Saturday, November 19, 2016

Prayer changes

This morning I read one of those well-meant phrases that Christians are known to say, and say often.  "Prayer changes things."  I know I said it for years - but my view of prayer and what happens during prayer has changed in recent years.  I used to think that when someone had a need or a physical problem, we were supposed to pray to God for them to have it resolved or healed ... but as I've learned more, I really don't think that's what prayer is for. Besides, I've really listened to some of the prayers that have been prayed for people who are sick with this or that disease, and I hardly think that they sound like "the prayer of faith" that James talked about when he said for the sick person to call on the elders of the church for the laying on of hands. Rather, those prayers sound like worries, and pleading, and doubting ... as if God must be placated. And the usual result of those prayers has been exactly the opposite of what the person believed himself or herself to be praying for.  I've seen it happen far too many times for it to seem like coincidence, so much so that I hesitate to ask for prayer except from a chosen few whom I know to NOT pray like that.

Off and on for the past few years, I've been examining the ministry of Jesus when He was physically here on the planet, and I've discovered something about prayer by doing so.  Jesus very rarely prayed publicly. Most of His praying was done in private, or when He was alone, while He was in public ministry. So I looked at the most famous time when Jesus prayed in public ... and what I saw rather shocked me.  

It's in one of my favourite stories in the New Testament - the raising of Lazarus from the dead (this is in John chapter 11). You'll recall that Jesus had heard that Lazarus was sick and then stayed two more days where He was. He then told His disciples that they were going to go to see Lazarus - that Lazarus was dead and that He was glad He was not there when it happened ... so that they would believe.  (Keep that statement of purpose in your back pocket). 

When Jesus got there, all He seemed to find was unbelief -or belief to a certain point and then ... nothing (that is, they believed that He could have healed Lazarus when he was still alive, but now that he was dead, all bets were off). Eventually Jesus convinced the family and friends to roll the stone away from the tomb door. ("Didn't I say that if you believed, you would see...?")  And then He prayed.  But it wasn't the kind of prayer that we often hear in healing services, which sounds like ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease.... as if God has to be cajoled or convinced to do good to us. No, Jesus didn't pray like that.  Here's John 11:41-42 -

Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me. (NASB)

From this prayer, I can draw these conclusions: 
(1) Jesus knew that God had already heard Him; 
(2) Jesus knew that God ALWAYS heard Him; 
(3) Jesus never once asked God to raise Lazarus from the dead; and 
(4) He only prayed aloud in front of people in the first place because He wanted the people who were standing around Him to believe that God sent Him. 

What does all that tell me? 
(1) Jesus had complete trust in God's goodness, and didn't have to gather it up and strain and grunt and groan to produce it or to convince God that He had faith; 
(2) Jesus got that faith from the hours alone He had consistently spent with God in private (more about that in a bit); and 
(3) Jesus was demonstrating that you never ask God to do what He has delegated TO YOU the authority to do yourself

Then He turned toward the tomb and called - ONCE - to Lazarus ... to come out of the tomb. And Lazarus did. Lazarus was dead - he had no faith - he wasn't even there; he was in Abraham's bosom, beyond caring what happened to his body. His family and friends had the kind of faith that believed in platitudes, and they had no faith that Lazarus would be raised. JESUS believed. JESUS called to the dead man. And that, my friends, is how you heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons ... because remember folks, Jesus had laid aside His divinity.  He was fully human and relied on the living, eternal Holy Spirit to live out His life through Jesus ... to the world.  He modeled how we could rely on the Spirit too, just like He did.

The source of Jesus' faith was (is) in the relationship that He and the Father had (and still have!) Over and over again, we read in the gospels how He got up long before daybreak and went to be by Himself... to pray to the Father. What was He doing during that time? Some have said He was getting His "marching orders" for the day. Having lived in the Spirit - I really don't think that's it. Living in the Spirit is like getting the "marching orders" (so to speak) right at the time they're needed. It's a lot like flying by the seat of your pants ... so again, what was Jesus doing in prayer? 

I have a radical suggestion.  What if Jesus was simply maintaining closeness with His Dad? 

