Love For Those Who Don’t Understand It

 

Sad woman sitting on the groundHow do you explain God’s love to someone with no concept of it? Someone who’s only known manipulation, conditional and temporary relationships, or partial acceptance coated with the threat of rejection?

I asked that question to a church friend maybe ten years back, and she quickly responded, “You tell them about the cross.”

And I thought, ‘She doesn’t get it.’

She didn’t understand what it felt like to be betrayed and abandoned by the ones who were supposed to protect you and hold you close. She didn’t know the sting of trusting someone, believing they truly loved you, or at least hoping they did, only to have them leave or discard you, without a backwards glance. Or worse.

Our world is filled with those who’ve experienced deep hurts by those who were supposed to love them most, and they carry the scars and distrust, which often presents as anger and skepticism, today.

It’s filled with men and women going through life with deep wounds only Christ can heal and aching holes only He can fill but who, because of past hurts and scars, can’t see Him.

Though He reaches out day after day in a thousand different ways, their hurt-tainted perceptions distort His hand. We keep proclaiming Jesus, but our words seem to have little effect, and we wonder why.

So again I ask, how do you explain the cross to someone who has no concept of true, sacrificial love? How do you help them understand that Christ died not for a cause or movement or to make a statement but for them, so that they could live?

The longer we’ve been followers of Christ, the more removed we can become from this question. We can begin to take His death and resurrection for granted, and in our familiarity with the Good Friday story, we can forget it’s depth. Though I suspect we’ve all wrestled with its implications, at least, if we truly grasped what Christ did and have owned His radical deed for ourselves.

Did you see the Passion movie? I did, and walking in, I felt certain I understood Christ’s sacrifice, what it cost, and the gift I received through it. I knew I was a cherished, redeemed, child of God destined for heaven. But I hadn’t a clue just how loved–unfathomably, deeply and radically–I was.

Then I saw His flesh tear as the metal tipped whip scourged his back. I saw the agony on His face as His executioners hammered nails into His hands and feet. And I saw Him hang, exposed, abandoned and rejected, until, with a final word, “It is finished,” He relinquished His life.

For me.

That was all I could think, as I sat in that dark, quiet yet crowded theater. He did that for me.

Jesus died so that I might live.

Me. Sinful, selfish, and prideful Jennifer Slattery.

Suddenly, what I knew to be true became all the more real. And my only response was, “I’m sorry. Forgive me, Lord, I’m so sorry.”

There was nothing else to say. No promises or declarations or pious acts could compensate for what He’d done.

Jesus showed me, through that film, what true love looks like. A love that gives of oneself completely, until one has nothing left. A love that chooses to die so that others, like me and you, might live.

So again I ask, how do we explain the cross to someone with no concept of love? Someone who’s only known the manipulative, conditional, temporary love often displayed in our culture?

Sure, we could take them to the movie, and we could tell them how Jesus died for them. We could even flesh the story out, doing our best to make it vivid and real.

But first, we must do as our Savior did for us.

We need to show them. We need to demonstrate a love that reaches, perseveres, endures, and sacrifices. A love that remains even when mocked, rejected, and pushed away.

That’s the kind of love our world needs to see. A kind of love that, quite likely, may not make any sense to those receiving it. It may confuse long before it illuminates. But with every kind word and gentle smile, it helps pave the way for a love even more radical and unfathomable than any we can display.

This isn’t the quick, easy answer my friend gave. Nor is it easy to display, but it’s more effective than any gospel tract.

Let’s talk about this. What are some ways you are actively demonstrating the love of Christ? What can you do this lenten season to be God’s ambassador and image bearer–someone who reveals who God is at His core and His heart for mankind? Share your thoughts and examples with us in the comments below, because we can all encourage and challenge one another!

Anxiety, Distorted Vision, and the Power of Christ

You may have heard it said that each of us view our world through rose-colored glasses, which means we perceive situations or perhaps events as being better than they actually are. I disagree. I think, most often, our

woman with splattered glasses

Image by Noah Black on Unsplash

perceptions are distorted by a combination of garbage-splattered lenses and curved reflections similar to those displayed by carnival mirrors.

Our vision is tainted by past hurts, pride, fears, sin, and deception, making it hard to see God’s hand and clearly discern His guidance.

This spring, as all my vision distorters fight for dominance, I’m combatting them with truth. This is the only way I’ll be able to clearly see God’s will and heart for me.

