Jesus, Light

It’s All About the J

I skipped the stations of the cross on Good Friday to see a movie – The Young Messiah.  The most pious among us might disapprove but, as Johnny Cash pointed out, the most pious among us are not Christian then.

I liked the movie a lot. I don’t think it was one hundred percent theologically correct, but it didn’t claim to be. It was fiction, the author’s imaginings about what Christ’s childhood may have been like.

Some Christians won’t see the movie because of the theological errors. Some won’t see it because the author of the book upon which it is based used to write books about vampires – not knowing anything else about her.  But like Johnny said…

The movie depicts Jesus performing miracles as a child.  This is where I believe the author’s imagination strays from reality. I won’t go into all my reasons for this belief – unless someone asks for them – I’ll just say that, being one of us, I don’t believe He was able to perform miracles until the Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism.

Because we can’t perform miracles until the Holy Spirit comes upon us.

Check out what Jesus said:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 [italics added]

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12

What happened when Jesus went to the Father? He sent His Spirit.

We can’t do powerful stuff without the Spirit, who dwells within those who confess the powerful name of Jesus.

Now here’s where it gets a little bit tricky and a little bit deep. You guys can handle tricky and deep.

Spirituality is popular these days.

There are loads of spiritual books. Some of them mention Jesus as one among many noteworthy and enlightened teachers. Some don’t mention Him at all. The ones I’ve read that do mention Him don’t mention Him as who He claims to be – the Way, the Truth, the Gate, the Bread, the name above all names, the only name by which we are saved, etc.

Some of the books, which contain beautiful truths based on His teachings, give Him credit, others do not.

Credit or not, there is no real power in Jesus’s teachings without the weight of heaven to carry them out.

We can read beautiful words and feel inspired to be a better person all on your own, sans the Spirit, but mere words fall short where the rubber meets the road.

I thought about that when my sister died.

And I thought about it recently when my pastor posted a parody on Facebook that poked fun at the trend toward spirituality over religion.  The parody was so over the top that he didn’t think anyone would take it seriously. It struck me as funny, in the same way the old SNL “church lady” skits struck me as funny. Even though I am a church lady.

But someone was offended.

He felt awful about offending a parishioner who has been entrusted to his pastoral care. In the power of the Holy Spirit, he confessed his regret.  He apologized from the pulpit, he apologized on Facebook. I was proud of him.

Humility is powered by the Spirit.

It’s the Spirit who cares more about a person’s heart and soul, when it comes down to it, than getting a laugh, a Facebook like, or even claiming the freedom to just be who we are – take it or leave it. It’s the Spirit who has the power to overcome self-defensive pride.

Jesus told us to turn the other cheek.

This is how He said it:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.” – from Matthew 5

Any one of us can aim to put that lovely concept into practice – whether we attribute the concept to Jesus or not – but without His Spirit dwelling in us, the concept fails.

Someone offends us and, instead of turning our cheek, we immediately poke the person in the eye for poking us in the eye.  We lash out and offend them, and everyone like them, because we are offended.

To the offender who has the Spirit of God in residence, the Spirit says, “No, loved one, this is the way, walk in it.”  And as we mature in our faith we say back to Him, “You are right, I was wrong.” And with that He nudges us to apologize.

Because there is great power in an apology.

And when the Spirit resides in the offended, indignation gives way to graciousness. And we cut people some slack.

That was the tricky part. Because I’m trying really hard to not offend anyone here. Not offending people seems to be getting trickier and trickier these days.

Now the deep part:

Remember when Jesus asked the guy who had been an invalid for 38 years, who wasn’t able to get into the pool when the healing waters were stirred, whether he wanted to get well?

It always strikes me when I read that passage that Jesus didn’t assume that everyone wants to get well.  Perhaps He knew that some find comfort in the familiar, even when the familiar is crippling.

But if we really want people to love us, and not offend us, then we will help them succeed.

When they betray us, instead of lashing out publicly, we will ask them questions privately.

Questions like, “You said seekers are welcome at our church, but the parody you posted makes me feel like I’m not. Did you really mean to give that message?”

Questions asked in love nip the offense right in the bud. They give people a chance to share their hearts, to clear the air. If their heart and/or clear air is what we want.

But if remaining crippled and alienated by real or perceived offenses is what we want, we will offend right back.

We can’t really know people unless we are willing to ask them questions.

We can’t really love people unless we are committed to believing the best about them.