Image "Couple At Sunset" courtesy
of piyaphantawong at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Think about it.  What if prayer is simply developing and maintaining intimacy with God? and by virtue of that very intimacy, there develops a deep, inner knowing that God is with you, for you, in you, caring for you, loves you without reservation, and longs to connect with you - and with everyone - on that level?

So does that kind of prayer change things? Hmm, for me, that's up for debate.  I don't think that it's true in the sense that most people think about when they refer to "things" - that is, events and so forth.  Things may not change; other people may not change; circumstances may not change.  However, I'm more inclined to think that this kind of prayer changes the pray-erInside. I believe that prayer aimed at developing and maintaining intimacy  grows faith and confidence, and strengthens the person who prays (who draws close to God) so that the Spirit can do His work in and through that person. The purpose of this kind of relationship prayer is so that the person, in drawing close to God, accepts God's unconditional love and is able to recognize the leadings of the Spirit. With that kind of confidence in God, we won't need to ask Him for anything, or to do anything. We will know He is with us.  We will rely on the Spirit, and with His leading, we will speak to whatever problem presents itself in the way and at the moment that He chooses.

This is how Jesus lived His earthly life. As I have come to ponder this reality more and more, I have changed; my prayer life has changed.  I no longer pray like I used to pray. I just enter His presence and deliberately become aware of His love for me. I meditate on His love and His goodness. I start to grasp His good intentions toward me and toward all people. I remember that He has already given to me all things (including HIS faith!).  

I remind myself that He has given me the authority that Jesus had when He was here on the planet ... authority to speak to the mountain, to speak to the sickness, to speak to death, to speak to demons in the name of Jesus ... and expect these things to be dislodged and banished because He wills it. I don't have to drum this authority up (it's already given to me!), I don't have to dig down deep to access my own faith (Jesus already believes for me!) and I don't have to raise my voice.  I don't have to be theatrical about anything.  I just trust in His love.  Then my whole life becomes a prayer - a song of dedication - an act of worship.

In this way, the practice of prayer is not so much about me, but about Him, about His love, His goodness, His passion, His desire to bond.  That is what I am learning.  This realization is removing all that pressure that I used to feel that it was somehow up to me to pray harder and believe more, because it would be my fault if I didn't do it right and somehow someone got sicker or the dark side won.  It's not about that at all. It's about Him. If I enter the picture at all, it's in the area of realizing how greatly He loves me - how amazing He is - and in the area of growing in intimacy with Him.  Only then can I grasp onto the power that He has given to me and use that power to do His will: loving and speaking life into a dying world.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Broken Hallelujah

There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

                        - - Leonard Cohen (1984)


I like Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" better than any other version I've ever heard.  I've heard a couple of different versions where someone (because it's in the public domain and because they liked the tune but not the words) has put different words to the music - words that they thought would be more uplifting - and while the new words were more uplifting, something inside me somehow felt like singing other words to it was being (for me) ... disloyal or wrong at a core level.

Okay, part of it is because I'm a songwriter and I know what it's like when someone takes your song and puts words in it that aren't there. It's like someone pronouncing your name wrong. Every. Time. It grates. It just does. 

But most of it (in keeping with the whole author thing) is that the original song has a message that a lot of people miss. It's about the broken hallelujah.  

Photo "Sad Woman Sitting Alone In Room"
courtesy of FrameAngel at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
As most everyone knows, the word hallelujah means "praise the Lord."  Cohen was inspired by King David's story of brokenness  -  how he fell into adultery and lost his throne over it - and still worshiped God.  David's hallelujah was a broken one. But it was a hallelujah nonetheless.

Something I heard at a worship conference years ago may help me explain what I mean.  Internationally known worship leader Bob Fitts came to lead worship at our church once, over 10 years ago, first by talking about what worship is and isn't, and then by doing it and inviting us to join in.  In his talk, he was saying that all worship is precious to God, but that the worship that arises out of our brokenness is the kind where He draws closest to us, whether we are aware of it or not. That we choose to worship Him during those times, when our hearts are breaking, touches His heart. It takes far more courage to worship God when one's world is caving in than it does when everything is going right. Especially when the worship is not asking for anything ... except possibly for an awareness of His presence.

