Hello dear readers,
I’m sharing a post written by the wife of a college friend: “My Child in Pain: A Good Friday Reflection.” It’s beautiful! Please read.
Hello dear readers,
I’m sharing a post written by the wife of a college friend: “My Child in Pain: A Good Friday Reflection.” It’s beautiful! Please read.
A few weeks ago a man told me he never gives to poor people asking for money. He did that once, many years ago, bought lunch for a man begging on the street. “I felt good for a few minutes after,” he told me, “felt like I’d done my good deed for the day, but then I realized I’d simply made that man successful at asking for money. I hadn’t given him a reason to do anything else. Now I only give to people who are already pursuing their goals, who are already successful.”
I dabbled in studying the Trinity this past fall. I learned much, but learned more than anything that I’d merely left the shore to sit in a rowboat on the ocean’s surface in order to peer into the depths. I was able to see further into the water from the boat than I had on land but was also able to see that beneath me were fathoms upon fathoms of mystery and beauty.
I realized I could spend my life studying the Trinity and still be snorkeling in the shallows.
Yet even the shallows are amazingly wonderful! The very idea of a three-in-one God, a God who is three persons distinct yet sharing the same essence, so full of love for one another that this love overflows into and onto creation…
Is incredible, simply incredible.
As I read about and marveled at the Trinity, a conversation from a couple years ago kept coming back to me. I’d never forgotten this conversation because it made me uncomfortable. I left it feeling I’d said the wrong thing, but my studies of the Trinity gave me insight into why I said what I did.
My doorbell rang one day while the kids were at school, and I opened my door to find two women who wanted to tell me about their faith. They were both older than I, and even though I didn’t invite them in because they seemed a little nervous of the dog, I found myself wanting to fetch a chair for the older of the two, a woman older than my mother. We began with what we agreed on, and our talk was cordial. But then I asked them about Jesus. “What do you believe about him?”
Distress built in me as the older woman talked about a mere human who’d simply been so incredibly good that he was, so to speak, “adopted” by God. God’s son? Yes. But was he God’s eternal Son, ONE with the Father and the Spirit, of the same essence? No.
I am not “good” in these situations. Scripture references, logic, and reasoning—all these flee, chased out by passion and fear. My brain scrambles to put together a clear plan, or to follow one of several I thought of after previous conversations like this one, but all I can do is send up a plea for help.
So, with these two beautiful women standing in front of me, brushing aside every question I had about Jesus being one with the Father, about Jesus being the Word that was in the beginning with God, I prayed. Holy Spirit, please come.
What came was not what I’d hoped for—a list of Scripture references clearly laid out. No, what came was sorrow. These women were unnecessarily trapped; they’d placed their hope in a lie. If Jesus was human only, if his death was accepted only because he’d lived a perfect life before it…
…then his sacrifice would have only made the way clear for himself, not for me, nor for these women. He would be no more than an example—“Look at him; do it exactly this way!”—an example we are incapable of duplicating.
I asked more questions, but the distress grew until it burst out of me: “But if Jesus wasn’t God, He couldn’t help me! I don’t want a human savior; what good would that do? I need God Himself to save me! No one else could!”
The rest of the conversation was still cordial, but they didn’t stay long after my comment. I told them I would love for them to come back, but I haven’t seen them again.
This is the conversation I kept remembering as I read about the Trinity this fall. I realized the longing I’d felt was not simply for a divine Savior. It was bigger, wider, deeper. It was for a Triune God who has such an excess of love within the Father, Son, and Spirit relationship that this love cannot help but overflow. It was a longing for a God who also longs for me; who deeply desires to restore the broken relationship with his creation and did this very thing through the Son; who draws us by the Spirit into true relationship with God, with neighbor.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of our God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit abide with us, now and forever.
Chai dog and I walked in Lincoln Marsh last week. As we meandered slow, with many sniff stops, I saw an older woman and a large dog approaching us. When there was still some distance between us, they turned off onto a side path. I noticed a younger woman, in her early thirties perhaps, ambling along several yards behind the woman with the dog. She and I met as we reached the spot where the path split. Her face lit up with a bright smile when she saw Chai. “Can I pet her?” she asked. She knelt down in her pink patterned pajama pants next to my dog, putting her face close, allowing Chai to give it a gentle lick. “She’s very pretty,” she said.
