Friend of Sinners Versus Friend of the World

Why is your Teacher [a friend to] eating with the tax collectors and sinners? (Matthew 9:11)

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

Society was regarded as a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life….. These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society [culture – the world system], was purely and simply a disaster.

Thomas Merton – The Wisdom of the Desert

The Friend of sinners.

One of the most beautiful descriptions of Jesus is that He is a friend to sinners!  His love for humanity is not only unparalleled, it is both staggering and humbling to those who ponder such a sacred truth.  On a personal note, when I meditate on His choice of me and the unimaginable cost of the cross, I am rarely left with dry eyes.  His measureless love for humanity and His unfathomable sacrifice is such a holy truth that people have literally given their lives to preserve the integrity and clarity of His message.

When Jesus answered the question of why He was a friend to sinners:

He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.  (Matthew 9:12)

Humankind was/is sickened by sin!  Our own sin and the sins of others that have painfully impacted our lives.  (As a counselor I hear this in the stories of people I meet with every day!)

He not only came to heal chronic sin by his sacrifice and resurrection, but to invite us into a brand-new life (right now!); a life filled with heart-healing, soul-restoring truth.  He is offering us a present-tense life that is to be guided and formed by His love-motivated Presence, saturated with His revealed truth and lived in the context of a community of fellow followers.  The Lord is here-and-now to transfer us out of the world system and into the here-and-now Kingdom of God.  A kingdom ruled by the Lover of our souls.  His kingdom is a kingdom that “grows” love, joy and peace (and other fruit of the Spirit) and is a kingdom that will ultimately culminate in a visible eternity.

He is Rescuer.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness [the world system] and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves,in whom we have redemption,the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13 -14)

We need now and continue to need “rescuing”!  He truly paid an unimaginably extravagant ransom on our behalf.  He did and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves alone. He brings us FREEDOM!  His love for us in not a theological notion, but a tangible heart-staggering freedom-producing-reality.  

What in the world is wrong with the world?

It is very clear that God loves His creation!  We see the “it was good” statements He made in Genesis with His “it was very good” statement reserved for His creation of human beings.  We see His love for His creation once again in John 3:16, the word “world” in this verse means cosmos, or creation.  His creation comes from Him – therefore because He is GOOD, it is GOOD!  But something has gone very wrong according to the scriptures above and many more.

The corrupted system of the world.

The scriptures speak often declaring that we are to no longer to live our lives under the influence of this system of life  – the world system. The world system gives no centrality to God, is riddled by flawed man-made philosophies, is deceived, broken and corrupted by sin and is described in the verse above as darkness (Colossians 1:13). 

Paul goes on to reveal who is behind the corruption of the world system and his intentions.

If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world {system}, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

Notice the words “hidden, minds, see, understand” and you will get an idea where the battle takes place!

 Simply look at the state of our world/country/politics/culture, etc.. Need I say more?

Please take a moment and meditate on the verses below:

Paul further details the means and the goal of the broken system of the world and its philosophies.  Once again please notice the key words that he expresses:

  See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world (system) rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:8)

But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)

Perhaps the most scathing description of the world system was penned by John the disciple.  John, who is known as the Beloved.  John, who laid his head on Jesus’ chest.  John, who wrote the phrase “God is love”. John’s words about the Lord’s love comprise some of the most beautiful and intimate language ever written. Yet John was no friend of the world system.

Do not love the world (system) or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world (system) — the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world (system).  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

If you ponder the verses about the world system you will begin to notice that the world system manipulates by its use of accusation, blame, fear, anxiety, deception, false power promises, unhealthy competition, in-groups versus out-groups, confusion, materialism, unfulfilling achievement and never-enoughness – to name just a few. One author said when you hear the news it is typically telling us “what to fear next and who to blame”!

Please note two things.  When the above scripture says “the love of the Father is not in him”, it is not saying that the Father’s love for people is not there.  It is!  But John’s words are echoing Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) that it is impossible to whole-heartedly serve two masters.  One will be loved and the other “despised” (resented as intrusive).

