Jesus 101

This post has been developing into a book! I have spent a great deal of time reading and researching massive amounts of material concerning the hatred and violence we have been witnessing for so long, not just on January 6, 2021. It began long before Donald Trump and those who monitor it, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, warn that it is getting worse. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch

While watching the violence escalate that day something shook me to my core. Since then, I have sat with, prayed about, and reaffirmed my deepest beliefs about who Jesus is, who I am as a professed follower of him, who my neighbor is, and who we are as a country.

It has been messy and fluid with so many nuances but here we go.

This is a thought process that I began for my own understanding and sanity…mostly sanity, because trying to know anything concerning God and the way he operates, without any doubts, can be likened to figuring out how birds know I just washed my car!

The need to know, to understand, presupposes that somehow, someway, we can reason this out. Like when Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” – that was not an academic question. It will not be satisfied by any amount of head knowledge. It is answered by first falling on our knees in awe and reverence before the magnificence that is God’s love on full display in the life of Jesus. That’s a great start, but, it can’t stop there. And that’s the rub. We want it to stop before that. Let’s just go to church – get our cards punched –done – go home and watch football. But, Jesus never said, “Worship me”, he said “Follow me”. OUCH!

 You may not agree with me when it’s all said and done and that’s fine. These are just my thoughts not any attempt to coerce or judge anyone who differs. If we were all meant to be robots marching lock-step through this life God could have easily made that happen. Although, I wonder if, for his own sanity, he may now regret not doing that!

Anyway, I believe it is incumbent upon each of us to decide; to take a stand once and for all. To not be afraid of what others will think or say about us. Rather be afraid of not being the person we claim to be only when others are watching. We should be more concerned that God is watching! And I am betting that it’s not the god who keeps a running total of our church attendance and tithing spreadsheet. That would be a shallow, small-minded, authoritarian god who is out to get you if you make one wrong move.

The God I’m going to stick with tells us through the uncompromising words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, spoken to the hard-headed Corinthians. I know these are verses we have heard so often our eyes glaze over. So, perhaps reading them again, slowly, one at a time, picturing all the hatred and violence we are witnessing we could see them as God intended:  

 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It does not envy.

It does not boast.

It is not proud. 

It does not dishonor others.

It is not self-seeking.

It is not easily angered.

It keeps no record of wrongs. 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is…following the “rules” some guys made up over beers in a bar…wait…no…that’s not it…sorry. Just seeing if you’re still there.

“The greatest of these is love”.

From where I stand, it seems to have come down to two options if I claim to be a Christian: Either I stand with the Jesus who loves or the Jesus who hates.

I once would have said there was a third option of neutrality, but, not anymore. Too much is at stake. God is adamant about it when he says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:16) Ewwwww…nothing ambiguous here.

Let’s say you agree that you need to decide where you stand and why. The “why” is critical. I believe  stopping short of fully embracing your “why” leaves you wobbly and vulnerable to anyone who can shove you off-balance. Believe me; I have had that happen more times in my life than I care to admit.

So, this is where I landed: As a Christian, I am compelled to consider my life and purpose from my essence, my very being, where God resides.  How I live that life, if I own up to being a follower of Jesus, is to manifest his love in every moment and with every decision.

Not that seeing the hatred spewed by those who profess Jesus is anything new, but it has challenged me to look honestly at how I am living my life in light of Jesus’ words to his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35) I believe at times we all need a wake-up call because too often we simply muddle through our days numb to what we’re even doing here.

And so, as I see it, the most important question to begin with must be: Just who is this Jesus I claim to follow? I think it’s fair to say that one of Western Christianity’s most espoused and fervent beliefs is that Jesus is the Answer. But, are we asking the right question?

Up next: Jesus is the Answer

When You Quit Believing in Santa, You Get Underwear

Do you remember how long you believed in Santa? I remember slowly doubting when I was about seven. Santa became suspect when my brother and sister, who are older, began to make fun of me. But I didn’t want to stop believing. Christmas was magical. Santa made it so. For a child Santa is the reason for the season (we can only hope they outgrow that belief).

One year, my brother and I found all the presents wrapped up and hidden in a closet two weeks before Christmas. We shook them and then carefully peeled the tape away to see what was inside. Then wrapped them back up and put them back in the closet. As you might imagine, Christmas morning was a terrible disappointment to me. I couldn’t even pretend to be excited about the gifts I received, even though some were what I had asked for. It was over: The magic, the mystery, the futile fight to stay awake this time, just for a glimpse of Santa. If I could see him just this once, my faith would be restored, and, with tears streaming down my face, I could tell him that my brother and sister were VERY naughty all year and they should both be turned into lumps of coal! 

