I can’t turn around without a reminder that without relationships everything else is meaningless. I have not been “hit on the head” with the same Bible verse, the same stories, the same examples. I have been embraced by, wrapped up in and girded. Funny, the word “girded”should come to me! It is not a word I use in every day conversation. To make certain that it was indeed the word that I wanted to use, I just now looked it up and this is the definition:
“1.to encircle or bind with a belt or band.2.to surround; enclose; hem in.3.to prepare (oneself) for action.4.to provide, equip, or invest, as with power or strength.”
Hhhmmm. I meant to use it for the “encircle and surround” meanings…but TO PREPARE ONESELF for ACTION and TO PROVIDE, EQUIP, or INVEST, as with POWER or STRENGTH…. YES! YES! That seems like the perfect word!
This is the message: Our relationships will only be as good with one another as our relationship is with God. If we do not get our source of Strength and Power…if we do not prepare EVERY single day our hearts and our minds to deal with any and every thing that comes along by asking God to give us divine mercy and strength and forgiveness and love…to give us compassion and to fill us with grace…then we are not going to be Equipped for the things that will come our way.
We live in a “tit-for-tat” world. We think that if we give $1.00 we should get a dollars worth of something in return. And what happens when we give a dollar and we feel short-changed or like the item we purchased was not what we thought we were buying? We get disappointed and bitter…we start blaming and complaining. The love in our heart begins to shrink.
But what if we woke up every day and said, “Lord…I don’t know what I may get for my dollar today but it doesn’t matter because if someone else can’t give me what I need it is alright because I already have everything that I need. I AM sufficient…just me and God’s love in me. But I am not as strong as I could be…I am not as good as I could be. I need PEOPLE…not just one person but a community for fellowship…people to laugh with and cry with and who KNOW me…people who I KNOW. It isn’t about what I can get for my dollar, Lord…but what my dollar can do to make things better for us all.”
I think that we categorize relationships like we do everything else…my family, my friends, my neighbors, my co-workers, my church people, my team-mates, my acquaintances, strangers. We rank our relationships in order of importance. For some people their children come first; for others their spouse; Work comes first for (too) many. Church relationships may be the most important for some. A few people have chosen to put “Others” first – think Mother Theresa – “others” – people that are not our own…not our flesh and blood, not like us in any obvious way… not someone who looks like they could benefit us in any way. Think “Hobo”…or “beggar”…or person in Haiti… or a war-ravaged, displaced person in Africa…or a person in the slums of India…or a person living in a cardboard box. Can you imagine having anything in common with any of those people? What would/ could their life be like? Would we ever let ourselves get close enough to find out?
A quick story from our marriage seminar: Jimmy Evans told of having a conversation with a very wealthy Mexican man who had built a beautiful 12,000 square foot home in Beaver Creek. Jimmy’s in-laws also had a vacation home there and it was always a stream of celebrities and politicians and the rich and powerful of the world that he would see or rub elbows with. This particular wealthy Mexican pointed to his home and said, “See that house? See that side of the house? That is my side…See the other side? That is my wife’s! I hate her. I never see her. She hates me too.” They lived in the same house but didn’t see each other; didn’t talk; in fact their relationship had disentigrated to the point that they hated each other. And yet, there they were…with EVERYTHING anybody could ever want or need but they didn’t have love.
The very next week Jimmy Evans said that he went on a mission trip to some tiny village and he was invited to have breakfast at the house of the mayor’s mother. Her house consisted of cardboard walls, a dirt floor and a refrigerator and little table in the middle of the “room”. Jimmy said that this woman who had nothing by our standards was the happiest person he had ever seen. Her little light was not hidden under a bushel or a card board house. She was letting her little light shine! She couldn’t help it because she knew what was important and she had ALL that she needed.
Dave Early writes, “The Old Testament includes more than six hundred commandments, to which the Pharisees has added hundreds of others”. The Pharisees hated Jesus…they saw him as a rebel. The Pharisees ” believed that they alone had the inside track to heaven. And they looked down on everyone else. They set themselves up as everyone else’s judge. Their rule-keeping religion became their idol and slowly killed off their love for everyone else.”
“Anne Lamott writes, ‘You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.'” Wow? Right? Are we talking about 2,000 years ago? HHHMMMMMM. Read that again.
Dave Early continues, “The Pharisees loved external religion based on behavior. The Pharisees did not have welcoming hearts. As a result, they not only rejected ‘sinners,’ they rejected Jesus for associating with ‘sinners.’ ”
The Pharisees tried to trick Jesus to prove that he was a rebel that did not follow the law. The Pharisees led a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery before Jesus. In view of a crowd they quoted to Jesus the Law as given to Moses that ordered adulterers to be stoned.
“What could Jesus say? No Jewish rabbi would contradict Moses and the law…At this point, the contrast becomes crystal clear. The Pharisees were about judgement, discriminating between people base on how the people did in keeping rules. They were about accusation and rejection. They were about following their agenda, even if it meant humiliating a broken woman and young rabbi to do it.”
