Rise Up, My Love (113): Most Exclaimed

Sun behind PalmsSong of Solomon 4:10 “How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!” I do not think there is another verse in the entire of the King James’ translation of Scripture—perhaps in the entire world of all great literature—where there are three exclamation marks punctuating one sentence! This verse comes near the midpoint of The Song of Songs, and it stands as a great proclamation of God’s love for us. If we could fathom the meaning of this one verse and allow it to permeate our souls, we would understand perhaps the greatest mystery of the universe…and comprehend “what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge,” and “be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

So, just exactly what does this great lover of our souls say to us?

“How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse!” The king looks into his beloved’s eyes, sees her love, and is totally overwhelmed. This time it is not her beauty that he praises; it is her love. Oh yes, beauty attracts, but beauty alone will never sustain a relationship. “Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates” (Proverbs 31:30-31). Solomon’s bride has proven her love through tireless acts of devotion. She is not only beautiful, she is full of the beauty of goodness.

“How fair!” Notice, he does not tell her “how fair”…he does not explain it, he exclaims it! How fair? More fair than words can express. Have you ever received something so thrilling that you just couldn’t think of the words to describe your excitement? What did you say? “How wonderful!” “How thrilling!” “How beautiful!” This is what the bridegroom is saying: “How fair!” Sun behind palms close upThe Hebrew word for “fair” is yapeh which means “delightful; sweet; beautiful.” The King sees His beloved’s love and finds it too delightful for words. The Hebrew word translated “love” is the word dod which is frequently used to describe the physical expressions of love. It is reasonable to assume that the King has gone from being delighted by the love he sees in her eyes to being delighted by the experience of her love.

The love of Christ for us is beyond comprehension. That he should so delight in our love for him is beyond imagination. Is it possible that he could be as overwhelmed by our love as we are by his? Even though our love for him is truly just grateful appreciation for all he is and does? “We love him because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). “Christ is the center to which all response to the love of God moves” (Watchman Nee). As we understand more fully the mystery of God’s love, we are drawn into greater depths of love for him. This is understandable. But, that Christ is just as thrilled with our love—no, even more thrilled—that is unfathomable. How could he be sublimely happy with our love, which at best is a dim reflection of appreciation for all he is and does? Sun behind palms closerIt is because he loves us with an infinite, perfect love. His love is greater than ours, and his understanding is deeper than ours; likewise, his joy in us is greater even than ours in Him. In I Samuel 20:41, it says that Jonathan and David “wept one with another, until David exceeded.” David, as the type of Christ, felt even more deeply than his beloved friend Jonathan. His love was greater, so his tears and pain over their separation were greater.

I remember the day my toddling firstborn son (over 35 years ago) brought me a beautiful yellow flower as a gift. I recognized the flower immediately as the bloom from a zucchini plant. Worse, it was a zucchini plant from the neighbor’s garden. But, I also recognized the love that went into the gift. I gave him a kiss and thanked him. Then, we found a little vase and put the fragile bud into some fresh water on the table. Finally, I explained what type of flower it was, and to whom the flower belonged. He helped me wash up the breakfast dishes to earn a dime, and then we took the dime over to the neighbor as recompense for the flower.

Isn’t this the way the Lord deals with us? So often, our best efforts are “all wrong” by his perfect standard, but does he trample on us for trying to love him? No, he is gentle and kind. He sees our heart and is touched by every tiny step in the right direction. A wilted dandelion in the hand of a young child given with love may bring more joy to the heart of a parent than a whole bouquet of roses given without love. This is why our Lord says in I Corinthians 13 that no amount of eloquence, knowledge, or self-sacrifice can compensate for a lack of love, and that true love is the greatest gift one can give. Close up of sunChrist wants our love, recognizes our love, and is thrilled by our love, no matter how feeble. We despise our imperfect graces, but Christ rejoices over them. Our greatest insight into our spiritual richness is to see our own poverty. Our greatest attempt at love only makes us see how little we love; our greatest step toward humility is to recognize our own pride; the closest we become to being Christ-like is to understand how hopelessly unlike the Master we truly are. We tug at our little treasure of a dandelion until it is torn and crushed, and if we’re spiritually “old” enough, we’re almost ashamed to bring it to our Lord at all. But, he reaches out and lifts us into his arms. He is not ashamed to call us brethren! He is not ashamed because we are so clumsy and have no resources for buying roses. He is thrilled with us! He holds us to himself and weeps tears of joy that we have come to him and have brought our feeble gift. Can you feel his almighty love?! His love is infinite. It is the magnitude of his love rather than the perfection of ours that makes him exclaim, “How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse.”



