His divinity is kneaded in the clay of your humanity like one bread

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I'd like to buy a cross. Do you have one without that funny little man on it?


Today's post is not a paradox, but a witness to my King, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

I don't know is any of your receive Pastor Greg Laurie's daily devotional via email.  If not, I recommend that you subscribe.  This man has walked through the fire of affliction and come out refined and he is all out, no holds barred, for God in Jesus Christ.  You can find his devotionals, blog, etc. through this site: http://www.harvest.org/

A few days back Pastor Greg sent through a short daily devotional where he mentioned the fact that the cross has lost its meaning for many people living today.  In some cases, it is no more than a fashion accessory, and people come to the jewelry counter asking for one without the 'funny little man' on it.

Let me tell you about that 'funny little man' from my perspective.  And yes, in some ways He is 'funny', though I would deny the term 'little' could ever apply to Jesus Christ.  When you get to about the dictionary's fifth definition of 'funny', it is 'curious, strange, peculiar, odd'.  Well, that certainly describes Jesus and His true followers so far as the world see them!

I Corinthians 3:18-19 says: "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God."

How foolish to seek peace in a world torn with strife.  How foolish to believe that love believes all, hopes all, endures all.  How foolish to believe that suffering is a good thing, that putting one's self aside, that dying to one's self is a way to live?  How can we be free with all of those 'do and don'ts' God sets down?  How can there be a God when there is hatred and anger and violence and injustice?  How can mourning be turned in to dancing?  How can you have hope when the world is totally and completely hopeless?

How?  Through Jesus Christ.

Long ago man chose self over God, and every baby born since the day Adam and Eve did so and were driven from the garden, has been born in sin and to death.  I have one daughter and one granddaughter.  They are beautiful gifts from God, but it doesn't take any parent very long to realize the 'nature' born into these supposedly pure and innocent little children isn't innocent at all.  "That's mine, you can't have it!"  "I hit her because she hit me!"  "I want that, and I want it because I want it!"  "Give it to me now!!!!"

Innocent?  Hardly.

Fallen humanity begins life with the belief that they deserve everything, and that somehow, someway, everything they want is being denied them and it isn't fair.  I speak from experience here.  Though I have attended church dutifully and believed in God all of my life, I still spent most of it telling Him how unfair it all was and how I could obviously run it better.  I considered myself a 'good' girl.  I obey the Ten Commandments (or so I thought), I didn't smoke, drink, etc.  However, I did continually doubt, fear and stamp my feet (so to speak) declaring MY will was the one that should be obeyed.

God has spent the better part of 52 years humbling me until I can finally honestly say, "God, YOUR will not mine."

And that is when people begin to think you are 'funny'. 

That's okay, people thought my King was 'funny' too.  Jesus asked nothing for Himself.  He had no permanent home.  He walked the world to help others, to reach out to them, and to challenge them that what they wanted and were seeking was not God's way, but their own.  Jesus came to show them the true path to God and that's its' rewards were immeasurable.  But for anything that good, there is a price.  The price for God's salvation of fallen humanity was the life of His son and our belief in that death and Jesus' subsequent resurrection - and that His resurrection was for us, to wash us clean, to save us and to set us free from self and sin.

So if you know anyone who wears a cross as a decorative item, because they think it's cool, take a moment to point to it and ask them is they know 'the funny little man' who is missing from their cross -

And their lives.

Image from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Paradox Ten - Ask and it shall be given unto you, except.....


Matthew 7:7&8 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Yeah, right.

I am certain many Christian's secret response to the scripture quoted above is just that.  Though my own heart is not quite that cynical, I have wrestled with the fact that it often appears God is not listening, or that He chooses not to give any answer to prayer, or to open a door so I can find one on my own.  In some of my darkest moments, it has seemed that God's only response has been a stone hard silence that leaves me feeling, if possible, even more alone than before.

I think many Christians come away from their early years in church - I know I did - from all of the marvelous stories of the Old Testament prophets and men chosen by God, thinking that God must appear to them -  maybe by setting the artificial fern in the corner of their home-theatre on fire - and speak in a booming voice in order to be heard.  Many of us think we must wait for God to clearly and vocally declare which direction we should take before we can take action.  That would be nice, but there are a couple of a very good and very clear reasons why most of us are not directed in this way...

One is the Bible.  The other, is Jesus.

B.C., and I mean before Christ and not before the Common Era (B.C.E.) as it is now called, God spoke to and through man directly.  For a time He even abided with men as a living presence in the tabernacle.  All of this time God promised men that He would one day do something to rectify the choice Adam and Eve made; that is, to restore the right relationship between Himself and man.  God sent prophets who spoke with authority in His name.  God moved men to certain actions by His direct word.  God's will is sovereign and He will see that it is done, and at that time speaking to men and through men directly was necessary.  In the book Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, the author speaks to the fact that the Bible tells us this was necessary until the 'final' revelation of God came about, which is Jesus Christ.  In the story of Jesus' birth, life, works, and death, we have the voice of God - and it resides in the Holy Scriptures.

Look again at the image at the top of this post.  Jesus knocking.  Most of us grew up with some form of this image, the meaning of which varies from Jesus knocking on our hearts, to a representation of the fact that we should knock on God's heart and ask for what we desire - and then we are assured that it will be granted.

And yet, was Jesus' request granted?  Didn't he ask for the cup to pass away from him, so he could be spared the excruciating agony of a death on the cross?  Someone told me the other day that they didn't understand why if God was so poweful, Jesus had to die.  Couldn't God have spared his own son?  Couldn't the Almighty have 'done' salvation some other way?  The scriptures suggest that Jesus - however fleetingly - might have wondered the same thing.  But the beauty of the story of Jesus' final hours is this - Yes! His prayer was answered because the pleading was not the end of it.  The end was Matthew 26:42, 'THY will be done.'

And God's will was done, as it is in all our lives.

When we who are believers ask for something, our prayers are answered.  When we knock, the door is opened and all is given to us - but, the answers, the gifts given are within God's sovereign will to choose.  And that means that sometimes - often, in fact - with our mortal eyes we will not see those answers because we do not want to. 

Not too long ago I read through Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ again.  (A book I highly recommend.)  In one section, where he is speaking with Gary Habermas, PHD, DD regarding evidence for the fact that Jesus was seen alive after the Resurrection by many witnesses, Strobel asks Habermas how this has personally affected him.  Habermas then relates a story of the time when his wife was dying of cancer and he kept asking God to save her, asking God to change what was happening, and then, when there seemed to be no reply to those requests -as she lay breathing her last - God, why don't you do something about this?  God had one answer, which came - typically - in the form of a question.  "Gary, did I not raise my son from the dead?"  Habermas would then counter with another argument and God would repeat his reply, "Gary, did I not raise my son from the dead?"

Though our questions, our pleadings, our requests and demands differ, God's reply is always the same - "Did I not raise my son from the dead?"

Yes, God did.  The answer was given and the door opened over 2000 years ago.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Blessed Chaos - Part Three



THREE


Damascus. One of the oldest cities in the world. A fair white jewel set in the midst of a vast verdant plain. ‘Pearls in a goblet of green’, someone had once said, describing her.

At this moment Saul felt as though he would never see it.

Six days out from Jerusalem. Over one hundred and thirty miles from home. After one hundred and forty hours of solitude forced upon him by the companionship of the members of the Sanhedrin –

a police force of sorts that as a Pharisee he was forbidden to speak or interact with. Tired and foot-sore. Troubled in his heart. Saul had begun to believe the glistening city was nothing more than an empty promise, an almost mythical land which, like Moses, he would be prevented from entering for failing to meet God’s expectations.

