Shame

Man Crouching With Hands Over Face

Shame can do one of two things in our lives:

  • Bring us to deny it as we try to get away from the shame that will eventually destroy us

or

  • Bring us to a growing regret and grief that will destroy us (sometimes sooner or more visibly)

Different people have a propensity toward one or the other.

For Pilate, it was denial: I’m not responsible.

For Judas, it was growing regret and grief: I’m not forgivable. 

For both, their response to shame destroyed them (Pilate’s conscience[1] and Judas’ life).

Jesus introduced a new way to deal with shame.  One of His most devoted followers showed just what this new way would look like.

The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, HCSB)

The apostle who wrote this was one of the worst traitors in history.  After pledging to give his total allegiance to His closest friend, he lied about Him three times.

He lied because he didn’t want to die with Him–even though he’d been so sure just hours before that he could do just that.

He lied in front of a crowd, and he even lied in eye shot of the friend who had washed his feet and given him bread to eat just hours earlier.

Peter was a total coward.

He ran away in shame when he began to realize how horrific he had actually been.

And the friend he had denied was the Son of God.

If this man had betrayed you, you wouldn’t pick him to write on behalf of you, through your inspiration, but that is exactly God did.  God showed the exact purpose of shame we experience in this life through Peter’s letter:

. . not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, HCSB)

Shame has purpose through Jesus Christ.  The purpose is to repent.

What is repentance?  Really, it’s giving your sorrows to God in exchange for His honor.

Like trading a dishonorable discharge for a purple heart.

Like exchanging a hangman’s noose for a royal crown.

Like trading the last-place loser’s shoes for the winner’s laurels.

Shame is the realization that we carry the hammer and nails for our own cross.

In Christ, repentance is the realization that we can give our hammer and nails to the One who already bore them.  In Him, we can walk out of our tomb with the stone rolled wide away.

Peter could especially write about God’s love for the shamed because Peter had lived God’s love for the shamed.  When he penned his words, he was writing them not just for others, but also for himself.

Peter, through God’s inspiration, gives us the realization that the clock is ticking.

God is holding back right now in patience.

He is giving us time to process our shame.

The question is, what will we do?  Will we deny our shame, spend our lives growing in regret and grief . . or will we repent, as God Himself is wanting?

The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9, HCSB)

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Published in: on April 1, 2014 at 7:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Once was

The longing I have in my heart for a perfect world testifies that this world once was.

The Lord isn’t slow to keep his promise, as some think of slowness, but he is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives.But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. On that day the heavens will pass away with a dreadful noise, the elements will be consumed by fire, and the earth and all the works done on it will be exposed.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be? You must live holy and godly lives,waiting for and hastening the coming day of God. Because of that day, the heavens will be destroyed by fire and the elements will melt away in the flames. But according to his promise we are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. (2 Peter 3:9-13, CEB)

The Second to Last Time

The second to last time, I put my Ipod computer connector in the right place.  I’m almost sure of it.

.           .          .          .          .

I have to admit–I splurged.  My first day of summer vacation, I bought three audiobooks.  Three.

I got only unabridged, because I can’t stand abridged books.  It bothers me and makes my scalp itch the same way of when one M ‘n’ M out of the package falls on the floor.  It doesn’t matter if I wasn’t going to eat all the M ‘n’ M’s–the whole experience is ruined because I lost one.  In the same way, it doesn’t matter whether the book is tedious or not–I don’t want to lose a word.

But the books I bought were far from tedious–the kind of stuff I love: Max Lucado, Michael Card, and a new author for me, though I’ve heard of him, A.W. Tozer.

I was all set to tackle any boring spring-cleaning-postponed-to-summer projects.  I was ready for any car trips, and even laps around the gym I have to go to 12 times a month to get reimbursed through insurance and which I am barely going to make.  New books, new summer, ready to go.

I know for certain there have been times I have put my Ipod connector cord back in the wooden box that stores our television remote controls (when they are in the right place).  In fact, I put that Ipod connector cord back inside that wooden box very recently.  I remember.  I think it was the second to last time, in fact.

