“Never forget that the most powerful force on earth is love.”
~Nelson Rockefeller

I have come back to that quote many times in my life. It’s hopeful. And it’s something that I need to be reminded of.

But today is Good Friday, and even though its name refers to the amazing victory love won on the cross–the greatest good in the world–I cannot escape the fact that today we are celebrating the Day that Love Didn’t Work.

Now, at face value, perhaps, that claim sounds unnecessary and even melodramatic. After all, we know the end of the story. Love wins, right? How can you say that love “didn’t work” when it obviously did?

Because on Good Friday it isn’t obvious.

On Good Friday Love Doesn’t Work.

Love, if it is the most powerful force in the world, is supposed to work. It’s supposed to win. To make the world a better place. To right wrongs, to restore what’s been lost, to bring warmth and light. To bring safety. To draw together. To triumph. To work. To be successful. To come out on top.

But for those of us who choose love over hate, over lust, over violence, over demanding and demeaning, over fear–for anyone who chooses love, Good Friday inevitably comes. A day when love falls short, fails, loses, and leaves you standing holding the bag and paying the price.

A woman’s husband cheats on her. She finds out, he confesses all, she forgives and takes him back. Loves. He cheats again. Love didn’t change a thing.

A brother, a sister, a friend reveals–through words or actions that cut us to the core–how very little we matter to him (or her) when push comes to shove. Of what value is the love that we had poured into that relationship?

Here’s the story that is filling my mind today:
Corrie ten Boom survived grueling years in Nazi prison camps and emerged with a deep desire to help others experience the power of God’s love that had sustained her through some of the worst mankind has ever thrown at its fellowmen. She began to travel and speak of the power of God’s love and forgiveness and to watch other Holocaust survivors slowly recover from the horrors they had experienced. One evening after she spoke a man came up to talk to her. His face was radiant with joy, but she recognized him. He was one of the guards at one of the prison camps. Seeing him brought back memories and intense feelings of shame pouring back into her. Not just memories, but vivid, all-but-relived experiences of standing in line, stripped and exposed before a posse of male guards. He had been one of them. And here he was holding out his hand to shake hers. Here he was with joyful tears in his eyes exclaiming how wonderful God’s forgiveness is. Here he was wanting to shake her hand. And here she was feeling again all of the shame and humiliation and degradation. She couldn’t shake his hand.*

Here is where Good Friday puts us: holding the bag for all of the hurt and injustice and shame and degradation of what has been done to us in return for our love.

I can put myself in Corrie’s shoes so easily. If I shake his hand, if I forgive, I am no longer holding him responsible for this debt. I am no longer holding it against him. He is getting off scott free [I always wonder about the original scott that got away free like that. Where in the world did that expression come from?]. And yes, maybe I don’t want to see him in a concentration camp. Maybe I don’t want to see him ruined, but what about this pain and this shame that I am left holding because of what he did to me? Where do I go to get justice for this terrible injustice?

This is what Good Friday is all about. Yes, it’s about God’s amazing love for us and about the price He paid to have our sins forgiven. But we can only truly begin to understand that love when we stand at our own Good Friday holding the bag for all the things that have been done to us, things that can never be undone. When we stand at our own place where love did not work and are asked yet again to choose love. And when we find that we don’t have enough love to cover this pain. This is where Good Friday finds us.

See, we tend to think of how hard it is to forgive our enemies, but the truth of the matter is that forgiveness is hardest when we have been wronged by someone in whom we see great good. We struggle and struggle to reconcile what was done to us with what we know and love about the person who has done it. How could he do ______ when he promised _______? How could she _______ when I know that she truly did love me? Or how could someone who did _______ ever do anything good again?

We look at the cross from our vantage point of wretchedness and marvel that God could love “a wretch like me.” We see that we have nothing inherently lovable by which to commend ourselves to God. Just sinners saved by grace.

We fail to see that God’s vantage point provides a very different view. We are beings created in His image. We are worth loving because He made us and because He is worth loving. And when God sees our sin, He sees His very image doing things that should never be done. He sees all of the good that He planted within us, all the good that He knows we can be. Good that cannot be reconciled with the evil that we have chosen. We began in the Garden of Eden as His friends; and we turned away from Him, rejected Him. We did something completely inconsistent with that un-eradicable image of God that each of us bears. The image of God turned against God Himself.

