Thursday, 29 May 2014

Is Romance Redundant...

"I have loved you with an everlasting love" (Jeremiah 31:3)

Romance is the deepest thing in life
It is deeper even than reality - C.K. Chesterton

Dusk... I love the feel of the word, the time it announces. It fills your heart with a grandeur that is vast but gentle, that sweet time before the close of day. Sunset is a word that does not quite fill the heart with the same wonder. Sunset is associated with posters in travel agencies, lovers lingering on the beach, romance... The kind of  romance that expects - flowers, candle light dinners, heroes on white horses. It has been made into something that can be wrapped up, dressed up, cooked up. It is sweet but fleeting. It's heart is fickle and without depth. It shimmers like a mirage over hot sand - leaving you still thirsting, still longing in its wake.

Romantic love has inspired poetry and love-letters, promises of undying love. The face of it may have changed over the centuries, but at its core is still a heart of need and expectation. And its source is soon drained, to be briefly revived on occasions like wedding anniversaries and Valentine's days. But, having said all that ... it can still be marvellous - and viewed in the right context and given the right priority, it can add wonder to a heartfelt time of courtship and bring times of refreshment between a man and woman in the throes of managing family, career etc.

But what happens in-between? What satisfies the hunger, the longing, the void that just always seems to stay unfulfilled, regardless of our desperate efforts to fill it?

I first became aware of a "wooing" shortly after I came through a self-effacing time of divorce. The day was balmy and I was sitting under a leafy canopy of stink wood and camphor in my former garden. I was listening to the joyful noises of the family next door, the sound of splashing water and the chimes of children's laughter, with the fragrance of their Sunday lunch spilling over the wall. I felt empty and alone and probably very sorry for myself... Oh God, I breathed, I am so alone. Then it happened - a breeze caressed my face and I distinctly heard a voice saying: "Trust me". Bewildered I sat up, looked around me and then glanced at the treetops. The leaves were absolutely still. There was no wind. Then a warmth, more like a glow came all over me and the love that I felt made me choke it was so beautiful, so pure. 
I was alone no more. I was enveloped, about to begin a dance of true and everlasting love.

Over the months and years the courtship continued, in ways so surprising and varied that it always took my breath away. But I often shied away from it, not feeling worthy of it, and not sure how to respond to such a Love. There were times that my heart became so hardened, that I managed to shut it out completely. But the faithful Lover of my heart never gave up.

Then the gift of life was placed in my womb and the mystery and wonder of it left me vulnerable and giddy. The miracle, passion and pain of birth left me in awe. We were given a brief glimpse into the Holiest of Holies.

My own story is too deeply personal and complex to relate fully. But the heartache, wonder and tough challenges of being a family, a mother and wife wore away at the fort around my heart. First I just felt a conviction to fight for my family, for the two children entrusted to us to grow up in a circle of Love and security. But this meant I had to let go, I had to trust, I had to soften...

Finally and slowly, a new dawn came and in the refreshment of it's mercy, my heart grew hungry to respond to the overwhelming love that that I had received. I have danced with my Lord Jesus, walked in silence with Him in the forest, cried sweet tears of joy in His arms. To some, this may sound ridiculous, sentimental even, but that does not matter, a love this free needs air, needs song, gives praise.

A friend recently remarked at our youngest son's birthday party: "You are a real romantic aren't you?" At first I felt a bit taken aback, not sure if it was a compliment or a jibe... Nonetheless, it is true. Beauty and romance have both been so misunderstood, that we often forget that it is an essential element of who and what we are. Of who and what God is and ultimately of who and what his Son Jesus was and is and always will be.
The way Jesus romances us is immensely personal. You will know it when you feel it, for it will be as if it has been scripted for your heart. He knows what takes your breath away, what makes your heart beat faster. "We miss many of his notes simply because we shut our hearts down to endure the pain of life" (Stasi Eldredge). In our healing journeys, our hearts have to become open and remain open to hear His whispers, receive His caresses.

Does this sound wrong, disrespectful, thinking of Jesus as a romancing suitor? Reading Song of Songs, the poetry of the Psalms, as well as intimate bits of scripture given to me over the years, made me realise that not only is it not wrong, it is what Jesus desires from each one of us.

Listen to this: "Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame".(Song of Solomon 8:6) and this:

My beloved spoke and said to me, "Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. (Song of Solomon 2:10).

Whether you love poetry or not, these are not cool, commanding words. They are intimate and strong, and can only be felt and made your own if you allow that "mighty flame" to be lit in your own heart.

