love your neighbor (redux)

We hear it all the time.

Love your neighbor. Jesus tells us to love. Jesus is love, and He wants us to love like Him.

What is that supposed to look like? Do we “love” someone by tolerating them? Do we love someone by doing our best not to offend them? Do we love someone by keeping our mouths shut regarding their actions, even if they may be dangerous, but it makes them happy?

What does Jesus say about what it means to love? What does He say it means to follow Him?

To know that, you must look in the Scriptures.

It demands our life, and it demands our comfort (or lack thereof). We like the “hippy Jesus” that tells us to accept people and be good neighbors, as some consider to be the “core” of Christianity, but let’s take a look at what that actually means.

In Luke 10:25-37, we have the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We have our cast: the wounded Jew on the side of the road, the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan man. Let’s take a look at the last three a little more closely.

Many priests at this time lived in Jericho and went on two week assignments to Jerusalem, which was about seventeen miles away. The road they traveled was a common one and was known to them. A priesthood is extremely exclusive; it stayed in the family. This priest was likely wealthy and riding on an animal.

What were the stipulations and requirements to be a priest? What was his duty according to Old Testament Law?

1) he was not allowed to approach or touch a dead body, lest he became defiled
2) had he approached the wounded man to discover he was dead, the priest would have had to return to Jerusalem to be ceremonially cleaned
3) he would not be able to use the offerings he received (usually of food; his family and servants would also not be allowed to use them)
4) if the wounded man died later, the priest would still be considered unclean
5) serving as priest while unclean was punishable by death
6) when upon a dead body, he would have to tear his robes, but he could not tear ceremonial robes

The Levite was an assistant to the priest in the Temple. He likely just assisted this particular priest and was on his way home as well. Knowing that the priest just walked by, he could not challenge the decision made by the priest to pass the man, and so he would pass as well.

There’s a lot more than meets the eye, right? This isn’t in any way to excuse or pardon the fact that they were not neighborly, but we cannot deny the gray area in this situation. And isn’t the gray where most of life is lived? It’s not as pure as black and white.

Inserting a Samaritan into this story was a particularly radical move by Jesus. Samaritans are a mixed-race between the Jews of captivity and the Samaritan people of the land in which they were captive. The relationship between these two peoples were hostile as a result of their history with one another. The Mishna states, “He that eats the bread of the Samaritans is like to one that eats the flesh of swine.” The Samaritan is not a Gentile but is bound by the same law as the Jews, yet they were considered impure “half-breeds.” The Samaritan would not naturally be from that area, so the half-dead man would certainly not qualify as his neighbor. And the Jewish man would likely have chosen death over associating with a Samaritan.

In that time, a tradition known as “blood revenge” was practiced. In it, a relative of the guilty party may be punished for the crime in his place. It did not have to be an immediate relative but could extend to the most distant branches of the family tree.

So let’s recap the sacrifices this man had to make in order to love a man who was not necessarily his neighbor and would not likely have welcomed his help or offered it in turn:
1) he risked defilement
2) he poured oil and wine on the man’s wounds, sacrificing monetary and material resources
3) he paid for a place for the man to rest and heal
4) he paid for the man’s treatment
5) there was no way of guaranteeing that money returned; he was not expecting repayment at all
6) he exposed himself to the innkeeper and made himself and his entire family and tribe vulnerable to blood vengeance

Loving our neighbors requires sacrificing our comforts and possibly even our lives. It means more than just being tolerant. I would hate to just be tolerated by my neighbor. I would hate to just be tolerated by my friend.

What often keeps us from what’s best is what’s good.

Tolerance is “good.”

Acceptance is “good.”

Love is best.

Yes, Jesus preached love, but this love is dirty. It is demanding and sometimes demeaning; it requires us to get in the middle of people’s messes in order to love them. It requires us to point out what is wrong but not stop there—we must replace it with what is right.

It required a sinless God to step down from His throne to become a Man, made of dirt and clay; and it required His death to overcome death itself and His blood to cover all of our sin.

Pointing out the hypocrisy of Christians has been done over and over by the national media. Do we as Christians really need to add to it? When the world sees us dividing against each other, would they really want to know the Jesus we both claim to serve and love? Choosing to turn from each other is a declaration of a Pharisee, praising God that he is not a sinner like the tax collector, who is quietly begging God for His mercy to be extended toward him (Luke 18:9-14).

