Of Course They Know …

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‘By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends”’ –Luke 15:1-3.

“I, myself, have several gay friends,” he started.  Then hurriedly added, “Of course they know where I stand on that issue.”

My blood went cold and I felt shame wash all over me.  Because I had said those very same words.  In that same context and in other contexts over the years.  But when I heard him say it, I heard it for the first time through the hearts of the minority, the voiceless and the powerless.  Perhaps I felt more connection with people outside the accepted church population because I had read that week about Jesus dining with notorious sinners–tax collectors and other social outcasts’ (Luke 15:1, The Voice) and the scandal he raised with religious leaders.  In my shock, I got the impression that God asked me, ‘Why does it matter if they know where you stand on the issue of their lives?’

With time-elapse speed, I went through the life of Jesus and couldn’t come up with one time that he said to his disciples or anyone he ministered to, “I offer you grace, mercy and unconditional love of the Father.  BUT … Of course you know where I stand on your behavior.”  Not once.  So why do we?

I’m growing to believe that the answer lies in the word grace.  We don’t really know what to do with that concept.  It offends our sense of justice and order.  If we’re honest, we probably don’t believe that God got it right.  We think we need to speak truth (as long as we throw in an I’m-only-saying-this-because-I-love-you line) about what we think of someone’s life so that people know that grace, mercy and unconditional love have rules.  I’ve heard people say things like, “We can’t let this grace thing get out of hand, or people will take advantage.”  Probably true.  But should that be our primary focus?

What if we focussed primarily on the hearts of the people Jesus spent time with–the social outcasts and those labelled ‘sinner’?  Are we willing to allow others to tarnish our reputations?  Are we willing to become fodder for church gossip because we associate with people on the fringe?  Are we willing to admit that maybe we’ve got it wrong, and some things that we label as ‘sinful’ are not viewed that way by God?  Are we willing to invest more of ourselves in the stories of others, joining their life journey and allowing them to join ours–without offering our opinion of their lives unless asked?

Paul addresses unfettered grace in the book of Romans.  He does not say that grace needs tempering by the Law.  However, he does say in chapter 6, ‘Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought!’  Oh, that churches could have the problem of people asking that question about exploiting grace!  If only we preached a gospel that forces that question!  Perhaps if we focussed on the life Christ offers us and let others unite with us in that life, we would find that our nit-picking on ‘sin’ (which no one asked our thoughts on in their lives) would disappear like mist in the sun.  Perhaps then we could cover the shame that separates so many from believing the grace of Christ is real.  Perhaps in covering others’ shame, we would grow in humility and allow them to cover our shame.

In the shame I felt when my friend’s words haunted my memory of words I had spoken, I remembered grace and forgiveness.  I thanked God that I am no longer that girl who uttered those words in years past.  I thanked Him for forgiving me and continuing to challenge me.

Thank you, Father, for loving us unconditionally.  Thank you, Spirit, for continuing to speak wisdom into my life.  Thank you, Jesus, for exemplifying grace.

Thank you so much, God, for letting ‘this grace thing get out of control.’

Have you begun to hear words and phrases differently than when you were younger?  What are some of the lessons you’re learning about grace in your life?

 

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Naked and Unashamed

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“The two of them, the Man and his Wife, were naked, but they felt no shame” –Genesis 2:25.

I know many people who look at Genesis 1-2 as proof that God only sanctions heterosexual relationships.  Not going to lie.  I used to be one of them many, many years ago.  Until I began looking through another interpretive lens when I was in college because the literal view of Adam and Eve created too many intuitive problems of logic.  So, I tweaked my beliefs to include grace for gay relationships; but I still hadn’t made the leap (what I considered, across a scandalous chasm) to believe that gay relationships just may be God’s best for some.  Until I began to live life more vulnerably and more openly about my own inability to measure up to church standards.  Once you realize the energy it takes to keep up the facade of presenting your life as ‘holy’ to other church goers as well as the ‘unsaved,’ you live much more humbly, graciously and less reactionary.  Other people’s ‘sin’ no longer concerns you–because you know the only people who ‘fit in’ with the church standards are the ones who create enough emotional/spiritual  ‘clothing’ to hide their shame–and those garments will not last forever….  It takes a lot of time and energy to patch up the holes in those garments, so we tend to divert attention to other people’s worn out garments while we scurry to make ours look less unseemly again.

