The feeling between us

“What a strange thing it is to recognize a sound like the shriek of a wounded animal, when you’ve never heard the shriek of a wounded animal.”
― John L’Heureux, An Honorable Profession: A Novel

Theres a sense in which you just know, isn’t there? You look at someone and just know that they are in terrible trouble. Some people have it to a heightened degree but all (of us) share that sense to some degree.

You know what’s going on in someone else, even, as John L’Heureux put it so memorably, if your knowledge and experience  is limited.

You just know.

But is that possible? How can we “just know” something of which we have no knowledge or experience? And if that is indeed the case, then why do some people possess the perception to a greater degree than others?

I think that the answer is that we have a great deal more in common than we sometimes imagine. We share the commonalty of the human experience. We are all pretty much the same, under the disguise of skin colour, language, cultural background, “clothes on da back and money in da pocket” differences.

We’re all human.

And, of course, where this fellow-feeling is most acute is within families (as the photo at the top testifies). We are inextricably linked with the thoughts and feelings of those that we love, and what goes on in their hearts and minds resounds and echoes in our own.

This indisputable fact of experience makes it interesting, then, that the God of the Bible should describe Himself as “Father.”  Is this just a metaphor of parentage, extrapolated from an understanding of God as creator of the cosmos? That’s how Isaiah presents it, on several occasions:

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer,
    who formed you from the womb:
“I am the Lord, who made all things,
    who alone stretched out the heavens,
    who spread out the earth by myself…” (Isaiah 44:24)

No, there’s more to it than that. The Bible goes much  further than saying that God simply created humanity. It says He “knows” us, and is involved in the pattern of our lives. The word to Jeremiah is perhaps unique to him, but it exemplifies something of God’s heart for each of us:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

And when the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, it was the word “Father” that He used to express this sense of the One who created, who had compassion, and who called His own into service and relationship.

And of all the titles available for Jesus to describe who He was, the one that He invariably used of Himself was”Son of Man.”

Of course, in the context of first-century Roman Palestine, designations such as “King” or “Lord” or even “Messiah,” were best avoided, as red rags to a bull. “Teacher,” “Rabbi” or “Prophet” were useful, but inadequate. But, as I say, Jesus gave none of these the emphasis that He gave to “Son of Man.”

The reason  is that He wished to emphasise the most important aspect of who He was. If that aspect was royalty, it would have been “Son of David,” and if Jewishness, heritage or tradition, it would have been “Son of Abraham” or “Son of Israel.”

And if He wished to emphasize His divinity, He might have said “Son of God, ” as others did.

But  to insist on “Son of Man” meant an insistence upon humanity. One modern version even translates the phrase as “The Human One.”

For this is the authentic “Emmanuel,” “God-with-us.” He is the creator who has compassion, who is intrinsically involved in the lives of His people. He even denied the pull of His own family because of the needs of the wider human family.

And yet, there’s an astonishing difference between Him and us. It’s simply stated in that question that He flung at His critics: “Whch of you accuses me of sin?” And they were silent. The difference between me as a human one and Jesus as The Human One is that He never sinned. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” (1 Peter 2:22).

This makes Him not less human than me, but more so. Sin was never part of the original design, so as far as being human goes, I’m damaged goods, not fit to pass quality control. But He’s the real thing.

The one real Human.

He is the only one who is fully able to hear “the shriek of a wounded animal.” He knew what was in people’s hearts because His own mind was not overwhelmed with selfishness. He could see the good and bad in Peter. He stood next to the “woman taken in adultery” and faced off the crowd howling for her blood. He bent down and washed the feet of Judas. Everything that beat in the heart of humanity beat in His own heart too, for He was Son of Man. He stood among the broken and the lost with infinite compassion and tenderness.

The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

He understand me! Imagine that. He feels sympathy for my weakness because He knows what the temptation feels like!

And so I come, again, this morning, Lord, asking mercy for my sins, and finding grace for my time of need. 

And Lord, let me be like you towards others too. More human.

Fully alive to the feeling between us.

 

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The Moment of Recognition

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Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’

‘They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ 14 At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’

16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’

She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).

17 Jesus said, ‘Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: ‘I have seen the Lord!’ And she told them that he had said these things to her.”  (John 20:11-18)

One of the particularly beautiful moments of this narrative is the moment of recognition. It comes with a word: “Mary.” And Mary recognises the Lord through the sound of her own name.

Perhaps she didn’t recognise Him before because her eyes were full of tears, or because she was looking down, or because she simply didn’t expect to see Him there. And even his words to her came through that blur, so to speak.

But when He said her name, her world was unmade – or possibly it began all over again.

