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Friday, February 14, 2014

Perfect Love

Valentine's Day is charged with emotion - hopes, fears, and sometimes just a wishing it would all go away and pass quickly.  The love we wish for isn't always there - whether we're married or single.  And the love we feel from those who genuinely love us isn't always enough, or thrilling or everything we were hoping for.

Too much is chalked up to how I feel about these things.

I used to hate Valentine's Day.  Thought it was so gushy, mushy, sentimental, sweet and so not real life.

And then I got married, and wanted to make the most of it.  In fact, I thought in marriage it would be the best time to celebrate wedded love.

Well, I won't say much on that, 'cuz we just happen to not be the sentimental sort - except for every other day of the year, when I am showered with love that is undeserved, unmerited and so beyond what I had every hoped for.

But the bedrock of my life is not romantic love.  It is PERFECT LOVE.

I base my existence on the fact that I am perfectly loved.

A love so holy,

    so pure,
         so right,
              so cleansing,
                    so refreshing,
                            so healing,
                                     so joyful,
                                               so wonderful -

Beyond imagining.

Beyond my ability to describe.

It is not the wedded bliss love of the earthly human realm.

It is Divine.

Being loved perfectly means my fear is unnecessary.

Earlier today I was finding myself worrying about my children - what if this happens to them, or that, or they suffer, or I suffer, or they go through things that are hard, what if they suffer too much... And I caught myself - I, who pride myself on not being a worrier, was worrying.

I asked myself, 'Why are you thinking these things?'  'Because I fear for them...This is a crazy scary world we live in!'  'Why do you fear for them? Is God not capable of keeping them in His way?'

I recognized that the root of my fear/worry was a lack of trust in the goodness - the very heart of - the Divine and Perfect love of God.

Be released from your fear today.  Wash yourself anew in the Perfect Love of the One Who Loves Perfectly.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

What Not to Say to Job - Part 2

I have more to say on the Book of Job.

Going back to his lame-o friends...  Yeah, they needed a good theology lesson.  And here I am centuries later to give it to them.

I think they had issues.  Real issues.  They couldn't handle that God is sovereign and acts according to the counsel of His own will - sans our input or even any obligation to give us an explanation for what He does.

They got it wrong because God was behaving contrary to what their human wisdom/reasoning would expect.  They thought God was there to serve them - that God's job was to act according to the plan.  That plan is: Play fair (according to my understanding of fairness).  Reward and punish within good reason (human reason, that is).  Be powerful, but beholden to my will.  Those are the kinds of things we would expect God to do and be.  Because we are human we so badly mix up our desires for how we want God to act with our understanding of Who He really Is.

He is sovereign.  End of discussion.  He acts and allows and does things we can't begin to fathom or comprehend.  This kind of sovereignty should be awe-inspiring, worship-inducing, knee-bending humility-invoking, fall-flat-on-our-faces before Him, sovereignty.  It should cause us to wonder, to fear, to honour, to find shelter in and to draw even nearer to Him Who owns us.  "We are His people and the sheep of His pasture."

I can just overhear one of Job's friends comforting Job with a platitude such as, "God isn't going to leave you in this place to suffer one minute longer than it takes for you to learn what He has for you."  Such wonderful words, I'm sure, would cause one to love God so much more.  (Hope you can hear the sarcasm in that).

The problem with Job's friends is that they mix nuggets of truth with all-out attacks on him (unjustified of course - they were way off base).  The nuggets of truth give just enough 'nutrition' to the onslaught to make the painful intake of such notions toxic to the soul.  If they were all out crazy nut-cases who spouted junk it would be easy enough to write them off as totally warped, psychologically deficient persons.  But the fact that there are shreds of truth in what they said makes the intake of their words so damaging.  Beware those who mix truth with error - they are worse than the flat-out false teachers!  Because their words have some appeal - it sounds so logical.

