I Am Telling You the Truth!

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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.snow-day-cars-img_6641

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!

cards-img_6814I 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?

Better Than Gems

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For a few hours, before the snow cover blanketed them, ice crystals adorned the periwinkle along the edge of the garden path. They caught my eye. I stopped to admire the sparkling jewels, all the more precious for their temporary existence. I needed to get on with my day so I walked on as the snow fell. By the time I passed that way again they had vanished.

I read a scripture verse today about gems. As precious and beautiful as real gems are, King Solomon wrote about something of even greater value, and that is wisdom.

I used to read a chapter of the book of Proverbs every day. 31 chapters made it convenient to find my place. It’s been a while and since I have been praying for wisdom a lot lately (because I really need some) I thought I should go back and review. Yesterday I read the eighth chapter for the eighth day of the month – the chapter about Wisdom calling out, begging to be noticed. I was reminded that Wisdom existed before time. Wisdom is part of the very creation of the earth. Wisdom is foundational and unlike my ice diamonds, not a temporary, relative thing. It’s been there all the time.

The more I experience of the grace and goodness of God the more I begin to hate evil both in myself and in the world around me. Evil is anything that is out of line with God’s perfect nature and design.

I write a lot about grace and the freedom it brings, but grace does not over-ride wisdom nor, as some people fear, give license to sin. Wisdom is woven into grace and, like love and mercy and kindness, is part of the character of God. Sin is ultimately disrespect for God. Disrespect for the Creator is the opposite of the goal of grace.

Grace does not ignore evil or dismiss the consequences of evil as being no big deal. Quite the opposite. Grace points to the sinless nature of the One who loves us perfectly and empowers us to come into alignment with his heart and avoid the consequences of idiotic choices that can start a chain of events that roll out like a Rube Goldberg device. God’s heart makes evil look unbearably sick in comparison.

God has provided a way for us to be forgiven, to be drawn back into a right relationship with him, to know how much he loves us. Wisdom rejoices in the nobility of this truth and shows us that knowing God means hating anything that puts up road blocks for others or keeps us from being aware of his desire for a closer relationship. Whether it is arrogant pride that doesn’t value others highly enough, evil conduct that soothes our pain with false comfort, or perverse speech that spouts lies about who God is and who he created us to be, the closer we get to him the uglier sin is revealed to be in comparison.

Wisdom allows us to see the gap between the way things work in a fallen world and the way things work in a restored world where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  Wisdom doesn’t make us choose between truth and real love, or justice and mercy. Wisdom comes from God’s perspective. Wisdom shows us how to listen and how to walk in his ways.

Isn’t Lady Wisdom calling?
    Listen; don’t you hear the voice of understanding crying out?
 She’s taken her stand at the highest place in the city,
    at the crossroads where everyone can see her.
 There, and at the gates, at the entrance to the city,
    right in front of the city doors she cries out:

 

Lady Wisdom: O people! I am calling to you;
        I have a message for all humanity.
     You gullible people, acquire insight.
        You naive ones, cultivate a heart that truly understands.
    Listen, for I am about to tell you of unparalleled excellence and beauty;
        what I am about to say will set things right.
     I will only speak the truth;
        I despise evil, so it will not pass through my lips.
     Everything I say promotes justice;
        not one word is crooked, and nothing is distorted.
    Each and every word is straight talk to perceptive people,
        upright and honest to knowledge-seekers.
     Accept my correction as being more valuable than your prized possession,
        authentic knowledge more valuable than pure gold.

 You see, no gem is more precious than Lady Wisdom—
    your most extravagant desire doesn’t come close to her.

 

Lady Wisdom: I make my home with prudence;
        I obtain knowledge and sound judgment.
    If you respect the Eternal, you will grow to despise evil.
    I despise wretched, vile talk
        and ways of pride and arrogance.
     Good counsel is mine, and also true wisdom.
        I am understanding, and strength belongs to me.
    It’s because of me that kings wield power
        and authorities decree what is right.
    It’s because of me that leaders and their agents govern
        and all judge according to what is right.
     I love those who love me;
        those who search hard for me will find me.
     Riches and honor are the benefit of following me;
        so are lasting wealth and justice.
    My reward is better than gold, even the purest gold;
        and my profit is greater than the highest quality silver.
     I follow the way of right living.
        Follow me along the path to find justice;
     I’m ready to meet those who love me, bestow true riches upon them,
        and fill up their lives until their treasuries overflow.
    

