WHY WE NEED A RESURRECTION

WHY WE NEED A RESURRECTION

Easter has come and gone. The hams, chocolate bunnies, and deviled eggs have been consumed and enjoyed, and the colorful Easter dresses and plaid bow ties have been hung on the hangers and tucked in drawers.

But the resurrection of Jesus Christ will not, and cannot, be shelved until next Easter. We will need our resurrected Savior every day until then and beyond.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ will not, and cannot, be shelved until next Easter. We will need our resurrected Savior every day until then and beyond.Click To Tweet

REFLECTIONS FROM MOLDOVA

A few days ago I returned from the country of Moldova with Justice & Mercy International. Europe’s poorest country, and a small one at that, with an orphan population the size of a continent. I wrapped my arms around orphan girls whose journey, I beg the Lord, will not be one of being sex trafficked. I met a young teenager whose eye had been punched out by a drunken stepdad. I laid my trembling hand on a 3-year-old baby girl with hydrocephalus who is living in a two-bedroom hut with her single mom and 5 siblings. I heard stories of corruption and abuse. I visited a special needs shelter and consciously wondered over and over again whether I had one single meaningful scrap to offer anyone. Hang in there with me, I’m getting to the Easter reflections part.

One might think that returning home from a trip like this would bring fulfilling thoughts of having helped the “less fortunate”. That I’d really played my part in giving back and visiting the poor and orphaned. But as I mentioned in a recent Instagram post, my flight home was filled with thoughts of inadequacy, overwhelmed-ness, and strikingly above all, thoughts of my sinfulness. I was oddly aware not just of my sins, but my actual sin nature. Strange, it seemed to me. All while doing “good”.

Yet perhaps this is exactly one of the reasons that God—from Old Testament to New—has told us to take care of the poor.

Not only to bring help and hope to each image-bearer, but also as a reminder of our own total powerlessness before Christ. Being with the poor and powerless reveals to me that we all lay bare before Him, on equal footing, every one of us in need of resurrection.

I will never get over the reason God gave Israel for why they should take care of the foreigner, fatherless, and widow. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. Therefore I am commanding you to do this.” (Deut 23:22) Every time an Israelite left sheaves on the ground, olives on the branches, grapes on the vine for someone who needed it, they were reminded of their own pasts as slaves. Sounds familiar to us who, before Christ, were held fast to our own selfish desires, addictions, and destructive behaviors? Who, even when we were doing the right things, couldn’t shake our inherent guilt?

Every time an Israelite left sheaves on the ground, olives on the branches, grapes on the vine for someone who needed it, they were reminded of their own pasts as slaves. Click To Tweet

THE KIND OF SAVIOR WE NEED

While in Moldova I was poignantly reminded that I don’t need a savior in the sole form of a moral teacher. I don’t need a great role model, spiritual guru, sage, or genie in a bottle. And—heaven help me—if all I need is to look deeper into myself, find my truth, trust my heart to lead me, or be more vulnerable so everyone can know that not being okay is okay, I’m in profound trouble. What I need, what we all desperately need, is a Savior, perfectly holy and righteous, who conquered death through His own death and resurrection, so that we can be made new. Not improved with mere better behavior. Rather a new heart and new life. “[God] made [Jesus] who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

One of the interesting facts about Moldova is despite its poverty its soil is some of the richest and most arable in the world. The lilies and tulips, sunflower and lavender fields, cherry and apple orchards, raspberry brambles and tomato vines are just about to start their show. New life is springing forth after a cold, hard winter. As I consider those sprawling fields, I’m reminded that in the bleakness of Israel’s winter God said through the prophet Ezekiel that a day was coming when, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Jesus’s death and resurrection is the fulfillment of this prophecy, what has made it possible for my heart of stone to become a heart of flesh, for His Spirit to live within me. It’s the message of Easter we’ll need all year long. Until next year when the azaleas explode with blooms and remind us that we don’t need mere polishing, improvement or a new Easter dress, but a new heart. And we’ll celebrate all over again, that this newness is exactly what Jesus’s resurrection accomplished for us.

