Monday, December 20, 2010

The Proven Offer

“THE SPIRIT of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed and qualified me to preach the Gospel of good tidings to the meek, the poor, and afflicted; He has sent me to bind up and heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the [physical and spiritual] captives and the opening of the prison and of the eyes to those who are bound,

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord [the year of His favor] and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,

To grant [consolation and joy] to those who mourn in Zion--to give them an ornament (a garland or diadem) of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment [expressive] of praise instead of a heavy, burdened, and failing spirit--that they may be called oaks of righteousness [lofty, strong, and magnificent, distinguished for uprightness, justice, and right standing with God], the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

This recording from the Amplified Bible in Isaiah sixty-one is fulfilled by Jesus in Luke chapter four. Simply put, the reason Jesus came was because we were held hostage by an enemy bent on our destruction and by our own sin. It is the mission of the Christmas story. Though probably not the one you’ve traditionally heard of, or thought.

We picture cute little figurines portraying a peaceful Mary and Joseph, with quiet onlookers, gift-bearers, and a few animals. The weight of the moment is a bit lost in our “safe” little world. Much more is going on than meets the eye. Just why was this little baby sent to us? Read the passage from Isaiah again.

If you have lived a few years on this earth, you are well aware that life here includes affliction of every kind, broken hearts, various forms of captivity, mourning, and dreams that have crumbled to ashes. No one escapes unscathed in this world. We have all sustained injuries.

And our God is angry. Huh? Look at verse two in the second paragraph: He has come for vengeance! To destroy our enemies and make right what has been wrong!

Back to the sweet little manger scenes we have sitting on our coffee tables or see in front yards. Jesus wasn't found in a warm, cozy house, or even in a busy hotel. He came in a cattle stall! Dirty. Smelly. Cold and dark. Sometimes our lives are like that cattle stall. And we still find Jesus in those most unexpected places...

We began exploring the topic of healing and freedom in the past couple of weeks. You need to know up front, this is not “12 Steps to a Better You.” Jesus is not aiming to make you better (that would be only sin-management). He wants to make you whole.

But first, we need to know that we are broken in order to see our need for healing; and to accept God’s healing. In order to accept His healing, we need to know and trust the God who longs to give it. Believe me, He wants to give it more than you want to receive it. The series on “God’s Love,” beginning in the August archive, unveils the mystery, adventure, and rescue of the story that God is telling and we are now living. It gives a clear picture of who this God is, and promises to captivate our hearts.

If you haven’t read it or would like a refresher, do so over the next couple weeks. It will prepare your heart and awaken your God-given desires. Both of which are needed before we move forward.

I am taking a break from writing over the holidays, and will return to the blog the first week of January. Then we will gently begin to venture into deeper territories to see what it might look like to experience the healing we secretly long for. Jesus is the only proven offer. He comes to where we are, even if it is dark, ashy, or smelly. And He must have seen that we are worth coming for.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What Band-Aids Won't Heal

Dictionaries and definitions aren’t usually a wow factor in the beginning of an article or blog post, but that is precisely where we begin our topic today. Some things just need to be defined up front. So, what is “healing,” or what does it mean to “heal”?

Heal—1 to make or become well or healthy again 2 to cure (a disease) or mend, as a wound. (Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus)

By definition, there must be something wrong to need healing. Something has become unhealthy, or has been wounded. We’re not discussing scraped knees and paper cuts here, but wounds of the most deadly kind…wounds of the heart. Possibly the most misunderstood and overlooked. Psychology has made it only about the mind, scientists have reasoned it away, and sadly much of the church has misunderstood the role of the heart itself.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us the very wellspring of life flows from the heart, and for that reason, we need to protect it more than anything else! The physical heart is central to our ability to live and thrive as it pumps life-giving blood to every organ and every inch of our bodies. When it is wounded, life is threatened. It is the same in spiritual terms with our hearts.

But what might be a “wound” to our spiritual heart? Any time a person does not love us, treat us, or respond to us in the ways God intended, whether intentional or not, we are wounded. It can be as simple as a distracted parent, or as complex as sexual abuse (as I shared in my story in the last post). The death of a key person in our life. Other examples could be the cruel taunting by kids on a playground, or the betrayal of a friend or group of people. And yes, wounds can be self-inflicted through sin.

The aforementioned are barely scratching the surface, but such wounds bruise, hurt, and cause trouble, upset, and pain. We are broken, sometimes shattered into a million pieces, and the flow of life within us is greatly hindered. Without even realizing it, we find ways to self-protect out of survival when we are young. It appears we have adapted, or found ways to cope. Yet often we’ve made deadly vows to keep our hearts from being hurt again, and the life-giving wellspring is cut off—unable to flow in or out.

If you don’t believe me, think about your own responses and knee-jerk reactions to life. All things are not so easily chalked up to personality alone. “That’s just the way I am.” “I’ll never to that again!” (Fill in “that.”)Take time to ask yourself (and God) why you are a perfectionist (I’m in recovery!), or painfully timid. Maybe you’re the life of the party and in constant need to be the center of attention. Do you hide (or hide your past)? Drink or eat too much? Too little?

Make no mistake, our enemy—also God’s enemy—is behind it all. His ploy is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10a), and he’ll use humans to run his errands for him (that’s the wounding). He’ll steal our innocence, joy, security, you name it. The very image of God written on our hearts is destroyed and marred by our sin and afflictions.

Thankfully, our God will not sit idly by.

He sent Jesus “to heal the brokenhearted.” (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4)

“’…all who devour you will be devoured; all your enemies will go into exile. Those who plunder you will be plundered; all who make spoil of you I will despoil. But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 30:16-17a)

There is much to uncover and much to explore on this subject, which we will do over the coming weeks. To restore is to give back something that was taken, lost, etc. (Webster’s). After all we have suffered, this seems utterly impossible; too good to be true. According to Jesus, “’with man this is impossible, but not for God; with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:26).

This is what Jesus came to do. And that's the offer:  to heal and restore our hearts to their original glory. Let's explore the possibilities!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

From Slavery to...

Several years ago, exhaustion found me lying in a heap on the floor, crying out to God. These were the cries of misery coming from the depths of a wounded heart. Years of oppression had taken their toll. No longer in denial, I had become painfully aware of my condition. I was a slave to my past; and I wanted to be free.

My story is not much different from the Israelites who found themselves enslaved by the Egyptians long ago. They were the chosen and blessed people of God, multiplying by leaps and bounds.  Fearing potential threats to his reign, Pharoah, the king of Egypt, sapped their life away under the most ruthless and harsh conditions of slavery.

