Friday, September 14, 2012

Love is Committed

Commitment is a rapidly declining term these days.  I like statistics so put your boots on, we're gonna be jumping in a few rain puddles here.  Of marriages that start with people between the age of 20-24, 37% end in divorce.  America's divorce rate is the second highest of any country and twice as high as the world average.  2/3 of people in their 20's think living together is a good way to avoid divorce, resulting in a 10 percent higher percentage of divorces (of those who actually get married) than those who did not live together.  12% of couples who live together nationwide are not married.  Ben Courson, said in September 9th teaching, "We are a generation of quitters.  We think that quitting is going to make us happy.  That's why the divorce rates are absurd!" 

This cultural phenomena crosses to many other areas as well.  The average job in America these days has dropped to 5 years, mostly due to promotions, life changes, and the job becoming mundane.  More and more songs and movies and TV shows these days represent couples living together before marriage, or support uncommitted relationships.  "How I Met Your Mother" is a show I like to watch, but just watching it points out all of the cultural ideas that have seeped into our lives.  Dating for dating sake; Sleeping together as a emotional prize, not a commitment; Living together as a norm.  It's easy to see how if we continue to let culture surround our day, Christianity's call to holiness becomes blurred.  It has the ability to distract us from what we're called to be, and lure us to such fruits as pride, selfishness, sexual immorality, etc. 

So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

It's a dangerous line to walk! Immersing yourself in the culture so that you fit in, or because you like it, has a tendency to change our values, thus changing our heart, changing our minds, changing our words, our actions, and ultimately our lives.  It's like a new snowboarder on the bunny slope who hasn't quite mastered the brakes and once going just continues on faster and faster until they ultimately bail out and crash.  A wise Lorax once asked, "Which way does a tree fall? A tree falls whichever way it is leaning.  Be careful which way you lean."  You can see how culture has affected Christianity just by looking at the differences in generations at our churches.  It has become more about the visual and emotional appeal than the life changing appeal; more about the type of worship than the lyrics and meaning themselves; more about going to church to benefit ourselves rather than those sitting around us. 

I currently started reading "Why Holiness Matters" by Tyler Braun and couple quotes stuck out to me right from the beginning.  "Somehow we've bought the lie that if we are our good Christian selves enough of the time, God will have mercy on us and take us to heaven.  He does love us with an unending grace, right? So we choose to stay as immature Christian believers who go to church to hear great music and be convicted by great teaching." Just a paragraph later he writes, "We've bought into the lie of the total and complete Christian message being that we're sinners and God, through his great love, saved us.  Christianity then becomes just something we accept, nothing else.  It doesn't take much to simply believe in Jesus.  In fact, that doesn't cost us anything.  But following Jesus, that's another matter."

And that's ultimately what Jesus calls from us isn't it? He didn't go up to his disciples and say "accept me". NO! He goes up to them time after time and says "follow me".  You can't follow Jesus and have your actions continually following the cultural whims.  Your actions have a tendency to follow your heart.  Is your heart committed to Jesus and His word? or are you just going to church because you feel guilty when you don't? Because you grew up that way? Because you are afraid of failing someone? failing yourself?

Take a moment and honestly think about that one for a minute and began to introspect on your life.  It's so easy to let culture affect our lives and not be aware of the issues it's causing within us. 

May we be a generation acting out of humility and grace and love and holiness, constantly asking the Lord to unharden and search our calloused hearts.  And my prayer today is that we would listen and ask the Lord to change the things which we need to change, and begin to commit again to our first love, Jesus Christ. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Love is Losing ... To Win

 I don't like losing.  Never have.  Ever.  Elementary school playground games and races.  Grades.  Track and Field.  Monopoly.  Volleyball.  Capture the Flag.  I am very very very competitive.  I remember during my senior year in my high school track and field career, winning every hurdle race in my district......until the district championship race where I lost to my best friend by .02 of a second.  Does anyone actually like losing? Is there anyone honestly out there who is like, "yeah, I love losing! It's one of my hobbies." I would love to meet you!  You know what the hardest aspect of losing is? Love. Forgiveness.  Compromise.  I am still struggling with this concept even as I write it so bear with me.

