Demo of Julie's Bible Reference Library

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rattling Pans

Treasured friend,

A while back I sat through a friend’s wedding – another friend’s wedding. The second in as many weeks. This is not an easy feat for an over-40 solo woman whose marital status has outlived the rise and fall of four church single adult groups (due to the pairing up of all the singles into couples).

As I say, such was my circumstance that weekend. Sitting in the third row watching with tears of joy (and a not little melancholy) as another single friend gave herself away to her new mate. Reading the program, I was not surprised that she had chosen to have the infamous 1 Corinthians 13 read during her ceremony. Why does every bride choose that Scripture? I asked myself. I suppose it’s safer than the 1 Timothy section on submission; but still …

I put my brain on cruise control as the words rolled off the reader’s tongue. “Love is patient. Love is kind. …” Yada, yada, yada. Heard it before. Memorized it. Nothing new there. I may have even stifled a yawn.

Six days later I found myself in my music room, scrubbing away at my new cello (I was teaching myself to play--a task I've more recently classified as hopeless!) accompanied by my patient mother on the electric keyboard. We’d found that playing old favorites out of the hymnal (only those in appropriate keys) was about all the challenge I could handle on that instrument, so we were playing hymn 664, “Sweeter as the Years Go By.”

My scrubbing arm grew tired, so I dropped out as mom continued on to another song, on another page. Since my arm was too tired to lift itself and turn the page I allowed my eye to traverse 665. Six sixty-five, it turned out, was a reading. The title caught my eye and grabbed my attention. “The Character of a Christian.” Hmm. I’ve written a few things about character—namely a book titled Staying True in a World of Lies.

As I wrote that book several years ago and revised it last year, I searched the Scriptures for appropriate passages that addressed the subject of character or integrity. And I found many – mostly in the wise old book of Proverbs. So, as I considered 665, I found myself more than a little anxious to see what Scripture the editors had chosen to fit that intriguing title.

Just then I saw the reference at the bottom of the page. It read simply, “From 1 Corinthians 13.” Ugh. Lemme alone. Go away. Don’t they know the Apostle Paul most certainly penned those words just to be read at wedding ceremonies in the 21st century? What does love have to do with character?

But then, I read the list. It was written in a different translation than any I’d encountered before – and it was most certainly abridged – but it contained all the key ingredients of the chapter. Perhaps it was the late hour. Perhaps the newness of a different translation. Whatever it was, I suddenly realized that alongside our integrity, our truth, our unity of thought, word and deed that I wrote about in Staying True, there is another principle that is just as crucial in all our interactions with the secular world – whether at work, in the marketplace of ideas, in our churches, or (yes) in our homes and while we're busy about our caregiving duties.

And that principle is one that cannot fail without devastating consequences. Without it I am, according to the hymnal’s editors, a “rattling pan.”

That principle is love. Not the mushy stuff of wedding day kisses and for-the-camera smiles. But love. Like God’s love. Pure, unselfish, patient, and holy.

Here, in The Message paraphrase, is a repackaging of the key principles found in 1 Corinthians 13:1-7:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.


If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.

Love doesn't strut,

Doesn't have a swelled head,

Doesn't force itself on others,

Isn't always "me first,"

Doesn't fly off the handle,

Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn't revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end.

In those moments, as mom’s melodious notes played on, I knew--I don't want to be a rusty gate or a rattling pan--especially not in God's eyes and ears. So, my continuing lesson was to be love. Not necessarily a marriage kind of love (although I certainly wouldn’t rule that out), but more likely a lovingness that pervades everything else I do and say – and everything I think.

“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples,” Jesus said, “if you have love one for another” (John 13:35). This loving action – or interaction – with each other inside the faith, as well as those not yet in the faith – is the mark of a true believer. But it isn't easy and certainly doesn't come naturally--not by any stretch of the imagination.

I'm taking this new-old challenge to heart this week--and I pray in it you'll hear God's voice prompting you, as well. May my life, no matter how frustrating, challenging, angering, or debilitating--be best summed up in the word love.

Blessings and prayers,

Julie

© 2011, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Monday, March 21, 2011

You're Famous! Okay, not famous, but notable ...

Okay -- this is royally cool! Anderson University alumni magazine, Signatures, did a cover feature on blogging -- and featured this devotional blog and its author (namely, me!). Here's a link, you might enjoy following http://www.anderson.edu/signatures/winter11/article.html. I've already begun hearing from old college friends (who're you callin' old?) about it.

Blessings and prayers, Julie © 2011, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hold Fast in Love

Treasured Friend,


I’ve been AWOL for a couple of weeks – perhaps you noticed (I hope you noticed!). But it was for a good cause. If you’ve read my caregiving book or even these devotional posts for very long, you know I preach, “Caregiver care for yourself.” I preach it, but I seldom apply its wisdom to my life. This time, I did—sent along by my wonderful parents, who insisted on it. They saw how stressed I had been, even if I was trying to ignore it.

My colleague and friend Lin Johnson offered to share her timeshare condo on Kauai. I wasn’t going to accept. Dad hadn’t been doing well, but then during one of his hospitalizations, he grabbed my arm, pulled me down to bed-level, and said, “You’re going to Hawaii. You deserve it. We’re sending you!” Month by month, Dad improved, and by the time the trip came around, he was doing well and it was safe for me to go.

It was a refreshing time in oh so many ways. For one, since it was such an extreme change of scenery, I came back, shall we say, far more patient, far less on-edge. That alone made it worthwhile.

