Tag Archives: love

The Greatest Love Story of All Time

Who enjoys a good love story? I know I do. Whether it’s in a book or movie, I love the experience of watching a love story unfold, it just feels good to witness that love.

When I think about some of the best love stories I’ve read or watched, there are a couple of things they have in common. And as it turns out there is actually a formula that authors and screen writers use to create the perfect love story. According to Writer’s Digest there are four crucial basics that every love story must have:

  1. A hero and a heroine to fall in love
  2. A problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart
  3. A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime
  4. A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united

Tomorrow is Easter, a day that makes up a key chapter in the greatest love story of all time. The story of a Father’s love that knew no limits.

If we look at those four basics of the perfect love story we can find each of them in the story of God’s love for us.

Number one: A hero and heroine fall in love. Of course, the hero in our story isn’t your average hero. It’s God. You might say He’s the hero of heroes. And before each of us was even born, He had already fallen in love with us. God created us specifically to be in relationship with Him and He has loved us from the beginning. Now, unfortunately we took a bit longer to recognize and accept this love. But if you are a believer, I want you to think back to when you first discovered God’s love and how you felt when you first accepted Him into your heart. And if you aren’t sure you’ve gotten there yet, that’s OK, it just means your love story is waiting to happen.

 

Number two: There is a problem that creates conflict and tension between them and threatens to keep them apart. Boy does our love story have this. In fact it has thousands of years of problems and conflict. But it all started in the garden when Adam and Eve chose sin instead of love. Over and over God’s people have chosen something — or someone –over Him. Often that someone else we choose is ourselves. Our own selfish desires. And if this love story were a movie or book, I imagine even the most devoted hero would have given up and moved on. But not our Hero. He continues to pursue us. He continues to forgive us. He continues to love us.

 

Number three: A developing love that is so special it comes about only once in a lifetime. Now this is the part of our story where we start to get closer to today’s chapter. While from the beginning God’s love for us could easily be categorized as “so special it comes only once in a lifetime”, it was really the day that God himself chose to walk on this earth in human form that changed everything. When our Hero decided that the best way to win our love was to meet us where we were, to become just like us, and tell us in His own words, from the lips of His own mouth just how much He loved us… I mean there had never been anything like it to come before, and there has been nothing like it to come since. Jesus Christ was that once-in-a-lifetime expression of love.

 

And so, that brings us to Number four: A resolution in which the problem is solved and the couple is united. Now remember, our conflict, the thing keeping us apart from our Hero is our own sin. So what did God do to resolve this? He made the ultimate sacrifice. He took all of our sin, nailed it to a cross and died. On a day, nearly 2,000 years ago, when the skies turned black, God looked down from that cross and said: “I love you more.”

And let’s pause for a moment and talk about passion. It wasn’t in our list, but every good love story has an element of passion in it, right? That day that God said “I love you more” and took from us the very thing that was keeping us separated? The Bible tells us that in that moment the “curtain of the temple was torn in two, the earth shook and the rocks split, and tombs were broken open!” (Matthew 27:51-52). There was so much passion in God’s love for us that at the exact moment He took away the thing that was tearing us apart, the moment He took on our sin, the whole world shook.

As beautiful of an example of love as this story is, it would be kind of a sad ending to the greatest love story of all time if it just ended there at the cross. Of course God, our Hero, doesn’t leave anything unfinished. He doesn’t leave us lost and alone, weeping in the realization of what love did for us.

He came back. He was resurrected. He made sure we knew that He was not leaving us for good; that His death was truly a resolution to what had been keeping us apart and now we could be together forever. Our Hero was raised from the dead and got up and walked among us once again so that we could hear from his very own lips these words: “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

He doesn't leave us lost and alone, weeping in the realization of what love did for us.

Today we celebrate the greatest love story of all time. And you know what makes it even better? We are part of that story. We are not simply moviegoers or bystanders to this love story. We are the heroine, the bride of Christ. We have been united with our great love, with our Hero because of Easter. Because of His death and resurrection there is nothing, nothing we can ever do to make him stop loving us, to give up on us, to leave us.

Now, go and live that story, it’s the story of your life.

