Sunday, February 20, 2011

Love Comes at a Cost

You know what one of the coolest things in the world is? Coming to appreciate things that are real, and are hard. Most of us tend to react with sheer anger, sorrow, and incredulity when things don't go exactly according to plan, or very smoothly, or even right in the very slightest of ways. But it comes as no surprise to us really when we look at life on a spectrum, as a whole, and realize how it is dotted with things that are not easy to face, or pleasant to undergo at all. We weren't promised perfect circumstances that would only facilitate happiness and comfort for all our days. But, oh, the character that is built under the hottest flames is of the firmest iron resolve. Seeing things that are difficult as blessings, or even just opportunities to become a better person, is a radical way to see ourselves the way God does, if we are trusting in Him: becoming more like Him with every passing day, the blessed gift of the Father who loves us. Godly character and a new heart are gifts worth enduring great tribulation for in the end.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. [...] Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him." James 1:2-4, 12

This weekend really exemplifies this in a lot of ways for me. I learned a lot about what it means to love other people in ways that I am not always accustomed to, or ways I usually run from because it's such a daunting lesson to learn. One of these ways is by spending a weekend going to and from Atlanta, Georgia, in one car with the same group of people. I'll preempt myself by saying that this weekend was GREAT! It was an incredible chance to learn more about what it would be like to go full-time with a certain international campus ministry, and just get to know other people who are considering the same thing. The five of us from USF who went together had a lot of fun (at least, I did) driving up there, joking around, getting to know each other better.

But it wasn't like we didn't probably get a little on the edge from time to time. Everyone gets hungry. Everyone gets tired. Everyone at some point has to go to the bathroom (the worst of the three so far!). Everyone misinterprets a joke, or something said by someone else. Everyone has certain pet peeves that other people could never anticipate having to take care to avoid. Oh, life! That's just how it works! But it is so cool to me to see these sort of "social experiments" play out for the good of God; yes, just smashing up a bunch of people to be stuck together for three straight days more or less is a recipe for seemingly imminent disaster.

Yet, it wasn't like that at all. I know for me, in moments where I was so exhausted, ready to break away for a minute, and become even a little tempted to snap because of my discomfort, I could almost literally hear a voice in my head going, this is why you need God. I am such a frail human being. I can be the most gracious and loving person on earth on my own until you take away my dinner, my quiet, my comfortable seat, my jacket when the air is blasting cold, and other things that are not in and of themselves very great or formidable at all. Those tiny things make me so unloving and ungracious very quickly, unless I am abiding in God's love, where the Holy Spirit prompts me in moments where it's tempting to go crazy at everyone to continue to demonstrate love the way He does. (1 Corinthians 13 -- read that thing now, even if you have it memorized.) It is Jesus that changes my heart not to serve my selfish will anymore, whether that will be to get my frustration taken out on someone else or walk around their feelings just so they won't hurt me. My will is to please the Savior, mirroring His character, and not compromising that perfect beauty of the Spirit with my awful quickness to self-pity and self-focus.

The world may not see this, perhaps because they don't know true Christians or perhaps because they ignore the ones they do know, but believers in Jesus have such incredible community played out over and over for them to see. If five of us have Christ in common as Lord and Savior, things that could even be huge frustrations are dwindled to nothing, forgiven, and forgotten. We can still be friends even when someone messes up (oftentimes me, unfortunately) -- and not just friends, but good friends, ones that won't remember in a week that anything bad happened at all. We can meet each other and within a couple of days be deep and dear friends. This blew the minds of my Bosnian friends. They did not understand how Americans who knew each other for a week could be so close, caring deeply for one another to shoulder each other's burdens and struggles, as well as rejoice and laugh without reservation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ also come together in remarkable ways they were never directly taught to do, for the benefit of those who are in need. Today was the funeral and burial of one of the younger brother of a beautiful sister in Christ I've known for a couple of years. I've not been to a funeral since I was four, and I barely knew what happened even then. I wouldn't know what to expect or do in and of myself. When we arrived there, several other friends had driven from Tampa to Orlando just for this hour-long service. Both people who were incredibly close to her and people who were more or less acquaintances had tears in their eyes for her loss, feeling the pain as if it were theirs to feel, maybe never even having set eyes on her brother for themselves. She had a circle of people who loved her pray for her heart earnestly, with great compassion and desperation for supernatural healing. Men were not above weeping for her and beside her. I'd say hundreds of believers have prayed for her and her family since the tragedy last week, and continue to do so, and the results are palpable.

