Category Archives: Jesus

Love and the Body and DPB House

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it seems appropriate to talk about love, that oft-illusive thing we’re all after. I do not mean romantic love, but the enduring, self-sacrificial love that many of us have yet to encounter, even within the body of Christ. This post will not flush out all that love is or all the ways it is seen. It is meant rather to spotlight some I know who have done it well and to encourage the rest of us to learn from them.

For some time, I had been asking the Lord to teach me more about His love; and in His goodness, He prepared a way for me to learn by experience. Last June, the Lord took me across the ocean to a small group of people in an unassuming house in a little European country to surround me with His love. He surrounded me with His love by surrounding me with people who knew His love and had no greater desire than to show the love that had first been shown to them by Christ.

My two teens and I traveled to Croatia to work alongside long time friends and get a close-up view of their ministry at DPB House Training Center in Severin na Kupi, near the border with Slovenia. Drustvo Prijateja Biblije (DPB) House Training Center is a place dedicated to intentional Biblical discipleship, mentoring, ministry training and retreat. Included in the programming is Leadership Lab International — preparing and equipping young adults for cross-cultural ministry and church-planting, CREW discipleship through practical servant-hood by maintaining the facility and serving campers, and a variety of summer camps.

I was given the task of capturing the heart of the ministry on camera, an impossible task, I would soon discover. I didn’t get a photo of my teenage roommate asking me every night how my day had been as we tucked into our beds and turned off the lights. No one will ever see that she asked me to tell her about the friend I’d lost that day, or how she listened and laughed at my memories of a bold, opinionated  Italian woman who kept us all on our toes. I don’t have photos of the strong hugs and parting words, “If not before, then Heaven.” There is no evidence of an evening spent with friends on a mountaintop watching the sun sink and the fog roll in as we talked about the love of Christ and how impossible it is to meet Jesus and be unchanged. There are no photos of campfire prayers under stars in the darkness as students and campers alike poured out prayers for each other. I have nothing but my memory as evidence that someone stopped in their tracks on the way to the next scheduled event to pray for my injured husband back home. There were numerous times that impromptu prayers were offered on another’s behalf simply because a need was expressed, or even more simply because they were a brother or sister in Christ.

Teamwork, unity, kindness, service, laughter, joy, worship, fellowship, encouragement, admonishment, support, prayer, peace, hospitality, and more characterized my experience at DPB House. Truly love reigned over all becauseLove is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). Philippians 2, the challenge for believers in Jesus to follow His example of humility by looking to others’ interests and serving them, was not only taught but exemplified in the lives of students and leaders alike.

1 John 3 opens by telling us to SEE what kind of love (!!) the Father has given us. How does He give us His love?  He gives us His love by Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead that makes us alive with Him when we believe in Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-9, Acts 16:31). Then He gives us His love through each other (1 John 4:7-11). It is the evidence that we know Him and abide in Him (1 John 3:23-24). Love, in a nutshell, is the giving of oneself for another. All our praiseworthy deeds are nothing without it (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

I arrived at DPB House Training Center a bit battered in spirit. I left having been ministered to in wonderfully healing ways by the love of His people, His body. I believe this is one reason we are called Christ’s body. He is the spirit that drives the action, and we are the listening ears, the praying tongues, the voices of encouragement, the arms that hug and hold, the feet that go, the hands that serve.  It is my prayer for DPB House that this would be their constant and eternal testimony. It is my prayer for the wider body of Christ wherever we are found – that all who encounter us would experience Christ’s self-sacrificing love. To Him be all the praise and glory!

 

©Erika Rice 2019

 

Too Many Women

I know too many women who have been abused. If it was only one, it would still be too many. Unfortunately, the number of women I have personally encountered is much higher. Some of those women have lost their grip on reality and their mental stability, things that are not very easily recovered.

I am speaking primarily of emotional abuse, meant to devalue, control, manipulate, and create fear. It is shaming and contemptuous. Women who try harder do not find themselves loved better in return. Their actions only lend power to the one who is hurting them.

None of these women, or their marriages, fit the stereotypical image of abusive relationships. They appeared healthy and happy, their husbands solid, Christian men, sometimes leaders in the church.  They didn’t seem mousy and bedraggled, the doormat one would expect to find.

Seldom were their cries for help listened to or believed. They came away with the understanding that their husbands were too like-able or their marriage to valuable, that we are each our own worst enemy and must fix ourselves first, that their children’s suffering would be far greater from divorce than abuse, or that they should suck it up because marriage is hard for everyone. If only they would die to self and submit to their husbands, things would be better. Those who removed themselves to safety were often told that the first order of business was to get them back in the house, because separation is a death sentence for marriage.

