Friday, April 3, 2015

Give a Penny, Take a Penny.

Have you ever made a sacrifice for someone who really hurt you?

That's the question I'm asking myself this Good Friday morning.  And I'm having a hard time thinking of one.  It's a shame.

That's a level of forgiveness that I'm afraid I do not know.

There are people from my past that I've forgiven, and I have genuine compassion for them in my heart.  Given the chance, I'd like to act on that compassion, to let those people know that they are loved and forgiven and released, that it's all good because Jesus made it so.  I earnestly pray for glorious things for them and for God to gift us with reconciliation.  

But there are a couple of people that I cannot seem to forgive.  If I saw them today, I don't know that I could even sacrifice a courteous word out of my mouth in their direction.  

Sometimes, I'll find a little shred of compassion for them lying around.  I'll pick it up and hold it in my pocket for a while, but my pockets are shallow.  My compassion for them eventually slips its way out like a forgotten penny, and lays lost and sticky on a dirty sidewalk.

Give a penny, take a penny, right?  Give forgiveness and take it back.

That's not what God meant for us at all.

Jesus had so many opportunities to take our forgiveness back.  33 years worth of opportunities, really, but He never did.  Never once.  He kept trudging toward that hill, every faithful step forward, stooping to pick up our discarded pennies along the way and redeeming every single one of them.

Along the way, they met a man from Cyrene, Simon (the father of Rufus 
and Alexander), who was coming in from the fields; and they ordered him 
to carry the heavy crossbar of the cross.  And so they came at last to the execution site, a hill called Golgotha, which means the "Place of a Skull."  
-Mark 15:21-22

But at the very end, He needed help.  Not eternal Jesus, the only son of God- no, He is never weak, but the fully human package that He offered Himself in? Broken and faltering.  It was Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross this last part of the journey.

It feels blasphemous to type those words, but they are true.

Matthew 16:24 tells me to take up my cross and follow Jesus.  How do I carry that heavy crossbeam on my shoulders every day when I can't even carry a penny's worth of forgiveness in my pocket?  My human self is very, very weak.

I need a cross-bearer to carry what I cannot.  

I need a savior who knows my human frailty first hand and still stands up for me.  

And I need to admit that I am wrong.  I need to quit taking back my forgiveness and entrust it to Jesus instead.

The selfish part of me would just rather lay pinned on the ground under my cross than let Jesus carry it for me.  As long as I have my hands on it, then I believe I can exact justice the way I see fit.

However, if I leave my justice to Jesus, my enemies could have the same fate as me- redemption.  Sometimes that's a hard pill to swallow.

So my original question misses the mark.  Have I ever made a sacrifice for someone who really hurt me?  Of course not.  Because, truthfully, I am not capable.  None of us are really.  Only Jesus redeems.

God, though, knows how stubborn we are.  In His mercy and grace, He draws the way to Himself over and over. Through creation.  Through His word.  Through His Holy Spirit.  Through the person of His son.  And through the story of His people.

So, this is the God-picture that Simon of Cyrene paints for me, that God will lead me to a time when I can't make it on my own anymore.  Then I'll have to make a choice. 

I can lay crushed under my own unforgiveness.

I can leave it to litter the way for everyone else around me.

Or I can give it to someone stronger to carry.  Jesus show me how.

For Jesus is not some high priest who has no sympathy for our 
weaknesses and flaws. He has already been tested in every way that 
we are tested; but He emerged victorious, without failing God.   
-Hebrews 4:15

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Melting Grace

It snowed today.  Not much, but it did snow.  It's been 17 years since I've seen any winter weather more than a dusting.  I was happy but, let me tell you, the boy was ecstatic.  His little Alabama heart thought we had moved UP NORTH.

He had us all snow-creamed, eskimo-cloaked and scaling this frozen tundra well before 8 am this morning- good thing too because this slushy snow is melting fast.

I love the perfectness of snow.  The pure, clean stillness of it.  The glittering silence. That close-your-eyes-and-take-a-deep-breath smell.  It clears the air and shushes the chaos in my yard and in my mind.

The snow in my backyard covers all the worn things new again; dry grass dug raw by my dog is powdered and soothed.  Our broken fence and its fallen birdhouse are made quaint.  That shameful pile of bricks I knocked over in the driveway last fall...redeemed into a gleaming miniature Mt. Everest.

Can I just stay in this moment?

Do you know why winter air smells so clean?  Because frigid temperatures slow down the molecules that make up all the smells we smell.  Dirt and grass and slug trails, all those smells that we don't even register, are blanketed down by the cold so we can fill our senses with fresh nothingness.

I like to think of God's grace as being like the snow, covering all my rough and broken places, capping shame with glory.  It restores order to the chaos and sets things right.

When God created the heavens and the earth, he saw that each part was good.  Not because he sat for endless hours polishing and buffing and covering them with clean, white snow, but because, by his very nature, God defines good.  And when Jesus sits at God's right hand and whispers our names in his ear, God sees us as good too, flaws and all.

I walked outside this afternoon for one last breath of that winter air, and the sound of water overwhelmed me.  Water dripped from trees and trickled from the eaves.  It poured from the downspouts and pooled on the rocks below.  It sloshed under my feet, wetting my shoes, and I realized then that my desire for picture perfect grace has sold this grace very, very short.

Unlike the snow, this grace doesn't disappear in a day.  Or paint a study in perfection for us to stand back and watch.  And it would never, ever fill us up with nothing.  Instead, this grace is melting into living water all around us.  It seeps into broken places and soaks through rough patches.  It funnels deep within and nourishes new growth in dark hollows.  It moves and flows, swirling in and under and all around.  It changes us, washes us all clean, and because of this grace, HIS grace, God sees us through the lens of his son Jesus, and calls us good.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us,
 not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  Titus 3:4-7