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What is the road we take toward each other,

and how do we show forth the love of Jesus,

even when our disappointment wells up fiercely in the gut

and threatens all we thought we knew about the other?

-Diedre Riggs

 

Months before I spoke words meant for all of us.

Foreshadowing .

A warning.

“We will offend one another, but we are called to bear with one another in love.”  Each of us smiled, heads nodding in agreement.  Sure of own hearts…certain of our own character…established in our faith.

But somehow…in some way….I managed to offend.  And in the space between us?  Instead of peace, compassion, love?  A spirit of dissension grew, fed by Dear Ones who follow hard after Jesus.

“There is a fine line between sharing concerns and gossiping,” one explained.  In the meantime, harsh words tore at the tender flesh of my heart like scalding water peels flesh off of bones.

Can you relate?  Have you ever been slighted, rejected, or even hated by those for whom you have prayed?  Cared for?  Done for?

Yesterday, a man ambled past our home.  I peered at him dismissively.  Garbed in low-hanging, baggy jeans, an orange beanie, and head hanging heavy I knew the neighborhood pot-head was heading toward The Place where he makes the sale.

Then the unwelcome whisper of conviction reminded my heart.  Guilty.  You are guilty of the same sin!  You may not have spoken the words, but you judged The Man.  What do you know about him….his life…his wounds?  He needs love….hope….forgiveness.  Pray for The Man—this one who is an enemy of all you believe.

And my spirit knows the truth.  I judge others unfairly….just as others may judge me unfairly.  Oh, may we learn to love like Christ!

Friend, when the Son of Man stood before his accusers and felt the weight of an unfair judgement—even a judgement to death—He refused to utter words of condemnation.  Instead, Christ loved The Man whose roughened, soiled hands marred the back of The Innocent with a razor-edged rope.    Instead, Christ forgave The Man who took pleasure in piercing the hands of The Innocent with hard edges and merciless pain.  And instead, Christ loved The Woman who had not yet been born.   I, too, would have been like the Dear Ones at the foot of the cross—perhaps hurling insults—or those cowering in fear in a hidden corner.  I don’t know Him!

We will offend one another, but we are called to bear with one another in love. Christ has borne all for us!  Oh, Church, let us do the same.

“EGR,” she quipped with a smile and an exaggerated sigh.  My quizzical look prompted a response.

“You know…extra grace required.”

Unexpectedly, our prayer for others had shifted from intercession to a Christianized version of gossip cloaked in false compassion.

And I wondered…how many people say THAT about her….me….you?

Wishing I hadn’t asked for an explanation and feeling stained by the knowledge, I realized Christ knew the truth from eternity past–I had been born wrapped in an invisible package of sin.

If others knew the truth?  If they only knew about the unkind–even cruel–words that have crossed my lips…the ugly thoughts that have flitted through my mind…the actions shadowed by regret. Can you relate, dear friend?

Extra grace required.

But, there is something beautiful about my story….about the story of every person who has a personal relationship with Jesus.   Even though He knew me as a sinner, Christ envisioned me as a saint.  Even as lies or curse words were breathed from my mouth, the Life Giver imagined a tongue calling out His name in praise.  Even my rash, selfish actions fail to stand between me and the person I will someday become–the one He had in mind more than forty years ago.

There is no doubt…before I ever took my first breath, Jesus knew.

Extra grace required.

And, He loves me anyway.

 

Scripture for Reflection

For it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:8 NIV)

…Everything that we have–right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start, comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 1:27 MSG)

 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

For years, I’ve struggled to understand.  How can there be rest in a world like this…in the here-and-now reality of government sponsored terrorist attacks, state approved drug consumption, and families reeling from the long-term effects of terminal illness…abuse…divorce?

Religion tells us we’ll find peace in doing…living life in a certain way…proving to God that we are worthy of approval. 

Television “experts”  and self-help gurus reassure that we create our own peace–“Happiness is in your spiritual DNA. It is what you experience when you accept yourself…” (Dr. Robert Holden).

The world promises we can find peace in the anesthetized power of sexual encounters…bank accounts brimming with wealth…or the uninhibited consumption of a non-demanding, high-resolution screen.Fish Symbol on Cross

No…religion robs us of joy and promotes the desire to help others–a desire born of a self-centered motivation to earn heavenly favor.

If happiness were  innate, then there would be no such thing as genetically based mood disorders.  Say “goodbye” to depression.  Adios, anxiety!  We have the power!

And money?  Sex?  Inanimate screens?  In and of themselves, they aren’t bad.  As givers of hope, though, they are only mere fillers for unmet emotional and spiritual needs!  As soon as the money has been spent, the comforting arms have disappeared, or the ‘off’ button has eliminated the constant Twitter and Facebook feeds then what remains?  Lonely, broken people.

Jesus?  He promised something more….a one-of-a-kind, once-and-for-all, happily ever after.  It may seem slow in coming, but there is a place prepared with you in mind, Dear One–your forever home with a tender Father willing to temporarily move into time and space in order to bear your burden and mine .

This is a sort of rest that extends beyond the ten o’ clock news and personal problems.  Soul-rest exists in the glorious triumph of Christ’s resurrection, His assurance of  forgiveness, and the holy grace of eternal restoration.