Depressed, angry, unable to escape his own dark thoughts, he refused to stop when his companions heard the first rumor of thunder that suggested a storm lay ahead. Night was falling. They had traveled all day with little rest, and he had no intention of passing yet another wet and weary night in the wilderness. Thunderstorms were common in this region and he, for one, was ready for a roof over his head, a dry bed, and some intelligent conversation. Wishing once again that the Sanhedrin had granted them mounts, Saul lifted his weary feet and headed for the crest of the ridge that signaled the end of the mountain range and the beginning of the narrow path that led through the foothills to the gates of the beautiful city itself, leaving the others to follow as they would.

As the skies darkened unnaturally and ominous clouds moved in, eclipsing the setting sun, Saul outpaced his companions and arrived a minute or two before they did. Relieved, he recognized Damascus’ ivory towers, painted rose-gold and tinged with lavender.

It was the last sight he was to see for three days and nights.

Without warning a brilliant light struck him, knocking him from his feet and onto his back. Saul lay on the ground, the dust of the dry sandy soil – untouched by the smallest drop of rain – rising up about him, choking his throat and irritating his eyes so that they filled with tears. As he sought to catch his breath, slamming his eyes shut against the pain, a majestic voice spoke to him both from without and within, filling his being with fear and wonder.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? ” the voice asked in tones at once severe and sad.; its’ sound sonorous as the thunder.

Saul licked his lips, his mouth dry. “Who….” He swallowed and whispered against his fear. “Who are you, sir?”

There followed seven words that changed the young Pharisee’s life forever. From the cradle until that moment, Saul’s life had been aimed straight as an arrow from the quiver toward one single goal: The fulfillment of the law.

Now, unbelievably he met it face to face.

“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” The voice paused as a presence of pure light radiated through Saul’s firmly shut eyelids, searing the puny human organisms within. He gasped as he felt the hand of the Lord rest upon his heart, opening wide the barricade he had erected to keep God from speaking to his soul.

“You cannot continue to kick against the goads. But rise; go into the city, and you will be told what to do.”

If he could have Saul would have wept, for his heart was breaking. But his eyes were shut fast as though an impenetrable barrier had formed over them. And in the first moment of true enlightenment he had ever known –

He became blind.

###


On the trail his companions, having ducked beneath rocks and bushes, were surprised when the lightning struck with no sound. And later, upon arrival in Damascus, reported that the thunder which followed seemed to carry with it words they could not understand. Words, they said, that the young Pharisee in their charge had answered as though the God of their fathers spoke to him from out of the storm clouds as He had so long ago to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Perplexed they left him in the care of good Jews on the street called ‘Strait’, and went to inform those in power that the chosen messenger of the ruling council had been struck sightless. Helpless as a babe Saul lay on a narrow cot in the gathering darkness reciting odd passages of scripture, murmuring snatches of Psalms and crying without tears, for the inner surface of his eyes had clouded and thickened as though scorched, forming a barrier that would not yield to water or the ministrations of the cleverest physician.

Saul for his part wanted only to be left alone.

Alone with his thoughts.

Alone with his God.

For the greater part of the next day he knew a sort of restive sleep. In his waking moments, he would at first be overwhelmed by a deep sense of wonder and excitement, even gratitude, and then without warning, fall into despair and hopelessness. Finally, exhausted and spent, his heart and soul numb, Saul heard strange voices speaking close to his pallet as though he were deaf as well as blind.

“It is a sign from God.”

“But he has been blinded. What can that mean?”

“He has worked tirelessly ridding Jerusalem of the vermin called the Christ’s ones.” The voice paused, obviously disgusted with the misuse of the name of the Messiah. “How could God be displeased with him? Why would he be punished?”

Why indeed?

The next time Saul awoke, he was alone. He thought he could smell the dawn and supposed another day had begun. The house he lay within was on the street called ‘Strait’, which ran from one end of Damascus to the other. It was the main concourse for pedestrians as well as merchants and militia, with its wide central avenue where traffic ran, and two spacious sidewalks where brightly colored awnings and scantily clad slave girls announced a great wealth of products and wares. From within the darkened room where he lay, awaiting his God, Saul could hear the casual passersby laughing and singing and he wondered –

Was he being punished?

According to the law he had loved all of his life it was his just due, and yet Saul thought he had glimpsed another kind of God – one full of mercy and compassion. On the road he had felt a living presence reach out to grip his cold hardened heart, and into that moment of fear and awe had come the sweetest melody he had ever heard. He had known and been a part of love.

But where was that hand now?

Where was this living God?

###

“Brother Saul?” A hesitant voice broke his reverie, drawing him back from his remembrance of the light to the present reality of blackness. Suddenly the burden of Saul’s disability weighed even more heavily upon him, driving his heart into his ribs and riveting his sleight form to the rough straw mat. He turned his head away, seeking the cool comfort of the stone wall against his hot cheek and forehead.

His hearing already more keen, Saul heard a breath drawn, and listened as a light footfall entered the room. A curtain was drawn aside and whoever it was paused beside him. The breath was released in a sigh.

Saul’s spent body tensed, uncertain of their errand. “Well,” he asked through lips cracked and dry, “have you come to pity or to pronounce sentence? Are you God’s man?”

There was a moment of silence and then a man’s voice replied quietly, “Are you?”

Saul shifted on the pallet and turned his blinded eyes towards the sound. “I used to think that was what I wanted …to be God’s man. I was wrong. I am His slave.”

A cool hand touched his fevered skin startling him. “Yes, a slave. Beaten and broken. Left in the darkness…. Penance for what you have done?” There was a curious edge to the man’s voice, as though he was unsure of just who and what he was dealing with. “Or reward, do you think?”

A curious phrase. Saul swallowed hard. “And who are you?

Again there was silence as the hand was withdrawn. When the stranger spoke, it was not to answer.

“If you had asked me yesterday morning, I would have said this is less than you deserve for the agony you have inflicted upon our people. Many have died. Many more are demoralized and lost, bereft of husband, mother…child.” The voice broke, its owner obviously moved to anger. The next words were a sword thrust. “I have no pity for you.”

Saul held his breath, awaiting a blow. This must be a follower of the Nazarene, justly angry and cold with vengeance. It seemed God had judged him and found him lacking. It was no more than he deserved.

Saul waited in silence until the man spoke again.

“No, brother Saul,” he said, his words soft as a prayer, “I do not pity you.

“I envy you.”

Saul blinked as tears formed, stinging his blistered eyes. His voice shook. “Envy me? Why?”

“Has God not asked something of you?”

Saul thought back to the meeting on the road. There had been a command. Arise, go into the city and you will be told what you must do. He had forgotten until now.

“Yes. Yes, He has,” he replied.

The hand reached out again and touched his forehead, but this time it remained. A cool comforting reassurance of the presence of another living being. The stranger’s voice faltered as he spoke, but then continued with greater strength and resolution.

“As we the people of Israel have been chosen of God, so you – Saul of Tarsus – have been chosen by His Son. I have been sent to be God’s instrument. It is His will that you be freed from this darkness. For the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go to the street called Strait, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold he is praying and in a vision he has seen a man coming in and putting his hand on him so that he might receive his sight’.”

Saul sighed, the tension leaving his wounded form. “You are Annanias?”

“I am.”

It was true then. Saul had believed it but the wishful thinking of a fevered dream. In the midst of prayer, in his deepest moment of despair, a man had come to him and placed his hand upon his eyes and spoken words that lifted the veil of darkness, signifying the death of the old man and the resurrection of the new.

