Tag Archives: love

Leave a reply

Sternness. If I had to guess, I would say that sternness is not usually the number one trait a woman looks for in a man. I would also guess that a man who goes courting with sternness rather than flowers will awaken fear instead of love in the heart of the woman he approaches. Unfortunately, when I thought of Christ, all I saw was sternness. Just as I was afraid of the Father because of His justice, so I was afraid of Christ because of his sternness. I had learned to trust the Father, who casts our sin behind His back, but I was still afraid to approach Christ. I was afraid to have him turn and look at me. I was afraid of hearing his "Go and sin no more." Despite my best efforts, I still find myself sinning, so I thought I knew what kind of look Christ would direct at me.

I was troubled by my lack of love for this lover of mine, my fiancé. I had said yes to his proposal. I mean, really, the alternative wasn't a very bright prospect — marriage or eternal death. Um, let me think. And really, he is quite the hero, dying for me even before I said yes, and then coming to life again. Who else would or could do something like that? However, before I got a chance to meet him in person, he disappeared to get a house ready, and I was left wondering what kind of. What kind of character does he have? Does he know about all my character flaws? How will he react when I continually mess up?

Years ago, in South Africa, a young woman was preparing for marriage. One day, my husband and I were at her fiancé’s house, and she was there, cleaning house, washing curtains, mopping floors. She told me she wanted to see whether she could do the work marriage would require of her. That thought startled me, but I understood it. I didn't really think I could do the work my marriage to Christ would require. I, too, was trying to see whether I would measure up, but I was failing miserably. I dislike sudden change, so the idea that I would go from miserable failure to perfect angel upon my death wasn't very hopeful. Besides, I wasn't dead yet. There was still time for Christ to see how miserably I was failing, and what would he do if he saw it?

My realization that I was not attracted to Jesus sent me to get to know him. I began to read the book of John in depth and to talk with Jesus in prayer, asking him to teach me about himself. Jesus has unique experiences among the Godhead. He is the one who dwelt among us. He lived on earth as a human. I'm trying to live on earth as a human. If anyone can teach me how to do it well, it would be Jesus.

One of the first things I realized as I began to know Jesus was that he never directs his sternness at me. When he speaks sternly it is at something at work within me, but it is not at me. A few years ago, I was speaking with a friend about the passage in Romans 7 that says it is no longer I who sin, but sin which is at work in me. My friend said that the passage didn't make sense to him. How would saying we didn't do it help anything? Saying it is just something at work in us sounds like making excuses. After talking with my friend, I sought God on that passage. God showed me that we, people, tend to keep sin tangled up with our identity. We see sin as part of who we are, part of our nature. We try to keep from acting according to that "nature" but only by repressing it, which doesn't work for long. It always escapes our restraint. When someone addresses the sins in us, we get very defensive, because our identity is tangled with the sin. We see them as attacking us, attacking our nature. When we see sin as part of our nature, we put ourselves in a very weak position for overcoming sin. We hold onto it with one hand, while trying to get rid of it with the other.

Before we can truly be set free from our sin, we must see that our actual nature is the image of God and that sin is a foreign thing at work in us. So, God first teaches us who we are and reveals to us anything that does not belong to our nature, then having separated the two, Christ addresses the sin sternly, commanding it to leave, but he turns the face of his favor to us, to what is truly us. Understanding this has actually helped me to value the sternness of Christ. We are working together to remove a parasite that has attached itself to me and is draining me of my true strength and character. He is also gentle, wise, and discerning. In removing sin, God has a process. First, He establishes His love for us. He stays on this step until we cease to flinch at His approach, until we feel secure enough to climb on His lap. Then, having gained our trust, He begins to reveal to us a true picture of our identity. His Holy Spirit searches our hearts and reveals to us what is truly our character, and what is foreign to our character. Before God begins any process of weeding, He takes the time to strengthen our roots in His love, to build up and nurture that which is truly us. Then as we open our hands and hearts to Him, His Holy Spirit separates the roots of our character from the roots of sin, so that God can uproot sin without uprooting us. Only when God has accomplished all of this does Christ speak sternly to the sin at work within us, while continuing to speak affirmation and encouragement to us.

Lately, I have seen that God has a picture gallery. Our pictures are hanging in that gallery. We, in our efforts not to be vain, try not to look at ourselves too much, but God is inviting us in. He has lights shining on our pictures to bring out the full effect of the painting. He has a bench in front of it. He loves to sit on the bench and gaze at our pictures. He is inviting us to sit with Him as He puts His arm around our shoulders. He wants us to gaze in awe upon His picture of us. He wants us to take time to gaze upon our picture and be amazed at God’s creation.

A friend recently had an experience where she saw that her sense of shame was keeping her from looking up at God. She told me, "I saw myself on the floor, child pose, in front of Christ. It seemed a pose of worship, and of reverence. But then I heard very clearly that I was being immobile. When you are immobile, you cannot move, work, help, or create anything of beauty. I was told to get up!!!" She told me when she got up, there was Jesus with a huge smile, arms outstretched, and He said, "Dance with me!"

