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I want to share a dream a very close friend of mine had a few weeks ago. I believe that as we settle down from the holiday food, fireworks, and parades – the message of this dream is so relevant to believers in the United States – or any country that has a strong sense of nationalism, and consequently the mindsets that develop as we endeavor to protect our way of life from foreign and domestic threats.

We are deeply divided against each other and view many other people groups as a whole, as evil. People have been easily herded into passionate crusades of one kind or another since civilization has existed. There is always someone screaming for your undivided loyalty.

The message of this dream conveys so beautifully the truths I have come to understand in the last few years.

I dreamed our family lived in a hotel. But it wasn’t unusual, because the whole world, or at least our country, lived in this hotel. Our government, the Church – everything was in this hotel. And it seemed that everything was in chaos. Terrible chaos. Terrorists everywhere. Government officials were urgently walking into and out of meeting rooms, giving speeches, suggesting one thing after another.

community-300x201But permeating the chaos and terror, and with supernatural power, was a group of young people on whom the Spirit of the Living God rested for just such a time as this. They had no weapons at all, but they were a choir. A choir with the sweetest music imaginable. Music that I couldn’t describe as I told Wes about the dream the next day. Music that made the things of life fade into the background and God into clear focus. They were singing, “Jesus Saves” but it was nothing like the song we know. Infinitely more beautiful.

And these young people were being killed by the dozens. But not retaliating, just ministering the Spirit to all. Gladly giving their lives that others might see and live.

I woke up with such a clear view of the Kingdom of Heaven being around us and in us.

I don’t want to muddy the water here with many of my words, but a few things stood out to me as significant.  The hotel setting shows we are in a temporary situation here.  We invest so much energy into the crises of these times in worry, fear, and anger.  We set up idols of ideologies, and look to human constructs for peace and safety.

But those who recognize the Supernatural walk in the opposite realm of love and living sacrifice.  They realize that retaliation and revenge perpetuate the darkness.  They would rather suffer their own demise as a witness to love than to hate and kill in return.

The song “Jesus Saves” is more beautiful than anything heard before because it’s the music of heaven being played out in their lives – not just a song on their lips.  The message Jesus Saves has been abused and misused for centuries in horror and violence, against Jews, Muslims, Native cultures worldwide, and even between Christian sects.  This was not His way.  This new song sings and walks in the truth.

I see many people caught up and carried away in the currents of world events and choosing sides.  But I also see many, often a younger generation, who are willing to walk the Jesus Road.  Big changes are coming.  Of which Kingdom do we belong?

See also a more urgent plea: Babylon is in Your Hearts

 

I really believe the human default (for adults that is) is law and legalism. I am not sure we are born with it, but society operates on this paradigm so it’s drilled into us at a very early age. Even if you don’t grow up in a legalistic religion, classmates and teachers both will make sure you understand the ground rules of success both socially and academically. How far back can we trace our fear of failure and rejection? Maybe parents were critical and you felt you must achieve something to gain their love. I am starting to see behavior-based religion as a secondary element that we choose because it flows with the worldview we already have. All the world religions I know of fall well into this same paradigm.

The problem isn’t that the law framework is false. Reaping and sowing are obvious – and even Jesus talked about this.  But grace is the supernatural variable that comes in, and unconditional love sees only that which remains – the good He planted in you – His own life and breath spreading light into the world.

The shocking, scandalous grace Jesus brought offends this law-based world, largely because we are led to believe that law is an end in itself. We never imagined there was another way, so if we can’t see the higher way He taught, we will try to fit him into the old wineskin where we understand how things work.

I read an essay yesterday by an environmental activist who saw the tragedy in living by a contract – that you will give no more than you absolutely have to. Sustainability concepts teach that you should endeavor to not take more from a living system than you put in, whether it be your land, community or family. This “contract” he stated, has created a mindset of people who are not willing to go out of their way for anyone or anything if they believe they have fulfilled their obligation. I understood exactly what he meant. Legalism at its finest.

Yesterday my children gave me a beautiful picture of what it looks like when Love trumps Law. I left my younger two with their older brother while I went to run errands. The house had been neglected for three days as we had spent most of our time working in the garden and yard over the holiday weekend. I constantly struggle with feeling overwhelmed, unable to keep up with my own expectations (law) about what I believe I need to accomplish.  I left them with two things I wanted them to do while I was gone, not really expecting it to be done by the time I returned. This brother and sister can take ALL day to clean a room, between playing and fighting – very normal kids.

