11. Can I Be “Unforgiven?”

20 12 2010

(I have been blogging on the book “The Bait of Satan” by John Bevere. Here are my thoughts on chapter 11)

How seriously do we take Jesus when He says, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). I am sitting here thinking about this, because it is the theme of this chapter: forgiveness and the “consequences of refusing to let go of offense” (129).

Jesus says,

“Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37)

And in instructing His disciples on prayer, He includes,

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

The author says, “The way we forgive, release and restore another person is the way we will be forgiven” (131). This is serious stuff. If I take Jesus at His word, it means there is nothing casual about this process; there is no wiggle room. If I don’t forgive, willfully do not forgive, neither will forgiveness be offered to me. Period.

As I search my own heart I wonder if there are people I haven’t truly forgiven (and the author points out, that person can be you; yourself). When a person’s name comes up and I feel discomfort, is it just that, or is that an indication of unforgiveness?

The author walks through the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18 and three lessons we can take from it (138):

1. When the servant refused to forgive the lesser debt, after he had been forgiven a giant one, he is turned over to torture: agony of body or mind. People who are unwilling to forgive are affected physically and emotionally by bitterness. Jesus said, “if you have anything against anyone, forgive…” (Matthew 5:24). We have to forgive; we have to want to do this in a very serious way.

2. The unforgiving servant had to pay the original unpayable debt: “It is like our being required to pay the debt Jesus paid at Calvary. We would lose our salvation” (139). This is a controversial statement (the idea of losing our salvation) and the author backs it up by lifting up 2 Peter 2:20-21 where people had

“escaped sin…through salvation in Jesus Christ. However, they were again entangled by sin (which could be unforgiveness) and overcome by it. To be overcome meant they did not return to the Lord and repent of their willful sin. Peter stated that turning from righteousness was worse than never knowing at at all…” (139)

Jude 12 talks about people in the church who were twice dead: “to be twice dead means you were once dead without Christ, then you were made alive by receiving Him, then you died again by departing from His ways permanently” (139).

Something to think about.

3. God calls us as believers to forgive from the heart — no matter how great the hurt or offense:

“Jesus was very specific, making sure we understood this parable. In almost every parable Jesus did not offer the interpretation unless His disciples asked for it. In this case, however, He wanted no question about the severity of judgment for those who refused to forgive” (140).

The author points out that unforgiveness is usually seen as a “lesser sin” and we tolerate it far more than other more visible ones. We tolerate it, we sympathize with it even. How often do we point people back to those they have not forgiven, saying, “Before you do one more thing, you need to get before God and forgive this person.” Forgive. Completely; thoroughly in a way that affects how you treat and speak of and be a brother/sister to that person; mean it.

Many will justify themselves in the end (remember the sheep and the goats; the ones who said “Lord, Lord” and yet Jesus doesn’t recognize them?) and all along the way we can do the same: justify unforgiveness.

Talking about the hardness of our hearts is a difficult message. Talking about Jesus saying, “If you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven,” makes one tremble, hey? But maybe we ought to tremble. When the Bible talks about the “fear of the Lord” I think I ought to feel afraid when I am choosing to walk outside of what He asks.

I realize as I am writing all this that David’s prayer is the one prayer I need to pray in earnest, regularly: “search me and know me. See if there is any wickedness in me.” Can’t unforgiveness walk around disguised as something else? Can’t it settle in, but feel like something different? This is where we truly need to invite — seriously and with intentionality — invite the Holy Spirit to reveal all that is within us. And we have to desire to live, forgiving as we go along, and not just in that fake-christiany kind of way where we say it, but nurse an entirely different attitude internally.

Can I simply forgive through my own choice, my own strength? If I take one thought away from this chapter, it is the conclusion that I don’t think I can. What I can make a choice about is moving towards forgiveness, choosing it, working hard to keep pursuing that mindset; but the actual work of forgiving, the kind that goes deep and is complete, I think I need help from the Holy Spirit to accomplish completely.

I try to live forgiving, but unforgiveness comes most naturally. And that is, why…that is why I need the supernatural touch of Jesus Christ to remove every last seed of unforgiveness that has found a place to hide in me.

— Teresa Klassen

P.S. Even as I wrote that last sentence I realized how easy it is for me as a Christ-follower to say, “Amen” to things I agree with. But I think the Christian walk has a lot more blood, sweat  and tears to it — physical applications — than I am often willing to commit myself to…

 

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4. Like You Are One Of My Own

4 12 2010

(For the past few days I have been blogging on the book “The Bait of Satan” by John Bevere. Here are my reflections on chapter 4)

What is my primary concern: my goals, or people?