The second to last time, I am very nearly sure I put my connector cord right where it belongs.  And the second to last time, I was proud of myself and a wee bit gloatish at my sharp memory.

But the last time . . the last time . . . . .

I didn’t.

You have probably figured out how I know this.

Yes, I went to go get it.  You see, there is something I have learned about ipods that’s completely important to their use.  You cannot just tell the ipod what music you bought and expect it to believe you, and you cannot just hold it close to the computer and hope that they talk.

You have to have a connector cord.

But I don’t know where the connector cord is.

The second to last time, I put the cord in the right spot.

But last time, I don’t know what I did with it.

And now I don’t have it.

And Max Lucado, Michael Card, and A.W. Tozer did not spend the afternoon sharing their books with me.

I tried to find my ipod connector cord, but I didn’t try very hard, because I am not very good at finding things.

I tried to listen to my paid-for audio books on my computer, but my computer has only built-in speakers, and they are not very loud.  My comfort level with music is about 8 notches higher than most people’s, and my computer’s speakers, at full blast, are softer than most people like, meaning that, even if I press my head against my computer, I am not happy with the volume.  And, as you well know, a person can’t do laundry or run laps around a track (and certainly not drive) with their head pressed against a laptop computer.

I’m not too gloatishly proud for putting my ipod connector cord away the second to last time now.  Because now is the last time, and now, I have no way of listening to the new books I bought unless I invent a way to attach my laptop to my head.

The second to last time doesn’t matter when it’s the last time.

Jesus tells a parable about ten women who were on their way to a wedding party–they were something like what bridesmaids would be today.  They hadn’t been married yet themselves, so they were probably very young women.

They had to bring lamps with them.  There were no flashlights in their day, and they needed the lamps to welcome the bridegroom when he came.  Half of the women didn’t just bring lamps, they brought extra oil too–like bringing extra batteries for a flashlight today.  The other half of the women didn’t bother.  They’d brought the lamps; that seemed enough.

For the first part of the night, there wasn’t one perceivable bit of difference between the women.  They all had their lamps burning.  They were all ready to greet the bridegroom when he arrived.

But then something happened that they did not expect.  The wedding wasn’t over when they’d thought it would be.  They were sure the bridegroom should be there by now, but he wasn’t.  All of the women fell asleep waiting.  Not one of them stayed awake.

Have you ever been woken up in the middle of night and startled out of your wits?  That’s what happened to these women.  They woke up in the dark, probably confused and scared.  And they all remembered their lamps.

What hadn’t been perceivable now quickly became the most apparent thing about the women.  The ones who had brought the extra oil were ready to go.  Their light cut through the darkness, and they weren’t confused or scared anymore.  They were excited.  They could at last greet the bridegroom.

The women who hadn’t brought extra oil weren’t having the same experience.  They were frightened and worried with that sick worry of having done something they couldn’t make up.  Their thoughts darted through their heads as they tried to come up with a solution.

If only the bridegroom had come at dusk, or even a little after.  They were ready then.  But now, they had nothing.  They couldn’t greet him with dead lamps.

They asked if they could borrow some oil from the women who’d brought the extra oil.  But this wasn’t the right time to share.  You see, the women who’d brought the extra oil didn’t have any they could give away.  It turned out, they had just what they needed.  They knew the only place the other women could get oil for themselves would be the market.

The market, in the middle of the night?  But the other women would try it.  They rushed off and, amazingly, found some peddler to sell them oil on that black hour.

But it wasn’t the right oil.  The right oil was the oil that had been available yesterday afternoon and all through the night while they’d been sleeping.  This oil–this oil came too late.

They got back, but the door to the party was shut and even locked.  They could hear all the laughing and warmth and good conversation going on inside–but they couldn’t get there.  So they knocked, thinking the bridegroom would know them.

But he didn’t.  They hadn’t been there to greet him, and he didn’t know them.  They weren’t invited in.  And it didn’t matter how brightly their lamp had shone at 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon–right now, their lamps were empty.  And it was dark.