When I came home, I instantly noticed the living room looked unusually tidy. My young son couldn’t wait to tell me what they did. But he didn’t have to tell me because I could see it! I walked into the kitchen to find my daughter sweeping the floor, and a note on the table said, “For You Mom”. The table was cleared off, along with the rest of the clutter around their desk and school area. She pointed to my bedroom door and said, “Look we even made your bed!” They also had started their laundry. I nearly cried. My gratitude for this gift was beyond measure. They weren’t even asking for extra allowance! They just wanted to help me. As I kept telling them how much I appreciated this extra help, my son said, “Wow mom, I didn’t think you would be THAT happy.”

I very soon thought of our Father in heaven and how it must touch his heart when we joyfully do things as a gift of love for Him, and not just doing our duty. Doesn’t the Scripture say, “God loves a cheerful giver?” I always go back to our human family as a reflection of our relationship with Him. Where there is love, no law is needed. Love goes above and beyond. It is a Law in itself, but one that breathes life and joy. (Not saying children don’t need boundaries… they do!) But as they grow and mature I want this love to be their motivation, not living up to my law or anyone else’s version of “have to”. Because everyone seems to have one, in and out of church or religions.

I would have been pleased enough if they had done what I asked. But to see them thinking outside of themselves, beyond reward or punishment to what would bless someone else, gave me a far greater joy – not just for the help it gave me, but for them to know this joy also. I don’t want to see them living a life seeking only their own benefit which leads to the never-enough syndrome, whether it’s in trying to ensure they avoid the wrath of God, or just impress the world on its terms. My prayer is they choose Love.  

 

 

If the leading teachers in the Hebrew Roots Movement received the same heart-breaking emails I get from some readers here, I wonder what they would say?  Another came through a few days ago, nearly word for word what many before have shared with me, and pleaded for help to know what to do.  Nearly all of them describe a drastic change in personality of the person who has become Torah observant.

My spouse’s beliefs have caused a major problem with our family, children,…. our marriage. The holidays are torture. The Sabbath Day usually leads to a battlefield. And our children are stuck in the middle. My spouse’s personality has changed from a loving, happy, and fun person to one of self-righteousness, strictness, and generally being very serious/dark.

I really wish I could make it all better, heal the hurts, and save the children from broken relationships and skewed ideas of their Father in heaven.  Can you imagine the husband or wife of a new convert writing a letter like this to the Apostle Paul?  Was this the wake he left behind him on his missionary journeys?  Even Paul, who could write very direct confrontational words, still maintained that love was the highest and best expression of God in this world.  Romans 12, I Corinthians 13, Galatians 5, to name just a few chapters, highlight his exhortations to walk in love.  The religion that gradually developed around the early Christian teachings also became enamored with law-based thinking, and the corresponding fruit came with it.  I do not believe the church has worked this out of its system overall.  Protestants brought the same dictatorial mindset to the New World and through many heinous methods, imposed their “salvation” upon the First Nations already living here.  To this day the gospel is often shared with the Law of God as the basis, rather than the Love of God.  We fight for the 10 Commandments to be kept on government buildings because we are a “Christian” nation.  Yet where do we see the teaching of Jesus etched in stone anywhere?  Why is Moses still getting top billing in a Christian nation?

So I’m not going to pick on just those pesky “law-keepers” out there.  The shortfall in our concept of what Jesus did, and is for us – affects far more people in mainstream Christianity than the Hebrew Roots Movement will ever touch.

Jesus came to set us free in love, acceptance, restoration, and life in the Spirit, at peace with our Creator and each other.  And in our human need to control and protect, we built more walls to train more Pharisees like the ones who schemed until they had Him hanging on a cross.  Any time you have a group of people who believe they are the only ones who are right, you will have a religious zealot problem on your hands.

