A Greater Love

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In one of my all-time favorite movies, Xavier Beauvois’ resplendent “Of Gods & Men” (Des hommes et des dieux), old Brother Luc has a conversation about love with Rabbia, one of the workers in the monastery. She asks him questions about love, including if he’s ever been in love. He responds, (in French, but I’ll use the subtitle),

“Yes, several times. And then I encountered another love, even greater.

And I answered that love. It’s been a while now. Over 60 years.”

What is this greater love old Brother Luc speaks about?

In 2006, while in the middle of a sad divorce, I had an interesting experience. First, one night, I had a vivid dream about my friend who recently married. In the dream, she emailed to me pictures of her wedding. No big deal….yet. That same day, I received a wedding invitation from another friend who was remarrying. Humh…ok, I see a little connection. Then finally, late that day I read Mrs. Cowman’s wonderful devotional “Springs in the Valley”, and et voile, another marriage reference. The topic verse was:

“Married to another, even to him.”  – Romans 7:4

Now that was interesting. At that time, I had hoped in the deepest recesses of my soul (yes, I hid that desire that deep) that I would find another, but knew, with many children yet to raise, that it was highly unlikely.  The verse and its subsequent devotional point to our spiritual union, our spiritual marriage with Christ. This is the greater love that Brother Luc spoke about.

A greater love, a love whose glimmer is so brilliant and magnificent that we cannot comprehend it. A love also that is so tender and gentle as illustrated in Luke’s “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” A love so peaceful that our Lord repeatedly told his disciples: “Be not afraid.” A love so pure that Paul dedicated an entire chapter to its sublimity:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

You realize these words were written almost two thousand years ago. This greater love through Christ has been available to all, to everyone for centuries.

And this greater love was never so raw and powerful as when Christ hung on the cross. Truly a love incomprehensible.

Most folks I know enjoy that romantic love that Valentine’s Day is known for. For those of us who weren’t blessed with that kind of relationship, there is a greater love we can answer to, like Brother Luc did many decades ago. A love just as fulfilling and joyful.

From that devotional:

Oh, sacred union with the Perfect Mind,
Transcendent bliss which Thou alone canst give;
How blest are they this Peerless One who find,
And, dead to earth, have learned in Thee to live.

Thus in Thine arms of love, O Christ, I live,
Lost, and forever lost to all but Thee.
My happy soul, since it hath learned to die,
Hath found new life in Thine Infinity.

Go, then, and learn this lesson of the Cross,
And tread the way that saints and prophets trod:
Who, counting life and self and all things loss,
Have found in inward death the life of God.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

Below is a nice review of this great film, and the story of the Monks of Tibhirine.
https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/of-gods-and-men-the-gospel-of-love/

 

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Beloved.

Christmas-Love

As He says also in Hosea,
“I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’
AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.’”

Romans 9:25 NASB, 1977

What a funny word, “beloved”? The loved one. The object of love. The world, if you will, according to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…”. The gift of His Son, which we celebrate every Christmas, is full of many of the most wonderful things in this life: redemption, reconciliation, peace, love and all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I came to a living relationship with Jesus Christ almost 40 years ago, and I came to Him in search of truth. A solid foundation was laid in my catholic upbringing, but there was no life in the structure. In my quest for truth, I embraced Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but through Me.” Knowing the truth gave me new life and a purpose. However, it wasn’t until decades later that I truly understood what it meant to be “Beloved”.

I grew up in a household that wasn’t too keen on love and kindness. That’s just the way it was. And I know I was damaged by that upbringing.

When my older kids were little and there wasn’t a lot of money, we would buy our computers at the thrift store. Often times, they would work, but inevitably, while connecting to the internet we would meet that frustrating alert:

After working hard to get online, we would be deflated when we got this message. Well, that is how things were growing up. When it came to giving or receiving love, “this connection has limited or no connectivity.” So my siblings and I grew up with some emotional malnutrition, and were subsequently pretty emotionally anemic. I also had limited or no connectivity to love or being able to love. But when I had children, that maternal instinct gave rise to love, and those little ones, in their innocent little ways, gave me glimpses of a divine love I would soon connect to. I see that unconditional love in my grandbabies’ faces.

