Tag Archives: beauitful question

He Who Not Against Us

It’s been a long time since I’ve written, and the reason is what it always is: I’ve been busy. But this time it’s not been the usual, normal busy. It’s been mind-numbingly busy. And in the midst of that, I’ve had help come from the most unlikely of sources. Which got me to thinking about the words in the title of this blog post:

“He who is not against us is for us.”

You might be saying, “Wait, is that right? Isn’t the correct quote ‘He who is not for us is against us.’?” Well, in fact Jesus said both. But to look at Christian culture lately you might think He only said the later quote. I often feel like Christianity becomes more about what (and who) we are against, rather than what (and who) we are for. We define ourselves by what group we perceive as our enemies, and then further define ourselves by the things we oppose in that group. But if we are, in fact, supposed to be following the revolutionary statement “Love your enemies,” then who can we really consider our enemies? We can become so bent on showing ourselves right, that we make enemies where there need not be any.

Another quote came to me this morning, and woke me up to write (it’s 5:30 am as I write). I was thinking about help coming from unlikely sources, and I thought of this other thing Jesus said:

“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

When I lived in China doing nonprofit work there was a lot of suspicion of the motives of foreign nonprofits by the government, but amazing help sometimes came from the most “unlikely” sources. Sometimes it was the most hard-drinking, cynical, communist party cadres that would open doors for us. Sometimes people who we most assumed would be “against us” were in fact “for us.”

Here’s another thought to build on the last, when Jesus was questioned about when the kingdom of God was coming (at some time in the future), He answered another revolutionary statement:

“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

So this kingdom of God that prostitutes and tax collectors were entering wasn’t some far off pie-in-the-sky place, it was a current reality. And actually (to be a language geek for a minute) the verb tense used in the passage in the original language was present tense as is correctly indicated by the translation “are entering.” So what I believe Jesus was saying was not “the prostitutes and tax collectors will enter the kingdom, and you will not.” But rather He was saying, “As we are sitting here, and you are criticizing these prostitutes and tax gatherers, they are acting in ways that allow them to enter the present reality of the kingdom of God now. They are experiencing it, while you are not.” In other words, in the act of experiencing Jesus and in experiencing the love and truth of God through the person of Jesus, these outcasts were “entering the kingdom.” Thus the outcasts were proceeding the criticizers into the kingdom of God.

So, as I meditate early this morning on the kindness and compassion I see expressed in most unexpected quarters, I want to say:

Truly I tell you, the cross-dressers, unemployed, homeless, gays, liberals and yes even the atheists are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.

I’m seeing some of them in the present moment experience and respond to the love of God (maybe either realizing or not realizing that it is the love of God), while some of those who profess to know God are full of vengeance, bitterness and anger. Everything has become about what is hated, and we’ve forgotten to love.

Let us return. Let us return to patience and kindness. Let us forsake jealousy, bragging and arrogance. Let us stop seeking our own – our own lives, our own perspectives, our own views. Let us return to forgiveness. Let us hate injustice, while we embrace truth. Let us return to faith and hope for our fellow man, and enduring patience when considering their many flaws (knowing our flaws too are many). In short, let us return to Love.

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Botany

the flowers of the field

the Flowers of the Field (c) 2007 muddart

“And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!” – Matthew 6:28-30

In my last post I wrote about the “birds of the air” and how in the original language, the passage has the idea  of fixedly observing the birds, as contrasted with casual observation.  I then considered whether Jesus might have been  speaking more than rhetorically, and actually suggesting that his hearers go out and intently observe the birds.

But he did not stop there.  In the passage above, the word translated as “observe” likewise is not a casual observation, but has a fuller definition of “to learn thoroughly.”  From a literary perspective, such compelling language, used in a parallel structure, strongly suggests that Jesus was indeed urging his hearers to go and personally take time to meditate upon the birds and how they live and eat, and upon the flowers and how they grow and flourish.  How do they accomplish what they do?  How do they do their amazing feats?

In the observation of these things the answer is hidden on how to not be worried or anxious or stressed about this life and all its most important concerns.

Have you ever taken some time to carefully study the birds and flowers in light of these questions?  What did you learn?  If you never have, why not try it?  Let me know what you find out.

Bird Watching

birds of the air

The Birds of the Air – (c) 1999 Muddart

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? – Matthew 6:25-27

Recently, I came to the conclusion that this passage and its context could easily be studied for a lifetime.  I myself have been  meditating rather intently on it for a number of years now, and I continue to find greater depths to its underlying meaning.

It began some years ago when I was going through a long period of very tight cash flow.   Every payday, when I had to figure out how I was going to make a little money go a long way, I would sit down with this passage to try to quiet my soul and get peace in the midst of uncertainty about the future.  I learned a lot of things both from these verses and the ones that follow them.

