Church, Unite

“If we had more young people around here we’d get smarter,”

As the technical brain behind the system, I’d been asked to take a look at my previous church’s presentations computer to work some bugs out of the interface with the projector. It was a simple enough job, but the prospect of going back even for it was…awkward. I spent most of the day thinking about times gone, mulling things over in my head I thought I’d had settled a year ago. And then the comment that really got me thinking.

“If we had more young people around here we’d get smarter,”

Oh, you have no idea.

But what really got me going was this: the same people that trust me to know what’s going on with the hundreds of micro electrical circuitry inside a computer don’t seem to trust me to know anything they wouldn’t about, say, the Bible. Or God.

And you know something? There are a lot of people that have a lot of years on me when it comes to God. But I’ll tell you. the gospel isn’t as complicated as troubleshooting a computer, never mind the dabbling in hardware and software modifications I’ve done here and there. It just isn’t. So how is it that my belief counts reliably on one thing but not another when I’ve spent equal amounts of time studying and practicing both? Do you really want to get smarter with what I have to show you?

Bear with me – this is not a rant article.

I only ask one thing. Stay open. Keep your ears open, keep your mind open, and don’t let someone’s age or experience determine the value of what they may have to teach you; God talks to babies.

When I was removing myself from my previous church I was strongly encouraged to break ties with everyone. And for the most part, I was ready to. But I don’t agree with that anymore. I was talking to Jesus a few days ago and thinking about the underlying issues that caused me to make up my mind about leaving, and he just said something to this affect: “Son, don’t concern yourself with politics,” And he reminded me that he doesn’t use perfect people because there are none. And I just felt all my thoughts finalize right there.

I don’t regret leaving; I still know it was right for me. But I would have done it differently. Because the truth is I was cutting ties when I should have been building bridges to people. It’s not about breaking ties, it never was, and that’s not even in my nature.

What I wish is that people would see the truth, and decide to change direction.

What I dream is to see the young and the old sit down together and learn from each other; the young have valuable insights into the Word of God, too. What I dream is to see the church unified, learning together, resting in the strength of Jesus.

So who wants to be with me?

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Love

What I do, have or say doesn’t mean anything unless I Love you.

Love is patient with you

Love is always kind

Love is not jealous

Love is humble

Doesn’t compete

Love doesn’t have an ego

Love lets You go before Me

Love cares more about You than Me

Love doesn’t keep score

Love defends your true cause

Love doesn’t give up

Always trusts God

Always looks for the best in you.

Love doesn’t look back to regret, but always endures to the end.

If I know all the big words, and say all the right things, but don’t Love you, my words are empty.

If I can explain God’s Word to you powerfully, and explain His mysteries to you,
and if I have the faith to declare God in your life but I don’t have the courage to
stand in front of you and choose to Love you, I have nothing to offer you.

If I give my life away for you, but I don’t Love you, I’m self-defeating, and I do not have what it takes.

Love Never Fails

1 Corinthians 13

Sunlight (Encounters II)

The sun arose on a sleeping city, the man-made lights fading as the Creator’s warmth touched the cold buildings. The warmth touched the morning dew resting on the grass, and also her face as she stirred from her place on the cold ground, covered only by a few scraps of an old cardboard box. The sun lit up her eyes.

It was the magical time of the morning before the rest of the world wakes up—but she was awake. She shifted in her paper home and finally rolled over and sat up, bent over within the box. She pushed back the thick coat which covered her—the most valued of her possessions—and rubbed her eyes; another day in paradise after a long night.

She ran her fingers over the tracks up her arm and let out a sigh. Business as usual. She clamoured up from her sagging bed and glanced around casually, surveying the geography of the fresh morning. Her practiced eyes immediately picked out the man–slightly slouched–across the park on a bench, his back turned to her. Unusual? Perhaps. Odd? Definitely, but perhaps this was just another providential opportunity. She stood up coolly and sauntered nonchalantly toward the figure.

“Ashlynn—”

She stopped abruptly and spun around. No one behind her. No one anywhere—except the figure on the bench before her. Yet she could have sworn someone had called her name. But that was foolishness, wasn’t it? Her clients knew her only by aliases, and no one else knew her name; she was the nameless faceless, and that’s how she liked it.

“Ashlynn Jennifer Hayes…”

But there it came again, and still no one in sight but the man sitting motionless on the bench not ten feet in front of her. Her imagination must be psyching her out. And then the figure turned around.

“I see you,”

He was tall; dark, wavy hair and tanned skin. His eyes were a striking brown. She was taken aback and halted immediately under his gaze. His face was rough and wrinkled, but she couldn’t have guessed his age; he appeared ancient with the countenance of a child. “I see you,” he repeated. She had no idea what to say; she couldn’t break off his strong gaze. She was nearly ready to turn and run.

