Enough To Let Me Go

I’ve been thinking about some of this stuff a lot lately. It has a lot to do with
God and how He loves us and how we try to love Him and each other.

I think a lot of our unhealthy ways of relating to each other have a lot to do with our unhealthy ways of views of God and how those views inform how we relate to Him. We then relate to other people how we think God relates to us. At least it often works that way.

This was honestly going to be a post on Facebook but it got too long.

Fear and guilt really are poor motivators. I can sometimes use them to change behaviors, but crushing people’s spirits into the shape I want, makes both them and me less human. Even worse, I take on part of the enemy’s work: accusing.

As long as sin has been around most people have known there’s something wrong with them.

I know. I know it well.

But simply being aware of my depravity did nothing to change my heart. That awareness only increased my burden, as I tried and mostly failed to do what I was supposed to do.

It took a force much bigger than laws and guilt to change me: it took Love incarnate.

Yes. It took relentless, terrifying, scandalous, humble, servant, sacrificial, love to break and began to remake me.

God loved me before I loved Him and that’s what actually started conforming me to Christ’s image, not me knowing I was a bad person. I want to give that to people. Free love.

No stipulations.

Because love with stipulations isn’t love. It’s manipulation.

Love is instead, much more like breathing, as Jon Foreman, frontman of Switchfoot, and my songwriting hero, wrote in this song.

You breathe it in and let it go.
Every breath you take is not yours to own.
It’s not yours to hold.

Do you love me enough to let me go?

-switchfoot

If you suck in two lungs full of air and hold your breath for long enough, you’ll soon discover that while you may have taken a breath, it doesn’t mean you’re breathing. It’s only when you engage in the whole process of taking and releasing breaths that you actually get to experience the good that breathing does for you.

It’s the same way with love. You might receive love from those around you, but trying to hold all of it inside you doesn’t work. You either release it to others or you start losing your ability to receive the life that comes from breathing.

And furthermore, trying to love someone while attaching stipulations to it is a bit like trying to survive only on shallow breaths. It’s like lacking the faith to believe that if you completely release a breath, there won’t be more air for you to inhale.

You can sort of survive on it, and it kind of looks and feels like the real thing, and it might feel safer, but eventually you’ll notice it wearing you down. It’s just not healthy. And the people around you notice it, and feel ill at ease, hoping you’ll learn to breathe properly and get the oxygen you need.

Clearly “loving” people this way, has similar effects. It goes through some of the same motions, but the longer this “strings attached” love goes on, the clearer it becomes to everyone involved, that the relationship isn’t thriving. It’s taking short shallow breaths and showing some signs of life, but it’s far from thriving.

I think God knew all of this stuff when He made us and that’s why He gives us the choice to love Him. He doesn’t manipulate us to scare us, or play mind games with us to try to get us to love Him. He just loves us. For free.

He sent Jesus to show us that and put into motion a Kingdom where that and other beautiful things are the reality, instead of things like fear and control that the devil’s been suggesting to us for a long time now.

When we use those old tactics to “love” people and “make them behave,” people around us are sometimes duped into it thinking it’s tough love. More likely though, they shake their heads and leave, thinking that God’s people too, are in the same business as everyone else, and using the same old methods. “What’s different about them anyway?”

Yes indeed. What is, if we resort to that?

But when we love people with the love God showed us, we show others a new reality and a little taste of the perfection that will one day be when our King returns to set up His kingdom and make all things new.

I’m relieved and grateful that God’s been patient with me because I find it really hard to love like He does. I like to make sure my love isn’t being wasted on ungrateful jerks. But He keeps showing me that I’m no better than anyone else, and I think my heart is slowly becoming softer and more
like His.

I hope that’s a reality for all of because apparently that’s a big way God plans to establish His kingdom in the here and now:

through us channeling His love to others who are thirsty for something different.

Something that doesn’t add to an already heavy yoke of sin and guilt, but instead gives the abundant life it promises.

Something that works a lot like breathing.

Something called love.