I’m Thankful For…

They say that if you take the time to verbalize thanks for 3 blessings each night you’ll become a perceptibly happier person, and so, I’m going to make a more conscious effort to count my blessings night by night! Here are my 3 in honor of Thanksgiving Day in America:
I am thankful for life, liberty, and the freedom to pursue happiness.  Baby Samuel Azariah
Life! I am so grateful that our newest grandchildren, Baby Samuel Azariah, is alive after 3 days in this world as a super preemie. “Samuel” means “asked of God,” and he has been fervently asked for these past 5 years! “Azariah” means “God helps,” and we are throwing ourselves on God’s mercy to help this tiny babe thrive. Life is an incredible gift from God, and He wants us not only to live, but to live abundantly! Jesus explained:  “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Thank you for life! FredI am also thankful for eternal life. Yesterday a dear, saintly believer was ushered from this life to the next. He was the man I mentioned on my November 3 post…diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and passed from death to eternal life in less than a month. I know that he is now safely in the arms of Jesus and the presence of God: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28). Thank you, dear Father, not only for the incredible gift of life here on earth, but the promise of eternal life in heaven with you for all who will accept the gift of salvation through faith in Christ! “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Seagulls in flightI’m also very grateful for liberty…the freedom to soar, glide, come and go freely. Sea gull flyingMy heart aches for the millions of people who are not free in this life, but I also know that our spirits can be free regardless of our physical circumstances: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Seagulls landing for lunchI’m also extremely grateful for the chance to pursue happiness. I notice that our constitution doesn’t promise happiness, but only the right to pursue it within the bounds of the law. Happiness means different things to different people, but I know that, for me, happiness is bound up in my relationship with God: “Happy is that people, whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 144:15). Great Stirrup Cay      I was happy last week spending time with my family in a tropical paradise, Parents with 27.5 week preemiebut I’m every bit as happy (& more so) here at home, delighting in our new baby! Parrot Upside Down              May the Lord bless you with your own unique experience of life
—eternal life—liberty, and happiness this Thanksgiving and every day! Ducks in snow

“Even though it’s only Thanksgiving Day, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” (Inspired by Richard Roeper…it’s snowy here!)

“You can tell you ate too much for Thanksgiving when you have to let your bathrobe out.” Jay Leno

“I approximated the Black Friday experience at home by hurling myself into a wall a number of times and then ordering online.” Kumail Nanjiani

