Ruth

God often speaks to me when I’m working in the garden. Maybe pulling weeds is such great visual imagery for what I need to hear that He can’t resist! Or maybe He finds the kneeling posture suitable for talking. Whatever His reasons, I love it when I hear Him there.

The topics of our conversation typically concern scripture, or things happening in my life. But last week something unusual happened. I began singing a new song. I knew this was a prompting of the Spirit because I am neither a poet nor a song writer. Nonetheless verses kept playing in my mind, along with a simple melody. Then ideas too abstract for words began flowing.

I found I could not stop singing the first few lines, so I fleshed out the song as an act of contemplation (and so I would have more words to sing!) I am posting the end result, despite its shortcomings as poetry, because I felt the Spirit’s pleasure in revealing the Father’s favor toward Ruth. The Father rejoices when His children love one another, and we do that well when we sing each other’s songs. The more I love His saints, the more I love Him, and the more I marvel at the beauty of this story we share. So here it is, a song for Ruth.

 

Sing with me, O Ruth, the song of the Redeemed.

Of those bereft, oppressed, condemned, land ransomed for the dead.

Aliens and poor, glean from the threshing floor

Under our Lord’s mantle find a place to lay our heads.

 

Sing with me, O Ruth, the song of the Beloved,

A daughter of the nations whose eyes are like the dove’s.

Leave your father’s house for the Lord desires you,

Beautiful in kindness, crowned with glory from above.

 

Sing with me, O Ruth, the song of Motherhood.

Chosen is your line bear the King of all the earth!

We who do the Father’s will are called His mothers too,

In joy we sing with Mary, the one who gave Christ birth.

 

Sing with me, O Ruth, of the Olive Tree

A wild shoot grafted purposely to Jacob’s holy root.

Gentile and Jew drink from Messiah’s veins,

And bear witness to each other of His endless grace and truth.

He Laughs

Thousands of years ago, God looked down on the earth found a soul whom He enjoyed. A man He trusted. A mortal who heard His voice and believed.  God became His friend.

Abraham was the kind of friend God had in mind when He created Adam. A creature of flesh who knew Him by faith.  A man so beloved of the Father that He would make Abraham the father of all who live by faith.

The Father gave Abraham a great gift – the best gift He could imagine!   YHWH gave His friend a treasure like the treasure He held closest to His own heart.  A son.  An only son.  A son whom he would love.  And God gave that boy a name. Isaac, which means “He laughs.”

“He laughs.”  What a curious name for the child who would become a great nation.  Who would carry in his loins God’s plan of salvation for all mankind.  For the man bearing the seed of God’s own Son! It seems a little playful for such a weighty role.

It makes me happy to know the Creator of the Universe likes ribbing His friends.  Isaac was a continual reminder to Abraham of the way he laughed, face on the ground, as YHWH promised him a son yet again. (Gen. 17:17)  And a reminder to Sarah of her laughter inside the tent when her Holy Visitors came with a message. (Gen. 18:12) But I think the name is more prophesy than memory.  And closer to the Father’s heart than Abraham could imagine.

Abraham did not know that His Friend in Heaven also had a Son. An only Son.  A Son Whom He loved.  A Son Whom He would give as the Lamb, sacrificed for the sin of the World.  A Son in Whom all things in heaven an earth hold together.  A Son in Whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

In the fullness of time, God sent His Son to earth as a man, like Abraham.  He gave His Son the name Yeshua, meaning “YHWH saves.”  And that was the Son’s mission.  To give His life as a ransom for many, winning for the Father many brothers and sisters.

The Son of God will come again to rule the nations, and He will bear a new name, known only to the Father.  The kings of the earth will rage against YHWH and His Anointed, plotting to “throw off their fetters.”

But “He who sits in the heavens laughs,
YHWH scoffs at them.
 Then He will speak to them in His anger
And terrify them in His fury, saying,
 “But as for Me, I have installed My King
Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” (Ps 2:4-6) 

Sarah will see her Lord and her Offspring, and laugh in awe once again. As she prophesied in ancient days, “everyone who hears will laugh with me.” (Gen. 21:6)

Israel will laugh in wonder as they see every promise made fulfilled more wildly than they dared to imagine. Their “mouth will be filled with laughter and their tongue with joyful shouting as they say among the nations, ‘the LORD has done great things for us!’ ” (Ps 126:2-3)

All those who mourned on this earth, in faith, will laugh, just as Yeshua promised. The Father will wipe away the tears of all His friends.  We will be like those waking from a dream.

And God’s own Son, His only Begotten, who came to earth as the Sower, planting in tears, laying down His life as a seed in the ground, He “shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing His sheaves with Him.” (Ps 126:6)

He will laugh!

Hanna the Storyteller

HannaForAmy.jpg

Our Father is a teacher; but first He is a storyteller.  A very patient artist indeed, willing to spend millennia, perhaps eons as we count them, unfolding His plots and themes, developing His cast of characters, adorning His tapestry with motif and symbol. His story is alive, eternally present.  The drama is real and all creation is caught up in the march towards its glorious end. 

