Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, with a great crowd following him. A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The boy who had died was the only son of a widow, and many mourners from the village were with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion.

"Don't cry," he said. Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. "Young man," he said, "get up." Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk to those around him. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Luke 7:11-15 (NLT)

This scene amazes me on several levels. The most obvious "wow" moment is Jesus raising this boy from the dead. And that in itself makes this a great story. Can you even imagine? I know I can't, and I have a very active imagination! If I were to include someone raising from the dead in one of my books, it would move from the romance genre to science fiction, or possibly even horror. But as they say, the truth is stranger than fiction, and when Jesus is involved, things can get pretty wild.

But as I was reading this, the thing that struck me even more than Jesus raising this boy from the dead is His interaction with the mother. Some would say that Jesus performed this miracle to display His power in front of His disciples, the townspeople, and the great crowd following Him, and a revealing of His glory was certainly a result of His actions. (Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, "A mighty prophet has risen among us," and "We have seen the hand of God at work today." v.16)

But was this Jesus' motive? To "wow" the crowd? I don't think so. His attention is clearly on the mother. He knew who she was. He knew she had just lost her only son. He knew she was alone. And 'His heart went out to her.' (NIV) His compassion overflowed.

"Don't cry," He said.

Now that I can picture. I'm sure He was close to her when He said it. His words were for her. They were personal. He was fulfilling His own teaching. "God blesses you who weep now, for the time will come when you will laugh with joy." (Luke 6:21-NLT) This mother's joy was coming. And it was coming quickly! I'm not sure laughter was her first reaction though. If it was me, I think I would have fainted and only come-to when my son was splashing some water on my face and saying, "Wake up, Mom! Jesus just raised me from the dead!"

I wonder if Jesus was thinking of His own mother when He saw this woman. He knew that she would be in a similar situation one day all too soon. Was He doing what He hoped someone would do for her on that sad day? "Don't cry, Mary. He's coming back. He said so."

This may be an unbelievable scene, and you may have trouble picturing Jesus doing something so far outside of reality. But I hope that if you need comfort today in some difficult circumstances, if you're feeling lonely or alone, if you're in need of some guidance, or hope, or a miracle of your own, that you hear Jesus saying, "Don't cry. I'm going to make it all right. I love you, and you're not alone. I'm here. Just wait and see what I'm going to do next." It might make you laugh. It might make you faint. It might be something very small in comparison to raising someone from the dead. But it will be what you need. It will be for you. It will remind you of His faithfulness. It will remind you of His love.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Way of Love

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you...then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Luke 6:27-31;35-36

As a writer, I usually think of myself as someone who can bring truth, direction, encouragement, and hope. Whether I'm writing a novel, a short article such as this, or a letter to a friend, that's always my goal. It's interesting to watch how people respond to the words I write, and I often wonder how many are listening. How many really get what I'm trying to say? How many don't get it, how many do but don't want to hear it, and how many listen, believe, and put the truth into practice? As I always say to my kids when they ask me a question I don't know the answer to: 'It's a mystery, Charlie Brown.'

I like how Jesus starts out this particular string of suggestions: "I tell you who hear Me."  Jesus knew that many who were in the crowd would hear Him, but not really listen. And He would give them that choice—the freedom to listen to what He had to say and then walk away saying to themselves, That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. I don't know who this rabbi thinks he is, but he's not facing reality.

The problem we often have with the words of Jesus is they're not natural. The way we normally think and function is put on the chopping block, and most of it gets axed! Our natural reaction to unfairness, mistreatment, robbery and being taken advantage of is to fight back: "No! You can't do that to me, and I'm not going to let you!" We see this every day in others and far too often in ourselves as well. On Sundays we put on our Sunday Best and go to church and sing nice songs and listen to the preacher, calling ourselves good Christians and good citizens and decent, civil people, and a lot of the time we are. But then someone crosses our path who does something we don't like, and suddenly we are their worst nightmare. And what's worse, we often judge them in the Name of God.

Jesus had a name for that: hypocrisy. And He hated it. If someone wanted to get Jesus riled-up about something, that was the way to do it. And they often did, and when He crossed them and called them out on their evil ways, then He was their enemy and someone they wanted to get rid of, and eventually they succeeded—until the Third Day.

I hear a lot of people say they pray for those they feel oppressed by. Whether it's a particular person in their life, a group of people they oppose for whatever reason, the government, or fellow Christians. And if they really do that, I commend them. But I think what a lot of us are really saying is, 'Those are evil people who need prayer,' but we seldom actually get on our knees for them. And, even if we do, this was not Jesus' only directive to those who would hear Him.

He didn't just say to pray. He also said to act. To love. To do good. To bless, not curse. To give. To show kindness and mercy. It's not complicated. It's not like Jesus wasn't being clear. It's just not natural for us, and I think that's the whole point.

What's the point of being natural? Nothing. There's no point when we act apart from God's divine nature. We live as mere mortals, and it's exhausting! We weren't meant to live that way. It's pointless. We strive for what we think we need only to discover in the end that we need something else. Not revenge. Not to be right. Not to get what we think we deserve. Not even to hold on to what is rightly ours. Those pursuits seem so urgent, but there's no satisfaction in them. Even if we rise and conquer, victory eludes us. We end up feeling emptier than when we started. And Jesus knew that. He still knows it. And He provides a new way. A new solution that actually works. A supernatural way of living that can truly make us feel alive and rise above whatever and whomever is making us feel oppressed or angry or fearful. It's the way of love.

Negative actions of others cannot be dealt with through negativity. As Paul said in Romans 12:22, Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  He writes these words after other radical statements like, Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  And, Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement...Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.

This way of life is not easy. It is not for the faint of heart. But it is good. It is worthwhile. It is rewarding. And perhaps best of all, it is not impossible. If you choose to live this way, you won't get it right every time, and often you will totally blow it. But it's worth the effort, and what I have found is that while it may not be easy, it's much easier than the alternative. Peace and joy will come when you least expect it. The delight of your God will be abundant and satisfying. And the more you live this way, the more you'll want to, and the more you'll love it. In other words, it's addicting.

I'll finish with the words Jesus goes on to say. Take Him at His word, dear one. Believe it or not, He has your best interests in mind. So you may as well believe it, and you will see.

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Luke 6:37-38