Sunday, May 1, 2016

MY LITTLE GIRL

As many first-time mothers can probably relate to, nothing holds my interest like observing my little girl. Her facial expressions, the excitement in her eyes, her curiosity—just about everything she does brings out the motherly love in me. And one wonderful day I realized that’s how Jesus, in His unconditional love, is looking at me.
As I watched my Ashley Elle sitting up on the bed and gazing at me with her bright blue eyes, all smiles, I thought, How could I not love her? Sure, at six months she is as active as a puppy, she makes messes, she fusses, she wakes up in the night and wants to be fed when I just want to sleep—but no matter what she does, there is no way that I could ever stop loving or caring for her!
Then I remembered the previous day, when I had felt so low and far from God. I had made so many mistakes! Surely He had stopped loving me—or so it seemed. Yet as I looked into my baby’s eyes, He spoke to me. How could I ever stop loving you? Why would I ever want to stop caring for you? You are the joy of My heart. Sure, you aren’t perfect and you sometimes make a mess of things, but that’s all just part of growing up. My love for you is ever constant, never changing. And don’t worry, you will always be My little girl!
If one feels the need of something grand, something infinite, something that makes one feel aware of God, one need not go far to find it. I think that I see something deeper, more infinite, more eternal than the ocean in the expression of the eyes of a little baby when it wakes in the morning and coos or laughs because it sees the sun shining on its cradle.—Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
Your children are the greatest gift God will give to you, and their souls the heaviest responsibility He will place in your hands. Take time with them, teach them to have faith in God. Be a person in whom they can have faith. When you are old, nothing else you’ve done will have mattered as much.—Lisa Wingate
Psalm 127:3 ESV / Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.
Proverbs 22:6 ESV / Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Ephesians 6:4 ESV / Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

POSTCARD FROM VERONA

I was born in the hometown of Romeo and Juliet. Every day on my way to school, I used to walk past the famous balcony where Shakespeare has the pair exchange passionate vows after a party. I recently returned to Verona, in the north of Italy, and passed by again—but the thick crowd of tourists made it almost impossible to get near the famous balcony. I noticed the walls around were covered with signatures and it seems that the city has to periodically repaint them, so as to allow more star struck tourists to write their names. The street hosts a number of shops that sell love-related souvenirs.
I don’t know what Shakespeare would think of the way his story has been reimagined and adapted countless times. One thing for sure, it’s never been more famous—when I’m asked where I’m from, my answer usually brings on smiles and wistful sighs: Romeo and Juliet.
When I was a teenager, I too felt very attracted to Romeo and Juliet’s tragic story, and for a number of years, I was secretly longing for my Romeo to come by and fulfill all my heart’s desires, but life—and 38 years of marital ups and downs—taught me many lessons along the way.
I recently came upon a great quote: “There’s a big difference between falling in love with someone and loving someone. Falling in love simply happens. But in order to really love someone you need to sweat, to suffer, to laugh, to stay awake, to give of yourself. Real love doesn’t just happen. Real love is something you make happen.”
As much as I cherish great romantic stories, I’ve learned that real love is something quite different. It stands the test of time, it’s about giving and not getting, and it’s foremost a commitment. Back to Shakespeare: “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Quite a challenge then.
1 Peter 3:7 ESV / Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Song of Solomon 7:6 ESV / How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights!
Song of Solomon 6:3 ESV / I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.

Friday, April 29, 2016

THE KALEIDOSCOPE OF GOD’S LOVE

Love is like a stream. Some days it flows and rushes, for there is plenty. On other days it trickles, and you can see it bouncing against the unseen rocks. But even when love is dry and has lost its flow and lies nearly empty on the muddy bottom, there is more love to come.
We remember how Jesus loved, how He forgave, and how He reached out to show He cared. By using Jesus as the Source of love, we can fill up the stream again. Life has the extra dimension found in Jesus Christ. He is the Authority on love. Jesus loves when love is hard. He loves when love is rejected. He loves when love makes little sense. Jesus loves when others would quit. Jesus loves when others are ugly. Jesus loves when others are cold. Jesus loves when others are unworthy.
And when we feel that love has dried up, we reach out to Him, and learn to love again.
Author unknown
Nothing you will ever do could make God love you more than He does right now: not greater achievement, not greater beauty, not wider recognition, not even greater levels of spirituality and obedience. Nothing you have ever done could make God love you any less: not any sin, not any failure, not any guilt, not any regret.
John Ortberg (b. 1957)
Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love. —Romans 8:35,37–39 MSG
The love of God is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing, too. God does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but men. He loves us all with a mighty love that has no beginning and can have no end. —A. W. Tozer (1897–1963)
God’s love reflects His eternal absolutes. God’s love is eternal, like He is: more durable than time, wider and deeper than the incalculable dimensions of the cosmos. As He tells us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn you.” —David Jeremiah (b. 1941)
 Jeremiah 29:11 ESV / For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Romans 5:8 ESV / But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 John 4:18 ESV / There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

