On Prisoners and Freedom–When will we be restored?

(I was reading over some “old” writing of mine and this one asked to be published…perhaps it is a chairos thing….)

Luke gives us a picture of Jesus’ early preaching/teaching ministry. In it Jesus appears to be clearly stating his purpose as he unfolds the words of the prophet. We find it in Luke 4:16-21:

16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed, 1
9to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[a]
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (NIV)

The phrase that grabbed my attention was in verse 18. Jesus tells them in verse 21 that today that scripture is fulfilled in their hearing, so it seems to me that he is saying that God sent him to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.

I remember when I met with my lawyer for the first time. He cautioned me in my zeal to be honest. He recounted that many believers who found themselves on the wrong side of the law, who thought that by telling the truth they would be set free from their consequences. I don’t find that in scripture. My understanding of many texts throughout the Bible portrays a loving God who doesn’t remove the consequences (just take a look at David who lost his son) but who promises to walk with us through the consequences even to restoration (see Micah 7: I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against him…The Lord will bring me out of my darkness into the light and I will see his righteousness.).

What then is this freedom of which Jesus spoke and the prophet wrote? Let me first begin by pointing out how important this message must have been both to the heart of God and the ministry of Jesus: this is his first recorded message. Position is a powerful indicator of the importance of a topic. This passage is heart and soul to everything that Jesus would be about.

With that in mind, I believe that the message was to the prisoners. Unfortunately, as with many of the things that Jesus taught, I believe that it was highly likely that Jesus was misunderstood. To a people who had known captivity and injustice this was a message of physical and national redemption. I don’t, however, believe that was the emphasis Jesus wanted to make. I believe that the freedom was not so much freedom from something as much as it was freedom within it. There would not be the removal of consequences, but there definitely was promised the grace to endure and actually be able to count it all joy.

I’m finding that one of the toughest places for a prisoner to find freedom is freedom from judgment. No matter how much time one has done in jail or prison or on paper, there will be those who feel it is never enough. And that leads me to the second audience for Jesus’ message: those who have never broken the law.

I remember the interview I had for my present position. One of the board members asked me when I had experienced restoration. In part, it depends on where I am. With my family, it feels complete. Among my closest friends it is complete. But it is in the church where I still struggle to feel forgiveness. It is in the church where I feel the oppressiveness of judgment. It is in the church where I feel the least free.

Now, please let me hasten to say that there are pockets of loving, accepting, and forgiving people in the church. They have ministered abundant grace to my aching heart and reached out in love and forgiveness. But this experience has not been across the board. And quite honestly, I don’t expect it to be. That’s why I believe that Jesus’ message is twofold. First, I can’t wait to find freedom from my circumstances. There will be people who feel totally justified in their daily role of judge and jury (and sometimes executioner). I have to accept them and accept the freedom in my circumstances that Jesus offers.

But I also believe that Jesus is challenging those who have stood in judgment and continued to hold crime against a person, never allowing for repentance or restoration. His challenge is that they should bring freedom to the prisoner as well. If a person expresses genuine remorse and repentance, restoration should follow.

Jesus’ words are life-giving to those who have been through poverty, prison, illness, and oppression, but the joy is short-lived if we aren’t lovingly restoring the wayward back into life and fellowship. Remember, it isn’t much further into His ministry that Jesus makes it quite clear that with the same measure of mercy and forgiveness we offer to others we ourselves will be judged.

(This is just a start…but I wanted to put the thoughts out there.)
More thoughts…

Let’s consider a few biblical examples.  Let’s start with Paul, or Saul as he was still known.  He is a murderer and an all out zealot to squelch this new band of believers.  God has other plans and there on the Damascus road Saul experiences God in a whole new way.  His life will never be the same.  The problem was: who does he tell and how?  No one is going to believe him.  How will he ever experience the full freedom of following Christ and answering his calling if he constantly is judged for who he was?  What if Barnabas had never stood up for him and in doing so set him free to serve?

Caught Again

Earlier in this week a friend and I were having a discussion that came from a post she made on Facebook.  She had posted a cute pic with a saying that basically was “grace isn’t just a short prayer before dinner.”  It caused quite a stir among her friends.  Oddly, our conversation wasn’t about the theological concept or amazing experience of grace but about praying before meals.  She was really clear that she felt it was just a public show, whereas I shared that for me it meant more.  It has always been about knowing I needed to be grateful for the blessing of another meal, for being thankful that I have never really had to go without or wonder when I would eat next.  It has also been about being committed to saying thanks no matter where, no matter when.  We waded through our mutual frustration with those who bow and pray loud to draw attention  (The whole discussion started because we were translating the passage from Matthew’s sermon on the mount of praying in secret.) and finally came to agreement that conviction and commitment, matters of the heart, were what really counted.

