The meaning of life.
The wasted years of life.
The poor choices of life.
God answers the mess of life with one word: ‘grace.’
The meaning of life.
The wasted years of life.
The poor choices of life.
God answers the mess of life with one word: ‘grace.’
I had something else in mind when I started writing an entry for Good Friday. I was impressed by the phrase “the time when the power of darkness reigns” in Luke 22:52-53:
“Then Jesus spoke to the leading priests, the captains of the Temple guard, and the elders who had come for him. “Am I some dangerous revolutionary,” he asked, “that you come with swords and clubs to arrest me? Why didn’t you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns.”
At that particular moment, Jesus allowed himself to be taken captive by those powers that worked in the dark, away from the eyes of the few who would insist on proper protocol, and accountability and the checks and balances that are meant to thwart the misuse of power.
This was a misuse of power.
This morning as I woke I heard: He came to set the captives free.
I’ve been too impressed by the reign of darkness. Jesus said later that his submission to those who would kill him was voluntary.
Love is always voluntary, or it is not love.
This morning the words I heard, “He came to set the captives free,” struck me with the full beauty of irony. Jesus became a captive so he could set the captives free. Jesus died to overcome death.
Jesus became a captive so he could set the captives free. Jesus died to overcome death.
Jesus died so he could overcome death.
I found a photo I took in Jerusalem at Lithostrotos (Roman Paving) under the Convent of Ecce Homo (Behold the Man – Pilates words when he handed Jesus over to be crucified). In a dark low-ceiling room now underground, it is thought to be the place where Jesus’ trial was held and where the Roman soldiers tortured him.
Our guide told us it was unusually quiet that day. I sat on a stone bench and sang, “My Jesus, I love Thee… If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus ’tis now,” with tears streaming down my face.
Of all the places we visited in Israel this place had the most emotional impact on me. I could feel the darkness, and yet I could also feel the light that rose out of this powerful yet powerless environment that once echoed with the sound of whips and jibes, knowing that it is by his stripes that we are healed.
His wounds became our health.
Jesus entered darkness to bring light. He became a man of sorrow that we might share the joy set before him. He gave up his liberty to set us free. He became sin that we might be free from sin.
Behold the Man
Can I be honest? I am disappointed. Not devastated, but disappointed.
Only four months ago we finally finished a big renovation project. My Dad, who perfected the art of frugality, left me a little money after he passed away. We used it to do long needed repairs to our house and to completely re-finish the lower level. It’s taken nearly three years, but by Christmas it was finally done and I loved it. Our son spent many long hours away from his own wife and children to use his creative carpentry skills and give me the home I always wanted.
And now? Now, like many people in our town, I stand in my own house in rubber boots and wade through water that ought not to be inside our beautiful warm home with its new flooring and freshly painted walls and white trim. Water swirls around the new freezer and washer and dryer.
I’ve not been writing much this week because I have, with friends, been pumping water out the back door for seven days. When the huge dump of snow we had this winter began to melt, it had no escape route. Many of the houses in our town are filling with icy cold water flowing into low places and bubbling up from sewers. It seems the only place the water has not ventured is into the room with the drain installed in the floor to deal with such things.
Wonderful friends jumped in to help last Saturday. Then one by one our friends jumped out to bail out their own homes when the water reached them. Some of them are now in deeper water than we have been. One brave guy came over and emptied an 1100 square foot pool with two shop vacuums all by himself – two days in a row! I am so grateful. But it filled up again within a couple of hours.
My husband’s mother is ill and needs help, so he flew up to her place in Alberta on Sunday. I am here. I’m still supposed to take it easy after surgery last month but there is really not much choice but to bend and lift and bail and do the best I can.
It’s not enough. There is really nothing I, or anyone else, can do. I have to let it go.
My Facebook friend has been posting pictures of the horrendous flood in Peru, where he lives in Lima – without access to water, ironically enough. Another friend posts photos from a famine in Africa and another pictures of the destruction in the Middle East. My problem is pitifully insignificant in comparison. No one has died here. It’s just property damage.
Yet as I heard a young woman say, “If you have no right to be sad because someone has it worse, you have no right to be happy when someone has it better.” Feelings are feelings. Like the feeling of thirst the feeling of disappointment carries no shame. It’s what I do with that disappointment that matters. If I fail to hold these things in an open hand and give my right to own nice stuff back to God it could congeal into bitterness. I’ve known that heavy entrapment before. I lost years to it.
