Monday, January 16, 2012

Antioch Ranch Jan 2012 - Leaving Full of Love

Antioch Ranch, January 2012

As I write this its Saturday afternoon around 12:30.  Alene and I are sitting outside of the Hammer House at an aged picnic table, beneath a gnarled old apple tree stripped of its leaves by the winter’s cold.  Woodpecker holes riddle the tree trunk in intricate rings that run from the ground all the way out to parts of its limbs.  There must be thousands of holes.  The noonday sun is warm but not overpowering, and the air has lost its morning chill in favor of a gentle, still coolness.  Alene has prepared a small picnic of Brie cheese with sautéed mushrooms and onions, cream cheese and hot pepper jelly with crackers, sharp cheddar cheese, salami, and soft sourdough bread.  She is reading her book, and I am writing my missive.

Yesterday we walked out to the Cabrillo Lighthouse at Cabrillo Point (over one mile round trip so there’s my workout for the day – or so I thought).  We sat and watched the ocean, scanning for signs of passing whales.  It didn’t take long to see the distinct spouts of the whale’s great exhalations as they breached the surface to draw new breath.  The ocean was calm, making the distinct spout shaped vapor cloud easily visible.  It was a sight neither of us had seen before.  We watched in amazement as spout after spout shot up into the air over the ocean.  We didn’t get to see too much of the actual whale bodies, though, which I would have liked.  I was able view them through my binoculars just a little as their backs barely broke the surface of the water to draw breath.  From a great distance we did see a pod of whales exhale all at once and a large tail swing up and down in the water. Nonetheless, the ocean was spectacular, and seeing signs of whales for the first time in our lives was exhilarating!

Thursday we went up to Fort Bragg and sat on the bluffs and sat for several hours in our lawn chairs, watching the ocean waves.  I constantly scanned the horizon for signs of whales, but saw few.  Friday was certainly the best day for that.  We got ice cream at Cowlicks, and a pizza at the Pizza Factory, and ate back at the cabin while watching Facing the Giants, a film Alene had never seen.

However, despite all the beauty and tranquility we’ve experienced this week (oh, and the weather has just been marvelous! It hard to believe its January here!),  I think Alene will agree with me, it’s the fellowship, joy and love we have found in our relationships with the people here that will keep us coming back.

God has blessed us abundantly.  I thank Him with all my heart for the people we’ve been able to meet and the stories we’be been able to share.

Jerry and Pat Westfall, the owners, greeted us with open arms, a hug, and a smile.  They seemed genuinely pleased to have us back. (Jerry told Alene and I he wishes we could come up every month!) They share their stories with us, and we share ours with them.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re not all up in each other’s business, but the genuine Christian love, the love that Jesus said that his disciples should have for one another – that love with which Christ loves us – is evident in their lives.  That’s what makes it so easy to connect with them – that shared love for Christ. They also seem to have a God-given knack for making people feel at home, and they’ve endeared themselves to us in a way I don’t think
they even understand.

And I don’t we’re alone in that assessment of the Westfalls and what they’ve built here.  I think there are many families who cherish them as we’ve grown to do.

As I write there are two other families here.  One is a young family with two teenage children who came for the weekend to prune the many apple and plum trees on the property.  They were up early and at work trimming and clipping like mad.  Jerry told us this family has been coming here for several years, and they barter their labor in the orchard for time in a vacation home later in the summer.  They prune, the Westfalls give them a home later in the year.

What a wonderful relationship, ya know?

Last time we were here, Jerry and Pat told us about another man, now somewhere in his 60’s, who comes each year simply for the purpose of helping to chop firewood.  There is an extensive need for firewood here, being the main source of heat for the homes, so that entails a lot of wood cutting and splitting throughout the year, which they do by hand.  Yes, no mechanical splitters here.  Just axes everywhere.  This man has been coming here each year for more than 10 years, just to help cut wood for the Westfalls.  Just for the joy of the doing, and the friendship and the beauty of the place.

Pretty cool, huh?

