Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Shall We Close Up? {Guest Post}

When you slice open your own fragile heart and it bleeds thin, splayed-out with feeble words, it leaves you exposed, limp, clinging to the Lord all over again. It’s safer to tuck these words away quiet. But God doesn’t call us to safe, but to trust Him.

We will not understand everything we are called to endure, but we are called to endure by faith. We are to “hold fast to the hope set before us.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ always brings hope to those who live by faith.

Todd Anderson, a master wordsmith, offered encouragement to this weak vessel, by proclaiming the power, beauty and hope of the gospel to me in poetic words. Weaving pieces of the journey I shared last week, with the glorious truth of the gospel, Todd, verse by verse, shifts our gaze to the sovereign Giver and Sustainer of life. To God be all the glory.

With Todd’s permission I share his poem:
Shall we Close Up?

In the night the empty halls,
Encased by grief and stifling walls,
House the husks of mortal hope,
Slumping bodies, fraying rope.

In a room an open heart
Beats a weak and paltry pulse
Doctors frantic, slowly scrape
Calcified and concrete crust.

Sitting down or standing up,
Husband, gutted, holds a cup,
Paces in the quiet room,
Sweats against the coming doom.

Past the time for closing hours,
Anasthetic wearing thin,
Each try wrung of all its powers,
“Shall we close up, let it win?”

Fields of the sun, gouged and grim,
Lay quivering with chaotic vim.
Here Celestial host battered,
Countless Angels’ glory shattered.

In a garden the serpent slid
False dreams upon mortal minds,
Miscarried truth before ‘twas free,
Broke the golden crown of life.

Waves of murder, streams of blood,
Conjure morbid, raging flood.
Swelling up with mortal pleasure,
Pain and sorrow without measure.

Skyward in the brilliant dawn,
Man constructs himself a name.
Tower vaulted high by brawn,
“Shall we close up, disperse their fame?”

Surgeon shuffles through the door,
Scans the sorrow of the floor,
Finds the spouse with reddest eye,
Utters softly, “she may yet die.”

Some miracles are bound by grief,
Wrapped, as diamond, with base stone,
Lift us up to bring us low,
Taunt with tendrils of sweet breath.

Nothing left but time and night,
Clutching hand and drinking fright,
Emotions dancing like a jig,
Visions of a hole to dig.

Here, so alone, so alone;
Betrayed. No. Betraying her love.
This bed, this chair, and the great unknown.
“Shall we close up, forsake the dove?”

Olive sap and ancient trunk,
Watch as sorrow, deeply drunk,
Breaks down the soul’s last defense,
Presses the blood with dark suspense.

Trapped, as on a precipice,
The nerves rebel and will not act,
Clutching the dust upon the hill,
Drops of crimson doubt fall down.

The cup, which bitter to the taste,
Likewise causes the soul to waste
Away in acrid, lonely vaults,
The doom of dooms for fault of faults.

Here, so alone, so alone;
Forsaken. No. Forsaking: undone.
This branch, this tree, and the great unknown.
“Shall we close up, betray the son?”

One on a tree, one in a bed,
Both counted as those next to dead,
Both watched with grim intensity,
One bound to set the other free.

One, deserving of a tomb,
Rose, with hope, to sputtering life.
One, deserving of a throne,
Descended, despairing, to the depths.

Both wandered in those hidden days,
Healed, through time’s grey, lonely ways.
Both, through their wounds, became a cure,
Caused those around them to endure.

Lives destined to bring forth peace,
Through many anxious dangers tread.
Though we, yet still, must decrease:
“I shall close up, no more tears shed.”

* * *

Friday, March 10, 2017

Even When the Way is Impossible: Go Forward

Jon told me the way Dr. David walked into the waiting room, with a heavy weight on his shoulders, and weariness etched on his face, made him think I had not survived the surgery. He had anticipated not being able to take in all the finer details so he hit record on his phone as my surgeon began to speak. 

“Well, that was not good. It was worse than I expected.” he stammered. And right there Jon thought I was gone.