Lin and I have traveled together before – and while we spend a good deal of time sightseeing together, back at the condo we take to neutral corners and read quietly. In my corner (looking out over our beach in the town of Lihue--I've included a link if you want to see a few pictures!), I had my netbook computer loaded with the WORDsearch program. A good chunk of my time, then, I spent in prayer and fellowship with the Lord. It’s hard not to feel Him near in the midst of all that created beauty—the Creator’s handiwork at perhaps His most creative and vibrant.

I felt His prompting to study Psalm 91. I don’t do deep studies of the Psalms often. Perhaps it’s because their poems so often are a believer’s conversation toward God, rather than God’s conversation toward us. I gravitate toward those places in Scripture where God speaks. “I know the plans I have for you,” He tells Jeremiah. “I will never leave you,” the writer of Hebrews quotes. I long to hear His voice—and I hear it best when He’s quoted. That’s just the way I am.

But this time, I dug into Psalm 91, as I said. I was humming along, reading as if I knew what was coming next. Then I stopped short on verse 14, which is placed in quotes (God is speaking. Listen up, Jul.)Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name” (ESV). And somehow, I didn’t feel the need to focus on the deliverance or protection part—but I felt a pained prick on that first phrase. How does one hold fast to God in love? I spent my devotional time over the next eleven days examining that phrase.

My first hopscotch led me to Revelation 2:4, where Jesus is speaking to the church in Ephesus. He’s telling them that they’ve done everything right. They’ve proved the spirits of false teachers, hated what He hates. They’re in good stead. Except for one thing. And it’s the biggie. They’ve failed at the loving God thing. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Or, as the older translations put it, left your first love.

What does that look like? What does it mean? My commentaries weren’t too particular in explaining it, as if we all know what leaving our first love looks like. But obviously the Ephesian believers weren’t aware of it, so it couldn’t be that obvious.

I checked my Greek and Hebrew resources and found that in the Psalm, the verb used meant being attached to and delighting in. It’s a binding love. It’s the way God attached Himself to His people; and it’s the way He attaches us back to Him.

In the Greek I consulted Strong’s and a few other dictionaries and found that the term Jesus used in Revelation talked about not just our growing a little cool in our feelings toward Him. Rather it means we’ve sent Him away, omitted Him and replaced Him with something else. What could that be? Did we replace Him with duty? Resentment? Apathy? Disappointment? Selfishness? Wrong motives? Could be any number of those things.

And it became painfully personal for me at this point. Because I realized the Spirit of Christ was nailing what was wrong with me. It wasn’t just exhaustion from the caregiving and my own personal health issues. It was that I’d removed Him from first place of love in my heart and replaced Him with the duties of caregiving. Worse yet, I’d replaced loving Him with resentment of all the things I was giving up to serve Him. My motives were wrong. Selfishness was taking root. And I was in danger of being removed from His good graces. It obviously happened to the once-thriving church in Ephesus. There’s now on that formerly-thriving site in modern-day Turkey a series of ruins visited by tourists. Christianity is almost non-existent in that region. It’s downright frightening.

So if the lack of first love is that ugly picture, who will paint for us the beautiful picture of placing Christ in that first-love place in our lives—and show us the path to get there? My next stop was probably your obvious first choice, too—1 Corinthians 13. Love always trusts, always believes, always endures. It relinquishes rights and controls to the beloved. It bears burdens without grudges, keeps itself from grumbling. It is full of hope.

Beautiful, just like the Lihue sunrise. But how do I get there? I’m patiently enduring, trying to keep from growing weary. Trying, but, by and large failing.

The first step Jesus offers in Revelation 2:5, and it echoes a phrase in Jeremiah 2:2. It’s all about remembering. Remember how it was when we were placing love for Christ above all else. God remembers, as He told Jeremiah: “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (ESV). So, the prescription has to do with remembering my former devotion, with remembering how safe it was to follow Him without fear into the unknown.

Next, Christ commands: repent. That’s all about agreeing with Him about the fact that my motives are wrong. They are sinful, selfish, unbefitting a lover of God.

Finally, He prescribes: do. Do what I did before. Do my service toward Him out of the overflow of love.

It occurred to me that this was a concern of the Apostle Paul for the Ephesian believers in his letter to them decades before Revelation was written. Paul wrote out part of his prayer for them: “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:17-19). Perhaps the remembering and returning to my first love isn’t all about my feelings toward God, but in coming to know and recall His unfathomable love toward me.

The Apostle John reaffirms that thought when he writes, “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Here first is foremost in time, place, order and importance. We have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. So, then, our love is a response back to Him. The first and primary action is His. And in coming to know Him in a deeper way, we will have a deeper appreciation of the depth and breadth of His first love for us.

Perhaps, then, returning to our first love is returning to the open arms of the One Who loved us first.

As I reached the end of my trip and the end of my study on this topic, I came to the conclusion that returning to my first love has little to do with any feeling I could conjure toward Him or anyone else. Rather, it’s all about coming to bask, once again, as I did at first, in the amazing, abiding, perfect, fearless, self-abandoning love my Triune God has for me. Only then can I hold fast to Christ in love—and can I meet the expectation He states clearly in Mark 12:30: “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (NKJV).

My prayer for you is that you, too, will gain a new understanding of just how much God loves you—and that you will find yourself running into the waiting arms of your first love, no matter what challenges or unknown circumstances you face together with Him today.

Blessings and prayers,
Julie

© 2011, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com