God’s Purpose in Disappointment

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“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.”

–Psalm 42:5-6a

It’s easy to feel defeated in the midst of life’s disappointments. To feel broken. Confused. Hopeless. Sad. Empty.

But with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can discover God’s purpose even in the deepest of disappointments.

I’m finding that some of our deepest disappointments in life can actually be blessings… propelling us into a deeper peace and resiliency in the Lord as we seek the Lord’s wholeness instead of that tendency to feel empty.

It’s difficult.

But the Lord can heal our hearts if we seek Him.

I want to encourage you that it’s in this tender place of working through our disappointments with the Lord that we find a greater love with our Savior than ever before.

“As a deer pants for flowing streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirst for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?”

–Psalm 42:1-2

I love the longing of the psalmist in these two verses of Psalm 42. The writer, who scholars credit to the Sons of Korah, don’t stop at declaring that they are thirsty for God. They go on to ask… When shall I come and appear before God?

They have an insatiable desire for the Lord that will not be satisfied until they see Him.

An unrivaled love.

A permanent longing.

How much longer till I can see God? I just want to see Him! I need to see Him! My whole existence needs to be with You Lord right now! The writer wants God more than anything. He compares it to the basic need for water: something a human cannot live without for survival. Thus, the writer affirms He cannot live without God for survival either. He needs Him. He needs God for survival.

Such zealous longing for the Lord and satisfaction in that longing is what I believe God wants for all of us.

God wants us to be in love with Him.

More than we love anything else.

Sometimes, this necessitates difficult trials in our lives such as disappointments that force us to re-prioritize other longings of our hearts, affirming the Lord as our #1 desire.

Wrestling with a deep disappointment in my own life, I’m starting to come full circle recognizing the good this has done in my heart. God has been using my disappointment to dig a deeper anchor of hope and love for my Savior. But it’s taken time and waiting on the Lord to do in my soul what I cannot do for myself.

As I work through my own disappointments with the Lord, I’m seeing how this lack of what I wanted is forcing me to seek the Lord in a brand new way.

A way I’ve never had to do before because I had never been disappointed like this.

I always sought the Lord because He was the best thing to me. The Lord has always been my love and my safe place and had never been rivaled before by any kind of stronger hope in my heart.

But once God saw that my heart started to want something more than Him, He had no other choice but to woo me back…

…And that called for disappointment.

Yes, disappointment.

Sometimes, God lets painful things happen to you to strengthen you and make your faith deeper rooted in Him.

I know that God let me be disappointed.

And my heart is now thankful. No longer resentful.

God needed me to experience the devastation that occurs when a heart wants something more than Him.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t want good things, relationships, blessings and so on… But it does mean that if I want those things more than I want God, I will never be healthy in love with the Lord the way I was designed to be.

When we hope in something to fill us and it doesn’t work out how we thought it would, we get disappointed.

And there’s an emptiness in that moment that beckons us for “more.”

And that “more” can only be found in Jesus.

My heart finally understands that God is worthy of possessing and keeping the top spot in my heart.

We can love others better when God has the top spot in our hearts…. because a healthy love relationship with the Lord teaches us what love is. And everyone around us will benefit from our healthy relationship with the Lord.

Learning by experience was the only way I could learn this lesson.

Hearing “Love God first,” and reading in the bible to “Love God first” was not going to make this resolute in my heart.

Something had to test my love for the Lord.

I had to wrestle with it in my own heart.

Experiencing what it feels like to not love God first and get hurt has trained me to never do this again because it’s too painful.

Now, I want to love God first.

“How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord of hosts. I long and yearn for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God.”

– Psalm 84:1-2

I have experienced the pain of loving something more than the Lord. And I now I have experienced the fullness of what it feels like to want God more.

God is very past-present-future-minded in how He uses such a devastating emotion like disappointment to actually propel us into a sustainable joy. God could easily let His hurt for how we’re hurting in the moment of our disappointment make Him call off the whole experience. And make it stop. He could hear our cries for deliverance and cries for healing and put an end to our journey of peace-through-disappointment. And make it stop. But He doesn’t. God looks into the future and sees how this hurt is only temporary; and how the peace, joy and rest we will obtain at the end of it will be worth all the pain of the disappointment.

Additionally, my love for God would never have been tested if I had never been exposed to something more desirable. Anyone can love God first when nothing else is rivaling that love. But once something comes along that makes you want it more than you want God, then your love for God is put to the test. This is what happened in my life.

God wants to test our love for Him. And test our faith in Him. To make it stronger!

 “These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold –though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. S0 when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

1 Peter 1:7

Thanks be to God that He has grace on us through this refining process. So while we look away to something we see as more desirable, God waits on us while we navigate this unfamiliar terrain and is still there when we decide to return to the Lord who fills us.

“The Lord appeared to him from far away saying, I have love you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued to extend faithful love to you.”

Jeremiah 31:3

Friends, disappointment in your life is not a curse. It’s a blessing!

God has a purpose for your disappointment.

He has a purpose!

God did not allow a disappointment in your life to hurt you. God appointed that disappointment so that you may come to discover a deeper love with your Savior.

You may not see it yet.

But keep praying.

Keep pushing through the uncomfortableness.

Keep seeking Him in the weariness of how it feels to be disappointed.

God is the only one who can fix it.

God is the only One who can turn your sorrow into joy.

You cannot make it happen on your own.

But I guarantee He will do it!

As Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices pleasing to God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

All you need is a broken and surrendered spirit put in the hands of the Lord and He will restore your soul as you seek Him and patiently wait on Him to do it.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

Romans 8:28

If we recall the greatest disappointment the world could ever know was when the Savior of the world was nailed to a cross. Killed. Dead. His mother, disciples and followers thought things were hopeless. Their Messiah was gone. Their hope lost. But then…they discovered their disappointment was only intended to endure for 3 days…for the Savior of the world had risen! He was alive! Their hope restored again! By the power of God. And they would live to tell of His works and miracles.

Disappointment turned to joy.

God had a purpose.

May your disappointments turn to joy and peace in the powerful working hands of the Lord. May He strengthen you in the time of waiting for your situation to be redeemed. I pray you would be refreshed by His spirit. And dependent on Him to heal your soul. Praise the Lord who woos us deeper in love with Him. And shows us the purpose in our disappointments. How amazing the lovingkindness of the Lord. Hallelujah.

 

“I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will feast the soul of the priests with abundance, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, declares the Lord.”

