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“Fallout!”: A Tale of Two Friends

Please take a moment to read through John 17:6-23. See how these words are nested within an incredible benediction:

And please have a look at this as well:

Have you ever been “UnFriended?” Like, on Facebook? It’s happened to me. Only once, granted… but still, it’s happened. Ever been in a place of greatest trial in your life, say… where symptoms have appeared of some dreadful disease, but tests have not yet begun, and all there is is that raw terror of mental and physical decline? Imagine being in the darkest hour of your existence, trusting only the smallest handful of friends with the transparency of your anguish in this moment… and having one of them turn their back, call you names, accuse you of some horrendous sin you cannot even comprehend, let alone commit. Imagine having one you have served, always treated as sacred, trusted as “treasured friend”… utterly turn on you and abandon you… not even willing to stand where you stand, even upon your death. Imagine such a thing.

How do you deal with that?

Well, there’s a “wrong” way, and a “right” way.

The wrong way is to yield to all the temptation that says, “Well, they simply lied for all that time. They never esteemed or treasured me or my friendship. They are not worth my time or trouble. If they cannot stand alongside me in my need, in this darkness, in this trial… then who needs such “fair weather friends”. They want to “UnFriend” me? Fine, then! Forget about it! I don’t need their shadow to darken the door of my Temple ever again! They lied before, they could lie now or at any time. They have betrayed my trust, and never again will I risk that!”

The “wrong way” is to declare the sacred relationship “dead”, rend one’s clothes, knock the dust from one’s shoes, turn them over to God… and let Him sort them out without any further love on our part.

Jesus taught against this in no uncertain terms, both as to “forgiveness” and “kindness even to enemies”, and as to “if you remember your brother holds something against you”. Jesus EVER moves towards reconciliation and restoration of sacred relationships! ALWAYS!

But HOW? How does He do that? How do WE do that, in Him?

Well, let’s take a brief look at: “A Tale of Two Betraying Friends”

Of course, we speak of comparing Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter. I’ve always been struck by the comparisons and contrasts of these two crucial characters of the Gospel drama. I’ve written about this before… but never with the personal application we are looking at here. There is pivotal application here to my own life, and perhaps, Gentle Reader, to yours as well.

It astonishes me to realize that Judas did not betray Jesus until AFTER: Jesus had eaten the Passover meal with him, washed his feet, spoken of the end of things… even called them “friends”.

Hold right there a moment… Judas Iscariot is among the disciple group, when Jesus declares that, because He has revealed the fullness of the Father’s love to all of them, they are now “friend” to Him, no longer merely subordinate “disciples”. Jesus has now utterly “revealed Himself” transparently, to the entire group.

But then, Jesus is again troubled by a bout of distress. He sits at the table, and anguish overtakes Him as He tells them He will be betrayed. Various disciples ask if it is they… Imagine that! Imagine “not knowing” if we would, ourselves, betray Jesus to death? “Is it I?”… Then Jesus hands the sop to Judas, and instructs that he do what must be done quickly, and Judas exits. Jesus then shares the Bread and the Cup, they all exit to the Garden, Jesus reveals that all will abandon Him before the end, and Peter vehemently denies the very possibility.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And so the stage is set…

Two “friends”…

Two friends who betray, and abandon, Him…

Two relationships with Him, sundered denial and abnegation…

Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss and receives his payment. Peter denies even knowing Jesus with vehement curses, then abandons Him to His fate with bitter tears. Both sin, both deny, both betray, and… eventually… both know remorse for their deeds. Another post, from another time, looks at how these two (Judas and Peter) dealt differently with their remorse. “Gone Fishin'”

But now, let’s look at this from Jesus’ side of the relationship. Informed by all we know as Christians, all we learn from the Gospels and from Jesus’ teaching and requirements of us, all we experience at the prompting of the Holy Spirit within… let us look at how, if we are obedient to love as Jesus loves, how we are to deal with someone who betrays, lies about, or abandons US!

How did Jesus “get back” at Judas? How did He “discipline” him? How did He “church” him? How did He “cast Judas out?”

Sobering, isn’t it? Knowing what He knew, Jesus did nothing but continually bless Judas. He never “threw him out”, or did other than warn him of the consequences of his decisions. I’ve often thought Judas was still capable of derailing the entire Crucifixion thing right up to the point where he utterly resolved and decided to “do it”. At THAT moment, receiving a morsel from the very hand of Jesus, he gives the will wholly up to the evil of betraying Jesus, Judas “opens the door of his heart and stands fully aside” for the moment John narrates as “Satan entered into him”.

The last words Jesus speaks to Judas are simply, “What you must do, do quickly.”

As discussed in the earlier post, Judas eventually experiences remorse, but tries to make things right on his own, without ever daring to face the disciples or Jesus Resurrected. Nothing he tries works, and Judas dies by his own hand.

Now let us consider how Jesus deals with His betrayal and abandonment by Peter.

Again, Jesus does nothing but deal “normally” with Peter after telling Him of his coming betrayal. Jesus teaches him, blesses him, shares bread and cup with him, brings him to the Garden and asks him to stand watch, rebukes him for his sleep, and ultimately rebukes him for injuring Malchus with that sword as He heals the injured man. No further words pass between them until Peter’s betrayal and abandonment in the courtyard of Pilate.

Now… here’s the really hard lesson here.

Peter denies Jesus. Peter curses in the vehemence of his denial. Peter abandons Jesus.

