Posts Tagged ‘way of Jesus’

If salvation is believing and loving the Christ without direct contact but still appropriating the benefits (covering of sin that separates us from God), that is Grace. And apparently, the old guys knew about it and were waiting for the manifestation of Him. We’ve lost the wonder that comes with waiting.

I Peter 1:10-11
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.

Am I alone in taking for granted the marvel and mystery of God’s appearance in Christ to reunite human with Spirit, to recreate relationship, to begin a new age of life through the inner presence of the Holy Spirit, to inspire and encourage the walking out of paradoxes like loving enemies, giving to receive, and dying to live?

The prophets were all waiting in expectation of a “new earth” through the appearance of the Messiah/Christ. The prophets tried to prepare the way, but many of their prophecies were misinterpreted over the years. As a result, later generations began looking for a military leader, a benevolent dictator, a king of kings. The people lost discernment of the spiritual revolution that was foretold. Even Jesus’s disciples could not get a handle on the mission until after Christ’s resurrection, the greatest mystery of all, despite the predictions.

Supposedly, believers of today are waiting for a second return of Christ. But I think most of this is lip service: we may even “talk this talk” but few tangibly believe it. Besides, when someone does get the notion of an imminent second coming, he (or she) is considered a kook (and, by the way, rightly so — for now).

We’ve lost the ability to wait with anticipation. With true waiting for something huge like the second coming of Christ, there should be truth searching, longing, intense investigation, escalating hope, growing expectation, and discovery all along the way. It’s been too drawn out. We have become almost cavalier. Or, at the least, in our current time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m lumping myself in this same group and mindset. The last time I felt true expectation in my heart and soul was on our trip to Europe to adopt our children; or perhaps, when I was a child myself. Children know about eager waiting.

Our kids give us a peek at that kind of excitement regularly. Just look at young people before the holidays or at teens before a prom. They know the basics of these events, but the particulars cannot be known until the actual day. And so, they wait and wonder and enjoy. Unfortunately, for adults, keen anticipation rolls into a disappointment at the event itself.

For the last two thousand years, we have been living the event. We are part of the promise. We have been given the keys to the mystery of the ages, the Grace of God in Christ. But time has eroded our wonder. Interpretations and habits and silos of belief (e.g. denominations) have worn away the impact of the reunion between God and Human. We’ve grown bland and insipid, much like the church of Laodicea [Revelation 3:14-21].

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! [Revelation 2:4-5a]

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We have three foundations to belief in God: faith, hope and love. And although love is the greatest of these (I Corinthians 13), Peter exalts faith. Much like the challenge of loving an enemy, faith too must do battle, but with doubt.

I Peter 1:7a
So that [the genuineness] of your faith may be tested, [your faith] which is infinitely more precious than the perishable gold which is tested and purified by fire. [This proving of your faith is intended] . . .

No one wants to go through trials and grief, but there is no question that difficulties make human stronger. Whether those situations give more experience or wisdom, they also build faith. This is nothing new.

Today, however, I pondered the idea of faith being precious though challenged. What would make faith so dear, so prized, so valuable that it must also “suffer slings and arrows?” At its root then, faith must be protected, or at the least, treated with great care.

I think about the absurdity of the treatments often used to fight cancer, chemicals that kill all fast growing cells and ultimately, a few others along the way. The body is threatened with death with each and every treatment. And yet, if the body can survive, can withstand the treatments, there is a chance for remission. Core cells are needed to sustain life: they are precious.

There are core cells to faith as well. It is the pulsing center of faith, the heart. Where is this heart? I don’t know. I think it’s different for each person, but I believe it’s the “Keep” of faith and must be revered.

I believe each person has a faith-planting moment. Perhaps it’s the point of accepting the Christ leadership or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit or perhaps it was a miracle like healing or escape from danger. For me, it was the day I stepped into my apartment in New York and I had a “whoosh” feeling, dropped everything from my arms onto the floor and wandered around my apartment singing the only Christian song I knew: “Jesus Loves me, this I know” for about forty minutes, over and over again. I knew that I knew that God was real and I would follow and believe. My precious faith was born that day.

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For mercy to have its full power, it must be a two-way street: that is the God road. Same as forgiveness, whose power can cast a wide swath when it flows freely. I forgive, God forgives me. I show mercy, God shows mercy to me.

James 2:13
. . . because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

The truth is that mercy and forgiveness are a type of twins really, aren’t they? In both cases, the person who needs forgiveness (or mercy) doesn’t deserve it. They are guilty. And yet, if I, whether it’s deserved or not, extend mercy and/or forgiveness to this rascal/deadbeat/handicapped heart, God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant, where you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of great things.” [my paraphrase of Matthew 25:23]

Those are the significant few things: forgiveness and mercy. And once again, as in so many of my posts, it’s paradox that rears its goofy head again. We are encouraged to do the very last thing we want to do.

