Posted in Christianity, Faith

Reliable Mercy

Mustard seed faith

I have never been a parent, unless you want to count my cat.  He is a true tomcat who prefers to watch you from a good five-foot distance.  He does not want my bids for affection unless they involve some fish-flavored kibble or tuna flakes.  Despite the claw and tooth scars I have to prove his need for independence, I continue to try to figure out ways to cuddle him and still respect his “space.”  He has trained me to turn the tub faucet on at his command.  I have learned to “punish” him with unwanted hugs even when I might want to knock him across the room instead.

If I, being human, can go through all of this for a furry “child,” how much more must my parents feel for me, how much more any parent must feel for his/her child, no matter how rebellious that child sometimes becomes.  Even when a child goes against what his parents want him to do, I can understand how much the parent must long for the child to return to the roots of his raising again, or themselves struggle with trying to understand the world from their child’s perspective to find a place of restorative peace.

This Sunday, we are geared up to celebrate the most merciful “parent” of all time–our living God!  His mercy is always present, always available, and always ours alone to lose because He has given us the free will to choose the gift of His grace which was His sacrifice on the Cross to bring us back into relationship with Him.

You will read a lot of Scripture from the New Testament this week if you are studying about Easter, but I want you to consider a passage from the Old Testament instead: the story of Jonah.  When the reluctant prophet decides to do the job he didn’t want to take from God, the LORD doesn’t immediately destroy the people who don’t want to listen to Jonah’s message from God.

So, Jonah does what any of us humans would do at times like this.  He pouts.  He goes and sits at a distance from the town of Nineveh and waits for God to drop down the punishment God made Jonah go talk about.  Instead of destroying the city, however, God has a plant grow over Jonah, offering the pouting prophet shade from the unrelenting sun.  However, almost as quickly as it grew, the plant gets infected by a worm, withers and dies, leaving Jonah exposed to the elements again and ready to himself die:

 Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?”

“Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!”

Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” (Jonah 4:9-11)

You might be tempted to read the Old Testament and think that God is a judgmental, even brutal, Creator.  But, the Old Testament is as full of His merciful attitude as the New.  Think about all the times that the people God talks to often argue with Him.  There is more than one instance when a prophet will repetitively ask God, will you save the city if you can find 50 good people? 40 people? 20 people? 10?  God patiently agrees each time.  He tolerates a created thing that deigns to argue with its Creator!  He wants to save not only the people of Nineveh, but the animals as well.

Don’t be surprised, then, when you discover that the God whose shoulders are big enough to take every complaint you have to hurl in His direction still loves you enough to die for you.  He wants a relationship with YOU.  And He is patient about waiting for you.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

I can’t rely on my cat for anything except his desire to be fed on a regular basis.  Even my husband of twenty years sometimes gets angry with me.  But God is the only ONE in my life who is reliably merciful.  Read His word from beginning to end, forwards and backwards, and what you will discover is a God just waiting to show His love for you.

As you celebrate the risen Christ this Easter, don’t forget to celebrate His reliable mercy as well.  He is waiting and much more ready to show you love than the anger we all deserve.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

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Posted in Christian Living, Love

Looking Through God’s Glasses

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Each heart knows its own bitterness,
and no one else can fully share its joy.  (Proverbs 14:10)

One of my areas of study for my first degree was in cultural anthropology, where you quickly learn that worldviews across cultures can be vastly different and challenging to understand until you learn a sort of detached, non-judgmental stance with which to look at others’ ways of experiencing reality.

Even then, it can be difficult to realize that others may still see sincere value in ancient stories like one of the Pueblo creation myths that tells how Spider Grandmother wove the world into existence in stories that spindled out of her like a giant, interconnecting web.

If seeing the world through the lense of another culture’s experiences is challenging, learning to see reality through the perspective of someone who shares your same culture and background can be downright difficult.  How do you explain the sibling whose recollections from childhood make you think you must have grown up in two different households?  How do you manage to have a civilized, non-heated discussion with someone who sits on the opposite side of your particular political fence?

Part of the wonder of Christ on earth was His ability to see, not flesh and blood, but through our material selves to the very core of the person with whom He was interacting.  Seeing through God’s eyes, Christ knows the heart.  That means He sees and understands how each of us perceive the world around us.  He knows why some of us are afraid of spiders or don’t like romantic comedies.  More importantly, He knows why we make the choices we do in this life, even when those choices go against Him.