More on the Matter of Pain

Let's suppose you lived before anaesthetic.  And let's suppose you needed to have your leg amputated.  I'd rather just die than have to submit to the torture of amputation, frankly.  But you go for the surgery and are in the midst of having your leg sawn off when a dearly beloved friend of yours walks up beside you and says, "I know you are suffering right now.  You will be so thankful for what you're enduring because you will come to know God's presence with you in such a deeper way.  God isn't abandoning you.  Oh yes, I hear you screaming.  There now, settle down, grit your teeth and bear it.  Be patient.  This has a wonderful purpose for you.  Just believe it.  I'm sorry you have to suffer like this.  Maybe if you had washed that wound better you wouldn't be in this place right now.  I hope you'll learn your lesson.  Oh, do be quiet.  It hurts me to see you suffer like this.  I only hope I can learn from your mistakes.  Maybe if I see why you have to lose your leg this way I can make better choices and avoid what you so sadly have to endure.  I'm glad I can learn from you.  See, your suffering isn't wasted."

Can you hear the rage mounting?  Can you see the insult this adds to injury?  Are you guilty of saying some of these things?  Are you guilty of thinking them?

In the last post I mentioned that pain is pain and is very real.  I think we forget that.  We see others suffer and it invokes fear in us.  We are uncomfortable with how God can allow such deep sorrow.  It is a part of life that scares us.  And for the most part, we should try to avoid suffering.  Fear of suffering is actually a healthy and good thing - we should fear getting burned badly enough that we don't touch the fire.  I don't touch fire because I fear suffering.  This is not all bad.

But there are going to be times in our lives and in others' lives that are painful and there is nothing we can do to change that fact.  It is going to be real and painful and we will either recognize that God has His hand in it for whatever reason, or we will fight it with nice sounding platitudes and vapid sentiments.  Sometimes we just feel we can't accept what God allows.  And from that place comes all this human-reasoning that tries to explain why people suffer.

Sometimes we just need to submit ourselves to His almighty hand and know He walks with us, and our friends, IN their suffering.  That He loves them, and us and doesn't owe us an explanation.

Yes, He meets us in our suffering - sometimes in the richest, deepest, most personal ways we ever come to know Him.  We may know Him more than ever before because of it.  We may love Him more because we participate in His sufferings.

Being IN Christ means we will share in His sufferings. 

Jesus was unjustly accused.

Unjustly punished.

Judged.

Scorned.

Rejected.

Physically tortured.

Emotionally abandoned.

Betrayed.


Scripture connects, time and again, suffering with glory.

We don't want to sugar-coat suffering and glorify suffering.  Sometimes it's tempting to do that - to somehow look at the suffering and glory and glorify the suffering.  There's something dark and twisted about that.  There is no glory in suffering.  The glory follows.  There is fruit borne of suffering and there is blessing that comes from it.  But it is equally insulting to those who suffer to glorify their suffering as it is to insinuate they suffer for their own sins.  Ask anyone who is in deep pain if it is glorious and I'm sure they will tell you to take of your rose-coloured glasses and take your thoughts to some journal-that-no-one-shall-read.

So to one who suffers, we don't have all the answers.  And perhaps answers aren't what is needed.  That was the big mistake Job's friends made.  They wanted answers and they spouted them, right, left and center.  Their linear, zero-sum logic thinking led them to be mocked for centuries for their rude, disdainful counsel.  Let's not be like that, okay!?

Sometimes we lay aside the search for answers - theological and practical.  And instead we find the all-sufficient hand of God sustaining and helping and leading and comforting.  When we quit the striving for getting it all neatly packaged sometimes our eyes are opened to the all-encompassing love and grace of God that has been flowing about us unnoticed the whole time.

Maybe it's time Job and Job's friends took their eyes off the situation and began fixing them on Jesus - the author and perfector of faith - no matter how weak, feeble and miniscule that faith may be -

Fixing our eyes on Jesus...

Who for the joy set before Him

Endured the Cross.

Jesus suffered and endured His suffering, and completed the work God the Father had laid out for Him.  He conquered sin, death and the grave.  Jesus suffered like no-one else.  And He endured perfectly.