RESERVED FOR HIM

Some of the loneliest people are surrounded by others, yet they feel that no one understands them.—That is, the real person that they are. They long for someone to share their interests and problems, to sympathize with them. But it’s true that even your lifelong companion, your closest friend, does not really know you, does not really understand you after all, because in every life there’s a locked door or two where no one enters but yourself.
Why do we have this deep craving to be understood? Why is there this intense longing to have someone enter into what we feel of joys and triumphs, sorrows and defeats? When reality is that when we climb the heights of exaltation, there is no one who can fully enter into our emotions, and in the depths of sorrow, some tears are always shed alone. Why is that?
God made you for Himself, and He knew that this very sense of isolation, of not being understood, would drive you to Him. God Himself is the answer, the fulfillment. And only as He Himself fills that longing will you ever be satisfied. He made you that way, He made you for Himself, and not until He fills your life will you ever be free from that loneliness. He’s put a little sign on the table of your heart, which reads, “Reserved for Me.” He knows that when we find human sympathy so lacking, we seek for the divine.
God is big enough, great enough to fill any soul, and His is complete companionship, ideal and perfect friendship. This lack we all sometimes feel, this incompleteness, is a need for God. He who made us is the only One who can fill every part of our life. There’s no need to ever be lonely. Jesus said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you, for lo, I am with you always.” Let Him come into your lonely heart and take over, and then you can say, as Jesus said, “I am not alone because the Father is with me.”
You can turn to God’s Son when you’re feeling alone by praying this simple prayer: “Thank You, Jesus, for Your love and for saving me. Please come into my heart and accompany me on my life’s journey.”
Isaiah 41:10 ESV / Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
1 Peter 5:7 ESV / Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Joshua 1:5 ESV / No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

GOD NEVER LETS GO

Quite a few years ago, when I had barely begun my journey as a volunteer missionary, I was faced with a big decision. I was fretting and fearful and ended up struggling for days with this decision. God eventually answered by giving me a simple illustration.
It was a picture of a little girl holding her father’s hand as they walked. All the while, she was fearfully begging her father to hold on to her: “Daddy, please don’t let go of my hand!” On and on she went, until finally her father stopped, knelt down, and looked straight into her eyes. With a firm but loving voice, he told her that he would never let go of her, that as long as she wanted to stay close to him, he would always lead her and walk beside her.
I got the point and made my decision. There have been many other important decisions to make since then, but when I struggle with fear of the outcome, of making a mistake, or of going astray, this illustration always comes back to me.
Of course, life is full of wrong turns and missteps, and sometimes we zig when we should zag, but we can always return to God’s side and find our way again. He promised to never leave us or forsake us.
On the lonely and rugged mountain trails, He is our companion. On the trek through the desert, when we thirst and feel the dryness of life and wonder when (and if) we’ll find the oasis, He is bringing us closer with each step. When we push through the crowds and confusion of day-to-day life and struggle against endless questions, weariness, and discouragement, He walks beside us and tells us, I’m here. Talk to Me. Tell Me all about it.
And say we do fall, we blow it, and mess up—like so many of His followers that have slipped, tripped, and fallen on their way through life’s journey. Does He ever give up on us?
Of course not. The thought would never even cross His loving and forgiving mind.
Then why do we worry and fret? No matter what decisions I’ve faced or how daunting they might have seemed, I can sincerely say that I have never regretted holding on to His hand!
Matthew 28:18-20 ESV / And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV / Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV / For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A MAN AMONG MEN