Jesus was also a storyteller.  When He encountered hearts hardened to instruction, He often spoke in parables.  Doubters threw their hands up in frustration; but those in tune with the Story passed down through the prophets felt their hearts thrill.  Foreshadowing was moving quickly toward climax. The Good Shepherd was among them, gathering His sheep.  The Vineyard Owner had come to gather His harvest.  The merciful Father was searching for his prodigal children. The King’s Son was issuing invitations to His own wedding feast, and they were invited! This Messenger was the Story’s center.

Teaching calls us to action; story demands contemplation. Stories are multi-faceted and complex.  They surrender their secrets slowly over time.  This is why great stories are given to those who, with the help of the Holy Spirit, will ponder them. Mary lived in continual wonder and meditation upon the Story in which she played such a vital role.  Hanna follows in her path.

Like our Savior, Hanna was born a Jew.  And like Jesus, her life is both a participation in the suffering of her people and a prophetic witness to their hope. Hanna was born in 1932, the only child of a well-to-do merchant in the small town of Gemünd, Germany. When Hitler came to power, her family was stripped of their possessions and forced to move from their home in Gemünd to a Jewish section in the city of Köln.  Reading the signs of the time, Hanna’s father made the heart-breaking decision to send his daughter away to England on the Kindertransport which rescued 10,000 Jewish children from central Europe. It was a decision which saved her life. Hanna’s parents were killed some months later in Chelmno, Poland.

Hanna grew up angry, full of hatred towards Germans.  She was never incorporated to a Jewish community in England, and as she did not form a close bond with her foster parents or their Christadelphian fellowship.  As a young adult Hanna lacked a strong spiritual identity until Billy Graham preached a crusade in England.  Everyone was abuzz with excitement, so Hanna decided to attend a local radio relay.  It was a fateful day.  She heard Jesus calling her into His Story, and she ran to Him.

Hanna ran with Jesus to Italy as a missionary with Operation Mobilization. Then she ran with Him to India where she met and married George.  All the while she preached the Good News, proclaiming Christ’s story. And He, in turn, was perfecting her story – forming her, healing her, preparing her for the day He would ask her to write.

In the year 2000 Hanna returned to her home town of Gemünd.  The Holy Spirit was calling her remember her parents and search out their stories.  Speaking with historians and record keepers beckoned Hanna to explain her interest. Germans who heard Hanna’s story were deeply moved and asked for more.  They wanted to know why she would return to a place which had caused her so much pain. This question allowed her speak of Jesus, the Jew who came to forgive us all.

Hanna’s exploratory trip to Germany turned into part time residence. For ten years the Mileys  traveled back and forth between Gemünd and Phoenix. Hanna’s story served as the touchstone for a widening network of relationships in the Eifel region. As people listened, many discovered the grace to examine their own stories more deeply. Some found pain and shame which needed healing.  Others recognized a grace and joy in Hanna which they desired.  Her story was a door to the heart, a spiritual opening which often paved the way for George’s teaching gift.

In time, friends encouraged Hanna to write a book. With the Spirit’s prompting Hanna consented, but writing was not an easy process, or a quick one.  It required work and vulnerability, revision and persistence.  Most importantly, it required sitting with the Father and allowing Him to revisit painful memories. No one can tell her story accurately unless she hears it first from the Author of Life.  He is the only one sees our being from conception to fulfillment.  He is the only one who knows how we fit into the drama of the Son and His Bride. God is moved, truly blessed, when we ponder His action, His wisdom, His presence, and His desires for our lives.  He loves our listening, our questions, our attention to divine detail, and our trust.

I believe that pondering her own story has taught Hanna to discern the beauty of other stories.  Whenever I speak with Hanna, I am aware how of intently she listens.  Her penetrating eyes fix on me as I talk.  In moments of silence, they close in concentration.  She asks insightful questions and waits before speaking. But when she is ready to respond, her reflections are full of surprising insights and connections.  In her presence I feel seen and known.  I feel strengthened to embrace my own call.  I feel her cheering me on.

Our Father blessed Hanna with a profound story, both painful and beautiful.  She received the gift, like Mary, and pondered it her heart. Then she gave it back to her Lord and to all of us.  Storytelling, like teaching, is a gift of love.

  • You can find A Garland for Ashes, Hanna’s book in English, on Amazon.

  • https://www.amazon.com/Garland-Ashes-Holocaust-Survivors-Forgiveness/dp/1478712813/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1548773826&sr=8-1&keywords=Garland+for+ashes

Hanna’s Kindertrasport Papers

Hanna’s Kindertrasport Papers

Hanna and George in India, fifteen days married.

Hanna and George in India, fifteen days married.

Hanna and George at the final W2017 gathering.

Hanna and George at the final W2017 gathering.

A Reflection on the Father by Karen

Today I am happy to post a piece written by my friend Karen Goldapp. I would love to feature more writers from our CTR community on this blog, so please let me know if you have a piece you would like to share. Listening and learning from one another is a gift of community. Thank you, Karen!

  My most favorite teacher/preacher is Mike Bickle, who started and runs the International House of Prayer in Kansas City.  He said something in a teaching that I will never forget, "Lovers always outwork workers".  To me, this statement is so obvious-clearly in our own lives we give and receive the most from our closest, deepest, best relationships, far, far beyond what we are required to do at work.  Yet this simple truth is harder for me to accept when I think about Our Father.  It exposes my heart towards Our Father.  One that doesn't really trust in His love.  