All of us have goals; another way of putting it is, we all have an agenda. Sometimes it is even a “righteous” agenda but what comes first as we walk alongside one another? What happens when we don’t see what we want to see? What happens when someone steps on our toes; or does something truly “offensive”?

The author does a beautiful job of retelling the story of David and Saul and how Saul relentlessly hounded David, hunted David, and threatened David’s life. David longed for a relationship with King Saul and for there to be “rightness” (like a father and son) but Saul couldn’t see past his own agenda driven by jealousy. David had every reason to be completely put-off; offended. He had every right to take Saul out as Saul was bent on murder. But David’s saw Saul as God’s anointed. Though opportunity continually presented itself, David would not be guilty of bringing any kind of harm to Saul. And when Saul died, David did not sigh with relief; he mourned. He wrote a mourning song and called everyone to mourn. He set apart the place where Saul died and did not declare it a victory, but a loss.

I just have to pause here because as I am reflecting on this I am thinking about how much we DON’T mourn one another. Why do I find it so easy to be angry but so hard to mourn? What would I do differently if I mourned?

Today, brothers and sisters in Christ don’t come after each other with literal weapons, but we “ravage each other with a sword of another kind — the tongue” (40). We lose sight of the fingerprints of God on another person’s life and “we take aim with words sharpened by bitterness and anger” (40). We might even have factual information, but impure motives, warped by an agenda that is anything but loving. We don’t see each other as God’s treasure. We have these miniature holy wars, personal crusades we feel so justified about and want to be victorious in no matter the cost.

And, we see this all too often, brothers and sisters in Christ actually sowing discord. Proverbs 6:6-19 says that to “sow discord among the brethren is an ABOMINATION to the Lord.” Abomination is a loaded word: something detestable or disgusting. God detests and is disgusted by discord. This word ought to hit us in the chest; hard!

The chapter calls those of us who are disciplers to be “fathers” and “mothers” to people, to treat people with the kind of value you would treat your offspring. This picture is clear for anyone who has been called to any kind of leadership position; it also applies to anyone who has influence over someone else; we are all connected to people that we can honor or destroy.

I wonder what would have happened if Saul and David had sat down to talk. What if they cleared the tent of all people (and weapons!) and just looked each other in the eye to speak as a father and son would. What if they shared a meal together and were committed to staying at the table? What if the fists became unclenched, each setting aside their offenses and defenses, and each had the same goal: to put things aright?

If discord is detestable to God, then being of one “accord” must be beautiful to God. Accord means harmony and as I think about that word, harmony is two different notes moving in the same direction that sound good together.

Romans 15:5-7 says,

“Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.”

Ah, accepting one another just as Christ accepts us. There are so many reasons for Christ to not accept me. I am so stubborn. I am so cocky. I usually think I am right and take so long to figure out that I might not be. I am judgmental. I continually lean towards justifying my own actions. I am about presenting my own case far sooner than I am ready to listen to someone else’s. God, it is hard to be selfless! Haven’t I offended God over and over? Yet, He says I am the apple of His eye. He keeps watching out for and over me.

So who has offended me? Am I soft-hearted enough to say, “Jesus adores you, would He accept it if I adored you less?” Proverbs 19:11, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.”

Christ is calling me not to simply overlook offense, He is calling me to be an example during it and through it when the temptation to be offended is in front of me; when the offender is beside me. I have been a Christ follower for a long time. I am not a kid; I am a “mother,” so-to-speak. I am not new around here, I have known Jesus long enough to know what He asks. Christ is asking me to treat people in my life with that kind of tenderness, respect, honor, honesty, commitment and loving guidance that I would offer to one of my own.

— Teresa Klassen





3. Who’s To Blame For This?

3 12 2010

(These past few days I have been blogging on the book “The Bait of Satan” by John Bevere. This post is a reflection of chapter 3).

The author opens this chapter with the question: If you have been genuinely mistreated, do you have the right to be offended?