My surgeon continued: “I think the radiotherapy blasted the whole thing together—the heart, lung, the old lung—became like cement. It was very, very difficult. But, it was all done (cheers erupted at this point) . . . no, no, no you can’t celebrate yet, that was a lot of surgery. It was extreme . . . twice the anesthetist said, ‘I thought you were going to stop the operation and close her up’ and I said, ‘Well, if you close her up, you are sentencing her to death, then, she will die for sure.’” He paused briefly. “But, it’s not 100% . . . she could die tonight, tomorrow, next month, next year . . . that was a bad operation with one lung, a tragedy actually . . .”

For 13 minutes Dr. David described how he had to carve out cement–like dead tissue around and in my heart and put in plastic and steel hardware in whatever healthier tissue he could find. He didn’t know if I would heal with all the hardware inside me. All we could do was wait.

Jon stopped recording when my surgeon walked away and waves of intense sobs from relief and heartbreak shook his whole body.

No one knew if I would wake up.

Those hospital halls were foreign land to Jon that night. He wandered this wilderness to find me under a warming air blanket and hooked up to machines that lit up like a Christmas tree. Late into the night, he returned to his hotel room to rest knowing the days to come would be difficult and intense.

My older sister sat by my bedside all that night. She refused sleep to come to her eyes. I wasn’t going to die on her watch. She held my hand, never letting go of hope. She was there when my nurse attempted to wake me up the first time. Hours later she was there when the nurse took the breathing tube from out of my mouth and leaned down to tell me: “Rebekah, you did it.” She echoed my cry: “The Lord did it all! Thank-you God.”

The Lord did do it. The Lord has done great things and we are full of joy.

But, this joy was not in the absence of great anguish and pain.

Somehow joy and sorrow mingle. 

By the end of 80 days in that intensive care unit, Jon had worn a path in those halls. My surgeon had hoped there would be no further complications and that I could be sent home after seven days. But, after seven days I was not well. For weeks my body wasted away and I started to doubt whether we had made the right choice to risk surgery. In my distress, I wished I could go back to August 28th and refuse the operation.

I began to grumble. Tears streamed from my eyes. Thoughts turned sour. Grief walled me in. Fear held me captive.

I felt trapped. Literally in an 8x8 foot ICU room. Separated from my children. With an uncertain road ahead. 

Two months after my surgery, the head nurse came to chat with me. From years of caring for cardiac patients she knew how to be compassionate and how to craft a motivating pep talk. With gentle firmness she told me: “Crying and feeling sad is ok, but you can’t go back and wish you made a different decision. This is the choice you made and you need to go forward.”

The struggle was real. There was no easy way out.

I could identify with the Israelites: grumbling, bitterness rising, hope diminishing. I had left a very unhealthy place and now I needed to go forward.

Did I trust that God who had brought me to this place would see me right through?

Consider the exchange of words after God had led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt:

“ . . . the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?. . . it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.’

The LORD said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.’”

The people of Israel were in a hard place between the Red Sea before them and the host of Egyptians behind. This was an impossible situation. They could not see a way out. But God wanted them to trust Him; to look not on what they could see, but what they knew of Him to be true.

And this is what they were to do:

Number 1: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today.”

Number 2: “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Number 3: “go forward”

This is what we are to do when faced with an impossible situation. When we are pressed with tragedy or trial we are to trust God and keep walking by faith.

Fear not, stand firm and look to God—To not fear is to be fully confident of God’s presence and protection. He is the one at work so He will get all the glory.

Be silent--quiet your mind, be still and know that He is God and that He will be with you in whatever you are called to endure.

Go forward--you can’t stay at the edge of the sea. One step at a time, your faith must be demonstrated by obedient actions.

We can’t go back. Trust God and go forward.

Refuse to trust and obey Him and you will certainly die as sure as if my surgeon had stopped the operation and closed me up, sentencing me to death.

But God makes the sea into dry land so we can go forward into the midst of the sea and on the other side, sing victoriously:

“The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise Him,
my father’s God and I will exalt Him. . .

You have led in your steadfast love
the people whom you have redeemed . . .”

Friday, March 3, 2017

Hope Echoes in the Hollow Places

May 21, 2014, once again my world crumbled before me.

My cardiologist looked stern into my eyes, like a father who lifts his daughter’s chin, to be sure he had my full attention and warned: you need to take it easy so we get to keep you around. I slumped on the inside and shifted my gaze to his shiny navy shoes tied with bright cobalt blue laces and choked on the lump in my throat.

