Sunday, May 01, 2016

Love, not Fear, Must Govern Behavior

I, like many Christians, have lived many years being uptight and fearful, almost obsessed with fear of making mistakes or "wrong" decisions or of being in doctrinal error or "missing God's will" or just not being spiritual enough, etc, etc. Since discovering and moving into a wider place in God, I've found that some Christians are even offended by the idea that we don't have to fear God's disapproval or fear that we are going to "miss His best". Shane Hipps says the following in his book Selling Water by the River:

"Those of us raised in Christianity often live with a lot of fear. Fear that we are doing it wrong (whatever 'it' is). Fear that some unfamiliar idea might hurt us. Fear that God may not like who we are, or what we've done, or what we think. Fear that a particular interpretation of the Bible is hurting the Bible or even God. Fear that we, or others, might be offending God, who apparently has quite fragile feelings, and a hair-triggered temper. Some religious people are even afraid that other people are not frightened enough."

Hipps goes on to say that fear has a legitimate initial role in our early formation in God in that it teaches us what is needed in order to stay safe (comparable to teaching a child to 'fear' a hot stove):

"Fear is a developmental ingredient in the life of faith. It is useful in learning to prevent harm and nurture wisdom ...and helps us develop basic impulse control...But fear also has some serious limits...

"The first stage of development is a much safer place to be...But as we grow, we are more and more moved and opened by Love, or God...fear is about closure and contraction, whereas Love is about opening and expansion. Love by nature is free from fear. The process of becoming open by Love can be unnerving, and it is not for the faint of heart. Doubts emerge when what we thought were solid foundations begin to feel like shifting sands beneath our feet. Love opens us more and more to a freedom that moves us beyond self-justification, self-protection, and self-preservation...

"If we are to access the Living Water Jesus promised, ultimately Love must become the only thing that governs behavior, not fear...Love does not do away with all boundaries; instead, it makes use of them in ways that serve the purpose of Love. 

"As we grow, the question we learn to ask moves from What is right or wrong? to What does Love require?"...fear is actually the absence of Love, not the opposite (of Love)...ridding ourselves of fear is as simple as letting Love in."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Nothing in Our Conditioning Prepares Us for Grace

In the book, Addiction and Grace, the following words by Gerald G. May resonate strongly with what I have discovered and continue to discover about God's grace :

"Grace is only truly appreciated and expressed in the actual, immediate experience of real life can only be 'lived into.'

"Living into the mystery of grace requires encountering grace as a real gift. Grace is not earned. it is not accomplished or achieved. It is not extracted through manipulation or seduction. It is just given. Nothing in our conditioning prepares us for this radical reality. Some would say that early childhood experiences with our parents is important in determining how we come to accept grace in later life. If we had loving, trustworthy parents rather than rejecting or unreliable ones, we would grow up more willing to accept God's grace as a gift. I do not think this is so. We all have trouble accepting the radical giftedness of God's grace, no matter what our childhood experience. God's grace is simply not part of our conditioning. Nor can we make it so, though we are sure to try. All our attempts to control the flow of grace will be frustrated because, like God, grace will not become an object for attachment. 

"Because grace is a pure gift, the most meaningful of our encounters with it will probably come at unintended times, when we are caught off-guard, when our manipulative systems are at rest or otherwise occupied. But still we can pray for grace, actively seek it, and try to relax our hands to receive it..."

Jesus, You are full of grace and truth; come to us and empower us to receive this radical gift of grace!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Story of the Enabler Father

We've grown accustomed to hearing the word "enabler" as a negative word describing someone who is enabling a loved one to get away with behavior that isn't healthy.

Jesus' famous story of the 'prodigal son' paints a picture of a father who today would be called an enabler. He doesn't hold his wayward son accountable; in fact, when the son asks prematurely for his inheritance, the father gives it to him in spite of the fact that the request implies that the son has little consideration for his father. Then later when the son returns, the father receives him with celebration with not a word of scolding but pure joy and welcoming.

If we judged this father's actions by our standards, we would call him a weak father. And perhaps he is; but if we call him a weak father, then we are calling the heavenly Father weak. And perhaps He is...

But what if God's weakness is stronger than our idea of power and strength? What if God's foolishness is wiser than our idea of wisdom and knowledge?