Jeremiah 31:13b-14

 

Questions for Today:

  • What has disappointed me?
  • Do I want God to reveal His purpose to me regarding this disappointment?
  • How can I see God’s purpose in this disappointment as a means to draw me into deeper love with Him?
  • Why is important that I patiently wait on the Lord to redeem my disappointment?
  • Why does the Lord send difficult trials into our lives?
  • What is one step God is asking me to take in my relationship with Jesus today?

“Behold (Then Sings My Soul)” by Hillsong Worship

 

 

 

Loving Jesus for Jesus: Dwelling With the Lord in Love Strengthens You

 
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Love beckons a lover to come and dwell.

To come and sit.

To come and rest.

To come and be.

Did you know that Jesus Himself beckons you?

That’s right.

The King of the world…

The Maker of the stars…

The Artist of the heavens…

Jesus.

God incarnate.

Jesus.

He beckons you!

Jesus beckons you to come and dwell with Him. To sit quiet with Him. To talk to Him.

To love God.

Because you love Him.

For Him.

Not just for what He can do.

Dwelling with God in love will strengthen you.

It will make you come alive again.

“Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.”

-Psalm 63:3

But it’s hard sometimes to maintain this love for God. That’s why it must be cultivated.

It’s easy to love Jesus when we see His hand at work, isn’t it?

It’s easy to love Jesus when we’re hopeful for what He’s going to do.

It’s easy to love Jesus when we think about all He has done.

But is it easy to love Jesus when things go wrong?

Is it easy to love Jesus when He allows difficulties that hurt a lot?

Is it easy to love Jesus when what we expected is just not happening?

I’m finding that a lot of the unhealed hurt in my heart has remained unhealed because of my misunderstanding of just how much God loves me.

I keep waiting for God to do something, and all along He has been waiting for me to stop looking ahead and just look at Him.

To look at Jesus.

And stop.

Stop worrying about all that I’m worrying about.

Stop wallowing in disappointment that I can’t control.

And dwell.

Dwell with Jesus in the secret place.

Our secret place.

Where I can be made whole again.

Where I can be made new again.

Where I am loved.

Where I am held.

And our love relationship strengthens me.

“I have asked one thing from the Lord, it is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing on the beauty of the Lord and seeking Him in His temple.”

Psalm 27:4

A psalm of David

King David loved the Lord.

I can feel it so strongly in His psalms.

Yet He wrestled with so many difficulties in His life!

Psalm after psalm in the Bible unveils David’s struggles: fear, despair, discouragement, betrayal, depression, anxiety…

Can you relate?

I can.

No matter how old you are or young you are, you’re going to experience some difficult things in your life.

Maybe even some devastating and life-crushing things.

And it will be natural to ask, Why God? Where are you? Don’t you see my pain? Will you not move in my situation?

Confusion over why God is remaining silent in the midst of our most difficult seasons can lead to enormous despair. I have experienced this in many ways while being at seminary ironically. In a place I never expected to face so much spiritual attack. And it has been very hard to believe that God cares about me. Consequently, there have been days I’ve doubted His love altogether. And assumed that I would only get to experience it when I’m in heaven but not while I’m here. I haven’t felt taken care of by the Lord like I always have. And I’m starting to see that it’s because God has been trying to grow me and strengthen me. To wean me off of His constant protection and transition me into a place where I can stand strong and resilient in the face of trials. To mature me in areas I needed maturing. To teach me how to handle difficulties in the future.

In Psalm 27:3, David writes,

Though an army encamps against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise against me, yet I will be confident.” (emphasis mine)

I’m so encouraged by this.

David learned the antidote to his difficulties. David always ran to God first about his struggles and let God saturate His mind with hope. David loved God for God. And his intimacy with the Lord strengthened Him because of this love.

We need to be strengthened if we’re going to make it through this life.

Did you know that?

You need to be strengthened.

I need to be strengthened.

There are powers at war in the spiritual realm fighting for the destiny of God’s chosen. And we cannot let the enemy snatch away our calling.

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against all of the schemes of the devil.”

Ephesians 6:11

Loving Jesus for Jesus is the way.

The only way.

Jesus is the only One who can strengthen us and we can only be strengthened if we are in a love relationship with Him.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73:26

One of the biggest barriers to loving Jesus for Jesus and loving God for God is when you put conditions on your relationship with Him.

Expecting God to do what you want Him to do is called a condition.

Withdrawing love from God because you feel hurt is called a condition.

Spending time with Him when He does something for you is called a condition.

I’m learning that if I love Jesus, I can’t place conditions on my relationship with Him. Love doesn’t place conditions on a relationship.

But why, God, won’t You come through on your promise? Why, God, won’t You do something about all I’m facing? Why won’t You help me?

All those questions are conditional.

Conditions, that if God were to answer if my favor, I would love Him more. And that’s a problem. I’m so glad God has revealed this to me. If Jesus doesn’t answer any of those questions, I still love Him because He is my God and my love. And He is more to me than what He can do for me.

Is God more to you than what He can do for you?

I encourage you to spend some time with the Lord talking to Him about this. I want this for you because it has drastically transformed the way that I look at the difficulties in my life. It has helped me to find peace and joy again in the love of God. A love that is much richer and much stronger than any trial standing against us.

He goes on in Psalm 27 verses 13-14 to conclude,

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

Dwelling with the Lord in love strengthens us.

This kind of strength sees…

…courage in the midst of fear.

…belief in the midst of doubt.

…hope in the midst of disappointment.

…loving God as the antidote to life’s difficulties.

I want the Lord to know everything about me and me know everything about Him. I want that intimacy. I’ve experienced that this kind of relationship with God is far richer than even the most exciting adventure of seeing God’s hand at work. Knowing Him is far better.

Seeing God’s hand at work is great. But knowing Him is far better. It’s more intimate.

If our conversations with God are centered on requests and expectations more than they are centered on getting to know Him and loving Him, we are missing out on intimacy with the Lord.

We must talk to God for God.

Talk to God because we love Him.

Not just for what prayers we want answered.

This kind of interaction with the Lord is more fulfilling than any other relationship we can have. And it it’s not healthy, it will negatively affect other areas of life.

We must seek Jesus for Jesus.

Seek Jesus because we love Him.

Not just for what we want to see Him do.

Love Jesus for Jesus.

He wants to be loved for who He is.

And He wants to dwell with you one on one.

Dwelling with the Lord in love will strengthen you.