James rachets up the strength of the language a notch!

…..don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world (system) becomes an enemy of God.  James 4:4

The world has one simple goal; to eliminate our distinctiveness as followers of Jesus and absorb us into the values of the culture.  Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

The Church is to be the LIGHT to the world.  The church is meant to proclaim the Truth and be instrumental in implementing Jesus’ great rescue.

……God’s household, which is the church of the living God [the Kingdom],(is) the pillar and foundation of the truth.  (1Timothy 3:15b)

Jesus’ call to transformation

15 I’m not asking You to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. (John 17:15-17)

In the verses above we literally see Jesus praying for you and me (John 17:20)!  Nestled into the words of His prayer we discover His desire for our lives.  He is NOT taking us out of the world but taking the world OUT of us and replacing it with His love and His truth which are two major attributes of His kingdom! 

Holiness, which can be another word for “transformation”, develops and forms by turning away from the deception the world promotes and embracing and acting upon (with His help) His truth.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern(system) of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (with Truth). Then you will be able to test and approve (demonstrate) what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Jesus most certainly was and is a friend to us sinners! And we are to be as well!  Jesus, without compromise proclaimed and demonstrated love and truth.  In that lived-out proclamation people were drawn to Him and the life He offered.  We are to do no less! But, He is not a friend of the corrupt world system.  In fact, He is here to rescue us from that system and transfer us to a kingdom filled with light, love, peace, truth and so much more!  That is good news (the Gospel).

Questions to ponder:

Is the culture/the world system being influenced by the Church (the foundation of the Truth) or is the Church being influenced by the philosophy of the world system?  Remember that from a biblical perspective – We are the Church!

Is the Gospel I believe transforming my life from the inside out? Who or what has the greatest influence in my life?

Is what I believe so alive, so real, so life-giving that it is worth dying for?

Final Thoughts:

This is a different kind of blog for me.  For many years everything I’ve taught, written or counseled is permeated by the amazing extravagant love that the Lord has for us.  I hope this blog presents nothing less than that heart-staggering truth. One old friend said that Ray teaches many messages – but they all say “God loves you”.  I consider that a very high compliment!  I hope my comments on the “world system” simply echo what the scriptures reveal.  I hope what shines through all of the language is that we have an amazing opportunity to experience the Lord’s love for us.  To embrace Him and all that He has for us, in my way of thinking is the only life worth living!

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Wisdom Has A Name

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:20)

Wisdom cries aloud in the street… (Proverbs 1:20)

   ...Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:24)

 The thoughts we think, the perceptions we carry and the beliefs that have formed determine the emotions we feel, the choices we make and the actions we take.  In other words; how we live our lives! Selah

The wisdom books, especially Proverbs, often categorize people as wise or foolish.  In either case, wisdom or foolishness determines the course and the quality of life.

Many factors have shaped our personal beliefs.  Our life-perceptions have been formed by our family of origin, culture, local community, significant life events (both bad and good), peers, the media and more.  We may or may not even be aware of “why we are the way we are”. We just know “we are”.

At different times and different stages of our lives we are faced with certain persistent questions.  I call them the BIG questions of life:

Who am I? (identity)

Why am I here? (purpose)

Does my life have meaning? (what gives or determines my worth/value or significance)

Again, how we answer these questions determines the course of our lives.  We need Wisdom!

In the Proverbs verse mentioned above wisdom is personified as one “crying in the street”.  Wisdom can be discovered!

But, we must be aware that there are other voices “crying in the streets” through the various and measureless means of “the media”; formal, social and otherwise.  Paul, in the first verse above, reveals that God defines the “world’s wisdom” as foolishness.  Foolishness has a voice too!

 Wisdom, similar to hope, peace and truth that I mentioned in my three previous blogs is not something we determine for ourselves.  Wisdom is revealed by Another, received by faith and acted upon by our very lives. At that point we are becoming wise.