Could it be that God enables His children to come to Him through being an Enabler who lavishly and joyfully receives us without pointing out what we've done wrong and what we need to get straightened out?

If so, then those who have named this story "the story of the prodigal father" are correct, because the father in this story doesn't conform to our rules.

In the Luke 15 story Jesus doesn't tell us what life was like after the homecoming, because that's not Jesus' point in telling it. He is showing us what Father is like, and if we get that, then we will be enabled to know what should come after the homecoming celebration in our particular story.

Maybe another title for this story could be "The Story of the Enabler Father"...

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Happy Ones, According to Jesus

In the Beatitudes from Matthew 5, Jesus tells us who the happy ones are:

Matthew 5:3-10 (NRSV):
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

A good exercise to practice is to rewrite a portion of scripture in your own words. I have rewritten this portion in the following way:

3 Those who "own" nothing are the happy ones, because when nothing belongs to them, they own everything that God values.
4 Those who grieve and are sad over loss in their life are the happy ones because they have gained the capacity to receive comfort from the One who best understands loss. 
5 Those who accept themselves, enjoying who they are and who others are without competition or rivalry or envy are the happy ones, because someday they will inherit all that belongs to them in God.
6 Those who want God's justice system to prevail more than they want any human ideas of justice (including their own) are the happy ones, because the day will come when they will understand well what God's justice is like and find it to be fully satisfying for all.
7 Those who gladly extend mercy to the undeserving are the happy ones, because they will receive mercy when they don't deserve it!
8 Those who are honest and sincere at the core of their being are the happy ones, because they are the ones who will see and understand God fully one day.
9 Those who work to heal fractured and hostile relationships in a rivalrous and violent world are the happy ones, because when they do this, people see and acknowledge God's family likeness in them.
10 Those who face difficulties and misunderstanding because they have made choices in line with God's kingdom values are the happy ones, because that very kingdom and its ways belong to them!

You may want to write your own version. A good exercise would be to meditate on this portion with imagination, asking the Spirit of God to etch these realities deeply on your heart and mind until Jesus' measurement of what counts overrides the loud voices around us that continually tell us what counts.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lent #8: Resurrection Day - Events which Blew the World Apart and Put It Back in a New Way

This final post in the series from NT Wright's book, Lent for Everyone - Matthew, is taken from 'Easter Day' and is based on the portion in Matthew 28:1-10. This is Matthew's account of Jesus' resurrection:

"Earthquakes, angels, women running to and fro, a strange command...Nobody thought in the first century, and nobody should think now, that the point of the Easter story is that it is quite a reasonable thing to happen...No. It was always a strange, crazy, wild story...If Jesus of Nazareth really was the Son of God...What else would you expect? A calm restatement of some philosophical truths for sage old greybeards to ponder - or events which blew the world apart and put it back in a new way?"

Wright goes on to talk about the role of the women in this story and how they were not considered reliable witnesses in a court of law. The fact that the Gospel writers acknowledge their role in witnessing to the resurrection is a strong case that they weren't making this story up! God always chooses the weak things of the world to confound the strong...

"But the main thing is that, once more, they are told not to be afraid (vs 5). What is there to be afraid of, if Easter has dealt with the greatest monster of all, death itself? Why should you be afraid of anything, if Jesus has been raised from the dead, if the old world has cracked open and a new world has been born?

"And Easter always looks outward. From the very start, the news that Jesus is risen contains a command: 'Go!' Go, first to Galilee; go back to where it began, back to your roots to meet the risen Jesus there and watch him transform everything, including your oldest memories. And, as you obey the command of the angel, Jesus himself may perhaps meet you in person (vs 9). Take hold of him. Worship him. This is his day, the Day of Days. Make it yours too."

"We praise you, Lord Jesus Christ, because you have overcome death, and opened God's new creation to all believers."

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Lent #7: A Holy Saturday Moment - Nothing To Do Except Wait

Today's post is from the 'Holy Week: Holy Saturday' reading of Lent for Everyone - Matthew by NT Wright. He shares from Matthew 27:57-66, the story of Joseph of Arimathea's request and action concerning the body of Jesus, the women sitting outside the tomb, and the request of the religious leaders to Pilate to secure the tomb.

Wright comments that they tried to keep Jesus safely dead and still do today..."Sometimes, though, we Christians need to observe a Holy Saturday moment. On Holy Saturday, there is nothing you can do except wait. The Christian faith suffers great defeats...