I pray for you that would run to Jesus even though a million other things are beckoning you. Run to Jesus first. Without Him you won’t be able to withstand the pressures of life. I’ve learned this the hard way. And I’m finding that my love with God is the only thing that can make me whole.

The greatest love in the world is beckoning you. His name is Jesus. Whose desire is to dwell with you in return. Seek Him today. And may you find strength dwelling with the Lord in love.

“How lovely is your dwelling place,
    Lord Almighty!
 My soul yearns, even faints,
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
    for the living God.

-Psalm 84:1-2

 

Questions for Today:

  • How does dwelling with the Lord strengthen me?
  • How does placing conditions on my love relationship with the Lord put a barrier between me and Him?
  • How can I redirect my focus on Jesus and away from my negative circumstances?
  • Do I love Jesus for who He is or just for what He can do?
  • What next step is Jesus telling me take in my relationship with Him today?

 

“What A Beautiful Name” by Hillsong Worship

 

God Did Not Create Us to Hate Each Other

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The recent events surrounding unjust killings along with the steady escalation of racial tension in America are grieving to witness. This isn’t what we were created for. This is not who we are. No one wins in this.

God created us to be like Him.

To reflect His goodness.

To demonstrate His grace.

To show His Kindness.

To be different.

God created humans in the form of a beautiful tapestry of humanity to enjoy one another, complement one another, love one another and sharpen one another.

But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” –1 John 1:7

We possess a God-designed identity for humanity’s family on earth.

A family that was meant to be holy and set apart for God.

God did not create us to hate each other.

He created us for each other.

We’re meant to be a blessing to each other.

 “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” –1 John 4:11

“Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

 “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” – Romans 12:4-5

And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” -Colossians 3:14

Sin tries to ruin our God-designed identity as humanity’s family.

Sin tries to put enmity between us.

Sin tries to divide us.

This is nothing new.

It’s been happening ever since Genesis 3.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)

“Did God really say…” says the devil.

“Did God really say…” whispers our flesh.

The devil wanted to make Eve question God.

The devil wanted to plant division within the human heart.

Enmity.

Division.

“The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” (Genesis 3:2-3)

Eve knew what God said.

That wasn’t the problem.

The problem was that what she knew was about to be threatened.

And this had never happened before.

Eve was not prepared for truth to be attacked. Eve all the sudden had an invasion of normalcy. Unity with God as it was intended to remain was about to be assaulted by the one who has been scheming against God from the very beginning. Satan. Eve did not know who she was up against.

And soon, humanity would never be the same.

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5)

Satan’s determination to break the design anointed on God’s humanity was wrapped up in a promise of eternal life.

How ironic.

Eve didn’t need his promise. She was already designed for eternity. But that’s how evil does.

Evil always makes a counterfeit promise.

And it never comes through.

It tricks every time.

Eternal death was Satan’s hidden agenda and turning her against the one who created her was just what he needed to complete his mission.

“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:6-7)

This is where everything changed for Adam and Eve.

No more watering the flowers in luscious Garden of Eden bliss…

No more singing with the bluebirds in the sun…

No more dancing with the bunnies of the forest…

No more peace…

No more calm.

Satan was about to damage humanity forever. All with one lie. And creation was sabotaged. Our design for unity hacked and rewired.

Hatred spewed in like the breaking of the Hoover Dam.

It was never meant to leak in.

But it did.

Thankfully, Jesus has come to save the day. And He will come again to rescue us into the real eternal life that only He can promise and fulfill.

But we’re still here in this broken, grieved earth. The same earth assaulted by Satan in Genesis 3.

Now Satan along with sin continues his assault….whispering lies in our ears causing misunderstanding… skepticism… disunity… prejudice… bitterness… and on and on…

Lies that break our original design for harmony.

Lies that cause us to assume the worse about others.

Lies that cause us to doubt each other.

Lies that plant animosity and hatred within humanity’s family on earth.

Lies that causes some people to carry out their evil desires and hurt others.

Lies that kill.

We have become estranged it seems.

Throughout the Bible and throughout all of history, we have witnessed story after story of division within humanity’s family and how that division attempts to ruin our identity.

You don’t even have to pick up a book to confirm this.

Many stories are already imprinted into the fabric of our memories and ancestral histories.

And it hurts.

Sometimes, it hurts so much that even we are who God’s people are tempted to rebel against our God-designed identities as well and let these negative feelings overtake us. Sin continues to stir negative emotions within the human heart that lead to anger, rage, division, prejudice, pride, and selfishness. And it can be hard to push aside.

I myself have difficulties experiencing some of these emotions at times.

The devil hates us.

And he wants nothing more than to make us to hate each other and wreck our God-designed destiny for humanity’s family here on earth.

It’s working isn’t it?

The devil seems to be winning.

Seems.

It seems humanity does hate one another.

War after war. Violence after violence. Killing after killing. Prejudice after prejudice. Rudeness after rudeness. Belittling after belittling. Sin after sin.

What’s problematic is that so many forms of hatred are masked by human rationality.

Human nature causes us to find a “reason” to hurt one another.

Just like Satan did.

Satan had a “reason” for why Eve should disobey God.

Sin always has a “reason” for why it’s okay to do the wrong thing.                         

A “reason” that’s always disturbing.

Hitler wanted to kill Jews out of a communal-unity-purity “reason,” ISIS kills out of a religious-ideological “reason,” thieves steal out of a lack-need “reason,” slavery existed out of a financial-greed-economic “reason,” I sin against God out of self-preservation “reasons.”

“Reasons” that hurt other people and/or ourselves are never okay!…”

Reasons saturated by sin are an abomination to the brain-functioning capabilities.

It’s freaking messed up what humanity capable of!

“Reasons.”

Too many reasons.

Why did you do [that]? asks the judge every time.

“Well, because…”

There’s always a “because…”

A reason.

A disturbing reason.

A disturbing reason for doing the wrong thing.

Sin always persuades you with a reason.

Don’t fall for it.

It hurts.

Satan has contaminated our identities and he’s trying to make us act like him when we were created to act like Jesus. Too often we fall for it. How grateful I am for Jesus’ grace.

It’s human nature to try and justify a wrongdoing according to what we think is good for us.

And that’s a problem!

Because it causes innocent people to get hurt. Even killed.

My hearts hurts for the families of… Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, the 5 Dallas police officers, the now 3 Baton Rouge police officers and so many countless billions of others recently and throughout history who have been harmed and/or murdered unjustly.