But, since it is God’s place to judge and our place to be gentle instructors, how do we approach other’s through God’s glasses and not our own human tendencies to jump to conclusions, see things from only our own experiences, and be quick to want revenge or “justice?”

Like all skills worth learning, this too takes practice.  We can start by asking questions, first of ourselves.  Why am I so angry?  What exactly do I think is wrong with this situation?  Is it really my place to step into this situation at all?  What might be another reason for what I have concluded besides the reasons I have already assumed?  Have I taken time to talk to the person in a non-judgmental way–asking questions that are not threatening but are designed to help me understand where the other person is coming from, what the other person is thinking?

CeCe Winans has a song about this topic called, “Alabaster Box,” that sheds some light on the grave mistakes we make when we jump to conclusions about others and pass judgment on them.  The song is about the episode in Luke 7 where the woman who had lived a sinful life found out Jesus was in town and approached Him with an alabaster box full of expensive perfume that she used to bathe Him.

The townspeople chastised the woman for wasting such a valuable resource.  They felt the expensive perfume could have been sold and the monies used to help the poor.  But Jesus, who sees through to the heart, didn’t feel the same way:

Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. “You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:44-50)

CeCe’s chorus puts this another way:

Until the day, when Jesus came to me and healed my soul with the wonder of His touch.  You don’t know the cost, of the oil in my Alabaster box.

The first time I heard this song, it had a profound effect on me.  Despite the fact that I had had training in seeing other cultural worldviews without being judgmental, I was a long way from being able to look at people from my own culture with the same magnanimity.  This song reminded me how much more work I needed to do in order to be able to look at people around me with love instead of trying to analyze what is right and wrong about the things that they do.

But this idea of perception goes deeper than just not judging other people.  If we are really serious about it, we will take pains to try to see things as if we were the other person.  This means we have to let go of more than just a little bit of ourselves and our need to be right.  Could the perception of the other actually have merits we haven’t taken the time to consider before?

Don’t get me wrong.  Trying to see through God’s glasses means we are still bound by the laws of right and wrong by which God is God.  But because we are not God, it is not our place to write somebody off.  It is our place to be concerned with our own right and wrong, which, if we are honest, is a full-time position.

Perhaps Will Rogers, one of my favorite cowboys, concludes it best:

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

The next time I feel myself propelled toward jumping to conclusions and saying something I will later regret, I will do my best to remember this sound advice.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Let’s Not Lie To Each Other

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Today is one of those days. It comes at the end of a week full of my usual challenges, which have been made to seem even more pathetic in my eyes when I compare them to the actual, horrific tragedies that others have faced this week instead. My existence could be much worse, but knowing that doesn’t make it better. Praying for those who are suffering instead of thinking about myself should improve my disposition, but my prayers seem like so little, and my own lack of control just adds fuel to my depression/anxiety cycle.

So, today I am supremely human. I am battered down by my own failings. This week, I gave the “cut direct” to a work associate who had irritated me at a past meeting, wrote off my employees in my own mind when they (in my opinion) failed once again at what seemed to me the simplest of tasks, watched gossipy television and engaged in my share of saying a few things about others that I would not say to the person herself, and put reading a romance novel before going to sleep in front of taking more awake time for a longer night-time prayer.

It is much easier to write about being a good Christian than it is to actually be one. It is much more appealing to feel oneself compelled by the Spirit to expound on the requirements of the narrow-path walk than to reflect on just how wide your path really is on a regular basis.

Do not misunderstand me. If you have found anything of value in anything I have written, anything that has brought you closer to the truth of God and His love, then realize that I give total credit for that revelation to Him. I know that nothing good comes from me except through God.

But on my human days, when I am supremely reminded of my need for the forgiveness of Christ, even knowing I am forgiven does not keep me from feeling like something that has crawled out from under a rock.

This feeling does not come from God. It is the exact opposite of how He wants us to feel. What He would prefer would be a reaction in which I lean that much harder on Him. Only when I completely surrender myself to the Spirit will I find that walking the narrow path is more practical than I have so far experienced.

At least I am not alone in this struggle to “be good.” In his letter to the Romans, Paul discusses the battle between the good in him, which comes from the Spirit, and the evil in him, which comes from his sinful nature. “I do not understand what I do,” he writes. “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (7:15). In other words, Paul says he doesn’t understand how he keeps doing the things he feels ashamed about doing instead of the things that he knows he should be doing that would make him feel at peace with God.

