Faith Does

I grew up with a certain set of language to describe what it means to be saved, a Christian, a child of God, born again. As I’ve grown older and have compared more and more of these descriptions to what the Bible says, many of these expressions were often very shallow, sometimes wrong. Certain ideas or truths were not presented with the depth one finds in the Bible and I tended to spout them off like cliches. 

In the story of the Good Samaritan an expert in the Torah, a very well respected Bible scholar, decides he should test this unvetted rabbi, Jesus. He jumps right to the root of the matter to find out how Jesus says one can gain eternal life. He says, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What must I do?”

The text says that he was intending to test Jesus, but in true Jesus form, Jesus becomes the tester. The man answers that to love God with all one’s heart, soul, strength and mind and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is the way to eternal life. Jesus marks his answer correct. Furthermore He told the man that if he did this, “you will live.” 

You will live.”

Immediately the man was uncomfortable and wanted to justify himself. (He hadn’t expected Jesus to get so…personal.)

Now if you have been raised with certain ways of answering theological questions, like me, you want to immediately explain away what appears to be a doctrinal contradiction. Ask us how to inherit eternal life and the answer would be “believe that Jesus died and rose again for your sins and confess your sins, ask for forgiveness, and you will have eternal life.” This is what Paul and Peter and John and others all have taught. Yet why would Jesus give this man this answer? This sounds like ‘works righteousness.’ 

We are often caught between two ideas regarding faith. One, that it is assent to a doctrinal list, ‘this is what we believe,’ and it is enough to give the list a nod and one is ‘in.’ The other is that faith is somehow feeling an emotion very, very strongly, being caught up in clouds of a mystical ether of visions, dreams and miracles; one tries to never vacillate from any doubting negativity.

Often, others given those two choices come to think they can never have faith. They have known some of those who assent to the first idea of faith to be harsh, unkind or blatantly hypocritical. There is nothing about their ‘faith’ they could desire. It hasn’t made them good.  And the second faith seems only attainable by those of a certain kind of temperament or of a mindset that seems not to fit with the world. It hasn’t made them practical. But faith is something different than both of those, although statements of faith and heady spiritual experience may play a part in a life of faith.

The fact of faith is that it is movement in accordance with a word, a message. Faith is moving toward a truth spoken. It is assent to truth or submitting to truth. It is never merely signing a doctrinal statement or having merely a really strong feeling about God. Faith when it receives a message bends to do what it hears. This is why James could say that “faith without works is dead,” a statement that has alarmed many Christians at one time or another. But this idea of bending to the truth is what Jesus says will bring this theologian to eternal life. “Do this and you will live.” So when presented with the atonement of Jesus and the need for forgiveness of sins and our personal wickedness, we bend the knee to that truth and submit to the need to be saved by Jesus. It gets very personal. No signature on a doctrinal statement. Instead it is raw submission to the truth of our need and our condition and Jesus’s provision. Hoist the white flag of faith.

Maybe this will help some of us. Whenever we are presented with ‘what God wants’ and we bend to ‘what God wants’ because He wants it, that action is faith. Actions of faith often (always?) lead to more opportunities to hear truth and bend in faith. So Jesus isn’t messing with us by telling the expert in the Law that eternal life is in loving God and loving his neighbor. He is pointing out that for all his knowledge the man had never listened, submitted, or obeyed simply because it was the Author of Truth who spoke. 

There is another parable earlier in Luke (and Matthew) that I think can help us with Jesus’s answer.          

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Faith, here, is described as building on the words of Jesus. Action is proof of faith. What we say proves nothing. We must bend to the words of truth, of Jesus, of God, so we are not destroyed.

Faith is saying, “if You say so, I will,” and then does. 

The Good Samaritan

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” 

Jesus told him,“Go and do likewise.”

Luke 6:46-49; Luke 10:25-37; James 2:17, 26

Serenity NOW

Many of you know that the blog title came from a Seinfeld episode. It’s ironic. I want peace and I want it now! It’s also what we have all longed for lately. (If you’ve not impatiently wanted serenity lately, bravo. That quality qualifies as some sort of super human ability or just apathy. Ha!)

Anyway, not a great year for serenity, for patience, for peace. Most of the outside voices have done a tug of war that seems calculated to unsettle us on purpose for their own ends. Then there has been internal skids from one absurd thought to another; we’ve lost motivation and then go into a frenzy of activity; we have been mourning and hiding and then venting with our speedy little fingers on keyboards. Serenity seems left to quiet expanses of water. Indeed, something about standing and looking at water has been quieting whether ocean, lake, pond or puddle.