How does Jesus “react” to all this?

Jesus makes NO CHANGE in their relationship and friendship.

It’s that simple. Peter runs to the tomb at the report of the women of the Resurrection. He sees nothing, as don’t any of the other men.

Jesus enters the room and speaks to the disciples as a group, including Peter, though they exchange no private or personal words. Jesus appears at various times, Peter experiences these apparitions.

As to the appearance of Jesus on the beach cooking breakfast, when from the boat John recognizes that the man is Jesus and Peter jumps out of the boat half dressed (stripped down for fishing) and wades to shore…

Who can imagine what words were on the tip of Peter’s tongue as he fought the lapping surf for a “private word” with the Lord? But none of it came out… no apology, no self flagellation, no confession, no worthless worm, no contrition… nothing came out.

Jesus did not rebuke, correct, accuse, or even make reference to the event. Jesus met Peter’s need for “refocus”, “repurposing”, by simply asking three times if he loved Him, and instructing Him to perform the task he was appointed to for the rest of his life. To feed and tend Jesus sheep and lambs.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Bottom line? Jesus treated Peter just as He always had. Jesus treated Peter just as He treated all other Disciple/Friends. He appeared, He spoke, He loved, He touched, He fed, and ultimately He sent the Holy Spirit to penetrate and enter into to Peter, just as all the others.

In other words, Jesus did exactly as He commands us to do… bless, love, do good, and embrace ALL… whether they love us or hate us. No difference. Forgive, from the heart, not because of anything the “other” the “forgiven” bring to the moment, but simply because so the Father does with us. We are to enter back into the sacredness of the relationship, restoring trust and love.

Easy? No. Simple? Yes. Been abandoned, betrayed, lied about, or “UnFriended”? What to do? Do nothing. Bless them, speak truth with grace, live (as far as depends on you) in peace with the other, and continue to treat them sacredly as though they had never tried to wound or do you ill. As we continue to provide a conduit for grace to reach through us to them, it is to be hoped that sacredness, peace, joy, and light will restore love and light into whatever shadows and dark corners still try to impede grace in sacred spaces of relationship!

We thus honor Him, and we thus know peace.

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Posted by on April 1, 2016 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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It’s Not the Feet and Hands, but the Eyes

earth beautifulHere we are in Lent. That’s a different thing for everyone. “Seasons”, Liturgical Seasons, are wondrous times, opportunities for the Holy Spirit to focus our interior eyes on a particular aspect of grace and our relationship with God. Such seasons as Lent, or Easter, or Advent, or Christmas, or the Pentecost… all allow us to concentrate our gaze on some facet of this “Crystal Rose” in our Garden of Prayer, the King of Kings. Generally speaking, the Lenten Season is somber, reserved, reflective, looking forward through the great trials and sufferings of Christ approaching the Crucifixion, as He draws to His climax in Jerusalem and the Cross.

What should Lent be like? Well, if the rhythm of this season resonates, the experience should be whatever the Holy Spirit calls for it to be for you in your own unique journey with Christ. For some, it is a time of recollection of our own need for grace; reminder of our frailty and fallenness, sense of responsibility for our wrong decisions, and awesome wonder at all the pain heaped upon our dear Lord in our place, in payment for our own regrettable actions and decisions. For others, it may be an intense awareness of Jesus’ passion, of His strength, courage, determination to do the will of the Father no matter the personal cost. Lent may generate the intense response of admiration and worship for so noble a Lord who struggled and overcame so much to honor the will of God.

There is no “right” way to experience Lent, and no “wrong” way, as long as the Holy Spirit is given free rein to prepare straight paths for the renewal of the Truth of the Resurrection, and the glory of Jesus’ triumph over Death itself on Easter. Traditions, customs, denominations, cultures, and eras are incredibly diverse in their observation of the Lenten Season. Across my own life, the experience has been tremendously different from one year to the next, one decade to the next.

So let me invite you, let me encourage you, to make way for the Holy Spirit to use this season to bless you. Let me invite you to enter into the Scriptural experience of these days approaching Easter, making straight paths for the Holy Spirit to show you whatever nurtures your relationship and awareness of the immediate and intimate presence of Christ in your life and spirit. Your experience doesn’t have to “look like” that of anyone else, as long as the focus is on Jesus the Christ, and the scriptural elements that so richly fill these days and these pages.

This one thing I would note in addition.

That there is no meaning to Lent, no meaning to the suffering, no meaning to even the “forgiveness of sin”, or the “payment for sin”, or the “satisfaction of God’s justice”, or even the “extension of grace and mercy to man”… if those are seen as merely “functions”. If those are seen as “things God did” or “things God does”… When we see these things as simple “extensions of God’s methodology”, we miss the point entirely.

All these things… ALL that we see of grace, of God’s workings…. is direct expression of His Infinite Love and nothing less.

Embrace the awareness, the sorrow, the contrition of knowing He took our own just punishment for our own willful and willing sin… yes. Don’t reject or resist that, if that is what the Spirit leads. Embrace the awareness of His suffering, His pain, His humility and obedience, His submissiveness to His destiny and the Father’s will, in the blood and the nails… yes. Don’t reject or resist that movement of your heart into His on the Cross, if that is what the Spirit leads. But in all of that, just don’t get so fixated on the blood, the scourge, the thorns, and the nails… that we neglect to look at His face, His eyes. They radiate with the reason for it all… His Infinite Love, Our Father’s Infinite Love, the Spirit’s Infinite love… for you, personally, individually… and every other child He has fashioned as well.