A.W. Tozer makes the simple yet profound statement:

We shall not seek to understand in order that we may believe, but to believe in order that we may understand.  Hence we shall not seek proof that God is wise.  The unbelieving mind would not be convinced by any proof and the worshipping heart needs none!

Jesus, His words and presence, are not only wise — they are life-giving, they carry the power to have what the scriptures call “life indeed” (1 Timothy 6:19).  He not only brings words of Life but is intimately involved in being the life we live (Galatians 2:20).

In Christ we discover power, peace, truth, hope and wisdom.  Outside of Christ is the foolishness of the world system in which we find ourselves inundated.  We have choices to make!

One strongly worded statement that I read as part of the introduction to Colossians says this:

Any teaching which detracts from the centrality of Christ under the pretense of leading men to maturity and perfection is a perversion of the faith.

 Jesus concluded the greatest sermon ever (the Sermon on the Mount), Matthew chapter 7, by comparing a wise life versus a foolish life.  The difference was the Rock solid Truth and presence of Jesus on which the wise life was founded versus the shifting sands of unstable worldly foolishness. The final verses of that chapter say the people “marveled” because He spoke with authority!

Wisdom has a name!

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Truth Has A Name

What is truth? (John 18:38)

Jesus said; “I AM the way and the Truth and the life. (John 14:6)

Then you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free. (John 8:32)

Pilate, the arrogant man with apparent authority questioned the humble man with absolute authority. He literally stared the personification of Truth in the face and with a false sense of power asked the question; “what is truth?”  It is indeed the right question to ask!  It is an understatement to say that we live in an age of spin, fake news, hidden agendas and self-centered motivations.  Deception, division, mis-information and scheming seem to cling to and color virtually every public statement uttered like morning dew to blades of grass. And yet the question lingers in the air; “what is truth?”

Ears are tickled (2 Timothy 4:3), desires are inflamed, restlessness stirs, fears are played upon and blame is directed.  A truth mixed with even a little deception becomes a more deadly lie.  Sharp-edged anger grows, fingers point and souls sicken. And yet the question lingers in our hearts; “what is truth?”

Jesus reveals the unmistakable and unbreakable connection between truth and freedom.  Receiving, believing and acting upon deception diminishes the freedom that God so desires for us to experience. It was for freedom that Christ set us free (Galatians 5:1).  He wants us free!  And so the question becomes even more critical to experience a meaningful, resilient, free and flourishing life; “what is truth?”

I recently heard someone say “brother, go live your own truth”.  Truth is not something that we create and then shape and form to fit our particular desire of the moment. Truth does not originate from us, it is revealed to us.  Truth, when revealed, received and acted upon; becomes a bondage-breaking force of freedom that literally shapes and forms us from the inside out.  Truth is rock solid (Matthew 7:24) and unlike the shifting sands of opinion, can literally support a life through every storm and upheaval that occurs.  With deep desire and hungry hearts we ask the question; “What is truth?”

Truth and reality are the same!

Truth is not a philosophical concept – truth has a name!

Truth creates:

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (John 1:3)

Truth brings Life:

 In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. (John 1:4)

Truth reveals:

There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. (John 1:9)

Truth sustains:

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  (Colossians 1:17)

Truth is kind and compassionate

Truth loves

Truth pursues

Truth sacrifices at great cost

Truth rescues

Truth forgives

Truth embraces

Truth nurtures

Truth heals broken hearts and lives

Truth breaks the insidious shackles of shame

Truth transforms

Truth restores

Truth imparts wisdom

Truth is good

Truth beautifies!

Truth has a Name!

