One of my new favorites! Read up on them and listen!
"We have to keep finding new ways of saying the same thing: 'You are the beloved of God.' But it is important that we not become sentimental about this love. The Scripture makes it clear that God chastens and disciplines those who are loved... This is no ordinary lover we have; this one will be impossible to manipulate. It is God who molds us, and sometimes that hurts. Love isn't always easy on us, but it is always our salvation." - M. Craig Barnes in The Pastor as Minor Poet
"There's a wideness in God's mercy
I cannot find in my own
And He keeps His fire burning
To melt this heart of stone
Keeps me aching with a yearning
Keeps me glad to have been caught
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God
Now I've seen no band of angels
But I've heard the soldiers' songs
Love hangs over them like a banner
Love within them leads them on
To the battle on the journey
And it's never gonna stop
Ever widening their mercies
And the fury of His love
Oh the love of God
And oh, the love of God
The love of God
Joy and sorrow are this ocean
And in their every ebb and flow
Now the Lord a door has opened
That all Hell could never close
Here I'm tested and made worthy
Tossed about but lifted up
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God"
- Rich Mullins, "The Love of God"
"He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.
We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets"
- John Mark McMillan, "How He Loves"
The moment he was through the hole in the roof, all the winds of heaven seemed to lay hold upon him and buffet him hither and thither. His hair blew one way, his nightgown another, his legs threatened to float from under him, and his head to grow dizzy with the swiftness of the invisible assailant. Cowering, he clung with the other hand to the huge hand which held his arm, and fear invaded his heart.
"Oh, North Wind!" he murmured, but the words vanished from his lips as he had seen the soap bubbles that burst too soon vanish from the mouth of his pipe. The wind caught them, and they were nowhere. The couldn't get out at all, but were torn away and strangled. And yet North Wind heard them, and in her answer it seemed to Diamond that just because she was so big and could not help it, and just because her ear and her mouth must seem to him so dreadfully far away, she spoke to him more tenderly and graciously than ever before. Her voice was like the bass of a deep organ without the groan in it; like the most delicate of violin tones without the wail in it; like the most glorious trumpet-ejaculations without the defiance in it; like the sound of falling water without the clatter and clash in it. It was like all of them and neither of them - all of them without their faults, each other them without its peculiarity. After all, it was more like his mother's voice than anything else in the world.
"Diamond, dear," she said, "be a man. What is fearful to you is not the least fearful to me."
"But it can't hurt you," murmured Diamond, "for you're it."
"Then if I'm it and have you in my arms, how can it hurt you?"
"Oh yes! I see," whispered Diamond. "But it looks so dreadful, and it pushes me about so."
"Yes, it does, my dear. That is what it was sent for."
At the same moment, a peal of thunder which shook Diamond's heart against the sides of his bosom hurtled out of the heavens: I cannot say out of the sky, for there was no sky. Diamond had not seen the lightening, for he had been intent on finding the face of North Wind. Every moment the folds of her garment would sweep across his eyes and blind him, but between, he could just persuade himself that he saw great glories of women's eyes looking down through rifts in the mountainous clouds over his head.
He trembled so at the thunder that his knees failed him, and he sank down at North Wind's feet and clasped her round the column of her ankle. She instantly stooped and lifted him from the roof - up - up into her bosom and held him there, saying, as if to an inconsolable child: "Diamond, dear, this will never do."
"Oh yes, it will," answered Diamond. "I am all right now - quite comfortable, I assure you, dear North Wind. If you will only let me stay here, I shall be all right, indeed."
"But you will feel the wind here, Diamond."
"I don't mind that a bit, so long as I feel your arms through it," answered Diamond, nestling closer to her grand bosom.
"Brave boy!" returned North Wind, pressing him closer.
"No," said Diamond. "I don't see that. It's not courage at all, so long as I feel you there."
"But hadn't you better get into my hair? Then you would not feel the wind; you will here."
"Ah, but dear North Wind, you don't know how nice it is to feel your arms about me. It is a thousand times better to have them and the wind together than to have only your hair and the back of your neck and no wind at all."
"But it is surely more comfortable there?"
"Well, perhaps; but I begin to think there are better things than being comfortable."
"Yes, indeed, there are. Well, I will keep you in front of me. You will feel the wind, but not too much. I shall only want one arm to take care of you; the other will be quite enough to sink the ship."
"Oh, dear North Wind! How can you talk so?"
"My dear boy, I never talk; I always mean what I say."
"Then you do mean to sink the ship with the other hand?"
"It's not like you."
"How do you know that?"
"Quite easily. Here you are taking care of a poor little boy with one arm, and there you are sinking a ship with the other. It can't be like you."
"Ah! But which is me? I can't be two me's, you know."
"No. Nobody can be two me's."
"Well, which me is me?"
"Now I must think. There looks to be two."
"Yes. That's the very point. You can't be knowing the think you don't know, can you?"
"Which me do you know?"
"The kindest, goodest, best me in the world," answered Diamond, clinging to North Wind.
