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.