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Hope Has A Name

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. (Proverbs 13:12)

We have this Hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. (Hebrews 6:19)

We are created to be people of hope.  Hope is critical and necessary to a heart-healthy, peaceful and flourishing life.  It is one of the “big three” (faith-hope-love) mentioned in 1st Corinthians 13.  It seems to me that hope and peace are very much related; maybe fraternal twins – or at least first cousins. The first scripture above illustrates what we have all experienced ourselves or observed in the lives of others going through hard and tragic times. Hard times typically are marked by loss. We have all tasted hopelessness. When hopelessness is the constant cup from which we drink, the heart, that vulnerable God-created part of us which is most central to our humanity, begins to, in the words of the proverb –  sicken.   While hope is about the future (hope that is seen is no hope at all. For who hopes for what he already has? Romans 8:24) hope clearly and decisively affects the present tense state of our lives and our emotional/spiritual wellbeing.

Obviously the weightier the object hoped for, the greater potential for heart-sickening pain, if the desire is not met.  It is one thing to hope our favorite team wins the game.  It is a very different weight to carry to hope that our loved one will healed of cancer.

But here is our problem; not all hopes are fulfilled.  Life is filled with losses!  We may experience loss of income, titles and reputation.  We may experience loss of friendships for various reasons.  We may experience the painful loss of a loved one.  We may experience loss of dreams for ourselves, dreams for marriages, dreams for our children and families.

How then are we to navigate the stormy and sometime raging seas of loss and not have our hearts sickened into hopelessness?  We need an anchor!

An anchor does not keep us from experiencing the storm.  An anchor does not promote denial concerning the waves and winds, pretending by a false notion of faith that they are not there.  However, the anchor is holding us tightly through the storm. The boat is tethered by rope or chain to the unseen anchor which is securely fixed, unmovable to the Foundation beneath the waves.  Although the ship may be tossed around; the anchor is not, because it is fixed to the Rock. The anchor keeps the vessel from becoming shipwrecked because the Rock to which it is anchored will not let go!

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us!(Hebrews 6:19-20)

Jesus as our forerunner has passed through the veil of the unseen on our behalf – at an enormous cost.  The writer of Hebrews (4:15) expresses that Jesus experienced the full spectrum of humanity, with the all-important caveat “yet without sin”.   In His humanity He experienced triumph, celebration, joyful relationships and loving reverence.  In His humanity He faced the passionate agony and the crushing weight of an eternal choice in the Garden of Gethsemane that dropped Him to the ground, sweating blood. He was revered as King on Palm Sunday and sentenced to death on Good Friday. He even deeply felt a sense of hopeless-rejection as He groaned out the words “my God why have you forsaken me?”  He knows us and He knows what we are made of.

Hope indeed is like an anchor, but what our hope is anchored to is critical.  The temporal systems of this world are simply not durable or resilient enough. Ultimately our hope is not in a circumstance or a particular outcome. Our hope is not in a theology or a doctrine. Our hope is in a Person who is defined as Love, sacrificial in His kindness, generous in His mercy and redemptive in His care for us.

He alone can hold us (be with us, Shepherd us) through every stormy season and potential loss.  He genuinely does understand, does care and does love us through every stormy circumstance.  His loves transcends time and space and in some incredible mysterious way anchors us to Himself in unseen eternity.  In the present, we can “taste and see that the Lord is good”, in the present we can “be still and know that He is God”, in the present, we can know Him as Comforter.  However, the Eternal One who awaits us will one day wipe away every tear and heal every hurt.  Now that is Hope!

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Peace Has A Name

 My peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. Not as the world gives. (John 14:27)

There is a part of us, a part that I suspect lies deep within the fiber of our humanity, that craves certainty and seeks solace in routine.   In most cases certainty is an illusion and routines are easily disrupted.  Both certainty and routine are ways that we attempt to manage anxiety.  They hint at predictability, manageability and the ever-elusive desire for control.  Systems are formed, governments legislate and economic safeguards are developed. Educational programs take shape and a medical industry is fashioned.  And this is good!  But Jesus said in the verses above that there is a particular kind of a peace the systems of the world give and then there is His peace.

