That’s my name, don’t wear it out.

September 30, 2012 1 comment

Or, What’s the Heart of Holiness?

Isaiah 44:1-5

‘But now listen, Jacob, my servant,
Israel, whom I have chosen.
This is what the Lord says –
he who made you, who formed you in the womb,
and who will help you:
do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant,
Jeshurun,[a] whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
They will spring up like grass in a meadow,
like poplar trees by flowing streams.
Some will say, “I belong to the Lord”;
others will call themselves by the name of Jacob;
still others will write on their hand, “The Lord’s,”
and will take the name Israel.

A friend of mine recently posted on holiness, and on the difference and necessity of two definitions of sanctification – positional sanctification, where we’re made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and progressive sanctification, where we are gradually being changed by the work of the Spirit in our character, behaviour and desires to become more and more like Jesus.

It was a great article, clear and balanced, and it made me think about how I view holiness. Being married has really helped me on this one. I am positionally married, I suppose you could say – I have the wedding certificate, even though it’s in Italian and I tend to get blank looks from people when I present it for inspection. I am also, I am told by a certain person (currently enjoying a Sunday afternoon nap after a morning of hard work moving gravel from one part of the garden to another), that not only am I becoming better at this wife malarky but I am becoming more beautiful. Not that I ever see myself ever becoming a desperate housewife – after all, my husband has realized that I sincerely hate ironing, and has recently begun to take on extra ironing responsibilities, as well as cooking almost every meal. So he is also growing and maturing as a husband.

We are responsible to eachother and very transparent with eachother, and of course, in an exclusive emotional and sexual partnership.

But the whole point, the whole point of all of this is that we belong to eachother. “I am my beloved’s and he is mine,” says the remarkably empowered young woman protagonist of Songs of Songs 2:16. Our position as “married” and our progressive maturity into a great husband and wife (and in the not too distant future, I hope, a mother and father), both absolutely essential and vitally important, have their root and origin in our fundamental relationship I am his/hers. This the most intimate picture God uses to demonstrate what holiness is about.

So, Paul writes in Ephesians 5:

25 “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – 30 for we are members of his body. 31 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ 32 This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

And in 1 Corinthians 7:

4 “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”

We are eachother’s special possession, we are, in that sense, holy to one another. And this is just an incomplete picture: we have the capacity to relate to one another in this way because we are made in the image of God, and the most precious parts of our lives reflect the most wonderful realities about Him. We are holy to God because we belong to Him in unique way:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9).

God is set apart, unique, incomparable. The universe is His creation, and He sustains it simply by speaking to it (Hebrews 1:3. And in case of confusion, this passage is talking about Jesus Himself). I recently read through Psalm 104, which is full of the incomparable power of God and how dependent upon Him His creatures are. And yet, as holy as He is, we are holy to Him and we belong to Him as His special possession. Throughout the Old Testament, holiness and sanctification seem to be defined as being brought into God’s possession, as His own. And He takes that very seriously: He even calls Himself “Jealous” in Exodus 34:14! God is passionate about what He wants, and He wants us as His beloved….

In conclusion… Holiness is, of course, dearly bought and made possible only through the death of Jesus in our place on the cross, some two thousand years ago. I am holy because I have been sanctified through the cross (Hebrews 10:29). Holiness is also brought about by the ongoing transformative work of the Spirit. But the definition of holiness that really excites me, that truly motivates me, is that I am holy because I belong to the Lord. I am His special possession and set apart entirely for Him. I get privileged access to His attention. He has put Himself within my reach and I am favoured by him, because I belong to Him. That is what it means to be holy. That is now my identity, made possible through the Cross and made reality through the Holy Spirit who not only transforms my heart but confirms that I am indeed His (Romans 8:16). Which is why I love the above passage in Isaiah so much – I have a new name, “The LORD’s.” God’s special possession. God’s beloved. Holy to the LORD.