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

(Jesus, quoted in Mathew 25:1-13, NIV)

Where we think we stood with God five years ago or even five days ago isn’t going to matter when Christ comes back, or we die, and it’s today.  If you or I aren’t sure we follow Jesus, referencing a time in history when we thought we were isn’t any good for now.  There will be no salvation to ask for after we die, and no chance to meet Jesus once He comes back to the sound of the trumpet.  The time to get right with the Lord is now, because, once now is up, it isn’t going to matter what we thought we had yesterday or fifty years ago, or the aisle we walked down, or what prayer we recited.  All that will matter is whether we know God right now.

It doesn’t do me much good to reminisce about the time I put my ipod connector cord in the right place, does it?  What matters is that I find where it is right now.

It’s encouraging to me that none of the women are expecting the bridegroom to come at that hour, but five get to go in anyway.  Why is that?  The five who go in don’t go in because they were better dressed or had more hors d’oeurvres.  They go in because they still had oil.  They hadn’t just got lamps.  They made sure their lamps were filled.

In the same way, we can’t just get a “salvation experience”.  We have to make sure we know Christ.  He is the flame that lights our lives forever.  Without Him, we have only the dying, dim light of this world and a useless lamp to hold it in.

The opportunity we have to receive Him in every moment of our lives isn’t going to help us if we don’t take it.  What we could have chosen isn’t going to help us once the door is closed.  What will determine where we go for all eternity is what we choose do before the door closes, not after.

Dear Jesus,

You are the only one who knows what is in my lamp, and You are the only one who can reveal to me what is there.  Show me whether I have real light or false light–whether my lamp is filled with the life only You can give, or filled only with the nearly-empty pleasures of this world.

I pray for Your Salvation.  Not a moment of following You, but a lifetime.  I know it’s not about my perfection.  I fall asleep to the temptations of this world plenty of times instead of staying alert to what You want me to do.  It isn’t about my shortcomings; it’s about whether or not I am filled with You.

My salvation isn’t made by how I look to others, or how my lamp compares to another’s lamp, or how ready I thought I was for You yesterday.  My salvation is the fulfillment of punishment You gave for my sin.  I want You to fill me, because You are the only Light that never ends.

Give me what is so readily available anywhere I am, whatever I’ve done, whoever I am: Your Salvation.  I want Your Presence before it’s too late.

It isn’t the bridesmaid in the most elegant dress who makes it through the door, but the one who holds before her the lamp of Your Life.  The girl in dirty rags, up from the sewers, fleeing from prison, too poor to buy from any dress shop, cast out of all parties, banned from all fine neighborhoods . . . who holds out the lamp of Your Presence . . . will find You at the doors of the great feast . . . . . . . . holding them open.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen

And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!
(Jesus, quoted in Mark 13:33, NLT)

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.

(Isaiah 60:1, NIV)

the people living in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death

a light has dawned.

(Matthew 4:16, fulfilled from Isaiah 9:2, NIV)

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Photograph by langfordw, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/24375810@N06/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

Favorite quote from “Bringing Up Bobby”

“Life’s . . not about being happy.  But Jesus gives us the chance to stop living like Hell’s our fate.  You’ve got to figure out where you stand so when this junk happens you’ll be ready for it.  It’s either Jesus or the world.  No more sitting on the fence . . .

“It’s time to face it.  Being open with God about your sins, about your struggles–it’s not a good feeling.  But being forgiven by Him is.  That’s your real identity: forgiven.  It’s time to let go of Hell.  Stop mourning.  Own this thing.”

–“James” (Marc Thompson), from Bringing Up Bobby

Christmas Countdown: Day 8

Dear Lord,

I pray for something almost totally forgotten, something chucked to the wayside, something that’s gotten written off as last year’s model.

I pray for hope.

People can laugh at hope, scorn hope, write hope off as child’s play, and even try to kill hope, but I need hope, God–and not just any hope.  I need hope that’s not going to let me down.  I need hope for something that’s really coming.

I need Your hope.

