and I was on the other. I would hear of him and everything he was doing and it hurt my heart so much. But all I could do was pray.  Several times he would begin to turn his life around, but he never followed through with anything. Within a week or two, he was back to doing the same stuff again. I honestly got to the point where I believed he would never come back from it. I never thought he’d actually change. But then again, God is full of surprises, isn’t He?

He started coming to youth group in February and he was looking pretty good. He was smiling and laughing, and I loved it.  I was so happy to see him in church and supposedly doing well. Then a few weeks later, he asked to take my family out for dinner.

As a bit of background, my mom and dad are the youth group leaders at our church and have seen Bennett grow up. They were the first ones his dad called when Bennett did something or a new event happened. They prayed and loved and supported and guided Bennett as much as they could. They never gave up on him, and in return, he respected them. So on that March evening when we went out to dinner, I watched the boy siting across from me and listened in awe as he confessed to being clean for over a month. My dad knew of this, but I on the other hand had no idea. Inside, I wanted to believe that it was true, but part of me held back. This had happened before. It couldn’t be true. But it was. Bennett was back, and for good.

A month later he started talking to me more. It amazed and surprised me. I never believed that he would seek out a friendship. We began texting and he came over a few times. For hours we would sit and talk about one thing or another; from deep thoughts and fears to lighthearted jokes and memories. I couldn’t believe it. He started coming over more and more until he was over every single day for two months straight. God got a hold of his heart and he thirsted for our Savior. My heart soared. We grew closer and closer, texting every single day. He started pushing me closer and closer to God without even meaning to. We drew nearer and nearer even more and God became our focus.

And then, on September 5th, 2017, he asked me to be his girlfriend. With flowers and a card left in my room, he asked me to be his girl. My heart raced and I couldn’t believe it! I still can’t. Bennett Smith is now my boyfriend! If you were to have told my nine year old self so many years ago that Bennett Smith, the cute, black haired boy with the shining eyes from church would be my boyfriend, I would never have believed you. Yet here we are and it’s still too good to be true. Daily I thank God for the man he’s placed into my life. We are growing together, pushing each other to better ourselves not only for one another, but for God. Yes, there are things that we are still in need of working on, but those come with each relationship.

So many good, amazing things have come from our relationship so far, but the most important result is that it has pushed me to live for God more and more. Both of us, actually, are striving for God in ways we haven’t before. He has become our focus and our desire. I realize more and more with each day how little I deserve and yet how much I have because of God. I realize that I don’t deserve His love, nor Bennett’s. I don’t deserve the beautiful life I have, I don’t deserve the freedoms or luxuries. I don’t deserve the forgiveness or grace. I don’t deserve the faithfulness. But I have them and all I can do is thank God and use the freedom and luxuries I have to bless other people.

God has given me so many things that I don’t deserve at all. He’s given me the boy that I have loved since I was eight, the boy that I have dreamed of and prayed for and cared about ever since we were elementary schoolers running around the church play set, playing freeze tag. The boy that I thought I never in a million years would have as a friend, let alone my boyfriend. But here we are, and God is so incredibly faithful. His grace and love blow me away, and His faithfulness amazes me.

That’s what’s so amazing about Your Grace. Your grace amazes me, Oh Lord.

Isaiah 49:15-16

Isaiah 49:15-16 NIV
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
Do you know what I imagine when I consider this verse? I think of the nails of the cross being used to chisel our names into our Saviors hands. I imagine our names being engraved one painful word at a time. It’s gory, yes, but salvation and the sacrifice our God gave wasn’t pleasant. It was hell. Thank You, my darling Jesus, for engraving my name in Your hands. Thank You for Your sacrifice. May I never take it for granted, my Darling Jesus. I love You. I praise You. You are my everything. Amen.

The “Tony” attitude

A little blue fish once told me that when life gets me down, I just gotta keep on swimming. That’s encouraging, right? I mean, who doesn’t love a nice long swim? But every time something gets me down? Man. That would be a whole lot of swimming. I don’t have time for that. But there’s another way of bouncing back after a bad day. When life gets you down, you got to just keep praying.

Friends, life is full of ups and downs. A day won’t go by without at least one discouraging moment. Your dog dies. Your french fry gets too soggy in your ketchup. Your car gets hit. Your family member dies. Life is constantly throwing obstacles in our way. But it’s how we respond that determines everything else.

