Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lavish Love, Pt. 2

And I pray that you, being 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 the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:17-19)

Do you have a hard time knowing and believing that God loves you? The verb "to know" in Scripture means to lay hold of so as to make one's own, to obtain, to take into oneself, to appropriate, to take possession of. Knowing implies realizing something, being sure of it and feeling it.

So, I ask you, do you really know experientially that God loves you, really loves you? That his love can truly satisfy every longing and need of your heart so that you can give yourself unreservedly and fully surrendered to Him? That you can trust yourself in his hands, that you don’t need to look to other things to meet your needs because He deeply and fully adores you – adores YOU.   

Why do we struggle with knowing God loves us? I’d like to answer that question by giving you an illustration. Imagine with me a pitcher filled with water and six cups. The pitcher represents God’s lavish love and the cups represent different people and different reasons why they cannot receive God’s love. As you imagine, try to identify which one you are most like.

The first person is Busy Betty/Barry. Imagine trying to pour water from the pitcher into one of the cups, but the cup is never still and is constantly moving around spastically. This person is always flitting around, doing good things (or maybe silly, useless things), staying busy but never taking time to be still, to hang out with God to learn of his love and receive it. She/He is like Martha in Luke 10:40-41 who was distracted by all her preparation, and worried and upset about many things.

The next person is Doubting Debbie/Denny. Imagine a lone cup away from the stream of water which is pouring into other cups. This person feels like they are on the sidelines of life, watching God love everyone else, but certain that He cannot love them. They just have a hard time believing that it could be true for them. She/He is like Naomi in Ruth 1:13 who said that "the Lord’s hand has gone out against me". 

Then there's Crowded Chrissy/Cody. Imagine a cup stuffed full of marbles or any other junk. Any water poured into this cup is displaced by the stuff already in there. This person has filled their heart with so many things that there is little room for God. It could be a secret sin, but most likely it’s ordinary things like their home, their job, material possessions or it could be their children, spouse, even church.  She/He is is like Rachel in Genesis 30:1 who cried "Give me children, or I"ll die!" 

This cup described me. I filled my heart with my husband. I was so in love and made marriage the only thing I longed for. I dreamed of doing everything with my husband, of building this perfect relationship, of never needing anyone else but him and of course, we all know that doesn’t work. My idol fell off his pedestal one day and I was devastated. God gently showed me that I could not call Him "the lover of my soul". My heart was so full of my husband and my hurt and disappointment that he was not loving me the way I wanted to be loved, that I could not know and receive God’s love.

Next we have Blocked Becky/Billy. Imagine a piece of plastic wrap or a lid over the rim of the cup so that no water can be poured into it. This person cannot know and receive God’s love because their heart is blocked - by abuse in the past, a present sin, resentment, anger, unforgiveness or bitterness. She/He is like Michal in 2 Samuel 6:16 whose "heart was filled with scorn". 

Then, there's Leaky Lori/Larry. Imagine a cup with holes punched into it. As soon as water is poured into it, the water runs right out. This person is so full of wounds that have not yet healed that when they seek God’s love and He gives it to them, it immediately leaks out of their many holes. She/He is like Tamar in 2 Samuel 13:20 who was raped by her half-brother and called a "desolate woman". 

Finally, we come to Healthy Hettie/Henry. Imagine a cup positioned right under the flow from the pitcher and staying there until it is filled to overflowing. This person sits at Jesus’ feet and lets God pour his love into their heart until it is full to the brim and overflowing with love for others around them. She/He is like Mary in Luke 10:28 who "sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said."

Which one do you identify with the most? What is keeping you from believing and receiving God’s lavish love?

We need to take the time to be still before God, to spend time with Him, to sit at his feet. We have to get rid of the stuff in our lives, the things that clutter up our hearts. Perhaps we need to see a counselor or pastor if there is abuse or unconfessed sin. We need to let God heal the wounds and hurts so that we can understand and know that He is the Lord and that He lavishly loves us. Commit to moving ahead on your journey to truly KNOW God’s lavish love.

Yesterday, God, I was soaring
Like a graceful eagle
And you loved me. 
Today I feel like a blob 
And you love me.
Tomorrow I may ask 
“Whatever happened
To disturb me yesterday?” 
And you’ll love me. 

God, there are innumerable things
I cannot begin to comprehend 
But the one great certainly 
In all my life is this:
I know that you love me.

Ruth Harms Calkin

Lavish Love, Pt 1

In 2002, we visited my brother and his family who are missionaries in Africa. While there, they took us to see one of the natural wonders of the world - Victoria Falls. This is the world’s longest waterfall and is found on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. It spans one mile and drops 420 ft into a gorge. (For your reference, Niagara Falls is 1060 ft long with a 70 ft drop.)