This post originally appeared on lifewayvoices.com

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The Unexpected Joy of Loving Your Neighbor

The Unexpected Joy of Loving Your Neighbor

Almost 10 years ago my life profoundly changed for the better. I took my first trip down the Amazon on a riverboat called the Discovery and nothing has been the same since. All that the Lord showed me about Himself and His people in the jungles of Brazil has surprisingly impacted every area of my life here. Ours is just a different jungle. Perhaps the most significant realization for me is that while I was happy to help the poor in the Amazon, I’d neglected to reach out to the poor, hurting, lonely right in my own community. It would require some sacrifices and inconvenient moments, but it would also bring a great deal of joy of fulfillment I’d been missing out on. The write-up below contains a handful of excerpts from my book, Wherever the River Runs, describing how these gracious people helped me learn the unexpected joy of loving your neighbor.

To set the scene, we’re jumping into a story where my friend April was deciding whether or not to buy a computer for a family in our community who couldn’t afford one.

The Inconvenience of Loving Your Neighbor

“Ok, here’s my dilemma…” April looked down for a second and then slipped me a nervous smile I know like the back of my hand. “What if I help them with the computer and then they start needing me?”

“Well, heaven forbid you help someone who might need you.”

“But you know what I’m saying? I mean, what if she starts calling me for things and it all gets inconvenient.”

This was a reasonable concern. I understood. It’s one thing to enjoy helping someone on a definitive, short-term basis where the output is minimal and the gratification is immediate. It’s another thing altogether, so entirely in its own category, to actually engage in relationship. It’s the difference between a quick act of service and actually sharing your life, which is what the gospel requires of us—which is also what has caused me, at times, to panic.

Our conversation took me back to an afternoon on the river when I pulled up my chair next to John [the one who first invited me to the Amazon] and rested my feet on the sky-blue slats of the Discovery while the thick jungle with endless hidden treasures and possibilities rolled by. Having John next to you was like having a bedside tome of yarns, wit, and wisdom. He saw things through an interesting lens, and he could thread a story that kept you inching farther and farther toward the edge of your seat until you’d almost slid off either from laughter, disbelief, or both. He could also be comfortably quiet though, occasionally breaking the silence with a thought or insight you rarely saw coming.

“You know,” he mused, “God sent me to Brazil and wrecked my retirement plans.” I knew that before visiting the Amazon he’d been considering his future as a post-record company executive, dreaming of places where he and Juliet could travel and vacation, sipping the rest of their years through a silver straw. “But I’m so glad He did,” he continued. “You know, how many beaches can you lie on? How many games of golf can you play before it’s just meaningless?”

The Convenience of Loving Someone Else’s Poor

I was going to realize that Jesus’ specific call to love my neighbor was going to be, in some ways, more difficult than loving the people across the ocean with the exotic wildlife. Loving the poor for a week at a time with your family and best friends on an exquisite adventure is rather different from slogging through the complexities and choices that surround the suffering and needy who dwell in your own community. As Mary Katharine once put it to me, it’s almost always easier to take care of someone else’s poor. For one thing, our own poor have problems that remind us a troubling amount of ourselves. And for another, they’re always right there—you don’t get to fly home and leave them after a week.

I remember when the founding director of a local organization for women newly released from prison asked me if I’d like to teach a weekly Bible study to half a dozen women now living in a facility near my neighborhood. It’s one thing to teach on the weekends as part of your living, listen to women, pray for them, and then jump on a plane home. It’s another thing entirely to offer yourself to people with all manner of addictions and problems and complaints who might also call you the following afternoon to chat. I was afraid of what giving up a night of the week might require of me and wondered if I had the capacity for more relationships. But when I really examined my life, while I was a good friend, pursuing the things of Christ, living uprightly as I understood it, I couldn’t say that a significant amount of my time was spent pouring into the lives of others, not to mention the poor. But after witnessing the great need in the Amazon, how could I turn my back on a group of women equally in need, only two miles away, toward whom I felt the Lord nudging my heart?