Take Joseph (in the Bible, the one with the brightly colored coat, the one with the brothers who hated him and sold him into slavery who ended up in Egypt, in Prison, and eventually a leader in the country): he was clean. I mean, other then doing some bragging, he didn’t do anything to deliberately harm anyone and he certainly did not deserve to be accused of anything, nor the hell-hole of prison. He is a “victim” of so many injustices in the story, and usually when I read it I think of how noble he was to dole out mercy in the end rather than do what he legitimately could have: blamed.

Most people, I included, assign blame. We say, “If this person hadn’t done this…” or “If that person hadn’t done that…” then we would be whole, happy, successful, committed, more generous, loyal, kind-hearted, trusting or forgiving. If someone hadn’t offended us we would be less skeptical, critical, wary, closed, bitter, angry, or isolated. We hang on to our offense like a permission slip to be whatever we have become.

In fact, Joseph resists offense and goes as far as to say,

“Don’t be grieved about what you did to me. God sent me here…”

I could possibly say those words; but I am not sure how long it would take me to mean them.

The real lesson in the story of Joseph though is that he chose his response; he chose to not be offended. I am not sure if his attitude was always stellar in prison (those details aren’t given); I am pretty sure he questioned it. Still, as the author notes, prison was a time of sifting and opportunity (27) (think about that) in Joseph’s life. Prison became the place for Joseph to see the greatness of God over the impossibility of his circumstances (25).

It’s funny how I think God sees things the way I do. If someone mistreats me, abandons me, betrays me, I see heaven responding to crisis the way I do. It is as if I think Jesus throws up His hands and says,

“What are we going to do now!  I had these plans for Teresa and this other person got in the way and really caused a mess down there and now the whole thing has gone south. I mean look at the chaos that has resulted. How are we ever going to find our way through that?”

Writing it down looks crazy, but isn’t that how I kinda think? It is like I think God’s plans are tenuous (you know, fragile, weak) and at any moment Satan can come in and sideline them. The author says,

“Absolutely no man, woman, child or devil can ever get you out of the will of God! No one but God holds your destiny” (26).

I don’t want to sound like a cynic, but it is so easy to make “ra ra” statements as a Christ follower, but secretly doubt them because your experience doesn’t match up. When I am angry and hurt and disappointed it is REALLY HARD to bring my thoughts and my heart into alignment. It is super hard to bless those who curse me. Honestly, it’s a fight. My offense and I struggle with each other; at the same time, I can hear Jesus urging me:

“Resist…resist…resist this devil and it will flee from you.”

An offense is the devil, you know. Its personality matches Satan’s exactly: it steals, it kills, it destroys. It doesn’t feel good to live in an offended state. It doesn’t feel good to wait for someone to get what’s coming to them.

Do I want to live in God’s will? Then I must choose to let go of offense and the “need” to blame. Genuinely. Again and again if needed. This is some of what it means to be a Living Sacrifice. To give up the right to offense and choose instead to ask Jesus, “How are you trying to sift my life?  What opportunity for refinement are you steering me towards.”

God, you have not forgotten about me. You aren’t tripped up by people’s innocent mistakes or even premeditated actions (mine or theirs). Some injustices I have experienced I may have just perceived as an injustice; and maybe some have been genuinely unjust. Maybe wrongs haven’t been “righted” to my satisfaction and maybe they never will be. Who will I be in spite of all that? The whole thing — your plan — hasn’t been thrown out the window because the journey hasn’t gone as smoothly as expected. Your measurement of the successful execution of “Your Plan” probably…definitely…looks different from mine. I still actually have room to move, to continue on, because I have room to choose. Lord, the offenses I have hung on to, help me to release these for Your good pleasure; whatever has happened in the past is irrelevant in light of the fact that you will use…in fact, you always intended to use these things, for good.

— Teresa Klassen





You Are Not Stuck

6 11 2010

You know how at the beginning of some TV shows there is this little warning that comes up that says, “this show is not suitable for all viewers.”  Well picture a little disclaimer like that popping up right about now; it’s not a warning, exactly, it is more like a request for permission from you. I am going to talk about some things in this post that might go a little further than you want to go in thinking about things that are more “spiritual” in nature. You might be one of those people who doesn’t really think about “spiritual” things but I am asking you to at least be curious about what I have written here.

If in the end you don’t believe me, I respectfully thank you for at least being open enough to read this; after, you don’t have to give it another thought (but I hope you will).