 

 

Image Copyright: halfpoint / 123RF Stock Photo

I choose hope

It’s been a hard couple of weeks to be an American, to be a human, to be a Christian. Tragedy has struck families and communities in Michigan, Louisiana, and Dallas. Innocent people were terrorized in Bangladesh and nearly 300 lives lost in Baghdad at the hands of terrorists. And I know the list doesn’t end here.

It’s easy to ask “why” and “how” when we read headlines and see videos of senseless tragedy, hate, anger and death. It paints a grim picture of the world we live in and feelings of doubt and worry over the future our children will inherit.

I know many Christians who feel the world no longer offers hope for change, or they feel things can only get worse, and they have started predicting, and even praying for, the end times.

But I’m just gonna say it out loud: I hope they’re wrong.

That my fellow Christians praying for Jesus to come back tomorrow, don’t get to see it in their lifetime. And here’s why:

In the midst of the tragedy and loss, I still see hope.

At the perimeter, in the headlines, we live in a dangerous world where evil gets center stage and every morning you hold your breath waiting to hear what horrible tragedy struck overnight. It’s hard to have faith that anything will ever change, that evil will ever be destroyed or at least slowed down.

But on the inside, below the headlines, in communities and homes and hospitals and churches, there is another story. It is a story where volunteers rally around grieving families who have lost their homes, possessions, and loved ones, providing for their basic needs.

It is a story where children are selling lemonade to raise money for cancer research and teens are spending their summer vacations serving in impoverished communities to build churches, teach the Gospel, and share love.

It is a story where marriages are being restored, friendships repaired, and forgiveness is offered in abundance.

It is a story of hurting, lost people finding healing through a community that loves and supports them in the name of Jesus Christ.*

These are the real stories I see Every. Single. Day. And I am filled with hope.

They are not attention-grabbing, headline-stealing stories. They are not even stories of hundreds of lives and hearts being changed in a single week. They are about one at a time: one life given to Christ, one heart healed, one relationship restored.

 

There’s an old song that we used to sing at summer camp every year when I was kid. I’m pretty sure they still sing it.

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going.

And soon all those around can warm up from its glowing.

That’s how it is with God’s love.

Once you’ve experienced it, you spread His love to everyone.

You want to pass it on.”

one at a time

On the inside, in our schools and churches, homes and communities, there is a glow, a radiating warmth. It is not extinguished in the midst of tragedy, loss, pain, and anger, but rather it becomes a beacon of light and promise.

Because a candle burns brightest in darkness.

And there are so many who are called and driven, with a sense of urgency, to spread that light, not because of their own desire or goodness, but because The Light is so brilliant it cannot be contained.

There are more lives yet to be touched, healed, warmed, welcomed, comforted and loved. There is still so much work to be done. I believe God is entrusting us, using us to do more for Him before it is all over.

And I am filled with hope for the future.

 

*The examples in this post are based on real people and events I have witnessed in just the last 6 months.

 

photo credit: candle without wind via photopin (license)

I love you more: A Good Friday message and giveaway

The scariest question I can think of is one that I ask myself all too often: What if I love them more than they love me?

For as long as I can remember it’s been my biggest fear and worry, that the people I love the most don’t love me back, with the same fervor. Or that at some point in time I will do or say something to cause them to stop loving me.

It’s a terrible thing to live with that kind of fear — fear that I am not worthy of unfailing love.

That I am not enough.

There have been relationships in my life where I saw my fears come true. When love turned away. When it left. When it turned out to have conditions.

Have you been there, too?

But when I was 19 years old I began to understand, for the first time in my life, that there is one love that’s different.

There is One who is love and whose love comes without condition. One who loves me more than I could ever love in return.

It was during my first year of college that I attended a retreat led by the campus Lutheran student group I was part of and students at nearby college Lenoir-Rhyne. On the second evening of the retreat we were taken into a small amphitheater in the woods. There was nothing on the stage except a cross with a light shining on it. We sat in silence for a few moments and then we heard the voices of the retreat leaders as they began to recite the Stations of the Cross.