Mary…

She recognised herself. She became truly herself for the first time, at the sound of her own name.

And suddenly you remember that the Gospel begins: “In the beginning was the Word…”  And the Word spoke into the blur of tears, into the darkness, and created something new.

Maybe it’s something like a young mother recognising the distinctive note of her own baby’s cry in a whole creche-full of alternatives!

And the recognition goes both ways. Each recognises the other. Thats the reason, I think, that the writer makes the comment about Aramaic. It was distinctive and individual. It was a totally personal moment between the Lord and the one He loved.

He shines into the darkness of her confusion, doubt and despair, and He singles her out with the sound of her own name.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome  it…  The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.   He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him.   He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him…

But now His own receives Him, hears Him and responds. It’s the “know” in the word “knowledge.” Remember that “Woman of Samaria” in John 4 to whom Jesus said “I who speak to you am He“? And she knew.  It’s that same creation-moment when the world flips on its head, or when you fall in love and see that person in a totally new way for the first time and everything has became different and it can never go back to the way it was before… Remember?

There’s a quality of wonder here. Eugene Peterson said, “It is not easy to convey a sense of wonder, let alone resurrection wonder, to another. It’s the very nature of wonder to catch us off guard, to circumvent expectations and assumptions. Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement.”

And when Jesus spoke her name, she was totally there, totally present, and totally engaged. He was alive! And suddenly she was alive too!

“He speaks, and listening to His voice, new life the dead receive!” That’s the familiar bit of the Wesley hymn,  but Wesley wrote many more verses that are less familiar. Here’s one:

“On this glad day the glorious Sun
Of Righteousness arose;
On my benighted soul He shone
And filled it with repose.”

Dallas Willard said, “We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can almost be as stupid as a cabbage as long as you doubt.”

But this was the point when doubt was no longer possible. It was when Jesus spoke her name.

And the light switches on.

Once that happens, you know, you never really know darkness again.

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“Futile Quests”

“Addiction” might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates society. Our addiction make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in “the distant country,” leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father’s home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in “a distant country.” It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

Nouwens’ words cannot be restricted to the non-believer. There are many of us who seek to follow Christ, who, if challenged, would freely acknowledge the call of God in their lives and yet would have to admit the pull of the world too.

These are those to whom Paul wrote in Galatians 5. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” What is that “yoke of slavery” do you think? Paul is intentionally vague, because it can mean different thing to different people, but generally it refers to a pattern of worldly thinking that holds you (or me) bound.

The key target for Paul was the temptation for the young Christians in Galatia to be circumcised, but we can take this as a metaphor for any rule-keeping system.

Paul’s point was that when you substitute a pattern of worldly thinking, and attempt to live by your own best behaviour, then you are no longer in grace. It’s always either Grace  or Law.

And once you start down that road of worldly thinking, you have begun what Nouwens called “futile quests.” It’s not just religious self-righteousness, but loveless interaction. Once you focus on that Religious Merit Badge stuff of thinking you deserve something from God, you start looking down on others who aren’t so Brilliant as you. (“Thank you Lord that I am not as other men…etc”).

God has called us to a free life. We just have to be sure that we don’t use that freedom as an excuse to be silly, and to do whatever we want to do and destroy our freedom. We have been set free to serve one another in love, right? The bottom line is “Love others as you love yourself.”

And that’s radical. That’s an act of true freedom. But all this gossip and badmouthing each other is simply destroying the community which Christ died to create. “If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?”     

That’s from The Message, Eugene Peterson’s brilliant paraphrase of the Greek text of Galatians 5. And here’s the next bit, for those who -like me- resonate with the challenge of Nouwens’ words about futile quests:

“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on…”

Don’t forget that these are Christians to whom Paul is writing – but Christians who have somehow become embroiled again in a worldly way of thinking. Their intimacy has become fake, their inner character untrustworthy and selfish, their emotions unbalanced, their spirituality superstitious and emotion-based.  As long as we live within the world’s delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in “the distant country,” leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled.

What should I do?

I must retrace the path of the prodigal.

I have to be honest about my self and my failings. Such honesty sometimes takes a while, because there are things to be said and done, restitution that needs to be paid, “Sorry”-s that need to be said, forgiveness that needs to be sought and given.

It’s amazing how how much simple forgiveness  -given and received- can break the slavery of worldly thinking.

And then begins the long journey back to the Father’s house, to community, to favour, healing and wholeness.

What happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely…. 

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.”

This is the real quest, and it is rich and satisfying.