The Eternal created me; it happened when His work was beginning,
        one of His first acts long ago.
     Before time He established me,
        before the earth saw its first sunrise.
    I was born before the deep existed,
        before any springs poured out their water,
     Before the mountains were placed on their foundations,
        before the hills rolled across the land—
        yes, before all this, I was brought forth.
     When the earth was yet unformed and the fields were not yet nestled beneath the wind—
        even before the first dust of the earth—
     When He created the heavens, I was there.
        When He drew a circle in the deep, dividing the oceans and the sky, I was there.
    I was there when He established the sky.
        I was there when the springs in the deep were fortified;
     I witnessed Him lay down the shore as a boundary
        and put limits on the water
    And determine the foundations of the earth.
    

All this time I was close beside Him, a master craftsman.
        Every day I was His delightful companion,
        celebrating every minute in His presence,
     Elated by the world He was making and all its fine creatures;
    I was especially pleased with humanity.

    

So now listen to me, my children:
        those who live by my ways will find true happiness.
     Pay attention to my guidance, dare to be wise,
        and don’t disregard my teachings.
     The one who listens to me,
        who carefully seeks me in everyday things
        and delays action until my way is apparent, that one will find true happiness.
    For when he recognizes and follows me, he finds a peaceful and satisfying life
        and receives favor from the Eternal.
     But heed my warning: the one who goes against me will only hurt himself,
        for all who despise me are playing with fire and courting death.

(Proverbs 8 The Voice)

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Hearts Flooded with Light

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I have not stopped thanking God for you.

I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.

Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come.

God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.

(Ephesians 1: 16-23 NLT)

Sometimes if we take what we think we think about God and what we actually feel about God and put them in a room together we are surprised that they don’t look the same. Sometimes they don’t even look remotely related.  When we don’t have unity within ourselves? Well, that’s just crazy-making.

Both can be right and both can be wrong. When they are not aligned with who God really is both can string a barb wire fence between us and seeing the majesty of God. Both can place barriers in the way of stepping into a greater understanding of the incredible greatness of God’s power for those who believe in him. Both can restrain us from attaining everything he has for us.

“But I was always taught…”

“That reminds me of a painful time…”

His light soothes and comforts the downtrodden, the tired, and the despairing because it floods our hearts and replaces false ideas and bad memories with the trustworthiness of his splendour, his glory, his infinite grace.

He longs to give us spiritual wisdom and insight so that we might grow in increasing knowledge of God.

There is a reason why Jesus is called the Wonderful Counselor. He came to gently expose the lies we have absorbed and show us what his Father is really like. That knowledge is the foundation for confident hope.

Jesus is the light of the world.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,

’til he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…

(From Oh Holy Night by Adolphe Adams, English lyrics by John Sullivan Dwight)

There is more.

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Love Never Dies

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Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.

(1 Corinthians 13 The Message)

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

(Galatians 5:14 NLT)

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For now we see in part

Photo: night on the lake

On the one hand I grieve over the way some self-appointed guardians of the extra narrow way are quick to disqualify other writers and speakers when they discover flaws; on the other hand I do worry about the under-use of the gift of discernment and a tendency for some people to turn those with a certain amount of insight into heroes or even idols.

Do we tend to place some people on a pedestal that is too high because they are like one-eyed men in the country of the blind? Do we ourselves install some people as gods and then stone them when we discover they are frail humans?

Perhaps the problem is not the person with greater, but still imperfect vision. Perhaps the problem is that not enough people realize they can learn to see better as well. Perhaps we need to pursue the Healer himself. Perhaps if we combined our glimpses of truth we could all see better.

Perhaps all of the adopted children in God’s family are meant to be royalty.