The Continuing Debt

Years ago, when my husband, Dave, and I were ministering in Rochester, New York, we had a snowbird in our church named Ed Pfaff. Ed lived in Florida most of the year but would come up to visit his old church friends for a month when the leaves were on the trees and the snow was just a memory. Ed was a kind soul and a serious Bible student. He gave Dave several of his personal sets of commentaries.

Folks in the church spoke of Ed in legendary tones. His dear wife, who had long gone to be with Jesus, had suffered the sorrowful decline of dementia. For Ed, that meant that his beloved, of more than half a century, gradually slipped away before his eyes. Ed would faithfully bring her to church week after week and sit in the back where she would not disturb others. And I can only imagine what it meant for Ed to be the sole caregiver for his dear one, whom he never stopped loving.

But later, I saw my own father do the same thing with my mom—loving care given to one who, after a while, wasn’t sure if he was her husband or her father. And then I saw Dave’s mom do the same thing with his dad, who slipped away over a period of 15 years to the point that he could no longer operate the television remote.

All three individuals did heroic, merciful deeds of daily love as hearty believers. I never heard any of them say that they did what they did as an act of faith, but it could not have been otherwise. And surely there must also have been the thought, My spouse gave me everything.  How can I not give everything in return?

The Apostle Paul articulated this radical power of steady, unceasing love in his letter to the Romans: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Rom.13:8). This is a debt that can never be paid off. There will never be a completion letter from the love mortgage company or a bunch of zeros on the love credit card statement. And because it is never ending, it is impossible for you and me to do.

But we have a good Father who not only sets the example for steadfast compassion, who not only issues us a command to follow that example, but who also grants us the grace to do it: “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19, NASB). His love fuels our love.

The significance of this provision stretches far beyond our earthly families. Love is the debt that makes the body of Christ authentic. It’s why we want to be there. Love is the glue of belonging. Love is what makes room for others. Love is the perpetual welcome for new ones in the Body. Love is why there is still room and why there will always be.

So, when the immensity and challenge of the debt of love seems overwhelming, let us draw by faith on the well of grace that can never run dry. No one said it would be easy. I cannot imagine that Ed Pfaff, my dad, or Dave’s mom found it easy to pay the debt of love every day and every night. But that sometimes heart-breaking challenge is where joy and meaning can be found like nowhere else on earth.

Love Must Resist Hate

It can be very difficult to find a way to love and forgive those who hate us or those who have done us wrong. All of us, at some point in our lives, have faced betrayal, been let down, or perhaps have been left with a broken heart. It is natural to either retaliate or feel resentment against those who do us wrong.

Social media does not help us; it has encouraged a culture of hate. I see it every day. Hate has prompted an increase in violence towards people who are different from us in their ethnic backgrounds, beliefs, and social statuses. This is exactly what the enemy wants us to do; he delights when we do the opposite of what Jesus taught us to do: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).

Jesus calls us to love our enemies. He instructs us to go beyond our selfish selves and love others because He first loved us. Jesus sets the perfect example of how to love those who hate us. As Jon Tyson states in his book Beautiful Resistance, “God loved us even when we were His enemies.  Jesus died for us while we were enemies of God.” We must love like Jesus does. We must be known as people who love because that’s how the world will know we are followers of Christ (John 13:35).

Jesus had all the reasons in the world to dismiss humanity because He was hated by many. Instead, He did the opposite—rescuing humanity when He died on the cross, carrying with Him the sins of the world, including the sins of those who hated Him.

Hate can take us hostage and overwhelm us with negative emotions such as envy, bitterness, dishonesty, pride, and even a desire for revenge. When this happens, our hearts have no room to allow the Holy Spirit to empower us to forgive and to love.

Let us pour out any feelings of resentment at the foot of the cross, releasing any burden of hate in our hearts and allowing His love to transform us.

One Thing Remains

The month of March has taken on new significance for me this year.

On March 8, I will commemorate the one-year anniversary of a snowmobiling accident near Backus, Minnesota. When I regained consciousness, I found EMT personnel placing me on a backboard and loading me into a waiting ambulance.

I was admitted into a local hospital—the same hospital I was born in, ironically—where I was informed that I had sustained four rib fractures and a couple of lung punctures. This was not what I had planned for that day!

In northern climates like Minnesota’s, March is known for its erratic weather. (When I was in elementary school, I learned the March adage, “In like a lion, out like a lamb.”) We brace ourselves for the worst and hope for the best.

Yet even if you don’t experience March weather like this, I imagine you have had a similar experience with the unpredictable nature of life. From one day to the next, we can expect the unexpected.

How can we successfully navigate uncertain days? With the truth found in this song lyric: “Constant through the trial and the change, one thing remains . . . Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me.”*

Only one thing is constant throughout change—our Savior’s love. One thing is constant in our failures and successes—God’s unchanging love.

Throughout this month—and for the rest of my life—I will celebrate God’s loving protection during that moment of impact in March 2019, His loving provision in the face of seemingly insurmountable circumstances, and His loving pursuit in my healing journey.

If you’re unfamiliar with this chapter of my story, let me share the briefest of summaries.

God’s loving protection is obvious. I survived the crash.

His loving provision was personal and unique. God lovingly provided capable help at the scene of the accident and a friend to help with logistics and moral support to my husband. The Lord provided me a travel companion, chosen months prior to our travels, who had medical expertise. If you didn’t know, I was on a plane to Germany about 36 hours after being released from the hospital.

Finally, God was relentless in His loving pursuit of my complete healing. Within less than 24 hours after I landed on German soil, a medical exam of my rib cage confirmed I no longer had rib fractures!

Even better, because of this accident, God lovingly—and relentlessly—offered a path to relational healing that has truly set me free. It will be my privilege to share this story more fully with you as God allows.

So, come what may this month—whether it be a violent, unsettling roar from the March lion or a gentle, restorative blessing from the March lamb—I am secure in the love of my heavenly Father, “who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17b).

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord (see Romans 8:38-39).

Constant through the trial and change, one thing remains: the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord—praise be to God!

*“One Thing Remains,” by Jesus Culture

 

 

God Has Come to Help His People

Women Impacted by Jesus – part 6

We are traveling together through the gospel of Luke, reflecting on women who received “more” through the life-transforming work of Jesus.

Jesus is traveling in ministry, bringing evidence of the kingdom of God to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. In Luke we read this account: Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out–the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. [Luke 7:11-17 NIV]

Jesus saw the widow of Nain and felt the magnitude of her loss. She had no husband to protect her and now no son to provide for her. Compassion begins with having eyes to see individuals and their unique circumstances. If we desire to be like Jesus, we must slow down, look around, and be willing to enter into the lives of others.

Jesus then demonstrated both the power and the heart of the Kingdom of God. He raised the young man to life and gave him back to his mother. Both actions inspire worship in my spirit. The power to raise the dead to life! And the tender giving back of that which had been lost. Lord, You are good and your mercies are new every morning!

Drawing upon the resources of the Kingdom, what can we give back to those who have experienced loss? Can we restore dignity, hope, and relationship to others through our time, attention, and God-given grace? We are now the sent ones, traveling through our lives with Spirit-anointing. May we be good stewards of this equipping.

Finally, in this Advent season, I am reminded that God, too, had an “only son” Who was given, Who died, was brought back to life, and given back to us. May we all rejoice in the joy of our salvation!