Let us not gaze upon the mysteries of Lent, these incredible 40 days, or Passion Week with its horrors, spectating like onlookers at the scene of a great train wreck. If we fixate, fascinated on the scourge, the thorns, the nails, and the blood, and we miss the wondrous theme playing just below that surface… we simply witness a deep drama of horror and cruelty.

Even in grief, we want to remember that undergirding all this… is unspeakable Infinite Love. That’s what all of this is about. This is the act, prepared before the foundations of the cosmos, that embraces all of creation in the arms of Infinite Love… by the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amazing, isn’t it? Amen.

 
 

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Please Forgive You!

Five for Five by Brendan C. under Creative Commons License 2.0; Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brendan-c/5536285460/in/photolist-9rdUMA-39p7Hj-faCoWC-wRWkfM-cyrFgm-pB6G22-aY7PT2-5s3wDn-ahsRVf-cWzXNS-7AoKFK-wbqgZi-5xuTd5-dRqNuF-ayg4m6-pvAtG9-9EQLnf-rfymR8-9fT9tH-8y6YMi-rRugd-mgioUt-evu6n-cv8VGW-7qS37A-brPrfq-eqonTq-6XSNjo-bv9T52-6yW3GR-7G2es1-aFHjbB-hZFWpE-n99svN-oYi4J-n7j6nt-mPv8Un-btqsVy-9GBMYG-eqVuhP-irFqq4-bZHsQU-kue8JM-dBEZyK-tHx8SA-99tqDR-aaTzvB-nuNods-5kanqy-oHwcRN

Five for Five by Brendan C. under Creative Commons License 2.0; Source

“How could I DO that! It’s not fair! It’s not right! That just hurt them too much! How can I say I love then, when I did that?!”

For the past couple posts, “In Love We Trust” and “Please Forgive Him!”, we have been discussing intimacy and the immediate love relationship with the Divine, and how it both reflects and is reflected by, our relationships with one another.The central theme I present (with which you are welcome to disagree if you choose) is:


We cannot truly love those we do not trust. And we cannot truly trust those we do not forgive.


One day, Jesus was asked…

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 22:36-40]

Now, Jesus was only asked about ONE SINGLE commandment. And He answered the question. But notice, He simply COULD NOT leave the statement at that. For Him to address our relationship with God, without addressing two other relationships was simply not acceptable to Him. That would have been wrong. And He refused to do that.

“TWO relationships?” you ask. Yes. It is easy to see that Jesus speaks of our relationship with others here. In fact, time and time again we see this text and that of the Good Samaritan circumscribing Jesus’ understanding of “neighbor”. But there is another entire relationship contained in His simple words “as yourself”. Contrary to a great deal of religious-looking thinking, writing, preaching, teaching… we are NOT to “despise ourselves”.

This may be a strange thought to some, Gentle Reader, but we are to hold ourselves in the same sacred love as we hold others… the same as Jesus holds us… the same as the Father and Spirit hold us. Please, stop, for just a moment, and consider that statement.

Why? Why are we to do this?

Because this is what God does, what God has willed, what God has done.

The Apostle Paul discusses this incredible reality in his letter to the Romans:

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” [Romans 5:6-11]

God loves us FIRST! He loves and came/comes to save SINNERS, the UNRIGHTEOUS, His ENEMIES!

We SAY these things so readily and blithely, Gentle Reader. But so seldom do we stop and think them through. Are you in Christ? Indwelt of the Holy Spirit? Does God hold you in the hollow of His hand? I suspect so. (Otherwise, this isn’t a blog likely to appeal to you, so I trust that to be so.) But beloved brother or sister… just as for myself… that didn’t happen and doesn’t happen because “we got sorted out enough to entertain His presence!” Far from it. He comes to those who NEED Him, and receive Him in that need. It has nothing at all to do with our getting “cleaned up enough to touch Him”… He is the only one who can “clean us” in the first place!

So, why am I bothering to belabor such a fundamental Truth?

Because it is so very easy to forget our own helplessness, as we grow in Him. As we grow, our conscience becomes more sensitive, more attuned to right or wrong, to godliness or dissipation, to purity or depravity, to righteousness or callousness, to love or indifference. We become more aware of the moments when we forget His presence and grace, and act out of appetite, pique, or adrenalin. The Spirit within our conscience points out such moments in our considerations, we know remorse, repentance, and we grow in our understanding, compassion, and love.

It seems an odd thing, but the more we mature in Christ, the more loving we become. But at the same time, our “internal standard” increases as well. Our expectations of ourselves rise, so that often, rather than acknowledging and praising God for our growth (our increase in loving others and decrease in wounding neighbors) we feel more dissatisfied than ever. Our guilt, our shame, our dissatisfaction can increase rather than diminish. There is a subtle trap of darkness here… undermining grace, hope, gratitude… endorsing and affirming pride and a sense of hopelessness or despair.


