You Belong

Not many can claim a holiday was named after them. Not everyone can claim they changed a country either. But Saint Patrick has claim to both, the impact to Ireland leading to our yearly celebration in his honor.

God used this one man to share Christianity with the country of Ireland, and to this day the heritage of that great faith lives on. As an American, seeing my own country so in need of God and His Truth, I find it comforting to know that one person’s life can have such a profound impact.

Saint Patrick’s secret to changing Ireland? It was a three part lifestyle that started with this:

You belong.

He welcomed anyone who wanted to come. Anyone who wanted to be with them. Anyone who wanted friendship and community. And he taught everyone around him about God and truth.

That sounds a whole lot like Jesus’ three year ministry on earth as he ate with sinners and tax collectors, taught everyone who would listen, and invited others to join Him in His everyday life. Not just 12 but many thousands were impacted in just those short years. Many more lives have been changed since.

Truth amidst everyday life is a powerful thing. Jesus used parables. Saint Patrick used analogies. One in particular was that of a three leafed clover. One clover, yet three distinct leaves. One God, yet three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (or Ghost, they’re synonymous).

From that belonging and teaching came the second part of the lifestyle: Belief.

After seeing faith lived out and up close, while hearing the truth of God explained, many many people started to believe in God.

And the last part in this trio: Lives changed.

Belief in the triune God naturally led to changed lives. Once the Irish people believed in God they no longer worshiped pagan idols or went their own way, instead they followed Christ and His way.

We get it backwards sometimes, thinking we need to act a certain way or believe a certain thing before we can belong with others. Instead we can know that we belong and that often belief and then life changes follow. That’s the three leafed lifestyle that changed a country and can change our lives and those around us too.

When we step in and belong we can have a huge impact on the world around us. And when we include others and show that they belong we’re following in Jesus and Saint Patrick’s footsteps. Belief and changed lives, even changed nations, naturally follow.

Saint Patrick used the three leafed clover to remind us about God. And now that I know his story, it also reminds me that I belong and it encourages me to help others know they belong too.

So where do you belong? Is there a group you could join? A church or a Bible study?

Who can you invite so they know they belong too?

A Lot of Love

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” –1 Timothy 1:15

I’ll be honest, I don’t always have the humility necessary to think I’m the worst sinner. But the longer I’m in the presence of God’s perfection the more my many errors stand glaringly obvious. And unlikely as it is, that is the beginning of a lot of love.

Knowing of my many, many failings would, by itself, cripple me under its heavy weight. Except, I also know God’s grace, His forgiveness, is more than a match for everything I ever have done or ever will do.

And I love Him so dearly for it. I love Him because He loved me enough to die for me. (1 John 4:19, John 3:16). I don’t deserve it. My love is a direct correlation to how much I remember He’s paid for me. And I am the worst of sinners. That is a lot of love.

I can’t earn His love; I can never pay it back. God has bought my freedom and given it to me as a gift through Jesus Christ my Savior. All I can do is love Him and thank Him with my life, with my soul, with all that I am.

I’m reminded of two people in the Bible: the woman weeping at Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50) and the man with leprosy who “threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him” (Luke 17:11-19). One shouted in praise, one wept in adoration. When I remember all that Jesus has saved me from, my response resembles theirs.

There are times my shout is “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25). And there are other times Jesus calms me in my tear-stained gratefulness.

We all have the opportunity to respond to God’s love with our own. He’s paid so much for each of us, the worst sinners. That’s a lot of love. As we remember just how vast His great love is, we have a lot of love to give back.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him [a lot] and the other [a little]. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”             Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”           “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.

“But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” -Jesus (Luke 7:41-43;47-48;50 emphasis mine)

How has God’s great love changed you? How do you find yourself responding in kind?

The Strangest Things

God uses the strangest things to fulfill His plan and promises.

Infertility, fractured family, a manipulative polygamist, betrayal and banishment, one-night-stand, prostitute, mixed ethnicities, neglect, murder and adultery, out of wedlock teen pregnancy, and a guy taking care of a kid that isn’t his.

Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Jesse, David, Mary, Joseph respectively, and that’s not even half the messed up stuff in Jesus’ heritage.

Then there’s being born in a barn, sleeping in an animals’ food bowl, unwashed strangers visiting, traveling for days as a newborn, and escaping certain death as a toddler.

Such strange circumstances for the King of kings’ family tree and entrance to the world.

I’m so glad He was born anyway.

“[Jesus] was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” – Isaiah 53:3a

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” – Genesis 50:20

If We’re Honest

Have you ever seen an infection get out of control? Some germs get where they don’t belong and the body starts closing around the wound,  kamikazying its white blood cells. The dying cells start to stink, the festering gets worse, and streaks start emanating from the initial injury.

It may not seem like it, but death is near unless the festering junk is removed. It’s messy and painful, but opening up the wound again is important so the body can start to heal. A heavy hitting antibiotic does the rest to kill what’s killing the body.