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“The Abba of Jesus”

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“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery. ”

That’s Brennan Manning, of course. It’s a favourite quote of mine. The phrase “terrorist spirituality” is powerful, isn’t it? It makes you think of a situation that keeps you perpetually fearful, and on the edge of horror.

And God as “a benign teddy bear”  who never says “No” to anything?

So what’s the balance?  Using threat or warning in preaching nowadays is rare enough!  It produces guilt and fear, which are considered to be unproductive, and it seems theologically inappropriate because the saints are secure and don’t need to be warned or threatened.  In his famous sermon, “Sinners in the hands of an Angry God,” Jonathan Edwards rejected both reasons:  “When fear and guilt correspond with the true state of things it is reasonable and loving to stir them up.  And the saints are only as secure as they are willing to give heed to biblical warnings and persevere in godliness.‘”  

“Let him who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12)

But Edwards realized that love was the highest motivator.  “Holy love and hope are more efficacious to make the heart tender and to fill it with a dread of sin than is the slavish fear of Hell.”  The point is that preaching about hell is never an end in itself.  You can’t frighten anyone into heaven.  Heaven is for people who love purity, not for people who loathe pain.   Edwards continues:

“Some talk of it as an unreasonable thing to think to fright persons to heaven; but I think is is a reasonable thing to endeavor to fright persons away from hell – tis a reasonable thing to fright a person out of a house on fire.”

The other side of it -the benign teddy bear- is much more common these days. I guess it’s similar to what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” In The Cost of Discipleship, published in 1937.  Bonhoeffer defined “cheap grace” as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

Notice what is emphasized in Bonhoeffer’s definition of cheap grace and what is de-emphasized. The emphasis is on the benefits of Christianity without the costs involved; hence, the adjective cheap to describe it.

So which side do we emphasise?

I remember, years ago, John MacArthur railing against what he called “carnal Christianity.” The reference is to a statement that the apostle Paul made in his first letter to the church at Corinth: “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1). The phrase “of the flesh” is the Greek word sarkinos, meaning “flesh.” The word carnal comes from the Latin word for “flesh.” In the New Testament, flesh can simply mean “skin, flesh, body.” However, Paul often uses it to speak of our sinful nature—that unredeemed part of man with whom the new man in Christ must battle daily (Romans 7; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; 2 Corinthians 10:2; Galatians 5:16-19).

The idea of carnal Christianity is that you can know Jesus as Saviour but not as Lord. Passages such as John 3:16 and Romans 10:9 are marshalled in support:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.“(John 3:16)

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

Now these passages, and others, clearly teach that the one who believes in Jesus Christ “has eternal life” and “will be saved.” There is no disputing this. But what about repentance and holy living?

Can you have Jesus as Saviour without also acknowledging Him as Lord?

The word for “Lord” (kurios) comes 748 times, and the word for “saviour” (soter) only 24 times.  Without downplaying the latter, should we not also emphasise the forner?

Jesus Christ is most certainly our Saviour, but this cannot be separated from the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord, and as Lord, He commands and we obey. 

But Brennan Manning didn’t stop at that point. His own “brokenness” made that final call to obedience too hard to bear. The balance he drew was of the “unwieldy mystery” of a God who knows that our performance will always be imperfect and the “infinite compassion” of a God who came to mend the broken.

And in the middle ground, between Saviour and Lord is relationship. Manning sought and found “a relationship with the Abba of Jesus.” to which we all must finally come.

Into grace, costly grace, that took all that God had to give and requires all that we have to live out in response.

Grace, that changes everything.

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The Origin of “stuff”

I recently returned to the college where -more years ago than I care to tell you- I once studied New Testament Greek for the first time. Also, my visit occurred during a period of particular personal stress, and so both visit and stress recalled a favorite Greek word.

Thlipsis.

In the old versions, it’s translated “tribulation.”

It means a “pressing together” (as of grapes), squeezing or pinching (from the verb thlibo); and is used figuratively for “distress,” The word is used generally of the hardships which Christ’s followers would suffer (Matthew 13:21; 24:9,21,29; Mark 4:17; 13:19,24; John 16:33; 1 Corinthians 7:28); or which they are now passing through (Romans 5:3; 12:12; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 4:14); or through which they have already come (Acts 11:19; 2 Corinthians 2:4; Revelation 7:14).

“So basically,” (said a languid American, leaning back on his chair, during a long-ago lesson), “it means ‘Stuff.’ The stuff that comes at you all the time, right?”

The lecturer agreed, though there was a minor scandal when the student went on to suggest bumper stickers with the tagline, “Thlipsis Happens.”