We don’t like the Christianity that is being portrayed in the media. We don’t like the hatred that is preached by some who call themselves Christians. We don’t like the misconceptions with which we label others, and we certainly don’t like the misconceptions with which they label us back.

Then what are we going to do about it?

Are we going to shame those people into submission? Did Jesus ever do that?

The kind of love we need in order to heal each other doesn’t come from us. It can never come from us. Look how easily and willingly we can choose to tear each other down.

So no, the core of Christianity is not to be a good neighbor. Even if it were, by context we are failing horribly at it. No, friends, the core of Christianity is Jesus.

If we are going to preach real, biblical love, this is it. It is gritty and it demands so much more than words and Facebook posts talking at people. Real, biblical love demands for us to destroy our pedestals and use those pieces to build homes. It demands for us to dig deep into our our poverty and feed someone else. It demands for us to love someone with a ferocity that destroys apathy and hatred in its wake.

Are we ready to do that?

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up to the highest height

Let’s go fly a kite
Up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring

On my way home yesterday, I drove past a man on the bridge. He was likely homeless, the childless jogging stroller carrying all of his material possessions. It was a brief glance, but what I saw in him was something I’d not had myself in quite some time.

Determination.

The man was flying a kite. At this point in the seasons, California is not exactly known for having breezes. There was a slight one, but certainly not such that would pick up a kite and fly it high. The amount of room he had on a sidewalk with a divider certainly added amongst the challenges against him.

Yet this man stayed on the bridge and moved and positioned himself as he was able in order to send it soaring as high as he could with what wind he had been given. I couldn’t see his face, but I would imagine a mix of joy, frustration, excitement, and resolve. The wind current and the weather worked against this man, but he flew his kite.

My passion for writing had somehow diminished in recent months. As it stands, I’d lost sight of the goodness of God and believed I had to take on the challenges of the world on my own. I put my kite down and went to work and came home and survived to do it again the next day. Whenever I thought about picking up a pen, I just as quickly pushed the thought away, feeling as though I had deserted my passion and, therefore, had no right to take it back up.

Challenges had begun to arise, revealing survival to be as hollow and unsustainable as was meant to be. I was put on this earth for more than what I’ve been doing. I am most alive when I am following my passion, and I do not have a passion for surviving. It is time to pick up the pen and move forward, adjusting with what I’d been given to work with and pursuing my dream as rigorously as this man pursued his delight.

I don’t know how long the man stayed there or how long he had been there before I’d spotted him, but I would imagine he’d lost track of time, possibly recalling a moment when life was simpler, and he was just a boy with his kite.

And isn’t this the best way to lose the time: doing what you love, what makes your soul soar, and your heart thrive?

Just a girl.

With her pen.

Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let’s go fly a kite!

Come Alive

“Fill your papers with the breathings of your heart.” – William Wordsworth

Many things cause her heart to sigh – Waves yawning across the shore; the pointed tracks stretching across the canvas of the sky as the sun closes its eyes and retreats beneath the horizon; a gentle breeze disturbing the leaves; the smile of an innocent; the winks of the stars as they whisper their secrets.

But few things make her heart breathe.

The written word; the heart of God; grace; a city of lights sitting on the edge of the world; the people who need to know Him.

And the combination of these things bring her to life. She overflows. She blooms.

She becomes alive.

And takes her first breath as a new creation.

[written 24 Feb 2012]
(image credit: http://sugarock99.deviantart.com/)

Shattered

A creature created from the earth, living with borrowed breaths from the Sculptor. Her heart is weak, and her flesh is ever more so. How does a creation with these qualities come to gain so much pride?

She had asked for brokenness. She had asked for a glimpse of His heart for His people, for the students He’s blessed her with this summer. He hears her prayers, and He answers in His time.

His time came a few hours ago. In fellowship with the body, she felt the weight upon her heart called “conviction.” She wasn’t giving her all, and she’d known it for some time. Going through the motions and giving only half her heart.

But no one can survive with half a heart. In order to have life, it must be whole. No one can love with half a heart. It is all or nothing. Completely devoted or completely not.

Her hardened heart was shattered in the most remarkable way. While gathering to pray, she suddenly experienced it: a glimpse of His heart for His children.