But, that didn’t happen and now I was doomed to a reality I was not willing to face. I supposed the next thing to go was the Easter Bunny, and then the Tooth Fairy. And then what? I couldn’t bear it!

charlie-brown-aaugh

But wait!  Discovering that Santa is likely the invention of parents who simply run out of creative ways to keep kids in line a few weeks out of the year may have a positive side:

You were always told to keep your list short since Santa had to provide for the entire world!  Now you could make your Christmas list longer and the requests more extravagant.

Parents could do more than Santa because they only have to buy for a few kids and they have deeper pockets. Sweet!

You would not have to share the cookies and milk with him. You know how you always hated sharing. You little Grinch!

You could complain about the gifts received and demand they be returned to the store. You can’t return gifts to Santa because that would make him angry!

Have you ever felt that Santa would be very disappointed in you if you did not give up your “gently used” toys for kids who had nothing?  You could now ask your parents to write a check to their favorite charity allowing you to keep every last toy for your pathetic selfish self.

And what about those stupid pictures on Santa’s lap?  He was creepy and made you cry.

creepysanta4

And – best of all – there would be no pesky “list” Santa would check to ad nauseum! “Santa’s watching you, you little monster! I saw what you just did to your sister! That’s gonna go on your permanent record young man!”

Now that we’re all adults here, and you’ve gotten over your obsession with Santa, what about Christ?  What about your faith in Someone a bit more significant? If you profess to be a Christ-follower, then there are serious implications to consider. I would be remiss if I did not throw in God’s word about his “lukewarm” followers in Revelation 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Nothing ambiguous about that, right? But, we are ridiculously skilled at glazing over it like it applies to everyone else but me.

Professing Christ does not simply amount to the word games we play to dodge God’s claim on our lives. It doesn’t matter how you “talk” about Christ if what people see does not match your rhetoric.

What matters is how you “live” Christ in your day-to-day. Are you truly “living” Christ’s message to love and serve the Lord; to being Christ to a hurting world?  That comes from the very core of who you are as the image and likeness of God.

Faith that is shallow and superficial can be enormously attractive to lazy Christians seeking cheap grace:

You have enough to do just paying the bills and trying to one-up your snooty neighbors. Those ladders to climb; that big house to pay for; people to gossip about; weekly therapy, and all your “charitable volunteering”, will require much more of your valuable time. So God will just have to find someone else to do his other work; the work that doesn’t appeal to you. How about that retired guy down the street? He needs something to keep him occupied, out of his wife’s hair and your business.

If you simply go to church on Sunday, hide in the back, and get your card punched you can sneak out before anyone notices you. And be sure you skip “Mission Sunday” and “Sponsor a poor family Sunday” and “Stewardship Sunday” and “How come you’re wasting your gifts Sunday?” It just makes you squirm in the pew.

Never buy into the idea that the abundant love God pours on you is a free gift – no strings attached. It’s just a trick to reel you in. Nothing in this world is “free.”  You know you’re gonna have to pay him back. And from past experience you know that’s simply an exercise in futility. Better to just not accept it in the first place.

If you must relieve occasional guilt for your indifference to the world around you, send a check – commensurate with the size and scope of your guilt – to a charity of your choice.  And, while you’re at it, consider tithing a little of that money you spend so frivolously on your pathetic selfish adult self.

Whatever you do, stay away from church on Good Friday! You know Jesus’ passion makes you very uneasy and almost, almost, makes you long for something more. You’re sure never going to watch that Mel Gibson movie again are you?!

And best of all, having “religion” in place of relationship makes you accountable to no one. You can just skip merrily along without ever having to “give an answer” to anyone for how you are living your wretched, despicable, miserable life.  Sounds lovely.

So, there you have it. That’s how underwear ends up in your stocking and how Jesus ends up irrelevant.  Neither is a pretty sight; neither will bring you joy on Christmas morning.

We can “pretend” to be excited about the whole “Jesus is the reason for the season” message as we’re reminded once again just how deeply and extravagantly God’s love is by dropping head-long into a smelly manger with smelly animals and not a bit of fanfare!

