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“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

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.

 

My brother’s economics teacher told a story about his brother who had been studying in England and had to go to the emergency room for a relatively minor (though uncomfortable and necessary) complaint. He waited, as expected, for several hours to be seen. Not so different from any American emergency room. However, while he was there waiting, a man came into the emergency room with a badly broken arm. He clearly needed more immediate treatment than the brother did, but he had to wait just as long. First come, first served. It’s all equal. That system, of course, is socialism and not Marxism per se, but the two are very closely related. Both of them use “equality” as their by-word and guiding principle. But equality is not as beautiful a guiding star as it seems to be. In fact, it’s not really a star at all, just a hard, cold meteorite of a fact.

The fact is that all men were created equal. No one has to make them equal, they already are.

But equality does not create value. And the funny thing about love (this just hit me) is that it raises the loved one from the original starting point of equality to the higher plane. When you are loved, you know that you are noticed, that you are more than just another pebble among all the other identical pebbles. By loving someone, you inherently affirm that someone’s uniqueness. Loving someone raises that someone from a position of equality to a position of worth.

Equality is what we have already; value and honor, love–those are the stars to navigate by.

So here we have the real difference between capitalism and Marxism/socialism: capitalism does one thing and does it well while Marxism/socialism try to do more than one thing and do both very badly.

Capitalism is merely an economic system in which individuals are free to make their own choices. It is only an economic system. It does not try to control the choices that those people make. If it did, it wouldn’t be a free-market system. It always works like it is supposed to–whether the free choices are based on selfishness and greed or on love and honoring others. By “working” I mean that it allows individuals to make their own choices and those choices produce results in a natural way–wise use of wealth begets more wealth. Greedy use of wealth begets more wealth, but only for a time. In fact, when you hear people talking about “the failure of capitalism” they are really talking about the moral failures of individuals and groups that have led to great losses. Capitalism did not fail. As an economic system it worked just fine and did just what it was supposed to do. The people working the capitalism left out the moral ingredients necessary to produce long-lasting success. In an accident you can’t blame the perfectly functioning car for the choices of the drunk driver.

Marxism and socialism are more than economic systems. They are attempts to ensure that people will make the right choices. These systems begin from the position that humans by nature will be greedy and will exploit inequalities for their own gain; therefore these systems try to eliminate human greed and vice by eliminating inequality. To do so, they attempt to control all individual choices–for the greater good. Because no one can legislate love, they fail miserably at righting the evils they claim capitalism allows (which it does because it’s only an economic system, after all). Because inequality makes everyone ride in the boat at the same time, they fail miserably at maintaining the greater good.

You can’t eliminate the individual and still maintain the greater good. Neither can you eliminate economics for the greater good. Owning and managing one’s own stuff is part of living and being able to do good. Those with more stuff have great potential to use that stuff to help other people–just ask the hospitals that each year write off thousands of dollars’ worth of services for those who cannot pay for the care they so desperately need. That benevolent action has nothing to do with equality. It has everything to do with value, with the value they place on helping others.

[Anyone care to poke a hole or two in my boat? 😉 ]

[Joyous Thirst goes political 😉 ]

On a teaching blog I read every week, a commenter left this comment on a post about the purpose of learning (“Why Do I Have to Learn This?“):

“Whereas the rules of capitalism said that if there were ten people on a riverbank and one boat moored nearby, they had to fight until one of them got the boat, the rules of Marxism said they all had to get into the boat at once, even if it sunk.” (kvennarad)

First, I had to laugh at the truth of the statement–capitalism does allow fighting for the boat while Marxism insists that everyone must sink together, since sinking is the only fair choice. Perhaps staying on the bank is another option, but theoretically no one wants to stay on the bank and everyone wants to get in the boat and so we must all get in the boat at the same time because taking turns presupposes an inequality. And above all things there must be equality.

My second thought was “wait, there’s a third option.” This is actually a false dilemma. There is something better than equality to be gained and to be practiced, and this something is “value” or “honor.”

