Struck by God’s Love

The Bible study I’ve been attending has been working its way through the Gospel of John, and it’s been very profound to be studying Holy Week for the past couple months now, leading up to the story of the crucifixion this week. Some reflections leading into Good Friday:

These disciples.

Boy, what a motley crew.

The gospels record that they had been fighting over who was going to be greatest in the bunch or most powerful when Jesus brought down the new kingdom He kept talking about. They had to have everything explained to them two or three times (although I’m a little thankful for that – because we get to eavesdrop on the expounding, which I also need). They were slow, angry, prideful, glory-seeking, doubting, awkward Sons of Thunder that were so precisely human in all the ways we try our best to hide from one another, that to ponder it is to have our hearts filled with praise – if God can favor these men, then surely there is hope for me. Jesus is present with them, patiently but pointedly answers their annoying questions, guides them in the truth, challenges them in love and in their identities before God.

After three years of living with each other, studying at His feet, praying together, singing together, eating together, the Hour had come for Jesus to get down to the business of dying. So there, in the garden of Gethsemane, at night, waiting for his betrayer to show up with the lynch mob, He asks if they could pray and instead the boys keep falling asleep on Him. Judas had sold Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver, shows up with a small army and betrays Him with a kiss, of all things. Man, if Judas had done that to me, I’d be steaming mad. But Jesus, in His response, doesn’t push him away, doesn’t yell, doesn’t cuss him out.

He calls him “Friend.”  Like what even?

Grace upon grace, siblings. Do you see it?
He is so patient in His love, so comprehensive in His care.

Probably one of the more touching stories we’ve read this week, although there are many, is regarding Simon Peter, who is mellow-dramatically swearing his life and limbs to Christ. “I’ll die for you, Lord! They’ll have to get through me first!” But Jesus sees right through his fickle friendship and tells him straight up – “Peter, you’re gonna pretend you don’t even know me when it starts getting ugly around here. You’ll deny me. Right now. Tonight. Three times before the rooster crows in the morning.”

As Jesus is arrested and led away, the disciples scatter, and Peter follows the crowd from a distance. And I bet you can guess what happens next.
“Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?” a servant girl asks Peter.
She’s not really any kind of a threat to him, but still “I am not,” is his response.

As Jesus is being shuffled around from one illegal trial to another in the middle of the night, Peter went to warm his hands by a fire outside and someone asked “Aren’t you with that Jesus guy?”
“I am not,” he says.

As dawn breaks, Jesus is in the courtyard, having some philosophical conversations with the church leaders and getting slapped around a little, when a soldier who had been at Gethsemane confronts Peter just outside – “Didn’t I see you in the garden with him?”
And Peter is swearing mad now and yells defiantly that “I do not know the man!”
In a goosebumps kind of moment, even before Peter finishes his sentence, the rooster crows at the rising sun. And in that very same instant, Luke says, the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter from across the courtyard. Jesus, already having been beaten up a bit, allowing Himself to be so for the sake of Peter, among us all, turned and looked at him in his moment of shame, in denying that he ever knew the Son of God.
The greek word for “look’ here is emblepō. Strong’s Concordance translates it as “properly, stare at with a ‘locked-in gaze’; look at in a sustained, concentrated way, i.e. with special interest, love or concern.”

He loved him.

Even after Peter abandoned Him and treated Him like He was less than. Knowing that torture and death, emotional and spiritual agony were just a few hours away, things He would endure for Peter’s sake, He loved him.
“In that moment, Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.’ And Peter went outside and wept bitterly.”

But cheer up, friends, I’ve read ahead and I can tell you how this little part of the story ends.

Jesus visits His friends in His resurrected body days later. One morning, after some of the shock of seeing Him again has worn off (a little) and they’ve enjoyed some fish breakfast, Jesus has a moment with Peter in which He asks him – “Simon Peter, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Again He asks him, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”

“Yes, Lord, You know that I do,” Peter answers again.