I wonder whether there isn’t a significant difference between serenity and peace. Perhaps serenity is like calm water and peace is a rooted tree, better, the roots of a deeply planted strong tree. Unlike water that can be quickly churned into towering waves, roots hold while the branches may flail in the wind, and too, roots take time to grow.

I’ve been studying Philippians with two friends, a young mom of three and an even younger woman in her early 20’s. It’s not exaggeration to say the contact and the study has been a lifeline for me. We have finally gotten to chapter 4 and as I studied this morning I saw it. Not ‘serenity now’ but the bookends of peace.

Verse 7 promises the transcendent peace of God. Verse 9 promises the present peace of God. The bookends. But now the books. Book one on Transcendent Peace includes these chapters: Rejoice in the Lord, twice and on purpose, verse 4; Be gentle to people because the gentle Lord is near, verse 5; Smother anxiety with prayer, petitions and thanks to God, verse 6. Book two on Present Peace has these chapters: Contemplate high ideals, verse 8; Remember what you have learned, verse 9; Copy those who practice what they preach, verse 9.

Those roots on the tree? They grow slow laboring through dirt and slurping up what they need. That’s the dirt we need to grow through to gain deeper and more stable peace.

I guess what I’m proposing, encouraging all of us to do is to practice, on purpose, what Paul has told us. So, ever so briefly, let’s look at why book one (verses 4-7) promise transcendence and book two (verses 8-9) promise presence. I only just now thought to examine this!

Book one, chapter one, Rejoice in the Lord, Twice and On Purpose. All the things that typically have brought us joy, have been severely curtailed this year. We have to find something to rejoice in that has not changed, something outside, something transcendent. There’s nothing more transcendent than the Lord. Rejoice in His glory, power. Then do it again.

Book one, chapter two, Be Gentle to People Because the Gentle Lord is Near. What places this in the position of transcendent thinking? Well, I find it sometimes creepy to know He is here. And He is listening. Omnipresence and Omniscience are pretty super-human characteristics, out there. And the One who is there is looking for gentleness. Seriously, must He not only be King of the Universe but also gentle, kind? That’s far enough beyond my understanding to be considered transcendent. (See also John 13:3-5.)

Book one, chapter three, Smother Anxiety with Prayer, Petitions and Thanks to God. This verse may give us all an “Oh come on!” moment. Really? My anxiety is lessened by prayer, petitions and thanks to God? But what if it’s true? Transcendent, adjective, “beyond or above the range of normal merely physical human experience.” (Thank you Siri.) I guess (I told you I was just beginning to think about this, right?) I guess prayer and thanksgiving to Someone out there would tick the transcendent box. Paul even says that is above “all understanding.”

So do I want this kind of peace, the out there, incredible but solid peace? Faith means I step out and obey what is instructed. (Oh bend, my proud heart.)

Book two, chapter one, Contemplate High Ideals. True things, noble things, right actions, pure actions, lovely things, things that inspire admiration, excellent and things worthy of praise, think about these. What about this intentional way of thinking brings present peace? Well, try it. Contemplate anything right now that is truly excellent. I’m thinking about dahlias; such a lovely flower. As I took a moment to actually think about a dahlia I was present in my mind with that beauty. But there is something that this way of thinking also does. God is beauty and light and praiseworthy, think ineffable, glorious and great, without sin. When we settle our minds on such things we move closer to His glory. He is all those things and when we think on those things, they are such because He is such. It moves us closer to Him.

Book two, chapter two, Remember What You Have Learned. Paul, like every good teacher, is always telling his readers to remember, remember, remember. Philippians 3:16, “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” (Isn’t it nice to see that ‘we’ there? Paul was still on the road. He hadn’t arrived.) So rehearse: what do you already know? What have you already studied? What have you already learned? Practice that. You know, practice can’t be done yesterday. Practice can’t be done tomorrow. Practice is done now. Applying what we already know is a present practice, a practice that brings Present Peace. Applying what we know about the Word walks towards God. Refusing to do so is walking away from the Presence.

Just my baby granddaughter on the day she met her pre-school teacher. See the trust? We all followed someone ‘once upon a time.’