I sat there in those dark woods, staring at that cross and listening to those voices act out the story of what Jesus went through in his final hours. The hair on the back of my neck stood as they described the insults hurled at Him from the crowd. I flinched when they depicted the nails being hammered into His wrists and feet as the sound of a hammer striking metal echoed through the woods. And I sobbed as they recounted the words He said before taking His last breath.

I had been a Christian most of my life and, intellectually I knew that Jesus had died for me. I grew up hearing about His death and resurrection, but until that night 20 years ago — sitting in the woods, staring at a cross and hearing the story come alive around me — I did not understand the love that was the impetus for His death.

 

As a child and teen I always wondered at the name Good Friday. What was so “good” about Jesus being beaten, tortured, and murdered, while his family and closest friends watched? To me it seemed all the “good” came on Easter when He rose from the grave. Now that was some good stuff! Reason to celebrate. But Friday – the day he died a brutal death?  It seemed to me a more fitting name would be “Somber Friday”.

And if you’ve ever been to a Good Friday church service then you know that “somber” is definitely the mood, too. The Good Friday services I’ve been to feel a bit like attending a funeral. Everyone whispers in hushed tones, feeling the weight of all that happened on this day nearly 2,000 years ago. There is rarely any music or singing  (at least in the churches I’ve been in), just a shroud of sadness and darkness that fills the air.

And yes, there is something appropriate about that somberness, about the solemn reverence. But there is also something beautiful, hopeful, and good about this day, too.

It is the day that God said: I love you more.

John3-16

I will admit that sometimes I forget this – not the act, but the love behind it. Sometimes I still ask myself that scary question and worry that I will never be loved enough.

Last year I attended a women’s conference and the team from Fashion & Compassion was there. As I perused their beautiful hand-made items, I found this necklace that simply said Loved, and I knew I was meant to have it and to wear it as a constant reminder that I am loved by my heavenly Father – without condition or limits.

A reminder that I am loved back; that I am loved more.

I’d like to “share the love”, if you will, by giving away one of these beautiful sterling silver Love necklaces from Fashion & Compassion, as well as a copper Love key chain (for those women who don’t like to wear necklaces, or for the few brave guys who read my blog).

Here’s how you can win one of these items.

  1. First, send this post to a friend who needs to be reminded that they are loved, or share via social media if you think all of your friends need to hear this message!
  2. Once you’ve shared this article, please comment on the post (either directly at the bottom of this page in the Comments section OR on the original Facebook post) with these words: I am loved. If you are commenting directly here on the blog, please be sure to enter your name and email. I have no way to contact you if you win without this information.
  3. On Friday, April 1st I will select two winners, at random, to receive the necklace or the key chain.

 

Happy GOOD Friday!

God is bigger than my pain

Spring has begun here in Winchester, VA. The temps are rising and the daffodils and crocuses in my yard have just started to bloom, looking like sleepy maidens trying to awake from a long winter’s rest. This time of year is a beautiful reminder of fresh beginnings, new starts, and of course the miracle of resurrection.

I can’t imagine better timing for the release of my friend Crystal Sutherland’s new book, Journey to Heal: 7 Essential Steps of Recovery for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. While we still have a little over one month to wait for Journey to Heal to reach stores, I am honored and blessed to be part of Crystal’s book launch team, and was recently given the opportunity to read the first few chapters of her book. As I started to read, the primary message that leapt off the pages and into my heart is that God is bigger than our pain. His ability to heal will far surpass anything we can fathom. Crystal emphasizes this truth by sharing some of her story of healing – the healing of her heart and soul, and the healing of certain relationships.

In my own life I have experienced similar circumstances and been humbled by God’s awesome power to heal, especially within my family relationships. I confess, I have not always understood the importance of working at healing and restoring fractured relationships. At times it has seemed much easier to just walk away. But by my mid-20’s I started to realize that even if I walked away I still had to carry the burden of hurt, anger and pain – in fact walking away just made the baggage I was hauling heavier. This was especially true for me in my relationship with my mother. I had spent years waiting to hear the words “I believe you” and “I’m sorry,” thinking these would be the magic words to cure all, and as time passed, without even realizing it, the seed of bitterness grew larger in my heart.

Click here to continue reading the rest at CrystalSutherland.org

 

When love leads, truth follows

From the beginning my intent for this blog has been to spread hope, encouragement and love. Because of this, I have purposely chosen not to write about controversial topics.

