I was just watching a show I like very much and in this episode, a man walked up to one of the main characters at a bar and asked him, “What if I told you that knowing Jesus will not only give you freedom from hell, but also freedom from pain in this life?”
My heart crumpled. How unfortunate. And what a sorry and lacking way to present the freedom of the Lord. I assure you, dear one, that the presence of Jesus does not mean the absence of pain.
To say that salvation and knowing the Lord is just to guarantee freedom from pain is a shallow untruth about a God who is so much bigger than we try to make Him. To know Jesus is not to be free from pain. It is to experience pain, deep pain, pain unfathomable. Your heart will ache and bleed in ways you could not have imagined before. You will hurt for yourself and your depravity, and if that is not enough, you will hurt for other people. Your own heart will be so tender and raw with compassion.
But to know Jesus is also to know joy. Life-giving. Joy unfathomable. Your heart will ache then, too. You will ache with gratefulness and wonder and amazement at what is in front of you now and what is to come.
To know Jesus is to know freedom. Freedom you cannot comprehend, but you will know it. You will feel it. It will be the freedom that lifts you up out of your bitterness, raises your head on the days that rub you raw, and reminds you that you are deeply loved and not bound to untruths about yourself and your worth.
I could go on and on and on. I am no good at evangelizing, though. I only know how to admit my sorry sinner status and love like crazy and give glory where glory is soundly due. And this evening, it is burning in my heart to tell you, dear one, that the Gospel is much more than the promise of absence. It is the promise of presence.
A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. ~ Luke 6:45, NLT
A friend approached me the other day, all worked up and poured out and bone tired over a family situation. After relaying the details, her final conclusion was this: “I believe they don’t like me and are forcing me out in their own way. I just know it.”
I sighed and wanted to cry. I am never sure what to say to the hurting who are only hurting themselves; patience and listening are all I have for them. I find myself engaged in these sorts of conversations with my girls all to often – conversations where the final thought is that they just “know” how so-and-so feels or thinks or talks about them. In the end, their assumptions are what brought them to this place of “knowing.” The truth is, they do not know. Not for sure. They assume and they get their feelings hurt and they retaliate for a wrong that was never actually committed and relationships get destroyed. All because a possibility turned into a certainty in a hurting woman’s heart.
That is the worst part. This often happens because someone is already hurting and assumes that everyone is out to hurt her more. I have been there. It is the worst kind of self-fashioned prison. The very worst, all built of lies and shame that are not of the Lord AT ALL.
My darling sister, I encourage you to check your heart before you assume a wrong from someone. People can be cruel and harsh and unkind, yes. We all have that potential and we have all, at some point or another, acted on it. But check your assumptions. Really consider the situation and the facts and what actually has happened (instead of what you think has happened) before you fly off the handle into anger and hurt and retribution. Talk to the person with whom you are struggling. Or, if you cannot do that just yet, run the entire situation by a wise and unbiased third party and do so in the mindset that you are fact-finding, not side-seeking. Pray. Check your heart. Your lips that are spewing forth your hurt at the hands of another are really spewing forth hurt that was already there and you end up only hurting yourself more. Oh how the Lord wants to remove those scabbed wounds and whisper away those lies. You are loved, my darling. Deeply deeply loved. And you are free. Be blessed and live lightly and rest in the arms of the One who loves and saves.
I wish I could say that I spent this glorious Easter day all swollen from candy. I wish I could say that I spent all afternoon with belly swollen from a delicious home-cooked meal and sat around a table of people I love. I wish I could say I spent the day with my heart all swollen from the joy of getting to worship with my fellow travelers and seekers. Instead, I spent the day half-blind. In bed. And swollen.
But not from food. It was my right eye, actually. I woke up with an eyelid swelled so big that there was only a little slit left for me to peek out of most of the day. It was so swollen that my right eyebrow was a good 1/2 inch higher than the other so I looked like a normal human on one side of my face, and a surprised bar fighter with a rakish stare on the other. It was so swollen that I could not see to drive to church. Compresses did not help. Crying really did not help. I was crushed.
