Saturday, February 4, 2017

YOUR CLOAK ALSO


“If someone takes your coat,

give him your cloak also.” Matthew 5:40

Jesus was a hard teacher. He said his yoke was easy and his burden light, but he apparently meant that, if we practice his teachings, it will go well with us in the long run. He could not have meant that it is easy to follow his directions all the time, because, frankly, it can be very hard.
Some of his instructions are so contrary to our human nature that, when we hear them or read them, our first inclination is to try to reason around them. “Yes, but…surely he didn’t really mean that, did he?"
The verse above is an example: “If someone takes your coat, give him your cloak also.” There are numerous statements of Our Lord on the same theme: “If someone asks you to go a mile with him, go two;” “If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also.” “Do not resist an evil person.” And most difficult of all, “Love your enemies.”
This is the peace-loving Jesus speaking. But, there were times when he was not so peaceful, when he took a scourge and drove out the money-changers, or when he called his enemies whitewashed tombs and a brood of vipers.
How do we reconcile these seeming disparities in the greatest Teacher’s example?
I recently had a difficult time with a business associate. After my working very long and very hard for him, and following through on my commitments, he claimed utter disappointment and demanded certain large concessions. He also wished to back out of another contract with me, for which I had already done work. Rather than have an unhappy client, I conceded to his first demands, but resisted, in my mind, giving him the second piece of work for nothing.
When I shared this with my husband, he said, “Life is hard and lots of times it is unfair. This is not worth fighting over.”
When he said this, Jesus’s words came to my mind: “If someone takes your coat, give him your cloak also.”
As I pondered both my husband’s suggestion and Jesus’s statement, it occurred to me that the determining principle in whether to “fight back” or “give over” is related to our own well-being. There are things worth fighting for and things not worth the struggle. Jesus is telling us that part of being “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” is knowing when a quick concession is better than a fight.
And then, true to form, Jesus takes the lesson a step further. He says not only should we not demand our coat, but we should give our cloak as well.
The cloak was the most important garment worn in those days. It was the big outer garment that served multiple purposes. It covered all the other clothes, keeping them clean from the dusty environment; it kept a person warm in cold weather; it could even be used as a blanket at night, if you were traveling. It was a very important possession.
And Jesus is saying we should give it up, along with the less important thing that is demanded of us!
But why?
Again, Jesus had our own welfare in mind. It is actually best for us to take our hands off our things, our possessions, our needs, our wants, our desires. To be fully content, we must be willing to give all things over, even to our enemies. In so doing, we are reminding ourselves that our sufficiency is not of this world.
Secondly, Jesus had the welfare of our enemy in mind. By reaching out in generosity, in the face of opposition, we leave the entire matter at the feet of the opposer. We show him that we are not victims, that what he wants is less important to us than it is to him. When we do that, the other person is left to consider himself, before God.
What a liberating feeling comes from letting go! What a joy to let someone else carry the demands he has flung our way!
Yes, there are things worth fighting for, and things that are not worth the struggle. I am quite sure there are many more of the latter than the former.
Once we grasp this principle, we are on our way to fitting ourselves beneath the easy burden and the light yoke of Christ.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

DOES GOD CARE ABOUT POLITICS?

And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. - 2 Timothy 2:24-25

Does God care about politics? Well, a better question might be, “Why wouldn’t He care?” He cares about everything concerning us, our daily lives, peace on the earth, justice and truth.

He also cares about nations. In fact, He came up with the idea in the first place. In Acts 17:26 we are told, “From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” This means God did not just create the earth and the inhabitants of it, then step back to see what would happen. He has an ongoing interest and concern for what goes on down here.

We are also told that He “changes times and seasons; He deposes kings and raises up others.” (Daniel 2:21). Yes! He actually has the ultimate decision as to who will rise to the top in political races!

On its face, this might seem to mean that God favors every person who wins a political race, or that He prefers that individual as being superior to the others. I think this is a shallow perspective. He may not like that person at all, but sees fit to allow that person to rise to the top for reasons greater than the narrow political purpose at hand.