So it caused me no small amount of giggling at myself this morning at breakfast when I quickly nabbed  a forkful of fried potatoes off my husband’s plate before we said grace.  I had shoved the decadent bite into my mouth and was ohing and ahing while he just sat there in disbelief.  As I recovered from my reverie I was immediately aware that I acted like a greedy child, accepting the gift without saying thanks.  The potatoes went down hard.  My husband reached for my hand and I bowed my head and without hesitation thanked God for the amazingly wonderful potatoes, and the special blessing of having time to enjoy the company of my husband on an early Saturday morning.  I asked Him to bless the bounty and make our witness a blessing unto Him. Fortunately, my childish haste and afterthought of a prayer did not ruin the rest of the meal.

Someone once asked me to consider my life and what it would be liked if God removed all the things I failed to thank Him for.  I didn’t even care for the possibility.  Two things became the outcomes of this exercise in awareness.  First, I was overcome with how blessed I am.  If I truly sat to count my blessings nothing else would be accomplished in my day.  Second, I don’t take those blessings for granted.  I live gratefully.  Paul’s words to the Philippians resonate in my the depths of my heart: I know what it is like to have much and I know what it’s like to have everything taken away (thankfully only temporarily) and I have learned and continue to learn how to be content no matter what situation I find myself in (see Philippians 4:10-11ish).

One of the special people I have connected with online (and look forward to meeting in person someday) has been writing a daily gratitude.  I came three days late to the process, but have been enjoying verbalizing a gratitude each day.  (I’ve been posting these on my twitter feed.)  Today I am thankful for the ability to enjoy good food.  When I think over the amazing meals that I have had through my life, I am just overcome with how blessed I truly am.  I love yummy food.  And God has gifted people to bless me and my palate.  I grew up in household where meals were plain, simple, literally out of a box, and repeated often.  There were no baked goods, unless we were at a grandmas’ house.  It wasn’t until I got married that my cheftastic husband opened the culinary world to me and for nearly 33 years I have revelled in it!

I’m glad God knows I’m abundantly thankful, but I don’t ever want to take that for granted.  I’ll try not to be greedy, but I can’t promise that there won’t be anymore prayers that thank Him right in the middle of that first fantastic bite.  How about you?  How’s your grateful meter reading today?

Consuming Fire

Reflection October 10, 2011

Verse: Hebrews 12:29  Our God is a consuming fire.

The key note or theme to our pastor’s message yesterday morning was to “fan the flame.”  How interesting that today I again find myself considering fire.

I spent a lot of time this past weekend shopping.  My husband and I celebrate the anniversary of our first meeting on October 8.  He usually does the planning, but left that to me this year.  So, I planned our time around several of the things we enjoy doing: eating good food, shopping, enjoying a scenic drive, and singing.  We had a very special time together.

On Saturday our shopping took us to Amish country.  There were so many beautiful things, but reflecting back, I realize that almost all of it was decoration.  Very little was functional or necessary.  It was all about outward adornment or display.  Chotzkies and gewgaws, as my aunt would call them.  How much of that does one really need?

Not long ago I was sitting in my living room with my grandson and he asked me why I had so much stuff?  I’m sure his little mind was comparing my overdecorated home to his where his mother operates on the “less is better” philosophy.  I really didn’t have an answer for him.  What I do know is that I need very little.  It reminded me of the Value Clarification exercise I did as a teenager.  We were told that our house was burning down and we were only allowed to grab three items to save from the fire (not including people or pets)–what would we grab?

God is a consuming fire.  Are we grabbing at the things of life?  Are we trying to protect pieces or parts of our lives from Him, telling Him they are off limits?  What do we think we can’t live without?

As I meditated on God as a consuming fire, I began to see some things.  First, a consuming fire, by its very nature, takes everything.  A consuming fire is not controllable.  I pictured several fires where the fire fighters stated that they knew they couldn’t stop the burning, and felt helpless to even contain it.  I also pictured many of the recent fires across our country that were unquenchable.  Water and chemicals were poured on in massive amounts, but those tending the fire could only wait for it to burn itself out.  Finally, the result of the fire was purifying, leaving room for  a fresh start.