Let me state it a bit more simply: it is possible for 10 people to not fight over the boat but to use to boat to help one another get to the other side. This helping one another is something that Marxism rules as improbable and therefore rules it out completely. This helping one another is something that is completely outside the domain of capitalism. I mean, capitalism does not and cannot dictate the morals of those that use its system. It’s only an economic system, after all! It can be practiced with disregard for others or it can be practiced with the principle of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” or better yet: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

See, if the people on the bank with the boat treat each other with honor, then they begin to think “how can we all get across the river without sinking the boat . . . and in the most effective, least time-consuming way?”

And if they treat each other with value, they begin to evaluate their own and each other’s strengths (who here knows how to manage a boat?), weaknesses (does anyone get seasick?), and needs (you’re a doctor on your way to deliver a baby? we need to get you across right away!). They also evaluate their assets (the boat) and liabilities (the river, the stormy night, and the limited capacity of the boat).

This allows them to use the capitalistic system of inequality in a way that benefits everyone. And yes, it is a system of inequality because, as kvennarad pointed out, complete equality either gets us nowhere or kills us all.

Nov 29, 2010

I was wrestling the other day with a wrong (or perhaps a series of wrongs), committed by a loved one. I wasn’t sure what to do with them in my own mind. When I read Psalm 62, verse 12 jumped out at me: “Also unto Thee, O LORD, belongeth mercy: for Thou renderest to every man according to his work.” Of course, this is going to sound like I am stating the obvious, but I realized that no one is big enough to handle the consequences of his wrongs. And I didn’t want that person to pay for the wrongs. I truly did (do) want mercy for that person.

But I also want the consequences to be taken care of, the wrongs to be fixed or made ok or made right somehow. Because it’s not only ourselves that must deal with the consequences–it’s those around us.

As I talked with God about it (or perhaps just TO Him at that point), He brought the Ultimate Payment to mind. Jesus’ death pays all debts. But the question I still have is this: if I stand here with the wrongs in my hand, can I truly accept the exchange of those wrongs for Christ’s blood and suffering? I mean, do I really want that? His death? His blood? I don’t want blood. I don’t want more suffering. That’s just one more wrong to be made right.

Maybe I have the wrong idea about the exchange. Maybe the exchange isn’t wrongs for blood; maybe the exchange is wrongs for grace and mercy. Mercy for the one(s) who wronged me; grace for me as I grapple with the consequences. And maybe living through the consequences is part of entering into the sufferings of Christ–following His lead as He entered into our consequences: “surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows”; “but He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed.” [fyi: those last two verses were quoted from memory, not carefully copied, so the punctuation, at least, is prob not quite right]

And I have been trying to follow His lead; I just seem to be doing a poor job, slipping and tripping a lot.

This post should, most likely, be some piece of poetry . . . preferably by me and not someone else . . . or so I’ve been told 😉

However, since it’s late at night and I shouldn’t even be up right now, let alone on the computer,
And since I haven’t written any poetry lately,
And since I haven’t gone through old poems in a while to see if there are any new ones to post,
This will have to do,
For now =)

So I had forgotten to add a link to a blog that contains some student writings that are really quite fun: Around the Writer’s Block. Check out the pantoums. And if you want something to sink your teeth into, there are the essays =)

And then there is the blog of the friend who does cakes for a living–you should totally check out the pictures! She’s amazing! Cakes by Suzy is as fun as the name implies =)

Finally there’s the one I found most recently. Meditations for the Liminal is not for everyone, though there was definitely something there for me. It’s primarily for those who have found themselves hurt by those who looked very spiritual and turned out to be modern-day Pharisees (probably because they themselves truly knew nothing of God’s love). It’s for those who are “liminal” as the author explains: those who have found themselves “in between,” so to speak–not easily categorized as “Fundamentalist” but also not willing to deny the things that are fundamental to a relationship with Jesus Christ. I have been moved by the way the blog explores Who Jesus is–something that we all find ourselves coming back to again and again as we grow in our Christian lives. Growing closer to God and learning to be more like Christ inevitably leads us to ponder what Christ is really like. =)

So now I am going to conclude this post and head for bed . . . maybe. 😉

Another September 11 has come and gone. As I wrote the date yesterday, it suddenly hit me what day it was–and what the significance was! September 11 was the day that terrorist attacks became more than just international news; they became part of the American experience.