Hebrew Roots followers exemplify this unfortunate divergence from the love of Christ quite frequently, but this situation can create unexpected traps for those suffering from their attempts at coercion.  The biggest mistake we can make in confronting them is to become like them.  I will say this presents the biggest challenge for anyone who lands in a spiritual conflict of any kind.  I cannot give you any sure fire scripture or argument to prove someone wrong.  It’s really not hard to be right.  We all think we are right.  Jesus wants us to pick up our cross and be love instead.

Have a difficult person in your life, of any religious persuasion?  Here are some ideas.

1.  Respect their convictions.  Just as you want yours to be respected.  Even if you don’t get the same in return, treat them as you would want then to treat you.  Don’t ridicule or belittle their ideas or practices.  Make room for them to follow their conscience by deferring to their wishes for holidays or dietary habits.  This does not mean YOU have to comply or go along with them if it is against your own convictions.  But if you support and respect even while you disagree, this will send a message in itself.  Don’t use your tolerance as a weapon in an argument (as in “you owe me”).  Simply do it because it’s the loving thing to do.

2.  Find ways to show love and support to the person in question that have nothing to do with religion.  Outside the context of your differences, let them know they are loved.

3.  Do not retaliate when you are condemned or attacked.  Let them know you hear and understand, and respectfully express that their opinion does not define your worth or identity.

4.  Seek the Spirit for your own strength daily to not fall into doubt about your own walk with God and His love and approval for you.  You are in a war zone of spiritual influences that will seek to play on your doubt, magnify your short-comings, and leave you feeling like you are never enough.  Getting pulled into verbal combat will only leaving you more vulnerable and feeling less worthy.

5.  If you do break down and become angry and hostile (some days…the humanity bleeds through), apologize quickly and take responsibility for your own emotions.  Do not blame the difficult person for “making you angry”.

6.  Do NOT tolerate any form of abuse to you or your children.  You can remain firm and loving, but do not stay in an unsafe situation no matter how persuasive, or how much authority someone claims to have over your life.

7.  Talk about Jesus, His words, His actions, whenever appropriate in conversations about spiritual things.  He is your Foundation, your Rock, your Reason for everything.  Focus on the heart issues, more than the legal ones.

8.  PRAY for the person you love.  (This should actually be at #1).  In praying for them, everything else on this list will become easier.  Give them to God.  You can’t fix them.  You can only love them.

My heart breaks especially for the children caught in the middle.  Your endeavor to show love in the face of all that is dark and harsh, will be a testimony to them far greater than any theological teaching you can give.   Right now they may not understand why mom and dad don’t agree, but they will not forget the testimony of love and patient endurance

All of this is so easy for me to type.  I have not often had the opportunity to walk this hard road.  But Jesus did, and it is His example, and that of many persecuted believers worldwide, that inspire me to take a higher path, in His strength.  I am aware enough of my weakness and limitations to know none of this would be my own first response.  But there is such a great power in peaceful, loving resistance.  I say resistance because we will not give up our faith for any Law.  But let us not give up our love in the name of our faith, as many have done.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 
Live in harmony with one another.
Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 
To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:14 – 21

 

 

 

My mental backlog of blog posts is starting to get a little overwhelming.   I could go into all the reasons why I have no time to write, but I guess I’ll just let this one fly off the cuff tonight.  It’s been a really strange, but wonderful day.

First I will start with a dream I had this morning, which I don’t fully understand, but feel it’s related in some way.  It was definitely one of “those” dreams – the kind that stands out from the normal kind, whatever normal is.  But some just scream, “Pay attention!’

I was in a small village, out in the main street, and many people were out walking around.  News was spreading that someone important was coming, and everyone seemed excited and started lining up on the sidelines like it was going to be a parade.  But a man began warning to not go and see, not to look.  He said a powerful woman was coming in really fine, splendid clothes, and an entourage, and you will want to look at her, but you must not look.  If you glanced at her in the least, you would be under her dominion in some way.  My excitement turned to fear, and I began looking for a place to hide from this splendid, yet frightfully powerful woman.  I could find nowhere, until I came upon a seating bench that had a lid with storage underneath.  I was trying to get in and place the lid over me, but I realized I was too late, so I sat behind it, facing away from the street, hoping to just not be seen.  I could hear the crowds going wild and felt powerless to stop what was happening.  A woman was standing near me who was not cheering, yet she was not hiding either.  A man from the entourage stopped, and I pretended to be asleep (so I could keep my eyes closed and not see anything.)  I could hear the woman near me talking to him.  She wasn’t afraid, but she was pleading with him.  The man was her brother.  She kept saying how much she loved him and it seemed she was hoping to be the one with the most influence over him instead.   Then I realized that I had based all my fear on the warning of one man, and not even known if he was telling the truth or not.  Then I woke up.