Oddly, the Israelites continued to multiply under Pharoah’s oppression. So he took drastic measures to reduce their potential by killing their baby boys. However, God saw their misery, heard the cries of their torment, and executed one of the most dramatic rescues of history. It was a rescue from slavery to freedom, emptiness to plenty, brokenness to wholeness.

God first rescued me through the work of Jesus Christ at the tender age of seven when I first realized I was bent toward sin, and in need of a savior. But I have since learned that we, like the Israelites, continue to need a rescue—not just from our sins but from a wounded past that haunts us! We have an enemy much like the king of Egypt, named Satan. He knows who we can become in Christ, and he fears us. Prideful, power hungry, and at war with God, he seeks to destroy and enslave us through whatever means possible.

Growing up in a Christian home and in church does not ensure a perfect and pain-free life. By the age of ten, I had suffered verbal abuse, along with the devastating effects of sexual abuse by three different persons. The enemy took his cue to pour salt in these wounds, enslaving me with his lies that I was the guilty one, bad, disgusting, and an utter disappointment.

Like the Israelites, I managed to grow in spite of the oppression, which I kept neatly tucked away and hidden. As the saying goes, kids are resilient (but only for so long). Growing in wisdom and boldness through adolescence, I shared my relationship with Jesus openly with peers and adults alike through mission trips and on the home front. Clearly my life was a threat to the enemy’s kingdom. So he sought to decrease my potential with what he hoped would be the final blow…

Though it appeared to others that his oppression had had no effect, we both knew I had believed his lies and tried hard to forget them. Knowing this weakness, he crafted an ultimate betrayal while I was still a teenager. An ongoing emotional, spiritual, and sexual assault by a pastor—a misrepresentation of God’s love and care.

For years afterward, it seemed the enemy’s plan had worked. I succumbed to the lie that I was a hopeless disappointment, and my life a travesty. Running from my past, shame and fear permeated every day of my existence. A once vibrant, passionate, Christian life had been reduced to an empty life of duty, perfectionism, and control.

Never wanting to be or feel out of control again led me to this style of living and relating with others. Unexplainable anger (to me at the time) erupted often in the privacy of our home like a volcano. All this affected my entire being, my marriage, and my children—oppressing us all—yet I continued to keep my world spinning on this axis of control for nearly a decade.

That is when exhaustion and frustration finally got the best of me, and I began crying out to God. The more I cried, the more I awakened to the depth of my condition. I was a slave. Chained and beaten by the enemy’s lies, pushed to the brink by self-preservation, my heart needed deep healing and restoration. I cried out for a rescue!

My cry came before Him, into His ears. The earth trembled and quaked because He was angry at my enemies. He parted the heavens and came down. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy; with great bolts of lightening He routed them. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He rescued me from my enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.
(Psalm 18, various verses NIV)

Unlocking my heart took three courageous years of perseverance and endurance, allowing Jesus to walk me through the recesses of a mangled past. First, He began stripping me of all the destructive ways of survival and self-protection. Going back to the point of each wound, He recovered what was lost, stolen, and given up there.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
(John 10:10 NIV)

Lovingly and patiently He tended my heart. He scattered the lies and renewed my mind with the light of His truth. When taking another step proved too painful, He just held me close.

There were days it seemed God was distant and victory impossible. In those times I had to believe Him to be who He says He is, the God who “is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18 NIV)

That season of intense healing brought a freedom I never knew was possible. The freedom of becoming—not just better—but whole.
Life was regained.
Trust was restored.
Hope was renewed.
God proved His grace truly is sufficient by relentlessly coming for me time and time again.

I have learned that wherever we are, God sees us, hears our cries, and is determined to rescue us. Will you let him free you, too?

Friday, November 12, 2010

God's Love: Part XII, "Personal and Authentic Experience"

Imagine a most magnificent garden. Colors of every kind high and low, dancing up and down winding pathways—each turn a new wonder. Various aromas tease the senses as you pass by gardenias at your feet, and jasmine winding up tall trellises. Tall trees provide shade in quiet, restful corners, while sunlight streams over an open pond laden with lily pads.

Such stunning beauty and enjoyment takes time and careful attention to create. It does not happen overnight. Intimacy in relationships is much the same way. And a relationship with God is no different, requiring time and intentional effort.

Remember how our desire for romance found a way to express itself when we were little girls? (God’s Love: Part VII, “To Experience”) What was it that romanced your heart then? Was it the strength of horses, or the playfulness of puppies? The smell of coming rain in the air? The first snowfall of winter? Or crashing waves on a white sandy beach? Maybe it was a favorite book or movie that moved you.

God’s way of romancing us is deeply personal. He knows what you enjoy, and what things stir your heart. And He will often bring things back from your youth, awakening your heart to open up again. Many times we miss it because we have closed up our hearts in order to endure the pains of life. (I know I did.)

Ask Him how He is romancing you now; to open your eyes to see how He is coming for you. It might be different than you expected. And it will always be exactly what you need. As you move forward on your healing journey, you will need to keep your heart open to receive what He brings.

Before moving further, it is important to expose our enemy here:  Beware of the lies Satan uses when it comes to experiencing more of God’s love. I was once unaware of such lies. They became obvious while attending a “Captivating” retreat in the Rockies of Colorado, based on the book Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge, and led by their team. It is specifically designed to awaken and bring healing and restoration to the feminine heart.

Waking late and feeling poorly one particular morning left me alone and late getting ready for the morning session. Isolated from the others, a barrage of questions stormed relentlessly, creating doubt about God’s love and experiencing it. The women speakers had such amazing stories to tell and spoke of God’s love in such a way that caused a strange, deep longing. A feeling of void crept in where the longing stirred.

Do you really love me, God? How can I really know? I mean, I know you died on the cross for me and all. I know I experienced You when I asked You to forgive my sins and live in my heart a long time ago, and a few other key “spiritual” moments in my life. But, what about now? Is there more? I don’t have any experiences like the ones these women are sharing. How do I know you love me now?

The questions turned to conclusions to just believe what God says about His love and the cross, and that there is nothing more. That nothing new and ongoing and current is needed. (or, that God even wants to offer it…) Determining such experiences were just for the other women, and not for me, I headed out to the next session. Yet, the ache in my heart for more could not be quenched. Walking to the conference room, I told God I was jealous. Not of the women, but jealous for HIM.

The first morning session was very intense and left us to ask what was keeping us from seeing the ways God wanted to romance us. The speakers had described very personal experiences of God romancing them, but few of us attending had such stories of our own. New questions erupted, compounding the first. I don’t have experiences like theirs; do You love me like You do them?

Later in the morning, we dug deeper into God’s romance and pursuit of our hearts. Old familiar feelings of being a disappointment (even to God) arose, and I began to think as I often did, that something was wrong with me. This piled on top of earlier conclusions that such experiences were only for the other women and not me.