Roughly twelve years ago, my family had the blessing of meeting a guy named Tony. He was  quite a bit older than us girls, and instantly he became our “big brother.” He was in our town for about a year before life happened and took him back to his home state. Since then, the only  correspondence we have had with him was through email and letters. Since then, he has grown up, served several years in the military, is now graduating from the police academy, and is also attending college. This past week, we had the opportunity to see him after twelve long years. It was so great to see him again and to spend time with such a godly role model. He has become such an influence to me. His faith, his steadfast love for God, and his willingness to love and serve and help is so amazing. It’s truly a blessing to our family.

Many of you may assume that life was amazing for Tony; that it went smoothly. The thing is, it didn’t. But did he let it bring him down? Not in the least. Instead of speaking about his hardships, he turns the conversations to our God. Instead of complaining about everything he didn’t have, he thanks God for what he does have. He has every right to be troubled, and yet he has more light and love than so many people I know. His faithfulness to our Savior is astonishing. He is so quick to give all the glory to God, and to refrain from giving into the troubles.

Guys, Tony is a blessing to me and my family. His light shines brightly, despite what he has overcome. He inspires me, friends. When I think I’m having a “bad day,” he inspires me to look for the good, and to thank our God for the things I have, rather than the have nots. He inspires me to stay strong, even when I think I have it “rough” (holy wow, guys, I’m so selfish! I get so peevish, it’s ridiculous! My hair doesn’t go right, immediately its’ a “bad day.” How horrible is that!!?? Lord forgive me!!). Tony is an inspiration, and I want to be more like him, to have a better attitude and to live more for God than for anyone else.

There’s this girl that I know. She’s the sweetest and literally most amazing thing I have ever met. Her life is horrible. Think of awful, and she’s had it. But when you see her, all you see is this bubbly, smiling girl. She doesn’t take out her anger or grief or hurt through razors, or purging and starving. She doesn’t pick fights at school, or bully because she herself is being bullied. Instead, she’s there for others. She is eager to help, and to love. She’s the first one to give a smile and a hug. She’s kind and loving and despite her horrible circumstances, she doesn’t give in. Not once. God is her strength, and she holds to Him.

Friends, these people are amazing. We think that because we got a C in a class, or because our eyeliner isn’t sharp enough we are having a bad day, when there are people who are living in terrible circumstances. Children are being abandoned, girls are being raped, people are being hurt and left to die. And that’s just in America! Around the world, our brothers and sisters in Christ are being tortured. Children are being crucified. People are being beheaded. Guys, the atrocities are endless, and yet those beautiful souls never give in. And yet here we are having a temper tantrum because our day got messed up a little. How selfish are we!? How petty? How are we supposed to survive through really difficult things if we can’t even go through a single day without being upset because of something little and frivolous? Friends, we need to change our attitudes and give everything to God because really, He’s the only One who can do a darn thing about our lives. We can try to “control” our lives, but when we really think about it, it’s all in God’s hands. Let Him be the One to take care of you. Give your troubles to Him, and your worries won’t go unanswered. He’s here for us. He’s there for Tony, and holds him up daily. He’s there for my sweet, beautiful friend as she goes through things I can’t even imagine going through. He is there for each and every one of you beautiful readers. Give your troubles to God, and trust that He will carry you through.

John 16:33

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

1 Peter 5:7

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Isaiah 41:10

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Isaiah 46:4

Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.

Friends, our God is here for us. Through the thick and thin. Through the good times and the bad. Through it all, our God is with us. He is faithful. And He has a plan for each and every one of us. So let’s change our attitudes, because really, our outlook on life boils down to how we react to our circumstances. I want to have a”Tony” attitude.  I want an attitude like my sweet friend. I want an attitude that reflects Christ even when my circumstances say I should be acting otherwise. So, friends, what about you guys? Will you join me? Will you try your best to have a Christ like attitude even when the going gets rough? Really, it’s all up to you. You pick. Your choice. What do you say? I hope you join me in my journey of “just keep praying.”
I pray this blesses you. I apologize for any mistakes. It’s late, but this has been on my mind. I love you guys, and you’re in my heart. Blessings to you all. Stay near to God.
❧ Jules

 

Wisdom from Lisa Pennington

“Balance is the result of an intentional reaction to an extreme situation.”

Lisa Pennington, “Tightropes And Teeter-Totters.” YouVersion Bible Plan. https://www.bible.com/users/kitspov/reading-plans/3428-tightropes-and-teeter-totters