Not long after I awoke, my husband received a phone call from someone we met through this blog who does desire to obey God through Torah observance.  We never knew if we would meet in person or not, but he just happened to be in town today, so we readily agreed to get together, and had him over for dinner.  As I was working in the kitchen preparing the meal, and he and my husband were having a good visit in another room (which I could not hear), I had the strong impression that this dream is about our meeting in some way.  I will let the reader decide in discernment.

I let them know when the meal was ready and we all sat down.  He was very kind to patiently listen to my expounding (I get really passionate about Jesus, Spirit, and the power of Love).   We went around the usual circular discussions that are inevitable whenever the Old and New Covenant ways of thinking collide.  There are so many ideas, so many angles, and ways of seeing things.  I can’t give someone my eyes, or my heart vision.  Nor can I judge their heart.  I sensed in him a deep conviction, and desire that was very familiar.  I have it too.  I used to walk on that path he is on, but found a different way to apply that conviction.  In fact the practical application of my belief system continues to change and grow.  I believe now more than ever that patience and love is the most important element in relationships of any kind where religious differences are present.  Can we make the other party approach the table this way?  No.  Can we choose to?  Yes.  I have seen and sadly been party to some painful divisions since leaving the HRM between people who had much more in common than they disagreed on, yet the mountains of offense continued to build over differences in information and perception.

If someone believes with all their heart, they are doing the right thing, then they are.  Even if their ways seem crazy to us, their hearts are being true to what they believe.  I have a great deal of respect for our new friend who loves God, trusts God, and wants to obey Him.  That is a beautiful thing, even if that looks much differently to him than it does to me now.  Of course I did my best to explain the new and improved version of righteous fruit (it’s not really new, we just have it in HD with Jesus, with the static taken away).  But I can’t force him to see the world my way.  No one could have forced me.

After our friend had gone, I saw a status post on facebook:  “Do the right thing, regardless of whether bad things may come later or what it might lead to. Do the right thing today.”  This friend does not observe Torah as given to Moses, but follows Jesus whole-heartedly.

A short time later I found a similar quote while continuing an internet search I had been on for a few days about my family history.  I ran across an article written in 1961 about my grandfather who gave up his 15 year career as a law enforcement officer because he had just been baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist.  They would not allow for him to have Saturdays off, so he turned in his badge.  Ironically, the article was written by my other grandfather who was the pastor that baptized him.  The editors added a relevant quote from Ellen White that read, “It is the very essence of all right faith to do the right thing at the right time.”

I had seen this piece in a scrap book a long time ago.  Our family had held it up for many years as the picture of integrity.  My husband also for years would not accept a lucrative promotion at work because he refused to work on the Sabbath.  We followed our conscience and I don’t regret that.  However during those years, we have many regrets about failures to love with our whole heart.  Which will hold more weight in the end?   I am thankful for the few instances where we were given a chance to redeem those lost opportunities.

Today I also saw a picture of my grandmother’s headstone, wife of the former police officer.  I did not attend her funeral, and she is buried far from where I live.  It was the first time I’d seen it.  Under her name it reads, “She Loved Country Music.”   She also observed the Sabbath and the feasts, and out of respect for her, I will only say that it makes me sad this was the love she was known for.  I loved her, but she loved very little and it has grieved me to see how the pain of not being loved gets handed down from generation to generation.

So there we have it, a day all about doing the right thing, which is not exactly defined the same way by everyone.  HRM followers disagree about this all the time between themselves, as well as Christians.  We think having a Law would simplify it and preserve it.  It doesn’t.

Often the right thing is determined by fear.  There is something that needs to be avoided, controlled, or protected, or an approval to gain and keep.  These fears used to drive my view of faith, scripture, and my value system about what is right.  I understand this path very well.  I go back there a lot in other areas of my life as it seems to be my default operating system installed since birth.  It takes conscious effort, or realignment I should say, to His heart and mind, to operate from the other center point.

