A surprising face of love

IMG_1184How did it happen? How did the God-man who overturned thieves’ tables and called religious leaders snakes get labeled “meek and mild?”

Jesus was not afraid to feel angry. Or to express it.

I am.

I’d rather feel almost anything else. I’ve wondered why.

Sure, I’ve seen the devastation that poorly controlled anger can cause.

Yes, I like to please people rather than rock the boat.

The same culture that taught me that big boys don’t cry made sure I knew that good girls don’t get angry.

But perhaps the biggest, truest reason I’m afraid to feel angry is that anger insists on action. It’s easier to curl up in the corner, out of the battle, than to address the problem. Easier, less scary, less risky—unless risk is measured in terms of missed life and ignored calling.

I pray to hear the heartbeat of God, to let mine beat in rhythm with His. When did I forget that that might mean feeling His anger as well as His peace and His joy?

I’ve known His anger in the past: “It’s so wrong that we’re turning these kids off studying the Bible!” “It’s awful that all those women are dying for lack of access to care!” I’ve suspected that anger is linked to calling, that the place we feel God’s anger most deeply is the place we’re called to partner with Him in addressing the injustice.

“Passion” is a big word with a lot of layers to live.

I watch the One in whose image I am made, the One “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Num 14:18; Ps 86:15, 103:8, 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2) The One who “time after time . . . restrained his anger.” (Ps 78:38) And then I watch as several hundred times this God who is Love expresses His anger.

Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Anger can be an expression of love. The fierce protectiveness of a mother for her baby, the anger of a man when he finds his wife in the arms of another: is the ability to express appropriate anger in defense of life and relationship what sets true love apart from sentimentality?

God isn’t quick to explode. But when relationship is broken or injustice occurring, He isn’t afraid to point out the problem. And then He lets His anger go. “His anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime.” (Ps 30:5)

Slow to get angry but unafraid to express it as a means to restoring relationship, quick to let it go and welcome the other back into relationship: that’s how God lives His anger as an expression of His love. It’s how we’re asked to live it too.

“Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life. (Eph 4:26-27 MSG)

God of perfect love, this scares me. I’d rather a smaller version of love, one which allows me to feel safe and comfortable emotions all the time. But I want to be free to receive and give your love in all the ways you might ask. Open me up to the fullness of your love. Live your love in me.

The truth your heart is hungry for

IMG_3234It is Mother’s Day and Baby Dedication Day and on this sixth Sunday of Eastertide we’re still calling out the good news:

“Christ is risen!”

“He is risen indeed!”

Pastor Justin stands at the front with three sets of parents, each accepting the holy joys and responsibilities of parenthood, the gifts of pain and delight.

The parents promise and the congregation promises and then Justin takes little Elliott in his arms. “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” The child is happy enough, looking all around, content in the safety of arms. “The LORD lift the light of His countenance upon you and give you peace, this day and always.” Baby Elliott gazes straight up into Justin’s face as though drawn by the light, turning like ivy leaves or the whole rosy bloom of a tulip toward the nearest window.

I smile. And I watch little River lift her face to Justin’s at the same words—”The LORD lift the light of His countenance upon you”—turning to face the light as though reaching for it, called by it. The curtain has been pulled back and for a moment I’ve glimpsed again the truth at the center of the universe, God’s heart always pouring itself out in blessing, His face shining on us the purest of love. His delight, His longing, awakening in us a responsive seeking of His face.

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“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” (Isaiah 30:18)

Baby Arthur sleeps right through the blessing, at peace in the light of the face turned toward his.

 

Taking it deeper:

What difference might it make in your day to know that the LORD’s face is turned toward you in blessing?

When you don’t have what it takes

IMG_4353I wake tired and empty, find myself dreading the day.

“Jesus, what is going on here? Why am I dreading this day you are holding out to me as a gracious gift?”

I feel myself trying to gather the strength for what I need to do today. What I think I need to do. The way I think I need to do it.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (john 15:5)

The blossoms along the path I run are so thick I can hardly find the leaves.

