Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Following Jesus - The Good Samaritan

There is one scene in the first "Lord of the Rings" movie, "Fellowship of the Ring", that always makes me cry. The Hobbits, Sam and Frodo are in the glorious Elven city of Rivendell. A special counsel is going on to decide the fate of the One Ring. The powerful, the wealthy, the wise sit together and discuss what must be done, and it is decided that the ring must be taken to Mordor, the land of the evil One, Sauron. It must be taken deep into fiery Mount Doom, where it was forged, and it must be thrown into the molten lava to be forever destroyed. It is a perilous, almost impossible endeavor. Warriors, leaders of lands, the wise, the great, all begin to debate who will take the ring to Mordor. Who is strong enough? Who can be trusted with the ring, which threatens to enslave any ambitious soul that touches it? Who is big enough for this task?

Frodo, not much more than 3 feet tall, mop headed, young, peace-loving Frodo stands and says, "I will take it." At this point, I am usually weeping. Frodo is so small, no one hears him at first. He says it again, louder. They hear him and quiet. They turn to look at him. He says it again. "I will take the ring to Mordor." Then he pauses, "Although, I do not know the way." Battle worn faces soften. Wise, elder faces light up with a new perspective. Powerful faces bow to a different kind of strength. Understanding flutters into the room and rests on them all. They had been asking the wrong questions. Seeking the wrong answers. The issue wasn't who was strong enough to knock down the front gates of Mordor, but who was unimportant enough to slip through the back door. Not, who would be strong enough to resist the temptation for absolute power promised by the ring, but who was humble enough not to want absolute power in the first place. Not who was big enough, but who was small enough. The wrong questions.

I don't know what questions the 72 disciples of Jesus asked when He was preparing to send them out into the world to minister in His name. From Jesus' instructions, we see that what they needed to know was simple logistics. What to bring, what not to bring, what to do and say under different circumstances, etc. They needed to know where to go, who to go to, and what Jesus wanted said to those they saw.

Then there is this. "On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?

What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" " (Luke 10:25 - 29)

You know something I have noticed? Often when Christians read Scriptures that address opposite mindsets, like the humble sinner who prays quiets and the braggart who thanks God he is not like the sinner, or the Pharisees and the lost "undesirables" that Jesus hung out with, or the proud, rich people and the poor widow giving her last penny, we tend to identify ourselves with the poor, weak, humble, lost ones. Could it be that we do this because they are the ones in the incidents that Jesus favors? And who among us doesn't want to be favored by Jesus? And yet...oh there's always an "And yet...", it is possible that at least some of the time, we are in the other boat.

Christians, especially in our wealthy countries of North America, have much more in common with the powerful than the powerless. We're not the poor lost sinners. I am sorry to say that the majority of us are the people that prostitutes and "tax collectors" (drug pushers?) feel judged by and uncomfortable with(and before we blame our obvious purity for this discomfort, remember that they did not feel this way with Jesus, the Holy One). We are the ones who struggle with pride, who prickle when we don't get our own way, who offend easily and like our toys new and shiny. Have you ever heard anyone say, when looking at a sinner, "But for the grace of God go I" and wonder just a bit if the spirit of the thought doesn't match the "Thank God I am not like HIM." attitude of the Pharisee of Luke 18:11? Have you ever said it yourself and wondered the same thing about your own heart? I have.

Yes, I would like to be the poor, simple, broken one that Jesus gathers into His arms as He holds back an army of self-righteous, self-important, proud, affluent Pharisees. But I'm not. I am either going to be a disciple of Jesus, sheltering the broken from the proud, or I am going to be one of the proud, being opposed by God.(James 4:6)

So when I ask myself which questions I am asking, I do not want to assume that I am asking the right ones. I pray for honesty, clarity, truth. Who cares who I am in my own eyes. I need to know who I am in God's eyes. What does Jesus see when He looks at me? When He looks at us? What questions are we asking?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Following Jesus - the Good Samaritan

The parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10 is powerful and deeply meaningful on it's own. Bracketed by the Scripture before and after it, it staggers the imagination. Chapter 10 begins with Jesus sending 72 disciples out ahead of Him, to prepare the people for His coming to them. He gives His disciples instructions on what to bring, how to react to those who would not want to see them as well as to those who welcome them. There is some really rich stuff in these verses. The disciples come back on a ministerial high. They had discovered that serving in the name of Jesus Christ gave them a supernatural power that they never, in their simple, quiet lives, imagined could be theirs. They were able to heal, to cast out demons, to speak w/authority and strength. I can just see Jesus, laughing with them, enjoying their excitement. He warns them gently, though, not to rejoice in the fact that demons listened to them, but to rejoice in that they belong to Him, and that their names are written in Heaven.

Then He rejoices in them, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." He turns to His disciples, and encourages them, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."

Little children. Uneducated, unaccomplished, simple. Do you think they ever had conflict in their lives? Of course they did. Later on, when they heard Jesus talking about loving their neighbors as themselves, is it possible that they wanted to frown and question, "What, even this guy? The one I can't stand? The one who lied to me/robbed me/hurt me? Really?" Of course it is. They were real people with real lives, real families, real neighbors, real troubles.

Yet when Jesus sent them out on the road trip of their lives, they went. And when they returned, they returned amazed. Full of joy. Full of stories about what happened, what they were able to do, who they were able to be. I can imagine them running to Him as they came into town, in pairs, chattering between themselves and once they approached Him, pulling Him into the chatter. I can see Him listening, asking questions, laughing as they trip over their tongues and each other in their eagerness to tell Him what they had experienced. Maybe He even touches them gently, on the arm, a hand on a shoulder, as He reminds them where their true joy comes from. "Remember," He smiles into their faces, "Your true joy comes in your citizenship in Heaven."

There's something about the entire scenario that calls out, relationship. Discipleship. Friendship. Love.

There is something about the entire scenario that stands in stark contrast to Jesus' upcoming interaction with the expert in the Law.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Following Jesus - The Good Samaritan

The parable of the good Samaritan is not really just about health care. It is one of those parables, the teachings of Jesus, that many people touch very lightly. Jesus said a lot of things that people touch very lightly. If you push too hard, dig too deep into the heart intent behind a lot of things that Jesus said, you could get hurt. Well, maybe not you, but your schedule, your wallet, your perception of yourself and others. Touching Jesus' words lightly to avoid hitting the root of what He was saying is not an easy feat, simply because Jesus was so clear in many of His statements. We sometimes have to resort to full-blown denial to be able to nurture some of the attitudes that we do while still claiming to love and follow the Jesus who told parables like this one.

The issue is not how well we do what Jesus asks of us. It is whether we believe we need to do it at all. When disciples of Jesus read the parable of the good Samaritan, they understand that Jesus is calling for radical giving, not just to friends and family, but to enemies, as the wounded Jewish man would have been to his Samaritan helper. Disciples understand this, believe it, and even want to live this out. The living it out is hard, though. Disciples soon find this out. But they continue to believe that Jesus was serious about it, and so even when it hurts, they pray for strength and guidance and keep following Jesus in this matter, even if the walk is a stumbling one.

Rule followers debate what Jesus meant by this parable. They talk about what the Jewish/Samaritan equivalent is in our day, so as to pinpoint who exactly we have to be a neighbor to. If they talk about it long enough, they may find that it is impractical in this day and age to act as the Samaritan did, that there are safety issues to consider, that other verses (usually Old Test. ones) give a clearer indication of what Jesus meant.

Rule followers examine, evaluate and autopsy Jesus' words until they are comfortable with them. Disciples take Jesus' words at face value and realize they may never be comfortable again. And still they follow.

If you have been keeping up with this series on following I admire your perseverance. I read a quote once that said an appropriate fast for preachers is a fast of words. I think it also applies to writers. I know it applies to me. I am going to make an effort to write shorter posts, to be more concise and to try to make these posts easier to read. I really have no plan as far as content goes. I think, I pray, I read, I observe, and God seems to be pulling it together for me. I am grateful to Him. I'm still thinking and praying about the parable of the Good Samaritan, as it pertains to the issue of health care, yes, but more importantly, how it illustrates for us what is required from a disciple of Jesus Christ. At the same time, we will look at what rule-following looks like in the light of verses like these.

