The love of Christ is radical. Sometimes I under-estimate how distinctive the changes are for those who choose to follow Jesus. Indeed, the early Christians had a solid grasp of what constituted real faith. In a time when our world is deeply divided, we have a chance to show a different way.
Consider the following quote from Justin Martyr:
"We who formerly treasured money and possessions more than anything else now hand over everything we have to a treasury for all and share it with everyone who needs it. We who formerly hated and murdered one another and did not even share our hearth with those of a different tribe because of their customs, now, after Christ’s appearance, live together and share the same table. Now we pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us unjustly so that they too may live in accordance with Christ’s wonderful teachings, that they too may enter into the expectation, that they too may receive the same good things that we will receive from God, the ruler of the universe."
I've always been a little wary of limiting something like thanksgiving to a specific weekend of the year. The Scriptures are clear again and again that we are to be thankful always.
In that light, let's keep it going with this thought from Henri Nouwen.
"Gratitude is not a simple emotion or an obvious attitude. It is a difficult discipline to constantly reclaim my whole past as the concrete way in which God has led me to this moment and is sending me into the future. It is hard precisely because it challenges me to face the painful moments – experiences of rejection and abandonment, feelings of loss and failure – and gradually to discover in them the pruning hands of God purifying my heart for deeper love, stronger hope, and broader faith."
God loves you!
I came across this quote from Frederick Buechner recently and I think it is a good reminder for us as we continue to reflect on the events of Easter.
"Inspection stickers used to have printed on the back, “Drive carefully: the life you save may be your own.” That is the wisdom of men in a nutshell. What God says, on the other hand, is, “The life you save is the life you lose.” In other words, the life you clutch, hoard, guard, and play safe with is in the end a life worth little to anybody, including yourself; and only a life given away for love’s sake is a life worth living. To bring this point home, God shows us a man who gave his life away to the extent of dying a national disgrace without a penny in the bank or a friend to his name. In terms of men’s wisdom, he was a perfect fool, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without making something like the same kind of fool of himself is laboring not under a cross but a delusion."
As we approach Easter, let's focus on our wonderful Saviour and the price he paid for us.
"The image Jesus left with the world, the cross, the most common image in the Christian religion, is proof that God cares about our suffering and pain. He died of it. Today the image is coated with gold and worn around the necks of beautiful girls, a symbol of how far we can stray from the reality of history. But it stands, unique among all religions of the world. Many of them have gods. But only one has a God who cared enough to become a man and to die." ~Philip Yancey
Our hope is founded on Jesus Christ. As we approach Easter we celebrate what he has done for us. His resurrection points to our glorious future. The following quote from C.S. Lewis was an encouragement to me today, as we look forward to Spring in Manitoba, to live in anticipation of that glory.
"I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on his shoulders. The miracles that have already happened are, of course, as Scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so we shall rise… To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that. Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale. A man really ought to say, “The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago” in the same spirit in which he says, “I saw a crocus yesterday.”
- C.S. Lewis
Here's an excerpt from Frances J. Roberts' "Come Away My Beloved", and perhaps it will encourage you if you're facing a challenge or worry. She writes in first person from God's perspective.
"You are never alone, for I am at your right hand. Never despair, for I am watching over and caring for you. Be not anxious. What seems to you to be at present a difficult situation is all part of My planning, and I am working out the details of circumstances so that I may bless you and reveal Myself to you in a new way.
As I have opened your eyes to see, so shall I open your ears to hear...and you will know Me as your dearest Friend and as your truest Comforter.
No darkness will hide the shining of My face, for I shall be to you as a bright star in the night sky. Never let your faith waver. reach out your hand, and you shall touch the hem of My garment."
At New Year's a number of us gathered for fellowship and as the New Year dawned we were enjoying people's reflections of the past year/decade and how God has led them, through both good times and real trials.
Today this quote from Henri Nouwen reminded me of those thoughts. As we think about our lives, if we keep the Cross at the center of our vision, the perspective Jesus offers is ALWAYS pointed to hope.
"Jesus calls us to recognize that gladness and sadness are never separate, that joy and sorrow really belong together, and that mourning and dancing are part of the same movement. That is why Jesus calls us to be grateful for every moment that we have lived, and to claim our unique journey as God’s way to mold our hearts to greater conformity with God’s own. The cross is the main symbol of our faith, and it invites us to find hope where we see pain, and to reaffirm the resurrection where we see death. The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment of our life can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads us to new life."
- Henri Nouwen.
Something that Jesus emphasized often is the simple call to love others. He called it a commandment. It's better to simply obey this command before we get caught up in rationalizing and defensiveness. The following quote is from Thomas Merton:
"Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy if anything can."
We all need a little encouragement along the way as we follow Christ. The quote below is from J. Heinrich Arnold, and he captures the essence of discipleship quite well. May this encourage you in your small corner of the kingdom.
"We know that by ourselves we cannot change the world. But Christ will, and we want to give ourselves voluntarily to him. He demands our whole personality and our whole life. He came to save the world, and we believe that he, not any human leader, will one day govern the earth. For him we live, and for him we are willing to die. That is all that is asked of anyone. Jesus does not expect perfection, but he expects us to serve him wholeheartedly."
More thoughts on the road to the Cross. The encounters Jesus had (actually during the crucifixion!) at Calvary were very brief and very powerful. The following is a quote from Fulton Sheen on the exchange between Jesus and the thief on the cross beside him.
"A dying man asked a dying man for eternal life; a man without possessions asked a poor man for a kingdom.…In the divine plan it was a thief who was the escort of the King of kings into paradise. If our Lord had come merely as a teacher, the thief would never have asked for forgiveness. But since the thief’s request touched the reason of his coming to earth, namely, to save souls, the thief heard the immediate answer. “I promise thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). It was the thief’s last prayer, perhaps even his first. He knocked once, sought once, asked once, dared everything, and found everything. When even the disciples were doubting and only one was present at the cross, the thief owned and acknowledged him as Savior."
Pastor Ward Parkinson