Believe me, it’s not that I don’t have my own opinions about wars and politicians and Duggars and SCOTUS rulings. In many cases I have very strong opinions; but I find that the thing that makes a topic controversial to begin with is its power to divide people, and where there is division, usually misunderstanding, hurt or anger follow.

However, it is precisely because of the division the recent Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage is causing that I feel led to write about it.

As a Christian I am called to speak truth and follow scripture. This is not optional, and I can’t pick and choose which scriptures to follow.

But, as a Christian I am also called to love. And what concerns me is when speaking truth seems to be more vital than speaking love. When being right and being heard is more important than being humble and listening.

As Christians, we cannot cherry pick passages of scripture to suit our own agenda. We cannot quote scripture that defines marriage as being between a man and woman, and not look at the full transcript of that scripture and recognize it also admonishes divorce, declaring any man who divorces his wife and marries another is committing adultery (Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10:5-12).

We cannot use portions of scripture to make a point and then, conveniently, leave off the rest of the message. Scripture was not meant to be used as a weapon, or as a tool for furthering political agendas. If we use our Facebook pages to publicly condemn one act of sin, we must be willing to, just as loudly, condemn all others, including especially our own!

But there.

That word: condemn.

That is the problem.

By choosing to use our pulpits, our newsletters, our websites, our Twitter feeds, and our voices to focus on condemnation instead of love, we are misrepresenting Jesus and misrepresenting the Word.

Jesus called us to “love one another, just as he loved us” (John 15:12).

This doesn’t mean Jesus shied away from the truth. We know he didn’t. But he loved first.

He shared meals with people first.

He healed them first.

He offered them water first.

He visited their homes first.

He asked them to come and sit with him first.

He loved them first.

Over the last few days I have seen Facebook, Twitter and the news media ignite with opinions, photos, quotes, hashtags, scripture references, and articles. Friends have been very quick to claim which side of the issue they stand on and it seems (despite the plethora of rainbow colored profile pictures) people find this issue to be black and white. Either you are for, or you are against the Supreme Court ruling. Right or wrong. And you must choose a side.

However, what happens when we choose one side is it usually alienates the other, leaving little room for open dialog and honest conversation. When we make the focus on right versus wrong, instead of on love, we are shutting the door to conversation and relationship with each other and we are giving the enemy lots of ammunition for creating a division within the church.

Yes, as the church we must speak truth. We cannot present a watered-down Gospel just to make ourselves more relevant, more palpable, more accepted. But, we must also follow the example laid out by Jesus and start with love.

Because when love leads, truth follows.

We must remove the condemnation for others from our hearts and our mouths, and instead focus on ourselves.We must accept that we won’t always see eye-to-eye, but love and respect can remain in tact even in the midst of disagreement. We must come together in homes, and small groups and listen first and talk second. We must create an environment where our friends and neighbors and relatives feel safe sharing their hearts with us, safe walking through the front doors of our churches.

We must remember that no one’s heart was ever changed in 150 characters or less. I don’t care how many emoticons you use, people cannot receive love and understanding from a Facebook post.

Look, I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, it’s incredibly complicated.

Jesus never promised us that following Him would be easy.

But we can do this. We can come together instead of standing divided. Let’s start and end with love.

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Author’s note: I had begun writing this post two days ago, but kept hesitating on whether I should actually publish it. Then tonight, by chance, I had two separate conversations with friends about this topic. We did not all agree, but the conversations were based on love and mutual respect. We shared with transparency and honestly while keeping open hearts and open minds.

These conversations affirmed what I was feeling when writing this post — that these conversations are best had around dinner tables, in living rooms, or on park benches…even via the telephone is better than social media and electronic communication. These conversations need to be had person-to-person, and with an interest in listening more than being heard. I am so thankful to my friends for affirming that for me. For being real, and for being willing to listen.

If you feel led to share this article via social media, that’s great. But I hope that you will also feel led to discuss this topic in-person. The conversation may have gotten started on social media, but lets continue it in our dining rooms and back porches.

photo credit: Los ojos son las ventanas al alma via photopin (license)