Glimpses of grace seen in the everyday

Posts tagged ‘love’

A Mother’s Sacrifice or Selfishness

Recently I read two stories, side by side, that contrast as day and night. 

The first was of a woman who discovered, 17 weeks into her pregnancy, that she had cervical cancer.  Instead of agreeing to an abortion in an attempt to save her own life, she chose life for her baby.  He is now 2 1/2 years old.  His mother was treated for cancer, but it’s back now and she has limited time.  Does she regret it?  No!  This is true love.

The second is of Sarah, who survived an abortion attempt that was carried out very late in her mother’s pregnancy.  When it was discovered that the baby was still alive, the baby was delivered in a hospital and then left to die, without any attention at all for 24 hours.  Finally a nurse took pity on her and a loving family adopted her.  Severely handicapped, Sarah has now died from her injuries five years later.  Where is love in this story?  Not the mother nor those who attempted to take Sarah’s life, but in those who saved her and cared for her until God took her into his own arms.

Which is ideal womanhood?  To be willing to die for one’s own child, or to kill one’s own child for one’s own convenience?  Aren’t women more noble than the latter?  We honor men who have given their lives for their country.  How about women who give theirs for their children?  Do we honor selfishness or self-sacrifice?  On which of these can we build and maintain a stable and enduring society?

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A Jewel of a Story

Like a high-quality diamond dazzling on a background of black velvet, the book of Ruth in the Bible stands out against the sordid stories of Judges which just precedes it and during which era the events of Ruth took place.

Having read and studied this jewel of a book countless times already, I am awed again today by the wisdom, love, power, and faithfulness of the great God who orchestrated these events and then made sure they were recorded for all generations to enjoy and learn from.

On the surface, it is a beautiful love story of Ruth, a young foreign widow, and Boaz, a kind and respected citizen of that place.

On a historical level, this story is set in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.  In fact, the book closes with a brief genealogy which is unique in that it projects forward to link to David who is the great-grandson of Ruth & Boaz and the royal ancestor of Christ. 

On a thematic level, the book of Ruth is a story of faithfulness, the hesed (Hebrew) or loyal love that runs like a golden thread through the whole Bible:

God’s hesed to Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, who lost everything and then received so much more.  (Does this remind us of Job’s experience?)  She and her husband suffered economic loss and displacement, then she lost her husband and sons, her joy and confidence, concluding that God had become her enemy.
        In the end, God restored her to fullness with a daughter-in-law “who is better to her than 10 sons,” a secure place in Boaz’ home and even a very special grandson whom she considered as her own.

Ruth’s hesed to Naomi and to Naomi’s God whom she acknowledged as her own, turning her back on the god Chemosh of her native Moab.  Her pledge to Naomi is well-known:  “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”  Ruth’s hesed was displayed in her commitment to the welfare of Naomi and obeying her rather than seeking marriage with a younger man.   

Boaz’ hesed to Naomi and Ruth and even to their deceased husbands and family line.  This is seen first in his unusual kindness to this foreign widow who came to pick up bits of grain left behind by his reaper.  And then as a step of much greater commitment, his loyal love leads him to take on the responsibility for Naomi and Ruth, redeem the mortgaged family land, and allow his firstborn to be considered as another man’s son (Ruth’s first husband, according to the custom). 

While it may well be argued that Naomi is the main character of the story, Ruth and Boaz are its heroes.  They are well-matched! Each of them is called a  “man/woman of outstanding character” (2:1 & 3:11).  And for each of them, this virtue is highlighted by a contrasting counterpart who exhibits the attitude and behavior of a “normal” self-centered person. 

–Ruth’s sister-in-law Orpah decided to go back to the security of her home instead of  going with Naomi and Ruth to embrace a new life with its potential inconveniences.

–Boaz’ unnamed relative decided not to take up the first option of marrying Ruth and all the responsibilities that entailed, thinking first of his own financial security.

Did Ruth have any idea, when she insisted on going with Naomi, of the security and love that she would find, much less that she would have the incredible honor of becoming an ancestor of Jesus Christ?  What might be the surprise ending of my own story as I follow God out of my comfort zone?

By the way, I hope you will take time to read this very short story—whether for the first time or as re-reading a worn love letter.  You’ll love it! 