Book two, chapter three, Copy Those Who Practice What They Preach. Paul! Such chutzpah! But really, where was this man? Why could he say ‘copy me?’ He knew the God of peace was with him in chains (Philippians 1:7), in trouble from other ‘believers’ (1:17), in physical suffering (2:17), even in loss of life (1:20). Is that a strong enough peace to copy? Real enough? But he was copying Someone too. The author of Hebrews encourages us to do this: “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked our for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Consider Him. Copy Him. To copy something or someone is a present thing, something we are doing now. To copy good people is not ingenuine, it actually moves us nearer to their good God. We have One who has blazed the trail. How silly if I flail into the woods because I think I have to make my own path (with apologies to Robert Frost).

I need to turn away from a “Serenity now!” mentality and instead put some practice in for the promised peace.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:4-9 NIV

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

Envy

Envy. Oh God, forgive my envy.

I think one of the reasons I didn’t notice the hold envy had on my life was because I thought of envy in a very concrete way. To be envious I would have to want to be as rich or as beautiful as someone else. Those things really didn’t seem to have much hold on me once I departed childhood so I believed that I was not an envious person.

But in the last few years I’ve begun to recognize a side or a manifestation of envy that was very well hidden in a closet, upstairs, in the attic of my soul. Like some slimy salamander with teeth, it had been lying there all along.

There are trophies of dead sins, mostly dead sins that I can gratefully walk past and when one tries to move a good ol’ whack of humility and grace and memory and repentance settles that nasty pelt right down. But envy. This one is wily. Now that I’ve found him in that attic closet I realize he’s been leaving his detritus everywhere. That offended feeling? There’s his slime trail. The roaring self pity? A mucky footprint left. A spirit of mockery? I think I see his fading Cheshire cat smile. I never realized how I used envy as a kind of guard dog for my fragile ego. (So many mixed metaphors!)

So what am I envious about? I said before it was hard for me to recognize. If it hadn’t been for the Spirit’s red hot finger I might not have. So here it is. I envy the situations where people seem to meet the right kind of people who help promote their talent, (ahem, Nashville, Tennessee, or Oxford, England, or Wheaton, Illinois). I find this admission very embarrassing.

You see, envy seems like a luxury sin. It is the “I want more,” sin. It is the sin that says that, “I deserve that too, but they have all the luck.” It is a state of mind that can’t imagine walking away from an impressed crowd. 

Last year I had an amazing opportunity to go a weekend filled with Christian writers and artists and musicians. It should have been just sublime for me. It eventually got there. But shortly after wading into the experience my heart was weepy and angry and absolutely confused at why something that seemed perfect for the things I do and love had me filled with such self pity. I walked outside into the brisk sunshine and walked hard and fast, sorting through my emotions I didn’t understand. I prayed.

It is appalling when the Spirit reveals sin that has lived in the walls of the heart, ignored, cozy. I get angry when I realize my sins. That’s a part of pride, I know.  So as that red hot finger zeroed in on what was really wrong I felt, “I should be better than that!” But it is as if the Spirit of God had to say to me, “Not without knowing this, not without me showing you. No dear. You never can be better than this all by yourself. You are full of envy.” And I saw it, slimy salamander, with needle point teeth, grinning at me. 

This one will take awhile to die, hopefully I’ve given it some mortal wounds so it won’t move so fast. How does one kill envy, at least begin to fight it? I had to repent of my lust for what these other blessed people enjoyed. I had to repent of being discontent. (So ridiculous! I who have so much!) I had to recognize that God’s hand had put them where they were and God’s hand had put me where I am. I had to submit to my Loving Sovereign. I have to embrace that He has a purpose for my struggle to create. I’m to love where I am, serve where I am, and shut out envy’s hissing voice of “if only.” Finally, and I don’t do this well, I must pray against the enemy envy.

Envy is insatiable, so it must be starved with seeing the provision of God here and now. To learn to be like Paul, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Dear Lord, help me fight the devil envy. You, Lord, have given me what I need.

Just in case you don’t believe how bad my envy is? This is Monet’s Garden. Folks! I got to see Monet’s Garden in France last fall. What!? I am so blessed. Why would someone with such blessings ever envy anyone? But I do.

The George Washington Ascension Group

Inside the dome of the Capitol building in Washington DC is a picture of George Washington. Have you seen it? The first time I saw it I got a deeply disturbed feeling. Why? Because the scene is an unveiled replica of a very familiar religious theme. Done in a high classical style the picture portrays George Washington ascending into heaven— like Jesus.