    I recently listened to a sermon about Our Father's love for us, and the speaker thought God loved him, but didn't really trust that God actually loved him.  Basically a worker mentality, rather than a lover relationship.  It's a simple thing, but pretty much the basis of our whole faith (John 3:16 comes to mind).  Here is a link to the sermon, if you think it might help you, it probably will: www.ihopkc.org

    When I think of what our culture says about Our Father, and what some of us experience in earthly parents and other leaders, it's not a pretty picture what actually comes to mind (ok, stop now and listen to that sermon; it's really good, I promise!)  Here is what Jesus, the 2nd person of the Trinity, our beloved Lamb and Bridegroom, said in his explanation to the religious leaders about why He was hanging out with "sinners".  Jesus in a short story illustrates what we are like, and most importantly, what Our Father is like, in the famous Prodigal Son story.  The Prodigal Son, like me, hasn't really got his Father's heart yet.  He even wants to return to his Father like a “hired worker”.  See how pervasive the worker mentality is?  We pick up in the story when the son decides going home is better than starvation, and his daddy is watching and waiting for him:

Luke 15:20 (WYC): And when he [son] was yet afar, his father saw him, and was stirred by mercy.  And he [father] ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

And a Jewish translation...

OJB: And while he [son] was still a long way off, his Abba saw him, and was filled with heavenly mercy and compassion and tears, and fell upon his neck and kissed him.  

    We sing a song about us running to God, and yes, we choose to follow Our Father, but really He is running to us.  He is humble though.  So, so, so, very, very, very humble- as evidenced by the freedom Abba gives the Prodigal Son (ahem, us) to make messes in the world- even destructive messes that cause others pain and loss.  Anyways, this running God, the One who is so much more engaged with me, my soul, than I am, the One who is far more committed, kind, gracious, and invested in my well being than I am...that's...my papa, my daddy?  

    Whew, that last sentence was intense for me.  Unbelievable, actually.  So here's what Jesus had to say in His final recorded prayer, with the disciples, right before He would be tortured, murdered, and sacrificed:   

    John 17:23 and 26 "and that you [Father God] have loved them just as you have loved me" and Jesus' prayer that God [Father God] loves us like God loves Jesus, "so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I myself may be united with them"!!!

    What??!!  Jesus of course flowed in a perfect love relationship with the Father, but us??  Father, Mother, Eternal Creator God loves me like He loves His perfect son?  Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is/was/will be so that we have His relationship with the Father.  I understand with my mind that Father God loves me.  I know, however, that my heart needs more healing to believe in the kind of radical love that God has for me.  When I have this love in me more than I have air to breath or blood in my veins, living a life of love to others, the broken, lost, hateful, and needy won't be a chore, won't be work.  It will be from the overflow of confidence in the Being who loves me just as much as He loves Himself and His perfect Son. 
 
    Our Father is the best, most perfect Father.  Words can't convey the Perfect Love who kisses all our boo boos with the most tender of care; He makes glittery, extravagant signs and jumps with joy at our graduation; He sees and affirms all our giftings and unique design like no one else; He tells us when not to listen to the haters and go out with boldness to operate in our calling.  Our community at CAE will be transformed by knowing the love of Our Father, as when we see the byproducts of all our insecurities and worries melt away.  How will we know when we have faith in Love?  When we can take divine correction and believe its for our best.  When we can be vulnerable with each other and ourselves.  When we want to be in His presence, talk with Him, share our time, money, and friendship with the Trinity because, well, we'd just love to. 

- Advent reflection from Karen Goldapp

Mystical Body of Christ - Part II

Usually I keep my eyes closed before communion.  I love the peace, the stillness, the intimacy of that space.  But one morning not long ago, I lifted my eyes and watched as my brothers and sisters came forward, one after another, and received Jesus.  To each one Fr. George proclaimed, “the Body of Christ”, “the Body of Christ”, “the Body of Christ,” and the double meaning of that confession filled my heart – the Real Presence of Jesus in the bread, and the Real Presence of Jesus in His people. 

When I served as a Eucharistic minister, I was reminded of this truth every week.  Unworthy as we are, we become Christ’s Body because He desires us and poured out His life for us. In recent years this corporate dimension of communion had receded a bit in my personal meditations, but it came rushing back the morning I lifted my eyes. Suddenly I felt stricken, sick with grief, as it dawned on me what violence we do our Savior, what violence I have done Him, by entertaining envy or contempt for fellow members of His Body. The Son of God humbles Himself to become food for all who will come. The least I can do is pray that His joy be made full in each one to whom He gives Himself.

 Jesus, that is what I desire for You – that You be glorified in each of Your members.  I pray that every brother and sister who receives the Bread of Your Body will drink deeply of the Holy Spirit and bear Your glory. I know that when Your Body is made whole, I also will be healed.

Ascension

Today we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus - the Son's return to the Father.

I had not planned to post anything, at least not on this subject.  I still want to write about my Wittenberg colleagues and the glory they carry. But this morning in mass I was so moved that I felt the need to express some of my wonder and joy in words.  These thoughts are directed to you, Jesus, my Lord, and though they are scattered and incomplete, still they make me love You more and long for the day we see you return just as You left!

When I was a child I felt no particular emotion about the Ascension.  It all seemed very logical to me.  You came to earth, died for our sins, rose again, and were done.  Nothing left to do.  So of course You went back to heaven to wait, like us. Wait for all the exciting stuff in Revelation to get started. 