Lord, I remember waking up one time from a nightmare and realizing, for the first time, really, that You are the One, the only One, that stands between us and Satan.  You are the one shield.  Without You standing guard, we would be dragged away forever.  And yet, we don’t realize it because we don’t think about it.  Millions and millions of people go every day without seeing that You are the barrier between us and the consequences of everything we are.  Every second we live is a shout-out to salvation, a chance to forever stand behind the shield of who You are.

You ask for worship, and we think You are selfish.  We don’t see we would be worshiping our Shield.  You ask for obedience, and we think You are demanding.  We don’t see that You are the Wall between earth and Hell.  You ask for allegiance, and we ask for the right to get away from You.  You ask for love, and we ask to leave the boundaries of Your kingdom to plunge into Hell.

You are so patient with us, Lord.

Because, for every second we’re alive, second after second after second after second, You give us hope.

It’s so available we forget about it.  It’s so free we think it’s cheap.  And it’s so holy we think it’s inaccessible.  What a mess we are.

But you still offer it to us.

You still wait.

Wait for us to choose You before our lives are over.

I have Your hope, Jesus.

My prayer is that I don’t keep it to myself, or live my life so poorly that others don’t want to receive it.

I pray for hope for anyone who reads this and is longing for the very substance of the unseen: the reality of You.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, KJV)

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see you lie!
Above your deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
Yet, in your dark streets so shines the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in you tonight.

O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillips Brooks (modern translation)

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Photograph by Kimberly Jones, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/owlpacino/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

No Excuse–but there’s still Hope

The past does not excuse poor behavior in the present.

The present does not excuse poor behavior in the past.

We answer for what we do.

We answer for all we do.

Our only hope is to be justified by the acts of someone whose past and present need no excuses.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:6-11, NLT)

Deepest Regrets and Beautiful, Beautiful

The song Beautiful, Beautiful by Francesca Battistelli triggered that place in my heart of deepest regret.

Don’t know how it is You looked at me
And saw the person that I could be
Awakening my heart
Breaking through the dark
Suddenly Your grace

When I take a straight look at my life, I don’t know how God’s grace could have reached me.  Only when I look at God do I know.

The last sermon my father preached was a drawn-out misery.  He was subbing for our pastor.  My father was actually an ordained minister, even though he worked as a computer programmer.

I had no idea what was wrong with him, but I was terribly embarrassed.  He couldn’t make any words fit together to make sentences, and his voice sounded like his throat had almost swelled shut.  He had an expression on his face like he hadn’t drank water for three days.

I remember sitting there thinking of how miserable this was making my life, and thinking up ways I could separate myself from him in the minds of all my church friends.

When the diagnosis came in that he had Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and the rotten ways I had treated my father bled into my memory, I grew to want to be the one to have the disease.  I came to see I was diseased, far worse than my father.

Now, back in time.  My second semester or so of college, I met a boy I loved, James.  We had a class together and I felt a sweetness of Christ in him that I can’t give words to.  He had a degenerative muscle disease.  I remember the compassion my father had for him when the three of us went out to Wendy’s for lunch one day.  Little did my father know at the time that he, too, had a degenerative muscle disease.

After the semester ended, I lost touch with James.  I wanted to be with him, but I knew he was sick.  And I didn’t want to go through that heartache.

I saw him when I graduated from that 2-year college.  He was in a wheelchair.   Not a semester later, my father was diagnosed.

It was through that hurt that I got back in touch with James.  We emailed each other a few times.  My father died.  I wanted to be with James.  But James was dying.  And I didn’t feel like I could “put myself through” that pain.

He sent me an email two or three days before he died telling me that his heart was weak.

I did everything I could to forget my failure as a human being, much less as a daughter to my father or a friend to James.  I blocked out my failure to James and some of my unkind acts towards my father for years.  But slowly, over time, memories came back.

One day I realized the life I could have had if I had lived in love rather than fear and selfishness.  I hated myself so much I didn’t have a clue how to cope.  Most of my friends saw me as a sweet and caring person—and I knew what a lie this was.   It made it so much worse to know how highly people thought about me.