This post is not meant to dissect poor handling of abuse cases. I do, however, want to promote a Godly, Biblical initial response. Please say very little to begin with when a woman talks of hardship in her marriage. Listen closely, speak little, and when you do, ask questions that will shed more light on the situation (James 1:19). Do not try to connect her stories to stories of your own. Continue to listen, for as long as it takes, not only to get a better picture but to show honor and care for a hurting individual. She may not even use the word abuse, it will feel too extreme to her, her love for her husband too great to want to hurt his reputation. But she can’t afford to be ignored.

We, as Jesus body, His hands and feet, His eyes and ears, cannot afford to ignore the hurting, destitute, devalued, and vulnerable (1 John 3:16-18). By the time a woman is crying for help, sometimes barely whispering for it, she may be at the end of her rope. You may be surprised by who it is asking for help, her countenance has never given you any hint. She may seem like a very strong woman, who knows her own mind. She may be a woman who shows no fear and never seems to worry.

But please, please listen. Pray for wisdom and discernment. Seek out both sides if safe to do so. Pray with the woman, weep with her (Romans 12:15), check in frequently, seek out reputable god-centered counselors for her, hug her, offer her a safe zone should she need an escape, and support in any way you can. Be a lifeline for a drowning person.

Please do not simply tell her to trust Jesus, to find her strength in the Lord, to wait for His deliverance, if you do not plan to assist in that deliverance (Proverbs 14:31; 24:11Isaiah 1:17). I am not suggesting running mindlessly into the fray with no wisdom or expertise to guide. I am imploring a James 2:15-17 mindset. Prayerfully consider how you can help. Ask experts how you can help. Ask the woman how you can help.

The abused woman will need all those Bible promises, but chances are she is well aware of them and has been clinging to them for quite some time. Any strength you see is the strength she derives from the Lord Himself, her strong tower (Proverbs 18:10).  She has probably learned deep trust in Jesus already by casting all her cares on Him, over and over again (1 Peter 5:7). And her plight might seem unbelievable because she has been looking to Him all along, making her face radiant (Psalm 34:4-5).

I have been surprised by the women who have asked me for help. I wouldn’t have expected it from them or their husbands. The women are some of the most beautiful and gentle women I know, fully trusting in Jesus and ministering to everyone around them. They lend credence to Psalm 34:5, that those who look to Him are radiant. It isn’t an empty promise. But neither is the promise that when the righteous cry, the LORD hears and saves him from his troubles (Psalm 34:6-7; 17). If you learn of abuse, He has called you to be part of that deliverance, in some form. Please do not turn a deaf ear. I have yet to meet a woman in the church, claiming abuse, for whom it has not been proven true. They need love, encouragement, and support.

Too many women are suffering alone.

 

©️Erika Rice 2018

 

It Could Happen To Anyone

It could happen to anyone. At least that’s what I tell myself sometimes when things unravel. I think it might be true, even if the circumstances differ.

Monday morning, I knocked a jar of banana peppers off an eye-level shelf in my basement. It landed just left of my foot, peppers in a neat little pile, vinegar splashed across the floor,  glass exploded into smithereens that embedded in my foot and flip-flops. It was not how I wanted to start my morning. I hadn’t yet made coffee or eaten breakfast. I was trying to get a jump on the day and create some order that would help me get ahead (who am I kidding? I’m so far behind, I’m just trying to catch up with the tailgate!). This little incident was not helping matters.

Tuesday morning, I discovered a package of meat between two freezers in my basement. I can’t tell you how long it had been there, but it was smelly and crawling. It was not how I wanted to start my morning. I hadn’t yet had coffee or eaten breakfast. I was all about efficiency when I set foot in the basement – in and out. This big incident was not helping matters.

I had left the safe space of my bedroom feeling pretty optimistic about the day ahead. I’d had sweet fellowship with the Lord, had a mental list going and few obstacles in the way of accomplishing that list. Monday morning left me thinking that making coffee would be a great way to start Tuesday morning; but when I noticed the empty dishwasher, I decided to put a hold on coffee until I got my canning jars loaded in to sterilize while the coffee brewed and I ate my breakfast. It seemed both smart and efficient.

Taped to the basement door was the reminder of broken glass and the need for shoes. So I stopped to get the vacuum. At this point, the vinegar would be all dry and any last glass dust easy to vacuum up. It was, but the basement was so dimly lit that even the extra lantern I’d brought to illuminate my canned goods closet was insufficient. I felt the need to explore the cause. A light bulb had been loosened in its socket, so I tightened it up, and suddenly all was exposed. The spider webs in the corners and crevices, the rotting meat between the freezers…

Let me tell you something about my basement. It isn’t really a basement. It’s more like a cellar, built out of large field rock, over 100 years ago. The rain and snow-melt run through the cracks and would fill it up if not for the sump-pump built into the low spot. The essentials are housed on concrete platforms — freezer, furnace, hot water heater, well tank. We run a dehumidifier all summer to keep the humidity down. Still, all that wet earth in the corners every time it rains can make it a little smelly at times.