Take a look at what happened to Israel, time and again. When the nation turned from God, He allowed evil leaders to arise. Not all Israelite or Jewish kings were exemplary people. The story of King Saul is one of the most pointed. The people were convinced they should be like other nations and have a human king. To that point they had been ruled by judges, put in place by Divine authority. Now they wanted something more tangible, some man to point to and be proud of, as the representative of their nation.

Saul looked like a good choice. According to the Talmud, he was tall, handsome and had a modest demeanor. He did not swagger, but actually ran from the opportunity to be in charge, making him all the more endearing. Once he was swept to power, however, his personal insecurities drove him to some wicked decisions which have led to problems for the Jews even to this day.

In this case, and in many others, when the nation made demands, God let them have their way, allowing men to take the lead who pushed the envelope of God’s anger, leading the people into idolatry and wickedness.

In effect, by taking His hands off a nation, God allows the chips to fall where they may. Does this mean He is out of control of the situation? No! It means He has decided to control in absentia.

If God raises up and deposes national leaders, He also raises up governmental systems. In the case of the United States of America, the “system” is Democracy. All the more reason to realize that God allows us to make a lot of our own decisions. In the course of our decision-making, in the last few decades, we have effectively dismissed God from the public square. We have made it unacceptable to call on His guidance in public matters.

At this point in our history, we are getting what we asked for. We are getting our choice of leaders who do not call on God in any credible, public manner. They may give lip service, when politically expedient, to a belief in God or a personal faith. But, their manner is almost entirely self-serving, and sometimes actually profane, boastful and quarrelsome.

As Christians, many of us are at a loss to know what to do with the freedom our system grants us: the freedom to have a voice in the selection of our leaders. We see no godly choice before us.

Certainly, God can work miracles in our favor. Any number of things can happen. He could wipe all the godless contenders off the face of the earth, if He so chose. Short of that, what are we to do? We could vote for people who are not even in the running, we could use the write-in option. We could vote for the “lesser of two evils,” or refuse to vote at all.

None of these options is comforting. And, frankly, it is not likely that any such choice will turn the tide.

But, perhaps that is the point. God does not want us to be comfortable. He is allowing our nation to “get what it asked for.”

“But,” you might say, “I did not ask for this! I had nothing to do with it. I actually supported some good people, but they are no longer in the running!”

Such is the quandary of righteous people in a godless culture. And make no mistake, America is essentially godless. By our laws and decisions, America long ago asked God to step back. And so He did.

Timothy described the “servant of God” as being quiet, patient and gentle. Not weak, but strong in the Lord. When there is no clear choice that fits that description, perhaps the choice has already been made…by God.

Regardless of who steps into the Oval Office, it may well be that God has elected to give us what we asked for.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

WHAT TIME I AM AFRAID...


"What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee." Ps. 56:3

For three months, my husband Richard and I have been living on pins and needles, awaiting the results of medical tests he has gone through. Today is the day we are to receive the results of those tests.
Last evening, I went for a solitary walk along a path near our house, which leads to the shores of beautiful Flathead Lake in Western Montana. My dog, Foster, and I were treated to the soft smells and soothing touch of the crisp Spring air. Trees hugged our path as we crept through outstretched branches and beneath overhanging bows. A pair of elegant whitetails bounded through the brush, stopping long enough to check us out. I whistled at them and Foster tugged at his leash with a soft "woof," standing on his hind legs and stretching to his full height of over five feet, as he observed them.
Except for the sadness which had bound up my heart for weeks, this was a perfect moment.
A phrase from the Psalms nudged at my heart: "What time I am afraid...what time I am afraid..."
Yes, Lord...what is the rest of it? Of course I knew. "I will trust in thee."
A couple of nights before I had been unable to stop tears and throaty sobs that wracked me in the privacy of my loft. I had crept out of the bedroom I share with my husband and had stolen to the place that had been a refuge many times over the years...the place where I had sensed God's leading in the writing of so many books...the place where God had spoken directly to me many times.
Would he speak to me again?
Tears did not subside until the same phrase came to me. "What time I am afraid..." Even then, however, I was still desperate.
"Lord, I know I am supposed to trust in you," I cried, "but right now I can't!"
Something in that admission brought a measure of relief to my spirit. I felt the warm smile of my Great Companion when I made my confession. He wanted me to know that I did not have TO DO anything...that trust is the antithesis of work. In fact, the work of trust is to give up, to NOT TRY, but to LET.
The walk through the woods was a continuation of the lesson. The presence of Jesus in the realm of his creation was a balm to my troubled heart. "Walk this way," I sensed him saying. "Trust in me. This is my world, and you are my child. Breathe deeply, hear the silence, bask in my love."
The stolen moment did not take all the pain away. But it held out hope. Jesus would provide a well marked path for me, through green bows and perfect light.