I was 37 years old with three young children and my cardiologist couldn’t promise me months or even a few years to live. He couldn’t be sure how bad things were, but he knew something had gone terribly wrong with my heart and it wouldn’t hold up to much more. All that radiation they had blasted my three-year-old body had killed the cancer and left me riddled with horrific side-effects. Now the risks of open-heart surgery were astronomical he said and the chances of survival were slim. 

How do you keep on walking when burdens of life weigh you down?

In days of waiting, how do you take the next step?

In songs of lament, where is the joy?

In these times of trouble, don’t start by looking to your problems—they are always too great to bear. 

Always start with God. Look to the Lord.

The author in Lamentations 3 directed his thoughts to the Lord and reminded himself that he has hope because He trusts in the God of hope. Listen to his song:

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,“therefore I will hope in him.”

On days when grim problems spark fear, look first to the promises of God and your faith will be strengthened.

When your faith is so stifled you think hope may be lost, look to the Lord’s great faithfulness. Seek the LORD and his strength, hope against hope, believing in God who is faithful.

When you have come to the end of yourself, you will find rest in the sovereignty of God.

Look away from your troubles and unto Jesus. We see him in the garden of Gethsemane, the eternal God, the God incarnate, the God-man, full of sorrow and deeply distressed, his soul “crushed with grief to the point of death”.

For months I lived not knowing if I would wake up the next morning. I reminded myself to hope in God and that nothing would separate me from His steadfast love.

Life wasn’t pretty packages tied up neatly with strings those days. I needed to cling to the promises of a faithful God. I had to anchor my soul to the Rock of Ages.

I scratched out my muddled thoughts and occasionally I weaved poetic words as if I could run my hand over a patchwork quilt and smooth out all the unruly strands of life. Poetry dares to peel back the hidden song, cracks open the lament and exposes the joy.

August 2014, sixteen days before my surgeon sliced his scalpel right through to my beat-up heart, I hacked through deep heartache and hope echoed in the hollow places.

These were those simple, unpolished words I strung together:

“She's stuck.

Gone numb to the needs around her.
She wishes for tears to surge to relieve her parched heart
then she corks them when they threaten to flood her panting soul.

Dishes stack up in the sink, laundry piles spill over in the halls
till her little one wonders where all her clean underwear is.

The list of to-dos would be endless if she cared to write them down.
It's easier to pretend that there is nothing to do when you can't do them yourself.

What do these things matter anyway?
The world has gone mad.
Why should she care if beds are made?

Rain breaks from heaven like unstoppable tears.
Thunder roars and lightening flashes across the sky.
Something beckons her to look.

She turns her face toward the sky.
There are slivers of light;
Speckles of blue sky in the fast moving storm clouds.

Day after day she will wake up and notice that she did.
Her heart kept beating.
The storm rages on;
the madness races on.
Morning by morning she will speak to her own soul.
Hope in God.
It appears in this world that He may be asleep.
That while she lays low in the dust
she must cry out for Him
to wake up.

to Rise up.

to Come and rescue us from ourselves.

To Redeem us from the darkness
for the sake of His steadfast love.

Nothing will separate her from His love. Nothing.

She beholds the gifts of his love He graciously gives:
In the slivers of light and speckles of blue sky:
The way her brother comes and empties the dishwasher,
and friends bend their knees, and pick up the phone
to boldly speak truth to her in her darkness,
the way her husband keeps on loving her,
and her sisters know the ache and cry for her,
and her sisters-in-law cook meals for her,
and her Mama comes and get things in order,
and her Dad holds her,
and her children need her to laugh at the days to come.

In the snuggles, coos and smiles of her niece,
the belly laughter of her nephews,
the sweetness of watermelon,
and maple syrup on waffles,
and strawberry jam surprises,
the zucchini loaf,
and cookies
and spaghetti sauce
made lovingly by her nieces.

It’s the clean underwear for her baby girl on a new day,
and Lincoln Log villages her boy made in the living room,
and precious prayers with her daughter in the morning,
and the way he kisses her fast pulse on her neck at night.

It's the way the sunsets in their lives
and promises to rise again in their love.