It takes bravery. And bravery is hard when we’ve been beaten down by the enemy of our souls. When we have his deceptive, slick, smooth-tongued, accusing, counterfeit voice in our ear.

Remember the movie I mentioned way back at start?

In the opening scene the devil is standing off to the side eating an apple watching a child being harassed by bullies. At just the right moment he tosses the bitten apple into the crowd, causing one of the bullies to trip over it and die. The devil immediately enters the crowd and whispers into a receptive ear, “He did it,” pointing to young Jesus.

The devil tosses the apple, trips up mankind, causes our death and Jesus gets the blame. (And then the young Jesus resurrects the ungrateful bully and we have the whole gospel story right there.)

The devil accuses Jesus and we believe him. And so we seek a counterfeit.

We might say we are seeking Jesus, but if we refuse to read His words  – preferring pleasant plagiaries (yes, I did make up a word)  – then we are actually rejecting Him.

When we seek a God of our own imagination, one who is safe, one who doesn’t challenge our prideful notions, one who is manageable,  we remain powerless to change.

We can’t love His concepts without loving Him. We cannot know the power of His teachings separate from the power of His name. They are a package deal.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” –  John 15:5

 

 

 

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church nonsense, war on women

Woe to You, Sir!

Ted McGrath, Creative Commons

Ted McGrath, Creative Commons

I was going to write a parody on a ridiculous post:  10 Women Christian Men Should Not Marry.  But as I read through some of the many comments it garnered, I decided to go a different route.

Most of the comments zeroed in on #2 – the divorcee.  I have something to say about that, too.  And since comments are closed on the post, I’ll weigh in here:

My first husband divorced me after six years of marriage.  We had a two year old.  His reason for leaving us?  He didn’t want to be married anymore and God wanted him to be happy.   “No,” I said, “God wants you to be a man of integrity, a promise-keeper.”  But with no-fault I had no say.

I lamented that my life was irreparably ruined.  Sin was foisted upon me and there was nothing I could do about it.  And then my friend, to whom I was lamenting, simply said, “God can forgive sin.”  Whoa!  What?  My life isn’t over?  It still felt over.

For years I did not date because I was not sure Scripture allowed me to remarry, so what was the point?  But God showed me through Scripture that He held my ex-husband accountable, not me.  He also showed me that He likes marriage, it was His idea and He would prefer that I rear my daughter in the context of one.  How will she know what a good marriage looks like if I don’t model one?

So I began to open up to the idea.

About that time a male friend mentioned that he would never marry a divorced woman.  Damaged goods and all.  I told him he might miss out on someone really great.  Someone like me.

When I married my first husband, I did not believe in divorce.  My parents were divorced and I knew the pain it causes.  Life with him was not easy but I was committed to sticking it out.  My commitment to the long haul was tested and true.

My first husband, who grew up in a Christian home with parents whose marriage lasted until death did they part, also had his commitment tested.  His commitment failed.

On paper he looked like a solid investment – reared in a Christian home, parents still married.

On paper I looked like a risky investment – reared in a non-Christian home, parents divorced.

And yet his commitment failed and mine did not.

You never know for sure what will come out of a person until marriage squeezes them.  My friend who would never marry a divorced woman is still single these many years later.  If he does find someone to marry, someone who looks good on paper, it is still a gamble.  I think he will have a greater guarantee of success if he marries someone whose commitment to marriage has been tested and proved solid.

The pastor who wrote the post, the one I yesterday called vile, evil or sorely misguided, once again played fast and loose with the Scriptures.  The examples are many.   I pulled this one from the comment section:

Andy, I live in New York State where gay marriage is legal. What happens if you get saved after a gay marriage? Well, you must immediately leave the gay marriage and cease from the sin of homosexuality.

Same thing here. What happens if you get saved after a 2nd marriage? Well, now that you know it’s adultery, you immediately forsake the 2nd “marriage” and cease from the sin of adultery.

John 8:11:
“No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

What?  Two wrongs make a right?  Repent from the sin of divorce by committing the sin of divorce?

And don’t go misinterpreting Jesus’s words.  The woman was not married to the man with whom she was committing adultery.

If I could, I would ask that pastor what he would do with David.  David clearly committed adultery with Bathsheba, then married her.  When Nathan finally confronted him, marrying Bathsheba was not on God’s list of grievances:

Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 2 Samuel 12:9

Yes, God hates divorce.  Not for the sake of hating it but because it hurts people.  He also hates judgment and gossip and slander and lies and haughty eyes because those things hurt people, too.  They hurt the people He loves.  Of course He does.