I think the act of losing in regards to love and forgiveness is inconceivably selfless.  Jesus tells us to forgive 70*7 times or in essence, just continually forgive! Oh so often, I continue to think that if a person continually wrongs me, or doesn't learn, after about 10 times (or like 3 depending on the situation) . . . . (ok more like 1) ... then I should not have to forgive them.  Whats the point if their not going to learn?  When selflessness and selfishness end up in the same bowl, they separate like oil and water.  I know I've had instances in my life where this has occurred - Where you continually forgive and apologize and rectify situations with someone who doesn't care.  It's hard.  I really have nothing else to say about that.  I'm sure we've all been there.  It's in those instances where we feel used, neglected, one sided, even trampled, that we want to take up our pride and our anger and fight back.  That happened to me today.  Dealing with scenarios like that, it feels like losing.  over.  and over.  and over.  How many times do I have to continue to forgive that person? How many times do I have to keep losing?

And then Jesus answers and says keep going.
"Because I'm still forgiving you. and you haven't caught me yet."
"I momentarily lost everything for all of you.  But I want you to know, that losing brings victory! I know you can't see that right now, but keep going!"

That's basically the convo I had with God earlier today during my prayer.

There won't always be compromise.  Some times people, (usually we most often notice it in others, but we all have it in ourselves) will continually wrong you and not give anything back.  They will only want to serve themselves and not bring anything even remotely resembling humility to the table.  That's when losing is the hardest.  Nothing about that feels like winning.  I have had one relationship in my life that comes to mind where criticisms would be brought up.  They would criticize me and initially I internally wouldn't like it, but eventually I would take it and think about it and grow.  There would never be a conflict or quarrel.  But the minute I would ever criticize them, a scenario would explode that caused the two parties to get upset and escalate the situation.  And it wouldn't be until I got back to losing did anything ever resolve.  I could never expect them to lose.  Believe me, I tried.  It's hard to continually lose that one-sided conflict every time.  But I also know that God took my one-sided relationship with Him and loved me anyway! no matter what! He knew the secret to winning.  Love and forgiveness.  He conquered it all and gave us all victory even though we didn't deserve it.

I know I have been that selfish person a lot in my life that continually just wants to win those small battles and doesn't secede.  Let's be honest, that's the side that we most often find ourselves on and the side we often want to be on.  And even when friends say "sayonara" and give up losing, God never does.  So no matter what side of the spectrum you are on, you can glean from what Jesus did for you! This short video Journal by Tenth Avenue North speaks right to this post...

Here is how most of that song that he is journaling about goes.  I couldn't write it out any better so I will leave you with these lyrics.  - -

"I can't believe what she said
I can't believe what he did
Oh, don't they know that it's wrong
Well maybe there's something I missed
But how could they treat me like this
It's wearing out my heart,
The way they disregard.
Well it's only the dead that can live
But I still wrestle with this
To lose the pain that's mine
seventy times seven times
Cause Lord it doesnt feel right
For me to turn a blind eye
Though I guess it's not that much
When I think of what You've done.
This is love or this is hate
We all have a choice to make. 

Why do we think that our hate's gonna break a hard heart?
We're rippin' arms over wars that don't need to be fought
Cause pride won't let us lay our weapons on the ground.......
.....Well truth be told it doesn't matter if they're sorry or not
cause freedom comes when we surrender to the sound of Your mercy and grace...

Oh Father give me the grace to forgive them cause I feel like the one losing. "

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Love is Patient (and will overcome)

In 1 Corinthians 13, this section in verse 4 has a lot of different wordings.  Love is patient.  Love suffers long. Love endures long.  Love never gives up.  I have been dealing with this concept a lot in my life lately - in conversations, in actions with people, in friendships.  So often in life we are in a rush.  I'm pretty sure I ate my lunch yesterday in grand total of 8 minutes because I had to rush to get back to work.  We are always on the move from one calendar appointment to the next, from one place to another.  It's hard to sit still in one place for a long period of time in complete serenity and peace with everything we seemingly have to get done.  There's always something right in front of us that keeps us moving.  And believe it or not, this concept has seeped into more than our schedule.  I mean look at our cultural relationship phenomena.  Society just wants to continue moving.  40-50% of first marriages end in divorce and it only gets worse from there - And that doesn't even count the ones that live together but don't get married.  So many people seem to not be committed enough to be patient and endure, instead just ending up moving from one relationship to the next, one friendship to the next.  When times get rough, give up.  When feelings fade, leave.  The more impatient we get, the more stupid and devastating decisions we make.  