In Matthew 6:22-23 Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if you eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

In Scripture, vision refers to one’s ability to view our world and lives from God’s perspective and clearly discern His heart and plans. Our vision sharpens as we grow closer to Him and align our thoughts and actions with His truth. It dulls when we move further from Him and become increasingly consumed with self—our sin, desires, and concerns.

Our family has hit some financial challenges that have me prayerfully questioning how I spend my time. My first response is often to plot and plan ways to “fix” the situation. Where and how can we cut our spending and increase our income?

According my wisdom, it seems logical to allocate my time differently, focusing on those things that generate the most income while reducing those tasks that don’t. Though there’s great honor in providing for our families, when doing so, we must operate from a heart that is completely centered in Christ and His will.

Because we can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). We can’t live enslaved to our bank accounts and clearly hear and heed God’s voice. If our focus is on the here and now and finding security in material things instead of, ultimately, in Christ, the voices of fear, insecurity, and greed will drown out that of our Saviors. The result will be confusion rather than clarity and anxiety and angst in place of peace.

“Therefore,” Jesus said, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you will wear,” Jesus said. Do not marimnaó about your well-being, which means allowing your anxiety to draw you into opposite directions and pull you apart. Do not be internally divided, acting as if you were an orphan forced to rely on yourself and navigate life on your own.

Instead, God invites us to live like a child of the victorious, risen King. An adopted and chosen heir of the One who loves us deeply, knows us intimately, and holds the entire world, our lives included, in His hands.

Seek God first, Jesus said, and trust Him to provide, knowing He truly is a good and attentive Father.

Let’s talk about this! Why do you think Jesus sandwiched the passage regarding spiritual vision between the section talking about money and the one on worry? In what ways have you seen worrying distort your vision? What are some ways we can maintain a clear and accurate vision?

Share your thoughts, verses, and stories with me in the comments below.

God’s Never Changing, Unfailing Love

Change can be uncomfortable; uncertainty, even more so. If we’re not careful, we can allow the uncertainties of change to paralyze us and keep us from experiencing the abundant life God promised. But no matter how often our circumstances shift, no matter what hurdles or roundabouts life throws our way, we can rest assured and move forward with confidence, because that which is most important, that which holds us most securely, will never change.   

Today as you read Mary Bowen’s devotion on the depth, truth, and permanence of God’s love, ask Him to help you rest in that–in who He is and who you are in Him. Because as we like to say at Wholly Loved Ministries, when we live wholly loved, everything changes.

God’s Never Changing, Unfailing Love

by Mary Bowen

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken. . .” (Isa. 54:10 NIV).

She giggles. “Mommy, the flowers keep changing!” Her smile grows as she rotates the kaleidoscope. With each turn of the tube, another captivating image melts away into a different one altogether.

Life is like a kaleidoscope, always changing. Here in Atlanta shoppers grumbled when long-established stores such as Rich’s, Blockbuster and Borders closed their doors, “gone with the wind.” Spring, summer, fall, winter – we like the variety of the seasons, but often chafe at the changes they bring. Just when we’re basking in balmy breezes, a cold wind freezes our picnic plans. And how do you dress when a chilly 50 degrees rises to 75 the next day?

As the weather fluctuates, so do our relationships. A shift here, a misunderstanding there, and the distance widens. Like the glass bits in a kaleidoscope, sometimes friendships change color; a rich, bright red slowly darkens to brown, while a dull grey connection can suddenly flash with shining silver. Changing circumstances affect us as well. If someone we love moves away, we feel a sense of loss. The ultimate separation, death, leaves us feeling empty and alone.

Can we keep our equilibrium on life’s emotional roller coaster? Is there anyone we can depend on not to let us down? What a relief to know that God’s love for us doesn’t change, because He Himself is immutable, or unchangeable. “I the Lord do not change,” God declares in Malachi 3:6.

Nothing reveals character like self-sacrifice. When God gave us His Son, He proved His love for us (Jn. 3:16). Jesus died in our place, paying the penalty we owed for our sin. “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Rom. 5:5, BSB). Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Rom. 8:39). These truths anchor our souls in life’s sea of change.

One of my favorite hymns describes God’s unfailing love: “Loved with everlasting love/Led by grace that love to know. . . /In a love which cannot cease, I am His and He is mine.” (words by George Robinson). As we seek to know God better, He progressively reveals His personal love. In John chapter 15, Jesus declares His friendship. He is with us all the time, unlike any other relationship. Jesus’ name is Immanuel, or “God with us.” The Holy Spirit living within the believer keeps God near.