Except we don’t hide well.  In Genesis 3-4, the man and his wife sew fig leaves together trying to hide their shame.  Not an opaque, very protective or lasting covering.  God creates clothing made from animal hide for them–lasting, protecting and fully covering their shame.  Mankind’s first protective covering comes from another creature’s sacrifice.  See, it takes sacrifice to free someone from shame.

What makes these thoughts  important?  Why haven’t I mentioned eating fruit, talking serpents or banishment from a perfect garden?  Because I believe we have missed the point of the story.  Because we define ‘sin’ as actions or behaviors.  According to the Genesis creation chapters, God describes a life without ‘sin’ as one lived in His presence, without covering up or shame.  Man tells God that the reason he hid and covered himself is that he was ‘afraid because I was naked.’  Not because his actions were wrong–but because he realized how exposed he had become.  In the life of Jesus, He seems to bring people who have lived in shame by society’s standards back into a place of security and confidence.  Their shamefulness no longer has power over how they see themselves or how they believe God sees them.

People living with shame do not believe God can love them unconditionally; therefore, they live separated from God.  Jesus’ sacrifice offers us freedom from that shame and full access to God’s presence and unconditional love.  Not based on our actions.  Not based on how well we behave.  Not based on if we live up to the rules.  Just unadulterated, without ulterior motive, forgiveness and union with God.  That’s GRACE!

I no longer view Genesis 1-4 as God’s verdict about relationships and heterosexual marriage.  I view those chapters as God opening the conversation with mankind that we have all fallen; but He gave us hope that He planned all along a strategy that would remove the chains of shame and allow us to live with Him in freedom.

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death” –Romans 8:1-2.

May we all learn to live in the freedom from shame that God offers us by the Holy Spirit’s revelation to us of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  HALLELUJAH!!

How have you allowed shame to dictate what others see of your life?  Do you let shame keep you from experiencing God’s presence?  Have you hidden yourself to fit in and feel accepted?  Are you weary of living under the constraints of shame?

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Old Photographs and a Bottle of Wine

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Jud and I celebrated our 26th anniversary this past week.  We spent the weekend at a cabin reminiscing the last 26 years and dreaming of anniversaries to come.  Jud had researched what the ‘theme’ for the 26th anniversary is and surprised me with boxes of photographs–the modern theme for this anniversary.  We spent a couple of evenings lazing by the fire with a glass of wine and laughing over the memories we rediscovered.  At times, we laughed because we had no idea where the pictures were taken or who the people were in the pictures.  Amazing how after 26 years events important enough to capture in photographs lose their significance.

Of course some pictures thrilled us because we saw many, many friends and relatives we haven’t seen in years.  My grandmother, Gomama, looked beautiful and I teared up a bit missing her.  The friends from Romania we met in Germany when they were refugees seeking asylum that they finally found in Canada.  Our College and Career group from the church where Jud and I met.  Me learning to hang glide.

And we saw our children.  Vacations, birthday parties and just every day outings.  The little girl face and little boy faces that I still see when I steal glances at them all grown up, but still my babies in my heart.

But then, we saw our younger selves.  And we were very young!  A couple of times I didn’t recognize myself with the big hair, more make-up than I wear now and the styles of the various decades.  I began to wonder what that woman would say to me now.  She had so much life, hope and love in her face that smiles back at me.  I miss her.  But I think she remains with me, I just have lost touch with her as I have with many of those friends in the pictures.  As I began to listen for her and reconnect our relationship, I heard her say:

  1. Don’t lose hope.  Life may throw many curve balls and you may have some game-ending injuries, but don’t stop engaging in living.  What seems like a loss and incredible pain may actually redirect you on an adventure you desperately need.
  2. God really is with you … even when your heart holds too much pain to feel His presence.  You will heal and experience His glorious love again.
  3. Remember to laugh.  A lot!
  4. It’s only hair.  Do with it what makes you happy in the moment.  It’ll grow again.  It’s only clothes.  Wear what makes you happy in the moment.  Take lots of photos so that you have fodder for #2….
  5. Remember to dream.  Oh, many of them won’t transpire in the form you originally think; but dreaming gives you something to shoot for.  In keeping the dreams open, you stay young and hopeful of the future.
  6. Keep your relationships.  Friends and family are who give you strength when life knocks the breath out of you.
  7. Be happy you grew up.  You have wisdom and maturity that keep you steady and calm when those curve balls fly at you.  You don’t have to lose innocence, but it’s good that you lost naivete.