The night before my husband first stepped on an unexpectedly cold soggy rug in the middle of the family room I had a dream. In this dream I was driving on the top of a snow-covered dike that ended near the river. I needed to turn around, but the trail was very narrow and a deep pool of water surrounded the dike like a flood plain. I almost made the turn, but then my car began to slide into the water. I knew there was nothing I could do. I felt annoyed and resigned, but not particularly upset or panicky.
As my vehicle began to sink I knew I had to give it up. (I love my little Honda Insight). I exited through the window and swam toward the snowy dike. By the time I touched the shore it had become a solid rock beach. People who hadn’t been there before waited with warm blankets to cover me. I saw men attaching cables to my car and salvaging it before it was completely submerged. Someone behind me, wrapping a warm hand-made quilt around my shivering body, whispered in my ear, “This looks very dramatic and like it’s a big deal, but it’s not. You’re going to be okay.”
My feet are wet and cold. I watch the water lap up against the new library shelves. They are already warping. It’s only stuff, I know that. But it’s a loss, and I’m sad. And that’s okay.
In January I asked the Lord to give me a word about what aspect of himself he wanted to show me in this season. In a vision in the night I saw the word “berit” written in the sky. I wrote it down and looked it up in the morning. The first article I found said it was a form of the Hebrew word for covenant promise – a one way promise from God that is not conditional on his people conforming to a code of behaviour to bring about fulfillment. It’s simply part of his faithfulness to keep it.
Someone asked me if I’ve seen any rainbows lately, considering all the rain that was melting mounds of snow. I remembered seeing this word written in the sky. In Genesis a rainbow is a berit. I saw a literal word of promise taking the place of a rainbow in the sky.
You know, it shouldn’t surprise me that as I write this I am remembering that today is the anniversary of the day our daughter was told she couldn’t have children. It’s also her daughter’s birthday, the first of three miracle babies.
Today is also the anniversary of a terrible day when our son-in-law crashed after surgery for flesh-eating disease. The doctors didn’t think he would live. On this date a year after that he and our daughter celebrated his miraculous better-than-before recovery by going on a mountain bike adventure.
Shortly after that our son and family experienced a flood far worse than this one. Their house sat in a lake of water and they were displaced for months. This week marks the completion of the restoration of their house to better-than-new condition, it’s sale, and the beginning of a new project.
I guess if you want to see miracles you’re going to find yourself in situations that call for them. I am disappointed, yes, but not beaten down, not without hope, not without other treasures. We have wealth in caring friends, in family, in the laughter of grandchildren. We also know that God never allows something to be removed without replacing it with something better. I am anticipating that he will do it again.
A song has been going through my head this week. One line in particular seems to be on repeat:
After the rain
After the flood
You set your promise in the sky…
God is good. Still good. Always good.
Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.
(Habakkuk 3:17-20 NASB)
True repentance never leads to despair. Its leads home. It leads to grace.
C. S. Lewis observed that almost all crimes of Christian history have come about when religion is confused with politics. Politics, which always runs by the rules of ungrace, allures us to trade away grace for power, a temptation the church has often been unable to resist.
– Philip Yancey
I’m home now, resting after major surgery in another city. I can’t bend over to pick up anything I’ve dropped or lift anything heavier than a jug of milk for the next few weeks. Sitting for more than the length of a quick meal is still uncomfortable, but couch time with a pile of good books and a remote in hand is actually a guilty pleasure – with a built-in excuse.
It’s raining. The streets are glare ice and our home and garden are still under several feet of saturated snow after the heaviest snowfall in decades. I don’t plan to go anywhere and thus far the house remains mostly dry inside.The storm of the last week is over. My husband is back at work and there is time to think.
Before we left, on the one day the roads were in good condition before the second storm hit, someone asked the question, “In your reading of Jesus’ words lately what stands out the most?”
I recently watched the film “The Gospel of John” which uses the scripture as the entire dialogue of the screenplay. What I heard Jesus say over and over again was this: I’m telling you the truth. In the olde King James version I grew up with he said, “Verily, verily.” In the original language of the Bible he said “Amen, Amen…” When amen was said at the end of a statement it meant “I agree.” When Amen prefaced a statement it meant, “I’m about to say something important.” When a word was repeated it meant “I am about to say something truly important. I’m serious here, folks.”