This summer was hot and humid. The basement odors were unpleasant. My husband noticed, checked the dehumidifier, looked around, but couldn’t find any explanation for the scent other than wet, earthy basement. When I came home from weeks of summer travel, I found the smell offensive and did my own search, knowing that if the source didn’t easily reveal itself, I would need to find time for a thorough cleaning of the cellar. Until Tuesday morning, I had been unable to find the source of that awful smell that I’d been trying to keep hidden by a closed basement door.

I donned rubber gloves. I found heavy duty plastic sacks to scoop the mess into. I armed myself with a large putty knife.  I….was unprepared for what lurked beneath the package. I will leave that image up to your imagination. I want you to keep reading. You will undoubtedly be done if I paint that picture for you.

I scrambled for the Lysol. Bleach was out of the question because we’d used the last drop two days ago. Lysol was ineffective. I ran through the rain to the barn to find any kind of bug killers my husband had stashed there. They, too, were ineffective against the moving mass on the floor. I needed to scoop it all up, but couldn’t get the right angle with the second freezer in the way. I needed help. Kids to the rescue. Thankfully, my kids are all big now and the three still at home are used to coming to my rescue when big stuff goes down.

When the oldest came on the scene, we decided that bleach would definitely be necessary at some point. But first, we needed to shove that freezer out of the way. We two puny ladies couldn’t make it go. She woke her brother and told him to bring his muscles. I said I would pick up bleach while we waited for the muscles to fully wake, but under no circumstances should she try to clean up that mess. No way was I taking the easy job of running an errand and making someone else clean up the nasty. I said it again on my way out the door, “Do NOT try to clean that up! I’m not making anyone touch that. I’ll do it when I get back. Just spray it with more bug killer occasionally if you do anything.”

I grabbed a hat and keys and off I went. The fact that I had tackled this without ever getting to the coffee hit me as I got behind the wheel, and my neighborhood, drive-thru coffee shop jumped to mind. I was going to buy us each a specialty drink because there had to be some reward for doing a job like this one. I was off without getting properly dressed, washing my face or brushing my teeth. But I was only headed to Dollar General for one thing and would keep my head down. I figured the drive thru didn’t pose a threat, either, windows between us for the short bit of contact that would be had. I pulled in just after another car, stopped a good distance back and put my car in park.

I looked up just as the car in front of me went into reverse and started backing towards me. I tried to get mine in reverse and move, but was too slow so I just yelled “NO!” at the top of my lungs. That didn’t help. The thought of honking came after the fact. By God’s grace, there was no damage done worth caring about. But when all was said and done, I ended up inside that coffee shop in my unwashed state with 4 other ladies, wishing I could crawl under the freezer in my basement. I probably smelled bad enough to belong there.

Here is where the story takes a turn and really gets good. So don’t stop reading yet.

When I arrived home with bleach and coffees, I was greeted by 3 cheerful young adults with gloved hands who had moved that freezer, cleaned up every last bit of nastiness, and the young man with the muscles was burning the remnants. He had proved unnecessary in moving the freezer because the one puny lady did better than we two. All that was left for me was the bleaching and rinsing. Bleach and rinse I did, with a hose that sprung a leak and rinsed the upstairs as I rinsed below, completely unawares. The youngest prevented disaster and left me none the wiser till I finished.

When it was all put back together (which turned out to be no small feat, requiring four of us and a good bit of leveling), and the basement light turned off, the three laughing young adults, my children, who were gathered around my kitchen island asked if we could pray together before we moved on. As we reached for each others’ hands, one remembered a song they used to sing every morning at a camp they’d attended. So we stood in a circle and they taught me a fun version of “Bind Us Together, Lord,” complete with clapping and hugs. And then…we prayed.

All before we’d even finished our morning coffee.

Tuesday morning did not go according to plan. I thought by noon I’d be well into making pickles, if not close to done. I’d have eaten breakfast and finished my coffee and had my day in hand. But it was never my day to begin with, and the Lord had something to show me. In my quiet time during the early hours, I had been reading the opening pages of a book by Jen Wilkin where she makes the case that for the believer who wants to know God’s will for their life, instead of asking “What should I do?” we should first ask, “Who should I be?”

My prayer for my children has long been, and especially this last year, that they would be filled with the Holy Spirit, exhibit His fruit and display the character of Christ. Tuesday morning, I saw it on full display, within their home, where it is often the hardest to do, and under unpleasant circumstances. I don’t know how to answer all their questions about what they should do at any given moment, but I know who they should be, and by God’s grace they are (Romans 12:2). They are not merely rule followers who are well-behaved lovers of self, but followers of Jesus whose love has filled them to overflowing, transformed by the Holy Spirit to show the character of the God who made and loves them (1 Peter 1:14-16).

It could happen to anyone – a morning like mine. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen that way every day. But the unplanned, unexpected, and ugly sometimes pile on. As to the rest of it? The joy, the self-sacrifice, the love, and unity – those can happen to anyone, too.

They can happen to anyone, or rather within the heart of anyone, who truly knows Jesus.

 

©Erika Rice 2018