I want to thank those who are reading these entries, and to tell you that I am honored and blessed by your presence here on this page. I write for an audience of One, my God, the only One that I seek to please. It's expected that He's paying attention - He's my God, He has to love me and read my writing. Anyone else who reads what I write is a gift. I am grateful for you. Thank you.

So, if you want to read the parable of the Good Samaritan, it's in Luke 10:25 - 37. It's an important parable. Any time our rabbi says "Go and do likewise", it's a wise thing to know what exactly He is telling us to go do!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday - Home sick, taking care of Pip

I thought I would take a breather from Following Jesus...just the blog posts, not the actual practice. I'm staying home from church this morning because yesterday I had a pretty intense angina attack. It was the first time in a a few years that I thought I might need to go to the ER. I think the angina attack may have been triggered by the IC (interstitial cystitis)flare I've been in lately. I've been in a lot of pain, and that can cause stress. The nitro eventually worked, but I thought it would be wise to take it easy for a few days.

Pippin has an infected bottom lip. Which in bunnies, apparently, means infected eyes and nose as well. He has a problem with his teeth, in that they grow much too quickly and the normal means of dealing with them, gnawing on things, isn't effective. We cut his teeth, and after the first cutting his top teeth never grew back (huh?) but his bottom ones did. They must be weak or something, because occasionally they break off. This happened recently, which I am always glad for because even though Pip doesn't seem to mind having them cut, it gives me the willies. This time, though, as they were growing back, he must have hit his bottom lip on his teeth because he has a sore that has gotten infected. Can't imagine how he hit it - the little fool likes to play with the dog and gets run over on a regular basis. We had a friend's dog, Teddy, stay with us for a few days. Teddy's a sweet little mild-mannered Pomeranian. I heard a commotion outside and went out in time to see Gracie yelling at Teddy, who had Pip by a hind leg and was flipping him head over puffball tail across the lawn! Apparently, that's all it takes to make Pip fall in love, because he wouldn't leave Teddy alone for a second after that!

Pippin doesn't seem to be suffering much. He's as adventurous and annoying as ever. But his little lip is all swollen and sticking out. And his front paws tremble when I touch it. Poor little mister. So several times a day, I pick him up, flip him over on his back, hold him tightly in my arms, put antibiotic drops in his eyes and up his nose, clean his sore lip, inside and out, with Listerine, and put antibiotic gel on it with a Q-tip. He quivers and trembles and when I flip him back on his tummy in my arms he buries his face in the crook of my arm and does this little snuffly, whimpering noise. I kiss him and put him on the floor, he thumps his hind legs in a show of defiance, and hops off to look for Mini. Because when a fella isn't feeling well, there is nothing like his beloved to make him feel better.

Pippin is pretty smart for a little guy. I think I'll take a cue from him today, and spend some time with my Beloved Lord. Works for Pip...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Following Jesus - Health Care

"Following Jesus and following a list of rules is not the same thing. At times they may look the same. But they aren't."

I have a confession to make. I am an idiot when it comes to politics. Any politics. Church politics, school politics, municipal, provincial/state or national politics. I try, I really do. The whole thing just overwhelms me. I have a hard time seeing the big picture, and to think of making decisions for such a large group of people on such a large scale makes me want to run the other way. I see the world one person at a time. I'm not saying that this is right or wrong. It's the way I am, and I thank God for people who God has gifted to lead others politically. They amaze me, as do most people who's gifts and abilities are so different from mine. That being said, I am aware of the new health care legislation in the States, and have no idea if it is the right thing or not. I am not from the U.S., and to me the problem seems so huge and the information so copious, I don't know that I would have anything helpful to say even if I did have a vote that could make a difference.

I mentioned that I see the world one person at a time. I have been listening to a lot of the talk surrounding the issue of health care. Some of it is pretty intense. People have strong feelings, on either side of the issue. I have been especially interesting in the reaction of Christians. I was thinking of taking a break from the Following Jesus series to write about what I have been hearing from Christians on the subject of finding a way to make sure everyone is adequately taken care of, health-wise, in the U.S. I was lying in bed this morning praying about it, and I realized that what I have been hearing illustrates the point that I wanted to make anyway, about the difference between following rules in order to appear as if one is following Jesus with one's whole heart as opposed to actually following Him.

Yesterday I read a statement on a website run by a Christian ministry that I respect and have benefited from. The leader of this ministry wrote in opposition to the new legislation. I'm not going to go into the details, because believe it or not, the details don't matter, except when they are useful to highlight motives and heart attitudes. People were invited to comment on the ministry leader's letter. Remember, these are all proclaiming Christians.

In reference to someone's reminder of Jesus' words in Matt 25:31 - 46, where he says that those who do not care for the hungry, homeless, needy, prisoners, or sick will have not cared for Him, and therefore He will not know them at the judgment: "Keep reading that is about taking care of the BRETHERN... not the world."

In reference to the Canadian health care system: "@ ****, then leave if you cannot handle the TRUTH.......I am from Canada and the health care there sucks. Why to you think many come to the US for health care." Later, from the same guy, "The truth is Jesus. and ****, Canada's healthcare SUCKS" I posted and let people know that I am a chronically ill Canadian, and out of over 80 posts, not one person asked me MY opinion about Canadian health care. Given the opportunity to expand their knowledge base by hearing the thoughts of another Canadian who obviously frequently uses Canadian health care, they refused.

In reference to those who do not have health insurance: "Healthcare is not a right. many do not by it because they do not what it."

"Entitlements cripple us - giving "free" healthcare to all will just encourage people to continue overspending someone else's money. "

"It is pure selfishness and greed for people to expect and demand that others pay for their healthcare(or anything for that matter)."

Add to this lots of biblical references on who we have to help and who we don't, whether our mandate to serve applies to believers and/or non-believers, the deserving and/or the non-deserving, etc. There were also much discussion on the scriptural view of the gov't's role in things like this. Lots of intelligent, learned, practical discussion. Lots of opinions on how much we, as Christians, have to help the poor and hurting. And a few lone voices proclaiming the absolute joy of serving those that Jesus was and is passionate about. It made me want to pull my hair out.

Hence the difference between following the Law, and following Jesus. Hence the reason why the Law could not save, but Jesus can. Hence the reason why the Law, if solely depended on, brings death and destruction while following Jesus brings life abundantly. Put the issues, the facts, the politics aside and listen to a group of Christians talking about people in their communities who suffer daily from lack of adequate health care. Following the Law means we scour the scriptures to find the boundaries of what is required of us. What is the least that I have to do in order to please God? Yes, I have to help the poor...oh, but look this verse could be interpreted as meaning I only have to help Christian poor people. Okay, I can handle that. I like most Christians...even the poor ones. How much do I have to do to be okay?

Following Jesus means walking the road He walked for the reason He walked it. And He walked it for love. Love says, not how much do I have to help, but how much do I get to help. Love is compelled to help. Love doesn't count the cost, or look for loopholes. When the Holy Spirit of God lives in us, we are passionate for the things He is passionate about, and He is passionate about people. All people. That doesn't mean that we always help. There are times when I am unable to help, or when I feel prompted by the Holy Spirit to say no. But I want to help. The more of me that I give over to the Holy Spirit of God, the harder it is for me to say no, not because I am a pushover, but because I am wounded by the pain of others.

Last week, a dear struggling friend of mine came to ask us for help. She was dealing with problems caused by her own choices, and she was still adamant about sticking to the choices that she was making. The consequences, though, were rough. My husband and I tried to find a way to help her, but were unsuccessful. Circumstances prevented us, and later my husband told me he realized that if we had been able to help, we might have gotten in the way of her growth in obedience to the Lord. But we were (and still are) both heartbroken for her. Part of the consequences she would have to deal with included not having a clean, warm place to sleep at night. Before she left, I took her in my arms and told her that we would keep the porch light on, blankets and a pillow on the couch, the front door unlocked, and it would be our joy to see her on our couch any time she needed it. Every night as Marc & I prepare for bed, he flips on the porch light and I fold the blankets and place them neatly with the pillow on the couch. Every morning when I come down, I look for her. She has not come. Marc and I share the pain of this. Of course it is her choice. She even deserves to be in the cold and dark alone. But every night Marc and I lie in our warm beds and think of our precious friend alone in the cold dark and ache for her. We will do this until we know that she is warm and safe. We cannot take credit for this. It is the Holy Spirit of God in our hearts who is loving her in us. We simply agreed to give ourselves over to His love.