I might have never put it like this, but in some ways, I’d been living on an island with those who looked like me, pretty much voted like me, shared my same interests, ate at the same restaurants, sang similar worship songs, and made comparable incomes. Every so often, we’d cross the bridge via a church outreach to the peninsula of prisoners or the isle of drug addicts, maybe the reef where the homeless were trying to stay above water. We’d genuinely serve and love these communities of sufferers and societal outcasts, but soon we’d be back in our homes, snuggled into our comforts, going on with our lives. I was happy to serve, just so long as it was an occasional activity, an accessory to my faith and not a primary characteristic of it.

I thought about the jungle pastors I’d met along the river who thought nothing of rowing their canoes for several days just to deliver a creel of fish to a widow or preach a sermon or lay their hands on a sick child. They wouldn’t have even had a category for our definition of “inconvenient.” For them, oaring their families across choppy waters on their way to a church service through a blinding rainstorm while a water cobra circled their canoe is inconvenient.

For them, oaring their families across choppy waters on their way to a church service through a blinding rainstorm while a water cobra circled their canoe is inconvenient.Click To Tweet

April had seen everything I’d seen in the Amazon, so when she encountered a needy woman in her own neighborhood, she was able to recognize her responsibility more clearly. She realized that the very thing she was terrified of, the very thing I was terrified of— being inconveniently needed—happened to be Jesus’ second most central command: love your neighbor as yourself. He wasn’t asking us to fix everyone’s problems, but He was asking us to give our hearts, or as the apostle Paul put it so poignantly to the Thessalonians, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 2:8).

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” 1 Thessalonians 2:8Click To Tweet

When it came to being a friend to the poor in my community, I was afraid of the same thing April was. I was happy to minister overseas because there’s this measure of novelty while you’re there and a safe distance when you’re gone. But befriending the sick, suffering, and spiritually needy in my daily environment is neither novel nor safe. It’s just hard. Essentially, I wanted to help people but only if I didn’t have to get all tangled up in ongoing relationship. I didn’t want people close to home needing me, calling me. And it wasn’t just what I was afraid to do; it was what I was afraid to give up. It can be painful relinquishing a few precious comforts while making time to serve. After agreeing to teach the Bible study at the home for recovering addicts, I freely admit I wasn’t happy that it cut into one of my favorite nights to be with friends. You’d think I’d committed to leading a small group in Afghanistan the way I coaxed myself out the door, begging God to help me while I drove all of seven minutes away.

April ended up buying the computer for Rachel and her family, and they did end up needing her, and eventually they needed me, too. But what April and I soon discovered was that, in some ways, we’ve needed them more.

The Responsibility of Loving Your Neighbor

I couldn’t have understood this more clearly than the day I was throwing a football in my front yard with six-year-old Randy Jr., the third of Randy and Rachel’s four children. Suddenly the most perplexing riddle hit him, and while winding up for another big pass, he yelled, “Hey! How come you live in a house with three bedrooms and you’re just one person”—I watched the ball sail through the air feeling like something more than a ball was coming—”and we live in a house with three bedrooms and we have six people?” Well, now, this was a very good question. Randy Jr. was doing the math, and the number of people in each home compared to the number of rooms wasn’t totaling up to anything close to fair, or even practical.

As I tossed the football with Randy Jr., I realized no one else in my life could have asked this question in a way that so convicted me as this little second grader with his crooked glasses and high-water pants. Through his simple yet profoundly complex question he reminded me that there’s not so much an answer as there is both a great truth and a sacred responsibility. The truth is that I was once a slave, yet because of God’s grace I am now awash in freedom. But this freedom spawns responsibility, which requires giving freely of my time and myself.

It’s become increasingly clear to me how much more God wants for me, how He longs for me to experience the kind of joy Paul wrote about when he said to the Thessalonians, You are my joy and crown.

