Monday, December 7, 2015

Thoughts while we wait for Christmas....

I sat in church yesterday morning with a heavy heart. There have been things on my mind lately that I struggle to process. A lot of moments where I understand WHY people feel what they feel, but I also don't understand at all. But how do I express that? And as a lover of peace and hater of conflict, is it worth it to even try?

Our pastor read a passage and lit the second candle of Advent. And I looked at the candle and remembered, Love came down for us. Love came down for all of us.

I realized that perhaps I should speak because I've been entrusted with a unique gift received through a lot that hasn't been at all easy; the gift of perspective because I have spent a lot of time living alongside of people who are different than I am.

Calcutta is an interesting melting pot of philosophies and religious expressions. While there are many diverse directions of belief that people adhere very closely to, the city lives pretty much at peace with each other. In other parts of India there are fights and killings, but in Calcutta there is mostly peace between religions. I once saw the fierce passion of a parade of thousands of Sikhs. I witnessed their pride and thought what a fearsome force they would be to reckon with in battle. I've watched animal blood pool on the streets during Islamic Eid not far from a Hindu temple where the killing of animals is abhorrent. I've slipped through the massive crowds of a Hindu puja into a Christian church and sat without fear of reprisal. 

I discovered two possible reasons for this tolerance.  One was the teachings of acceptance by Ramikrishna, a revered guru who lived in the area, and the other the legacy of Mother Teresa who believed in expressing the love of Christ in the most counter-cultural and radical ways: being the self-sacrificial hands and feet of Jesus to anyone and everyone in need. A beautiful example indeed where when people think of Christians, they think of love.

Because Love came down for us, for all of us.

It reminds me of the words that David Wilkerson reportedly spoke to gangster Nicky Cruz when Nicky told him he'd kill him for talking about Jesus.  David said, "Yeah, you could do that. You could cut me up into a thousand pieces and lay them in the street, and every piece will still love you." 

Think this sort of radical response isn't asked of us? 

And I looked at the candle and remembered, Love came down for us. For ALL of us.

My life has been immeasurably privileged by the lottery won through where I was born. I am so grateful for a fully belly, for education, for opportunity, for a passport that opens doors. What did I do for this? Absolutely nothing. Do I 'deserve' the peace, prosperity, and sense of security I've had in my lifetime? Nope. Do I at times want to hang onto this unearned privilege with teeth and claws? You bet. Does great privilege then require great responsibility? You'd better believe it. 

And how much more so for those of us who understand that Love came down for us.

I've lived in five different countries and soon I will have been living outside of my passport country more years then in it. I have friends literally all over the world and while quite a few of them are Christians, I have friends who are extremely wary of Christians as well. As things have heated up around the world, you know what sort of thing has found it's way more and more across my social media? All the ugly that Christians have to offer. And I don't like being considered part of abortion clinic bombers, haters because of skin color or ideology, ugly protests.

I've also been observing lots of fear. Things that are driven by fear--but fear can come across as hate. Fear of Muslims in general. Fear that at any moment they may turn on you. But here's the flip side, Christians, do you realize that lots and lots and lots of people are afraid that you will turn on THEM? That they don't trust you or YOUR motives? What kind of impressions are we giving to the world?

Yet, Love came down for all of us.

My pastor reminded us yesterday when Love came down as a babe that the very first to see God's glory were those on the bottom rung of society. When Love had grown, He ate with sinners and had no patience with the religious leaders of the day who circled their wagons to protect themselves. Any anger displayed by Christ at people while here on Earth was aimed at those who didn't hear his message because of legalism or pride.

Real love, true love came down for us.

I know someone who came into this country as a refugee who happened to be a Muslim. Her family was graciously supported by and loved on for years by a Christian church. She's now grown with children of her own and is a committed believer in Jesus herself.  

I'd love to see more of this! Acceptance and love simply because someone is a human being created in His image. But what if her family had met fear, distrust or downright hatred? Probably an entirely different outcome indeed.

Islamic countries are some of the most difficult to enter into to have a conversation with people about the love of Jesus, but what if a Muslim family moved into YOUR neighborhood? Where you could take them banana bread to welcome them, help them learn how to navigate the area, help them understand the ways of a strange land, invite them over on a holiday, love on their children?  It wouldn't necessarily be easy but what an absolute dream scenario (and an adventure!) really! Perhaps this will be the new mission field of the 21st century?