You know, Lord, far better than I, how many gaps pock this early theology, but I think I got one thing right.  You sit in heaven at the right hand of the Father waiting, eagerly. Not that you are inactive as I once imagined.  Not at all! But You, like we, live in the tension of in-between, longing for a future which is certain and glorious, but not yet come to fullness.  Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. 

Because I have known You only in Your resurrected, glorified state, it took me several years to understand Your Ascension was a day of complex emotions for the disciples.  They were like Mary at the tomb, wanting to cling to You.  They loved You!   They knew You as a friend - as the best friend they had ever had, the best friend they would ever have.  They relied on You.  They worked for You!  And You were leaving them.

I am sure they rejoiced to see You glorified.  I am sure their hearts were bursting with wonder and awe!  I am certain they felt hope and purpose in Your words of commisioning.  But surely they felt some loss as well.

And what about You, Lord? Only recently have I imagined what a joyful day that must have been for You!  How You longed to embrace the Father, having done all He asked.  How the Father ached to see You clothed in Your rightful glory, in Your Victory!  How You rejoiced with Him together over the Bride You had saved.  And celebrated with the prophets and saints watching, waiting to welcome You home!  What giddy jubilation You and the Father must have felt sending the Holy Spirit upon men as promised, enabling them to know the mind of God - the seeming drunkeness of men at Pentecost only a pale shadow of the party in heaven. What a beautiful day, for us and for You!

But now, knowing more of Your unfathomable love, I dare to wonder if You also felt some pangs of grief on the day of Your Ascension?  As much as the disciples loved You, You loved them more. And this earth, humble as it is, was also your home.  You have two homes now, just as you have two natures.  And You are the Reconciler - bringing heaven to earth, taking men to heaven.  I can't wait to see the dwelling You have prepared for me in our Father's house, or the New Jerusalem coming down!

I wonder if Nathanael, when he saw You ascend, remembered the words You spoke when You first met him?

 “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these. Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Glory

I mentioned in my last post that I have not written much about the final Wittenberg gathering.  I still have stories I want to tell, stories about people I have come to know, fellow members of the Mystical Body of Christ. I want to write about these brothers and sisters and what I have learned from them, which requires some reflection on the topic of glory.

Glory is the glue which holds us together. The Mystical Body of Christ may be wounded, it may continue to suffer in various ways, but at the same time, it shares in the glory of our Lord.  Jesus gives us His glory – His power, His beauty, His goodness, His mercy, His holiness – for the sake of our unity.  He makes this point clearly, more than once,  when he speaks with His Father on the evening of His Passion.

“I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they might be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they might be brought to complete unity. “ John 17:22

This is astounding!  And it challenges my thinking.  Is it really possible that we can carry the glory of Jesus?  That He wants us to?

Glory is hugely important to Jesus, and as He approaches His passion the hope of glory is foremost in His thoughts. Jesus uses the word “glory” or “glorify” seven times in John 17.  He prays to the Father to glorify Him, the Son, so that He may in turn glorify the Father.  Jesus tells His Father that He wants His friends to be with Him, to see His glory, the glory He had with the Father before the world began. He says that as He has brought the Father glory, the disciples have brought Him glory.  And He assures the Father in the hearing of His friends that He has given them the same glory which the Father gave to Him.

I do not often feel glorious. I am more in touch with my broken humanity, my aging body, and my sinful history than I am with my glory.  Only recently have I come to acknowledge the fact that I do carry Christ’s glory, not just as a future hope, but as a present reality. Growing up with a strong and right, emphasis on man’s utter dependency on grace, I have sometimes not considered all the gifts inherent in the nature of grace. Glory is one of those gifts which I think we Christians rarely unpack. But Jesus sincerely wants our unity and He says that glory is key to this unity.  He must be right, and in the course of our work with Wittenberg 2017 I have come to catch a glimpse of this beautiful truth.

There are saints on this earth who walk in Christ’s glory.  Their glory is cloaked, like Jesus’ glory was cloaked on earth, but they know Jesus well. They bear His image.  They speak with grace and truth.  They love.  They are filled with the Holy Spirit.  And when these saints meet one another, they share a bond, a close kinship in Christ.  We have met several of these saints in the course of our work with Wittenberg 2017- men and women, Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Protestant – all members of the Mystical Body of Christ, all partaking of His glory.

Often we Christians shy away from this word “glory” as it pertains to one another.  Aware of our weakness, knowing the temptations of pride and idolatry, afraid that somehow we detract from glorifying Jesus as our one and only Savior, we hesitate to acknowledge glory in the Body. But Jesus does not share this fear.  He tells the Father, “They have brought me glory.” He delights in sharing His glory with us.  It is for this reason that He came, and the glory which we carry, if we will, brings Him even greater glory.

Shortly before His Passion, Jesus took His three closest friends up a mountain where they were allowed to see, in part, for just a moment, the true glory of their Savior. He was transfigured in their sight.  His face glowed, His clothes became radiant. Peter, James and John were sore afraid.

But Jesus did not appear alone.  He had other friends with him – Moses and Elijah stood with Jesus wearing their true glory.  They glowed like Jesus.  They were also an awesome, fearful sight.  Peter, James and John were overcome with the beauty and power of the experience.  What could they say?  “Shall we build three tabernacles on this spot?”  Then the voice of the Father thunders, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.  Listen to Him.”