Victoria Falls

You can imagine our amazement and awe at God’s handiwork as we walked along the opposite ridge, viewed the Falls from many angles and felt the spray of 550,000 cubic meters of water falling every minute! It was a lavish display of grandeur I will never forget!

Well, soon after we returned home, a friend took my husband and nine year old son camping in Ohiopyle State Park in western Pennsylvania. While there, they drove by Ohiopyle Falls which is a mere twenty foot drop. 

Ohiopyle Falls

As you can imagine, my son was not impressed! He took one look at the falls, turned to his dad and emphatically said, “That is not...not...not...not...not Victoria Falls!”. John-Mark had experienced LAVISH and he was no longer going to be moved by a trickle!

John-Mark at nine years of age.

Did you know that God’s love is described as lavish in the Bible? I John 3:1 says How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! I love the word lavish here. Lavish means to expend or bestow with profusion. Profusion means poured forth liberally; extravagant, exhibiting great abundance, bountiful - just like Victoria Falls. 

1 John 4:8 says that God IS love. It is the essence of who he is. The New Testament word for love is agape. Agape is self-sacrificial. God demonstrated that love by sending his son to die for us. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (I John 4:9-10).

According to God's Word, we are adopted as sons and daughters, we’re hand-selected. We’re also chosen to be his bride. This brings up amazing feelings of being pursued, desired, asked for! In short, we are lavishly loved!

God wants to LAVISH his love on you like Victoria Falls. Don't be satisfied with a trickle. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

From C-Sections to Fistulas

Lane at 5 lbs, 8 oz
"It is time to do a c-section," my doctor said around 8 pm on February 11, 1991. I had entered the hospital that morning to have my labor induced because I had preeclampsia and my baby (Lane Alden!) was very small. Preeclampsia is a medical condition characterized by high blood pressure and significant amounts of protein in the urine of a pregnant woman. If left untreated, it can develop into eclampsia, the life-threatening occurrence of seizures during pregnancy. (For all Downton Abbey fans, Sybil dies of eclampsia in season three because she does not get the c-section she needs.)

Ten hours of pitocin IV and breaking my water yielded only mild contractions. Although slightly uncomfortable to me, these contractions proved life threatening to Lane. So I had a c-section and delivered a healthy baby even though he was borderline low-birthweight! Two years later, my second son, John-Mark, was also born by c-section in a simple but adequate birthing center in Indonesia because I again developed preeclampsia and he was breech.

While my first reaction had been disappointment that I was not able to "give birth naturally", I now realize just how grateful I should be for modern medicine. I took a safe birth, including the right to a c-section, for granted. But is this procedure that saves many, many women and babies every year, available to all women worldwide? I used to think so (after all, I had a c-section in a developing country), but now I know better.

In Half the Sky, authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn take an honest look at the oppression of women today. They address many areas of injustice (such as sex trafficking and violence against women), but the section on maternal mortality resonated most with me.

Preeclampsia and eclampsia are only two of the many reasons that women need c-sections. In the developing world, other reasons are genetically small or underdeveloped pelvises (due to race or age), obstructed labor and lack of medical care during pregnancy. Kristof and WuDunn state that about 536,000 women perish in pregnancy or childbirth every year and ten times that many suffer significant injures such as obstetric fistula or serious tearing. (p. 98-99) According to Wikipedia,
"Obstetric fistula is a medical condition in which a hole develops between either the rectum and vagina or between the bladder and vagina after severe or failed childbirth, when adequate medical care is not available."
This condition can leave women with no control over their bladder or bowels or unable to stand or walk due to nerve damage.
"These are women most to be pitied in the world. They're alone in the world, ashamed of their injuries... The fistula patient is the modern-day leper. She's helpless, she's voiceless...The reasons these women are pariahs [outcast] is because they are women." (p. 96-97)
Then the authors conclude, "Women are not dying because of untreatable diseases. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving." (p. 116) 

Wait! Stop! As image-bearers of the Creator God, we know differently. We have the answer.

Carolyn Custis James in Half the Church states,
"The Bible's message for women...applies fully to those who live in brutal outskirts of society where poverty engulfs, education is non-existent, women's bodies are ravaged, and lives are in constant peril simply because they are female." (p. 37) The message is that "their God-given identity is secure and can't be destroyed, that the way they are regarded and trampled is a personal offense to God because they bear his image, that they have leading roles in his story and nothing can keep them out." (p. 54)
So, what can we do? First, be grateful for what we have, whatever that might be. Second, read books like Half the Sky and Half the Church. Third, pray with Don Stephens, president and founder of Mercy Ships, "We pray for the millions of women who are outcasts and cannot live the quality of life they deserve. We pray their burden will be lifted; we pray they be led to the place where they can receive the comfort, guidance and surgery that they so desperately need." Fourth, give. Most fistulas can be repaired in a $300 surgery so donate to organizations such as the Worldwide Fistula Fund or the Fistula Foundation or Mercy Ships. And lastly, let's make sure our message to women worldwide accurately reflects God's truth that they are his beautiful and highly valued daughters - his image bearers!