Here is where we truly begin to see God’s love: when we stand in our own pain, feeling that love has failed. When we stand in the enormity of the injustice we are left holding . . . and realize that God is standing with us.

Because the cross was the ultimate moment of love’s failure.

Mankind’s failure to love as it has been loved.
Love’s failure to draw mankind back to itself through eons of goodness poured out in sun and rain and harvest blessing.
Love’s failure to keep even His own people faithful, to keep them from straying to other gods like unfaithful spouses to extramarital affairs.
Love’s failure to win the hearts of His people by coming to them in person and letting them see Him in all His beautiful and vulnerable goodness.

The cross is the place where the greatest risk fell flat and the greatest injustice was done when the greatest lover of all time was put to death in proof that love is not more powerful than greed, that love is not more powerful than lust, that love is not more powerful than fear, that love is not more powerful than any other motive you can put in that blank.

The love that conquers all was conquered on the cross.

I know. There’s something in us that doesn’t want to stay here and take a good look. There’s something in us that wants to protest that love really did conquer all, that the defeat of the cross was actually a triumph, that Jesus endured the cross because He knew how it was going to end.

All of which is true.

But we know the end of our story as well. We know love wins. Yet standing at the cross it’s impossible to feel that ending.

And that is ok. Because God did not skip to the end. He stood for 3 hours (who knows how eternal those hours felt to someone not bound by time!) and grieved with grief so deep that it darkened the sky. And perhaps the most healing thing that we can do when we come to the place where our love has been wasted or trashed or killed is to stop and look. To take a good look at the cross and at the Father standing there holding the bag for all the injustices that have ever been done.

This is what we are celebrating when we celebrate Good Friday.
This is the Day that Love Didn’t Work
This is the Day that God died

This.

This is love.

———————————————————————————————————————————————–
*for those who want to read the end to Miss ten Boom’s story, it’s found at the end of her amazing book The Hiding Place

My first year of teaching high school, I was faced with the question of why we read and teach the books we teach. What makes them worth reading?

Well, they’re classics, right? They’ve been around for a long time, lots of people have read them, so they must be worth reading, right?

But that can easily become a circle to get stuck in, can’t it? We read these classics because everybody always has. And they read them because everybody always has.

So. I began making a list of the qualities that give these books staying power.

Don’t worry. I won’t treat you to the whole list, but if you think of the movies that your family watches every year at Christmas time, you will most likely be able to figure out some of the qualities I discovered.

Unique characters–what is it about George Bailey that keeps us watching his wonderful life again and again, even though we could quote all his lines for him? Though no one will ever be able to breathe the life into those lines like Jimmy Stewart did. _It’s A Wonderful Life_ gives us two characters for the price of one!

Engaging characters–Elf, the Ghost of Christmas Present, the Grinch and Cindy Loo Who, Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit, Tim Allen’s Santa Claus, Clarence Cloudbottom: they touch our hearts and lives because they are like us or like someone we know . . . or even wish we knew. Somewhere along the storyline, we find a person that we can connect to through our own lives and experiences. And as we grow and our life experiences broaden, we experience these stories in a new way.

Universal themes–How in the world did _The Sound of Music_ become a Christmas classic? There’s nothing remotely Christmas-y about it! But it’s been shown on tv at Christmas ever since I can remember . . . and I can remember watching it from a rather young age! Perhaps it’s because at Christmas time, families want to come together to watch something good and something filled with hope and joy and love and something worth believing in. And the story of the Von Trap family–both the true story and the Rodgers-and-Hammerstein version we all know so well [I’ll bet you’ve sung along with it at some point or another yourself!]–their story is full of those things. Something worth believing in so much that it’s worth risking one’s life and livelihood for. Hope and love: “A dream that will need all the love you can give/ Every day of your life for as long as you live.” And, of course, joy.