But, there is hope for all of us. Paul concludes, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:25). We will always be fighting our sinful nature, the nature that we die to each morning we arise anew in Christ, but by leaning on God, we have a chance to excel at God’s law of love instead of the devil’s sinful nature.

Christ tells us in Matthew, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (5:19). This truth applies to the mind as well. Where our mind is, what it dwells on throughout the day, that is where our actions will go. If we are dwelling in a place close to God, then our actions should reflect the love of Christ. If we are dwelling on television, or gossip, or work worries, or judging, then our actions will reflect the sinful nature that Paul laments in Romans.

We can’t go through life not thinking about the basic things that we are doing, the tasks we need to finish at work, the goals we have for ourselves or our children. But if we discipline ourselves to look through God’s eyes instead of just our own, then hopefully we will reflect a more Christian walk.

How will I exactly walk my talk this week? What do I need to change to avoid having another Sunday where I’m feeling the failure blues? I am going to begin by trying to watch my inner voice more closely this week. If I start thinking negative thoughts, I am going to stop myself and think about God instead, or say a prayer for the people in Boston or West, or open my Bible to one of a thousand verses I have marked that I should have memorized. If I want to avoid somebody, I am going to make myself smile at them, give them a hug (if that is appropriate) and offer a compliment that I will really mean. I will remember that Jesus had to look at the likes of me and love me. Being passingly nice to someone who otherwise annoys me is honestly the very least I can do.

If you have made it this far in this post, then maybe God is talking to you like He talked to me this week. I will close with a couple of verses from my Bible reading this week that really struck me with the poetic way that they expressed the power of God and what He desires most. (It is, after all, National Poetry Writing Month!)

From the book of Jeremiah:

But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding. When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar; he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth. He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. (10: 12-13)

and

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight. (9:23-24)

May we delight the Holy One this week by inviting Him into our minds on a moment-by-moment basis, for “neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

Posted in Christianity, Love

Living the Fruit of the Spirit

As I sat in Bible class on Sunday morning, listening as others were picking out what they had found of note in the previous week’s reading of Galatians, a couple of pretty powerful conclusions came to me.
The first began as I looked at the footnote in my NASB for the phrase “the righteous man will live by faith,” which said that what was meant here was actually closer to the word “faithfulness.”
Now, faith and faithfulness, I believe, are two entirely different animals. In our venacular, we tend to equate the word faith with belief, which implies just believing that Christ is risen is sufficient for salvation. But faithfulness means something beyond mere belief. Faithfulness
is more like believing by doing. Aha. Now, we have a problem. If I must believe by doing in order to be redeemed, then do my actions and not grace save me? Perhaps a better definition of faithfulness might be belief through being.
Let me explain.
The second grand conclusion I discovered Sunday was the fact that the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 are actually the “fruit” of the Spirit. Singular, not plural, implying a crop or harvest of something. Once redeemed, the one who lives in faithfulness is seeking to be one who embodies all of the characteristics of Galatians 5:22-23. This is a state of being, fostered by the indwelling Spirit, redeemed upon inevitable failure by the grace of Christ.
Which brings us to the question of legalism. When Christ said his yoke was light, I believe he meant in comparison to the yoke of fulfillment which constituted Jewish religion at that time. The Talmud (as opposed to the Torah, upon which our modern OT cannon is based), which elaborated on the items of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, had grown to include so many items, that I am sure living up to its mandates would be something like living in the mind of a person with OCD. Wash hands so many times before touching this, step on a crack, break your mother’s back. That sort of thing.
When Christ proposed to lift the yoke of this kind of living, He could not have meant that living
would suddenly be easier. How is it a lighter yoke to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, meek and in control of the self–all the time? It is lighter, perhaps, in that instead of following a distinct set of rules, the freedom of salvation means the freedom to be, not do. The actions that happen as a result of being are much lighter than actions required from a list of doing.
I think the Western mind may have a problem with this concept that believing still requires doing because we do not wrap our minds around the concept of dualities. There’s a little bit of the feminine in the masculine and vice versa. We all have good and evil. Being is more than just believing, even though our actions, ultimately, are not what save us. When Christ, and subsequently Paul, smashed the legalistic requirements of salvation, they opened the door to a way of life that embodied more than any written law. Living the law of Christ is very different from living the Talmud. It is much more challenging, but it is also freeing because, as the Nicole Nordemann song reminds us–“His mercies are new every morning.” No matter how often we fall, as long as we sincerely repent, Christ helps us rise to begin again.