If we believe God is who He says He is, if we believe that what He says is true, then we have absolutely nothing to fear from those who believe differently. After all it's the Holy Spirit's job to change hearts, but it's our job to love. "The greatest of these is love,"

It's yet to be decided how our generation will be remembered historically based on our response. But Love came down for ALL of us.

I keep hearing Matthew 10:16 mentioned 'as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.' This verse, however, isn't the slightest bit about hiding behind closed doors or rejecting others because something bad might happen.  It doesn't say not to go out into the world, but just the opposite. It's about how to live while in the world and that, yes, bad things will happen. But the passage leads onto this in vs. 28, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul."

I understand that there are no easy answers. I am oh so grateful that it's not required of me to make life and death policy decisions for my passport country or for the place where I live. But I do know this: our ATTITUDE matters. How we personally respond matters. How much of a mirror we are to reflect the love of Jesus matters-----because the world at large and the people next door are watching. The world is actually a very small place.

And LOVE in the form of a helpless baby, left His thone for the least of these, and came down for all of us.

Peace on Earth, good will to all men.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why doesn't He do something?

If you've seen the impossible angles of starving children on filthy streets you will understand what I mean.  Or perhaps seen an elderly person lying prostrate on the path too weak or too hopeless to bother with the flies swarming their skin.  Or maybe you've looked into the empty eyes of a refugee who has lost all except for the air that they breathe, heard the desperate cries a victim of abuse or exploitation, held someone tight who inexplicibly lost their child, brought meals to a soul not far from Heaven--but far enough to suffer. Things like these can make you question the goodness of God and wonder what in the world He could possibility be thinking?

If He's all-powerful then why doesn't He DO something?  If He's all-knowing then how did this happen?  If He's all-loving enough to know when even a sparrow falls then why does He let things like this occur?  If we're honest we've all had thoughts like these. I've had this sort of conversation with him too many times to count and it's something that at times has consumed my thoughts.

And yet, as I told someone just the other day, it's in the asking of these questions that I've become even more sure of His perfect goodness.  He's all goodness, all the time.

When we struggle with these questions what we're really wanting is justice. Justice to come and wipe away every form of neglect, abuse, inhumanity, unfairness, pain and strife. We want God to come and make all that is broken right again. With that in mind, this passage jumped off the page for me recently.

"Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! 
Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light,
as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpant bit him,
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?" (Amos 5:18-20)

The  'day of the Lord' is "the time when God will intervene decisively for judgment and/or salvation (Bakers Evangelical Dictionary)." Basically the day when God will judge mankind. The day when all will be made right again, but the flip side is that judgement will also occur.  Judgement dark and terrifying for those that receive it.  And without the grace of God that means you and me. The only difference being that perhaps we've acknowledged the mercy of a God who gave Himself in our place.  But what about those that haven't?  For them it will be a dark day indeed and God's desire is that no one would be left for Him to judge.

"The Lord isn't really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent."
2 Peter 3:9

It's His mercy, not His lack of concern for those that suffer, that delays His returning and making all things new.  And those who also trust in Him have a few things to learn as well. The Amos passage goes on to say:

"I hate, I despise your feasts, 
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen."
(vs. 21-23)

God hates religiosity. He hates the attitude that we have it all together, the satisfaction that we are ready for His return---because others are not. And with little of our time and energy being put into action other than to make our 'worship' bigger and better, offering 'sacrifices' that He doesn't even want. Fat Christians growing fatter by the day.

THIS is what He wants:
"But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Photos by Anita VanderMespel
Real worship isn't ceremony and is certainly not just letting the days pass by, it challenges and changes the heart. A call to act justly and fairly between mankind so that His justice and rightousness invades the Earth like a flow of cleansing water, like a mightly tsunami that can't be deterred. HIS justice, not ours. HIS flow of water, not our traditions motivated by an expedient, tidy end. And with HIS expression of holy, perfect love. Not with an attitude of superiority, because Christians clearly AREN'T superior. We simply humbly and without deserving serve a superior God. A God of justice who compassionatly delays His hand because He sees what we cannot; lives that will be redeemed by His blood on the day of the Lord. Until then our focus must be to show the world a God who loves, a God who cares, and a God who infinitely put us before Himself. 

My life is Yours 
My hope is in You only 
And my heart You hold
Cause You made this sinner holy 
Holy holy 

Your glory is so beautiful 
I fall onto my knees in awe
And the heartbeat of my life 
Is to worship in Your light 
Cause Your glory is so beautiful 
Your glory is so beautiful 

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus 

Oh! Precious is the flow 
That makes me white as snow 
No other fount I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus 

Glory, glory, hallelujah Jesus You are good!