Next, one of the ladies told us how the enemy will lie to us, hoping we will agree with him, therefore stealing the experiences God has for us. She led us in a time of prayer, asking us to listen for God to show us what agreements we’d made, and then renounce, or break them—naming each one—in Jesus’ name. Immediately, all my thoughts from the morning were on instant replay. Thinking maybe those thoughts were my agreements, I gave it a shot and, in a whisper, renounced “disappointment, and thinking that I was a constant disappointment,” and “that this is for the other women and not for me.”

No sooner than the words had left my tongue, the speaker said in a prayerful mode into the microphone, with passion and firmness, “You are not a disappointment to Me. You are not, you have not, nor have you ever been a disappointment to ME! This is not just for the other women, this is for YOU.

Four hundred women in the room, and God, having known my every thought that morning, and all my life, chose to speak LOUD and CLEAR to me. Collapsing in my seat, I wept loudly. It was obvious God saw me, heard me, and LOVED me—and did, indeed, want to offer such new experiences of His love to me!!

Believe He longs to offer this to you!

Moving on, it is equally important to understand that intimacy is a two-way street. Just as we long to be pursued and loved, God longs for us to pursue and love Him. We were made to worship—no, I’m not talking about going to church and singing hymns.

Authentic worship is abandoning ourselves to another, offering our hearts in stunning vulnerability. John Eldredge describes it as “what we give our hearts away to in return for a promise of life.” We just misplace it into things of this world. Shopping, food, other people (even a boyfriend or husband), fashion. Books or movies.

Every one of us worships something and/or someone. We cannot help it. But Jesus is the only one worthy of such devotion.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” (Jesus, in Matthew 22:37-38)

Get alone in a private place (it doesn’t have to be indoors!) with some worship music that moves your heart—music that speaks of an intimacy with Christ. Many times we’ll need to ask Him to create in us a hunger for Him; and to woo us into bringing our desire for life to Him. I’ve known women (Beth Moore is one of them) who close the door of their room and dance for Him as they worship. Others play an instrument or draw pictures of what He stirs as they worship. Sometimes I simply lie face down, with everything else shut out around me.

Just begin to offer your heart to Him. Make time for Him in your schedule. Guard it, and fight for it. Make no mistake, it will be opposed by our enemy. For he knows what deep experiences of Jesus’ love will do—he fears who you are (a glorious image bearer of God) and who you can be once you are set free by the Lover of Your Soul.

As you and Jesus work together to cultivate this garden of love, not only will your heart begin to heal, but it will expand for more. You will be free to let Him love on you, and reciprocate such love back to Him. You will also be free to love others and allow them to love you. Much like the quiet, restful shade provided by lush trees in a beautiful garden, experiences of God’s love provide a spacious place of rest and peace for our souls.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

God's Love: Part XI, "Experience the Height"

“And I pray that you, having been rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 17b-19)

For two months we have studied and taken a fresh look at the love of God, the invitation of a Sacred Romance. To recap the main points:  we’ve come to understand that God existed before us in a marvelous and mysterious fellowship of love as God the Father, the Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. That He created this world with its stunning beauty, and us in His perfect image. Then set us right down in the middle of it to enjoy and to rule over and to share in His wild love.

In essence, we were made in love, by love, and for love.

We learned of our enemy, Satan, who existed before us, and was cast down from heaven when he became prideful and rebelled against His creator. His hatred for us grew because we bear God’s image, and he sought and still seeks revenge against God through us. Hit Him where it hurts. Create doubt in the hearts of the people so they will turn on God.

When we took the bait and betrayed our Maker, God did the unthinkable…He sent His only Son, Jesus, to pay the price for our disobedience. Ransom. Because He conquered death and rose again, we are forgiven of our sins and have the option to choose life over death by accepting His offer. Jesus then rose to heaven to prepare a place for us. For those who choose to believe and follow Jesus, Love promises us a day when all our pain and sorrow will end, death’s sting will be forever destroyed, all sin will be erased, and fellowship with God will be forever unbroken.

Furthermore, we have discovered that God has made a way for those of us who are in Christ Jesus to understand His love by experiencing it. That we are not outside the scope of God’s love no matter what we’ve done; and whatever it takes, no matter how long it takes, God’s love will find us. That it even reaches to the deepest hell and darkest regions of our heart…

To do what? To rescue us. But is that all? It is vital to know that rescue is not all He's up to. The reason Jesus longs to experience love with us is because He knows it will require His love to bring the healing our hearts are desperate for. Experiencing His love and healing, in return, restores His glorious image upon our hearts, and frees us to live full lives.

If this is what God’s love does, then why are so many of us still walking around as if in captivity?

Which one of us has not marveled at some time in our life, at the billions of stars winking to us each night? Or pondered the magnificence of the sun and moon? How free they appear in all their glory. Oh that we could ride the waves of the Milky Way, and explore the mystery of the planets...and of our own souls. To rise with them to such heights where we are no longer captive to the troubles of this life.

Close your eyes and envision the person you long to be, all that you dream you could be…no longer at war within yourself, confident, sure, free of all shame and the labels of your past, both other- and self-inflicted.

It is possible dear friends. By it’s height, God’s love entitles us and raises us up to a most excellent happiness and glory through Jesus. Here is where it all comes together.

“He [Jesus] climbed the high mountain, He captured the enemy and seized the booty. He handed it all out in gifts to the people. Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to the highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts.” (Ephesians 4:8-10, The Message)

Through His death, bearing all our sin, Jesus went to the very depths of the earth. In doing so, He seized our enemies (According to Matthew Henry, Commentary, all that “had conquered us—such as sin, the devil, and death”). All that held us captive, He took captive unto Himself. He then rose to the highest height, carrying the booty with him—everything the enemy had stolen from us and all the things we’ve given up. And the best part is…He gives it all back to us!

Look at what He says in Isaiah, 45:2-3, "I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name."

In doing so, we are freed to experience the height of His love.

A little word study might help us out here. Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus define “height” as the topmost point, the highest limit/extreme, the very distance from the bottom to the top. The word “high” in the same book is defined as superior, and greater in size, amount, degree, etc. than usual. The same word used in our key verse, Ephesians 3:18, stems from a root word in the Greek language meaning “for the sake of,” and “over, beyond, more than.”

In simple terms:  On our behalf, God’s love—which is superior to all—reaches to the uttermost depths to rescue us; lifting us to the highest height, over and beyond all that we could possibly hope, imagine, or dream. Joy and peace return to us. Life returns, to the fullest! Enjoyment and laughter. Hope. Courage. On and on the list goes.