"What time I am afraid..." I am trusting in thee!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

FACING THE LION


Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour .... take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the fiery darts of the evil one. (I Peter 5:8b; Ephesians 6:16)

I like cats, warm cuddly domestic pets with their winsome ways. But, having owned a few (or being owned by them), I am under no illusions as to their basic nature. No matter how charming they may be, they bear within their little bodies the hearts of lions. 

Cats are voracious hunters. They are wired for the hunt, and not necessarily because they are hungry. They can take their fill of kibbles and milk from the bowls their human caretakers provide for them, and yet go right outside and scout the neighborhood for living morsels - mice, birds, insects. 

They will spend hours a day lying in wait in tall grass, their pointed ears attuned to the least scurrying sound, their keen eyes trained on the slightest movement. Or they will hunch down behind a bush near a bird feeder, patient, unyielding, ready to pounce.


And once one of these natural hunters captures a helpless victim, another part of its nature reveals itself. This sweet, endearing creature is downright cruel. He toys with his prey, batting it back and forth, snagging it with wicked claws, then pretending to let it go, giving an illusion of freedom, only to retrieve it and play again. Female cats even teach their kittens this horrendous behavior, modeling the cruelty for succeeding generations.

It was for good reason that Peter chose the lion as exemplary of Satan. Our enemy, or "adversary," is likened to a great cat, prowling the neighborhood, seeking a victim. In the oldest book in the Bible, Job, when Satan comes before the throne of God and is asked where he has been, he tells the Deity that he has been "going to and fro on the earth, and walking up and down on it." He was not getting exercise; he was a predator in quest of his next prey.

Do you ever feel like you are a victim of such a predator? Do you ever feel like you are being mercilessly toyed with, that escape sometimes seems possible, but hope is then cut off? If Scripture is to be believed, we are all potential prey to the wiles of a great hunter, our Old Adversary, the Devil.

And his devices are many. They are called "fiery darts," and are similar to the clawing nails of a cat. They take many forms: fear, guilt, hopelessness, poverty, addiction, prevailing sin, worry, doubt, illness. Satan is called the "accuser of the brethren," and one of his fieriest darts is that of guilt and self-doubt.

This is not a comfortable topic to deal with. It is not a happy subject. But we are warned of his devices repeatedly in the Bible. We are not necessarily imagining it when we feel we are at the mercies of a cruel tormentor.

But this story does have a happy ending. In fact, the Bible tells us about our adversary in order to give us our battle plan. Amazingly, that plan is contrary to our natural instincts. Like little mice or trapped birds, our instinct is to flee, to beat ourselves into a frenzy of attempted escape. But that is not the solution, according to Scripture.

We are told, instead, to FACE THE LION! Instead of high tailing it, we are told to "resist" or "stand up against" the Devil, and he will flee from us! (James 4:7). We are told to take up the shield of faith, with which we can extinguish his fiery darts (Ephesians 6:16), all the clawing schemes he uses to destroy us.

