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?

just lucky, i guess

I seriously don’t know what it is, but for whatever reason, I seem to always get into conversations about singleness. In particular, conversations where I have to convince someone I don’t need to be cured from it. It’s the most bizarre thing.

Anywhoo.

At my age, most of my friends are getting married or have gotten married and are starting families. So when there are oddballs like myself around, one of the first things I get asked from people is whether or not I’m seeing anyone.

It’s a seemingly harmless question, but what kills me is when it’s used as a measuring stick. “Oh, good. She’s still single. I’m not so badly off.” “I just need to find someone before she does.” Or, “well, at least I’m dating someone right now.”

(I suppose this entry is a little more tailored to the ladies because well… I don’t know the guys’ perspective on the subject.)

The second most popular question I get asked is “how/why are you still single?” I get it. I’m awesome, and it doesn’t make any sense (just kidding… but seriously). Sometimes people are well-meaning and think a single friend of theirs is great, and can’t fathom why it is that someone that could be a significant other hasn’t figured it out yet.

But listen to that question.

“Why are you still single?”

“Why are you still single?”

It doesn’t ask anything of Mysterious Person X who hasn’t got the brains to be attracted to this person, but it speaks everything of the person you’re talking to.

“What is so strange or incomplete about you that you’re not married yet?”

I’m not saying this is on everyone’s mind when they ask this also seemingly innocent question—chances are it doesn’t even come into thought—but it does linger in the air for the listener and receiver even if we don’t realize it at first. I don’t doubt people have had their confidence shaken up by that question. I know I have. To the point where I had to talk about it to justify myself. But why should I have to?

Why am I still single? I don’t know. Why is it so important for me to not be? I don’t know that either, except that society tells me it’s a big deal.

Now, if any of you have had these conversations, you know what’s coming next.

Consolation.

“I’m sure he’s out there somewhere; you just haven’t met him yet.” “Guys are idiots (I really don’t find it reassuring when we just put guys down either, but I know we’re all guilty of playing the blame game). Someone’s bound to figure out how awesome you are.” And my personal favorite: “God has a purpose for you while you’re still single.” (And yes, He does. It’s called serving God. Which I’m pretty sure is not limited to just me and my single friends.)

And then advice.

“The moment you’re completely satisfied in your singleness is when God will bring someone to you.” “When I decided I was done with guys, I met my husband.”

Well, that’s great, and I’m glad that’s how God decided to provide for some of you, but that’s not the formula for all of us. There is no formula. God doesn’t work in formulas. If we’re all unique, and God created us to be so, why would He impose formulas to blanket us with?

Also, there is some really bad theology going on.

For those of us who do desire to be married someday, we will never be completely 100% satisfied in our singleness. And Scripture doesn’t tell us to be. We are called to find our worth and satisfaction in God alone and desire God alone above all else (Deuteronomy 6:5; Romans 12:2; Psalm 139:14; Psalm 62).

Besides, it seems cruel for God to suddenly give me a boyfriend the moment I’m fully satisfied in my single status. What a jerk! (I’m sorry, I guess that should be “Jerk,” capital J.) And should that not work out, then I have to go through it AGAIN? Yikes.

What I’m trying to communicate is that we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by our relationship status. If we did, what would happen if or when that status suddenly changes? We cannot allow the world to define us because the world has no right to do so. The world did not create us; it does not provide us with purpose.

Only God can define us.

We’re not more or less holy because we’re single or married. We’re holy because God has set us apart for His purposes. We were all created to bring God glory. The purpose of our lives is to serve God and give Him glory, and we can do that no matter what our relationship status is.

The purpose for single people is to serve God. The purpose for married people is to serve God. That doesn’t change. The only thing that does a little is how.

Single people, God does have purpose for us at this point in our lives. He doesn’t need to bring us a significant other before He can finally use us to our fullest potential. But only He knows if “this point” will ever actually end. Will you still believe and trust that God is good even if He decides not to change your relationship status?

One of my absolute greatest fears in this area is settling. “Well, he’s close enough.” I’m deathly afraid of rationalizing all the reasons some guy may not be right for me.

And for me, for all of us, the greatest defense against that is being rooted firmly in the God who created us and everything beyond us (Jeremiah 17:8). He defines my value and worth, and if I believe that I am worth the death of God, then I will behave as though I do. From our heart, from our identity, will flow our actions.