Oh, how beautiful is His love and how perfect. A love that He wants to flood into His creation. A bigger glimpse into the heart of God to see the great love He has for the young lives He’s entrusted her with this summer.

His heart breaks for the lost, and she thinks of the lives and the faces she comes in contact with everyday. A glimpse of His love for them, His desire for them, His jealousy for them, His heart for them was all she could take. To have taken the entirety of His overflowing emotions for them would render her to her knees and flood her with great longing and heartbreak.

Her doubts have been washed away. This return shook her confidence. Is she truly meant to return after finishing her educational responsibilities?

The crash of her shattered pride and broken heart tells her yes. Her Father has shown her this night that He is not a God of confusion. He is the Good Shepherd, and she is one in His flock. This night, she can have confidence through Him that she will return here in His time, that she will go where she belongs, where He calls her to in His time.

A glimpse of His heart. To see and experience the intensity of His love shook her to the core.

All this time, she could’ve done so much more. Yet now, she has only four days left at her school with her students. What will she do?

Give me a tender and malleable heart, that I may love them with all that I am and give them the best for what’s left of the time we have together and after. If I leave without having a relationship with these students, then this entire summer was in vain.

Let my love overflow. Fill me that I may have what I need in order to pour into them and be fed as well.

This is the day her God gave her the gift of the answer she’d been waiting to know.

Tuesday 27 July 2010 – 12:54am Hong Kong

Break

Isaiah to the modern world is a great prophet, well known as a man of righteousness. Yet in the sixth chapter of his book, he cried out, “Woe to me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

Isaiah beheld the glory of the Lord as a broken and sinful man, whose skin was made of the dirt of the earth, whose breath was bestowed by a Creator so humble, so loving, that He knelt in the dirt and pressed His lips against it and breathed His breath into it to give it life. And Isaiah expected to die as his unholiness came in contact with the holiness of the LORD of hosts. To his lips a piece of burning coal was touched in order to take away his iniquity and forgive his sin.

We gaze at one another with judgment in our eyes. We look upon one another with wrath behind our masks. We glare with a venom more deadly than a serpent’s.

But what are we? Are we not but men and women of unclean lips living among other men and women of unclean lips?

He has refined us, though not as silver. He has tested us in the furnace of affliction.

We should be on our faces before the Creator of the universe, realizing our own iniquities and exactly how much we don’t deserve to kneel, let alone stand, in His presence. And reveling in the power of His gift, of His grace.

For all who call ourselves disciples of the Most High, my prayer is harsh, but it is my conviction. I pray that we will be broken. Completely and utterly shattered before our Beloved. That we may truly, truly see our unworthiness and see His grace shine hundred-fold. That we may give glory to Him because He finished the work and reached His hand out to us. That we may stop seeing each other through filtered and broken lenses. And I pray that we will be touched with burning hot coals and tested in the furnace of affliction. In order to see our brokenness. In order to see His glory. In order to be blameless in His sight.

Make me ready for the fires. And let me revere You in all of my brokenness. Let me see You as I’ve never seen You before. Break me and touch me with burning coals that I may stand before you redeemed and forgiven. Break me so that I will not look upon my brother or sister with a plank in my eye and proceed to dislodge a speck. Humble me, beautiful One, that I may truly love my neighbor as You have loved me.

Ruin me for the ordinary.

Break me that I may be of use to You.

Tuesday 13 July 2010 – 1:58 am Hong Kong

Here Am I

The beauty of Hong Kong is eluding. Here it is, yet still so far away. Beneath my feet and 7,254 miles away from home. Here and now, stepping on its soil (or concrete, if you will) and yet two more years away.

In a city filled with lights and buildings that stretch toward the heavens, the darkness looms among its streets and alleys. Yet the LORD is Adonai even in this place.

His presence in His people is not something to be comprehended or taken advantage of but rather to be revered. His glory dwelled in a box in old times. A very beautiful box, but yet it was still a box. Why did He choose to travel in a box? And one that only takes two people to lift and move?

Why does He choose now to dwell and travel in the hearts of His people? Fragile skin made of the dust of the earth. Within its fleshy confines, rests the glory of the Lord Almighty. Is it not humbling?

