29 August 2012

Forgiveness - Love's True Test 2

“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.” (Isaiah 43:25) Recently my attention was riveted by the phrase, “for my own sake” How does forgiveness affect the forgiver? God made this statement in between listing Israel's sins. What's going on here? This isn't the nice little verse I thought it was.

 I am a bloody mess but I know Christ fulfilled the conditions for me to become a child of God — Christ was the one who actually met all the conditions of faith without sinning, even as he lived his life through all the commonest, timeless temptations. But here’s the fine print: even though I am forgiven because of Christ, it doesn’t mean I am unattached. Now, I've become part of something bigger and better than I can even dream of.

Part of being accepted in the family of God is the obligation, not to feed the dog or do the dishes, but to love. There was a relationship formed between God and me when I was born anew. Being a new creation in Christ is never clearly understood at the outset: it's only through struggles (believe it or not) we gain spiritual growth.

When a woman bears a child, she’s discharged her duty: she’s gone through the months of pregnancy, discomfort and pain of labor and delivery. This is only the beginning for the mother and the child: not the end. There is no terminus to this relationship (not a healthy one). Once the child is born, she may be no longer carrying her/him but is now invisibly tied to the child through the bond that love brings.

One of the biggest struggles anyone faces is hatred—and deep and bitter unforgiveness may be its worst form. Having been wronged is deeply hurtful and it is our instinct to react in anger immediately, without thought, and often without control. But taking on the nature of God by forgiving, through His strength, is divine. For a lover of God, forgiving in this manner produces not only the great growth, but it also creates in us a bigger heart.

“I can’t forgive.” is the most often repeated phrases in my decades of mentoring people. It may be a sincere, but it's sad because the person never can grow. It's also inaccurate as it’s more truly stated as, “I don’t want to forgive, and I don’t want to even think about forgiving.” Yet, one of the things that God will do for certain is to give you the power to begin to ask for help to pray for forgiveness.
It means you need to grow up for it is the Forgiver who always carries the Forgiven, as the mother always carries the child. In life, when the forgiver forgives completely (though that is the only true forgiveness) he, in a sense, carries the forgiven one. In the carrying of him or her, becomes the stronger of the two.

There is after all, only one path back from sin / bad choices and that path must be built by two people. One party offers genuine contrition for his behaviors and attitudes, and the other offers full-bodied forgiveness. After this, the bond between them is strengthened. If not, if one party fails or is insincere, then the bridge cannot be completed on one side, and love cannot grow (but it can diminish).

After all, we don’t love because someone he/she is perfect (if that were true, we’d never love). We love because someone loves us, and that someone loves us for that intangible, mysterious reason: for who we are.

“Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? ... Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: "The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them." Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself." (Galatians 3, portions, The Message)
"... use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom." (Galatians 5, The Message)

26 August 2012

Dawn at Midnight

It’s been said Jesus loves you is the most profound theological thing to know. Yet knowing it and grasping it can be two separate things. To know His love experientially makes even the most profoundly disappointing times light. Yes, there can be dawn at midnight when the circle of His love shines directing down on you. That's the so-called courage of the Christian saints.

Sonnet XXIX
When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
-William Shakespeare

The Convert
After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.
- GK Chesterton
(When) we shall know him, and it will be as clear to us as the light of the morning without clouds. - Joseph Kimchi

09 August 2012

Engaged Wonder in The Primary

I usually don’t use the word “wonder” – it’s come to have an empty-headed meaning for me. But I cannot avoid the truth that wonder is what we are to have–not dumb wonder, but engaged wonder.
A child who wonders is completely absorbed mentally and emotionally. And, this absorption is a mental transport to another world.

His fascination is just that: a temporary “fastening” of his attention on this new experience or object. Whether he’s seeing it for the first time, or seeing anew, it makes no difference. It seems children are designed by the very newness of their lives, to have “sticky” imaginations. They imagine and create in their minds new wonders behind the new wonder.  Children do this even though (we’re told) when they experience wonder they make only the roughest of links between the new and the familiar.

Still, there a lesson for the adult in the wonderment of children. We are children of the living God. And if God were “fully discoverable” by us, it would not merely mean He would be merely different from how we define Him. If (let’s imagine) we “knew” everything there was to know about God and the universe, then there would be untold sets of consequences us.

We would also lose all sorts of things to wonder about: our imaginations would die on the vine for lack of stimulation. Language would lose its richness. Of course, there would be no such thing as having faith--for we would have all the “facts” which had been reliably measured and tested—and which could be replicated.

Happily, God has shielded us this-we barely begin to understand it all even with centuries behind us—and as a result we have intact our childlike ability to wonder about Him and His universe.
GK Chesterton said, (in the Introduction to the Book of Job), “God says, in effect, that if there is one fine thing about the world, as far as men are concerned, it is that it cannot be explained. [God] insists on the inexplicableness of everything. … God will make man see things, if it is only against the black background of nonentity. …He unrolls before Job a long panorama of created things, the horse, the eagle, the raven, the wild ass, the peacock, the ostrich, the crocodile. He so describes each of them that it sounds like a monster walking in the sun. The whole is a sort of …rhapsody of the sense of wonder.”

Right he is about wonder: children, when faced with the facts, often find the objects of their wonderment even more fascinating. I was about 5 years old when on a moonlight night, I remarked on the brightness of the “moon-shine.” I recall my mother explaining that the light was merely reflected from the sun. This fact only stirred in me even greater wonder: “How could a sun, which is hidden from view at night, be so powerful as to bestow a sun-like radiance on an otherwise empty and dark sphere?” Wonder was boosted by the facts, facts did not diminish my awe of (what little I knew) of the galaxy.

Jesus Christ used the child’s occupation by a foreign wonder as a model to the disciples. In the presence of the Messiah, he desired them to absorb, to mull over the implications of His being with them.

 “They started arguing over which of them would be most famous. When Jesus realized how much this mattered to them, he brought a child to his side. “Whoever accepts this child as if the child were me, accepts me,” he said. “And whoever accepts me, accepts the One who sent me. You become great by accepting, not asserting. Your spirit, not your size, makes the difference.” Luke 9: 46-48 (The Message)

Indeed, when we are absorbed by the Almighty Illuminator, light is shed on so many things in our lives. Once we have the childlike absorption by what should be and is First, then the secondary things fade into the background. Paradoxically, as the secondary things diminish in importance, the pleasure we derive from them increases.

“When the sun is vertically above a man he casts no shadow: similarly when we have come to the Divine meridian our spiritual shadow (that is, our consciousness of self) will vanish.” – C S Lewis