Lenten Reflection–The Invitation

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When he takes it all away, will we love him more than things, more than health, more than family, and more than life? That’s the question. That’s the warning. That’s the wonderful invitation.
John Piper in “I Was Warned By Job This Morning”

The warning of the Book of Job is that it could happen to us too–everything we have strived for, cared about, loved and valued taken away. If we are stripped bare naked, nothing left but our love for God and His sovereign power over our lives, will we still worship His Name, inhale His Word like air itself, submit ourselves to His plan over our plan?

I know I fall far short of the mark. It takes only small obstacles or losses to trip me up so I stagger in my faith, trying futilely to not lose my balance, falling flat-faced and immobilized.

When I’ve seen people lose almost everything, either in a disaster, or an accident, or devastating illness, I’ve looked hard at myself and asked if I could sustain such loss in my life and still turn myself over to the will of God.

I would surely plead for reprieve and ask the horribly desperate question, “why me?”, girding myself for the response: “and why not you?”

The invitation, scary and radical as it is, is from God straight to my heart, asking that I trust His plan for my life and death, no matter what happens, no matter how much suffering, no matter how much, like Christ in the garden, I plead that it work out differently, more my own choosing that it not hurt so much.

The invitation to His plan for my life has been written, personally carried to me by His Son, and lies ready in my hands, although it has remained untouched for years. It is now up to me to open it, read it carefully, and with deep gratitude that I am even included, respond with an RSVP that says emphatically, “I’ll be there! Nothing could keep me away.”

Or I could leave it untouched, fearing it is too scary to open. Or even toss it away altogether, thinking it really wasn’t meant for me.

Even if, in my heart, I knew it was.

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ C. S. Lewis

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Lenten Reflection–A Good Time

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We want, in fact, not so much a father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven: a senile benevolence who, as they say, “liked to see young people enjoying themselves” and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all.”
C.S.Lewis

There was a time when He wasn’t just a Father in heaven. He was the Creator who strolled along beside His creation in the garden. But we weren’t satisfied or “happy” enough with that.

Then, with all the trouble we had made for ourselves in our pursuit of a good time, He returned to try again to salvage His unsatisfied creation, coming to us borne from a woman, who raised Him with a man to guide and protect Him through to adulthood. He then walked beside us again, teaching, healing, helping, embracing and weeping alongside us. Few really listened, understood, believed a message of grace and forgiveness that can only happen at the price of rejection, sacrifice, suffering, death.

This was not exactly a “good time was had by all.”. We had our chance at that and blew it. There is no enjoyment in paying the cost of redeeming the fallen and broken but there is joy in the outcome. That takes a Father beyond any we can imagine–one who takes the wounds for us, leaving us unscathed.

Goodness prevails over good times. Every time.

Lenten Reflection–Birth of Dawn and Dew

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Overcome us that, so overcome, we may be ourselves: we desire the beginning of your reign as we desire dawn and dew, wetness at the birth of light. – C.S. Lewis

My husband and I have just spent our first night in Japan, traveling to share some precious time with our son who teaches in Tokyo, and staying with our close friends of thirty years who are serving as missionaries here. With our internal clocks off, we woke at 2 AM, so over the last hour, I have watched Tokyo awake cold, gray and overcast, much like dawns at home in the Pacific Northwest Although there was not the visible ‘rising sun’ this ancient land is known for, a birth of light still happened just as it does anywhere on earth to erase the night, even above and despite the cloud cover.

I am overwhelmed by the vastness of the ocean we flew over yesterday, the hugeness of this city and its multimillions of people, by the fact we are able to be here at all in mere hours in this modern age of transportation. I am overcome that I can witness the dawn no matter where I rise, insignificant as I am, that I am able to feel at home even in far off lands.

May I be confident, no matter where I sleep or awake, I can be witness to a dawning, inevitable, that rises over a vast Kingdom without borders, without corruption, without alienation, without end.

No matter where I lie, I will be covered in its cleansing dew.

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Lenten Reflection–No Fear

Rembrandt's Christ at Emmaus

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear
1 John 4:18

The community of faith and community of life in the first love was marked by the risen Christ–the Christ who had said, “I am with you always.” Everything depends on seeing the mystery of the risen Christ as unconditional love. In Christ, God’s love is put into practice.
Eberhard Arnold

Of course there was plenty to fear. There had been a brutal arrest in a garden, facilitated by one of His own. The rest ran or actively denied involvement. There was a hasty hearing, and a trial of sorts, and then beatings and condemnation by acclamation. There was the impossible task of lugging a heavy cross up hill, then being attached by nails, hung, dehydrated, denigrated, left to die.