To quote from a previous blog, the first rays of “belovedness” came this way:

One night, seven years ago, my little girls and I were randomly quoting Scripture – something we never do – but it was fun. They had memory verses from school.  Ellie quoted Zephaniah 3:17, “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty.”  I had heard this verse before, but this evening it stuck and I reread the entire verse.

For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears.
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Zephaniah 3:17 – NLT

And what I could only call a moment of grace I could see God Himself singing over me in love in the same manner I express my love toward my kids.  I could understand that from being a mom, and even better, I could feel it.  It was an overwhelming moment.

One night, there was an argument going on at the house, and I went upstairs to help broker a peace, but only created a greater skirmish. I went downstairs feeling like I had always felt: crappy, worthless and unable, as a Christian, to make things right, better or even bring peace.

As I stood in the hallway, I had an epiphany. I came to the understanding that a lot of our family’s emotional dynamics were shame-related. A family member, unable to take responsibility for their actions, perhaps from their own pain no doubt, had, for years, shifted their shame and guilt to other family members including myself. I can’t tell you how earth shattering this illumination was. It was like that apron the dentist puts on you, the leaden one for x-rays, and that God took this leaden apron of shame off of me, and I floated to the surface and breathed the fresh air of freedom and non-condemnation.

At the same moment, almost audibly, I could hear Paul’s glorious and resounding ruling from Romans: “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those is Christ Jesus.”  I had been a Christian for thirty years, and that night I felt like a new Christian, I had been born again again, the decades seemed to fall away, and I was basking in the love and acceptance of the Heavenly Father.

Since then I have grown in His love. I have learned to trust Him, not so much in obedience to His word, but in response to His love for me. That revelation revolutionized my Christian life.

I didn’t mean to go so long as to get to the point, but Christmas brings the best gifts when we look closely at the origin of the holiday. Christianity is set apart from all the religions in that there is a God who loves, a God who loves us, and all others. He loves His creation, though fallen, and Jesus Christ is God’s gift of love to us, to the world. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection fixes our “limited connectivity” and strongly reconnects us to our God. We are reconciled to God the Father, justified in Christ and where we were once not loved, we are BELOVED.

And when we know we are BELOVED, we can love, and even love in the most difficult circumstances because it is true what John wrote, “We love, because He first loved us.” I hope this Christmas the love of God will make you know and feel BELOVED.

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

 

 

 

 

Hope for the Eighties – Belgium. Summer. 1983.

Belgium pic

In 1983, summer started in January. From the beginning of my Christian journey, I wanted to be a missionary. The roots of this desire were undoubtedly formed while reading Maryknoll magazines as a young Catholic girl, and loving foreign languages and geography as an elementary student. As much as I wanted to go overseas, I was bound in a lot of fear, fear of the unknown, fear of a lack of faith and fear that I just couldn’t cut it. But things were going to change. That January, the thought of spending the summer with OM (Operation Mobilization) began to grow in my mind like a carefully planted seed.

One of my pastors was familiar with OM’s ministry, and often shared about its unique mission: sending missionaries around the world by faith alone. I was drawn to OM because of that “faith alone” quality; meaning, you must pray for your support and not ask for it, after the faith examples of George Mueller of Bristol and China Inland Mission’s Hudson Taylor. OM permitted you to respond to any inquiries, but you couldn’t bring up the need for funds. Quietly, I mentioned to my church family my desire to go with OM this upcoming summer. That was all. My best friend gave me a journal to record all my OM adventures, inscribing in it my life verse from Isaiah:

“And if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.” (58:10, 11)

Because there were other ministries going on in my church that summer, my little solo jaunt across the pond wasn’t getting that much attention. By March, I had raised only the money I had sent from my part-time job (I was a full-time college student at the time), but, I kept praying. During a prayer meeting later in March, Nikki, the meeting leader, mentioned my trip. She asked in front of everyone if I needed support, I felt free then to share my story. Leslie Weber, to my astonishment, wrote me a check for $400, one-third of my support. I was overwhelmed by her generosity. And God’s guiding hand.

By the end of May, I had nearly all the money I needed for my summer trip. Every little bit that came my way, whether it be from friends, my tax return or income, was immediately forwarded to OM. I was very diligent in this task. Perhaps too diligent.