The Word of the Lord, the glory of His Name is not meant to sit silent and immovable. It is meant to be carried across distant lands and told to His creation. This is proof of His love for us that He should make us holy that He may dwell in us.

A creature of unclean lips, dwelling among a people of unclean lips. Touch burning coal to my lips and take away my iniquity and forgive my sin. Make me holy and send me, Lord, to these people. This summer and in the future.

Here am I.

Grow even the smallest amount of faith I can muster. Let me gather faith the size of a mustard seed from within my heart. And let my feet run the race, my hands touch the hearts, and my mouth speak Your love.

Here am I.

Sunday 11 July 2010 – 7:52pm Hong Kong

Grace Complete

“It is finished.”

The words that marked a dying man’s last breath.

His words are a comfort to know that it is by grace we are saved, that not of works so that no one can boast. It is finished because He has finished it.

What is it about grace that frightens us so much? The idea of receiving something with no strings attached. Don’t we do that for our friends and loved ones? Then if we who are evil know how to give good gifts to those we love, how much more will our Father who is in Heaven give what is good those who ask of Him? The gospel is His gift to us. Gospel from Old English meaning “good news.” Can there be a greater gift than perfect love and divine royal blood given on our behalf? Can there be better news?

Yet the idea of grace has us running and screaming like the plague. From a God who is so amazing, we believe there must be some kind of “catch” to this gift. Do we question when we receive a gift from our friends? Generally not. There might be a “why” involved, but we usually accept it because we know they gave from their love as a means to show us they care. So why is it different when God is giving us a gift? He’s given many others before. Our breath and our life are beautiful gifts from God. Yet He loves us so much that He is willing to go even further. So that we are not forever bound by sin, God cast Adam and Eve away from the Tree of Life, and though because of their sin they could not reside with God, He never left them. His presence is a gift we receive when we choose to receive His grace.

What is it about grace that frightens us to the point where we decide that it can’t be all there is? To the point where we add onto it things that really don’t factor into what grace in the Gospel does for us? We tell people to live this way or that way. We tell people that they are wrong. We tell people that they have to DO MORE STUFF to keep their salvation. We profile a believer and tell others to measure up to it.

Beloved, don’t you see that these are our responses to His gift rather than ways to receive it?

Because if these are what’s important….. why did the story not end sooner? Why didn’t it end with Jesus’ baptism? Why didn’t Jesus just say “peace out” after He gave us some nice lessons? Why did Jesus have to keep pushing the buttons of the religious leaders who thought they had salvation worked out? Why did Jesus have to shed His blood and suffocate on a cross?

Do you know the Savior? Why is He the Savior if His gift is not enough? If what He went through is not enough to give us life? We spit on grace when we choose works instead. If it is by our means and our works and things that are humanly possible, then why did the sinless God have to die on our behalf? What kept Him on that tree, waiting for death to take Him?

Love. Love that killed a man who had no fault. Do you know that the Savior is in love with you?

Grace.

Grace, beloved. Grace that tells us this is something that we can NEVER earn, that our sin is something we can never atone for on our own. To atone for a sin, one must give his life. The wages of sin is death. And this man took our death that when the righteous Judge looks upon us, He sees the blood of the Lamb who was given on our behalf. In the Old Covenant, God allowed an animal to be sacrificed for a family’s sin. Blood was shed and a death gave way to life. There were restrictions. The animal had to be pure and devoid of blemishes. The blood of the last Passover Lamb signed the New Covenant. That through this sacrifice all mankind can come to the Father. And who was more blameless than Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

God has written us a beautiful love story through the life of His Son. So why are we trying to alter it? God is as creative as He is sovereign. Just look at the world around us. The green leaves of spring topped off with blossoms of bright reds and pinks. The stars that dot the night sky. The sun that gives us warmth. The human body and all its complexities. Can man or other creature have this creativity?

Grace came from Love. True Love died to bring us to Himself, that we may die to our old selves and have life anew in His resurrection. Grace is grace because it cannot be earned. Grace is beautiful because it cannot be earned.

“It is finished.”

If He says it’s finished…… I’m sure as heck going to believe it’s finished.