Such love surpasses mere knowledge, as the beginning scripture states. It can only be understood by experience! The reason God’s role as Lover is so important and key to our story is because it is His love that woos us and draws us into a relationship with Him. All that He has done for us through His Son, He did so out of love to free us from captivity and win us back to Himself.

It is more than a “get out of hell free” card. God’s love invites us into an epic adventure, with the freedom to explore all His mysteries, which are even greater than the mysteries of the stars and space. We can trade our sin and shame, and all the labels of our past for a freedom and a love that catapults us to new heights. This is how high God’s love is…and even then, it exceeds our prayers, desires, hopes, and dreams.

Friday, October 29, 2010

God's Love: Part X, "Experience the Depth"

“And I pray that you, having been rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

It is known that in the deepest, darkest oceans lie the scariest monsters of the sea. No one knows all that lurks there. Thousands of miles down under where there is no light, swim creatures with fangs and gruesome fish that eat their prey from the inside out. It is not a place most of us would want to go, given the opportunity.

Ironically, if we’re honest, almost every woman feels a bit that way about her heart. Deep unchartered waters of our past, insecurities that grip our present, painful things we have been through, and the sin we have clung to—not to mention all the labels we carry from these things. Oh how we fear exploring the depths; and we most certainly wouldn’t take our men there to look around, maybe not even our best friend. Heck, we don’t even want to go there ourselves!

If they knew the true me, they would surely run! We feel we are just too much for anyone.

Even those who have joined the women’s lib movement, the one who appears so sure of herself and in control. Both the false confidence and the liberalism are often a mask to the scars that fuel her control and need to compete. Scars that hide deep below the surface.

Our depths seem so dark because of the weightiness it holds. Others have mishandled us, and we in turn have mishandled ourselves. The sin and darkness and all the labels we carry feel like the truest things about us. Who could possibly love us enough to go there? We believe the depths of our hearts may even be too deep for God’s love to reach.

Some of the things we’ve been through, and some of the things we’ve done (or fear we’re capable of doing), feel like hell to us.

But what if…just maybe…God’s love is deeper than the deepest hell?

In Job chapter eleven, we find the deep things of God are described as deeper than hell. That would include His love. The Psalmist in chapter one-hundred-thirty-nine exclaims that even if he makes his bed in hell, lo and behold, God is there! And if God is there, His love is also.

Jesus personally knows the greatest depths; He’s been there. He took on all our sin through the cross. He prophesies of His own death, and how just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a whale, so the Son of Man would be in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40) Because He conquered death (and sin) by rising to life again, and furthermore ascending to heaven, He holds the keys of death and hell itself. (Revelation 1:18)

Whatever dark and scary things you fear lurking in your heart, your Jesus has already been there. He has already conquered the depths of hell, the sin and shame. He holds the keys to unlock the depths of your heart and set you free.

Set us free for what? What if the sin and shame, the wounds and labels really aren’t the truest things about us?

We have heard much about original sin, but very little of original glory. If you’ve been in church much, heard the creation story, or read through all these posts on God’s love, you will remember we were created in the image of God, and that we bear His image. There was a glory about us before the marring of sin. And that glory, His image, is written on our hearts.

He longs to set us free from all that holds our heart captive so He can restore that image. But what might it mean to bear His image? To bear His image as a woman? God knows some of us have tried to make our hearts masculine to survive in this world where the male sex dominates (God’s image on his heart is marred, too.) “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” the saying goes, right? But the world needs our feminine heart.

The full explanation is too much for this post, but since we’re talking about the deepest part of our heart and about love, God’s love, we’ll concentrate on that. If the deepest, truest thing about God’s heart is love, then it stands to reason the same is true of the image He stamped upon us. He gave us the most sacred thing of all, a heart with the ability and capacity to love, and to receive love.

Not just any love, but passionate love. Love is relational, and we are relational to our very core, as God is. We, as women, are not satisfied with just any kind of love, but the kind that relentlessly pursues us and actually desires us. A love that uncovers the darkness and reveals the beauty inside. We long to be romanced, to be fully known, and to know fully. A love that woos us!

It isn’t too much to ask. In this way, we bear His image. We want this because God wants this.

“You will… find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes…” (Song of Solomon 4:9)

“Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’”” (Matthew 22:37)

The problem is, we’ve allowed the wounds of our life, both self and other inflicted, those dark and scary, hellacious experiences to convince us that we are too much, and not enough. That we might as well keep those places off limits because nobody, even our own self or God, can handle them or knows what to do with them. Yet we fear being found out.

We’re not willing to go there. But go there we must. It is not as scary as you might think. And we don’t have to go alone.

The same Psalm mentioned earlier also says there is nowhere we can go that His Spirit cannot follow, and no place where we can escape His presence. Jesus is able and willing to go with us to our depths, to heal our hearts and restore His image upon us. Because of His love, God will explore the unchartered waters of our heart that He might reach the dark places within us and usher us back out into the light. To heal and restore the things which were once lost or stolen. By doing so, we are freed to experience the fullness of God’s love, and to love fully in return.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

God's Love: Part IX, "Experience the Length"

“And I pray that you, having been rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Not many of us are long distance runners. For most, the very thought causes us to cringe. “No thanks!” It takes stamina and endurance, a great resistance to the elements within and without the body. A good runner must be able to endure pain, heat, cold, and resist fatigue. He or she must be able to persevere when the body urges to quit before the race is over, keeping his/her eye fixed on the prize ahead.

I don’t know many people who want to willingly put their body through such harsh conditions and training. We usually find ways to avoid this, not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually in our lives. Give us the easy way out.

Since we’re apt to look for the easy route, or the great escape, in some form or fashion, maybe that’s why we have a hard time believing God’s love can outlast us. Surely He’s given Himself a scapegoat. There are times we don’t love ourselves, so why on earth would He still love us?

We may understand God went to the greatest lengths any one could for another…loving us enough to give His only Son, Jesus, to die in our place for our sin. Ransom. (God’s Love:  Part IV, “Love’s Response”) But do we believe His love is just as strong for us today as the day we first believed? Do we question whether He still loves us at times?

Several years ago, I began what I like to call a “head on collision with my past.” I explained my healing journey in general terms in my testimony, “Where to Begin.” My heart was hemorrhaging from unhealed wounds of long ago, and I had developed unhealthy styles of relating to others because of those wounds. Our arch enemy had also taken liberty to fill my mind with lies in those wounded places.

God came to rescue me from my pain and from myself, giving me courage to face past abuses and other wounds, both other- and self-afflicted. He did so in order to shine His truth on each situation, and bring much needed healing. But surrendering my old habits wasn’t always easy, and owning the truths for myself was downright hard at times.