Now, this post could become a long, scripture-laden, multi-faceted teaching… or we can keep this simple. So I just want to put some ideas our here, let you consider them (prayerfully), and see what you think. I would appreciate comment, response, reaction, and discussion if/as you feel led. So here we go…

  • God loves FIRST. He did. He does. That’s it. We can choose to receive that or not, but we never did, we don’t, and we never will… “merit”… “deserve”… or “get good enough” to deserve or earn that love. We can just reflect it to Him, and refract it to others… but only He IS and RADIATES Love as His very essence and being.
  • In this life we yet walk subject to “glass darkly” incomplete vision and understanding. We know moods, feelings, reactions, adrenalin, illusions and temptations that from time to time we use our free will to choose, in place of God’s will. That is, sometimes we sin, treating one another or even God Himself as less than sacred and holy.
  • When we recover our peace in Him, we become aware of such past moments, and experience remorse, perhaps even shame or guilt. We can respond to such awareness with either of two kinds of sorrow, one that leads to death, the other to repentance.(see 2 Cor 7:10)
  • The sorrow that leads to death haunts us, dwells in a closet of buried regrets, and emerges in our lowest hours to foment a sense of despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt that robs us of any sense of joy or life. It drives us away from God in our shame and the desire to hide from Him. The sorrow that leads to repentance is clear and can be uncomfortable, but seeks light and cleansing and hope. It is a sorrow that seeks to reconcile and render relationships whole again, rather than distant and disrupted.
  • The crucifixion and redemption of Jesus at Calvary, the sacrifice of His blood shed on the cross, was so complete and so perfect that it forgave all sin for all time: past, present, and future. Such that there is no further room in the life of the believer for an ongoing sense of sin, guilt or shame.
  • God, in the crucifixion and redemption, paid for and REMOVED all sin and its stain, from those who believe. As far as east is from the west. There was a Writ of Transgressions (a charge sheet) against us, which has been nailed to the cross and obliterated in Jesus’ blood. Our sins are buried in the deepest abyss of the sea. There are TWO goats in the Atonement Sacrifice, one that dies to pay the price of sin, the other on whom the blood is poured and is driven from the camp (the Scapegoat). There are TWO sets of “books” at the White Throne Judgment: one BOOK (singular), (The Lamb’s Book of Life) containing the names of the redeemed, and the BOOKS (plural) (The Books of Deeds) that are opened ONLY for those NOT in the Book of Life, who are judged according to their deeds.
  • Jesus has clothed us in His own robes of righteousness, which is why and how God sees us (right now!) as clean before Him.

Now, do we all “feel” this, “realize” this, walk in full “awareness” of this all the time every day? No! We yet experience our own frailties and faults, failures and missed marks day after day. Nonetheless, God has already woven all of that, and this, into His plans, His tapestry of time… and it is all accounted for in His will.

“Forgiveness” is a yes/no proposition in life. Either we choose a universe where Forgiveness exists… for ALL… or we do not. Forgive others. Yes. Forgive God. Assuredly. But also… of great importance… Forgive yourself!

So many people “stand apart” from God, because there is something in their past (or even their present) that THEY cannot forgive, so they dare not embrace Holy God.

Know what? He knows about that. He always did. He knew about it before you did. He knew about it before you did it, before you knew it was wrong, before you repented it. He LOVES you… and LOVED you BEFORE you did it, WHILE you did it, and now. He does not, and never has, despised you or been ashamed of you.

So here’s the challenge: If God Himself loves, forgives, and embraces you (and me)… knowing full well (even better than we do) all our shortcomings, vulnerabilities, failures and habits… who are we to condemn ourselves and retain our shame and guilt? If Jesus Himself DIED, according to both His and the Father’s will… to FREE us from sin, guilt, and shame… is there any merit in holding on to those despite His sacrifice?

Do you have faults, Gentle Reader? So do I.

Does an “accountability list”, or an inventory “examination of conscience” sometimes seem to fill you with despair or disgust? Well, I do that sometimes.

But it took a really REALLY long time, before Jesus sat me down one day, hugged me, and said, “I know every stumble every time, and I always have. I know every flaw and failing, and I always have. And yet I chose to die for you, knowing all that, just because I love you that much and I want you to embrace Me as I embrace you. Now… if you are ‘good enough for Me’ just as you are, will you please let yourself be ‘good enough for you, too’? Since *I* forgive you… will YOU please forgive you, too? If you can quit focusing so much on the stumbles and frailties, and focus on My embrace, instead… you’ll find you stumble a lot less.”

So there you go, Gentle Reader. Since He has forgiven you so much, and gone to such trouble to make it so and take all stain (past, present, and future) from you… Please forgive you, too! It’s a choice we make. We can live WITH forgiveness… or not. It’s entirely up to us.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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The Aircraft Stall — Forgiveness is Counter Intuitive

450px-Deep_stall.svgGreetings, Gentle Reader. Yes, you have dialed in to the correct blog, and this is NOT an aviation or ground school post.

Don Merritt has been doing an excellent series of posts on “Forgiveness” throughout the month of February, and I recommend you give it a solid read at The Life Project.

I mentioned, a little bit ago, that once upon a time I flew little airplanes. (Granted, in my daughter’s view, that was slightly after the invention of fire… but nonetheless…)

Now, there is no question in my mind that my very favorite part of flight training covered “Stalls and Spins”. No kidding. I LOVE roller coasters, acceleration, and all sensations of speed or weightlessness. Dunno why, can’t explain it, won’t try… that just is what it is.