Is God a consuming fire in my life, in yours?  Are there things we are trying to withhold from Him, or does he consume us completely?  Do we allow Him free rein, or are we trying to control Him?  How foolish does that even sound: me control God?  Have we tried to put out the unquenchable consuming fire?  Have we tried to tell God that we’ve had enough?  Would we propose to tell God how to cleanse our lives?  Peter tried when Jesus wanted to wash his feet–it didn’t work then, it won’t work now.

The verse just prior to the one we’ve considered here tells us that God is giving us a Kingdom “that cannot be destroyed, therefore let us be thankful and please Him by worshipping him with fear and awe.”

My prayer is that I would surrender to the consuming fire and find freedom and joy in receiving that which cannot be destroyed from the one who really knows what I need.  Will pray that with me?

 

 

Bookends

I peeked in on my little lady around 10:30AM.  She’s been sleeping later and later.  But this time I found her sitting on the edge of her bed looking very confused.  I checked back in five minutes and she was still there.  Five minutes later I found that she had moved to her comfy chair beside her bed.

She still looked puzzled, so I asked her if she was okay.  The conversation was a bit difficult because she hadn’t put in her hearing aids yet. She quickly held out her hand, as if to explain her confusion and sort of mumbled, “I lost my tooth.”  There in her hand was a bridge of two teeth, screws protruding.  She took it back from me and fitted it back into her mouth.

I left the room and went to call one of the daughters.  I knew that they several of them would have gathered for dinner the night before and probably knew something about the “loose” tooth.  Sure enough, the bridge had come loose and someone was going to be calling the dentist.  She just didn’t know who.  She would have to get back to me.

It was now time for lunch.  I carefully selected a meal that wasn’t crunchy, in hopes of not irritating the now gaping area of her gum.  Part way through the meal, she fiddled with the bridge and it came out.  Still with no hearing aids in, I tried to explain that it had come loose and we were trying to get her into the dentist.  She put the bridge in her now empty med cup.

What happened next brought tears to my eyes.  As she ate, right after each bite, she would look down at the cup and puzzlement would come across her face as she tried to figure out why those teeth were in that little cup.  With every bite.  After two more tries at explaining, I simply watched as the paiful process continued through the remainder of the meal.

My heart just ached for her and her inability to recall.  How horrifyingly sad.  When we were done eating I scooped the cup up with the rest of her dishes, hoping that perhaps if she didn’t see the teeth, she wouldn’t be so confused.  I was wrong.  After we ate she returned to her room and her comfy chair and I found her there three, maybe four times, digging at the empty spot.  “I guess I lost a tooth,” she finally said to me one time when I checked on her.

I was still feeling the sadness when my daughter stopped by with my 5 year old grandson.  We don’t often see them on Mondays, since it’s her day off, but he needed to wrestle with Pepa.  Boys are like that sometimes.

In the middle of the tickle fest, Pepa stopped and asked Asher how his tooth was.  Asher, who just recently started kindergarten, has his very first loose tooth.  Just last week he bounded out of the school building when I picked him up, and his very first words were the excited declaration regarding this new milestone in his very young life.  He fiddled with it all evening.  The way he was working it, I thought I’d be hunting down dollars for the Tooth Fairy’s first arrival.  But he didn’t lose it then, and it was going anywhere tonight–even with all the rough housing with Pepa.

After they left and Pepa was in bed, I was alone with my thoughts of the day and the image of bookends came to mind.  On the one hand, I experience the exuberance of life through the energy and excitement of my grandson, and on the other, the sad reality of life quickly slipping away both in time and memory, while I live somewhere in the middle.

Sometimes it seems hard to live in the middle.  There is much press and encouragement to live in the moment, being very present in the here and now.  My struggle comes as the reality of being closer to the end than the beginning presses in on me.  I don’t have an official “bucket list,” but there are things I still think I’d like to do, while not forgetting the precious things I’ve experienced.  It all gets my head to spinning.

I know this for sure: I don’t want to lose touch with either!  My prayer today is: Teach me to count my days that I may gain a wise heart (paraphrase of Psalm 90:12, NRSV).

I looked this verse up in several translations, and the New Living Translation really helped me focus my thoughts: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.”  Life is short, and often seems to go by so quickly.  I need a wise heart as I face all the phases: beginning, middle, and end.

 

 

 

Howdy, Neighbor.

Monday.