Hence the broken hallelujah. I've been there - broken, I mean - ... many times. One important time comes to mind especially today, the 3rd anniversary of our family being informed of my daughter's death the previous night.  It's been those kinds of times when I've reached up like a drowning person only to grasp nothing but emptiness, when I have felt alone and frightened by the intensity of my emotions, when I have depleted my strength and my ability to withstand the harsh, accusing voices in my mind, that God has reached out to me and in love, mercy and grace, reminded me that He is with me and that he really loves me. His love is so great - and the worship - born from trust in that love - rises from me even through the pain. It's a broken hallelujah ... gurgling up from blubbering lips and a throat that feels swollen and choked, sobbing past hot tears and a broken heart.

Here's the secret though.  It's both a broken AND a holy hallelujah.  That's how I see Leonard Cohen's message, even if he might never have intended it that way. His original message was that the holy and the broken hallelujahs were of equal value - and in a way, yes they are. But the broken ones are holy in themselves, maybe even the most holy ones

There's a blaze of light 
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah -
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelu-jah.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

WORTHY

Of all the lies ever perpetrated by organized religion, perhaps the most insidious one is that we are unworthy worms, vile creatures, wicked and repugnant to God. Intended to spark humility and the fear (i.e., respect) of God, this idea of wretchedness has been the enemy's number one tool to incapacitate believers around the world for centuries! It is a killer. It kills faith. 

The logic goes like this: "I'm so unworthy, I don't deserve to lift my face toward the heavens, and God surely wouldn't listen to such a filthy rotten failure like me. Even if I dared to pray, there's no way He would ever consider saying yes to me because I'm so ugly and dirty to Him.  And even though Jesus has made me clean and acceptable because of the cross, well, that's still not enough because I see all too well what I'm like, and I just know that there's no way He'll ever listen to little old me. After all, just look at what He had to go through to redeem me!"

It's a cleverly devised lie, because it is mixed with truth. Yes, Jesus went to the cross and endured such a horrible death to redeem us, but not because we are worthless worms.  He went there because He values us so greatly that He would do anything to prove to us how much we are worth to Him!

Remember the story of the ugly duckling, the cygnet (swan chick) who was hatched in a family of ducks and never felt good enough?  That is a metaphor - a symbolic picture - for us.  The reality was that the "ugly duckling" was not a duckling after all, but a swan, regardless of how unworthy he felt. Keep that picture in your mind.  Not the taunts of the so-called siblings, not even his own reflection in the water compared to those of the 'brothers and sisters', not the revulsion that he saw in the eyes of the adult ducks, changed the fact that he was a swan - destined for far greater, born to beauty and majesty. The day he knew his worth was the day he heard the swans calling him from on high, and caught a glimpse of his reflection (now transformed) in the water just inside the broken ice prison he had made for himself.

That's us.  Born to beauty. Worthy.  Valuable.  Loved.  Called.  Yet so many of us still unaware that we are His treasure, that we are the apple of His eye.  We always were.

It makes no difference to its worth whether a diamond is in a crown or in a pigsty.  It's a diamond.  It has intrinsic worth - that is, it has a value that is in and of itself, and isn't dependent on its surroundings.  We are His JEWELS!

Photo "Ring With Stone" courtesy of
Boykung at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
Another - and perhaps more meaningful - metaphor is the (modern) story of Rapunzel.  (Even though Grimm wrote the original story [which is AWFUL by the way], I prefer the version that Disney did recently, because it ends WAY better!)  Never mind the romance piece for now - that's a different story to tell.  Let's look at Rapunzel herself: a princess who doesn't know she's a princess. Hear me?  Not only a princess - but one with magical giftings to heal and rejuvenate, but which are used by a selfish, cruel power (Mother Gothel) who pretends to be her mother.  Yet at every turn, this woman belittles her, tells her she is fat, or stupid, or lazy, or demented (crazy).  She uses the girl's bestowed power (expressed through her long, magical hair which must never be cut or it will lose its power - can we see the symbolism of Samson here?) for her own purposes and intends to keep her imprisoned forever.  Gothel builds a culture of shame and mistrust, and yet Rapunzel longs for something more - and eventually is drawn to see the lights that appear every year on her birthday.  For far away, the heartbroken King and Queen lift the lanterns to the skies in her honour every year, hoping that one day she will return to them and take her rightful place.  When Rapunzel sees these lights up close, she feels like she belongs there somehow.  Soon, she puts it all together and realizes that she IS the 'lost princess.'  And knowing who she is changes everything about how she perceives her upbringing; she sees the witch for what she really is.  