What has any of this got to do with God, prayer, Jesus, the Bible, or Forgiveness? Well, as I woke today I found this odd illustration sitting before me with my coffee, so if it works for you I thought I would share.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Flying, this extremely cool thing we do from time to time, takes this heavy metal object… an aircraft... and suspends and transports it from one place to another… flying… supported by NOTHING that we can SEE… air. (I mean, think about it… if you have positivist friends who deny the “rationality” of “faith”, have them consider “flying” for a moment or two.) 

Now, granted we can place our flat hand outside a car window and demonstrate the “substance”, the “impact” of this “invisible air”, as our hands are pushed around while we speed forward. But it took thousands of years for our human interaction with “wind” to result in “flight”. For all that time, all the time man looked up at the birds and dreamt of flight, it was only imagination, fantasy, dream, or… faith. Then, one day over a century ago, that faith became fact. But still, we cannot SEE the “principles”, the “lift”, the “air curving over airfoil” that results in “flight”.  For most of us, as we sit in our passenger cabin seats, this is all still a matter of faith.

We look outside the aircraft at 30,000 feet… we look down at the roads, the forests, the farms… above us or below us we see nothing holding us up… hmm. Flight itself is “counter intuitive”. It doesn’t LOOK like it should work. Yet, it does.

This is not magic. This happens because of natural laws. Flight happens because this is simply “how things WORK”. It IS natural, it simply does not appear so to our senses. Flight appears paradoxical.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And there is where this whole thing ties up to “forgiveness”.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect… For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” [Matthew 5:43-48;6:14-15]

So…. really… what does this all have to do with airplanes, airfoils (wings), and stalls?

Just this…

Airplanes fly because this “invisible air” flows over a particular shape (the wing, the airfoil), and because of how fluids flow (natural law), “Lift” results. It’s all extremely cool. Looks like magic. Looks like miracle. (‘Tis, in a way.) But it’s physics, natural law, it’s just “how things work”.

So what’s that got to do with a stall, and what is a “stall”, anyhow? Well, if your airplane is just flying along (straight and level, nose nice and even on the horizon… right where it belongs), and you pull back on the controls to raise the nose, and keep doing that, three things will happen in rather rapid succession… (1) your nose will rise and you will gain some altitude (at the same time, disrupting that nice smooth flow of air over the wing); (2) since you reduce your airflow over the wing and present a “flatter” profile to the air you’re hitting you’ll slow down… a LOT; and (3) when your airspeed is no longer sufficient to generate the Lift that supports your aircraft, you become a really big, really cool, paperweight… and will drop like a rock from the sky.  (Or so my Instructor explained it to me the first time, as we prepared to do this a few times. I thought it sounded cool, and enjoyed the next hour immensely.)

Now! Here’s the absolutely spiffiest part. Let’s suppose, under competent adult supervision, you get to do precisely this… you’re flying along, you check that you’re all alone up there, you rapidly drag your controls into your gut, you swing upwards (like a kid on a swing, skyward) until gravity and lift are equal, and your nose drops like a rock as you look down at the ground approaching….(at a faster rate than you’re really comfortable with).

Suppose you do that… Soooo… now what? You don’t WANT to reach ground under the influence of gravity alone…

Well, let me tell you what you WANT to do, what your reflexes are telling you, what’s the “intuitive right thing” to do…

You want to raise the nose back up to that good old “straight and level” position. You want everything back to normal, back to OK. And if you do this, this intuitive thing, you will continue to drop like a stone to an inevitable (and unfortunate) conclusion. That “invisible air stuff” will work against you, you won’t get that smooth flow back, and gravity will win.

Instead, you want to do something absolutely contrary to every instinct and quick-reasoned in you… You need to apply power and LOWER the nose below the horizon, working WITH gravity for a time, to get that invisible air stuff moving across the wing again. When you do, you’ll restore lift, and be able to control your flight out of the drop and back to where you want to fly.

The diligent pilot (or the student of a diligent instructor) practices this over and over, reducing the recovery time and distance to a minimum, since that whole “dropping like a rock” thing can be really hazardous to your health.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What’s the point? To do this maneuver properly, to execute this skill… necessary to operate an aircraft responsibly, you must do the COUNTER intuitive thing. Just to talk about it, doesn’t seem to make sense. But, is it “magic”, is it inexplicable? No. It just is truth grounded in natural law… it’s the right thing to do because it’s the way things work. This is how gravity and air work. This is how fluids work. Things are just “wired” this way.

Magical thinking would propose that it’s some kind of “deal” or “test” with the earth, with gravity, with death… As if they say, “OK, I’m gonna grab you and slap you towards the ground. Now, if you’ll steer into me and accelerate, I’ll release you and let you live!” Now, that sort of explanation may sort out the sequence of facts, and I suppose if you trained pilots to “keep these rules, or else…” you’d get a lot of compliance. But it seems to miss the point pretty solidly.

What if “forgiveness”, as God instructs us to deal with it, is like flying?

What if He instructs just because “this is how things work”?

What if He simply says… “Hey, forgive others because then you can receive forgiveness!”

And what if, rather than imagining Him as a “Merchant, measuring payments made”, or “Examination proctor, seeing if you pass before He gives the passing grade”…

What if He points out a reality that there are “Forgiving Hearts”, and “Unforgiving Hearts”?

What if the reason we can only RECEIVE as much forgiveness as we are willing to GIVE, has everything to do with OUR capacity to engage forgiveness… and nothing at all to do with HIS?

