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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

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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]

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.

“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

Jesus gives the order
Servants do what servants do
Water becomes wine

9-10-11

Psalm 139:6
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.

vi
I admit, I am a bit overwhelmed
As I ponder
How completely
You care for me.
I can’t wrap my mind around the
Magnitude
Of these details:
I can’t even get past the fact that You
Care enough
To observe me so minutely,
To study me.

9-10-11

Psalm 139:5
Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.

v
The oddest part is this: You haven’t rifled
through my heart and moved on.
No, You’ve besieged me. Here I thought
I’d have to look for You, to chase You down,
And when I looked out my windows,
You had me completely surrounded.
You’d planned Your campaign,
You were here for the long haul–here to stay.
And I could feel You laying Your hand on me–
For what?
Just to show me Your closeness?
As a fatherly expression of affection?
In benediction? As investiture of power?
Or maybe so I wouldn’t be afraid of Your
Drastic measures to make me Yours.

9-10-11

Psalm 139:4
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

iv
You know me so well that You know
What I will say
Before I say it.
[When others do this, I sometimes find it
Disconcerting–should I be
Comforted when You do it?]
[Do You sit back with pleasure to hear
What You know I will say
And how I will say it?]

9-10-11

Psalm 139:3
Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.

iii
Like diffused light on a cloud-covered day,
You are everywhere around me
Yet springing from no one spot.
You surround what I do
All day long, and at night
Your presence
Is as ubiquitous as the air I breathe.
Like a nurse who has worked with one doctor
For many years,
You are used to the way I do things.
You’re familiar with my
Mode of action–
And You’re comfortable with me.
[Actually, God, I’d like to be comfortable with You that way, too.]
Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

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