The shield is a frontal protection. The warrior bears the shield before himself, not upon his back. It is useless to him if he is running away from his attacker. We are told to flee situations where we might fall prey to Satan's wiles (2 Timothy 2:22) but we are never told to flee the Old Griffin himself. 

Nor are we to face the lion in our own strength. The shield we bear is that of faith, dependence on the One who has already won the battle for us. 

At this Resurrection season, we are reminded that Christ descended into Hades to "lead captivity captive." Not only did he bring the poor souls out of prison, but he devastated the stronghold (captivity) itself! From His perspective, the war is already over. We have only to claim that in faith, and rise out of our victimhood.

Whatever life has thrown your way, whatever challenge arises, do not back down from it. With the shield of faith before you, turn and face the lion. And celebrate when he flees from you!

HAPPY RESURRECTION DAY!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Something Like Scales - Book Of Meditations

If you enjoy Ellen's blog, you will enjoy her book of meditations, Something Like Scales - Finding Light in a Dark World. Now available in paperback and on Kindle.

Amazon: http://amzn.to/1l18QuP
Port hole publication: http://bit.ly/P4S52M


 

Sunday, April 13, 2014


TO BE QUIET


"Study to be quiet, mind your own business, and work with your own hands, as we commanded... Godliness with contentment is great gain." (I Thessalonians 4:11; I Timothy 6:6)

Quietness and contentment are not topics that turn heads these days. In fact, when I decided to write this installment on those concepts, I wondered how many would read past these first lines.

But, for me (and this blog is about my own thoughts) these topics have become not only very intriguing, but great challenges. As I have become older, and as I look back from the second half of a life journey, I regret that I did not "study to be quiet" all along.

In our busy world of appointments, schedules, demands, both external and internal, the concepts of quietness and contentment are not often hailed as virtues. In western culture, we are encouraged to be involved, accomplished, movers and shakers. We are told that to be blessed, even of God, means that we are always "on the way up," "thrust to new levels," and graced with ever increasing responsibility and prominence.

I think this is especially true of the boomer generation. We were raised with the challenge of such leaders as John Kennedy ringing in our ears, told not to ask what could be done for us but what we could do for our country, to be the generation that would make a difference, correct the wrongs, achieve great things. We were told we were special, because we were born to the returning warriors, and that we were destined to carry the world beyond war and injustice. Great responsibility devolved upon us, by virtue of the timing of our advent. And, we were also very privileged, told to believe in ourselves as capable of most anything, and treated as if it were true.

While there may be nothing intrinsically wrong with such goals, I wonder how supported they are by Scripture.

For St. Paul, "great gain" consisted of just the opposite. It consisted of a quiet spirit, and a profound, unearthly contentment. And the condition of quietude was actually commanded! He did not consider it an exotic option, but an absolute spiritual essential.

These virtues were rarely ever taught to us, if at all. And most of us never learned that they needed to be "studied" as a discipline.

Quietness and contentment are hard to achieve. They require a form of work that is antithetical to the work of this world. They require surrender, self-control, humility...and practice!

Nor does Scripture promise that by keeping this commandment we will experience heights of glory in this world. Paul, who had learned "in whatsoever state" he was, "therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11) wrote this from prison, a captivity that would ultimately lead to his martyrdom. In worldly terms, he was no hero. He was a loser. Yet, how liberated he must have been!

One of the hallmarks of a quiet spirit, according to Paul, is the minding of one's own business. We certainly cannot be content or quiet when worrying over our own problems, and to launch into an interest in the affairs of others makes for a murky existence indeed. We are to keep quiet, do our own work and let others do theirs. We are not to keep track of their failures or successes, their shame or reward. The jealous, the judgmental, the busybodies and rumor mongers need not apply!

But, lest we think the quietness and contentment Paul spoke of denote lethargy and apathy, we should think again. Nobody changed the course of the world more than St. Paul. Paul the Contented, Paul the Quiet rocked the earth for Christ. Because when he did speak up, when he did challenge the rulers and powers of this world, it was Christ who spoke through him.