We understand from this encounter that Jesus is greater than Moses and Elijah.  He is the only begotten Son of the Father.  But I find it fascinating that when Jesus has the opportunity to pull back the veil just a bit, He chooses to appear with friends. The glory that Moses and Elijah share with their Savior increases Jesus’ joy.  I believe that Jesus was not only giving his apostles a vision of His divinity, but also a preview of the Mystical Body of Christ, of the glory they will share in Him.

Jesus wants us to be with Him!  He wants us to share in His glory!  Because only in glory can we know Him as He truly is.  And only in glory will we know and love each other rightly.

 

the Mystical Body of Christ

Almost four months have passed since our final Wittenberg 2017 gathering and I have written little about it.  I have not put to paper or pixel any reflections on the event which for so many years blessed us, focused our energies, called us to prayer, consumed our time and resources, forged eternal friendships, and we pray, served as an instrument of healing for some members of the Body of Christ.  This surprises me.  I think I have not written because the path down which the Lord has led me since Wittenberg has also surprised me. He has taken me back to the beginning.

After the final W2017 meeting, I did not return home immediately.  Instead I traveled on to Austria and spent some time with our friends and co-laborers, the brains behind W2017, Hans-Peter and Verena Lang.  One night the three of us indulged in a bit of nostalgia, staying up late to look at pictures from past Wittenberg gatherings, six years of photos!  Then we kept going.  The Langs showed me pictures of a prayer journey they had taken in the summer of 2017 visiting sites in Austria where Anabaptists had been persecuted.  As they recounted their story, I remembered  teachings we heard at Wittenberg - about men  drowned for their faith, about women whose tongues were cut out for giving testimony of their relationship with Jesus, about children forcibly taken from parents -  and in the quiet of the Lang’s home, I began grieving the loss of these brothers and sisters.

The next morning I found myself on the floor in prayer, in sorrow, for our sin as a Church regarding the Anabaptists, but also for pain closer to home – for friends whose marriages were strained, for those suffering from loneliness, or depression, for those reeling from the trauma of abuse. As I lay before the Lord in this grief, I had a vision. I saw Jesus with His arms outstretched, head bowed in pain. Though He was not nailed to a cross, He was clearly in agony with gaping holes and bloody wounds in His body.  I understood immediately that I was seeing the mystical Body of Christ composed of many members throughout time, spread across the globe.  The wounds were the suffering of all who belong to the Head.  There were big gaps in the Body representing whole groups who had been persecuted –  Anabaptists, Coptic martyrs, early Catholic converts in Japan.  But there were also wounds for each individual member of the Body – those hurting from divorce or rejection, illness or injustice.  I understood that this image, though mystical, was very real.  Jesus does, in fact, hurt when the members of His Body hurt.  This is the beauty of our mystical union with Him, the depth of His love for us.

I continued gazing in awe of our Savior when something new happened.  The Holy Spirit, like a wind, began moving in and out of the wounds.  As the Spirit moved, the wounds were healed and strength returned to that part of the Body.  I was touched and awed at this Trinitarian mystery. The Father sends the Son to rescue a Bride, one which will become “flesh of His flesh.” Jesus submits to the will of the Father, even unto death.  The Holy Spirit ministers to the Son.  Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, guided by the Spirit, rejoiced in the Spirit.  Now the Spirit renews and brings life to His mystical Body. This is glory of the Trinity in motion – as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.

My personal call to the ministry of reconciliation began nineteen years ago when Jesus, in His love, gave me a great gift. I experienced, for a moment, to the degree my mortal frame could bear it, the pain He feels over division in the Church.  So it was a bittersweet moment when He took me back to that place within days of our final Wittenberg gathering.  His Body is still suffering from many wounds, not just division.  I see with certainty now that Jesus spoke truly when He said that anyone who visits a prisoner or shares food with one in need ministers to Him.  This is the nature of the Body; it cannot be separate from the Head.  Neither can the Head fail to feel the pain, or the joy, of each member.

I know also that the Spirit is at work.  The Father will not leave His Son in this wounded state forever anymore than He would abandon Jesus to the grave.  This is excellent news for us!  As we share in Christ’s suffering, we also will share in His glory. He sends the Spirit to minister, to heal.   And so, since Wittenberg 2017 has ended, I cry all the more urgently, “Come Holy Spirit!”

The Exception

Jesus was tight lipped about His identity.  His mission on earth was to reveal the Father, so He kept His Messiahship secret.  But there was one exception…..

On a trip from Judea to Galilee, Jesus passed through Samaria, a strip of land inhabited by a people despised by “true” Jews.  Samaritans were held in contempt for their mixed blood lines, for their adulterated scripture, and for their unorthodox worship.  Jews would not associate with Samaritans, but they could not deny their kinship.  Samaritans were firmly rooted in the Land.

When Jesus arrived in the Samaritan village, He was tired. And thirsty.  And on a mission . This mission required privacy, so He sent the disciples away and He sat down by a well.  Not just any well, but Jacob’s well.  He waited there like Jacob, like Moses, like Abraham’s servant in search of a bride for Isaac ; Jesus waited for a woman to come draw water.