Happy Thanksgiving Thoughts and Leu Gardens

“O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.”
~William Shakespearealgreen180652
“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.” ~Cicerowilliamblake378670While visiting in Orlando last week, we had the great joy of visiting Leu Gardens. All the remaining pictures were taken at this beautiful tropical, botanical garden.IMG_2759“For flowers that bloom about our feet;
For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;
For song of bird, and hum of bee;
For all things fair we hear or see,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee!”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson 11.20.14 Leu Gardens copy“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” ~Thornton Wilder Pink Rose copy
“Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people.” ~The Bible, 1 Chronicles 16:8 IMG_2762“Remember God’s bounty in the year. String the pearls of His favor. Hide the dark parts, except so far as they are breaking out in light! Give this one day to thanks, to joy, to gratitude!” ~Henry Ward Beecher Fully open White Rose“The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!” ~Henry Ward Beecher Red and White Rose“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” ~The Bible, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 IMG_2748“If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch you must first invent the universe.” — Carl Sagan (Thank God for our Creator, who made apples!)Pink Roses“Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, — a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.”
~George Herbert White Azalea
“Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day.”
~ Robert Caspar Lintner Multicolored Rose“For what I have received may the Lord make me truly thankful. And more truly for what I have not received.” ~Storm Jameson (Amen.)Yellow Roses“O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good; for his mercy endures for ever.” ~The Bible, 1 Chronicles 16:34 Rose and White Rose“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” ~John Fitzgerald Kennedy White roses“To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” ~Johannes A. Gaertner Pink Rose fully blooming copy“I give thanks to my Creator for this wonderful life where each of us has the opportunity to learn lessons we could not fully comprehend by any other means.” ~Joseph B. WirthlinAzalea“But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”~Jonah 2:9Double Delight copy“For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson Pink Rose B.W
“At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee.”
~The Bible, Psalm 119:62 Yellow Orange Rose copy“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.”
~The Bible, 2 Corinthians 9:15 (The gift? Our Lord, Jesus Christ!)Irises“Dear Lord; we beg but one boon more:
Peace in the hearts of all men living,
peace in the whole world this Thanksgiving.”
~Joseph Auslander Pink and White Rose
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”
~The Bible, Philippians 4:6 Peach Rose copy

Great Stirrup Cay: What Makes it Paradise?

Multicolored RoseLast week I had the great joy of doing something I’d never done before! Family Lunch At the tender age of 64, I went on a vacation with my 2 brothers and my sister. Rose Bud I think the last time we went anywhere as a family was probably 60 years ago when we moved from Lafayette, IN to East Lansing, MI. So…it’s been a long time in coming.  In fact, it never even occurred to me to dream it up, but last summer at our family reunion (with all spouses, kids, and grand children), one of us olderRob, Wolle, and Me folks mentioned that it’s hard to talk to one another while also wanting to enjoy our kids…and then one thing led to another, and my brother Wolle invited us to join him for a cruise, and nobody could make it but the biological sibs…and away we went! My sister Annie was the only one of the five of us who couldn’t make it.Port of Miami We departed on a short cruise together out of Miami Norwegian Sky in Miami Harbor on Norwegian Cruise Line’s beautiful ship, “Sky,”  and then spent the remainder of the week in Orlando with my sister Lynn. Great Stirrup Cay The most exotic day for me was our visit to Norwegian’s private island, called Great Stirrup Cay, Great Stirrup Cay Palms a sandy, 250-acre gem lined with coconut palms (did I mention tourists?) Seagulls having breakfast and alive with the raucous antics of sea gulls and sanderlings. Norwegian Sky BBQ lunch My brother Rob was just recovering from surgery for spinal stenosis (less than 2 weeks out) & had no business being on the trip a’tall, so he came later for lunch, Norwegian Sky with Tenderbut Wolle and I hopped aboard the first tender we could catch and hiked to the far end of the island before anybody else even seemed to know it existed! Great Stirrup Cay Lagoon 1 There is a gorgeous lagoon near the very western end of the island, and after a good trek in the balmy 83° breeze,  we’d worked up enough body heatGreat Stirrup Cay Lagoon to love swimming in the lush, tropical water, which was also about 83°!   🙂  Great Stirrup Cay BeachThe best snorkeling is along the rocky islands and outcroppings, Snorkling in the Bahamasso after a great barbeque lunch (provided by the cruise line), Wolle and I enjoyed snorkeling to our hearts’ content (because the water was so warm). Underwater snorklingThe fish were very curious. When I held still, they’d come up and try to nibble at me! However, they were camera shy & swam off whenever I tried to film them. Great Stirrup Cay Vegetation Surrounded by such beauty, it’s pretty hard to resist imagining what it would be like to live there. You know…Robinson Crusoe or Swiss Family Robinson style…Great Stirrup Cay HarborBut despite the scenic beauty and luxurious weather, it occurred to me that what I always love best about being wherever I am is the company! Relaxing at Great Stirrup CayParadise wouldn’t be paradise without having two absolutely great big brothers to share it with (…or my husband or other loved ones). Paradise for me is not primarily not a place, it’s a presence. Being in the presence of warmth and love. Great Stirrup Cay BeachUltimately, what makes any place a paradise is the warm embrace of God’s love. Without Him, even heaven would seem like hell, but with Him, any place on earth seems almost like heaven to me!

“Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).

Not by Might, Nor by Power

Do you ever think it’s all up to you and then realize it’s really not? I’m all about trying my hardest and doing my best, but the truth is…my best effort is simply not enough to actually accomplish whatever it’s in my heart to do. Do you find that true for you too? Life is always bigger and the challenges greater than they appear. For instance, I love writing this blog and imagine that if I do a good job, the blog will flourish and more people will read it and find encouragement. Only, last week I felt convicted that my job was to concentrate on my brothers and sister during a wonderful week of reunion and not take any time to write posts (other than a couple I prepared ahead). Still, at the end of the week, instead of having very few viewers, the blog hit a new high, was visited over 1800 times and had a dozen new followers. That is a perfect example of the obvious: God is ultimately the bottom line in life. Whatever good happens is by his grace and mercy. Hard work is good, but God’s grace is the true determiner of what will happen. DSC03053Now, that was a very tiny test last week. This morning was a huge test for our family: After days of battling pre-eclampsia, my daughter-in-law had an emergency C-section, and we’re now a rejoicing family with a new 27-week-0ld baby in our midst! Baby Samuel weighs 1 pound, 9 oz. and is just a touch over 1 foot long. His hand is about the size of his father’s thumb nail. He’s in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) all hooked up and looking so tiny & fragile.DSC03050  (Here he is with his dad [and my son], Daniel.)  I am praying like fury for this little life (as well as for Brianna’s recovery), and I know that Daniel, Brianna, our family, and everybody in the NICU is working like crazy to help him survive. But, ultimately, his tiny little life—like all of ours—is in the hand of an infinitely loving and powerful Father who cares more about him than even we do and will provide for him as only God is able. For us trembling humans, it’s the fear v.s. faith trial. May we all choose faith! All prayers appreciated! Thank you. 🙂DSC03061

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”
(Zachariah 4:6)

Rise Up, My Love (112): The Chains God Puts around our Necks

Chains of Gold. British MuseumSong of Solomon 4:9 “Thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.” Solomon’s bride was adorned with golden chains about her neck (1:10; 4:4). The chains were doubtless very exquisite works of art, but could any ornament—no matter how elaborate and beautiful—arouse a man to passion?…especially a necklace that was most likely a gift from Solomon himself?

Efforts to entice a man by ornamentation alone (particularly those which he’s provided), would probably be destined for failure…as is so aptly described in Proverbs 11:22, “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.” But, when the outward adornment is preceded by the first fruits of godly love, as revealed by the look in her eyes, the bride’s jeweled neck served to heighten the king’s passion. Why? Certainly the brilliance of the jewelry would attract him, particularly against the backdrop of her beautiful neck, but perhaps he was even more aroused by what the chain symbolized.

There were likely many chains about the bride’s neck, but the king says that just one chain was enough to impassion Him. What about the chains stirred him? What did they represent in his mind that so aroused Him?

As a woman, I have discovered a special sense of possession that comes to a man when you wear things he has given. What woman has not felt the flush of appreciation when a man offers her his sweater on a particularly chilly day? She feels foolish for failing to have given proper forethought to prepare for her own needs, but she feels very grateful for the man’s sacrifice and provision to care for her. The man also feels a sense of nobility…and rightly so…for having “rescued a damsel in distress.”

Any man may care for any woman in such a gracious fashion (or vica versa!), but the more a man provides for a woman, the more he develops a sense of protection…which may gradually turn into a sense of possession. Caring for basic necessities is part of our calling as believers: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Offering—and receiving—gifts is an entirely different matter. A gift says something more than “I am concerned about you as a child of God’s creation.” It says, “I care about you in a special way.” The more extravagant the gift, the stronger the statement.