Righteous contentment and quietness do not stand idly by in the face of evil. Because the contented have done their spiritual practice, they are capable of great feats, and their faith moves mountains.

This is a paradox. "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength," said Isaiah. When we study to be quiet, we are flexing our spiritual muscles. When we exercise our faith, we can do all things through Christ.
We can change the world through our quiet contentment.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

THE GOD FORMULA

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. (I Corinthians 13:4-8a - NIV)


Courses in Logic used to be required fare for high school students. The discipline of reasoning and making sense of things bit the dust along with requisite Latin, Greek and other classical studies, long before I walked the halls of South Eugene High School.

But, I do remember one logical formula that was drummed into us in our basic Algebra classes. 

I loved Algebra, at least the fundamental version which I took in junior high. I used to rush home from school eager to tear into my Algebra book before dinner. Now, don't get me wrong. I am no mathematics brain. In fact, later on, I barely passed college Algebra, even with the help of a hired tutor. But there must have been something in those beginning lessons that appealed to my right-brain strengths. Maybe the fact that letters were substituted for numbers made it easy for my literary mind to grasp.

Algebra was logical. And one of the first Algebraic properties I learned was that if A=B and B=C, then A=C. Likewise, if A=B and A=C, then B=C, and so on. This understanding is handy when working our way through life. I.e. If water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside, then the wet roads will probably be slick. (Bad example, but you get the point.)

I was recently thinking about how this principle might be applied in theology. In other words, are there some qualities (A and B) which are co-equal, that can lead us to an understanding of yet another equal, who just happens to be God (C)? Is there a back door, so to speak, to an understanding of the Divine, that is just as simple as a basic formula?

I believe there is.

I John 4:8, and 4:16a tell us unequivocally that God is Love.

So let's start with the C of the equation. God=Love.

Now, look at I Corinthians Ch. 13 (the Love Chapter), and we will find the A of the formula, Love. Likewise, we will find several Bs of the formula: patience, kindness, humility, forgiveness, truth, protection, trust, hope, perseverance, steadfastness. 

Rushing home from school, we can open our Algebra book, the Bible, and dive into the most marvelous lesson in logic ever given. It can be written several ways, depending on the definition given to the letter B.

If Love (A) is patient (B), and God (C) is Love (A), then God (C) is patient (B). If Love is kind, God is kind; if Love is forgiving, God is forgiving. If Love is truthful, protective and steadfast, then so is God.

But what about those attributes which we don't usually associate with God, Himself: humility, trust, hope, perseverance? Aren't those qualities which are a bit beneath a Sovereign Master? Why would God ever be humble, why would He choose to trust in anything or anyone but Himself, why is such an open-ended trait as hopefulness associated with a God who knows all, sees all, and in fact made it all?

These are godly traits because God is Love, pure and simple. Believe it or not, He actually holds out hope for us, he trusts in us, believes in us, even though, as the Bible says, He knows that we are "made of dust." Perhaps these traits, more than the others, bespeak the essence of Divine Love. For, knowing how frail we are, He chooses to plant His image in us; and in loving us, He is in fact loving Himself, seeing the potential in us, and knowing what we can become if we become like Him.

Which is what the Love Chapter is all about. It is about becoming more like God. It is about allowing God's Love to infuse us, live out through us and exert itself through us.

So, as we analyze the God Formula, it might be wise to add another letter to the mix: the letter D, to represent ourselves. When we can see ourselves in the formula, then we will have come full circle. The more we become like God, the more we will exhibit all the qualities of Love: patience, kindness, humility, forgiveness, truthfulness, protectiveness, trust, hope, perseverance, steadfastness. 

In fact, Jesus gave us a similar formula for this relationship, when he said, "On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." (John 14:20 NIV). 

A=B=C=D!

Now, there's a formula!