Yesterday I walked into a theological debate about ministering to the poor and sick, presented myself as a poor, sick person who knew other poor, sick people who needed help, and was for the most part over-looked. Because the Law pays attention to the rules, the behavior, the limits, while the Spirit of God sees only people. I tried to share the sheer joy of giving out of our poverty, of pouring God's love extravagantly into the lives of others. It was as if I was speaking a different language. If a Jesus follower has a problem with the gov't taking over the responsibilities of health care for the people, it is only because he or she wants to take care of the needy themselves!

I really want to write more about this tomorrow. I want to study Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan and address it here. God has a glorious plan for us, if we will follow HIM!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Following Jesus

"And God spoke all these words: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me..." Exodus 20:1 - 3

And so began Moses' delivery of the ten commandments to the people of Israel. If God's people had any desire at all to please God, He wanted them to know how to do it. He is holy. People are not. Just as bringing darkness into light destroys the darkness, so sin that enters the presence of the Most Holy God is destroyed by His holiness. Likewise the sin-carrier. So if people just knew what they needed to do, if they just had a list of rules given to them by a God who cares from them, delivered by a great leader equipped and empowered by God to help them, couldn't they just follow the law that was given and please God? Apparently not. Not then, and not now. Even if it was obvious that the law was for their own good, and would provide social security, familial comfort and peace, and personal health and happiness, people would still struggle to obey.

I have two young girls that spend one week-end a month with me, and sometimes they get into skirmishes that involved a bit of pushing and shoving. If one of them has been clobbered by her sister, I often take the offending sister aside and offer to change the rules. Shall we do away with the no hitting rule? That means sister is allowed to hit you as much as you can her. We need to make it fair. Is that a good idea? Not once have they ever agreed to changing the rules. Even young children are able to understand that they benefit from the rules that adults set into place, even as they struggle to obey.

The struggle to obey is rooted in our wills. We want what we want when we want it, and that wanting can compel us to do things that God and others don't want us to do, even if the consequences to us are unwanted by us as well. We have ingenious tools, such as blaming others, making excuses, presenting ourselves as victims (cause victims can get away w/a lot more, can't they), deception, and denial to make it easier for us to see ourselves as good people while we continue to do things that are not good, for us or for others. Every time I yell at my daughter or speak sharply to her, I could justify it by pointing to her offending behavior. But I'd still be wrong. I know that not only am I hurting my child, but yelling will simply not be effective in helping her change her attitude or behavior. Wrong is wrong.

So we struggle to obey. As the Israelites did. The remaining writings of the Old Testament document Israel's efforts to obey God. And God's broken heart over their failure. It's a personal thing to God, when His people disobey Him. It's painful for Him to watch His beloved turn their backs and Him and walk their own way, just as it is painful for Him to watch them suffer the consequences. Sin is a very big deal to God. It destroys us, if not now, then in eternity. It separates us from God, and that puts us into great danger. Why do parents react so strongly to a child who wanders away in a crowded mall? The wandering may not be a big thing, but the danger is. Sin is "running into the middle of a busy highway/wandering into the arms of a molester in the mall" kind of danger, and God reacts appropriately.

The Israelites loved God. They wanted to please Him. They wanted to please Him so much, they took the Law that He gave them and elaborated on it, just to be sure. Honor your mother and Father (Ex. 20:12). What exactly does that mean? How far does it go? Is rolling your eyes when Mom says something foolish(this mom does it all the time!) dishonoring? Is wanting to, dishonoring? What about disagreeing with Dad's political views? Forgetting to do all of the tasks required, is that dishonoring? And how much money should be spent on a Mother's day gift for it to be seen as honoring? If your salvation and relationship with God depends on getting this right, figuring it all out can get pretty overwhelming. And important. God gave them as much info and guidelines as possible to help them follow the Law. Entire books of the Old Testament are set aside to explain the Law and it's practices. They just couldn't do it. And before we get all hoity toity about the Israelites' failure, just remember, we can't do it either.

So God provided a way by which they could be forgiven to some extent. He set up a system of sacrifice rituals and offerings to help them pay their sin debts(see the book of Exodus for more). The rituals were incomplete in that they had to be repeated and couldn't actually erase the sin debt, but God was setting the stage for His ultimate sacrifice. I realize I am doing no justice to the wonderful and elaborate plan of God and His people by skipping through this. My hope is to just touch briefly on it in an effort to help us understand that the Law had a purpose, in it's intricate details and at it's heart. God made provision, temporarily, for the fact that people would never be able to keep the Law. The fact that people couldn't keep it was never a surprise to God. He provided for that. The Law set the boundaries and made clear to us what was important to God and good for us and others. What it didn't do was provide a way for us to follow it. It revealed to us our true natures as people who want our own way. How would we know otherwise, if God did not say, "This is my way, walk in it", resulting in our promptly heading in the other direction?

Then came Christmas. The ultimate solution, planned from the beginning of the age. A new relationship with God, made possible by Jesus' birth, perfect life on earth, sacrifice on the cross and resurrection. He was the sin offering that would open the door for all people, not just the Israelites, to have full access to the Presence of God, because Jesus' death would pay for their sin fully. Once Jesus paid the debt, it was ripped up and thrown away. The blood of the sacrificial lambs on the altar covered the sins of the people. But the Son of God's sacrifice blew them out of the water. We could be clean, now. There were no receipts. No records. When Jesus pays a debt, it is payed in full. There was now nothing to keep us from God.

In John 14:15 - 31, Jesus talks to His disciples about what will happen after His death and resurrection. He promises them that though they will no longer have Him in bodily form with them after He goes away, He would ask the Father and the Father would send someone else, a Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to them. He promises that the Holy Spirit of God will not only live with them, but that He will be in them. Once the people of God were completely cleansed from their sin debt, by some divine and beautiful mystery, the Spirit of God would actually come and live in them. He would be a teacher, a comforter, a strengthener, and would make His will known to people directly. Jesus was promising heart-to-heart contact with the Living God! Being good would not just be connected to a Law outside of ourselves. We would have ultimate Goodness living inside of us!!! He would give us power to obey, if we would let Him be in control. Not only did we have a way to deal with past sins completely, we were being given a way to live free from sin today! And tomorrow! All we had to do was trust Jesus' sacrifice and believe that we were indeed clean, and welcome the Holy Spirit into our hearts, trusting Him with our futures. Following Jesus took on a whole new meaning. Galatians 5:1 says "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free..." Freedom!!! Before, sin claimed us, by it's earthly and eternal consequences as well as by it's control over us. We were powerless. Now, if I have given myself to Jesus, He claims me. The Holy Spirit lives in me. I have the power through Him to please God by obeying Him.

For me, it comes down to two things. Do I trust God, and do I want to obey Him? For God, it's all the same question. Do I love Him? What gets in the way of loving God? Pride. Fear. Rebellion. Idolatry (loving something or someone else more than God). Greed. Selfishness. We are complex creatures. Proverbs 20:5 says that the purposes of a man's heart are deep waters. It's almost as if we go from, "I want to obey You, I want to follow You, but I can't!" to "Through Your Spirit, I can obey You, I can follow You...but I don't want to." Not completely. Not with everything I have. That commandment that Jesus said was the most important one is in Mark 12:30, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all you mind and with all your strength." This calls for a major commitment, a major heart change. Ezekiel 36:26 prophesies that God will "give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you". God even takes care of that! But we have to let go of the old. And when we don't want to, but still want to walk with God, we do the one thing that makes following God such a imitable chore. We head back to the Old Testament, figuratively at least, and create a new set or rules and laws and try to stick to them. Following Jesus and following a list of rules is not the same thing. At times they may look the same. But they aren't.