Timelessness–some stories can only be enjoyed once or twice through before they are put on the shelf and never really thought of again. Some are good again if you are experiencing them with someone to whom the story is new. But some. Those classic some. They are good again and again. There are new things to notice, new connections to make each time we experience them. They grow with us. We connect with the story and characters in different ways as our experiences follow the path of time that we all take. Scrooge today is a rounder character to me than he was when I was a middle-schooler reading _A Christmas Carol_ on my own for the first time. And though in the past I have been more touched by his own personal redemption story, my attention was caught this year (as Dickens would have had it, I’m sure) by the poor and the needy and by the way that Ebenezer did what he could to remedy the deficits. Timely story indeed.

Unique characters. Engaging characters. Universal themes. Timelessness.

Do these apply to THE Christmas story? The one that started it all?

You know what my answer should be, of course. The “Sunday School answer” that I should give as a good Christian.

But I hate giving answers just because they’re the expected answers. Not even the First Christmas story should be locked into a cycle of meaninglessness: “we read it every year because everyone reads it every year because it’s the classic Christmas story.”

Is it worth reading every year? Should not the Author of the Universe do work excellent enough to withstand scrutiny? Is the First Christmas story timeless enough to be heard again and again each year with ears both familiar and new at the same time?

This will, of course, depend on the other three qualities we have just mentioned. In this post I will leave you to ponder its universal themes while I take the briefest of looks at the characters.

We don’t know a lot about them. Some of the principal players are known only by their occupations and titles. And even those around whom the story swirls are sketched with minimalist lines. Yet it’s an old actor’s adage that character is action. And from the actions that make up the plot of the story we can derive the characters. What kind of a person kills all the babies in a town to try to get at the one he fears may one day grow to take a throne he will, by then, be too old to hold? What kind of men rush from fields to search a sleeping town for a little baby? And what kind of person sends his only son into a hostile world?

The story of the First Christmas is a story of many different reactions to the same gift. Were we in their shoes, what response would have been ours? In whose company would you find yourself?

Steven Curtis Chapman was exploring that question himself one Christmas, using those thoughts to write his song “I Am Joseph (God Is With Us).” And on this Christmas Day, I leave you with that question: where are you in the Classic Christmas story this year?

Steven Curtis Chapman “I Am Joseph (God Is With Us)”

Steven Curtis Chapman “I Am Joseph (God Is With Us)” lyrics

2014-11-14

“Pastor Steve is preaching a series called ‘Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit.*'” I said.

“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow. “What have you thought of it so far?”

“Well,” I said, “Something he said in the very first sermon of the series has really stuck with me.” I could hear it again, see Pastor Steve’s expression, see the words on the power point presentation. But most of all, I could see the words written–in my own handwriting, on my page of notes. “He said that sometimes people are afraid of the Holy Spirit because they don’t think He will show up.”

“Hm. Interesting.” We were quiet for a moment or two. Then,

“Do you think that way sometimes?” He wanted to know.

I nodded. “That’s why it stood out to me.”

Quiet again.

“Sometimes I get afraid that You won’t show up, that You won’t be with me when I need You . . . or even just when I want You.”

“Even though I’ve promised to be with you always?”

I nodded. “Even though You’ve promised,” I said. “And then sometimes I am afraid that when You do show up, You’ll be a different person than I thought I knew. That I won’t recognize You.”

“Or that I won’t be FOR you, right?” He finished the thought I didn’t even realize I’d begun. But it was true. I nodded again. He was silent, and I was silent. The kind of silence that comes from there not really being much to say at the moment. Finally,

“What do I do?” I asked.

“You keep calling Me and watching Me keep My promise,” He said simply.

 

 

 

*[yes, the series title has been taken from a book of the same name: Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit: An Investigation in the Ministry of the Spirit of God Today by Daniel Wallace]

Longing to heal the ugliness in others,
I find my only weapon may be
My own acceptance of my acceptance
In the beloved.
Help me, Father, to express my trust
In You and in Your reconstructive
Work around me by embracing
Your delight in me.
jmc 4/11/12


(C. S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe Lucy’s gift from Father Christmas)

During my middle school years, the whole world changed. Literally, the whole world. Yes, my personal world was turned upside down—a move across the country, a tiny house in a huge city instead of a sprawling house on the outskirts of a small city, and a traditional classroom with new and more urban peers instead of self-study amid childhood friends—all of those together do constitute the equivalent of a personal 8.4 earthquake. But my personal changes are not what I am writing about today.*

I am writing about how the world itself changed during my middle school years.*

 

[Hint: I am about to wax autobiographical. So: if you don’t have time for a jaunt through personal history followed by multiple reflections, then before you leave this page, you REALLY should skip to the end and follow the link at the * note. That’s really the best part. My favorite part. And the point of the whole thing, really.]

