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Archive for November, 2018

“It’ll hurt, but once we rip the bandaid off, it’s over” said one of my parents when I was a young child, with an owie, covered by a bandaid.

They were right. It did hurt to pull it off, but not nearly as long or as much as I had feared. 

We are just days away from the advent season, which heralds in a new year in the church calendar. We go from the old of this year towards the coming of Jesus … something we need to go towards.

I only just realized recently that advent is the beginning of the year, not the end. As Christians we are to start the year in anticipation, for advent means to come, as we celebrate Jesus’ first coming, as a babe, and anticipate his second promised coming.

As I read about the Sunday Next Before Advent, one of the Gospel readings led me to John 1, and I was particularly intrigued by verses 35-37:

“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 
When he saw Jesus passing by, he said,
“Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this,

they followed Jesus.

John (the Baptist) had followers, in this passage they are refereed to as his disciples. He was their leader, their teacher, and they were his students. They followed him because they wanted to hear what he said.

His primary teaching was about the Messiah … the long anticipated redeemer, the light of the world.

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.” (v. 6-8)

John led his followers to the light he was born to point to. He knew that it was Jesus’ light that all should follow.

“He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” (v. 15)

These words are intriguing, for John was born before Jesus. It was when his mother, Elizabeth, was greeted by Mary, the mother of Jesus, that John made his very first movements, in utero. John knew that Jesus had existed before the beginning of time, for he was known by Jesus even before he was born.

“John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (v. 23) 

Over, and over, John pointed to Jesus.

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” (v. 29-30)

John was constantly reminding people that he was not who they were looking for, but that he knew who they wanted to find.

“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 
When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, 
“Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this, 

they followed Jesus.” (v. 35-37)

John was so good in his leading of people to Jesus that, when his followers saw him, they left John, heading off to follow Jesus. It was as though John had been their bandages, initiating their healing from sin, but when Jesus was near, it was time to rip that bandage, and go towards the great physician.

As we begin a new Christian calendar year, may we remember that he alone can set us free, not just from the bandages of the year past, but the bondage that they have on us.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

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Just last week, while sitting in our living room, chatting with hubby and our oldest daughter, something caught my eye.

A bright light was calling my attention away from those in front of me. As I looked beyond my daughters head to the night sky outside the window I was transfixed to the moon. It seemed so much brighter in it’s fullness, illuminating the clouds the as they quickly passed over it, providing a peek-a-boo experience for my eyes.

I was transfixed, mesmerized by the wonder of it’s brightness, it’s beauty.

“I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth”
Joel 1:30

Why, in the prophesies of the coming Messiah, would Joel tell us that God will display wonders in the sky and on the earth? (and the words that follow remind us that they are not all beautiful visions). Why not just say that the saviour is coming and leave it at that?

Maybe it is because we humans are pretty rooted to our earthly lives.

Maybe he knows that it takes some effort to get our attention.

Like the brightness of the moon, that pulled my eyes, my full attention from my earthly loves, God needs to use the extraordinary to get our eyes, our attention, when he is about to do something extraordinary … and the birth of a saviour, a redeemer, the propitiation or the reconciler by his blood, is the most extraordinary of all.

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
  In the light of His glory and grace.”

“Taking up her shawl, Mary went to the cave entrance and gasp at the night sky Was it her imagination that one star shone more brightly than all the others? It was like a shaft of light breaking through the floor of heaven and shining down on the City of David. Had not the prophet Joes said the Lord would display wonders in the sky and on the earth when the Saviour came?” (From the book Unafraid: Mary, by Francine Rivers).

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“As you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt.” The Mayo Clinic

Medicine and psychology would both encourage the benefits of the practise of forgiving. To do so can effect blood pressure, the immune system, as well as improve mental health, anxiety, stress and depression.

But, what does the Bible say?

When I began my study into Biblical forgiveness (a-lesson-in-forgiveness), I discovered that, on the surface, it was not as clear as I had always thought, particularly when I looked at the life story of Joseph, our man with the coat of many colours.

I decided I needed to understand the origins of forgiveness in Greek or Hebrew, in the various locations in the Bible where forgiveness is spoken of.