I mean, to me…

God has already more than demonstrated and revealed His heart and attitude about forgiveness. For Jesus to utter “forgiveness” for either: (a) all the sins of the world, and/or (b) those gathered to mock, jeer, throw garbage at Him, etc. at the Cross while He died for them…

And, perhaps even more incomprehensible, for God the Father to hear and GRANT such a prayer from Jesus, as He watches what happens…

No, Gentle Reader, I can’t see any question at all about God’s commitment to forgiveness.

So, if the “conditionality” of forgiveness doesn’t rest with God… then, hmmmm… what if it entirely rests with US?

For me, this realization long ago, changed everything. God doesn’t tell me I am forgiven as I forgive because HE WITHOLDS otherwise. He tells me this because to the extent I reject the forgiveness of others who offend me… to that extent I harden myself and my heart against receiving His forgiveness OF me.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, do I love to fly without the worry of falling like a rock from the sky? Yes? Well, then I will maintain airflow over the wing, and when necessary (should I stall), I will aim INTO gravity to keep things working the way they should.

And do I love to live without the bitterness and shadows of heart that I embrace by holding a sense of debt over slights and offenses of others? Yes? Then I will maintain a ready flow of grace through my heart, and when necessary (should someone wound me) release that sense of debt or obligation as quickly as I recognize it to keep my joy, peace, love, and humor in the way that makes me happy.

It just makes more sense to me that way!

Grace to thee, Gentle Reader. — The Little Monk

 
3 Comments

Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Conditional Forgiveness

Sunrise CrossI’ve just been watching a documentary about a tragedy filled with deception. One of the commentators, a Clinical Psychologist, discussed recovery by one of the victims and said…

“Ultimately, it may be that what needs to happen for there to be a rapprochement between Jessi and her mom is that there will have to be some forgiveness. But there’s a problem with me saying that. I submit to Jessi, if I was speaking to Jessi right now, I would say, ‘Jessi, there’s a rule of forgiveness. Never forgive those who are not repentant.’ You see, until her mother can come to terms with and take responsibility for the magnitude of her evil, she is not repentant. And if she is not repentant, she is not forgivable.”  [Rex Beaber, Clinical Psychologist, Talhotblonde, MM 1:05:56].

By the way, I am NOT recommending the movie to you, available on Netflix. I watch such things because of my work. But they are often quite dark.

But I was arrested by Dr. Beaber’s comment. I was pleased that he is a clinical psychologist, not a minister. But to be honest, I’ve often heard the same statement uttered by ministers or other Christian or church leaders. Every time I hear it, it wounds my heart, but it is seldom my place or role in that context to point out what Jesus taught about this.

I just needed to respond to that urge here, briefly, this morning.

Dr. Beaber recommends “conditional forgiveness”. In fact, he states there is a Rule of it (though he does not cite any source or authority for that rule).

Jesus, on the other hand, taught this about forgiveness…

“‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…’ For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive [i]others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” [Matthew 6:12, 14]

No mention here of repentance by the person who offends you… In fact, as to offense, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 13 for a moment…

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” [Verses 4-7]

For many years I lived under the delusion that someone had to be “repentant” for me to have the duty to “forgive” them. Where did I get this idea? I have no excuses. What pride! Who am I, how am I to know if someone’s heart is repentant or not? That is the domain of God alone, well above my pay grade. All I can ever know is what they say to me or do to me, and God looks at the heart… well above my pay grade, thanks.

Jesus teaches a straightforward truth… God forgives me, therefore I am to forgive others. It’s a “command”, a “requirement”, not a “deal” or a “suggestion”.

Jesus gives a command…A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” [John 13:34-35]

There’s no evidence that Jesus ever “held grudges” or allowed unforgiveness in His presence. He often told people their sins were forgiven them, but very seldom did people ask for that forgiveness or exhibit repentance.

Last, but beyond all else…

Jesus sets the example He expects us to follow…When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying,Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.” [Luke 23:33-34]

Repentance? Hardly! Not only does HE forgive, but He prays that the FATHER forgive… people who are cursing, vilifying, mocking, and spitting at Him.

Even more amazing? If we can imagine such a thing… either the Father HONORS that prayer, and FORGIVES… who?… well, All of us, right? All of us whose sins piled into Jesus that afternoon. All of us who crucified Him in our fallenness? Anyway, either the Father Honors Jesus’ prayer… or else the Father refused Jesus.

I know which I believe to be true. I know Jesus forgives before repentance. I know in my own life, it is often experiencing forgiveness I don’t deserve, that opens the way for repentance I would not permit.

Not sure where Dr. Beaber found his “Rule”, but I know where mine come from… and Jesus simply requires me to Forgive… and leave judgment of repentance to Him and the Father and Spirit.

Grace to thee, Gentle Reader. — The Little Monk

 

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To Love Enough to Lose

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” (John 6:66-67 NASB)

“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:9-15 NASB)

Gentle Readers, we are this day in an extraordinary memorial time… Holy Saturday… the Sabbath Day between the Crucifixion and the glorious Resurrection Day of Easter. We have come through what is, in many traditions, a time of preparation called Lent. In my own life, this has often been an extraordinary time when God teaches and transforms, renewing the mind and deepest recesses of my heart bringing some new understanding of life, of love, of Him, to this ever-so-stumbling child that I am.

Now, this year has been more extraordinary than any other, and I’m not going to try to describe here the picture God has carefully been painting, stroke by stroke, layer by layer, onto the canvas of my soul. For one thing, while I can now discern its outlines and contours, the work is not finished yet… and description would be incomplete and inappropriate.