Beginning of the week.

Opportunity to put yesterday’s message into practice out where I work and associate with others.

Do I even remember yesterday’s message?

Yes.  Asking the wrong question.

Who is my neighbor?

I have heard, and even said myself, that there are no stupid questions.  Yesterday the speaker at my corporate worship service reminded me of that as he brought a message about “The Good Samaritan.”  He pointed out that the teacher of the law who approached Jesus to check out whether he was on track with his doctrine and teaching asked a wrong question.  Put more clearly, he asked a question with a wrong motive.  While asking “who is my neighbor” might seem an innocent and obvious question, it is more likely that he was really wanting to know: who isn’t my neighbor?  Who don’t I have to care about?  Is there anyone that I can cross off my list?  Anyone I can ignore?  Anyone I am not responsible for?  Anyone I don’t have to love?  Anyone I don’t have to forgive?

And I believe Jesus would say, “No.”  I believe that Jesus would wish that we would look out over the multitudes and be moved with compassion, just as he was.

I just recently began a study of the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew records that when Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain with his disciples, he sat down, and he began to teach.  The teaching that follows begins with what we commonly refer to as The Beatitudes.  Reading through this list of unusual attributes and their promised blessing and grace, it occurred to me that quite possibly Jesus came up with each of these as his eyes scanned the crowd.  He saw a clearly destitute family, devoid of earthly treasures eagerly seeking to hear his teaching.  He saw the tears of a woman recently widowed and alone.  He saw the kindness of men as they helped a cripple move closer so he could hear and not be trampled on by the crowd.  He saw a man seeking to settle a dispute between two others.  He looked out at the earnest and eager ones who had left so much behind to follow him unreservedly.  And his heart ached because he knew the road they chose in following him would not be easy but would be fraught with chastisement, persecution, and for many death.

When we walk through Walmart do we see our neighbors or just people out to steal our bargain or place in the shortest and fastest checkout lane?  How quickly do we judge the driver who cuts us off without considering what tragedy he or she may be facing?  As we’re checking out at the grocery do we click our tongues when the woman in front of us with four stair-step children pulls out her WIC card or foodstamps?  When we see someone with a different skin tone, speaking a different language, wearing foreign garb or head coverings do we give them a wide berth and hold tighter to our purses and children?

Really, who isn’t my neighbor?

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,  (Philippians 2:1-5, NRSV)

Make Every Effort

This week I led a midweek Bible study at church.  My text was 2 Peter 1:3-11:

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The eleven of us gathered had a good time looking at the verses and discussing their meaning, and how to apply them to our lives.  Early in our conversation one of the men present made a reference to the older portion of the population in the congregation.  He referred them to the “experienced” members.  I liked it.

So there I was, surrounded by several of the “experienced” members of the congregation, talking to them about “making every effort.”  How crazy was that?  I’m not sure I would be able to add up all their combined years of following the Lord.  They were at a phase in their lives when perhaps they could rest in their walk.  And then it hit me: being there was part of their making every effort.  One woman had a walker and two others came in with canes, but there was no place they would rather be.  They are living proof that the pursuit of knowledge and a deeper relationship with God is life-long, and the process is well-worth it.

Being there with them really started me thinking about what I am doing.  I found myself taking stock of my effort level.  I have a lot of room for improvement.  Some of the holiness people I used to know made reference to how we are “saved, sanctified, and on our way to heaven,” but their lives appeared to be more “saved, sanctified, and satisfied.”  I pray that God never lets me get satisfied.  Like Paul, I want to press on (Phil. 3: 13).  How about you?

I’m Here!

(Now that kind of entrance should be sort of sing-songy, and since it’s me, probably accompianied by a kind of Dick VanDyke entrance-picture the Mary Tyler Moore show…hopefully you’re old enough to remember or get oldy reruns on one of your cable networks.)

I feel like a little kid with a brand new box of crayons: overwhelmed by all the possibilities.  What shall I draw?  What colors shall I use?  Will it be a good picture?  What happens if no one sees it?  Or worse, no one likes it?

I’m a simple writer.  I tend to see God in the ordinary, and point him out to others.  I’m not very deep.  I’ve been told I’m pretty naïve.  Oddly, I’m really okay with that.  I don’t pontificate.  I ponder.  Sometimes I wonder.  And true to my ADD, I think out loud–or in this case through my fingers.

Hopefully as we journey together we’ll into new areas of understanding, but also into the big expanse of awe!

 

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