The thing about terrorist attacks is that they are unreachable and indefatigable. Difficult to pin down, they exhaust you and make you start to wonder if there are other ways to obtain peace. Because that’s what you want–you didn’t want to pick the fight with them; they lashed out at you while you were busy living and letting them live. And as you start wracking your brain for other alternatives, as you try to make sense out of what happened, you start to see their point of view a little more, start to grasp their motives a little better. And then it’s easy for things to become more and more twisted from the effort of trying to make sense out of it all. And then you begin to accept the blame little by little for what happened, hoping that if you come half-way, if you accept your part of the blame, they will admit their part and meet you in the middle. After all, isn’t that how peace comes in normal relationships?

But terrorism is not a normal relationship. And the terrorists are not interested in making peace. They are not going to admit they were wrong. They are not the ones that want peace–you are.

Somewhere along the line we have to realize what forgiving others really means. Forgiveness stems from a recognition of the wrong that has been done to us, not from rationalizing the behavior. Forgiveness has to be firmly grounded in truth. Sometimes the truth may include the fact that the person who wronged us did so unintentionally, but it cannot ignore the wrong! Nor can it ignore the fact that there is a price to be paid for what was done to us. Instinctively we know that the price must be paid, and that’s how we get things twisted–when the other person refuses to acknowledge his wrong, we begin to wonder if perhaps we deserved it all along and then start to think that we are simply paying for our wrongs ourselves. That mindset bears only a small resemblance to the truth and it stops us from truly forgiving and moving on. Instead it makes us a slave to the one that has hurt us and now holds power over us.

It works that way with bullies on playgrounds. Why would it be any different between nations and people groups?

Hello, friends!

Last year around Christmas time, I began writing a series of essays, filled with “half-baked ideas” about Christmas and the cookies we eat around that time of year. Well, the time has come to revise them. I would like to take a stab at publishing them, and I’m praying to that end; however, even if God closes that door, I do want to revisit and improve them.

To revise them well, I need your input.

Here’s are some ways that you can help, if you have the time.

1) you can pray for me as I finish writing and revising =) any time the subject comes to mind, pray about it with me =)

2) if you read them last Christmas and have a minute to drop a comment to me, I’d like to know which one (or ones) stood out to you the most vividly–I mean, which ones come to mind most readily without your having to re-read them? And if you can tell me something that was memorable about it (or them), I’d be even more grateful!

3) if you have the time to re-read one or more of them (or to read them for the first time) and can comment on them, I’d like to know which statements made the most sense, which connections were clearest to you, which lines you liked best, anything like that. It helps to know which parts worked best so that I don’t lose them!

4) mention them to people who might find them enjoyable. invite them to read and comment on them

To access them, you can click on the “2007 Christmas Cookies” link at the top of my blog home page.

Thank you for your help and for you time and for your support and for your prayers.
Thank you for your comments, one of the most enjoyable parts about blogging.

Merry Christmas!

When I was a kid, rosettes were my favorite cookie to make. Mom made them especially at Christmastime. It’s been more years than I can count since I made them, but I can still recall the fascination they always held for me. Mom heated oil in a frying pan and mixed up the thin, sweet batter; then she dipped the rosette mold (a flower-shaped piece of iron on a long handle) into the batter to coat its lower half and quickly inserted the mold–batter and all–into the oil. The hot oil immediately fried the batter in the shape of the mold, allowing Mom to lift the mold entirely out of the flower-shaped cookie and leave it to cook, floating in the hot oil until it was a beautiful golden-brown. We would lift the cookies out onto a stack of paper towels in order to remove the ecxess grease before dusting them with powdered sugar. They were the prettiest and most delicate cookies I had ever seen. I loved them!

Like rosettes, peace seems brittle. Sweet, beautiful, fascinating, but delicate. Breathe on it and it is gone like the miniature snowflake on your sleeve. Try to preserve it and it becomes rancid like old french fries (or old resettes, for that matter). So God’s gift that Christmas night of peace on earth seems not only rather unrealistic, but also a bit impractical. Yet it is definitely not a white-elephant gift. Everyone wants it.

