Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Time to Laugh. A Time to Weep.

(Posted by guest blogger, Lesley Hansen)

“To everything – turn, turn, turn
There is a season – turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven”
-The Byrds

            I find it difficult to recall just one instance in which God made Himself real to me, in which He really made Himself unequivocally known. At first, I despair because I want more than anything for God to be real to me. Then I am reminded that He constantly reveals Himself to me and whether or not I notice, I most certainly forget in short-order.
            Although my subconscious fights to forget all of the emotions and revelations I experienced this past weekend, I must acknowledge that the speaker at the Ladies Retreat had a poignant message that seemed tailored to my concerns as of late.
            The most impactful point, however, was the scientific importance of tears to not only our mental health but to our bodily health as well. Jane Rubietta pointed out, with some vivid stories, that “if you don’t cry, your body will.” It’s not a sign of weakness. It is essential for healing.
            Crying is a stress-release. When you allow tears to fall, with them comes the release of hormones that promote bonding and healing[1]. I have always known that a good cry does me a world of good, but to have scientific support that healing agents are released in tears makes me feel less shame in crying.
            I am not usually a public crier but I also don’t deny that I cry when I need to release pent-up emotions or am just severely exhausted. We push ourselves and tell ourselves to just get through things but if we don’t allow ourselves to feel, our heart begins to die.
            If crying is shameful, why is the Bible so clearly unapologetic and matter-of-fact when it says “Jesus wept”[2]? He wailed and let out a guttural cry. That’s what that phrase means in the original language. There was no shame in it. When Jesus saw Lazarus in the tomb, he let his heart feel pain. Scripture even tells us to “weep with those who weep.”[3] If tears were something to avoid at all cost, why does our authoritative scripture tell us it’s essential?
            God helped me to see this past weekend that holding in tears when I so desperately need to cry will only cause me pain. Being vulnerable is difficult, but sometimes I need to allow others to weep with me. When I am moved, it is okay to cry. I am generally a self-conscious person, but there is “a time to laugh, a time to weep.”[4] I pray that God will help me to recognize and distinguish those times. I pray that I will allow God to heal me instead of me trying to fix it on my own. Tears are a God-given gift in the desert place and I do not ever need to apologize for accepting this gift.

[1] Prolactin and Oxytocin
[2] John 11:35
[3] Romans 12:15
[4] Ecclesiastes 3:4 and Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Joy in the Junkyard?


Constant joy. That’s what my name means. 
But I can’t say life started out that way.

To this Roman Catholic girl, God was a frown-faced judge with an almighty list of sins—MORTAL, Venal and cardinal. Always on the lookout for the slightest misstep, he assigned a guardian angel to “watch over me.” Read, keep track of what I did wrong.

I had no more desire to be seen by the Watchful Eye than he presumably had for my sin-infested soul. I kept the sacraments out of fear of his wrath, not as a means of his grace.

God didn’t love me and he certainly never sent his son to ransom me. The cross served only as a reminder of just how much God hated sinners like me. Since the only person God ever loved was Jesus, his death was all the more terrifying. If God did not spare the son he loved, what horrors lay in store for the likes of me?

Far from being good news, the gospel confused me: God so loved the world that he killed his favorite son. Now when God looks at me, he somehow sees Jesus, so I get to live with him forever.

That, my friends, is what comes of not knowing the Bible.

Long after I began to read God’s Word for myself, I came across 1 Tim 1.11, “the gospel of the happy God.” It felt like the Holy Spirit reached out and poked me in the eye. God is happy? I could not fathom it. Why would a happy God be in such a bad mood all the time?  ALL. THE. TIME.

Yet if God were happy, that changed everything.

Listen, the rest of Scripture provides ample evidence that God is not only essentially glad, he is himself the fountain of joy. True joy not founded on God’s promises but on God’s nature. His own bottomless, unshakeable, unending delight in who he is.

This makes sense. God is good. God is wise. He knows everything. He has unlimited power. He needs nothing. He is sovereign and creative and free. Surprise, surprise, this makes him not wrathful but joyful.

We know this because the life of Jesus—God-in-the-Flesh—was marked by joy not judgment. Anointed with the oil of gladness, his joy was rooted in the eternal presence of God: “You fill me with joy in your presence.” Everyone who met him found more than just a great attitude and good behavior and godly values.

Sinners, far from messing things up for this happy God, provide an opportunity to demonstrate otherwise unknowable aspects of the divine nature, qualities like mercy and grace, faithfulness, love, and peace. Creation may show us what God can do, but redemption shows us who he is.

This God has chosen us and loves us. Intuitively, that should make us “happy all the time,” right? What then do we make of the huge gulf between the joy Christians ought to experience, and our vulnerability to the brokenness in our world?

Of course we want ongoing joy-that-transcends-heartache. We don’t have to be smiling all the time, but  troubles that wipe the smile from our faces shouldn’t steal the joy from our hearts.

Too often they do. Gladness gets lost behind the lessons we’re learning, and the work we’re doing, and the sheer misery of knowing we can never live up to the example of Jesus. Joy may be eternal, we conclude, but our capacity for it is not. How much better if joy were part of our nature rather than a mood we must cultivate!