God does not want us to hide our eyes in shame. He wants us to lift our eyes and meet His. A few days ago, as I was reading John 21, I read a note that it is a bit tricky to translate the part about Peter being naked and wrapping his outer cloak about himself to dive into the water. I began to wonder why God had included that detail, and began to think about other passages of nakedness. I saw the passage in contrast to Genesis 3. Adam and Eve sinned. Immediately, they knew they were naked and tried to make clothing out of leaves and then hid from God. Their sin and their nakedness drove them from God. Now we have Peter, the one who denied Jesus three times and who is naked. He wraps his outer garment around himself, to cover his nakedness, but he heads toward Jesus as fast as he can. Instead of allowing his sin to drive him to hide from God, he takes his sinfulness to Christ, and Christ allows him to declare his love for Christ three times to bring healing to the part of him which was hurt by his denial of Christ. Then he acknowledges the longing of Peter to demonstrate his love for Christ by enduring suffering for him. That promise to suffer for Christ which Peter made and found himself unable to keep would be honored in the end. Peter would come to be fully himself, completely Christ's. What a beautiful story!

1 Comment

When we lived the nomadic life of a bush missionary, habits were a constant battle.  I have heard that it takes about six weeks to form habits and a few days to break them.  Well, when we were living in the bush, we would be home about six to eight weeks, the perfect amount of time to make a habit.  But then team meetings and the need for English conversation and groceries would send us to town for about a week.  During that week of rushing to accomplish doctors’ visits, government paperwork, meetings, shopping, one special activity for the children, the habits I had worked hard to form slipped away.  When I returned home, I would have to start all over again.  I never found anything that worked for me.

One thing which really troubled me was what to do when the children were stressed in transition.  Did I make allowances or keep exacting standards?  I remember talking with an older woman about this.  She told me that I must always maintain strict discipline because if I didn't the children would be lax and undisciplined adults.

This idea bothered me.  It certainly seemed valid.  We've all seen "spoiled" kids.  It certainly seemed Biblical:  "Spare the rod; spoil the child."  Yet something troubled me, and I didn't understand what or why.

However, here I had a very good reason why God had to be a Father who drives us to obey Him by fear rather than leading us to obey Him by love.  If God were to spare the rod, He would spoil the child.  He has to maintain strict discipline or we will fall away.  That's just the way we are.  We backslide, so God has to stay behind us with the rod.

While I was trying to work through this thought and before I was able to put it into words as an objection, God spoke to me.  "If that is true, Heaven becomes impossible."  Suddenly, I began to remember Scriptures about Heaven:  no pain, no crying, no suffering, perfect love without punishment.  God spoke again, "You are trying to build your righteousness on a foundation of punishment and rewards."  Here, I don't remember the words, but rather the idea.  If we build our righteousness on a foundation of punishment and rewards, in Heaven where there is no punishment, the very foundation of our righteousness will be removed, and our righteousness will crumple.   I remember God's next words, "You have to build your righteousness on a foundation of love.  Love will remain."

I don't know whether this is as thought changing to anyone else as it was to me.  Punishment and rewards may be the steps that move us from ground level into the house of righteousness, but they are not the foundation.  Even these steps themselves must be built on the foundation so that they don't separate from the house.  In order to enter righteousness, we must move off the steps and over the threshold.  We must be people who will obey fully and completely, simply because we love.

This revelation didn't answer all my questions.  It actually brought more, but it did bring some serious challenges to my faith.  God basically said that I cannot hold onto both my hope of Heaven and my belief that our righteousness must be maintained by fear and external pressure.  Only one can be true.  I have to let go of one or the other.

1 Comment

Every great love story has an obstacle which must be overcome.  In my relationship with God, the obstacle has been my sense of obligation and my sense of who I was.  I was the prodigal son, who came home to proclaim myself no longer fit to be a son, but only fit to be a slave.  I accepted the party of welcome, then set about trying to make up for my betrayal of my Father by my servitude.  I became a slave, endeavoring to please my Father.

I was convinced I ought to love God, and yet I thought I was by nature incapable of doing what I ought.  I knew that love acts in certain ways, so I thought I must make myself act in those ways.  I did not understand that love for God would grow naturally.  I did not understand that I was fertile soil in which God had planted His seed of love.  Everything the seed needed to grow was in place.  The seed just required time.

Instead, I thought I was only fit to be a slave.  I held as my mantra the verse, "There is none good, no not one."  When God tried to assure me of His love and to claim me as His Daughter, I basically waved that verse at Him and refused to believe Him.

One day, God told me to go look up that verse.  I went to the computer, opened BibleWorks, and hunted for the verse.  It wasn't in any single translation.  Instead, I found "There is none that doeth good, no not one."  (I am still trying to figure out how I, and my sisters, memorized the verse incorrectly.  Part of me wonders whether God just recently fixed a translation error in all translations, both electronic and printed, by His miraculous power.)