God knows and understands us better than any earthly friend. Psalm 139 describes in detail this intimate knowledge. God’s unfailing, personal love is our security. Though the kaleidoscope of life keeps turning, we can rest securely.

Let’s talk about this! When I was a young adult, I was perhaps the most insecure woman in all of Southern California (where we lived). I constantly worried what others thought of me, if I was doing enough or too much, if I was doing the right things or wrong. When things changed or an uncertainty hit, I fell into a panic! But the closer I grew to Christ and the more I learned to rest in His deep love, the more my confidence–in Him!– began to replace my insecurities.

When we recognize how deeply loved we are, as I said before, everything changes. I know now if I face a rough patch, God has allowed it to mold and grow me, and I can rejoice in that. If God challenges me to a difficult role or endeavor, I know He’ll go with me, equipping and empowering me. If I “fail” in some task, whatever it is, I know in reality I’ve done anything but as I have only Him to please, and He calls me beloved and adored. If others reject me, I know He never will. When I sin, rather than wallowing in guilt and regret, I know I can turn to Him and allow Him to work within me, making me more like the radiant bride He already sees me to be.

The challenge for each of us is to learn to live more deeply and consistently in God’s never-changing love, because that is where freedom is found. Join the conversation here, in the comments below, or on Living by Grace on Facebook.

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Mary Bowen writes and edits for Grace Ministries International in Marietta, Georgia. For many years her articles and poetry have been published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. She has worked as a reporter and freelancer, and served as an editor with the North American Mission Board.

No Longer Alone

 

We’re taking a brief break from our For the Love series to center ourselves in Christ.

I’ve heard it said one doesn’t truly understand that Christ is enough until He is all that they have. When Jenna Victoria’s world came undone, God showed up. Read on to see how, and may her story encourage you to hold tighter to the God who never leaves nor forsakes.

Going It Alone ~ Not Quite
by Jenna Victoria

When our world gets crazy busy with interruptions or requests, we might envy the many species God created that choose being solo over one-of-a-crowd. From red cross-1448946_640panda to platypus, sloth to skunk or eagle to armadillo—these creatures revel in their solitude.

Frustration with crowds aside, there’s a lot to say in support of seclusion. Especially Christian solitude, as this partial verse in John’s Gospel attests.  For when we are alone, we are not actually alone. Our Savior, our Father in heaven, is with us. How magnificent it is to grasp this truth.

In 2012, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer. After a long road of prayers, chemo, a right mastectomy, and radiation, my family, friends, coworkers and I celebrated my being cancer-free in early 2013. Five weeks later, that was no longer true. The cancer spread to the scar tissue of my mastectomy site, and to the left side breast and lymph nodes. Re-radiation, a lumpectomy and more chemo followed. In 2014 and 2015, as treatment continued, friends and family started to draw back. Close relatives and friends who had formerly been by my side, returned to their own lives and commitments – and rightly so. My rock, my one special knight-in-shining-armor then decided at the end of 2015 they had enough and essentially walked away. I was alone, I thought.

As the days and weeks of early 2016 drew out, I clung even more tightly to the One who book-1209805_640never leaves us or forsakes us. I downloaded more than 1000 Christian podcasts from preachers all over the world, and listened to the Word being taught every night. I soaked every drop of wisdom into my brain. I listened to praise & worship songs, studied the Bible and let God’s thoughts fill my thoughts.

In time, that head knowledge became heart knowledge. In my loneliness, I heard the whispered words of my Savior, “I am enough.”  As the cancer is now staged as metastatic, I will always be on some type of IV chemotherapy, but I don’t sit in the infusion suite alone. God is with me. I have contentment and, unbelievably, unshakeable joy in the midst of my circumstances and my solitude. The words “I am enough” wield great power. This sense of peace is not of my strength and ability; it is 100% from God and it did not happen overnight. I chose to embrace God as being enough, and He has become my portion.

It is comforting to know that John, our “companion in tribulation,” was given the words of the book of Revelation to write down, while he was alone, in exile on the island of Patmos.

I’d like to believe he, too, heard those same words from our Lord.  “I am enough.”

It is my prayer that those of us in desert places and filled with loneliness also receive grace to hear them too.