I never thought I'd see the sister of a man who passed too young laugh with her friends at his burial, after the tears, remembering the good times she had with him and what a light he was to the world. (Watch this video.) But we were able to spend time with her enjoying life, celebrating who he was and the footprints he's left in the hearts of people who knew him. What a blessing to see even one smile at this time, let alone many! Such a tragic accident has the potential to ruin the life of a loved one left behind, reducing them to endless depression, forcing them to wonder if life's worth living in such a miserable place as this. How great the hope is that there's a God who heads a family as the loving Father, adopting many sons and daughters, who with infinite love in their hearts come to one another's aid, praying urgently and extending a hand to squeeze in the hard moments.

This is real.

The church is not a building; it's not some made-up group of people that has been lost over time. It's here today. There are people so in love with Jesus that they will willingly lay down their lives, needs, and desires for the sake of others. I count myself too blessed to know even a taste of what this means.

I'm honored to be a tiny organ in this functioning body, and having the chance to be refined in my ability to love others no matter what is precious. Whether it's learning to love someone when you're not comfortable or necessarily happy, or learning to love someone who has suffered more than you can know, I hope to seize these God-given moments to be taught and corrected into a clearer image of Christ when they arrive. You can never know when your ability to love will be put to the test.

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." John 15:13

Whether that is literally laying our lives down, or laying down our "lives" as we live them day-to-day according to our needs and purposes, it's of immense importance to love others to the point that we spare nothing to see them closer to knowing and loving God.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

I Would Die For You

I'm going to go dangerously close to being hip, emergent, or something weird, at least in my opinion. I am going to back everything I think about with scripture. Don't encourage anyone to make a bible study out of this guy's body of work.

Okay, it's not that big of a deal, but I'm just saying I had a kind of weird realization earlier.

The Lord has often spoken to me through song lyrics on the radio. Maybe not directly like, "Hey! Lara! I put this on Wild 94.1, which you OBVIOUSLY shouldn't be listening to anyways, just so you would learn something right now! Enjoy." Probably, it's more like, things happen to be playing, and something inside me will take truth out of it. Because most musicians describe very spiritual, intimate, human things that are meant to be fulfilled by and defined by God, but just missing the crucial factor that brings all their hopes and dreams to life.

The reason this stuck out to me in particular was that it was on two times in a row, on two stations. I didn't just want to listen to it again, but I infinitely prefer this song to that annoying Rihanna and Drake one ("Just my type" and "na na na na" do not rhyme!) and to even three seconds of Mike Posner (Did it occur to you that she just might really be cooler than you!?).

Stinkin' Bruno Mars' "Grenade" was on repeat in Tampa tonight.

I hate how catchy he is. His songs are so over the top dramatic that I kind of get annoyed, but they will hook themselves into my brain for the rest of the day. Either way, I was really thinking hard about his lyrics:

Gave you all I had and you tossed it in the trash
You tossed it in the trash, you did
To give me all your love is all I ever asked
'Cause what you don't understand is

I'd catch a grenade for ya
Throw my hand on a blade for ya
I'd jump in front of a train for ya
You know I'd do anything for ya

I would go through all this pain
Take a bullet straight through my brain
Yes, I would die for you, baby
But you won't do the same

My first question was, why do you love someone so much who doesn't reciprocate? Bruno Mars is all in when it comes to girls. But at first, I was kind of wryly thinking how no one really feels that way, do they? Who in the world would catch a grenade for someone who doesn't really love them back?

"And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!" Philippians 2:8

"Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.' [...] The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, 'He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.'" Luke 23:34-35

Taking a moment to consider the gravity Paul holds in the verse from Philippians is important to me now. He doesn't just say that Jesus was obedient to death. He adds an emphasis: death on a cross. Jesus was flogged, stabbed, forced to carry a heavy wooden cross, and was nailed to it, with a thorn of crowns on his head. With every breath, the nails tore harder on his bleeding hands and feet, the only things holding his weak body up. No one would give him water to drink. This form of death was pure torture, and took so long. I've never seen the movie The Passion of the Christ, but I want to; it's sometimes easy to make light of, or simply forget, how Jesus did suffer, and he suffered more than we can imagine. The sin of the world was on him that day, put to death with him in great agony.

