Tag Archives: religion

Lay it down…

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suffering

 

When Joseph was thrown into the pit by his own brothers, I’m sure there was some clawing and scraping at the sides of it to try to get out… but there was no escape.

 

When he was sold to the traders on their way to Egypt, I’m sure there was some begging and pleading and serious efforts to wrest himself from the chains… but no one’s heart stirred to relent, and he was hauled away.

 

And when he was unjustly thrown into prison, I’m guessing there were some pleas and cries for justice… but bars and locks only mocked his appeals.

 

When Job learned that all of his possessions and ten children were gone in a succession of calamities that would make anyone’s heart faint – his did.

 

The raw reality of human suffering is not meant to be sugar coated with platitudes and “sticker-verses” that make the speaker feel better but not the sufferer.  But it is meant for something.

 

Suffering is agonizing.  It is life-stealing.  Suffering is loss of the most intimate kind and produces groans too deep to understand.

 

But it is also good.

 

We may suffer evil, but the suffering itself is good.

 

We may fight and claw at it.  We may plead with God for it to stop.  We may cry and rail against the injustice inherent in much of it.  And almost always, our hearts grow faint under the weight of it.  But in the end, those of us who are called by King Jesus, must greet it as the good gift it is intended to be – that it actually must be – because of the One who has placed it in our lives.

 

The struggle is real, and it is part of the process we all need to go through to learn what we need to learn from the suffering.  But eventually, if we are to gain anything at all from pain and sorrow and loss, the struggle against it needs to stop.  We must all – every one of us – come to the place where we can hold that burden of struggling against the trial, look at it with full-frontal, honest scrutiny and lay it down.

 

If we believe what we say we believe – that for those who love God all things work together for  good for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28) – then this, too – this suffering, was meant for our good. If we believe that 1 Cor 4:17 is true – that our sufferings are producing an eternal glory that far outweighs them all – then we can begin to see that God is giving us something better than we would have even imagined to ask for.  If we believe what Eph 3 says – that this is the very way that we are strengthened to be able to comprehend the love of God – then we can see this as a gift from our Father who says, “I want you to know me this deeply, and widely, and broadly, and for this long.”  And that none of these things can separate you from that love (Rom 8:35).

 

If all of these things are true – really, actually, undeniably true – then we can begin to loosen our grips on the hair roots that promise to lift us out of the pit but never deliver, and the shackles that delight to keep our minds and bodies enslaved, the prison walls that mock our broken hearts, and even the soul-rending cries that long for good to be restored… and cling instead to these promises of God for our deliverance.

 

We can lay down the struggle against it all.  We must.  Or we miss the good that is inherent in it and we miss the good that only comes from believing and trusting Him through it.

 

This isn’t a decision that someone else gets to make for you, beloved sufferer. No one can tell you when it is time to cast your burden aside.  The only words that can help you are the ones that help you get to the end of your struggle – not avoid it.   You and I, each in our time, must struggle through the suffering.  We may feel alone, but our Savior, who is able to sympathize with our grief because he has borne the same, has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  He is patient, though and will wait for you to lay down the burden of struggling against his good gift on your own.

We are not wrong to rail against the evil in this world.  We are not silly to want love to prevail. We are not idealistic fools to long for peace and joy and goodness to be reality. God agrees.  But God’s path for us to see and know and live those things is not the path that we would choose.  There are no shortcuts for mercy.  There are no detours that bring peace.  

If we are to experience the full measure of God’s ultimate gift for us – Himself – we must do things his way.  We must accept that he knows what we do not and that his hard path is better than going the wrong way, no matter how tempting it may be.  

We learn how strong God is through the struggle, but we learn how good he is when we lay it down.

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I’ve already failed…

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I’ve already failed…

I was so excited when it came!  A gift to myself – it’s truly beautiful.  I couldn’t wait to take it out of the wrapper and finger the crisp pages of my new Bible.  Here I am – “way old” as my grandson describes me – and this was the first time I had picked out my own Bible.  So really, I was very excited when it finally came.

I looked at the beautiful cover and the perfect pages and wide margins in it  – just calling me to invest in the treasures that are there.

But I have only written in it twice since then.  And I’ve only read it to find other things – not to simply spend time with my Maker.

It’s January 10th of the New Year, which isn’t very many days into the New Year… But I’ve already failed at my reading plan.

I’ve been reading blog posts about how important a Bible reading plan is – how God sovereignly works through your reading plan and why I should keep at it even when I don’t want to keep at it… But there is this heavy weight of guilt and obligation that can clang through the lines of those blog posts, isn’t there?