***

war-of-the-heart-2

When a vintage snow globe sends Boston dress designer Louise Martin & British B&B owner George Walker back in time to London, December 1940, they race against the clock to reconcile a feud between their families and solve a 75-year-old mystery. As Louise relies on God; and on George for guidance, friendship then love, will the future George envisions strangle her own dreams? Will their love survive generations of mistrust, the Blitz and being stranded in wartime 1940, possibly never to return to their former lives?

***

jennavictoriaEver since her grandfather co-created Twinkies, Snowballs & Hostess cupcakes for Intercontinental Baking Company, circa 1959, Jenna’s yet to taste a cake she hasn’t liked.
Jenna is the author of  “fiction that feeds your faith” – Happily-Ever-After romance & romantic suspense stories with a Christian world view. She also writes clean, wholesome romances. Her stories emulate those she enjoys reading…with a heroine who is in grave danger & a hero who is smart enough to get out of her way as she kicks butt & takes down names… and those that feature the sweetest of fairy-tale-ending love stories.

She writes romances that glorify God and His sacrificial love through His Son, Jesus Christ and show how He gives us hope & peace amidst unbearable situations. After her first breast cancer diagnosis in 2012, several reoccurrences and metastasis, Jenna continues to praise God and trust His oversight in her life; and continues to write more books.

Connect with Jenna on her website and Facebook.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! First, do you have any words of encouragement you can give Jenna? I cannot imagine going through what she is, and to turn such heartache into an opportunity to proclaim God’s goodness–wow.

Can you share a time when you discovered, in a deeper way than ever before, that God was enough? Share your thoughts, questions, and examples here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace, because we can all encourage and learn from one another!

Raising Children Who Reveal Christ

JohnStudy1

 

I had a very difficult pregnancy, one characterized by the constant fear that I would lose the precious child I’d prayed for, that I’d grown to love so deeply, from the moment I knew she existed. One night in particular, everyone–myself, my husband, our doctor–was certain I had. I was awakened in the middle of the night by a strong, rapid, and continual trembling and rolling in my abdomen followed by significant bleeding, and my husband rushed me to the hospital. As I lay on that cold, hard table, all I could  pray was, “No. Please Lord, no.”

I went home that night with my sweet Ashley, still very much alive, but my prayers took on a desperation after that. A bit of bargaining*. “Lord, if you’ll just help me keep this baby to term, I’ll give her back to you.”

I remembered that promise often in the days and years ahead: When I was tired and table-rock-943215_1920-1tempted to forgo our nightly Bible reading. When I was frustrated and tempted to take the easy road, parenting wise. When my heart was breaking over something she’d endured and I was tempted to focus on fixing the situation rather than helping her grow in Christ.

All I can say is, 19 years later, as I see the young woman God’s molded our girl into, I’m oh-so-grateful for that promise and how God used it to help me raise a child who does her best to reveal Christ.

This is our focus this week in our For the Love Bible study, and my special guest author Candee Fick talks about what this looked like for John the Baptist’s parents and how we can follow their example.

Raising Children Who Reveal Christ
by Candee Fick

It’s not everyone who gets a supernatural birth announcement or a miraculous baby after years of infertility. Personally, I think Zechariah and Elizabeth might have needed the baby-179378_640overly-dramatic beginning to give them the stamina and dedication to prepare their child for his destiny—to prepare the way for the Messiah. Every day they saw John’s face they had to remember that God was intimately involved in their lives, and then remember that John was born to tell others about the coming Christ.

Can you imagine the stories shared around the fire? John must have grown up surrounded by village tales of a heavenly voice in the Temple and a temporarily-speechless father not to mention an entire hill country wondering what he would grow up to become.

John’s life was the stuff of legends and the angel even said he would be great. Being told he would be filled with the Holy Spirit and go before the Lord in the power of Elijah could have led him to believe that he was something special.

And he was.

Except he wasn’t the greatest. Somewhere along the way, his parents not only raised John with the skills he would need to fulfill his personal mission of bringing the people of Israel desert-1197972_640back to God, they had to teach him to deflect the attention toward God. Huge crowds gathered to listen to John’s message of repentance, then one day John looked up from baptizing folks on the banks of the Jordan River and knew the time had come for his audience to follow Someone else instead. Between the Holy Spirit and the training he received from his parents, John obviously recognized the pivotal moment for what it was and transferred the crowd’s fickle attention with his announcement for them to “Behold, the Lamb of God.”

