Being Loved by God is Who I Am.

At a recent men’s retreat at Camp Kanuga in the mountains of North Carolina, we sang the song Good Good Father.[1] It’s about God being a good Father and the fact that His love for us is our identity. I liked the song, but  had no idea how the Lord would use it later that weekend.

The weather was perfect when I ventured out during our alone time Sunday morning. A cool, musky breeze gently brushing my face as I tread on newly fallen leaves toward the labyrinth. I’d seen the circular maze the day before and at the recommendation of a cabin mate, wanted to experience it.

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A labyrinth is a walking path used as a tool for contemplative prayer. As I stepped onto the serpentine paths leading to the center, I did what the sign said and set aside my worries, asking God to make me aware of His presence, listening for what He might have to say.

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As I walked to and fro, back and forth, I was progressing to the center, which represents the presence of God. The  center has semicircles resembling a 6 leaf clover. When I reached it, I paused, stilling my thoughts and breathed in the cool autumn air. In my heart I heard “It’s who you are,” then again, “It’s who you are.”

I moved and stood within one of the half circles and completed the thought, “Being loved by God is who I am.”

Being loved by God is who I am. No other identity needed. I could have told you that intellectually before that moment, but God wanted this truth to travel past layers of protection and false identities to the very core of my being.

My roles of being a devout Christian, loving husband and father, successful businessman, adequate provider, faithful friend,  or encouraging brother are not the core of who I am. THE ONLY IDENTITY I NEED IS BEING A LOVED CHILD OF GOD. My other roles and identities flow out of this most important fact about me. I’m loved by God.

How many times have I felt like a failure and doubted my worth because of inadequacies in my different roles?

In the center of the labyrinth, past failures and future fears seemed to be swept away in an instant, buried deep in a sea of God’s love.

As I made my way out of the labyrinth, I knew I was different.

I thought – if this is true

 quickly a correction came to mind –  because this is true, how I live my life outside the labyrinth will never be the same.

I’m still processing the impact, but days later I already see  I don’t need any of those other identities I’ve been fighting for. I’m at peace in who I am as God’s loved child and free to love others without needing anything in return for my validation and identity.

Challenge: Think of your biggest failure or inadequacy. How do you feel about yourself in this area? Do you ever find you identify more with what you say about yourself than what God says about you?

Now think of the thing that tends to cause you the most worry, that fear which seems to follow you around.

Being loved by God, even if you don’t respond to it, is the most important thing about you and overshadows by a million miles those things you had in mind. God’s love for you is eternal and everlasting.

Being loved by God is who you are, a fact which towers above and washes away, all failures, all inadequacies and all fears.

And when you know, truly know, God loves you, you can yield to His Spirit within to love the folks He puts in your way.

Prayer:  Lord, I know Your love for me is far beyond my knowledge. Nothing imaginable can snatch me from your great love. Open the eyes of my heart that I might continue to grow more and more aware of how very much You love me.

May the fact of Your love be the definition of who I am and the overflowing purpose for the rest of life’s moments.

Amen. 

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. I John 3:1a

 

[1] Good Good Father by the Housefires

 

We all Need Peace, but Where do we get it?

Peace is Required

All can agree that having riches, success and fame without peace leaves us miserable. Many have come to this conclusion on their own. But history speaks loudly of troubled souls who conquered the world yet lived lives of despair:  Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Earnest Hemingway and Howard Hughes to name a few.

But you say, I’ve made my peace with God through His Son Jesus Christ.

Me too. But if I’m brutally honest with myself about my growth in Christ, I realize I seldom seek my peace from the Prince of Peace.

Idolatry

As I’ve been asking God to help me yield more fully to His Indwelling Spirit, to surrender more and more of my life to Him. I was quite shocked at one of His answers to this prayer.

In a non-condemning, but serious way, God showed me I’m an idolater.

With trembling lips and a ferocious desire to turn from my sin, I confess I have disobeyed the first and second commandments.

I have had other gods before Him. I have worshiped an idol.

Peace as the World Gives It

Here’s the verse He used to enlighten me and usher in a deep desire for healing.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. John 14:27

When I read Jesus’ words, I know Christ alone is Peace. However, I also realize I  have worshiped the idol of “Peace as the world gives it.”

My desire for peace in my world has controlled my life. Above all else I fight for the peace of feeling healthy, to-do list tamed, bills paid, clutter cleared and relationships smooth. And while these are all worthy goals, the inner peace they may bring will not last.

And besides, how often does ‘peace as the world gives it’ really happen?

Chaos

Growing up in a chaotic family, ripped by divorce, I’ve been searching for peace a long time. As a college student, I trusted Christ with my life. However, I didn’t trust Him with my troubles.

Though I thought I trusted God, each unpaid bill, busted water heater, child missing the bus and work call in the middle of the night, built up heavy burdens on my shoulders.