But it’s sorta like this: even if you LOVE the underwear you receive for Christmas it’s not likely anyone will know unless you wear it on the outside.

underwear boy1

 

And even if you say you LOVE Jesus and your neighbor, it won’t be “obvious” unless you are carrying him and his love for you and your neighbor on the inside in that place where there is a void you have been trying to fill with other things. Then, it will spill out and manifest its radiance and glory to all the world around you!

Brilliant!

Jesus' birth

I wish for you and your family a very blessed

Christmas filled with wonder and awe like you’ve

never imagined it!

 

All You Need is Love – dootdadododo

The world offers many different expressions of love: “I love mint chocolate chip ice cream!” (Actually, that’s true.) “I love your new car!” “I love shopping!”  Love can be humorous, as when Miss Piggy floats across a field of flowers, heart beating wildly, feeling weak in the knees, stomach all a-flutter, shrieking, “Ohhhhhh, Kermie!”

miss-piggy-kermit-frog_300

Love can come with no expectations, or commitments: “I used to love you when you were thin and had more hair!” or, “Well, I could have loved you, but your ex-wife got all your money, and, well, I have needs!” or, “You didn’t tell me I had to love your kids too!”

Love is depicted beautifully in these classic song lyrics, “How can you believe me when I say I love you when you know I’ve been a liar all my life?” Or how about this one?  Come on sing along you know the words: “If you can’t be with the one you love, Honey, love the one you’re with.”

Today’s world tells us that love can be found merely by seeking our own desires, which no one has a right to deny us, and that it’s just as rewarding to love things as people. The if-it-feels-good mentality of worldly love devours childhood innocence, destroys relationships, shrugs off compassion, and muddies the pure waters of selfless love. As long as we seek love from the things of this world, we will always come up lost and empty for all our efforts. The lie will continue to perpetuate the madness.

How do so many of us get it so wrong so often? Perhaps it’s because our meager understanding of love is based on our personal, human experiences. I often ask myself, “Self, what is your problem?  Why do you struggle so much? Why does it seem like a daily battle to love others? Why can’t you let go of your past? Why is it so difficult for you to trust God, accept His love, and your inherent worth? Perhaps my ego has been too big, my fear too overwhelming, and my God too small.

But lately, by the grace of God, I am seeing my failure to truly love and my fear of accepting love in the light of a much bigger God; a God that does not fit neatly or easily into the image I have created. He refuses to patronize me when I cry out, “Lord, Lord!” It’s as though He is saying to me, “Your cries are muted by your deafening indifference, Linda. Your faith is lukewarm, and, need I remind you, how I hate lukewarm?!” Revelation 3:16, “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Then, as so often happens, Richard Rohr puts it into perspective for me:

Our failures open our hearts of stone and move the rigid mind space toward understanding and patience. It is in doing it wrong, being rejected, and experiencing pain that we are lead to total reliance upon God….God has let me do just about everything wrong, so I could fully experience how God can do everything so utterly right….

This is why Christianity has as its central symbol of transformation a naked, bleeding man who is the picture of failing, losing, and dying . . . and who is really winning–and revealing the secret pattern to those who will join him there. Everyone wins because if there’s one thing we all have in common, if we’re honest, it’s our weakness and powerlessness in one–but usually many–areas of our lives. There’s a broken, wounded part inside each of us.

If we expect or need things (including ourselves) to be perfect or even “to our liking,” we have created a certain plan for a very unhappy life.

I have recently been reading about Celtic Spirituality. It ‘s fascinating! It was rejected as heresy by the Roman Church and was almost lost. (If you would like to learn more about it I highly recommend the writings of J. Phillip Newell, especially, “Listening for the Heartbeat of God” and “The Rebirthing of God”).

Newell tells us:

Within us – as a sheer gift of God – is the capacity to bring forth what has never been before, including what has never been imagined before. Deep within us are holy, natural longings for oneness….We may live in tragic exile from those longings, or we may have spent a whole lifetime not knowing how to truly satisfy them, but they are there at the heart of our being, waiting to be born afresh….When we love, we bring the very essence of our being into relationship with the essence of the other. God in us adores God in the other” (The Rebirthing of God, p. x, xvi)

Recently, I have been experiencing a great and mysterious intensity. Perhaps that is the longing Newell speaks of. I recall someone else calling it those thin places when we feel God’s presence most profoundly. I can’t describe the emotions except that they are overwhelming. In these moments, I know God is working in this messy heart of mine. That’s simply AWESOME!