How did John’s parents raise a child who pointed others to Christ?

  • First, Zechariah and Elizabeth lived a personal example of faith. Between their priestly lineage and the gift of prophecy at critical moments, John couldn’t help but be raised with a solid foundation of truth and the knowledge of God’s power through history.
  • Second, they obviously also set up some behavioral boundaries to keep him on the right path and not derail his future. The angel told them to keep him away from the wine and fermented drinks (a cultural sign that he was set apart for God’s work) while later in the first chapter of Luke it states that John lived in the wilderness before he began his public life.
  • Third, I have to believe that every time John did something great or had some amazing insight thanks to the Holy Spirit in his life, his parents pointed out how that was an example of God working in and through him. Always pointing John back to person-371015_640God so that he could in turn point others to God.

I’ve got a son who is gifted with some serious athletic talent. In fact, he lettered in four sports his senior year of high school and is now in college with a basketball scholarship. All that to say, it would have been very easy for him to get a big head and strut his stuff down the hallways.

While this isn’t on the scale of a John the Baptist, as a mother I have tried to constantly remind my son of the Gift-Giver and his responsibility to use those gifts in a way that points people back to God. I strive to keep the presence of God in the middle of our family through prayer, devotions, and natural testimonies of what God is doing in my own life. To identify examples of God’s hand at work in the lives of others. Ultimately, my hope is that my oldest son will use his platform as an athlete to be the right kind of example for younger boys to model as he deflects attention heavenward.

Consistently pointing back to Christ is a difficult lesson to learn and even harder to live. Yet aren’t we all called to do the same, to use our gifts for God’s glory and then become less so that God’s message can become more? Thanks to the influence of his parents, John learned to to do just that.

***

danceoverme-500x750-1Danielle Lefontaine, a fledgling actress raised to the lullaby of Broadway, searches for her long-lost brother and her place on the stage, but a jealous cast member and numerous fruitless leads threaten to drop the curtain on her dreams and shine a spotlight on her longing for a place to belong. Meanwhile, Alex Sheridan is living his dream except for someone to share it with. When Dani dances into his life, he hopes he’s found the missing piece to his heart but fears the bright lights of a bigger stage could steal her away.

Will the rhythm of dancing feet usher in their deepest desires or leave them stranded in the wings?

Find Dance Over Me on Amazon in ebook and paperback.

And for a funny, more lighthearted post by Candee, visit my alter ego’s blog to read how she lives in continual weather-confusion. (You can read that HERE.)

***

candee-fick_headshotCandee Fick is the wife of a high school football coach and the mother of three children, including a daughter with a rare genetic syndrome. When not busy with her day job or writing, she can be found cheering on the home team at football, basketball, baseball, and Special Olympics games. In what little free time remains, she enjoys exploring the great Colorado outdoors, indulging in dark chocolate, and savoring happily-ever-after endings through a good book.

Connect with Candee on her web site, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Google+.

Let’s talk about this! If you’re parenting now, what are some ways you try to raise your children to point to and reveal Christ? What makes this hard? If your children are grown, what were some ways you did this while they were growing up? Can you see the results of your efforts now that they’re adults? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments below on Facebook at Living by Grace, or join our Facebook Bible study group For the Love to discuss this further. Because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

john12-24versejpgAnd for those following our Bible study, here’s this week’s memory verse, one God intends for each of us to live out, daily, and to teach our children to do the same.

*Note: God’s will cannot be “bargained” nor does this post intend to support that or encourage one to even try. Rather, it shares a moment of heartache and terror and my human response, and how God later used that, because He truly can use it all–our successes and failures, our steps of obedience and our regrets and weaknesses.

When the Wait Is Over

JohnStudy1

 

The pain of infertility runs deep and cannot fully be understood unless one has experienced it. I suppose that’s true of anything we face, be it tragedy, joblessness, illness … Last week in For the Love Bible study, we talked about how to stay strong when it feels as if our prayers fall on deaf ears, and Chaka Heinze shared an incredibly powerful testimony revealing how this plays out in her life. You can read that HERE. Then, Monday, Maria Morgan talked about choosing faith over doubt. You can read that HERE. Today those two messages come together in a celebratory post by my sweet friend Susan Aken.