Joy comes in the morning.

She looks back.
She remembers.
She speaks to her soul.

She may be stuck,

but not forsaken.

God never slumbers or sleeps.
He will not let her go.

In the darkest of days,
He is Light.
In the hatred in the world,
He is Love.
In the brokenness in the world,
He is Peace.
In all things,
He is Sovereign.

Come. Come to our help.
Make things right
and new
and beautiful.

Come, Lord Jesus. 
She cries with the saints who long for Him 

to Come. Come.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Question We are All Asking: Where on Earth is the Love?

There are an abundance of messages of peace and happiness amidst the roar of hostility and discord today.

Here we are at the end of the month in which we have a day to celebrate love with chocolates and flowers and another whole day to be intentional about spending time with family. Obviously, we all know, relationships matter. Although a scroll through social media or a glance at the headlines and a skim through online conversations and a lack of meaningful connections in real life, we could quite easily come to the very opposite conclusion.

“bite and devour one another in order for our own opinion to be voiced. How often we feed the flesh rather than starve our pride and stoop to serve one another in love.

There is no shortage of chocolate and roses—of that we can be sure—and they can be a fine, albeit, small expression of your love. But, relationships don’t thrive on boxes of smooth chocolate and bouquets of red roses.

In a world shouting for peace, where on earth is the love? 

Handing out peace without the hope of God will only seduce and deceive.

We are, by nature, a people motivated by fear, hunting for own happiness, pursuing passing pleasures and driven by our flesh.

We crank up the volume of the messages that pat our egos and tell us to do whatever it is that makes us feel good, insisting that whatever feels good is the right thing.

We turn inward and excel at the study of self. Often our expressions of love are even motivated by selfish desires.

We are pretty good at giving bits of ourselves to people in our lives that we enjoy and appreciate or even pity, but how many of us will go out of our way to give of ourselves to people who betray us, snub us, or are even out to destroy us.

We decide that is a whole different kettle of fish and we convince ourselves that we shouldn’t have to go out of our way to others who are so underserving or our time, attention, resources or safety.

Peace and comfort isn’t about us all feeling good about ourselves. Real joy does not come by seeking temporary happiness and fleeting pleasure.

Jesus Christ came to give us abundant life. The life we enter when we know Christ is far more than pursuing fading pleasure, but one that is being poured out for His glory and found in enjoying Him forever.

Far worse than being broken, is becoming unbreakable. Love is willing to be broken wide-open, love is willing to risk, love is willing to prefer others and it isn’t always going to feel good, but it is always a fruit of faith, by believing in God, who is love. 

C. S. Lewis warns what it costs to pursue happiness instead of love:

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one . . . Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable . . . Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become . . . more careful of our own happiness.”
Since when has our happiness become more important than love?

Love is not being more concerned about our own feelings, rights, privileges, or safety.

In the name of peace and comfort we have determined the problems of this world are problems of pain and suffering, but the root of the problems in this world is sin and the essence of sin is preferring something more than God.

Our fundamental need is peace with God, to know God, to be known by God.

John told his readers “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God . . . God is love.” {1 John 4:7,8b}

Knowing about God is not enough. Knowing God is ultimately—and completely by God’s mercy and grace—being restored into a right relationship with God by faith.

We’ve been winding our way down this path of true love to grasp the glorious truth of the gospel:

In believing that Jesus is the Son of God who was 
sent to be the propitiation for our sins, we enter into this newness of life, and this is eternal life—to know the only true God and Jesus Christ.

We are first made new creatures and given new hearts and by God’s Spirit faith is inwrought in us.

This faith precedes love. Faith, it has been said, is a working grace.

This faith that leads to life, effectually, by the work of the Spirit, removes the greed, fear and pride in our hearts that craves our own happiness and it produces a perfect love that makes the desire of our heart the absolute delight of the Lord.

In a world that is satisfied by temporary pleasures, we need to look to Jesus who endured the cross for eternal joy. Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith, He is our life and the love of Christ controls us that we “no longer live for [ourselves] but for him who for [our] sake died and was raised.”

Love begins with the love of God. Love is laying yourself down and taking up your cross. 

In a world crying for peace, we need perfect love.