“Did you not believe I would come?”

Saul paused. “I didn’t dare to hope….” Not only to have his sight back, but to work for the Lord as he had always longed to. To be His voice, to carry the word of His son. Paul sobbed and began to shake. Shame overwhelmed him as he remembered what he had done in the Lord’s name and from his wounded eyes tears began to fall. “I am not worthy. I do not deserve another chance. All those I have wounded….”

Annanias sat on the pallet beside him and placed his other hand on his heaving chest. “All that has gone before is washed away the moment you confess your belief in the life and death of His son, in His death on the cross to take away your sin and grant you life eternal with the Father.

“Do you believe, Saul?”

Saul was without words. He nodded his head, his heart broken.

“Then let it be done.” The older man paused. His hand trembled where it lay upon Saul’s flesh. “Still…before I begin, I feel I must warn you. These also are the words of the Lord most High. ‘Go,’ he said, ‘for this man is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for my sake.’ These hands, which the Lord has sent to you, do not bring comfort, but the promise of pain and hardship. I believe unlike anything you have known before.” When Saul failed to answer Annanias asked quietly, “He has said, ‘Go!’ Will you go?”

Saul shifted on his pallet and with the other man’s help moved onto his knees, grateful to feel the cold stone against his bones and flesh. He bent his head in an expression of servanthood and prayer, and voiced the words he had studied all of his life, but only now begun to understand.

“Here am I, Lord. Send me.”

###

Hours later as Saul sat in a small courtyard off the back of Judas’ house, his skin painted a dusky copper by the fading sun, tears ran freely down his cheeks and into his beard as he beheld with new eyes the glory of the world his Lord had created. Even the weak light made them tear, but that mattered little. What did matter was that he could see – really see.

At Annanias’ touch something like scales had fallen away from his eyes, and immediately his sight had been restored. In that same moment – as his human eyes awoke to the beauty of the day – his mind’s eye opened to God and he was overcome by visions. He saw himself as an old man in chains standing before the rulers of this world, knowing full well they planned his death. He watched as he sought to calm a group of men who shouted and scrambled, terrified, as a mighty wave buffeted the ship they were on, seeking to overturn it and cast them into the sea. He witnessed his own blood running crimson across broad gray stones, forming a small stream that ran from the pillar he was lashed to, to the feet of his Roman guard. He heard himself scream and felt the lash

Felt himself die…..

And yet at one and the same time he experienced the love of God in a way such as he had never known possible. Saul felt the waters of forgiveness wash over his wounded soul, healing him, freeing him from all he had been and done, from every wrong action of the past, from sin and shame, and he knew at once the wonderful, miraculous grace of the Lord. He saw the thousands – the hundreds of thousands of faces of those whom he would meet and teach, and watched as the knowledge of God’s mercy and the incomparable power He would grant them transformed their lives. Saul witnessed the inheritance of the saints as this transformation spread to his world and then beyond.

And he knew.

He knew the course of his life.

Unable to put these things into words, he had arisen quickly and gone to be baptized, making official and public what he had come to know – that the law was but the springboard of love, and the love of God was to be found in His son, Jesus Christ. And that this love was deeper and wider and longer and higher than anything man could conceive.

Now, with his stomach full and his strength returning, Saul sat making plans. He would go back into the city to show those to whom he had been sent to that he was a changed man. Annanias did not think this wise – and the others who had come to visit and to welcome him agreed. But he was determined.

The Lord had a great mission for him and he, for one, did not expect it to end at the close of the first week with him dead on the synagogue’s steps.

“Brother Saul?”

Saul turned and beheld his host. Judas was dressed in a long loose robe and vest. He held in his hand a water jar and cup. “Are you comfortable? Is there anything you need?” he asked.

Saul shook his head. “Thank you, brother. I have all that I need.”

The other man paused a moment. Then Judas asked boldly, “Are you certain you must leave us? Should you not rest? The Lord will surely allow time for you to grow strong. If not demand it.”

Saul shook his head. “It is in weakness that I am strong. It is in despair that I have learned to hope.” He smiled gently. “Only by losing that which I thought was life to me, have I found life.”

He stood and walked to the small balustrade that protected the roofed porch. “There is much I must learn. Many things I need to understand. I have met God’s son, but we are strangers. The law of God forms within the corridors of my mind, but it is the heart – the living heart of it I must learn and claim.” Saul’s eyes rested on the hills far away, the ones that had not long before rolled with thunder and the voice of God.

“As our Lord before me, I need to be alone with God.”

###

Order. Chaos. Light and dark. Hope and despair.

I have known all of these and for my part have found that without knowledge of the one, the other is impossible.

All of my life I had struggled to maintain order. I had used God’s law to protect myself, as a shield against the chaos that was His voice calling me to life. I had blinded my eyes and lost my way. But God in His infinite wisdom and mercy shattered my shield and broke my sword, and as I lay on the battlefield dying, He reached down and drew me up and gave me victory.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

 END -

Image of the older Paul by Rembrandt

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Blessed Chaos - Part Two



TWO


Centuries later the words used to describe the young Pharisee’s attack on the church of Jesus, the Christ, were ‘brutal’ and ‘sadistic’. Like a wild animal savaging a body, Saul cruelly persecuted all of those who proclaimed the Risen Lord, and in his blindness – his heart as hard as flint – he cared not what families he destroyed, how many women he widowed, or orphans he left to fend for themselves. In their darkened antechambers, huddled miserably, afraid of the light, he knew they prayed to their accursed god to spare them from his wrath. And so, when they were ushered out before him, chained and bound, Saul looked into their eyes expecting to see shame and fear.

But he did not find it.

One after another, those who were led into the streets in the early morning hours, or late after their last prayers were whispered – one after another they sang soft praises and blessings to their god, asking Yahweh to forgive their persecutor. Their sweet words stung like coals and left Saul angered, bewildered and confused. Like Stephen, these Christ’s Ones thought little of themselves or the danger they were in, but of him –

The one who persecuted them.

On this night, a young man near his age – a former acquaintance from the Temple School – spoke to him as the guards encircled the man’s wrists with irons and herded his delicate wife toward the torch lit street. The flickering firelight illumined a handsome face and dark eyes that sparked with keen intelligence.

“Saul, I have prayed for you,” he said, his voice as steady as the earth

Infuriated Saul retorted, “For me? Better pray for yourself. Or better, yet, for your young wife!”

The man closed his eyes and drew a deep breath before meeting his ferocious stare. “By the blood of the Lamb, Jesus the Christ, my dark stains are washed clean. Yours are still upon you, Brother Saul, and they cry out to Heaven from the ground upon which that innocent blood is spilled. Can you be so blind? Do you not recognize your God?”

My God?

As they led the man away, Saul leaned back upon the cool stones that lined one of the dark catacombs the Nazarene’s Chosen had occupied and sighed.

“My God.”


###


Far away, buried in false night, a pair of callused hands were clasped in prayer, the will of one untutored fisherman bent towards his Lord and friend. Peter asked for deliverance of his people from the fury of this man named Saul. He asked for God to strike down their enemy so that they might prosper in spreading the word of His son.

Little did Peter know that in granting his prayer, the God of infinite wisdom and power intended to change his world and his mission forever. And not only his world….

Everyone’s.


###


The people applauded when he passed by.

Members of the Sanhedrin praised him for his zeal and inflexible fury.

The High Priest had even taken time to thank him personally, assuring him of God’s favor.