He smiled.

“Don’t be afraid, I mean you no harm,” he said, his smile radiating through her into the very core of her. Who was this man? Where did he come from?

“Who are you?” she demanded, remembering at last where she had left her cold front.

“I am Myself,” he replied, still smiling. “I go by many names.” A lunatic for certain; she took a step backwards. The street had taught her one thing – the appropriateness of running. He stood up and she turned to run. “Jennifer,” she froze. “I’m not here to harm you.”

She spun back around to face him.

“How do you know my name? Who do you think you are?” her fear welled up into a defensive anger, “what do you want from me?”

“What do you want from yourself?” his smile never wavered; it unnerved her. “Won’t you join me?” he beckoned toward the bench. She shook her head.

“No thank-you.”

“Yet you came over here with a little more in mind, didn’t you,” he caught her eyes right then and a terrible knowing look. She shrugged, shrinking silently away from his gaze. “Suite yourself,” he settled back down sideways on the bench, watching her intently, “Leave if you like, but there are things I’d like to tell you.”

She took another step back.

“How do I know you won’t do anything?”

“You can’t,” he replied simply. She was wary, but he was not altogether threatening. In fact, his voice was soft and serene—calming and melodious almost. But there was the knowledge behind his eyes, and she now knew what was in his look that terrified her; it was as though he looked straight into her.

“How do you know my name?” she asked again, her curiosity getting the better of her circumspection. He was turned away now, intently watching a sparrow perched in a low, nearby tree.

“Oh that’s easy, it’s Ashlynn,” he smiled, and turned back to the sparrow

“No, no, no, how do you know my name?” she demanded, “I already know who I am, thanks.”

“Do you really?” he countered her, turning back around to look her in the eye, “Not nearly as well as I know you.” And she saw it–was that sorrow in his eye? Something leapt inside her, but she held her guard against it and shoved the alien feeling back to the pits of her uneasy stomach.

“I don’t—”

“Ashlynn, I know you better than you know yourself; I’ve been intimately involved in your life for quite some time,” he cut her off.

“What are you talking about?” she tried harder to push the feeling back down, she realized now it was his presence; she had felt it from the moment she laid eyes on him, perhaps even before that. She couldn’t help but feel that he was safe, and what he said was true—but how? She couldn’t even begin to guess what he meant.

“You may not know this, but I adopted you years ago,” the memories of her foster years were far too vivid for her to doubt; many people had adopted her. But she had been no more than a face in the system, and none of these “adoptions” had ever carried through—or so she had been told. Perhaps he had done it quietly.

“If that’s true,” she began hesitantly, unsure of whether to give him the satisfaction of a response or not, “where have you been all this time? I was out of the system years ago.”

“And you’re nineteen now—though much harder to tell now for the drugs you started using two years ago to numb the pain—your parents abandoned you to the system and you went from house to house, always hoping the next would be a place you could call home… but it never was.”

She was wholly overwhelmed.

“How do you know all that?” she stammered, taken fully aback at his revelation of her. And then she looked in his eyes and saw the pain in them—for her.

“I know a lot about you Jennifer,” he replied, still smiling a sad smile. “I’ve always been nearby.” She didn’t know what to think.

“How am I to believe any of that stuff?”

“Believe it or don’t, but it is true,” he replied. “It doesn’t matter; you know it is.”

And she did. She stood back, not sure whether to speak or walk away—she knew she couldn’t cry, even if she could let herself now, the tears would never come as they used to. So she did something different, though she didn’t know why. She knelt down in the grass at the end of the bench and simply watched him. What she was waiting for she could not have said, but there was something in just watching him—a security. He remained silent, seemingly paying no heed as he continued to eye the sparrow which still flitted through the shrubs. Several minutes went by, and then he spoke,

“Ashlynn, just let the pain go.”

She bit her lip as tears welled behind her eyes, but she had not been quick enough, and a lone tear found its way to her eyelid. She shut her eyes tight and dropped her head, employing every effort to stifle the emotions which threatened her composure and her new-found comfort with this stranger. She didn’t know how long it was that she sat there—an hour if it hadn’t been a few minutes—but all was silent.

The sun touched her skin. His hand touched her arm. She started back, jerked her head up and opened her eyes. He was kneeling next to her in the grass, now looking into her eyes, his hand on her arm. She waited, all words now gone from her mind. His voice was soft, “Ashlynn, let grief have its place.”

She wept.

She could hold it back no longer. His presence, his look—those eyes—endearing her. And she could hardly help but say no; her heart in its deepest depths craved it. He rested his other hand gently on her shoulder closest to him and waited as she knelt there in the grass sobbing quietly, the tears flowing freely now. His touch was warm and reassuring.

“Why do I feel this way?” her tears finally slowed, but she remained with her face downcast.