My heart grieves at the animosity boiling in our country between black and white.

My heart is unsettled over the fact that so many are hurting and unheard and misunderstood.

Battling each other will never solve anything.

I’m not here to offer up the perfect solution.

I don’t have one.

I wish I did.

But I do know we need to seek to learn how to love each other better, understand one another, and feel what others are feeling.

Feeling what others are feeling and cultivating empathy is incredibly important.

Empathy is one of the strongest cultivators of love.

Why?

Because what you feel drives how you: think, respond, and act.

And that’s what Jesus did to draw us to Himself.

Jesus came down to be like us so He could feel what we feel.

Empathy.

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… Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” –1 John 4:9, 11-12

We need to go out of our way to do whatever it takes to understand each other’s pain so that we can share in empathy with each other.

Paul exhorts us in Romans 12:15 to “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”

We must start with ourselves when it comes to each of our individual roles in this whole family of humanity and the sin that divides us. We are all living here on earth. We are all involved. We are all contributors, whether by action or inaction. We must each analyze our hearts and recognize the sin that is cultivating any kind of division within humanity’s family, and change it, so that we may seek the welfare of one another.

I have to examine my own heart and discover the wickedness within me before I can expect anybody else to change.

What I am encouraged by is this: there is a lot more good than evil.

I am encouraged but what I have witnessed so far in Dallas surrounding the police officer shootings, with people coming together and seeking to better understand one another, acknowledge that we have not done our best to love each other well, create dialogue and conversation regarding the escalating tensions surrounding race, and seek healing together.

This is an opportunity to show the devil who we are in Christ!

To show who we as humanity were created to be!

The good news is, 1 Peter 2:9 declares WHO WE REALLY ARE!

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (emphasis mine) – 1 Peter 2:9

God has called us out of darkness.

Into His light.

We were not created to hate each other.

We were created to display the beauty of God together: every race, every culture, & every color. It’s beautiful just like God created it to be!

We were created to love one another no matter how much it costs us.

We were created to mourn with those who mourn no matter how uncomfortable it is.

We were created to pursue justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God no matter how inconvenient it is.

For we are God’s chosen people!

This is who we are.

May we take back our God-designed identity as humanity’s family.

May we be known by our love.

 

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselvesnot looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Philippians 2:1-4

 

Questions for Today:

  • What role have I played in the injustices of our world?
  • Is there any hostility, prejudice, anger, pride, or other negative emotion remaining undealt with in my heart?
  • How can I better understand and empathize with my fellow brothers and sisters?
  • What is my posture towards racial injustice and racial reconciliation and what am I doing for the cause of Christ to make a positive impact?

 

God Loves to Make You Smile!

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Someone needs to hear this today.

Please know it…God loves to make you smile!

He loves you.

A lot.

A lot a lot!!!

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.” –Isaiah 42:1

Did you know that God Himself delights?

Isaiah 42:1 says He does.

God delights.

Delights!

Delight is a powerful emotion.

It’s an emotion of ecstatic happiness or joy directed towards something outside one’s self that in turn fuels ecstatic happiness or joy within one’s self as well.

It’s expressed outwardly and experienced internally.

Consequently, because of the duality of how a person feels this emotion both inwardly and outwardly, it’s an intensified version of anything resembling happiness, joy or pleasure. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines delight as “a high degree of gratification or extreme satisfaction.”

Isaiah using this word to describe God’s emotion towards His Son is incredible to me. It tells us how deeply God loves.

I forget often…

How deeply God loves.

It’s easy to believe God is great.

It’s easy to believe God is powerful.

It’s easy to believe God is good too.

But at times, I struggle to believe that God loves me or that He cares about me.

Sometimes I just don’t feel like God delights in me.

I don’t feel like He cares about me.

I don’t feel like His love is enough to actually make me feel loved.

Yet slowly… these lies are being broken in my mind.

The past several days, I’ve wanted to write and felt stuck… My heart feels so full and with so much I didn’t quite know where to start. I was talking to the Lord about things and He reminded me of something I haven’t really grasped before…

God said, Natalie, I love to make you smile.

I love to make you smile.

Wow…

You love to make me smile, Lord? I asked.

Hmmm… I started to think about all that God has done to make me smile. Every moment of joy. All the things I never expect. Any reason I ever have to smile.

Wow, You do, don’t You!? Why didn’t I ever see this before?

Why did I doubt You cared for me?

I think the devil likes to make us forget things…

The devil likes to make us forget all the many reasons we have to believe God loves us, to believe God cares for us, to believe God delights in us, to believe God wants to bless us, to believe God loves to see us happy…the devil doesn’t like for us to believe any of that…so he tries to get us confused and mad at God…

…all the while, God is doing everything He can to woo us and show us how much He loves us.

So I want to tell you that God loves to make you smile.

God loves to bless you.

It makes Him happy to get to do that for you, just as it makes you happy to get to give to the person you love.

“Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” says Matthew 7:9-11.

For anyone who is struggling to believe this, I want you to know that God really is a loving God who cares about you.

God cares about your heart.

God cares about you interests.

God cares about your passions.

God cares about your desires.

Too often in Christianity, we think that denying ourselves happiness makes us better Christians.

But that’s not what God wants!

If we go back to Isaiah 42:1, the verse indicates that God Himself delights.

Thus, since we are made in His image, it’s only natural that we should delight too.

Think about the things that you delight in… certain people, hobbies, nature, animals, friends, family…

That’s natural…

You delighting in those things is natural just like God delighting in His Son and His people is natural.

God delights.

You delight.

I delight.

All because of love.

Love makes it possible than you and I can delight.

God’s love makes it possible.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him,” says 1 John 4:16.

“Yahweh your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will bring you quietness with His love. He will delight in you with shouts of joy,” says Zephaniah 3:17.

“I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots,” says Hosea 14:4-5.

“See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are,” says 1 John 3:1.

God loves you!

A lot!

He wants to make you smile.

Because He loves you.

And He smiles on you too.

Because He loves you.

I believe it and by gosh I’m declaring in Jesus’ name that the devil have no more power in our lives to make us believe that God doesn’t care about us!

I’ve been down that road and I’m not going back!

May we declare God is love and so delight in the life He has given us!

For anyone who is struggling to believe God loves you, I know how you feel.

Please know that God DOES LOVE YOU!

Please know it!