More on this tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Following Jesus

One thing that I didn't get right away in my relationship with Jesus was that I was someone who sinned. I guess I knew it intellectually, but I didn't realize the seriousness of it. I knew that God was holy and just, and that the penalty for sin is death. Somebody has to die spiritually to pay the price for my sin. But death was a long way away in my mind and I just didn't think I was that bad. I learned that sin was more than a set of acts that are wrong - sin is a position that we take, in that we choose to reject God. God, by very virtue of being God, makes the terms. Heaven is His domain. I realized that I couldn't expect to live my life as if He didn't exist, or to insult Him totally by telling Him that I would be in charge of this relationship and He would adapt to me, and still show up in Heaven looking for my mansion. The last thing that I needed was a God that I could control. I couldn't even control myself by putting the fork down when I needed to, and was overweight because of it. And that was only one of the areas of my weakness. No, I needed a powerful, just, all-knowing, ever-present God. And the only thing separating me from Him was my sin. As all of this began to sink into my mind, I began to be overwhelmingly grateful and amazed at the solution God provided. Someone had to pay the price. What I needed was to be forgiven of my sin, to have the debt erased, which seems like a pretty wild thing to even expect or hope for. Could God let me get away with years of rejecting Him?

Then I read this, from the apostle Paul in Acts 13:38, "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses."

In Romans 3:21 - 27, "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood. He did this to demonstrate His justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - He did it to demonstrate His justice at the present time, so that to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus."

Justice says that no, God can't let me get away with it. It's funny, how there are times when we think that our "stuff" isn't so bad and should be overlooked, but we certainly don't want those who hurt us to have their "stuff" overlooked. I understood the feeling. But I was beginning to understand that God loves everyone as much as He loves me, and as angry as it makes Him when others hurt me, He is also angered by the things I do and say to hurt others. It just wouldn't be fair. And at this point, there was no point pretending that I hadn't ever really hurt anyone. I had. There was also, hallelujah, no reason to pretend I hadn't hurt anyone. Because not only was Jesus my new "best thing that had ever happened to me" friend, He was also the payment for my sin. When He died on the cross, He was paying my sin debt, along with the sin debt of the entire world, if they wanted Him to. It was my choice. He was the perfect sacrificial lamb.

In a very real sense, by believing that Jesus lived and still lives today and died to pay my sin debt, and by asking Him to provide forgiveness for me, I was tying myself to Him for life. I belonged to Him. I was His disciple. But what a person to belong to! I asked a question at the end of yesterday's post. Why (and when) did it get all complicated and difficult? I think it got complicated and difficult when I began to confuse belonging to the person of Jesus Christ with belonging to religion, or a set of man-made rules and regulations that we hope will enable us to please God. It may sound like the two go together, but in fact they are total opposites. Tomorrow I'll discuss why.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Following Jesus

At first following Jesus just meant getting to know Him more. I was tentative about going to the church, but they were having some un-church like events and they actually turned out to be fun. One of these events that we attended was a "Welcome the new pastor" fun night in the local school gym. While playing one of the games, I pulled my shoulder and was in pain for the rest of the night. I was a bit embarrassed, and didn't make a big deal about it, but a few weeks later I saw one of the seniors from the church at the post office, and he asked me how my arm was. I don't even know how he knew, and I certainly didn't know why he cared, but he did.

I was beginning to experience one of the lovely ways that Jesus makes Himself known in our world ~ through the love of His people. I understood this better later, as I learned about the church being the body of Jesus, filled, directed and given power and love by His Spirit living within each member of the Body. The new pastor, Jim, was a tremendous teacher, and soon I was in a Saturday night Bible study with several other people who had just met Jesus as well. I was in the beginning of this amazing love relationship with the God of the Universe, and when I wasn't being blown away by the sheer wonder of it all, I was inhaling everything I could about Him. Like any love relationship, I wanted to know Him, know about Him, everything about Him. I wanted to know what He thought about me, who I was to Him. Everything I learned amazed me. I had His undivided attention at all times. He loved me with passion and a commitment that I had always dreamed of. It was a love affair.

Music soon became one of the ways that I not only learned about God and this new life with Him, but it also became a way to express my love to Him and to emotionally connect to Him. As I learned the hymns, they became very personal to me. My first Christmas as a christian was a revelation to me as I sang carols that I had known for years, only to discover that they spoke with love and devotion about the glorious gift of love that God had sent, that I had received. I "celebrated" Christmas for the first time ever in my life, having finally met the birthday Boy.

Being in church and in contact with church people made me aware that there were some behaviors that were frowned upon that had been a part of my life. I also began to realize, though, that there were behaviors that made me uncomfortable, simply because I knew that they didn't please Jesus. Swearing was one of the first. Using His name as a curse word made me cringe inside. I wouldn't do it to His face. I wouldn't want anyone to do it with my name. It just felt that the mouth that I was using to praise and thank Him should not also be used to curse. Then I read this in the Bible, James 3:10 "Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." I asked God to help me to stop, and instantly became super aware every time I swore. Soon the habit had died. Other things followed. I began to change, not because I wanted to follow some arbitrary rules but because I wanted to please God. I soon realized that I wasn't giving up doing these things, I was finding freedom from them.

Giving up drinking alcohol was a good example of this. I had started drinking later in my teens, but by my early 20s I was beginning to drink alcoholically. I was using alcohol to help me feel more comfortable in social situations, and seeking solace and escape in the high from drinking. Every time I drank, I drank to get drunk. Our finances at the time limited the amount that I was able to drink and how often I could indulge, but the desire was always there. Even though the church encouraged not drinking at all, I kept going out. Sometimes I even went out after Saturday night Bible study. I could not see the reasoning behind the "rule" about not drinking, and told myself that I shouldn't obey a rule I didn't understand. The truth was I didn't want to obey it.

Once after a night out, I arrived home drunk and unable to sleep. Mark went to bed and I sat up, reading my Bible. God began to show me, in my heart, why I had consumed so much alcohol that night. I had been uncomfortable with the people there, feeling unaccepted and not knowing how to bridge the gap and make friends. God showed me that I had used alcohol to try to make myself more acceptable. Needless-to-say, it hadn't worked. He promised me that if I would give up using alcohol, He would accomplish in me what I needed to be able to enter into social situations with ease and confidence. God is pretty honest about these kinds of things, and He let me know upfront that it would take longer and I would find it difficult. But the work He did in me would be permanent, and freeing. I would never need to use alcohol inappropriately again. I agreed, stumbled off to bed and kept my part of the promise. I trusted God to keep His. I didn't drink for something like 10 years. When I did begin drinking again, a glass of wine with supper occasionally, I discovered that I no longer had any desire to lose myself in the alcohol. I liked who I was and where my mind was. I was used to the clarity of my mind and was comfortable with myself. I could easily have fun sober, and had found laughter and joy that didn't leave me feeling like doggie drool the next morning. I liked being in control, and being high was abhorrent to me. God had set me free. He had healed me, and I was so grateful.

Following Jesus, at the beginning, was simply relational. It was about feeling like a love-sick puppy that followed Him around everywhere He went because when He looked at me, it was with so much love and pride and joy and passion and could I not follow? He knew me, the deep, inside, scary me, and still smiled when He saw me. When He frowned at me, and He often had cause to, I still felt loved. He had expectations for me, but He also had the power to help me fulfill those expectations. He just needed me to want to be free.

So, why (and when) did it get all complicated and difficult?

More later...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Following Jesus

"Have you heard the story? The Christ is finally here!"

If I had been thinking about it, I would have seriously wondered why these words were having such an effect on me. I wasn't thinking about it, though. I was feeling it. I was living my life, doing my "stuff", enjoying the first year with my new husband and periodically curling up on the couch listening to "Hosanna" and immersing myself in the total joy of Jesus' entry parade into Jerusalem.

"Behold your salvation, He comes to the willing heart.
Blessed over all nations, His love will never depart.
Now He's reigning victorious, forever He is Lord.
Christ has delivered us,
We must fall down before Him,
Lay our hearts and souls before Him,
Lord of all."