I began avoiding people.  I had trouble looking people in the face.  I stayed behind the four walls of my house as much as possible.  I stopped hoping I could somehow make things right.

I thought about my dad and James being together in Heaven, and, as I grew to see the utter desolation of my own life, I failed to see how I could ever go to a Heaven with them.  The most I hoped for was to hide in a celestial closet somewhere.  Seeing them happy through a keyhole would be enough.

Some very interesting things happened over the next several months.  My father’s death became a crutch for me to excuse all my insufficiency until even I got sick of this truly pathetic lie.  I struggled with such poor self-worth, it was a very good thing I wasn’t in any serious dating relationships.  I would probably have picked someone to marry who hated me to serve myself right.

My regret became the vantage point I imagined God had as He looked down on my life.  Surely God saw me as I saw myself—only worse, because I could give some stupid justifications to keep myself from total despair, but God saw me without any such lies.

I didn’t think anything was strong enough to make it through the bricks of regret I’d built up, but Christ’s love made it through.   And brick by brick, Christ broke away the wall, not so that He could get through, but so that I could get out.

There is nothing in my bricks or the mortar with which I sealed them that would allow for an escape.  But God is stronger than even my worst regrets.

Now I believe I can face James and my father in Heaven . . . because the same Christ who saved them has saved me.   And, as much as I know it is so undeserved . . .

I actually think my father’s petitions to God for me all the time he was on earth were answered, and that, when he got to Heaven, he was overjoyed to know this, rather than ready to change his mind and ask God to send me to Hell.

And one day I came to believe that James asked God to keep me from being involved in any relationships for as long as I hated myself and looked only for my own destruction.  I don’t know why James would do such a thing for me when I do not with one speck deserve such kindness, other than that James was always ruled by grace, and I am sure that has not changed.

Why share all this?  I suppose first to prevent any admirers of me, and second, because I believe I am not the only person with brick walls.  My prayer for you is that, if you have a brick wall separating you from the grace of Christ, that Christ will pull that wall down, brick by brick, until you can see that, beyond all human reasoning, beyond all our understanding . . . there is hope for you, too.

Like sunlight burning at midnight
Making my life something so
Beautiful, beautiful
Mercy reaching to save me
All that I need
You are so
Beautiful, beautiful

from Beautiful, Beautiful by Francesca Battistelli

“I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”  Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:47-48, NLT)

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Hope: A Marker in Time

This paper is a “marker” in time for me.  I thought it was very Christian at the time.  How I thought that when I wasn’t following Christ was something like how somebody thinks if they sleep on their algebra book they’ll be able to perform algorithms.

I wrote this paper for an English composition class on July 27, 2001 using Microsoft Works.  God blessed me, and WordPad would open it, scrambling the formatting but saving the text.

I have greatly abridged my paper so it would not put anyone into a Rip Van Winkle sleep (now maybe just a short nap).

I hadn’t reread this paper in a long time, though I remember thinking of it as one of the best witnessing tools I had ever used.  Imagine my surprise when I read back through it and realized I had one sentence even bringing up what I thought was my “Christian faith”!

This paper that was supposed to be on hope reminds me how hopeless I really was.

I wrote in a noncommittal, politically correct way because I was a noncommittal, politically correct person.  Revisiting this 10 years later, I wrote committed, politically incorrect commentary in italics.  🙂

A Simple Fable: hope for the flowers

Trina Paulus, author of hope for the flowers, summarizes her book as “the tale of a caterpillar who has trouble becoming what he really is” (Paulus n.p.).

How will the caterpillar know what he really is?  Will he find absolute truth or will he just be guessing?

Paulus ingeniously describes the growing-up process for a human through a “caterpillar’s” story.  As infants, food fulfills us.  As we are toddlers and children, exploration fulfills us.  Then, as we grow (the age this happens varies), we begin to wonder if there is an “arrow” to life, a purpose that points us in one direction . . . a destination we are meant to follow.

God has made it plain to me that there had to be an arrow to life.  I could write about it, but I still didn’t get it.

There comes an age when most humans want to become important, not just in the eyes of friends and family, but in the eyes of everyone.  “That,” we think, “would make me happy”. We try to do something better than anybody has ever done it before.