“O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” –Psalm 10:17-18

As David ends this psalm, he reaffirms his trust in the Lord.

He starts off in confusion and uncertainty in the beginning verses as he wonders where God is at. David probably assumed that God didn’t care about him since he writes that God seemed far away. But what I love about David is that he always goes to God when He’s burdened with emotions. And as he closes this psalm, he’s taken times to process his feelings and remember that God is still faithful.

Despite his uncertainty, David still has a reason to smile.

May we learn from his example.

The devil would love nothing more than to make you think God doesn’t care about you. Because then, you will withdraw from the Lord and then you will lose your strength to fight. The enemy will attack you and it will get worse and worse. But the good news is… God is fighting for you, and eventually, He will rescue you and bring you back to Himself. He won’t let you remain in a place of disbelief and discouragement forever. He will come and do what it takes to show you just how much He cares about you! Pray! Pray! Pray! Even when you doubt God’s heart for you…pray still…talk to God about how you are feeling, and tell Him that you need Him to show you His love…He will. He will show you. He will remind you how much He loves you. It takes time. But Jesus always comes through.

Know I am praying for you as I ask the Lord to rescue every single person who may be wrestling with despair, anxiety, disbelief, discouragement…The Lord is not limited and He can rescue every single person. devil, we declare you powerless in Jesus’ name! Powerless! Get the heck out of here! For the Lord our God, Jesus Christ is stronger!

May we believe that God really does love us and because of this, loves to make us smile! May we cherish the privilege to delight and be delighted in.

I pray that you will know how wild and unimaginable Christ’s love is for you and that He is not looking to make you hurt or experience pain. In suffering, we draw nearer to Christ as we fellowship with His sufferings and we learn how to comfort others. And it means that much more to experience all the delightful moments in which God makes us smile. Thank you, Jesus for loving us.

Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,
a great King over all the earth.” 

-Psalm 47:1-2 –

“First and Only” by Elevation Worship

Why Love God?

One-True-Love

Why love God?

Why want Him?

Is He really worth our devotion? Worth our very lives?

In effort to love God, I find that I fail every day. So why even keep trying to love Him?

Should I give up and stop trying? Surely not.

Should I abandon Him? Surely not.

For quite some time, I’ve been in a very difficult place in my emotions, well-being and trust in the Lord. I finally feel a release in my spirit. But it’s taken me a while to get here. I’ve been stuck in this disbelief that God would still care about me. God , why are You doing this? God, why is this not happening? God, do You not care about me? God, don’t You love me? I thought You said You loved me but… And I base my relationship with the Lord on what I see and what I don’t see.

God is asking me now, Natalie, do you love me? OR do you just love what I can do?

Dang…that’s a harsh question.

And ultimately, God is saying, You’re not loving Me the way you were designed to love Me. Your love for Me is broken. It has ulterior motives.

But I debated with God on this.

Surely, God, I don’t love You just for what You can do! You know I really want You! Just come back now! If I could choose for You to come back for me right now, I would say yes. I really do want You.

But God said to look at where my heart has been over the past year in terms of what I love most.

And He said my love for Him has not been enough.

Not enough, God? What do You mean!? It will never be enough! You know I cannot love You how You deserve! I wish I could but I fail too much! What do You want from me?

God is saying, I don’t want you to love Me for what I can do. That’s not enough. That’s not even what I want from you, Natalie. I want you to love Me for Me.

Love Me for Me.

Wow.

God is right.

I haven’t been loving Him for Him.

My heart is really breaking over this.

God is showing me that my love for Him over the past year now has been primarily tied to what He is either doing for me or not doing for me. And it’s been fluctuating up and down because of that.

What God wants from me is to love Him the same no matter what…

…To love Him as if He were to never do another thing for me.

…To love Him as if I had never seen Him do anything.

…To love Him for Himself.

…To love Him for His character.

…To love Him because I love Him.

Not because of anything He can do for me.

Many times in my life I’ve gone through a season where I have seen God do crazy things or awe-inspiring things and it makes me “love” God more. Because I think, Wow, God is so cool! I can’t believe He can do that! OR seasons of blessing, and I think, Wow, God you are so good! Thank You thank You thank You! I love You so much! OR seasons of change in me and I think, Wow, God You are so powerful to do that! I love how You can do that!

And honestly, it really breaks my heart that I’ve been “loving” God like this… “loving” Him for what I’ve seen Him do and for what I hope He will do in the future.

That’s not love.

That’s admiration. That’s wonder. That’s awe. And yes, we need to marvel at God for what He can do and be astounded at His power. But it’s not love. It’s not love. We need to esteem God for what He can do, yes, but way more, we need to love Him for who He is!

This has been such a powerful realization for me.

Think of it this way…

…nobody wants to be loved for what they have done, or for what they do, or what they can do. Nobody does. Nobody wants to be loved for their accomplishments, their job, their status, their potential, their looks…nobody wants to be loved for those things. We ALL want to be loved for who we are as a person. Deep down, I want somebody to love me for me. Good and bad. Mess and all. I want somebody to love me for me. Not for what I do or don’t do.

Everyone wants to be loved for who they are at their core. And God wants that too.

God’s not interested in being loved for His mighty power.

God’s not interested in being loved for His miraculous wonders.

God’s not interested in being loved because of how He gives.

God’s not interested in being loved because of how He heals.

God is much more than all that.

God wants to be loved for who He is.

He wants us to love Him for Him.

For Him.

The Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end.

And then…once we love Him for Him…we praise Him for all He can do. There’s a difference between love and praise. Both go together. But love precedes praise. Always! You can’t praise God with a right heart if you don’t first love Him for Him…otherwise, it would just be admiration of a good thing. But if you love God for God, then your praise to Him turns into something real and it truly honors Him.

I love this passage in John chapter 6 where Jesus’ disciples are at a relational crossroads with this new teacher they have been following. It relates so much to how we love God.

These disciples have to decide, do they love Jesus enough to keep following Him? OR is this all too much for them?

We pick it up in verse 53:

“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

60 Therefore, when many of His disciples heard this, they said, “This teaching is hard! Who can accept it?

61 Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples were complaining about this, asked them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to observe the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 63 The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some among you who don’t believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning those who would not believe and the one who would betray Him.) 65 He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted to him by the Father.”

66 From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him. 67 Therefore Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?

68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that You are the Holy One of God!” (emphasis mine).