That too is us.  We have been sold a bill of goods and we have just accepted those voices (often voices we hear expressed in those old self-hating, self-torturing hymns and the fear-based traditions of the organized church) that tell us that we must be crazy to think that God would hear us, that we are delusional to think that He would care about the little things of our lives, or that He would love us unconditionally and beyond measure.  Or the voices say that yes, God loves us but only if we behave ourselves.  Or that He hears and answers prayer but that if we don't receive answers, then we must be doing it wrong.  

No.  We are the King's sons and daughters.  We are precious to Him, worthy to Him. He dotes on us, and hears our faintest heart's cry because He delights in us.  We cannot offend Him!  We cannot! And why would we want to?  Being aware of a love that great can only produce love in return ... (another post for another time).

Can we grasp this? Is this not good news?  Can we accept that He is far greater and far more loving and accepting and GOOD than we have ever allowed ourselves to dream?  The Word says that He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think --- so basically, more of every one of those wonderful things (like love, acceptance, and goodness) than we can imagine!  Well I don't know about you, but I can imagine A LOT!  A WHOLE LOT!! If we could conceive of a greater, more loving God than God Himself, would that not mean that the god we have been believing in isn't really God at all?  Because, in order to BE God, He'd have to be so far beyond our capacity to comprehend or imagine that we couldn't think or imagine of anything greater!

Yes.  Yes He has set His love on us.  We have laboured in the sun, but He finds us beautiful, ravishing.  

We are worthy in His sight.  We are. Oh that we might be able to SEE His love - to experience it in our deepest heart - it would transform every moment into something sacred!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I See You

A few weeks ago, our family shared the movie "Avatar" with a friend who had never seen it.  It was wonderful to see the spectacular visual effects of the film again, and the story line was compelling.

Although some would look askance at me for even watching a film that glorifies a 'mother-earth' type religion, I find the connection that The Na'vi have with their deity Eywa extremely real; it touches every aspect of their lives.  The Na'vi come to accept Jake (the hero) as one of them - but not without some misunderstanding.  Jake is a paraplegic, but when he sleeps, his consciousness is in his Avatar body - in which he can interact with the Na'vi. They know from the outset that he is a 'dream-walker' - a human in Na'vi form, and yet because Eywa has chosen him (a powerful scene that literally saves his life), he is brought to the village and assigned a Na'vi guide or teacher so that he may learn their language and their ways (in other words, their culture).

One of the most striking things about the culture of the Na'vi is their greeting for each other: "I see you."  As one of Jake's cultural mentors tells him when he is awake, this is not merely physical vision but a seeing of the person, the spirit inside, the individual's heart or character, all that makes them who they are.  It implies an intimacy that in our culture is usually only reserved for family and close friends, but there is something inherently real and right about this kind of connection with each other that resonates with me.  There are no barriers, no pretenses, no fake smiles. They feel what they feel when they feel it and they are open with each other. I think it is all a part of how they interact with Eywa and with the world around them. As Jake learns to interact with Eywa as well as with his Na'vi teacher, he begins to "see" the Na'vi, and consider himself one of them, one of "the people." 

Photo "Eye" courtesy of graur codrin at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
The greeting "I see you" is one I have adopted in my relationship with my Creator. Prayer has now become for me more of a heart attitude or focus, a knowing that I am loved and heard, more like petals opening in the sunlight than a spewing volcano of pleading words, eyes tightly closed and fearing destruction or refusal. 

In the middle of the night, when I awake and all is dark, all I need to do now is to acknowledge the fact of His presence and of His love for me.  I know in my deepest heart that He "sees" me - knows me intimately, loves me passionately and completely - and my desire is to know Him progressively, to "see" Him in the same way. All that really stands in the way of that "seeing" is my own difficulty in becoming consistently aware of that vital connection. 

I've also started to use this expression with my family (that is, my husband and my daughter) from time to time.  It always brings a smile because they know what it means!  It means that I understand them, accept them completely, love to spend time with them, and so much more.  