The advice that often follows that last one is to “wait for God’s best.” Okay, yes, but don’t leave it there. Waiting is not a passive verb; it can be as active as we want it to be. Yes, absolutely wait, but don’t wait for God to sit a husband in front of you and part the clouds to tell you he’s the one. We deserve more than to just twiddle our thumbs and wait for our soulmate to suddenly appear. We deserve to live and be alive before we ever meet someone.

Another meaning for “wait” is to serve.IMG_3113

Serve God because that is your purpose. That will always be your purpose. But don’t play games to try to get God to submit. Reverse psychology doesn’t work on Him (trust me).

Don’t do great godly things in hopes of attracting a great godly guy. Do great godly things because you were born to serve and belong to a great God.

We’ll never be able to “trick” God into doing what we want. He does not exist to make all our dreams come true. We exist to make His.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have absolutely made my relationship status my idol at some point in my life.

But I don’t live for men, I don’t live for marriage.

I live because He gave me life. And I won’t waste it waiting around passively for someone to finally see my worth. God has already seen it. I will submit to Him and wait on and for Him because He deserves to be praised and worshiped for the sole reason that He is God.

So single people, rejoice! Married people, rejoice! Rejoice because we have one God, and that God is good and gracious and pours love and grace with a generous wrist (Ephesians 3:19).

sealed by Spirit

Sin, by definition in the Bible, is not wronging another person. It is assaulting the glory of God, rebelling against God. Sin, by definition, is a vertical phenomenon. — John Piper

Ephesians 4:30 says not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, who seals us as God’s own.

To grieve = to oppress or wrong; to inflict sorrow on.

Grief goes beyond anger; it is the intersection of anger and love. It is anger after being stripped of its bite, its bitterness; anger softened by affection, turning it toward the offense and not the offender.

What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit?

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…”

AKA.

Do not stir up this painful anger soaked in love, do not distress Him, do not cause Him to mourn.

“… by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

We carry the Holy Spirit with us everyday: when we love, when we laugh, when we worship.

When we sin.

No wonder David said, “Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight.”

Just before this confession, David also described sin to be “transgression” and “iniquity.” And forgiveness is described to “blot out,” to “wash,” to “cleanse.” These words express the seriousness of sin and the great lengths God goes to in removing ours.

Our sin grieves the Holy Spirit.

Grief is anger tamed by love.

The Holy Spirit loves us.

He loved us without beginning. The words used to describe the love of the Father and of the Son apply also to the Spirit. His love is just as eternal, just as sovereign, just as loyal, just as unchanging, just as unfathomable.

He loves us by sanctifying us to be more like our Savior. He marks us as God’s own. When we stray, when we sin, when we grieve Him by our sin, He pursues us and brings us back to Him.

This is why it is only against God that we sin. Yes, we do sin against others, but it is first God that we grieve before all else. It is first God that we offend; He lives in us. Sin is disobeying God’s Law, going against His holiness, denying that He alone satisfies our souls completely and totally, rather than our addictions (which, isn’t the reason why we are addicted to these things because they do not satisfy?).

When Nathan exposed David’s sin, he did not pick at what David had done to others (which were definitely legitimately sin); he instead asked David, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight?”

God’s love is loyal. The Holy Spirit’s love is loyal.

Was it not the Spirit who showed us Christ, who brought us to Calvary, to the base of the cross of Jesus? What love is this, that He should bring me to the place, the moment that would change my life forever?

Because of the Holy Spirit, I can fall in love with Jesus and be His bride. Because He let me see who Jesus was; because He broke my hardened heart and made way for Jesus to rest His throne in it. Because He opened my blind eyes, opened my deaf ears, opened my clenched fist to allow me to see and receive His grace.

He loves me as deeply as my Father and my Savior. He compels me to return after I wound His heart, after I grieve Him. He calls me to confess, to release all the dirtiness of my life into His hands; to repent and replace those things with gifts given by Him for the work of His glory.

No faith is genuine which does not bear the seal of the Spirit. No love, no hope can ever save us, except it be sealed with the Spirit of God, for whatever hath not his seal upon it is spurious. Faith that is unsealed may be a poison, it may be presumption; but faith that is sealed by the Spirit is true, real, genuine faith. — Charles Spurgeon

He calls me His and brands me with Himself to set me apart as His most beloved bride, daughter, friend, and servant. He walks through life with me, and He is a Friend and Helper beyond my wildest dreams.