But Yahweh, the one who mattered most, remained stubbornly silent. Since the day in the temple when God had touched his heart, Saul realized he had kept himself too busy to listen. But now as he knelt on his soft pallet, still troubled by the words of his schoolmate, he found the corridors of his mind curiously barren. Silent. Empty. As though the God of his fathers had been chased like the followers of the Nazarene into the shadows by his relentless pursuit of justice in His Holy Name.

As though no matter how hard he tried, he grieved Him still.

Moving into a position of prayer, young Saul raised his voice in a familiar Psalm seeking the Lord’s face.

“Why, O Lord do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”

As the whispered words caught in a weary throat and tears traveled the length of his bearded cheek, Saul felt more than saw a shape shift within the shadows that encircled the lamp-lit room. Warily, he turned, catching a glimpse of a thin, sturdy frame; a narrow face masked by the darkness except for where the light revealed a pair of penetrating eyes that sought his out, cutting through the self-taught lies to the heart of his confusion. Startled, he rose abruptly, spilling oil and casting the room into utter darkness.

“Who? Who is there?”

Silence greeted him. Boldly Saul moved across the room, hands held out before him. In the place the man had occupied, Saul found nothing more than the coarsely woven robe he had shed earlier upon leaving the cool desert night behind.

Angered he whirled and shouted into the darkness. “It will do you little good to haunt me!” His breath came in harsh hurried gasps. Scattered locks of dark brown hair lay plastered to his forehead, and he was trembling. “Do you hear me? Little good!”

Real or imagined this god of fisherman and thieves was dangerous.

Balling his fists Saul sought to quiet his pounding heart, taking first one deep breath and then another. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he would go to the Sanhedrin and ask for permission to pursue this Jesus’ followers out of the city, even to Damascus where they had fled into the arms of other Jews less likely to recognize the sedition they preached.

Tomorrow he would follow in the footsteps of his God who, when His people had failed Him, had showed no mercy. Had given no quarter.

And soon, as the Galiaean had died, so would his sect.

Tomorrow it would begin.

Even so Saul knew no sleep that night.


To be continued....


Image of the Apostle Paul by Rembrandt

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Blessed Chaos - Paul, the Paradox



Since I was a little girl, the Apostle Paul has always fascinated me.  Paul was, in himself, a paradox of sorts - the super-Jew who was the one who spread Christ's message across the Gentile world.  He was a ferocious, even rabid defender of the law; accounted one of the most gifted, if not the most gifted Pharisee of his generation.  Because of this zeal he embraced the persecution of the Christian sect, becoming its champion.

An odd choice, surely, for the spokesman of the Lamb.

And yet, after Christ met Paul, or Saul as he was then called, on the road to Damascus, that zeal - that ardor - was directed instead toward spreading the news of God's new covenant with man that had been sealed with Jesus' blood on Calvary.  As He does with each of us, when God looked at Saul, He no longer saw the old man dirtied and stained by his wrong choices and sin, but the new man - one washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb.

Over the next few weeks I am going to post my own idea of how this change came about.  A Blessed Chaos is what I call 'Christian Fan Fiction'.  (I am, after all, a great fan of Christ! )  I do not claim that everything in this piece comes from scripture - it doesn't.  Some is supposition on my part based on Paul's actions and the actions of others. 

I hope through this 'poetical reality' that Paul's story may touch your heart as we approach this season of rejoicing and marking the Resurrection of our Lord.

                                          ___________________________________

Dark.

It was dark.

Dark as a night without stars. A room without a lamp. A prison cell without a window.

And yet, it was in the midst of this complete and total darkness that I began to see the light.

My life had been one great striving to fulfill the law ;

a rigid adherence to the truth the God of my people had revealed to His chosen race.

My eyes, I believed, were open to all He was and ever would be.

But the Lord, in His graciousness, showed me how blind I truly was.

And into my well-ordered life, a blessed chaos came.

Jesus Christ.





A Blessed Chaos



Blood striped the sandy soil near his feet like welts on the back of an obstinate slave. Nearby a young man lay dying, having committed his soul to the God of Abraham in the same gentle tones he had used to beg forgiveness for those who raised their hands against him. Troubled, the young Pharisee shifted his weight, consciously stepping back as another of his number moved towards him to reclaim the robe he had left in his charge.

“One less to trouble Heaven. Eh, Saul?”

Dark eyes, heavily-lidded, were focused on the speaker. “Yes. One less.”

So it was.

So it was never meant to be.

Brother against brother. Jew against Jew. And all because of this presumptuous carpenter from Galilee and his band of fanatical devotees who could not - would not - admit defeat. Saul shook his head as the limp body of the man named Stephen was silently borne away by friends and family. How could they possibly believe what they purported? How could they lay claim to a Savior who promised to destroy the Temple? To do away with the law that was his life?

How could they believe in a Messiah who died accursed on a tree?

Yes. As of this day there was one less fanatic to worry about. But he, Saul of Tarsus, vowed never to stop until there were none left to take his place.

“We do the work of the Lord,” Saul asserted, handing over the dark garment, “blessed be the Name of the Lord.” His companion Pharisee nodded and clasped his arm firmly, unexpectedly leaving a scarlet impression on his sleeve, painted fresh in martyr’s blood.

Saul drew back, startled. Until that moment, his hands had been clean.



###



The music had not changed. Not so he could discern and yet….something was different.

Saul lifted his head, disturbed. Outside the window of his humble home songbirds winged through the darkening sky in tune with the majesty that was the God of Israel. Without thought they embraced Yahweh’s eternal plan – single notes woven inextricably into the symphony of the universe. By God’s grace they knew their purpose.

Even they, creatures without conscience, knew their place.

The dark-haired young man sighed and rocked back on his heels, his prayers falling somewhat short of Heaven. Today, it seemed God was not listening. A sad smile touched Saul’s full lips as he shifted into a seated position.

For most of his young life – all he could remember – Saul had devoted every waking moment to the study of the law. He had breathed it. Eaten it. Gone to bed and risen by it. The law had become the melody by which he existed, the song that lightened his heart, lifting his feet and setting them on a path that included study with the masterful Gamaliel, early recognition of his keen intelligence and powers of persuasion, and a position as one of the youngest members of the Pharisitical order.

But of late, in the last month or two, despite repeated attempts to ignore it, he had come to the realization that something had changed. The melody had become strained. Discordant. It weighed him down now, causing his head to hang, his feet to drag, and his heart….

Well, his heart was simply no longer able to sing.

Saul knew the law was perfect. All. And so, with dreadful certainty, he knew whatever was wrong lay in him. He was out of joint. Lost….

Deep in meditation, Saul waited upon his Lord, his mind drifting back to the morning’s rash act. If it had not been for the depth of Stephen’s transgression, their loss of control would have been embarrassing. Still he could not help but remember the look of utter peace upon the blasphemous youth’s face. What did Stephen know? What contentment, real or imagined, fueled the steady fire that lit his light grey eyes? Drawing a quick breath, Saul’s own eyes snapped open. With sudden insight he realized God had not fallen silent.

His own disquiet had stopped his ears.

Illumined by a brilliant beam of steady moonlight, Saul knelt and bent his head against the cold unyielding floor. In desperation he called upon the Father of the Universe to open the eyes of his heart so that he might see clearly. He asked that his ears might be unstopped, so that he might hear and his lips part once again to sing his Lord’s praises.

“Show me, oh God my father, the truth. For only the truth will set me free.”

And there in the darkness, without the comfort of a pallet or a wife, and troubled in his breast, Saul lay until sleep overtook him.



