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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.

 

Beholding glory
Comfort, trust, sufficiency
God raises the dead
2-8-2011

This is the second part in my repost of a previous poem.

Before He took the final steps of His journey to the cross, Jesus had spent a great deal of time teaching His disciples what to expect. But they didn’t get it. Not even when He performed the amazing miracle showcased by John in chapter 11 of his account of Christ’s life on earth, not even when He performed that greatest of all miracles He had performed so far, not even then did they imagine in their wildest dreams what He was trying to tell them. Not even then were they even able to imagine the promise He was making to them. I don’t blame them for their lack of understanding. I have a hard time comprehending it myself–I who have read the whole story and know the ending–I have a hard time comprehending the promise of resurrection when staring hideous DEATH in the face. But Easter calls us to remember. And to remember than right before that amazing miracle which foreshadowed the greatest miracle of all time–right before He changed the fabric of space and time for the grieving family, as He met grief and anguish wreaked by DEATH, Jesus–God Himself–wept. It’s ok to cry.

Resurrection?

Rising from the dead?
Just doesn’t happen
Impossible
So improbable that our minds
Cannot conceive the thought:
“Your brother will rise again.”
“Yes, Lord, someday he will
when life as we know it
comes to an end and
You make all things new.”
“I AM the Resurrection
and the Life,” You reply;
and, though my mind believes,
my heart still cries:
“Lord, if You had been here,
My brother would not have died!”
I cannot help but weep.
And You weep, too—
You, who are Life itself,
Weeping over Death.
I know by Your weeping
that You loved him, too:
that Death can touch Your heart,
divine though You may be.
Perhaps Divinity is wounded
more by Death than is Mortality.
And for this moment,
once again, Death
trumps Victory.
And so we weep together.
What comes next?

“Where have you laid him?”

November 11, 2010

I just figured out tonight why Psalm 103:5 would need to happen.

I was reading the background Lois Lowry gives for her book Number the Stars in her afterword. She spoke of the courage of the Danish resistance fighters who dared to defy the Nazis in so many ways . . . and of the youth of so many of them. One young man she spoke of was only 21 when he was executed by the Nazis. Young, brave, and idealistic, he wrote a letter to is loved ones asking them not to lament the past that has ended but to work for the future they truly longed for (and needed). So young. So brave!

And it hit me that I have grown old at heart. Afraid to risk, afraid of the pain, afraid that all I’ve done and risked in the past was a mere foolish waste after all. All that pain, that fear, that doubt is crippling. Because when you’re young you know that the risks are there but you haven’t experienced them firsthand. And you tell yourself that you are proceeding in spite of the risks when really you are simply throwing yourself out into the fray as though there are no risks. Because for the young, the risks don’t exist. But when you have experienced the risks, you grow up, you become conscious of the cost, and you grow wary.

And before you realize it, you’ve grown old.

Perhaps you become more strategic, but maybe that’s a nice way of saying you play things safer.

And perhaps that’s why we need God to renew our youth like the eagle’s–so we can launch ourselves out again and take the risks as though they aren’t even there. Because in the real world, the world that matters, the risk of loving others is great, the greatest, but it’s the one ideal that is the most important. Because if we are going to act like God does, we are going to have to love like He does–in spite of the risks. And–like those young, brave, Danish resistance fighters–perhaps even because of them.

 

Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. Psalm 71:9

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things: so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:5

My Dad sent me the link to this song and I had to laugh because it’s been me lately. The more tired I get, the harder it is to filter out the little things and maintain serenity and sweetness. It was a nice reminder that “this is the stuff” God uses to make me what I really want to be–more like Him =)

Please ignore the Mormon add–if that’s the one you get at the beginning :/

“My dear Jesus, my Savior, is so deeply written in my heart, that I feel
confident, that if my heart were to be cut open and chopped to pieces,
the name of Jesus would be found written on every piece.” – St. Ignatius
of Antioch

qtd in NBBC Alumni update 10-22-2007

For this to be true in any heart requires a rewrite of our spiritual DNA! But that’s the beauty of the promise in Jeremiah 31 and in Hebrews 8–God promises to write His law into our very hearts. That’s the promise I love best in Scripture!!!

Oh, every year hath its winter,
And every year hath its rain—
But a day is always coming
When the birds go north again.

When new leaves swell in the forest,
And grass springs green on the plain,
And alders’ veins turn crimson—
And the birds go north again.

Oh, every heart hath its sorrow,
And every heart hath its pain—
But a day is always coming
When the birds go north again.

‘Tis the sweetest thing to remember,
If courage be on the wane,
When the cold, dark days are over—
Why, the birds go north again.

~ taken from Streams in the Desert (copyright 1925) October 9

In the bitter waves of woe
Beaten and tossed about
By the sullen winds that blow
From the desolate shores of doubt,
Where the anchors that faith has cast
Are dragging in the gale,
I am quietly holding fast
To the things that cannot fail.