So I’m not here to tell you that you should have a plan to read your Bible.

I’m here to give you reasons that you’ll want to read have one.

  1. Your Bible is a love-letter from your Dad.   I first realized this when I was about 40 years old.  I really wish I had realized this earlier in my life.  It revolutionized how I looked at the pages of Scripture.  Perhaps this realization hit me hard because the failings of my own dad, but I’ve talked to people who have had great dads and they are moved by this as well.  The Almighty Creator of the Universe has cared enough about you to tell you about himself and why you are here. Don’t you want to hear him tell your story?
  2. There is an understandable story line… if you know the story.  When I’m teaching students how to articulate and defend their faith, I start the year off with this news:  The overarching story of the Bible is this – that God has created and redeemed a people to Himself.  They rarely have a clue what I’m talking about in September.  I have to repeat this many times through the year and have to point to it again and again through our lessons, but usually around January or so, some of them start to get it.  “Wait, Mrs. Chapman – this is what you meant!”  Yes, child, now you see.  God didn’t need anything or any one.  He was enjoying sweet and perfect fellowship already.  But He was so full and overflowing with love and generosity that he chose to create mankind so that we could participate in the beautiful communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, too.  And He has woven the story in such a way that He has permanently secured the safety of his beloved children by including sin and rescue and all-powerful safe-keeping from all that would work against us.  Everything in Scripture is an explanation of how and why and who and when and where God has gone about creating and redeeming His people for His glory and for our good.  
  3.  We can know this good Father – intimately.  When my circumstances are hard I feel far away from God.  I know that’s pretty normal – but I also know that it’s not good.   I need to be reminded that I am loved.  I want to know that there is a purpose in all of this harsh reality and that I am not being subject to the whims of “fate.”  I know that isn’t true, but I have to struggle hard not to believe it.  When I separate myself from my maker, the silence that I allow to creep in is menacing.  Once it becomes menacing, it’s not long before it becomes crushing.  But this is something I am doing to myself!  All I have to do is browse the Psalms to see that David ran to God when his heart was broken, not away from Him.  I want my heart to stop aching.  The only way I have found for that to happen is being reminded of the infinitely good purposes of God.  Joseph, Job, David, Isaiah, and so many more remind me that my circumstances and gut-wrenching sadnesses are not unique to me and are nothing new.  God has seen all of this before.  He doesn’t just get His people through the horrors that sin produces, battered and scarred to go on another day.  He uses every shred of every second for good purposes that far, far outweigh their cost.  One day, we will say, “Huh?  What sadness?  Oh, yeah – I’d completely forgotten about that!”  It will be like the trash in the dump – nothing to even consider.  But I can’t remember that if I’m not being reminded of who God is.  I need to know Him.
  4.  He prepares us for what lies ahead.  I like the verses that talk about “living in peace with all men” and all things being done “decently and in order.”  I mean – I like the thrill of adventure and all, as long as it’s all fun and good.  But my life just isn’t like that.   So try as I may to have things run smoothly, they don’t.  They get screwed up and wonky, and downright nasty and ugly.  Unforeseen circumstances, unmet expectations, unrealistic notions, and hey, let’s just call a spade a spade – selfishness, greed, angry demands, and short tempers can mess with the whole “decently and in order” thing… often before 7:30am!  How can we live in peace with all men if we can’t even live in peace in our own minds?!  I need instructions.  Carefully worded, re-readable, understandable instructions for how to handle the things I know will come along.  So do you.  Thankfully, God has been kind in this regard.  There are lots of places to start but may I suggest First and Second Corinthians?  Those people were messed up…. like us.
  5.  Like begets like.  That’s a quaint way of saying, once you start it’s easier to keep going.  Reading and understanding produce more reading and understanding.  If you want to know God better, understand how to live a life that honors him better, and not struggle with the same old garbage that keeps dogging you year after year – there is one simple solution.  Read God’s instruction manual and pray for understanding.  He will help you keep reading and increase your understanding again and again.  When I was about 21 or 22 years old I realized that I wasn’t being very purposeful in how I read the Bible.  I started out plowing through Genesis but the brakes of overwhelming confusion seized up when I hit Leviticus.  I remember thinking, “WHAT is with all these rules and all of this blood?!?”  Let’s just say it didn’t go well after that. After a long hiatus, I determined I could spare 10 minutes per day.  That was my limit or I knew I would get frustrated and just quit again.  But soon, my 10-minutes per day of gritted-teeth determination melted into a desire to know and understand. It’s a little amusing to me now that reading the Bible 10 minutes a day seemed like such a chore – but the memory of it is clear enough to have compassion for anyone who is struggling.  Give yourself the gift of 10 minutes a day.  You’ll soon be craving more.
  6. It’s a balm for our souls.  I’ve hinted at this above, but I don’t want anyone to miss the point.  Reading Scripture helps!  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being selfish in a way that looks to God to help!  Reading the Bible gives me perspective on the details that sometimes try to swallow me up.  It lifts my gaze to One who is higher than I.  It reminds me who I am and Whose I am.  Reading my love letter from my Dad reminds me that I have one, and that He’s a good, good father.  He reminds me that I can run to Him and cry or even rail and that he will always be there and still love me.  Reading my Bible helps me live better – love better.  And probably, most importantly, keeps me worshipping the One who loves me most.