Today, we and the entire world find our systems strained and in some places collapsing. Dire predictions are our daily bread. For some this season is but a mild disruption of routine, for others it is life and death. A large number of us, myself included have been marked “at risk”. And to make it worse there is no clear and decisive end in sight.  Anxiety and fear seem to hang thick in the air. So, in such peace-desolate circumstances what are we to do?

I am using this season as a time to seek spiritual clarity from the sovereign One and frankly my prayers are returning me to what the scriptures call “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).  Please let me share with you scriptures that are life-giving to me at the moment:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.  For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:8-10)

It may seem simple (most meaningful truths actually are simple) but the peace that we are seeking, which the above verse calls “fullness” is not limited by or derived from our current circumstances.  “Fullness” or what I might ungrammatically call “enough-ness” is in Him.  In Him is enough for the entire spectrum of life with all its knowns, unknowns and its varied ups and downs. And in some mysterious way, for those of us who through grace have embraced Him embracing us, we are in Him and He is in us (John 17).  With Him we share a oneness that is life-altering and life-filling.

I am once again discovering that “peace” is not a state of mind or emotion.  Peace is not all the pieces of my puzzle fitting together for one brief moment.  Peace is not found in the systems of this world as helpful as they might be.

Peace has a name.  Peace comes as a Teacher, a Shepherd, a Friend, a Savior, a Comforter and a Bridegroom.  Peace has a name and that name is Jesus.

..The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

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Running On Empty

Running on, running on empty
Running on, running blind….
Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive

(Jackson Brown, Running On Empty)

 Thus says the Lord:
What fault did your fathers find in me
that they withdrew from me,
Went after emptiness,
and became empty themselves?

(Jeremiah The Prophet, Jeremiah 2:5)

 

I just completed another cycle around the sun!  Another uptick to my age has occurred.  A time to ponder indeed.

In my crazy role (calling) as missionary/counselor/pastoral caregiver/teacher I have the sacred privilege of being invited into the lives and hearts of many, both here and overseas.  My observation is that we all seem to live somewhere within the tension of being amazingly resilient and incredibly fragile.  The longer I live the more I become aware that we are some strange combination of both.  The good news is that the Lord is with us in all of life’s phases.

In recent days the Jeremiah 2:5 verse has had a grip on my heart.  I personally hear no anger in that statement.  In fact, I hear the voice of a Lover expressing His heart for His wayward bride.  I hear heartfelt concern for the state of His beloved. The verse is presented in the form of a question.  We know that there is no wisdom or knowledge outside of the Lord.  He is omniscient, so therefore the question is for us to ponder.  The words of the verse reveal a withdrawing from the Lord and a going after that which ultimately is empty; that which has no substance.  The result is emptiness, hollowness and living without ballast.

My general observation is that there are many of us “believers” who are “running on empty’.  Why is that?  I think the answer is multifaceted and very individualized.  But two come to mind.  The first is disappointment. 

Timothy Keller in his insightful little book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness (catchy title eh?) says that we often walk around with painful egos.  The word “ego” here simply means our self-awareness, our sense of or our perception of self.  Keller goes on to say our egos are often empty, like a bloated stomach it is painful and the ego is incredibly busy. Serious disappointment is a painful punch to the ego, one that often causes us to withdraw from the Lord.

The second reason I believe is we are subtly seduced into the world system. The world system two-part drum beat is that full life is found in acquisition and achievement. The world system says that fullness of life and significance is found in what you acquire (money, material goods, toys, entertainment) or what you achieve (status, power, position, youthfulness, admiration, acceptance).

“For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all. (Jeremiah 2:13)

Here we see the same thought.  The Lover of our soul is saying that we have abandoned Him, the place where LIFE is tasted, imbibed and experienced, for our own idea of what satisfies, but in reality leaves us parched and vacant.