One of the most famous Christmas songs of all time is the most peaceful: “Silent Night” by Joseph Mohr, given its perfect musical setting by Franz Gruber. The song’s story goes that it was composed and performed upon the grand occasion of the church’s organ being out of commission. Now, anyone familiar with Christmas programs and Christmas services knows how stressful losing the church’s main instrument can be–how stressful any glitch can be! Yet from that rather inconvenient situation has come a song capturing the peace of Christmas like no other song does. Listen:

Silent night! holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild–
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav’nly hosts sing aleluia–
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night! holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace–
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

The songs is so gentle, lulling us to restful contemplation. But as I ponder that first Christmas, as I ponder the Christmas story, I see that not everything was still, not everything was hushed. The city being so crowded, how could it be still and at peace? Tensions must have been higher than normal. How could Joseph’s mind not have been churning with the problem of where in the world they would live until the census was over? Childbirth being so full of anguish and pain, how could Mary have been silent? A sky full of angels, how could it have been peaceful? How could one’s heart not have beat wildly after being surprised in such a manner as the shepherds were? Silent night? Did I miss what Mohr and Gruber saw?

“All is calm, all is bright/ Round yon virgin mother and Child.” I remember walking into my mother’s hospital room shortly after my sister was born. I had skipped school and spent all morning in the waiting room of the hospital until finally Dad came to get me: my sister had been born. There was a stillness, a wonder to that hospital room when I entered it (almost on tiptoe). The pain was over, Mom was exhausted but happy. And she moved gently as she let me see my sister for the first time and then allowed me to hold her. In fact, each time I visited them in the hospital a peacefulness pervaded the room, a peacefulness because all was well . . . and because the baby might be sleeping. All was calm and bright. How could it have been otherwise for that tiny baby and his exhausted mother that night? As the new mother showed her newborn infant to his wondering father and later to the curious shepherds, it could not have been other than peaceful–the peace of happy and successful exhaustion, the peace of proud mother-hood, the peace of infancy.

“Shepherds quake at the sight;/ Glories stream from heaven afar,/ Heav’nly hosts sing aleluia.” What a concert that must have been! I’ve been to good concerts, and I have also been on various stages myself a time or two. While applause is nice to receive, a good performer soon learns to crave silence from his audience, and not just any silence. An attentive silence is so concentrated that a performer can feel the audience frozen in time and place, lost in the story he is weaving. I have heard that silence from audiences, and I have felt that expectant stillness myself. I, too, have had my times of sitting silent after the house lights come back on, awed and overwhelmed by the power of the performance I have just seen or heard, pondering the thoughts it has placed in my grasp. Picture the hillside after the heavenly curtain has fallen again and the aerial show is over: wouldn’t you have sat in silence, not wanting to break the wonderful stillness of the moment?

But those moments seem so fragile. The stillness must be broken eventually: the shepherds have to speak, have to move, have to go check out this amazing news the angels gave them; the baby Jesus, like other babies the world over, will cry for the various reasons babies cry. The peace can’t last. Was God’s gift of peace to the world as insubstantial as the rosettes we used to make at Christmas time–beautiful to look at but certainly not known for longevity?

“Love’s pure light/ Radiant beams from Thy holy face/ With the dawn of redeeming grace.” Perhaps beyond the ordinary stillnesses, a different kind of peace was embedded in that night, a peace more beautiful, more realistic, more substantial, more satisfying than those natural yet fragile ones described in the first two stanzas; a peace I have glimpsed like a hummingbird out my window; a peace I have tasted but not grasped; a peace I want more of. It’s the peace that comes from God Himself, from seeing His face and knowing that everything is as it should be between us.

God’s Word, in Philippians 4:7, aptly dubs it the peace “which passeth all understanding.” I heard it described at a New Year service in which people were given the opportunity to give testimonies of how God had helped them through the year. One couple spoke of living life after a devastating house fire. The wife spoke of the first night after the fire and of the peace inside which, in the face of loss and devastation, whispered to her, “Let’s see what God is going to do with this.” And I recognized something about this incomprehensible peace, something I have been learning but having trouble putting into words: this peace comes with a built-in sense of adventure! Somehow it can look trouble in the face and see it as a ride at an amusement park. This peace is not a fragile flower; it’s tough as rope. It makes absolutely no sense at all as it grins in the face of adversity. No, it’s not a bitter grimace nor a starry-eyed smile. It’s a grin, an infectious grin that’s like a rainbow through the tears. And it enables the possessor to rest–to “sleep in heavenly peace,” something that seems impossible at first.