Over the past year or so, my life has become so much more about experiencing and reflecting love, and so much less about rules and obligations.  That's not to say I don't relapse into the Abyss Of The Should, but when I spend time meditating on His love, I find that there is no need for The Should.  I naturally want to live every moment of my life in the light of that all-seeing, all-accepting, no-holds-barred love.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The pressure and politics - and pleasures - of isolation

One day recently, I was having a discussion about something with an acquaintance, when the topic turned to something on which the person and I did not share the same opinion.  

She asked me about it, so in spite of my better judgement, I gave my opinion, which I backed up with anecdotal (based on personal experience) evidence.  It stopped the conversation cold, and both of us commented on how awkward it felt, how inappropriate it was for us to even be discussing it. 

After that, I sensed a coldness, a withdrawal of respect, if you will, between us.  And it got me to thinking about the subtle pressure that comes to bear when two people don't agree on something - the social pressure to conform, for one side to convince the other and failing that, the removal of that thing from the list of things where one feels "safe".  

There is a lack of acceptance that is inherent in such differences of opinion; one side is unswayed by the other, and a (silent or voiced) agreement takes place where both parties resolve never to bring up that topic again.  Whether that is from a fear of confrontation, or from an unwillingness to entertain the other's point of view (belief, doctrine, attitude) again based on fear of being proven wrong or anger that someone holds to a different viewpoint, the result is the same: the walls go up and a whole other area is cordoned off with a big "Do Not Enter" sign posted, a "demilitarized zone" - a no-man's-land or an emotional mine-field.

I've been giving this idea some thought since deciding to leave the institutional church last summer.  And I've noticed that in some ways, and with some people more than others, the same process has been happening with people who had said to me that we were part of the family of God.  Yet when we decided to leave the physical house where they felt (to one degree or the other) comfortable, and where we did not, there was that same awkwardness, that withdrawal, that "let's not go there" mentality that just ... appeared.  Out of nowhere, it seemed, people who would laugh and joke with us simply avoided eye contact, or promised to keep in touch but didn't, or if they did keep in touch, there were awkward silences, things they felt they couldn't share, things we felt that we couldn't share - because we were in different worlds.  

And slowly, that resulted in isolation from a community we THOUGHT was based on more than just the name engraved on a plaque or painted on a sign near the church entrance.  It made us question whether the relationships that we had spent years developing were nothing more than a sham - whether they were based on whether we kept up our end of the contract, or whether we were "of use" to the community.  It all seemed so ... superficial, petty, and ... conditional. 

We made it clear that we were not leaving our relationship with God, but that we no longer subscribed to living life by traditions, rules, and the fear and shame that is behind those things.  We thought that those who knew us best would understand that this was not a rejection of them, but a personal decision.  And perhaps some of them did.  

Yet ... here we are.  God sets up times when we are in community with one or two other people and seeking His face - and He shows up; these times are wonderful and remind me of what the early church must have been like.  Yet for the most part, it's like we have died as far as relationships with some people are concerned.  

Don't get me wrong; our relationship with God has deepened and we are experiencing peace and joy more now than ever before.  Yet even that makes some folks uncomfortable; after all, aren't we supposed to shrivel up and waste away to nothing if we don't slap our fannies on a church pew somewhere? 

Photo "Bald Eagle Close Up" courtesy of
Tina Phillips at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
More and more, I don't think so. I think that that mentality limits God in ways I am not comfortable with.  And truth be told, while there are some aspects of church attendance and traditional ministry that I do miss at times, in those moments, I usually just play the tape all the way to the end and realize that for me, it's not worth going back for just those few things.  

I kind of feel like Neo in "The Matrix" - I've swallowed the red pill (those who've seen the movie know what I mean) and now, things just don't look the same anymore.  And it IS isolating.  The very nature of that realization means that there ARE going to be topics I won't be able to discuss with certain  people, and there are going to be some people who won't feel comfortable being around me either. It isn't that they are wrong and I am right; it's just that we are in different places with different needs. Yet, for someone who all her life wanted everyone to like her and approve of her, it's a big deal that some people now ... don't - or they don't act like they do.

Accepting that is probably one of the hardest things about this past year.  As liberating as this lifestyle is, as wonderful as it is to look at life through the lens of God's unconditional love, it is still sometimes a lonely place - but one dear friend of mine turned that thinking around when she called it "the aerie" - the eagles' nest.