Oh, yeah.  My younger self would also say, “Look at Jud.  He’s so handsome!  God must love you a bunch to put him in your life!”

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, Jud!  Thank you for loving all of me through the years.  You make me my best self!

Look at some of your old pictures.  Who do you see in them?  What would your younger self say to you?

 

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New Year’s Resolutions

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Last week, I reflected on 2013.  This week, 2014 lies before me.  I do love the start of a new year.  It feels so fresh and hopeful and hasn’t encountered the messiness that’s sure to ensue throughout it.

Since I was a teenager, I have adopted Bible verses as my resolutions.  Oh, I still always set a goal of exercising more, eating better and losing weight.  But, I realized quite young just how much I needed help in living out the life Jesus calls us to experience.  Last year’s theme was ‘Afraid but Brave.’  This year, ‘Risk’ and Unashamed’ are the words on my heart.  I think of Genesis 2 when we are told that the two in the Garden were ‘naked and unashamed.’  I want to live life that way–emotionally, mentally, spiritually vulnerable and not shamed by the vulnerability.

I love hearing children’s ideas about resolutions.  One article I read interviewed several 5 year olds and asked them what they wanted for 2014.  ‘Play the piano,’ ‘Hug my mommy,’ and ‘Watch a video’ were some of the responses.  Reading into the wisdom of children, I’ve come up with my list:

  • Learn at least one new thing.  A friend of mine and I are going to learn yoga this year.  We’ve found a class that will work with our schedules and as soon as her face heals from some surgery she had to have, we will begin.
  • Risk in relationships more.  Expressing how much people mean to me is not easy.  I did not grow up in an emotionally expressive family–we show love by teasing, giving and visiting.  Jud has taught me over the years how important telling friends and family what they mean in our lives is to relationships.  One person said that Jud is ’emotionally brave.’  I want to become more like that.
  • Enjoy life and laugh often.  Some who know me will find this idea surprising.  I tend to be ‘the funny friend.’  I’ve had friends call just because they needed a laugh.  I’ve had friends tell me that they want me at  home business parties because I’ll entertain the invitees.  I’ve had pastors tell Jud that he’s a ‘man of grace and of God’; and then they tell me, ‘Maggie, you’ve got that sense of humor.’  I joke that one of my superpowers is that I can make almost anyone laugh at almost anything at almost any time.  However, deep down in my truest self, I tend to take life much too seriously and have lost much of the joy I used to experience in living.  I’m hoping this year that Jud and I can get back to dancing.  I found an affordable weekly ballroom group lesson and we plan on going sometime during the year.
  • Read the 4 Gospels.  A friend of mine suggested reading them 4 times throughout the year.  Not sure I’ll do that; but I do want to focus more on what Jesus focussed on and filter more of the Bible through his life.  I’m mulling over a few blog posts that will process through how Jesus defined ‘sin’ and what ‘sin’ really is.
  • Just read more.  During my kiddos’ school years (before any of them could drive), I read voraciously.  I would get into the carpool line about 30 minutes early so that I could read.  I read War and Peace that way, as well as many Stephen Booth, Sharyn McCrumb and Tony Hillerman books (some of my favorite mystery authors).  Cross country meets, track meets and football practices and games gave me ample ‘down time’ to relax in my van with a book.  I’ve read quite a bit of non-fiction and teaching-type books; but, I’ve lost the joy of getting lost in stories.

So there you have my resolutions.  Exercise, eating healthier and going greener are also a part of what I want to see in 2014.  Last year, I lost about 30 pounds (and then gained 10 back).  Managing my thyroid does not equate to quick fixes of weight loss, but I continue to try.  In the words of Bill Philipps in Body for Life, my goal in all I do is ‘progress, not perfection.’

May we all progress in 2014 so that at the end of this year, we can say that we are better people and have helped make a better world–at least our corner of it.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions?  How will you make them happen?  What keeps you motivated?

 

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