And he turned the other cheek.

He forgave those who beat him, hung him on the cross, mocked him, and made the decision to put him there. He knew it was the plan, and willingly did his Father's will in order to make reconciliation for us possible through his blood.

And blood it was; this isn't too symbolic. He literally poured out blood, the life force within him that carried everything through his body every miraculous minute, just like us.

He knew what they were doing, but they did not. They had no idea that they were killing a beautiful Savior King, one who would return in wrath for those who did not put their faith in his power and follow him, loving others more than themselves and spreading good news of peace and hope.

As stupid as "Grenade" seemed to me at first, it's very true that Jesus Christ loves us, despite what terrible lovers we are in return. We cheat on him with other gods, with ourselves, turning inward to become our own deities to serve and love. We ignore him, and don't spend time with him. We are ashamed to talk about him. We come to him just when we need help or have been forsaken by our usual ways of dealing with things, when we've been betrayed by lesser gods.

But he didn't just take a bullet to the brain to die for us -- he went a painful way, one that horrified people of the time to endure, one that made Paul exclaim that he was obedient to not just death, but death on a cross! No, Jesus loves us even more than we dare to imagine.

Would we do the same? Likely not. But Jesus asks our lives of us, not that we go and kill ourselves, but that we die to our own desires, for those only lead to destruction. We will never be satisfied with anything, and will die in excess or in prison to addictions and lies. But when we carry our crosses to the hill and put ourselves there as we are, sinful and selfish, we are resurrected with him in glory! We are new creations, with new hearts, and all our old ways have been killed and redeemed for good.

And that, my friends, is how a noob pop star can teach you the gospel. But, I reiterate, I am not planning on squeezing God messages out of radio hits for a living -- sketchy territory, mostly because I'd look like such a wannabe, haha. (And I don't know that there's hope for Lil' Wayne yet, except maybe the part about open bibles in that "What Is Love?" remake.) I just wanted to share how something I was pretty cynical about became something I can appreciate in a different way.

Maybe sometime I'll dive into "Just the Way You Are" if we really want to go nuts about my boy Bruno, but that's a story for a less sleepy and more optimistic Lara. :)

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Not often does a bible verse ring so eerily, exactly appropriate for a specific moment in my life as right now.

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep." Romans 12:15

I'm sorry for how apathetic or even slightly spiteful my heart has been toward those I know who are recently engaged. You have every reason to be thrilled and overjoyed, and I will rejoice with you.

And, my dear friend, I'm so sorry for what has happened to you today. My heart is sunken and my stomach feels heavy inside of me. I can't even begin to imagine the horrible pain of losing a little brother, and I will not pretend to understand or say that I know the best way to just feel better. I love you, and I'm praying for you so hard right now. I will weep with you.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dig Deeper

How often do we see lemons and nasty fruit in our lives and keep trying to pluck them all and throw them away when they will just keep growing back? All of our behaviors, addictions, reactions, thought processes, and the like grow from somewhere much deeper.

"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." Proverbs 4:23

Roots and vines grow out of this heart, and the crappy things growing that we see, recognize as bad, and attack are only going to keep returning until we hack away at the vines, roots, ultimately until we reach the heart. But we can't change the place where the water flows, the seeds will be planted, and grow from. We don't have that power, or the will to do so, for that matter, even if the capability was in our grasp.

"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26

I see it in myself. I will dabble in what seem to be all kinds and types of things that I either know are bad or detrimental, or just can't seem to help but do, and then step back and wonder how I could have so many problems. I watch myself run around to different false idols, false hopes, false promises and giving up when each one doesn't deliver fast. But in my maturing in Christ, He has revealed to me how many of them are related. I deal with the same lie that has taken root inside of me by doing different things at different times, either throughout my ordinary week or through whole seasons of my life.

Look at the things that disappoint you, that you know won't satisfy, that are destroying you slowly. Don't some of them really manifest the same thing? My pride compels me to do several crappy things, by comparing myself or judging others or talking too much, but they all stem from the same lie: I'm more valuable than others.

This is something the Lord is breaking me over today. He's showing me just how deeply my sin, my troubles go within me, but how much hope there is even for the darkest and most terrible things about who I am. In Christ, before His eyes, I am nothing but a pure, clear well of water, with vines full of good, healthy things. And He is working on me to look more like that in the eyes of people, too.