I wear a wedding ring as  a symbol of my husband’s honor and protection. And, my husband loves my ring as much as I do…if not more…because it reminds him again of his love for me. I have seen him reach down and admire it sometimes when he sits beside me at church, and then he smiles at me. This, I think, may be one of the things that so delighted the king when he saw his beloved adorned with a beautiful golden chain about her neck. He may have been reminded of all the love and passion that first inspired him to give her such a gift.

There is something else which might have aroused the bridegroom’s passion: the contrast between the bride as he was enjoying her at the moment, and the bride as he could remember her from their first meeting. Do you remember one of the bride’s first pleas? “Look not upon me, because I am black” (1:6). Look at the description our Lord gives in Ezekiel. 16:1-14. He takes us as (spiritually) unwanted, unwashed orphans, causes us to live, brings us up tenderly, and then marries us when we’re of age and in need of a husband! “I washed thee with water…I clothed thee also with broidered work…I put bracelets upon thy hands, and a chain on thy neck…and a beautiful crown upon thine head…And thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God.”

May we ever contemplate his amazing grace—although I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand it—and may we never lose our adoration and appreciation for him. May we never, ever fall into the terrible treachery of “trusting in our own beauty” or of going astray because of our success, as happened to Israel in Ezekiel. May we never forget that the development of anything of beauty in us comes only from the Lord’s “comeliness, which I had put upon thee.”

When our Lord finds us, we are black with sin and bond slaves bound by the chains of Satan. But, what is the joyous call of God? “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments…shake thyself from the dust…loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion” (Isaiah 52:1-2). Like Zion of old, we are the bride of Christ…awakened from the dead, released from the chains of sin, and to be beautified like “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).

The chains of sin have been broken, and the chains of Christ’s love are gracing our necks! Yes, we are bound, but with the “bands of love;” Christ is to us “as they that take off the yoke on their jaws” (Hosea 11:4) and has invited us instead to “take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Matthew 11:29).

What are the chains of love Christ provides for our neck? One is the way of wisdom, which “shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck” (Proverbs 1:9). Another one is the “ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (I Peters 3:4). It is all the graces with which our Lord has enriched our spirit, provided by his precious blood and fashioned together like links in a golden necklace: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, faith, hope, wisdom, and on and on! The graces of his Spirit sparkle like links in a golden chain, adorning our necks and arousing our Lord’s ardor for us! Oh, the treasures he has provided for his beloved. May we wear his gifts with head erect and eyes aglow, ever gazing in adoration at our Lord and Savior!


Benefits of Unity: The 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympics

DSC02186Did you see any of the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympics’s opening exercises? 1 Nanjing Youth OlympicsFrom a distance, it almost looked like a fireworks display, 2 Nanjing Youth Olympics or possibly as if you’re looking through a kaleidoscope. 3 2014 Nanjing Youth OlympicsBut look again…a lot more closely! DSC02222All of these artistic geometric designs were created by people…DSC02178hundreds of people…DSC02217extremely fit young athletes 4 Nanjing Youth Olympicswho trained and strained to learn their roles 7 Opening Exercises Nanjing Youth Olympics…working hard together for many months, DSC02225 putting aside their own agendas in order to create something grand, DSC02212 supporting each other and holding hands 6 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympics…all in order to put on an unbelievable performance DSCN0311 that absolutely dazzled the watching world. DSC02165Can you imagine what would happen if Christians trained like athletes? DSCN0285If we concentrated all our efforts into making beautiful designs from our lives…5 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympicsnot only as individuals, but as a world-wide church, the body of Christ? DSC02189Just imagine all we could accomplish DSC02175if we really supported one another and had true unity in Spirit, DSCN0281trusting God to protect us and make everything turn out right. Arena for 2014 Nanjing Youth OlympicsI think the world would be amazed, DSC02223and God would be pleased.DSC02239May we work together every day to build up the body of Christ DSC02173and share God’s love with a watching world.

“You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22). DSCN0297(If you’d like to see an 8-minute clip of this event, you can watch it here):