 

I grew up under the shadow of Communism. Grew up watching shows about American spies—the good guys—outwitting the Russian secret service—the bad guys. Grew up hearing about Christians persecuted under Communist rule and reading about the lack of freedoms that people in Communist countries enjoyed. The imaginative games my friends and I played—aside from some creative forays into historical worlds—were infused with Communist bad-guys chasing the good guys and almost catching them. The good guys were captured sometimes but always managed to escape and save the day . . . provided the game didn’t end prematurely when our teachers or parents called a halt to play time. After all, that’s what always happened in my favorite tv show Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

Russia, Communist headmaster of the USSR, was a country cloaked in mystery and competition. Mystery because few people were allowed behind the Iron Curtain and even fewer people allowed out. Competition because Russia was determined to steal all of our secrets and win all the Olympic medals. Not to mention the space race (but that was a topic that went above my the radar of my elementary mind).

I loved the Olympics, especially the winter Olympics and especially the figure skating competitions. I always wanted skaters from “the free world” to win over those from the Communist world, of course, but I couldn’t help but love and admire some of the skaters from the USSR. Their stories, told Olympic style in all their inspirational warmth, gave me a glimpse into the lives of real people. There were real people living behind the Iron Curtain, real people who somehow didn’t get in trouble for thinking and who somehow made a living . . . and whose lives were decided for them from childhood. Just like that. Sergei Grinkov and his partner Ekaterina Gordeeva were my heroes. Sergei’s sudden death in 1995 touched my heart with genuine sorrow. I may have cried, but I don’t remember. My parents bought me the memoir his wife wrote of his life. Their childhood skating partnership had eventually turned into love that led to marriage. They were a Russian fairy tale.

 

All of this feels so long ago and so far away.

 

25 years ago, in fact.*

Spectators walk between balloons of the art project and remains of the former Berlin Wall at the wall memorial Bernauer Strasse in Berlin, Germany. USA Today – Picture by Markus Schreiber, AP

 

This week, the city of Berlin celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall that divided Communist-controlled East Berlin from self-governing West Berlin. The Berlin Wall that physically represented the metaphorical curtain that shrouded all of the countries of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from the watching eyes of the rest of the world. As a child I always wondered what the “Iron Curtain” was—besides one of those things that everyone talks about and everyone knows about and everyone says without explaining what it means to the listening children. I think that somehow I imagined it was a wall like the Berlin Wall, but was never quite sure. Substituting “Berlin Wall” into every sentence where “Iron Curtain” was used did not always bring the clarity I imagined it would. Eventually, yes, I did come to understand that the term was metaphorical for the measures of secrecy and red tape that the Soviet states employed to keep the world out and keep their own people in and behind which the Soviet government ran its powerful schemes of control ranging from semi-absolute to moderately intrusive.

 

As a child, I knew nothing of John F. Kennedy’s mistranslated but heartfelt pledge to the people of Berlin—Ich bin ein Berliner—nor even what his speech meant to the people of Berlin.

If I did hear about Reagan’s demand that Mikhail Gorbachev “take down this wall” in Berlin, it either went over my head completely or was far less interesting to my child-mind than the latest episode of Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

I had no idea that in the year I turned 10, a mistake was made in a speech by an East German official giving permission for the gates to be opened and East Germans to walk freely through them—and across the former “death space”—and into the West Germany they’d been longing to rejoin.*

I was dimly aware of the news that the Berlin Wall itself had been torn down.

But I remember vividly sitting in my 8th grade social studies class and being introduced to a brand new, redrawn map of Europe. Our teacher asked us that year to memorize maps of all the continents, all the countries of the world. None was so interesting as the map of Europe—the map on which we could no longer find some countries (Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia), the map with so many new countries that hardly knew what to do with themselves. The map that was history being made in our lifetimes.