“Why, thank you,” I answered her.
I noticed the woman with the other dog had stopped and was watching us. I guessed she was the mother of this child-woman who looked up at me with eyes clear of any guile. She chattered a little more before getting to her feet and bouncing like a happy puppy down the path. Her mother and I waved at each other and then continued on our separate ways.
“Oh, Lord, how you must love her!” The words sprang into my mind unbidden, surprising me. She had been so straightforward, so lacking in self-awareness, receiving joy so freely from Chai, from me. A strange longing rose up in me.
What next popped up in my mind surprised me even more than my earlier thought. “I love you as much as I love her.”
Really, Lord? I have such a hard time believing that. I feel so complicated and double-minded, devoted one moment, self-focused the next, every motive mixed.
A couple days after that walk, I attended a women’s retreat led by the very gifted writer and speaker Jen Pollock Michel. At one point in the weekend, she taught on the parable of the prodigal son and asked, “How do you see yourself, as undeserving of grace and goodness or as having earned them?”
Her point was that both come from a “wage mentality,” of thinking we are capable of working for God’s love.
I vacillate between the two attitudes, but most often I think of myself as undeserving. I won’t actually say it, even to myself, but deep down I feel others can be objects of God’s free grace, but I have to earn it and I have fallen so very short (this is such a strange form of pride). He’ll still love me, I think, but I know He’s shaking His head with disappointment, that who/what I am is not what I should be.
This is my second blog post in two weeks on this topic; clearly it is something I need to hear. So, once again, I preach the Gospel to myself. Based on the number of other women at the retreat who shared that they, too, struggle with this, I remind you to preach it to yourself as well.
“God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. … So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” Romans 5:8 and 11, NLT
We can’t earn it.
We don’t have to try.
He loves us.
The same day as the retreat, Leaf and Twig posted an incredibly applicable photo and poem. Please check out “Look of Love.”
A good friend of mine recently attended the funeral of a well-beloved uncle, an uncle who had Down syndrome, Uncle Mikey. The pastor conducting the service took the opportunity to speak about the sanctity of human life—of all human life. He mentioned that some studies, such as one done by Boston Children’s Hospital, place the percentage of children with Down syndrome who are aborted at 90%.
With tests now available that will allow pregnant women to easily and inexpensively determine if their baby has Down syndrome, this number may rise even higher. There is also pressure from many in the scientific community. One high-profile scientist calls the decision to abort a baby with Down syndrome the “ethical choice.”
Yet, the pastor said, other studies done by Children’s Hospital Boston to measure the effects of having a child or sibling with Down syndrome tell a very different story.
-Among 2,044 parents or guardians surveyed, 79 percent reported their outlook on life was more positive because of their child with Down syndrome.
-Among siblings ages 12 and older, 97 percent expressed feelings of pride about their brother or sister with Down syndrome and 88 percent were convinced they were better people because of their sibling with Down syndrome.
The pastor stopped at this point and told his audience. “The last statistic is the most telling: Among adults with Down syndrome, 99% responded they were happy with their lives, 97% liked who they are, and 96% liked how they looked.”
The pastor looked out at his audience. “If I polled you, how many of you would be able to respond that way?”
He went on to talk about Uncle Mikey’s faith. “Can a person with Down syndrome have faith?” he asked. He talked about Mikey’s favorite songs, which included John Denver’s “Take Me Home” but also the hymns “The Old Rugged Cross” and “I Come to the Garden Alone,” which his mother often played for him.
“But his most favorite, the song Mikey sang most often, was ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ He would tell people, ‘Jesus loves me. He loves me.’ I think that’s a pretty incredible testimony that Mikey knew what was most important.”
When my friend told me about this funeral, tears welled up in my eyes. My faith so often gets muddied with my own performance, my own efforts to “earn” God’s approval. Mikey wasn’t hampered by this silly idea. He believed he was fully loved by Jesus, and he lived in that truth.
Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Thank you, Uncle Mikey.
NOTE: My friend wasn’t able to remember the exact statistics the pastor said, but I did a little research and may have found the exact sources he used. One was an article at Live Action News; the other was at NBC News. The statistics in italics in the post above are drawn directly from the NBC article.