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Faith, Preparation and Staying in Season

September 21, 2012 1 comment

I strongly believe that every follower of Jesus Christ is a missionary and a minister to any context in which they find themselves on a daily basis, be that Hollywood, Walmart, Beijing, Kabul, Clay Street…

And yet there does seem to be a difference when someone lays down their normal existence to follow the call of God to another part of the world, where they have no family, no livelihood, no clear future. If it’s equally valid to be a missionary on Wall Street as it is in Kigali (and it is), why do we focus Mission Sunday on people who are a long, long way away from home?

That may be a question with an obvious answer. But then again, it may not be.

I’m not even a missionary in the strict sense of the term. I’m just being obedient to direction from the Holy Spirit which, if I’m honest, I really didn’t want to follow. No matter how wonderful the revival here in Redding is, and I have seen some things which have rewritten my expectations of Christianity this side of heaven, that I never imagined seeing, although I may have sung about them many times (….Lord, let Your glory fall….). But we are a long. long way away from home, with no livelihood and no way to support ourselves (visa regulations). We are dependent on others in a way that’s often quite painful. We tread lightly, because we’re aliens here. Like walking on water, we can’t try to carry anything heavy with us, or we might sink. That’s what worries me about looking for a car. We have been living precariously for some time now, by faith, one step at a time.

And so I come to the point of my post. I realized that this kind of living – not trying to work out too much, too far ahead, taking each month as it comes and being grateful for what we have, is one of the things that marks out this kind of missionary from the kind who works on Wall Street or Fleet Street. Not that they have the monopoly on that kind of life. After all, we’re not strictly missionaries, not yet. It drives me crazy because I love to plan ahead and have all my ducks in a row before I commit to a decision. So what, if we cycle to school now, before the rains come? When the rain comes, it’ll be a different season, with a different solution. Over the past two years, God has provided the right solution in the right season, even if we did spend a whole two weeks cycling to school last year! 🙂

Don’t worry about the rainy season, Christina. You’re in that kind of place before God, to simply walk in the solution of the season. I do not think, and I do not hope, that this will be the pattern of my life. But here, trying to prepare for a season God has not yet provided for maybe my greatest source of anxiety.

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Hmmm, more opportunities

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment

I am not a businesswoman. Not yet. Maybe I need a new brain. But I would like to be.

http://theonramp.com/business-plans-for-the-average-human/

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A Lesson, by Jehovah Sneaky

September 18, 2012 1 comment

My husband recounted a powerful lesson he learned today. I was really moved by it, so I thought I’d share it. 

He happened to meet an old friend, and as they were chatting, God spoke to him and said, “give this guy  $10.” But Marco realized that he only had a $20 in his wallet, which was all the cash we had at the time. Naturally he wondered, “did I hear God right?” After a few moments, he decided that he would give his friend the whole $20 anyway, despite God only telling him to give $10. His friend, however, reacted with joy, because he had urgently needed $20 to pay an important bill. 

“Jehovah Sneaky,” as Bill Johnson occasionally refers to God. God knew that Marco only had a $20 bill in his pocket, yet asked for $10 and waited to see if Marco would give out of generosity, not just obedience. And as it turned out, Marco’s friend needed his generosity, not just his obedience. 

 Marco passed that grade today, and now I need to get it into my skull and my heart. 

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Thoughts on a beautiful new home-passing-through…

September 15, 2012 1 comment

Once more in Redding, dear friends…

We have found our own plans outclassed by circumstance, here. Our new home is God’s blessing to us and I have come to the conclusion that I must enjoy it as such without getting distracted by worry over things that haven’t yet fallen into place. Earlier this evening I took my Bible outside and was reading, sitting on a tree swing that was too close to the ground for comfort, in the deepening twilight, the air full of the piercing whirr of crickets and the low hum of the Interstate 5. The grounds of our new house are not large, but they are semi-wild, and a pair of deer and a family of quails share it with us. We have rocking chairs. On the verandah. And an ancient jeep that won’t go above 45mph and has scratchy brakes but is feather-light to drive. Our landlady keeps a flourishing vegetable garden, and for today it yielded tomatoes and basil and chilli peppers for a spaghetti al pomodoro, which we shared with our housemate Ronda. It feels almost like being on retreat, except that my to-do list looks ever more pressing. I downloaded at least three separate time management apps last week in an effort to efficiently transfer a lengthening list of tasks onto a dauntingly empty schedule. But this house is tranquil, and allows one to think, plan and pray.