###



After early morning study with his master and some time spent learning to perfect his tent-making craft, Saul hastily made his way to the Temple in order to continue his renewed relationship with the Lord God Jehovah. As he moved through the crowded streets lined with vendors peddling everything from daily necessities to unspotted animals ripe for sacrifice, he heard several pointed comments, and once or twice saw hands lifted his direction in praise and blessing.

The story of the stoning of the Nazarene’s follower had obviously proceeded him.

Swallowing hard, he continued to press forward until one aged woman broke free from the disorderly ranks to thank him personally for his obedience to God.

“The Lord of all will bless you and yours for many generations to come,” she whispered, shyly touching his hand.

Quickly nodding his thanks Saul pulled away, touched, but disturbed as well by his sudden celebrity. All he had done was guard the others’ robes while they had meted out God’s just punishment. Still, he gave thanks for this human confirmation of the decision he had made upon waking cold and stiff on the uneven floor of his humble dwelling.

What they had done had been just.

Stephen – even as Saul – was a child of the Diaspora, a descendant of the children of Israel long since displaced from their homeland and forced to live and thrive in foreign lands until the day they could come home to Jerusalem. And like Saul, he too had known the one God and worked tirelessly for him. But then, for some incomprehensible reason this young man – so full of grace and power – had come to believe the filth about the carpenter from Nazareth. It had pained Saul to watch Stephen fall away from the brethren, to hear blasphemies issue from his lips. And when at last Stephen stood upon the steps of the Temple and spoke stingingly, accusing the guardians of God’s law of being stiff-necked, calling them ‘uncircumcised’ and murderers; when he threatened the Temple, the Council, their very God, Saul too had been overcome with rage and cried out for vengeance, ready to hurl the first stone.

But something had stopped him.

Instead of joining in he had stood by mute; his hands shaking and his dark eyes wide. This was not the law as he understood it. This was chaos. If their God was as almighty as they believed, then why this frantic anger? If Jehovah was in control, what threat was one poor lost soul who prayed to a god with pierced skin and a bloody crown? And yet, threat there was. If not to God, then to Israel. The Romans would not stand by as these fanatics interfered with their gods and the trade their worship engendered. Herod would not hear of another ‘king’ in Israel. And so, blessing or curse, Stephen’s young voice had been stilled in a moment of sheer frustration and rage.

Upon waking this morning God had confirmed Saul’s thought: their zeal had been righteous, but their methods questionable. Jehovah had spoken but one word in his ear as he lay there, exhausted, still seeking His face. “Open your eyes,” a quiet voice had breathed into the morning stillness, “to the incomparable power of those who believe. Open your eyes.”

Now, his eyes were open. He knew his own heart and waited only upon Yahweh’s favor.

Moving into the center court of the temple Saul caught sight of a small group of men and women who seemed to shrink into the shadows as his eyes fell upon them. He paused as one man among them met his stare – a tall rough-hewn man with callused hands and skin tanned bronze by constant exposure to sun and sea. The man’s back was straight, the tilt of his head not arrogant, but unbowed. Saul’s eyes narrowed, expecting to find in the fisherman’s look the recognition of a mortal enemy.

The older man instead gazed upon him with pity, and then called for those about him to lower their heads in prayer.

Saul stopped, aghast. How dare he? Here, within his own temple? Within the sight of the one true God?

How dare these Christians pretend to know better how to worship him?

Saul took one step toward the renegades only to find himself suddenly caught up in a vast influx of sweaty, road-weary pilgrims. He was spun round and round. By the time he had disentangled himself, the followers of the Galilean had vanished, melting into the shadows of the vast colonnaded temple as if they had never been.

Disgruntled Saul hesitated a moment, seeking to clear his head before entering the presence of God. Then, he entered the inner circle. As the ancient ceremony began and the words of the Prophets drifted to him on the hot dusty air, a curious thing happened. He felt a hand grip his heart and without warning time stood still.

In his head a hushed voice spoke. “Saul, as Isaiah before, I would send you. Will you go for me?”

“My only desire, Lord, is to serve you,” he answered, his head spinning. “Tell me what you wish?”

“Will you listen when I call?”

“I’m listening now, Lord. Tell me. What is it you want?”

The voice of the Lord was stubbornly silent and into the silence that fell, reality bled. Once again Saul became aware of time and the constant tide of believers who streamed past him: proselytes, God-fearers and Jews.

For just a moment, he feared his God had deserted him.

“My Lord, my rock and my salvation!” his heart cried out, near breaking. “What more do you want of me?”

This time the voice that answered was somehow closer, more personal. The voice of a man, and yet still his God.

“I will take you where you would not go. You will be made to suffer for me. Your name will be reviled and your character questioned. And yet, ages from now, your memory will be blessed.” There was a pause, as though a breath was drawn, and then, “Will you still go?”

“I desire only to serve you, Lord,” Saul answered, ashamed and angered. “Why do you question me so?”

The two voices were one. “I am the Lord your God. You swear your love and service, and yet you hurt me so. Why do you not listen when I call, Saul?

“Why do you grieve me so?”

Abruptly released Saul gasped and staggered. The pilgrims and worshippers about him looked away, thinking him drunk. Heedless of their disapproving stares he fell to his knees and sobbed. Yahweh’s touch had left his heart bruised….

But the Almighty’s words had wounded him to his very soul.

God was displeased with him. That was why he had not been able to hear. But why? What had he failed to do?

He had followed the law to the nth degree. Had made certain he remained clean and righteous. He knew every rule, every regulation, and had gone out of his way to make certain others obeyed.

What else could he do?

Saul’s tearful gaze moved slowly along the wall of the temple until it caressed the veil that masked the Holy of Holies and then, lingering for a moment on the lattice-work barrier that kept the women separate, came at last to rest on the spot where the followers of the Nazarene had knelt and prayed.

Unless it was this matter with Stephen….

Slowly rising to his feet, Saul felt his heart harden against the pain, as though a fortress had been erected to prevent it from further assault. Any tears he had dried in his eyes as a passionate fire ignited deep within his soul.

His pursuit of knowledge had been tireless. The race run without ceasing. Thinking…always thinking. But when action had been called for he had faltered.

Not again.

Never again.

With the zeal that had possessed him to seek the meaning and the heart of God’s law, he would now seek out these follower’s of Jesus until their leaders, their movement, the very memory of their god was obliterated from the face of the earth.

Certain in his heart that he had divined God’s will Saul turned and fled the temple to begin the Purge.


Continued....


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Paradox Number Nine: No, you can't. Yes, I can


Thou shalt not. You ought not. You shouldn't. Don't. CAN'T.

Wow. God certainly seems to have a problem with fun, doesn't He? And what is all this stuff about grace and freewill, if we can't do what we want, when we want and with who we want? After all, if once we have accepted Christ we are 'saved', then what does it matter what we do? God forgives, right? So it must be okay to do exactly what I want, and then all I have to do is ask for forgiveness. Right?

Wrong.

This is one of the heresies Paul fought in the early church. And since Paul was writing within the lifetime of the people who knew Jesus, it didn't take mankind very many years to come up with this idea. There are a lot of sophisticated names for this kind of 'religion', but, plain and simple, it illustrates the old adage of having your cake and eating it too. I want to be saved. I want to go to Heaven, but I want to do what I want to do here and now. In other words, I want to keep self on the throne of my heart until I die, and then - and only then - will I surrender it to Jesus.

Now, in case you think I don't fight this fight, or that Paul who was chastising the early church for such thoughts, didn't either - check out this scripture:

Romans 7: 14 & 15 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

No, Paul was not schizophrenic - he was human, as are we all.