“Love Your Enemies”

Yesterday my Twitter feed nearly exploded with nods and tributes to the passing of a hero and a peacemaker, whose legacy will far outlast his life.

I was thinking about it today and I had to wonder…

I’m curious if the world leaders lauding Nelson Mandela’s example in peacemaking and reconciliation with his enemies, thought of the fact that the same treatment of their own enemies might work similar wonders of healing and restoration to what happened in South Africa.

And believe it or not, the American empire, and her people who seem unusually fascinated by violence, would actually be included in those who could learn from his example.

Mandela showed us that even in government, Christ’s ways heal and restore.

I’m not claiming he did everything right, or that he was perfect, but I do say this: his kind hearted treatment of his enemies (the very people who imprisoned him for 27 years of his life, the people who were responsible for the death and mistreatment of his own people) when he became president, was Christlike and nothing short of heroic. He didn’t sweep their crimes under the rug, but rather than using it as his chance to finally get revenge, he went out of his way to help his enemies find restoration.

But to do that, he had to give up his rights: his right to even the score, to show his enemies how those terrible things felt to him.

But he didn’t.

It reminds me a lot of a Jewish carpenter who was killed by His enemies. The crazy thing was, after that, He rose from the dead.

Not many people ever have the chance to avenge their own death. It’s always someone else that does that for them. This man had that chance. Wow, did He ever! He could have done it in style–with vengeance that made all other vengeance look like toddlers scuffling over toys.

But possibly almost as strange as His resurrection, is this: rather than bringing in an army of angels, to help him torture and obliterate the people who hurt Him, He offered to forgive them! He gave up His right to revenge.

Two thousand years later, we still feel the aftershock of such love and forgiveness.

We feel it, because all of us bear an equal portion of the blame for His death in the first place.

Humanity would not exist if God would have taken revenge on all those who wronged Him.

And it’s all very surprising, but maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s His very nature. He tells us in Scripture that He IS love.

I think that’s why He asks those of us who have tasted His radical love and mercy to do the same to those who hurt us.

People sometimes throw around “peace and love” like it just feels good. And maybe that’s because the results of peace and love do feel good, but what brings it about doesn’t very often.

It doesn’t feel good at all to give up the right to revenge. It hurts. It feels like dying. But without death there is no resurrection.

And do we want resurrection. We just don’t like the death that has happens first. At least I don’t. I pretty much hate it.

I don’t see how people think nonviolence is an easy way or a cop out. There are few things inside fallen humans that surpass the desire to preserve our own lives and to fight for what is ours. To win this fight against yourself is one of the most difficult things a human can ever accomplish, and rarely can be, without the help of the One who first showed us that way.

The way of peace is not free.

It really does cost: it costs you power and might even cost your life, but I think it’s worth it: partially because I believe in what Jesus said and did. And partially because history has shown us again and again that He is right: the cost of violence is high. Much, much higher than the cost of peace.

Death is an inevitability for all of us, but that doesn’t mean it’s good or the way things should be. World views that condone and partake in the destruction of human life are not compatible with what the Prince of Peace taught and lived.

I feel like every day I have to learn new ways of giving up my rights. I’ll spend the rest of my life learning it. But I’ve found that when I do, the people around me seem like people again–people God loves.

The interesting thing is when I treat people like people, they act more like people. When I stop controlling them and trying to push them around, they are then free to be more like they’re supposed to be, and they usually end up treating me more like a person too.

They don’t always respond right. But I’m not called to bend them back into shape. I’m called to be faithful.

It’s certainly not easy following the Prince of Peace. But the longer I live, and the more I discover about Him, I’m convinced it’s the only way.

May God give us grace; grace enough to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who use us spitefully and persecute us, that we may be children of our Father in Heaven…

Some notes:

First off: please don’t take that earlier paragraph as a cheap shot at Americans. It really isn’t. I am American so I’m writing about what I know. I guess I’ve heard far too often people revere the way of peace for other people in other places, but then when it comes to the US, it’s somehow different.

America is a nice place to live and I like it here. But I will, by God’s grace, never fight or kill other people for what I have here. Freedom is great, but not when it makes my neighbors in other land die or become less free.