All of a sudden, those probably dangerous and definitely mysterious potential-spies dressed in long dark coats and fur-rimmed hats became real people. People who enjoyed owning property, people struggling against crushing economic forces, people trying to figure out self-government. People like us. People who didn’t have it easy but were people again instead of a mass to be ruled and managed.

 

We don’t hear much about Communism anymore. Sometimes I think that may not be a good thing—now that the Cold War is over, now that China is the smiling face of Communism and cheap labor, I sometimes fear we no longer remember or care about the foundational differences between Communism and freedom. And those differences are very important to remember because those differences cost the lives of thousands upon thousands of people—in places and during times that have nothing to do with American capitalist interference. And those differences still cost many lives hidden away in secret places where no one but God can really see them. Sometimes I wish we remembered that Communism teaches beneficial change can only come through bloodshed of the ignorant masses. That Communism does not really see people as people.

But I am glad that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain has taken Communism out of our working vocabulary and away from the forefront of our imaginations (though I do pity the kids who have less perfect bad-guy material to use in their imaginary games—a dark, tricky, and impersonal force from across the world really does make for a good force of evil to fight against). Most of all, I am glad for Berlin because for all the difficulty that reunification brought—and it really did bring a lot of difficulty for every country that had been a member of the Soviet bloc—but for all of that difficulty, Berlin made it work.

The wall coming down was nothing short of a miracle. So many people had hoped and prayed and worked for it. And then it actually happened. It must have seemed like a dream. Like a perfect dream. But it was real life, not a dream, and real life is a lot more difficult to negotiate than dreams are. But Berlin lived up to JFK’s statements about them and embraced reunification so well that today it is hard to tell where West Berlin ended and East Berlin began.

 

And it makes me think about how true JFK’s claim really was—Ich bin ein Berliner—or as his interpreter correctly retranslated for him: I am a citizen of Berlin.* Because I think that all of us are citizens of Berlin.

We all face conflicts and divisions. Sometimes we build walls to protect our interests; sometimes we build walls to try to control what we think we have a right to control in our lives and the lives of others. Sometimes we feel closed in by walls we did not want built or have come to regret; sometimes we are the maintainers of walls, just doing our jobs. Sometimes we are the ones looking at walls that others built and mourning the broken relationships on both sides. We are Berliners. And like the citizens of Berlin, sometimes we see the walls come down.

And like the people of Berlin, when the walls come down, we find that working out the differences, extending freedom to all, and patching up the damage is not an easy task. (Sometimes we wish the walls had just stayed up!). It takes work to see and treat each other as real people. We aren’t born being good at it.

 

But I have to hand it to Berlin—they did it. Like JFK said, the people of Berlin were a model to the world: in his time, they were a model to the world of how terribly divisive and cruel Communism was. And when the wall came down, they modeled to us reunification. Not automatic, not easy, but a task worth doing. A miracle worth receiving.

A victory worth celebrating.

 

Happy 25th anniversary, Berlin!

 
 

*Note: Watch Tom Brokaw’s view of the celebration–he was there in 1989, and again 25 years later. His clip tells stories from multiple angles and is my favorite of all the things I saw and read. It encapsulates it all. Please watch it.

**Note: What JFK really said in German was “I am a jelly doughnut.” A Berliner was a kind of pastry. By throwing in the article “ein,” he changed the German sentence from “I am Berliner” (a citizen of Berlin) to “I am a Berliner” (a jelly-filled doughnut-pastry-thing). I love listening to his speech because when he first says that misinformed sentence, a whole lot of things happen at once: the interpreter catches and rephrases the mistake, a buzz of excitement runs through the audience, Kennedy realizes that he has made a mistake of some kind and enters the general laugh himself by thanking his interpreter for helping him out. Kennedy has no idea what the mistake was, but his gracious poise and interaction with his audience is beautiful and perfect. What is even more beautiful is that at the end of speech when he makes the same ill-worded comment, a buzz of excitement runs through the audience again, but with a very different note than the earlier buzz. Nor does the interpreter need to make a correction this time. The people know exactly what Kennedy is really saying. The first buzz of excitement may have been good-natured laughter; the latter is cheering and connection with JFK’s message: you’re not alone, Berlin, because the whole free world stands with you.
That was a truly beautiful moment.