Now, I don’t know the state of George’s soul, I don’t even know the real intent of the artist, but I do know there’s something here that I fear. I fear the equal marks this work of art can put between Jesus Christ and a political leader. Personally, I think George was a remarkable man for his times, suited for what he was commissioned to do. By the grace of God, and only that, he was able to triumph over forces that a man less committed would have never tried to do.

But out of that unlikely triumph springs the fancy that George was somehow intrinsically better than any other man and that the country he helped forge was innately better by his merit. A Christ figure in red, white and blue.

The need to bolster one’s rights or desires can often lead to an odd blurring of the lines of fact and reality. It’s deeply ingrained in our culture to make our leaders small ‘Christs.’ For some reason we have to. Again we have to smudge and blur the lines and paint the ascending saint on the ceiling. We all desire this. If our leader has a flaw we need to obscure the flaw to validate our preferred outcome. We all are tempted to do this.

Now, if our preferred outcome (pick your favorite political/social point) happens to be championed by a less than moral human being, what should we do? Do we, one, pretend that leader is moral or minimize his or her faults and sins? Or do we, two, reject the leader outright because of their faults in spite of gaining a hoped for outcome? Or yet, three, swallow hard and go for the outcome regardless of the one supporting it? I suppose there may be a fourth option, abstain altogether and live apolitically.

So what I’m addressing isn’t options two through four. I’m criticizing those in camp one. Let’s call them the George Washington Ascension Group, GWAG. Happily this group is composed of both Republicans and Democrats, Independents and Socialists. Later I have a more explicit application but for now I just want to look at what is at the root of the GWAG’s thinking and why it’s an unhealthy way to think.

First, being in the GWAG’s requires one to have a movable morality. Chances are pretty good a member of GWAG will end up contradicting himself if he lives long enough. If one starts out by asserting the a leader must be or must not be X to lead then any movement on the X will be fodder for the oppositions’ fire. It does smell a bit of hypocrisy, no?

Second, it makes for an idealistic view of humans. Humans are flawed. Humans change. Humans are what we are, and don’t we all know what we are? We may want and desire to have people of moral integrity as our leaders, we should. Yet our idealism could cause us to blind ourselves, befool ourselves into thinking good policy equals goodness. Not necessarily.

Third, GWAG’s tend to defend the wrong thing, the person, not the point. If and when our leaders fail, we can want to do one of two things pretend the failure didn’t happen or that it wasn’t that bad. We do this because the moral failure of our leader makes us feel small and foolish.

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Broke out the photo album 22 years old. Aw, my cute kids. And what can I say about photo trends at the time? Ha!

Fourth, it can end up in the worship of the wrong god. In The Screwtape Letters the senior demon extols the value of Christianity plus. One would start by adding one’s patriotism or pacifism to one’s faith and pretty soon the patriotism or the pacifism would become the most important thing about one’s faith. Faith was used to support the movement, one ended up worshipping patriotism or pacifism and faith was dangling off the end as a supportive after thought. We could end up worshipping the power of our perspective and not God. (The Screwtape Letters, chapter 7, CS Lewis.)

Finally, the George Washington Ascension Group is not rooted in truth. After all, George never visibly ascended to heaven. Following flawed human beings has to be done with eyes wide open to the truth about them (and about ourselves). Admittedly, it is harder and harder to know real truth, there are so many voices vying D884D652-6866-4CC6-88BD-ABE05BBBBD25_1_105_cfor our ears and votes. But that doesn’t mean that we ignore or exonerate the moral failings, flaws, sins of our leaders. It does not mean that their sins are ours. Their sins become ours when we fail to see the sins as sin, when we reject truth.

So you know that creepy feeling I described looking up into the capitol dome? I feel that same way about the phenomenon called Trump Art. The  pictures are airbrushed, idealistic, sentimental. They also happen to be pretty good paintings; I’m not criticizing the talent. The most recent one I saw portrayed Jesus standing behind the president with His hands on his shoulders. There have a been a lot of others. This particular painting may have been meant other than how it felt to me. But with the hazy dreamy colors I saw an unhealthy idealism about our president. With Christ standing behind him, it presented the idea that Mr. Trump was a particularly blessed man.(About the only accuracy it demonstrated was not one that a Christian outsider would know, that our leaders are ordained by a sovereign God. In which case, the man in the presidential seat could have been any of the 45 presidents.) You see, this picture was portraying a narrative I find dangerous, that leaders are something other and greater than deeply sinful, flawed human beings. We cannot afford to obscure our failings and the failings of our leaders. It isn’t truthful and it isn’t good for us. When we do so, we lose the moral high ground.

