Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Stick Close to Me

When my oldest child was just coming out of babyhood, he had an entire vocabulary of his own invention – or so we assumed. One of the words that was most memorable to me was "dabaq". He used this word as a request, whenever he wanted one of us to sit down close to him. It was usually reserved for some tight-fit, sweet and cozy little place like a garden bench. It was a "cuddle-here-next-to-me-squish-in-close" request. He'd pat the spot next to himself and say, "Dabaq!". The word was so striking to me that I was almost certain it was a real word in some other language. I almost felt like I recognized it. I even got online and searched for the word in every spelling I could imagine, starting with d-a-b-a-q. I didn’t find anything, but I never forgot the word.

Father and son in a "dabaq" kinda spot.

Well, not long ago, I read this post by author Ann Voskamp and was amazed (but somehow not that surprised) to discover that dabaq really is a word. I didn’t find it in my earlier searches because it’s a transliteration of a Hebrew word. It’s the word we read in the King James Bible translated as “cleave” – as in “…and to him shalt thou cleave…” (Deuteronomy 10:20). It’s also the word we read in Genesis that describes the mystery-miracle of marriage – a man who leaves his parents to cleave to his wife, the two becoming one. That close.

I knew it! I was sure it was a word, and it was a good one.

“Cleave” means to cling to, hold tight to. It’s that “squish-in-here-tight” part of “come near me, stay near me”. In the passage in Deuteronomy, Moses is telling the Israelites that God wants them to come close, be near, “stick with Me”. Moses knew about this first-hand – he was the one who stood in the Tent of Meeting with The-One-and-Only-Ever-Living-God. Moses was the one who longed to be close to God to the point that he dared to ask Him, “Show me Your glory”.

David knew it, too. In the 31st Psalm (quoted from The Message), he wrote, “Love God, all you saints; God takes care of all who stay close to him...”, and in the 91st Psalm, he describes the benefits to all those who would live right up under God's arm, by His side.

 And those of us who live after the Messiah came to walk among us – how much more should we see that He wants us close? He put on our skin and walked our paths! He died to bring us near, very near, dabaq-near. Two becoming one – that close.

Songwriter Jonathan David Hessler wrote, "You're more real than the wind in my lungs, You're closer than the ground I'm standing on...You're closer than the skin on my bones, You're closer than the song on my tongue..." (Abba) It's one of my new favorite songs...because it's true.

God is not the far-off whitebeard on a cloud. He paid a very dear price to have you very, very close.

Cling to the Christ.
He’s on the garden bench.
His hand is on the space next to Him,
and He’s holding that seat for you.


Ambushed by God with an invitation to sit close,

Saturday, February 25, 2012

When Love Sets the Table, You Don't Get Paper Plates

My husband is an extravagant-love man. When we were first married, he would turn to me (and still does on occasion) whenever we’d find ourselves with nothing to do and ask, “Want me to take you to Paris for lunch?” And the thing is, he meant it.

We weren’t wealthy. In fact, there were some pretty lean times those first few years – the kind of seasons when you go to the grocery store to buy five things that are under a dollar and then try to figure out how to make dinner with them. But if I’d have said, “Yes, please, take me to Paris for lunch,” then he would have worked overtime and sold everything he had to get me there. It might have taken awhile, but he would have made it happen – and he’d have done it with a smile on his face.

So when John writes in the Gospels that God is extravagant in His love and in the handing out of love-gifts, I think I kinda get it.

"The One that God sent speaks God's words. And don't think he rations out the Spirit in bits and pieces. The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away—a lavish distribution of gifts. That is why whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever! And that is also why the person who avoids and distrusts the Son is in the dark and doesn't see life. All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that." (John 3:34-36, The Message)

A lavish distribution of gifts…whoever accepts the Son gets in on everything…forever…!

If that’s not the God I can love and trust, then there isn’t one.

I have a God who doesn’t force, doesn’t threaten, doesn’t arm-twist and doesn’t manipulate. All He had to do was love and He does that perfectly. He doesn’t skimp, doesn’t cheat and isn’t cheap. He's never stingy. He is Love, and when Love sets the table, you don’t get paper plates – you get the wedding china and the crystal and the linens. When Love sets the table, you find some delicacy you never even heard of before, and never even knew to desire.

Love gives more than is needed.
Love always goes overboard, and I love Him for it.

I recently lived out one of the hardest weeks of my life. The temptation was to be afraid – afraid because maybe it could be true, after all, what the snake told Eve about God – that He wasn’t to be trusted.

And I won’t say that lie didn’t sound shiny-new and kind of believable in the face of very frightening news. Except…I live on the other side of the history-marker: the cross of Jesus Christ. I know that there is an extravagant God who spared no cost – not even death – to show me His love. How could I despair in the face of that?

I know – terrible things happen sometimes. Some of them have happened to me, too, and to people I love. I don’t have explanations for that. When the bad news comes, He is there – He and all that outrageous love of His. And when the good news comes, all the better – I have Him to thank!

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Christians at Ephesus and he wanted them to see that God’s love isn’t fragile. They weren’t going to outlive it, find the end of it or use it up. It’s a strong love. It’s a generous love. Paul wanted them to know what you do with that kind of love.