When I start to make judgments about others I sense God’s tug on my heart to “see” them as He sees them; to look beyond their actions to their hearts where He resides. The peace that brings to my own heart is beyond words!

Though I converted to Catholicism in the late 70’s there was so much missing for me for so long. I don’t feel I was nurtured in the faith, but rather, indoctrinated: memorize the prayers, miss Mass at your own peril, go to confession, and for Heaven’s sake never question the Church’s authority!

In graduate school I began to grow into a different faith, still Catholic, but more in line with the saints I so admired and wanted to emulate. I have no illusions of becoming Saint Linda, but I can strive for the perfection Jesus calls us to; strive to be more compassionate, loving, and joyful in the midst of all my circumstances.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 tells us, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” There are some attributes of love I would like to focus on: “Love suffers long” and “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”.

“Love suffers long”

Okay. We’re already in trouble. We don’t want to suffer; we want the antidote! We want something to fix the problem. As human beings – even if we’re Christians – we really hate to suffer.

Throughout Scripture we are told of God’s deep love and longsuffering for those who turn away from Him. This is not a God who can’t wait to punish us for our sinfulness; this is a God who longs to lavish us with His love despite our sinfulness. God’s longsuffering is manifested for the sake of our salvation, and our own call to longsuffering is for the sake of other people’s salvation, as well as our own. Just as Jesus’ suffering and dying brought many sinners to salvation, and the apostles’ suffering and martyrdom brought others to God, our own willingness to suffer well, whatever comes our way, is a witness to the power of God’s love in a broken world.

I have a good friend whose marriage is terribly difficult. She has often threatened divorce. She told me once that she could easily live in a cave with God, a refrigerator, and a port-a-potty, and be content. But God spoke to the very depth of her heart that it was within her marriage that she would grow to be more like him. It’s easy to love a new-born baby or a tiny puppy or the perfect mother that you’ve been blessed with. But, what about those imperfect relationships and imperfect people? Do you find yourself glaring at that lump of a husband on your sofa – you know, the one who’s guzzling beer and belching show tunes – and wondering where you went wrong? Then there’s that obnoxious neighbor you secretly wish would fall of the face of the earth.

There always seems to be someone anxious to make messes in our lives. Can’t we do something to make him or her pay? Don’t we have the right? The answer is a simple but emphatic No!” God will handle that person, not us – definitely not us.

“Love Bears all Things; Believes all Things; Hopes all Things; Endures all Things”

When your wife comes home drunk…again, when your child is arrested on drug charges, when your cancer returns, when your aging parents make continual demands on you, when you can’t lift your head off the pillow to face another day – how do you bear up, believe, hope, and endure all things? When you cry out to God in despair but receive no answer, how do you go on?

You have to believe, truly believe, that the God of mercy loves you immeasurably. Nothing you suffer is lost to God’s watchful, loving care. No part of your life is without purpose. In the book of Genesis, Abraham was called by God to slay his beloved son Isaac. Could I have trusted God that much? There’s no anonymous tipster in this story whispering, “Pssst, Abe! Just go along with it. He’ll stop you at the last minute. Trust me.” Nope, it didn’t happen that way. Abraham completely trusted God.

We can find incredible stories throughout history of people who have suffered persecution and abject loss. Countless people have survived the unthinkable. But how? They’ve survived by knowing and believing in God’s promises and trusting in His love. From the darkness of despair comes the dawn of grace. When we can’t see God or hear Him in the midst of our pain, we need to trust that His love for us is at the core of our being. “Blessed are those who suffer well and hope for things unseen, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 13:13). In suffering, we are comforted by God. In suffering, we learn how to comfort others.

What if Jesus’ story had been different? What if He had gone to the cross kicking and screaming? He certainly had the right. He was being persecuted relentlessly. During His life on earth, He had done nothing but love His Father and all of humankind, and for that flawless behavior He was crucified. He could have retaliated with an army of angels, but He didn’t. Instead, He healed the sick, brought hope to the hopeless, and forgave the sinner. He was stripped, spat upon, mocked, and killed. He could have cursed his enemies to Hell, instead he prayed for them.

The world repaid Jesus’ love with hatred in the form of a cross. The nails didn’t hold Him there, however; his love held him there. His last words could have been shouts of bitter vengeance, but he chose to forgive in his final act of mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).  