 
 
 

Other Berlin Wall and Communism resources:
Berlin Wall —
1) BBC/Wikipedia History of the Wall — http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/places/berlin_wall
2) History lesson links and Berlin Wall quiz — http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/12/text-to-text-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall-reporting-in-1989-and-remembering-25-years-later/?_r=0

Communism —
(these are books, not sites; very retro, I know, but they did a good job of helping me get a picture of it . . . a consistent picture, even though none of the sources were connected with each other)
1) biography: God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew (first-hand experiences)
2) classic fiction: Animal Farm by George Orwell (explores the natural end of the ideology . . . in fairy-tale form)
3) play: Letters to a Student Revolutionary by Elizabeth Wong (this comedy/drama is about Communism in China)
4) children’s book: The Mystery of the Smudged Postmark by Elizabeth Rice Handford (this one touches on the reasons people wanted to leave, from a child’s point of view)
5) historical fiction series: The Russians by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella (Last 3 by Pella alone)–this series is pretty long, but by the end of book five, you have a pretty good idea of what Communism sounded like and what it looked like in actuality. It’s like watching a train wreck.
By now you may have noticed that none of these are treatises on Communism. Those are readily available through an internet search, but sometimes it’s a biographical or fictional story that helps us to really see what is going on. And piques our curiosity to search. And no, none of these are the sensational Hollywood spy-style-stories I loved as a kid. (Ok, so the only one that gets close to it is so true, it’s stranger and more amazing than fiction!) :D

for AJB :)

When I was growing up, “I love you” meant “I like you”–only on a deeper and safer level. When my mother told me she loved me, it never occurred to me to wonder if she liked me on that particular day. It was all part and parcel of the same thing.

Growing up means learning that not everyone views things the way you do. Like learning that for some people the statement “I love that person but I don’t have to like him” is more than merely a theoretical statement. And that whether or not they like you can change from day to day and moment to moment.

This alternate perspective has taught me that loving and liking are not the same thing and has also brought many questions to ponder. Questions such as these:

~ Can we truly love someone without at some point discovering that we have come to like them, too? Is it really love if it holds the other at at disgusted distance?
~ If someone really truly likes you, will that liking change based on what you do on a given day?
~ Does God like us? or does He just love us?

I have to thank Steve Hong from Kingdom Rice for introducing me to this Mr. Rogers song during a message he gave at my parents’ church. I never watched Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood as a child, though I had seen a snippet here and there to make me familiar with the show and its host. (In fact, I sometimes laughingly told people that the show had made me throw up once. In actuality, it was the flu I had at the time that did the trick. It just happened to coincide with my aunt turning on PBS and Mr. Rogers to entertain the sick girl and her baby brother.) Like Steve Hong, it has only been in my adult years that I have become impressed by Mr. Rogers.

Mr. Rogers has helped me to answer some of those questions in his song “It’s You I Like.”

 

In this song, sung to Tonight Show host Joan Rivers, Mr. Rogers conveys the essence of the way God must look at us. And the way that Joan Rivers reacts to him makes us laugh but also reveals how genuine his message is. The more I look at the interactions of Jesus with other people, the more I watch their reactions to Him, the more convinced I am that God really likes us. Look at Zacchaeus: Jesus went right up to the person that no one else in the town liked at all and invited Himself over to eat with the man! The whole town was shocked at Jesus’ act of friendliness towards this unlikeable man (and for good reason, too, as Zacchaeus himself alluded to after dinner with Jesus). (Luke 19:1-10)

God likes us. He doesn’t just love us out of duty [“I’m God and and I guess that since I’m love and all then I’d better provide for these nasty people I love. But they’d better not come near me!”]. He really likes us. God made us in His image. Each of us uniquely reflects Him in a way that no one else ever will. No one else can be you; you have something to say to the world about your Creator, and no one else can say it as eloquently as you say it just by being yourself. He enjoys the unique person you are. He’s glad you’re in the world. If you could see His face when you enter a room, you’d see it lighting up as you come in. God really likes you.

 

So. I’ve come to these conclusions:

First, loving and liking are two different things, but they belong together. Liking can grow into loving; loving can’t be complete without liking.

Second, Jesus likes me, this I know, for the Bible SHOWS me so.

