Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Broken Vessel; A Broken Life

Picture the setting:  Jesus has been invited to dinner.  This, however, is not just another meal.  Jesus is invited to the home of a respected and important man in the community - a man that many seek association with.  He is a man with many friends and whom many desire to befriend or at least be seen.  His influence reaches deep from politics to business to matters of faith and all know his name.  He is a Pharisee, guardian of the Mosaic Law and scholar of the scriptures.  His name is Simon and he desires to dine with this carpenter of unremarkable demeanor from an unremarkable town whose name is being spoken throughout the region. 
Simon intends find out who this Y'shua is.  He is pleased the invitation has been accepted as this will prove, if nothing else, an interesting encounter.  Honored friends and leaders are assembled in his home, each searching a better grasp of the man rumored to be a teacher sent from God.  In this environment of food and entertainments, Jesus reclines to converse with his host.  Servants move in and among those gathered, conversation is engaged on numerous topics and in the commotion, a lone figure edges along the wall unseen and disregarded.
She is out of place here among the social elite.  In a room filled with those associated with the pursuit of God, she is filled with the regrets of a reprobate existence.  Innocence was cast aside long ago as choices became habits and worth evaporated with each abuse of self by herself and others.  She too is known in the community, though her prominence is of a different nature.  For this reason, she keeps to the shadows, hood drawn, head low, hair obscuring her face.  Her heart races as she nears the young teacher.  Nervous fingers rub the cool porous surface of the jar nearly causing it to slide from her trembling hand has she approaches from behind.  Sensing a presence, he turns as do others.  Immediately in their faces she notes shock, recognition, disdain.  What is she doing here?  Who let her in?  Nauseating regret begins to steal her strength, and causes her to doubt her actions.  Fear knots in her stomach and legs weaken as she glances from one stern face to another.  Then she looks at him and sees only
In his face, there is no scorn, there is no judgement.  Her knees give way at his feet and she begins to weep.  Raising her hands to her face she remembers the jar.
"One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat.  When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.  Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them."
Luke 7:36-38 NLT
In a not too distant setting in a not too distant home he sits.  Again a meal is occurring.  Another man named Simon is the host and he too is known in his community.  This man, however is not a scholar, but rather a recipient.  Like Simon the Pharisee, this is a man of titles; titles that have gained him renown throughout his community.  This man previously carried a title that caused others to avoid his presence and give wide berth when walked through the streets.  Fading into the nothing, his life was erased as he was judged not by his actions, relationships, or his heritage, but solely upon one single factor that ultimately cast him out of contemporary society to walk in the land of the abandoned.   This man was formerly known as 'Simon the Leper', yet he is the recipient of God's restorative healing touch and is known as 'leper' no more.  He has been given a new title.  Now he is known as 'Simon, the walking evidence of God's grace and healing power'.
Jesus, surrounded by his disciples, enjoys fellowship and camaraderie with a man who seeks to honor the one who healed and brought a new lease on life.  One can imagine the mirth, one can picture the release of road weariness and a simple enjoyment of companionship as bread is broken, company is enjoyed, and good food and drink are relished.
Again a woman steps forth, alabaster in hand.  A room is silenced.  A vessel is broken.  A lamb is anointed.
"Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head."
Mark 14:3
In both of these examples we see acts of brokenness.  One broke a vessel in an act of deep and costly sacrificial worship.  In the other we see an individual who was the broken vessel in an act of deep and costly worship.  Where one spent an enormous sum, a year's wages, on a small jar - probably all she had, another gave all she had of self in addition.  In both, we see our Savior's response - total acceptance in the reciprocation of love.  In no manner is there ever a comparative of worthiness to approach.  In fact, we see the opposite in effect as an individual morally corrupt and broken to desperation, undertakes a single act of beauty that outshines the gifts, the meals, the hosannas, and the cheers of the multitudes who regularly crowded around and followed Him as he tread this earth.
Yet, as is too often typical to the environment of the sanctified, devout, and the chaste these acts were met with harsh criticism - these women were met with judgement, critique of motive, doubt of sincerity. 
"If he were truly from God he would know who is touching him - he would know her story!"
"What a waste - a poor use of resources!"
"The money that could have been used to help the needy and the sick!"
"What we could have done for the Kingdom if they would have consulted us first!"
Do any of these still resound today?
Yet all of these rebukes were silenced by him.  Of those in the room who had the right or moral authority to sit in judgement over these offerings and the women who made them, it was he, yet his only rebuke was against those who sat in judgement.  Of the numerous individuals surrounding him in both scenarios - the individuals who touched his core, who truly drew his attention were two women with hearts broken and humbled before their Lord.
A naked encounter with this Savior still leaves one broken.  It destroys all defenses that cover the crumbling ruins of failed lives. The blinders are off and we see the futility of our strivings for peace, strivings for security, happiness, strivings for worth. We see the tragedy that is humanity searching for purpose without its Creator. It is in this context, we are finally able to look past ourselves and see the nature of limitless love and life beyond this sphere that a Savior laid down his very own self to redeem us into. He allowed himself to be broken upon our sin and death so that we might be restored into his family - blameless before the Eternal Holy God forever. 
And He is not interested in bringing only the whole or the worthy into his family, those who have rarely if ever sidestepped.  There are no "deserving" and "undeserving" in the Kingdom of God for those who will receive him.  The truth is, Jesus never searches out the worthy or the perfected, he perfects and makes worthy those he searches out.  The author of Romans quotes Hosea stating:
"Hosea put it well:
I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies;
I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved.
In the place where they yelled out, “You’re nobody!”
they’re calling you “God’s living children.”
Romans 9:25 MSG

And this message is being proclaimed throughout the planes of existence, throughout the heavens where angels soar to the hells where demons wail.  "God's living children!"  And we will forever be known as such.  We have been freed from ruin, despair, and eternal death to live in the light and grace of his works and love in our lives.  Further, we are privileged to share in his work in others' lives as we become living tools for the continued building of this ever-growing family.  He is not interested in accomplishments, or boasts of numbers and weekly figures.  He is interested in encounters, relationships, and life changing testimonies as hell is daily encroached by the transformation of lives through his contagious love - for he is called Love.

