you are loved. believe it so you act like it’s true

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is … You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later … Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist. ~ C. S. Lewis

The alarm jars me awake in the morning and the snooze button is just too handy. I hardly have to do anything, just tap the screen and I get nearly 10 more minutes to myself before it’s time to open the curtains and get out of bed. What harm would it be to hit snooze just one more time after that too? The temptation is just too much … I don’t think this sort of temptation is what C. S. Lewis was talking about and yet it is easier to talk about and admit than temptations that affect how I interact with God and the people around me.

Looking at Jesus doesn’t always help because he can make us a little insecure with all his perfection. And yet, he lived here as God with us, showing us what heaven looks like, what a world with him would be instead of this pain-filled existence we see all around us. Jesus didn’t enter the wilderness to be tempted by little luxuries in life – “No Facebook for 40 days, Jesus.” He was tempted to the core of who he was. He was tempted to cheat, to take short cuts, to be entitled, to be comfortable, to give up his position.

The tempter came to him (Jesus) and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” ~ Matthew 4:3-4

It’s not like Jesus couldn’t have done this. I mean, really, wouldn’t it have been just as easy to say: “Yes, devil, I am pretty sure I am the Son of God and to prove it I will show you that I can do the same miracle that he did. I will make food out of nothing in the wilderness like my Father did for the Israelites all those years ago.” He could have eased his hunger while making a point. But right before Jesus went into the wilderness God declared, “This (Jesus) is my Son.” Jesus knew his existence and identity didn’t hinge on what he could do but on what his Father said about him.

To follow Jesus into the wilderness is to stand against temptation. One of those temptations is to not believe what God says about us, starting with the fact that God so loved the world that he gave his Son. God loved us.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We don’t have to earn it by working for it. We don’t have to do anything to prove it to anyone. We are loved. What would life look like if you really believed that he sees everything … and I mean everything and still loves you. No choice you’ve made or trauma you’ve experienced could change that. He created you in his image. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He doesn’t just love you, he wants you.

This week of Lent we will be looking at temptation and repentance. Temptation isn’t wrong, acting on it is.  We cannot change what we do not acknowledge. While we follow Jesus through the wilderness we have an opportunity to acknowledge how our responses to temptation are different than his and begin to change them with his help. We already know he walks with us and makes a way.

Today, tell God about the times that you have tried to work for his love. Ask his forgiveness for when you have acted as if he didn’t create you, know you and love you. Take a minute to be silent when you are done.

walk around like the good work of art you are

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Imagine a world where art took in a breath and came to life. Imagine it walking through the streets stirring up questions about existence, about purpose, about possibilities. It would congregate where shadows gather, lighting up dark allies that strike fear.

Fear begins to pitch its tent in the streets around me. It sells its fortune-telling trinkets from stalls glittering in dark omens on every street corner, computer and smart phone. Fight, flight or freeze – natural responses, normal responses, survival responses.

But I want to respond differently. I don’t want to be afraid. It muddies the waters and stifles out life. It steals away joy and cauterizes contentment. I want to be beauty. I want to be art. I want to speak to these streets and shout, “It doesn’t have to be this way!”

In the beginning God created a sculpture from the earth, a work of art intended to live. I don’t particularly care about the techniques he used or how long it took him. The result was beautiful. And then he breathed into it. And it lived, perfectly, for a while until diluting the breath of God with toxic pride.

Fear came. Death came. Hatred came.

That is what we were made to be. Living works of art with the breath of God in us. We still can be, but it’s a little harder than before. We have to seek out his life in us. We have to pull down the bricks we’ve built around our hearts to keep us safe and let love in. Love will change us. It will pull back our shoulders and set our spines straight. It will clear our muddied thoughts and replace them with wisdom. It will seek and destroy lesions of bitterness that are slowly killing us.

We have a choice, this choice: stand at the stalls of fear, hide in self-preservation or light up the darkness. We cannot do more than one. Want to go on a walk with me?

I want to add to the beauty to tell a better story. I want to shine with the light that’s burning up inside. And this is grace, an invitation to be beautiful. ~ Sara Groves

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pull down gently to release the flow of oxygen

airplaneA yellow mask springs down from the clear tube attached to the hand of a flight attendant. “Pull down gently to release the flow of oxygen. Place the mask firmly around your nose and mouth before pulling on the elastics to tighten. Be sure to put on your mask before assisting others.” He exaggerates a tugging motion like a Broadway cat pawing his whiskers.