I do not want to grieve this Friend again. Through I know, in my imperfection, it is inevitable that I will fail and sin, I pray that I will recover quickly, seek Him out immediately, and be willing to be humbled, discipled, changed for the better—because He will not leave me where I land.

Because He loved me, I can love Him back.

What a wonderful gift of grace and love we have.

above the ashes

God has given me a powerful name: “the appearance, the bearing, of a phoenix.”

It’s this name that the devil must destroy in order to defeat me.

Names make one strong, mighty, significant, but they can also make one vulnerable. It is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow, that expels devils (Mark 16:17). Yet in other cases, naming something gives one power over it. In Bible times, demons were cast out only after its name was learned. Naming our sin releases its burden over us. Naming an animal endears it to us.

Naming and names should not be taken lightly.

The lie that is attacking my name, my identity, promises fire, ash, destruction, desolation—nothing more. There is pain. There is misery. There is suffering. They will keep coming, I will keep surviving—no more, no less. There will be no redemption, no healing, no hope, no end.

This is to be my fate: forever waiting—waiting faithfully—only to have promises broken and dreams dashed.

But that is not what God has promised me through this name.

The phoenix does indeed burn, but it is not reduced to ashes.

flip

And neither am I.

From the ashes a new creature is born—stronger than the last with 1000 more years to thrive. It will emerge from them with eyes that carry all the wisdom of a previous life and wings spread wide to challenge the skies.

“A simple step of faith for you as you move towards what God has in your future is always rewarded with a God-spoken promise for the now.”—Andrew Gardener, The Vine Church HK

This is my promise bestowed by my God through two men who would cause me to live up to it over and over again.

“‘They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the LORD.”—Jeremiah 1:19

Take heart, little phoenix; the fire doesn’t burn forever.

I will burn.

But I will rise.

I am above the ashes.

hemmed in

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
~ Psalm 139: 1, 5, 7

I have a stalker.

Okay, not really. Not at all, actually.

I broke out along my jawline overnight, and after a round of weeping and mourning that my skin is up to its old tricks again, I thought about what else could’ve caused it. And I think I figured it out.

Stress.

As you beautiful people know, I quit my job a little over two weeks ago now, and I’ve been waiting for a position I really want (I’ve also applied to some other places and signed on with a temp agency). As rough as this time has been, there hasn’t been a part of me that’s regretted leaving the Renaissance. I’ve also been very thankful that so many people have been encouraging at this time. I know more than anyone the weight of that decision, and I’m grateful a lot of people understand that.

I think that in this waiting period, God’s trying to get me to make up a bit for the Sabbaths I’d skipped the past decade (hopefully not ALL of them, or else I’d be out for over a year). I’ve been spending time in the Book of Hosea, and what I clearly see in that book is how faithful God is, how patient He is, how loving He is while we are none of these things. And He pursues us and refuses to let us live apart from Him for our sake.

Today, God and I had a pretty good chat. I was thinking about the stress that caused me to break out and realizing how much it just wasn’t worth it. And while I’ve been honest with God as to how I’m doing and feeling, I’m not so sure I was honest as to the depth of it.

I’m nervous. I’m scared. I’m frustrated. I’m annoyed. I’d voiced these (you learn eventually that you can’t hide your feelings from God, and also that you don’t have to protect Him from them. He can handle it) just about every time we talk. But deep down there’s more.

I’m petrified.

I’ve never not been able to take care of myself before. I have student loans coming due in a little less than a month and another round of rent and bills in the next few weeks.

I am literally in a position where I can do nothing about that.

And this verse came to mind earlier: Psalm 139:5 “You have enclosed (NIV says “hem”) me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.”

I’m sure many find a lot of comfort and security in that verse, and I probably would’ve as well.

If I weren’t feeling trapped and stuck instead.

God has fenced me in. There is nothing I can do by my own power to escape or take down the fence.

At first, I did what anyone would do in this kind of situation: panic. I was crawling up the walls, frantic for something to do! (Can you tell why I need a Sabbath?)

And then I realized who I was stuck in a yard with.

And it really wasn’t so bad. There are worse people to be trapped with (way worse).