I think there is a reason Paul started his list with patience and enduring and never giving up.  This is the foundational base to every relationship.  What kind of friendship is going to last if one just leaves when there's a fight?  or what relationship is ever going to last if you don't know that both parties can endure patiently through every life trial?  It's like Paul is saying, if you can be patient and endure, then as the last part of the list says, your love will never fail.  

Patience is a hard thing in a relationship.  Especially starting out.  But I am realizing more and more that the more patience you exercise at the beginning, the more you realize you can endure over time, and the more you are likely to never give up.  This is the essence of agape, that no matter what insane situations happen, no matter what someone does, no matter what lemons life hands you, that you still love through it all, just as God endured the hardest trial of all and loved us the entire time.  

Maybe you're like me and you've struggled with patience in the past and you've seen those consequences.  You might even think there is no hope of changing the mistakes you've always made, and you constantly live in fear that you will continue to make those mistakes again and again.  But I have a secret for you.  We don't have to live in that fear.  We have overcome by the word of our testimony for our Savior is worthy of honor and glory and all of our praise and He has overcome ALL.  He can change you, he can give you the strength and power to conquer any struggle you have.  He loves you and overcame for you, so that you might be able to overcome and love him, and spread that love to a world whose love is a complete mess.  Our goal is to love the world, not have the world love us.  John 15:19 says "If you were of the world, the world would love it's own.  Yet because you are not of the world, but i chose you out of the world, the world hates you."  Are we being a thermostat to those around us, loving others, constantly controlling the temperature of the room, or is our relationship with God more of a thermometer where the world controls our temperature and has the ability to rule how intimate of a relationship with God we have?  That is a dangerous spot! 

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, But take heart! For I have overcome the world." John 16:33

It's time patience and endurance were added back into the way we love. Let us overcome!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Love is Happy

Happiness. This seems to be the issue continuously popping up in my life lately. It was the topic of discussion at our college youth ministry last night and even popped up on one of my favorite shows, Ellen, this afternoon. What makes us happy? Should we be happy? Is that the purpose of life? How do we become happy? At the college age discussion last night we focused primarily on relationships and their correlation to happiness. Not just our relationships with friends and the opposite gender, but more holistically, our relationship with God. Does God want us to be happy or should we be only set on glorifying his Name, and is there even any difference between those two somewhat seemingly contradictory ends? How can we be selflessly serving a God at the same time pursuing what seems to be a selfish need of happiness and joy? I'll come back to this, but first I want to breach into what Ellen has to do with this whole discussion (besides being awesome).

Today on Ellen, she interviewed, Tom Shadyac, the visionary behind a documentary entitled, "Happy". The documentary is set from a non-Christian viewpoint, and yet is still quite amazing with the points they raised. She highlighted the point that it was free to rent on ITunes for today (i think). If you get a chance, I highly recommend it. They look at various answers to what causes happiness and document different areas around the globe that have completely opposite happiness standards. The conclusion they drew from the different countries, I felt, was a very Biblical answer. The common ideas surrounding the subject were immediately ruled out. It is not money or appearance or popularity status. According to their studies, and many other studies I've read, those three wants tend to lead to no happiness growth and can even lower your overall happiness with life. After going from Okinawa to Denmark to Namibia to Bhutan to India, they began to pull what they believed caused happiness in every place. You ready for this? Loving-kindness, compassion, friendships of trust and caring respect, being outdoors and experiencing nature, actively pursuing the needs of others, and being able to spend time doing what makes you happy. At the end, of the speakers says one of my favorite quotes, "The secret is being authentically you." Interesting conclusion right? How does being involved with what other people need make me happy? Seems almost culturally counter-intuitive. Through the entire documentary, I could not stop thinking about one thing.

Galatians 5:22-23 - "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. Against such there is no law."

So many of those fruits were highlighted in that video. Loving others, being in nature at complete peace, walking beside someone (maybe even yourself) that is going through hard traumatic times, being kind and good and gentle to others, having faithful relationships. I am not really sure how self control fits in too much so i wont try to stretch it - although working so hard to get money and status that you die, as they showed in cities of Japan, could correlate to that. And although the documentary never brings much Christianity into the video (only briefly touching on spirituality), I find that a highly encouraging Christian message.