When she saw Him sitting so near the well, she must have been uncertain.  What was a Jew doing in Samaria?  In her space?  Perhaps she also waited, hesitated, busied herself doing nothing hoping He would move.  But He did not.  Exasperated, she pressed through to her task, trying to ignore His presence.

Woman, would you give me a drink?” He asked.

Startled, she replied, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”

“If you knew the gift of God and who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”

What an odd response…. yet inviting, intriguing. He sounded kind.  Who else would have spoken to this woman this way?  And what gift of God could she possibly imagine? But she knew better than to trust men.

“Sir,” she responded, “you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”

Jesus must have smiled internally. She had no idea how much greater than Jacob He was!  But He restrained Himself.  Living water, the Holy Spirit, was the topic of this conversation. Staying on point He replied, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;  but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Something was gripping the woman.  Surely this was all nonsense, but her heart was pounding.  Why?
There was no one around to hear, no one to mock, and so she dared.
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus paused, touched by her thirst, by the faith He saw welling up in her. So He answered.

“Go get your husband.”

Oh…..cut to the heart once more!  Exposed.  No strength, no desire to run. 

“I have no husband.”

“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’  For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

She could have run. She could have denied the truth.  She could have accused Him.  But something held her there.  He spoke the truth, but He was kind.  He saw her. He knew her. She could not leave.

“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”

The Father was seeking her!  This is what she heard.  The man said that she would worship God, in Spirit and in truth, though she was a Samaritan, though she could not enter the temple.  The Father was seeking people like her!  And at that moment, I think that living water began bubbling.  Could this be the One they were waiting for?

“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”

And then Jesus did smile, and He volunteered to this woman something He told no one else in scripture.

“I am He, the one who is speaking with you.”

Jesus told this woman who He was because Jesus is a Bridegroom seeking a Bride.  Like Jacob at the well.  Like Moses and Abraham’s servant.  He is seeking those who worship in spirit and truth.  He is the Husband the woman needs to call for her living water.  And her faith is like a drink of water to His soul.

 

 

Secret Messiah

There is one aspect of Jesus’ ministry which has often puzzled me.  Throughout the gospels He hides His identity.  Demons know who he is, but He commands them to keep quiet.  People Jesus heals have an inkling, but they are told to keep their story secret.  Peter makes his confession on behalf of the disciples that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, but  Jesus solemnly warns them to tell no one. 

Why would Jesus do this?  After all, He was here to save to the world, and the way I learned the gospel, believing that Jesus is the Son of God is the path to salvation.  So if I were writing the script, Jesus would have stayed on earth longer.  He would have held massive evangelism crusades, like Billy Graham. He would have told people clearly who He was, explained all the prophecies pointing toward Him, and given them a chance to “make a decision.” Because if believing that Jesus is the Messiah is the crux of salvation, shouldn’t He tell as many people as possible, as clearly as possible?  Why all the secrecy?

It seems odd from a human perspective, but looking through a Trinitarian lens, it is a glorious mystery!  Jesus came to earth to reveal the Father.  He came to manifest His name.   (John 17:6, Luke 10:22) YHWH has always been compassionate and gracious, abounding in lovingkindness and truth, slow to anger, quick to forgive, a righteous judge who will not leave the guilty unpunished.  In love He revealed Himself to Israel. He told them His Name.  But they feared the fire and the smoke; they trembled at the thunder of His voice; they could not see mercy, grace and compassion of His love.

So the Father asked His Son to go to His people, to take on their human flesh, to speak in a human voice, to touch them with human hands.  The Father asked His Son to heal their diseases and teach about the kingdom of heaven so they would come to know the God they feared.  He asked His Son to die a brutal death on the cross to leave no doubt about His love.  And in love, the Son said yes.

If Jesus had come announcing that Himself as the Messiah, everything would have been different. People had preconceived notions about  the Messiah and what he would do, what he should do, if he were in fact real.  Militias were already formed, waiting. Herod also had a plan. Religious folk were engaged in debate.  So if a man with Jesus’ reputation for miracles claimed to be the Messiah, gatherings of 5000 at the Sea of Galilee would have been a security threat.  And no one would have listened to Jesus’ teaching because they would be focused on politics and impending war. Who would have time for parables?  How could the lame have pressed through the crowds?

That was not Jesus’ plan.  He came to show us the Father. 

Jesus did, in fact, long to be known for He who was.  He was a Bridegroom coming to woo a Bride. But He determined to leave the revelation of His identity in the Father’s hand.  Toward the end of His ministry, Jesus took the twelve aside and asked, “Who do people say that I am?”  The disciples replied that the crowds said He was a prophet, maybe even Elijah come back to prepare the way of the Messiah.  And then Jesus asked the twelve directly, “But who do you say I am?”   Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus’ spirit soared, I believe, because Peter knew, but “flesh and blood had not revealed that to him.”  Jesus had not told him.  The Father opened the eyes of Peter’s heart.

This is the mystery of Trinitarian love.  The humility of God!  The Father sends the Son to reveal His nature.  The Son does not speak of Himself but points to the Father.  The Son does not set up a Kingdom on earth, or seek to make His name known.  Instead He ascends to heaven and entrusts this mission to the Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who reveals Jesus to men.  And as the Spirit opens our eyes to the Son, the Son leads us back to the Father, who will hand all authority over to Him.  What a beautiful dance of humility, honor and love!  This is our God.