But the truth is that “Stuff” does indeed come at you all the time, and you struggle to know its origin. We are tested every day with temptation to do what we know is wrong. And it makes us wonder if it’s a way for God to test us or for Satan to defeat us.

So, how do I tell the difference between God testing me and Satan tempting me?”

And who’s in charge here, anyway?

The thing is, we can’t always tell when it’s God is speaking or …er…. someone else.  Everyone has that thing where we say “Is it God or did I just make it up?”

And  how do we know the difference between Satan leading us astray or God encouraging us to grow through a trial?

But here’s a helpful insight from Hunter Magee:

“God Allows Us To Be Tempted

The question isn’t only whether we’re being tested or tempted, but how will we respond to the situation. A lot of people would answer this question by saying, “God is never part of anything that tempts you because God will never put something on you that you can’t handle.” But, this just isn’t true. Paul wrote to Christians in Corinth about how God will never let someone be tempted beyond what he or she can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). God allows us to be tempted, but provides us the ability to resist temptation and a way out of the situation.”

Here’s a paraphrase of the passage to which he refers:

“No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.”

It does seem strange at first though, to consider that God allows us to be tempted. But after all, Jesus was tempted and He made it through.

And it is deeply reassuring to know that He can identify with my irritation,frustration, anger, greed, and struggle for provision because He was tempted “in every way” just like us, yet stood up to it to provide us a way to withstand it and stand firm against it (Hebrews 4:15). I take great personal delight in that phrase “in every way.”

So is there any area in which Jesus did not have experience of temptation? The Bible says no.

And second, of course, we have to follow the thought through and admit that:

Satan Cannot Tempt Us Without Approval

This is a Big Picture view of God. God rules over everything, even Satan.

So, maybe God testing and Satan tempting aren’t two separate things at all – maybe they work together? Can that be right?

In Job 1:1-22, the dialogue between God and Satan shows Satan asking God for approval before he can act against Job. Of course, it’s a highly stylized piece of poetry and not a psychology textbook, but it is the Bible’s narrative answer to this inner question of the “Origin of Stuff.”

God is in charge. God allows things that we don’t always understand. Even the work of Satan is part of the overall lordship of the Most High God. Sometimes God tests us by allowing Satan to tempt us.

Because God knows that He will get glory out of it by making wrong things right, and Satan will fail, God allows us to be tempted.

None of this is ever pleasant. If you exchange the phrase “School Examination” for the word “Test” you see exc tly what I mean. No exam is pleasant, but it is part of a process of educational development, to seehow far you’vecome.

And God tests our faith. James 1:2-5 says to consider it a joy whenever we face trials so that we can be mature and complete. When that happens, God will help our faith grow and make us stronger for the next challenge. Here’s a modern paraphrase:

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.”

That is to say, if you respond to thlipsis correctly, it will only push you further into the arms of the Father, and that can’t ever be a bad thing. For “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.”

 

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“He showed them his hands…”

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“And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples therefore rejoiced when they heard the Lord.” (John 20:20).

I heard an old story of a young girl being embarrassed when her friends came to visit because of her mother’s hands. Those hands were horribly twisted and disfigured. And the little girl was somewhat ashamed of them and didn’t want anyone else to see them.

But then, as she grew older, she learned how her mother’s hands had been disfigured. It had taken place when the young girl was a baby and her pyjamas had caught fire. The   mother had smothered the fire with her own hands, burning them badly in the process. When the girl heard this, her mother’s disfigured hands took on a great beauty. They were no longer a cause of shame.

They were a sign of her mother’s love and sacrifice.

There’s a terrible poignancy in this morning’s verse. “He showed them His hands.” Jesus was proving who he was in an unmistakable way, of course;  but more, he was reminding them just what he had done.

And further still, he was sharing with them why he had done it.

Paul said “I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.” I guess he was talking about the scars from various acts of torture that he had undergone.

But what about us? What are the marks of our love for Jesus? Where are the signs of our affection and devotion toward Him? In what way has our life changed? Mother Teresa once said: “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?”

One day perhaps, He will say to us, “Show me your hands.” He will look to see how we are marked by the story of our lives.

The thought recalls a moment in Peterson’s paraphrase of Psalm 67 that reads: God, mark us with grace and blessing! Smile! … God! Let people thank and enjoy you.” Isn’tthat wonderful? It captures that essential happiness with which the psalm glows. 

We have a painting on our wall here, by the large window overlooking the river, executed by our son Dave some years back, when he was about 18. I remember that he asked me what his mother’s favorite word was. After a moment’s thought I gave him the word “Smile.” He promptly painted the word with his characteristic verve and passion and presented it to her on her birthday.