But to accomplish this, we must approach with a heart ready for transformation.  This doesn't readily occur when we're certain we have everything in place.  It is not complimentary to the state of self sufficiency that often is paired with our successes, when life is working in our favor and all is going "according to plan".  Rather, this often occurs in our dark hours, in the valleys, forests, and storms of our lives when we are fully exposed and searching his heart, his direction.  It is here we approach in greatest humility, seeking nothing but his will for our lives.  And in this state, he can most effectively take us to greatest heights, achieve greatest purpose, enter into deepest relationship - but not before we are willing to become a broken vessel; not before we are willing to offer a broken life.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Raising the Blade

It hit me like a wave of despair.  I was learning of events that were terrible and tragic, events that I wished nothing to do with.  On the surface this seems a tremendously selfish and awful statement.   Yet to embroil myself, to entangle our family would be to jeopardize a peace and a final sense of well-being that we had sore been missing - a tranquility that had been eluding us for over five years.  My gut reaction:  to protect, to shelter, to screen my household from an unwelcome intrusion upon our safety and security.

God's blessings have recently overwhelmed us in remarkable fashion (see here).  This problem belonging to others, if embraced, threatened to upset the ordered and balanced state of our home for years to come.  My bride and I needed rest, needed a break.  Recent years have proven a grueling journey and of late I've been feeling like I've earned a respite, a bit of a time out on the sidelines to rejuvenate.  Further, the amazing blessing of our home has created a sanctuary for us that I have come to personally treasure.  For the first time in time unaccounted I long for no other place than with my children and bride in the presence of our home.  It has become my reprieve from a rapid paced world, my daily hiatus from external pressures and demands.  In my home I find rest and peace of mind.  Even in working around my home, my soul is refreshed.

And now the rumble of storm clouds on the horizon left me cringing for what might be...
I promised myself I would pray for those involved. 

His mind was reeling from the absurdity of it all, yet he knew with certainty what was being asked.  He knew the ageless voice that was asking.  All he could do was trust.  Trust in a God who had promised.  Trust in a God who had never failed.  Trust in a God who had spoken into the deep of his heart as he pondered the stars in the depths of their sanctuary.  Yet trust had limits didn't it?  Surely there was another way.  Yet none had been offered - simply the repeated command.  Sacrifice. 

He told the servants they would return, half hoping for the truth of this statement, half pleading silently for an alternate course.  Yet none had been given and the weight of what was required laid heavy upon him.

Gently he laid the bound child, the sticks and tender. 
"Daddy - it hurts!" his son cried.
"I know son - it will not last long."
Tears welled as he pondered the purity of innocence laying before him - the future that was going to be extinguished by his own hand.
His heart tore as he realized with finality there was no alternative - this was the price of relationship.
Covering his beloved boy's face Abraham raised the blade...

Picture yourself in the darkest of moments being called upon to perform such an act against your own beloved child - to extinguish the spark of life, the joy of your heart.  Often we've read this passage from Genesis 22 and often we've listened to the foreshadowing comparatives of Jesus, but place foot in shoe as the "father of faith" was taken to the edge of his by the Omniscient. 

A promise was given, but a future was asked of him.  Blessing was bestowed, but a life was required.  This passage shows that the One who blesses and promises is not interested in our short term comfort or our temporal pleasure at the cost of our eternal worth or effectiveness in His Kingdom.  This is a harsh reality that many will close hearts and minds to.  At times, I have.

How often have we made our homes, our habitats, our resting place, our escape in place of a Savior who has stated:

"Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."
Matt 11:28

Has our trust, our security become the calm of domus or faith in well constructed plans rather than the Rock upon which we build.

"You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you."
Isaiah 26:3

Then a whispered word levels all excuses and drives to repentance all who would withhold self for fear of intrusion into their balanced natural order:

"Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it's in your power to help them. If you can help your neighbor now, don't say "come back tomorrow, and then I'll help you."
Proverbs 3:27 - 28

This passage is just a few verses under my bride's life verses of Proverbs 3:5 and 6:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."

In our fear of the unknown future do we begin to trust in the provision, rather than in the one who provides?  In this state, a protecting of self, of status quo, of safe living is harboured in the heart.  In this state, we are less willing to recklessly love, to engage without restriction the damaged and broken around us.  Everything is going well, we state that we are "blessed", bills are paid, needs are met, plans are on course.  Our utopias seem to be in sync with God's provision and we couldn't be happier - yet we find we aren't really living sacrificially.  Shouldn't the question arise that a Lord who spared nothing of himself and ask the same of his followers,  a Lord who states "owe nothing but to love" but then defines love as "laying down your life" - doesn't this beg the comparative between His true intent and our relatively risk free existence? 

When we find ourselves in this state we, like Abraham, will very often find ourselves at a crossroads where sacrifice is spoken into our hearts and a decision must be made.  Will we willingly name Him Lord over everything in our lives and be content if He truly does require it to bring us into a deeper eternal walk with Him or will we draw back and hold onto our known versions of security, our temporal definitions of prosperity?  This is a question that each of us must put to test on some level in each of our lives for there will always be areas or people that we cherish above all - even sometimes above Him.  It is in those times that we may find ourselves called to ultimate sacrifice in order to step into deeper eternal relationship and growth.  When that time comes, will you be willing to raise the blade?