Sunday, October 8, 2017

When Forgiveness Seems Repugnant...

Heavy week. Our nation grieves and questions.
For the past couple of months I've been studying Jesus' relationships. This week I land on Jesus' relationships with his enemies. And it is what I need to hear and feel and sit with.
At the moment of His deepest pain, His greatest loneliness, history's most profound betrayal, Jesus gasped "Forgive them..."
"Forgive them, they do not know what they do."
"they"-the ones I made and love
"they"- the ones I came to rescue
"they"- the ones who kill me now
"they"-  the ones who represent all the ones
"Forgive them.
They do not know..."
They act in ignorance;
stubborn, blind, mistaken;
but mine.
And His friends watched him die, unable to help and scared for their lives. They left the cross and circled up in private to grieve and to hide.
 "When saturated with pain, people coalesce around wrongs done.
Seeking retribution or vengeance fuels more hatred, fear, self-righteousness and wrong-doing."
In moments of such unthinkable atrocity, "is it any wonder that forgiveness can seem more repugnant than retaliation? So let's be clear, forgiveness is not a human idea-it's God's."
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, pg. 213
Forgiveness is not a human idea because it is not a human capacity apart from love, and love originates in God not humans.
When an enemy wreaks havoc, we ask "Why?"
But understanding is not critical to forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an excusal, it is not a denial, it is not an approval. Forgiveness is not achieved, it is granted and received.
When a wrong is committed and people are victimized, our sense of justice demands that somebody somewhere must pay. Forgiveness means in a sense that we, the wronged, absorb the cost of the loss and do not demand the debt be paid by the one/s who cost us. This is what Jesus has accomplished for us. Created for love and life with our Creator, we cost Him every time we resist Him.
Jesus absorbed this cost and we are forgiven;
Not excused, not ignored, not condoned...
not earning
but accepting
"Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Matt. 5:44
That's the way of Jesus.
"To love someone means to see him, the "other" as God intended him" Fyodor Dostoevsky
The way of Jesus is knowing what we were all made for and loving us back into that reality.
His Heart and His resource are endless.
When we open our hearts to His, His heart fills ours and His forgiveness frees us to love and be loved.

"Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:47

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Relationship Status - Part Two

If I said Jesus was perfect; would you agree?
If I said Jesus was the perfect friend;
would you also agree?
If I said Jesus' hurt his friends;
what would you say to that?
If God is love and Jesus the perfect representation of all the Father is, then in experiencing Jesus, His friends experienced perfect love. Yet there are multiple interactions reported in the Gospels that seem to confuse, disappoint and hurt Jesus' "friends";
interactions that would certainly confuse me if I were there...or if I were them.
But I don't need their stories to wonder at the ways of Jesus, I have my own; we all do.
Times when I might say like His mother: "Why have you treated us this way?"
Or, question Him like Mary and Martha: "Where were you?"
Or want to give up on him like Judas because He just isn't what I thought.
Jesus hurt His friends. 
So what does that tell us about His love? What does it reveal about our "status" with Him?
Are we mistaken in our hope of His goodness?
Are we mislead in our confidence of our relationship with Him?
Could He be as good and loving as we hope and still let us down?
John 11:5-6 "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard Lazarus was sick, He stayed two days longer in the place where He (Jesus) was."
Jesus' love for His friends compelled Him not to come when they called.
Allowing enough time to pass for His friend to suffer and die, Jesus then decided to go to them.
Contradicting and risking His other friends, the twelve in Jn. 11:9-11, I think Jesus was saying: "There is always enough time to do exactly what needs to be done...and we don't need to hurry to every crisis or worry about the consequences if we are walking in the understanding that God gives. There is a time for everything and now (not before now) is the time to help our friend. " Jesus was always on mission. John 10: 41-42
Then He goes and does exactly what He promised to begin with when He said, John 11: 4 "This sickness will not end in death."
Martha impresses me as a "take control" kind of woman. Jesus had not come until it seemed too late, and Martha confronted Him. Mary was so hurt she couldn't even bring herself to go to him at first.
Jesus reassured Martha that it is never too late for God to "show up" and make things right.
Even if the worst happens, it is never too late for Jesus to come through for His friends,
"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies." Jn 11:25
But we don't want the worst to happen! We don't want Him to make up for suffering, we want to prevent it. It seems a cruel joke for Him to call Himself "Savior" and Friend and then choose to wait to step in! 
But Jesus says "I am GLAD for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe..."
His goodness and love always have the bigger picture in mind and the bigger picture is not just a shallow "Jesus is my friend and does what I want"; but a deep and profound trust that "Jesus is my Savior and does what I need". No matter what happens, He WILL make all things right; and when we fall at His feet like Mary, He will weep with us for the pain and work that we may see and believe and in believing
be saved.
No one can experience a real friendship with Jesus without the salvation that comes through trusting Him first.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Relationship status...