Unfortunately, he left it to dry on the patio and it became damaged by a sudden rain storm. He was quite upset and wanted to destroy the piece but I wouldn’t let him. I insisted that all was well.

I would even maintain that the rain-streaks through the oil paint added character.

So there it hangs. It’s not perfect but it is marked with grace. In a sense, he “showed me his hands,” for it spells love, commitment, passion and loyalty.  To me, even the furious desire to cast it aside as damaged goods is part of that wounded beauty. And the word itself reminds me that to “Smile” is an act of will, sometimes accomplished under pressure and against all odds. Like the old song, “Smile though your heart is breaking.” It is not a facile or glib thing to decide to smile. It can change everything.

God marks us with grace. Our performance may not be flawless -we may have become damaged by life and by things outside our control – but our hearts may still smile with the grace given us.

There’s a lovely moment in Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring when the extent of the evil that is being faced becomes apparent. Here’s the response: “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

So though Paul noted those “marks of Jesus” on his own body, (for he too had been left out in the rain, so to speak, and suffered terribly through a life where love was mingled with grief), but he also said (in Romans 8),  “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

No matter what, he had been marked by grace.

Today Lord I smile. Today I realise that the most wasted of days is one without laughter. Today I choose you, because you have chosen me. I thank you, I enjoy you, I smile with you, for you have marked me with grace.

Today Lord, I show you my hands.

They’re for you.

 

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“Only the Redeemed”

This pic is so cute ❤   #rainydays

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:1)

What do you think of this passage from Mary Karr:

“If you live in the dark a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling. There’s an initial uprush of relief at first, then-for me, anyway- a profound dislocation. My old assumptions about how the world works are buried, yet my new ones aren’t yet operational. There’s been a death of sorts, but without a few days in hell, no resurrection is possible.”

It seems to me that both the verse and the quote inhabit the same thought-world – that middle section of our experience between waking up in your new post-resurrection world and entering fully  “into the joy of your Lord” (as Jesus phrased it). It’s the position of being already, but not yet. Already forgiven, but not yet capable of forgiving? Already transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, but not yet “renewed in your minds”.

Paul draws quite a list –a horrific list- of ne’er-do-wells and then adds, quite nonchalantly, that “Such were some of you”! But then his profound sense of the possibilities of grace kicks in. Don’t worry about any of that stuff. Don’t major on what is behind you. Consider what’s happening now. You are already “washed… sanctified.. justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

The seagull has been plucked from the oil-slick. It could do nothing to save itself. It was doomed. But now the detergent is being worked carefully into its feathers.

Washed, sanctified, fully rescued.

Loved.

And that’s the heart of it. Come on now, it’s a new day. Yesterday’s failure is redeemed at the sunrise. And “Only the redeemed have the ability to like what God likes and to be pleased with what pleases God.” (Tozer)

We are completely free to serve and obey God now, since we are loved, justified, reconciled, forgiven, saved, and because we are fully sustained to the end of our days! That’s something that we can brag about.That’s something we can relax into.

Enter into the joy of your Lord today!

When Jesus came into our world, he took all that properly belongs to our humanity and delivered it back to us, redeemed. All of our inclinations and appetites and capacities and yearnings are purified and gathered up and glorified by him.

Jesus didn’t come to thin out human life but to enrich it, deepen it and set it free.  “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly!” All the dancing and feasting and singing and building and sculpting and baking and partying that belong to us, and that were stolen away into the service of false gods, are returned to us in the Good News that Jesus brings.

The thing is, you see, that we have been suckered into a massive lie. We think that the way the world is now is normal, customary, and reasonable. But it’s not. It’s horrific and wicked. It’s the world of the oil-slick and we sea-gulls cannot survive long here without huge help. The world is fallen, you see, broken, disjointed.

And yet, paradoxically, despite all the noise, the world hinges on a melody. That’s the joyous truth of it. And it was not made for the fallen, but for the redeemed. And the melody is the song of the redeemed. We have this treasure in jars of clay. We have this song amidst all the dreadful noise of meaninglessness; for only the redeemed have the ability to sing what God likes and to be pleased with what pleases God.

It is better to be redeemed than to be rich, you know. But in every way that it matters, you are rich indeed. Rich towards God, rich towards life.

It’s time to take one day- Say today!- and rise up fully into all the possibilities of grace within it. Pray for your today right now, and wait on Abba Father with the same childlike wonder that watches a sunrise to see what might happen this time.

“The sun comes up, there’s a new day dawning.

It’s time to sing your song again.

whatever may pass and whatever lies before me

let me be singing when the evening comes.

Bless the Lord.”

(Matt Redman)

 

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