Our enemy does not want us to receive such healing and freedom, either. And some days I would almost buckle under the weight of his whispers. You’ll never make it. It’s too hard. Just give up.

I remember one particularly difficult day while the kids were at school. I was folding laundry, and keenly aware of my pain, my mess-ups with old habits, and the enemy’s voice. Finally, I sat down, exasperated. I blurted out to God, “I’m afraid Your grace will run out on me!” I couldn’t believe the sound of my own words; I wept, fearing His response.

So tenderly and lovingly He said to me, from His very Word in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace IS sufficient for you.” The easiest way to dispel a lie is with the truth! And I knew this to be true in my mind, but never believed it in my heart until that moment. In the Scripture context, Paul was describing his weakness (we all have them!), and how, as he struggled with God over it, this was God’s answer. The Lord went even further to say, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Well, what does grace have to do with love, you might ask? Everything! Even the Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus describes grace as the “love and favor of God toward [mankind].” Meaning, we can trust that God’s grace, love, and favor will be sufficient for us, no matter our weakness!

Hebrews Chapter four takes it all a step further, describing Jesus as our great High Priest with ready access to God—and able to understand our weaknesses since He faced them all Himself, yet without sin. He is not out of touch with our reality. We can come boldly to him for help, where we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (verses 14-16)

Like a runner, God is no stranger to endurance. The phrase, His love endures forever, appears thirty-six times in the Psalms alone. Why so many? Maybe the Psalmist knew how much we’d need reminding and convincing!

In the same dictionary I mentioned earlier, endurance is described as “having the ability to last, stand pain, etc.” His love can withstand the pain of our sin and weaknesses, without wavering. Why on earth would He bother?! Because Love hopes—hopes that we will turn to Him and accept His help—hopes for you. (I Corinthians 13)

It was passionate love that fueled Jesus to his death; the greatest display and length of love. He endured the cross for you and for me. Hebrews 12:2 describes Him as enduring the cross because of the joy awaiting him. Think of it as the prize for winning a race. Jesus fixes His eyes on the prize that will bring Him the greatest joy—us—you. Whatever it takes, however long it takes, the length of God’s love will find you.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

God's Love: Part VIII, "Experience the Width"

Last week, I mentioned Paul’s prayer for us in Ephesians three, verse eighteen, that all of the followers of Jesus would experience the extravagant dimensions of God’s love. The NIV version of the Bible reads from verses sixteen through nineteen,

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, having been rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Since that reads like a mouthful, we’ll break it down a bit! For those of us who, by faith, have chosen the life Jesus offers (explained in “God’s Love, Part VI, “Our Response"), Christ dwells in our hearts. (it is a choice, friends; we must choose) As a result—God being the very essence of love itself and Jesus the flesh and blood example (Colossians 1:15)—like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, so are we firmly planted in His love!

The dimensions Paul spoke of concerning Christ’s love for us are four:  width, length, height, and depth. It is simply a means to show the magnitude of the vision that opens before us as we seek to comprehend such love. A love that is more vast than the deepest and widest ocean, yet without boundary!

Picture yourself in the center of that mighty ocean. Just as the water envelops you as a glove, with each dimension, so does the love of Jesus! Underneath you, all around you is the current of His love! (taken from the song, “O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus,” by Samuel Francis) You cannot move, and His love not move with you. Its compass is complete, and penetrates every fiber of our being.

Though Paul offered this vision as a whole, breaking down each dimension may help reveal more truths of God’s love, and dispel any lies from our enemy. Lies that seek to steal our believing such love and our full experience of it!

Job 11:9 tells us His love is broader, wider than the sea. Imagine a door opening that wide—wide enough to allow all of humankind to pass through. The love of God is that wide. He does not pick and choose whom He will love. He created every one of us, including you, and His love is extended to all ages, gender, races, nations, and ranks.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.” (John 3:16a) That includes all of us! Even though we have betrayed Him, and while we were still sitting in our stench, God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us. (God’s Love:  Part III, “What Happened?”) Not because He had to, but because He chose to. (Part IV, “Love’s Response")

“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Yet, something still whispers in the heart of a woman that we are somehow, or in some way outside the scope of God’s love. (men, too, but we’re focusing on women right now) Society has dealt us a raw blow, belittling our worth. Sadly, the church has not always served us better. Our role is diminished, misunderstood, and our very creation is often viewed as an “afterthought.”

In God’s love:  Part II, “Creation’s Story,” we explored how the order of things God created grew in detail, complexity, and awe. Like a symphony, it builds and builds; a crescendo, until finally, it reaches its climax. God, having created every living thing, including Adam, assesses His handiwork and realizes it is not complete.

Enter Eve. The astonishing crescendo. The final touch of God’s masterpiece. The Crown of Creation, as she is referred to in Captivating. Paul writes that man “is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man.” (1 Corinthians 11:7) You are not an afterthought.

I can hear some of us scoffing, Yeah, right. Try telling that to society and much of the church. We’ve been duped to believe we are a lesser gender, and that we were created to be man’s slave. We feel unseen, unsought, and uncertain (Captivating). With such thoughts, we either take control, or fall in a heap of worthlessness.

We must not look to a fallen world to tell us our worth. What if the part we were given in this story is much grander and vital than we’ve been made to believe? Thankfully, it is!

“When God creates Eve, he calls her an ezer kenegdo. ‘It is not good for the man to be alone, I shall make him [an ezer kenegdo]’ (Genesis 2:18 Alter). Hebrew scholar Robert Alter, who has spent years translating the book of Genesis, says that this phrase is ‘notoriously difficult to translate.’ The various attempts we have in English are ‘helper’ or ‘companion’ or the notorious ‘help meet.’ Why are these translations so incredibly wimpy, boring, flat…disappointing? What is a help meet, anyway? What little girl dances through the house singing, ‘One day I shall be a help meet’? Companion? A dog can be a companion. Helper? Sounds like Hamburger Helper. Alter is getting close when he translates it ‘sustainer beside him.’
                The word ezer is used only twenty other places in the entire Old Testament. And in every other instance the person being described is God himself, when you need him to come through for you desperately.
                Most of the contexts are life and death, by the way, and God is your only hope. Your ezer. If he is not there beside you…you are dead. A better translation therefore of ezer would be ‘lifesaver.’ Kenegdo means alongside, or opposite to, a counterpart.”
(John and Stasi Eldredge, Captivating)

WHOA. This is Eve. This is woman. This is you. And I dare say this is why God loves you. Not because He “has to.” He sees who you really are, and He longs to redeem the ezer kenegdo hidden inside.