There’s another family here that came just for Saturday night.  They have a 13-year old girl celebrating her birthday, and although the homes are not normally rented out for one night at a time – the Westfalls bent their own rules to let this family come and bring several of the girls friends to have a wonderful birthday in the woods.  As I write (sitting under the gnarled apple tree), the kids are laughing and playing, ringing a bell on the porch, swinging on a tree swing – doing the things that kids do.  It’s wonderful.

Now, I know this life that I experience here, while on vacation from my world, is simply a reprieve.  I thank God for the privilege of taking such a reprieve.  I know not everyone can do this, which makes it all the more important to me that, while we’re here, we seek God every day, just as much or maybe even more so, than we do at home.

In seeking God, I’m discovering that I have a purpose in life.  We all do; each and every one of us.

We’ve all heard “God has a purpose for you”, but if you’re like me, you’ve always wondered what it is.

“What am I here for, God? What do you want me to do?”

Well, I’m excited to say that I’ve discovered what God’s purpose is for my life! Seriously!
Recently, the purpose has become clear, evident and urgent.   I have a direct, distinct, focused and forthright directive from God Almighty telling me His purpose for my life.  I know what it is, and I am going to strive to be about that purpose every day, every hour, and every moment.

I’m finding a new fulfillment in knowing God’s purpose.  Meeting the Westfalls, and Lance and Susan Hollingshead who live up here and work and serve God with the Westfalls, has brought a new dimension to my understanding of God’s purpose for my life.  I’ve gotten to see His hand at work, and Alene and I have begun trying to translate that to our own lives.  God is faithful and His blessings have been clear and evident!

I hope you’re still reading and wondering what this wonderful purpose is that God has for my life.

I’ll tell you a secret, first:  it’s the same purpose for your life.

Exactly the same.

Your purpose, your mission in life, your directive from God Almighty, is exactly the same as mine.

That mission is to Love.

Love God, with all your heart..

Love your neighbor the way you love yourself.

Love one another in the body of Christ as Christ loved us.

Really, I mean it.  It’s that simple, and that profound.

If you discover no other purpose, no other drive, no other gift or meaning to your life aside from the purpose to love because of God’s love for us and for the advancement of His kingdom – then I believe you have discovered enough to have an abundant, fulfilling, useful and purposeful life in Christ, and enough to make an impact on your world for God.

You will have discovered enough for your life to have meaning, purpose, and direction.

Love is the purpose, the mission, and the plan for which God made everything – the universe; the earth; you; me. Everything was made so that God could manifest His love.  Creation was an act of love. Redemption is an act of love. Everything God does is an act of love.

And we are to love like the Father.  Matthew 5:43-48 says:
““You have heard people say, "Love your neighbors and hate your enemies."  But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong.  If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what's so great about that? Don't even unbelievers do that? But you must always act like your Father in heaven.”  (emphasis added)
I have discovered that, if my life’s purpose is to love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my mind, all my strength, and all my soul – to truly love God and find my joy in Him – then I will naturally love the things He loves.  I cannot love God and not love God’s world and everything in it.

Let me put it this way: If I truly love my wife with all my heart, submitting to her and putting her needs far and above my own, looking out for and doing every good thing for her and not wanting for anything other than to protect her and her heart and her good reputation - then how can I not love the people and things that she loves?  It’s simply not possible.  If I love my wife this way, I must love the people she loves; otherwise it would grieve her to know that I don’t love someone she loves. To honor her is to honor the things she deeply honors.  To love my wife is to be one with her, in purpose and in spirit.  The things that are important to her become important to me because I love her, and want good for her in all things.

To love God, with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, means the same: I must love and honor the things and people that God loves.  All of it.

Who does God love?


How does God love them?

Fully.  All the way.  Without reservation or holding anything back.  Completely.

I have found that when I place God first, before all others in my life, and begin to honor the things and love the things that He loves, I cannot help but begin to fulfill the second commandment – to love others as myself.

God loves me and he loves you– fully.  If I love God, then I love the things He loves. If you love God, then you must also love the things He loves or you don’t love Him.  And if God  loves me, then I must - I have to - love myself because God loves me. I'm bound to love the things and people that God loves! 