Should we want a flawless human leader, I know of only One. He isn’t standing behind an airbrushed rendition of a US president. He’s standing above it all and all the world is under Him. He’s the One who judges the motives of the hearts of people and He insists on truth. Psalm 2.

 

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Hello, George. What are you doing there?

Gray Children

We didn’t think about being white people in the town I grew up in. The only people around us were white people. There were some migrant workers from the Southwest that would come late spring and stay until after harvest then leave. Otherwise we were all ubiquitous white.

However, there were gray children. Where I lived, in Mid-Michigan, was very rural. The closest big city was Grand Rapids and that was more than an hour away. No one traveled that far often. So I road the school bus through the country dirt roads spilling dust behind us. I was used to the fragrance of manure and hay and just the gritty smell of soil. My cousins smelled like the sawmill, sweet woody smell. But there were these children, the gray children. They were always too thin, ill clad, quiet and there was a ripe body smell; their skin was gray. I don’t know what was going on in their home, but they were unlike anyone else I went to school with. Now looking way back, there was some serious poverty there, and neglect. No mother insisted on soap and baths. No laundry tub cleaned their clothes. There was a back county lostness, not idyllic, as we sometimes imagine, but an isolation that lead to a perpetual sadness. Then these children climb on my bus and reveal externally the lostness of the family internally. Being a child there were so many things I didn’t think to even ask myself, things I can wonder about now. I just remember wondering why someone’s skin would be gray. Perpetually unclean, unloved skin turns gray.

My mother combed my hair about her finger as I screamed for snarls but in the end there were ringlets. She’d let me play in mud in the sandbox but bathed me at night. She

ironed my littleIMG_0023 dresses when they needed it. I can still smell the starch and steam and see the sprinkling bottle to get out stubborn wrinkles. She was so attentive to my physical welfare, as though that attentiveness could prevent harm.

When I disobeyed and crossed the street when enticed by friends, she switched my little behind all the way home. She loved me.

We were not wealthy but there was a wealth of soul, of duties embraced with average joy. We were always fed simply and well. My brothers and I can almost recite weekly what we would have for dinner; Goulash, her way, paprika, ground beef and tomatoes on noodles then layered on buttered bread, tunafish casserole, meatballs and mushroom gravy on mashed potatoes with peas, sometimes heart, yuck, sometimes french fry dinner which was shrimp ends and pieces, fish sticks, tater tots, and Sundays either roast beef or fried chicken.

My father sacrificed by working days at my Uncle’s sawmill and nights as a guard at the state prison. He built our homes himself, sunburning and peeling while pounding endless nails. He took us all camping, teaching us to thrill to see new things. He would squeeze mom tight and say she was the prettiest woman in the room or in the church choir or, well, anywhere. He taught me about sacrificing for the people of God and the importance of studying the Bible. This was a common Sunday: Dad would get home from the prison at 6 am and go to bed; he would get up at 9 and get ready for church and go and teach Sunday school at 9:45; then the church service until 12:30; mom’s Sunday dinner and after he would go to nap until the evening service at 7; then home and he would be on the road to the prison at 9 p.m. Mom was smoothing the way the whole time.

My life then in my home was one of care and love. The bad things that did happen and there were some, were mostly swallowed up in the constancy of the life they provided for me. A lovely, boring, safe life that in my mind’s eye has the full color vibrancy of the most richly colored sunset.

But the gray children. I hope they are OK. I hope they grew up to have light and life and color, safety and enough to eat. I hope they rejoice in the plain delights soap and water. I hope they can forgive whatever made them gray children in the 60’s.

There are many gray children around me, whatever color they are beneath the gray. Their little bodies, too, reveal externally the lostness of their broken homes. Oh, give me eyes to see them and do good. If we stop planning for the children, working for the children, sacrificing for the children some Divine Eye will see and weep for the color we squandered, a sunset of glory we never turn to see.

The Rules

My son and daughter-in-law are avid hikers. They put a dog sized back pack on their dear mongrel and go. But as we were with them the other day my daughter-in-law was telling me that there are rules that hikers know and are supposed to follow, don’t leave trash, clean up after your dog, and this one: people ascending have the right of way on the path.