*Your GloryNothing But the Blood as performed by All the Sons and Daughters*

This is what our world needs to hear.  He is good.  He is the only path to healing, peace and justice.   Let it flow like an ever-flowing stream! And let this be what consumes US.

*Listen to the song HERE

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

When you need to hold on to something......

Because of the unpredictability of New Zealand weather patterns, there's a very good possibility of getting suddenly wet in the winter if there are any clouds in the sky.  I know this, yet since we've been having some lovely days I tempted fate and went for a walk sans rain jacket or umbrella.  About as far as I could get away from my car and other places of real shelter along the path--you know where I'm going with this-- the sun disappeared, a piercing wind picked up and rain pelted.  All within about thirty seconds.  I huddled, somewhat effectively, under the branches of a small tree and waited.

Those minutes huddled under a tree became a gift.  As the rain sheeted, the tree-space became a little bubble of peace.  I recognized the beauty around me, smelled the cleansing scent of the rain, felt the invigorating wind---and was reminded of the One who calmed the wind and the waves.

There's a peace and purpose that can be found just through being sheltered in the midst of a storm.  

"God's purpose is for me to depend on Him and on His power now.  If I can stay calm, faithful, and unconfused while in the middle of the turmoil of life, the purpose of God is being accomplished in me.  What He desires for me is that I see 'Him walking on the sea' with no shore, no success, nor goal in sight, but simply having that absolute certainty that everything is all right because I see 'Him walking on the sea.' It is the process, not the outcome, that is glorifying to God.  God's purpose is to enable me to see that He can walk on the storms of my life right now."
~Oswald Chambers

We often have it backwards. We see 'victory' and 'success' as the goal when in God's eyes it's the process. If there were no storms, we wouldn't recognize the power of His hand.  If there were no battles, our level of trust would never be tested.  

I don't mind trusting people for some things even if they don't come through, if I know that their intentions are good.  But that's no place to put our trust of the 'life and death' on.  God is the only one whose intentions can be trusted because He is unfailingly capable to follow through to the result. Every time.  So when God means something 'for the good,' you can count your life on the fact that it is good---even if it's hard to see that in the middle of the storm.  

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling."
~Psalms 46:1-2

Or as Sarah Young so eloquently put it:

"The only thing you can grasp without damaging your soul is my hand."

In Psalms 55 David talks about trembling, horrors, terror of death, the betrayal of a friend.  He compares the place that he is in to a place full of oppression, fraud, raging wind and tempest.  These are intensely awful things, yet things that we, as part of humanity, can relate to.  But then David said this:

"Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you;
he will never permit the righteous to be moved."
~Psalms 55:22

And then in Psalms 56:9

"This I know, that God is for me........"

God, infinitely powerful, exceedingly wise, knower of all things past and to come God----- is for ME.  He's for YOU.  He's for US.  And "If God is for us who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31) What a thing to grasp hold of.  My God is 'for me.'  He's on my side.  He's my biggest fan.  His intentions and execution of those are always for the good.  Always.  He's got it.  

He's there in the storm holding out His hand, the only thing worth grasping.  Even if we're not sure what's ahead we can find shelter and peace in the midst of the storm.  

We need to stop making the end of the storm the exclusive goal and find Him in the process.  And there's peace and grace for TODAY that we wouldn't have found otherwise.  

Photos by Anita van der Mespel  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The power of the insignificatly great.....

When the sorcerers of Egypt couldn't duplicate the power of the plague they said to Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God." (Ex. 8:19)  Almost every translation uses the word 'finger,' meaning it was quite specific.  Now I wouldn't call a huge swarm of gnats a minor sign, it's the impossible made possible, but I love the picture here of the use of something that sounds small, God's 'finger'.

A plague of gnats with his finger.  Creation with His voice.  Think about the possibilities of what God can then do with His whole Being.....

It seems, however, that God often chooses to work through subtle, small things like words, choices and minor steps of faith and obedience.  And that's how great things begin.

Growth begins subtle and small:

"Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
~Romans 12:2

Being 'conformed' to this world' doesn't have to start big.  It simply requires a focus on it, a leaning into it----like a pillow leaving marks on your face.  It doesn't require active action, passive will do.  It's a consistent choice in the small stuff, a nod to the life of the road most traveled, taking the easy way out.

Transformation to become more like Christ also isn't necessarily strongly active in application, except for our focus. Transformation can happen just by consistently leaning away from the world and towards the Father---and in the quiet space left, God renews.