It’s become increasingly clear to me how much more God wants for me, how He longs for me to experience the kind of joy Paul wrote about when he said to the Thessalonians, You are my joy and crown.Click To Tweet

Whether I was giving myself to the river people of the Amazon, throwing the football with Randy Jr., or getting to know the brave women facing their addictions, I’d been discovering unexpected joys. Unexpected crowns. Just like God had wrecked John and Juliet’s retirement plans, He was wrecking some of my American Dream. But in John’s words, “You know, how many beaches can you lie on?”

To read more, order Wherever the River Runs here.

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A Big Fish Story From The Amazon

A Big Fish Story From The Amazon

9 years ago I took my first trip to the Amazon jungle in Brazil.

No other place on earth, besides the home I grew up in, has influenced my faith more. Nearly a decade and 18 trips later, the Amazon jungle is still the place that fuels my faith, deepens my prayers, and ignites my passion for God’s Kingdom more than any other. (It’s also the only place where I’ve seen a pink dolphin and caught a piranha, but that’s another blog.)

I just returned from Justice & Mercy International’s 7th Annual Jungle Pastors’ Conference where we gathered with 130 jungle pastors and their wives. I was challenged and encouraged by these men and women who serve in obscure parts of the jungle. Many of them live in villages without electricity. A few of them struggle to find enough food when the crops are flooded and the fishing is bad. None of them have any regular income to speak of.

Sarah, our national director, told me that a few had called her before the conference saying that they wanted to attend but were concerned that they didn’t own enough changes of clothes for a four-day event. One pastor summed up many of their situations best when he said, “When God called me from the city of Manaus to be a pastor in the jungle, I left with only one thing—my calling.”

“When God called me from Manaus to be a pastor in the jungle, I left with one thing—my calling.”Click To Tweet

This morning I went to see my physical therapist because sometimes my lower back gets stuck. She’s always eager to jam her elbow into angry muscles that need to be released or put me into a pretzel-like configuration so she can snap my joints back in place. So I can move again. The jungle pastors do the same thing for me, only for my soul.

When my priorities are out of whack, when I’m particularly self-focused, over-indulgent, and my sights are set on temporary pleasures instead of on Jesus, they snap me back into place without even knowing it. A few weeks ago it happened like this…

I was sitting with Manuel and Michelle, a beautiful couple with four children. They minister in a part of the jungle that’s dramatically affected by the yearly flooding. They mentioned the many times they struggle to find food during the flooding season. My eyes welled with tears as I confessed to them that I have never once, not a single day in my life, been without food to eat. As they continued to tell me what it’s like to not always know how you will eat or feed your family, Pastor Manuel said, “But God’s timing is always perfect”. I asked him if there was a particular experience behind that statement. With an engaging smile and his wife nodding beside him, he said, “I have just the story for you.”

A Hungry Faith

One Sunday a few years ago, they ran out of food. The high waters of the river left their pantry bare, their crops saturated, and their fishing attempts futile. Over the sound of their four children’s growling stomachs, Pastor Manuel made the decision that they would still go to church even though they were all so hungry.

Michelle interjected at this point in the story, “I couldn’t believe he was taking us to church when all I wanted him to do was stay home and figure out how we could feed our family”. I appreciated her honesty. Manuel smiled at her tenderly and without judgment as she recounted her side of the story.

After the church service ended, another pastor asked Manuel if he could minister at a church down river later that day. Michelle recalled thinking, I’ll kill him if he says yes. We’re hungry and he can’t be off ministering when we need food! Even as they shared this story, Manuel was a little sheepish when he admitted that he had agreed to go. He assured his wife in the moment, “The Lord will take care of us. I know it. We just need to be faithful”. Manuel and his family got in their canoe and headed toward their home. He planned to drop them off and then continue onto serve in the other church.

At this point in the story, both Manuel and Michelle’s faces started to beam. Manuel explained that while they were on the way to their house a three-foot long fish shot out of the water and landed in their boat. Michelle said she was screaming trying to capture it because it was thrashing all over the place, and they were afraid it was going to flip out of the boat.

I wanted to make sure I understood. “So a fish jumped in your boat but you weren’t fishing?”