I like that.  True, there is isolation, but there are also many more updrafts, and the advantage of a bird's eye view, so to speak.  Things that seemed so huge: political wrangling, position, petitions, placards, pleading, proselytizing, pontificating, and pseudo-pious posturing ... seem so puny and piddling compared to the simple truth that God is God and I am not.  And I'm okay with that.

In fact, I'm better than okay with it.  I like it just fine!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A culture of beggars

A few years back, there was a small movement in christian circles that had people wearing bracelets that said "WWJD" for "What would Jesus do?" It was geared toward works of service for others, ways to treat others, etc. As I draw closer to Jesus, I find myself not asking Him WHAT He would do; I KNOW what He would do (He would love unconditionally. Period.)  Instead, more and more I ask Him HOW He would do something - and I look to scripture whenever I can to give me guidance on things ... things (and especially religious traditions) that for years I just accepted as the way things were done.

Recently, I have noticed that the way we pray for people is not the way He prayed for them, and the way we deal with the sick is most definitely not the way He did.  In case I was mistaken and the idea came up that "Well, that was Jesus. Of course! He had the authority to do that as God the Son!" ... I looked at what He authorized us (as His disciples) to do on His behalf. What I saw shocked me.

Before I share that with you, let me share what I see happening in the church when someone gets sick ... especially very sick.  People start to pray. But they don't pray the way the disciples did.  Here's what I hear typically when Western christians pray for someone who has any kind of need (minus all the "oh Jesus"es, and the endlessly repeated words like "God" and "Father" - He knows Who He is...):

"Would You just touch his body and heal it?"
"Just wrap Your arms around that family (that person) and bless them..."
"Have Your will in their lives, just hold them close..."
"Just pulverize that sickness."
"Just be with the doctors as they operate, just guide their hands..."

Did you catch the word "just"?  Do you know what that is?  It is a beggar's word.  "If you could give me a quarter. Just a quarter. It's not much, it's all I'm asking for."  It conveys the message that the person you are asking is not generous, not compassionate, that you have to work hard to wring even that much from them.

Really.  

Now let's look at what Jesus did and HOW He did it.  We know that He healed people.  But HOW?  

Jesus didn't pray to the Father for people to be healed.  He did it Himself, and in a very specific way.  He spoke - not to the person, but - to the sickness. The sickness was invading that person's body (or spirit) and He told it to get out.  Plain and simple.  And it left. No ifs, ands or buts.

Now before you raise your objections, (because I had the same ones!) let me remind you that Jesus divested Himself of His divine powers when He became human.  He only operated in His ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in doing so, He demonstrated that any other human being on the planet can do it too.  And then (get this) He explicitly authorized His disciples to do the same.  Look at Matthew 10:8, which is near the beginning of Jesus' instructions to the disciples to go out and preach the good news to the towns and villages surrounding them.  "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons; freely you have received, freely give."  

Photo "Boy Patient In Hospital"
courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
He didn't say, "Pray for the sick to be healed, pray for the dead to be raised..." and so forth.  He said, "Do it."  He implied that they had the authority to do it (in His name.) And so they did.  They had every authority over sickness, leprosy, demon-possession and death that Jesus had as a human being filled with the Spirit.  He gave the same authority to the seventy whom He sent out two by two.  And on the day of Pentecost, He ensured that the same dynamite power - the Holy Spirit - who was in Him, now could inhabit and control us the same way He did for Jesus ... with the same results! 

What the western church tells us is that we are so unworthy, such worms, that we don't have the right to raise our eyes to Heaven.  We need to smash that idol of self-hatred and unworthiness that we have fashioned in the name of spirituality and humility. It is NEITHER.  And we christians have forgotten our heritage as sons and daughters of the most high God.  We aren't to use that heritage to selfishly amass fortunes for ourselves, but rather to stand - loved, freed, and holy in His sight - to stand on behalf of those who are laid aside through sickness, oppression, and yes, even death. We are authorized to speak to that problem - directly TO it - and know that it will go because He has authorized us to be His voice, to be His hands extended. 

Look through the gospels. Look in the book of Acts.  It is there, over and over again.  Speak to the problem.  Command the sickness to go.  