If you have spent any amount of time flying you will have it drilled into you that you won’t be any good to anyone else if you run out of oxygen while helping the person who has less strength and ability than you. Thinking slows down and motor functions become sloppy until there is just not enough strength to help others, or survive.

I had barely landed back in Dublin before I was being told off by friends about the schedule I was jumping into this week. “What can God do with a dead Christian? What good is a dead Christian to him?” I was asked. My sleep deprived self couldn’t quite vocalize the response that immediately came to mind, “What good is an alive one?” It’s rare that someone who doesn’t 100% (80% minimum) believe in God would ask that question as if it really matters. Apparently, it did to him and I was curious to know why. Unfortunately, you can’t get answers to questions that you don’t ask out loud. I’m pretty sure that I smiled and laughed anyway. Who really says things so straight like that?

In this life, love is our oxygen. Food and shelter, we can exist on only those but we cannot fully live. Not this love – that cloudy word that has been reserved for parents and their children, or two people with hearts in their eyes. Not this love – that all-inclusive abstract thought, so slippery and fleeting just as you reach for it. But this love – that tangible expression of kindness when we haven’t deserved kindness, patience when we haven’t deserved patience, acceptance when we haven’t deserved acceptance. It’s that wholehearted embrace that comes after a truth filled explosion of all that is good and bad. No, we cannot live without this love.

Do you feel the love being sucked out of you as the pressure in your life changes? Are you the strong one and yet think that you can help others without putting on your mask first? What good is a corpse? Find love. If left alone in nothing but your thoughts and silence, cry out, “Love! Love me!” Search for that perfect love that takes fear and destroys it. Pull down gently from the heartbeat of heaven, cover your nose and mouth, tighten and breathe deeply. Then, assist the person next to you.

for the love, peel off the compassion gloves

A newborn baby struggling to live is placed on the naked breast of a parent. The warmth of their presence, the strength of their heartbeat, the rise and fall of regulated breath pass life to the vulnerable child. A concentrated mix of human contact and love give strength to survive. We know that children need skin to skin contact to live, to thrive, to grow.

Gracing our digital screens, these powerless infants stir in us a call to nurture, to give, as if somehow we will create a more peaceful and loving world if they make it through childhood. Relying on the strength of our immune system to keep us healthy, we sanitize our skin so they won’t be harmed by us and what we carry when we reach out our un-gloved hands, offering the comfort of our warmth. Perhaps when children are this small we might invite them to be even closer, to be neighbour, to be family. In them we see humanity, the image of God, our own lack of innocence. So, we protect them and chisel out laws that we hope will give them a fighting chance at a healthy and happy adulthood.

Our precautions turn out to not be enough. The vulnerable meet our eyes, with strength in their arms and lines of heartache etched across their faces. They no longer remind us of what is common to us all. For the love of people, we increase the list of human rights, and yet, it is with sterilized gloves we have offered compassion. The vulnerable receiving care from outstretched hands covered with personal protection against contamination.

Our programmes but not our friendship; Our money but not our neighbourhood; Our laws but not our daily kindness; Our pity but not our love.

“God loves me…” she slurred through wrinkled lips, her bloodshot eyes pleading for confirmation. “He loves you very much! But you’ve got to stop drinking so much because it’s not good for you,” Paddy gently assured her as he walked with her outside. She shuffled her petite, aging frame towards the steps. A worn ballet flat came off her foot as she murmured, trying to come to grips with love. In the same moment Paddy dropped to a knee, with one hand he picked up her shoe and with the other, her foot. Without pause, he slid her shoe back onto her foot, speaking gently but firmly about the value of her life. She continued down the stairs and into the street.

For the love, peel off the compassion gloves. As well as our programmes, money and laws, offer friendship. Offer neighbourhood. Offer kindness. For the love … offer love.

remembering the darkness

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There was a moment when I refused God. I told him to leave. I was done with him. Before then I had never known darkness – that space completely void of love.

