Stand tall, like the hyacinth you are!

We’ve talked about how sin has kept us colorless and bent, like the hyacinth I found under my deck. Sin needs to be addressed. Jesus is described as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He purposely entered our world, taking on flesh and bones, and carrying our sin with him when he was killed and placed in the dark, dank tomb.

The dark couldn’t kill the hyacinth and death couldn’t hold Jesus. He rose and now shares his death-less life with us.

Jesus tells us of God’s heart toward us in Luke 15 the prodigal son. (Did you know prodigal means extravagant, spending resources freely and recklessly? I think this parable should be known as the prodigal father!)

“All I have is yours.” This is what the perfect Father says to the not perfect son.

We are coheirs with Jesus. All that is true of Jesus is true of us by grace. (Gal 4:7)

You see, we are not just good people who do bad things, nor are we bad people who do good things. Take heart! We are beloved sinners.

Like my hyacinth, your true self has been distorted and hidden by sin.

And like my hyacinth, God seeks you, finds you, and brings you into the light so you can stand tall and beautiful.

This is the Good News!

what do you fear?

6122500677_3ed6856ee7_m“Fear of the Jews locked up the disciples. I too am afraid, hiding behind tightly shut and locked doors. Fear of being ridiculed, considered foolish, judged by others (and by myself). I remain hold up, living in a bit of fantasy, ignoring the threats from which I hide. And then you show up. Locked doors cannot stop you. You enter and I am startled and a little freaked out. You calm me down…”Peace be with you, Debby. I was ridiculed, made a fool of, judged and even murdered, but such did not kill me. I survived. I am alive. Relax, trust. I have a job for you.” Breathe on me Jesus. Give me the Holy Spirit anew and refresh me. Breathe on me, give me life, just as you did to Adam in the garden. Breathe on me and share with me your power, power to give life or to hinder it. I am humbled and charged. Come Holy Spirit.” thoughts from John 20

Friends, what are you afraid of? what keeps you in hiding? Such fear prevents you from being part of the life God wants to offer the world. Closed doors do not keep your fears out, they only keep you locked in. Jesus joins you in your hiding – to the disciples he said peace, to me he said trust. What does he say to you? He wants you to know that the worst things you fear cannot touch you. He has gone ahead of you, fought the fight, was dealt the death blow and now gives you the Holy Spirit. You have a job to do, offering life to the part of the world you inhabit. Will you breath in the power and breath out the mercy?

Jesus redefines family

Then Jesus’ mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’ Lu 8:19-21

In this scene Jesus redefines family, admitting you and me into God’s gracious home. But what was it like for Mary to hear his new description of the familial bond? Can you put yourself in her sandals?

Her son, Jesus, had been out and about proclaiming the good news and healing the sick. He had gained quite a following, wherever he went crowds surrounded him. Mary comes to see him, assuming her role as his mother would give her a backstage pass. After all, she’d carried him in her womb, birthed and raised him; she was his mother.

Jesus’ response opened her eyes a bit wider to truth. Her role in his life was important, but not central. Her relationship with him was unique, but not more significant than any one else’s. He said anyone who hears God’s word and acts on it is as central and signifiant to me as my own mother. Jesus adjusts her view of reality. He is not primarily her son, he is Lord. Being intimately connected to him is not about family ties, it is about obedience. What do you think she felt at his response? What would you feel?

We are not told how Mary reacted, but I know what I would have felt: offended, embarrassed and angry. My reaction tells me I expect my relationship with Jesus to afford me some special privileges; my needs should be honored; he should march to my drumbeat. And Jesus gives me ‘tough love.’ “I am Lord, you are not. The universe does not revolve around you and your expectations. You are one of my Father’s deeply loved and valued children. Will you let this be enough for you?”

The scripture, when we let it, tells us our own story, opening our eyes to the truth and adjusting our reality.

Pockets of Paradise

God desires our communities to be safe places where one can live in intimate relationship with God, with self and with others. Genesis 2:25 describes the quality of such a fellowship beautifully and poetically, “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”

A gathering of God’s beloved children should be characterized by people who are “naked and not ashamed.” Wow! Of course I am speaking metaphorically and spiritually, but consider with me the definitions and implications of what it means to be naked and not experience any shame in the context of community.

Although Adam and Eve were literally naked, the Hebrew word translated naked also means a person without pretense or uniform. Police officers wear uniforms so they can easily be identified. A police uniform tells you how to relate to the person wearing it and what you can expect from them. The uniform defines the role they’ll play in your life and how you should interact with them. You don’t know the person behind the uniform, you don’t even care about the person behind the uniform, your relationship with them is defined by the role they play.

When physically naked, there is nothing covering your body, your beauty and your flaws are seen by all. To be naked spiritually and relationally is to be yourself, without pretending to be someone you are not, or hiding within the safety of a role you play. It’s “what you see is what you get”, no pretense, no hiding, just guileless authenticity.

And (here’s the kicker) this person, in their absolute nakedness feels no sense of shame. Shame is the feeling that follows disappointment of opinion, hope or expectation. They are purely themselves and have complete confidence that who they are will not disappoint in any way. There is no shadow of doubt cast on their personhood, they live from a place of sufficiency, value and acceptance.

I think of my grandkids when I think about this type of unashamed nakedness. Eliza and Jack both jump out of the bath and run around in naked exuberance, unaware of their bodies, conscious only of joy and life. This is the experience God desires for us in our communities. To live with one another in the freedom that unselfconscious nakedness would allow. Imagine outposts of Eden where God’s kingdom is realized, where brothers and sisters can live together Naked and Not Ashamed. This is paradise!

What are your thoughts about this concept? Do you have any place where you experience the type of community described in Genesis 2:25?

Do as the Israelites did

The returned Israelites set up the altar on its foundation, because they were in dread of the neighboring peoples, and they offered burnt-offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening. Ezra 3:3

King Cyrus allowed 50,000 Israelites to return from exile in Persia. They were given freedom and fortune with the assignment of “rebuilding the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.” While captive, they were far from the holy place where God was worshipped. They were marked by sorrow and lament, wondering if they would ever again worship in the temple. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” They longed for the joyful worship they knew in Jerusalem. (Ps 137)

Upon returning to their homeland, their first act was to build an altar upon the site where the original altar had stood, so that they could begin to offer worship and sacrifices as Moses had commanded. God’s people were always building altars, a holy place to give thanks to God and to remind themselves of what God had done for them.

Like the Israelites, do you feel far from God? Have you doubted you’ll ever reconnect with God? Then, do as the Israelites did; return to an earlier moment of your life with God, recall the nature of God’s actions for you, create a holy place where you can willfully offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving. And sometimes, when your life doesn’t feel joyful, saying no to the negative emotions that oppress and yes to the truth of God’s goodness does feel like a sacrifice. This is where joy begins.

I imagine the Israelite’s were excited about their return to Jerusalem; I know they were afraid of the people they would encounter (Ez 3:3). So what did they do? They began to worship God, twice a day, offering sacrifices that reminded them of God’s protection and provision.

Like the Israelites, do you live in the midst of fear? Then, do as the Israelites did; come to God regularly. Do not let fear keep the nearness of God from your heart. Imagine your heart as an altar dedicated to God. Every time fear threatens: pause, be still for a moment, turn your attention away from the source of your fear and focus on God’s face of love. When you are in the presence of the Lord of life, fear fades away.

Are you plagued by perfectionism? Then do as the Israelites did. They didn’t wait until the proper temple was built to begin their worship. They started where they were with what they had. Now is the time to worship, here is the place you meet the Holy. Jesus gladly receives you and shares his joy.