Perfect Love casts out all fear.  I believe this is the example of the fearless woman in my dream.  What if the right thing was determined only by what was Love.  Perfect love loves no matter what.  Even to the death.  What is the right thing?  A legal system can never answer this question because the explanations take volumes of Talmud, endless Supreme Court cases, or other books and tapes and videos without end.  Yet there is always something left unclear and uncovered, or impossible.

Love answers the question with itself and satisfies all.

Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.
Romans 13:10 Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Galatians 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
James 2:8 If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, you do well:

Heroes

I suppose it happens often, that we learn more about people at their death than we ever knew during their lives.  In fact, living under the sub-culture of a strict religious sect as a child, the first time I ever heard of Elvis was the day he died.  I was out taking my banana-seat bike off some sweet jumps we built, when a neighbor kid stopped me and squealed, “Did you know Elvis died??!!!”.  I had not yet learned it wise to conceal ignorance of matters that seem common knowledge so I asked, “Who’s Elvis?”  I don’t know if my friend was more shocked at the death or at the fact that I had never heard of him.

But one man who passed this week I knew a little of.  In 1986, Amnesty International held a benefit concert in my city.  I went, not because I knew much about their work, but because of the amazing line up of musicians coming. I still remember this as the best concert I’ve ever attended.  Five hours of some of the greatest music the 80’s had to offer.  The topic of the night was Nelson Mandela, still in prison.  We recoiled at the thought a developed society could, in our modern times, be so deeply and oppressively divided over race.

I later heard all the excuses surrounding the “it’s just the way things are” philosophies, as well as all the derogatory opinions of Mandela himself.  A co-worker from Africa of British descent, whose family fled Rhodesia during the transition to Zimbabwe, flatly stated that black Africans cannot govern themselves.  He astutely observed that all attempts at their own independence ended in bloody chaos, without taking into consideration what might be creating the challenges.  A client listening in to this conversation, a white, British citizen himself, had some choice remarks about their average intelligence and other things which I really prefer to forget.  This was right about the time when Mandela was being released from prison, soon to do the opposite of what white people expected.  Forgive.

Yes, Mandela had a different political ideology than most Americans embrace, and yes he did resort to violence in his past, as so many often do when they feel it is the only way to overcome their oppressors.  That’s not a foreign concept in America is it?  I think that’s what those canon shot fireworks on 4th of July are meant to commemorate?  Who is a terrorist and who is a liberator?  Just depends which side you are born on doesn’t it?  Violence is violence.  Either it’s a solution, or it’s not.  A worthy cause doesn’t make it prettier.  I understand why people believe it’s necessary.  I am sad when people (anywhere) see it as the first solution.

Often anger and hate boil over and create an endless cycle of killing and revenge.  But when Mandela walked out of the prison, he chose to leave the anger and hate behind and be truly free.  He led his countrymen in this path, and prevented what everyone expected – more killing than ever before.  I have read some of the most encouraging things in the last few days of his life and work.  They give me hope that peace and reconciliation can come, and hate can be put away in other places of the world where it seems to have consumed the minds and hearts of people.

There is no good side in a hate-filled land.  There is no bad side when Christ loves all the people involved with his own pierced hands and heart.  One side may be stronger than the other, but it is to the strong and those who have the power, to choose the path.  What if our enemies overcame us tomorrow?  What philosophy would we wish them to carry?  The one we now hold?  Or the one that Jesus taught, and Nelson Mandela learned to live and teach?  What if those First Nations that European civilization oppressed in America from the time the first ship landed, had a chance to rule over the kingdom built on their blood and land?  What would they choose and what would we deserve?

There are so many issues in this world we only seem to hear one voice from.  Often we may think there are only two sides when there are many.  We don’t seek to understand why, or walk in the shoes of another’s life to see through their eyes.  We want to be right, stronger, superior, victorious.