In Hebrew, there are three main words forgiveness is translated from. Kaphar, which means shelter or to atone. Naga’ is the most frequently translated word for forgiveness in the Bible, and it means to to lift up, as in the taking away of a burden.

Then there is salach, and it is special, for it is never used (biblically) for instances of human forgiveness. This is the forgiveness that only God can give … not only is forgiveness given, but it is as though the offence never happened (though the debt of it still had to be paid, but we do not pay this, for we cannot, only Jesus’ blood could pay that debt).

You and I cannot do this type of forgiveness.

In the Greek, the words used for forgiveness are aphesis means pardon, cancellation of a debt, apolyo which means set free, and charizomai  meaning God’s freely given grace.

Then there is aphiemi which means to set free … it not only forgives, but erases or covers, as in Jeremiah 31:34:

“I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more”.

This is not forgiveness on our own strength, but through Christ, and it is ONLY through Christ that we can forgive others. It is a miraculous thing, not a mental one for there is nothing within us that can forgive. This supernatural action is what Philippians 2:13 declares:

“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

And this is the crux of forgiveness from a biblical perspective … it is only in in the power of God, that our human need to forgive is covered and a working of the divine makes our effort successful, setting not just our offender, but also ourselves free indeed.

We must forgive, because it is in our weakness that Christ’s strength transforms our forgiveness, our naga (taking away a burden) and makes it aphiemi (erased).

I love what John Steakhouse has said:

“To forgive does not mean to forget (in human terms). It does not mean to pretend that there is no debt, or that the debt is less than it actually is, or that the debt is somehow other than what it is. To forgive is to refuse to claim one’s just deserts. It is to surrender one’s rights, to move on without vengeance, retribution, or even simple justice. It is to generously draw a line under the debt and say, “That’s over. Let’s move on.”” And  this is not something that can be done in our own strength, but only with and under the cover of Christ. 

This story creates a beautiful illustration of the beauty of choosing forgiveness:

One day when Stan Mooneyham was walking along a trail in East Africa with some friends, he became aware of a delightful odor that filled the air. He looked up in the trees and around at the bushes in an effort to discover where it was coming from. Then his friends told him to look down at the small blue flower growing along the path. Each time they crushed the tiny blossoms under their feet, more of its sweet perfume was released into the air. Then his friends said, “We call it the forgiveness flower.” This forgiveness flower does not wait until we ask forgiveness for crushing it. It does not release its fragrance in measured doses or hold us to a reciprocal arrangement. It does not ask for an apology; it merely lives up to its name and forgives-freely, fully, richly. (from PreceptAustin.com)


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A few days ago, I wrote:

“Perhaps our offerings of forgiveness
do not need to be felt to do do their good work.
Perhaps they are, quite simply, an investment in the future…our future.”
(Forgiveness 101a)

As I continue my pursuit in A Lesson in Forgiveness, things get more … uncomfortable.

I think most of us dislike confrontation. We can change subjects, diverting conversations and people’s movements to avoid the churning in the pit of our stomach that a potential confrontation can birth.

So, how does this relate to forgiveness?

When we offer forgiveness, whether with our just our will to invest in our own well being, or to absolve another of guilt, we need to express our pardon to the one we are forgiving.

Why?

I mean, if forgiving someone is primarily for the benefit of the one doing the forgiving, does it really matter to communicate that forgiveness? Especially if the one you are forgiving doesn’t acknowledge that there was anything to forgive?

Short answer … yes.

lament

Again, the reason is, primarily, for the one offering forgiveness.

To name what we are forgiving,
is to speak to where we were hurt

This is similar to when when one is in an automobile accident, and the emergency responders ask, where does it hurt? Treatment for pain can not take place effectively until the source of pain is located. Sometimes, just speaking the truth of the pain can be healing in itself. To name what is being forgiven, perhaps even explaining what effect it has had, is to no longer allow negative power to have control of our lives.

To name what we are forgiving,
is to accept accountability

If with our words, we say that we forgive, we have opened the door to be held accountable to actually live that way. This means that we are obligated to ensure we do not allow our hurt, anger or bitterness to resurface. In sharing our intent, we close the door on this painful past … and lock it up tight.