There is no guarantee, in fact, less than a guarantee, not even a promise or law or a mandate that my stepping out to forgive the other will mean he/she will forgive me (either for the same situation or another one). The process doesn’t work that way. The exchange is between me and Holy Spirit, not me and thee.

So, when I play “rock, paper, mercy,” it’s always got to be mercy. And it may look from the outside as though I’m losing every contest, God says I’m winning where it counts.

My daughter once asked me how my husband and I have managed to stay together for all these years; we are after all, quite different. And all I can say is that we have practiced two key concepts: acceptance of what is and mercy/forgiveness for what is not.

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I understand; I get it. Sharing is a sacrifice but I don’t like it. I think about the times I told my kids to share and I remember the look of incredulity. After all, sharing meant giving away what the one had in his hand.

Hebrews 13:16
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Oh sure, there are times that sharing might mean cutting something in half (or less), but more often than not, it’s giving it over, supposedly for a season, a short time, a shared time. But it never seems to work out that way from a kid’s perspective. And honestly, probably not from an adult perspective either when it comes to my lifestyle, my bank account, my comfort.

I’m afraid of it. OK. It also makes me mad sometimes.

I grew up with a strong work ethic and quite honestly, I can get somewhat scornful of people who don’t meet their obligations or hold up their end of the stick or break agreements or walk away from responsibilities. I can throw attitude with the best of them at deadbeat dads, plagiarizing students, and philandering husbands. I can get quite puffed up and think, “how dare they?”

After all, if I do my work, why shouldn’t they? If I hang in there, why shouldn’t she? If I earned the money, why must I share it with you? I suffered, so should you. I gave up what I wanted to do to make this life, so should you. After all, I walked to school twenty miles, in the snow, up hill: why shouldn’t my kids? They don’t appreciate hard work. They’re just spoiled.

On and on and on the mind drones. And why? Because God has asked me to share what I have with those who don’t. God even calls it a sacrifice (an offering, the surrender of something valuable for a higher cause). And there’s the point: the sacrifice is not about the worthiness of the other person — capable or not, low born or high, lazy or energetic — it’s about God.

“But, but, but . . . ,” my little self says inside, “they’ll take advantage of me!!!!”

God smiles (in that enigmatic spirit way) and seems to say, “That may be, that may very well be. But the laws of paradox and generosity, selflessness and love, pay back in ways untold. Trust me.”

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All executions were performed outside the city walls. Anything that was unclean or tainted was destroyed or thrown away there. Jesus broke up a lot of traditions, but the greatest one was starting something holy in an unholy place.

Hebrews 13:12-13
And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

Two thousand years ago, the followers of Christ were considered unclean, much like lepers. They were law breakers and rule breakers. They were teaching others that the temple traditions were no longer necessary. They were breaking down societal structures. They all deserved to be cast away and thrown out from the protection of the city gates. This was the mindset of Paul of Tarsus and the crusade of his companions to obliterate the Christ-ians.

Now, some two thousand years, the tables have turned, and the very same believers in that former renegade, Jesus of Nazareth, are the ones who inhabit the “city” and have created their own order and culture of “righteousness.” It seems that anyone who might question or disagree with the current regime is cast outside the camp.

They are a new set of Pharisees who are putting people under microscopes before they are allowed inside.

But I believe Jesus is still outside the city. Jesus is still rubbing shoulders with the prostitutes and homeless, the poor and the outcasts, the disenfranchised and the orphans, the persecuted and the different, the prisoners and the ex-prisoners. The way of Jesus will always be the way of paradox. When we become to comfortable, we may have strayed onto the wide road [Matthew 7:13-14].

I am equally challenged here. I may go outside the “camp” for a visit, but every night I still run home to my comfortable bed and my air conditioning, my habits and my rituals.

I am yet afraid outside my “personal city” walls. I am afraid that I will be lost, that I will be hurt, that I will be shut out.

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Nowadays, swearing and oath-making are not very common. Of course, I’m not talking about profanity, there’s plenty of that. Funny, the same word, swear, has such opposing uses: one as a debasement while the other is a promise that is binding because of the witness of someone “higher” in power, class, or position.

Hebrews 6:16-17
Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.

There are only a few places where the full intent of swearing is still recognized: a wedding where vows are made between two people; a swearing in to public office; and a swearing to tell the truth in a court of law. In all three of these cases, people are asked to “swear” over a Bible with the implication that they are “swearing by” God. Supposedly, they are saying the words that can be and should be witnessed by God who will/can affirm their truth. Hmmmm.