“There is much pain in you, it is ready to be freed,” he replied. “Ashlynn, it is very important that you do this for yourself—for your future.” She suddenly became reserved once again and lifted her face defiantly.

“Who do you think you are to say these things? You don’t know who I am! You don’t know where I’ve been!” she nearly screamed it at him, completely taken now with anger spurned on by her vulnerability. “You have no idea what I’m carrying!” she became aware that where his hand touched her bare arm the tracks of the needle were visible, “and I stopped that a long time ago,” she cried bitterly, and she pushed his hand back and pulled her sleeve down to cover the marks.

“But I do know what you’ve been through; I’ve seen it all. I know how often the only place you can find to sleep is made of paper,” he gestured toward the box near the street, “I know that you stopped heroine once; you’ve stopped four times since you started. You spent all you had two days ago to go back to it; it put you back on the street every time you went back.” He paused a moment, letting this settle, then continued, still speaking gently. “I know how long you’ve been selling yourself just to make ends meet, and not only that, but to feel valued,” he finished.

She burst into tears, but this time rather than pulling away she flung herself on him; his words could have had no better affect. She clung to him and he wrapped his arms around her in a tender embrace. “I see you, I know you and I love you, Ashlynn,” he whispered into her ear, “I know all your hurts; please let me help you.”

She let go.

“Why would you want to help me? How can you love someone like me? I’m dirty, I’m ugly…”  He brought a finger to her lips in a motion of silence. “But how,” she went on after a moment, “could you ever see past what I’ve done if you knew? How could you see past these marks on my arms?” she suddenly felt a filth of guilt and shame on her.

“Oh Ashlynn, I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment!” His eyes suddenly lighted up, “I love you because I created you!” She was at a total loss—and it dawned on her; how could she be so blind? And yet—

“Jesus Christ—!” she swore.

“—the Christ,” he corrected her, “But I prefer if you call me Daddy.” He grinned, “I think that would mean more to you, too, don’t you think?” she nearly burst into tears again; the most she could do was nod, caught as she was in surprise and raw emotion. How could she not believe it now that he had reached in to touch the very depth of her secret heart?

“But how could you see past who I am?” she blurted out, “even you—especially you!” He gently rolled up his left sleeve.

“Ashlynn, I look beyond what you’ve done, because my father looked at what I’ve done. My purpose and desire was never to condemn you,” He said, holding out his hand. She couldn’t say a word. There was the mark in his wrist, a rough, deep scar that would never fade for all eternity. And now she noticed for the first time the other marks—the scars on his brow—and she could hardly bear it; she knew they were for her. “Now do you understand?” he asked, knowing already the answer. She nodded, and embraced him again.

“Jennifer,” she gazed up at him, nestled in his arms on the grass. A sparrow perched on the edge of the nearby bench, watching them intently. “I have to go now,” he said, holding her even closer to his chest. She loved the sound of his heart.

“What will I do without you?” she asked sadly, wishing she could prolong this somehow, “How will I go on? I’ve come so close to ending it all so many times already…”

“Oh darling, I’m always with you!” He smiled sincerely and bent down, kissing her forehead. “I love you too much to not be with you every minute.”

“But where have you been then?”

“You’re living in an awful place…” he said sadly, looking around, “we can’t experience each other here like this all the time, face to face… but one day soon I’ll never have to leave your sight, and we will spend Forever just like this.”

She understood, and a longing tear found its way down her cheek.

“Jesus?”

“Please, call me Daddy.”

The sun arose on a sleeping city, the man-made lights fading as the Creator’s warmth touched the cold buildings. The warmth touched the morning dew resting on the grass, and also her face as she stirred from her place. The sun lit up her eyes.

Had it all been a dream? But no, she could even now feel the warmth of his kiss lingering with her, the sound of his voice and the safety of his touch. “Always with me…” she murmured softly to herself, raising herself up into a sitting position within her box.

A sparrow began to sing nearby.

“Daddy.”

Tears - Encounters I

Tears and Sunlight (Encounters I and II) are explicitly under my authorship; you can share it, but it's still mine.

You Just Went Too Far: Least of These [Part III]

I don’t remember all the details any more, but I dreamed about someone I loathe.

I don’t say only dislike, I also don’t say hate, I loathe them. I have no desire to see or think about them ever again. In my dream I jumped from the top of a set of stairs onto them, driving them into the lower steps at a back-breakingly awkward angle with my fist to their throat. And you thought you were mean in your dreams. They had come into my house uninvited and very much unwelcome, and I was mad. I’m still a little mad, and it was just a dream.

I don’t know why I dreamed that. I don’t know why I did that. I don’t deny it felt pretty good. The thing is, I woke up from that and one thing flashed through my brain:

What have I been teaching you about loving your enemies?

Whoa, Jesus. You just went too far.