When the waiting ends
by Susan Aken

“But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” Luke 1:7

“LORD, Please hear my prayer! You know my heart and how I long for a child. I want to shy-863056_640hold my own baby and know the joy of motherhood. I desire this with all my soul. Will You give me a child? If not, help me bear this pain and find contentment with empty arms. If it is Your will, please show me what to do. Help me to trust You.”

The cry of a childless woman runs deep. This longing is confronted at every turn with a woman who is a mother. The new babe who smells so sweet. The woman lovingly caressing her swollen abdomen. The toddler who runs around on chubby legs. On and on.

Living in a culture where being childless was a sign of God’s displeasure added to Elizabeth’s pain. Maybe she asked herself, “What did I do wrong?” Sympathetic and condescending smiles mocked her.

“Look at poor Elizabeth! I’m glad it isn’t me.”

Elizabeth’s one recorded quote after becoming pregnant is telling,

“’The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.’” Luke 1:25 (NIV)

Why can’t I have a child Lord? Why do other women get this blessing and not me?

I felt that pain. I always wanted a husband, children and the American dream. But things didn’t happen the way I hoped. I found myself single at the age of twenty-nine. Not the way I’d have written my story. Then I met my wonderful husband, got married and prepared my heart for children. I soon discovered he wasn’t ready (he was younger than I) so I waited.

Years went by. He decided he didn’t want children. I won’t share the whole girl-926225_640story here but I found myself at the age of thirty-eight hoping to get pregnant by means of insemination. Month after month nothing happened. After a year of special treatments, I faced the truth I might not ever be a mom and my prayers were similar to the one I began with. Similar to what Elizabeth may have prayed.

Then came a phone call about a baby boy who needed a mom and dad. Twenty-two hours later I was holding our son! Like Elizabeth my miracle came. The wait was over.

Euphoria! Grace in the form of a newborn baby. A love letter from God. Grace in every cry and squeak. Grace in arms filled with a sweet baby boy. I knew that I didn’t deserve the miracle God

Week 3 memory verse

Week 3 memory verse

gave. We made several decisions along the way that should’ve taken us off the miracle list. I hadn’t even been seeking God with my whole heart.

child-337540_640Did Elizabeth feel that euphoria? I’m certain she did! Did she see grace in the face of that newborn boy? I believe so.

She went from shame to rejoicing.

I wouldn’t change one thing about how our son came to us. I imagine Elizabeth would say the same. God’s timing is always perfect.

In that moment, when the waiting ends, God’s grace is painted in living color and all we can do is bow and give thanks.

“For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition that I made to him.” 1 Samuel 1:27 (ESV)

***

Amazing Hope:

This is a 40-day devotional book on the topic of hope. Each day’s amazingdevotion includes verses from the Bible, inspirational thoughts by the author, reflection questions and a prayer. The topics include many of the struggles common to us all such as parenting, death, fear, sin, and the futility of daily life. There are also devotions on the character of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the power of God’s word and other topics. These writings express the hope that gets me through each day and I pray they will also help you.

***

susanakenSusan is a homemaker, substitute teacher and writer. She lives in Nebraska but was born and raised in Oklahoma. Her greatest love is for the Lord Jesus Christ who has redeemed her and set her free. Her other loves are her husband and son (she is now an empty-nester). Susan enjoys reading, photography, spending time with family and friends and writing. She has a heart for prayer ministry and loves her church!

Connect with Susan on her web site and Lulu.com.

Let’s talk about this! When our prayers aren’t answered on our timetable, when our waiting takes years, even decades, we may assume God isn’t listening or that He doesn’t plan to answer our prayers at all. But Scripture tells us God is always working on our behalf. That doesn’t mean He’ll grant every one of our desires, but it does mean He will always and only do what is for our best.

This brings me to this week’s memory verse: “From ancient times no one has heard or perceived, no eye has seen any livingbygracepic-jpGod besides You, who intervenes for those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 64:4 NET).

Can you share a time when it felt as if God wasn’t listening only to find out later He’d been working behind the scenes, setting things into motion, on your behalf? How might focusing on His promise to work things out for our good (Romans 8:28) help you maintain hope and spiritual strength during a time of waiting?

Share your thoughts here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace or For the Love Bible study, because we can all learn from and encourage one another.

Keeping It God-Centered

Merging two people with different personalities, ideas, thoughts … and sins … can make marriage hard. Today, my guest, Karen Pashley, shares with us the hope and foundation we have in God to make our marriages not just work, but thrive.

We love because He first loved us.