Perfect love casts out fear.” John Piper has said, 
perfected loveis the love of God expressing itself in our love to each other. 

Faith produces love. Paul said, “ . . . whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

A true saving faith will produce love for God and from this love will pour forth a love for others. This faith is from God and it will give you the desire, even power {Ephesians 3:16-19} to go lower, to stoop down and serve others, even the unlovable.

Faith looks to our Great Substitute as our life, our abiding hope, our unending joy and without this faith, Hebrews 11:6 says “it is impossible to please God.”

As we wend our way on the path of hesed love we will see what the Lord requires, as the prophet Micah questioned the people of Israel “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness [or hesed], and to walk humbly with your God?”

Our souls have been made to find rest in God. Our fundamental need is to be brought back to God. Our ultimate joy is to know the all-sufficiency of Christ. Our peace is Christ Jesus.

The chief end of man is not to pursue our own happiness, but “to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Praise God that in Christ there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” and that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” {Romans 8:1,39}

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, that he has delivered us from a life dominated by sin and set us free to love him and one another.

This is the message that graciously holds truth and love together and that results in lasting peace and eternal joy as it is anchored in the God of hope as we continue to have faith in Him.

Friday, February 17, 2017

When You Follow the Path of Love You Have to Stoop Down

When he proclaimed his love for me out there on the top of the 'Anne' bridge at the peak of winter it didn’t much matter that is was way below freezing and the river had frozen over.

When he let his innermost thoughts fall on my ears, that it was his desire for me to be his wife, he slipped a diamond on my finger and the sun dropped behind our backs and left us standing in the stark cold, flushed with a longing for life together. We ran off the bridge and rushed into our future.

Winter faded into spring flowers, which ushered in a busy, blistering summer and we were married on the rainiest fall day in the history of ever afters. No one could have prepared us for what was to come.

You could say, we started off well-watered for all the pruning that would come into our lives and into our marriage.

We were young and had carefully guarded our hearts. We looked forward with honorable intentions and stood before God and made solemn vows to one another.

Somewhere in our house are copies of the vows we spoke. We committed them to memory, and boldly they soared from our lips and every day since then we have been committed to live them out. We’ve learned a lot about love since that frigid day on the 'Anne' bridge. We’ve still got more to learn than we know. 

It’s a lot easier to speak a vow that to live one.

To say you will love and cherish someone all of their life, all of their days is rather simple, especially if there is any affection or attraction to that person.

But, what happens when the hard part of the vows knocks on our door?

Love faithfully prefers the other even when the happily ever-after becomes sorrowfully exhausting and brutally demanding right now and from this day forward.

When life twists and turns, when loss heaves and health fails, then love risks and keeps on risking. And I’m not only talking about love within marriage now. We have been commanded to love our neighbor, love one another, and Christ went so far to call us to love our enemies.

Love reaches far. Love goes low.

The path of love is humility. Lowliness. Servanthood.

This truth is either falling on deaf ears and hard hearts and is slandered and spurned or is landing on ears that hear and it is sown in the chambers of contrite hearts ready to follow the glorious example of Christ.

Do you hear this? God has demonstrated his love toward us and we are to walk this very same path of love, dying to self, taking up our cross.

The only way to be delivered from the bondage of self-centredness, is to walk in the freedom of humility.

Humility sets us free from the idol of self, slays the pride of our souls and releases us to value others above ourselves, and to consider the interests of others.

Humility and love must go hand in hand; they are inseparable. Humility is our friend, pride is our foe.

C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity explained:

Pride . . . is the complete anti-God state of mind . . . As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

Lewis continued “Pride is a spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love or contentment or even common sense.”

No small wonder Solomon wrote: “Pride goes before destruction.”

Humility is the opposite of pride. Clothe yourself with humility.

Humility allows you to love others not only if and when they are worthy of the love, but because in humility, whether they are lovable or not, you have regarded them to be worthy to be loved. In humility, you have considered them worthy for you to serve them.

In stooping low, you esteem them worthy of being lifted up, encouraged, built up. 

Look to the example of Christ and as Paul gently appealed in Philippians 2:5-8:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather,
he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Consider the descent of Christ’s humility.