I discussed with my oldest son recently the phenomenon of super heroes in our pop culture.  Our society, in my experience, is overwhelmingly aspiritual, while at the same time very religious in some places.  But we still have our icons to worship – be they actual human celebrities, sports teams and players, or cartoons.  The heroes are strong, overcoming, witty, invincible avengers.  Yes, that’s the name of the movie even!  They are the opposite of Jesus, my superhero.  Are we a part of this culture that admires these values above all and not even realize how deeply drawn away we are from the heart of Christ?  We are so attracted to the patriotic Captain America, the strength of Hulk, and the self-centered humor and blind pride of Iron Man.  Mankind has always needed something bigger and  more powerful than themselves to worship.  The nature and heart of what we choose in this regard reveals our own desires.  I believe it takes the stronger man and woman to choose peace.  I am not sure I am that strong.  It’s hard to choose it even under my own roof sometimes.

My heart breaks for so many suffering people in this world – for the atrocities of the past, and the present.  This time of year, we think and speak of peace.  I shared a picture recently on facebook that said, “Dear God, let me worry less about putting Christ in Christmas, and more about getting Christ back in “Christian.”  It was shared more times than anything I have ever posted in my several years there, which shocked me.  I believe we deeply sense a problem in this country within the Body of Christ, but it’s easy to point the finger at all those “fake Christians” out there, when we need to look at our own lives – held up to the Light of Christ and His LOVE.  Let that Christ in the Christian begin with me.  Most of the time I feel like a paper-thin, invisible Christian.  I want the light to shine out, and for people to realize it’s HIM and not me.

Mandela’s heart was also tied with those who still waited for freedom.  I don’t want to argue about what that means, or what people deserve.  I just long for that with him, for all people.  When enemies collide in love – it’s the most beautiful thing on earth.  It began in the Cross, and may it continue to spread, one changed life at a time.

May we love all the people God put on this Earth, and consider ourselves in an honest manner.  

The Dark Side

Through the last few weeks I have been trying, once again, to understand the phenomenon of Halloween.  I call it that, because to me, I have no attraction to blatantly dark, evil things.  I suppose my temptations to the dark side are more subtle.  We all have to deal with unhealthy attractions in one way or another, but to openly embrace darkness as fun and exciting isn’t something I’ve ever really understood.  So I have been asking questions, observing, and exploring the concept from different angles.

This is cute and fun, and I enjoy this part of  fall celebrations.  Pumpkins, in their natural state, are beautiful and delicious.

DSC_0847 DSC_0853 DSC_0882

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0915I even get why costumes are so much fun.  Who doesn’t love to dress up as something else?  It’s the play of childhood the rest of the year.  Grown ups love it too, and now do this at huge conventions all over the country in honor of their favorite pop-culture icons.Yes, we did have a discussion about how Darth Vader did come over to the good side of the Force and was reconciled to his son before he died. 🙂

But THIS is what I have such a hard time comprehending.  What is it about the human psyche that makes this so attractive?

DSC_0919DSC_0923

The roots of this holiday go back to the practice of dressing up as beings from the Netherworld in order to not be harassed by spirits of the departed who would be able to cross and cause trouble for the living on this night.  So is all this rooted in fear of death and the unknown?  If I become that which I fear, I will be protected from it?  This is my theory.  I don’t know if it’s true.  Most of the people I know who celebrate this holiday with gusto, are not “evil” or worshiping Satan in their closets at night.  People seem to enjoy being scared (hey, I love roller coasters), but I think more importantly we enjoy experiencing that which seems threatening, and realizing at the end of it, we are still okay.  It is an empowering ritual, and confronts our deepest fears about death and things that go bump in the night that we can’t see.

The thought occurs to me as well that any time we seek safety and security in anything but Jesus alone, and what He has done, we are celebrating a personal form of Halloween.  There is no cloak of safety in any human invention.  No mask can save us from the dark.  We need to take them off, in honesty, and embrace His Life.

I find that these celebrations (especially in remembering deceased ancestors and loved ones) are found in many cultures, past and present.  Usually practiced in the season where everything is dying off and the sun is waning, the natural world reminds us of our own impending mortality.

Maybe my lack of interest and attraction to these customs has to do with the fact that I have no fear or doubts about death, or any spirit without a body, because of my security in who I am in Jesus.  What better time of the year is there to share this GOOD NEWS to the world?   As many zealous Christians and HRM followers both understandably revile and abstain from this holiday,  I truly believe that in spite of all that seems dark and offensive, a deep truth lies beneath.  A truth that can be used as a foothold to bring Light, Hope, and Love to a world that has seen plenty of pain from the dark side.  In arguing so strongly against something, we sometimes unwittingly give it more power than it’s due, and magnify it.  I join my fellow humans in declaring victory over the fear of death.  Only in Jesus.   In Him there is no darkness or shadow.  It is vanished, because it has not power in itself.  That makes Halloween a reason to rejoice for me.