It looked like a small settlement—rows of matching buildings on one side and neat vegetable gardens on the other. In the distance was a basketball court. Farther yet, a vendor sold fruit.
I walked up the dirt path behind my father, who chatted with some men as he walked. Small crowds gathered as we passed by. They stared and whispered. I didn’t know what they were saying, but I walked on, trying not to show any sign of fear.
Was I afraid? Of course! I was 15 years old, these were no ordinary men, and this was no ordinary village. This was the country’s national prison, where men were put away and forgotten.
My father and I walked until we came to a small chapel. A few men had already gathered, waiting on the benches for some kind of entertainment. It was hot, and I wished I were at home, sipping orange juice and watching TV rather than trying to escape the tension of the moment.
I listened as my father spoke with the inmates. As an ex-seaman and now a traveling counselor, my dad conversed comfortably with everyone from politicians to drug addicts, and he taught us kids to do the same. But I could not understand the passion that drove him to make these visits to the prison every week.
My father and mother were moved by the plight of others. Our large family could only afford the basics and a few small luxuries, but when they saw the need in others’ lives, they always tried to help. Dad spoke of building a Sunday school for the inmates’ children. He said he would try to organize sports tournaments and workshops. Whatever he did, he tried to do better. Wherever he worked, he could work harder—and he did.
Dad turned and motioned me toward the front. “Come help me sing,” he said.
I stood by his side, facing the crowd of prisoners. They were hushed, expectant. He pulled out his nylon-string guitar, strapped it on, and thumbed through the hymnal till he came to the song he had in mind. He wasn’t a particularly talented musician, but that didn’t matter. Dad had spirit in everything he did, and when you were around him, you felt it. A few riffs broke the silence. He began to sing:
O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works Thy hand hath made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed. …
His eyes signaled to me. As I joined in on the chorus, so did some of the men. They closed their eyes, as if picturing a wonderful and loving God, a God who ruled the entire universe, yet wanted to be in the heart of every man.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
And then my father read from the Bible about God and His love—a love with power great enough to forgive any sin and love any sinner.
That day I understood Dad a bit better. I saw that he felt compelled to walk among outcasts as Christ had done two thousand years before him. It made no difference that their past was reprehensible and their future bleak. When he looked at each one, he saw a human being, a unique and beloved creation of God, and he wanted to make their present world a better place.
Years passed. Many of Dad’s dreams eventually became realities. The sports league was organized; Sunday school activities were led by the inmates themselves. As a result of my dad’s efforts to raise awareness of the prisoners’ plight, sponsorships began to pour in for new initiatives. Dad’s seemingly insignificant efforts created a ripple effect that reached into thousands of hearts. My dad was granted access to any prison ward in the country, and he traveled often into those dark corners, continuing his mission of hope. If he were ever imprisoned for his faith, Dad sometimes joked, he would feel right at home.
Thinking about the lives that have been changed for the better as a result of the way my parents have continued to help others everywhere they walk, be it a high road or low, reminds me of another who walked among men, the One commissioned to bring God’s love to the world long ago.
Jesus said, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. … Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Genesis 6:6 ESV / And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Colossians 3:12-13 ESV / Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV / Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Monday, April 25, 2016

PASSION REKINDLED

I don’t remember the first time we met; he just always seemed to be around when I was growing up. My parents made a point of inviting him to join us on summer vacations and practically every other family event. We used to walk to and from school together—we were quite close back then and talked a lot.
When I got older, I began to feel annoyed and imposed upon. I wanted to make new friends and have new experiences, and he was an embarrassing reminder of my past. Eventually, I decided I simply couldn’t have him hanging around anymore and told him that I needed a break.
I don’t remember what he said, but I remember the hurt in his eyes. He agreed to give me space, and I felt liberated for a while, finally getting to travel on my own, meet new friends, and build memories that didn’t include him. Every so often, his face would pop into my mind and I’d wonder what he was up to, but I tried to avoid dwelling on the subject. Sure, dumping him was hard, and I felt a bit guilty for how things had gone down between us, but … what to do?
Once, I thought I caught a glimpse of him on a crowded street. Another time, I had to stare closely at a beggar at a corner, as I thought for a moment that I recognized something in his face.
Then one day I went to watch a new musical with some friends, and to my surprise, there he was—on the big screen! Somehow I’d missed him becoming a superstar, but there was no mistake—it was him up there singing, dancing, and oh so cool! Incredibly charming and attractive, but also brave, unconventional, and compassionate.
As I watched, my heart was overwhelmed by all kinds of emotions, some new and some I recognized from our previous life together. I really must not have known him as well as I thought I did. Or have I changed?
It wasn’t long before we bumped into each other. His happiness to see me and his warm, loving hug erased all the misunderstandings of our past, and suddenly everything made sense again.
Since then, we’ve renewed our relationship and spend as much time together as we can. I’ve gone back to thinking he’s the most fun, adventurous, and tender person I know. We still experience ups and downs, but I can’t imagine a life without my best friend, Jesus!
1 Corinthians 14:37 ESV / If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.
Luke 6:46 ESV / “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
John 16:13 ESV / When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.