As a woman who needed two life-saving c-sections, I feel connected to these women who are suffering on the other side of the world. And as a follower of Jesus, I must speak for them and raise awareness for their plight within Christ's body. I can make a difference.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Become Like Little Children

Let my introduce you to Clayton. He goes to my church. I used to watch him in the nursery when he was a toddler. He is the son of our dear friends, Jason and Jennifer Martin. His mom has served in the Women's Ministry with me for the past seven years. His dad has been a deacon and is part of the Adult Ministry. Last weekend, Clayton was baptized. His testimony, which he bravely read into a mic in front of about 150 people, stole our hearts. His honesty and sincerity deserves to be shared. Here is what he said as he declared his faith in Jesus.

My name is Clayton Martin. I am 8 years old. I am going into 3rd grade at Denver Elementary School. My favorite color is green. I asked Jesus into my heart on January 11, 2011. Before I asked Jesus into my heart, I was bad. I acted crazy. I did not listen to my mom and dad. My mom and dad read Bible stories to me. After Jesus came into my life I began to change. I try to remember my manners at the table. I am also trying to work on staying out of other peoples’ space. One of my favorite Bible verses is “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22).” I just came home from camp yesterday, and I learned that “Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. And if we fall off, we are not close to God.” (John 15:5)

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, "I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. Matthew18:2-5 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bring Them To Jesus

One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there.

Today, I sit and listen to Jesus' teaching by reading and meditating on Luke 5:17-26.

They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.

Jesus' power attracted people from all over the nation. His power was from the Lord - God, Creator, King, Jehovah. His power healed the sick. Is that power still operative today? Does Jesus still have power to heal? What sickness do I need to be healed? Which of my loved ones needs healing today?

Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

What amazing friends these men were! How far did they have to carry their friend? What was their first reaction when they could not get to Jesus because of the crowd around him? Who came up with the idea to go up on the roof? These friends were not going to let a little resistance stop them. They kept at it until they had brought their friend to Jesus. This is the role of a true friend - to bring our "sick and needy loved ones to Jesus". How does a woman do this for her husband? Can she "bring him to Jesus for healing"? I believe this is another task of an ezer kenegdo, a strong helper.

When Jesus saw their faith,

Jesus notices their faith. Was this inclusive, meaning the paralyzed man had faith too? But it seems that the faith of the friends was effective for him too. My faith - in who Jesus is - is seen by the Lord. Lord, give us more faith, for you say that faith the size of grain of mustard seed is sufficient.

he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

The first thing Jesus did was forgive his sins. Jesus got to the priority first - heart condition, eternal state, spiritual healing. Lord Jesus, please continue to heal my friends and loved ones spiritually. Touch their souls, give them faith, teach them what it means that you love them and died for them, that your death was sufficient so they do not have to be a slave to sin, addiction, fear, anxiety, greed, pride.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?

Which of course if they had understood, they would have realized that -duh- that means he's God.

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?

The New English Translation says, “Why are you raising objectives within yourself?” What objections am I raising? It takes too long. Why doesn't God just take away the struggle? Why is the battle so hard? Why not just heal miraculously, in an instant?

Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

What is easier? To forgive sins or heal physically? Jesus is actually doing the harder thing by taking the long, slow road to healing. He's proving he's God. He's giving my friends and loved ones increased faith and power to fight. He's transforming them into the persons he has designed them to be.

So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

What remarkable things have I seen? Progress, perseverance, faith, love, intimacy. Lord, please keep doing your work of healing. And I will keep bringing my friends and loved ones to You. I will exercise faith on their behalf, and try to strengthen and encourage them (Acts 15:32).

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Hands Held High

Exodus 17:8-16 defines one of the roles I play as an ezer kenegdo (Genesis 2:18), a strong helper, an ally in battle - that of holding high my hands in prayer on behalf of my loved ones. 

When the Israelites were coming out of Egypt, and were weary and worn out, the Amalekites (descendants of Esau) met them on their journey and attacked all who were lagging behind. (Deuteronomy 25:17-18) 

We have been journeying a long time and we are exhausted. The destination remains out of sight and the road is rocky and dry. Although we are following our Savior, without a vision of the promised land, we lag behind. When unsuspected and unprovoked, our enemy's attack is especially despicable.

Moses sent Joshua, a young warrior, out with an army to fight back. Moses then promised to participate in the battle by standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in his hands. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the enemy was winning. Now, this seems like a strange battle strategy, but most commentators believe what Moses was actually doing, was praying. Raising one's hands to heaven was a common prayer posture for the Israelites. 