I look at people I know and wonder why they have a difficult time loving some of the people I love. Sometimes I even hold it against them. But then there’s this tugging at the back of my mind; what if Jesus actually meant love everyone?

That means love everyone. Not just the people I like. Not even just the people I can tolerate being nice to, no. Love everyone. And any trace of anything not love for anyone… is a warning sign that the love of Jesus isn’t in every fiber of my being because if it were, I wouldn’t have a problem actively loving anyone, because I wouldn’t be able to help but love everyone.

This is sobering to me. That in a perfect union of Jesus in me, there wouldn’t be one soul I would have any problem with touching. I have the tendency to go through life picking and choosing–‘Okay, I like them, I’ll love them. I don’t like them as much, but I can still be nice. I don’t really like that person, but I see their pain; I’ll love them anyway. I can’t stand that person; I don’t even want to think of loving them.’ Granted, other factors play in, and maybe that’s the answer; Jesus’ love cannot be expressed fully through me if I let anger/bitterness/unforgiveness/you-fill-in-the-blank have a hold. So I guess what’s left to say is ‘Jesus, here’s everything. Clean it up for me.’ And then to actually hand over the negative ties I’ve held on to people with. Freedom to love.

So Jesus here it all is. If you want me to love absolutely anyone, especially those you bring into my reach, then I want to love everyone you want me to love. I want to be free to love like no one else but You. I realize to do that the old man’s thoughts have to go; do what you have to so that I can renew my mind in you. I don’t want to hold on to bitterness, grudges or unforgiveness anyway. Show me the specific people you want me to touch directly with your love. You went too far to love me; I want to go too far to love others.

What Sticks to Me

What sticks to me?
The moon sticks to me
In its midnight blithering
And the stars are my jewels
But the moon sticks to me

How? It is a mystery
The way it gleams and glows
It is ambiguity the way it shows
And the coyote cries
But the moon sticks to me

When I sing in the night
And when the fiddle calls
As the wolf sings his strange song
It echoes back the music
And the moon sticks to me

Crickets sing softly now
And the call of the turtle is heard
The wind whispers words in the treetops
And sounds of a brook are stirred
Now the moon sticks to me [1]

[1] The Moon Sticks to Me, September 2010
* I own this. You can share it, but it's still mine. *

Long Forgotten Enemies: Least of These [Part II]

She grinned a toothy smile as she turned away that left me not a drop of sweat short of uneasy. It was missing substance–not to mention actual teeth–and there was a faint though unmistakable smell of alcohol about her.

I don’t think she had any inclination–in fact I’m sure of it–as to who I might be. But I knew who she was. From the moment she walked in to the second she said her name my brain was wracking itself for an explanation to the familiarity–and then it hit like a thunderbolt. I knew who she was.

But I guess you still don’t.

All you really need to know is that dealings between herself and parties I was inseparably involved with had gone bad – police and court had been involved. It had never come my direction, but the drama surrounding those events had left enough of a lasting impression to well justify the unease I was now feeling–even if it was perhaps slightly silly.

In spite of my discomfort, no incident took place. She finished her business, left, and I went on about my evening. But as I sat back down something triggered in my brain. I can’t say it was anything short of the breath of God that whispered the thought in my being–the least of these.

Wait a minute, Jesus.

I don’t like what You’re suggesting here.

I struggled with the implication–till of course, he brought to mind that I’d been talking about this very thing just the other day.

But I can’t even think pleasant thoughts about her, Jesus, she’s the worst of the worst.

Isn’t that the point?

I’m thinking sobering thoughts. I don’t have it in me to love. Not really. Not like that. If Jesus does, he’s so much higher than I’ve ever really actually dared to believe. Sure, church taught me Jesus loves everybody. But church also taught me Jesus loved totally hands-off. I guess the parts of the Bible where Jesus actually touched people–the worst of the worst of his society–made them uncomfortable. They make me uncomfortable, too, because if Jesus did that, and he loves through me, he wants me to touch people the way he did. Not only the nice, fair, clean-smelling people.

Well Jesus, if that’s what you want from me, you’ve got a lot of work to do in here still.

All that’s going through my mind right now is “Love your enemy; pray for those who persecute you.” I can’t think of any personal enemies off-hand, but I know I’ve never classified even the woman I saw tonight as an enemy. I want the liberty and power in that kind of love. I guess this is my starting place and the nudge to take the first shaky step.

Jesus, I want the power to love even my enemies. It is the one thing that will turn the world up-side-down. Tonight I put my discomfort and ultimately, my anger and unforgiveness towards this woman into your hands – I do not want them any longer. I lift her into your hands and I stand with you for the life and salvation of even her. Touch her life with every ounce of the love you’ve always shown to me, your son; may her way lead her to joy, righteousness, and incomparable rest in your fullness.

And Jesus?

Show me who’s next.