Three, if I tell you I love you, it means that I very much like you, too. And it means that I will to do my best to demonstrate that to you–even though I will never do it perfectly, I will not stop trying.

Finally, liking you means liking the real you, not just the superficial things such as clothes and hair and charm and wit and friendliness. It’s not how well you play the saxophone or the how well you perform in school. It’s not your carrying my bags or giving me hugs. I may enjoy all of those things; I may communicate that enjoyment to you. All of those are an expression of you, but they aren’t you. It’s YOU I like. You make my world a better place just by being in it. You.

Even on your worst days.

 

Can it be any accident that the first major biography in the Bible is that of a man called by God to a place he’d never been before?

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:8 (ESV)

He may not be the first man whose life story is chronicled in Scripture–we have Adam and Noah before him, not to mention many others who get honorable (and dishonorable) mention. But Abraham’s is the first of the detailed life stories given throughout the rest of Scripture. The first of the list of men whose stories mark the focused dealings of God with those He chose to be “His People.”

And how does his story begin? with God calling him out of his comfort zone, away from his culture, and into a journey that had a promise he could not completely envision. “A land that I will show you,” God told him. Both definite and indefinite at the same time. It’s a definite promise, yet a promise like a Christmas present–all wrapped up in mystery.

I couldn’t help but reflect today that Abraham’s story is the story of every friend of God. That God calls each of us to leave our comfort zones, challenges our cultural inheritance, and leads us to a definite promise that is wrapped in mystery yet full of hope.

It can’t be an accident that Abraham’s story is right at the beginning of all things.

A few years ago, I asked my grandmother what events in her life struck her generation like 9-11 struck mine. She said that Pearl Harbor Day was like that for her–totally shocking. And memorable. And she still remembers it every Pearl Harbor Day . . . while for me that day feels like almost any other day, even though I know what happened.

Like all tragedies, this date and its impact has faded for me into the background of daily activities, more easily running into the weeks and months and years. In some ways I am sad for that–sad to lose that noble sting. In some ways I am glad for the sign of moving through the grieving process.

But I will always remember where I was on Sept 11 when the Twin Towers fell. I will always remember little details about the next months and years. Like the birth of my brother and my sister, I can hardly remember how we lived before that date. Can hardly remember when TSA lines were not routine. Because whether we remember it or not, 9-11, like Pearl Harbor Day, redefined our world and our nation.

I pray that it has redefined us for the better and for the nobler. That the courage and unity demonstrated on that day will not be swallowed up in the fear of being hurt and in the determination to be safe above all else. But like all wounds and all grief, it is our choice what we will do with the pain. Will we run and hide? or will we dare again to be ourselves? Will we play it safe or will we continue to take risks in the pursuit of what is right?

We know what the Pearl Harbor Generation did. They didn’t do it perfectly, and they didn’t do everything right. But they rose to the challenge nobly. May history show us to have done the same with our redefining moment.

“When I Consider How My Light Is Spent”
also known as “On His Blindness”

a sonnet by John Milton

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or His own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

(this poem is in the public domain; I copied it from poets.org  http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/when-i-consider-how-my-light-spent)

 

–this background commentary on the poem from  http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Guides5/Blindness.html
John Milton’s eyesight began to fail in 1644. By 1652, he was totally blind. Oddly, he wrote his greatest works, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, after he became blind. Many scholars rank Milton as second only to Shakespeare in poetic ability.

Love (III)
by George Herbert


Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

 

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?

 

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.

poem is in the public domain
text taken from poets.org (http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/love-iii)
and (http://www.poetryoutloud.org/poem/173632)

 

and Ralph Vaughn-Williams set it to music! a bit operatic, but if you like Vaughn-Williams . . .

 

Praise is a sacrifice
Choosing the gracefulness of gratitude
Over the seeming gratification
Of griping and grousing
Choosing to receive in every package
The gifts a good God always gives

Praise accepts
Abundance beyond the want
And offers thanks as
An act of trust
In the affection of an Almighty sovereign

Praise is a gift
Freely given
Graciously acknowledged
By the One Who sees all
And recognizes it for what it is–
A sacrifice

That fills the life of the giver

With the fragrance
Of His presence.

From thirsty, parched soul
To bubbling fountain
Christ makes you the miracle

Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

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