We all know how this ends, right? Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger…maybe he was writing the sins of the Pharisees…lack of mercy, lack of compassion, lack of love…”it could have been inner sins of the spirit, such as pride, self-righteousness, and judgementalism. We could add deception to their list, because they obviously were deceived into thinking it is possible to love God and despise people.”
“When they kept questioning him,he straightened up and said to them, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.” John 8:7-8
And then Jesus bent back down to write in the dirt again.
“At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you…Go and leave your life of sin.’ John 8:10-11. When others want to condemn us for our mistakes…or when we want to condemn others for their mistakes lets keep in mind that God shows mercy. God does not want to punish us. Did God used to get mad in the Old Testament and require sacrifice after sacrifice for all of the evil and wrong-doings and sin? YES! God was mad. He was frustrated…but that all changed.
I used to be mad at God for “killing” Jesus! I used to be mad that He would let his Son be rejected and made fun of and whipped and beaten and pierced by a sword and hung on a cross and die a humiliating and painful death. I couldn’t understand how it was a good thing that Jesus had to die such a brutal death and that we CELEBRATED it! I was conflicted about wearing a cross around my neck because I didn’t think that the agony associated with the cross represented MY God…because MY God was LOVE and FORGIVENESS and GRACE and MERCY and I could not reconcile what seemed to be two seemingly polar opposites. I didn’t want to know a God who gets so mad that He lets His children suffer and die. I was wrapped up in the fact that Jesus was His son…His one and only baby boy. Did God rrrreallly just make Jesus be born so that he would live only 33 years and then die? Did Jesus really have to sacrifice so much?
I was caught up in the fact that Jesus was a man. He felt what we feel. He cried, he had friends, he had family, he had coworkers, he had a church and he had enemies. He ate and he drank and he slept and he bled. He was tempted and he felt forsaken and alone. He had no place to call his own. His life was about sacrifice.
But Jesus was not just a man. And THAT is the WHOLE story. Jesus was and is the WORD.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth come through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” John 1:17-18
“Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer…What do you say about yourself?’ John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the desert, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”‘ John 1:22-23
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'” John 1:29
“I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” John 1:34
God made flesh…full of grace and truth…dwelling among us…HERE with us… to show us what the WORD means…how to live the WORD and then when we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears and have a record of the WAY, THE TRUTH and the LIFE Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice. But Jesus was not Just a man. And he was never alone. He did not grow up alone. He did not travel in his ministry alone. He did not die alone. His entire life in human flesh was to model the importance of relationships. When the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus yet again by asking him which commandment of all of the hundreds and hundreds of commandment was the most important Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depends all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22: 37-40
Jesus doesn’t say to love only when we feel like it or only when we are loved in return or only to love lovable people. I am not supposed to be looking for people to love me first before I give them love…I am supposed to be looking for God to be my source of Love so that I have an endless supply for anybody anytime regardless of their mood, their worthiness or their love for me. When I am full of God’s love I can love you when you are not loving me.
Others have and always will fail us. The World tells us that we deserve justice…”tit-for-tat”. But God is gracious, merciful, and compassionate. Even if others fail US we are called to do our best not to fail others. But we can’t do it alone. Jesus did not do it alone. God made us FOR relationships. The cross was not about death and pain and God’s wrath. The cross was about life over death and sacrifice that hurts but is for the greater good…the greater being FOR US ALL! And the cross is not about punishment, it is about God’s mercy. God did not strike us – the sinners dead. God did not make us hang on a cross for our sins. HE wanted us to learn. He wanted us to change. He wanted us to understand that it isn’t about keeping 600 laws or about the trappings of ceremony or about any person being right or wrong. It is about Love. God became flesh. The WORD became flesh to teach us in a tangible, hands-on not theoretical way EXACTLY how to live life abundantly. We did not have to die. We get to live. All we have to do is stop looking at God as a human-type father and understand that He Himself loves us so much that He found a way to wash away all that we have ever done or will ever do. He didn’t punish us. He did not condemn us…and Jesus was in on the plan all along…and accepted it. Lived his life for it. It isn’t about Jesus’s death…it is about his life that we CELEBRATE.
When we accept that God wants to forgive us, and wants us to forgive others, and wants us to FORGIVE OURSELVES…when our source of love comes from God… then we will have an abundant supply that will not stay contained. It will overflow and change the world.
“Mountains bow, storms back down, at the mention of your name. You came down, left your crown, with a heart to make me great. You are faithful God. You’re the all-consuming One. Emmanuel, You are gracious. Slow to anger, rich in love. Compassionate, you are faithful. God with us, God with us. Hope abounds; grace astounds; the cross victorious. Darkness hides from your light. Salvation’s come to us. You are faithful God. You’re the all-consuming One. With all my praise, in every boast, I will declare, You are my Lord. Nothing compares to the promise found in You.” ~ Emmanuel by Justin Bradshaw
Jesus called disciples to help him. Those disciples are still living. They are you and me. There is still work to do…maybe more-so than ever. Let’s work together and find strength daily FROM God to encourage each other to keep doing what we are called to do…and what Jesus came to show us exactly how to do. Love.