In the gospel of John alone Jesus says amen amen before a statement at least twenty times. I asked myself why.
This week I discovered what it is like not to be taken seriously about an issue that was important to me. Two days after being released from the hospital after major abdominal surgery I suddenly doubled over in severe pain. I’ve had this kind of pain before. It felt like I was passing a kidney stone. I was staying in a small town about an hour out of the city resting up for the next part of the trip home. I slowly crawled up the stairs on hands and knees and asked to be driven to the hospital emergency room since our host could get me there faster than an ambulance.
Kidney stones hurt. When your belly has just been cut open, things moved and removed, and then sewn back up, kidney stones really, really hurt. The power words I have been saving up for moments of high drama seemed inadequate. And “Verily, verily, I hurteth,” was not going to cut it.
I told my driver to move her car out of the ambulance bay to a parking spot because I thought I would be okay walking to the triage desk myself.
Wrong. I clung to a wall trying not to pass out from pain. The lady behind the desk ignored me. Another patient in the waiting room ran and brought a wheelchair, but then I just sat there in the middle of the hallway unable to propel myself. Eventually my driver came back and pushed me up to the glass door in front of the triage desk. After waiting a period of time, which probably felt longer than it actually was, a person took my information.
“On a scale of one to ten with ten being the worst pain you…
“Ten!!!” I gasped.
“Take this paper to the desk [way over there] with your health insurance card, fill out the admissions form, and have a seat in the waiting room. We’ll call you,” she said.
I had just come from one of the finest surgical centers in the country. I had a team of nurses and technicians who cared for me around the clock, helped me breathe, helped me sit up, put on my slippers and helped me go to the bathroom. They even flushed for me. Now I sat in a hard plastic chair, squirming, shaking and sweating, wondering if lying on the floor would be a better option. They didn’t call me for nearly two hours. (Thank God prayer was more efficient and the pain level had lowered by then.)
They didn’t believe me.
When drug addicts become known at the larger city hospitals they start hitting the smaller outlying health services seeking relief from withdrawal. The people at this hospital didn’t know me. Perhaps they thought I was drug-seeking. They had seen it before. Perhaps they didn’t believe me because they didn’t know me or my character.
It wasn’t until late in the evening, when the pain subsided and after my family helped me back into bed at home, that the emergency room doctor called and said the x-rays proved I was telling the truth. That’s when he asked if I needed pain medication.
Now my news was not good news. Unlike Jesus I was not there for anyone’s benefit but my own. But in that experience I felt what it was like not to be believed despite the best evidence I could produce.
Today I watched the film again. In this part (midway through this scene) Jesus tells them who he is. He reminds them of the witness of John the Baptist.
They do not believe him.
They shrug as if saying, “Yeah. We’ve seen people with selfish motives before. We’ve heard lies before. We’ve been deceived and disappointed before.”
Jesus says over and over “I am telling you the truth!” Then he says something which cuts to the heart of their disbelief.
“I’m telling you the truth! I can only do what my Father tells me. You don’t know me because you don’t know my Father!”
These were the religious experts, the ones who told everyone else who God was and what he wanted. What a politically incorrect, offensive statement in that place, at the heart of religious government!
I have a drawer full of greeting cards ready to send in polite acknowledgement of special occasions. People also send them to me. Some are carefully chosen after reading dozens in the store display, but sometimes they just come from a box bought at the dollar store because you need to stick a card (that a kid will never read) on a birthday gift. Sometimes I read the gospels and skim over the verily, verily passages like I am reading a stack of birthday or get well cards full of sentiments written by card designers who don’t have a clue who I am. Thank you. That’s nice, Jesus.
But do I really hear him? He looks me in the face and asserts with a strong tone:
I am telling you the truth,” Jesus replied. “Before Abraham was born, ‘I Am’.”
I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life.
I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Those who come in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.
I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do—yes, they will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father.
I am telling you the truth: the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your happiness may be complete.
Do we truly believe Jesus is who he says he is? Do we treat his statements like nice sayings in a greeting card? Do we truly believe he is telling the truth?
Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.
-Sydney J. Harris