 

Lamb of God

“Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

This acclamation has been ringing in my ears, rising from my lips, filling my thoughts for the past few weeks. Now we are into Christmas and meditations on the Incarnation seem more fitting than those on Atonement, but the Spirit moves as it will.   Advent  2017 was for me a “little Lent,” more than I have known before – a time of repentance, reflection, and longing for a Savior.

I have been thinking about what it means to “take away the sin of the world.”  Why does John the Baptist say “take away” instead of “forgive” or “pardon?” Those are words which I heard more frequently in church growing up. Teachings on personal justification, the cross, and Christ’s sacrifice were plentiful, but I don’t recall hearing a sermon on this particular verse from John.

Before proceeding, I must warn the reader that I am no theologian.   What is written here is not meant as doctrine or a lesson in biblical languages.  I have never studied Hebrew or Greek.  Even so, I know the Holy Spirit delights in our contemplation of Scripture.  It is the Spirit’s work to grant wisdom and revelation.  I feel the Lord’s pleasure when I open  Blue Letter Bible and begin poking around, asking questions, so I am bold to record these thoughts for further contemplation.

The Greek word for “take away” used in John 1:29 is “airo” which means “to lift up” or “to lift and carry away.”  It is very similar to the Hebrew word “nasa” which also means “to bear” or “to carry.”  John the Baptist, of course, knew the Hebrew word “nasa.”  So did John the Evangelist who recorded, in Greek, this profession of Jesus’ identity.  Here is why that word “nasa” is so important.

In Exodus 34, when YHWH reveals the Name to Moses, He says:

"YHWH,  YHWH God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."

The word translated “forgiving” in the Name of God is “nasa.”  A more literal translation might be “YHWH… who bears away iniquity and transgression and sin.”  When John the Baptist cries out “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” he ties Jesus to the name of YWHW in the ears of his Jewish audience.  Jesus emphasizes this connection to YHWH’s name when He prays to His Father in John 17.   “I have manifested Your Name.”  This was Jesus’ work on earth – to reveal the Father.  It has always been the nature of the Father to carry our sins. 

Is there a difference between “forgiving” and “taking away?” 

I know that God forgives sin, and I am beyond thankful that He does!  I desperately need forgiveness. I would die under the weight of guilt and shame without His mercy.  I long to be cleansed, changed and made pure.  I love Jesus for His sacrifice, for His personal promises.

But as I mature, I realize I need much more than personal forgiveness.   My sin hurts other people and personal justification does not heal the hearts of those I have wounded.  This world will never be right unless there is a Savior who can take away our sin, who can make all things new and set all things right.  I long for a Savior who will not only forgive me, but who can redeem the wrongs I cannot undo. Who will judge on behalf of the oppressed and lift the needy from the ash heap.  Whose salvation is so mighty, so complete that slaves stolen from Africa will bless His Name and rejoice forever in His justice.  A Savior so glorious that those lost in war, even in genocide, will count their sufferings as “momentary afflictions” in light of their joy and consolation. This world needs a Savior who can carry away the consequences of Adam and Eve’s primal sin – the sin which opened the door of death, sickness, and pain of all kinds.

In the in law of Moses, YHWH instructs Israel to observe a Day of Atonement once a year.  On this day of fasting and rest, three sacrifices are made.  A bull is sacrificed for the high priest’s personal sin and the sin of his family.  Then a goat is sacrificed for the sin of Israel. One goat for a whole people.  Rather amazing.  Regarding the blood sacrifice, the Lord says, “The life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood which makes atonement for one’s life.”  This is the way I have grown up understanding the sacrifice of Jesus.  His blood makes atonement for my sin.  Thanks be to God!

But there is another sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement - the scapegoat.  In this sacrifice a live goat is brought to the high priest who lays both hands on the animal’s head and confesses all the sins of Israel.  Verbal confession of sin is not necessary for the blood sacrifice, but it is required over the scapegoat which then carries Israel’s sin away.  Lev. 16:22 “The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.”   And yes, the word “bear” is “nasa.”  And the wilderness is where John the Baptist finds Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Jesus, I love you for taking away the sin of the world!  I long for You to return and make all things new. Merciful Father, YHWH , bearer of our sins, I believe You are true to Your word.  There is a day coming when “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Even so, Jesus, Lamb of God, come quickly!

The Bride and the Cross - Part III

The Son was prepared for the wedding through the Incarnation and the Cross.

The Bride is also prepared for the wedding through the cross.

As we said earlier, a Bride and a Groom must share the same nature in order for a marriage to be valid.  The Son humbled Himself and took on flesh for His part.  But He was still sinless, and we were not.  The cross was necessary to take away our sins.

John the Baptist recognized Jesus as the Bridegroom.  And he understood that his own ministry prepared the way of the Bridegroom.  John called people to repent of their sins, and this was crucial. It remains crucial for prophets and pastors to call people to repentance.  But when John saw Jesus approach Him, John called out “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  Friends of the Bridegroom call the Bride to repentance, but only the Lamb, only the Son, can take away her sin.

The cross is the means by which the Bride is washed clean.   The blood Jesus spilled on the cross takes away our sin. But the mystery of the cross runs even deeper.  In the Incarnation, Jesus took on our nature to become like us.  Through His death on the cross, Jesus invites us to partake of His nature.