I’d rather (at least I hope so) give up some nice things than have other people die and be treated unfairly so I can have more “blessings” and prosperity. God loves those people dearly, the same as He loves me. And believe it or not, He cares more about them and whether they are loved (especially by those who claim to be His children) than He cares about whether or not the US is a world power.

The US has done much good and would even be considered benevolent and generous compared to a lot of countries, but it has also harmed. And while God does have ways of redeeming even the dark parts of our history, that doesn’t make those things good.

I’m not anarchist or telling people to disrespect the government. Definitely not. I only point out that if you look at United States’ priorities and you look at what we know about God’s priorities, and you still think they’re pretty much the same thing, you should probably read Jesus’ sermons and look at His life more carefully.

There are a lot of people who think: “As goes the US so goes the Kingdom of God.” That’s just not true. God’s Kingdom was being built long before the Declaration of Independence was signed and it will continue forever, long after the US is gone. The advance and power of God’s Kingdom does not hinge on America’s power and dominance in the world. I know it feels that way sometimes, because we like what we have here, but let’s please not change what’s true just because we’d rather it was that way.

I don’t hate America. I just love the ” “Kingdom of the Heavens” more.

(That was much longer than I intended, but it didn’t really fit with rest of the post and I wanted to clarify a few things.)

Second: The comments on this post are only for those interested in wrestling through this issue and discussing it civilly with helpful dialogue. Any comments that don’t fit that description will be deleted. I’m frankly not interested in hours of debate on hypothetical situations, first because they aren’t helpful, and second because I DON’T know what I’d do in certain situations. I only pray that in the heat of all conflict I will hear the Spirit’s above all others and obey it. That’s really all I have to say on that front. Blessings.

-rj

The Painting of Life

I’m learning more about painting and such from Rebecca than I ever have, or ever thought I would, in my life. We’ve been to a few art museums now, and the great thing about knowing as little as I do, is the several times we’ve been, it feels like I gain a lot of knowledge on the subject. So, yes. Though they be few, there are benefits of ignorance.

A couple months ago, Rebecca and I were visiting an art museum in the small town of Lindsborg. As we neared the end of the exhibits, on one wall was a giant painting that covered three different canvasses, all side by side. Each canvass was several feet across and at least as tall as we were. Up close, the colors were brilliant and we could see individual shapes and textures in great detail. We admired it up close for a little while, then stepped back closer to the middle of the room, and were a bit surprised by what we saw. It was a massively complex nighttime scene of a forest using both abstract and realism to depict little night creatures, along with bushes and trees.

It took a bit for me to grasp what sort of time and effort it probably took to simply imagine, let alone paint something like this. To get it right the artist would have had to spend a lot of time moving in close to add the detail and texture to each part, but stepping back (I would think) quite often to make sure it looked like it should from the distance at which you’d want to view the whole painting–a tremendous amount of thought and work, to say the least.

It’s been a while since we admiringly stood there in that little art gallery talking for quite some time about that painting and I’ve
thought about it numerous times since then. The more I’ve thought about it, and paintings in general, the more I realized that…

Up close, some of them look kind of random.

Up close, you can see what some of us would call imperfections.

And up close, sometimes, you can also see quite a lot of beauty that you’d miss from farther away.

To me, it actually feels like life a lot of the time.

The parallels really could go on for a longer time than I’d like to talk about all at once, or likely than you’d like to hear, but I had to think of it like this:

First, God in His grand painting of the narrative we see, beginning long ago, and being continued in the present, sees things in the zoomed out view. He sees where it began, and also where it’s ending. The interesting and beautiful thing about this particular painting is that, certain pieces of this painting aren’t static. But here’s something else:

They don’t just move.

They’re actually allowed to paint their own colors.

They’re even allowed to paint strokes that mess up the painting.