"Why am I good to you?"
"I don't know."
"Have you ever done anything for me?"
"Then I must be good to you because I choose to be good to you."
"Why should I choose?"
"Because - because - because you like."
"Why should I like to be good to you?"
"I don't know, except it be because it's good to be good to me."
"That's just it; I am good to you because I like to be good."
"Then why shouldn't you be good to other people as well as to me?"
"That's just what I don't know. Why shouldn't I?"
"Because I am. There it is again," said Diamond. "I don't see that you are. It looks quite the other thing."
"Well, but listen to me, Diamond. You know the one me, and that is good."
"Do you know the other me as well?"
"No. I can't. I shouldn't like to."
"There it is. You don't know the other me. You are sure of one of them?"
"And you are sure there can't be two me's?"
"Then the me you don't know must be the same as the me you do know - else there would be two me's?"
"Then the other me you don't know must be as kind as the me you do know?"
"Besides, I tell you that it is so, only it doesn't look like it. That I confess freely. Have you anything more to object to?"
"No, no, dear North Wind; I am quite satisfied."
"Then I will tell you something you might object. You might say that the me you know if like the other me and that I am cruel all through."
"I know that can't be because you are so kind."
"But that kindness might be only a pretense for the sake being more cruel afterwards."
Diamond clung to her tighter than ever, crying: "No, no, dear North Wind; I can't believe that. I don't believe it. I won't believe it. That would kill me. I love you, and you must love me, else how did I come to love you? How could you know how to put on such a beautiful face if you did not love me and the rest? No. You may sink as many ships as you like, and I won't say another word. I can't say I shall like to see it, you know."
"That's quite another thing," said North Wind; and as she spoke, she gave one spring from the roof of the hayloft and rushed up into the clouds with Diamond on her left arm close to her heart. And as if the clouds knew she had come, they burst into a fresh jubilation of thunderous light. For a few moments, Diamond seemed to be borne up through the depths of an ocean of dazzling flame; the next, the winds were writhing around him like a storm of serpents. For they were in the midst of the clouds and mists, and they, of course took the shapes of the wind, eddying and wreathing and whirling and shooting and dashing about like grey and black water, so that it was as if the wind itself had taken shape, and he saw the grey and black wind tossing and raving most madly all about him. Now it blinded him by smiting him upon the eyes; now it deafened him by bellowing in his ears; for even when the thunder came, he knew now that it was the billows of the great ocean of the air dashing against each other in their haste to fill the hollow scooped out by the lightening; now it took his breath quite away by sucking it from his body with the speed of its rush. But he did not mind it. He only grasped first and then laughed, for the arm of North Wind was about him, and he was leaning against her bosom. It is quite impossible for me to describe what he saw. Did you ever watch a great wave shoot into a winding passage amongst rocks? If you ever did, you would see that the water rushed every way at once, some of it even turning back and opposing the rest; greater confusion you might see nowhere except in a crowd of frightened people. Well, the wind was like that, except that it went much faster, and therefore was much wilder, and twisted and shot and curled and dodged ad clashed and raved ten times more madly than anything else creation except human passions. Diamond saw the threads of the lady's hair streaking it all. In parts, indeed, he could not tell which was hair and which was black storm and vapor. It seemed sometimes that the great billows of mist-muddy wind were woven out of the crossing lines of North Wind's infinite hair, sweeping in endless intertwistings. And Diamond felt as the wind seized his hair, which his mother kept rather long, as if he, too, was a part of the storm, and some of its life went out from him. But so sheltered was he by North Wind's arm and bosom that only at times, in the fiercer onslaught of some curl-billowed eddy, did he recognize for a moment how wild was the storm in which he was carried, nestling in its very core and formative center.
It seemed to Diamond likewise that they were motionless in the center and that all the confusion and fighting went on around them. Flash after flash illuminated the fierce chaos, revealing in varied yellow and blue and grey and dusky red the vaporous contention; peal after peal of thunder tore the infinite waste; but it seemed to Diamond that North Wind and he were motionless, all but the hair. It was not so. They were sweeping with the speed of the wind itself toward the sea.
I don't believe in God's goodness towards me. It is something I want to believe in and an area of faith where I am progressively growing, but it remains true that at the core of my heart, I doubt God's goodness. It is easy for me to believe all of his other attributes and I consent rationally to his goodness, but the degree of stress, anxiety, worry, etc. that I keep around in my life shows that regardless of logical agreement and correct theology, there is a doubting disconnect between my mind and my heart.
Two weeks ago, God used some frustrating circumstances to give this disconnect a lesson. I was with friends in Siem Reap, enjoying the first delicious days of vacation and very ready to move on to the beach so I could completely unwind and let go of an exhausting semester's lingering stress. In a twist of events, though, my passport was stolen and I lost any chance to rest as I battled embassies, immigration control, crowded international buses, and sickness just to be able to return to start a new semester. The stress was almost unbearable, primarily because its roots lay in my anger that God wasn't giving me what I needed. I needed rest and he wasn't being good enough to give it to me.