Jesus’ final hours speak volumes about my rejection of atonement theology. Many believe that Jesus had to come and die to atone for our sins. I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. I believe too many of us to this day subscribe to the belief that God’s anger over our sins required his death. Doesn’t that create an image of a God who punishes; who rules with an iron fist, who can’t wait for us to screw up? Not my God. No thanks. Where do we find in Scripture that Jesus stomped around grumbling about his fate and shaking his fist at us pathetic humans? Where? Show me. You can’t because it’s not there.

GOD IS LOVE…PERIOD. And because we were created in his image, we are to be that love to others as well (and by the way, to ourselves, because we suck at that too!).  Jesus’ last command to us was to love. When did he tell us to hate and judge and flip off that jerky neighbor? The last words out of Jesus’ mouth were to forgive not to condemn.

My mother-in-law (God rest her beautiful soul) could offer you a perfect example of why God calls us to love. Forty-three years ago, I stood before her in a short skirt, a long wig, a seven-year-old daughter by my side, and a heathen attitude in my heart. I was self-centered and demanding. I resented the occasions when my husband would stop to see her after work. He spent so much time with her in fact, I was jealous.

For those and other reasons, she could have done what everyone else in my life had done – she could have rejected me or struck out at me. I would have understood that reaction it was what I was accustomed to. Instead, she chose to love me in spite of myself, and soon I could feel myself being drawn to her. She had something that I wanted and I didn’t even know what it was. But after being in her company and experiencing firsthand her selfless love for others – and for me – I was hooked.

Unwittingly, my wonderful mother-in-law took me to the foot of the Cross, and that was where I began the long journey of change. She bore the pain of losing a younger sister to cancer and the death of a beloved son. She struggled through a difficult marriage and other challenging relationships. Yet she continued to reach out to others and to love them.

If I hadn’t witnessed her faith and hope in the midst of suffering, I would most likely still be self-absorbed and wearing those dreaded short skirts (probably not a good idea for a sixty-eight-year-old grandmother!). I can imagine her reunion with God, “Come on, give us a hug Catherine! Thank you for so brilliantly dealing with that mess of a daughter-in-law of yours! Well done, my good and faithful servant…well done!” (Matthew 25:23)

There are many other lost souls out there. Have you touched one lately – or have you turned them away?

“The Greatest of These is Love”

Scripture tells us the value that God places on love: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Yes, the greatest of these is love. “Love” at its most compelling is a verb. It’s an action word. We can’t just give lip service to God’s commandment to love one another. If the action doesn’t match the words, it’s a lie, regardless of whether we’re talking about love for God or love for our neighbors. Jesus went beyond telling us that he loved us, he showed us – and he expects us to do the same.

How about 1 John 4:20 for a wakeup call? “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” No doubt we all know someone else like that, but could we be accused of the same shortcoming?

No one promised us that God’s way would be easy. The Bible depicts a love unlike the worldly version: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friend” (John 15:13).  How many people would you consider dying for? Hopefully your children, your spouse, possibly other relatives (except crazy Uncle Bill), and most likely your dearest friends. Those friends would have to be your dearest ones, though! Fair-weather friends wouldn’t make the cut. How about an enemy? How about that crotchety neighbor you’ve had to contend with for years? How about that lying sneak of a co-worker who managed to get himself promoted to a job that was rightfully yours?

Although God’s love is freely given, it longs for a response. Today, in a world that is laden with mistrust and fear, we’re focused on taking care of “number one.” We have been made in the image of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit – and that is good news! But we as Christians are called to take that good news to the world. If fear holds us back, it masks who we really are. Fear clings to the old self, refuses to relinquish control, and attempts to tie the hands of the Holy Spirit.

However, God’s sacrificial love is meant for everyone, and “everyone” means everyone. We as Christians have no monopoly on God. We don’t own him and we don’t have exclusive rights to him. This isn’t a private club. We are to be instruments of God’s love, or our response and our faith are inadequate at best, sinful at worst.

I would like to end this very long post with a quote that I read over and over again. It comes from a most powerful sermon on Job once given by Archibald MacLeish. He says:

Man depends on God for all things; God depends on man for one. Without man’s love, God does not exist as God, only as creator, and love is the one thing no one, not even God, can command. It is a free gift or it is nothing. And it is most itself, most free, when it is offered in spite of suffering, of injustice, and of death….Only man can prove that man loves God.

So…what are you waiting for?

PROVE IT!