When I was a little child, like a lot of little children, I believed that Adam's 'sin' was to take a bite of that apple. God said 'No!', and defiantly shaking their fists, Adam and Eve said 'Yes!' Now I know it wasn't the apple part, but the 'defiant' part that was the sin. Adam and Eve chose self over God's sovereign will. Over God. The inheritence they have left every one of their children (us) is that same defiant will. We don't like to be told what we can and can't do. We don't like rules - even when they are protective and not prohibitive.

And that is the beauty and glory of God's rules. They are for the protection of the ones He loves, and not to keep them from having fun.

Think of your own children. In my husband's grandmother's home there was a furnace grate on the floor. It was in the hall between the living room and bedroom and when the furnace was firing, it was blazing hot. I told my child time and time again not to take her shoes off and step on that grate because it would burn her. Was I trying to stop her from having the fun of being barefoot, or of running through the house carefree? No. I didn't want her to get burned. So, of course, what did she do? Took her shoes off, went into the hallway and stepped on the grate - the result or consequence of which was a very painful pattern of burns seared into the skin of her feet.

And a lot of tears.

God gives us rules to keep us from making mistakes, from sinning, and to prevent us from having to face the consequences of those choices. In other words, he holds us tightly in order to set us free. Like my daughter, most often we ignore Him and go our own way.

Thankfully, God sent Jesus to be the balm for the burns we inflict on ourselves and to free us, through His sacrifice on the cross, from suffering their eternal consequences.


Image: Creation of stars and planets, by Michelangelo, in the Sistine Chapel





Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Paradox Number Eight: Laying down a life to gain one


When I was a child, things were very concrete. I remember the time when my mother told me that lightning was attracted to water. She, of course, was worried about me lingering in the swimming pool as children are wont to do, as a storm approached. Being a rather literal adolescent I, of course, took her at her word - and refused to drink from a cup, turn on the faucet, or go to the bathroom if there was even a hint of an electrical display.

So, naturally, when I first heard this famous scripture, you can imagine what I thought.

John 15:12-14 (ESV) "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Would I, could I, I wondered, give my life for someone else? Could I be one of those people who jumped out in front of a truck in order to toss someone else out of the way? Would I inch into the quicksand, or out onto the ice to stretch out a lifeline, even at the risk of falling in myself? This brought about a good deal of guilt when, as a teen, I decided I wasn't quite ready for such a sacrifice.

As I aged, several things changed. Motherhood, of course, brought a new understanding of 'laying down' my life. Most mothers would gladly step in front of a truck to save their child. But I also came to understand that this verse had another meaning. Other things in my life - challenges, difficulties that I had to perservere through, choices that were made - each of these were a kind of surrender, a differnt kind of 'laying down' of my life.

I know now that this verse can indeed mean an act as dramatic as choosing to sacrifice your life for another's, but it also has a more subtle meaning. When you follow Christ, you choose each and every day to 'lay down' your life - that is, the life your human nature would choose, which is a life of satisfying the 'god' of self. I may choose to 'lay my life down' when I choose not to pursue a certain career because I know that I would be forced, within it, to make choices that would go against God's will and word. I might choose to 'lay my life down' by being obedient to a call of God's, when that call asks that I remain in a situation I would rather flee, or when God calls on me to make a difficult stand that I know may come between me and my family - that might separate me from the ones I love for the sake of my King and Savior. I may 'lay my life down' in this non-inclusive 'inclusive' 21st century simply by stating the truth and refusing to yield.

So what does this have to do with gaining life? It seems it is all about losing, doesn't it? But in losing our life, we gain something much more precious - eternity.

Romans 5:7-8 (ESV)
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


Would I die for my child? Yes. Would I lay down my life for a family member? Most likely. Would I sacrifice what I want for someone I love? Probably. Would I die for a stranger, whom I did not consider 'worthy'? For someone who would, given the opportunity, spit on me, wound me, and nail me to a tree, leaving me to die a slow, tourturous death?

Probably not.

But this is what Jesus did. And this is why we who know and love Him, call Him Lord.


Image from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Paradox Number Seven: Dying to be born; born to die


Death is not a popular subject, whether it is the death of the body or the death of a desire or want. The definition of death is this: The act of dying; termination of life or something else.

Termination of life. Ouch! That's so final. So harsh. So....

Completely out of our control.

So what do we, as humans, do when something is out of our control? We try to ignore it, or dismiss it, or just plain pretend it doesn't exist.

But it does. We all know that. Without even broaching the subject of the death of loved ones, it is all around us. We see death every day: Beautiful flowers plucked and placed in a vase only to wilt, colorful insects with a 24 hour life span that flutter and then turn to dust. And then there are the leaves on the trees that go from green to glory to brown...and then back to green.

Ah, as Hamlet put it, there's the rub.

Is it possible death is not the termination of life? Can it instead be life itself?

This, of course, is the Christian belief, and it is yet another paradox. Christians believe you have to be born again, and to do that, you have to die. Okay, the words are all used figuratively, but the death is real because being born again means the death of what mankind holds most dear - self. This death, and rebirth, the Bible says, comes with Baptism.

Romans 6:2-4 (English Standard Version)
By no means! How can
we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Most of us are familiar with this scripture, spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus.

John 3:6-8 (English Standard Version)
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

C.S. Lewis once said that he had believed Christianity to be real just because it was so odd - because of the paradoxes. Anything pat, he went on, would be suspicious. Well, being baptized into Christ's death - dying to sin and your old life - and then being reborn as one of God's new creations certainly fills the bill. To we mortals dead is dead.

With God, anything is possible.

The photo accompanying this post is this writers' baptism into that death, and proclamation of her faith in the risen Christ. You gotta love the Midwest, as a friend of mine put it - no river so we used a hog trough. (No hog jokes please.) But as Pastor Johnathan said, baptism water is not holy water. It holds no miracle in itself. It is simply water that holds a precious child waiting to be born, this time in the spirit and not the flesh. Our God is mysterious and awesome, is he not?

Oh, and by the way, if you wonder about that expression - I forgot to hold my nose.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Paradox Number Six: Having nothing, but having everything


In 2 Corinthians 6:2-10, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: great endurance in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity,knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live;as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing,yet possessing everything.

So the guy is crazy, right?

In this world, the answer to that question would be a resounding 'yes!' We work very hard to make certain neither we nor the people we love have to suffer. Calamities? Hardships? Afflictions? Not for us. Beatings and imprisonment, sleepless nights? Hunger? These are things most of us would not wish on our worst enemy, and yet, here is Paul not boasting, but displaying them as a sort of badge of honor for obedience to, and love of his Lord. And then he goes on to claim in verse 10 that even though he has nothing, he possesses everything.

As I said at the beginning of this series, faith in God in Christ seems to be riddled with paradoxes. Here we confront another one: How can we be poor and yet, rich?

There are two kinds of poverty - physical and spiritual. A man may own the world, but have no soul. I thought it was interesting (and telling) when I heard recently that the people who give the most as far as charities, are those who have the least. Sort of like the widow Jesus mentioned who gave all she had, compared to the rich young man who gave up a chance to follow the Savior because he could not surrender his wealth. God, of course, is interested in your 'spiritual' bank account, and not the earthly one on the corner down the street in your home town (the one with the locks and guards). That may be full to the brim, or even overflowing, but it means little if you are spiritually bankrupt.