One of the oddest things, and I realized this at the time, was that as I sang the words, "We must fall down before Him," something inside of me literally wanted to fall down before Jesus, wanted to literally lay my heart and soul, my self before Him. I had never in my life wanted to fall down before anything. Not on purpose, anyway. I kept feeling an overwhelming urge to fall in worship before this Jesus, the Jesus of the gospels, of Nazareth, of Jerusalem, the burly carpenter Jesus who built things with His hands, took care of His momma, called his followers friends, who touched and loved people that no one else would even look at. In no way did I think to connect this Jesus with the Jesus of the church. Church was different, in my mind. It seemed to involve a set of rules that helped one be good and respectable, rules that I was pretty sure I'd never be able to follow.

But this seemed like the following thing had been accomplished by Him somehow, that He would have wanted me and all I would have had to do is want Him back. And I did want Him. I just wasn't sure where He was. Was He dead and buried? In which case, I had missed Him just like I missed Marilyn Monroe and Elvis?

In April, a few months after I had received the cassette that had turned me in an emotional question mark, my mother-in-law, Betty, invited Mark and I to go to church with her for an Easter service. We were going to her house for Easter lunch, and I felt that going to to church was a good, pleasing the mother-in-law thing to do. The church had recently hired a new pastor, and Betty seemed excited to have us come to the church, to meet him.

At first, the service seemed like any church service I had ever been in. In fact, it felt like that all the way through. The pastor, Rev. Jim Ennis, was young and dynamic and interesting to listen to, and he had a gentle, sweet spirit. I wasn't familiar with the songs like I would have been had they been Christmas carols, and I have to admit that I don't remember much of the sermon. I actually felt very closed and careful, emotionally. I do remember, though, hearing the story of Jesus' death and resurrection. Looking back on it, all of my questions about where Jesus was now, and whether or not I would ever actually know Him were being answered in this service. Pastor Jim was saying that Jesus had risen from the dead, that He was alive even now, that He loved me and wanted to have a relationship with me. And Pastor Jim invited anyone who wanted Jesus in their life in a very real way to simply tell Jesus that, through prayer. And then, thankfully because I wasn't sure how, the pastor talked to Jesus with us.

For the first time since I had received the cassette tape, and probably in my life, I talked to Jesus. It was a very practical decision for me. I didn't feel anything, really. There was no "weeping and throwing myself in the spiritual arms of the Lord I had been longing for" moment. I just said, "Okay." And that was it.

I do remember very distinctly getting into the car to drive to Mark's parents, who just lived minutes away, and saying to Mark, "If they think I am going to follow their rules, they've got another thing coming." I think now, that was bravado talk for, "I am never going to be able to be good enough for God, so if that's what He requires, I am so screwed."

So I had met Jesus. It made sense to me, that He was real and alive. I had been feeling Him for months. And I was glad to know that it wasn't the idea of Him that had been moving me so much, but the actual Jesus.

But what did it mean, to follow Him?

More later...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Following Jesus

I had heard about Jesus from early childhood, at the knee of grandparents who were faithful and loving Mennonites. My grandmother especially felt a deep responsibility to make sure that her grandchildren, who lived in Quebec and across the country from her Saskatchewan, knew that Jesus loved them and wanted them to follow Him.

I knew about Jesus. I enjoyed the children’s Bibles and storybooks that Grandma sent. In fact, they became some of my best-loved childhood treasures. But I didn’t know Jesus. It took me years to realize that there was a difference between knowing about Jesus and actually knowing Him.

When I was 21, four months after marrying a man who had been raised in the church but who also didn’t know Jesus, I agreed to go to a Christian Women’s Meeting with my new mother-in-law. At the meeting, we listened to a woman talk about her life, and how she had struggled with the consequences of alcohol abuse, depression and relationship difficulties to the point of considering suicide. Her words interested me. It was the first time I had heard a Christian talk about experiences that I could relate to. She had begun to follow Jesus at the most hopeless time and place in her life, and His love had lifted her out of her despair in a way that touched me. Meeting Jesus, for her, didn’t necessarily involve a miraculous transformation of her circumstances, but it did result in possibly an even more miraculous change of her heart attitude towards her circumstances, her life and her self.

Near the end of the meeting, a drawing for gifts was held and I won a copy of a gospel tape that the speaker had recorded. She had sung several songs at the meeting, and had a lovely voice. I looked forward to listening to more when I got home. Gospel music had never held much attraction for me. I was interested in rock music, and some of the pop music that would come to represent the music of the 1980’s. Knowing the artist, though, gave the cassette tape some attraction, and her story lingered in my mind as I listened to the music for the first time. And the second time. And the third, fourth and fifth time.

There was one song in particular, “Hosanna”, which touched my heart and actually moved me to tears when I heard it. It spoke of what I would later learn was Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem shortly before His crucifixion. Chapter 11 of the gospel of Mark describes how Jesus came into the city riding a colt, and was met by an adoring crowd who spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road before Him as he moved through the streets. The crowds worshipped Him, shouting praises, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna is a Hebrew expression, meaning “Save’. The song lyrics spoke of the excitement, the joy of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem. Every time I listened to the song, I felt myself being caught up in the sheer, unadulterated joy of Jesus being so close. In my mind, the song was sung from the perspective of a young girl who was running through the streets announcing that Jesus had arrived.

“Have you heard the story? The Christ is finally here!
He’s at the edge of the city.
Let’s run! I’ve just got to be near Him!
All the people are shouting,
They’ve come, just to see their King!
Tell the Daughter of Zion, rejoice,
For we’ve been redeemed!”

Something inside of me leapt for joy as I listened to these words. I wanted to be there. I wanted to run through the city. I wanted to see Him! Actually, wanted is too weak a word. I longed to be there. I could actually feel the excitement. Something inside of me was crying out with the crowds, “He’s coming! He’s coming! Jesus is coming!!” I felt as if He actually was coming. It wasn’t anything I questioned. I just felt it. Over and over again. The joy, the expectation, the hope. And then I wept. Because, after all, the song spoke of an event that had happened 2000 years before. He came back then. I had missed it. The very thought of it was beginning to break my heart. While everything inside of me was shouting, “I’ve just got to be near Him”, the reality of the events that were to follow Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was sinking in. He was put on trial. He was brutally beaten. He was crucified. Dead and buried. I had missed Him. Hadn’t I?

More tomorrow….

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Following Jesus

"As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him." Matthew 9:9

For many of us, the concept of "following" someone involves being with them, listening to them, hanging around them. If someone came to me and said, "Follow me", and I decided to follow them, I wouldn't consider a commitment made or my life changed. It would be the equivalent of, "Come, check this out." or "Get to know me and see what you think." We are a culture of people followers - from Oprah to our favorite rock star. In fact, Twitter makes it possible to actually follow celebrities, politicians and motivational speakers. We don't have a sense of loyalty to these people, though. Once they preach something we don't approve of, or the next big act comes along, we move on to bigger and better things.

In the first century Jewish world following someone, specifically a rabbi, meant something altogether different. When Jesus invited his disciples to follow Him, they understood that He was inviting them to leave their old lives behind them, to commit to learning from Him in order to become like Him. They were to adopt His ways, His habits, to take on His character. Such an invitation by a rabbi was an honor, not something that was loosely offered. Disciples were hand picked with great care. The process demanded commitment and dedication on both sides.

For a disciple, following a rabbi meant walking close, even physically close, to him every day of their lives. This concept is illustrated in the 1970 film version of The Fiddler on the Roof. As one of my favorite movies, I have watched it repeatedly. It took me a while to understand why, in the scenes that involved the rabbi of the small village, he was always surrounded by a group of men who crowded so closely to him, he could barely walk. The commitment to walk closely with the rabbi is literal. There is a blessing given to new disciples, “May you always be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” Disciples were honored to walk so closely to their rabbi that as dust flew up from his footsteps, it would land on them.

It is important to understand, when Jesus asks us to follow Him today, He is speaking of this manner of following. As the rabbi, as Lord, as God, He sets the terms.

Tomorrow, I will share how I first heard Jesus' call to follow Him. I knew absolutely nothing and in no way deserved His call, but Jesus always called His disciples according to their need and His love for them. Good thing, too.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Marc @ Costco

I know I said I was going to post about following God, but I had to slip this in first. I introduced Marc to Costco today. It was an experience. I've been to Costco often with friends, but Marc had never been. He had made an appointment with an optometrist at the Costco in Candiac that he met through work. While there we decided to get a membership for Costco, the North American super-duper stuff-mart of my dear husband's dreams.