Sorry, but I don’t think people take these oaths very seriously anymore. Marriage oaths are broken every day. In fact, there are great numbers of people who consider divorce their first option if “things aren’t working out.” I know this attitude well, I had it myself when I married the first time. I had all kinds of provisos: If he does this or if he does that, or doesn’t do this or doesn’t do that, I’ll just get a divorce. Big deal, in other words. I’ll do what I want to do.

I certainly don’t feel so cavalier today. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if there aren’t some serious repercussions for swearing or making an oath with little intent to keep it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discouraged his followers from making oaths, “. . . I tell you, do not bind yourselves by an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is the throne of God; Or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you are not able to make a single hair white or black.Let your Yes be simply Yes, and your No be simply No; anything more than that comes from the evil one.” [Matthew 5:34-37, Amplified]

Throughout this morning, a partner verse keeps coming to my mind about the sowing and reaping principle: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” [Galatians 6:7, NIV 2010] A vow or oath is a type of sowing, it’s a promise, and it’s the beginning of a process; when that promise is broken, the process is aborted and something else will happen instead. There has to be a reaping.

For this reason, I think, Jesus advises us to avoid these situations.

And, as an afterthought, perhaps the profane kind of swearing also bears some unpleasant fruit (or reaping) for the speaker. Wikipedia states that the original meaning of “profane” was “outside or in front of the church.” It is something that does not belong to the church. Interesting tidbit.

Before my Christ-centered days, I could swear up a blue streak and probably “out-swear” a truck driver if need be (not that truck drivers necessarily swear). I could also drink just about anyone under the table. I was proud of my ability to appear really “bad.” Inside, I don’t think I was much different than anyone else. I just covered up a great deal of my insecurities with behavior.

So, my take away for today is two-fold: I should be much more circumspect about the promises I make as well as more prudent in my words. I don’t profanely swear on a regular basis but I do find myself lapsing into some old bad habits. It’s unproductive, or worse, when directed at someone else, it’s “outside the Spirit.”

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Artwork by Gretchen Smith

Most of us know the short verse, “Jesus wept” [John 11:35]. We might even get a warm and fuzzy feeling at the picture of a sympathetic Christ, weeping for his friend. But how often does anyone quote this verse in Hebrews, where Jesus cries out loud and sheds tears before God?

Hebrews 5:7
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

After a quick look at some of the commentaries, it’s interesting to me that most writers place all this “weeping and wailing” right before his death in the Garden of Gethsemane, as though this is the one time Jesus encountered his destiny and travailed before the Father. But I propose that the prayers and supplications of Jesus were ongoing. Think about it: how many times did Jesus miraculously escape the authorities? How many times did he suspect danger in his life, anticipate a shortened ministry, protect himself and his work by discouraging loose talk or gossip among his followers?

Jesus knew his life was forfeit but I can imagine him praying regularly, “Not yet . . . not yet. Give me a little more time.”

Jesus needed help and protection from God continually, not just in the garden, but throughout his ministry life. And in the same way that he emptied his heart and soul before God at Gethsemane, I believe he did this regularly and undoubtedly during many of those solitary prayers he sought out on the mountainsides, away from the disciples.

Lastly, I am intrigued by the idea of a noisy Christ. I mean, I don’t know about you, but a mental picture of Jesus roaring or wailing before God is difficult to wrap my mind around. And yet, why not? Isn’t it culturally appropriate? Would Jesus be “above” such behavior, such expression of need, desire, or supplication? Not at all.

I have experienced deep crying out to God and weeping but only at those times of deepest despair, betrayal, or fear. When I cried out to God at such times, I confess, it wasn’t that I put all my trust in God, I was merely bereft of hope, overwhelmed, and felt as if there was nowhere else to turn, I was “poor in spirit.” It was my last chance.

I wonder, were there circumstances and situations that Jesus did not expect to happen? Was he ever surprised (or surprised all the time)? Did he expect/hope his follower-disciples would “get it” sooner than they did (or did they get it while he was still alive at all?); was he troubled by the masses of people who easily followed him day after day for “bread and fish” but could not grasp the food of the Spirit; was he frustrated by his own inability to break through thousand-year-old traditions and beliefs? Did he cry out to God the day he called himself the “bread of life” and taught them about eating his flesh and drinking his blood–so many deserted him that day. I can imagine him saying, “Father, how do I reach them?”

And yet, each day, he submitted again and again and again to the role he was given to endure (in the order of Melchizedek); he pressed on. He woke up, he prayed, he taught, he ate, he miracled. And finally, he reached that God-ordained last day, that last supper, and that last prayer. My spirit tells me now: his garden prayers were not the first time he bled in sweat nor flooded the ground with his tears. His life in the Father was full of prayers and supplications every day.

Holy tears for me. Thanks be to God.

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