There are so many declarations of and invitations to love  in the bible, but we must choose to open our hearts, so that we might hear his whispers. Not only in scripture. Think of those moments when you feel something touch your very core. It could be a gentle caress in a bountiful garden, or the shimmer of a dragonfly, or a shout from the wild beauty of a mountaintop. They all speak of the limitless love that He has for YOU.

When Jesus was asked "Teacher, what is the most important commandment of them all?" He responded: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. This same phrase appears first in Deuteronomy 6:5 and was then recorded by Mark, Matthew and Luke in the New Testament. Does this not sound like something a bride would promise to her groom on their wedding day - My husband, I will love you with all may heart, with all my soul, with all my mind and with all my strength. Jesus loved us first, but longs for us to respond with all that we are. Nothing less will do.

When Jesus was visiting with Martha and Mary, we see a picture of two woman, one preparing a special meal for her Master and another sitting at his feet, gazing up at Him with adoring eyes. Doing nothing. Who does he delight in? Mary - the one at His feet. For she had chosen the "one thing" that was needed. Which is... A captivated adoring heart, a heart which responds to the extravagant love of God with worship. And it should be the most natural thing of all. We were made to worship.

The last page of "The Divine Romance" by Gene Edwards reads like this:

"The distant vision began to fade, then it vanished. The young woman, now standing at the crest of the emerald hill, rises to her feet, a deep sense of the love of the Lord stirring within her... for she has just heard the overwhelming cry of the living Holy Spirit within her. And the Spirit within her has cried ... Come! And like Eve before her, she lifts her hands to the skies, raises her voice, believing her counterpart might hear her... and cries: "Come Lord Jesus. Come!". And just beyond the door, in realms of glory, He who loved her and died for her... now hears her plea. At last she is putting off lesser things, knowledge, service, sacrifice. She is returning to the highest order of the universe. "She is learning to love me" He whispers. 

Our Lord is an extravagant, abundant Lover and He loves to reveal His heart to us again and again. You are made for this Divine Romance, and the only One who can offer it to you consistently and deeply is Jesus.

Offer your heart to Him.

Thursday, 15 May 2014


"Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead" (Song of Solomon 4:1)

Driving back from a neighbour's house in a misty drizzle, I see a woman by the side of the road. She is holding a huge blue and white umbrella over her frail form, her clothes are shapeless, layered for warmth. A scarf is wrapped around her head, her chin is tilted slightly, showing a bony jawline, a still and unsmiling mouth. There is nothing about her that attracts attention, yet something about her is arresting... She is: a woman.

There was Paradise... Utopian perfection in every sense. Adam has sweet and intimate contact with his Maker. The garden teems with life and explodes in all its newly created glory around them. A picture of untarnished bliss. Yet God looks around and notices that something is amiss. Man is lonely. This just staggers us. Adam has a relationship with God that all of us have only longed for - untouched by sin or shame. Yet something is not good? Let that sink in. What was missing? Woman. Femininity. God himself declares: "It is not good for the human to be alone, I shall make him a "sustainer beside him" (from the original Hebrew "ezer kenegdo"). How the Lord must have delighted when He brought her to Adam, in all her tender perfection and beauty, literally a match made in heaven.

I was given a book by a dear friend and sister on "Unveiling the mystery of a woman's soul" (Captivating - John and Stasi Eldredge). At first I was put off by the title  It did not sound very original, and quite frankly not very "scriptual". More than a little bit sceptical, I started reading. After the first chapter I felt less suspicious and more curious. Six or seven chapters later, I have been challenged, I have cried, I have been inspired. And compelled to share at least one part of it that has been quite a revelation to me. Most of what I write today is in some way inspired by what I have read so far and what I have confirmed for myself from the bible. I will quote a large section from the book, since I don't think I could relate it fully in my own words.

The picture of perfection is first marred when we see Eve being approached by the serpent in the garden, Adam by her side. Then follows that wicked deception, the fall into sin, the shame, the banishment and the consequences. All issues worth exploring, but for now there was this one question that kept on growing in my heart.

Why did the serpent target Eve? The explanation that Eve was the weaker sex, made sense to me to a certain extent, but I have never quite found it completely satisfying. Let me try to share with you what I have learnt and concluded. (This is not cast in stone - and may be flawed in some ways, but it is a start).