1 Corinthians 13-4-8a - "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; Does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things; Love never fails."

I love this. So much of happiness and joy is wrapped into love. And study after study proves that the more we are intertwined by love and selflessness and peace, the happier we tend to be. Soooooooo, back to the discussion with the college peeps. The main point of the study was relationships and marriage and where happiness fits into that. Some ground level characteristics in relationships that make us happy were trust, co-operation, sacrifice, and unconditional love. And we all agreed those are just mini snapshots of the characteristics we love about our relationship with our Lord and Savior. Praising a God who selflessly sent His son to die for our sins and who is continually with us and loves us puts everything in perspective. And as we aim to be more like Him, praising His name, that is where happiness and joy are fulfilled. Our God loves that we love him and Glory him and He pours so many blessings for those whose aim is to spread and witness the message of His love. And though the blessings may not seem as such in the moment, His joy is seen through it all. He loves to provide us joy and happiness.

God has created you to be uniquely, exactly, who you are, with your hopes and dreams and passions and interests and characteristics. Don't let society or money rob you of those passions. Wholeheartedly lift those things that make you, YOU, and use them to serve and love others, and to connect with God. Don't ever be afraid to be you, because God wasn't afraid to make you. He made you to have joy and to experience joy in Him.

The secret is being authentically YOU.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Love is Restorative

This blog has probably been in the process of being written for well over a month so pardon the scattered brain.  I am tying in thoughts from this crazy mind of mine from different days and trying to make a continual string out of it.  There's a song that first got me thinking about this subject a while back called "You Are More" by Tenth Avenue North.  I am just going to transcribe the first verse right now.

"There's a girl in the corner with tear stains on her eyes from the places she's wandered and the shame she can't hide.  She says, "How did I get here? I'm not who I once was and I'm crippled by the fear that I've fallen too far to love."

You ever feel like that? I know I have.  "I've fallen too far to love." It reverberates in your head like a gong.  For some reason in our little 3D reality, we can't get past the concept of cause and effect.  "Oh man I did all this work today helping build a house for a homeless family, God's going to love me so much now!" or, "I couldn't control my anger and kicked that guy in the shins on the playground, God's going to hate me for at least 3 weeks now."  The fact that His love is unconditional continues to warp our puny little minds.  We can't grasp the concept of a 4D+ reality outside of our little cube.  We can't grasp that God can see the entire picture.  He was 'there' even before the time our brains can possibly conceive when the word "there" actually means, and He already sees the victory that was inevitable before that time.  He was there when Jesus was pinned to a cross for everyone to take on our sins and thus was separated from Himself until we were redeemed.  And He did that even while we were yet sinning.  But somehow, we still conceive that one little mistake marks us off his love list.  I don't even want to conceive what a list of wrongs as long as Santa's present list would do. 

"But don't you know who you are, what's been done for you? ... You are more than the choices that you've made, You are more than the sum of your past mistakes, You are more than the problems you create, You've been remade. 'Cause this is not about what you've done, but what's been done for you.  This is not about where you've been, but where your brokenness brings you to.  This is not about what you feel, but what He felt to forgive you and what He felt to make you loved."

I look at Peter the night before Christ was sent to die.  The disciples in whole made a lot of stupid mistakes.  They argued over the selfish title of who was the best, they continually didn't have faith that this man they were wholeheartedly following would provide and protect, and like we see in Peter's life story, they abandoned him as He died.  Peter was a pretty impulsive guy.  We first see him walking on water toward Jesus like a boss. . . and then shortly after beginning to drown as he takes His eyes off Him and focuses on the waves.  Then we see Peter professing who Jesus really is, and  then Jesus pronouncing that Peter is the rock that He will build His church on. . . and only 4 verses later telling Peter "Get behind me Satan!" We see Peter falling asleep on the job and then lobbing a guard's ear off, we see him saying firmly that He will stand with Jesus and not deny Him, only to deny Him three times in the most important night in history.  After that rooster crowed and reminded Him of what Jesus prophetically told him he would do, he must have had the worst three days imaginable.  The man he just gave up his entire life for to follow for three years just died and within hours of Jesus being taken away, he had already denied him three times.  