I've been assessing relationships in my life.
Whom am I failing?
How am I failing them as a friend?
Who do I want or need to know better?
Who needs a friend?
Who is it time to let go of?
The assessing has brought me to Jesus; how did Jesus handle the relationships in His life...
God the Father and the Spirit

Assessing has also led me to investigate the kind of personal friend Jesus was to His "Band of Brothers", the twelve disciples.
Jesus is the kind of friend of whom must be said is...
Jesus invited these men to follow Him. "What is it you are looking for? ...Come and see" He said to Andrew and John.
Jesus renamed Peter immediately as a vital part of the solid foundation He was building for the Church, though Peter was without any formal training or social status.
With Philip we see that He seeks people out and calls them into a purpose.
When Jesus met Nathanael, He applauded Nathanael (Bartholemew) for his straightforward honesty without taking offense. Jesus celebrates the good.
His interaction with Nathanael also reveals His depth of personal understanding.
Jesus inspired James to follow him, leaving his livelihood behind.
When Jesus met Matthew, He was already a man with some reputation and yet he risked it in inviting Matthew, a greedy tax collector to join the ranks. "Leave your old life behind and follow me" he said, and Matthew did.
And then there's doubting Thomas...Jesus in His eternal patience gently stretched Thomas' faith.
James the Less (or younger) appears to have been a family member of Jesus...perhaps his later calling reveals a process of Jesus earning the trust of a relative prone to think less? Maybe this is a stretch but regardless, Jesus honored His promises and James became a loyal follower.
Burden Bearing
To Judas Thaddeus, He takes the burden of saving the world... this Judas who carried his privilege of knowing Jesus with responsibility and compassion. Jesus reassures: "What I offer to you, I offer to all all. Help is coming" (John 14:22-27)
To Simon the Zealot, Jesus extended grace. His grace transformed a violent legalist to an impassioned learner/servant.
Finally, Jesus sacrificed Himself in drawing in His betrayer Judas Iscariot.

And all these friends but the one, spent their lives for the One who called them "friend".

John 15:13-15The Message (MSG)

11-15 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father."
"Lord Jesus- I am not this kind of friend. I thank you for being this perfect friend to me and ask that you would take our 'relationship status'... and live it out in my life to all my friends. Amen"

Friday, September 1, 2017

A Moth to A Flame

"Muskrat Suzie, Muskrat Sam
Do the jitterbug out in Muskrat Land..."

These were lyrics in my head when I awoke this morning, and that's when I knew for sure the week had been a little too much for me! My husband's back, my dog's bladder, a massive tree covering half our driveway ( for starters)...all just life circumstances but it's had us discussing how we deal with pain and inconvenience. 
What do we run to when dealing with ongoing challenges?
Our American culture is in this "Opioid Crises" for a reason, 
people are in pain.
Life feels adversarial and
people want relief.
After forty days in the desert, without food, I'm sure Jesus wanted relief.
I want relief when I miss breakfast!
Luke 4 describes the first recorded interaction of Jesus with His adversary Satan:

"4 1-2 Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights, he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up he was hungry.
The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: “Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.”
Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to really live.”
5-7 For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, “They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.”
Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.”
9-11 For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, “If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that ‘he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone’?”
12 “Yes,” said Jesus, “and it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.’”
13 That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity."
I never realized that Satan doesn't show himself in Biblical History until this interaction. We have the serpent in Genesis which seems to be a creature embodying Satan...but the account of Jesus' temptation is the first time Satan appears without disguise to tempt Jesus with relief.
"You have the power you need to feed yourself! Do it!
But instead of allowing his appetite to cause Him to act independently of His Father, Jesus depends on God's timing and ability to sustain Him.
"Why go through all this pain to make everything how you want it to be? I'll do that for you right here, right now!"
Jesus was able to discern the shortsightedness of this offer. What Satan offered had no lasting substance. The only way to accomplish all He had come to do, meant His Father's time, His Father's way.
"If you want people to start believing in you, you should make a spectacle of yourself! Get them to pay attention to off!" 
And to this Jesus reminds Satan that God is no one to push around.

