Courage: Behold the Man

Photo: The Lithostrotos (Roman Paving) under the Ecce Homo Convent in Jerusalem

Anyone who has spent time with children has heard this cry, “NO FAIR!!!”

Anyone who visits social media hears it often from adults. Sometimes when reading about injustice toward children and other vulnerable people, my outrage mode becomes so overheated I have to shut it down and walk away before I open the door to something nasty that is glad to feed on my anger and unforgiveness and takes the opportunity to cultivate more.

When I am the victim of injustice myself and feel misunderstood, mistreated, and rejected I do not do well in the self-defense department. My rage usually turns into embarrassing crying. Crying when attempting to confront, with calm assertiveness, someone who has treated me unfairly infuriates me even more. I look like a weak, hysterical, blithering idiot and end up running away. (Now there’s a accusing voice popping up from my past.)

Worse yet is when I strike back with cutting words or, in one case, with a one-fingered gesture in the face of an entitled person in the middle of ridiculous road rage meltdown. (I shocked myself.) I had the opportunity to test the acceleration ability on my car that day.

Luke tells the story of how Philip explained a passage from Isaiah’s scroll to the Ethiopian eunuch. It describes Jesus.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
he was led away.

(Isaiah 53:7, 8a NLT)

The amount of courage it must have taken for Jesus to resist defending himself when he had so many powerful tools available is hard for me to comprehend. Only a love stronger than the drive to preserve one’s dignity and one’s life can account for such silence. This was not angry passive/aggressiveness nor self-punishing passivity. Jesus demonstrated physical and moral courage many times in his confrontations with authority figures who blocked the path to God with man-made traditions and religiosity. He was very capable of standing up to injustice. He cornered hypocritical religious authorities with his words. He took time to make a whip before turning over opportunistic scammers’ tables at the temple. His action in that circumstance was not because he suddenly lost his temper. Taking the time to make a whip showed he intentionally engaged in a dramatic act that opposed injustice.

Before the time when he was betrayed, mocked, whipped, and nailed to a public torture device he said this: “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” (John 10:18 NLT)

I see him looking, without shame, directly into the eyes of those who thought they were protecting their power base, facing the faces in the mob who called out for his death, gazing into my own eyes as I worry about what people will think, and saying with his compassionate silence, “This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, poured out for you. For you.”

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Courage

Nourishment

Nourishment

I sat beside one of my grandchildren. She was busy eating vegetables with what seemed like great enthusiasm.

“Wow, you must really like vegetables,” I said.

“Not really,” she said, grabbing another piece of celery. “Daddy said I could have a piece of cake if I ate my veggies. That piece was really good, so now I’m eating more veggies so I can have another piece of cake.”

“Hmmm. Veggies as a confectionary offset. Is it kind of like buying a carbon offset and paying someone to do a good environmental deed for you when you want to burn a lot of fossil fuel in your private jet or yacht on your way to a climate conference?” I asked.

“What? I don’t have a jet!”

“Yeah. Neither do I. It’s not really my problem is it?”

She finished munching and ran into the kitchen with her plate.

The idea of doing a good deed to pre-atone for a self-indulgent act is not new. In fact, one of the things that provoked the time of societal upheaval in sixteenth century Europe was the sale of indulgences (yes, that’s what they were actually called). According to the people hawking them, buying an indulgence could take years off your time in purgatory. (Exactly how many years off or exactly how long a sentence in Purgatory was expected to last was little hard to pin down). Overzealous salesmen caused several deep thinkers to say, “Hey, wait a minute… That means the rich can get away with more…”

I thought about times when I partook in plain healthy spiritual nourishment without savouring or appreciating its subtle ungarnished goodness because I wanted to get on to something more exciting. I remembered sitting through obligatory ‘devotionals’ at youth group meetings where all the cute guys were because, well, you know, cute guys.

I thought about years of attending church services and that feeling of relief when it was over. I loved the sense of freedom when the religious obligation thing was done, and the rest of the week was mine to enjoy. I kind of left God behind in the building with the guilt accumulated in the previous week.

After a few years, I started to think, “Hey, wait a minute…” Churchianity wasn’t doing it for me. I wanted to encounter Jesus and find out if he meant what he said about grace and healing and knowing the Father’s heart of love and acceptance into his family and being transformed. There were better places to find good entertainment and frankly, the service clubs did a better job of serving. The unspoken rules were getting to me. What was I doing here? Either God was real, or he was not. I had to find out.

I returned to the simplicity of the stories of Jesus on earth, some of it in his own words. The good healthy, nourishing truth of Jesus’ words had more spiritual vitamins and minerals than I knew. Time spent reading the words of Jesus himself for myself was well worth the effort of establishing a healthy discipline of seeking him first. God encounter experiences came later.

Some times a loving Father gives us treats. Sometimes he reminds us to focus on the essentials first.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Nourishment

Radical Demonstrations

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who are abusive to you.”

Jesus Christ (Luke 6:27, 28)

What if what is missing in the lives of people who hate you, who want to see you silenced, cancelled, dismissed is an experience of grace? What if people who don’t deserve it (like all of us) experience the goodness of God through the blessings of those they shun?

What if we prayed for and not against all the people Jesus loved so much that he gave his life to reconcile them to their creator?

What if those of us who know what it means to have been loved by the Lover of our souls while we were still far from him come out and demonstrate? What if we come alongside our haters in radical demonstrations of the love he has poured out for us?