So, how does one get it? And how does one keep it? Well, to answer the second question, we don’t keep it–it keeps us. Philippians 4:7 goes on to promise that it will “keep [or guard] our hearts and minds.” It’s an active, strong peace, stronger than we are. How do we get it? That one is just as easy and yet infinitely more difficult to answer. We get it from God. We get it, Philippians tells us, by pouring out our hearts to Him, letting Him have all the things that we are worried over or concerned by or angry about or longing for. John 13-15 says that as we do this we must allow Christ’s words to become part of us, expecting that He will answer those longings. That part isn’t so easy. In fact, it seems almost an impossibility that we will ever have enough of His words within us to purchase His gift of peace. Bother! So much for that thought, nice though it was.

That’s the difficulty: peace involves trust. And trust comes from love. I have been re-reading The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. And the marvel to me is that my favorite chapter, the chapter that moves me most, is the one about her time in a German extermination camp. As she and her sister lived through those days of hell on earth, their confidence in the love of God shines, beams out in defiance of all horror, radiates in the face of evil itself. There’s a peace on those pages that I want in my life. A beautiful, yet unbreakable peace.

It comes from knowing God, from knowing His love. Not from loving Him–oh, no! How many people have we loved and yet feared that our love was unrequited? How many times have our hearts been broken by insensitivity, ingratitude, betrayal? No, loving God cannot bring us peace. Only being loved by Him can. Just as we rest and relax the best in the places we feel safe, just as we feel safe in the presence of those who love us, we will only have heavenly peace when we know the love of Christ, a love “which passeth knowledge.”

How can we know something that’s too big to fit into our minds? Can a child fully understand his father’s love? Can he completely grasp the arms that encircle him? Does he really care that the arms are bigger than he is? Of course not! That’s what makes him feel so safe. We never outgrow that need for love. God’s love is the only love that will always satisfy that child we carry within us forever. That’s why He calls us His children.

Hungry for some peace? It starts here: “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.”

“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.”

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

My Grandma (the one I live with) has a wonderful theory about cinnamon: she heard somewhere that it is very beneficial to our health, so she tries to find things that contain cinnamon to eat or drink or else she adds a little extra cinnamon to thing that already have cinnamon in them. It’s a joke at our house that we can eat sweet things (such as pie or cookies or candy) because they have cinnamon in them and cinnamon is good for us.

One of the things that cinnamon is supposed to do for us it to stop the sniffles. My first reaction to this news was one of slight disbelief; but if Grandma’s theory is correct, I have the “cure for the common sniffles”: snickerdoodles, lots and lots of snickerdoodles! Snickerdoodles are such fun cookies! Even the name sounds fun. And making them is fun: take small balls of dough (containing cinnamon, of course), roll them around in a cinnamon and sugar mixture to coat them really well, and then put them in the oven to bake. When they come out and are done to perfection, these cookies are a little crunchy on the outside and a little soft on the inside. So good! They REALLY keep me coming back for more. And if Grandma’s theory is correct, they will keep away the sniffles, too. Grandma has tried taking extra cinnamon when she has the sniffles, and she has found that it works. Why not give cinnamon cookies a try when the common cold comes your way? (I know, the sugar content would probably conflict with the medicinal properties of the cinnamon, but still . . . )

There are few things more annoying that getting the sniffles: being in the middle of something and suddenly needing to dive for the box of tissues does not help productivity very much. Looking at life, it seems that sniffles plague us more than just in the cold season. O. Henry, the famous short-story writer, made this comment about life in his story “The Gift of the Magi” when his female character collapses into tears over something: “Which [action] instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.” I agree that life seems to bring sniffles up an awful lot; sometimes even when we are laughing, we are hiding a sniffle or two. Not that we spend our lives blubbering about the hard lot we have been given; no, we try to face things as bravely as we can, knowing that life is not fair and that we should not expect it to be. Still, we can’t really help the sniffles.