 

* * *

 

When I was little, I don’t know why, I thought I could do no wrong. Maybe it was because my brother got into a lot more trouble than I did, but I just had the perception that I was always good.  One day my mom had the audacity to tell me that I was (her words) “a sinner.” I was devastated! I ran to my room and cried big, broken-hearted tears. My mom found me in such a state and asked me what was wrong and I sobbed, “I thought I was perfect!”

She laughed because it was laughable; who thinks they are perfect?

Is Anyone Perfect?

Is anyone perfect? If you resemble a perfectionist in any way you are probably saying “no” but nodding your head “yes.” Intellectually you know it is impossible but you may be living like you think you will be the first to achieve it. I know how it is, because, well…you just read about me in the opening lines of this post.

Maybe it isn’t such a big deal to live like that; isn’t it better than the alternative? Hm.

Is anyone perfect? If you have lived a life noticeably far from it, you know for sure that “perfect” does not apply to you. There may be a boatload of reasons why your life has gone off track, but aside from all that you might have made some really bad decisions; you may have done some really reckless things; you may have disappointed more people than you can count (including yourself). You may have made a name for yourself that you can’t escape.

So here you have two people: one is continually frustrated because they are trying oh-so hard to be good, devastated every time they disappoint themselves and others; and the other has given up trying because they can’t see how they could escape the reputation they have created. Both are stuck.

Here Is The TRUTH…

You and I and everyone else have messed up;

We do mess up;

We will mess up again.

There are no exceptions to this.

There is no avoiding it.

You can stop thinking you are uniquely “good” or uniquely “bad.” No one is perfect; not a single person. Whoever has told a “little” lie, gossiped, or has let a hateful thought float across their mind, they lose the contest. Not a single human being gets to be perfect which means that everyone is, as my mom put it, “a sinner.”

Friend, it is an equal playing field.

Your mistakes might be really public or really private. Some people’s “bad” gets splashed across the front page of the paper; some people’s will get them a detention. Some people’s wrongdoings will wreck their family; some people’s will ruin their reputation. Some people’s faults will go under the radar, but they are there, don’t be fooled, they’re there.

Try to think of one perfect person. No one comes to mind?  That’s because this “sin thing” is a condition we are all born with; no one teaches us how to do it; it comes totally naturally to us all. So, we don’t get to judge others; we can’t even judge ourselves! No one get’s to look at the person next to them and say, “I am better than you.” No one gets to look in the mirror and say, “I am worse than them,” because we all fail.

We don’t need to worry that some people are getting it all right and some people are destined to struggle. All of us “sin.” All of us are offenders.

Is This What I Am Stuck With?

Because we all “sin” it really doesn’t matter who is reading this in terms of what I want to say to you next.

  • It doesn’t matter if you think your sin is “light duty.”
  • It doesn’t matter if you have and still regularly, royally blow things apart.
  • It doesn’t matter if people see you as “good” but inside you know otherwise.
  • It doesn’t matter if people don’t see any good in you at all.
  • It doesn’t matter if you think mending your ways will be relatively simple
  • Or if you think there is no hope for you at all because of what you have done.

It doesn’t matter if we rate ourselves, and 0 means mostly good and 10 means mostly bad because contrary to how we see things, our “sin” makes us equals before God. To God, sin in any quantity creates a divide between Him and us that is impassable.

It is one thing to think about how your messes affect your relationships with people, but do you ever think about how it affects your relationship with the God who created you? We were created to have an unbroken friendship with God; zero degrees of separation. He gave us freedom to walk lightly and joyfully on the earth, flawless, unburdened, and completely connected to Him.

In fact, to remove any suspicion that we were only with Him because we had no other option, He gave us the keys to the relationship: the freedom to make our own choices. Love out of obligation does not sit well with God; He is and always will be about freedom.

That’s where the wheels fell off (as you know).

We lost our way in this and thought freedom looked like something else. It didn’t; but by then it was irreversible. You can wish you never did something, but it doesn’t change the fact that you did it. Our rebellion against God would not be an isolated event; it went viral. This “sin” maxed out our credit; the interest (the cost of doing business with sin) alone kept piling on and piling on, suffocating us while we pretended to be happy.

Pause

Can I just hit the pause button for a minute? So what if we have “sin”? So what if our lives run amuck? So what? How important are the things we do wrong? Can’t we just move on and forget about it?

I guess I would throw the question back and ask, “I don’t know, can you?”

The things people do that are wrong, always affect other people. When someone has hurt you, how easy is it to just “move on”? Some of the bruises people inflict on others (physically or emotionally) can last for a lifetime; you always pay, somewhere down the line someone pays for our “sinful ways,” and people end up stuck in the pain they have caused, or the pain they feel.