We cannot fail to recognize that Job endured, and though he wasn't perfect, he turned his eyes heavenward and accepted whatever God deemed right.  He willingly submitted himself to His Creator and meekly received whatever God chose to dish out.

And we would be wise to do likewise.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

What Not to say to Job

So we've been reading Job (in the Bible) together as a family.  It's a challenging book - full of questions and musings... And the discussions have been interesting.

It's so easy to see suffering, question it, and we SO BADLY want an answer.  We want to know why, what for, purpose, goals and such.  We want to engineer life so we can avoid suffering.  If we knew the theological neat and tidy little package as to all the why's of life, we could just dot every little i we're missing and go on our merry way knowing that God will surely cater to our sloppy theology and give us what we want so that we can praise ourselves knowing we did better than the next guy whose suffering we can't comprehend.

Okay, maybe we're not ALL like that, just some of us.

And the book of Job, and the description of his suffering is so our there... far from our reach, far from our understanding.  It blows us away with how bad his life was and how few answers there were for his pain.

In our discussions there was mention of 'there is always a purpose in our suffering,' and 'God always wants to teach us something'.  And I wanted to vomit.  Not figuratively.

And I just imagined having a grieving Job sitting in my living room, in pain beyond imagining, having lost 10 children to tragic death and commiserating with him and then leaning over to gently whisper, 'You can do this, Job!  God has a purpose in this!!  Surely He is teaching you something through this and drawing you closer to Him in it!'  Wouldn't he be encouraged?!

In case I'm ever suffering and you're tempted to encourage me with such things, be forewarned, I might deck you.  With the nearest weapon I can find.

Because that would not encourage me.

Pain is pain.  It is real and no amount of 'purpose and learning' can alleviate it.  Pain drives us to God, yes.  I don't deny that that is a wonderful thing.

But please don't present a theology that is neatly packaged and has God all figured out and explains His ways with sure knowledge and insight.  Because the book of Job doesn't really support that.  It is like a play being played out for the reader - and we know the part at the beginning where the angels come and parade before God and God says, 'I got my man Job who lives so well and loves me and does what's right.'  And Satan says, 'Well, I don't think he's so great - You're just so nice to him, that's all.  You'd see a different Job if You let me mess with him a while.'  Bets are on.

And God wins, Job suffers and Satan loses.

So we watch the play with rapt attention.  We balk at the lousy companions who try to figure it all out.  We want to yell at them through the ink on the pages, "Quit it!  Shut up!  You guys are SO wrong!  You don't have a clue what's going on up in heaven!"  But they can't hear us, and we'd just like to yell it louder.

And the theme isn't so much about Job and all he has to learn through his suffering.

It's really not about Job - at all.  And that's the point that has us all befuddled.  We live at the centers of our own universe.  We'd like to think God exists in perfectly predictable order - I do good, He protects my kids.  I do bad, tragedy strikes.

How nice and simple life would be if it could all be dressed up in neat and tidy little packages.

But life isn't that way.  And the center of it all is God, not us.

We miss the point when we make ourselves the center of all that happens.

And if we put ourselves at the center and make the point of everything that we need to strive to learn the good lessons God has for us - our striving to learn will become a work that is futile and empty.  We will be proud of ourselves when we learn the good lessons.  We will criticize others who fail to learn them as well as we have.  And we will pat ourselves on the back and rob God of the rightful sovereign place of glory that is truly His.

When we make it about us, we miss the point.

So please, don't tell Job that he just needs to learn what God has for him.

Don't tell him he must have sinned and God is punishing him.

Don't tell him he just needs to be patient in the suffering because God has some grand purpose in it.

Just be silent.  Weep with those who weep.  Carry the burden with him.  Don't pretend to have it all figured out for him.  Keep a two-by-four handy to bat away the nay-sayers or those who would come with theologically-poor reasoning.  Because Job could have used a friend who could wield a hefty two-by-four, I imagine.  Someone to ward off the self-righteous, judgemental, know-it-alls.