But what is there for solving the sniffles of everyday life? If–as O. Henry suggests–sniffles lead the statistics of our lives, eating cinnamon cookies for such a frequent amount of sniffles will add weight problems to the woes of the heart. Is there a balm for them?

There is. It’s an unlikely one–as unlikely as eating cinnamon for common sniffles. But it gives promise of truly working.

A King.

Now THAT sounds preposterous. Any American can tell you that a king is not necessary for a nation to work properly. And gone are the days of Britain’s autocratic kings. Who needs a king? Not us. We don’t need a dictator to run our lives, and we don’t need a figurehead to take all the credit. So the words of this Christmas carol have a hard time making sense to us.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.

~Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts is not describing a weak figurehead king here. His king has power–power to bring about changes. Look at the things He can do: send His blessings on everyone, reverse the effects of the curse, rule the entire world (notice there’s no mention of bureaucracy here–He is the One ruling, not His government), and prove His love to the world through the way He treats the nations. That’s power! And, to be honest, sometimes we long for that power to be seen in our lives. Having the curse reversed would be wonderful; and if blessings are being served out, pass me a generous helping! Also, I agree that it would be nice for the world to be full of love rather than hatred. Maybe I do need a king. I certainly wish for someone sometimes who will step in and make the decisions that seem impossible for me to make, someone who will pull out the necessary resources when mine are running dry, someone who has influence over others when I am getting a raw deal or do not know how to communicate with them. Yes, a king would be nice. A king looking out for my interests would definitely cure the sniffles.

But does it have to be a king? Giving someone else the reins of power is more than a little disconcerting! Put this thought in everyday shoes: we want advice from people, but we hate it when they step in to try to run our lives–we want to make the ultimate decisions (esp. since we are responsible to live with those decisions once they’re made); we want others to listen to our troubles, but we are terrified of what they might do about those problems–we want their help and we don’t want their intereference all at the same time. We have a relative amount of control over our own lives; we know what we are thinking before we do it; we know how we hope that things turn out. We don’t know these things about others. We have no control over them, well, very little. We may do our best to manipulate others or dominate them in order to get what we think we want, but those who refuse to be dominated or manipulated scare us. In our experience, a loss of personal control can lead to MORE sniffling rather than less. Is it worth giving up control just to have what a king can do for us? ummmm . . . pass the Kleenex, please!

But the price is joy.

And we don’t really have much of it. We find our hearts getting hardened and numb, and we walk through life in a half-fog, just trying to survive. We are more than fully aware of the curse, seeing its blight on our lives everywhere we look, especially when we look inside. It’s scary to realize the evil we are capable of and overwhelming to see the wounds we suffer from. And the worst part is knowing that really there’s little we can do about the problems within us anymore than we can control the circumstances around us. Our small measure of control is just that: small. Maybe we do need a king after all. We don’t want one, but we need one. We need one badly.

And to have Him, we are going to have to trust Him. Even though we don’t know what He’s going to do, even though we can’t control Him, we are going to have to open our hearts to allow Him to come in. As Watts wrote, we must “prepare Him room” in our hearts. We can’t keep Him relegated to the stable of our hearts, we have to allow Him to have the throne if He is going to do us the good we so long for Him to do. Watts was writing this song not about the first coming of Jesus–when He came as a baby to be born obscurely, live humbly, and die sacrificially–but about the second coming when He will come to rule the world and to make all things right. The Bible contains many prophesies of what He will do when He rules. All wonderful, all badly longed for, all in the future. But His rule in our hearts does not have to wait that long: it can begin now. And what He wil do for the world someday He promises to do within our hearts today: weed out the thorns and weeds of sin, heal the wounds, make us new. We find it easier to trust someone when we know towards what goal he is heading; has the King not showed us enough of His goal to inspire our trust?

Interesting thing about snickerdoodles: they get hard after a while. As they sit in the cookie jar, the moisture leaves them and they lose their softness. They’re still tasty, but not quite as addicting. Unless they’re dunked in milk. Dipped and held there until the milk has soaked into them through and through. Then they’re delicious. A joyful taste if ever there was one. Preparing our hard hearts for receiving the King is as simple as milk and cookies: it involves soaking in Him, bringing our hearts to His moisture and soaking in it until our hearts are saturated with it. Just soaking.