"The story of the treatment of woman down through the ages is not a noble history. It has noble moments in it, but taken as a whole, woman have endured what seems to be a special hatred ever since we left Eden. It was common for a Jewish man to add to his morning prayers, Thank you God, for not making me a Gentile, a woman or a slave... A Chinese proverb says that: A woman should be like water, she should take no form and have no voice... An Indian proverb says: "Educating a woman is like watering your neighbour's garden... a waste of time. But the story goes beyond the denial of education and legal rights. Clitoridectomy or circumcision - the horrible practise of female genital mutilation continues today and apart from maiming the young girl for life, she is never able to enjoy sexual pleasure; and that is the point. A sexually aware woman is thought to be dangerous. Femininity must be controlled. Sexual violence against woman is rampant throughout the world. Also against little girls. More than one million girls are sold into the sex trade every year. What is to account for the systemic, often brutal, nearly universal assault on femininity? Where does this come from?

This is a crucial point - "Do not make the mistake to believe that men are the enemy. Certainly man has had a hand in it, and will have (as woman) a day of reckoning before their Maker." But we cannot understand this story, our own story, until we start to see the actual forces behind this and get a understanding of their motives. Where does this hatred for woman come from? Why is it so diabolical?

Eph 6:12 reads: For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against the powers of darkness who rules this world, and against wicket spirits in the heavenly realms" (NLT).

"No explanation for the assault upon Eve and her daughters is sufficient unless it opens our eyes to the Prince of Darkness and his special hatred of femininity. Satan was first named Lucifer, or Son of the Morning. It infers glory, a brightness or radiance unique to him. In the days of his former glory he was appointed guardian angel". In Ezekiel 28:12-14 we read of him: You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings where made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones".

Perfect in beauty
... This was his ruin. He became proud. He craved the worship that was being given to God for himself. He wanted to be the centre of splendour and glory (Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendour - Ezek 28:17).

"His heart for revenge is (partly) to assault beauty. He destroys it in the natural world wherever he can. He wreaks destruction on the glory of God on earth like a psychopath committed to destroying great works of art". Why does beauty matter? Because it is powerful. It is dangerous. It speaks. It comforts. Beauty inspires. It invites and most importantly: it is transcendent. Oxford Bishop Richard Harris wrote: "It is the beauty of the created order which gives an answer to our questionings about God". Ecclesiastes 3:11 "He has made everything beautiful in its time" Beauty says, "There is a glory calling to you".

Eve reflected the divine perfection. Hers was no artificial beauty. Face, features and form were the loveliest women have ever had. While the Bible has no description of Eve’s physical appearance, Adam’s first reaction as he saw the lovely figure before him was to give voice to earth’s first poem—

This, then, at last is bone of my bones,
and flesh of my own flesh:
This shall be called Wo-man,
From man she was taken.

What would have been Satan's reaction when he first beheld this woman that God created? He must have seethed with hatred towards what he saw, and he still does. A woman's heart longs to unveil beauty. It is part of her design. Beauty is an essence that is given to every woman at her creation. She also bears the image of God in her mystery. It is not a curse or a complexity which is often perceived as being "too much". Women are not a problem to be solved or avoided, but a wonder to be enjoyed. A woman true to God's heart reflects His glory, the mystery of the Trinity, His beauty. Can we now begin to understand why women are such a threat to the enemy?

But there is another reason: Eve means “life” or “life-giving,” or “mother of all who have life,” and her life is in us all. She was given the ability to conceive life, carry life under her heart as it is formed in that secret place by the Creator.  From her line came the young virgin maiden who carried our Saviour, who redeemed us and will return to slay the beast forever. Mothers nurture, not only physical life but the seed of faith and longing for Christ that is planted in each human soul.

As sustainer and bearer of life beside her husband, she knits and knots the fibres of her family together. With her beloved Saviour as her first love, she has the ability to discern that her husband by her side stands at the head of her house, not as the CEO but as the spiritual head who is called to love and cherish her as Christ loves his bride, the church. Together they stand as an example to the world of Jesus' relationship with his bride, his beloved. A wonderful, mind-boggling responsibility and privilege.

So this we know: Our Creator loves us passionately, Satan hates us passionately. He will continue trying to wound and cripple woman until until she is nothing but a "mosaic of choices for self protection plus her plan to get something of the love she was created for". But this has nothing to do with God. The wounds we receive, come  for a purpose from an enemy who knows all we are meant to be and fears us.

We fear to let go of whatever method for self-protection we have chosen and continue to pursue what makes us feel loved and cherished. But there is an offer worth considering. It's essence is captured in Isaiah 61:1-3 which I encourage you to read; slowly, carefully, out loud to yourself from your own bible.

"You are the glorious Image Bearer of the Lord Jesus Christ. You may have been assaulted. You have fallen to your own resources. Your enemy has seized upon your wounds and your sins to pin your heart down. Now the Son of God has come to ransom you, and to heal your broken heart, and to set you free from bondage. He came for the brokenhearted captives".