As a student of history, I know people are people, and gaining wealth and holding onto it have always been foremost in people's minds. The desire to own land and to 'get ahead' was what made America. In the Old World, most of the land was owned by the families who had held it for centuries. There was no way to move up the social and financial ladder other than to go where there was land just waiting to be purchased (never mind that there were already folks living there. That's another post!) The difference today, I think, is in the tempation to have more and more and more, and more that we don't need and can't possibly use. Everyday we are bombarded by commericials - on our tv, on the phone, via books and magazines and on and on - telling us that we NEED this and that and the other thing in order to be safe, well, good, beautiful and perfect. And in order to have all those things, we need money. So focusing on money and making it and hoarding it is good.

But is it?

As our earthly bank accounts grow, often - not always - but often our spiritual bank accounts dwindle. Everyone knows Jesus' words in Matthew (19:28) "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." We don't like those words. They don't fit with our idea of success, of getting ahead, of 'possessing everything.'

Now, God doesn't call on all of us to go without shoes and starve in order to be godly or blessed. And He doesn't say it is 'impossible' for a rich man, just hard. When you think of the state the majority of the people on this planet, aren't all of us in the Western World rich? Shouldn't we all be on notice? It's easy to think this applies to the Donald Trumps of the world, but it applies just as much to all of us. If I have enough money to spare that I can hop on Ebay and buy a CD I just heard just because I want it, I'm rich.

So, when Paul and the Bible speak of being rich but poor, of having nothing, but possessing everything, it isn't really a paradox. It just depends on whether you are looking to pile up those riches on this side of eternity, or on the other.


Art: Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hofmann


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Paradox Number Five - The greater shall be less


Jesus said, "If anyone would be first, he must be last...."

Now wait a minute! Isn't it all about winning? About being the best?

What is this nonsense?

From childhood on, I have been puzzled by competition. I, you see, am one of the few people on the face of the Earth who has no interest in sports. There is a simple reason - for someone to win, someone else has to lose. Humans, as a whole, seem to be bent on determining who is fastest and brightest, the most clever and the best. My little granddaughter, who is only six, is already indoctrinated. We have to have contests whenever we do art or crafts or play school. Someone has to be first. Someone has to win, because if we don't win -

What are we?

So then, what do we do with this man Jesus who had the audacity to say more than once, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." Mark 9:35 ESV

SERVANT?

Wow. Not many of us aspire to be a servant. One of the online dictionaries defines a servant as 1) a person working in the service of another (especially in the household) 2) one who expresses submission, recognizance, or debt to another. Traditionally servants, as stated in definition one, occupied the lowest 'rung' of the ladder of society. Emptying chamber pots and mucking out barns, spinning and weaving and dyeing cloth, bleaching linen and beating rugs - all of these were labor-intensive chores that left the ones performing them exhausted and often wasted. Servants didn't generally have the life expectency say, of a bank president or king. And as for definition two, well people in the 21st century have 'an issue'(as some like to put it) with submission of any kind.

And yet, Jesus - the King of Glory - did not.

One of the most touching moments recorded in the Holy Scriptures is that of Jesus washing the disciples' feet. Who can forget Peter (who seemed to have a penchant for placing his ten digits in his mouth) telling his master that it was wrong for him to do so? Or Jesus' reply in John 13:8, "Unless I wash you, you have no part with me." Jesus also said in verse 7, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

I wonder, do we?

Jesus was, of course, modeling his own words, showing that the greatest among them must become the least. The first, must be last. It boggles the mind to realize that God himself, incarnated in the form of Jesus, did this - that he knelt on the floor and wiped the dust and dirt from simple mens' feet in order to illustrate the overwhelming love and compassion of the Father.

The culmination of this servanthood, of course, was Jesus' death upon the cross, which was a form of execution reserved for criminals and one depised by the Jewish community.

Talk about the bottom rung of the ladder.

Those of us who desire to be like Christ, who live in this 'me' generation, in a century that rewards only the brightest and the best, must come to grips with the meaning of Jesus' actions. Their meaning, plain and simple, is that we are to be servants to everyone around us, regardless of what we think of them, and that - in direct opposition to that 'All American Spirit' of being first - we must choose to be last. We must humble ourselves and wash the dirty, stinky feet of people we don't like, of people who persecute us; of people who, as the Bible puts it, will find their only reward here on Earth.

Our reward lies elsewhere, with the King who chose to be a servant and showed us the way.

The painting Jesus Washing Peter's Feet is by Pre-Raphealite Artist Ford Madox Brown

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Paradox Number Four - The broken made whole


In searching the internet for scriptural references for this topic, I have come across a number of blog entries and website rants that have trouble with the concept of God 'breaking the spirit' of his followers and believers. A search run through http://www.BibleGateway.com returns five verses that mention the term 'broken spirit'. For my purposes, these three are the most relevant:

Psalm 34:18
The LORD is near to the brokenheartedand saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 51:17
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Isaiah 61:1
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,because the LORD has anointed meto bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,to proclaim liberty to the captives,and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.


The people who take exception to the concept of God 'breaking' the spirit, focus on the breaking and not the fact that God is near to the brokenhearted, that he saves the crushed in spirit, and that he has sent his son to bind up the brokenhearted. In other words, God uses that brokenness to make people whole.

Hence the paradox.

In our modern world when something is broken, most often it is thrown away. It's useless right, if it isn't perfect? Not so long ago - back in the dark ages of the 1950s and 60s - when something was broken, it was not tossed out, but mended. We didn't have the money to throw things away and replace them. Still once mended, the item - whatever it was - was never the same. Often, it was not as strong.

And yet it seems that God is saying that after people are broken and HE fixes them, they are better, stronger; in fact, they are whole.

How can this be?

Years ago I wrote a short fan fiction story called 'Two for the Breaking'. http://www.marlafair.com/files/Two_For_The-Breaking.htm It was based on the 1980s British TV Show, Robin of Sherwood. It dealt with two broken people who decided to try again. In spite of the fact that they were both wounded, they joined together to become stronger. The title was based on something my father taught me. His name was Dale Cummins and he was a Scout Master, so naturally, he was well versed in woodlore, etc. He took a slender stick and gave it to me and had me break it in two. It was easy. Little as I was, I just snapped it in half. Then he took twine and bound the two pieces together, side by side, and handed it back to me and asked me to break it again. The two short stout sticks firmly anchored together resisted every effort of mine - and his - to break them. In breaking, and then being bound up, the branch became a whole different thing - stronger and, in a strange way, even more whole than it had been before the breaking.

When I think of God 'breaking the spirit' of his people in order to make them stronger, this is the image that comes to mind. God does not break our spirit in the way we mortals think of it, which usually involves destruction of self-esteem and all the consequences that entails. God 'breaks' us with his love in order to reveal our flaws, our sins, and our earthly desires that supercede him, so that he can remove these obstacles - so important to us - which stand between us and him. God breaks us to make us contrite, 'to feel regret or sorrow for our sins' as the dictionary puts it, and most importantly of all, to humble us. It is only in humility that we can see and acknowledge what our great and good God has done for us.

Interesting, isn't it, that the cross on which Jesus hung was two pieces of wood bound together, through which we all became whole?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Paradox Number Three - Cleansing blood


All of us have cut ourselves at one time or another, and I would hazard to guess that most have had that blood stain a white shirt, a white pair of pants, or maybe a tablecloth, napkin or handkerchief. Blood washes out fairly well if you get to it quickly enough, but the longer it takes, the more it takes hold and the more impossible it is to remove without leaving some small trace.

So how can the Bible claim that Jesus' blood cleanses us? Or, as the old and new songs put it can, 'wash us white as snow'? This is exactly what the apostle claimed in 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (NIV)

Now, wait a minute. Let's look at what it takes to get blood out of something - say, fabric for instance. If the stain has set you have to loosen the stain first with lemon, or a salt and bleach solution, and then launder it - and then launder it again and again and again until the stain is gone (which we know it hardly ever is). There are some new products for removal of protein stains, but most of us would agree that no matter how good they are, once something is stained it is never as clean or 'pure' as it was to begin with. And yet there is that scripture claiming that blood can make us 'clean'.