Happy soaking this holiday season!

I am so very sorry that I let the “half-bakery” close its doors for the past couple days! I did not want to, and I will try to resume posting for the last 5 in the series. However, when I found myself falling asleep at the computer while trying to put my thoughts on the computer screen, I decided that something had to give–at least for a couple days. So, pray for me as the days before Christmas become busier and busier. And have a Merry Christmas yourself!

The first recorded Christmas song in the Bible did not come from the heavens with a full choir to back it up. It was sung composed and performed by an amateur to an audience of one. The composer was Mary, the mother of Jesus herself. Here’s how I imagine it:

“Only a few more turns to go, and I’ll be standing at their front door,” Mary thought as she trudged wearily along. She had already hashed things out in her mind countless times on this journey. Why did I decide to leave Galilee? Well, I needed to leave. I’m starting to feel the symptoms of pregnancy, but I can’t talk to anyone about it. There’s no one to tell: Nazareth’s too small a town to hide things in for very long. Tell one person and the whole town knows in a minute! I can’t live there, growing more and more pregnant and raising more and more questions. I have to leave. I have to get away for a while. Why Elisabeth’s house? I know it’s a little risky–after all, Zacharias is a priest and might have trouble buying my story. But I think they will understand; after all, things have not been normal with them, either, according to the angel. Imagine! Having a baby after all these years! In fact, I suspect the angel told me about their current miraculous situation just so that I would know that I have a place to turn. Surely they will not reject me. And Elisabeth will help me. Each question had raised itself to be answered over and over again until they were all silent–all but one, that one haunting question that had lingered long after the angel-radiance had left the house feeling drab and colorless that amazing day. Is this all truly from God as the angel said it was? or is there some sort of horrible mistake? I couldn’t be dreaming this up, could I? But who will believe me?

Elisabeth’s house appeared over the rise of the hill, a welcoming atmosphere about it. Tired and road-weary, Mary concentrated all of her thoughts on reaching that inviting doorway ahead. Time had not allowed her to send a letter pre-announcing her arrival. She would just announce it herself. Too tired to work out the words ahead of time, she would just have to wait for the moment itself to bring the words. Somehow she would tell her story and hope to be believed and understood and welcomed.

“Who is it?” a low, pleasant, parchment-paper voice replied to her knock.

“It’s Mary, your cousin.” A pause. She realized she was holding her breath, but she couldn’t help it.

The door flew open, and she found herself tightly enveloped by a little old lady with excited eyes and a warm smile. “Mary! Oh, Mary! So good to see you! Oh! You are the happiest, most favored woman on earth! You were chosen to carry the Savior of the world! Oh! I’m so happy for you! What in the world did I ever do to deserve having a visit from the mother of my Lord and God? Come in! Come in!” Another bear hug. Elisabeth talking and chattering and drawing Mary into the house. A rather dazed Mary wondered how in the world Elisabeth could have known, but she couldn’t find the words to speak at all.

Elisabeth was still speaking excitedly. “I just knew it! Oh! The minute I heard your voice I knew! Well, actually little John here knew,” she patted her protruding stomach to punctuate her sentences as she continued. “The minute we heard your voice, he jumped! He jumped–must have turned a somersault in there! And I knew what had happened to you! Oh! I am so happy for you! And so happy that you came here of all places! You are more than welcome to stay with us!
“And, Mary,” she paused to regain Mary’s focused attention, “Mary, bless you for your belief. You truly will be happy that you believed God’s message. God has promised you something, and He will keep his promise to you.”

There was a stillness in the room for a moment, Elisabeth wisely being quiet for a moment to let her last words sink in. She had lived long enough to know that believing is not easy–even after an angel has spoken to you and told you what will happen. Even after the predicted event had begun to unfold itself. Believing can be very difficult.

When Mary found her tongue, it was to sing. To sing the song that had been writing itself within her over the miles of the trip from her hometown to her cousin’s house. Her question had been answered in a way she had not looked for: how could it not be from God when Elisabeth had known before she had even been told? how could it not be from God when even Elisabeth’s baby had known who Mary was carrying in her womb? And Elisabeth had believed. No explaining, no begging, no pleading required. It was answered, and her full heart responded in the only way it could.