Did you know, for instance, the Greek word that is translated as “look” in this passage actually means to “observe fixedly?”   Or that there are other Greek words used elsewhere to denote more casual observation? When I discovered that this was the literal meaning, it got me thinking: maybe Jesus wasn’t speaking rhetorically, maybe he was actually suggesting to his disciples to go and intently observe the birds.  Maybe he was telling them, and me as well, that if we went and carefully observed the birds we would learn something about how not to worry, and how instead to trust God to supply our needs.  Have you ever meditated on the birds of the air?  What did you learn?  If you never have, it’s worth the try.

Love Practically: the Dynamics of Heart Opening

Authors note: another unpublished post from the past.  This one was drafted November 24, 2009, but never published.  As I read it over, I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t published it.  Only made minor modifications.

About a week ago, I had this experience.  I was having an interaction with someone, and in the middle of the interaction I heard the Spirit of God speaking quietly into my own spirit “Will you open your heart to this person?”  The interesting thing was I wasn’t aware of my heart being closed.  The person was someone I liked, enjoyed spending time with and considered a dear friend.  I would have expected such a question if faced with someone whose need overwhelmed me, but though like all of humankind this person had needs,  I didn’t feel overwhelmed by their need or like they were asking something of me that I wasn’t willing to give.  So, the case was not one that I would have expected a challenge to open my heart.

Yet as I heard this question whispering gently in my heart, I knew my heart was not fully open.  So, I made a conscious effort to open my heart.  Two amazing things ensued.  Not immediately, but sometime later, the person opened their heart more fully to me.  No “deep dark secrets”, but sharing important stuff — questions, thoughts, hopes, longings.  And the second thing was later that evening at home alone, I found myself drawn into the presence of God, and experienced His heart opening up and pouring out to me, and I was suddenly amazed to realize my heart was more open to God.

The experience gave me a deeper revelation of what I already knew, which is if I open my heart to my brother and my sister, I open my heart to the Lord.  An open heart is an open heart and a closed heart is a closed heart.  I can’t decide to open my heart to God, and not open it to my fellow man, and I can’t decide to close my heart to one without closing my heart to the other either (1 John 4:7-8, 1 John 3:17).

But the experience held another lesson as well.  I’ve thought about it and prayed about it in the days that have passed since.  God was asking me to open my heart to much much more than simply human need.  I think before now I’ve always linked opening my heart to other people to opening my heart to their need, and yes, that is a part, but if I only open my heart to the need of the person in front of me I have still not opened my heart to the person themselves.  The Lord is asking of me so much more: to open my heart to the fullness of the mystery of that person.  It is written that we are created in the image of God.  This God is an infinite, eternal God.  In the image of this God we are created! Wow, what an amazing thought!  Each person is intricately and amazingly made, and yet so often when we open our hearts only to our own image of that person, only to our expectations of them, only to our thoughts of what they can do for us, even if it’s only making us feel better about ourselves for helping them.  But what would it mean to open our hearts fully to the person themselves, to the things that make them fully human — for instance their creativity, their free will.  To open my heart to someone with a free will, either God or man, means to open my heart to a mystery.

Meditation: Being an Anomaly

In a recent email exchange, a friend made the comment that he viewed himself as sort of an anomaly, to which I responded “you are an anomaly!” (I didn’t put an exclamation point on it in the email, but I did in my mind.  It was such a perfect word.)

But since my response was meant to be an encouragement, I thought I’d best look up the word in the dictionary before hitting “send”.   Though my first reaction to the word was positive, when I worked in systems design an anomaly was never a good thing.  It was always the thing that happened that you weren’t expecting, and since you wanted computer programs to function as expected, you were definitely not happy when an “anomaly” popped up.  But people are not computer programs (thank God!), and I for one find those who don’t function as expected quite refreshing.  So, fortunately I have a dictionary on my Apple Powerbook that pops up with the flick of the mouse.

Anomaly: Something that deviates from what is standard, normal or expected.

When I read that definition, I almost also wrote in my reply: “I hope I’m an anomaly too!”  And then I got to thinking: Wow, wasn’t Jesus an anomaly?  He really absolutely never functioned as he was “supposed” to.  He always slipped out of the verbal snares others tried to lay for him, because he didn’t answer as expected (I won’t list examples since they can be found in almost every interchange he had in the Gospels).  And in fact, he upset the religious establishment because he didn’t act as expected either (hanging out with all those “sinners”!  What was he thinking????)   And hey, I think he called us who follow him to be like Him, and therefore to be anomalies in the world as well! Which makes me think, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all viewed ourselves as anomalies?  I think we just might turn the world upside down.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

My Father

This piece was originally written in 2004 as a tribute to my Dad on his 70th birthday.  It is one of my favorite pieces.  I won’t say more.  Let the piece speak for itself.

with Dad on the farm

with Dad on the farm

As I approach my father’s 70th birthday, it’s hard to believe so much time has passed by.  I remember as a little girl, looking up to my Daddy who was a colossal 6 feet 2 inches tall, with broad shoulders.  A giant of a man, yet with such a tender, gentle heart.  As a child, I remember our family moving to a farm 2 hours from the city so my parents could spend time writing.  We would take long family walks together.  It always seemed that my mother and brother would charge ahead, while I walked behind with my father – me, because my legs were the shortest, and my father, because he liked to stop and look at some small flower or bird.  A gentle giant who noticed the smallest flower and the most fleeting bird.  Every once in a while, he would pause just to listen or observe – “You hear that, Margaret, that’s a Bob White.”  or “You see that, Margaret, that’s a Mountain Laurel.”