Since before I can remember I held conversations with God and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was real. He dispelled my childhood fears, like the times I used to freak out imagining real spiders coming out of the spider plant in our bathroom. I’d look straight through the green legs hanging down to reach me. In the bottom of the pot I would imagine I saw Jesus and would begin to repeat the Lord’s Prayer. The tension would ease out of my eight year old self and I would softly float in the water of the bath again. At peace. I’d challenge him, “Jesus, if you are real then … will happen by morning.” He would respond to me, “Liesel, you know I am real, there is no need for that.” I was a child, perfectly loved.

That changed the day I decided that I wanted to live life without him. It was too difficult to believe the things he would tell me: “You are loved. You are worth it. You are beautiful.” His crime was speaking words that I didn’t feel I could believe anymore. So, I told him to go. He did. I was 11. That is when the darkness came.

For the first time, his presence was gone. But I was addicted to perfect love. The withdrawal ate my insides, body, mind and soul. It only took a couple of months until I was only a shadow of who I once was. I shook hands with death only to find it was the devil. Then one night I was given different eyes to see and it remains a vivid memory. I was a curled up, covered in filth. Nothing beautiful was left. But more disturbing was the dark thing that laughed over me. Looking away from it I saw Jesus. He didn’t step in or make a move for me. But he did wear compassion on his face. “If you still want me, then you had better take me now,” were the only words I could manage to say.

In an instant the darkness was gone. Everything was gone! I knew that Jesus had wrapped his hands around me and dealt with the darkness without me having to look. And in those safe hands I was brought back to life in an instant. The love that I had cut myself off from flooded into my veins and my heart began to beat again.

Good Friday means the world to me. It is the day I remember the darkness. That miracle when Jesus, God with us, took on the darkness. He died a criminals death on a cross while grabbing hold of everything inside of this world that doesn’t belong in heaven, wrapping it around himself so tightly that it consumed him instead of us. And there he dealt with it out of our sight, after his last breath.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me.

Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

Psalm 116:1-9

freedom stories – Ned

freedom thoughts – becoming the ‘bad apple’

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“You put a good apple in with the bad apples and the good apple always becomes bad.” It’s true, if you don’t want to spoil the rest of your fruit, you remove the bad apple when its rottenness starts to ooze out of it before the rest of the fruit gets infected and start to go off early.

There were several occasions in my early teens when well-meaning people would take me aside and give me the ‘bad apple’ speech. My choice of people I hung out with was worrying to them. Responsible adults do that, right? They protect impressionable kids and teens away from others who could be a negative influence on them. Problem was that I liked the people I hung around with. I liked their honesty and how they challenged me. I liked that they didn’t hide behind mask pretending to be something they were not. I liked that they also accepted me for who I was with my mask off … which sometimes meant excessive talking about Jesus. These friends helped shape me by challenging me to live like I do. If I believed it, I needed to live it. If any of you are reading this, Thank you!

“I am the bad apple,” was my rebellious teenage response, “I have eternity inside of me and that is more powerful. They will become like me.” By that time in my life God had done some pretty crazy things and I was in the fanatical stage of faith that so many people enter when they have encounters with just how big, holy, powerful and loving God is. At least in the teen years we can explain this fanaticism away with developmental theories so that it doesn’t seem so weird – all teens are a little crazy. I kind of feel sorry for people when they encounter God in this way as adults as it is less easy to explain!! Friends tell me about falling in love (never done this yet) and how it makes you feel a little crazy at first and then softens into something deeper and lasting. I imagine this is similar to the experience of being completely overcome by God’s love – it completely upsets the normal order of functioning at first. You want to get to know him and learn all about him. What I read and experienced was that God was powerful, really powerful! There is nothing that can overcome him. And he is motivated by love. Jesus was not corrupted by all the people and situations he encountered, he transformed them. He was the bad apple. His very presence was enough to set people free and so he hung out with people who needed freedom.

I am reading through The Meaning in the Miracles and came across something that reminded me of the bad apple speech. Jeffrey John quotes Walter Wink: “Jesus is not rendered unclean by the contact; rather, those whom society regarded as defiled are made clean. Holiness, he saw was not something to be protected; rather it was God’s miraculous power of transformation. God’s holiness cannot be soiled; rather, it is a cleansing and healing agent.”

In order to become a really good ‘bad apple’, leading people to places of freedom, I need to pursue holiness. I need to chase it with all of who I am. The side benefit? I also find that the things that hold me in chains also break free resulting in hope, peace of mind, purpose in life, no guilt and feeling ridiculously loved. Win-win.