Luke 1:46-55 records the words for us.
And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden:
for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;

For He that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is His name;
And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation;
He hath shewed strength with His arm;
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts;

He hath put down the mighty from their seats,
and exalted them of low degree.

He hath filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich He hath sent empty away;

He hath holpen His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
As He spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to His seed for ever.”

My eyes and thoughts are drawn over and over to this line: “He that is mighty hath done to me great things.” She could look at her circumstances and be happy that “great things” were being done to her. I am truly awestruck at her, not at her super-spirituality, but at her humanness. Mary was a regular girl who had just been thrust into a difficult situation, a situation unheard of before and since her time. Sure, she had welcomed God’s plan for her life when the angel had announced it to her. But since that magically astounding moment, reality had set in. She knew exactly what it would look like for her to become pregnant at this time: she was betrothed to Joseph. The whole town might think that they had not waited for the proper time to act as husband and wife. Joseph’s reputation would be tarnished. And no one would know that it was God’s baby rather than Joseph’s. Joseph would know that the baby was not his and would be devastated. This marvelous news would not look beautiful; it would look wrong. And if its appearance had been true in any way, her situation would have been wrong. Terribly wrong! She couldn’t blame them for what they would think of her. But, on the other hand, this was a beautiful gift God has given her, creating within her womb–without any action on her part at all–the precious life of His Son. Mary was stuck–stuck in the jaws of circumstances.

And yet, she accepted it. Not only accepted it, but rejoiced in the God that had done this preposterous, incomprehnsible miracle in her. She recognized that being stuck was part and parcel of the “great things” that God was doing to her–not through her, not around her, but TO her. She saw those things as for her.

I can relate to her stuck-ness. Some days feel like a long crawl through tunnels too small for a rat. Yet, looking back at how I came to be where I am, I can only conclude that I am here because God wants me here. I feel small and insignificant and helpless and . . . well, flattened. I am stuck with no way to escape. I feel like molasses cookies must feel.

Molasses cookies are wonderful! I do not remember making them as a kid, but I have grown to love them over the three years of living in St. Louis with my aunt’s family and with my Grandmother (mom’s side). Molasses cookies are dark and thin and a little chewy. They are spiced cookies and taste wonderful in milk. To make them, Grandma could roll out the dough thinly and cut it into shapes with cookie cutters; but more often she plops blobs of dough onto the cookie sheet, butters the bottom of the cup and dips it in sugar, then uses the bottom of the cup to flatten the blobs into respectable cookies. That’s right, she squeezes them flat. For that moment, that crucial moment that they are being shaped, they are stuck. Completely stuck. Nowhere else to go. Stuck like Mary was. Stuck like I am. Stuck like you are.

Perhaps I could escape–perhaps I could just throw my hands up and say “I quit!” But what would become of those “great things” happening around me? I don’t want to miss what He is doing. I want to be where He is watching Him work. I’ll sit still! I’ll be quiet! Just let me be where I can see what you are doing! I do not want to quit. But sometimes it seems that it is impossible to exist in the circumstances He has given to me. And rejoicing at my front-row seat becomes fear and sadness over my impossible situation.

Perhaps the secret to rejoicing in being stuck can be found in two comments: one made by Elisabeth and one made by Mary herself. 1) Elisabeth reminded Mary that God would fulfil His promises. God is a promise-keeping God. He is also a sure God: He does not decide to abandon a project once He has started it. The God who favored her today in giving her His only begotten Son to mother would not decide He had made a mistake the following day and remove her from His favor. 2) She realized that the “great things” God was doing were hers, too, not just for the rest of the world. It is easy for me to see myself as a mere tool of God’s work in the lives of those around me. It does not occur to me that the situations I am in, the places I feel “stuck” are for me, too, not just for those around me. Mary recognized that God’s Son within her was for her personally. God was doing great things TO her, not just in her, not just around her, not just for others, but for her. And this knowledge made her feel safe.

See, eventually, the flattened molasses cookies will go in the oven and bake and be ready to eat. Their “stuck” position is good for them. It is done to them so that they will bake as they are supposed to bake and be as wonderful as they are supposed to be. Molasses cookies are meant to be flat.

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

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