But the first time we simply can’t seem to do anything better than anybody else, discouragement sets in.  We develop hate at a very young age for the one who colors his or her pictures in the neatest or the one who beats the record for the most sit-ups. Unfortunately, we find there is just as little pleasure in trampling as there is in being trampled.

But a day can come when making a mark in the hall-of-fame of life become pointless, because we decide a “soulmate” will lead us to the “arrow” of life.  “Life” and “bliss” become interchangeable words–until time begins to fade the relationship.  So he or she was just like anybody else, after all.  Now where does the “arrow” of life point?

Often in life, we don’t know what the right decision is, but we do know it’s not available, that all the choices laid out before us are not really all the choices.  We know all the facts, and we’ve heard all the arguments, and we even have a vague notion of what we want to happen.  But we can’t, in all of our searching, find the truth.

I didn’t recognize it, but this paragraph summarized me in 2001.  I had an unlifting depression, nearly crippling panic attacks, and zero life purpose.  But these were symptoms, not the problem.  The problem was I knew all the choices I had laid out were not really all the choices, but I didn’t know where to find the Truth. 

I could say the right things, but that doesn’t mean I knew what I was talking about.  I would urge everyone to take a look not at their words—because my own words fooled me—and not to their accomplishments—because I fooled myself into thinking I was doing okay—but instead to look inside your heart.  It’s scary. 

This is often the stage in life where we go back to our first dreams, or wish we could go back to our first dreams.  We wonder if we were not on the right track the first time, if our ruthless ascent up the ladder of success would have eventually brought us the piece that fills the hole inside of us.  But in the end we must bitterly throw our dreams aside, feeling we will never reach our goal of perfect happiness.

Most people will agree that there seems to be no lasting joy in life.

Really?  Where did I get this from?  I’ll tell you where I got it from: I got it from my own life and extrapolated it to mean everybody else, too.

Paulus’ seems to believe from the research I did that we can gain happiness in death, after we have protected and restored the environment in life, by having our bodies buried in farm fields, as an excellent fertilizer to the earth.  I did not at first discover this theory anywhere in hope for the flowers.  After thought, I wondered if her hint was in the title itself.  Could she have actually meant that the soul is freed only after the soil is fed?

When I wrote this paper, I was crushed by the research I did.  I had always thought “hope for the flowers” was a very spiritual book.  It was.  What it wasn’t was a book about following Christ. 

If my hope is that I will someday become flower food . . . oh man.  That rots.

Even if Paulus intended to convey some of her “unusual” opinions in this story, she managed to write a very generic but cleverly tailored fable that can be interpreted many different ways.

Here I go into the meaningless maze of “interpretation”.

Are you who you tell yourself you are?  That doesn’t matter a bit.  What does God think about you?  That matters eternally.

An atheist, a Jew, an agnostic, a Muslim, and any number of other religiously-concerned groups could have this book as a favorite, as well as a Libertarian, Republican, Democrat, or any number of other politically-concerned groups . . . but for altogether distinct reasons.

Did I really mean “We can all make our own interpretations”?  What if someone’s interpretation had been to go out and kill people to bury in fields for fertilizer?  Of course I would have said this interpretation was wrong, as would have the author! 

But you know what, I had no ground to stand on to say any particular interpretation was more or less right.  What I was doing was trying to twist truth into interpretation so it would fit into “politically correct land”, but it didn’t work.

While it is true we can all make our own interpretations, this is irrelevant.  What I really should have said was, “We can all make our own truth”, because then my statement could have and would have been invalidated.  For example, then we could say, “The truth is, it is wrong to slaughter neighbors to use for plant food.” 

But by using the word “interpretation” instead of the word “truth”, I sneaked around the issue.  But who cares about interpretation??????  What I want to know about is truth, which sets the standards for right and wrong!

Are you who you tell yourself you are (interpretation)?  That doesn’t matter a bit.  What does God think about you (Truth)?  That matters eternally.

Being a Christian, I can hardly believe hope for the flowers wasn’t written by a Christian.

