For Today, Just This

We like to believe that salvation and forgiveness happens in Jerusalem, at the cross (and then in the empty tomb).

However, the ancients—the fathers and mothers of my faith tradition—knew a secret that I tend to forget (and that the modern church neglects to remind me):

My salvation begins with the arrival of God in human form. When the Creator chooses to enter fully into the broken, limited, imperfect form of His creation, something powerful has happened:

Namely, that nothing in my life—no brokenness, or imperfection, or bad choice—can keep God from me.

(And this happens BEFORE I speak any words of regret, or contrition!)

When God chooses to take on human form, He declares: I can deal with human life; I do not need to condemn it, or reject it. I accept it, so that it can be changed into something more powerful and beautiful than anyone can imagine.

I wish I could say it better than John Chrysostom, but I cannot. These words haunt me, encourage me, challenge me, and remind me that I am ALREADY saved

You could do a lot worse today (or over the next few days) than to just sit with these words and their meaning:

Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken. For this day paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spread on every side—a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and we now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He has come on earth, while being fully in heaven; and while complete in heaven, he is without diminution on earth. Though he was God, he became man, not denying himself to be God. Though being the unchanging Word, he became flesh that he might dwell amongst us.

To Him, then who out of confusion has wrought a clear path; to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom (349-407), “The Joys of Christmas” (emphasis added)

Merry Christmas everyone.

What Works for Me: Interlude No. 1

Lest we forget something, please remember that none of these principles, activities, concepts, etc. are designed to “get God to love us.”

That love—the unwavering, long-suffering, foundational, wild (“sloppy wet kiss” kind of wild) is ASSUMED.

I desire transformation in order to (a) experience SOME level of peace, contentment, and a comfort level “in my own skin”, and also (b) to STOP inflicting myself—and the damage that goes with me—on the people around me (most of whom I love very much).

So, that being said, enjoy this quote from Brennan Manning, who sought out, wrote about, and wrestled with the lavish love of God for many years of his life:

“Until the love of God that knows no boundary, limit, or breaking point is internalized through personal decision; until the furious longing of God seizes the imagination; until the heart is conjoined to the mind through sheer grace, nothing happens. The idolatry of ideas has left me puffed up, narrow-minded, and intolerant of any idea that does not coincide with mine.

“The wild, unrestricted love of God is not simply an inspiring idea. When it imposes itself on mind and heart with the stark reality of ontological truth, it determines why and what time you get up in the morning, how you pass your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, and who you hang with; it affects what breaks your heart, what amazes you, and what makes your heart happy.”

Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God

For me, THAT was worth the interruption and reminder.

… Like a Hurricane

Recently, I made a mistake.

A big one.

Those are enough details for now, but it left me thinking about love and forgiveness.

Now, my wife is not perfect, but repeatedly I’ve been blown away, overwhelmed, by her ability to forgive and love me in spite of my faults. She is a fierce lover, and when she is loyal, she is loyal. 

It’s a withering love. And it’s difficult to stand.

In the midst of this, I realized that there is something inside of me that absolutely wants to flee this kind of love. I have a hunch I’m not the only one. I have a theory that this condition is more human than I’d like to admit.

What is it inside of us that makes us flee this kind of acceptance?

It’s obviously similar to the love that Christ has for us/me. To look into the face of a love that is totally accepting and forgiving is excruciating sometimes. We want to hide and run because of all the bad that we have done, but there is something there that says we must stand in it and take it, like a fierce rainstorm.

That’s what love is. That’s what love can be… A hurricane. 

Love him, or hate him, Saint Paul must have learned to stand in that hurricane. Here was a man who had people—innocent people—killed, and then later sought those people out in community, as one of them. Moreover, before that he had to stand in the face of Jesus and accept that love.

He could stand in the face of that storm. He was no longer a man with blood on his hands, with the lives of men, women, and children (!) on his conscience. He was simply a man who was now “In Christ”, and was inviting others to experience this same storm.

I know I’m not naturally wired for it. It makes me want to hide, to go numb, to retreat.

I guess I’m TRYING to learn to withstand it, but it is difficult.

Musically speaking, not that it is anything like this:

But maybe, it’s a bit like this:

peace

Random Thoughts on Prodigals…

“Why did he let me leave in the first place?”

I wonder if the son who fled—we know him as the Prodigal—ever thought that?

Though I know this story from Luke 15 is (a) a parable, and (b) more about the radical behavior of the Father than it is about the son, nevertheless I found myself thinking about the son this morning.

Maybe it’s because I’m such a good prodigal.

Maybe the best there ever was…

Regardless, two things struck me this morning.

Question #1: Why did the Father let the son leave in the first place? 

Surely He knew better; the Father knew the son’s character better than anyone else. He knew what was going to happen. Do you think the gambling, the women, the lavish spending (probably on the ancient near east’s equivalent of Beats headphones and bad car lease agreements) just happened over night?

The Father knew what was up with His son.

And yet He let him go. Why?