From the customer support desk, armed w/a newly minted card and the curiosity of a small child, my husband wandered into the world of mega shopping, while I, his tour guide, followed. The first thing he wanted to see was the food. The good food. I took him to the cheese section. He was in his glory. A huge chunk of old cheddar and a brie wheel the size of a Frisbee was placed carefully into our station wagon of a shopping cart. A side of smoked meat that will last us a month, a package of 6 different kinds of sausages, two buckets of cream cheese, and a garbage bag of kettle fried chips were added. Marc poked and prodded and oohed and awed. We eventually wandered away from the food, and while checking out propane tanks and bar-b-ques we turned into the automotive aisle. I am sure I saw a tear of joy roll down Marc's cheek. Then we hit the tools and he was gleefully poring through the tool chests of his dreams. I think I even heard him giggle.

Marc often passes past Candiac on his way to and from work. Because of this, he was able to show relative restraint as we wheeled the cart up and down the well stocked aisles. In fact, he has another appointment at the optometrist's on Saturday. Not only was he excited about returning, but he wanted to bring Grace, certain that she of all people would truly share his joy. I think he's right.

Marc has big dreams, now. Dreams of never paying $10 for a tiny chunk of old cheddar at the IGA again. Dreams of cell phone calls from home, with instructions to stop at "The Store" to pick up much needed items at low, low prices. Dreams of twice the peanut butter for half the price, never having to wear "holey" socks again, of row after row of mile high shelves loaded with all the tools, motor oil, bar-b-que supplies, and granola bars a person will ever need.

I have to admit, I love it. It was fun to watch Marc having fun. My husband is a sweet and wonderful man. With a Costco card.


The Strength to Equal Today

One of my favorite Bible verses comes from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. It's a blessing that Moses speaks over the Israelites. Part of the blessing is this, "The bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days." Deut. 33:25

The first time I read this verse, I felt deeply in my spirit that this was a blessing that God was granting me, as well. God offers His supernatural strength repeatedly to those who love and follow Him, but there was something about this verse that stayed with me. Living with a chronic illness means that my strength is often limited. This has been a frequent frustration for me. There are so many things that I want to do, and when my desires have to bend to my ability, it can be discouraging. The hope that God is offering, that my strength would equal my days, was especially poignant. God was sweetly addressing my need with a promise that whatever my days hold for me, He would give me the needed strength.

There is another side to this promise, that I would not receive strength to equal what is not supposed to be a part of my day. I often have to make choices about how to best spend my energy. Strength resources are not unlike financial resources. Not everything I want to spend my money on is a necessity. God is gracious to our family financially, and we are able to spend money on pleasures as well as necessities, but like everyone else I know, there are always limits. The same applies to my strength.

I believe that God has a plan for my life. To be honest, I don't know or understand many of the details of the plan. I do know the underlying mission - to love and follow God through Jesus Christ with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as I love myself. To serve God by serving others, using my God-given gifts and resources to meet needs and to pour God's love into the lives of others. And to enjoy this relationship with God and to live a loved life. I try to leave the details to God, and I appreciate that God has promised me the strength to follow Him every day.

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to follow God. For the next few days, I think I am going to be writing about this. I could get all ministerial and give a 5 point outline for tomorrow's blog entry, along with the titles and a lesson plan for the next week, but I'm not going to. One, I'm not a minister, so I don't have to. :P And two, I don't know the plan, so I simply can't. God has it all in hand. I'm just going to try to stay upright for the ride. And if I topple over, I plan to topple over into the arms of God. That's as far as my plan goes.

Until tomorrow, I am thanking God for the strength to equal today.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

She used to dance...

She used to dance. Years ago, it was her main form of exercise, aside from chasing the dog through the neighbor’s orchard. She danced to an audience of One, in a way that only the One would appreciate. She was into music then, too. She had a collection of love songs sung by people who loved Him as much as she did, and who could put that love in words and harmonies so that she could put her love into movement, all for Him. Thinking about it later, she couldn’t remember if she danced well. She assumed that she didn’t. But at the time, she never thought about it. She never had to question what He thought of her dancing for Him, and so it never occurred to her to think about it herself.

It has been a while since she has danced for Him, although in church when she sings with others who love Him, she can never keep still. Sometimes she dances silly, to make her child laugh. She does happy dances when good things happen. And she dances with her husband, quiet, slow celebrations of their love.

But is has been too long since she has danced alone, for Him. As a daughter before her Father, “Daddy, watch me dance!” It has been too long since she has danced with abandon, with forgetfulness, with the sheer joy of being delighted in by One who loves her, just because she exists.

She can hear the music. She can see the hand stretched out to her. Her hand brushes the nail scars as she slips it into his and rises from her seat. And dances.

Friday, March 12, 2010

This afternoon Kim and Becky are coming to spend the week-end with us.  My ex-husband, Gracie and I fostered them for a year when they were little, just two and three years old.  Now Kim is ten and Becky will be nine in July.  They come to spend one week-end a month with us, and we always enjoy having them here.  Two extra people does make our tiny house fairly burst at the seams, but as the weather gets nicer, the outdoors becomes an extra play/living room.

Last Spring, Marc, Grace, Kim, Becky and I took one Saturday morning and went into the bush for a nature trek.  It was lovely, and my Facebook account holds the pictures to prove it.  The sun was warm, and the ground was still covered by snow. We examined tree bark and leaves frozen into ice and Mini found a half-eaten leg of what probably used to be a deer and hauled it around for a while, even letting Frodo the cat have a bit of a chew on it.  Marc has such a great time, and he has spent all this Spring talking about doing it again.  Tomorrow is the intended day. It is supposed to be warm and sunny, the girls will be here, and Mini is always raring to go. 

Marc has this thing about recreating experiences.  He has two recipes, a spaghetti sauce and a chocolate cake, that he insists on making the exact same way every time.  For him, enjoying these dishes is an wonderful experience, and he wants to recreate the wonder every time.  So they have to taste the same, absolutely the same, every time.  It's the same with the bush trek tomorrow.  He has expectations for it, that it would be as wonderfully awesome as it was last year.  I just don't know.  It is hard to authentically recreate an experience, if it's even possible at all.  Add children to the mix, and it just gets that much more interesting.  Physically I am not doing as well as I was last year.  Last year I had been going to the gym for several weeks before we went into the bush.  This year, I am struggling with a still undiagnosed problem with my legs, and I can't make it up and down our kilometer long lane without limping half the way home.  Also, Frodo isn't with us anymore. 

It won't be the same.  But that doesn't mean it won't be lovely.  I think it's nice to expect something neat and interesting to happen, without the pressure of defining just what neat and interesting might be.  I am learning that the more loosely I hang onto my life and loved ones and experiences, the more I get to enjoy the sweet surprises that meet me as I make my way through the world.  I really do believe that God has plans for my life, and that they involve moving forward into what may be the unknown to me, but what is fully revealed to God.  Of course there is safety in familiarity, and sometimes it feels easier to enter into something that we know will be enjoyable rather than try something new that might be enjoyable, but also might not be.  But let's face it, our walk tomorrow just isn't going to be the same as it was last year.  And that's okay with me.

Actually, come to think of it, the last time Marc made his chocolate cake recipe, he put raisins in it.  He never puts raisins in it.  So, maybe tomorrow's wild and unexpected adventure might be okay with him, too. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What my rabbit is teaching me about love...Part 2

I've learned so much about rabbits since Pippin came to live with us.  They are interesting, social creatures with a definite role to play in the dynamics of the animal kingdom. Unfortunately, that role seems to mostly involve feeding other animals.  Rabbits are essentially food. Owning a free-range rabbit makes this abundantly clear.  One of my pet names for Pippin, as twisted as this might sound, is "Plump Morsel".  Aside from the cute factor, which incidentally will NOT work on coyotes and birds of prey, he has very little going for him in the way of self-defense.  He is a little ball of meat and bones in an unspeakably sweet fur coat.  Even those large, luminous eyes are all but useless, being planted on either side of his head.  He can't see what's right in front of him. His face is in the way. He can't see anything coming at him from above, for essentially the same reason.  Rabbits are notoriously fragile.  Every one of the rabbit care sites I visited on-line warned me to be careful how I handle him, because one wrong move and I could break his back.  Add to that the fact that rabbits can literally be frightened to death. In fact, wolves occasionally will just sit and stare at a rabbit until it drops dead from fear.  Easiest snack in the forest.  Their little hearts can just stop if they are too stressed.  It is not unheard of for farmers who keep rabbits in outdoor cages to find them dead in the morning behind locked doors, probably because a coyote walked by and sniffed the cage.