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19, The Message)

Venus and Jupiter are converging
Starry sky seen through Aspen branches

I’m basking in extravagant, overboard, outrageous, too-much, over-the-top, uncontained and ostentatious, unapologetic love, and I’m so grateful that I don’t even know what to say. I’ll take Paul’s challenge. I’ll reach out and experience, test, dive, climb, live…the fullness of God’s love.

Ambushed by the Love-God at a well-set table,

Photos of a starry night courtesy of my extravagant husband - the one who gives me the gift certificate that was meant for him so I can have a new lens for my camera.

Oh, and also courtesy of the extravagant God who made, arranged and named all those stars!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Song That Everything Wants to Sing

My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.
(Psalm 71:23, ESV)

Human-kind just does not want to be alone. We have searched the heavens – since long before we had the technology to do the search any justice – for some sign that we’re not the only ones living, thinking, talking. We’ve searched the earth, too, and the depths of the seas – maybe we could decipher a language among the creatures? Along the way, we found music. Along the way, we found worship. No, we’re not alone – all of Creation is singing, singing, singing…so happy to have been created... so happy to have such a God.

Yes, the stars are singing (it’s not really a new discovery, by the way – it’s in the Bible).
The whales are singing.
The north wind is singing (check out an album titled, “Dis”by Jan Garbarek).
The waves are keeping time.
Planets are keeping time.

I love this video clip and I love his question, “Do you wanna sing along with stars and whales?” And while I understand what Giglio is saying about there being no lack of God-worship in song throughout the universe, I also believe the Song of the Redeemed – which can only be sung by a redeemed mankind – stands alone among the worship in the universe. I believe it could also be asked, “Do the stars and whales wanna sing along with us?”

With all the care God takes to teach the birds to sing and teach the bear to hibernate and tell all those migrators how to find the way home again – He cares that much more for the ones He made with His own hands, kissed to life with His own breath and redeemed with His own blood. I suspect all of creation wants in on one song in particular, and that song is ours to sing. It’s the Song of the Redeemed, and the rest of Creation very joyfully accompanies us.

Wind, water and ice at the edge of the river combine to play
sweet-sounding "ice chimes" at sunrise on a fall morning.

We’ve had the stars-and-whales music in the Louie Giglio video playing over and over in our house today, and there is a lot of wild dancing going on in the kitchen. The stars and the whales and my sons are singing about our Great God. I can't wait to hit "save" on this post and go join in!

O Lord, our Lord,
your greatness is seen in all the world!
Your praise reaches up to the heavens;
it is sung by children and babies.
You are safe and secure from all your enemies;
you stop anyone who opposes you.
When I look at the sky, which you have made,
at the moon and the stars, which you set in their places—
what are human beings, that you think of them;
mere mortals, that you care for them?

Yet you made them inferior only to yourself;
you crowned them with glory and honor.
You appointed them rulers over everything you made;
you placed them over all creation:
sheep and cattle, and the wild animals too;
the birds and the fish
and the creatures in the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
your greatness is seen in all the world!

(Psalm 8, The Good News Translation)

Ambushed by the One-for-whom-everything-is-singing,

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Love Stories

When you see true, genuine, better-than-fairytale-because-it’s-real love, you know it. It sticks out like a sore thumb in this world. It’s hard to miss. I know – I’ve seen it. I know women who married princes. Those princes may not have come with crowns and gold, but they are royalty and they treat their wives like royalty.

Many years ago, before I was married (back when I didn’t want to be married), I heard one of those women tell a story that changed my life. She’d come home from work exhausted and had fallen asleep. She slept right through the time she was supposed to pick up her husband from work. That night, he trudged home in the pouring rain. These were the days before cell phones and I’m sure he was wondering what had happened. When he walked through the door and found her asleep on the couch, his only words to his wife were heartfelt:

“Oh, I’m so glad you got some rest!”

When I heard that, I quietly said to God, “If I am to be married, it must be to a man like that.” And that is exactly what happened. Not too long after I heard that story, I married a man whose head is princely, whose heart is gold and whose soul smells of honey. I know a prince when I see one.

I have another friend whose marriage radiates such overwhelming love that everywhere she and her husband go, people can’t take their eyes off them. People stare at them. People eavesdrop on them. True love is irresistable. When these two were newlyweds, strangers told them it would wear off, but my friends rejected that unhappy ending and well over a decade later, they’re still drawing eyes and ears because that’s what love does – it draws us all in.

These are wonderful, amazing women, but they didn’t earn a better love story than anybody else – they just put down their own pens and let God write their stories. And nobody can write one like He can. He’s written an eternity full of stories. He’s written a whole universe full of stories. Some of them He hand-picked to put in a Book you may recognize. And He’s still writing stories – true stories of victory and acts of heroism and acts of selfless sacrifice, of generosity, of redemption and forgiveness and of reconciliation… But they’re all part of the same big story, and at it’s heart, it’s a love story. It's The Love Story.  You won’t find a better author for your life and your love.

About a year ago, the couple with the walk-home-in-the-rain story came to our house to stay for the weekend. We had a wonderful few days filled with laughter and food and music, but for me, the pinnacle was the snowy walk we took together down to the river. The men pulled the children on sleds. We women wandered along with our cameras and no one was in a hurry. She took this picture of our princes in the snow and the caption wrote itself in my heart. True Love was out for a stroll and even the sky had to do something to acknowledge its presence.

They were two good men without an ounce of guile between them and on that happy winter day, their hearts were as light and as white as the snowflakes.

Ambushed by the Author of Life and Love,