Jesus responds to Satan with complete focus on His true hope: relationship with His Father God, His Spirit (clearly revealed in the passage by the words: "Jesus being full of the Spirit") and the Word.
When I think of our temptations in life to appease, escape or avoid pain,
when I think of the adversarial circumstances and people we come up against,
I am reminded of the moth. A moth is driven to a flame by something called transversal orientation.
Equipped with a navigational system to orient itself to a distant, natural light (the moon)
a moth becomes disoriented by artificial light and drawn into heat it cannot survive.

So true for us. In moments of intense need,  the most destructive things can seem like such bright ideas...holding out the promise of relief and blinding us to certain wreckage.
We are made to orient ourselves, understand life and discern our course of action by the light of God the Father, His Spirit and His Word. His timing, His way is THE way through our pain to our future.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Heb.10:23

Monday, August 21, 2017

Before the show...

Jesus rose from the waters of the Jordan, to the voice of His Heavenly Father, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." Matt. 3:17
Of all His relationships, this one captivated Jesus' mind, heart and will .
The first time we see Jesus' heart for His Father, He is twelve.
His mom and dad are hurt and confused by His disappearance.
"Did you not know," He asks, "that I would be with my Father...?"capital F.
Over and over again in Jesus interaction with others, even as precious to Him as own mother, He makes it clear that the only one He answers to was God; His Father.
This is puzzling... this relationship of the Trinity.
I'm not equipped enough to claim I fully get it.
But I believe Jesus' life has always been completely sustained by God the Father. Jesus is equal in authority and power but yet He cannot exist apart from the life and life-giving nature of Father God. Hence, "Father". The term is not reflective of human gender as if God were in our image, but of God's capacity to initiate and sustain life.
Jesus knew God the Father, as His Father, was His only source of life.
Again, we know nothing of intervening years until His baptism, and here God says..."Son, you please me to no end."
Before the miracles, before the preaching, before the self-sacrifice...Jesus was a delight to God.
This Father-Son relationship should inform us about how God delights in us...
before we talk, before we work, without making a show of ourselves, before we make a show of Him!
I think of how my own parents would look at me sometimes and I would know they loved me and delighted in the fact that I was their daughter. It made me want to please them...not to convince them they could or should but because they already did-love me.
This is what I think of when I read the words of Father God to His Son Jesus. God is pleased with children who believe that in Him is life
and bathe in the river of His love.
Father God can appear heartless when we arrive at the crucifixion account, so for now look at God through the eyes of Jesus, His devoted Son and be reminded that what was to come was driven by a son who knew He was loved.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Right Connections

"Hey,I know a guy. Somebody knows somebody who might know how to help you meet the somebodies who can help..."

We've been through this circus with our kids over and over again.  Make calls, do research, eat McDonalds six nights a week in a van, to get to a better team, to get to a better team, to get in front of better coaches, to get to the better school. This craziness begins in preschool.
Athletics is just one example of the rat race of making "connections"... perhaps you know a guy who may be able to make parking tickets disappear for example?!
Calling in a little favor is hard to resist...when you have connections.
John the Baptist was a character with connections.
Not only was he the cousin of the Messiah, but he was given the privilege of baptizing Jesus.  John was an eye witness to the dove that descended on Jesus and an ear witness to the voice that came from Heaven speaking divine approval. 
If I were to live an isolated life in the desert, tanning hides for my wardrobe, enduring beestings to secure my nourishment, and spending my days introducing people to someone they'd leave me for...I think I would be expecting to call in a few favors and retire well!
But this is not the kind of relationship John had with Jesus. Whatever expectations He had of what Jesus would or should do for him are simply stated in John 3:30,
"He must increase, but I must decrease." 
I'm not sure that John pictured his decrease to the extent of being imprisoned and beheaded. John had offended Herod by disagreeing with his "life choices", now he sat behind bars, awaiting his fate and hearing stories of his cousin, The Messiah, rescuing all sorts of strangers. How could he not wonder if he'd been mistaken about Jesus after all?
John's friends came to Jesus on John's behalf:

“Are you the One we’ve been expecting, or are we still waiting?” Matthew 11:3

Can't you feel John's confusion? 
"Jesus, if you're who I thought you were, why am I sitting here? Why am I not reaping the rewards of working for you and knowing you personally?!"