I’ll give Jesus the final word:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”  both from Matthew 23
© The Reluctant Baptist, 2015
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life

A Healing Presence

John described Dallas as the personification of a soul sustained in grace.

It was very early on a Saturday morning when my friend pulled up, his bike perched atop his car.  It was early, but I was awake and excited.  We hoisted my bike up next to his, fastened it down and ventured forth.  The long car ride gave us plenty of time to talk.  Mostly it gave my friend  time to talk – about his rather odd and soul-damaging parents.

We were the first to arrive at the campground on the northern border of Vermont.  We weren’t positive we were in the right place, but we pitched our tents and called it a night.  The others arrived as we slept.  All strangers, all eager to embark on a six day bike ride ride that would slice through Vermont from top to bottom.

The course was difficult and the week was hot – with temperatures in the 100’s.  After riding alongside Lake Champlain for most of the morning on the first day, our route finally intersected it at a nice grassy park.  The others rested under shade trees, but I rode my bike right to the end of the dock and jumped in.  So what if I would be riding wet.  Figured I’d be my own swamp cooler.  It was HOT.  My friend eventually joined me – after first removing his shirt, because men can do that, even in the midst of strangers.

A sudden and severe thunderstorm on day three – one that had our bikes hydroplaning the last two miles to that night’s campground, was both scary and welcome.  Should we take shelter in the forest or just go for it?  We went for it.  The rain felt good but it brought no lasting relief.  The air was just as hot, heavy and steamy after the storm as before.

Day four involved a climb of 3,400 feet – 1,500 to 1,600 up Brandon Gap alone.  Brandon Gap was steep at the very top.  Very, very steep.  So steep that my pedaling ground to a halt.  My friend advised me to walk my heavy, not-state-of-the-art bike the last little bit.  No way.  I was determined to earn my guzzle of Gatorade at the top.  But it was too steep for me to get going from a halt.  So he got off his bike and gave me a running start.  Thanks to him, I arrived at the summit to the cheers of the others.

Scan

Our bikes enjoying a well-earned rest.

Day five may have been the hottest of the week, and I have never handled extreme heat or extreme cold well.  The last five or so miles of that day’s ride were through shadeless fields.  Our destination was in sight but the heat had taken its toll and I was feeling very weak and nauseated.  “Just a bit further,” I told myself as I tried to keep my bike from toppling over.  I was too weak to talk, but my friend saw my pale face.  As soon as we arrived at the campground he ushered me to a shade tree next to a river where he wetted his bandana and put it on my head.  I sat there sipping from my newly refilled water bottle.  A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Intertwined with the physical challenges was a lot of laughter, quiet early morning devotions, heartwarming conversations with new friends, a carton or two of Ben & Jerry’s with many spoons passed and shared at country store rest stops and pleasant evenings with my friend visiting my tent to read to me.  He liked to read aloud, and l liked to listen to the sound of the words through his English accent.

It was a feel-good vacation.  My first bike trip.

Shortly after the trip ended, one of the couples – two very experienced riders – sent us all a chart of the daily and total elevation gains – the miles we had ridden each day, the feet of climb and the climb/mile. Handwritten at the bottom of my chart was a personal note:

Congratulations on biking every mile of such a difficult course.  We hope your success will be an encouragement for you to attempt another adventure in the future.  Your pleasant disposition despite the conditions (heat and hills) was very inspirational.

You may think that the need for a push and the heat-stroke would have knocked me off my friend’s biking buddy list.  But not so.  The following summer he invited me to join him on a tandem mountain bike trip through the Canadian Rockies.

And a few days after we returned from Vermont he called to say he wanted to pitch his tent in the grassy yard just outside my condo.  Because being near me was somehow soothing.

Which brings me back to the third full sentence on the 82nd page of the Soul Keeping Study Guide:

“John described Dallas as the personification of a soul sustained in grace.”

The page went on to say that a soul sustained in grace is a healing presence.

And that reminded me of Vermont.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Connect the Dots.”

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Jesus, Light, love, restoration, Stories from the Island

Dancing With Grace

geraniums

To set the mood for our storytelling on that final night, I showed Glennon Doyle Melton’s “From My Cold Dead Hands.”  None of the women had seen it before.  Watching their faces in the soft light of the projector, I felt like I was on holy ground:  These beautiful former prisoners were about to drop some keys.

P.S. If you are new to my blog and you have no idea what I am talking about, you can catch up herehere and here.

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