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

Love

Recently I met a refugee family who has demonstrated love in a way that goes beyond the usual experience in North America. They come from a country where it is illegal to change religions or influence anyone to change religions. When approached by two young men who were looking for an understanding of God, a Christian man gave them Bibles to read. After they read about the God who loved us so much that he let his son die and overcome death so that if we believe in him we will have eternal life, they chose to follow the God of love. They found new life in Christ.

The consequences of assisting at the birth of this new life were dire for this man and his wife and children. They faced serious death threats. Even after they fled to another country, they were incarcerated, the mother and the children for a short time and the father for five years.

Conditions in that prison were appalling. The father endured great stress. The mother and children knew great hardship as well living without him in the home. And yet everyone in the family says their love for God grew most during this time as they experienced his faithfulness and provision. They are truly beautiful people, and the love of God shines through tears as they tell their story.

Today I thought about the way love takes the risk of birth. My granddaughter asked me if childbirth hurts.

“It does,” I told her, “But the reward is so great that most women who have given birth once choose to give birth again because they know the joy of seeing new life and that love is greater than pain.”

My mother nearly died giving birth to me. I heard the story many times. The physical consequences for her lasted a lifetime. And yet she chose to give birth to my brother even when a doctor warned she could face problems again. She did it out of love for someone who would not understand the significance of her willingness to suffer for him until many years later.

As I think about it, I realize that the greatest force in the universe is love. It was love that motivated Jesus to suffer, die, and overcome death. It was love that sent my new friend to those men knowing that he could suffer and even die for doing so. It was love that sent my mother to the delivery room for the second time knowing she could suffer like the first time, or even die.

It is love whenever someone is willing to extend themselves beyond a low-risk comfort zone to make it possible for new life to begin and grow. Only the love of God is strong enough to overcome the fear of suffering or even death and cause a person to know they are loved even in the middle of severe trials. We can love because God loved us and gave us first mortal life, then the opportunity for eternal life through Jesus Christ.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Love

Grace/Disgrace

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I was known, as a child, as the kid who asked too many questions. I remember one exasperated church lady saying, “Questions! Questions! Why do you have to ask so many questions? Why can’t you just have faith?”

I felt reprimanded and like I was about to be assigned to the lower decks of the good ship Faith. I thought about it for a while, then realized that if I didn’t have faith that God is good and has an answer waiting discovery, I wouldn’t be brave enough to ask questions.

I still ask impertinent questions, but now I have a somewhat better sense of where and when it’s safe to ask them. Maturity or pragmatism? I’m not sure.

I ask God a lot of questions. Sometimes I get a direct answer in sundry ways. Sometimes all I get is a nudge to rephrase or ask a better question. Sometimes God asks me a question in response to my question. That happened this week.

I woke up to the clear question, “What’s the opposite of grace?” (I was too focussed on how wonderful my pillow still felt to come up with it myself.) Two mugs of coffee later I contemplated the opposite of grace. The question, “What does grace feel like?” (here) took months to answer. I’ve learned not to rush when my heavenly Father asks something he already knows. Something important this way lies. This time it didn’t take as long.

What is the opposite of grace? Disgrace, I guess.

And what is disgrace?

Help me out here, dictionary. The pre-fix dis means to do the opposite, to deprive, to exclude, expel, annul. If we put the prefix dis on a word it changes the meaning to the opposite. To empower is to give power to someone. To dis-empower is to remove power. Dis-ease is a medical condition that negates ease. When a lawyer is dis-barred, he is not called to the bar, he is sent away from the bar. It’s like a “not” added to the word. Dis-agreeable means not agreeable. When we say something is a disgrace it is without grace. It is loathsome, unhelpful, shameful. When we say someone has been disgraced, they have been dis-honoured, shamed.

I think that’s it. When someone has been disgraced, when there is no grace for them, they have been shamed. When someone is a disgrace, they are an embarrassment, a source of shame, an object to be rejected. (Guilt comes from something we have done wrong. Shame is the feeling that we are something wrong.)

There you have it. The opposite of grace is shame.

Why are you asking me this, Lord?”

So then, what is grace?

Your grace is the empowerment to become the person You see when You look at us.*

Grace is not an excuse to be content with dis-obedience or dis-function. Grace empowers transformation. Ah! I get it. Dis-grace wraps a wounded soul in a trash bag, hides it in the trunk, and hauls it to the dump when no one is looking.

I realized how many times I have seen dis-grace masquerading as grace: unrequested judgmental prayer or “prophetic words” that mislabel, unfaithful “wounds of a friend” that leave marks, demands to maintain “standards” that are really about maintaining power, discipleship training that instills dependence on a leader, sermons emphasizing sin-focussed “shoulds” that dis-courage, or traditions that make putting on a façade of respectability more important than enjoying the freedom found in a loving, honest relationship with God.