Sometimes, I hear a thought in distinct words, and I know it is God speaking.  Other times, when I am afraid to listen to God because what He is saying is too scarily freeing, too different from everything I have believed, God starts nagging at my thoughts with something that won't go away.  This was one of the times when I was afraid to believe God.  It seemed to good to be true.

The thought that nagged at me is this.  A child gets her father's name as her family name.  The Father's name is my name.  My name is Daughter I Am.  My name is not I Do.  At creation, God declared me very good, and that is who I Am.  Though I may do things that are not good, my name is not I Do, so my essence is unchanged.  I am who I am because I am my Father's Daughter, and He made me very good.

When the rich young ruler came and knelt before Jesus, he called Jesus "good teacher."  Jesus asked him, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone."  This passage always bothered me.  Isn't Jesus good?  Didn't the ruler get it right here?  Why is Jesus challenging him?  Was Jesus challenging him to recognize Jesus as God?  Lately, I've begun to wonder.  What if Jesus was also challenging him to consider the tightly held belief that only God is good and man is bad?  What if Jesus was challenging him to consider Genesis 1:31, in which God saw all that He had made and declared it very good?

I think God is asking me whether my family name is I Am or I Do.  He is asking me to choose.  I can choose to keep the name given me by the Father of Lies, or I can accept the name bequeathed to me by my true Father.  It seems too scarily beautiful to believe, but my heart longs to believe.

Leave a reply

Two years ago, God spoke to me to correct a third misconception I had about this suitor of mine.  I don't remember where I was.  I don't remember what I was doing.  I don't remember what I was thinking.  I often remember context, but it seems that this was like the pearl of great price.  What I heard God say was so startling in its truth, that my questions stilled as I tried to grasp the greatness of this revelation.

God said to me, "You think I'm a God of rape.  You think I will demand by force what you would give me freely if you loved me."  "'You think I'm a God of rape,'" my thoughts echoed.  "Oh, wow.  'You think I will demand by force what you would give me freely if you loved me.'  Wow.  That is what I think!  That is what rape is, taking by force what love would give freely.  That is what I think God is, a God of rape!"

Still my heart argued.  "But, God, would I do what is right if I weren't pushed and prodded and bribed and punished?  I only thought you were trying to push me to do what was right for my own good.  It felt mean, and I felt resentful, but I thought it was just what you had to do because of my nature.  Are you saying that if I were truly free I would choose to do what was right?  Are you saying that I could love you so much that righteousness would flow from my very nature?  But aren't I bad and sinful?  Can anything good truly come from me?"

Leave a reply

I remember the first time I saw my husband, Joshua.  It was my freshman year of college.  He was a junior.  Joshua reminded me of a squirrel.  He came into a room where I was visiting someone, talked for a few minutes, then darted off.  I doubt he even saw me.  Indifference at first sight!

Later, as I noticed other things about him, I became more certain I didn't want to be associated with him.  Joshua was a weird missionary type.  He would walk around campus barefoot, wrapped in a woven shawl from India.  He was friends with other weird missionary types.  When several of those weird missionary types decided to go to the seminary across the street for graduate school, it confirmed to me that I did not want to attend that seminary.

My Grandma, the one who married the red-headed boy, always told me not to tell God “never.”  He would laugh, and that “never” would happen.  Well, I did end up getting a master's degree at that seminary.  I did become friends with Joshua.  Though I argued with God on the matter, I even ended up marrying him, but that is a long story.

Well, in the same way, I knew that God was not the God of my dreams.  I was a Christian.  I would say that I loved God, because I was trying hard to do so, but the spark just wasn't there. I didn't have any theological problem with this.  God wasn't supposed to be what I wanted.  I had heard about people who create their own God according to what they want.  I didn't want to do that.

Instead, I tried to make myself love the God about whom I heard.  He is the God who loved us so much in the past that He gave His Son to die for us.  He is the God who will love us so much in the future that we will have a wonderful life with Him in Heaven.  At present, it doesn't feel like love, but that is because of our sinfulness.  “No discipline is pleasant at the time,” but it's good for you.  The problem is that we are “at the time,” so His love doesn't feel pleasant.  So, despite my effort to love God, I felt terrified of God.

But two years ago, God asked me a question.  We had just moved to our new house near Nairobi.  I was busy getting settled in.  As I was working on laundry, I heard God ask, “What does your heart long for in a Father?”

I did not know what to say.  How could I answer this question?  He was asking me, who is the God of your dreams?  How could I tell Him that He's not it?  But He asked me.  I couldn't be rude and ignore Him.  I focused on the laundry to give myself time to think.  Then I gathered my courage and told Him, “I want a Father who will lead me to obey Him because I love Him, not drive me to obey Him because I'm afraid of Him.”

Immediately, I heard, “What makes you think I'm not like that?”  I was flabbergasted.  My initial response was, “Because of how you act.”  Still, He cared enough to ask me what I longed for, maybe I should actually think about His second question.  What does make me think He's not this God of my dreams?  Maybe my dreams are true!