It was Memorial Day weekend, a sunny, hot, rare day in Washington State when we decided to climb Rattlesnake Ledge Trail, we and an enormous part (it seemed) of humanity. We heard languages from across the world, Spanish, French, German, Romanian (I think), Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, all out to huff and puff their way up to the ledge with a glorious view. All these people, they did not know the rules of hiking. Many were completely unprepared for the struggle up. (As it happened, we, too were a little unprepared with one forgotten backpack with the extra water bottles! But that’s a different tale.)

These others, the foreign ones and the ones who never hiked and were trying it for the first time, they did not know the rules, especially this one: people ascending have the right of way on the path. Whether it was momentum or thoughtlessness people coming down skittered on pebbles making us step out of the way for them, even as we ascenders were breathing heavy to keep going

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Rules can exist for very good reasons (although some are just dumb). These were good rules, helpful. But suddenly a vast group of humanity who does not know the rules is pressing to see the wonderful thing, the view, and is willing to plod and struggle to see it. This struggle to the wonderful thing is far more important than every beneficial rule. It gets messy and tries the patience of those who know these rules, yet, YET we are all heading to the top of the mountain.

How very confusing it must have been for the first ‘churchers,’ when first Samaritans, those incongruous half breeds, and then the Greeks and Romans began flooding the ranks, hearts called to the Wonderful Thing, the forgiveness and grace of Jesus Messiah. They were not following the rules, more, did not even know the rules to follow, they just pressed in because they were invited “further up and further in.” I thought about those first ‘churchers’ as I stood out of the way of those coming down, my breathing trying to catch up with my effort. This was what it was like when those well-intentioned, Torah loving Jews tried to hold back the flood of converts by preaching to them the Rules. What alarm they felt, “no, no, no, no, no! They must be instructed, they must be changed first. Someone’s got to tell them!” But the Gospel had blasted through Torah’s door, the culmination of God’s Word in Jesus. ‘All who are thirsty, all who are hungry, all who are weak, come buy without money,’ was the Word that went out. And they came and overran the synagogues and swallowed up the original faithful. How must that have felt? Perhaps a little like knowing the rules on a mountain hike when hundreds of others do not. One had to step out of the way or risk being trampled.

If you know the book of Acts at all, you’ll know that the first church fathers responded to the flood of rule breakers with simple instructions suggested by Peter based on the promise of God in Amos 9:11-12. You can find the whole controversy in Acts 15. Peter says this, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”

“We should not make it difficult.” But we do. We can put layer on layer of nicety and even beneficial rules in front of those struggling to come to Christ. It can be as simple as “act this way and you’ll be accepted.” But it isn’t that way at all. “Come!” says Jesus and the masses come. The masses come with hate and hurt, dreads and piercings, hijab and robe, jeans and flannel and guns, bad grammar and poor education, prison sentences and welfare, motherless, fatherless, country-less, sad, addicted, depressed, Republican, Democrat, Green Party, anarchist.

“Let the little ones come to Me and forbid them not.”

“We should not make it difficult.”

The minimal instruction that came to the new believers only came after the Gospel of Jesus had flooded into their lives. There is no clean up committee prior to conversion. Preach the Gospel. The masses are coming. They may overwhelm us like a flood. May it be so. May the joy of it carry us away.

At last we stood on top of that ledge and looked around on green Washington. In that one spot we heard languages from the world over and happy faces of every color. People smiled and good cheer was everywhere. We had all made it. The trail up had made us one.FullSizeRender.jpg

Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Messiah Jesus. And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:28-29

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Borrowing Baskets

Borrowing Baskets

I don’t like knowing about all the terrible things in the world. I’m not sure we were meant to know all of them. But technology, unless I climb into some Luddite hole, won’t let me escape the unwelcome knowledge. Feeling as though with knowledge comes some sort of responsibility I, frankly, can be overwhelmed. What do I have, what do I do? I’m good with words and I have a ‘little’ courage. Small help in a horrid world.

I teach Sunday School. I opened my curriculum, that I’ve taught for years, to the Feeding of the 5000, tomorrow’s lesson. This line stopped me and sent me into a introspective spiral: “If the Lord tells you to do something, He will make a way.”