So many voices shout and cloud our minds making His will hard to discern.  But when the mind is renewed the other voices become silent and we can hear His 'still, small voice' speak---and that is no small thing.

I read the other day some similes told by Jesus that illustrate the power of transformation kind of stuck in between parables, so simple that it's easy to just breeze on by:

"He said therefore, "What is the kingdom of God like?  And to what shall I compare it?  It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches." 

And again he said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?  It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened." "
~Luke 13:18-21

The small, hidden, private things can become great in the Kingdom despite seeming insignificance or outside appearances.  Seeds WILL grow.  Yeast WILL permeate the surrounding dough.  Things 'of the kingdom' will impact and infiltrate and multiply the seemingly insignificant things that surround it.  Part of transformation is planting that simple seed, adding the yeast of His Word, allowing His Presence to be planted in our hearts to grow.

My cat adores me.  Not because of any great achievement of mine, I'm sure, but because I'm the hand that feeds her.  Right now she's sitting on a railing about a meter away whirring and purring for no other reason than because she's near me.  When it's her idea (cat owners will understand!) to sit on my lap she expects not only to curl up there, but she wants my hand to rest on her as well, hemming her in secure, protected, and comforted.

"You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me."
~Psalm 139:5

Our 'master,' our Source is holding us each moment as well.  Like a cat we may or may not choose to acknowledge Him----but He's there all the same.  Hemming us in, leaving the loving imprint of His hand (or even His finger!).  Transforming, renewing, planting seeds, adding yeast.  So lean right on in.

Feel like nothing's happening in your world?  Seeds are growing.
Think you have nothing to give?  Yeast is quietly rising.
Disappointed in yourself right now? The imprint of the Maker is transforming---just give it time.

Frustrated with someone in your life?  Give them time as well.  You have no idea what's been planted and what seemingly average material in their lives may be destined to gloriously rise.  Love them where they are NOW and give quiet transformation a chance.

Small, insignificant things grow with purpose to become great. "Do not despise these small beginnings...," (Zechariah 4:10) in our own lives----OR in the lives of others.

More photos by Anita van der Mespel because they're so amazing! 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

When healing comes slow.....

We moved to India in time to celebrate a major event in the community that we became part of, the one year celebration of sobriety for one of the women.  It was a huge victory in the life of this particular woman and included congratulations, prayer and cake for 150.  But only a few months later pain overwhelmed again and one night we heard her drunken voice causing a scene, signaling another period of time of relapse before more healing occured and she began her sobriety clock once again.

Freedom usually isn't instant.  It's a process.

This morning I read about Abraham's children finding their freedom from a life of oppression in Egypt.  While God could have instantly caused Pharoah to set them free, it was a process instead.  A process that showed His awesome and mighty power.  A process where the Children of Israel got to see first hand just what He was capable of and experience His care for them.  They had to learn persistance in the process and when they finally left Egypt, the journey had really only just begun.

It can be hard to watch people that we love struggle, it can be hard to struggle ourselves.  We want a quick and easy 'fix,' but the process of developing a holy persistance isn't one to be avoided or rushed.

 "And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves,  for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’?  I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence (other versions say 'shamless persistance, importunity, audacity) he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened."  ~Luke 11:5-10

There's something powerful about a faith that just won't quit.  It takes a backbone, it takes action, it takes the courage in the words of Winston Churchill to, "Ne-vah, ne-vah, ne-vah give up."  God invites us to approach Him with this kind of 'audacity.'  While earthly parents grow weary of a nagging child, God wants us to tenaciously cling to and ask of Him---because He's where our real strength, endurance and answers lie.  

"Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually."
~Psalms 105:4

There's someone heavy on my heart today who is on a journey towards freedom.  I want complete freedom so much for them, healing from deep, unjust wounds.  God in His mercy is bringing healing, but it's not been an instant process.  It's still miraculous in that wholeness is coming--but it's been a journey of up's and down's along the way.  I know He's been working in their life but I realize now that He's building perseverance in ME through the process as well.  Holy persistance to not give up, to not give into despair, to keep knocking at the door of Heaven today and tomorrow and the day after because deep, enduring healing is coming.  

"...for we walk by faith, not by sight"
~2 Cor. 5:7

And along the way we all get to grow through seeing Him bring victories in the process.  We get to develop audacity and endurance.  Maybe the victory wouldn't mean as much in the long run if it had been instant.  And we certainly wouldn't have had the opportunity to more deeply develop the habit to run to Him, to cling to our vine, and grow more firmly secure in the place where complete wholeness lies.