NOTE: This post reminds me of a picture book written by one of my nieces about the experience of being a sister to a brother with profound Autism. Please read Grace’s story “The Family That I Love.”
I recently participated in a journal-writing session. “Write about an ending,” the instructor told us, “whatever ending comes to mind. Don’t hold back, don’t erase or scribble out, just write.”
I wrote about a relationship I would like to end—in order to start it anew, with no expectations other than authenticity. I was not surprised by the pain I felt as I wrote, but I was startled by the hope that edged its way in as I dreamed about a new beginning for this relationship. I thought I’d given up on it.
After the instructor announced, “Time’s up!” she asked if any wanted to share. Several brave writers did, and my heart broke for the pain they revealed. Suicide, divorce, death of an infant child… We felt weighed down by the sorrow of it all and yet freed to share our own hurt. After each person read, a moment of silence hung. Those near the reader often reached out and touched a shoulder, a hand. Others pushed the tissue box down the long table. Some looked directly at the reader, conveying sympathy with their eyes; others bowed heads in prayer. Often the next person who volunteered sat next to the one who’d just read, as if to say, “I share your pain. Mine may look different, but I’ve known an ending that brought loss, too.”
I’ve thought off-and-on about that journal writing session, sometimes praying for the relationship I wrote about, sometimes praying for one or another of my fellow writers. It’s what came to mind this morning when I sat down at my computer and thought about this Good Friday post. And though I soon had a focus, the actual writing of it was choppy, interrupted by my children (home on spring break), meal prep, and a visit to church.
I went to church for the Stations of the Cross: fourteen stations, fourteen crosses. We walked from one to another of them, following the figurative path Christ took, beginning at the garden and walking then to betrayal, condemnation, denial and desertion, scourging, the bearing of the cross, the crucifixion, encounter with the thief, care of the Virgin Mary, death, and entombment.
When we finished, my mother-in-law, who’d walked with me, said, “I kept thinking about how He knew what was next, how He knew what was at the end of it, yet He kept going.”
As I came home and continued writing this post, the stations and the journal writing connected. I realized Christ went purposely toward His Good Friday ending so we could have a beginning, so we could have life (I Thessalonians 5:10).
So that one day, that life—that Easter life—could be fully realized.
John was given a vision of that Easter life. He shared it with us in Revelation:
“’Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End.’ (taken from Revelation 21:4-6)
Christ is the End of all sad, bitter endings.
He is the Beginning of all that is new.
And His Beginning will have no end.
In the last “Confessional Living” post, I wrote about the joy that comes through confession.
I suggested it is possible for this joy to be a constant state if we live in continual recognition/confession of sin–Martin Luther’s “life of repentance.” To do this, though, we must understand the concept of “sin” more deeply–beyond its obvious symptoms to its core, where we always put “self” ahead of God and/or others. A few weeks back I was at a morning retreat run by our church (Church of the Resurrection), and Bishop Stewart Ruch spoke about the chronic disease of sin and the different ways it reveals or presents itself in our lives. I found his list very helpful, particularly in relation to the studying/thinking I’ve done for the Confessional Living series, so I am sharing it here.
1. the disease to meet our own needs–no matter what; ahead of others’ more pressing needs; for being flattered, noticed, taken care of, pampered, etc. Stewart suggested that people struggling with this particular sin disease are often magnetic or subtly manipulative personalities; they have figured out how to get others to want to meet their needs.
2. the disease of self-deception–living as if we have no sin/not seeing our own sin. This is why it is very, very dangerous to live outside any spiritual authority. It is too easy to ignore and become blind to our own sin.
3. the disease of introspection–This is not reflection but is a constant consciousness of ourselves, of how we are presenting ourselves to others, of how others are perceiving us. A continual awareness of SELF.
4. the disease of unbelief–of doubting the truth of God’s Word, of HIM. Of doubting the Gospel. Of ALWAYS questioning/pushing off acceptance.
5. the disease of perfectionism–In this, we have an illusion of the possibility of self-goodness and being completely RIGHT. It leads to brutal self-standards and terrible judgment of both self and others. Perfectionists are exhausted themselves and tiring to be around.
6. the disease of non-acceptance–We do not accept what God has given us to do or be. We don’t embrace it and instead long for something else.