"But God will do what God will do, in God's own time. The world can plot and plan, but all of that will count for nothing when the victory already won on the cross turns into the new sort of victory on the third day...Who knows what will happen next, after the sneering and scheming of the skeptics of our day? Our part is to keep Holy Saturday in faith and hope...

"And there is usually something to be done in the present, even when times are sad and hard. It took considerable courage for Joseph of Arimathea to go to Pontius Pilate and ask for Jesus' body. Peter and the others had run away to hide because they were afraid...Joseph had no such qualms, even after Jesus' death.

"Some of Jesus' followers might well have thought that, if the Romans had crucified him, he can't have been the Messiah, so he must have been a charlatan...But Joseph didn't see it that way.

"...We aren't sure why we've got to this place, why things aren't going as we wanted or planned, and the life seems to have drained out of it all. That's a Holy Saturday moment. Do what has to be done, and wait for God to act in his own way and his own time."

"Help us, gracious Lord, to wait for your victory, and in the meantime to serve you in whatever way we can."

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Lent #6: It Isn't Me, Is It?

This week I've chosen the 'Week 5: Saturday' reading in this series from NT Wright's Lent for Everyone - Matthew. His commentary is based on a lengthy portion from Matthew 26 & 27, focusing on the intimate gathering of Jesus and his disciples shortly before his crucifixion. In this gathering Jesus tells them that one of them will betray him. Wright comments on the disciples' reaction:

"It isn't me, is it?"

"...We often wonder what it was that made Judas do it. Perhaps we should also ask what it was that held the others back. They, like Judas, had misunderstood so much. They still didn't realize what it was Jesus had to do. There is a worried humility about their question which we would do well to imitate as we approach the narrative of Jesus' last moments...Read (this story) with the question in mind, 'Lord, it isn't me, is it?' and see what answer you get.

"Because it is me - and you, and all of us...We have all been loyal and yet disloyal. We have all wanted to do the right thing and then run away when the going got tough. We have all colluded with injustice, stayed silent when we should have spoken out, and then perhaps blurted out some give-away remark when we should have shut up. And we have all stood by scenes of sorrow and tragedy, not knowing what to say or do but feeling that somehow, of only, we could or should have prevented it...Many (of us) have hurled insults at Jesus...

"Find yourself in the story, wherever you are. Only then, perhaps, can we ask the question in a different way. Because from the earliest days of the church's life the followers of Jesus told this story for another reason. The story of Jesus became their story, in the sense that they believed they had died with Jesus; they had suffered with him, been crucified with him, been buried with him. Somehow - and this mystery lies at the very heart of authentic Christian experience - ...they were living in Jesus and he was living in them...

"'Lord - is it me? Is it me, facing misunderstanding and betrayal? Is it me, praying in agony, being arrested, tried and unjustly condemned, abandoned by my friends, mocked, beaten up, stripped and hung up to die in shame?' As you read this story in faith, we should hear the answer, life-transforming as it is: 'Yes, it is you. This is who you are now. You are not the person you once were. You are the person to whom all this has happened...You are in me and I am in you. You have died; your life is hidden, with me, in the life of God himself.'

"When St. Paul speaks of being 'in Christ', this is basically what he died with him, were nailed to the cross with him, were buried with him. This is who you now are...Easter and all that follows gives a further dimension...(but) it is through Jesus' crucifixion that he becomes what he was born to be: the saviour...: by extending his arms on the cross, enfolding us in that God-with-us embrace, and bringing us with him through death into a whole new life."

"Thank you, loving Lord. Thank you." 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Lent (#5): Gold Remains Hidden and Takes Some Finding

This week's post is from the Week 4 - Tuesday writing from N.T. Wright's Lent for Everyone - Matthew. In this reading the author comments on Matthew 20:1-16, the story Jesus tells about the workers who show up late in the day and gets paid the same amount as those who worked all day.

Wright applies this story on three levels: 1) Jesus reminds his followers that God is sovereign over his kingdom and no one can claim a special place because they've worked hard or given up a lot or have been with him from the start. 2) Jesus' story reminds the Jews that it has always been God's plan to humble the exalted and exalt the humbled; that although Israel is special in God's heart, the gospel and the kingdom are for all people, Jews and Gentiles. God is without partiality and won't favor one over the other.