So, don’t feel guilted into developing the discipline of daily reading.  Start again today because you’re shamelessly looking for God to bless you.  Look forward to all the benefits and fulfilled promises of knowing and serving the God who made you and takes care of you.  

Below are some sites for plans that are really helpful.  Some love the 1-year plans – I don’t.  I like the 3- or 5- year plans.  I’m a slow reader and I like the freedom of being able to park somewhere for a while if I want to.  But if I have no plan I can get lazy and have trouble getting “un” parked.  Hopefully, these will help you, too.

Lots of plans to choose from here

Design your own plan here

Get your kids in on the reading here
How do you keep yourself on track?  Was this post helpful to you?  Leave a comment below!

Tempted to despair…

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Tempted to despair…

I suppose it is pretty natural to have times when each of us is tempted to despair.  Life’s trial hurt – badly.  Sometimes the pain is so bad that we begin to lose sight of any way out of it.  We begin to wish that we might die rather than go on living – enduring – what we are facing.  

 

I have certainly felt that way, and I’ve talked with enough other people who have experienced real pain to know that I’m not alone.  In fact, I think it’s a fairly normal human experience to have at least a few of these dark valleys during our lifetimes, if not many more.

 

But what do we do when the circumstances of life seem to press in so hard that our chests ache with the heaviness of it all and there is not even a pin-point of light that gives us hope that it will soon be over?

 

We need the LIGHT of truth as desperately as we’ve ever needed it in those times, and yet, if you’re like the countless others I’ve talked with about these tunnels of darkness reading your Bible, praying, or even listening to sermons is more than your numbed mind can manage.

 

How do we cling to the things we know to be true when nothing about our experience helps us believe them?

 

I’ve been in such a time.  Recently.  As in, right now.  But I’ve been in times like this before, too.  I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’d thought I’d share them.  When my eyes are shrouded by darkness I need help to know that the light is there even though it is hidden from me.   Sometimes a friend is able to remind me of what I already know is true, and that is really and truly wonderful when it happens.  But friends are busy with their own lives and the fight against this darkness is a minute-by-minute struggle.  What then?  How do we get through in a way that glorifies God and doesn’t give in to the lies of the evil one?

 

Below is a document I have begun for myself.  It’s still a work in progress – I keep adding to it.  It is a call from the truths of scripture to endure – knowing that even this trial is a gift from a loving heavenly Father who wants me to know him to the depths as well as to the heights.

 

I hope it helps you – or someone you know who is struggling.  I’d love to hear what you might add.

 

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When I am tempted to despair, in an effort to take every thought captive to the mind of Christ, be anxious for nothing, be thankful in all circumstances, and rejoice always I will:

 

    1. Remember whose I am:
      1. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought with a price.  Therefore, glorify God with your body.”  I Cor 6:19-20
      2. “Looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider him that endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you will not grow weary or fainthearted.”  Hebrews 12:2-3
    2. Remember who I am:
      1. “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the ones he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’”  Heb 12:5-6
    3. Remember how I am loved:
      1. “God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Rom 5:8
      2. “Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”  1 John 1:3
      3. “In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  John 14:2-3
    4. Remember that I am valued:
      1. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; for you are of more value than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:29-31
    5. Remember that I am not alone:
      1. “It is the LORD who goes before you.  He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  Deut 31:8
    6. Remember the faithfulness of God:
      1. “I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”  Ps 40:1-2
    7. Expect Him to be faithful again:
      1. “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”  Ps 27:13-14
    8. Ask for wisdom and clarity:
      1. “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God and He will give it generously to all without reproach.”  James 1:5
      2. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path”  Ps 119:105
    9. Remember my blessings and how I enjoy them:
      1. “…what do you have that you have not received?…” 1 Cor 4:7
      2. “O, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.  His love endures forever.” Ps 118:1
      3. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to all mankind.  For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things…. Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”  Psalm 107:8-9, 43
    10. Remember that this is normal for the believer:
      1. “We are experiencing trouble on every side but are not crushed; we are perplexed but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might also be visible in our body.”  2 Cor 4:8-9
    11. Remember the lessons I have learned:

