Chosen

Happy 2018. I hope it finds you doing well. I have been reading a thought-provoking book recently, and I wanted to share an excerpt that I find timely as we move into the new year. May you live each day of this coming year as one who is chosen.

“…choice is no longer just a state of mind. Choice has become a value, a priority, a right. To be modern is to be addicted to choice and change. These are the unquestioned essence of modern life.

“…choice and change lead quickly to a sense of fragmentation, saturation, and overload. In the modern world there are simply too many choices, too many people to relate to, too much to do, too much to see, too much to read, too much to catch up with and follow, too much to buy.

“Each choice sprouts with its own questions. Might we? Could we? Should we? Will we? Won’t we? What if we had? What if we hadn’t? The forest of questions leads deeper and deeper into the dark freedom, then to the ever darker anxiety of seemingly infinite possibility.

“…ultimately only one thing can conquer choice—being chosen. Thus, for followers of Christ, calling neutralizes the fundamental poison of choice in modern life. “I have chosen you,” Jesus said, “you have not chosen Me.” We are not our own; we have been bought with a price. We have no rights, only responsibilities. Following Christ is not our initiative, merely our response, in obedience. Nothing works better to debunk the pretensions of choice than a conviction of calling. Once we have been called, we literally have no choice.”

The Call, Os Guinness; taken from pp. 175–177

Alabaster

He threw his head back, shaking the shoulder-length matted hair off of his sweaty face, and took a deep breath. It was then that he caught the faint scent: her perfume. He slumped down again, head drooping forward, and as his hair veiled the horrific scene around him, memories flooded his mind.

Could it really only have been three days* ago? So much had happened since then.

What a difference three days can make.

They had passed through her town and, like usual, had stopped by her house. He was always welcome there and indeed, her family would have been hurt if he had passed them by. He would not have missed visiting them for anything—especially not this trip.

He had tried to explain; tried to tell them all. But it seemed no one could grasp what he was saying—nobody but her, that is. He could tell from the pain in her eyes, and the paleness of her cheek that she understood all to clearly. He ached as she rushed from the room. This was not the way he had wanted to say good-bye.

Perhaps she would seek him out in a more private moment, so they could speak the words left unsaid between them.

She had always been the quiet one, overshadowed by an over-achieving sister and a celebrity brother. Maybe that’s the reason she seemed to listen to him more deeply than most, hearing with more than just her ears. Although he was surrounded by many who cared but rarely understood, her perceptiveness somehow made him feel less alone.

Heavy at heart, he had left their home. She had not returned, but he had to move on. On to a party that evening, and then on his way first thing in the morning. On to more celebration, but also, he knew, to incredible loss, pain and sorrow. The storm that awaited him hung on him like a shroud.

He had done his best, though, to shake it off during the evening meal. The host welcomed him warmly and his traveling companions strove to lift his spirits. They knew he was troubled, but hoped against hope that it was just a passing mood.

Suddenly there was a stir at the door. Voices raised, there was a scuffle, and then she pushed her way through. Even he was surprised. It was not her way to make a scene in public.

Her eyes locked on his as she moved toward him silently. He could tell she had been crying, but there was a solid steadiness about her that he had never seen before. Her jaw was set stubbornly as she pushed through the thick silence that filled the room.

When she reached him she knelt to be even with his face. Two dozen pairs of eyes glared at her, challenging her right to be there, but the only ones she cared about were his. He hoped she could read in them the gladness that filled his heart at seeing her once more.

With a strength that gave elegance to her every move, she pulled out a small stone bottle and in one swift downward motion broke its fragile neck on the edge of the table.

A gasp filled the room, as a pungent aroma told guests all they needed to know about the contents of the vial, and its significance.

Silently she stood behind him and tipped the bottle. The perfume ran down his hair, his face, his beard. Pandemonium broke out in the room, as guests protested the impropriety of her actions. But the two of them remained unmoved, still in the middle of the storm.

