Learning to Love (I Corinthians 13), Part 8

Pendennis_Castle_(1).jpg

Is not Easily Angered.

We have read so far that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking…” Now we add “it is not easily angered.” It’s no surprise that the description of love as “not easily angered” falls close on the heels of “not self-seeking.” Anger is a close relative of the self-seeking behaviours.

From toddlerhood each of us develops extensive and creative systems for our own self-defense; its first expression is inevitably in the angry use of the word “No!” wielded with great authority from lips little more than novices in their own mother tongue. We learn early to defend our own self-determined plans and before long become masters at the task.

Self-defense—and by this I do not mean primarily physical protection of one’s self—is necessary when there is no one outside of ourselves to whom we can entrust the job of protection. If I see myself as the primary person responsible for guarding and fortifying the value of me (my ideas, my hopes and my dreams), I must practice self-defense. I must build certain walls and barriers to protect my vulnerabilities from being discovered, and my plans from being hindered. And in some cases, when my defense warning system is deployed, a weapon must be wielded to ensure self-protection—I give vent to unmitigated anger.

“For many,” observes C.S. Lewis, “the great obstacle to (love) lies … in our fear—fear of insecurity.” We may not consciously admit it to ourselves, but we are afraid for our very lives and we’re scrabbling to cover that fear with bluster.

The Biblical directives toward restraining anger are not external and superficial fixes. They are not commands to control our rage on the outside, while we continue to seethe and smolder or shake and shiver within. They get to the root of the problem, to our inner need to solve the problem of our insecurity. Let’s be ruthlessly honest: none of us is capable of loving like this chapter in I Corinthians suggests. We are rightfully insecure to recognize how little capable of loving (not to mention living rightly) we truly are.

Jesus once explained to a couple of disconsolate travelers that Scripture is not a list of dos and don’ts. It is not quick fixes or fake smiles. Scripture is all about Himself, Jesus—it’s a picture of Him coming into our sad human condition and offering us something we can never create for ourselves. He is the great Rock and Shield who alone can defend and protect our inner selves. He gave the Emmaus Road travelers example after example, and the revelation opened their eyes and ears.

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” they asked each other afterward in awe. This was not the burning of anger but the warmth and energy of Christ’s loving Spirit entering into their hearts and minds and souls. This was the great ‘ah hah’ moment; they finally understood that Christ was moving through history to ensure He would—in God’s perfect timing—die for all humanity to rescue us all from our great insecurity, and then rise to lead us to everlasting life.

Jesus is perfect love. He initiates loving us, and if we receive His overtures, we find ourselves dropping our guard and finding true inner rest. The events or persons or situations that used to anger us now fall more and more under the influence and authority of Jesus, our Protector.

So once more we find Jesus to be relevant to life. No more hiding behind ramparts, shooting angry darts at others and causing chaos all round. When we come to Jesus for love, we gradually learn to recklessly love others without defending ourselves. No need for anger. Anger never worked anyways.

(Photo Credit: By Darren Shilson from St Stephen, UK, United Kingdom (Pendennis Castle B+W Uploaded by oxyman) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Advertisements

Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #20

Anything_But_Black.jpg

Prayer in the Night (A Paraphrase of Psalm 134)

Here in the middle of my night, LORD, I come to You. In the midst of my disappointment and confusion, my hurt and regret, there is yet a place where I praise You. My thoughts turn to You in Your Sovereign majesty and know that You are making all things right, even now when all is dark and I am at my weakest.

Your presence is all too easily obscured by the chaos of my world, LORD. The rebellions, the distortions of truth, the profanities and the threats I hear around me hide You. Make Your presence known to me now in this quiet hour; let me hear Your whisper reminding me that even when all seems wrong You are worthy to be praised.

I lift my hands in surrender and honour toward You. I am on my knees knowing this posture must reflect my heart or You will remain hidden here in this dark and dying world. And then suddenly, this quiet sanctuary in the dead of night opens for me a greater sense of the eternal life and light that is central to Your Being.

LORD, Maker of heaven and earth, of daytime and nighttime, bless Your people who find themselves in the midst of nighttime worship. Bless us with an awareness of Your presence. Comfort us with Your peace. Bring the light of dawn so that our praise may fill the morning sky. Complete in us the work You designed our worship of You to produce. We praise You.