A little infection isn’t a big deal unless we ignore it and hide it from our doctor. Then it becomes a big deal as our body loses the battle against what could have been treated simply.

There are spiritual wounds that fester too. Secrets, shame, emotional damage. If we keep those things hidden, small as they might seem, our lives start to stink as they fester and our spirit starts to wither within us. A dark, lifeless heart is near unless the festering junk is removed.

It hardly seems like a little unforgiveness, a little bitterness, or a little lie could cause so much damage, and they can’t unless we hide from our Great Physician and the care He gives to our besieged heart.

Did you know Jesus came so that we can have life abundant? And our Father in heaven is the Great Physician, fully capable of healing spiritual and emotional wounds? There’s no wait to see Him, and the appointment won’t cost anything but our pride. The prescription is simple and He already paid for it with 3 nails and a cross.

“My grace is sufficient for you, and My mercies are new every morning. Cast your burdens on Me, I can handle all the germs. I love you; let Me heal your wounds.” [Verses below, paraphrase mine.]

If we let Him see the injury right away the healing is pretty quick and fairly painless (though it can be uncomfortable at times). A quick dose of God’s Truth found in the Bible will do for the small, immediate injuries as we lay our damaged heart before Him.

But if we hide it, the infection becomes much greater. The gaping holes and the hidden, puss filled life-killers are gonna take more time to heal. Thankfully God can handle even the deepest of hurts and most festering of injuries.

We need to be honest with our Doctor and tell Him where it hurts. That honesty opens up the festering soul wound, and leaves it bare for God’s Truth to slice cleanly, wash thoroughly, and pack with His fester fighting antibiotic. It can be pretty messy opening up old hurts, and painful too, but there is healing in the end. I love the song If We’re Honest by Francesca Battistelli. It’s such a wonderful reminder of what the Truth can do when we’re honest. (Lyrics at the end.)

And the very best news, unlike human doctors, God can bring the stone cold dead back to life. When the infection has gone so far our heart is hard and cold and we’ve become a walking shell, when the wound has “won” against us, when all seems lost and all is darkness- Our hearts can become warm and beat again, the sickness can be turned back and destroyed. God breaths new life into dry bones, health into rotting souls.

No matter how defeated our spirit or how rigid our soul, a single cry of “Jesus, please heal me!” begins a journey of healing beyond compare. Even the scars will fade eventually, and all you’ll have left is an account of God’s miraculous love and power.

It’s not always instantaneous; healing is often a process. Just like recovering from a physical wound, sometimes the more extensive the heart injury, the longer the recovery. But He can, and does, heal it all. Just ask. Life abundant is waiting. May your journey begin today.

“I came so that they would have life, and have it abundantly.” – Jesus (John 10:10b)

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” –Lamentations 3:22-23

“In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and You listened to my cry.” – Jonah 2:2

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety[cares] on Him because He cares for you.” –1 Peter 5:6-7

“[Jesus] took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” –Matthew 8:17b

“[The Lord] heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” –Psalm 147:3

How has God healed your heart and mind? How have you shared your experience with others?

If We’re Honest lyrics by Francesca Battistelli:

“Truth is harder than a lie
The dark seems safer than the light
And everyone has a heart that loves to hide

I’m a mess and so are you
We’ve built walls nobody can get through
Yeah, it may be hard, but the best thing we could ever do, ever do

Bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy’s waiting on the other side
If we’re honest

Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not
Living life afraid of getting caught
There is freedom found when we lay our secrets down at the cross, at the cross

So bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy’s waiting on the other side
If we’re honest

It would change our lives
It would set us free
It’s what we need to be

So bring your brokenness, and I’ll bring mine
‘Cause love can heal what hurt divides
And mercy’s waiting on the other side
If we’re honest”

The Blessing of Surprise

Planning is one of my favorite things. With details of my days, weeks, and months scheduled and written (in pen), I feel a sense of control, stability, and accomplishment as I go about my pre-planned life.

There are even stickers, and little reminders, and decorative tape, and all sorts of planning goodies. With such a market, I know I’m not the only one who loves some good calendar time.

As fun as it all is, there’s something I’m learning to appreciate: the blessing of surprise. There are many good things we can work into our schedules, but God has the best things planned and those often come in the form of surprises.

There are so many blessing surprises like changes in jobs, relationships, living situations, health, community, other circumstances, and a big one: children.

Some people get pregnant right away, some wait for many years. Some try to have children, some do not. Yet somehow there’s always surprise. I suppose that’s because God has His own planner and it often looks a whole lot different than ours.

How will we respond to our blessing surprises?

Ahhh, that wasn’t on my calendar!

This is the best ever!

Grrr, I’m going to have to rewrite everything.

God, thank You that You’re changing my plan to fit Yours.

With all the planning, the blessing of surprise is one sometimes missed. So the challenge is this: take surprises as they come because God gives the greatest gifts, and they’re very often wrapped as surprises.

“Many, Lord my God, are the wonders You have done, the things You planned for us.” – Psalm 40:5a

How about you? What are some blessing surprises God has given you?