One of my favorite old hymns is 'Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb', which is based on the New Testament scripture from Revelation. Chapter 7, verse 14 says: And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (KJV)

Made them white.

So, here is this week's paradox. Think of it. Picture it. A woman clothed, say in a pale dress, or, maybe a man wearing a white shirt and khakis. Suddenly, they are covered in crimson blood. It bathes them, soaking not only into the the cloth covering them, but into their skin - into their souls. Now, here's the real beauty of God's never-ending mysteries, this tide of blood does not cause stains - it makes them disappear so completely God does not remember them.

Wouldn't the people at Tide or Zout like to have that secret formula!

All joking aside the Holy Scriptures are quite clear that it is Jesus' blood - or his willingness to obey God and shed his blood - that cleanses us and takes away our sin. No stain remover needed - only belief that Jesus was and is who he says - the Son of God, the Savior, the One who came to reconcile sinful men and women to God. The Bible is quite clear:

Romans 3:23-25 ...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.... (NIV)

In closing I would like to quote two songs, one old and one new. Information on both follows at the end. Read the words and meditate on them and then ask yourself -

Are you washed in the blood?

Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing pow’r?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Are you fully trusting in His grace this hour?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul-cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Are you walking daily by the Savior’s side?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Do you rest each moment in the Crucified?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
Oh, be washed in the blood of the Lamb!

Are You Washed in the Blood?
Elisha A. Hoffman, pub.1878

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is all my hope and peace,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Now by this I’ll overcome—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus,
Now by this I’ll reach my home—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Words & Music:
Ro­bert Low­ry, Will­iam Doane, (New York: Big­low & Main, 1876)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Paradox Number Two - The lion and the lamb


Lion. For most people the word ‘lion’ brings an instant image to mind. For those of us who live in the United States, it most often comes from nature shows on television or visits to the zoo, but it is there nonetheless – a large, 300 to 500 pound feline with powerful legs, a strong jaw and long razor-sharp teeth; a predator, swift, skilled and merciless during the kill. When one thinks of a lion we think of power and, rightly, fear. To be ‘lionized’ is, according to Merriam Webster, to be treated as ‘an object of great interest or importance’. Many nations including Egypt, Greece and England have chosen the lion as a symbol of the power of gods or men due to the traits associated with the ‘king of the jungle’, namely power, dignity, authority, dominion, justice and ferocity.


Now, let us consider the lamb. A lamb is a young sheep, weighing 125 pounds at most, kept as livestock and therefore domesticated, important for wool and meat. They are herbivores. They are prey animals with a strong tendency to congregate close to other members of the flock. Figuratively a lamb is a person easily deceived or cheated, or in other words naive, or a sweet mild mannered person or child. One of the most common references in life and online is ‘like a lamb led to the slaughter’.

The lion’s roar. The lamb’s soft bleat. A meat eater. One that lives on plants. A predator. Prey. Power. Humility. Ferocity. Meekness.

Hmmm…there seems to be a contradiction here, doesn’t there? Scripture refers to Christ as both the lion and the lamb.

I have on my desk a beautiful stature of Christ as the Lion of Judah executed by Michael Dudash; the idea taken from the scripture in Revelation chapter 5, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.” This is contrasted by several verses in one of the most meaningful passages of scripture, at least to me, Isaiah 53. Verse 7 says, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

So how can one man be both a lion and a lamb? One man could not. Humans seem to be forced to make the choice between slaughtering and being slaughtered, but God’s perfect man – His son, God incarnate – could. Jesus Christ arrived on this earth as a helpless baby. Long ago people often referred to babies and children as ‘lambs’ due to their defenseless nature. When he became a man, Jesus started to exhibit his ‘lion’ tendencies, teaching with ‘power’ and ‘authority’, demanding justice for the poor and oppressed, showing dignity and, yes, a ferocity for His father’s house and mission. Jesus was indeed ‘King’ of this jungle called planet Earth.

But Jesus also showed his ‘lamb’ attributes daily. He was kind. He loved little children. He had compassion for others, which led him to cure the sick, heal the lame and give sight to the blind; to give of himself so much that he was often weary, and once spoke of having no place to lay his head. He catnapped in boats. He stole away to pray and ‘recharge his batteries’. And then he gave more.

And then he allowed himself to be led like that lamb to the slaughter, and died.

It’s hard for those of us who live in the 21st century in the United States to grasp how powerful that image – the lion who let himself be led, mute and unprotesting, to the slaughter – is. The people of Israel who lived in the time of Christ knew what a 500 pound feline predator could do to another animal or man. And, every week, in their lives and in their temples, they saw sweet, docile lambs being slaughtered. At the temple, it was a common sight to see a lamb waiting, meekly, for its blood to be spilled in order that the one who carried it there might offer prayers up to God to assuage His righteous anger, to ask for justice, and to implore His mercy.

The lamb has little choice.

The lion has all the choice in the world.

For those of us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the King we follow, there is no paradox. There is only the beauty of the lion's choice of the lamb - of the choice of King Jesus - who had every right and the ability to demand sacrifice, instead turning Himself into the sacrifice to save us and set us free.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A paradox



Merriam Webster's online dictionary describes a 'paradox' as : 1) a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true, 2) a self-contradictory statement that at first seems true, and 3) an argument that apparently derives self-contradictory conclusions by valid deduction from acceptable premises.

Hmmmmm....

The Court of the King is where I live - the court of Jesus Christ, that is. We are told by the writer of Hebrews, 'So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.' (NLT)

And thus we come to the first 'paradox' of Christianity - a king who allows his subjects the same type of access he would give his closest advisors and family; 'subjects' who, in the Gospel, are described as slaves and sinners.

Not exactly the kind of person most Kings invite to supper.

Merriam-Webster describes a 'king' as: 1) a male monarch of a major territorial unit; especially one whose position is hereditary and who rules for life, 2) a chief among competitors, as well as one possessing or held to possess sovereignty. The definition that comes quickest to mind for me is that of a 'sovereign': 1) one that exercises supreme authority within a limited sphere.

Supreme authority. As far as the world is concerned that most often means power, prestige and control. The history of human kings is, unfortunately, littered with more despots and abusers than 'good' kings. Most kings and sovereigns keep all power to themselves and are protected by a cadre of advisers, security and yes-men. Kings rarely invite the rabble over for tea, let alone lay down their lives for them.

And in case you think King Jesus was not a strong king, this is the way the Holy Scriptures picture Him in Psalm 2.

I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me,
Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance,

and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.
Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron;

thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way,

when his wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.

And yet this king - capable of and given the right by God to 'break' and 'dash' - tells his subjects or believers to come 'boldly' before his throne. This king tells us we are 'adopted' into his family. He is called our 'brother'. And - humblest and most amazing of all - He gets on his knees and washes his subjects dirty feet!

For the month of January, the Court of the King posts will deal with some of the paradoxes of the Chrisitan faith: How can a man be both a lion and a lamb? How can we be broken and yet made whole? How can laying down you life bring life? How can the least be the greatest? How can we, in poverty, be richer than Midas?

I don't have all the answers, but I have a lot of questions and here, in the Court of the King, we can explore them together.


The image above is "The Victorious Lion of Judah' by Michael Dudash. Image used courtesy of Tapestry Productions.com http://www.tapestryproductions.com/ourartists/michaeldudash.php