To name what we are forgiving,
is to provide opportunity for 
reconciliation

Reconciliation is not the goal of forgiveness, but forgiveness can be the impetus to move in that direction. To say what you are forgiving is to give a victim impact statement … sharing how far the ripples created by another’s actions or words have spread. Perhaps the one who is being forgiven had no idea of the effect they had on another. By making the first move, a door may be opened to mutual healing and possibly even restoration of the broken relationship.

Speaking of our pain is like the Biblical practise of lament.

What this naming or lamenting does is it strips the heart of pretence … it enables us to be bare, real before our offender, before our God, no longer covering our festering wounds, but allowing air and light to start the process of healing.

To name what we are forgiving, to the one we are forgiving, is still an investment in our future … going forward no longer looking back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Over the past three weeks I have been researching the topic of forgiveness, since writing about it in my post A Lesson in Forgiveness, where I wrote of how I felt God was stalking me with the topic of forgiveness.

Then, Sunday afternoon, as I was driving down the highway, as the sun was shining bright in the clear blue sky, the words of Ann Voskamp whispered into my thoughts,

“gratitude always precedes the miracle”

Her understanding being that we do not wait until the miracle happens to be thankful, but we are thankful first and the miracle follows. The question then is, what is the miracle?

the ‘thing’ we hoped and prayed for?

or the change in our hearts and minds?

So what does this have to do with forgiveness?

Good question.

When my children were young they were known to say or do something that hurt, offended or frustrated their sibling. When this would occur, I would instruct that they must apologize to their sibling. This was not always met with agreement, on their part, yet I insisted on this. Then the offended sibling was instructed to offer forgiveness.

I remember hearing a mom say that she thought that such insistence on this practise of going through the motions was pointless, for they were simply saying words that were expected of them.

Her words made me ponder … did I simply insist on this ritual because it was what I had grown up hearing and doing? was there a greater purpose behind the practise?

The more I pondered, the more resolute I became in my belief that this behavioural modification did, indeed, have good and long lasting positive impact.

I observed that, once the apologies were said and forgiveness given, play continued … unhindered by the offences of the past. The forced apologies and pardons acted as a reset button, providing opportunity to start over.

Though this is an example from childhood, perhaps it has something to teach us in adulthood (and it is so much easier to instruct the young than for us to be instructed in our adulthood).

Perhaps our offerings of forgiveness
do not need to be felt to do do their good work.
Perhaps they are,
quite simply,
an investment in the future
… our future.

As I drove down the highway, last Sunday. As the sun was shining bright in the clear blue sky. As I was, once again, able to sing praises from my soul (not just from my lips. I understood the value in having offered forgiveness to those who have never offered apology. I understood that. like Ann Voskamp’s quote about thanksgiving preceding the miracle,

forgiveness of the will
precedes
forgiveness in the heart

What I had done out of rote practise, with little expectation, other than compliance, obedience, birthed delightful freedom, like a reset button had been pressed, in my own soul.

IMG_4459 (1)

 

 

 

 

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struggle_of_the_two_natures_of_man1355813125107

Last Sunday I featured a guest post here called, Struggling To Love Her, about the difficulty to sometimes love the church (small ‘c’ church … as in the local church). I was amazed at the responses I got, in terms of readers, but also in terms of personal comments, messages, emails). It is obviously a hot topic!

My inspiration, or guest was Amber Haines, who writes at www.therunamuck.com and www.incourage.me.

Toward the end of her post she said,

Once in a while you find yourself in the arms of your broken church, and she looks exactly like THE church, and THE church looks like Jesus. It’s worth pressing on, going to commune with the homesick ones, going to find a hand to hold, a bag to carry, wine to taste.”

And it is here where I want to start … where is the struggle to love her?

I have heard it said that more than the style of worship, more than the way that scripture is delivered, more than whether the pastor wears gowns, or jean or a tie, more than the programs that a church offers, more than whether the coffee served is free trade …

the one thing that will decide whether a church will survive in the coming years is …

drum-roll-please

… is it real?

