Freedom

18 07 2017

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John 8 tells the story of a woman caught in adultery and dragged before Jesus by the Pharisees. They wanted to see if He would uphold the Mosaic law and condemn her to death. As they gathered stones to throw at her, Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust. The tension built until finally he stood and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

As the story goes, they dropped their stones and went out, one by one, beginning with the oldest. Because, you may be able to fool people, but when God turns the spotlight on your heart, you realize — no matter how diligently you’ve followed the rules — you can’t clean up the hidden places. Your actions may impress, but your heart will betray you every time.

I have no idea how long it took for that crowd to disperse, but Jesus waited. Then, when they were all gone, He looked the woman in the eye and said, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

And she said, “No one, Lord.”

The God of the universe lifted her head and removed her shame by giving her the opportunity to confess with her own lips that she was no worse a sinner than the most religious people alive.

And then He gave her an even greater gift. He said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

It’s interesting to note that He didn’t say, “Go back to your lover. I get that he’s your soul mate — that your marriages were a mistake, but now you feel alive for the first time. Ignore the haters. Do what makes you happy.”

No. He said, “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

Jesus never suggested that her behavior was acceptable. He called it sin. And the only reason He was able to say, “Neither do I condemn you,” was because He Himself would bear the punishment for her guilt. (If there’s no such thing as sin, the cross is pointless.)

When Jesus said, “Go and sin no more,” He wasn’t pronouncing a restriction to hold her in bondage. He was opening her cage door and inviting her to freedom.

There’s no reason to think that she went home to an easy choice — that the feelings, emotional attachments, and pressures were miraculously gone. “Sin no more” implies a deliberate change, not for the sake of following rules, but for the sake of her own flourishing — trusting that God knows more about abundant life than she does.

Because here’s the deal. God is good. Always, only good.

He’s always good in what He gives, and He’s always good in what He forbids.

And here’s the other deal. Temptation is always the same.

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It begins with the whisper, “Did God actually say?” and ends with trusting our own perceptions — “that the tree is good for food, and that it is a delight to the eyes, and that the tree is to be desired to make one wise.”

It’s the same old lies that have derailed us from the beginning — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life making promises they can’t keep. God couldn’t possibly have meant what He seems to be saying. We know what we want, how bad we want it, and we know better than God how to find our own fulfillment in life. Lust becomes need becomes identity. And who are you to question my identity?

Lately I hear a lot of people saying Jesus gave only one command: “Love God; love people.” And I always want to ask them, “What does it look like to love God? How do you truly love people?”

Because the sense I often get from their context is that loving people essentially means saying, “Ignore the haters. Do what makes you happy,” and it definitely does not mean saying, “Go, and sin no more.”

But Jesus didn’t simply say, “Love God; love people.” What He actually said was, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

The Law and the Prophets show us what it looks like to love God and people. Jesus never negated the commandments. In fact, He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

He also said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” This sounds a lot like, “Go, and from now on sin no more.”

And His final command? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus never released us from obedience, because our flourishing is found in obedience, just as His was. We aren’t fulfilled by satisfying our personal desires, but by increasing in our likeness to the image of God.

John tells us, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”

Loving God looks like obedience to His Word. Loving people looks like caring enough to tell them the truth (not a manipulated, massaged version of it), even when that means a call to drastic repentance, taking up a difficult cross, and denying self.

God is good in what He forbids. He forbids sin, only because He is good.

The Tempter will whisper, “Did God actually say . . .?” And the masses will tell you, “Go do what makes you happy!”

But Jesus is standing right in front of you with a better offer.

The cage door is open. The choice is yours.

flyingbird





Listen to the Wind

22 04 2017

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He was born April 22, 1955, the third son of a full-blooded Macedonian father and a blonde, blue-eyed Ohio farm girl with Welsh ancestry. His parents married right out of high school and had six kids before they were thirty.

Their first son was an adventurer, the second a star athlete, but this third boy? He was born with a poet’s soul, and as he grew, the ordinary brokenness of the world lay heavy on his beauty-craving heart. So he ran after comfort as many do, rebelling against conformity, and attempting to assuage the ache with drugs and other empty pursuits. He longed to belong — to be truly seen and truly loved — but the darkness only grew darker and uglier, and it was slowly crushing him.

He was bruised and tormented, but he wasn’t alone. One whose name is Love patiently prepared that wounded soil until one summer day, at the age of eighteen, he sat alone in a barn loft with the ancient splendor of the Appalachian mountains filling his view.

It was time. All his efforts to anesthetize his pain were powerless against the Creator’s magnificent canvas. The mountains burst forth into singing, the trees of the field clapped their hands, and a question rose from the deeps and escaped his lips.

“Who are You?”

The wind whispered soft. The setting sun kissed the tips of the trees and slid into purpling shadows. He heard no answer, but it was coming.

The boy returned home to Florida with the question still burning. Then one evening, he opened a Bible and read the book of John. When he came to chapter 14, verse 6, he had his answer.