The weekend before the big departure came. It was Memorial Day weekend, and I was to leave Tuesday morning to catch the Greyhound to Akron for OM’s USA conference; then, together with the other Americans, bus to New York and fly to Zaventum, Belgium. In my excitement and preoccupation in getting my studies and work assignments finished, I failed to purchase my bus ticket to Akron. That Saturday, I realized my neglect. What was I gonna do???

I began to pray in earnest. I was still bound by the faith agreement, so I prayed…I thought maybe someone at church might slip me the money I needed for my bus ticket. Sunday came and Sunday went. Maybe Monday, yes, Monday, someone would come by. Nobody came by, nobody called. Breathe, pray.

Late Monday night, I was finishing some work projects. I was nervous, but just kept praying. My mother came in and asked about the trip. She asked about the bus trip, she then asked specifically about the ticket. I said I didn’t have one yet. She wondered how I was going to get it; I said, very weakly, but resolutely, that I would get it somehow. “Good night,” she said.” Night,” I replied. Yikes!!!

I went to bed late after finishing all the projects. When I woke up the next morning, my mom had already left for work. On my nightstand was an envelope. An envelope with $200 cash from my wonderful mother. God still blesses his hopelessly harried daughters.

Now, once I got to Belgium, which was and perhaps still is, the main meeting place of all the European and American OM Missionary Teams, I had to decide where I wanted to go. I had planned to go to Ireland, I even designed my prayer letter with Irish decals and old Celtic crosses. But, I’ve learned since that things rarely go as planned. The Irish teams were filled. There was a great need for the Belgian team. I liked Belgium, but I wanted to see a little bit of Europe while I was over there. Alas, after prayer, I decided to stay in Belgium. That choice, that answer to prayer, gave me one of the most pleasurable and gratifying spiritual experiences of my life.

The first month, I was on a team of about 14 men and women, and we were living in Ghent. We lived in a kind of trailer with two large rooms, one for the guys, one for the girls, and one small bathroom with only cold running water. We slept in sleeping bags. The trailer must’ve been near a pond or something because there were ferocious mosquitoes which was the only drawback of the summer. We spent our days selling books, doing street theater and other forms of ministry. Often I would run into folks from Spain with whom I was able to use my rusty Spanish to share the Gospel.

It was during this time that I discovered that most wonderful of breakfast cuisines: Nutella. Now, the team didn’t have enough money for actual Nutella, so we used a generic chocolate, which was just fine. Also, in Ghent, there were fritter trucks where we purchased french fries with our extra money. These trucks were all over the place. It was a wonderful month.

The second month changed for me and my teammates, Susan and Peter. Leo wanted to put together a training team consisting of music directors: Susan and Peter, and a drama team leader: moi. Since I was on a drama team back home, I was chosen to teach the other Belgian teams all of the street theater skits. We were moved to the year-long team’s house, which had hot showers, beds, and no mosquitoes. Yay!

Leo spoiled us; he took us out and showed us this wonderful, beautiful, old city. We went to the annual Gentse Feesten. While I worked hard teaching the skits, I grew in confidence. The Lord was changing me.  At the end of the summer, there was a final conference in Leuven. I remembered a skit we did in our drama team in San Francisco, and I pitched the idea to Leo. He gave me the go ahead to teach a team of kids, and I directed the Jews For Jesus’ “This is the House that Jacob Built” skit for the entire conference. The team did great. I couldn’t believe I was a part of this work. I went home to continue to help in the drama team, to continue in my faith and to continue to believe God for great things.

Today, June 8, 2013, I went to the local library’s book sale. There I found a copy of Amy Grant’s tape “Age to Age” the very tape I listened to 30 years ago with an old walkman while laying on a canvas cot somewhere in Leuven, Belgium. I thank God for this wonderful memory, the wonderful lessons of faith I learned and the wonderful experience of being a part of God’s work in this world.  The sticker on my Belgium journal my friend gave me shouts Hoop Voor De Jaren 80 Jezus Christus (Hope for the Eighties – Jesus Christ) – hope, for always – Jesus Christ. That will never change.

Loben den Herrn!

 

Leuven pic