 

  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  Rom 8:28

 

    1. “That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that suprasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within, us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”  Eph 3:16-21
  1. Praise God for His goodness and mercy:
    1. “For you are my hope, Lord God, my security since I was young.  I depended on you since birth, when you brought me from my mother’s womb. I praise you continuously.”  Ps 71:5-6
  2. Ask God to help me:
    1. “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  Matt 7:7
    2. “Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  Hebrews 4:16
  3. And after I have done all of this, I will fasten on the belt of truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, and as shoes for my feet put on the readiness of the gospel of peace.  I will take up the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation, I will hold tightly the sword of the Spirit and pray in the Spirit.  And after all of this, I will stand firm.  And when the time is right, I will do the next thing that God has set before me to do in the race that he has set me on, knowing that his good and perfect will is neither to be trifled with nor railed against.  God help me.

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I’m sorry…

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I’m sorry…

Two of the most used, and abused, words in any language.

We’ve all seen it happen:

An offender offers the obligatory “sorry” to their offended – mostly just to get them (or the situation) off their back.

I’ve seen it with children frequently:  We say, “Jenny, tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him.”  But Jenny is not sorry.  She feels justified because Johnny did (fill in the blank), but we insist.  “It was wrong to bite Johnny.  You owe him an apology.  Now tell him you’re sorry.”  Jenny still isn’t sorry and you have other things to do.  “Jenny!  Tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him or you will (fill in the blank with some consequence of not saying “sorry”).”  The word “sorry” becomes Jenny’s ticket out of this mess, and getting out of the mess is worth more than maintaining her stance of justification, so she, begrudgingly, complies.  “Sorry for biting you.”

But everyone present knows it’s a sham.

Children are not the only ones who are guilty of this.  And, since I’ve been thinking on this and being more aware of how frequently it happens, we adults don’t seem to grow up and get much better at hiding our contempt or the ruse.

Who hasn’t heard (or been) a couple in the midst of a disagreement (where there really is something to be sorry about) where the guilty party is finally convinced that they need to admit it and do the right thing but end up much like the Jenny and Johnny above?  “OK, I’m sorry,” but we all know that’s a lie.

Or, worse still, there is a shouted, “I’m sorry!” with an expressed or implied, “now can you just drop it!” attached to the communication.

I’m sure we all have stories we could tell where we’ve witnessed it.  But if we’re honest, we must also confess that we’ve been “that” guy (or girl), too.

I ask, dear reader, because I wonder if real forgiveness can ever be offered is there is never real sorrow over our wrongs?

Jenny didn’t simply bite Johnny.  She injured his body, sure, but she also injured his person as well.  She bullied him.  She devalued him.  She placed her wants, her desires, her will above him – which communicates that he is worthless to her.  She violated his right to suffer no undeserved harm.  She abused him.

Can a muttered “sorry for biting you” ever express what really needs to be expressed to him without her realizing that she has done far more to him than leaving teeth marks?  (And yes, parenting a child’s heart is incredibly hard and takes much more time – but it is critically important.)

The same is true in adult situations.  When we offend or hurt someone, can the two words, “I’m sorry” ever really be enough?  Can that phrase convey heartfelt remorse over the wrong and the collateral damage that ensued without some evidence of sorrow?

I think not.

The original meaning of the word “sorry” is overflowing with a very different tone.  Old dictionaries use the following words to define “sorry”:

“distressed, grieved, full of sorrow”

“pained, wretched, worthless, poor”

These words paint a fuller picture of what “I’m sorry” ought to convey.  They get to the heart of the matter, don’t they?  Rather than a “can we get this over with” mentality, or “I’m sorry if you’re upset about this” attitude, “I’m sorry” should convey, “I am grieved and full of sorrow that I hurt you.  I am pained that my wrongdoing has affected you so profoundly.  I wish with all of my heart that I had not done it, because I love you and don’t ever want to see you hurt – least of all by me.”