So what are the cisterns we’ve built, the empty lovers we’ve chased?  I have no list to offer, but in simple terms it is what we have tried to gain worth and value, purpose or passion from apart from the Life Giver Himself.  It may very well be a good thing that we pursue, but a “thing” that was never created to sustain the full weight of our lives.  It may be a bad thing, where we find some visceral thrill playing tag in the shadows with something that will ultimately drain life away.

Henri Nouwen said “the world can help us survive, maybe even survive for a very long time.  But it can never help us LIVE because the world has no LIFE in it!”

The Good News?  The offer of Life, heart quenching, soul restoring Living-Water-Life, brimming and radiant with fullness is never withdrawn!  Let’s drink deeply.

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Bright Eyes — Fading Eyes

So be careful not to let the light in you become darkness. (Luke 11:35)

A while back we spent a long weekend with our daughter Emily and her family.  Patty, Emily and I, along with 9 month old Alexander, slipped away to a coffee shop for a much needed and delicious crafted shot of caffeine.

While holding Alexander in a way that he was facing me, I was struck by his large, beautiful and very bright eyes. His eyes radiated joy, trust and a sparkle of innocence, joined by just the right touch of mischievousness.  His eyes were bright with life!  My grandfather’s heart bonded all the more to our 3rd grand-treasure.

At some point I glanced at a table near ours.  Seated at the table was a handsome older couple, dressed a step above the rest of the coffee shop patrons.  The husband was very attentive to his bride of no-doubt many years.  But then I noticed her eyes.  There was a dullness, a slight vacancy telegraphing a detachment from being fully present in the moment.  In a short time it became evident that this lovely woman was suffering from dementia.  The brightness of her eyes was fading.  Her life was slowly shrinking and diminishing.

So there I was, juxtaposed between the bright eyes of Alexander and the fading eyes of a noble man’s wife.  It was a beautiful yet jagged-edged metaphor of the mystery of our journey through life.  We are all living somewhere between bright-eyed wonder and fading final moments.

So, on our journey how do we keep the light from becoming darkness as the verse above admonishes?  Throughout the all the blind curves and the unpredictability of life we have One who does not change.  Yet, in His love and wisdom He simply, yet profoundly leaves many choices to us to fire the light within.

We get to choose:

Surrender instead of Control

Forgiveness instead of Bitterness

Gratitude instead of Entitlement

Truth instead of Deception

Faith instead of Fear

Love instead of Apathy

Freedom instead of Bondage

Hope instead of Pessimism

Risk instead of Lethargy

Self-Responsibility instead of Blame

Grace instead of Judgement

Transparency instead of Hiddenness

Who He says we are instead of other Voices wanting to do the same

Compassion instead of Anger

Jesus instead of the World System

Light instead of Darkness

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Two Winds

Awake, O north wind,
And come, wind of the south;
Make my garden breathe out fragrance,
Let its spices be wafted abroad.
May my beloved come into his garden
And eat its choice fruits!”
(Song of Solomon 4:16)

I’ve just returned from a few weeks overseas.  The bulk of our time was on the beautiful and rugged island of Tasmania.  My cycle of jet lag is nearly complete!

It is Sunday afternoon here in a not-so-sunny Florida.  It is heavily cloud covered, windy and our Fall weather is vacillating between raining and threatening to rain.  With the clouds dark and full but not spilling over at that moment, I took a bike ride on the beach.  My body was ready for movement and my soul was ready to enjoy the space and expanse of the sea where I always finds renewal.

I first rode in the direction that was against the wind.  I knew from experience it is a much more enjoyable bike ride to return home going with the wind.

Riding against the wind was more challenging.  I felt resistance with every push of my pedals.  The wind was cold and my eyes were watering, adding a slight blur to my vision.  The sound of wind and sea seemed loud in my ears and often produced a whistling sound if I changed the rotation of my head even slightly.  I found myself fully in touch with and experiencing the task of biking against the wind.  I also was determined to reach my goal, the marker on the beach, before turning around.  There was a physical toughness to the ride against the wind that was uncomfortable and tedious, but I knew this was the very thing that would add value to my overall health.  I reached my goal with a smile that only the Lord saw!