Photos today by Anita van der Mespel on her recent trip to Ireland.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Finding what's between the sound......

I ran to shut the window but the sudden rainstorm slanted in the other direction.  Instead I just stood, widow open, and breathed in the freshness in the Autumn rain, felt the peace of that moment and lingered.  I thought about how my life is actually less complicated now than it's been for years, yet how our humanity still finds the busy in it all.  So often we just need to stop like I did right then and breathe....

I've been practicing the discipline of silence lately because my small group is reading a book that gave us that assignment, five minutes at a time.  It's been refreshingly good.  I set the timer on my phone to get me started, because who really can't spare just five minutes in a day?  Especially if you know that an alarm will sound that will keep you from going over.

The first time I settled on the floor of my living room to multi-task and rest my sore shoulders (a sign that I needed it right there!) while our busy household was empty, and quieted the chatter of my mind.  It took a bit for my ever-busy brain to stop firing, but I eventually began to listen.  I heard the songs of the birds outside, something that I love but hadn't really done for some time, and I began to commune, really commune, with the God that made them.  Sometimes my form of communtion smacks of talking AT Him, yet any understanding of the word 'relationship' tells me that that's not what He has in mind.

Five minutes was longer than I thought it would be, but once silence was discovered it wasn't long enough.  I set the timer again and stood up after far more refreshed and at peace for the rest of my day.

I'm still using the timer once a day to start a habit, but found that I've been allowing myself other times of focus and peace now too---and I'm still getting done everything that I need to each day.  Personally, I know that when I'm stressed I actually waste time with unclear thought patterns even if my body appears active.  Taking moments of silence that connect me to my Creator is far better all around.

Photo: Heidi Cook
Practicing meditative silence is nothing new or exclusive to Chritianity.  I used to wait at my children's school every day in India, bringing my oldest since her classes were in the afternoon, but waiting 30 minutes or so for the younger ones to finish their morning lessons.  During that time I'd sit in the waiting room with other mums and enjoy their chatter.  I often noted because of their religion that there would frequently be someone oooh'ing and aaah'ing about how she'd been enjoying practicing meditation.  While I didn't believe in the same sort of meditation that they did--my thoughts organically go to the Creator God, while their goal was to totally empty themselves leaving them open to whatever--it was clearly an experience that brought them peace just in the silence of it and is something that their belief system has been practicing for thousands of years.

There are many references in Scripture about meditating on our Lord and it's long been hailed as an essencial spiritual discipline.  Yet it's one that we mistakenly often strive after rather than letting the communion bring us the restoration intended.

"I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night.  Because you are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings."   Psalms 63:6-7

My husband's parents are some of the most proactive people that I know.  They've been extremely disciplined all their lives handling work, family, and ministry all at once.  As they've gotten older, their lives have simplified, but their patterns of life remain.  One thing you can count on when visiting them are tea/coffee breaks. Morning Tea and Afternoon Tea are daily rituals besides meals; times when work stops, feet are put up and conversation shared.  Their very productive rhythm of life has always included rest and time spent alone with Him.

When did we start thinking that we were more productive without it?

I live on a coastline of incredible natural beauty.  One of the things I enjoy besides the view are benches that dot the paths by the sea.  It's long been a holiday spot and the benches say things like, "In memory of (insert name) who loved this spot," or things like that.  These locations are places that people used to like to sit, but while those benches are used they're not as enjoyed as you'd think.  And that makes me think that even though there were far fewer people in the area back then, that they used to stop and just sit more.

Photo: Beth Waterman
Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."  Matt. 11:28-29  Rest is offered, it's there for the taking, but first we must come.  After all we were created to need rest; body, mind and spirit and the denying of that isn't long-term healthy for any of us.  God the Father Himself rested on the Seventh Day and He told us to do the same.  

Our times of silent rest help us to focus on Him and we need to come to Him this way often.

"God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you."  ~Augustine

His Presence, His Peace, His Love; all there all the time but sometimes our love of the busy distracts us from the best.  Let's take that time to dial down, to find Him instead of just talking at Him, and discover the differenct that that simple practice makes.

"A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else!"  Psalm 84:10

Friday, May 1, 2015

Reflections on the Love of God......