But we don’t really recognize that our insults are damaging and costly beyond the seconds of time they take to express them.  We don’t acknowledge that our refusal to consider someone else’s needs is hurtful and reckless far beyond inconvenience.  We don’t want to admit that our threats or control or indifference express so, so much more than thoughtlessness or carelessness might excuse.

Instead, we defend our wretched behavior.  Or we justify it by blaming someone or something else.

Why do we do that?

Wouldn’t it be better to say, “No!  I’m not sorry!”?

At least if we did that we wouldn’t be adding deceit to the list of our transgressions.

Shouldn’t we at least be able to acknowledge that until we really are grieved over what we’ve done to the other person – in all its fullness – that what we are really communicating is that we are valuing ourselves – our reasons- our excuses – our justification – our position – our status – as more important and worth more than the other person?

You might ask me why I care about this enough to lay it out here.

I have two reasons:  The first is that more and more I see around me a thousand, maybe ten thousand ways we avoid the “little” conflicts in our lives to our peril.  We ignore the things that we don’t want to deal with for a variety of reasons, but they all boil down to this:  we don’t think the other people in lives are worth rolling up our sleeves and getting messy over.  In this area, we don’t want to spend the time or the energy it takes to try to work things out with someone who has offended us, or whom we’ve offended, so we “let it go.”

But it doesn’t go away – it builds.  It gets added to the next time and the next until we erupt and don’t even know where to begin to try to make things right.  Relationships are destroyed over the building up of a thousand unresolved opportunities to say, “I’m really, truly, honestly sorry for hurting you.”

But the second, and infinitely more important reason is this:

Can forgiveness ever be ours if we do not sorrow over our sins?  Can we possibly expect that an All-Knowing God is fooled by our “sorry if I upset you” words when we all know full well there is no real sorrowful remorse?  Can repentance ever be genuine if there is not also sorrow?

Psalm 51: 16-17 says:

For you will not delight in sacrifice (or an obligatory “sorry”),

or I would give it;

you will not be pleased with a burnt offering (or an, “I’m sorry if this upsets you”).

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  (parenthetical statements added)

 

Learn what being sorry means, friends.  Teach your children to understand it as soon as they are able.  And for the sake of the Gospel in your own life and in the lives of those around you, be quick to see the profound and magnificent work that can be wrought through a heart that has learned what it is to be “pained, wretched, distressed, grieved, and full of sorrow.”  All of heaven rejoices over one such as this.

Sticky notes with prayer

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I haven’t posted in a while – life is hard sometimes…

But this morning I was cleaning some files and piles out – trying to clear out the winter collection of neglected things on my “to-do” lists… filing always ends up being something that gets pushed down (or off) the list.

But I found this note – a prayer, really – that I remember writing on a couple of sticky notes while I was hurrying to get a bunch of other things done.  I don’t even know why I kept these – except that maybe they just got stuck to some other, seemingly more important papers.  I don’t tend to keep prayers – I don’t even tend to write them.  I say them and then, truthfully, I usually forget them.  I tend to pray “in the moment”.

But I’m wondering out loud if perhaps I should do more of this – writing down what I’m praying.  Prayer is encouraging.  Praying is encouraging.  Remembering prayers is encouraging, too, because we see so many more answers than when we’re simply in the thick of things.

Hopefully, sharing a prayer will be encouraging as well.  Here it is…

August 18, 2011

Whatever good I see is You.  Whatever kindness, whatever charitable act, whatever generosity – it is all You.  You have made us to reflect Yourself and even when we do not honor you with our lips and hearts, we do so with these reflections of who you are.  But how much sweeter must they be to you when we praise You at the same time?  How much more are you honored when we not only realize this truth for ourselves and thank You for these kindnesses, but when we also open our mouths to those around us with Your praises that simply cannot be held in?  Remind me to praise You out loud.  Embolden me to suffer the scoffing and mocking it might bring, and to count them as rubbish when compared to all that I have in You.

Lord, teach me to see your mercies for mankind as the gifts of love that they are. Teach me to ponder the depth of One who is so good that he is kind not only to his children but also to his enemies.

Teach me I pray, to see your immense pleasure in giving good gifts to your children, and teach me Father to seek the same pleasure in giving good gifts to those around me.  Teach me what the best gifts are, so that in each proper time, I might see not only the need around me but also the remedy for want.  Remind me that even the knowledge of my need to repent is a good gift from you. Keep me humble enough to see repentance as an opportunity to rid my life of everything that keeps me from loving you well.