Moses

God walked alongside Moses, growing him for a special purpose. At the beginning of his story, Moses was saved that God may carry out His plans for Moses as well as use Moses to carry out His plans for Israel….. which I guess was God’s plans for Moses. O.o

In the beginning of the story, the main character was a feeble man who seemed full of excuses. He was reluctant to accept the plans God had for him. He claimed to be slow of speech and lacking in eloquence. Before even that, he asked questions that were seemingly impossible to answer for anyone but God. And though God did answer them, Moses eventually asked God to send someone else.

The Lord was displeased, and His righteous anger burned against Moses, yet He continued to pursue him. The harder Moses ran, the harder God pursued him. He assigned a helper in Aaron, who would be Moses’ voice to the Egyptians and the Israelites.

Moses and Aaron were a tag team with God coaching them from outside the ring. God passed the message to Moses, who passed it to Aaron, who in turn passed it to the masses.

Moses felt he had no authority to speak to Pharaoh. At the beginning of their interactions, Aaron performed the miracles and spoke. As time passed on, it was noted specifically that Moses went into Pharaoh’s to speak. Aaron was sometimes not even mentioned in the verbal duels.

For the last battle, Moses proclaimed the final plague that was set upon Egypt. After delivering the message, Moses left Pharaoh’s presence, “hot with anger.”

God provided Moses with help and education, and with every message and every mission, Moses learned to be the leader God wanted and needed him to be for Israel. With every message and every mission, his boldness and courage grew to the point where he did no have to hide behind Aaron any longer.

insert awesome title here

She is a failure. She is a sinner. Everything she does by her own power fails miserably. She often runs away and commits sin against the One she claims to love.

Yet He still calls her back to Him. She has marred and trampled the heart He so openly loves her with. How can she say she loves Him? But in her soul, she knows she does. Her distracted mind and weak flesh draw her away. Her spirit must become stronger.

Her future involves her people. She longs to return to the country that her mother hails from. She longs to love people there and teach them.

But why?

Simply loving her people is not enough. Are they her goal or is He her goal? He loved this people so much that He came knowing He would die for them, and He came willing to die for them. She loves her people, but is she willing to lay down a life of comfort to draw them towards Him?

She asks for a stronger heart to do just this. Her love for her people is a gift bestowed to her by the Man who saved her life with His life. But He tells her to wait, to be patient. He tells her that in this time of waiting for Him to let her go, she must wait on Him and learn what He has to teach her that she may be fully prepared for what lies ahead.

He calls her elsewhere currently. In the place she will go, she will be out of her comfort zone. He first took her there four years ago. It is there that He planted a love for her culture and her people in her heart. It will be there that He will grow and cultivate it until she is ready to serve Him by serving them.

She understands now why she must go. She understands fully that this is where He wants her, so that she may learn to love her people deeply and be willing to sacrifice all that she has to introduce them to the Man who loves them even more than she does.

Her heart cries for them and longs to love them. But she must learn that she can’t love them with just her heart – she must love them with His.

In this next chapter, she will learn and pray for a stronger back to carry her load and not for a lighter load. Away from the home she’s known for 19 years, she will learn to solely depend on Him for strength, comfort, food, and shelter. It’s frightening to give up such control.

But He is always watching her and is with her and will rescue her.

waiting

The little ounce of peace nestled in with the anxiety of the whole situation has grown. I feel confirmation that when January comes, it’s time to go to Portland. That’s a scary thought. O.o And I’m still in the process of packing and moving for a local move at this point. -__-;;

I am tired of moving, and I think more than anything, I’m a little tired of waiting. Waiting for Portland, waiting for Hong Kong, waiting for this and that.

God reminds me at this point that there are two meaning to the word “wait.”

The first one is, of course, what I’m doing. I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of something. However, as this happens, I need to be doing the other waiting.

To wait also means “to be in readiness for; be reserved for; to attend upon or escort, esp. as a sign of respect.”

As I wait for God to carry things out in His timing, I have the opportunity to wait on God and serve Him and learn from Him what is needed to carry out what I’m waiting for.

Am I taking advantage of that? No, not particularly. I’m such a future-dweller that all I can think of is “when this day comes, I will…” rather than “what can I do to prepare myself for this?”

I have a tendency to ask God if I could just fast forward through this part of my life and be in the next already. Welllll… God hasn’t altered time since stopping the sun for Joshua and delaying its setting for almost a full day. Soooooo my chances look pretty slim. =)

I’d better get to packing some more.

peace and love