You are not outside the scope of His love! No matter what you’ve done, no matter your background, God loves you. Jesus spread His arms “wide” enough to bear the world’s sin on the cross to ransom us. To ransom you. That is love! You need only to choose Him. (God’s Love:  Part VI, “Our Response”) Then, you will be in a position to fully experience the extravagant dimensions of His love!

Friday, October 8, 2010

God's Love: Part VII, "To Experience"

When my three girls were younger, they had a large assortment of small dolls and more accessories than you could imagine. Several large tubs full. In the world of pretending, they were inevitably drawn to create the perfect wedding, complete with the perfect bride and groom. Today, the older two love reading books with great adventure and purpose, and, more importantly to them, two characters destined to fall in love.

As a child, I was more apt to be riding bikes, climbing trees, and racing the guys in the neighborhood on my 4-wheeler (except when I was being mommy to my family of Cabbage Patch Kids)! But I had a strong affinity for horses. I was drawn to their strength, and daydreamed often about the intense love a girl and her horse seem to share. I longed for that experience. I ached for it.

Whether we were a girly-girl or a tomboy, our desire for romance found a way to express itself when we were young. Now that we are women, it finds its way into the movies we love and the stories we enjoy. It’s the sigh of our hearts in The Proposal when Andrew realizes his love for Margaret, and when Edward returns for Elinor in Sense and Sensibility. It is Jack and Rose in Titanic out on the bow of the ship.
I’m well aware that for most of us, our hearts have been mishandled, maybe even abused and misused. We may have buried this longing, or even abandoned it altogether. But it cannot be fully silenced. Can you at least see that you long for this?

We want to know that we are the center of someone’s attention. Do you see me? Do you delight in me? We want to know fully, and to be fully known. To know beyond any shadow of doubt that we are, indeed, loved. This is written on our hearts by the One who created us in His image! 

While man was intended to love a woman in this way, the fulfillment of our longings for romance doesn’t have to wait for a man. God wants us to know that HE loves us this way! He wants you to know that you are the apple of His eye. (Psalm 17:8, Zechariah 2:8) Yes, He will sometimes love us, romance us through a man, but He also longs to bring this to you Himself.

Now, in order to understand this and embrace it, we must remove the religious veil and see the heart of God as Lover. The Lover of our Souls. Jesus refers to himself as the Bridegroom (Matt. 9:15; Matt. 25:1-10; John 3:29), which simply means fiancĂ©. “Lover.” This metaphor is an invitation to the kind of relationship and intimacy Jesus longs for with us. (Stasi Eldredge, Captivating) If your heart fills with question and hesitancy in this, as mine once did (given my wounded heart), it just means there is healing for your heart here.

For most of my life, I felt like I had to be doing everything “right” in order for God to love me. Consequently, I lived in a hopeless state of believing I was a constant disappointment! Sometimes we feel He loves us because He “has to.”

A few years ago, during a time I struggled to understand how God loves me, I brought my anguish before the Lord. In the quiet with my eyes closed, He gave me a vision of myself as a newborn baby. Having felt the intense, almost inexplicable love for my own children as newborns, I could sense Him smiling in deep delight over me then. Pictures of my childhood flashed, and once again I could feel the love of God smiling over me.

Then He brought to mind a picture of myself in the present, as a woman. It felt as though the lights had gone out. I had no problem believing He loved me when I was a baby and even as a young child…but as a woman? How could He love me the same now? With all my failures and weaknesses?

Paul prays for us in Ephesians 3:18 that we would be able to understand the love of God. How high and deep, how wide and long it is for us! God wants us to believe His love endures all things, even our failures and weaknesses, and that it will never fail us even then. (1 Corinthians 13:7, 8)

But how will we know?

To understand God’s love is to experience His love. All day long my husband can tell me that he loves me; but if he never puts actions to his words that show his love for me, if there is never any experience of his love, then I cannot possibly believe or understand it.

Our God longs to heal us and mature us through His love into mature women (and men) who actually know Him. He wants us to experience verses like I mentioned in my personal testimony (click here to read): “Therefore I am going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her” (Hos. 2:14). To experience what it means to be quieted by His love, as I did through a time of restless questioning (click here for more). And, “you have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride.” (Song of Solomon 4:9)

Oh how we long for this!

Our Enemy does not want us to experience God’s love in new and fresh, tangible ways. He tells us that we must be productive and useful to be loved by God (and sadly, even by others, especially in the church). Shame exaggerates our hearts, and we are pressed to believe that we are not enough, or even that we are too much to be loved. So we settle for less through duty and productivity, believing obedience is all we have left. We are convinced that understanding God’s love is simply an acquired knowledge of the mind, and we shut down our hearts.

“Faithful obedience to God is vital, but it is not all God draws us to. It is not sufficient for our healing, no more than doing the laundry is sufficient for a marriage. And it will not be enough in the long run to carry us through. The persecuted Church is vast today. More Christians are being martyred in our lifetime than in any other time in church history. It is not obedience that is carrying our brothers and sisters—unwavering, steadfast, eyes ablaze—to their deaths. It is holy, fierce passion. Hearts afire.”

“What would it be like to experience for yourself that the truest thing about His heart toward yours is not disappointment or disapproval but deep, fiery, passionate love? This is, after all, what a woman was made for.”
(Stasi Eldredge in Captivating)

We are no longer children, and we’ve put away childish things such as our dolls and toys. But we are called to be childlike—there’s a difference. Our longings as a little girl are not far off base. They are not so foolish after all. In fact, they are telling us the key to experiencing God.

These longings cause us to ache; to ache for the love we were made for. And to ache is to be alive; it is a good thing. We must ask Jesus to come for us here in these longings. To rescue us, to romance our hearts. Keep pressing, keep asking. Love is His specialty—and He wants to experience it with you. New. Fresh. Everyday.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

God's Love: Part VI, "Our Response"

(Alright guys, spare me this feminine version of "our response" for the feminine hearts of our dear ladies reading. :) For a masculine version, visit The Point, and/or read Wild At Heart by John Eldredge. This does not mean you have to stop reading! You are welcome to delve into the feminine heart; it's not as scary as you have been made to believe! You might be surprised at what you find, and discover you DO have what it takes to "go there.") 

Ah, the proposal. There’s hardly a little girl, teen, or young woman who hasn’t dreamed of some knight and shining armor that will one day come for her rescue, and ask for her hand in marriage. We’ve witnessed it countless times in movies, on television, and in real life. The courageous, often young man (but not always!), postures himself to honor the love of his life, and to ask, “Will you marry me?” He hopes, along with the hushed crowd holding its breath, all anxiously awaiting the response!

So God, with all His strength and honor, who has poured out everything for love, has come as our Great Rescue, and has promised us the “happily ever after…” So He and all of heaven await our response.