The third level at which Wright applies this story has to do with our daily life of faith, and he says the following:

"Our western 'celebrity' culture favors those who manage to push themselves to the front, whether it's the people with the most obvious talents or the stars with the sharpest agents. Sadly, that can spill over into the life of the church: famous preachers and leaders get attention and the 'ordinary' Christian becomes a passive spectator. We need, again and again, to learn that there are no such people as 'ordinary' Christians. In the 'renewal of all things' which Jesus spoke about (19:28), all sorts of people will stand out as the real heroes and heroines of faith, though nobody has ever heard of them before. They will be the ones who, whether for five minutes or fifty years, served God with total and glad obedience, giving themselves completely to holiness, prayer and works of love and mercy. Such people are the pure gold of the church. But, as so often, gold remains hidden and takes some finding."

"Gracious Lord, help us to be humble enough to take whatever place we are given, and zealous enough to work wholeheartedly for your glory where and when you call us."

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Lent (#4): Cutting the Phone Line to Avoid Unwanted Callers then Wondering Why We Can't Call Our Best Friend

This week's Lent posting comes from the Week 3 Saturday reading of NT Wright's Lent for Everyone -Matthew. He writes from the teaching of Jesus about forgiveness in Matthew 18. He suggests that this teaching should be applied to at least three levels of our lives: the very personal everyday level in which we practice forgiving the little offenses and irritations that come our way; the second level is the deep psychological level of forgiving those who have sinned against us in our past, particularly those in our family; and the third level is prayer for forgiveness at the macro level in society recognizing that the day will come when God will deal once and for all with all debts of every kind in history (called the Jubilee year by the Israelites).

The following quote pertains to the second level of forgiveness; the author is telling a story about a young woman who found herself incapable of receiving the love of God even though she wanted to receive it. Eventually the truth came out that she hated her parents...

"She resented the sort of people they were, the way they had treated her. So she had closed up her heart. Where there should have been an open readiness for God's love, there was a steel wall. It was as though you cut off the telephone line to stop certain people ringing you up and then grumbled because you couldn't phone your best friend. Forgiveness and love are a two-way street. The same part of you spiritually both gives and receives. If you shut down the part labeled 'forgiveness', you shut down the part labeled 'forgiveness' in both directions...

"Jesus was the Great Jubilee in person...Forgiveness wasn't an incidental feature of his kingdom-movement. It was the name of the game. Those of us who find ourselves drawn into that movement must learn how to play that game all of the time. It's what we're about. It's what God is about."

"Loving Lord, teach us to forgive as we have been forgiven."

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Lent (#3): God's Kingdom Doesn't Come by Force and Military Victory

I've chosen this week to quote from the Thursday reading of Week 2 in N.T. Wright's Lent for Everyone - Matthew.

Using the passages in Matthew 12 where Jesus quotes from Isaiah 42, Wright says the following about the nature of God's kingdom as Jesus demonstrated it to be:

"The point he (Jesus) is making is that of a different kind of kingdom, an alternative model of kingship...Matthew is keen to point out here that Jesus is redefining what God's kingdom looks like, and hence what being God's Messiah might actually mean.

"In fact, of course, what he says here is exactly in line with the Sermon on the Mount. The meek will inherit the earth, and Jesus is leading the way. God's kingdom belongs to the humble, and Jesus is showing how it's done. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who suffer, are persecuted, and even killed, because they are following God's way...and Jesus will go ahead of them in that, too. Matthew, by quoting the passage here, is pointing forwards all the way to the climax of his gospel, when Jesus will be 'enthroned' as 'king of the Jews' by being nailed to the cross.

"There is to be sure, great comfort for us in all of this. If God's kingdom came the same way that earthly kingdoms come, by force of arms and military victory, the weak and the vulnerable would once more come off worst. But God does things the other way up, and we should all be thankful for that. In particular, those of us who struggle from time to time in our faith and discipleship should take heart in Isaiah's words, applied here to Jesus: he will not break a bruised reed, or quench a smouldering wick. His task and his delight is to gently fan into flames what was smouldering, gently to strengthen and firm up the weak bruised faith, hope and love that we have at the moment.

"Humble Lord Jesus, as you reach out to us in your gentle love, help us find the way to bring your kingdom in our day."