Radical Love

The sun came up a few mornings ago and immediately disappeared behind a large band of dark clouds. 

They aren’t storm clouds. In fact, these clouds are notorious for ushering in warm weather as they arch across the sky. When I first moved here thirteen Augusts ago, I didn’t understand the clouds at all. They were so different than I was used to! The shapes and colours didn’t mean the same thing that they did back home. It has taken me a while to adjust to a different kind of sky.

We’re all adjusting to a different kind of sky these days. Life in a pandemic, even life in the year 2020, has new restrictions, new realities, new requirements, new definitions… it all feels a bit disorienting.

There’s an old hymn that has been ringing in my heart. I think back to my growing up years in an aging country church plunked right down in the middle of a field, hot summer sun beating down, ceiling fans spinning fast enough to lift the old roof right off. The windows were wide open, carrying voices raised to the beat of an ill-tuned piano, fingers dancing across the keys without thought for flats that were supposed to be naturals and naturals that were supposed to be flats.

We worshiped with gusto. I can still hear the blessed voice of one of our elderly ladies soaring over everyone else as we sang,

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain
Will your anchor drift or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul 
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll
Fastened to the rock which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love!

Some hymns simply fill me with nostalgia; others are stalwart reminders of an incredible truth my heart needs to hear even after over three and a half decades wrapped up in the love of Christ. I’ve recently learned this hymn was written by a Sunday School teacher who devoted her life to teaching youth about Jesus. Priscilla Jane Owens never left her hometown of Baltimore. She put down roots in her church and committed over fifty years of her life to teaching children and youth in her Sunday School classes, penning hundreds of songs that taught Christ’s love. This song was based on Hebrews 6:19-20 (NIV) – 

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus bridges the gap between a holy God and unholy humans. He is the mediator. He is the One through whom we have access to the Creator of all. Because of Jesus, we have eternal hope. And when we build our life on Him, ultimately we cannot lose. We have been given a gift that cannot be taken away, a treasure in heaven that cannot be stolen or destroyed.

1 Peter 1:3-8 (NIV) says – 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Society’s growing hostility to God and His Word brings a sense that we are in the middle of an ocean where the strong tides are lifting and the cables are straining.

It’s not a new thing for Christians to believe things and live in ways that are incompatible with the culture they’re in. Even Jesus promised “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16). When we choose to follow Christ and live the way He calls us to live, we can expect suffering and loss. We can expect to be misunderstood and possibly even cancelled.

But Jesus also said, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world!” (16:33).

His way is not our way. 

Jesus doesn’t manipulate us into believing in Him. He doesn’t uncover our sins for the world to judge us and cast us aside. Jesus doesn’t cancel anyone.

When He taught about being the Bread of Life, many people turned away from Him because it was too hard to understand or believe. He asked the disciples if they wanted to leave too. Their reply has always struck a chord in my heart:

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

May those words pierce our hearts and bring us to life today. 

May they give us the courage to be completely humble and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. To get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. To be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave us. (Ephesians 4:2-3, 31-32)

May we live out this radical love of Christ today with our families, in our churches, in our communities and in our world.

My view of the sky one summer morning.

Even There

There are so many times when we just don’t have the words to pray, so many moments where we are heartbroken and don’t know how to let it out.

I love the book of Psalms for its honest treatment of the human experience and interaction with God. I’ve often found that as I linger among its chapters and verses, soaking in the language of poetry with all its imagery and metaphor, my heart is allowed to breathe. The prayers I didn’t know how to pray are written out before me. I’ve been revisiting Psalm 139 recently and I’m sharing it with you in this space, in light of everything we’re facing globally, in our communities, and in our own hearts.

Psalm 139 (NIV)

1 You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

As Christ-followers, may we lean into God’s Word and find the truth we so desperately need, in all seasons and circumstances. May we learn to abide in Jesus and discover that He is our true source of life. And may we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts to transform us from the inside out, bringing His life-changing, eternal hope to our families, churches, communities and the world.

Psalm 139 in my well-worn study Bible