And before you cite the case of the demoniac child whose father cried, "I believe! help my unbelief!" where Jesus said, "This kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting..."  Think.... had Jesus just been fasting?  Did He pray to God right there for a half-hour or two hours and ask for God to cast out the demon?  NO.  It's clear that by this He meant a lifestyle of prayer (that is, communion with God in intimacy) highlighted by fasting - which is meant to focus the person on pressing in to God, not to get something out of Him but to feel closer TO Him.  

It is time for us as believers to put the big C back into the word Christian. To remember that "as He is, so are we in this world." (1 Jn. 4:17).  We need to realize just how deeply, just how intensely and unconditionally He loves us, to shed our dragon-skin of religious self-demeaning ritual, and that beggar's mentality that dares not ask for more than scraps. We need to rid ourselves of the "oh please please please please please" - endless repetitions that essentially say that we don't believe that God is good.  Or that He loves us unconditionally. Let's rise up to our heritage and to our calling as believers.  Let's go about doing good.  Let's change our culture for the better ... not only for our own good but for the good of the people who so desperately need GOOD news.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Straight trade

I trudged up the hill, towing my two suitcases, with my computer bag balanced precariously across the slide-out carrying handle of the largest bag, and my purse slung over my head and down my right side.  Every 20 to 30 feet I would stop, winded by the hill, the extra weight, and the altitude - 3500 feet above sea level doesn't sound like much unless you're from sea level - I could feel myself perspiring heavily. My hair stuck to my face. Fortunately ... it wasn't raining. 

Someone had given me these directions and I was following them to the best of my ability. I hadn't reached the top of the hill when I saw a man carrying a blue, lightweight tote on the other side of the road, going in the opposite direction. I was puffing and panting by this point. All sense of dignity had been lost. I was in refugee mode - quite literally - fleeing a situation of my own making which had gotten wildly out of control. 

The man slowed down. He stopped. "Could you use a hand?" he called to me. 

 My pride was nil.  "Wow! I sure could!" I stopped and rested my bags on their wheels on the concrete sidewalk.

He came over and asked me where I was going. "Student Residence B" I said, indicating my first stop: residence services where I would get my key.  He took the heaviest bag with the computer bag resting on it.  Then he gave me his tote bag - it literally weighed only a few ounces. I hitched up my purse and reached for my wheeled duffle bag. "No, you've carried that long enough," he said. "I'll carry your bags and you carry mine. Let's enjoy the rest of this walk."

I was so flustered and grateful that I knew that if I wasn't so exhausted I would have cried... I just didn't have the energy; it had been a tumultuous week.  Meekly I let him carry my load - some good thirty-five pounds worth of it - while I walked easily beside him.

He made conversation, asked me where I was from and when I told him, he said that he had lived there for 20 years and started a company there.  I had heard of the company!  He asked about my family (this happens all the time where I live, it's called "who's your father?") and it turned out that he knew of some people who were related to my husband.

When we got to the destination, he opened the doors for me and set my luggage back down on the floor, and asked for his tote back.  We parted ways and I thanked him once again for having compassion on me.  And after he was gone,  I thanked God for the kind detour this man took because he saw I was in distress. (By the time I got to my residence, I was beet red in the face from exertion.) 

That was the first of many kindnesses I was shown that day. A kind cabbie who took my bags, another who helped me with my groceries and gave me a discount because he got lost and I didn't have the precise address, etc.,  but the thing that sticks out for me is this man who traded his light package for all of mine.  He did so, in order that I might enjoy the walk.

Photo "Loving Father And His Baby" by
David Castillo Dominici at
www.freedigitalphotos.net
I could not help but draw parallels between that experience and the invitation of Jesus: "Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke (my helping, my partnering with you) upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly, and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11: 28 - 30)

Can it be that simple? giving Him our burden in exchange for His? Apparently so.  He can understand the most anguished cry, the smallest whimper, the silent pleading, tears in the dark, everything. And He invites us to trade that load for His, which is easy, because it doesn't burden people with shoulds and rules; His load is simply love. He invites us to come to Him and - if we need to - fall apart in His arms; He will hold us. He already took all that hurt away anyway.  Let's let ourselves be loved. It's okay. It is really okay.