Chosen, Holy, and Dearly Loved

Jason Gray’s comments preceding his song “I Am New” at the Community Coffeehouse resonated so much with what was on my heart I transcribed it:

“We do really well with the difficult scriptures which tell us we are sinner saved by Grace, with hearts deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.  And we need to reckon  with those, because that’s true, and those are the verses that God uses to reveal our sin, our need for Christ, our need to be saved.

But once they do their work, once Jesus saves us, we stay camped out here often, staying in the shame and guilt, [or what becomes] shame and guilt.

But Jesus moves on to a new work- after salvation he begins a new work called sanctification, and when He is doing that work He has new things to say about us, new words- things that are even more difficult: that because of Christ we are now chosen, holyand dearly loved– not that we are going to be holy- but somehow, right now, we are holy, and without blemish, and free of accusation.

And then the most mystifying of all: that because of Christ, we become the righteousness of God.

And I don’t believe it when I look in the mirror.  But it’s right there, in God’s Word.  And I wonder if part of becoming new begins with believing and trusting what the Lord has to say about us.”

Thus my prayer:

Help me trust, O Lord, in what you see.  Shame and guilt have been such a large part of my life, that despite Your promises, despite the robe held out by you O Loving Father to this prodigal son, I’m still used to these rags I wear, and am even still rehearsing my speech of contrition while You call for a feast in celebration of my return.

I’ll admit it- shame is easier sometimes than surrendering to Your will.  I squirm sometimes even when close friends and acquanitences give me compliments, and here You are the Almighty saying I am Your own, forever.  That I am cherished, and loved.  Dearly loved.

What to do with such knowledge?

Then I hear the whisper of the Spirit, asking me to be the hands and feet of thee:

“Tell others the same.”

Hello, reader.

Hello sister.

Hello brother.

Hello, friend

You too.

are chosen

are holy

are dearly loved.

Just passing it along.

Amen.

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“No Comparing:” Reflections on George MacDonald 20

Here there is no room for ambition.  Ambition is the desire to be above one’s neighbor; and here there is no possibility of comparison with one’s neighbor: no one knows what the white stone contains except the man who receives it… Relative worth is not only unknown- to the children of the Kingdom it is unknowable.

A note of context before we begin: the “white stone” that MacDonald refers to alludes to Revelation 2:17 (“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.”)  MacDonald notes that each of us gets a “white stone” from God, that expresses, in Him, our deepest identity and meaning.

We like ambition in the United States.  We need ambition now- the drive to get this country moving again, to recover what’s been lost- sense of unity and hope.  But it’s necessary to define the first word in this reflection: “Here.”

What “here,” is MacDonald talking about?  When ambition is “the desire to be above one’s neighbor,” it is an ambition based on the Self.  What “I” want, what “I” deserve.  Therefore, the “here” that MacDonald speaks of , which has “no room for ambition” must be a place of Non-Self, or a focus to where the Self is not the Center.  This is a “here” in the presence of God.  There is no measure, no “relative worth,” for, as Jack Kerouac once said, “All is precious and holy.”

This is why when Jesus was approached by the mother of the sons of Zebedee, who wanted her two sons to sit at the right and left of Christ in Heaven, he said “You do not know what you are asking.” Later in the passage he spoke to the other disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20: 25-29)

Those who long to be close to God must first let go of the desire to be first among others.  There is no hierarchy of Love with God.  It encompasses all completely and fully.  To desire to have more of the Love than another corrupts that Love, and makes it unattainable.

“Truth is Truth:” Reflections on George MacDonald 14

“Truth is truth, whether from the lips of Jesus or Balaam.”

We are either attracted or repelled by statements like this.  When we are attracted to the quiet wisdom or the blunt direction given by such statements, we often reduce the value of it by incorporating it into some ad campaign or slapping it on a bumper sticker.  The words are made to identify with us, instead of our conscious effort to identify ourselves with the words.  Therefore, the concept of world peace becomes a statement “Imagine World Peace,” which becomes a stock phrase with no real meaning or activity behind it, which soon becomes a pun (“Imagine Whirled Peas”), and then is quietly swept off the table of public discourse, along with the possible reality and wisdom behind it.

When we are repelled by these statements, we argue about their rigidness, their inflexibility, the impossibility of a last word on anything.  Instead of reducing the statement, we now expand it, stretch it beyond the parameters of its wisdom, until we satisfactorily render it meaningless, as just another statement in the grand noise of the world (Screwtape would be so proud). Every statement requires some amount of intellectual rumination, but it is almost as if we want to chew without getting the benefit of the nutrients.   I recently read an unfavorable review of Paul Ricoeur’s Evil: A Challenge to Philosophy and Theology, in which the reviewer lamented, in the title of his review “What good is wisdom if you can’t communicate it?”  In other words, do we get to the point of making things so obtuse as to render the meaning of something negligible to the human experience, spiritual, emotional, physical, or psychological?

I think MacDonald’s axiom falls into the latter category.  I picture MacDonald like a misplaced Tibetan monk, wandering the highlands of foggy Scotland, with a trail of novices following behind him.  One novice runs up to him and asks “Who tells the truth, and who lies?”  To which MacDonald replies “Truth is truth, whether from the lips of Jesus or Balaam.”  Now, the novice wrinkles his brow, runs the thought through his mind, processes it, questions it, and tries to see the logic behind it.  After a few minutes, he opens his mouth again and says, “But…” MacDonald calmly raises his finger to his lips and smiles at the novice, and turns toward the highlands again.

MacDonald recognizes the two steps the novice missed, steps which our culture increasingly tries to detour around: the path from mind to heart, and from there the path from heart to silence.  The novice did not allow MacDonald’s words to seep into his heart; he was merely satisfied with an intellectual joust.  But statements like this demand not an intellectual dismantling, but reflection in our innermost being, which brings us ultimately into that Silence in which all find their peace.

I fully realize that I have not even really touched on the meaning of MacDonald’s proverb, except in the most general sense.  The irony is noted.  So I’ll sign off:  it’s time to stop talking, and to reflect…