Then I turned around and rode with the wind.  What a difference!  The very first thing I noticed was the alteration in the sound.  Even though I was returning over the very same ground the sound was much quieter, peaceful and I could hear peripheral noises like birds and splashes that I had not heard before.  I immediately felt warmer.  Somehow, in some very tangible way, the wind blowing against my back did not feel nearly as cold as the wind blowing in my face.  With my eyes no longer watering my vision cleared.  People now had faces that I could unmistakably see and I offered them smiles as I continued my journey.  Perhaps the biggest change was to my labor of pedaling. I barley needed to pedal at all!  With little exertion I covered ground.  It was comfortable and with ease I made my way home.

Here is my revelation; I needed both winds! The verse above captures a beautiful truth of our journey with the Lord.  Our hearts, our lives, our very souls are like gardens (John 15).  And the Gardener has a plan for each heart.  That plan is to grow something stunningly beautiful. He is growing a life-garden that reflects the very heart of the Gardener.  He is bringing to maturity fragrances, spices and ultimately fruit that include the love, joy and peace of the Spirit life.  He is growing a garden that is attractive both to Himself and all who come near.  He is growing a life of purpose and a life to be shared.  He is growing a garden that He dearly loves and prizes.

In His wisdom the Gardener knows we need two winds to develop maturity, to grow attractive fruit.  The north wind is the wind of challenge and often adversity.  The north winds are the seasons in life we find hard and difficult.  We feel resistance to our forward momentum but it is a resistance that ultimately develops character, faith and the perseverance necessary to shape (carve) our hearts into the very image of our King.

The wisdom of the Gardener also knows that we need the warm south winds as well.  We need warm seasons when we become keenly aware of His presence and we both see and feel the blessings He has sewn into our lives.  We recognize His closeness and taste His love. These are the seasons we most often pray for!

The truth is He is always tending his deeply loved garden. Whether He seems hidden by the challenges and adversity of the north winds or is clearly evident by His warm wind of blessings – He is there!  Oh, the wisdom and kindness of the Lord!

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Weight and Warmth Part Two

……They walked after emptiness and became empty. (Jeremiah 2:5b)

Significant times such as birthdays, anniversaries, special holidays and so forth often lead me to ponder and reflect on the weightiness of life.  I recently completed another cycle around our sun and added yet another uptick to my age.  A time to ponder indeed!

In my last blog I wrote about Weight and Warmth.  I would like to expand that just a bit more. In life I am acutely aware of two things; Life is punctuated with amazing, wonderful times and it is also filled with stormy times. In order to navigate the storms, we must have a ballast, a weight; a solidness.  If not, like the verse above, we may inadvertently chase after that which is ultimately empty and find ourselves growing empty; and easily tossed about by the storms.

We must have a foundation, something unchanging from which we can draw life, strength and a solid weightiness’ that will keep us safe and stable in tumultuous seasons.  A place that we can call HOME.

In his book The Return of the Prodigal Son,  Henri Nouwen beautifully paints the picture of HOME and the dangers of leaving HOME:

Leaving home is, then, much more than an historical event bound to time and place.  It is a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being, that God holds me safe in an eternal embrace, that I am indeed carved in the palms of God’s hands and hidden in their shadows.  Leaving home means ignoring the truth that God “fashioned me in secret, molded me in the depths of the earth and knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one.

Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says “You are my beloved, on you my favor rests” – the same voice that gave life to the first Adam and spoke to Jesus, the second Adam; the same voice that speaks to all the children of God and sets them free to live in the midst of a dark world while remaining in the light. I have heard that voice.  It has spoken to me in the past and continues to speak to me now.  It is the never-interrupted voice of love speaking from eternity and giving life and love whenever it is heard.  When I hear that voice I know that I am at home with God and have nothing to fear.  As the beloved of God “I can walk in the valley of darkness: no evil would I fear.”……Having “received without charge”, I can “give without charge”. As the beloved, I can confront, console, admonish, and encourage without fear of rejection and need for affirmation. As the beloved, I can suffer persecution without desire for revenge and receive praise without using it as a proof of my goodness.  As the beloved, I can be tortured and killed without ever having to doubt that the love that is given to me is stronger than death.  As the beloved, I am free to live and give life…..