(Photo Credit: By Y. Beletsky (LCO)/ESO – http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1638a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51533658)

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 21

Ambrogio_Bon_-_Izgon_trgovcev_iz_templja

Den-cleaning

Robber’s Roost was considered impregnable. Conveniently hidden by a maze of canyons and rocky bluffs, the natural cavernous fortress was hideout to Butch Cassidy and his infamous Wild Bunch gang of the late 1800s. For more than thirty years the cattle-rustling, bank-robbing outlaws used the cave as headquarters for their clandestine operations. It served their purposes allowing them to avoid detection, interference or capture by authorities. Yet eventually pressure from sheriffs and lawmen of the day forced the roost’s colourful inhabitants to abandon their rocky hideaway. Some escaped to South America, some were captured and incarcerated, and many met their end in classic Wild West shoot-outs of the day.

Robber’s Roost is not the only den to experience a figurative disinfecting. Mathew records for us in the twenty-first chapter of his biography of Jesus a dramatic incident of den cleaning. It was the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, and He had entered Jerusalem that day amid cheering, palm branch-waving crowds. Rumor had it that this man from Nazareth might become the political leader to free the Jews from Roman Empirical domination.

As He approached the Jewish temple that day, a strong smell of livestock pervaded the air. The jingling of coins changing hands and grumbling of bartering voices replaced the usual prayerful murmur heard in the outer courts. Walking through the gate, an array of lenders and moneychangers at their tables bombarded Jesus’ senses, opportunists capitalizing on the influx of travellers in town for the sacred festival of Passover. The livestock brokers were tendering for sale birds and animals at exorbitant prices for the required sacrifices. The opportunity for profit was tremendous.

It was obvious that the Jewish religious leaders were in league with these opportunists. They were using the temple culture to line their own pockets and the commotion resulting from the business was music to their ears.

But Jesus was appalled; He moved swiftly into the courts and surveyed the chaotic scene. Something must be done to clear out the courts and return the temple to its intended purpose. Driving out the buyers and sellers of merchandise with a voice of authority, Jesus moved from stall to stall, overturning moneychangers’ tables and upending livestock vendors’ benches.

“My house,” he quoted from centuries-old Scripture, “will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” The vendors grabbed up their equipment and scurried away like cockroaches at daybreak. As the clamor and odour of the temple-market began to dissipate, wounded and disenfranchised townsfolk began to return, shuffling and limping into the courts, searching for the Man of Wonders. With them came children chanting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” repeating the rally cry they had heard outside the city gates. With gentle tenderness, Jesus healed all who came to him.

The description of Jesus clearing the temple is a delightful one. Stories of wrongs being righted satisfy our sense of justice, gratify our desire for chaos to be transformed into peace and calm. But let’s not think that this narration is merely historical. God’s Word is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…it judges the thoughts attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12,13).

Our hearts are like that temple of Jesus’ day. God intended each of us to serve a holy purpose; our lives are meant to be a setting where He is honoured, where dialogue with Him enhances our life experience, and where we feast on His goodness daily.

But alas, we’ve turned the sacred into the profane. We’ve desecrated the temple of our lives by making it a robber’s roost of opportunism. Our interior lives have become chaotic, pleasure-driven marketplaces to one extent or another. Is this not true? What can be done? Who can help us?

Only Jesus can clean out thieves’ dens, repair desecrated temples, and restore damaged hearts. Only He makes a place where we can find the healing of heart and soul we long for. The stench and the clamour do not need to define us. We have a resource in Jesus. Let’s invite Him into our temple-courts today to do what only He can do for us—make us what we were intended to be: people whose lives bring God delight and glory.

(Photo Credit: [[File:Ambrogio Bon – Izgon trgovcev iz templja.jpg|thumb|Ambrogio Bon – Izgon trgovcev iz templja]])

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 19

Landscape_view_of_wildfire_near_Highway_63_in_south_Fort_McMurray_(cropped)

Mission Impossible.

“Hell on earth…something like Armageddon” is how it is described. Fort McMurray, Alberta is ablaze and the fire is growing by leaps and bounds. A war zone of charred homes, abandoned vehicles, and blackened tree-trunks mark the fire’s passage. More than 2000 square kilometres of tinder-dry land have fallen prey to the fire’s limitless appetite and the destruction is not finished yet. Stopping an inferno of this magnitude seems impossible.