Christ Jesus, who was with God in the beginning and was God and who is God eternal, never ceased to be God when He climbed down from the glories of heaven, curled Himself up in a cramped womb, unfurled Himself as a baby in Bethlehem. From the heights of heaven to a lowly manger.

The Son of God who is “ . . . the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature . . .”, the shining of the shining, made himself nothing by taking on the nature of a servant, the likeness of man. There we see the nature of God and the nature of man in one Person; the climbing down of Deity to be garbed in humanity.

He descended lower.

He stooped to serve. He healed lepers, he washed dirty feet, He bent down and wrote on the ground, He allowed the betrayer’s kiss.

He descended lower.

He humbled himself to the point of death. He who is life, the author, agent, and sustainer of life, became obedient to death.

He descended lower.

He endured exceeding sorrow, was covered in horrific shame in the sight of God, and suffered great contempt and God’s wrath on a cross.

This is the attitude we are to have toward one another. Go lower and lower and even lower still. That is where you will find love rising higher and higher.

Love doesn’t live in fairy tales. Love abides in Christ and is poured into our hearts.

Love shows up when you stoop low.

When you reach out to the hurting, when you sit with the sick, when you welcome the outsider, when you are the hands and feet to the least, the lost, the lonely, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked and serve them, giving of yourself, thinking of others as better than yourself, then love flows over.

Love increases when self decreases.

Love grows when by the power of God, you set aside your life to care for a sick child or spouse or aging parent, you sacrifice your status to serve the body, you lay down your rights to honour those above you, and you strip away your entitlements and do all that you can to live peaceably with all.

Love takes the lower place.

When you see yourself for what you really are: one guilty of sin, but by grace you have been saved through faith by the atoning work of Christ and raised in Him and called His Beloved, you will stay at the foot of the cross.

At the cross, you see that Christ is all-sufficient and you don’t need to pamper your own happiness and stoke your own identity, because your aim is Christ, your pleasure is to delight in God’s pleasure, and your joy will be full in Christ.

At the cross, we look up to Jesus, follow after Him and go low. At the foot of the cross, we lay our selves down, and take up our cross as we walk the path of love clothed in humility, and we rejoice that in life and in death our hope is secure and our future is bright.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Love that is Going to Cost You Everything

I’m at a loss to merely sketch the cost of love. How do meager words strung together explain something that needs to be proven and established for the whole structure to stand secure?

As I contemplate what love really is, I am humbled and perplexed. Humbled because of the great love that God has demonstrated and perplexed because of many times that I have been nothing but a clanging cymbal.

To be honest, I don’t know if I have ever loved well. Only God knows.

I know I have known great affection. I admit I have gushed how I have loved something. Don’t we say, ever so rashly: “Oh, I love your outfit!” or “Ahh, I love my morning coffee!” or “I love to run barefoot on a sandy beach!”

We may like these things because we savor the taste, or are attracted to the appearance, or feel energized from the exercise, or the beauty around us captivates us.

But, this is not love.

Love is not simply words of friendly appreciation or frisky attraction, or a tantalizing sensation of romance, or sending a dozen red roses on Valentine's Day.

Isn’t it worth the cost of love, if without it you are left with nothing? Not even your own soul.

When we seek to comprehend the love that comes from God, when we trace the love that God has been faithful in demonstrating all through the narratives of His redemptive plan, we will say like John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

We will see that the Father loves the Son and this love leads to our eternal life.

We will see there is a cost to love.

Real love is not cheap, or comfortable or convenient. On the price tag of love is sacrifice. Our eyes will see that death is at the centre of love, but this is where new life rises.

We behold the perfect, steadfast, loyal, selfless, merciful, unchanging, eternal, self-giving, costly love of God when we look to the cross of Jesus Christ.

We catch a glimpse of this loyal love reflected in the life of Ruth.

We are first introduced to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who had been left a bitter widow and suffered the loss of her two sons in the land of Moab. When Naomi heard that the famine that had come to the “house of bread”, in her home land of Judah, was over she set out to return to Bethlehem.

Ruth, a Moabite widow, gave up everything in order to follow Naomi, her mother-in-law. She left her family, her people, her gods, her prospect of marriage, perhaps any hope of a future and became a foreigner, a stranger, a nobody and clung to Naomi.