The Trials and Triumphs of a God-Centered Marriage
by Karen Pashley

Let’s face it, being married is not easy.

Pair up two individuals with different personalities, energy levels and tastes, ask them to pair-707506_640manage a household, children, social  commitments, and their careers on a daily basis and you have a recipe for friction.

Throw in the fact that we are sinners—and at times our sin will hurt, disappoint and anger our spouses.

Small irritations, like hogging the remote or continually leaving wet towels on the bed are not so hard to overcome.

But what about the biggies? What if your spouse has an affair? Struggles with an addiction? Or develops a nasty temper? That’s when the vows you declared on your wedding day actually become your reality.

To love, honor, and cherish. Through good times and bad, For richer or poorer, in sickness and health.

Without the grace and mercy of Christ, marriage doesn’t seem like a logical idea at all, does it?

Falling in love is the easy part. Loving our spouses for a lifetime takes commitment, determination, and disciplining our minds to trust in God.love-699480_640

1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.”

Conjuring up love when our souls are weary, or stressed, or hurting is virtually impossible without the love of Christ flowing through us.

God designed man and woman to be uniquely and wonderfully different, yet He planned for us to come together and become partners in marriage. He knew this would not be an easy task for us—His first couple blew it big time, yielding to the sin that so easily ensnares.

We’ve been blowing it ever since.

But, the Lord is good, and kind and merciful. He did not haphazardly concoct this scheme called marriage and then leave us to our own feeble means to make it work.

Jesus gave us the gift of His Holy Spirit so that we could experience His perfect love for us (1 John 4:13). And when we embrace that unfathomable Love—despite our frailties, shortcomings, and sins—we can love our spouses, in spite of their frailties, shortcomings, and sins.

What a wonderful, thoughtful God he is! He has equipped us to receive and give love to one another through His own Spirit!

christ-776786_640We can love our spouses in and through anything, if we embrace the love our Father has for us.

I like the way the Bible spells it out for us in 1 John 4:10-12:

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 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.

My new novel explores how a Christian family deals with the consequences of the husband’s infidelity. Each character wrestles with their own flaws while searching for the answers to their pain. Only when they yield to the love God has for them can they begin the journey towards forgiveness, healing and reconciliation.

Readers and reviewers often contact me to share how this story profoundly affected them and their approach towards situations needing healing and forgiveness in their own lives. I hope you’ll consider reading—may your soul be refreshed with the living water of Jesus’ love.

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Precious in His Sight:

The story of one determined wife, her guilt-ridden husband, and the other woman, whose struggle may set them all free . . .

PreciousinHisSight_CVR2What if your husband was cheating? What would you do?

Feisty, tenacious, and adorably flawed, Sugar Brennan is fiercely committed to her family, her traditional Christian values, and her spotless reputation in her affluent Southern community. When she discovers her husband Clay has been unfaithful, Sugar is determined to right the wrongs in her life.

Then Clay’s former mistress returns to Westfield with devastating news, posing a heart-wrenching dilemma that challenges Sugar to rethink all she’s believed about faith, family, and the healing power of forgiveness.

She’s been raised in a preacher’s home, taught to love her enemies.

She’s got the fish sticker on her car and a collection of good works under her belt.

But . . . reach out to the woman who nearly destroyed her marriage? Surely God wouldn’t ask her to go that far.

“This book will stir your emotions, warm your heart, and ignite a longing in your spirit to know the One who loves us unconditionally . . . no matter who we are or what we’ve done.”   —Denise Jackson, NYT bestselling author and wife of country music superstar Alan Jackson

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IMG_8533-Karen Pashley writes and speaks with wit and candor about relevant, often gut-wrenching topics that resonate with women of all ages. Her Amazon best selling novel Precious in His Sight is hailed as “a story of betrayal, heartbreak, and reconciliation with unrelenting themes of grace, forgiveness, and Christian duty” by Publishers Weekly. Karen lives with her husband and youngest daughter in Nashville, Tennessee, where they enjoy the rich culture, glorious landscapes, and the occasional celebrity sighting. Read more at  http://www.karenpashley.com

Order Karen’s inspiring novel at AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Walmart.com.

Connect with Karen on her websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: Loving our spouse is an ongoing, deliberate choice we make, but it’s only possible because of 1 John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us.” How do you show and act out your love for others? How have others shown you love? Share your thoughts, ideas, and encouragement in the comments below or over on Living by Grace.