When natural disasters like this wildfire assault us we are shocked. The enormity of the force surprises us because we are more familiar with order and organization than with chaos, with human mastery than with powerlessness.

As Jesus traveled by foot throughout the Jordan River region described in Matthew 19 he observed similar phenomena within people’s lives. He saw not external wildfires observable by flame, smoke or blackened arboreal remains, but internal conflagrations. Wildfires of the human spirit beneath façades of social etiquette—natural disasters of an internal type—are not hidden to the One who sees the heart of man.

“Now a man came up to Jesus,” we’re told, “and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’”

That seems like an honest and innocent enough question. The man had a desire for immortality and he figured it was in connection with doing good. Coming to Jesus for an expert opinion seems like a good choice. But listen to Jesus’ response.

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good..”

Why is Jesus challenging this seeker? What misconception, what perspective or worldview does this seeker embrace that Jesus needs to clear up before the man is ready for an answer to his ‘eternal life’ query?

Jesus seems to be trying to shift the man’s focus from self (“…what good thing must I do…”)—to God (“…only One who is good…”). Did you catch that? The man is entirely preoccupied with himself and has forgotten God. He goes on to claim (according to the gospel accounts by Mark and Luke) to have kept, flawlessly, every one of the Ten Commandments—but Jesus observes it to be a focus on what the man himself has accomplished; what is conspicuously absent is his awareness of God—of any relationship with God.

Somehow, Jesus has spotted this distortion in the man’s thinking and wants to help the man see for himself where he has gone wrong. He has diverged from loving God to loving self, driven and obsessed by what he can accumulate for himself.

“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus finally seems to acquiesce, “go sell your possessions…then come, follow me.” This was not what the young man had wanted to hear. No other prospective follower had been presented with this criteria. But Jesus knows individual hearts—yours and mine included. We’re told the man “had great wealth.” The penny has dropped. The heart of the matter has come to the surface. The man not only owns many things, but his identity is wrapped up in what he owns. Even his pursuit of eternal life is revealed as another quest to accumulate something for himself. And so he turns away, because he is not willing to leave his first love—self—for love of God.

We may use labels like hedonist, narcissist, self-absorbed egoist, but those labels distance us from associating ourselves with this one man’s fault. Honest self-evaluation can be painful. If we look carefully enough at our own lives, many of us will see something in ourselves that is not pretty. We thought we were on track with our spiritual lives, but something has slipped in, turning our focus from loving God first—dare we admit it—to loving ourselves first.

“Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ disciples ask him, seeing the rich young man turn away. They are still distracted and sidetracked by the picture of success that had radiated from the wealthy urbanite. They could not see the inner chaos beneath the slick exterior the young man presented.

“With man this is impossible,” Jesus answers with a penetrating look at each of his disciples. Perhaps at that moment each of them saw themselves a little more clearly. They too were self-centred. They too loved themselves more than they loved God. They too housed an internal inferno of chaos carefully hidden from others. Was it hopeless?

But Jesus was not finished. “With man this is impossible,” he had begun, “but with God all things are possible.” This was and is and will always and only be the answer to all our pursuits: God. God is the One who is strong enough and good enough to extend His life to us, transforming us from the inside out, making us fit for immortality. It is all about Him. And what He wants is a loving one-on-one relationship with you and with me that puts everything into perspective. Selfishness, then, will naturally give way to selflessness, hedonism to a God-honouring lifestyle. This is the mission Jesus was employed to perform and continues today in the lives of people like you and me—people who are tired of working with the impossible. Thank God that with Him all things are possible.

(Photo Credit: [[File:By DarrenRD [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.jpg|thumb|Landscape view of wildfire near Highway 63 in south Fort McMurray (cropped)]])

ROMANS 12

This 1888 photo released by the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston shows Helen Keller when she was eight years old, left, holding hands with her teacher, Anne Sullivan, during a summer vacation to Brewster, Mass., on Cape Cod. A staff member at the society discovered the photograph in a large photography collection recently donated to the society. When Sullivan arrived at the Keller household to teach Helen, she gave her a doll as a present. Although Keller had many dolls throughout her childhood, this is believed to be the first known photograph of Helen Keller with one of her dolls.  (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Thaxter P. Spencer Collection, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, New England Historic Genealogical Society-Boston)

PERSPECTIVE

Until she learned sign language, Helen Keller behaved more like a wild animal than a little girl. Deaf and blind from infancy, Helen’s perspective on life had been limited to processing information she could glean from her remaining senses of smell, taste and touch. Little made sense to her and life was chaotic.