In Second Year we plunged abruptly into a very busy schedule, within days of school starting. This time around, we are wading in slowly, trying to assimilate the freedom that we have. I do, of course, have all my projects with goals neatly mapped out, but with a suspicion that it will all look rather different, after Christmas. I realised last week, walking on the downtown bank of the Sacramento River by the Sundial Bridge, that by the end of this year I’ll have lived in Redding for as long as I worked in London. Yet I’ve never really felt at home here, on our temporary concession visas that don’t even give us the full rights of academic students, moving around from guest room to guest room, making friends and trying not to be a burden. I am hoping that this year, this house, and this little room decorated in gentle green (my favourite colour!), will be our home until we choose to leave it. We desperately need to buy a car for under $1200, without which we can’t stay here long, being at the northern limits of Redding and within walking distance of nothing but trees. But home is important, and I am unpacked, and determined to find a way of remaining so.

And then I was talking to a friend of mine, a missionary in a central Asian country, who has a trailer here in the States, a car in his home country, and a car in his adopted land… and still finds the time to be a balanced individual and a man who seems very much at home, wherever he is. I take hope from that, too, since I am a person who travels between three nations and has no permanent home in any of them. After two years I feel I owe Redding, and the handful of friends who have accompanied us this far, more than a sense of just passing through. Image

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A Summer of Love in Italy has begun…

Dear visionary Friends & Partners…

Image

Family Dinner with the Ricci’s

Firstly, thank you with all our hearts for the interest, love and support you’ve shown us so far. Ever since we got back to Italy, we have seen God moving in a powerful way. We have seen that God has been blessing Marco’s family and the people around them, in ways we couldn’t have dared to hope for. Your support in this situation has been really powerful; your prayers have released life- changing grace. This summer of love in Italy has begun!

God put it on our hearts to dedicate this summer to travelling around italy with open hearts and blessing people with prophetic encouragement and hope, and building relationships.

We carry hope, especially being soaked in the grace of God over the last two years at Bethel. And people here have a huge need for hope. and for trust. people barely trust eachother, and their lives have been brutally disrupted by financial pressure and ruthless earthquakes.

We need the freedom to be mobile, to travel and go to communities and cities, teaming up with the existing families that are working to bring Kingdom reality there. We have the opportunity to go to Modena, Milan, Turin, invited by friends to partner with them in blessing the community, bless the people, bless the city. We have a fantastic team joining us from California for two weeks in July, but our heart is to pave the way for our team and build on what they accomplish, over the rest of the summer. So we need to raise $1500 dollars in the next few weeks, to cover the (absurdly high) cost of gas, of tolls, of expenses as we travel to serve – and as we host people at home in Tuscany.

investing in italy

Become a permanent part of giving Christ what He deserves in Italy! Please support us in intercession, joyfully opening up Heaven’s abundance for the people we’re ministering to, as we keep you updated on what Daddy God is doing in this beautiful place.

 

Please consider partnering with us, too, in practically making it happen. We need a strong supply of prophetic encouragement to bring to people here. And if you’re able to invest financially in this summer outpouring of practical love, please help us to raise this $1,500 over the next two weeks, sending donations via PayPal to ricci.marco@me.com. Grazie dal cuore!

Blessings in Jesus

Marco & Christina

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First Week in Italia

Lucca

We arrived in Pisa on Thursday evening, after a week’s vacation with my parents in the UK. As we heaved our luggage out into Arrivals, we were loudly greeted by a long row of the happy faces of Marco’s extended family. My cabin bag was taken away and replaced with a bunch of delicate pink flowers by Marco’s Nonna, who spent the past two years asking when we were coming home. After the perfunctory hugs and kisses we were bustled out of the terminal and into the family minibus.

The country road from Pisa into the mountains is flanked by sunflower fields. The minibus bumped along, making the once-familiar sharp left turn and starting to climb, as the road became narrower and darker. The covered excavation of the Roman villa at Massaciuccoli was now underway, and the remains were well-lit and protected by a sweeping canvas marquee.

