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.