As I sat on a bus from Cambodia to Bangkok, I read something in George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind that has started to dissolve the head/heart disconnect. MacDonald tells the story of Diamond, a little boy who meets the North Wind and progresses through a series of adventures with her. North Wind is at times an allegory for God and in one particular chapter, MacDonald uses North Wind to give one of the best illustrationa of God's infinitely wild love and goodness towards us, even though it is often almost impossible for us to comprehend this kind of love.
Two keys aspects of the story stand out to me. First, being as close to North Wind as Diamond is brings pain with it. Diamond could choose to stay on the safe side of North Wind, benefiting from her and having relationship with her, but keeping a safe distance. Instead he desires to be close to the very heart of North Wind, regardless of the pain it includes. Being at the center of God's loving heart is simultaneously the best and most painful place to be. Diamond makes the statement, "I begin to think there are better things than being comfortable." Knowing God's love is a tremendously powerful thing, but there is nothing comfortable about it.
Second, it is only possible for us to doubt God's goodness when we think we have done anything for him; when we realize we have never done anything for God, that only he has done on our behalf, we can start to make sense of God's wild goodness. As North Wind holds Diamond in her arms, she sets out to sink a ship. Horrified by this, Diamond questions her goodness. He knows there can't be two North Winds, one good and one bad, so he is faced with deciding if North Wind is completely good or completely bad. Diamond admits he has never done anything for North Wind and therefore their relationship is based entirely on North Wind's goodness to him. Because of this acknowledgment everything about his relationship is based on North Winds desire to do good, Diamond has faith that sinking the ship is within North Wind's good character and they continue on their journey.
It's a difficult argument for me because at times I think I see God's goodness and at times I seem to see God's badness, for a lack of a better word. What is to keep me from deciding that God is entirely bad all the way through? When the ship is sinking in my life, why shouldn't I decide God is bad? And it can only be harder for others. It is one thing for me to flip flop back and forth on this issue because sometimes inconvenient things like stolen passports happen in my life. But what about the really bad stuff in this world? What about sex trafficking? What about people I love going to hell? What about starvation? What about earthquakes that kill thousands of people? Based on the collective experience of humanity, what is to prevent us from concluding that God is bad all the way through? Grace.
George MacDonald got it right when he highlighted grace as the evidence in our lives that God is good. If I think I have contributed anything in my relationship with God, or on the large scale, that people have contributed anything, then yes, there is enough in this world to think God is bad. But if I believe that I have not been able to give God anything, that even my best is worthless, that God is in my life simply because of his own desire to be in my life, then that is enough goodness for him to be thoroughly good. MacDonald's point is that if I accept God's grace in my life, then I also accept his goodness, even when I don't understand the sinking ships.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around all of this. No, I am trying to wrap my heart around it. I want it to transform the way I see my life and my God, so that stress and anxiety don't define me. If I lived like God was good to me, fear would have nothing to control. I want belief in God's goodness to sink down into me, deeply and completely. And it will. Just as the North Wind's billowy and blustery presence changes Diamond and leaves her mark in his life, so will God's powerful and loving presence leave its mark in my life.
During my vacation, I was unexpectedly stuck in Phnom Penh while waiting for my stolen passport to be replaced. Upon arriving in the city, my roommate and I didn't have a hotel booked and ended up heading to the closest hostel that seemed decent. Everything about it seemed fine - location was great, rooms were big and clean, owners were helpful - until I woke up in the middle of the night to hear English speaking men making a ruckus with Cambodian women. They were audibly very drunk and in the process of the completing the night by getting the women into their hostel rooms. The next morning, I sat outside my room in order to get a better wireless connection and witnessed one of saddest scenes. The two men where young Americans and they were in the process of paying and sending off the Cambodian prostitutes they had brought back in the night.
The women's eyes were bloodshot and though they laughed and smiled at the men as they said goodbye, the look of emptiness was unmistakable. One girl sat across from me while waiting for her friend and my heart broke for her. I don't know how exactly to describe her expression, but in addition to emptiness, it contained sadness, weariness, and hardness. It was not the face of a woman who liked herself. I felt repulsed by her, but hut for her; however, the real repulsion came when I looked at the men. Deep, deep anger, loathing, and hatred was inside of me. I felt nauseous. A very long string of curses came to mind, but I won't write them down. What misery for all involved. What evil really does exist.
A woman can legally work as a prostitute in Cambodia when she is 18 years old, but many are forced, or sold, into the work. I don't know what these two women's stories were, but bumping into them gave a whole new meaning to the anti-trafficking signs posted all over the country. Many hotels in Phnom Penh specifically state if they are "No Sex Tourism Allowed" locations and I quickly learned to look for such places when booking places to stay the city.
Please take time to watch the following videos. The third one isn't possible to embed, but please take the time to click on the url.
This is the largest form of slavery in our modern world. This evil does exist beyond your computer screen. I've seen it now first hand.