Then He asks a third time. “Simon, do you love me?” And Simon Peter was sad that He had to ask three times. But you know what, I’m not. I think it’s a beautiful, tender gesture. Because I see how the Lord is faithful to pursue us to the very end, how He is after our hearts and restoring our brokenness (three times affirmed for three times denied) and how even in our shame and anger and weakness, and when we are so precisely human in all the ways we try our best to hide from one another, He looks from His  wounded eyes to ours with love.

The Deal

I told my family I had to go out.

Joel wondered aloud where I was going. I told him I was “going to meet somebody,” but I didn’t elaborate, and assured him I’d be back in a minute.

I drove down to the pre-arranged meeting place just in time for our appointment. Before I got out of the car, I pulled the cash out of my wallet and counted it out so I wouldn’t have to fumble with it later. Then, I ran out across the parking lot in the rain.

The library door was locked so I waited for someone to notice me and then flagged him down. He cracked the door, and looked out from the dark hallway behind him. “Are you here for the gardener meeting?”

“No. I’m here to meet a guy at your gardener meeting.”

He slipped me in, gave a cautious eye to the the people loitering under the eave, and then shut the door. “They’re right in here,” he pointed.

I walked into a room of unpretentious faces all chatting around a power-point screen, and spotted my guy in the back of the room.
“Tom?”
“Yeah.”
“Charity,” I shook his hand. “We spoke on the phone yesterday.”
“Right. Come this way, I’ll show you what I’ve got.”

He walked me to a table and opened a small plastic container.
“There’s not much left here. Some of them are leafcutters instead, so let me make sure I give you the right ones.”
“Uh-huh,” I impatiently pulled the cash out of my pocket while he inspected them.

An anxious woman jumped up from her seat and quickly walked over to us. She kept her eyes low, looking at the merchandise, but asked Tom in a quiet voice, “Are you gonna have any left for me to buy today?”

Still holding up a round tube, he turned and looked over his glasses at her.
“We might need to make an appointment,” he said.
She looked disappointingly at me. Apparently, I had gotten the last ones. She watched as he quietly handed me the tubes, and I exchanged them for the cash, thanked him, and quickly walked out of the meeting room with the coveted items.

Waving a second thanks to the guy in the hallway, I ran back out to the car, tucking the goods in my jacket to protect them from the rain.

I debated whether to hide them from Joel when I came inside but decided to be honest about where I’d been. When I walked in the door, he saw the thin, brown tubes and asked if I had taken up smoking cigars. When I told him what they really were,  he teasingly rolled his eyes at me.

“WHAT? I’m sure there’s worse habits I could have than raising bees!”

Dormant

I feel tired. Sluggish. My blood flows thick and cold, like a slushy river in January, the month of allegedly new beginnings, when we pull off the old man and determine that maybe mercies can be new after all.
I still feel like an old man. With an old pen and clogged ink.

I want to write.

I can feel it in me. But it’s not flowing hot like summer.
It’s dormant. Hibernating.
Deep in the earth, under the snow and layers of autumn leaves decomposing, piling black rot higher and higher all around it. It’s just a smidgen of a seed, a kernel inside me, an acorn I buried as a squirrelish child and then promptly forgot.

“I’ll come back to this later,” I said then, as I swept soil over the mouth of it and patted it gently, safekeeping.

When later came and I went back to find it, I quickly realized, in my squirrelish way, that I had no idea where it was. So I just stood there, in a forest overcrowded with the brush and bushes of responsibilities and distractions, overwhelmed by the prospect of searching.
I had it.
I had it right here in my hands.
Why did I ever let it go?

I sat by the creek and fed a few salty tears to her eternal current. She babbled comfort – babbled  something about how I had only forgotten because I was busy being creative in other ways. Sweet stream. We sat there hushed for a long while and listened to the wind blowing through the trees, lending song to leaves that were themselves once tiny acorns, planted and nurtured by mighty authors, thinkers, and dreamers throughout time. I sat for a moment in their company. Just listening. Learning their stories, and letting the wind carry something through me too. Inspiration. Breath.