A Safe Distance?

Keeping our distance is a good way to stay safe from things that would threaten our safety–
–another vehicle on the road
–a live wire
–fire
–a wild animal

We tell our children, “Don’t get too close; you might get hurt.”

Keep Distance

On the other hand, how could we as humans relate to one another without getting close enough to communicate and express affection?  When we get close to someone, it’s true that we are making ourselves vulnerable to hurt, but we are also opening ourselves to love.  I’m reminded of back in the 60’s and 70’s when cars were made with bench seats in the front.   Often one would see what we called a “two-headed driver”—a couple sitting as close to each other as possible while the guy drove! 

What about getting close to God?  If you’ve read or seen the tales of Narnia, you will recall that most beloved character Aslan, the great lion that symbolizes Jesus Christ.  When the four children first hear the Beavers talking about Aslan, they ask, “Is he quite safe?”  The answer was, “’Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”  And all through the seven books, the children take great delight in being as near as possible to Aslan.  Real love of God will overcome our fears and give us the greatest joy and security.

These are some of the my thoughts as I read this short article by Dr. Harold J. Sala in his book Today Counts:

I’ve been thinking about our lives in relationship to God. Often we don’t want to be too far away from Him, but neither do we want to get so close that He can easily get to us. A comfort zone is okay. After all, it’s good to be on the side of God but just don’t get too carried away with this business of religion.

Why are we afraid of getting too close to God, or letting Him get too close to us? There are three clusters of fear that keep us on the spiritual beltway – neither too close nor too far away.

Fear 1: You can never really please God, so why try? A lot of folks – especially those who have had parents whose expectations were difficult to meet – think they can never be good enough or spiritual enough for God to receive them and fully love them.

Fear 2: You will lose control of your life if you allow God to get close to you. The issue of “who is in charge” keeps lots of people on spiritual beltway. Yes, they want to be close enough to get God’s attention when things get desperate but not so close that they can’t make a spiritual detour.

Fear 3: You will be asked to do something you don’t like and to stop doing something you like but God dislikes. But most of our fears are irrational and without foundation. God is a loving Father who wants the best for us.

When you understand who God is and how compelling is His desire to have fellowship with you, you quickly abandon the beltway of your comfort and strive to move towards the presence of the Almighty.

Perfect Love

God loves me.  What does that mean? What is love, other than fuzzy feelings?  My search led me to an article in a decades-old magazine entitled, “God’s Intensely Personal Love.”*  The author starts out with a beautifully complete dictionary definition (I don’t know what dictionary) of love.  The Scripture references after each point are given in the article to illustrate how perfect God’s love is on each of these counts:

“a strong personal attachment and ardent affection which includes three things:

1) sympathetic understanding…

Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses, having been tempted and tried as we are.  Hebrews 4:15-16

God has compassion on us, keeping in mind that we’re merely human.          Psalm 103:13-14

2)  good will & benevolent, kind action…

God has good plans for His children, to give them a secure future.              Jeremiah 29:11

He will make an everlasting covenant with His people and never stop doing good for them. He enjoys doing good for them!  Jeremiah 32:40-41

He cares for us and invites us to turn over all our concerns to Him.  1 Peter 5:7

3)  delight & pleasure in the loved one”

God rejoices over His people like a groom rejoices over his bride.  Isaiah 62:5

He delights in us, quiets us with his love, and rejoices over us with singing.  Zephaniah 3:1

And then how does this apply to my own love to God?  Do I try to see from His perspective?  Am I motivated to serve Him from a pure heart?  Do I take pleasure in Him?  And then what about my love to others?  How does that compare with these criteria?  Lots to think about while drifting off to sleep.

                                                                                             *Disciple Journal magazine, Issue 4, article by Ruth Myers

Love Beyond Limit

A few weeks ago I posted a link about the amazing extent of space known already to mankind—14 billion light years!.  As soon as stronger telescopes are made, the “limits” of space expand.  Of course, there’s a limit somewhere—it can’t be infinite.  Here’s where my analogy breaks down:  God’s love is beyond limit.  The more we explore, search, experience—the greater we find it to be.  Infinitely beyond our knowledge and imagination. 