It is strange how it happens; sometimes you do one thing wrong and it just leads to worse and worse things. One wrong piles onto another wrong and pretty soon there is this mountain of failures in front of you. How easy is it to fix all that? How easy is it to get rid of guilt? How easy is it to mend relationships? How easy is it to mend your relationship with the God who is crazy about you?

Got regrets?

Unpause

What if there was a way to make us “right”?

What if there was someone who could “unstuck” us?

Listen to these amazing words spoken by Jesus Christ:

 

God’s Spirit is on me!

I have been chosen to bring you a message of good news

I am here to bring good news to the poor

I am here to forgive prisoners

And to help blind eyes see

And I am here to take care of people’s burdens

And set those who have been battered free!

Jesus had a radical message. He said that He would take the consequences of all of our “badness” and take what was totally broken, pay the price for all that ugliness by giving up His own life, and set us free. We can’t earn any of it, we don’t have to prove anything to anyone, we don’t have to beg for it. What we need to do is admit our imperfection, our “sin,” and open our hands to this gift of forgiveness and then live out that forgiveness with the kind of gratitude that now allows Jesus to show us a better way to live.

The Opposite of Stuck is…

This idea of being “freed” is something known as “redemption.” Redemption, in case you are wondering, is my favorite word.

  • Redemption, the idea that something otherwise discardable can be made new and usable, when applied to people, is a magnetic message.
  • Redemption, the idea that something can be changed for the better means that I have something to live for.
  • Redemption, the idea that something is gained because something else was cashed in, both crushes me and motivates me when I realize what I gained because Jesus cashed His own life in for me.

The redemption Jesus offers you frees you from being stuck.

Your head might be spinning with everything I have said in this post. There may be things that confuse you. There may be things that bother you. You might be saying, “I don’t even believe in God!” Thanks for taking the time to read this. It isn’t my intention to convert you to some religion, just to introduce you to something that is TRUE and is filled with hope.

I just want to say at the end of the post here, you do not have to be, for one more second, stuck. Jesus’ radical message of forgiveness is for anyone who wishes to receive it.

This whole thing, by the way, is called the “Good News.”

What else would you call it?

— Teresa Klassen

 





Consider: The Plan

30 07 2010

Part 5 of  “Consider This”

“…describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider the plan, and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design…”(Ezekiel 43:10)

When I first read this, I got hung up in the middle, right on the word “ashamed” and didn’t really feel like blogging about it; but the more I looked at it, the more God revealed to me the beauty of this passage; the beauty of what He was revealing to Ezekiel. I am seeing that this is a “get it, got it, good” kind of verse; but to arrive at the good part, you have to get it, got it?

Do I get it about my sin or I do I think I am pretty OK with the occasional deviance. I want to say that I really get it about my sin; sometimes I do; but there are many days I think I am pretty OK (that habit of always justifying, you know?) Being that I don’t have to go and sacrifice a bird or animal for my sins, getting blood on my hands, seeing the destruction of a living creature for my wrong-doings, has made me pretty casual about my sin. I can sin against God and man and drive on; sin being a hardly noticeable speed bump: what was that? Oh, nothing.

Because I don’t usually have to confess my sins out-loud to anyone, I can mostly tiptoe into my room and whisper an “I’m sorry” to God and I am good to go. What must it have been like during the “time of the sacrifice” in Israel with all those sinners walking around, carting their offering for only one reason: they sinned? There was no sneaking into the temple. We are the same sinners today; it’s just that only a few of us have to go public. 

In the passage in Ezekiel God is speaking through him and saying I ought to be ashamed of my sins, ashamed of what I have done. To be ashamed is to feel shame, guilt, or disgrace. In the Biblical context (as used in Ezekiel 43:10) another way of saying it would be “to be humiliated.”

Wordcentral.com gives a good “word history” of humiliation:

In modern English we sometimes say that a person who has been criticized or humiliated has been put down. We speak as though the person had actually been forced to the ground or made to bow down in front of someone else. The origins of the word humiliate itself also suggest the idea of physically putting someone down to the ground.

Who chooses humiliation? Not I. I also don’t like the idea of someone physically putting me down to the ground and forcing humiliation upon me.