Sometime this afternoon, my and my lovely eye lump (which I downgraded to a eye muffin top around 5 pm) decided that it was still Easter Sunday. Despite the Reese’s eggs, which I consumed in self-pity, despite the pizza I ate because it was the only thing I had that did not require me to look at a recipe out of one eye (and that had not been ruined by my refrigerator that died on Thursday and cannot be replaced until Tuesday), despite the fact that my pretty Easter dress stayed in my closet unworn, it was still Easter. I like that.
My self-pity, my eye lump, my lack of real food, my comfy yoga pants that became my Sunday outfit…none of it matters in light of Christ. That’s a good thing because if it was left up to me to make this Easter, I would fail. It would be an epic fail, as my students say. A total fail. Easter would have been a chocolate coma awash in self-pity and longing for wine (but good Baptist girls don’t drink on Sunday) with a strong dose of unexplainable eye lump thrown in for good measure.
Thank goodness I’m not in charge. Sunday is not coming. Sunday is HERE. And on this Sunday, I am grateful for the One who loves and saves. Who suffered for my sins. Who died. Who is RISEN. Who makes my heart swell full and big and grateful each and every day.
Easter swellings. Eyes. Hearts. Bellies. Who cares what form it comes? All is gift. Even eye lumps on Easter Sunday.
I love laundromats. Love them. I love the smell of fresh laundry, the quiet and steady hum of the dryers, the constant productive movement of changing out loads of clothes in the washer, the knowing that all things leave clean. Love it all.
I love the people of laundromats most. They have some stories, those people. I love the teenage girls with babies on their hips and a still-hopeful look in their eyes. I love the middle-aged men with dirty shirts and dirtier hands who look longingly at the dinner provided by a ministry and they haven’t eaten well in awhile so a cheap hotdog tastes mighty good and maybe, just maybe, seconds are allowed. I love the mothers with bellies full from housing babies and shoulders drawn down from working too hard for too little and knowing there just is never enough. I love the wee fellows with faces dirty from dinner and hands dusty from play. I love the little girls who crowd around the table with little brown hands held high so I can paint their nails. I have given a lot of manicures to wee ones in this manner and I often weep after an evening of nail polish and crafts because the privilege of love is so big and good it breaks my heart.
I love laundromats. I love what happens when I enter into a world where I clearly do not belong and I get to love like crazy. Sometimes love is a kind smile and some genuine eye contact. It is amazing how much a human will open up to you when you look at her like she is human and NOT your latest pity project. Sometimes love is a pat on a shoulder, a “Good job!” over a child’s artwork, a moment to kneel on a dirty floor and hear a story or two. Love is life. Life-giving, life-breathing, life-making. I love laundromats. So much life there.
After all of my years in Sunday School at Southern Baptist churches scattered across the nation, my time in numerous Bible and theology classes in undergrad, and the last eight years spent in a directed and intentional study of the Holy Bible, I don’t know how I missed this verse in Luke: ” And as they were going, they were cleansed.” (Luke 17:14b, NASB) Not “Jesus made them well right then and there.” Not “Jesus raised His hand and their mutilated skins were healed.” But “as they were going, they were cleansed.” Hmmm. One can only assume that Jesus Christ’s healing/cleansing of a disease (that made the men outcasts over time) had then required a process set in motion by the mercy of God. A process. Not an instant, not what they wanted right away. But a healing and good process.
If I read the entire passage, which I highly encourage you to do since the Bible is not designed for piecemeal consumption, I find that those lepers begged for mercy and received. In a process. What’s more, only one of them, a Samaritan, returned to express gratitude. The other men went on and away.
I identify with that Samaritan. I, too, am an unlikely worshipper. I too, want to be healed. I, too, want the blessing. God does not always do it in the way, or the timeframe, that I would prefer. In fact, it almost never goes as I plan. I have to go through the process. and when I step out in faith, and do His will and submit to the process, I am made grateful. I am made well. I am made aware of the goodness of a good God. Amen.