But isn't that precisely the hope of the Gospel? God has indeed found a way to transmit his boundless joy to the people Jesus died to save. When the Holy Spirit quickens the life of Christ in us, his joy becomes part of who we are.

Jesus promised as much to his disciples. After the cross, after the resurrection and ascension and Pentecost, his own joy would be in them. It would make their joy full because they would have the full measure of his joy within them. And not just them but all who believe in him.

The biblical concept of joy is brightness, a radiance of life as it was meant to be: lived in communion with our Creator. The promise of eternal life is the joy—the glory—of knowing God. Those who have been made righteous shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the light of life. Like a city set on a hill whose light is not hidden, our joy is a beacon to the lost and needy. 

Such joy cannot be dimmed by the stuff of this world. Pain and grief may fill our days but they don’t define our lives. The world is a junkyard and its woes, like grime and grit on long exposed objects, produce a patina of infinite value. 

Neither do we ignore the sorrows and suffering around us. How could we? Love weeps with those who weep. But to ears tuned to divine joy, every heartache also speaks of hope: this junkyard world is not our home.

When every former thing that separates us from God disappears in the radiance of his presence, we will be home. One day, he promises, we will enter the joy of our Master. We will share his joy forever. Constant joy.

Oh, be ye glad. Be ye glad. Be ye glad!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Comments Welcome

For all those of you who've wanted to comment, here is good news.

I love feedback on my writing and have been deprived in the past due to a severe case of DBAS (Differently-Blog-Abled Syndrome). That has been treated, thanks to the kindness of my new best friend, Jeanne Doyon. (Find her at www.jeannedoyon.blogspot.com).

In honor of the new blog capabilities, I invite you to go through old posts and send a comment on your favorite.

Alternately, comment here with a better name for my syndrome. Surely I'm not the only one who suffers from this disorder. Maybe I'll submit the best suggestion to the DSM.

Jesus: Wild and Crazy Love


Love. Is any topic more talked of in Christianity?
Maybe sin. Maybe the cross. Maybe Jesus himself.
But in the end, they all come down to love.

So what can I say about love that hasn’t already been said? Probably nothing, but like a jewel with many facets, every new angle magnifies its beauty.

The Bible uses an unlikely phrase to describe Christian character: the fruit of the Spirit. Top of the list? Love.

The metaphor of bearing fruit takes us back to Jesus’s words in John 15. He’s the vine. We’re the branches. Only branches attached to the vine bear fruit. No doubt Paul had this in mind when, in writing to the Galatians, he contrasted unsanctified living with Christ-likeness. And the hallmark of sanctification, of Christianity itself, is Jesus’s kind of love.

For Jesus, love isn’t optional or even necessarily pleasurable. He doesn’t ask us to work up some kind thoughts or do some good deeds. He commands love. And the standard he commands is that we love the way he loved. An insane kind of love. Like nothing the world had seen until he waltzed onto its stage.

Sometimes I think I’d have enjoyed being one of his pack. I mean, Jesus was … stimulating. He always had some miracle going. He was an out-of-the-box thinker, especially where religion is concerned. He drove out demons, and calmed storms, and walked on water, for goodness’ sake! How exciting is that? But Jesus was also fun and affectionate, the kind of guy even little kids like to be around.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure he’d have stretched my comfort zone a bit. Seating four or five thousand for dinner at a time. Getting in the face of the rulers. Traipsing through unclean Samaria. Touching lepers. Hanging with hookers and partying with dregs. Do you realize that at every funeral Jesus attended, he brought the corpse back to life?

I can see why Peter recognized Jesus as the Christ.
And I can see why Peter denied him outside the high priest’s house.

See that night through Peter’s eyes. Imagine the privilege of being invited to pray with the Master. And the disgrace of falling asleep—three times. Into the shame-filled silence of the late night garden comes a mob with clubs and swords. To arrest Jesus!

How could Judas betray Jesus like this? Jesus had only ever treated Judas with fairness and kindness. The same way he treated everybody. Do good to others. Live in peace. Speak the truth. Trust God. Trust Jesus. Love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Love, love, love.

And, as Judas proved, it just didn’t work.
He could have told Jesus how it would end. The world doesn’t run on love, Jesus. It runs on power and self. But not love. Love that puts others first is weak. In the end, what does it get you except betrayed and dead?

Jesus appeared more than once after rising from the dead, still talking about love. As if loving him and shepherding his sheep, tending his lambs, was going to change the world.

The only day sadder than Good Friday was the day Jesus disappeared into the clouds for the last time. He’d given them their mission, to teach others to keep his command. (There was that thing about love again.) And he’d given them a promise. They just had to wait for the gift from his Father.

Not many days later, it happened. The gift arrived. Filled the place with wind and fire. Set them all uttering divine truth in languages they’d never learned. Incredibly, Peter was able to deliver one of the most finely crafted sermons of all time, in which he articulated the gospel message of salvation in a way that’s yet to be improved on.

If I know Peter, though, the most amazing part wasn’t that he could make fine speeches and persuade others to believe. No, the real miracle was the hope he now possessed. This gift from the Father was power. Power to love. To love like Jesus loved. The love of God had been poured out in their hearts that day.

And hope does not disappoint us. In the 2000 years since Pentecost, that kind of love has changed the world. Christ’s eternal kingdom runs on that kind of love.