Sadly and painfully, not everyone will live the “happily ever after.” Know this, my friends: it is NOT because God doesn’t want some of us to be there. He gave His all to rescue us from the Kingdom of Darkness. He does not want to lose us!

Funny thing is, somewhere along the way, we’re not so sure we want to be rescued. We become so attached to our pain and our own adapted way of survival that we wear them like badges. Proud of how they’ve shaped us. That’s just the way I am! (I’ve said that one in my past.)

We’ve also become encapsulated by our “smaller stories,” no longer believing there is a larger story. Or even if we do believe, we choose to settle for the smaller one, I’m fine with this one, thank you. It’s like those old favorite t-shirts full of holes that you just can’t bring yourself to throw away, even though they are rags.

I must admit to you, I was a bit squeamish to write about the other possible ending to our story. The reason? Not because I’m afraid to speak the truth, but because far too many have abused the concept of hell, wielding it like a sword of condemnation to force people into submission to God. It never works. And fear is not God’s motivator (2 Timothy 1:7). But that does not take away the fact that hell still exists.

It is vital that we first understand hell was NOT created for people, and certainly not the option God wants for us! Jesus makes it clear, Himself, in Matthew 25:41 that hell is prepared for the devil and his angels.

So who is God’s Kingdom created for? Consider this story Jesus told.

“God's kingdom” he said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn't come! He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’ They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop.” (Matthew 22:2-5, The Message)

The Kingdom of God is reserved for His most intimate allies, true followers, the friends of God.

Our problem is we often forget that it was us who betrayed God. Remember Part III of this series? (read it if you haven’t or if you’ve forgotten) We chose to listen to Satan’s lies and mistrust God’s heart toward us. We disobeyed His one and only command, and in doing so, set in motion a life of breaking His commands. (John Eldredge, Epic)

"Our culture has done us no greater injustice than training us to avoid taking responsibility for our own issues. In trying to relieve us of the whole concept of personal sin, our culture’s reordered values have cheated us of the right to repentance and sublime restoration. They have hijacked our healing. A clear heart and a clean path are still only one sincere confession away." (Beth Moore, So Long, Insecurity)

We must remember, God has given us a heart with the capacity to love…and the ability to choose. Free will. Love is only true when it is chosen, as we also learned in Part III of this series. (and please know, to ignore God is to choose)

God stands before us, offering us life or death, pleading that we choose life!!

“This day...I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life...” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

For those who do choose the life He offers, our ending is the consummation of all things hoped for, longed for, and promised by Love, Himself. (see Part V, Love’s Promise) The Lover of our Soul is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

This fairytale is a true story. Our Knight in Shining Armor has come. He alone can save us in every way a person longs to be saved. And He awaits our response… Mine is a resounding “Yes! I choose You!” What is yours?

Friday, September 17, 2010

God's Love: Part V, "Love's Promise"

We’ve explored a lot these past few weeks together. I imagine your heart has taken a bit of a roller coaster ride of sorts like mine. Hope has risen with the beauty and plan of God’s love. Grown dim with the understanding of our story’s villain and the price of our disobedience. Then taken the courageous climb once again as we explored God’s plan of rescue. While this hope has alleviated some of our pain, we are still keenly aware that we suffer the consequences of a world gone mad.
It has hit home for me this past week. My household has been affected harshly by the recession. This weekend my eleven year old blacked out for the sixth time, and now we’re scheduled to see a neurologist for further testing. My own health has been under attack the past few years.
I know too many who are staring death in the face; and those who are just rising from the ashes it leaves in the lives of those left behind. Others are struggling to recover their reputation from slander and rumor. I could go on and on, as I think of the many different troubles being faced by the people I know.
In the depths of our hearts, a voice cries out, “This is not the way it was meant to be! Is there any end to our suffering?! Please tell me there’s relief somewhere!” When we allow such longings to surface, the question of how our story ends begs to be answered.
For those with no hope, the enemy whispers, “You suffer and suffer, then…nothing. That’s it. Your life is over.” But for most of us whose faith is in Jesus, Satan has stolen the breath-taking wonder and promise of eternity. I know I heard it growing up in the church countless times, “We will sing with the choir in the heavens forever and ever.”
That’s the ending? You mean, after all the glory we were created with, all the beauty of Eden, and all the wild adventure of God, our end prize is to sing forever? Don’t get me wrong, I love singing! I have been a part of a children’s choir, youth choir, adult choir, a ladies quartet, and a praise band. Yet, singing forever is not what is written on my heart about eternity!
Surely God has written a far greater ending to our story than we could ever tell! In Isaiah 65:17, He is foretelling the end, “Behold, I will create a new heavens and a new earth.”
“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)
It’s the final scenes of The Lion King. Corrupt living under the guise of their evil leader has almost destroyed the kingdom of the lions. A few faithful followers of the truth remember what their land and life used to be, and they long for its return. When the one true king returns to reclaim the land, a terrible battle ensues between him and the evil one.
The crowd is filled with both gasps and jeers as the two thrash about. Finally, the evil one is destroyed. Yet, all is burned in a terrible fire. Then, the rains come. Oh, how the brittle and dry ground receive its cool refreshing life! And we see it before our very eyes, creation made new, regained. Everything comes to life again, and it is more glorious than before!
We get Paradise back. The kingdom restored! Every miracle Jesus performed points to our restoration. He touches the blind, and they can see; all the vibrant colors, and their children’s faces! He makes the lame to walk again, and they leap with joy and run about! The deaf hear. The sick are made well. And the dead—arise and return to their families. He takes what is broken in humanity, and restores it. (John Eldredge, Epic)
Jesus was killed, and buried as any other man, His body laid in a tomb. Yet He, Himself, conquered death, and is simply the first of many to come.
“The fact is that Christ has been raised from the dead. He has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)
“…I am going to prepare a place for you. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” (John 14:2-3)
Jesus promises to come back for us! To restore us as He is restored, along with all creation. And we’ll get to share the kingdom together, with Him! “All creation anticipates the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” (Romans 8:21)
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Revelation 21:4)
No more tears of pain and sorrow. Death’s sting will be forever destroyed. Sin will be erased. We will see each other as we were meant to be, in all our glory. Fellowship with God will be unbroken, and all our questions will be answered. Story after story will be told.
Jesus tells us that we will inherit the kingdom prepared for us. We will reign with Him forever, and will rule as He does. “The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead.” (Romans 8:19-20 The Message)
If we will not silence the longings striving to speak to us in our pain, we will hear Love’s promise. It is the final and complete fulfillment of our redemption. It is the greatest love story ever told, and the greatest yet to come.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

God's Love: Part IV, "Love's Response"

In last week’s blog, we found that Love has suffered a great blow. Not just any blow, but the deepest kind--rejection. The kind that severs. In our efforts to rewrite our story, to give ourselves a better part, we have rejected God. Most of our world is the result of the human heart gone bad. The Evil One tempted us to believe that true life is found elsewhere, and we took the bait.