The one thing rabbits do have going for them is speed, and the ability to suddenly change direction while hopping away from danger, making them difficult to keep up with for most predators.  But while on the run, rabbits can become so frightened that they lose control and careen into trees, rocks, even off cliffs.  They are able to see movement easily, because the main self-defense tool a rabbit has is fear of everything that moves.  They know that they are the snack food of the animal kingdom.  This keeps them alert and on guard all the time.  They are timid little beings, quick to react, quick to run, and slow to take risks.

Except for Pippin.  Pippin, as I have already mentioned, is in love with my dog, Mini.  His love language, though, is not the same as that of a dog, and Mini is often irritated to the point of distraction by his amorous efforts.  She has lost her temper with him a few times, even to the point of growling and snapping at him, grabbing him by the back of the neck in a snarling version of "Will you LEAVE ME ALONE ALREADY??"  And still, he keeps going back.  Of course, after a shakedown he lays low for a while, but he inevitable heads  back onto Mini's trail, undaunted.  When they are outside and Mini is in a playful mood, Pip plays with her,  even though he knows that her method of play involves running him over, stepping on him, and slapping her paws down on him. He freezes and tries to shrink into himself when he sees her coming, and when it gets to be too much for him, he'll hide under things, but he doesn't stay hidden for long.  He can't. He's in love.

When Mini hears coyotes howling at night, she often asks to be let her out to bark at them.  Many times, she'll race out into the darkness, determined to keep them at bay. Pippin follows her.  Into the darkness.  I stand at the door and worry, because it looks for the life of me as if Mini is bringing her own snack to the party.  Does Pip not know what coyotes are? He must. He has thousands of years of genetic fear factor at work in his little brain.  If the howling and yelping weren't enough, Mini's forcefully protective efforts should be a clue.  He isn't clueless, as I first suspected.  Pippin knows that he is a rabbit.  He understands the danger.  But he's in love. 

It is clear to me that it is love that has caused this funny little guy to over-look an entire species worth of fear and anxiety in order to do the things that he does.  He'll hop out into the darkness towards the coyotes if that's where his love is headed.  He'll allow himself to be run over, stepped on, and growled at, if it means being close to his love.  He'll ignore his nocturnal instincts and stay up all day if that's when his love is up.  He'll follow her anywhere, even if it means disappearing with a "poof!" into fluffy, deep snow with every hop in her direction.  Because he loves her.

I've watched him for months now, and have learned to admire him.  I love his spunk and determination.  I love his cute little face and the way his wiggles his puff of a tail when he's happy. I love watching him clean his ears. And I love his courage.  I struggle with fear a lot.  I think most people do.  Even people who seem fearless often fear appearing afraid.  After God has repeatedly promised to care for me, proven His love for me, met my every need and then some, I still fear. I fear rejection, failure, betrayal, disappointing my loved ones...the list goes on.   God keeps asking me to love and trust Him, and to be brave because He loves me, and His love in me for others will give me courage. 

1John 4:18 says this, "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear."  Love creates a sweet, determined, humble courage that just is.  It doesn't announce itself. It doesn't ask for praise. It doesn't fear not being.  It is the hero who shrugs and maintains that he or she didn't do anything anyone else wouldn't have done...and means it.  It says, "I'm scared", and with a shaky hand and tremulous voice, does the scary thing.  Love isn't foolish or blind. It acknowledges vulnerabilities, weaknesses and danger. I have loved and have been hurt.  I have also been loved and hurt others, which is another post altogether.  But I know that this world is perilous.  The greatest peril, though, is to try to protect myself by refusing to risk loving.  Especially when it is the loving that brings courage.  I pray daily for love, for God and for others.  This truth is not new to me, but it is  kind of God to give me this living illustration of arguably the one of the most timid animal species alive behaving in extravagantly brave ways, all because of his love for another. 

Mini is a reluctant lover.  But a lover she is.  There is no doubt that Pip makes her crazy at times.  But recently, when he went missing for a few days, Mini spent hours outside at night barking at the coyotes, warning them away with a fervor that she doesn't usually show.  She wouldn't come in until we forced her to at bedtime.  She knew that he was out there somewhere. It bothered her that the coyotes were out there as well.  How could she protect him if she didn't know where he was?  How much more will God, who is far from a reluctant lover, care for us? 

"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but s spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." 2Timothy 1:7

A Dream

Part Two of What My Rabbit is Teaching Me About Love is coming up later today.  I just needed to post about a dream I had last night.

I dreamt about about a childhood friend who died a few years ago.  I hadn't been in contact with him for many years when I heard about his death.  He was a dear and special friend, who I trusted with truths about myself that no one else knew, and who was steadfastly honorable with my trust.  I loved him, and still do.

He died in a manner that made parents who had already been asking why want to scream it into the wind.  My heart is still broken, and since his death I have been wanting to write to his parents to tell them what he meant to me.  In my dream, I was standing outside his parents' house, weeping.  I woke up weeping.

Today, I will write that letter.

More about Pippin later...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What my rabbit is teaching me about love...

Last Fall, my husband brought a rabbit home from a customer call. The first thing I said when I saw the little fellow was, "What is THAT doing here?"  Having owned a pet rabbit before, I had no desire to deal with the chewing, the cage in our already too small house, the droppings, etc.  Then I saw him.  He was adorable, small and beige, with luminous, soulful dark eyes.  The thing that really won me over, though, was his teeth.  He had a disorder that caused his front teeth to grow at an accelerated rate, making it impossible for him to file them down in normal rabbit fashion by chewing and gnawing on things.  His top teeth were so over-grown that they parted company at his bottom lip and spread outwards like a grotesque smilie face. His bottom teeth stuck straight out from his jaw. It was awful.  I took one look, swooned in sympathy, gathered him into my arms and fell in love.  I had illusions of restoring health and happiness to this pitiful specimen of rabbithood.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.

I named him Pippin, because I can never pass up an opportunity to use a Hobbit name.  I did some internet research and discovered that Pippin's teeth would need to be cut.  So after much courage-building and pep talking, Marc and I did the operation. I held him upside down in my lap, all the while crooning encouraging words to all of us, but mostly to Pippin. And Marc wielded the pliers with skill and speed.  Within seconds and with very little fuss, Pip's teeth were cut down to a managable size. He barely flinched.  I almost vomited.

Pip soon became a valued and interesting member of our family. We were able to let him run loose outside  for several reasons. Firstly, the problem with his front  teeth meant that he didn't use them at all.  Being unable to forage for food himself outside, he depended on us for his pellets and so could never wander away from his food source.  He also wasn't able to indulge in the pesky gnawing behavior that could wreak havoc on phone and electrical cords, table legs, shoes, etc.  Secondly, and probably most importantly, Pip fell in love with our dog, Mini. He became her constant companion, her adoring admirer, and unfortunately a torturous source of irritation to her.  He was in her face constantly.  He sniffed her food, drank her water, and indulged in several amorous rabbit behaviors that might win a female rabbit over, but simple served to make a usually docile Mini snarl.

Rabbits, when they are in love, show it in interesting ways.  One way they show their affection is by hopping in circles around the loved one.  Pip does this to me, too. It's a sign of appreciation and care. I think it's cute. Mini doesn't. Pip can actually circle Mini's hind legs while Mini is running away from him. It's fascinating to watch.  Male rabbits also show their sexual interest in a potential mate by spraying their intended w/a foul, urine-type liquid from their back end.  Mini gets sprayed several times a day. When rabbits are really happy, they "binky", which is simply a joyous, twisting leap into the air.  Pip sprays while doing a binky, which results in a stream of "ew" that lands in arced droplets on anything in the vicinity. Mini has wisely adopted an attitude of resigned acceptance about it all.   