“Right!” they exclaimed. “We weren’t fishing! We were just heading home, and this enormous fish flew out of the water and into our boat. It fed our family for a week!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think I did both simultaneously. I’d never heard of such a thing. When I asked them what kind of fish it was, they told me it was an arowana fish. Later, I visited the Manaus fish market and discovered the arowana is a delicacy. Of course it is! I suppose that if God is going to go to all the trouble to have a fish jump out of the water, He might as well make it an expensive one.

A Fish Out of Water

A friend of mine recently said, “If you’ve never experienced the wilderness, you’ve never tasted manna”. I suppose the same is true in the Amazon: if you’ve never been hungry and utterly dependent on the Lord, you’ve probably never had a God-fish come flying into your boat

At the end of their story, I sat in awe, utterly marveling at the provision and timing of God. I wondered what a bite of fish straight from the Lord’s hand tastes like. I wondered if Manuel and Michelle worshipped when they sat down to eat. Although I don’t envy their hardships, I do envy the way they’re experiencing Jesus in their day-to-day lives.

Spending time with these jungle pastors is so good for me. It reminds me that God is not only at work in the Amazon. He’s at work here. In your life and my life. The question is, how dependent on Him are we? How faithful in our obedience? How prayerful? How expectant?

I don’t know what your need is right now, but after hearing Manuel and Michelle’s story of the arowana fish, I keep thinking… there’s more where that came from. God is not limited. He can send manna from heaven, rain down quail, and shoot a fish out of the water and into your canoe. He is able.

God can rain manna from heaven or shoot a fish out of the water and into your canoe. He is able.Click To Tweet

I wrote a memoir about my trips to the Amazon jungle. It’s the most personal book I’ve written called, Wherever the River Runs. If you’re interested you can find it here.

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My Moldova Adventure

My Moldova Adventure

Hello friends!

I hope you’re enjoying summer as much as I am. I’m loving the slower and more relaxed pace. I’m realizing I’ve needed it. For this July edition of our newsletter, I thought I’d tell you about a trip to Moldova I just took with Justice and Mercy International. Some of you who are familiar with me know I work with JMI in the Amazon (I wrote a little book about it called Wherever The River Runs), but I’ve also made three trips to Moldova with JMI. In case you’re wondering, Moldova is a small country that sits between Romania and Ukraine, roughly the size of Maryland. I only mention this geographical tidbit because before I had friends who regularly went there, I’m pretty sure I’d never heard of it.

I was a very small part of helping put on vacation bible school in a village that managed to turn out 150 of the cutest clamoring kids nipping at your heels for crayons and more plăcintăs (a Moldovan pastry), chirping in Romanian and occasionally a phrase or two in Russian. Yes, chaos is the word you’re rummaging for.

So, why VBS in Moldova, you ask?

Gosh, I’m so glad you brought this up.

Moldova has a grossly high percentage of girls who are sex trafficked out of the country, a high suicide rate for boys, and an enormously alarming orphan population. To combat this terrifying reality, JMI helps orphans and vulnerable children through its child sponsorship program. Many of these children we’re able to identify through our yearly camps. One of my greatest privileges of the year is sharing the Gospel with these children through Scripture and through all the ways a game, a skit, and a plastic cup of orange Fanta says “I love you.” But summer camps are just the beginning.

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When these children turn 16, whether in or out of the orphanages, many have nowhere to go. And if they do have a place to go, the scenario is usually horrifying. I’ve heard these kids’ stories firsthand and they’re too gruesome for me to write about here. But here’s the hope. Here’s why I love VBS in Moldova. Because JMI has two homes—one for girls called Grace House and one for boys called Boys to Leaders—that house 15 teenagers respectively for anywhere from two to three years. This isn’t just about shelter, this is about a home. These girls and boys are welcomed into a family where they learn life skills, flourish in school, receive counseling, go to church, get discipled, and learn about the love of Jesus through His Word. The transformation of these kids is nothing short of miraculous. As my friend Steve likes to say, I’d put these kids up against any kids in the world.