Her brief declaration of her loyal love is breathtaking:

“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” {Ruth 1:16-17}
In her life, Ruth journeyed with loving-kindness, remained true to her promise, and trusted God and she experienced great reward.

She denied herself, loved mercy and walked humbly into a life of redemption and landed herself in the lineage of the promised Messiah.

The cost of this love was denial of self; the result was life.

Paul Miller, in his book, “A Loving Life” points out:

“Ruth’s hesed love of Naomi created the possibility of this resurrection. God’s hesed love of us by the gift of his Son gave us our resurrection as well. That’s what love does. It creates the opportunity for resurrection.”
Behold, what kind of love the Father has had for us! See what love is!

Jesus told his followers:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” {John 15:12-13}
Charles Spurgeon summed it up this way:
“Our Savior stripped Himself of all His glories, and by a thousand self-denials proved His love. But the most convincing evidence was given when He gave up His life for us.”
The apostle Paul wrote of this love to the church in Rome:
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” {Romans 5:7-8}
The apostle Peter declared not only the cost, but the purpose of God’s great love.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God . . .” {1 Peter 3:18}
That He might bring us to God! God sent the Son of God to bring us to God! It cost Him an agonizing death. The eternal, holy God tasted death that sinners could be covered with the righteousness of Christ and could have eternal life.

God is a pursuing God who is faithful to His own faithfulness. He remains faithful to His love because He remains faithful to Himself.

The Psalmist sang of the faithfulness of our pursuing God, 
“surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life . . . ” 

We see a picture of God’s Goodness and Hesed, like two sheep dogs, chasing us down to dwell securely in God’s presence.

And we like sheep, gone astray, each to our own way, struggle to get to the real meaning of love. We don’t really want to face the cost of love. But, God will not stop chasing us with His relentless love. He gave us His beloved Son and He has called us to Himself and to this same love.

The author of 1 John, who brings the reader to the basics of the Christian life, wrote:
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” {1 John 3:16}
A thousand self-denials: that’s how we lay down our lives.

At the right time, God sent the Son of God, who stepped down from heaven, made His dwelling among us, took on flesh that as God-man he would suffer for us.

Peter proclaimed:

"'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.'" {1 Peter 2:24}
The cost of his love was his death. The result is that we might die to sin and live for righteousness and lay down our lives with a thousand self-denials.

This love, if shed abroad in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, will lead us on a journey of love. Yes, a love that costs us! Yes, a love that brings us to deny self! Yes, to sacrifice the idol of self!

Although Thomas Watson, lived over three centuries ago, his exhortation tenderly cultivates our souls. He wrote:

“Self-denial lodges but in a few hearts. It is a sacred, exotic herb which has grown very scarce.
Self is an idol, and it is hard to sacrifice this idol; but this must be done.”
Watson explained how this is done:
Love for God will devour self-love. 
Self-denial does not grow in nature's soil. It is a fruit of the Spirit. Beg God that He will plant this heavenly flower in your soul. Say, Lord, whatever You deny me, do not deny me self-denial.
Is this the cry of our contrite hearts: for God to grow in us, by His grace, a greater love for God and for others?

Yes, it will cost us our very lives, a thousand self-denials, daily laying ourselves down, and preferring others above ourselves.

To live a life of love like this is to take up our cross and walk our way home by bearing our cross beam and say with Paul:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” {Galatians 2:20}
Is this a cost you count?

Do you reckon the reward of knowing Christ far richer than the cost of self-denial and death?

Do you consider everything worthless that you may gain Christ?

It is in the garden of our souls that dying to self will result in resurrection and a life of love that bears lasting fruit.

Come back next week as we discover the path of love.

Friday, February 3, 2017

When Love's Got ***Everything*** To Do With It

I wake up these days with a husky voice from a persistent cough and I suppose it about sounds how I’m feeling. I could crawl back under the warmth of the wool blanket these mornings and hibernate from the brash words and careless actions out there. The whole world howls gruff.

My bare toes touch the cold wood floor, my head pounds, my chest tightens, the ache of this world hurts. I slip on my black robe, press on, do the next thing, take the next step, in a world blinded in darkness.

Our world has lost its way when it comes to love.