And oh, the beauty!  We see pictures of stunning nebulae and other breathtaking things out in space.  It’s a reminder of God’s love–infinitely varied, splendid, and magnificent!  It will take a lifetime and eternity to begin to plumb its wonders. 

But if we’re content to settle for a tiny taste, that’s all we get.  Will we glance at the little pinpricks, turn away and go back to our trivial pursuits?  Or will we spread out a blanket and settle down for a long session gazing into the heavens?  Will we delve into the depths of divine love that goes on and on forever?  I don’t want to be satisfied with less.

  1. The love of God is greater far
    Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
    It goes beyond the highest star,
    And reaches to the lowest hell;
    The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
    God gave His Son to win;
    His erring child He reconciled,
    And pardoned from his sin.
    • Refrain:
      Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
      How measureless and strong!
      It shall forevermore endure—
      The saints’ and angels’ song.
  2. When hoary time shall pass away,
    And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
    When men who here refuse to pray,
    On rocks and hills and mountains call,
    God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
    All measureless and strong;
    Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
    The saints’ and angels’ song.
  3. Could we with ink the ocean fill,
    And were the skies of parchment made,
    Were every stalk on earth a quill,
    And every man a scribe by trade;
    To write the love of God above
    Would drain the ocean dry;
    Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
    Though stretched from sky to sky.

By Frederick M. Lehman, 1917

Responding to love

Jesus gave it all!  He had no possessions to bequeath his followers, but He gave His body, His blood!  And eternal life, blessing, and access to the Father!  It cost Him his life.  It was pure, unselfish love.

But what was the disciples’ response every time Jesus spoke of his impending death for them?  To argue about who of them was the greatest!  Sad smile  Why?  When Jesus prayed (John 17) for His followers, his #1 concern was that they be united in love for one another.

Fast-forward.  God is doing amazing things in the world, and more to come.  What are we Christians doing?  Are we jealously guarding our turf, competing for top ratings?  Are we being picky and in-fighting, majoring on “minors”?  Or are we focusing on God’s priorities of loving one another and taking His love and truth to the world?

One of the Saints

In the country where I live, November 1 is a big day at the cemeteries.  People arrived all day with flowers, tables and chairs and food.  Some even stayed overnight next to the graves of their loved ones.  It’s All Saints’ Day, and the next day (so no one will be left out) is All Souls Day.

Ken Anderson & wife, Christian film maker

But to me, November 1 is the day for remembering one of those saints in particular:  my dad.  That is the day on which he entered his heavenly home thirteen years ago.  He was a saint, not because he was perfect, but because that’s what God calls those who become His children through by receiving the forgiveness and new life He offers through Jesus.  (See John 1:12; 1 Corinthians 1:2.)

I honor my dad for many things that he taught me, whether intentionally or just by example.  Here are some of them:

–To love his spouse and honor her.  (I never heard them argue but I often caught them smooching Red heart.)

–To love the Bible.  I would often find him reading it in the morning in his favorite chair.  And he knew how to simply share the message with others, both in church and around the supper table.

–To have fun and enjoy life Smile.  We went camping and enjoyed spontaneous picnics and drives in the country.  We had Family Nights with games, silliness, and snacks. I remember so well his contagious smile.  We even had our “secret” family recipe for candy that he would supervise on special occasions—Yum!

–To put God first in financial affairs. I remember the chart on which he kept track of the family’s giving to several missionaries and other ministries, even on a meager salary.  He and Mom taught me from an early age to give generously to the Lord and also to save for the future.

–To do what is right no matter what.  There were times when this was painful and unpopular, but he wouldn’t back down.  And he was respected for it.  By his example, I learned courage and sisu*.

–To love reading.  To always be truthful.  To honor family and friendships.

–To do one’s best. He made some beautiful things out of wood. He expressed confidence in me and pride in my efforts and accomplishments.  I especially appreciated his help with studying the night before a test. 

–To accept one’s limitations and make the most of them.  He joined in the joking about his lack of musical ability and his short stature.  But to me, he was a great man.  I look up to him and am pleased when someone remarks how like him I am.

 

* Sisu (pronounced – see’-soo) is a unique Finnish concept. It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.  (finlandia.edu/sisu-our-finnish-identity.html)

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