I may have mentioned this before, but a while ago I was reading a book (Excellent read: Leading with a Limp: Turning Your Struggles into Strengths) and the author pointed out that the word “humility” comes out of the word “humiliation.”  In other words, really understanding humility usually requires humiliation. At the time, I was walking through a difficult situation and the last thing I wanted was more humiliation; I wanted validation; I wanted relief. But the truth of that statement just landed on me; I know it is true.  Arriving at a place of humility isn’t something I could just decide to do or not to do; if during a time of humiliation my hands remain open to God, humble is something I would be a little more of afterward, naturally.

You have to know, I don’t like anything about that process. But after, after there is something I haven’t expected: actual acknowledgment and then, freedom. There is one less thing to try and prove, one less thing to try to impress people with, one less hidden thing, one less layer; I have found, after, that I am standing before God, agreeing with Him about me: “Yes, this is really all there is.” His hand is on my shoulder, and we carry on.

Can I be ashamed of my sins without God being heavy-handed with me? I am thinking about this and realizing yes, I can, but it takes practice.  Confession and repentance are both “action words” and I tend to be a lot less action-oriented about my sin. The parenting parallels are amazing.  When do you get to the point where you don’t have to tell your child, “at this point you should say, ‘I’m sorry’.” Every time I have to say that, I have just removed the opportunity for sincerity. Shame is not a “repeat after me” scenario. True shame comes from a heart that has felt the cause and effect of sin and is broken up about it. True shame comes when having a right relationship really, really, really matters; it matters more than anything.

Being ashamed/humiliated clears the way for God’s plan to be seen.  Looking back at Ezekiel, God has this amazing plan for how everything could work, how everything could look (if you just flip back a few chapters and even just scan the titles you can see how detailed God’s plans are; amazing). He has it all measured out, the vision is so clear in His mind.  I believe He has one such plan for me, an ideal future that looks like me following Him and us engaging in something above and beyond the drudgery and pointlessness of a self-serving, sin-filled life.

This is what is encouraging about today’s passage.  I think God is standing by and saying, “Just admit it.” As soon as we do so, with humility, He is rolling out the blue-prints to show us what is next.  It isn’t that our sin doesn’t matter, that there are not consequences, but God factors those in. He hasn’t given up on us. He doesn’t say, “Once the heat is off, come back and talk to Me.” God walks with us, among our ruins, saying, “Picture this, we could put this here and that there, and you could use this for that…”

God is always wanting to make known to us the design.

— Teresa Klassen





Fear. And the God Who Pulls Us Back.

4 07 2010

Just digesting Matt’s message today on Proverbs 1:7

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

I found myself asking the question, “Do I fear God?” Matt was saying that there is fear, in terms of respect, but there is also the “terrifying” aspect to God that we have either avoided or misunderstood.

Sometimes I dream of things, events, that run very contrary to my life.  For example, I will dream that I have done something that I am horrified about.  I love my husband Mike as much as I can love another human being, in my dreams this is true as well; but I have dreamed that I have betrayed the sacred bond of our friendship and the moment I have I am filled with terror over what I have done and I can see the road ahead; it is broken and sad beyond words. I see in Mike’s face everything I never want to see; I see the thing I have done to him. Why, I ask myself, why did I do that?

In real life I am pretty good-natured, but I have dreamed that I have committed a horrible crime; the second I realize that I have stepped over “that line” I am filled with terror over what I have done and all the ramifications of that choice.

When I wake up, all I feel is relief. The terror in the dream was so real, I might as well have done it; but I didn’t and I am so thankful for my real world.

When I think about fear and God, I think about what I have and I think about all I “have to lose.”  I think about life without God and I see a vast emptiness that terrifies me. I think of that aloneness. I think of that separation and I can’t get my mind around it. I think of carrying all that I am, the darkness that is my only alternative to living forgiven, and I cannot fathom that. With God, I can imagine being without Him. I see what it is like around me and I think of myself living that way.

I look at God and know I don’t deserve Him. I know that He does not need me, as if I can do some sort of service to convince Him that I am worth keeping in His circle. I see my “good deeds” and think they are works of art, but realize, in the presence of God’s majesty, they are scribbles of crayon; as if He is impressed.

God is not my neighbor. He is not next door to me, like some equal I can visit or ignore. In God’s presence, I am self-aware. I see what the Bible describes as “filthy rags” my sin and my attempts to not appear to be sinful. The fear of God’s perfection is exactly that. I can’t stand before Him and grin about my mistakes, kid around and say, “look what I did.” God has every right to say, “look at the mess you have made!”  and turn His face from me.