Early church fathers saw a parallel between the creation story and the crucifixion.  In Genesis, God puts Adam into a deep sleep.  He then opens Adam’s side, removes a rib, and fashions Eve, his bride, from that rib.

In a similar way, Jesus was put into the deep sleep of death.  A spear pierced His side, and water and blood gushed forth.  Early church fathers saw the water and the blood as symbols of baptism and communion – the two signs by which Christians are marked and changed, separated from this world. This is the cleansing which transforms us into a fitting Bride.   Jesus said unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood, we have no part of Him.  These are shocking words, but the transformation which must take place is shocking.  We must take on His nature, and the cross provides the only path for this transformation.

So just as the cross is the glory of the Son, it is also the glory of the Bride.
But there is a further mystery of the cross.  Jesus calls the Bride to take up her own cross and follow Him

Here I want to tell you a funny personal story about my courtship with Thomas.

Thomas began pursuing me when were both in college.  He spent a few months in Taiwan, visiting his aunt and uncle who were missionaries, and while he was there, he remembered me from our high school youth group and decided I might make a good wife.  So when he came back to Texas, he started calling.

What he did not know is that I had just sworn off men.  While he was away, I was breaking off a serious, but unhealthy relationship with another boyfriend.  So when Thomas started calling me, my heart was still hurting.  I was afraid that I could not be trusted with romantic relationships.  I was afraid that God was disappointed in me.  I was simply afraid, and so I did not return Thomas’ calls.  Now I am not sure why, but Thomas kept calling, for a whole month, and I did not respond.

I did not respond because I did not want to mess up another relationship.  But I knew that Thomas was an exceptional man!  I admired him greatly.  In fact, I had once told myself, “I want to marry a man like Thomas Cogdell” – never imagining that the real Thomas Cogdell would be interested in me.  So I went to my former boyfriend who knew Thomas from church, I told him my situation, and that young man spoke the wisdom of God to me.  He said, “Amy, you would be a fool not to date Thomas Cogdell!”

So the next time Thomas called, I answered the phone and agreed to see a play with him and his sister. This seem to encourage him, so he proposed another date. Here was Thomas’ idea of a good second date.

“Amy,” he asked, “would you come with me next Saturday to an abortion protest and get arrested?”

What young man in his right man proposes a trip to jail as a first date?
What woman in her right mind accepts?

Well, I did.  I was arrested for criminal trespass and spent the night in a very dirty, uncomfortable cell. I went to another protest, was arrested again, and ended up spending 30 days in jail.  30 glorious days coming to know the tender heart of Jesus for His hurting sheep.  30 days in which I saw Jesus heal people.  30 days which changed the course of my life.  Those days in jail are a treasure to me.

I was thinking back on those early days of courtship with Thomas recently, wondering whatever made me say yes to such a proposal.  The truth is that I had not thought much about the tragedy of abortion before Thomas invited me to be arrested.  I did not go to jail out of passion for a cause.

I did not go to jail for love.  At the time, my heart was still numb.  I was not in love with Thomas.

But I did admire him.  I respected him.  I trusted him more than I trusted myself.  If Thomas thought going to jail was the right thing, then I felt it must be.  Even though I missed class.  Even though going to jail jeopardized my grades and put a mark on my criminal record. Even though it was a little scary.

When I was thinking about those days recently, I laughed to think how much my earthly husband resembles my Heavenly Husband, Jesus.  “Take up your cross and follow Me,” is a daring invitation to one’s Bride.  Most people will say “no thank you” to such an invitation.  The promise of suffering does not sound so romantic to our ears.

But Jesus is good and can be trusted.  And for those who will take up their cross and follow Him, their cross becomes their glory and their victory, just as it is the glory of the Son.

At the last supper Jesus is praying to His Father and He speaks these words which are so beautiful, so powerful that we hardly dare to believe them. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one. John 17:22

What is this glory? It is to be like Jesus, to share His nature and character. We partake in His glory when we manifest the name of the Father, like Jesus did.  We carry His glory when we are kind and merciful, when we forgive sin. We carry His glory when we proclaim good news to the poor and the captives.  We carry His glory when we practice justice and defend the weak.  But we carry His glory most clearly when we suffer with Him.  When we take up our cross and follow Him

The first apostles were martyred for their witness, and in their death, they carried His glory.  St. Francis fasted and lived in extreme poverty, and in that suffering he also carried the glory of Jesus.  Our Anabaptist brothers and sisters refused to fight in the military; they refused to even to defend themselves, and so they chose to embrace suffering for the sake of Jesus.  The world takes notice when people lay down their lives for Jesus.

For the past five years, Thomas and I have had the honor of partnering closely with a team of friends, of spiritual fathers and mothers, in this work of Wittenberg 2017.  I have seen the glory of Jesus in them – Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Free Church brothers and sisters, Messianic Jews – and my heart is closely united with them.  I love them.  And in working with them, I have come to see the wisdom of Jesus.  Doctrinal discussion is good, but in itself, it will not bring unity. What unites us is the glory of Jesus.  When we carry His glory, we bear witness to His name – and if we love Him, we will love anyone who carries His glory.  And if we love Him fully, we will take up our cross and follow Him.  We will lay down our lives for one another, because that is the glory The Bridegroom shares with the Bride.