Why not protect everybody from the pain—the hell—that was just around the corner. It would’ve spared so many people so much pain.

I think the Father let him go because He loved him; I think He let him go because He knew that maturity largely comes from making choices and experiencing consequences, as painful as that can be. 

And that, ultimately, only mature, free-choosing people can love. 

Love hurts (yes, Gram/Emmylou/Nazareth/Norah/Keith).

But in order to produce, loving mature human beings, a parent has to risk disobedience. That’s what the Father does, even though it costs everyone something.

But could the son ever learn to love without growth?

Question #2: What About Shame? 

If you remember the story, you know the basics: a son asks his father for his inheritance “early” (“Dad, can you go ahead and die? Yeah that would be great…”), and then takes off spending pretty much everything on those things—the same things that most of us would spend free money on if we were eighteen. He winds up broke, alone, and far away from home, eventually ending up working as a servant, feeding pigs and hungry for their food.

Assume, for just a moment, that in an ancient culture like this one, “honor” and “reputation” are paramount concepts…

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that this honor and reputation were visibly represented by a family’s father; it’s his job to guard that honor and defend it…

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that this son has succeeded in bringing down shame and dishonor to his family, in particular his father. 

“Our Father who lives in the heavens, may Your name be kept holy…”

Assume, for just a moment, that—rather than keeping his father’s name “special” (“holy”, anyone?)—he has actually succeeded in associating that name with the worst of what humanity can offer…

… cheap, humanity destroying sex

… conspicuous and wasteful consumption

… immoral (or worse yet?) amoral living

… narcissism that doesn’t give a crap about anyone

What does the son do when he hasn’t kept his father’s name holy?

What does he do with that shame? 

But there’s something about the father…

I think shame is cyclical: we shame others out of the shame we feel.

We cast guilt onto others because of the hidden guilt we carry around in us.

But what if you feel no shame? 

Or rather, what if you’ve decided to break the cycle of shame inside you forever by experiencing the most shameful thing you can imagine?

How about a public death?

… an execution?

… as an innocent?

… as a terrorist?

When you know the worst of what shame and guilt can do, and you embrace it, it has lost its power. 

And you’ve broken the cycle.

This Father knows suffering; He will know shame; He will know rejection and death…

… and He’s not afraid to embrace it.

Thus, He destroys its power.

It’s no longer part of the equation.

Ultimately, He is not ashamed of the son, because His name cannot be shamed by the son. The son can freely forgive without shame or condemnation because he has broken that perpetual cycle. It’s over, and all that’s left are tears of welcome, hugs, and a big celebration.

That is all…

Well, almost all…

Like it or not, this was the first version that I heard of that song… ah the summer of 76

(p.s. how does that guy sing so high? maybe a combination of the leather pants and facial hair)

THE Prayer, Pt 6 :: “Forgiving Sins”

Infinity Design from Mosborne01on Creative Commons

Our Father, who lives in the heavens,
May Your name be kept holy.
May Your Kingdom come,
May Your will be done,
On earth just like it’s done in Your presence.

Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us.
Don’t bring us to the times of trial,
But deliver us from the evil one.
Amen.

It’s easy to read this part of the prayer and remind ourselves that God is a forgiving god, and His forgiveness stretches “as far as from the east is from the west” (Psalm 103).

But buried inside this phrase is a much more subversive reality, encapsulated in the the word, “as.”

The way we live our lives, we much better suited to the idea of “forgive our sins, and we will forgive others…”

Or, “forgive our sins, so we will forgive others…”

In other words, we think of it as a sequential, or maybe even an unrelated, reality: God please forgive my sins. I understand there are other people who I need to forgive, but I’ll get to them another day…

… Maybe.

What a difference a couple letters makes.

Because the word is, in fact, “as”.

The two acts of seeking and offering forgiveness are intrinsically and intimately related. As Jesus makes it clear in other places of the Gospels (Matthew 18:21-35 and Luke 6:27-36, for starters), his followers should be marked by a willingness to forgive. 

You might even say that we are supposed to engage in a constant cycle of forgiveness. Maybe it looks like this:

As we take responsibility for our own brokenness and receive forgiveness from our heavenly Father, it become easier to recognize the brokenness in others, not so that we can clobber them, but so that we can offer the same forgiveness to them.

  • Take responsibility means to own our brokenness; to step out of a victim mentality and to say, “regardless of how this happened, I am responsible for my life.”
  • To receive forgiveness is to go to God in humility and seek His grace. It means acknowledging that all human beings—including you—stand in need of forgiveness.
  • To recognize this in others means to release them from the motives we often give them—”They are intending to harm me”—and instead to understand that they are broken too, and perhaps operating out of the same fear and uncertainty that you do.
  • To offer them forgiveness is to be willing to see them as your equal, and to relinquish the right to “take revenge” in some way.

* An aside: Forgiveness can be a difficult process that is more complicated than four bullet points. Other folks have unpacked forgiveness in thorough and compelling ways. 

So how “open” is your cycle of forgiveness? Is it flowing freely through you?

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