We were approaching Quiesa from what I thought of as behind, rather than following the autostrada from Pisa as far as Massarosa and driving into Quiesa from the east. After another quarter-hour of queasy slalom turns, we arrived at the driveway leading up to the Ricci family home. The last time I’d seen this driveway was a tearful late September afternoon, after a last-minute decision to fly back to the UK to see my parents, in case by some miracle the funds to escape to America suddenly arrived.

The house, however, had been transformed. The casa di legno that Marco’s father had built two summers ago had been half pulled down, and was now half the size with an adjoining semi-covered dining area. Marco’s mother Silvia had been painting hedgehogs (the literal meaning of “ricci”) and fleur-de-lys designs on the woodwork. Inside, new lighting had brought the dingy basement-sitting room to life. Our oversized HD TV sat against the staircase, and our warm, geometric rug (slightly grubby with dog hair) had been rolled out across the living room. The furniture was rearranged. From the elegant patchwork canvases on the wall, Silvia had rediscovered her love of art. Even the air seemed lighter.

Marco’s mother herself, whose hair was now even blonder and crazier than I remembered it, ushered us upstairs, where she and a number of female relatives had conspired to prepare us a boudoir of sorts. They’d unpacked, washed and ironed a good number of the clothes that we had hastily stashed before leaving. The room had been repainted, and airy tulle netting was draped from a fixture above the bed, like an illustration from a fairy tale.By this point I was feeling slightly woozy and overwhelmed. The sudden reappearance of my old life, rearranged throughout someone else’s living space, together with travel-tiredness and hunger, crowded my brain. I stood and stared into the wardrobe until someone came to bring me downstairs, to eat the Tuscan steak that Marco had been anticipating for the past three months.

Marco, Christina & Nonna Giuliana

**

The past week has been a cacophony of family and friends dropping round to visit, or us taking the motorino (moped) around the surrounding villages to visit them. We have had the opportunity already to talk with, pray with, minister to, a number of people. Our greatest strength, currently, and something we really need grace to sustain, is the fact that we don’t have big answers for them but we do have this supply of hope and encouragement that won’t run dry.

The recurring theme in all of the conversations we have with these brothers and sisters is battaglia… battle. Everything is a battle; everyone is exhausted. So I fished out my copy of The Happy Intercessor and have been soaking my brain in it. Our biggest challenge is staying in a place of rest here. The first impression most people get of Tuscany is its laid-back lifestyle; lazy mornings, long lunch breaks and endless mealtimes. But behind this lifestyle lurks a frustration; nothing gets done, and people are constantly hassled and stressed by what’s not being accomplished.

Practically, for me, it means resisting the temptation to stay long mornings in bed cuddling my husband, and to get most of my work done in the mornings, when nothing else is happening. Spiritually, I’ve felt like something is always trying to get me into a fruitless wrestling match. It’s kind of like what happened to Jacob… except the wrestler isn’t the Angel of the Lord. Many times since arriving back here, I’ve felt like something is trying to drag me into Fight Club. La Battaglia here is something one should do, as a Spirit-filled believer, and it’s actually relatively easy to refuse. You just refuse, and carry on looking at Jesus and enjoying Him. That’s one thing I didn’t understand before leaving for America.

The argument is, of course, that we are in a spiritual battle. Paul says, “though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses…” (2 Cor 10:3-4 NASB). If I’m not battling “according to the flesh” (eg in human strength or resolve), then my battle is by the Spirit… and thus, if I’m getting tired and discouraged, I surely must have accidentally slipped into battling with my strength, my faith, my resolve. I love Beni Johnson’s writing because she’s so insistent that our intercession, our battle is from Heaven to earth. Israel’s most successful battles looked like Yahweh stepping in miraculously and fighting on their behalf. We’re on that side.

So, Marco and I are reminding ourselves daily that whatever it is that wants to sap our energy by insisting that we have to struggle, all the time, must go find someone else to pick a fight with. We will not fight with people, we will not get stirred up with the weird misunderstandings and twisted meanings that create so much strife here. The God of peace lives inside us. 🙂

Categories: Christina's posts