So, if I am to love others as I love myself, then the logic follows –because God loves others just as he loves me, and I love God with all my heart, then I must love others the same way God loves them.

Fully.  Completely.  Without reservation.

I find this concept of love so basic, so intrinsic, so immutable and necessary, that it sometimes becomes difficult to grasp.  Love is all God asks us to do.  Nothing more.   He asks us to let that love motivate our actions to good works, and to motivate one another to show our love by our actions.  In this way, through our actions of love in the world, the world will begin to see God through us.

Pastor JT preached at our church last week about spiritual gifts and our hearts and purpose.  I think Christians sometimes spend too much time wondering what our spiritual gifts are, and chasing after ways to determine our places to serve in the church.  Now I agree with everything JT said.  But as he was preaching on gifts and our heart and mission, I couldn't help but think “love will motivate all of that”.

If your gift is teaching, I believe that if you simply set about the mission and purpose of our first calling - loving people as Christ loved us with all your heart – you’ll find your gift.  I’m willing to bet that gift of teaching will begin to manifest itself because, flowing from the love in your heart, you will naturally begin to be a teacher of some kind. You will see opportunities in life to mold, shape, and direct others for God.  I believe the Holy Spirit will find us and encourage us while we are obedient to our first and highest calling – to love God and others specifically for God’s glory.

If your gift is serving or encouraging, I believe the same thing.  If you set about your highest calling of loving God and loving others as He loves us, then how can service and encouragement not flow from your love and care?  I believe it will manifest itself, and before you even know it, you will be in the middle of exactly where God wants you to be. Loving and serving for His glory will bring your heart the joy the Bible talks about. Your spiritual gift will begin to manifest itself without you even knowing that it’s happening.

Love, my friends, is the highest calling we have in God.  If you know nothing else about your purpose in Christ, what God wants for you to do with your life or any of those types of questions, know this:

We cannot do anything of worth for the Kingdom of God without love.  We cannot witness for Christ without love.  We cannot serve a meal and have it mean anything for the Kingdom of God without love.  We can’t teach preschoolers and have it mean anything for the Kingdom of God without love.  We can’t preach, speak, eat, drink drive, read, serve, give, buy, sell, travel, exercise, sit, stand, run, or do anything in life and expect it to have any impact for the Kingdom of God, without love.

It is a high bar that Christ sets for us – loving the way He loved but, but it’s the bar He set.  That is the standard we aim for. That is the goal with which we struggle with every fiber of our being and the help of the Holy Spirit .      

I leave you with this from the apostle Paul to think about – something that my friend Joelene hit directly on the head in our Sunday school class last week without even knowing I was going  there anyway – which leads me to believe the Holy Spirit is guiding me to write something in truth: 1st Corinthians 13 says,

“What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others. What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others.”

1st John tells us that God Is Love. Love is our highest, first, foremost calling.  From love, everything in the Kingdom of God flows. 

Pray with me that the Holy Spirit would begin to impress upon us, my church family of fellow believers, that without love, we are nothing.  But if we love God, and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us to love others as if the lives of the entire world depend on it – in fact, beg and supplicate the Holy Spirit to teach us to love that way – then our nothing becomes everything for the Kingdom of God.

I don’t want to be useless to the King.  I don’t want you to be either.  Never mind praying about seeking our calling – God has already given it to us.  Pray that we can follow this calling of love, because I am convinced if we do this – love God and love others as Christ loved us, deeply and truly, letting love become the over-arching purpose of our lives – every other calling in our lives will flow.

The Great Commission of Jesus himself is nothing if not a command to love the world as He loves the world, telling everyone we meet about Jesus, and directing them toward the great hope of salvation in Christ.  His desire is for all to be saved, and if we love what He loves, then that is our desire too.

If we don’t love – we are nothing.

Let’s not be nothing for the King.

Love manifests itself in many ways.  Have open eyes and ears to see the ways you can love people for the King.

The sun is hanging low in the sky, now, and the air is getting crisp, but my love for God is running high! Thank you Lord!