Teach me Your word O God so that it would guide me even in this.  Help me in my memorization, for I fear that even in these stowed gems that I have stored away – I am losing what I already had.  Help me see age the way you see it, and not as the world sees it.

Help me to love doing good.  Help me to love those you love. And Lord, please help me to love those whom I perceive to be my enemies. Amen.

 

Hopefully this very ordinary prayer from an ordinary woman living a very small and ordinary life will be one such gift to encourage you, my reader.  If not, I know it was to me, for it reminded me of the only One who loves me fully, and tenderly – enough to lead me to some sticky notes with prayer.

Who is miserable?

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I did something yesterday that I cannot recall having ever done in my life before…

I went to a movie theater for a second time to see the same movie.

I know – that’s probably a threshold many of you have crossed over long ago – but I’m not prone to watching movies over and over again like some folks are, so once is usually enough for me.  But I couldn’t resist.

Les Miserables has always been one of my favorite books – but it’s been 20 years since I read it last (I don’t tend to read books over and over again either!).

I’ll leave the cinema critique to the critics, but am compelled to talk about the story. 

WOW!

Oppressive poverty and political commentary aside, this story is about law and grace.  It’s the story of redemption about as loud and clear as the world could hear it except through the pages of scripture itself.  (You can read the story line in a thousand places, so I’ll be very brief – but if you don’t know it, do take the time to research it – or go see the movie and experience it for yourself!)

The wretched Jean Valjean is a bitter and beaten man – a convict who has served 19 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread and then trying to escape – but something (or rather someone) happens that changes everything.  He is utterly undone by the mercy and compassion of someone who knows his sin but chooses to forgive the wrong and suffer the loss himself.  (The loss is represented by silver candlesticks in the story – if you pay attention you see them throughout the movie.)

Jean Valjean is stripped of all of the rationalizations he has allowed himself to excuse his own wicked heart.  His soul is naked before righteousness and he knows it full well.  It changes him completely – dramatically – undeniably.  His life becomes marked – no longer by bitterness and guile toward his fellow man – but by grace, compassion, forgiveness.

Through this character, we not only see the grace extended to a criminal, we also see what that grace can do to a man.  Jean Valjean is manifestly transformed.

But we also meet the law – literally – in the character of Javert, the prison guard who exacted relentless fulfillment of any and every punishment prescribed.  In Javert’s mind there is black and white – law keeping and law breaking.  There are no extenuating circumstances allowed, no justifications – you are either innocent or guilty.  That’s it.

Javert is relentless in his hunt to root out sin and indiscretion.  He is driven to pursue righteousness no matter what.

He shows mercy on no one.  He is confident and calm, knowing that he is right.

As you can imagine the story takes lots of twists and turns, and I won’t ruin the plot for you by giving away any secrets.

But in the beginning of the story, Jean Valjean is clearly the miserable one.  The man is as broken as a man can be.  He is almost an animal.  But God meets him in his wretched state and he is completely changed.  The change is so magnificent that Jean not only sees his own life differently but he sees mankind differently.  He cannot help but to forgive and show mercy because his heart overflows with it.

And, through the twists and turns of the details of his life, when the law wants to rear its relentless head to convict him again, Jean Valjean is sometimes tempted to respond in his old way – but he cannot respond to the law in the same manner he did before he understood grace.

Grace changes everything.

By the story’s end, we realize that the Javert, not Valjean, is the miserable one.  Javert meets grace, too, but responds very differently.   Valjean finds peace – Javert finds none.

It is the story that Christ has written for us.  The law drove Valjean – pursued him! – until he came to a place where he could no longer deny that he lives “a whirlpool of sin”.  We each must come to the place where we recognize that in ourselves (it’s just as true for you and me as it is for Jean Valjean) we are incapable of satisfying the demands of the relentless, unyielding, uncompromising law.

But Jesus made the sacrifice and suffered the loss by giving his life for ours.  And to him – the loss was like the silver candlesticks in the story – nothing when compared to the value he places on gathering his people to himself.  We cannot offer him something in return – we must not try.  We need to accept the sacrifice on our behalf and know that that’s the price that was required to free us.  We need to cherish the sacrifice and love him more because of it.

The change in a man’s life is not just for the “hereafter” though it certainly makes all the difference for eternity.  It is for the here and now.

Poverty and injustice continue – circumstances are not what the story is about.  It is about the place where justice and mercy meet.  The most wonderful or most terrible place in all of time and history – depending on how you respond.