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Now, for the moment of my trip that impacted me the most. The little girl on the right in the picture above was in my bible study group. Her name is Nastea (I changed her name). My friend Brittany and I asked her the question, if she could go anywhere in the world where would she go? Without hesitation she said, “Moscow”.

“Why Moscow”?  I asked.

“Because that’s where my mom lives.”

Nastea hadn’t seen her mother in almost a year and she doesn’t know who her father is. This would be a pretty bleak story except for the girl on the left. Her name is Alla (you can watch her story here). Alla grew up in an orphanage. She intimately knows Nastea’s plight, her void, her aching loneliness. Alla also spent several weeks at vacation bible school during the summer, which is how JMI connected with her. When she was just sixteen and being thrust out of the orphanage, JMI reached out to her and she entered the Grace House. And all of life changed. She met Christ, received love, and is blooming like the cutest red headed bud you ever saw. For the past three years she’s been serving with us at the very camps she grew up in.

When Nastea told Alla and me how much she missed her mom, how she didn’t know when she was coming back, and how all the others kids have moms and dads, I turned to Alla and whispered, “this one is yours”.

I don’t know exactly what Alla said to Nastea because it was all in Romanian. But when I took two steps back to snap this picture, I realized I understood everything I needed to know. This is how the good news of the Gospel spreads. When Jesus rescues our life and we go and tell about it, and someone like Alla hears the news, she then in turn finds another little one on whose shoulders she places both her hands, and in a language I can’t begin to speak to a child whose story I can’t begin to understand, she says, “God loves you.”

And that’s why I do VBS in Moldova.

For more information about Justice and Mercy International, you can visit www.justiceandmercy.org.

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Opening Our Eyes To See The Harvest

Opening Our Eyes To See The Harvest

“Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” John 4:35

Jesus spoke these words to His disciples on the heels of a significant encounter He’d had with a woman from Samaria. He’d met her at a well while the disciples were off buying food. When they returned they were surprised to find Jesus talking with a woman, not to mention a Samaritan one with whom the Jews had few encounters. While the disciples had been busy running errands, Jesus had revealed Himself to this woman as the Messiah who had come to redeem both Jews and Gentiles alike. This included her, a promiscuous woman who’d all her life tried to slake her thirst at the wells of husbands and boyfriends and live-ins. She’d finally been found by the One who could satisfy the longings of her heart and who wouldn’t leave her thirsty, or leave her at all. So she dropped her water jar and bolted back to town to tell everyone she knew that the long awaited One, who miraculously knew every detail of her life, had come to town.

The Harvest Is All Around Us

The disciples missed all this, not because they were out doing anything deviant, but because they didn’t know what they were supposed to be looking for. Privately they were wondering why in the world Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman, and publicly they were concerned He’d skipped lunch. But in a sense Jesus was eating because He explained that His food is to do the work of His Father. What was that work? At the moment it was tending to a woman who was desperately unfulfilled at the end of a long chain of men. The disciples were standing in the midst of a harvest, whose stalks were brushing up against their shoulders, yet they couldn’t discern it. I’m afraid this is me more often than I realize.

The Harvest is Now

Jesus’s choice of a harvest imagery is interesting here because all of us go in and out of sowing and reaping seasons, each demanding a different outlook. When you’re sowing, you’re working and waiting; when you’re reaping, you’re working and gathering what you’ve been waiting for. There’s an urgency to harvest time. The season is swift and you don’t want to miss it. I think the disciples might have mistakenly thought they were in a sowing season, waiting for Jesus to take over, perhaps, as a political or socio-economic powerhouse. In John 4:35 He turned this notion on its head. He was showing the disciples that what He’d really come to do was set captives free, mend broken hearts, wash the stains of sin clean by laying down His life. And the time was now.