If I was going to be enclosed behind and before from God and with God, I’d best make the most of it. So I pulled a chair up and we chatted and hung out.

The time we spent together drove some truths from my head into my heart: that I am not able to do anything for myself but He is. And because of who He is—because He is good and works in us and for us for the sake of His glory—I am in a safe place.

John Piper said this about Ruth, “She has esteemed God’s protection superior to all others. She has set her heart on God for hope and joy. And when a person does that, God’s honor – not the value of our work – is at stake, and he will be merciful. If you plead God’s value as the source of your hope instead of pleading your value as a reason for God’s blessing, then his unwavering commitment to his own glory engages all his heart for your protection and joy” (excerpt from A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper).

God knows what I’ve got coming at me. He understands the urgency. He knows that these are needs, not desires (I’d desire nothing more than to not pay student loans and rent). And He’s laid His hand upon me.

There is not place I can go to escape Him. There’s nothing I can do to hop this fence and go off to try and fix my life, though days will come when I’d want to, as they have before.

But because the Person in here with me will fight for me, I also know that it is a safe place.

this free slave

The other day in counseling, I was asked how I’ve seen or experienced God in the part of me that’s Chinese. I had to think for a moment, and I realized I’m not sure about this one. From the beginning, I met God in a pretty American setting. We met at a Chinese church in Anaheim, CA. I learned about Him in English while surrounded by my fellow ABCs.

But I think as I’ve been working out more of my history, I’ve come to appreciate and experience God in a way that is uniquely my own.

See, my Chinese culture places high value on family. This is why my rebellion was considered level with blasphemy. This is why, to this day, I cannot have a blood family.

I chose my voice over family pride.

Pride is a parasite. It is an incomplete that distorts the complete. And yet, for our family, there was no basis even for pride. We were a fraud of a family. But boy, did we look the part.

And I would learn just what it means to sacrifice for this God romance.

In my Chinese culture, your surname – your family – is your all.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/subtlenuance/

Therein lies the conflict.

God clearly tells me that He is above all, and I must choose Him above mother and surname if I want to come to Him; I must love God to the point where love for anyone else looks suspiciously similar to hate.

Gaining my family’s respect was my life. Giving up my family for God gave up my life.

I wonder how many people can appreciate the gravity of this situation. I wonder how many people have experienced just how invasive Christianity is, how much it demands.

In shrugging off the burden of being my family’s scapegoat, I donned a new set if fetters: I am enslaved to my God for the work of His glory, doing His will.

But being God’s slave is more freedom than I ever knew in my fifteen years prior to our meeting. It’s hard to wrap your mind around, isn’t it? But that’s okay. God’s big enough to handle paradox.

My counselor suggested that perhaps it is my Chinese culture that readied me to sacrifice all for who is worthy. I think it is very likely so.

Although it backfired for everyone else.

Worked out great for me, though.

And here is where God humbles me again.

Dear relatives,

Thank you for getting me here.

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

a key of tears

You have taken account of my wanderings
Put my tears in Your bottle
Are they not in Your book?

~ Psalm 56:8

An emotional day following an emotional day. Eyes filled to the brim with tears of longing and loneliness. Cries caught in the throat as mourning is bitten back.

She misses home.

She misses her friends, her mother, her old job (believe it or not), her old haunts. She misses them all. The sunshine, the laughter, the ocean breeze, the smell of the sand and the waves, the coldness of the rink. She longs to be near them.

Conversations are beautiful. Catching up with old friends, a gift. Keys to the door she locked tightly shut when she left. As the door flings open wide, emotions flood her senses and overwhelm her thoughts. How has she stayed up here so long without breaking down? Now that she has broken, what will happen?

How long has it been since she’s felt? How long has it been since she closed off her heart? How long will it take to swing the door wide open again?

Heart overflowing with emotions. It tells her it’s alive. It tells her she’s alive. It cries out in joy that it is heard, that it is no longer neglected.

Heart of flesh. This is what she wants. This is what He wants for her. Her heart of unforgiving stone broken to reveal a heart of tender flesh. A heart that is whole. A heart that can love from even its most battered depths.

Oh, God, a heart of flesh is so vulnerable.

But it feels.

And it’s alive.

The tears shed today will be collected in His bottle, recorded in His book. They mark the day a heart hardened by defense was broken with love.

It’s a new day.

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.