This is my one sentence about Christianity—and that’s just it: it was about Christianity, not within Christianity.

Perhaps the reason this book became an unexpected best seller is because Paulus succeeded in creating a book that everyone can claim for themselves (and their own interpretation).  So, no matter what her full intent for the book was (with all the environmental undertones), it has become a book loved by anyone who has found their niche in life, and a source of inspiration for those who haven’t.

You know, ten years later . . . I can’t claim the book (or my paper!) for myself. 

Intent does matter. 

But one thing I was right about—I had found my niche in life: a bottomless black pit.

It’s frightening to me, but I’m reminded of who I was in this verse:

Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.  (2 Peter 2:2, NIV)

When we open ourselves up to “all ways”, Satan will always choose our path for us.

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12, NLT)

But God, in His outpouring of grace, had a different path in mind for me.

Christ died for us while we were still sinners.  This demonstrates God’s love for us. (Romans 5:8, GW)

I didn’t need hope for flowers.  I needed hope in Jesus Christ, who promises:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jesus, quoted in John 14:6, ESV)

Another way to say

except through me

is

if not through me (YLT)

There is only one Truth.  There is only one Way.

In him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. (John 1:4, NIV)

God has a different path in mind for you, too.

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (Jesus, John 6:40, NIV)

Will you take it?

Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.   The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. (Jesus, quoted in John 12:44-46, NIV)

Works Cited:

Paulus, Trina. hope for the flowers. New York or Paramus: Paulist Press, 1972.

Paulus, Trina. Acknowledgments. hope for the flowers. New York or Paramus: Paulist Press, 1972. N.p.

Paulus, Trina. Dedication. hope for the flowers. New York or Paramus: Paulist Press, 1972. N.p.

Paulus, Trina. Foreword. hope for the flowers. New York or Paramus: Paulist Press, 1972. N.p.

Paulus, Trina. Front Cover. hope for the flowers. New York or Paramus: Paulist Press, 1972.

Paulus, Trina. Back Cover. hope for the flowers. New York or Paramus: Paulist Press, 1972.

Paulus, Trina. “Cornucopia NETWORK OF NEW JERSEY NEWSLETTER ESTABLISHED 1984”. Cornucopia. 1997. 27 July 2001 <http://www.hopefortheflowers.com/&gt;.

Paulus, Trina. “Hope Was Born”. How “Hope” Came to Be. 1997. Cornucopia and The Grail. 27 July 2001 <http://www.hopefortheflowers.com/html/history.html&gt;.

Paulus, Trina. “Grailville:”. The Grail. September 1997. 27 July 2001 <http://www.hopefortheflowers.com/html/grailville.html&gt;.

See Copyright Page for Bible Translation information.

Alone

I am so struck by the Truth that I am not alone.

It is not whatsoever frightening, because I know who I am with, and I know He loves me.

I want you to understand, it is not that I deserve this privilege.   I don’t.  And from human rationality, it can’t make sense to me why it’s true.  I don’t deserve to be in the presence of love.  I know this.  And yet I am not alone.  And I am loved.

What is the one thing that I wish the world could hear?  What is the one thing I would say, if I could say just one thing and nothing more?

It would be John 3:16.  Not because it is a well-quoted verse or because it sounds good in Sunday School, but . because . it . is . real.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NASB)

I love the Lord.

I love Him so much.

But it wasn’t my idea.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  (1 John 3:16, NIV)

It was His.

And I am not alone.

I am not alone.

And I am in good company.  I am in the best of company.  I am a friend of God.

How do you say, “I am a friend of God”?  How can my tiny little human mind process such a statement?  I am a friend of God?  Me?  With my flaws, my failures, my ruin?  I am a friend of God?

Yes I am a friend of God.

But how?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NASB)

But why?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  (1 John 3:16, NIV)

Jesus Christ did this for me?  For love?

What is love, then?  Can I even say I understand it?  Love is to take a sinner and make a saint?  How is it possible that God can be inclined to feel pity for a sinner?  How is it that the pity God feels can be so great it leads Him to die?  How is it that when I feel sorry for someone, I am at most merely inclined to help, but when God feels pity, He gives up His throne and suffers all the horrors of the world and dies?