When the last drop of the precious liquid had been poured out she stepped back. The bottle dropped to the ground and shattered as her shoulders sagged and her hands fell limp to her side. She seemed spent and unsure after such an extravagant display of love.

Voices raised in volume all around him, faces filled with scorn. For a moment the stench of fear that oozed from his companions overpowered the sweet fragrance of her gift—for she had dared to acknowledge and act upon a truth that they had all been desperate to deny.

He sprang to his feet to defend her, and although his words were addressed to those around him, they were for her alone. “She has done a beautiful thing. She has done what she could.”

He saw his words sink deeply into her soul. She smiled faintly at him even as her eyes brimmed with tears. He smiled back gently. Their good-bye had been said.

For the next three days, the fragrance of that gift had lingered, in his hair, on his clothes, in his heart. Something about it comforted him, gave him courage.

Now, in his darkest hour, he threw back his head and gulped the air again. Once more he inhaled that sweetness as he filled his lungs. He cried out. “It. Is. Finished.” His knees buckled and his body sagged as his head fell limp to his chest. Broken. Poured out. An extravagant display of love.

 

Epilogue:
I sobbed upon hearing the details of his betrayal and agonizing death. I ached to have been there, to have provided even the smallest amount of comfort. I had done what I could but it was so insufficient.

I grieved for him as deeply as I had my brother, so dear was this man to my soul.

But then, just like my brother, once more he stood in front of me—whole, healthy, full of life and laughter. He assured me that I had been with him the whole time.

What a difference three days can make.

– – – – – – – –

*The timing indicated in this writing follows Mark’s account of Jesus’ last days (Mark 14:3–9). The identity of the woman as Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus is supported by John’s gospel.

 

 

The Goodly Fere

by Ezra Pound*
(Fere = mate, companion)

Simon Zelotes speaking after the Crucifixion.

HA’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.

When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see,
“First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he.

Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,
“Why took ye not me when I walked about
Alone in the town?” says he.

Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine
When we last made company.
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere,
But a man o’ men was he.

I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men
Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.

They’ll no’ get him a’ in a book, I think,
Though they write it cunningly;
No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere
But aye loved the open sea.

If they think they ha’ snared our Goodly Fere
They are fools to the last degree.
“I’ll go to the feast,” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Though I go to the gallows tree.”

“Ye ha’ seen me heal the lame and blind,
And wake the dead,” says he.
“Ye shall see one thing to master all:
’Tis how a brave man dies on the tree.”

A son of God was the Goodly Fere
That bade us his brothers be.
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men.
I have seen him upon the tree.

He cried no cry when they drave the nails
And the blood gushed hot and free.
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue,
But never a cry cried he.

I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men
On the hills o’ Galilee.
They whined as he walked out calm between,
Wi’ his eyes like the gray o’ the sea.

Like the sea that brooks no voyaging,
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret
Wi’ twey words spoke suddently.

A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea.
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.

I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb
Sin’ they nailed him to the tree.

*Note from the blogger:
I know Ezra Pound did not lead an exemplary life in many respects, but I cannot help but be moved by this depiction of Jesus and His “power under control” at the crucifixion. 

Spiritual Love

“Therefore, spiritual love will prove successful insofar as it commends Christ to the other in all that it says and does. It will not seek to agitate another by exerting all too personal, direct influence or by crudely interfering in one’s life. It will not take pleasure in pious, emotional fervor and excitement. Rather, it will encounter the other with the clear word of God and be prepared to leave the other alone with this word for a long time. It will be willing to release others again so that Christ may deal with them. It will respect the other as the boundary that Christ establishes between us; and it will find full community with the other in the Christ who alone binds us together.

“This spiritual love will thus speak to Christ about the other Christian more than to the other Christian about Christ. It knows that the most direct way to others is always through prayer to Christ and that love of the other is completely tied to the truth found in Christ.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Life Together
(emphasis mine)

An Ash Wednesday Reflection

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.
—Exodus 34:6–7

We can often rationalize sin away with the thought, “Well, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else…” We tend to think private, secret sins that don’t involve another are our business alone and nobody else’s.