I would have been that person for Job - I hope.  If I'd have been there I would have kept the nasty friends at bay and simply prayed for him - because prayer may have been all I could do.  That and some pain-relieving salve for his wounds.

Thanks readers, for letting me get this off my chest.  I can go to bed now.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Integrity, Privacy, Secrecy and Honesty

So I was thinking lately about when Jesus says that it isn't what goes into a person's body that makes him unclean but the thoughts and words that come from within him/her.

And I thought about integrity and honesty and secrecy... and I wondered... Here are some of my musings:

You know, I can keep a tight rein on my lips - I can control not saying certain things that I think to people.  And when they frustrate me, I can keep it quiet.  I can look at them and judge them in my heart, but if I don't say it, maybe that's okay.  Oh, and if it really bothers me, I can probably tell a trusted friend - you know, in private, like in email or on the phone, or even in person.  I could share it as a 'burden' or a cause for prayer - like a prayer request.  Because I really don't know how to help this person I look down on.  And it can be a matter of privacy that I think these things.  I can be sweet and meek and nice and kind to those around me, all the while harbouring junk in my spirit towards them.  I can look at them with pity and sadly think how much better they could be at....well, everything.  In the name of privacy I can share these things (of course it wouldn't be considered gossip - oh no! definitely not!)  In the name of a burden I have and a need for prayer, well, surely I can share these things with my trusted few who are neither part of the problem or solution.  I'm sure that is okay.  Because my email is private and my phone conversations are private.  And privacy means a free pass on these things, right?  I mean, it just so grieves my heart to see another person not living as well as I think they should - I mean, I can just mention it in confidence as 'it's such a shame that she doesn't ____________'

Because really, this has nothing to do with my integrity!  Right?  Because I can put a certain docile, meek face on myself, smile and pretend I don't judge.  Of course no one would guess I'm judging them, and since they can't read my thoughts and know my heart and because God certainly must want me to observe and evaluate others around me (or else why did He put me here) then it must be okay, right?


SORRY, I say to myself, SORRY - try again.  Wrong.  On all fronts, WRONG.

No, this is not acceptable thinking.  Integrity, honesty and transparency means that if someone hacked my emails this minute I would not be ashamed or embarrassed by the things I have said of others.  Integrity means that I don't use privacy, confidences or 'things of a personal nature' to cover for my sin of gossip.  Gossip is such a nasty word - I'd much rather use, 'prayer-request' or 'personal burden'.  That way it sanctifies it a bit, and I am free to indulge in a judging party of those around me.

If someone read your emails,
               listened in to your phone conversations,
                               sat as a bug on the wall of your home,
                                        would you speak any differently?

The best cure for this predicament is not to become more withdrawn and private.

The cure has nothing to do with a more willful striving to be more circumspect in our verbage and conversation.

The CURE is to be transformed from WITHIN.

To quit thinking those nasty judgemental thoughts of others.

To quit evaluating everyone and everything that is done (or not done) in your presence.

To remove your need to type those confidential emails, or private talks.

ANYONE should be able to listen in, read over your shoulder - especially those you refer to - and you should be okay with it.  For while privacy may be an American 'right' it isn't the 'right' of a Christian to use such a freedom to indulge the flesh.

No, such thoughts are not just better kept to onesself, they are better left UN-thought.  Our hearts need to be changed so that if someone could read our minds, we would not be ashamed.  We would have open, honest, integrity - meaning anyone can know what goes on within me and they wouldn't be shocked because I don't play a game of presenting myself one way to the world but harbour dirt in my spirit.

Who do we think we're pretending for?  It certainly isn't God!   Because we won't fool God and there are many in our lives who we think we're fooling, but we're not.  Some people (like me, for instance) see right through the charade.

So maybe you want to go on having your privacy and couching your terms in spiritual language.  But it isn't pleasing to God and it isn't helping the people you judge.