Compilation of thoughts written for a devotional blog:

1. We need God’s love

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
John 10:9-11

The Cost  (author unknown)

So this was the cost
the price you had to pay for me

to be with me

to save me

to redeem me
You laid down here for me
Hung here for me

Died here for me

You laid down here for me
As they laughed at you

And said who’s hitting you

You laid down here for me

As they nailed you
Impaled you
You laid here as nails cut you, pierced you, 
You laid down here for me

You hung here for me as they mocked you
Jew King, here’s your crown so come down and be king
You hung here for me as your breath wouldn't come

And the blood wouldn't stop

and nails or no nails you still are God

and could have come down
and made the pain stop and made the laughs stop
but you hung here for me

You died here for me
As you said

it is finished

And now there is nothing left,

But the horror of this place
And I want to turn away, to walk away, to run away
To just forget without regret
All the horror of this place
Of the blood on your face
And the pain of the nails and the hole in your side
But I can’t turn away cause I need to be saved

And if this is what it takes for me to know you
To be with you

to find you

if this is what it takes for you to save me

Then I can’t look away
Cause I need you to save
this soul that cries out for you,
dies for you,
reaches for you
If this is what it takes then I all I can say is
Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!
Cause I need to be saved
And I, 
I can’t pay the cost

2. God’s love cannot be removed

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8: 35-39

Recently I saw an illustration of water in a clear plastic bottle.  The bottle was turned sideways, upside down, each and every direction and the water inside adjusted and stayed relatively calm despite what was happening to the bottle on the outside.

The bottle was compared to difficulties and unexpected things in this world.  The water was the peace of God in our hearts when we are connected to His Holy Spirit and remain steadfastly sure of His love for us. 

I can’t think of anything else more important to address in our hearts than comprehending, accepting, reveling in, and allowing ourselves to be filled with His love.  It’s the unit of wholeness and the measure of sacrifice by which all else of life ebbs and flow.  It’s the blood in our veins, the strength in our bones, the bringer of joy in our hearts. 

We are, we exist, through His love.  Nothing, but us, has the power to tear that away.  And even if we try to walk away, He loves us still.

3. God’s love is more vast than we can imagine

“Where can I go from Your love?

Or where can I flee from Your love?

If I ascent into heaven, Your love is there.
If I make my bed in hell, behold, Your love is there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your love shall lead me,
And Your love shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed the darkness shall not hide me from Your love.”
Ps. 139:7-12

The Love of God
By Fredrick Lehman

The love of God is greater far
than tongue or pen can ever tall;
It goes beyond the highest star
and reaches to the lowest hell.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made,
were every stone on earth a quill,
and every man a scribe by trade,
to write the love of God above
would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

The last stanza was inspired by a message scratched in the wall of an insane asylum discovered after the author had been buried. 

Sometimes the lowest points of our lives leave us struggling to comprehend God’s love.  Does He really care after all?  How much?  These thoughts can drive us a bit mad at times but at other times the knowledge of His love are all that we have left to cling to. 

Trying our best to grasp His love is essential to the internal theology that guides us. 

He is there.  His love is more vast than we can imagine.

4. God’s love is undeserved

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
I John 4: 10

Events of life have challenged an unconscious theology as a long-term follower of Jesus that went something like this: “I will serve You and am willing to sacrifice for You---but in doing that I expect that You will look after me and those I love and make sure that nothing tooooo bad happens.”

Oh, I would have never consciously or rationally have said that, but that’s what I've often unconsciously assumed.  Then I've been surprised, and hurt, and sometimes angry when God doesn't keep His part of that particular, ridiculous, one-sided bargain. 

That internal thought process is flawed in so many ways.  A major way is the assumption in that that somehow I deserve good things.  That my good works and service could possibly be enough to make up for all that I am not.

Nope, I’m a sinner.  I’m a pretty ‘good’ person by the standard of the world, but I have murdered in my heart.  I've done lots and lots of ‘good’ but I've been unkind, impatient, and have thought badly of others.  I’m mostly accepting of differences but can suddenly be highly prejudiced too.  I think that I’m in the right more than I should.  I've held anger in my heart.  I've been bitter.  I've been untrustworthy.   Proud.  I’m flawed.

I’m flawed.  I don’t deserve good because of what I do.  I need to be saved.  And it’s only by His love that I am.

What unconscious internal theology might be giving YOU a skewed view of God’s love today?

Note:  In looking for stock images for this blog I was surprised to find numerous ones that said, "You deserve God's love."  Whaaaaaaaaa?  Is that the outcome of an entitlement society?  Interesting.  We ARE valuable and worth love because we are created in His image, but as far as 'deserve'...........

5. He has already proven His love.

“Blessed be the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me.”
Psalm 31:21

Catching up with old friends is lots of fun; finding out the new and reminiscing over the old.  There’s something refreshingly precious about reconnecting with someone who’s known us for a long time.  It never takes long until the ‘remember when’s’ start.  “Remember when……..,” bringing laughter and the joy of shared experience.