Some of the story-leaves danced at my feet and some brushed past my head, as they sailed by to eventually land in a far corner of the forest, decompose, and feed a tiny acorn hidden in the snow.

acorn

Perspective

What I perceive to be happening:
The mountain is so close to me that when I breathe deeply to relieve my tension, I feel the exhalation whip up from its jagged face and flip back onto mine. My rope is Faithful and True, but sometimes I doubt if I’m wrapped in it properly. My insecurities in my limited experience and narrow perspective cause me to doubt if I’ll ever see the precipice. I try not to think of how far I would fall if anything happens at this point. I take one careful step at a time, one feeble pull at a time, slipping often, but always my rope is there to catch me, bearing the weight of my burden, and allowing me to slowly get my grip again. I call on some reserve of something mysterious within myself that I didn’t even know was there. And it is what allows me to keep putting one foot above another.

My muscles are giving out and trembling with exhaustion as I pull myself up by the last foothold and flop face first to the top.

One more big breath with my face against the rock in my new horizontal position, before I flip around and slowly sit up. The view that now sits in front of my face is… indescribable. Sierras stretching deep into the horizon. The chasm of empty space between them is so grand, it feels like it will suck me into its void. A 360 view of ranges and valleys begs to have me drink deeply.

It’s all behind me now. I feel the struggle lifting and the joy release. Accomplished. It’s done. I’m here.

And from this new perspective I can now see the mountain as it sits in its place among all its relative slopes and cliffs, and in its new relation to me.

Sometimes the mountain moves – or the stone rolls away… and sometimes the movement happens within. My mountain is now beneath me and also under my feet. That which once loomed over me is now merely a stepping stone to a new point of view.

What actually happened:
I have been feeling for 3 months now like I might quit tomorrow.

Feeling like I’m scrapping for strength, scrounging for time, rummaging for whatever motivation or devotion I can cling to in order to get through the next week.
It had been a very long, rough day of caring for the kids in my class, multiple babies crying a majority of the time. My co-leader had to leave early and I was left to run the ship alone for the first time, which made me a little nervous. I had felt very much like I had been putting out fires all morning, rushing from one sobbing sweetheart to the next, not utilizing my volunteers like I could, forgetting the schedule and feeling like I had failed at being a leader. But I was just rolling with the punches as best I could.
During a rare and short lull, as the ten toddlers played with their individual toys, an ancient woman who had been volunteering as “rocking chair/cuddle duty” that day, waved me over to whisper to me.

“You’re really good at this,” she said.
“At what?” I asked in disbelief.
“This,” she motioned around the room, at all the babies in the nursery.

I pushed my voice up past the lump in my throat, “Well, then that’s God’s grace, because I don’t feel very good at this.”
“Well, you are. You really know what you’re doing.”
At this, I simultaneously laughed right out loud and almost cried. “Well, then that really is God’s grace. But, He has been faithful to show up for me every week. I think He really fills in for all my weakness.”

“Yes. But you show up every week for Him, too.”

All I could do was smile at her. She was handing me encouragement and I thanked her thoroughly because it was much needed. God has often told me – the battle is sometimes in just Showing Up. Whatever situation I’m in, showing up is often the hardest part, but once I do, how quick He is to bless me and others around me. How quick He is to use our willingness to Him and turn it into His work. Accomplished.

Moms started showing up, babies smiled, waved to me and blew kisses bye-bye.
And, as we packed up binkies and lovies and chatted about how well they played and ate, if we were to spontaneously hush ourselves, we might have said to each other – did you hear that? Did you feel something?

What we would’ve acknowledged there in those moments was a conviction that was so thick in the atmosphere that we could almost blow our breathes against it. The Spirit was present. And faith was planted and watered and grew roots within the Words we spoke over each other and prayed into one another, as well as in the hugs and smiles offered abundantly. We were all holding each other up. Bearing each others’ burdens. And He too carried us and continued to hold us up as we parted ways, saying “See you next week.”

Good Timber

I was watching the roses in my backyard swirling and twirling in this wind and thinking how strong these plants and trees must be to last years and years of storms. It reminded me of the gardening practice of “hardening off,” which is to set your itty bitty baby seedlings outside to toughen them up. Blowing in the breeze causes them to grow stronger stalks. And in fact, if you don’t harden your seedlings, they will grow week, spindly, and won’t survive when you transplant them. It’s so important, that one teacher even suggested putting a fan in the greenhouse, “or sometimes I’ll just run my hand over them when I’m walking by.”