Jesus makes it clear that following Him means doing just that: following HIM. His flesh. His blood. Himself. He in Himself is the way to life. Jesus wants them to love Him for Him. Not for what He can do.

All of the ones following Jesus up until this point saw His miracles.

Jesus just fed 5000 men, likely 15,000 including women and children earlier in chapter 6. Jesus healed a man in chapter 5. Jesus turned water into really good wine at a wedding party in chapter 2. They saw Jesus do things they had never seen before. They saw what He could do.

But when it came time to decide if they wanted Jesus or not, some just didn’t want Him.

Verse 66 says that “many of His disciples turned back…”

Only 12 remained.

But those 12 were loyal to Jesus Himself. Not just His miracles. Not just His healings. Not just His charisma and following. No. Now, they know what this whole deal is really about…it’s about following this man Jesus. And they decide that they really do want Him.

“Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.”

I just love Simon Peter’s humble and beautiful response. He wanted Jesus. He knew that there was something special about Jesus.

What stands out to me about Simon Peter is that he loved Jesus for His identity as “the Holy One” instead of loving Him for all the miracles and healings He had performed.

And we can see how Peter falls in love with this man Jesus over the course of John’s gospel. He affirms it in chapter 21:15-19. But it all started with the initial decision to follow Jesus Himself. Jesus the Messiah. Jesus, God’s Son. Jesus, God in the flesh.

May we learn from Simon Peter’s response.

You may push back and say, but why should I love God? What’s in it for me?

Let’s think about that…

Well, I think anyone who’s ever been in love knows how good it feels. That person you love all the sudden becomes more important and you long for that person to be whole in every way possible. You don’t even think about yourself. You think about that person. You stop worrying over your own happiness. You just want that person to be happy. You don’t really care if you hurt. You just want that person you love to not hurt. You don’t really care what it costs you. You just want to give to that person. That person’s well-being becomes priority to you… and you lose yourself in a sense, when you’re in love with that person. And because you lose yourself, you feel good all the time because you’re not worried about satisfying yourself. Ironically, satisfying the other person ends up satisfying you. Selfless love always benefits the giver. So it is with the way we love God. It always benefits us to love God.

Because as we truly love God and fall more and more in love with Him, it fills us with joy, much more than any love relationship on earth ever will. And it makes us feel good to get to love God back. Even in the feeble way that exists in our human capacity to love.

So why love God?

Love God because…

1) He wants to be loved

2) He deserves to be loved

3) Loving Him teaches me how to love others

4) My soul satisfaction depends on me loving Him.

We know that God doesn’t need our love to exist. But He wants to be loved and He wants to impart His love to us.

The same disciple who wrote the gospel passage we just read also wrote this letter. He says this about love in 1 John 4:7-19:

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us.

13 This is how we know that we remain in Him and He in us: He has given assurance to us from His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent His Son as the world’s Savior. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in him and he in God. 16 And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.

17 In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, for we are as He is in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because He first loved us.” (emphasis mine).

If we can only love because God first loved us, then I need to ask God to love me more. You need to ask God to love you more. Or really…I need to learn how to receive His love more. You need to learn how to receive His love more. Because God’s love is already poured out to me and to you in full. Why? Because as God loves us, we can love Him back. And then we can love others more.

It’s a cyclical kind of love.

God loves me → I love God → God loves me → I love others. And again and again…

Love is from God.

It’s a gift.

And each of us gets the privilege of receiving this precious gift.

There’s nothing more valuable than God’s love being imparted to us and channeled through us.

Without this love, our world would be misery.

We all experience love in a plethora of ways because of God’s kindness that He even gave it to begin with. And my prayer is that we would absorb this love and pour it out in the world. For we will find that we are most free when we are in cyclical love with the Lord. Because it empties our hearts of ourselves and we are consumed by a love so much greater.

Loving the Lord gives purpose.

Loving the Lord breathes life.

And we can only experience this if we first receive His love for us.

Ask Him to love you. And receive it.

Don’t worry anymore about all the things you want God to do.

Don’t let your love for Him depend on that.

Let your heart be free today.

Love God for who He is.

Love God for God.

And He will take care of the rest.

 

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

–John 15:13–

 

 

Questions for Today:

  • How is it that love even exists?
  • Do I receive the love that the Lord has for me?
  • Am I loving God for who He is or only for what He can do?
  • How does loving God change my heart?
  • Why should I love God?
  • What can we learn from Simon Peter in John 6:53-69?
  • What next step is Jesus asking me to take in my relationship with Him today?

 

“Never See The End” by Amanda Cook, Bethel Music

Lavish Your Love on Jesus: John 12:3-7

Lavish-Love-icon

What a loaded passage. The passage of Mary and Jesus. Her wiping His feet. Anointing Him. Dirtying her hair. Loving the one most precious to her. In the face of ridiculers. In the face of those who didn’t think Jesus was worth that. To humiliate oneself for another was not acceptable. But Mary didn’t care. She lavishes herself on Jesus. Without apology. As if no one else is in the room. No one else but her and Jesus. Just her and Jesus.

In John chapter 12, we see Jesus coming back to Bethany for a dinner party thrown by Martha.

And we see Mary.

Lavishing her love upon Jesus.

But what’s fascinating about chapter 12 to me, is that Mary was upset with Jesus in chapter 11.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!!” she exclaims to Jesus while falling at His feet.

I can see her now…

…crying aloud, sobbing at His feet, head down, face on the ground, hanging on to His ankles, not letting go, tears streaming, wishing He would have come sooner, wishing He would make her hurt go away.

And Jesus cares…

“Deeply moved and greatly troubled” describes his temperament in verse 33. He weeps with her. Then He acts. He fixes it. He raises Lazarus from the dead in verse 43.

The next time we see Jesus, Mary is at His feet.

Again.

What brilliant literary imagery.

We pick it up in John 12:3-7,

“Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples (he who was about to betray Him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.”

Last time, Mary came to Jesus with tears of disappointment. She didn’t know what to do. She just knew she needed Him. This, time, Mary comes to Jesus with tears of love. She knows that she needs Him and now she knows what to do. She wants to honor Him.

Yet both times, Mary comes to Jesus with the same posture: she falls at His feet.

We see her weeping at Jesus’ feet in weakness and frustration in chapter 11.

We see her anointing Jesus’ feet in weakness and awe in chapter 12.

Weakness is the common denominator.

Mary knows she is weak either way. She knows Jesus is the only one who can do anything for her in both instances. She knows He is Lord.

So she remains humbled at His feet.