However, when Annie Sullivan became Helen’s teacher everything changed. Chaos turned to order; life began to make sense. Introducing language in the form of hand shapes made onto the palm of Helen’s hand began the breakthrough. Helen started to make the connection between the signs made on her palm and real life objects, eventually understanding more challenging abstract concepts like emotions and ideas. Understanding her world gave her a new perspective and enabled her eventually to become a prolific author, speaker and political activist.

The twelfth chapter of Romans gives us an even more amazing story of how chaos can be transformed into order. It all begins with understanding an important characteristic of God: His mercy.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, “entreats the apostle Paul,” in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

It comes down to how we think about God. This thinking must be based on fact, and Paul says the fact that God is merciful is the fact that can drive transformed thinking and effective living. It is not about us creating a god to fit our emotions and desires or our predetermined thoughts and ideas; if we are honest we have to admit the purpose of that kind of thinking is only to justify the way we want to live.

Christian pastor, author and editor A.W. Tozer observes “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” If our thoughts about God are true and substantiated by His Word, we become authentic.

Thinking about God’s mercy changes us fundamentally; we become moved by God to live our lives in gratitude to Him, willingly subordinating our desires to His. We even find ourselves becoming merciful as we focus on His modeling of that compassionate characteristic. Love, compassion and forgiveness are tied tightly to mercy, and these traits will follow as close companions so that our nature becomes very different from what it once was.

Having a perspective of God’s mercy is an important crossroads for living. Without it, we merely conform to the pattern of the world – we become selfish, proud, willful, and rebellious to God’s claim on our lives. With it we are transformed with a renewed mind, a submissive will, and clean living bodies. Try it, says Paul. Test it and see if you approve of God’s will. In view of God’s mercy, you will find God’s will to be good, pleasing and perfect.

That’s quite a promise. There’s only one way to find out if it’s true: think on God’s amazing mercy toward yourself and others. See whether that won’t transform the most important thing about you. Perspective is not something – it is everything.

(Photo Credit: “Hellen Keller holding doll with Ann Sullivan 1888” by Family member of Thaxter P. Spencer, now part of the R.Stanton Avery Special Collections, at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. See Press Release [1] for more information. – NWI.com Multimedia. “AP Photo/Courtesy of the Thaxter P. Spencer Collection, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, New England Historic Genealogical Society-Boston. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hellen_Keller_holding_doll_with_Ann_Sullivan_1888.jpg#/media/File:Hellen_Keller_holding_doll_with_Ann_Sullivan_1888.jpg)

MARKETPLACE LIVES

1024px-Ewe_sheep_black_and_white

Jesus was making a scene. His disciples stood in the margins in open-mouthed wonder at the chaotic spectacle.

“Get these out of here!” he roared, scattering coins and overturning tables, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

There was nothing meek and mild about this Jesus. He was not communicating a passive take-me-or-leave-me invitation to those he confronted. Bringing order back from chaos is never the time for tranquility. It’s the time for resolve and focus and intention. And this was no trivial fray. This was the temple.

The temple of God, in first century Jerusalem, was the most sacred and honoured location the Jewish people recognized. At least, it used to be. But the religious leaders, the priests and professors of Mosaic law, had started twisting it for their own personal gain. They had seen a way to turn a profit and were making a day of it.

Vendors of livestock had set up pens in the courtyard where sheep and cattle jostled against each other. The smell of manure and urine mingled with the bawling of the livestock; their owners prodded them with goads, broadcasting their merits to the crowds of involuntary customers. The new twist on an old law required the everyday man to purchase his gift for God at exorbitantly inflated prices or leave empty-handed. He had no way of making peace with God.

I believe this is what infuriated Jesus. The people were like a sheep whose shepherds had become hungry wolves.

His Father’s house was designed to be a house of prayer for the nations. The courtyard was supposed to have been an access point for Jews and non-Jews to approach God. The temple was an entrance for seekers to find hope and peace and relationship with God. I believe Jesus is no less concerned today. But where is the temple?