But of all my memories, what is most precious is how my father taught me to be a spiritual being.  He did this without hardly knowing it, and at a time when he himself had lost faith in the existence of a God.  I once tried to tell my father about this memory, but he seemed to think the memory was a painful one for me, and apologized.  I didn’t know what to say, so said nothing, but now wish I had clarified.  It happened when I was around 6 years old.  We lived on the farm then.  It was glorious – a house on a hill nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  When I stood out in front of the house, mountains greeted me in every direction.  I was just at the age that it was dawning on me that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, among others, were not real.  Other questions began to creep into my mind, so one day I went out to ask my father, “Dad, is God real?”

“Well, Margaret,” he replied, in his honest philosophical voice, that never talked down to me, “I don’t believe in him, but others feel differently.  I think your mother may feel differently.”

From there I went to my mother, who replied, “I think there’s some power out there, but I don’t know what it is.”

Today, I have deep gratitude for these answers.  My father was an atheist, but he was a humble atheist.  He didn’t pretend that he knew the answers for me, and thus put the question back in my own hands.  So, I ended up standing in front of our house and asked the Universe, or whatever might be out there: “Is God real?”  In a moment, as I gazed over the visual cacophony of colors bespeckling the autumn Blue Ridge Mountain range, I knew.  I am still amazed to this day, that a young 6-year old girl could have the thoughts that flashed through my mind, but when I looked at those mountains I saw the work of an artistic genius.  I knew.  Dad, your answer was not a painful one for me, but a powerful one.  My memories of those days are the sweetest I know.  I was unknowingly pointed to the only One who could answer my question, and I heard the Voice answering visually from the mountains.  Now as I reflect back I realize that even the power of observation that answered me that day was taught to me by my father.  No, Dad it was not painful, it was the day God spoke.  Thank you.

“But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is!  By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse.”  (The Book of Romans, The Message Bible)

“So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause.  No more thistles, but giant sequoias, no more thorn bushes, but stately pines – Monuments to me, to God, living and lasting evidence of God.” (The Book of Isaiah, The Message Bible)

planting our garden

planting our garden

Thanks to you Truth Tellers!

A few weeks ago I was discussing with my mother what I appreciated about the teaching style of a pastor friend of mine, which led to a discussion of how two people can say basically the same thing, but with one it’s just words, but the other there is life because there is depth behind the words.  To this my mother asked, pondering, “What do you think it is that causes that depth?”

I like my parents, because they both really make me think.

After considering for a moment, I replied, “I think it is suffering.  Not that the whole world doesn’t suffer, but some people allow the suffering to touch them and transform them.”

Another time recently, a friend wrote me an email to encourage me about something I was going through.  The words deeply encouraged me.  Why?  The brother wrote me from the experience of his own dark nights, and long and weary fight.  The words were so beautiful in their truth that I encouraged him to consider writing a book one day.

Or, I could also tell of the friend I spent a week with recently.  She is an absolute beautiful lady, a precious gem, but her life has taken her down a road that is currently causing her deep pain.  Her pain took me back to experiences I had nearly 20 years ago.  We spent the week together in both uproarious laughter and heart-wrenching tears.  Was this friend’s suffering a burden to me?  No.  It is an honor and a privilege to be allowed to enter another’s suffering.  To me such a place is like the Holy of Holies.  My life is richer for knowing such a woman.

These and other experiences have reminded me lately of a favorite passage in Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest.  This passage articulates both my own struggle to express truth, and my appreciation of many of you out there who express truth to me.  Sharing Oswald Chamber’s words below is my way of thanking you and encouraging you – some of you are fellow bloggers or writers, some are friends, some are leaders, some are just simple folk who don’t think of themselves as leaders but are.  Thank you for struggling to express to me and others the truth God has given you. My life is richer because of it.  I hope you know who you are!

APPROVED UNTO GOD (Source: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers – December 15 entry)

“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15

If you cannot express yourself on any subject, struggle until you can. If you do not, someone will be the poorer all the days of his life. Struggle to re-express some truth of God to yourself, and God will use that expression to someone else. Go through the winepress of God where the grapes are crushed. You must struggle to get expression experimentally, then there will come a time when that expression will become the very wine of strengthening to someone else; but if you say lazily – “I am not going to struggle to express this thing for myself, I will borrow what I say,” the expression will not only be of no use to you, but of no use to anyone. Try to state to yourself what you feel implicitly to be God’s truth, and you give God a chance to pass it on to someone else through you.

Always make a practice of provoking your own mind to think out what it accepts easily. Our position is not ours until we make it ours by suffering. The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.