Brothers and sisters in Him remind us of more than that.  They can help us see past today and remember what love God has already shown to us, through us, and around us.  Things that we hadn't thought of for ages on our own.

The Bible is God’s historical love letter to us as well telling us over and over; “Remember when I…….,” stories of His indescribable love.  They remind us just WHO our Great Lover is, what great lengths He will go to for us, how excessively worthy of awe that He is, how baffling the concept is but how great is His love for us.

Whether it’s from His Word or examples from our own lives, when we remember that He’s still the same God that He was back then, it reinforces His love for us in the present.  He was with us, He’s still for us, He loves us.

Doubting His loving care today?  Look back, remember when, and be encouraged and actively, “Abide in my (His) love.”  (John 15:9)

Response:  God, I’m sorry for the times that I doubt your love.  Like the Israelites in the wilderness how quickly I forget the great things that You've already done.  Help me to walk through the unseen of today secure in the fact that Your love hasn't changed---and that it never will.

6. God’s love is our Source.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” 
Romans 5:3-5

I've always had an inner sarcastic chuckle about the word ‘rejoice’ when connected to suffering.  I can rejoice now about past suffering because I can see what it’s taught me and where it’s brought me---but rejoicing isn’t exactly my initial response. 

Maybe that’s because my understanding of God’s love is so limited.  Because I don’t instantly trust the good of the outcome or the positive aspects of the journey itself.  Because I don’t totally, completely, and irresolutely trust Him as much as I’d like.

But the last part of this passage does make me rejoice.  I love the visual image that ‘pour’ brings.  A huge frosted jug pouring thirst quenching liquid into a parched and desperate vessel.  A never-ending Source of love.  When I remember that suffering hollows me out so that I can receive more of that love---then I’m desperate for it.  I can rejoice in it when His love is the focus and not the suffering. 

It makes me think of this C.S. Lewis quote, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” 

He’s remaking us to contain more of His love, His love is our Source through all that life throws at us, and He’s pouring it out for us today.

Response:  Lord, empty our hearts of the things that only steal, kill, and destroy.  Fill us up with You.  We’re desperate for Your love to be our Source today.  Make us a conduit that then pours out Your love for others.

7. God’s love is our strength.

“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—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, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Eph. 3:17-19

One of the mysteries of God is that in continuation of relationship with Him we discover more and more of WHO He is than we could previously understand, and we can then comprehend more and more of His love for us. 

This verse states that we first need to be grounded in His love, to have enough strength to then comprehend His love, and that then we will be filled with the ‘fullness of God.’ 

It makes me think of layers of an onion, the infinity symbol, or ripples in a pond; things dependent on each other that then continue together.  Or the age old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? (I saw on Facebook the other day a post saying that someone had ordered a chicken and an egg on Ebay and was waiting to see which one came first!) But the point is that we need God’s love to have the strength to understand His love, to further understand more of His love. 

Basically it keeps us looking to Him because His love surpasses our limited knowledge.  And through His love we find the strength to find more love......and on and on.

Response:  God, thank you that you are an unfathomable well of strength for us.  Thank you that as we embrace You and Your love for us that you brace us for the battles that today may bring.  Please continue to show us more and more of your love, so that we can know you more and serve you better.

 8. God’s love empowers us.

“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

Many of us want to be self-sacrificial.  We probably wouldn't be reading this particular blog if we weren't wired that way!  But our ‘self’ is so limited.  When we give and give of our own strength, we quite quickly give away all that we have.  

It’s such a simple concept, knowing that it’s only through HIS love that we can continue to give, but such an easy one to lose a grip on in the busy business of giving. 

We must first receive.  It’s His love after all, not our own.  That is crucial and the weak link in the process for many:  being refreshed along the way, diving deep into His love first before we overflow to others.  The understood part of this verse is that we are already receivers of His love, not just in concept but in personal revelation, otherwise we will live in constant deficit and eventually be no good to anyone.

But receiving only is like storing up more mangoes than you can eat yourself; they quickly become rotten and are also good for no one.  Love is meant to be given away.  Sacrificially, through His example.

“God is love. Therefore love. Without distinction, without calculation, without procrastination, love. ~ Henry Drummond

Love with HIS love.  That’s where the power to live and love sacrificially lies

Response:  Lord, we need Your love today.  We acknowledge that we can do nothing without You.  It’s Your love and only Your love that empowers us to follow the example of Jesus on the cross and lay down our lives for others.