Nouwen’s beautiful phrases do well to capture the even-more-beautiful Truth of God. What is that truth? It is that the Eternal One, the maker of the stars, has a heart of love for us that will never change and His covenant with us is unbreakable.  There is nothing more solid and weighty than that!

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Weight and Warmth

 

Several weeks ago I had the privilege of doing some work in the amazing country of Kenya.  Fitted tightly into a full schedule were two days at the Kijabe Hospital. This hospital is an amazing gift from God to the Kenyan people. Three of us were partnered with hospital chaplains to visit and pray for patients.  Before going on our rounds we met with the senior chaplain for some instructions.  A phrase he used to prepare us continues to stir my heart.  He very politely and with generosity of soul shared with us some of the ways the Kenyan culture was different from our own.  However, the traditional greeting, like that of our own country is to shake hands.  While explaining to us the Kenyan value of time and presence he said to us, when you shake their hands “let them feel the weight and the warmth”.  The phrase went deep with me.

Our Kenyan friend was familiar with the culture of the west.  He knows that we often value time as a limited commodity in which to accomplish necessary (or seemingly necessary) tasks.  He knows the unspoken mantra of the west is “busy people are important people”.  “Time is money” is a feeble attempt to quantify the value of time.  As one who lived a good deal of his adult life in cultures less focused on time, I wonder if at times I am more schedule-driven than Spirit led.  I find I must often return to my favorite (self-edited) quote, that “people are not problems to be solved, but mysteries to be explored”. Exploring mysteries takes time and presence, weight and warmth.

As I have pondered the words of the chaplain I have been reminded of a few deep truths.  Life is all about relationships.  The Greatest Commandment, buoyed by the full weight of all the scriptures (See Matt. 22:40), exposes Abba’s chief desire as being love motivated relationships. Offering warmth and weight recognizes and affirms the worth and valueof every human being, no matter their current state in life, as an image bearer of God (Gen. 1:26).  Warmth and weight opens and softens the heart of the recipient.

I believe our friend was saying to us, look into the eyes (ignoring your watch) of the person whose hand you are shaking, be fully present with them, offer them the gift of the warmth of your presence and the weight of your time.  The genuine gift we have to offer others is ultimately ourselves.  Paul said it this way: Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us (1 Thess 2:8). Paul may well be saying hearts were opened to the Gospel because of the weight of Paul’s love and the warmth of the investment of his time in the people.

I also hear enfolded in the words “warmth and weight” facets of heart attitudes like; honesty, transparency, genuineness. I have found that people are set at ease by honesty and humility. In a person to person encounter we can choose to not apply our spiritual cosmetics, drop our masks and refuse to put our best foot forward and simply offer others our genuine selves; a God-loved bundle of strengths and weaknesses.   When we step outside the courtroom of trying to determine the verdict of how we are perceived (a topic for another day) we are able to offer the gift of listening.  The French proverb that says “to be heard is to be healed” captures the warmth and impact of listening ears and the affirmation that it brings.

Where does our weight come from?  Our weight comes from His glory. It comes from the unprecedented, unimaginable act of Another.  It comes from the accomplishment of the Eternal One, humbling Himself and meeting us right where we live. It comes at His high personal cost of rescuing us – from ourselves.  The warmth is no less than his fiery love.

…..for [Your] love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. (Song of Songs 8:6)

When we are in touch with the truth that our hearts are filled by the weight of His glory and warmed by the fire of His love, we cannot help but offer the same to others.  Key words – in touch!

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