Why would He care that I am alone?

How could He care that I am alone?  He is infinite in being, free from space or time, and yet He concerns Himself with me, a person who lives on a globe that is not even a speck in the galaxy[1], a galaxy that is one of what we think are billions?

Or is it that I have it all wrong?  Is it that this little not-even-a-speck-in-the-galaxy is the reason the stars surround us?  Is God showing us how vast and incomprehensible His love like a master artist, leading us from painting to painting, each telling us a little more of His love for us?

How?  How can this be?  That the stars were created around us and not us from the stars?  That we alone in all the universe are made in the image of God, that He should lavish such love upon us?

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NASB)

Not perish.

Not perish.

Not perish.

That whoever believes in Him should not perish.

No clauses.

No amendments.

No disclaimers.

Whoever.

That means me, too.

It’s hard for me to believe sometimes that such a thing so good to be possible for so bad a race as the human race, for so bad a person as me.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23, ESV)

There wasn’t any hope.

But then there was.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, NASB)

Are you alone?

If you are, why?

There is a Savior.  A Savior who is exactly who we need.  A Savior who gives us His Word He will love us eternally if we live in Him.

This Savior, He is a friend.  He is a friend as I have never had one.  He is a friend as you have never had.

There is nothing in this world, in this universe, in Heaven, or anywhere at all that can compel me to love as I love my Savior, His Father, His Spirit.

I pray you will love Him, too.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  (1 John 3:16, NIV)

[1] “How Many Galaxies Are In The Universe?” by Fraser Cain, May 4, 2009, http://www.universetoday.com/30305/how-many-galaxies-in-the-universe/

Photograph by David Woo, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/mckln/

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Mexican Dominoes

dominos lined up during a game

At a friend’s house last night, I was introduced to Mexican Dominoes.  It’s one of those games where you want as few points as possible after all the rounds.  Like golf.

My first game of Mexican Dominoes I had like 32 points.  Not good.  Another round I ended up with 54.  I had a blast playing the game with good friends, but if I’d actually been playing in a competition, I might have excused myself for a glass of water and sneaked away!  Nobody (nobody I know, anyway), likes the thought of accumulating “bad points” on their score that can’t be gotten rid of later in the game.  Although you can improve your score at Mexican Dominoes, you will still have to deal with the scores you got in earlier rounds.  So even if you won a round (g0t a zero for a score), it would basically be for nothing if you were carrying a heavy score from earlier rounds.

Our lives are actually a lot like Mexican Dominoes, except we don’t get to finally erase our score at the end of a game.  No matter how good I try to be in the present moment, the past is inescapable.  I carry a heavy score of bad decisions that cannot be made up for or scribbled out.  The score is so outrageously against me, in fact, that it’s hard to be motivated to even try in the future.

The nightmare of this life is that there is no way to go back and undo what we’ve done wrong.

The hope of this life is Jesus.

Jesus is the only one who never earned a single bad point, and so He is the only winner.  But He didn’t stop there.  Although He had a perfect score, He took our negative points on Himself and lost to them so we take on His perfect score and win with Him.

There is no way to erase a bad score in Mexican dominoes.  But there is one way to erase a bad life.  Jesus Christ has won the right not just to free us from our sin but also to give us His eternally righteous score.

Why would He do such a thing?  I mean, why wouldn’t He keep His unchallenged, perfect score for Himself and let us die and go to Hell without any chance for redemption?

Because the God of our universe cares more about people than the bad points they have earned.  He would rather erase our scoreboards and keep us than keep our scoreboards and erase us.

But God has made clear his love to us, in that, when we were still sinners, Christ gave his life for us. (Romans 5:8, BBE)

“BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.” (Romans 4:8, NASB)

Wash away my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:2, HCSB)

When he [Jesus] sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied.  And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. (Isaiah 53:11, NLT)

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.”

But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”(Galatians 3:11-13, NLT)

God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)