I measure myself by them and I think I know what fruitfulness is supposed to look like. Thick. Vibrant. Eye-catching. Blogs posted, books written, lives changed.

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Tired days can feel like failed days when I count fruitfulness by words on the page.

But as I slow and listen to His heartbeat, I see that the fruit Jesus is promising is as different from my measures of productivity as the means of growing it is from drivenness. Yes, as I make my home in Him His life may flow through me in words written and floors swept, but the core of His promise is not that I’ll write more words or tick more things off my do-list, but that my being and doing will be marked by His character.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience. . .” (Gal 5:22-23)

I sink deep into his love—and I love Him all the more.

Who could love me like this, with a love not dependent on what I bring? Joy awakens.

I settle into the assurance that His love isn’t changed by what I accomplish—and peace stretches and enfolds me.

When I know He’s not disappointed with my current word count, I can wait for Him to give the words in His time. Patience is growing.

And somehow as I make my home in His love the words are written and the work is done—and we got here gently, Him knowing me and I Him and both of us enjoying the other.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.” (John 15:9, The Message)

What God does with your mistakes

DSCN5627I’d just arrived at the hospital in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, travelling in a taxi with door handles falling off and lumpy, lopsided seats.

A preacher whose name I don’t remember was speaking in the hospital chapel that weekend, reminding us that failure is never final with God. God never discards broken things—He values them. The preacher told us about the making of Persian carpets. The master designer creates a pattern, and numerous craftspeople work on it together. If one of them makes a mistake, they do not take it out—that would weaken the fabric. Instead, the master designer redesigns the pattern, incorporating the mistake. Often the result is even more beautiful than the initial pattern.

Seventeen years later and I’m listening to another preach about Jesus’ promise: “I am the vine, you are the branches. If anyone remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5)

I’ve struggled to believe that. Oh, I’ve thought I believed it, but my fear of failure showed me that something else was going on. But today I realize I’ve finally begun to trust that promise. Living in Him, with Him in me, I will bear His life into the world. Because the promise is not that I won’t make mistakes along the way. The promise is that my mistakes will never be greater than God’s creative grace.

When Jesus speaks slang

“Christ is risen!” The worship leader welcomes us to our gathering as we enter this third week of Eastertide.

“He is risen indeed!” we echo. Is it just me, or is our pronouncement gathering strength as we venture further into this season of new life?

I’ve just walked across the bridge, facing into thousands of runners moving steadily toward me.

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“Wheelchair!” one man called out, asking the crowd of runners to make a little space for him to pass through, pushing his friend.

A young girl walked on the side, holding her mother’s hand.

A balding man jogged past.

This was my third year walking to church against the flow of the runners. Every time it brings tears to my eyes. I want to turn around and run with them, joining this crowd making space for people of every age and ability to run together.

As I reached the far side of the bridge, the leader of the band at the corner called out, “You’re killing it! You’re half-way there already!” It’s a funny turn of phrase, “killing” when she means “doing well,” but her words raised tears in my eyes again. I could hear the cloud of witnesses calling out to us. I could hear the voice of the One who will one day say “well done.”

He doesn’t wait until the end of the race to offer encouragement.

Sometimes He speaks through the slang of a band leader on the corner.

Sometimes through emailed words offering reassurance, “Be at peace, my friend.”

And sometimes His comfort comes over bowls of Tim Horton’s chili as three friends consider those times in life when, like the man whose friends dug a hole in the roof, we have to let others carry us to Jesus. It’s how it’s meant to be.

I think once more of the first question of the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q1. What is your only comfort

in life and death?

A1. That I am not my own,

but belong with body and soul,

both in life and in death,

to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. . .

“With body and soul”—it’s how I belong to Him. It’s also how He belongs to me.

This, today, is my favorite part of Easter—being raised into belonging. And belonging not to a God who stands at a distance, disembodied, but to one who embraces us still with skin on.

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Taking it deeper:

What might it mean for you to remember today that you belong not to a disembodied God but to one who still gives Himself to you through His body?