Amazingly, these living parts of the painting (by now I’m sure you’ve guessed that they are us, people) aren’t left to wonder about the painting, blindly waving their little paint brushes in frustration, randomly splattering colors around, and hoping they’re not messing things up. Even though the Master Artist has a far away view of the painting, there’s a portion of painting where He actually became a part of the painting just like those in it, and His spirit continues to guide the strokes of those who want Him and his colors to be the colors they paint in their little parts of the painting.

He doesn’t nearly always tell them precisely what to paint, and sometimes it’s really confusing, but if they listen to Him closely and spend more time knowing Him and His style of painting, their colors and strokes become surprisingly similar to His. But maybe it’s not so surprising after all, because He did originally paint these people to be small representations of Him, and in small ways, to create like He does.

Another strangely beautiful thing about the Master Painter, is that He can take the messed up, the trashy parts, the ugly, the bad color combinations, and make beautiful things from them. Redemption. Wow. Go figure. The more I think about this part, the more amazing and baffling and impossible it seems, and less like it could be completely real. But I know it is, because I’ve seen it.

And also, once again, if His people take cues from Him, they too can help make beauty and redemption of the bad colors, and the ignorant strokes. But to do that, they can’t just paint pretty things around themselves and ignore what’s wrong with the rest of the painting. To truly serve this work of art, they have to engage the dissonance around them, and work to help it blend with rest of the painting. And they don’t do this by merely flinging some bad colors of their own onto the canvass to help the stumbling painters feel better, but they, like the Artist who entered the painting, should follow His example by helping the painters around them know what it means to paint well.

Also, I think He’s allowing us, for the most part to only see the painting from close up. We can see a lot of what’s already been painted in the past, and occasionally, a few get small bits of the future. It’s merciful this way, I think. Most of us would have a hard time enjoying the beauty in the strokes right in front of us and engaging the ugly splatters around us if we’d see all that was coming to us in the parts we will paint, and in the parts that will be painted long after our portion is complete.

This is where I’ll stop, but I love to think of life this way. I think it’s really incredible to serve an infinite, all-knowing God, Who is also heartbreakingly loving, and wants to walk with us each step of our lives. He wants us to walk none of it alone, but He still lets us decide and doesn’t force Himself on any of us, even when we’re pretty intent on messing things up by lumbering about and painting our own world. And He still loves us and wants us to join Him through all of it.

Unbelievable.

But I’m pretty sure it’s true. Usually I’m sure. But sometimes my faith is puny. I sometimes don’t act like I believe it at all. And it takes some unpleasant blundering to remind me where I belong.

I’ve gradually been accepting this: every few years I’ll look back and wonder how I lived like I did, or viewed God like I did, or looked at the world like I did. I’m becoming more at peace with the idea though: that I can never remove myself completely enough from the part of life I’m in, to get a third person view of it.

I guess what I’m trying to say to myself and anyone who will listen is this: don’t be so focused on what’s coming or what you think is coming that you refuse to dip your brush into the colors that are put right in front of you, and you neglect the painters around you (both in what you can teach them and in what you can learn from them). Your portion of the painting is far too short to spend it waiting for better colors or worrying about what you’re going to do when you’re given new colors to use, and new painters to work beside.

Use what’s given to you and use it well. Put as much love, as much joy, as much peace, as much hope as the Master Painter gives you, into each stroke, and enjoy each one for what it is. That’s how He painted, and in little ways, He’ll teach you to paint like Him if you’re willing to learn.

Playlist:

“Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore” – The High Kings

“Gran Partita” – Mozart

“Daniel” – Joshua James

“Paranoia in B Major” – The Avett Brothers

“Concerto In C for 2 Trumpets” – Vivaldi

“The Holly & the Ivy – Wayfarer

“Ave Maria” – Chanticleer

“Politik” – Coldplay

“Sing It Out” – Switchfoot

“Let Your Love Be Strong” – Switchfoot

“Griselda” – Vivaldi

“Lesser Things” – Jars of Clay

“There Is No Rose” – Chanticleer & Robert H. Young

“From Finner” – Of Monsters and Men

“Her Sacred Spirit Soars” – Eric Whitacre

“The House of God Forever” – Jon Foreman

“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” -The King’s Singers

“Cottonfield” -The Vespers