I realized that although I write about grace, I still have areas of my life in which I have believed the lie that I didn’t just do something wrong, I am something wrong. Every time the enemy of my soul wants to make me less effective, he tugs on the lie like yanking on a rug and I topple over. Sometimes I even hide under the rug. I have not always soaked in the grace God lavishes on us, but rather have self-applied dis-grace, mistakenly thinking that shame could motivate anything other than temporary change.

My prayer in the days before I heard the Lord’s question was like David’s in Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (verses 23, 24 NASB)

After I asked to be shown any place where a lie had taken residence in my heart I saw an area of my life in which I felt like I was still a failure, even after years of effort to measure up. For the next few days, I was sucked into a vortex of shame and anger. (But God! It’s not fair!! I have tried so hard!) I wanted to hide. I realized later, that in his kindness God was not showing me the hurtful way at the root of so much frustration; he was showing me the shame that kept me bound to the lie that I expected him to reject me like so many others have.

He hasn’t rejected me. Instead, in his kindness, he is showing me a little more of who he is, and a little more of how he sees me. Shame is what he intends to remove by his grace. He says I am a person he enjoys walking with. He continues to lead in the everlasting way.

*via Graham Cooke.

Confident Vulnerability

painting look to the interests of others (3)

I heard a young woman say, “I guess if I’m going to be a writer, I’m going to have to develop a tougher skin.”

I used to think that way, chiding myself for being too sensitive, apologizing for getting my face in the way of someone’s hand. Then I stopped. Well, at least I decided it was time to change my mind on that subject.

“The world doesn’t need more tough-skinned people,” I told her. “Look around. There are plenty of tough-skinned writers here. You can tell by the number of people scurrying for cover when the tough ones start hammering on their keyboards.

The world needs more courageously tender people. The world needs more risk-taking, gentle, loving people whose fearlessness comes from a deep relationship with God. They know his love for them never fails. He is always for them. The result is betach – confident security. People who know they are loved unconditionally can afford to be vulnerable.”

Hmm. I think I need to put that on a sticky note above my desk.

Yet

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Yet, in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!

– John Greenleaf Whittier

In the seven years since I started this blog I have changed.

My understanding of who God is and who he sees me as continues to grow.

Sometimes he shows me an exciting aspect of his character that fits with another piece of the puzzle I cherish.

Then the storm comes.

In the storm nothing makes sense. Until it does.

Like the girl hanging onto the railing in my painting, I can only hang onto the one sure thing I know — that God is good. In the storm, this is the most secure place in the world.

Since starting to write this blog I have seen miracles I had never dreamed of seeing. I have seen marriages restored, emotions healed, and broken trust mended. More than once, I have seen people rise up from their deathbeds and go home from the hospital to lead happy healthy lives.

I have also seen marriages disintegrate, walls go up, and emotions overwhelm. I’ve seen friends and family members die, some in joyful anticipation of seeing Jesus’ face and some with curses on their lips.

I have faced the reality of my own mortality and gained a sense of the impermanence of life here while appreciating it all the more.

I have seen gains, and I have seen losses. I have laughed and I have wept. But God has never abandoned me in the storms. He has only pulled me closer, even when I couldn’t feel him in the maddening maze. When the clouds broke and the sun came out I knew that experience established truth more deeply than any amount of study could.

Here I am. Seven years later. Still clinging by faith to that railing, in storm and in fair weather. With more assurance than ever, with greater confidence than before, I can say God is good.

Instead

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Seek silence in the midst of the tumult,

seek solitude in the masses,

light in the midst of darkness;

find forgetfulness in injury,

victory in the midst of despondence,

courage in the midst of alarm,

resistance in the midst of temptation,

and peace in the midst of war.

-Miguel de Molinos (The Spiritual Guide, 1675)

 

Faith is not blind. Faith is not oblivious. Faith is not in denial.

Faith simply refuses to stop too soon.

Faith keeps looking until it sees what God wants to do instead.

 

Refrain, Forsake and Fret Not

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Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
 
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
 
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

Psalm 37:7-9

Living in the Light

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As you live this new life, we pray that you will be strengthened from God’s boundless resources, so that you will find yourselves able to pass through any experience and endure it with courage.

You will even be able to thank God in the midst of pain and distress because you are privileged to share the lot of those who are living in the light.

For we must never forget that he rescued us from the power of darkness, and re-established us in the kingdom of his beloved Son, that is, in the kingdom of light.

(Colossians 1: 11-14 Phillips)

Save

Laying It All Down/Gaining Everything

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“…at present Jesus simply looks for those who willingly answer His call and say yes to Him. “Yes. You gave everything You have for me. I now give everything I have to You….

“[Jesus] became obedient even to the point of death. It really does cost to follow God. And there’s sometimes sadness and grieving in that, in terms of how much we will have to give up. The truth is, to be fully a disciple of Jesus will cost us everything. Jesus doesn’t ask for half our heart; He asks for it all. But there is good news in that. When we deny ourselves and lay down our lives – the meager amount we have to offer anyway in comparison – we actually gain every thing!”

– Bruce Merz, in While He Lay Dying

“If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” -Jesus Christ

(Matthew 16:25 NLT)