These were very helpful for me. A friend who also attended the retreat went with me on a long walk, and we discussed the realities of these diseases in our lives. We recognized many of them! They bring theoretical sin into the nitty-gritty and allow me to see the wrong in very subtle attitudes, actions, or thoughts. When I am in a group, and I find myself slightly amending a statement or story just before I say it so that I will appear more likable/knowledgable/competent–I can see that this springs from a sin disease and needs to be brought to the Lord. When I fuss at two of my children for squabbling in a store, it allows me to see that underneath the good desire for these children to care for each other is a sliver of hurt pride at having others’ perceptions of my parenting tainted by my children’s actions.
And when I become conscious of these things, I am more in awe of Christ–who didn’t exalt Himself but instead humbled Himself to the cross, –who loved and died for us while we were still dead and rotten in our sins.
With great gratitude I remember that for our sake “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”
A RECORDING: If you didn’t read the last post, a poem by Wheaton Academy student Tyler Jackson, please scroll down below this post to see it (or follow the link above). The more I read her poem, the more I am influenced by it, so I made a recording of it in case any of you would rather hear it (poetry so often has a different effect when it’s listened to) or listen as you read along. Here’s the recording:
A VERSE: In my latest post in the Confessional Living series, it was implied but not actually stated that the Holy Spirit most often uses the very Word of God to make us aware of our hidden (or not so hidden) sins. Hebrews 4:12 is a oft-quoted verse about the power of Scripture. I’m putting it here in the New Living translation because it makes the verse new and fresh even to those who have quoted it since they were children. I am also including verses 13-16 because the Gospel, hallelujah, goes beyond our sin to the Savior who rescued us through His own sacrifice.
Hebrews 4:12-16 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. 14 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. 15 This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
*Here is Hebrews 4:12-16 in several different versions/paraphrases.
A SUGGESTION: Are you wanting to read Scripture more and allow God to use it to change you? Bible Gateway has recently added a section to its website titled “Scripture Engagement.” Here’s the first paragraph on that page: “This section of Bible Gateway, created in partnership with the Taylor University Center for Scripture Engagement, outlines a set of practical exercises and activities you can undertake to interact more meaningfully with the Bible.” I would encourage you to check it out by following the link above.
NOTE: The italicized phrases in this blog post are drawn from the prayer of confession, which follows the post.
In the last blog post in this series, I wrote about how confession has expanded my view of sin: it is not limited to thoughts, words, or actions, for these spring from a self-focus that keeps me from loving God and others. This understanding of sin has also stretched my view of God, for I see that He, unlike me, has NO sin in Him. His Spirit is not bent in self-focus; His every intent and action are for good.
As a child I equated God’s sinlessness (holiness) with a lot of “not” statements. God does not lie, does not steal (kind of impossible for Him to do that!), does not…
But the holiness of God is so much greater than that. I turn to my definition of “not-sin” from the last blog post to help me with this idea. “Not sin” (holiness) is loving God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving my neighbor as myself.
Does God do that?
First, He loves Himself with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength.
That’s a strange statement, and one my mind falls far short of comprehending, but when I consider the Trinity (another idea that blows my mind), I see that in the Three-in-One, God keeps this first-and-greatest commandment perfectly. The Father loves and honors the Son and the Spirit; the Son loves and honors the Father and the Spirit; the Spirit loves and exalts the Father and the Son. (For a GREAT and readable article on this, read “The Good News of the Trinity” by Tim Chester. By the way, he uses the term “perichoresis” in that article; click on the word to find the definition–which I had to look up!)
In the Trinity we catch a glimpse of how relationships are supposed to be. No self-centeredness taints the fellowship of the Trinity. Its members are for each other, loving each other with purity and kindness. The members of the Trinity completely act out the love described in I Corinthians 13 and the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5.
Second, God loves His neighbors (all His creation) as Himself. This doesn’t negate justice. God wouldn’t allow sin within Himself; He cannot accept it in us. And this is exactly where God’s love for us, His “neighbors” shines brightest. Rather than leave us in a state of separation from all that is purely good (Himself), He loved us as Himself and GAVE Himself. There is no greater example of the second commandment. For the sake of the Son, Christ, He forgives us and has mercy on us.
And so the prayer of confession takes my eyes UP—away from my self, away even from my sin—and I am amazed at the Goodness of God. In all His thoughts, words, and deeds toward us, in what He does and does not do—
He is Good.