I have to admit, I have learned many things by having Pippin around, and by watching him with Mini.  He is funny and sweet, cute beyond belief and full of attitude.  Tomorrow, I am going to tell you one thing in particular that Pippin has taught me, one spiritual principle that he unwittingly illustrates with dedicated beauty every day, and that I long to emulate.  God is creative in the ways that He shows us Himself and how He works in our world.  I'm a simple person, and I love it when God meets me in my simplicity.  For a little guy, Pip has been a big teacher of profound and Godly truths.  But that's tomorrow's post...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nobody says "Good Morning" like a rooster does.

This morning I woke up to the manly crow of Bruce the rooster and a sunrise pouring pink and gold over the dull beige early spring pasture outside my bedroom window. It was lovely. Twilight is usually my favorite time of day, mostly for the beauty factor. One evening years ago, I was walking with Grace's dad and waxing poetic about the gorgeous sunset, and he said, "You know, there's one almost the same in the morning, too." I maintained that God provided sunrises for morning people and sunsets for people like me, who are too bleary-eyed in the morning to see past their first cup of coffee. That was before we got chickens.

There is something about a rooster crowing that adds a majestic, red carpet quality to mornings. Bruce ushers the morning in, starting somewhere around 4:00am and continuing well past the time that Gracie has been escorted to the bus at the end of the lane by my rumpled husband and the dog, who still trembles at the sight of the big yellow bus eating up her girl every morning with the mere hope that it will return to spit her out at the end of the day. A roo call invites one to peer outside, to see what all the fuss is about. Of course the sun is going to rise today, as it does every day. But there is something about a rooster crowing that makes it official. An event. Something to behold. Bruce always sound excited about the new day, as if he is surprised by it's arrival. Not being a member of the brightest species in the world, it is possible he is surprised. But it is also possible that he is just glad. And responsible to make sure everyone knows it. Maybe the crowing isn't for us at all, but for his girls. Maybe it's his morning pep talk, his directions, his hopes, his passions for what the day will hold, not just for him but for the eight hens that call him Mister.

Contrary to common perception, roosters don't just crow in the morning. They communicate a variety of messages through the act of crowing, most including some variation of the theme, "I am king of the world". Several times a week he'll show up in our front porch during the day, valiantly flap his wings, fluff his mane, thrust his chest forward, peer through the door window at me and crow for all he's worth. It makes me smile every time. Of course, all this majestic posturing usually results in Pippin the bunny getting offended and head bumping Bruce down the front steps in a flurry of feathers and tufts of fur. Apparently Pip is the king of the porch world.

Morning crowing is somehow different. It is celebratory, and it gives the day an air of expectation that comes simply from the fact that it's arrival has been announced. We were without a rooster for a while, after our last coyote visit and before a friend took pity on our roosterless-ness and gave us Bruce. I missed the morning crowing. It's funny that out of all the things this non-morning person does to try to make mornings more palatable, the one thing that actually works every time is an gleeful announcement that morning has come, from a simple creature who understands instinctively what I have to work hard to remember - that a new day is a good thing, just because it is.

Oops, gotta go. Marc left the trunk of his car open and the hens are in the car. Now, where did I put the camera...?

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Perils of Blogging

For months now I have been trying to blog more consistently, and trying to promote (insert inner cringe) my blog in hopes that more readership would lead to motivation to keep writing. At any given time I have a mind full of blog-worthy thoughts and ideas. Still, writing is one of the most painfully difficult things that I do. Blogging is hard. Ironically, not blogging is also hard.

I've been praying about this a lot. I believe that God knows me better than I know myself, and so these things rightly belong in His hands. This morning, I was thinking about blogging, and the thought occurred to me to write a few little-known things that might surprise people about me. The first two that came immediately to mind were that I have a closely guarded cache of anger in me, and that I also carry a lot of sorrow within me. I expected to come up with light-hearted things, like the fact that I ate jumbleberry pie for breakfast this morning and that I let my dog kiss me on the lips. Huh. Who knew?

When I was a kid, I used to hide deep, painful depression and sorrow in humor. When I became a Christian, God's intimacy with me and love for me made it safe to feel sorrow and rage and pain and loss. When I write w/joy or humor now, it is because I feel these things. If I write something funny, I am often giggling as I write it. I write like I cook - events, flavors, ideas, scents thrill me and the first thing I do when I am thrilled is long to share the thrillingness so I plate and serve the good things for anyone who is interested, and even some who aren't.

It is hard, though, really hard to write the darker things. I am not trying to hide things. I just don't know how to open up the darker parts of myself without sounding like a crazy person because I can literally be in the throes of misery and the rooster will show up at the door and start crowing or Mini will unexpectedly sneeze in my face and my pitiful cries to God will have resulted in, if not a problem solved, then love received. Hope breaks in on me in all manner of unexpected and weird ways.

I think that the problem I am having is two-fold. I am struggling to find my voice as a writer. And I am in need of courage to use my voice when I find it. I am afraid of being judged. Lectured. Pitied. Scolded. There have been times in my life where my honesty about my weaknesses and pain have resulted in others twisting and using their version of my story to further their own agendas. I used to say, all the time, that I wanted to "live out loud for God", so that others would know who He was to me, in me, for me. Since then, I have been labeled a lousy motherand wife, an adulterer, a liar, sexually immoral, an addict, emotionally unstable...the list goes on. Even admitting this gives me anxiety, because I am not complaining. I am explaining why living out loud has become so scary. I told my story over and over again, thinking that the reason lies were spreading was because the truth just wasn't known. But there were other reasons for the lies that had nothing to do with me. And we all know that once lies are sent out into the world, there is very little chance of correcting them. I allowed myself to be muzzled by fear. Okay. So I am trying to hide things. Ouch.

There is a Bible verse that says that if God is for us, who can be against us? I think I will find my blogging voice buried somewhere under the fear, and since the spirit of fear has not been given to me by God, He is the one I will go to for it's removal. I don't think this will be easy. Or pleasant. Or fun. I don't want to get to the place where I can throw my truth out into the world and not care a whit about what anyone thinks. I do care. I love people. I want to make a difference in this world and to approach others with the softness and gentleness that comes from being a cherished child of God and knowing it. This is a vital part of the sound of my voice. I want my courage to come from love, from peace, from a deep abiding sense of security and hope. I don't want it to come from anger.

In any case, I think the very act of clicking "Publish Post" will be the beginning of a journey for me. To find courage. To find my voice. To learn to truly live out loud. But first and foremost, to grab tightly onto God's hand, because there is no way I'm heading out onto this journey alone!

Midnight Musings

It's after midnight, and I am up because Marc is snoring and I can't sleep. I did the bathroom thing and got a drink of milk and now am here. Mini is curled up on the couch beside me, cleaning her toes and wondering what's up.

I'm not even sure why I came on here, because having named this post Midnight Musings, I am realizing that I was shooting too high with that title. I have no musings. In fact, my brain is oddly empty. The only thing that I am thinking about is Mini, and the sound that she is making as she rhythmically licks her foot. I am also thinking that she is also licking the couch beside her foot, and wondering why she does that. She leaves wet marks on the couch. The first time I found one of her wet marks on the couch, it was a "ew" pet owner moment, when I knew what I thought it was and was skeptical because her bathroom habits are usually impeccable, so I brushed the wet spot with my hand and smelled it. And it didn't smell bad. So I concluded that the mark was water from her beard from lying on the couch after a drink. Then one day I noticed her licking the couch beside her foot during a cleaning session. I don't know why she does it. No, I haven't googled weird couch licking behavior in dogs but I've asked her and she's just not sharing. So, it's a mystery.

I know. How deep and musing-like is that. I think all my deep, profound thoughts stayed in bed. I do have them, you know. I also have frightened, weak thoughts, and angry, resentful thoughts, and wounded, broken thoughts. Not to mention wildly joyful thoughts, and deeply spiritual thoughts, and peaceful quiet thoughts. And let us not get started on the confused thoughts, the unforgiving thoughts, and the thoughts that only God knows about.

Right now, though, I am tired and going to head upstairs to try again.
My Zimbio