Scripture for Reflection–

Isaiah 53:3-4

Dare to Believe

This is a Christian–one who dares to act as if God tells the truth.”  –Pastor Mark Bates

His life reads like a Hollywood movie–the culmination of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, forced to seek refuge in a distant land, and then offering his life in place of the soldiers who pierced his hands and feet…suffering for the sins of those that pressed a crown of thorns on his head…pronouncing words of forgiveness to a discarded, frightened man bearing the shame of Golgotha.

But, this is not a child’s fairy tale or a superstitious myth dreamed up to explain the unexplainable.  This is Biblical truth; the great love story of God rescuing His people from that great enemy, Sin. The beautiful giving of His life for those willing to risk belief.

Yet the world threatens to overcome…to overwhelm…to overpower belief.

A young man just beginning to live takes his own life–desperate for relief from consuming depression, a child’s small bones ache from arthritis, a next-door neighbor submits to another round of chemo and hopes she’ll have enough energy to play with her children tomorrow.

But there is a story much bigger than our smaller stories–these lives of struggle and prayer, tears and hope.  It is His story–one recorded for us–that tells of the Lion and the Lamb…the Beginning and the End….the Resurrection and the Life.

And while the world threatens, He promises to give abundant life (John 10:10)…to provide freedom (John 8:36)…and to love us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).

I dare to believe–to act as if what God says is true. Won’t you? Let us encourage one another to hold to our faith, dear Friend, even when we doubt!

Brilliant shafts of light passed through the windows as I sat silently…listening for God to instruct my heart.  Closing my eyes, I invited Him to meet me during these few quiet moments set aside for prayer and reflection.

Glancing at the sheet of prompts held in my hands, I struggled with the response–not because I didn’t know the answer…but because I did.  Today’s devotion penetrated with the question…What are you excited about?

The answer surfaced quickly–an undesired intruder provoking speculation…questioning…uncertainty.

What was I excited about?  

Nothing.

I feel as if I’m living in limbo…wondering about God’s plans for my children, my family, and my life.  And like a man standing on a mountain top in the midst of a snowstorm, I can’t see the other peak just beyond the valley.

Pausing, I wonder if my honest answer is unacceptable to God.   Ungrateful…unworthy…unholy–the words penetrate my heart and guilt’s shadow presses near.

Grappling with both the question and the answer, I realize my longing for more–more of holiness…more of  beauty…more of Christ–is the deep desire to know my Creator; to live in the perfection of  an Eternal Garden.

Today, though, I am living as all people do–in this strange Temporary of joy and pain, hope and fear, celebration and sorrow.

The Psalmist shared the same feeling–I want to drink God, deep draughts of God.  I’m thirsty for God alive.  (Psalm 42:2). Dear Friend, my soul yearns for the day I am fully in His presence and surrounded by glory.  That is a Forever excitement.

Knowing the Truth

A trusted mentor of mine put it bluntly…”What gives you the right to malign God’s character?”

Revealing the ugly places in my heart, I confided to a root of bitterness that threatened to impair my faith with its silent, choking growth–an infected seed of doubt…fear..and disillusionment had taken root. The Enemy’s whispered messages had penetrated my mother’s tender heart. This was not what I had imagined for my precious ones.

I wondered if God really had a plan…really had our good in mind. How could this hardship, this suffering, this hollow ache in my heart beating its cry moment-by-moment lead to something more…something beautiful?

Meeting my friend’s gentle rebuke with an unusually frank reply I responded, “I have no right to malign God. I know the truth whether I feel it or not.”

Could you, too, be struggling with a situation that makes it difficult to see God’s good in your hurting? You will see Him, dear Friend, if you watch and listen. His goodness might come through the words of a loving friend…a meal cooked by servant hands…a prayer offered quietly on your behalf. You might notice His mercy in the fresh, clean smell of your freshly bathed child pressed close to your heart…the rising of the sun when you didn’t think light could penetrate the darkness.

I pray you know the truth–whether you feel it or not.

Truths from Scripture

Psalm 27:13
I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of The Lord in the land of the living. Wait for The Lord; be strong And take heart and wait for The Lord. (Emphasis mine)

Romans 8:37
In all these things we are more than conquerers through him who loved us.

1 Peter 5:8-10
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ…will himself restore you…

John 8:32 …the truth will set you free.

Someday

As a little girl, I longed for a normal family life–a Brady Bunch sort of family life that included trips to the Grand Canyon, sack races in the backyard, and the resolution of any conflict within a thirty minute time frame.  Whatever you say, Mike. My childish longings found fertile ground in the solitude of my imagination where I created a rich landscape of characters who allowed me to foster dreams of what might be…someday.

Someday finally arrived. And from the moment he slipped the ring on my finger,  I knew we would have a “normal” family. Which we did–and do.

Our family is as normal as any other.  Socks never seem to match, the children argue about important matters…“I have he biggest spoon!” Meanwhile, my husband and I marvel at the ridiculous things we say…”Who put underwear on the dog?” These are the small delights and details of an everyday family.

But, along with the regular we’ve experienced the unwelcome–those changes in perception or circumstance that so substantially impact one person that the rest of the family feels the aftershock.  None of us are exempt from these experiences.  While we can’t identify with every situation, we can understand the disappointment, fear, and grief associated with them. Alzheimer’s…infertility…cancer…depression.

This, dear friends, is the normal of people living between the worlds of Today and Forever.  Today’s normal is a beautiful, imperfect challenge.  There are joys and sorrows; hurts and triumphs. If we pause for a moment from our rushing and worrying, we might just catch a glimpse of our Eternal Someday in a child’s belly laugh…an old couple’s tender kiss…a father praying for his family.

Someday…

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