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Open Your Eyes

Every time my sister Katie visits me in Nashville she spots a celebrity. Every. Single. Time. On her last visit she sent me this text me from a boutique. “Just saw Sheryl Crow, and I haven’t even turned my famous eyes on yet.” When Jesus told His disciples, open your eyes, I think He was saying, turn on your spiritual eyes. Turn on your hurting-people eyes. Be looking in the right places: The Harvest Field. This is simply the people we encounter in our neighborhoods and workplaces, elementary schools and coffee shops, family gatherings and mission trips. People who need an encounter with the same Jesus who changed this woman’s life while she was going about her daily business.

The time is still now. The harvest is ripe and hearts are ready.

We need only turn our harvest eyes on.

 

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The Power To Believe You Are Loved

The Power To Believe You Are Loved

Morning Meditation, September 28, 2015

“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…” Ephesians 3:18-19

This passage of Scripture is not new to me, and perhaps not to you either. It’s one of the “hit” verses of the bible—to know how wide, long, high and deep is the love of Christ. Who doesn’t want to know this kind of love? And yet we often find God’s love for us incredibly difficult to grasp. We just know ourselves too well. We go to bed swatting away critical thoughts, fear consumes us, we’ve given in to our wayward lusts, or maybe it’s the shame of something from our past that seems to be the metal shield off of which God’s love for us will forever ricochet. It’s just so hard to believe sometimes that He really loves us. And even if we believe it in our heads—like we believe our mothers think we’re pretty, because they sort of have to—we don’t know how to coax it into our souls.

Given this common struggle I was intrigued when I noticed a word in this passage I’d never seen before. It’s the word power—as in, the power to grasp the love of Jesus. The Greek word is exischyō and is used only one time in the New Testament. Once. Right here. And it means, “to be eminently able, to have full strength, entirely competent.” In other words Paul is praying that we would have the power, the ability, the strength to grasp God’s overwhelming love because he knew it wouldn’t always come easy.

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Photo courtesy of www.juleeduwe.com photography

 

Paul prayed for the strength to grasp God’s love

Paul prayed that the church at Colossae would be able to grasp God’s love. This tells me that God’s love is so beyond us that we will need His help to receive it on meaningful levels, to truly understand it and believe it in our bones. This inspires me to pray for those who can’t seem to receive the tender love of our Savior, even if they intellectually believe it. It inspires me to pray for myself, that the Lord would give me the capability to more fully grasp how wide, long, high and deep is the love of God. Though God’s love is a gift He lavishes upon us, being able to comprehend that love requires a certain strength, and Paul reveals that he prays for that strength. I believe we should, too.

God’s love is best understood within the community of believers

Notice Paul writes about being rooted in love together with all the saints. Believers in Jesus who isolate themselves from the body of Christ will have difficulty grasping Christ’s love for them, because part of comprehending His love is experiencing it within the community of Christ. I have a friend who’s been going through a hard season with health issues, her husband lost his job, and she and her new baby were recently in a car accident. She told me how our home church has reached out to her in such overwhelming ways that she’s receiving the wider dimensions of God’s love for her in places she’s had difficulty accepting it before. It’s taken the body of Christ to help her experience God’s love for her more fully.

God’s love surpasses our finite knowledge

I see another insight into why I sometimes have a hard time internalizing God’s love for me, really letting it seep into my being. This passage tells us that God’s love surpasses knowledge. And isn’t it typically our knowledge that stands in the way of us believing in God’s love? It’s the knowledge of the hurt in this world, the loss of a loved one who God could have healed, the guilt we can’t believe can be washed away. It’s all this knowledge of our circumstances that sometimes makes His love hard to grasp. Yet at this precise place, the love of Christ surpasses our limited, finite understanding the way a winning runner flies past the competition. Our knowledge, intellect, reasoning, understanding will never, not ever, be able to beat out His love. His love will always surpass what we know.

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The Amazon River in Manaus

My friend Kari recently returned from a trip to the Amazon. When I asked her what her most profound moment was she explained how the Amazon is simply the most vast thing she’s ever witnessed. “I’ve never seen a more magnificent river than the Amazon”, she said. “Overlooking the river reminded me that the love of God is wider, longer, higher, and deeper still.”

And still He gives us the power to grasp it.  

 

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