We’ve become loud, hard, coldhearted, and self-centred people.

We rise up and demand justice, but seldom go low and die to self.

We pursue happiness and demand all our rights.

We want love, but we’ve lost what it means to give it, to live it.

We give in to our feelings and run off, we cut off, we build walls, we turn away and we check out.

Have you ever wanted to move to Australia?

My ‘baby’, who turns seven next week, brought me a book to read to her, so we cozied on the couch in the morning light and once again I read: “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. Some of you may be all too familiar with the story.

Alexander woke one morning with gum in his hair. From there his day got worse and worse. He tripped on his skateboard, he didn’t get any prizes in the cereal box, he got smushed in the car. No one listened to him, his best friend deserted him, and his mother forgot to pack desert for him. He got hurt, he fell in mud, he was called names, he fought, he never got what he felt he deserved. As his disasters persisted, Alexander determined that he could not endure, and decided the only way to deal with the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad was to give up and move to Australia.

At the end of the day, Alexander’s mother told him some days are just like that.

We can all relate to Alexander, can’t we?

It’s true some days, some relationships are just like that. It’s also true that too many are giving into their moodiness without caring how it affects others and choose to respond to these difficult days, difficult relationships by fleeing through the easiest exit.

In this age, when like in the time of Judges, everyone is doing what seems “right in their own eyes”, when we base our actions on our feelings, we need to consider what love really is in the context of our interpersonal relationships.

Most of us could recite a portion of the love chapter that Paul penned to the Corinthians, but do we live it, do we do it?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.   
Love never ends.” {1 Corinthians 13:4-8}
The word used here for love is the Greek word ‘agape’. In many ways ‘agape’ expresses the concept of the Hebrew word ‘hesed’ in the Old Testament.

We tend to base our actions today on our feelings. Whether we lean a little more on the emotional side or remain more stoic we’ve lost what it means to love without an “exit strategy”. 

We toss away people as carelessly as our empty Starbucks cups and we relentlessly pursue our own happiness. We’ve left a trail of broken people, broken relationships, broken families, broken communities, broken churches, broken countries, a broken world.

Hesed is not a feeling for someone, it’s not a careless or causal relationship. It is never merely an abstract feeling of goodwill.

Like a brilliant diamond with many facets, ‘hesed’ is translated as: “mercy”, “kindness”, “faithfulness”, “steadfast love”, “strength”, “loyal”.

It’s a difficult word to define, perhaps even more difficult to live.

It’s a practical action expressed.

It is a committed love. It is an enduring love. It is a costly love. It is a self-giving love.

It is central to the Gospel: God pursues His people with a loyal love.

Through the narrative of Ruth and Naomi, Paul Miller focuses our attention on the extraordinary treasure of hesed love. In his book, “A Loving Life” Miller writes:

“When you love with a hesed love, you bind yourself to the object of your love, no matter what the response is . . . Your response to the other person is entirely independent of how the other person has treated you. Hesed is a stubborn love . . . Hesed is the opposite of the spirit of our age, which says we have to act on our feelings. Hesed says, ‘No, you act on your commitments. The feelings will follow.’ Love like this is unbalanced, uneven. There is nothing fair about this kind of love.”
Miller continues:
Hesed love is a determination to do someone good, no matter what, to be faithful to a covenant regardless of its impact on you. It wills to love when every fiber in your body screams run.”

God’s hesed has been described as “combining the warmth of God’s fellowship with the security of God’s faithfulness”.

We understand that we are to love the Lord God and we acknowledge that we are to love others, but we fail to grasp what this means and it’s not even possible to do hesed in our own power. 

Hesed is never deserved. But, as Christians hesed is something we are to do.

This loyal love is going to cost us. Jesus says,
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34).
Jesus also says, 

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34)
Miller confronts us with the reality that:
“ . . . commitment love lies at the heart of Christianity. It is Jesus’s love for us at the cross, and it is to be our love for one another . . . This [loyal] love is at the heart of Jesus’s relationship with His Father, and it is at the heart of ours as well.”

So, the next time you are struggling to love someone and you want to ‘skip town and move to Australia’, consider hesed love.

It’s going to cost you, but the eternal reward will be far greater.

Come back next week, as we count the cost of hesed love.
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