But I’m not all that bad. I haven’t done some of the evil things that exist on this earth, you might say. Well, neither have I, but I have done my share of evil. I have not always loved God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, either. Or my neighbor as myself. John Eldredge says it this way, “We all fail on the most essential virtue of all, the virtue of Eden: We fail when it comes to loving.”

And God is the wounded Lover.

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Genesis 6:5-6)

Do you see that? Love has cost Him dearly. If you are reading this, if you are breathing, I am certain you have experienced the pain of rejection. I don’t know about you, but my knee-jerk response when I’ve been rejected is to give it back! Like a wounded animal that attacks anyone who comes near it in its misery.

Not our God. Scripture has it that, “The whole world is under the control of the Evil One.” (1 John 5:19) Instead of abandoning us in our misery, He is going to fight for what is rightfully His! He began His pursuit in the Garden of Eden when He went looking for Adam and Eve, who were hiding in the bushes after they had sinned. Rescue is His plan.

His long sustained pursuit of mankind is recorded through many stories of the Bible. The most dramatic of the Old Testament is the Exodus, where God works to set His people free from the Egyptian slave-drivers. Four hundred years the Israelites were captive to a despairing life. Relentlessly, God encroaches upon Pharoah to let them go; when he refuses, the miraculous happens. Trapped between the Red Sea and the armies of Egypt racing down toward them in chariots, God parts the waters. The Israelites go through on dry land, while the entire Egyptian army is drowned behind them.

But our hearts are always going astray. (Hebrews 3:10) It seems it is hard to keep us! Time and time again God rescues us, and we turn to other lovers, lured away by our enemy and mistrust once again. We keep grasping for the smaller pleasures in life that eventually leave us empty and cost us dearly, when the Living Water we long for that will never run out is FREE!

As always, God has a plan. Refusing to leave us in Satan’s grip or bound to our sinful state forever, He redeems the heart He gave us. “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” (Jeremiah 24:7)

Remember the price for our mistrust and disobedience is death, as God warned us in the Garden of Eden. Sentenced to both a physical and spiritual death—separated from God and life forever—there is only one way out. Ransom.

In the midst of our rejection, God does the unthinkable. He will have to die to rescue His Beloved. He sends His Son, Jesus. Leaving His glory behind and His place at His Father’s side, He comes under the cover of night. He comes to win us over. To win us back to Himself. To win you.

Jesus tells a story to help us understand His coming. “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one?” (Matthew 18:12) God sets His eye on you. On me. He willingly chooses to go to the cross, and die a most cruel death. He endures the rejection of His Father in our place, so we don’t have to. (Mark 15:34)

In the face of betrayal and rejection, God made a way to save us. Not to be “good people,” or “good church-goers.” But to be His intimate allies, His lovers, friends of the deepest kind. This one, ultimate act of love proves for all time that God’s heart toward us is good. We need not wonder anymore.

(my own comment is below, click "comments" to view)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

God's Love: Part III, "What Happened?"

It has been refreshing to soak in the absolute wonder of our God as the Creator and all that He created for us—out of love. It has been like cool water to a dry and weary land. To imagine everything coming to life on the very day it was first born. To allow my mind’s eye to take it all in; to allow my heart to take it in. It has somehow caused my heart to expand, and joy to return where it was once lost.

True love does that. Like a lover, who longs to give the very best to his beloved. Only the best will do. God rolls up His sleeves, gathers every fiber of creativity within Him, and pours it all out for us to enjoy. This extravagant display of love and the glory of God bestowed on mankind is the Paradise we all long for. It awakens us to realize the glory we were first given, as we were made to be just like Him.

And then, somehow, this awakening leaves us wincing. A sobering reality sets in that we are no longer in Paradise. “What happened?”

Before we can answer that question, we must understand something first. Adam and Eve (the first man and woman) enjoyed perfect, unhindered, unstained, and unmarred fellowship with God Himself. They existed in perfect union with Him. And they (as we) were also given the freedom to choose.

The only authentic, true love is love that is chosen. We cannot force someone to love us, and neither can someone force us to love them. Who wants that anyway? You know this to be true. We want someone to choose to love us, and we long to choose for ourselves.

God did not make us mere puppets on a string for Him to manipulate for His own selfish pleasure. He gave us a heart like His with the capacity to love and to be loved. He is a gentleman, and does not force Himself or His will upon us. He simply lavishes us with His love, and waits to be loved back. John Eldredge calls it, “the dignity of freedom, to choose for or against Him.”

Amidst all the love and fellowship, God gave Adam and Eve the pleasure of tending and caring for the Garden of Eden. Its pleasing sight yielded all kinds of fruit, good for eating, and the Lord said they could have their fill. But He needed them to trust Him on this one thing: “You see that tree over there? That is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Do not eat the fruit of that tree, or you will surely die.” He needed them to trust that He had a good reason for this, that He had their best interest at heart.

This is where it all changes…

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.' "

"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:1-6)

Evil was hiding out in that garden, waiting for its chance to pounce. Every story has a villain, including ours. Originally, Lucifer had been the mightiest and most glorious of all the angels, but pride caused him to rebel against his Creator. He waged war in heaven, and was cast down. God expelled him from the heavens, but he was not destroyed. (Ezekiel 28:12-17)

Revenge became his next ploy. He would outwit God’s creation. “God’s holding out on you. You gotta take matters into your own hands. You will not die! He knows if you eat this fruit you will be just like Him.” Hello! We were already made in the image of God, to be just like Him.

That is precisely what our enemy hates. The Evil One hates God, therefore he hates us because we bear His image. If he cannot destroy God, then he will seek to destroy us. Hit Him where it hurts. Create enough doubt in the heart of every man and woman in order to destroy any semblance of trust in God. Then we might reject Him.

Adam and Eve had it all—the Paradise we can only dream of—the perfect world in perfect love. They had never experienced pain or grief or sin. Yet, they were so easily deceived to mistrust the heart of God. That one act of disobedience, that one momentary lapse of reason where the goodness of God’s heart was doubted, gave a plethora of opportunities for our enemy to continue his plight.

If they were deceived, how much more easily are we deceived? For we have experienced all the pain and grief of life. We now know death, violence, abuse, war, lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, and every evil thing. No wonder we have such a hard time trusting God! It all makes sense now! This love story is not nearly as safe as we've been made to believe.

And if we were created in love, by love, and for love…then surely, surely, Love will make a way.