I have mixed feelings about the passage above. It is God describing Himself to Moses, and it is beautiful and noble and awe-inspiring. But it kind of hits a sour note at the end. I am just fine with the guilty being punished, but to carry it on three and four generations down the line? Doesn’t seem too fair…

There are a number of viewpoints and commentaries on what this might mean and how it might work, but that’s not where my focus is.

What strikes me deeply is this: there is no such thing as a private sin. The people around us are hurt by our wrong choices whether they know about them or not. Our sin affects others. Period.

Ash Wednesday is a day of self-examination, confession, and repentance to kick off the Lent season. Although I did not grow up in a tradition that observed Ash Wednesday, I am now part of a fellowship that does.

In our Ash Wednesday service each person confesses his or her sin to others with the words, “I am sorry for the way my sin has impacted you.” It is a strangely liberating experience to have another look me in the eye and say, “You’re forgiven.”

So whether or not you observe Ash Wednesday, take some time this week to think about the secret sins in your life. Bring them into the light before our God Who is “merciful and gracious…forgiving transgression and sin”. Even better, find someone you trust and speak the words out loud. Let them offer words of forgiveness.

Because even our private sins leave a lasting impact if left unconfessed.

Justice, Mercy, and Humility

Seek Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly.

I have seen these sentiments thrown around a lot recently. Loudly. Boldly. Publicly. Usually to support one cause or another.

But the longer I sit with these ideals, the more inclined I am to fall on my knees than to parade my opinions in a public forum.

These concepts come from Micah 6:8.* They are commonly understood to be a formula of sorts for pleasing to God. A + B + C = a godly life. But could there be an error in our calculations?

Justice and mercy, if you really think about it, are opposite ends of the same spectrum. To mete out full justice one cannot give way to mercy. In order to offer mercy, justice must be tempered or set aside. It would appear, then, that total justice and pure mercy are impossible to pursue simultaneously. At best we will come up with some sort of compromise, in which neither is completely attained.

Could it be that the calling to pursue both justice and mercy is an impossible task, humanly speaking, meant show us how small, flawed, and insufficient we are, and bring us to our knees? In other words, to make us humble?

Only God can truly execute justice and mercy simultaneously—and yet even His perfect solutions could be criticized depending on one’s perspective. Take a look at the cross.

One might say that the cross was an instrument of absolute mercy, making it possible for those who deserved death to be pardoned of their guilt and given a clean record. And he would be correct.

Another could see in the cross an absence of mercy, pointing out that Jesus paid the ultimate price for the debt of others, dying a cruel, agonizing death even though He begged to be delivered from such a fate. And she would be stating fact.

Some might argue that absolute justice was carried out on the cross. God’s righteous requirements were perfectly satisfied as every last sin was condemned and punished. And that is true.

Others could say the cross was a great miscarriage of justice, as an innocent man, undeserving of any condemnation, was tried and tortured for things He had not done—and they would also be right.

None of us could have conceived of or carried out the cross. In fact, most of us with a sense of justice and heart for mercy would probably have done all we could have to keep the cross from happening. And yet it was God’s perfect plan.

God’s ways are not ours. We are fallen and we are fallible and we can only ever see our small part of the big picture. Anyone who is honest with him- or herself must bow in absolute humility under the impossibility of truly upholding both justice and mercy.

So what is the solution? Seek Jesus. Love Jesus. Make walking with Him intimately the top priority as well as the ultimate purpose of our lives. Listen. Ask. Be still with Him.

And only then move in this broken world as He leads and convicts—with deep humility—always remembering that another, who also passionately loves Jesus and is equally committed to pursuing justice and mercy, might see things in a totally opposite way. And they could still be right.

– – – – –

*The Hebrew word translated “mercy” or “kindness” is hesed and carries far more breadth and depth of meaning than our translations convey. While this verse itself deserves further study, I am dealing in this essay with the concepts as popularly used and understood today.

Listen with the Ears of God

Argh. Having trouble getting a full post written. Here’s a quote to tide you over…

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.