But I CAN testify, and glorify Him, and witness to the marvel that is His grace and patience teaching so slow a learner as I… and share just a glimpse of the texture He weaves through Scripture and His Heart.

Without bogging down in detail, God has drawn a number of incredible threads and themes into my life across recent months… and been braiding them, harmonizing them, into a challenge that I understand, comprehend, embrace deeply into my heart and spirit, the texture of HIS heart regarding love, forgiveness, wholeness, healing. Everything He has taught, everything He has challenged, everything He has illuminated in scripture has keyed on a singular theme… “Relationship”. On “love as I love”. On how HE sees sacred lives, on how He defines relationships, and how He commands communion.

In these last intense weeks approaching tomorrow, you may recall my struggles with the idea of “forgiveness” when called to work towards the healing of victims subjected to unspeakable offenses. How do I love the “offender” as strongly and purely as the “victim”? For so Jesus has challenged me to do. How do I grow strong enough to absorb an indescribable amount of vicarious hurt and damage from innocents as I work with them, without reflexively curling up to defend my trembling heart to shield it in an armoring layer of “professionalism” and “clinical detachment”? How do I answer a challenge to take no offense at anything at all, to pour myself out without hesitation or reservation, in a pure one-way flow of grace and love… regardless of feedback? How does one yield sufficiently to “Christ in me, the hope of glory”… to Christ-likeness… to the Indwelling Spirit… that one gives, one loves, one speaks the words one is called to speak, that one embraces any and every sacred child of God equally and infinitely, without even KNOWING OR CARING whether they receive and respond to that love… or reject it… or even reject you and your heart and motives entirely and vilify, accuse, and alienate from you instead?

So big… the picture of God’s heart. Too big to get down here.

But a couple bits, a couple strokes, will fit on this page.

“Relationships”

That is a contour we can fit here.

And this… a strange one… “I don’t care!”

I found myself saying this a great deal a while ago. I would struggle with challenges… tasks or frustrations or obstacles that seemed to entwine themselves and keep me from meeting my goals. And I would ponder and fret, trying to find a solution to situations or problems that seemed too convoluted to untangle. And I would find myself figuratively throwing up my hands in frustration at my own inadequacies, saying “I don’t care” HOW this is supposed to work out, I’m just going to move forward step-by-step, blind as I am, following what dim light I can make out, and not care about outcome, process, or mechanics.

The phrase made me uncomfortable.

“I don’t care,” is not a series of words that fall frequently from my lips. They reflected a deep sense of weakness and sense of inadequacy. I am not accustomed to a sense of “incapacity” or futility, and the jarring nature of hearing such words in my ears made me stop and examine… was I leaving the path? Was I tarrying in darkness or shadow? Was I yielding, in my pain, to a sense of despair or doubting of grace and God’s sovereign capacity? I offered my heart, this weakly pulsing, perhaps doubting, heart to Jesus, asking, “If I am out of order, if I am looking elsewhere but You, please recapture my attention and focus!”

Jesus comforted…. that no, I was not disoriented… I was yet securely focused on Him, but we were passing through a dark place and I did not yet understand, did not yet see, what He was trying to teach and show me… but it was a process, and this was all progress, and I was to be patient… both with Him and with myself. That yet, He Himself, was teaching me the phrase, “I don’t care”. But that I, of my humanity and experience of life thus far, took the phrase to mean I would not pour myself out for others, that I did not or would not love or allow grace to flow through me to others. And that perception and perspective was NOT me or my heart.

But Jesus challenged me to embrace the phrase, not reject or deny it, but allow it… realizing that it had another meaning as well. I had only seen half the story. To wait, to keep allowing, keep absorbing, keep embracing anything and everything He brought into my day, and allow Him to grow me to see the phrase another way.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Yesterday, Good Friday, I got it. I understood.

Tomorrow, Easter, I will understand more.

But to wrap this up…. to invite you along, Gentle Reader… on this journey and challenge, here’s what I have come to understand as of yesterday!

The verses quoted at the opening of this post reflect an amazing truth. They say, through Jesus’ very words and actions….

“I don’t care!”

That is, they point out that Jesus’ is going to think, do, say, and love PRECISELY as the Father does, wills, and flows through Jesus. What Jesus thinks, does, says, and how He loves…. has NOTHING AT ALL to do with how His disciples, now “friends”, respond to that.

Whether they come or go. Whether they believe or deny. Whether they obey or sleep. Whether they remain with Him or flee into the night….

JESUS DOESN’T CARE! HE JUST LOVES THEM, AND LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THEM.

There’s two ways of “not caring”. One is not to love in the first place, and to refuse to put oneself out for the other. The second way is to pour oneself out fully for the other, give oneself with abandon, to God’s expression of love to and for the other, without counting the cost or conditioning that by what we “get back FROM the other”.

Jesus, without hesitation, condition, or remainder, literally poured out His life’s blood for…

His friends the disciples (all but one of whom abandoned Him in His loneliest hours)… for you… for me… (and I’ll confess, I’ve never come CLOSE to being His most grateful friend)… for the jeering crowds surrounding Him who blasphemed, spat upon, and threw garbage at Him… and, frankly (scripture says)… for all who fell in Adam. (As in Adam all men sinned… so…)

Bottom Line: “I don’t care” is an incredibly important phrase that I needed to learn to embrace.