But I liked what Matt said this morning, the God that we “fear” has the power to save. We have all fallen off a cliff, but mid-air, without doing anything to merit such a rescue, God (out of love) pulls us back.  The God who has every right to judge us, which ought to terrify us, holds us and keeps us from destruction because of a love we don’t even have a word for.

I liked the question Matt posed, “are we uncomfortable in his grip?”  We hold our children’s hands tightly when something feels precarious, and so does God. We are in a precarious position, so God gives us the desire for God (interesting to think about). In this desire we see how perilously close we came to a lost eternity and this fear drives us towards Him, not away; and He holds us tight within boundaries for our own good.

Ecclesiastes concludes that our whole life’s purpose is to fear God and keep His commands. Yes, I get that.  If I keep a healthy fear, if I long to follow God’s ways, I will see His salvation at work in me.

As a parent, I also live in “fear”  — don’t get me wrong about the word, I don’t mean worry or anxiety — I mean “absolute seriousness”…I feel dead serious about all of this for my children.  I realize they are testing their faith and feeling the constraints of God’s grip and deciding whether they will remain in Him. I get this; and it terrifies me at the same time. Not one thing matters more to me except that they will respond to God, fear Him, follow Him with passion. I want them to understand their precarious position as well and feel the grip of His hand on them, keeping them from falling.

God, may it be so.

— Teresa Klassen





The Second Journey

20 04 2010

(Quotes in this blog-post are all from Brennan Manning’s book “The Ragamuffin Gospel”)

Sometimes you walk through a series of events and at the end of them all, or sometimes in the middle of them,  you know you have changed, or that you are changing. I realize it could be argued that everything changes us, everything steers us in a direction, but I think there comes a time of significant change, when we are “dragged away from chosen and cherished patterns” to face a new reality.

Brennan Manning, in his EXCELLENT book “The Ragamuffin Gospel” says that this often occurs between the age of 30 and 60 but I think for some it happens younger — especially if that person has walked through some kind of fire. At whatever age this happens, suddenly life comes into focus and it is your life, only different. Manning calls this our Second Journey.

“Second journeys usually end quietly with a new wisdom and a coming to a true sense of self that releases great power. The wisdom is that of an adult who has regained equilibrium, stabilized, and found fresh purpose and new dreams. It is a wisdom that gives some things up, lets some things die, and accepts human limitations. It is a wisdom that realizes: I cannot expect anyone to understand me fully. It is wisdom that admits the inevitability of old age and death.” (158)

I really identify with and love how Manning has described this.  It is a different kind of enlightenment then you hear about on Oprah – which is all about self-awareness – because, for the Christ-follower, this understanding is “often accompanied by a second call from the Lord Jesus. The second call invites us to a serious reflection on the nature and quality of our faith in the gospel of grace, our hope in the new and not yet, and our love for God and people.” (159)

When the Bible says that God takes everything and works everything out for good (Romans 8:28), I think that we see this when we begin our Second Journey; we hear Jesus saying, “I am with you, I am for you, I am in you. I expect more failure from you than you expect from yourself,” (168) and we finally begin to understand that. We finally begin to see that God really does use all the “random” events of our lives for His good and our good and they do become tools in His hands to reach out to others and draw them in to His love.

It is during the Second Journey that I think we finally begin to move away from our illusions (see my last post on the “Adidas Bag”) and see our family, friends, coworkers, neighbours and “enemies” more realistically and are able to truly forgive them “acknowledging with unexpected compassion that these people are neither angels nor devils but only human.” (159)

I think we can stand in the way of a Second Journey, or we can open ourselves up to it. I am watching myself in this regard.  I feel like I feel when I swim laps. I am not that great of a swimmer so I really have to think about what I am doing. Am I fighting the water or am I using it to carry me? Am I thinking about what my arms are  doing? Am I thinking about whether I am at the surface of the water or am I drooping down into the depths where there is unnecessary resistance? It is all about form.

I think the same could be said for my own Second Journey which I am awkwardly “swimming” through and what I am letting Jesus teach me. Am I fighting Him or am I letting Him carry me? Am I thinking about what I am doing? Am I thinking about whether I am where He wants me or if I am sinking to places where I am facing unnecessary resistance? It is also all about form.

— Teresa Klassen