Always at His feet.

But now, in chapter 12, something has shifted in Mary’s mind. And we don’t hear her utter a word. We just read about her lavishing herself upon Jesus.

I like to imagine what the scene might have looked like…

…Silence lingers in the room as the party guests sit on the edge of their seats watching…. “What is she doing?” they all whisper under their breath, looking at each other bewildered and confused at her radical display of affection. Mary runs her fingers through her hair, then gathers it as she dips it into the perfume again. Then she wipes her saturated hair on Jesus’ feet, head down, eyes lowered, sitting in the floor. “I’m sorry Lord.” She thinks to herself. “Forgive me for not trusting You. For not thinking you cared about me and my pain. I know You do. And I want you to know I love You. Please know I love You.” And she looks up at Him, hair drenched in perfume, droplets falling onto the floor, her nose overwhelmed by the scent in her hair, eyes burning from the strong liquid trickling down her forehead and into her eyes. Everyone staring at her like she’s a fool. But she doesn’t even notice them. She doesn’t care. She looks into his eyes and He looks back at her. “Please know I love you, Lord. Please know I honor You.” And she bends down again to keep wiping His feet with her hair. A smile on her face from being so close to the one she loves. Her love for Him on display.

Mary.

There’s something about Mary, isn’t there?

This touches my heart so much because I can feel so often like Jesus just doesn’t understand what I go through…that He can’t possibly know what it feels like…that He’s never going to come through.

But I remember this passage.

And I see Mary’s transformation.

From sobbing in frustration at Jesus’ feet in chapter 11 to pouring out her most precious gift to Him in chapter 12.

And she always wants to be around Jesus. She always needs to be where He is. She always goes to Him. Nothing ever makes her feel like she can’t come to Him.

Mary was changed by Jesus.

I want to be too.

And what Mary does for Jesus is crazy! It really is.

Think about it this way… emptying an ATM of about $25,000 all in Benjamins, making your way to your lover’s house and proceeding to rub their feet with the hundred dollar bills until the point where the money is completely disintegrated, no longer able to use. We don’t use money for this. It’s hyperbole. I mean, I’ve never seen a commercial for “dollar bill skin exfoliation.” But if it would make me all silky soft maybe I’d consider. No, I actually wouldn’t. Because it would be expensive. And I’ve got bills to pay. Mary did too. She had “bills to pay.” She had expenses. And that perfume was the most precious and expensive thing she had. Her rubbing Jesus’ feet with this perfume was like rubbing her entire bank account in dollar bills on his feet until it disintegrated. She didn’t care. She loved him and no amount of money would ever be too much to lavish upon Him.

But Judas didn’t like it.

He thought it was too much.

“Why wasn’t this used for something more practical!” Judas criticized loudly among all the party guests.

As if it was his perfume to begin with!

But Judas’ critique is almost absent from Mary’s awareness. She doesn’t even acknowledge the critique. She keeps wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair. And Jesus deals with Judas. He tells Judas to “leave her alone” and that “she may keep it for the day of my burial” in verse 7. Jesus honored Mary’s gift to him. And Jesus tells them that it actually contributes to preparing Him for what He would soon endure on the cross.

Mary’s burning desire for Jesus in this passage cannot be contained.

She doesn’t care who is in the way.

By gosh, she is going to get to Jesus!

And she’s going to do what she came to do…

…lavish Jesus with her most precious perfume…

…lavish Jesus with her love.

I admire Mary’s heart so much.

I want her heart.

I want to love Jesus so recklessly that no amount of humiliation is humiliating.

It’s worth it.

It’s love.

I want to be in love like that.

Sometimes I get so lonely thinking I have nobody to pour out my love upon. I want a man to love, God. I have so much love to give, Lord. Don’t You want me to love someone? I’ll think.

God is saying now, Natalie, I am that one I want you to love. Love Me. If you want to pour out your heart of love for someone, do it on Me. Lavish yourself on ME! And I will reciprocate your love in the way you’ve always desired.

God, may You be my one love. May we lavish ourselves upon You, Jesus. May You be worth it all.

My heart is so full right now…

Bursting to be poured out…

And this time…

I want to pour it out on Jesus.

On Jesus.

 

 

Song – Kari Jobe, Look Upon The Lord (Revisited Version)

Halloween, Love, and Strip Clubs

club red

People want love. And nightlife offers it. Or so we think. There’s an enchantment to nightlife. Glimmer. Attraction. Allure. It can pull you in like a magnet. And grab you before you realize you’re taken.

Halloween landed this weekend so me, my roommate and friends went out.

Strolling through uptown with cars barely inching their way forward through the crowded street, people in costumes were all lining the sidewalks waiting to get into the bars and dance clubs. Music sounding into the night autumn air and the desire for this thing called “living” manifesting itself in all kinds of enchanting ways. So it seems.

The lines were long and so we walked around the streets, looking at all the fun costumes.

And then I started to remember an experience I had several years ago.

An uncomfortable experience.

An experience I’ll probably never forget but has stirred my empathy concerning this whole nightlife scene.

Several years ago in 2009 I travelled back to Prescott Valley, Arizona to visit my friends.

It was their graduation night from Bradshaw Mountain High, the school I went to before I moved away to North Carolina, and my friend Hattie told me they had been planning a getaway to Phoenix. She said we would go that night after everyone was asleep and that her uncle would be driving us.

Being the naïve self that I was at 18 years old I thought, cool, yeah let’s go.

We took a short nap and then around 11pm, Hattie told me we were leaving.

She told me to bring my ID.

We got ready and us three girls slipped out the door with her uncle, getting into his truck to go up to Phoenix. (As I look back on it, I don’t see how I was so blind to let someone I didn’t even know drive me and my friends to Phoenix in the middle of the night. Just shows how easy it is for adolescent minds to get into problematic situations. If you’re a parent, have some compassion on your kids when they get into trouble.)

We cranked up the music in his truck and Hattie, being her usual comical self, couldn’t stop laughing and cutting up the entire way up there.

Then Hattie told me where we were going.

She said we were going to a club.

A club?, I thought, I can’t go to a…club? hmmm, well, this is their graduation and nobody’s around to tell me not to and her uncle’s with us, so it should be okay.

I was getting kind of excited as we got closer and closer to Phoenix, passing through Cordus Junction, then Black Canyon, then Anthem, then Mesa.

Then we arrived.

As we pulled in the parking lot, I noticed it was all men walking in.