I struggled in my own strength to put out each fire, believing it was all up to me. I hadn’t learned to trust in my Heavenly Father to work through me to handle each situation. I was trying to fight for my own peace.

My goal each day was to get through my duties with the least amount of problems. My inner peace was directly related to the circumstances in my world.

Sound familiar?

Jesus is Our Peace

But God did not leave me this way. He showed me, my desire for peace was an obsession which stifled His life in me. He showed me that until I truly understood that He alone is my peace, I would never experience peace and every relationship I had would suffer.

When Jesus said in the above verse, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you;” He was speaking to my heart that He is my  peace. 

In the Storm   lake-constance-1226903_1280

The perfect picture of this kind of peace which transcends circumstances is depicted in Mark 4:35-41 when Jesus calms a storm at sea.

On that day, when evening came, He *said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they *took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there *arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they *woke Him and *said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

We will face storms. When we do, it is important to seek Jesus as our peace amidst the storms. Certainly, we want storms to be over and to have peaceful circumstances. However, through it all Jesus and Jesus alone is our peace.

We can rest in Him no matter what is going on in our world.

But truly knowing Jesus is our Peace is not a one-time realization. Every time we feel our hearts disrupted by the storms of life, we must go back to John 14:27 and count it true that He is our peace.

Challenge

What circumstance is stealing your peace right now?

In the midst, count it true that Jesus is peace. Speak it out loud, “Jesus you are my peace.”

Even as you say it, peace will flood your soul.

If you feel anxious, follow what Paul commands in Philippians 4:6-7

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Fight for your Peace

Be vigilant in fighting for your peace. God has given us emotions as indicators of how we’re doing. Don’t ignore your feelings.

When fear or anxiety creeps into your heart, cut these thieves off at their first arrival. They have come to steal your peace and your joy. The longer these feelings fester, the more they can grip your heart and discourage you.

Remember what Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they may have life, and might have it abundantly.”

Abundant life means abundant peace, not fear and anxiety.

Cry out to Jesus when you first realize your peace has been attacked.

“God can not give us peace apart from himself because there is no such thing.”  C.S. Lewis

 

The Missing Guitar String ( A story of simple Joy)

“for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”                   2 Corinthians 8:2

Arriving in Lima

When our group  arrived in Lima Peru, we took a bus ride past block after dusty, dirty block of thrown together wooden buildings where people lived and worked. Our destination was Scripture Union, a ministry dedicated to the service of abandoned boys and gospel outreach, located in downtown Lima. I was a chaperon for our youth group’s mission’s trip to the place known by its residents as the saddest city on earth. The evidence of this sadness would overwhelm us before the trip was done.

The Orphanage

Our focus would be to serve the boys in the orphanage known as street boys. A street boy can range in age from six years old to the late teens. These are boys who have been abandoned by their parents for economic reasons and left to fend for themselves in the cruel streets of Lima. Most live lives filled with theft, prostitution and glue sniffing. But some accept the help and rules of the orphanage and these were the boys we would love and care for. To our surprise, by the end of our trip, Peruvians, street boys included, would do more for us than we could have possibly done for them.

My Peruvian Friend

I met Saul Camarena while carrying sacks of sand to the roof of the orphanage. He’s a short man with glasses, dark hair and chocolate colored skin. He approached me on the stairway and introduced himself in English, inviting me to his accounting office to see his computer. He showed me his Spanish version of Windows and we chatted briefly about our families and faith. I felt an instant connection with him, amazed at how quickly a common faith in Christ can traverse cultural differences and connect hearts on a spiritual level. Our friendship has continued to this day.

As the days unfolded, Saul would occasionally translate for us as we worked beside the Peruvians on the roof, building more rooms for the street boys. On one occasion, I took a break and talked with him as we gazed over the half built wall, looking down on the dry, dusty streets below. Though it was July, since we south of the equator, we were experiencing the cool cloudiness of a Peruvian winter.

Though the buildings were smaller, Lima reminded me of a dirty, gray New York city; the constant sound of horns and motor rumblings with a pronounced smell of exhaust, trapped around us by the cloud layer.

Invitation to Dinner

As we stared down at the street, Saul invited me to bring a few of the boys from our youth group to his home to meet his family. I agreed and we settled on the Thursday night before we would leave to return to South Carolina.

The day before our dinner, Saul took me aside, his brow and forehead displaying concern. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but we are very poor.” At first, I wasn’t sure what he meant, but now I know he was concerned for the boys and me, that their poverty would affect us. His sorrow was that he couldn’t afford the luxury he knew we were used too.

Saul lived 50 kilometers from Lima, about an hours drive. Each day, it cost him a Peruvian Nuevo Sol coin (about 33 cents) to ride to and from work. As we boarded the bus, Saul insisted on paying our fair. I argued, but could tell not allowing it would have been against his deep desire and joy. It was very humbling, especially when I found out later that he made only $200 a month.