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” challenges the apostle Paul of the early Corinthian believers (I Cor. 3:16). We need to reconstruct that in our minds. The specifications and regulations and celebrations for which the temple was the centrepiece, were a symbol and prototype of the role of all believers in Christ. God’s presence now resides within us — our lives are the courtyard through which others will find Him too.

Sometimes, maybe inadvertently, we think the courtyard is ours; we think we can do what we want with it, maybe even turn a profit – in a superficially religious sort of way to ease our consciences. We network for our glory rather than for God’s. We build relationships that serve our desires rather than seeking to include the hurting and lonely. We trade in comfort commodities rather than offering relief and consolation, truth and hope to the hopeless.

The solution is both simple and difficult. We must bring truth and love back into our private and public lives for Christ’s sake. We are called to make disciples, to serve the needy, to speak the truth.

Christ is the hope of the nations and we, as gatekeepers, are to have those gates swung wide in welcoming invitation.

“Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; Come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.” –Psalm 100.

The invitation is for all.

(Photo Credit: George Gastin; CC BY-SA 3.0 )

GOD FOR THE BROKENHEARTED

Lisa_Bishop_and_her_dog,_Cody,_with_Northwest_Disaster_Search_Dogs,_watch_as_a_Washington_National_Guard_helicopter_flies_over_the_debris_field_caused_by_the_mudslide_in_Oso,_Wash.,_March_27,_2014_140327-Z-ZZ999-014

When spring rains loosened the hold of tons of earth on a hillside in Oso, Washington recently, chaos erupted. We’ve followed the news. We’ve seen the pictures of the mud-flooding devastation. The death toll continues to rise amid the sounds of rescue workers, excavators, and tracking dogs. The community has been ravaged.

Sadly, we all have times in our lives when despair overwhelms us. Life is not always easy. What do we do when our hearts have been broken, when chaos fills our lives with muddy debris? When the scaffolding that supports our day-to-day existence falls like matchsticks around us, where is God?

That’s a question God loves us to ask. The apostle Paul asked it, querying, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Rom.8:35) God has so anticipated us asking the question that He has answered it even before our chaos erupted. Listen:

“Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

“The LORD is near to all who call on him.” (Psalm 145:18)

“…behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5)

“But the LORD stands beside me…” (Jer. 20:11)

“The LORD watches over you –” (Psalm 121:5)

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” (Psalm 91:4)

Did you catch that? God is nearer to us than our own skin. He is beside us, behind and before us, above us, below us, with us and for us. And He wants to be within us, but for that to happen He waits for an invitation. But how do we sense His presence? How do we go from ‘I feel so alone’ to ‘I feel His presence’?

I am sure God is not limited to only one way of making His presence known. For some people, God’s presence is most palpable in nature; the glory of creation speaks most strongly to them of His nearness. For some it is through music; songs of praise and worship or great orchestral symphonies evoke His presence most clearly. Some people have had dreams and visions of Him. Some have heard an audible voice. Some hear His heart of compassion most distinctly through reading His Word. As we think back over our lives, over the times we have felt most keenly the need to know His presence, we can answer that question best for ourselves.

For me it has been through prayer. When I have felt brokenhearted, when I have been desperate for help, prayer has been the means of sensing God’s nearness to me. Through prayer I have been most vulnerable to Him and through prayer found most relief from my inner turmoil. In prayer I have grieved, expressed anger and frustration, despaired, pleaded for help, confessed, praised and thanked God, and submitted myself to His plans for me. That is when I have best known His presence around, about and within me.

If you are in a place of heartbreak and trouble, don’t be afraid to cry out to God that most pressing question: ‘Where are you God?’ But, also, be willing to open your ears and eyes and heart to His presence, His answer. Search out that place where you are least distracted by the world around you. Find that setting where your heart can best be touched by knowing His presence. It is a place of deep peace that lets that broken heart of yours rest for those moments you linger there. Then you and I will be able to say with confidence, “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid…The LORD is with me; he is my helper.” (Psalm 118:6,7).

In this life, troubles mostly come and occasionally go; hearts and lives are wounded and rarely ever the same again. The only constant is the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Are we receptive to His presence? Then let’s ask the question: ‘Where is God?’ He’s here with the answer.

(Photo Credit: SPC Matthew Sissel; Wikimedia Commons)