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

There’s a wonder to God’s ways with His own. He knows the heart’s language and how to make Himself heard. To an eighteen-year-old poet, he awakened the ache with beauty and wrapped truth around it with the Word. How did this young man know John 14:6 was the answer to the question he’d asked in the loft?

He simply knew.

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The wind blew, and the boy understood. And he wrote a song — an eighteen-year-old poet’s song of salvation. Here it is.

Testimony Song

I listened to the wind and I began to see
Through people and my heart and my mind, I saw me
And I saw something beautiful
Oh, I know ‘cause the wind brushed my eyes

We each have something good to give
But it’s often hid by the way that we live
Let Truth and understanding be our guide
Let Truth and understanding be our guide

I want to shine just like the Morning Star
I want to say something beautiful to you

I listen to the wind and I begin to see
Through people and my heart and my mind, I see me
And I see something beautiful
Oh, I know ‘cause the wind brushes my eyes
And I know the Lord Jesus fills my life

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Today that boy turns 62. He’s a devoted husband, father, father-in-law, and grandfather; a poet, musician, and steward of Creation; a servant, provider, and friend; and a man of the Word who still follows hard after Truth and understanding. No, he’s not perfect. Through the years he has stumbled more than once and even fallen hard, but the One who is able to make him stand has never for a moment forsaken him. His testimony of Jesus’ faithfulness remains, and as one who has journeyed by his side for 38 years, I can tell you that — in more ways than I can begin to count — he shines. Just like the Morning Star.

In honor of his birthday, you’re invited to listen to his Testimony Song — recorded decades ago on a little cassette tape player — and to catch some glimpses of the “something beautiful” those of us who love him have been privileged to see.

You’re also invited to follow his example. Listen to the wind. Let it brush your eyes. Perhaps you will begin to see something beautiful, too.

 





Transition

27 01 2017

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Today I realized something for the first time.

Roughly nine months after abortion-on-demand became the law in America, in the autumn of 1973, I was born for the second time.

During those months when many women were embracing their new-found reproductive freedom, God was forming me in the womb of faith, preparing me to become His child.

I could say a lot more about what happened that day, when my sixteen-year-old self first felt the irresistible urgency — unseen forces from without and within pressing me toward my emergence from the dark womb of spiritual sleep into the dazzling radiance of faith.

But the one thought that demands my profound awe in this moment is simply this: God is a redeemer.

Always, in every place and at every time, God is making all things new.

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A few years later, when I was in my early twenties, I was reading Malachi 4 and was inspired to write a song. This morning, when George read the same passage, he reminded me of it and said we should revive it. Maybe so. But meanwhile, I can share the words with you here.

The Day is Coming

The day is coming, burning like a furnace,
And all the wicked will be chaff.
The day is coming when the righteous will rejoice
And leap from the stall like a calf.
The day is coming when the Sun of Righteousness
Will rise with healing in His wings.
And all the holy ones will be before Him
And crown Him King of kings,

Alleluia.

Come, Lord Jesus; come, Lord Jesus,
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”
Come and bring us the day of our deliverance
When we will be revealed as sons.
For creation is anxiously longing,
And we ourselves grown within.
But the day is coming, the end of our suffering
Because we’ll be found in Him.

Alleluia
Alleluia
Alleluia
Jesus, Come.

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Romans 8 says God subjected the creation to futility on purpose — that all this groaning we see, hear, and feel is the pains of childbirth, meant to assure us that deliverance will indeed come.

I had the holy and awesome privilege of watching my daughter and my daughter-in-law give birth — one at home, and one at a birthing center — both without the use of any drugs.

I watched and prayed as they entered fully into their labor, breathing into the pain, working with the contractions.

As the hours dragged on, I watched them battle through the dark and awful fear that deliverance would never come — that strength would fail, and life would be swallowed up in death.

And I watched as they entered the phase called transition — that sacred and solemn space, where the world disappears and the whole body, soul, and spirit is consumed with bringing forth life.

Watching was like catching a glimpse into eternal mysteries — the hope that the creation itself  will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. The hope of redemption that contracts the soul of every believer with prayers that are groanings too deep for words.

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When I consider the brokenness of the world today — the desperation of refugees torn from their homes yet feared and rejected by many in the world, the immensity of modern day slavery and human trafficking, the selfish demands of the privileged, and the ignored oppression of the poor, the orphan, and the widow — I feel exhausted and tempted to despair. Perhaps deliverance will never come. Perhaps strength will fail, and life will be swallowed up in death.

But then I remember Who subjected creation to this prolonged ordeal, and hope rises. Perhaps we’re on the edge of transition — that holy and solemn space where the soul gives itself to a higher purpose.

Perhaps the church will shake off her anesthesia, enter fully into her labor, breathe into the pain, and work with the contractions, and perhaps new life will come forth from all this agony.

This is my hope.

And my prayer?

It hasn’t changed.

It’s still the same aching, exquisite cry that belongs to the Spirit and the Bride.

“Jesus, Come.”

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