Holding up one's hands for a long time is very tiring, if not impossible. So Moses had some support. His brother Aaron and Hur (possibly his brother-in-law), found him a stone to sit on and held his arms up - one on one side, one on the other - so that his hands could remain steady till sunset. This way, the battle was won. Joshua fought with the sword and Moses prayed. 

Are you like Joshua? What battle are you fighting? Do you use the sword, also known as the Word of God, as your weapon (Ephesians 6:17)? Or like Moses, has God given you the job of praying? Or maybe you are like Aaron and Hur who support others who are praying. Remember even Jesus needed friends to pray with him. I believe my job is to pray for some loved ones who are fighting a tiring battle. It is easy to quickly give up. After all, prayer is hard work and doesn't always garner visible results. And I can't do it alone. I have some friends who know the specifics of the battle and are holding up my hands and praying for me and with me.

After the victory was won, Moses recorded the event on a scroll and built an altar so that Joshua and the generations to come would remember what God had done. He called the altar, 'Jehovah-nissi', which means 'The Lord is my Banner'. The banner that flew before an army indicated whom the army represented. Moses and Joshua were declaring that they were God's people and He was their God. After the battle, the banner still flying indicated which side were the victors. 

Moses understood that the real victor was God himself. He plays both roles. He fights and he prays. I am encouraged by the truths that The Lord your God fights for you (Deuteronomy 1:30, 20:4, Joshua 23:10) and The Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26-27). 

I pledge to labor fervently and continue earnestly in prayer (Colossians 4:2, 12) with confidence because the Psalmist promises: May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests (Ps 20:4-5)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Taking a Test Drive

While burning calories at the gym, I flipped the channel to a cooking show to pass the time. I tuned in just in time to hear some famous chefs sum up the popular beliefs on sex and living together:

I know some people who didn't have sex before marriage. I know this is technically, quote, not the right thing to do, unquote. What if you get married and the sex is terrible? And how will you know the habits of someone unless you live with them first?

It all sounds so logical. After all, isn't it common sense to take a test drive before you buy a car? And isn't it wise to research everything about a profession before you commit thousands of dollars to studying it?

The problem is, that's not what God says in his Word. God says that sex and the building of a family together are reserved for those who make the commitment to marry (Genesis 2:24; I Corinthians 6:18-20; 7:1-5).

I feel for my sons and other young adults today trying to live up to the standards of God's Word. Our society is making it very hard. But I too have to fight this philosophy. It is too easy to use their logic to justify my struggles and pain. For, let me be honest, if I had followed the advice of these chefs and taken my husband for a "test drive", we most likely would not be married today.

Now, first of all, since when did chefs become experts on sex and marriage? God alone is the expert, for he created male and female, sex and marriage. He has good reasons for putting the boundaries where he does. For God means marriage to be so much more than great sex and compatible lifestyles. Commitment and exclusivity has provided the security I need to be vulnerable, open, intimate and real. Commitment gives us the motivation to work out our differences. Commitment reminds me that even when I feel rejected or unloved, I will not be abandoned.

There are other ways to test out a potential partner and develop intimacy without living together or having sex. Much research can be conducted by observation, asking questions, looking at family history and culture, volunteering together and praying together. Remember, even those who live together can ignore the red flags, fail to listen to the advice of friends or be so enamored by the sex that other dysfunctional signs are ignored.

After all, don't we all wish we had the 20/20 vision of hindsight? Have we not all said "If I had know this, I wouldn't have done this or that"? But if we could see into the future, would we ever take the plunge? And does not every relationship have some area of challenge? Yes, it may turn out that the sex is unsatisfactory or your partner may leave his clothes on the floor. For the truth is, marriage is a risk. (But is it not just as much a risk to reject someone after the "test drive" and hope that another better "test subject" will come along?)

But if I had listened to the "wisdom" of these chefs and not taken the risk, I would have missed out on so much. I would not have my two amazing sons. I would not have learned grace and mercy for those who suffer. I would not have the deep friendship I enjoy with my spouse. I would not have learned true intimacy, which is so much more than mere sex and takes years to develop. I would not have experienced self-giving love that serves me even when the romantic feelings aren't there. I would not have learned what a Blessed Alliance means.

As for the leading officials (chefs?) I admired so much - their troubles multiply, they desire other gods. I will not pour out drink offerings of blood to their gods, nor will I make vows in the name of their gods. Ps 16:4 Like the Psalmist, I will not admire the teachings of the world. I will not give my heart and lifeblood to their ways. I will not desire and vow to have what they offer - cheap sex and pleasure for a moment without intimacy and comitment for a lifetime. I will instead follow God's path of life to experience stability, absolute joy and sheer delight. Ps 16:5, 11