Feels counterintuitive, doesn’t it? It would take a radical shift in our first-reaction mindsets.

But what if Christians believed Jesus? How would culture shift?

Jesus Christ, the ultimate revolutionary.

As Different as Chalk and Cheese

Sometimes I wonder if one of the greatest miracles Jesus performed was to keep the disciples from killing each other. This week, as I watched another political/religious family feud break out on social media I remembered that Jesus, born into a time of political high tension, took both a collaborator and a resistance fighter on a road trip. It’s time to re-blog this.

Charis: Subject to Change

boys buckets painting ch rs DSC_0204

I grew up in a family where teasing was a form of affection. Wrestling, practical jokes, funny stories that revealed weaknesses in each other? All normal (to us). To those not accustomed to this way of relating, such play appeared intimidating and offensive. Most of the time we knew where the line was, but in the background, we often heard someone warning, “You had better stop now before someone gets hurt!”

And then someone got hurt. A line was crossed. For one of the participants the action wasn’t fun anymore. Teasing became bullying (to them). Fights ensued.

Like many parents, we discovered our children’s individuality early. One liked to cuddle. The one who had to move-it move-it move-it resented the restraint of adult arms. One cried easily, one bounced back like an inflatable clown punching bag, one treasured solitude, and one was happiest when surrounded by 27 of her closest…

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Love Never Gives Up

passion translation love is large

In the middle of the first letter sent to the new believers in Corinthians (with instructions on how to use the gifts or tools the Holy Spirit gives) Paul gives is this warning:

Without love, it’s all a gong show (my loose translation).

As Christians we talk about love. We urge people to take the job of showing love seriously. We quote the verse about turning the other cheek. But who knew the charge to love our neighbours as ourselves could turn into a burden that keeps people weighted down with disappointment in themselves and in other less-than-considerate members of the church that is supposed to lead in this area? Who knew the instruction to love could make us feel less loveable?

I used to think that love meant I should be able to conjure up feelings of affection on demand. I thought if I tried hard I could. I learned I can’t. I know I’m not the only one. With very little effort I can give you hundreds of examples of my failure to love in spite of my best efforts.

 

I even fail to love people who, like me, mean well, but leave a mess to clean up in their short-sighted efforts to demonstrate it.

I can’t even imagine what it is like for the victims of extreme persecution to hear sermons about extending love to those who hate them.

Love is all very good in theory, but, as is evident in nasty posts on various media  platforms, people who differ on political ideas, or even styles of music and fashion have a hard time showing it. Love, real love and not merely feel-good self-serving or erotic love is hard to come by. There are some days when I wonder if it is even possible.

And yet Jesus is clear about the command to love.

“’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22: 37-40)

The identifying mark of the early church was expressed this way, “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples – that you have love for one another.”

Recently I hear another full-voiced charge from a pulpit that we should love like Jesus. I wanted to stand up and yell back, “Don’t keep telling us we should love without telling us how!”

People know the difference between genuine caring and marketing. They have a word for it. Hypocrisy.

Then the Lord reminded me he is not dependent on my efforts to do this without him. It’s about His love, not mine. He loved us first. I respond with that little bit that I can grasp before it falls through the holes in my heart and give it back to him. Then he pours out more love.

Paul described this kind of love – agape love, unselfish love from a perfect Father, in the passage in 1 Corinthians 13. I like to read it in different translations. The Passion Translation, which seeks to include emotional communication, calls this kind of love “large.” This is what Jesus came to show us. This is what Christ in us, the hope of glory, looks like and feels like. Large.

I need to soak in it. As I write this I am soaking my foot in a sterilized water and salt solution as part of the healing plan after minor surgery. In the same way, metaphorically speaking, I need to soak in God’s love for continuous healing of soul wounds. Abiding in his company purifies and removes distractions so I can know that I am the object of this love and that the Creator of the universe values me enough to never quit loving me. Only then can I give love the love I have received without risking burn-out or spiritual bankruptcy.

Developing a relationship with God and learning to abide, rest, dwell, and take up residency in the place of intimacy where we learn to accept a love we can’t earn is not for mystics who are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. It is the essential source for anyone who prays, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God never takes failure as defeat, for he never gives up.

I Need to Worship

pink lily camel oil ch

“I need to worship because without it I can forget that I have a Big God beside me and live in fear.

I need to worship because without it I can forget his calling and begin to live in a spirit of self-preoccupation.

I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on.

I need to worship because my natural tendency is toward self-reliance and stubborn independence.”

-John Ortberg

I used to think God must either be some sort of egomaniac, or the opposite, an insecure assurance addict, that He wanted praise all the time. I learned at an early age (and to my embarrassment now) that the best way to get something from my dad was to butter him up first. It’s the go-to weapon of choice for many people when they feel powerless. I hoped the same technique would work on God.

It wasn’t until I let go of the false definition of God that I somehow picked up in my early years that I began to realize how wrong I had been. God’s self-image is just fine, thank you. He doesn’t need anyone to create one for him.

Worship is about taking my eyes off myself and focusing on who he is. In the process of gazing on his beauty and concentrating on his attributes, I can begin to see myself in his eyes. It creates perspective.

Turning all our attention on who he wants to show himself as in this season of our lives can be like having a defining-the-relationship talk with the Almighty. God is God, holy other, far above any created thing. He knows us intimately and loves us deeply.

It doesn’t get any better than that.

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