9. His love redeems us as sons and daughters.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
 I John 3:1-2

Children of God, sons and daughters, through His love!  What a mystery that we can come into His presence and become like Christ.  The lyrics below express the wonder of the privilege, through His love, of approaching His throne as accepted as His very own.  We will be perfect like Him then, but His Presence is already there for us now.
Boldly I Approach, by The Rend Collective
By grace alone somehow I stand
Where even angels fear to tread

Invited by redeeming love

Before the throne of God above

He pulls me close with nail-scarred hands

Into His everlasting arms

When condemnation grips my heart
And Satan tempts me to despair
I hear the voice that scatters fear
The Great I Am the Lord is here
Oh praise the One who fights for me
And shields my soul eternally

Behold the bright and risen Son
More beauty than this world has known

I'm face to face with Love Himself

His perfect spotless righteousness

A thousand years, a thousand tongues

Are not enough to sing His praise

Boldly I approach Your throne
Blameless now I'm running home

By Your blood I come

Welcomed as Your own

Into the arms of majesty

Response:  Great, mighty, merciful God; thank you for making us sons and daughters through Your love.

10. God is love.
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us.”
I John 4:16-19

Since we know that ‘God is love,’ our vision of who God is can become quite skewed by our misunderstanding of love itself.  The outworking of the love of humanity is so obviously flawed that it makes the concept of Perfect Love beyond our imagination. 

We often look at it backwards.  We try to understand God based on our own misconceptions of love, when we should be looking at the Source to determine what love is to start with.

“God is Love. And because God is Love, He gets to define Love: Love is not always agreement with someone, but it is always sacrifice for someone. Love is always for us.  God is always good and we are always loved. That defines everything. Everything.”     ~Ann  Voskamp

Let’s hold fast to discovering Him, more and more of Him, and let that understanding show us what love really is------and be amazed!

Response: God, we are so small. We think we are wise, but there is so much that we don’t understand.  Please, show us YOUR love so that we can be a conduit in this world that is dying without You.  Open our eyes, clarify our thoughts and make us more like You.

11. God’s love deserves an honest response.

 “Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval………..
 ......From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”           John 6:26-27, 66-68

Do you ever try to pretend with God?  Sometimes we try to convince ourselves that what we are doing or thinking is OK when we really know otherwise.  Our prayers can be full of untruths as we try to justify ourselves to the All-Knowing One.  But the Holy Spirit is there to cut through our defense and denial and speak life-changing truth into our world. 
It’s not that the twelve were never unfaithful, that they didn't struggle to understand what He was teaching them, that they weren't selfish or fought among themselves; but what they didn't do was turn away
God already knows our hearts.  He knows when our motives are impure and when what we actually want is something from Him.  Yet, His heart is still to love, forgive, and accept us just the way that we are.  He loved us first and after we've tasted and come to understand even a fraction of that love we can only turn towards Him and say like Peter,” Lord, to whom shall we go?”

Response: Lord, we are humbled by and thankful for Your steadfast love.  Even when we repeatedly fail You, You love.  Let us turn towards you with honest hearts today and change in the ways we need to, so we can embrace Your heart of love for us.

11. God’s love prompts a response of devotion to Him.

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;

    he heard my cry for mercy.

 Because he turned his ear to me,

    I will call on him as long as I live…….

…. What shall I return to the Lord

    for all his goodness to me?

I will lift up the cup of salvation

    and call on the name of the Lord.

I will fulfill my vows to the Lord

    in the presence of all his people.

Precious in the sight of the Lord

    is the death of his faithful servants.

Truly I am your servant, Lord;

    I serve you just as my mother did;

    you have freed me from my chains.
I will sacrifice a thank offering to you

    and call on the name of the Lord.

I will fulfill my vows to the Lord

    in the presence of all his people,

in the courts of the house of the Lord
    in your midst, Jerusalem.

Praise the Lord.
-  Psalm 116.1-2,12-19

As we've reflected on the Love of God perhaps we've been reminded of an aspect of Him that we hadn't considered for a while.  Or maybe something that we've noticed for the first time.  Whatever we may or may not have noticed, one thing is certain; our hearts were made to respond to Divine love. 
Perhaps one of the most beautiful reflections of God’s love of all time was written by Isaac Watts:

“When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God;
All the vain things that charm me most--
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small:
Love so amazing, so Divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Response: Jesus, Your love is more than we could ever fathom.  Please let it fill our hearts and fill our minds until there is nothing left besides You.  Our souls, our lives, our all.  Yours.