In this time of my life, a little past middle age, I feel as though I’m waiting to know what it is He wants me to do now. I paint, I write stories and stuff like this, I grandmother, mother and wife, (and teach Sunday School) but the slate still looks rather clean. I really do see others doing heroic things, fostering, missionary-ing, fighting injustice on a grand scale, riding into war zones to meet incredible need, or preaching to unwilling hearers. These are heroes. I’m not a hero. I’m good with words and I have a ‘little’ courage.

I prayed, “I owe You so much.” Then I remembered, “I can never repay it.” I thought, “I’m not meant to repay grace.” The verse that says, “Owe no man anything but to love…” and  I remembered the woman who Jesus said “loved much.” I cannot repay the Lord but I owe Him love. “If you love me you will keep my commands…” This is that introspective spiral my mind took this morning. Sorry.

I want to offer Him something not for merit but out of love. Something of my own.

I went back to this: I’m good with words and I have a ‘little’ courage. And immediately I thought, “but what are they among so many…” Suddenly I was right back at my lesson. There I was, Andrew, with his little borrowed basket. I felt the irony.

So like Andrew, I’ll offer what I have. I’m good with words and I have a ‘little’ courage and that will be enough should the Lord choose to bless it. In the mean time I’ll be borrowing baskets, those things the Lord has loaned to me. 🙂

“When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” …Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” John 6.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown.” Luke 7:44

 “If you love me, keep my commands… Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” John 14

“My Kingdom is Not of this World”

“My Kingdom is Not of this World”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight…”

Guest Post!

This is my friend, Brad. I asked permission to put this on my blog. It’s beautiful and true and we need to submit to our Jesus, Lord, Messiah. Oh, and that’s my title, not his. I had to write something!

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These days we are living in, I can’t help but think of the zealot and a tax collector who were both invited by the same man to be a part of an inner circle of brothers. This man wanted both of them, equally and distinctly, to join with him on his mission. How could it be then, that these two men, along with ten others, each with their own agendas, political position, and opposing personal allegiance could be brought together to form such a potent commitment to one another and the mission they were given to accomplish? Was it as simple as being unified out of human effort or persuasion? Or just being able to understand better the other’s values and viewpoint? By no means! Anyone can see, simply by watching our current day’s situation, where pride and arrogance, selfishness, misunderstanding or even hatred can impede and derail. No, a match as unlikely and radical as this could only be unified by a purpose more radical and revolutionary. A purpose whose keys to unlock it were held only by the man who called the two men, wanted them to be with him, in the first place.

This man, Jesus, lived by different rules, spoke of a different Kingdom where up was down and down, up. He didn’t play the same petty games as the men he called. Didn’t bow down or fawn and weep over another whose very flesh and bones were just dust. He didn’t vie for approval or influence. No man held sway over him. But HE, he carried at his very core, the way to life and unity. His words carried the pungency to both unsettle and bring peace all at once. And it was only he who was given the power and the authority to both crumble AND rebuild the hearts of men so blinded by their own sinful toxicity. The power to change lives was his and his alone because he himself, for the sake of the two, and the ten others, and the millions after, he himself was crushed, bruised, beaten, humiliated. He himself lowered himself, chose not to stick up for himself, not to protect his own rights so that those given over to the world might be given the way to new rights. New rights not found in the world but in the new Kingdom of which He, Jesus, is King.

This King carries the entry to a new citizenship, a unified allegiance. A citizenship that bids each who are called by name to no longer resemble that which they once held fast, but rather, like the one who holds the keys, to come and die. To be crumbled and rebuilt just as he was crushed and resurrected. It was this way, the hard and afflicted way that brought two called ones, who began so very opposite from one another, to be restored as brothers. It was not by their own might but rather by the power of the One who made himself nothing, becoming a servant for all mankind, never once caring for his own self-preservation or promotion, but rather always walking in humble submission to the One who sent him to earth.

You see, the way to healing, of mending, and of the greatest unifying will never be man made. It can never be rooted in efforts born out of our hurt or offense. It never comes from actions that draw attention or self-praise. The way to a whole and beautiful humanity as it was intended is simply, Jesus. Jesus as King, Jesus as Savior. Jesus as Rescuer. Jesus as Healer. Jesus as Judge. Jesus as Advocate. Jesus as Servant. Jesus as Friend and Brother. Jesus as Sustainer. Just. Jesus.

