Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Advent Invitation

Luke 2: 8 "And in the same region, there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace with whom He is pleased." 
What is “Glory”? “Glory” in some ways defies definition.
It reminds me of trying to repackage something back into its original box or wrapping a very large gift; just when you think you've got it all covered, you find another part.
By definition, this unwieldy word means profound honor, profound value, intense brilliance.
Glory is the “Big Reveal” of God’s magnificence. The “Ah-hah” moment of what is true about Him…
Physical manifestations of an unseen reality.
It is a noun... unparalleled beauty and power that belong to God alone.
It is also a verb meaning “to take great pleasure in, to revel”
“Glory” is God, cracking the clouds of our reality and inviting us into His.
Glory has to do with those inexplicable moments that seize our hearts and draw us into worship.
Luke 2:14 is one of those moments :
“Glory to God in the highest…”
The Angels called out to the shepherds. Verse 13 describes these angels as “Heavenly Hosts”.
What does a good host do?
A good host says: “Welcome to my home! Come in, share this with me...let’s enjoy it together.”
This call of the Angels to glory was an invitation for these unlikely guests to taste the deeper, truer, richer reality of their existence.
The call to Glory is an invitation to come and revel in the deeper, truer reality of all that belongs to God and because of Jesus, all that belongs to us.
Heavenly reality seems to lie always on the outskirts of our reality. It appeared to be outside the shepherds’ reality and outside of Mary and Joseph’s as well...until the Heavenly Hosts burst through the heavens.
God’s beauty and power are so great we literally can’t handle Him, in our present condition! We must slowly be changed into people that can handle our true “home”, our real-er reality. In the meantime, He’s given us invitations to visit with Him.
Our days are dark but there are moments when God provides sneak peeks of what is and what is to come.
Christmas is time when we are more surrounded by extra displays of beauty, peace, and love,
or a more profound awareness of the lack of it in the here and now.
It comes and goes and with it so do our moments of happy anticipation and great disappointment.
We all often crawl into January with a “not quite” residue in our souls.
But Christmas is an invitation for us to visit with God, to come at the angels call and revel in His reality a little more,
a little longer.
Jesus came, some despised Him.
Some competed with Him for His Glory.
And some saw it and were welcomed in like the shepherds.
Let us not despise this opportunity in cynicism and anticipated disappointment. But instead take time to really look for Him everywhere, in everything. Remember that Jesus Himself brought glory to God in the moment of His greatest pain.
And let us not idolize this opportunity, by staring at beautiful things and clinging to powerful moments for so long that our eyes never drift up to the actual source of the beauty and power. Only the source Himself lasts...all the rest,
all of those “sneak peaks” cannot last, they cannot satisfy because they are only meant to lead us TO Him.
“Glory To God In The Highest…”

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

When Love Seems Cruel, Part 3

Death is the "darkest thing we know"...and this is where Jesus had to go to undo the work of darkness. He had to go into it. In His Holiness, He is the only One who could bear this moment of cosmic confrontation and win. But as He forged further and further into that darkness, the light of His Father's presence felt far, far away. That's what suffering does; it takes time and stretches it to unbearable lengths. Relief is so long in coming we wonder whether it is coming at all. But the beautiful Psalm Jesus quoted in his agony does not end as it begins. Psalm 22:24, "For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden his face from him, but when he cried to Him for help,
He heard."
Where was God the Father when His Son was suffering? He was at work undoing our undoing! And Jesus was and is the delivered deliverer.
Our Saviour's words of groaning from the cross were not whimpers of desperation, but roars of a conquering victor leading through the unimaginable struggle of battle.
  "Because our King has led the way—more than that, He has made the way. There was no way through death until He burst death open from the inside. Death swallowed Him, but it was like swallowing the sun: He was a burning light that could not stay obscured. Not even by the darkest thing we know." Jessica Snell,
Here ends, for now, my thoughts on Father God's heart toward His Son and toward us.
"How deep the Father's love for us
how vast beyond all measure
that He should give His only Son
to make a wretch His treasure....
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished..."