Here is the Prayer of confession in its entirety:
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us;
That we may delight in your will,
And walk in your ways,
To the glory of your Name.
Almighty God, have mercy on us,
Forgive us all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ,
Strengthen us in all goodness,
And by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life.
In some ways our entire trip led up to these last few days. The students have prepared their stories of how Christ has transformed and rescued them; they’ve learned Scotland’s rich history of faith and its current low spiritual point through tours and speakers; and they’ve visited churches and youth groups whose members have expressed how very alone they sometimes feel.
Yesterday and today, our students were able to do their small part to step into that need. Yesterday morning we visited Deans Community High School here in Scotland. Rob Bell is the chaplain at Deans and meets with students each week. Both the administration and students know and respect him. Because they do, we are welcome to do assemblies and school visits there. In assembly we showed the video of our school (prepared by TJ Tyrrell) and then Grace and Jacklyn explained their cardboard testimonies. On one side of the cardboard testimony is a statement expressing a deep need, hurt, or struggle; on the other side is how Christ met that need and transformed the student in the process. After Grace and
Jacklyn explained and showed theirs, the other students then shared theirs silently. Here are a few:
“Before Christ, there was no meaning to my life/With Christ I have a purpose.”
“I used to think God would only love me if I was perfect/Now I know God loves me even with my imperfections.”
“I used to HATE how I looked/Now I know I am made beautifully in God’s image.”
“I felt worthless/Now I know God values me and made me for a purpose.”
“I used all my talents to make others notice and love me/When I use my talents for God, I feel His love.”
“I was controlled by fear/now I am made bold through Christ’s freedom”
“I used to feel unlovable/now I feel consumed by Christ’s love.”
The vulnerability of the students was bold
and beautiful, and the students at Deans responded. We left the school following the assembly yesterday, but today we
spent the entire day there. We did assembly for a different group of Deans students and then paired our students up with Deans students and sent them off to classes. They talked
about cultural differences and personal likes/dislikes but many of the Deans students also asked about our students’ belief in Christ. Some even went with their partners to Religious Education classes, where the teachers opened up the floor for the students to discuss
different aspects of the Christian faith. Dave and I were in Religious Education classes all day; in three of them the teacher invited us to the front of the class and allowed us to field questions from the students. Nearly every single question led to us sharing some aspect of the Gospel. They asked about our favorite parables, how we know the Bible is true; why the God of the Old Testament seems different from the God of the New Testament; how science and religion deal with origins; Scripture’s views on abortion, etc. In one of the classes, our students Abby and Jacklyn joined us and answered quite a few of the questions,
and in the final class, our students answered all the questions, and Dave and I just listened.
By the end of the day, our students were exhausted. Most were really encouraged, though a few felt that their conversations with their new friends hadn’t gone as deeply as they’d hoped they would. But that gave Dave and I the opportunity to remind them of God’s timing and the Holy Spirit’s ability to use even the things we consider very, very small.
We had our host family dinner tonight at Rob and Louise’s church, eating the traditional Scottish meal of haggis, neeps, and tatties (turnips and potatoes) and celebrating a Burns supper a bit early (it’s celebrated on January 25th) with a bagpiper and a recitation of Burns’ poem “To a Haggis.” We are very, very thankful for these families who have welcomed completely unknown teens into their homes and cared so well for them.
I need to backtrack to yesterday. Following assembly at Deans, we headed up with Billy the bus driver to Saint Andrews. We enjoyed a fairly sunny day (the first since we’ve arrived) in this small town with its legendary golf course, beautiful university (where Prince William and Kate both attended and met), lovely cathedral and castle ruins (our kids acted like they were on a playground!); and quaint streets (lots of bookshops!). On the way back to Livingston we got Anstruther’s famous fish and chips (so very good, but I almost couldn’t believe I was putting that much grease in my stomach!) and then enjoyed a game and snack night back at Rob and Louise’s house (they are incredibly hospitable).
Please pray for tomorrow. In the morning we will hold our last assembly at Deans (for yet another group of students), and because many of the Deans kids met our students yesterday, the cardboard testimonies have the potential to be even more powerful and impacting. Please pray that the seeds sown—some of them unknown—will take root.