But love is restorative.  

For three days later word came to the disciples that Jesus was no longer in the tomb, and John, the disciple of love, and Peter, the disciple of impulse, ran full sprint to see it for themselves.  We see John and Peter a lot from this point on teaming up.  Assuredly, John knew Peter's story of denial, and yet from this point on not only will they run together to see the tomb empty but they will consistently travel together in the book of Acts performing miracles and starting the church on the foundation of Peter's earlier confession.  I love the restorative love that John had! But even greater we see on the last meeting after Jesus reveals himself alive again but just before He ascends into heaven, there is a story where Jesus specifically meets with Peter.  After Jesus miraculously gives a multitude of fishes to Peter's fishing nets, He pulls him aside and asks Peter if he loves Him. . . . three times! The first two times Jesus uses the unconditional Agapao and Peter responds with the brotherly Phileo.  But on the third time Jesus meets him and uses the word Phileo and I believe in that moment Peter realized that He would never be able to love the Lord with the unconditional love that Jesus loved Him with.  He knew he screwed up in the past and that He would screw up in the future.  But Jesus restores him with that realization and tells him to feed His sheep, and boy does Peter do that for on the day the Holy Spirit filled the disciples in Acts, 3000 were saved through Peter's short "sermon". 

We are all going to mess up.  Our friends are all going to mess up. The more we realize that, the more we can come to realize how much Jesus paid on the cross, and the more we can begin to restore one another in that foundational truth.  So take heart, for you will never fall too far to love!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Love is Tough

"Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." Proverbs 27:6 nkjv

We've all been there.  A friend wrongs you or someone else, does something against God's Word, maybe even abandons your friendship.  What do you do?  Do you sit there silently and pass it off like nothing happened; The world will go on.  Friendship is all about tough love.  If there is no tough love, there is no friendship.  I recently had to show tough love on a friend and found out their view of the friendship wasn't as faithful as mine and lost that friendship.  It hurts, but in the end I have to know I did the right thing.  Tough love is not easy, hence the name.  But for an example of someone who usually perfects the impossible, let me tell you a story. 

There once was this rich young dude who ruled in some land.  When he sees the crowd following around this guy named Jesus, he RUNS up and falls flat to his knees and asks how he can get to heaven.  The guy thinks he's pretty good, confident in the answer he thinks he'll expect.  Jesus lists off some of the commandments written in the Old Testament, leaving off the first part of the great commandment quoted earlier in the gospel.  The dude feels even better now! "I have kept all of those since I was a wee little one!" he blurts out.  But then comes Jesus' right hook if you will.  He shows a perfect demonstration of tough love.  Only Mark records this minute detail,

"Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," He said.  "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me." Mark 10:21 niv

Did you catch that? I bolded it just for you.  He loved him.  He looks into the dude's heart, sees where it lies, where he is struggling, and calls him out with a rather tough commandment to ultimately love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind (Luke 10:27).  The dude becomes sad and walks away, I imagine, with shuffled feet and a lowered head contemplating all he owns and what that statement means.  We ultimately don't know how the man responds.  Sometimes tough love takes time to sink in.  Who knows, maybe after this, the guy walked home to his kingdom and was like, "I'm tired of all this, I'm going to follow Jesus" or maybe it was just a little too hard for him to let go.  After that, it is up to him to respond.  

I can imagine me in that story playing the role of tough lover.  I'd have been like, "WOW, you've kept all those commandments? come be my friend! Oh I know you are still a little distant from me in this large area, but I'll look over it because, hey, your mostly there and I am always looking to not run away my friends"  And that is why I don't play that role.  

I'm reminded of a loving Father who is love, and yet at the same time completely just.  I'm reminded that I mess up all the time in my life.  I forget God.  I don't talk to Him.  I run away from Him.  I go against His commandments.  But the Lord, being the Good Shepherd He is, follows me every time I scurry away, lovingly disciplines me by keeping me over his shoulders, and bonds with me until I am ready to return to the flock.  

"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in" Proverbs 3:11-12.  