Friday, November 24, 2017

"Drown the Puppies"- When Love Seems Cruel Part 2

The preaching team at our church has a saying when preparing to preach: "Drown the puppies".
They use it to when they have to throw out parts of a sermon that they are very attached to but must go. I've had to divide this blog about the confusing aspects of God's love into three parts, and even then, I've had to "drown some puppies". There is so much more to say than can ever be said to describe this: 
"I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us." Romans 8:39 (The Message)
So for now, I'm sticking with the quotes of Jesus, God's Own Son, that challenge our confidence in the statement: God is Love.
Jesus cried to His Father in the garden that He be spared this particular route to the salvation of the world, the route of the cross.
His Father answered with silence, the kiss of a betrayer,
and with "Crucify Him" from the mouths of His people.
Jesus' suffering was excruciating; His words from the cross "Why have you forsaken me?"
are certainly a human response to unbearable pain.
I've spent a lot of time meditating and studying this moment...there are more opinions out there than hairs on my head, so I accept that my understanding of God's love and relationship with Jesus is a journey and for now, here is what I believe the "Cry of Dereliction" teaches us about Jesus and His Father.
My last blog discussed Jesus' humanness. Jesus was fully human.
But Jesus was FULLY God as well, one of the Three-in-One.
When Jesus experienced the cross, He experienced human responses to the pain.
But He also experienced the cross as God. That is the incredible, profound truth of the cross: Jesus is the meeting place of God and man. And that is exactly what was intended from creation. God and humanity in perfect relationship.
His cry is a prophetic quote from Psalm 22. Many of His hearers would have heard it in context to the Psalms' proclamations of human suffering answered by God's faithfulness. We only hear it as an isolated reference to apparent desertion. The ancient question is: "If Jesus is God, One with the Trinity, how did He remain God if His Father deserted him, separated Himself from Him?"
And how, could Jesus bare the ordeal at all... if His divinity was no longer intact?
How can we call a God "Father", who deserts His son at the moment of greatest desperation?
Heavy questions. 
In the past, I've answered questions like this with: "Well, it's just too big to understand...I will never understand. God's 'love' will never make sense to me. Salvation will never really make sense to me either, I just believe it. That's what faith is...believing what we just don't get."
But when I got tired of being lazy in my faith I started really digging into these questions and the deeper layers are fascinating and thrilling and I must share them!! I can't drown the puppies! 
The cross is the meeting place of God and man...the coming together of He who is holy and we who are not. 
Perfect God meets imperfect man in perfect Jesus. The cross is what had to happen at such a meeting. It is the intersection of His mighty, unconditional love and holiness with the devastation of our rebellious, idolatrous hearts. Jesus, fully God, fully man, is the only One who could act on His Father's behalf and ours. 

But I haven't answered those nagging questions...
on to part 3. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

When Love Seems Cruel - Part 1

The cries of a child fall on the ears of a parent like lead, like a lance... heavy, piercing, agitating.
A loving parent is motivated to relieve the child, a selfish parent runs the other way.
So what kind of "parent" was God the Father when His Son cried out in the garden "Let this cup pass", or from the cross "Why have you forsaken me?".
Those two little girls of mine...who hoisted their little brother onto limbs out of reach, their cries also fell on my ears most days, so heavy, so agitating; stirring up and weighing down a mom who struggled not to run away but instead understand the need and meet it.
Sometimes there was no way to relieve the physical pain of our "Beanie" as we call the younger.
Sometimes there was no quick way to deal with the iron will of our oldest...except to let her wail her frustrations.
These are my human limitations. I am limited in wisdom, in patience, in strength, and in foresight.
These are a child's limitations. She is limited in wisdom, in patience, in strength, and in foresight.
Not so with God the Father. Not so with God the Son.
And this is our dilemma. The Son seems to cry about exactly what He came to do. And the Father appears to ignore His Son's distress.
What are we to make of it?
Let's look at how Jesus addressed His Father:
 "Abba, Father", an expression of affection, closeness, and confidence.
Jesus' life with His Father was one of closeness and comfort. Some like to interpret this term as "Poppa" or "Daddy". Crying "Abba, Father", is Jesus drawing into God's arms...not saluting Him or reciting "Sir". Jesus trusted "Abba" with a deep, personal confidence. From this heart of trust, Jesus asked, "Is there any other way...I don't want to suffer!"
Who does? In our human lack of wisdom, patience, strength, and foresight, who wants suffering?!
And this point is a key point: Jesus was FULLY human.
We must seek to see Jesus not only as God, but as a man. He felt what we feel.
Dread? Yes.
Pain? Yes.
Sadness? Yes.
Loneliness? Yes.
Jesus subjected Himself to human limitations...why else would He ask "Is there any other way?" if He knew already that there wasn't?
Jesus took His soul questions to the One who has always been there for Him, the One who has always had the answers.
Jesus received His answer at the hands of His betrayer...
but was that betrayer Judas?
We read no other words from "Abba"; had He run the other way?
Or is there no other way...

Sunday, October 22, 2017

When Love Seems Cruel (Introduction)

There is a serious element of risk when a young mom is not attentive to her 3-year-old. There is a serious lack of wisdom when a young mom believes her 5 and 6-year-olds are trustworthy babysitters. Afternoons at our house consistently provided an opportunity for chaos and injury because I was a young mom who taught piano lessons while my children "played". One such afternoon a lesson was disrupted by panicked screams from my girls...
I ran outside to find my sweet boy barely hanging from a limb far above my did he get there? Well the ingenuity of his sisters of course, though they were safely on the ground.
As his tiny fingers struggled to hang on I yelled for help because that was all I could do. If I tried to climb up or go get help, he would surely fall without a safety net. A handicapped stranger meandering down the road came up to watch the spectacle but there was nothing he could do, so I told my son to let go and prayed I would catch him safely. His little feet dropped squarely into my hands in a fully upright position. My insides trembled with relief...what if I hadn't heard the cries? What if I hadn't been able to come and catch him?
Loving parents want to come when their child is in distress!
That's just the way it is...that's love!
Why then can we believe the Bible, believe Jesus' own words about God's love when His Father seemed to ignore His greatest distress?
Does Jesus' plea in the Garden for the cup to pass display the heart of a reluctant savior...a cruelly demanding Father? Does His cry of abandonment on the cross expose a crack in the character of Heaven?
Is the problem with God's definition of love or ours?
Or perhaps the definition of love is not the problem at all.
One thing is for sure, there is a serious element of risk when we are not attentive to the words of Jesus. There is a serious lack of wisdom when we believe that people are more trustworthy than God Himself.
So for the next couple of blogs, I will be exploring what Jesus' cries to His Father communicate to me about God's love.

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.