GRACE FLOWS ONE WAY ONLY! Father to Son. Son (through Spirit) to us. And then… in Him… from and through us to others and into the world He provides around the creation that is our lives with which He graces us each and every day.

It is the same lesson with which He opened His ministry at Sermon on the Mount!

I am to LOVE. I am to FORGIVE. I am to BLESS. I am to SPEAK FORTH THE GOOD NEWS OF HIS HEART. Wholly, totally, and without remainder, condition, or measurement of the cost or the nature of response of the “sacred other” with whom I am relating.

Why?

Because this is how He loves us. This is how He loves me. And, if I am His, then I am to love others… ANY others… ALL others… exactly the same way.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Keep me in your prayers, Gentle Readers. Yet a work in progress. I can almost see the picture now. Just a few more brushstrokes and He will be done. When? When will I get to see the unveiling? When He says so. And how soon is that? Exactly what will it all look like?

I don’t care.

And that, is good.

 
 

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Does God Think Upside Down?

Ever had those days where God is teaching you something… or rather… He HAS TAUGHT you something… and you get it (you think)… but He just keeps teaching it to you over and over again as if you had never heard Him in the first place?

This happened to me once before, years and years ago, when I was listening to some teaching on an audiotape about forgiveness… and the speaker said this phrase, this critically important phrase… and I GOT IT… I thought. But God just kept saying, “Nope, you missed it. Rewind. Play it again.” And He just kept on keeping me at this for 30 minutes, until finally it was like a dam burst in my soul and suddenly I really got it, all the way through me, and my life was never the same. I’ve spent the rest of my life trying to share this phrase with the rest of the world. The phrase, by the way, was…

“The power of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, the strength of His blood and forgiveness, was so complete and so perfect that it forgave all sin for all time, past, present, and future… and removed it from us, as far as the east is from the west… such that there is no further room in the life of the Believer for any ongoing sense of sin, guilt, or shame.”

And while my “head” and my “mouth” could have said this for years, I’d always secretly lived in the little “Perry Mason Heresy”… thinking that while I would, indeed, get to heaven because I belong(ed) to Him… I was still going to have to go through some ridiculous and shameful “courtroom scene” when I died, trying to justify or explain all the stupid things I’d ever done in this life. Somehow I had managed for years, even in ministry, to miss the significance and implications of “take away sins”, or “washed whiter than snow”, or “putting on the righteousness of Christ”.

I was free! Totally and utterly free! Free to respond fully and wholly to the magnitude of such love! O my… changed me forever.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Well, that was a long time ago… and yet, here I am again, hearing the truth, knowing the truth, believing the truth, and yet hearing God say to me… “Nope, you missed it. Hear it again!”

Perhaps ye can help me, Gentle Readers, for I truly think I’ve “got this”. And yet… I am convicted that I’m missing its true significance.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What am I missing, you ask? Glad you asked.
* hears echoes of ‘what then do I yet lack?’ *

It’s this truth…

God… forgives… FIRST!

I mean, it’s simple and obvious, isn’t it?

“God so loved the world that He gave…” (Jn 3:26)

or “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8 NASB)

Tol’ja it was simple, didn’t I? And yet… and yet… I’m not getting it, not fully, not yet.

I almost know where my problem is. It’s this little niggling hiccup… like a tickle in the throat. It’s this temptation to say, “Yes, but…” in recognition of our traditional thinking that says, “in order to be forgiven, we have to be sorry, we have to say so, we have to feel guilty, and we have to resolve never to do it again!” I mean, if we don’t do all those things, if we don’t beg God on our knees for His gracious forgiveness, trembling in fear… then it can’t really be God, can it?

I mean really, be honest, aren’t you cut from the same cloth? Isn’t there this little knee-jerk conditioned part of you that says, “Well, grace is all well and good, but after all… not even GOD can be THAT Good! I mean, we’ve at least got to feel bad and be sorry… even if we don’t need to totally BEG!”

I mean, really… we must have to do SOMETHING… haven’t we? I mean, we can’t be supposed to really just depend on GOD… HIMSELF… ALONE… to deal with our forgiveness and redemption, are we? He must need us for SOMETHING, doesn’t He?

Here’s the essence of my niggle and conscience.

I get it… I do… really… Grace. God Alone. God did it. God does it. His sovereignty. His authority.

And yet… and yet…

God says, “Nope, you’ve missed it. Go back over that again!”

And so I do.

And it is just so amazing, I guess I struggle to let my head wrap around it.

We get it so backwards. Like that WE have to start all this. WE have to conceive of a grace and love so big it encompasses the possibility of forgiveness and redemption. WE have to suggest it to God. WE have to persuade Him to this path. Like its all OUR idea rather than His.

Really? REALLY??

How can I even START to think this way!?

But even now, God says…

“Behold…”

And this singular image comes to my eyes. Jesus saying, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing…”

And I ask myself, “How many of THEM are sorry or seeking that forgiveness? So… Who does that forgiveness depend on, them? Or Him and HIs will alone?”

So… which came first… Contrition, or Forgiveness?

Is it possible, is it just possible, that perhaps it is God’s forgiveness, the grace that flows from and through that, that makes it possible for us to experience repentance and contrition?

Am I the only one who tends to think backwards?

So a work in progress, Gentle Reader. Keep me in your prayers!

Grace to you!

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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