A sign that read Le Girls was overhead. We walked inside and the guys at the front asked to see our ID’s. There was a cover charge but her uncle paid it and we were led inside to some chairs that were circling around a platform where one of many girls were dancing provocatively.

I was shocked. I realized what was happening.

No wonder he was so willing to drive us up there in the middle of the night and then pay for the cover charge and any drinks we wanted.

He had brought us to a strip club.

And there were naked and almost-naked ladies everywhere.

Platforms were scattered around, as the ladies were dancing with tall high heels.

I was so shocked that he had brought us there.

I didn’t understand why we were there but I didn’t know what to do.

Youth group never prepared me for the “friend’s uncle takes you and your friends to a strip club” experience.

And Hattie, being the jokester she is, just could not stop laughing.

Me and Jessica just sipped on our Shirley temples.

We sat there awkwardly while looking around the room at all this bewilderment around us.

The men sitting in the chairs watching the girls dance were looking at us, probably wondering why 3 teenage girls were in a strip club for men.

Then I saw the face of the man sitting to the left of me.

He was a middle aged man, probably in his late 30’s with a wad of cash in his hand. He was throwing dollar bills on the platform right in front of where he was sitting so that the girl on our platform would come over to him.

His face was like stone.

He wouldn’t make eye contact with her.

There was no emotion in his face even though she was dancing for him.

I thought it was strange that he looked so sad and empty.

He didn’t look all mesmerized by the lady who was getting pretty sensual in front of him.

But he kept throwing dollar bills.

Every time she walked away he would start to throw more and motion for her to come back.

I didn’t understand it because he didn’t look all happy and giddy like the other men from how she was dancing for him.

But he wouldn’t let her leave.

He kept throwing more money and more money.

He wanted her to stay with him.

He wanted her to choose him.

He wanted to be loved by her.

But he didn’t feel loved.

He looked empty.

And my heart was breaking for him.

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more broken for someone in my whole life as I did in that moment.

God gave me compassion that night.

Compassion for that man in the strip club.

I saw brokenness on his face that I had never seen before.

No amount of pleasure was enough for him.

Ever since then, the way I look at the whole nightclub/strip club scene is very different.

What I see is this:

Going to the strip club is not the root problem here…

People are really hurting inside.

At root, it’s about people feeling unloved and in search of love that they lack.

At root, it’s about people feeling empty and in search of something that will fill them.

But it never does.

We left and drove back to Prescott Valley that night. And Hattie’s family ended up finding out the next day that he had taken us up there to the strip club. More than anything though, my heart hurts for that man I saw, for Hattie’s uncle that took us, and for anyone who goes to a strip club. I wish I could make all this pain in the world stop so that we wouldn’t need to run to it.

Do I think it’s okay to go to a strip club?

Of course not.

But that’s not the point.

We need to understand why people go there in the first place.

People just want to be loved. They want to give love. They want to feel something. Even if it’s just in the moment. And nightlife offers that. It offers a place where humans can feel those things immediately. We are broken people who need love and life so bad. And when sin is present, a person can give in to all kinds of sinful things. It shouldn’t be any surprise.

Sexual sin seems to simmer as a result of not feeling loved and consequently searching for a way to satisfy that sexual hunger ourselves.

But we can’t do that.

We have to find a way to let God satisfy that longing for love that we feel.

And sometimes it’s hard, because I don’t always feel loved by God in a strong, immediate way like I do when someone gives me attention.

So I have to ask myself… what is true? What is real love? This feeling that I have?? Or the truth that God is beyond my feeling???

I don’t have all the answers to this problem. I really don’t.

But I do know that we need the real, tangible love of Jesus.

And no, not on a tract! Tracts are lazy evangelism!

We need to love people well.

Be a friend.

Care for people’s souls.

Because if we’re honest, we all have the same heart issue that could make us the one inside that strip club.

We are all sinners before God.

Whether you’re a guy or a girl…doesn’t matter. We all want love and when we feel broken and needy of what we don’t have, I think you know what your body is capable of. I don’t have to tell you that. I know I don’t have to tell myself. We all indulge in sexual sin that is just as equally offensive to God. And we need to have compassion on one another so that the love of God can catalyze a desire for change.

I want to look at the nightlife scene through the lens of compassion. I know I struggle with heavy sins too.

So I pray that we will stop cursing the strip club and start loving those inside it.

Love them towards Christ.

What does that look like?

What about this…

-There’s a man who set up a coffee truck in the parking lot of a strip club.

People would pull in to go in the strip club and he would serve them coffee outside.

For free.

He would make lattes, cappuccinos, espressos, anything they wanted. Every night around 10pm he would set up shop and stay until the wee hours of the morning. He would play music and set up chairs for people to sit. He would talk to them and ask them about their day. He would talk to the girls that worked at the strip club asking them about their life outside of work and about their families. For a year he did this. After a while, he knew the names of all the strip club employees and the men who frequented. He also knew their stories. He knew what was going on in their lives.

He had been praying for them.

They would ask him why he gave his coffee for free.

He would always answer the same: “It’s cold outside and I figured you might need a cup of coffee.”

This man gets it.

He knows how to love well. He never condemned them for their involvement in the strip club. He knows that if he wants to gain their respect and trust, he has to meet a physical need first. And being a cold windy city, especially at night, he thought free coffee might be a good way to start relationships with the people going in and out of the strip club. A way to show them the love of Christ.

And soon, all of the men and the girls, who worked there, started to ask him how he pays for the coffee.

He would always answer the same: “God provides it.”

“God provides it?”, they would ask.

They didn’t understand why God would provide coffee for them since they were living a lifestyle that the “church” would condemn.

But the man said that God didn’t condemn them.

He said, “God wants you to be warmed and told me to give you coffee.”

Soon, all of these men and women started to ask him more and more about God and almost the whole staff of the strip club ended up coming to know Jesus. Now that would be an amazing story. That’s what it looks like to love well.-

I pray we will love one another without condemnation. I pray we will ask God to draw people to Himself through gentleness and compassion. I pray that we will realize that we are all hurting human beings and we all are filthy before God. We are all sinful and disgusting in His sight without Jesus taking our place. We all need the same grace. God, may Your Spirit fall and show people what Your love feels like. Give us Your real love, God. Lord, help us to love one another just as You have loved us, in tender kindness and consistent love. No matter what.Thank You for Your compassion on us.

 

“Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.”

-1 John 4:11-