And so while I consider the two disciples, one a tax collector working for Rome and one a zealot working to destroy it, I am drawn to wonder. Wonder what it was like for them. Wonder how painful it was at first for them, how difficult to give up so much of themselves for what seemed so risky. And yet I wonder what it was like for them when they began to be changed. When they began to see how truly fulfilling it was to cast their own rights aside, their own dreams and desires and mission to join with the only one that matters in eternity. The one that has the greatest ripple effect known to man. The mission of Jesus. The mission of bent knees, bowed heads, washed feet, bloodied brows, and resurrected life. That is our mission. That is our way to healing. That is our way to unity. It is Jesus. He alone. He is the Way.

Brad Klaver

Facebook post January 21 at 9:49pm


Thank you Brad.

Prayers in the Middle of the Night

Better a broken heart than a broken life.

“What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his own soul?”

It really is the middle of the night. 3:33. I’ve been awake for an hour or more than I had to be. Sometimes that happens when I’m about to leave on a trip, such as this morning.

But as I lay there, in that strange time where small things can seem huge and big things even greater, as my concerns and worries float like bark and leaves on the river of my mind lodging, sticking on the corners, as truth gets tangled up with my imagination, I pray.

Like a rosary that I’ve made of people, I slide from person to person, prayers vastly inadequate to their situation but praying none the less. Such a pitiful bead of service to offer them. I remember those needing comfort, those in pain, those alone, those whose lives are full of burdens, those I love. Then there will be those who make me stop. I try and push away the grief. “Please God. What can I do? What should I do?”

I have watched some of you go through wretched life shaking realities and I see you bloom, like the rose in the desert. caring for the child broken. Some of you have chosen to love profoundly unlovable people and your joy has not faded.

Then some, who have all the advantages given to them seem to be on the brink of some perilous void, sliding slowly backward, like Lewis’s villain in That Hideous Strength, small choices to accommodate eroding the future. These I pray for with panic and wonder if in the middle of the night I can even think straight, if I see it right.

So as all of you parade through my heart and I see the banners flying over your heads this thought strikes me:

Better a broken heart than a broken life.

Cherished Always

 

I was a precocious 4 year old with a late fall birthday. Kindergarten went just fine except when I got caught getting up from my rug during nap time. But my teacher loved me and my very long blond curls. So when first grade rolled around and all the testing I had been given told my parents I was ready to read and capable, I was put into the accelerated learners class.

Things started to go wrong. I remember I could not keep up. I remember the teacher always being displeased with me. I remember being hurried, hurried, hurried. I remember a spanking when I wfullsizerenderasn’t done coloring my rooster before recess and I loved to color.

My mother noticed that everyday I was coming home less and less happy and then the stomach aches started. She saw I wasn’t learning to read as the others were and that I was very unhappy. These days we would say that I was suffering from anxiety. I couldn’t perform at the speed the accelerated teacher wanted me to perform. Or as my mom says, “she didn’t want to have to teach you to read.”

My dear mom did something that just wasn’t done in our small town. She insisted on moving me from that classroom. This was a little community and there were really only two classes per grade for many years. I have wondered since whether the teacher’s lounge was a bit tense or perhaps my first teacher was glad to be rid of me. Whatever the case, I remember feeling like a 6 year old failure being placed in the ‘slower’ class. But a most wonderful thing happened. This other teacher taught me to read.

Her name was Geraldine Christensen. We attended the same church. Her daughter and I were in the same Sunday school class. Mom knew her and knew she would love me because she did what Christian women do. She was in her early 40’s when she became my teacher. Ever after I always had a warm spot for her in my heart. But here is the very strangest thing: although I remember the anxiety and panic from the accelerated teacher in the first semester of 1965 I cannot remember a single day in Mrs. Christensen’s class. I don’t remember her being my teacher. Isn’t that strange?

But this is how I’ve come to understand it. I was removed from the daily anxiety of failure and placed in an atmosphere of peace and kindness, steady unconditional peace and kindness. Nothing to fear. Everything to hope. I was finally adequate and accepted. And in the peaceful atmosphere of Mrs. Christensen’s class I learned to read and because of her, in a sense, she gave me the world. My world of words.

I’m very glad that in the last few years we could reminisce, well, she could, and I could listen, about her teaching me. I’m glad I could share with her how I eventually became a literature teacher. I’ve been glad to tell her children of the value she was to me.

Sometimes good deeds and work are not remembered. I can’t remember what she did for me. But I am the grateful benefactor of that work of hers spring semester of 1966.

Revelation 14:13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

Geraldine Christensen April 20, 1921 – October 19, 2016. Cherished always.