Maybe some of us can use this encouragement. When it feels like a storm is going on in our lives, or we don’t understand why God would leave us out in the wind… maybe He’s just growing Good Timber.

Or as Paul would put it
“…we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

good-timber

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The air is absolutely still.
The clouds are motionless
outside of their fading
as the light visibly dims
Yellow to pink
To purple to grey
Shrinking into twilight.

The birds come in for their last landings
Quietly greet their families
and coo more quietly than usual,
Discussing tomorrow’s plans,
What they might sing for wake up call.

The crickets come in on their cue.
The frogs join in on the second verse.

And I’m reminded of Chesterton.
“Here ends another day,
during which I have had
eyes, ears, hands
and the great world around me.
Tomorrow begins another day.
Why am I allowed two?”

~ Charity

Saint Teresa

As of Sunday, Mother Teresa becomes known as “Saint Teresa of Calcutta”
Here is one of her favorite prayers

“Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.

Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me,
but only Jesus!

Stay with me
and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus will be all from You;
none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me.

Let me thus praise You the way You love best,
by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching,
not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.

Amen.”

mother-theresa

aug-29Sunset, Chico, Aug 29

 

He lifts my head and my eyes turn toward heaven.
My breath catches in my chest
when I observe the grandness of His grace
His love is a “reckless raging fury”
Burning like an aurora in the sky

He proclaims every day
His creative, unique passion
for each of us

The God who paints wonder,
shouting His love in golds and pinks and purples,
also whispers His affections in our ears.

 

~Charity

Brennan Manning: “Healing our Image of God and Ourselves”

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These words have been ringing in my ears, so I made this little artsy dealio with Font Candy. 🙂

I was talking to someone about the great message I heard from #brennanmanning last week. This is just 1 of about 347 awesome things he shares (a quote from his friend Mary Michael O’Shaughnessy, which begins @38:00).
If you’re interested in the full message, you can find it here:
http://youtu.be/N__3NYLygIY

Here’s another great quote from the video to whet your whistle:

“This by the way is the main business of Christianity. It is not a matter of just knowing how to think properly about God but of actually experiencing Him. Losing our illusions is difficult, because illusions are the stuff that we live by. The Spirit of God is the great unmasker of illusions, the great destroyer of icons and idols. God’s love for us is so great, that He will not allow us to harbor false images, no matter how much they comfort us. God strips away those falsehoods, because it is better to live naked in truth than clothed in fantasy.
Throughout the course of Christian history, down to the present day, there persists this chronic temptation to reduce God to a human dimension, to express Him in clear ideas. Human reason seeks to understand everything, penetrate everything, reduce everything to a clear conceptual thought. It’s a noble enterprise, but in so doing, we rob God of His ‘otherness’ and confine Him to world of our own mental limits. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas warned against this when he wrote, ‘If you comprehend God, he is not God. A comprehended God is no God at all.’ 

The secret of the mystery is: God is always greater. No matter how great we think Him to be, God is always greater because God is GOD. In the most literal sense of the word, He is unique… uncreated… infinite… totally other than we are, He surpasses and transcends human concepts, considerations and expectations, He’s beyond anything we can intellectualize or imagine, and that is why He will always be a scandal to men and women, because He cannot be comprehended by the rational, scientific, finite mind.”

[…]
“Unlike ourselves, the God of Jesus Christ loves men and women not for what He finds in them, but for what He finds in Himself. It is not because men and women are good that He loves them, nor only good men and women and that He loves. It is because HE is so unspeakably, unutterably, unimaginably good, that the God and Father of Jesus loves ALL men and women, even sinners. He does not detect what is congenial, attractive and appealing and then respond to it with His favor. He doesn’t respond at all!
For the God of Jesus is the Source.
He acts, He does not react.
He initiates love.
He is love without motive, and because His love is creative, it *originates* good, rather than rewarding it.
That’s why St. Augustine could write those lyrical lines
‘Quia amasti me, fecisti me …’
‘In loving me, You made me lovable.'”

~Brennan Manning