Jesus sends word back to John, "Absolutely! I'm performing all kinds of miracles! The blind see and the lame walk. I even raise people from the dead! I'm spreading the good news that God is rescuing His people! But John, I'm not rescuing you from prison and I'm not rescuing you from your grotesque fate. Please, don't be offended." (paraphrase of Mt. 11:4-6)

Can't you imagine John's offense?
John's question still hangs in the air in 2017.
Jesus, are You who we thought You were or are we still waiting...for someone else to rescue us?"
I've never faced torture or deprivation as many around the world do, but I have had expectations and I have been offended.
This whole thing about "decreasing";  
decreasing my influence, my possessions, my rewards, my goals, my reputation...
well most of the time, I'd rather not.
After all, Jesus is my friend. I've been getting to know Him a long time. I do stuff for Him and I don't do stuff...for Him! I don't ask much either, not really. So, the least He could do is...

but sometimes, He doesn't. 

How could He treat His friends this way? 
I think there's a clue in Matthew 11:12. After Jesus honors John the Baptist He says this:
" From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence..."

John preached the Kingdom of Heaven at hand...
peace, justice, hope, joy
is here? 
Well, not by an immediate swift sweep of force. Instead, God's kingdom comes through individual hearts yielded to His love. Hearts that say: "Your way, not mine", one battle at a time.

"Our mission in His Kingdom is that His reign is "brought to bear where destructive powers have held sway. These powers will not give up without a fight. The fight itself and incurred suffering are not incidental but somehow the means by which Jesus' victory is applied.
One of the dangers of saying too easily 'the Messiah died for my sins' is to imagine that hereafter there will be no more dying to do, no more suffering to undergo."
-paraphrased from The Day the Revolution Began, NT Wright

Jesus did not spare John pain, He spared Himself no pain, and we ourselves will not be spared all pain...
We are at war. We feel the violence of the fight. 
But we know somebody who knows somebody...
a friend in high places,
who's called in a favor on our behalf.

"What shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all- how will he not also give us all things? all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." Romans 8:31-32,37

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hidden progress

What is more fun then discovering a new favorite author?! I just started a book called "Anonymous" by Alicia Britt Chole. What could be better for writer's block then depending on far more accomplished authors to break through? Sometimes my progress in these studies is so slow and the new meaning so hidden, I am about to give up and then...a passage clicks together.
In studying Jesus' relationships with people, we've landed in between His birth and His baptism, Luke 2:41-52... So many hidden years of Jesus' early childhood! As the author points out: Jesus' birth was followed by hidden days, His circumcision by hidden months, His visit from the wise men by hidden years and His visit to Jerusalem by hidden decades. What did thirty years of living in obscurity, thirty years of waiting to step into His life mission, accomplish in Jesus?
These questions and this passage lead to a detested word: submission.
Submission- A choice to place one's own agenda under someone else's authority, someone else's needs, someone else's desires. Which, don't get me wrong, at times can be a bad thing. But for Jesus, it was all good.
Jesus' hidden years were lived in submission to His parents. In an environment of love (evidenced in His parents frantic, three-day search for Him) and His parents' own submission to God (evidenced through His birth story) Jesus grew in His ability to say: "Not my will but Thine". The Creator of time, took time.
At twelve, He was so wise He amazed everyone at the Temple yet returned for another twenty years to live with His parents (is He relevant or what?!) But it wasn't for His needs that He moved back in, it was to submit to their needs. At 30+, Jesus finally stepped out and into His ultimate mission and submitted to His Father's agenda to meet our deepest needs: to be set free from the power of sin and to be restored back into true worshippers of the true God.
Jesus' practice of obscurity, His choice to submit, turned the destiny of the world upside down and restored the ultimate agenda for all of us.
What could be more fun then discovering our new, our ultimate purpose?
What could be better for a "life-block", than depending on the One who breaks every chain?
But it takes time. Sometimes the progress lies hidden, obscure.
Be encouraged today, The Son of God Himself took 30+ years!