Plenty, plenty to fear. Those who loved Him were terrified.

When they returned after the Sabbath to care for His body, still concerned for their own safety, they heard again very familiar words: “Do not be afraid.” He was conceived and born under those words, and after His death, those were among the first words they heard the risen Christ say, and He repeated them as often as they needed to hear them, which was often.

Do not be afraid.

Perfect love casts out fear. As we are so flawed, so incapable of perfect-anything, we fear, and fear desperately. But because He is capable of perfect unconditional love, He demonstrates that love tangibly and palpably: breaking bread, breaking Himself, pouring wine, pouring out Himself. He creates an everlasting community of love by promising to be with us always. So we put it into practice with each other, and especially with those who are strangers and enemies.

Why fear any longer? He is walking alongside us illuminating our minds and filling our hearts, He is at the table feeding us, He is holding us as we pass into His arms.

Perfect
mysterious
unending
unprecedented
unconditional
love has no fear
forever.

Lenten Reflection–Love Enfolds the World


stanzas from the English hymn by Timothy Rees, all photos by Josh Scholten

God is love, let heaven adore him
God is love let earth rejoice
Let creation sing before him
And exalt him with one voice

God who laid the earth’s foundation
God who spread the heavens above
God who breathes through all creation
God is love, eternal love

God is love and love enfolds us
All the world in one embrace
With unfailing grasp God holds us
Every child of every race

And when human hearts are breaking
Under sorrow’s iron rod
Then we find that self same aching
Deep within the heart of God

God is love and though with blindness
Sin afflicts all human life
God’s eternal loving kindness
Guides us through our earthly strife

Sin and death and hell shall never
O’er us final triumph gain
God is love so love forever
O’er the universe shall reign

Lenten Reflection–The Flooded Path

photo by Josh Scholten

God of our life,
there are days when the burdens we carry
chafe our shoulders and weigh us down;
when the road seems dreary and endless,
the skies grey and threatening;
when our lives have no music in them,
and our hearts are lonely,
and our souls have lost their courage.

Flood the path with light,
run our eyes to where the skies are full of promise;
tune our hearts to brave music;
give us the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age;
and so quicken our spirits
that we may be able to encourage the souls of all
who journey with us on the road of life,
to Your honour and glory.
Augustine

Those final few days may have been like this:
the sky oppressive with storm clouds,
the shouldered burden too painful,
the soul weighed down, discouraged, disheartened.
Each step brought Him closer
to a desperate loneliness borne of betrayal and rejection.

But the end of that dark walk was just the beginning
of a journey into new covenant.

Instead of rain, those clouds bore light, flooding the pathway so we can come together to lift the load.
Instead of loneliness, there arises community.
Instead of stillness, there is declaration of glory.
Instead of discouragement, He embodies hope for all hearts.
The promise fulfilled, spills over our path.
We are drenched.

photo by Josh Scholten

Lenten Reflection–Into the Lives of Others

photo by Josh Scholten

The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt.
Thomas Merton

We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.
Elisabeth Elliot

Much of my professional work as a physician involves helping people avoid suffering. Either I strive to prevent illness, or address symptoms early, or once someone is very sick or injured, try to mitigate the discomfort and misery. Sometimes I am able to help. Too often they are futile efforts. At that point all I can give is myself, caring for my patient as best I can. There is no medication, no physical manipulation or surgery, no magic touch that makes the difference that love can.

In a flawed and broken world, there will be suffering that cannot be prevented. We can run, but we can’t hide. It is avoidance that hurts us most. For some, it is the temporary anesthesia of alcohol or other recreational substances, a burrowing into numbness that prevents feeling anything at all. For others, it is the neverending quest for fulfillment in pleasure, which is transient and hollow, or accumulating material goods, which eventually bore, become obsolete and pile up in landfills.

He poured Himself into us as He suffered. In turn, thus filled, we have ourselves to give.

Nothing else lasts. Nothing else matters.

I’m not sure God wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to love, and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole world is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.
C. S. Lewis