Are those welcoming people into the church service, welcoming from their hearts … or playing a part?

Is the pastor preaching from how God has moved in his life?

Are the people in the pews, in the chairs, prepared to take you home for lunch?

Are people using their God-given gifts to spread the good news of Christ’s love for them, to meet the needs of people in their community (not just those in their church community)?

Are people praying for each other, more than just Sunday during church?

According to Thom Schultz, in the book (Why Nobody Wants Church Anymore) he co-authored with his wife, Joani, the four top reasons why the majority avoids church are :

1. they feel judged … aka not perfect
2. they don’t want to be lectured … reminded they are not perfect
3. church people are a bunch of hypocrites … people who act like they are perfect
4. they feel God is irrelevant to their life, but they’d like to know there is a God and he cares about them … they know they are not perfect, and want to feel loved in spite of their imperfections

That all pretty much boils down to … they want what is

real

People, both Christ-followers, and Christ-deniers, want life to be real, want relationships that are real, want people to accept them for who they really are … want church to be real.

We are not living in the garden of Eden … perfect is left behind.

We humans, and our human lives, and our human churches are :

messy
dirty
wrecked
flaw-filled
sin-filled

And it is in being who we really are
(flawed, pimpled, grayed and scarred)

and being able to look at, and Sunday sit-with

others,
(who are just as wrecked as ourselves)

and feel, and be accepted … just as we are.

But, that is not all!

If we are being really real, we do not just love others as they are,

we love others enough to not leave them where they are …

in the mud, mire and dirt of life
in the dark, blindness and deafness of the present
in the middle of their mess, their heartache, their

sin.

We can be really real enough to stay with them, to support them, to do what is practical, and to do what is immaterial, spiritual. To do more than just keep their head afloat, but to also teach them to swim in stormy waters, when no lifeboat is in sight.

To point them to the lifeguard who is always on duty, and to remind them that we are His flotation device.

Come on church,

let’s get

real.

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Recently one of my daughters and I went for a walk with the beast, on my favorite trail. It was not a bright sun-shiny day, but it was not raining, and in monsoon season here, that is great weather!

As we were coming to the end of our walk, there was a woman with a girl, who looked to be about four, coming towards us. As they were getting closer, I experienced a strong case of deja vu. The little girl, clad in a pink raincoat, and matching rain boots, was puddle jumping.

Immediately, I was carried back to the days when my own kids were preschoolers, out for a walk with the sole intend of puddle jumping after the rain stopped. I remembered the various rain boots and coats, the childish umbrellas, and … the smiles of delight as they approached a fresh, undisturbed puddle, as they plotted and planned how to move as much water as they could in one leap.

I remembered their wonder-filled smiles, and I felt that tug on my mama heart, that tug that said ‘I miss that’, ‘I long for that look, that feeling, again.’

Then I realized that my daughter, at my side, was taking the same wonder-filled delight in the experience that we were both observing. She is almost fifteen, and is all teenage girl. But she is not above the delightful moments of life. She is still filled with awe at the sight of a puddle and a pair of rubber boots. She is still filled with wonder.

Sometimes, as a mom of teens, it is easy to allow my thoughts of when they were young, linger in my mind. Sometimes, as a mom of teens, I forget that the inquisitive, wide-eyed, wonder-filled person I knew in them a dozen or so years ago, is still there. What has changed is that I need to readjust my expectations of how that wonder is expressed.

In my nineteen year old, the wonder might be the way she described the group interview for a position at a camp for kids with cancer. In my twelve year old son, it might be the “advanced graphic for it’s time” in an old N64 James Bond Movie. For my fifteen year old, it might be sharing a moment of delight as we watch a little one jump into a puddle, without a care in the world.

Maybe, like how I delight in a day without rain, even though it is still cloudy, I need to look actively for the moments of wonder in my teens days. Maybe then, when I am a grandma, watching my grandchild jumping in puddles, I will see a mom and her teen walking towards us. I will see them delighting in the joy my grandchild is having. I will see the wonder on that teens face, and I will remember the shared wonder I had with my teen, and it will make me long for those days too.

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