As the dilapidated bus bounced along the mountainous terrain, I noticed that each hill was crowded with small wooden shacks. They were brightly painted as if in an effort to dispel the dismal aura of poverty. I was saddened when I thought of each family crowded together, struggling to survive.

Saul’s Village

When we got to Saul’s village, we stepped off the bus into what felt like a scene from National Geographic; the poverty,  the trash, the sickly looking dogs in search of scraps. The sadness of the place dulled our hearts as we followed Saul down a couple of blocks and across the cracked street.

We walked up to what looked like a concrete storage area between two other buildings, but when Saul took out a key and opened the door, I realized it was his home. We followed him in and waited in the living room area while he went toward the back. The house had a concrete floor with a wooden post resting on two wooden blocks as a support in the middle of the room. A blanket separated the main room into a living area and a bedroom area. There was also a kitchen bathroom area that had only a portion of a roof and a little storage section that may have served as an additional sleeping area.

Thursday Night Church

Though it was Thursday night, when Saul returned he surprised me by inviting us to go to church with him. Before the trip, my pastor warned me to have a short sermon ready because I might be asked to speak at a church. I’m so glad he mentioned this because this is exactly what happened. Also, since one of our boys played guitar, we were asked to sing a song we’d learned in Spanish, using their guitar, which was missing a string.

Missing Guitar String

Though a missing guitar string would be a big deal in a church I might attend back home, I began to understand it was very insignificant in this little Peruvian church. We Americans would have maybe even delayed the service until the string was replaced, but not in Saul’s church. Peruvians had learned the importance of putting missing guitar strings in the proper place, behind relationships.

Saul’s church would have loved to have had a nicer guitar, but they didn’t. So, they went ahead and gathered together on Thursday night anyway, focusing on worshiping the Lord and each other; this spoke deeply to my heart.

Simple Joy

There were about 12-15 people at the church, dressed in simple clean but slightly ripped or worn clothing, fully focused on what we had to say and on the sermon Saul preached. During the singing, their zeal and joy was contagious. Though many of them were missing teeth, the delight of their smiles was beautiful. Their joy had absolutely nothing to do with what they had or how they were. It had everything to do with their relationships with God, with each other and with us.

When the service was over, the people gathered around and made us feel very welcomed. We then went back to Saul’s house to eat along with several of his friends from church. They seemed delighted to get a chance to get to know us.

The Love of Christ Demonstrated

Saul’s wife served us a wonderful meal of chicken, potatoes and fried yuca, which is similar to a potato. We drank a clove drink called chicha morada. They could only afford to give us portions of napkins (a forth of a napkin folded into a triangle), but by now I knew that they would have given us napkins of silk if they could have.

I’m sure the meal was very expensive. They sacrificed so much to make us feel welcome. Again I felt the contrast of how a similar meal might be experienced at home. We would have surely worked hard at being hospitable and making  our guests feel comfortable, but would we have spent so large a potion of our monthly income to make them feel welcome? I doubted it.

When the meal was done, Saul’s countenance displayed concern. Looking at each of us, he said, “We’re sorry we couldn’t do more.”

At this remark, tears began to well up in my eyes and as I looked around the modest room I saw it had the same impact on my boys. How could he say this? He had given us all he could out of his poverty and now he wanted to give us more. That moment, in Saul’s concrete home, I received an example of sacrificial love. Saul and his wife truly loved us as Christ had loved them. I feel the impact of their love even to this day.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34 

As the conversation waned, I began to think about how we would get home. I was in the most remote place my life had ever carried me, yet I was responsible to get us all back to the orphanage. Earlier in the week, I heard someone say that the area we were staying was the highest crime district in all of Lima. I wasn’t even sure what bus to take and where to get off.

This turned out to be no problem because Saul informed me he wanted to ride back with us on the bus to insure our safety. I gladly accepted.

When the night bus pulled to a halt at the stop nearest our destination, we expected to get directions and say our good-byes. However, this was not the end of Saul’s kindnesses.

He got off the bus and accompanied us all the way to the front gate of our building, several blocks away. Then he waited for the security guards to unlock the gates. When he was sure we were safely inside, he turned to catch another bus and ride home. Looking through the bars, I watched his short frame walk off into the dangerous streets of Lima by himself; having once again given us all he had.

Back to the Rat Race

We returned to the States the next morning, back to busy duties and abundant prosperity and newer guitars with all the strings. As I write these memories years later, the impact of my visit to Peru remains fresh in my heart.

In my living room,  my gaze wanders over painted walls, lovely pictures, soft furnishings, a color television set and my daughter’s guitar. Yet as I think of Peru, joy fills my heart.

I pray God will give me a heart like Saul’s and his family, and like the people in his church; even like the Street boys, who delighted in giving us simple multi-colored bracelets to remember them by.

We had the audacity to think we were going to love and serve a few people in Lima, Peru. And by God’s grace, maybe we did. But far, far greater was the lasting ways they loved and served us.