He wants you to know:

The Lord will save them on that day
as the flock of His people
They will sparkle in his land
like jewels in a crown
How attractive and beautiful they will be! (Zech. 9:16-17a)

Strong, tender, gentle warrior - the enemy fears you. Your beauty, your mystery, all the glory of our Lord that you were created to reflect. Let Him help you find the restoration which you long for and which is central to Jesus' mission. Trust Him. Let Him take you by the hand now and lead you through your restoration and release!

Friday, 2 May 2014

Marked, sealed and approved

"When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal..."
(Eph 1:13)

I wake up, my mind a foggy haze. Daylight seeps through the curtains, uncertain and without warmth. I feel the mist even before I see it. It dampens the jubilance of dawn and draws a thick curtain around our cabin, making the rest of the world seem so far and out of reach. After a hot day the mist is like a friend bringing cool respite, but waking up in the mist seems distinctly gloomy. I feel the first tug of irritation and then without warning, a deep sadness and sense of hopelessness descends. Hidden in the mist there is an amazing landscape of autumn colours to lift the senses, but right now it is grey, grey, grey.

The risk that comes with writing "inspirational" messages, is that people may think that you "have it all together". That your days are gentle, even, and your conduct calm, confident and controlled at all times. This is so far from the truth that I am sometimes tempted to stop writing altogether. I have irrational doubts about my own abilities, times of deep sadness for the whole world and its friend, and then about seemingly nothing at all. At times I feel exhausted before I've even had breakfast, not knowing how I will make it through the day. At times my own reflection in the mirror seems like the that of an old harrowed woman, and I avoid her for the rest of the day. Anger can still hit me like an unexpected heatwave, simmering and leaving me rather blinded. And then there is the hormonal roller coaster... Best not to elaborate on. At times like these I wonder if I was worth the Sacrifice. I feel that all my attempts at reflecting my Saviour to the world seem to miss the mark.

Ephesians 1:13 says: "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit." After Jesus ascended to take His place at the right hand of God the Father, He sent Him as an answer to this promise to guide, comfort and provide discernment. My "feelings", as real as they may seem in the moment, are fleeting and most often rooted in lies. Without the Holy Spirit, I would be powerless, surrendering to these swaying moods - finding an escape in whatever the world may offer as a tempting though temporary cure. But I am sealed for a higher purpose.

In Paul's day seals were used in at least four ways. First, seals were sometimes put on letters to guarantee that it was genuine and that it was written by who it claimed to be (1 Kings 21:8; Est. 8:8). Kings might seal their letters with a signet ring. We do something similar when we have a document notarised. A seal was also sometimes placed on goods or merchandise that were travelling from one place to another to indicate who they belonged to and where they were going. It indicated ownership (2 Cor. 1:22; Rev. 7:2; 9:4). We still do this with our possessions today. We write our names in our books, or on our children's clothes when they go to school. Farmers brand their cattle. They place a mark on their livestock to show ownership.

The third way seals were used in Paul's day was to show something was authentic and approved (John 6:27). The fourth type of seal was for protection or warning. Remember when Jesus was put in the tomb, Pilate told the soldiers to put his personal seal upon the tomb (Matt. 27:66; Eph. 4:30). This was to protect the tomb and warn everyone to stay away and keep out!

God has placed His seal on us as well. When we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, it proves that we are authentic, it shows ownership – who we belong to, it shows that we are approved, and it provides us with a seal of protection against Satan's attacks and holds us in a place of comfort in times of trouble.

His mark of approval rests on me... This truth makes me walk back to the mirror and look again. As it seeps down, covering each doubt and flaw, I see. I see how He turns feelings of incompetence into the ability to move in works of power for His name's sake, sadness into an active compassion and indescribable joy. How He lifts my weariness and sends a breeze to cool my anger. How I do reflect Jesus, but not by trying to prove to the world how amazing I've become since I've come to know Him. That would only make me feel great about myself for a while until the next low - proving it all to be false.

I am only able to reflect Jesus if I am willing to admit to the world - in no way am I good, but somehow, beyond my comprehension, I was considered worth dying for. Christ's perfect salvation covers all my flaws. I am a work in progress, the world sees glimpses of the masterpiece and the signature of the Master on me. May this be all I reflect through these writings. Not with a finger pointing to the author of the blog, but to the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

Praise Him! Praise Him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer!
Sing, O Earth, His wonderful love proclaim!
Hail Him! hail Him! highest archangels in glory;
Strength and honour give to His holy Name!
Like a shepherd, Jesus will guard His children,
In His arms He carries them all day long.
                                                                                 From: Bright Jew­els by Fanny Crosby