If you have a friendship that needs a little tough love, maybe bitterness is growing after a wrong was done to you, maybe you witnessed a friend do something hurtful or inappropriate to another friend or person, GO and demonstrate your real love for the friend by confronting the situation and showing tough love.  You might lose a "friend".  But if you look over it and pass on like nothing happened, do you really have a true friendship in the first place? True love stands up for integrity, righteousness, forgiveness, etc.  Do you?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Love is Personal

I want flowers! I don't want flowers! JUST GIVE ME CHOCOLATE! I want a card! I want a life-size teddy bear (saw that on tv)! I want a date night! I don't want to celebrate! I just want something creative from my significant other! Happy Valentines Day. If Ive learned anything from hearing girls talk to each other during this holiday, its that each one celebrates, or refuses to celebrate, this holiday differently and personally. Every relationship is tuned to those in the relationship. You always do things for the other person to make them feel cherished, unique, loved. (Hopefully not just one day out of the year.) If love in a relationship is not personal, I can tell you matter-of-factly, the relationship will fail, or be miserable. I was watching "Up All Night" on tv the other day during it's valentine day special episode. One couple on the show was having their first celebration of the day. The lady, who knows how to do nothing practical, cooked a meal for the first time and served it over romantic lighting and table decorations. All she wanted was to be rewarded or noticed, but the guy had other things on his mind and wasn't paying attention. . . and things went awry from there. The other couple who was well practiced in years ate Chinese food in front of the television reminiscing about years of graffiti art or tattoos displaying their love. While the first relationship was thoughtful, it wasn't personal, and while the second relationship was personal, it had lost it's thoughtfulness over the way. Both. Are. Lacking.

This is supposed to be "the day of love" so I figured I had to write something about "true love". That only makes since, right? I mean after all, love with a wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, dog, cat, horse, computerized phone technology, etc, is great (except maybe that last one) but love with an everlasting bridegroom is so much more! We are always on God's mind. He is always thinking of ways to show us His love in a unique and creative manner. How can you beat the creativity of someone who created the universe?!? And then Jesus came and died sacrificially, not expecting anything in return, for everyone, and yet for each person in a separate, personal way.

I have this dream or vision or thought or whatever you want to call it. I imagine you have all seen the footprints poem. At the end of that poem, the Lord explains that when there is only one set of footprints in the sand, that is when He is carrying us. I always imagine this day at the beach, probably the Oregon Coast because it seems a little overcast which just makes the water look that much cooler, and there I am, 6 maybe 7 years old, playing in the water, running around. And then a man. . . no, my father. . . walks up and picks me up and lifts me up on his shoulders. He then begins to run around and spin in circles (remember how fun that used to be?) He walks me up and down the beach a ways pointing things out: the hue of the ocean, the size of the hills and mountains, the density of the forest. It's like the greatest Valentine's day times 12. . . . . thousand. . . . . . billion. . . . . . you know what, let's just forget the number. And then He points out in the distance over a forested hill and there is a beautiful city which I can barely just make out. He lets me down off His shoulders, points in the direction, grabs my hand, and waits for me to take the first step in that direction. It is one of my most personal, intimate moments with my bridegroom.

Guys! (and girls, although you were included in that highly generic term.) OUR GOD IS A PERSONAL GOD. AND HIS LOVE IS AN INFINITELY PERSONAL LOVE! He could never love you any more than He does right now. And He definitely couldn't love you any less. He's like a Giant teddy bear filled with chocolate, holding heart shaped balloons and flowers, singing a song! Take a moment and breath that visualization in. And then imagine the stars, the moon, the mountains, the oceans, the tides, the flowers, the lakes, the forests, the deserts, the atoms, the human body, the animal kingdom, water, ice, water vapor, heat, light, reason, etc. etc. etc. And that love so vastly displayed, came and died for all the things you and I have ever done wrong, and instead gave us everything He ever did right. And not only that, He rose again, promising to always be with us, pointing us over the hill to the city in the distance, grabbing our hand to always be with us, and providing the power and energy to keep us going after each step.

Each person has their own connection with the Lord. He is the hope to the hopeless, the father to the fatherless, the joy to those in moments of sorrow, the defender and supported to the widow, always interceding on our behalf at the right hand of the father. Whatever you are going through, or whatever life circumstances dealt you, remember that God is always with you; His love is always there! It's infinite, sacrificial, but most of all,