And fierce though the fiends may fight,
And long though the angels hide,
I know that truth and right
Have the universe on their side;
And that somewhere beyond the stars
Is a love that is better than fate.
When the night unlocks her bars
I shall see Him–and I will wait.

~Washington Gladden

Funny how God brings things together from different sources! Last week, His topic seemed to be “ministry.” Here are two quotations that He used to get me thinking, two quotations from different sources.

>“The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
~Frederick Buechner (qtd by Richard M. Webster in “Study to Enrich Inquirers and Candidates” Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) From Sunday School class (a study on our calling to ministry as Christians)

God is always working where the world’s deep hungers are located. Sometimes they’re buried very deeply, but He knows just how deeply they’re buried. I want to be where He is, doing what He created me to love doing.

> “Ministry is only an outward manifestation of our relationship to God.  Without the relationship, ministry is just dust.  With it, ministry is gold.”
~
from an e-mail to me by a friend and former teacher, Jody Wong

I love this quotation the most. Sometimes when ministries change, we start to feel that perhaps we have made God unhappy with us or feel as though our closeness to Him is dependent upon what we are doing for Him. Over this past year, He has been showing me that my relationship to Him is the thing that will always go deeper than any ministry.

Grandma broke her measuring cup the other day–one that she’s had for a long time. She had put hot tea into it (it’s one of those glass pitchers that measures up to two cups) and then, after pouring that out, had put cold water into it. You guessed correctly: it cracked down the middle! (last week was a bad week for breaking glass containers! I had done a similar thing a couple days before!)

That incident sorta connects with a quotation I found in Oswald Chambers’s writings a couple days ago:

“Wherever one’s hopes are founded, there will that person’s idea of prosperity be. And whatever the soul conceives to be prosperity will become that person’s measurement of hope.”
~ April 18 Devotions for a Deeper Life Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.

I didn’t even finish reading the day’s reading right away; I had to stop and ponder that statement. What do I consider prosperity? How do I measure my hope? I know what the “Sunday School” answer is. But the “Sunday School” answer gets its bad rap from the very fact that it’s pat rather than practical, easy rather than real. I have a vague notion of what I’d like the answer to be. But I wonder what the answer really is, what my life shows it to be. And I wonder what it is becoming, what God is making it into.

How do I measure success? Am I a success because I averaged 10 minutes per book that I had to write assignments in tonight? I think it’s a good average by the estimates I have heard, but will my boss think so when she arrives on Monday morning to find that there’s still a little more to do to get ready for the evening? Do I measure my success by my own estimations or by others’ opinions? or both? or neither? Not “how should I measure them?” but “how do I measure them?”

It’s got me pondering–not morbidly, but curiously; not fearfully, but interestedly.

Obviously, I’m not measuring my success by how early I get to bed at night. Maybe I ought to . . . =)

“If we cannot believe God when circumstances seem be against us, we do not believe Him at all.” – Charles Spurgeon
qtd in NBBC Alumni Update: January 28, 2008

I’ve been studying the life of Job lately. (Actually, the whole church was, and the children’s class got behind: we’re still studying that book along with the Psalms that the rest of the church is studying. We’re having a great time figuring out what each of the characters in Job is saying and getting quite an education on the behavior of people discussing things!)

If anyone had a hard time with circumstances, Job was the one. And he had so many questions for God. Questions I find that I have–sometimes even without knowing I’m wondering them.

“God, why are you punishing me? I’ve been doing my best to serve you!”

“God, if things are really truly ok between us, why these circumstances?”

“How is it considered punishment when it happens to others but not to me? It appears the same!”

“How can you still be ok with me when everyone else seems not to be? and when my world seems to be falling apart? and when I can’t tell up from down?”

Yet, before we begin the series of discussions between Job and his friends, we know the answers to some of the questions. As I say to my kids, God was really bragging on Job.

God: “Satan, see Job down there? He’s my friend. He’s such a great guy!”

Satan: “Yeah, he’s just your friend because you’ve given him everything he wants and needs and even some things he didn’t know he wanted or needed. Take all that away, and you’ll lose his friendship.”

So God let it be tested. And He had something more to brag about when Satan returned from carrying out the terrible deed of stripping from Job everything that he had.

God: “See, I told you he was my friend! You took away everything, and he’s still my friend! What a great guy!”

Satan: “Yeah, but he’s still healthy. Make him sick, put him into some real, physical pain, and he will start to curse you.”

So God allowed that, too. And still Job didn’t stop being God’s friend. And then (as an added “bonus”) Job’s friends misunderstood him. And they added misunderstanding to misunderstanding. And Job didn’t stop being God’s friend.

But He began to wonder if God was still his friend.

And I guess that when I’m under the circumstances, I begin to wonder that, too. I’m looking forward to the end of the book, looking forward to seeing how God answers some of these questions.

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

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