A few days ago I ran across a news story that repulsed me so badly I found myself hoping hell is very real and hot.  I don’t remember ever feeling quite that strongly about another human being.  Maybe for the first time, I felt I was seeing a picture of a man I judged as beyond any hope of reform.  All my convictions about loving people no matter what became irrelevant as my mind went to a place where my own child was in the story as the victim.   I honestly wish I did not know as much about evil as I do.  I’ve learned about some things so heinous I can’t even say them out loud to another person.  I wish I could un-know them, but I can’t.  I can’t fathom how human beings can get to the place where they are altogether inhuman.  But that which looks hopeless to me, is never impossible with God.  And even if a person is past all hope, it is not for me to know or deal out condemnation.

So many stories I’ve heard testify to forgiveness in impossible circumstances.  Corrie ten Boom’s witness of how God enabled her to forgive the guard from the concentration camp she had been held in, as well as how a terrorist in Colombia was led to Christ by a man he had tried to kill, all give me hope that evil has a mortal enemy.  Love.

Not long ago I received two publications in the mail from different ministries serving the persecuted church.   The first one I opened was entirely devoted to describing the rise radical Islam in the most derogatory manner, as well has holding in derision any politicians the author felt supported its existence.   I felt fear and frustration after looking through it, although the attempt was to raise support for those suffering under Islam’s persecution of Christianity.   The second newsletter ironically contained cover to cover testimonies of believers who had forgiven their attackers, sometimes through an intense struggle of prayer.   Some had lost family members, others limbs.  One newsletter rallied for fighting back, the other for love.

I have thought deeply about violence and in the past few months.  My country may not have a war on our own soil, but we are crumbling from within.  Random murder and mass shootings lead the headlines nearly every day.  No way to predict or prepare for what you may face from day to day, from criminals or even our own law enforcement agencies.  But we are good at numbing out so we don’t have to think about it.  We believe it will always happen to someone else, but not in my quiet, well-ordered universe.   We are also insulated from what is done under our own flag in other places, and the intense suffering of so many, both at home and away.  For some reason my eyes have been trained on these suffering ones intensely lately.  Sometimes it’s more than one heart can take in.  We fear the grief will overtake us, so we choose hardness instead.

If we realized how everything is connected, we could see that we cannot harm someone else without harming ourselves.  And Compassion, even when seemingly wasted, never is.  To me this is one of the deepest essences of the Cross, past all the theological models of what “atonement” means.  He came to make peace between humanity and God.  Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.  This is His Way, and that is the way I want to walk.  He said, “My Kingdom is not of this world or my servants would… ?”  What if our first response to evil was not fear?  What if there was no fear?  This is true supernatural living.

Many people I know want a gun to protect themselves.  I am not saying it’s right or wrong.  My question is, what decision are we making about our own first response to a perceived threat?  After I have thought long and hard, and seen the results of love and fear, I have come to my own conclusion that I would rather die at the hand of evil than to become it.  Because even my death, if I were to remain in Love, would be a victory and to live in my hate would be defeat.   I do not have the ability to live this desire in my own willpower.  I am so quick at self-defense even in verbal confrontation.  But I believe I can ask for this gift and make a choice to love now before I’ve been asked to make one in the heat of a crisis moment.

I once discussed with an atheist why I believed in God.  I told him the best evidence I know of is the love that He gives His followers for their enemies.  I told him an amazing story I had heard at a recent persecution conference.  He said the story could not be true, and even if it was – he would label it as mental illness.  That it’s not healthy to take that attitude toward an aggressor.  Spock would probably agree.  It’s completely illogical.  And for me, what makes it true.

I will never know the deep wounds so many have in their hearts to heal through forgiveness.  I have not suffered the abuse and trauma, or loss, that so many millions have.  I can’t say I would be jumping at the chance to forgive.  When I see people angry and afraid, I understand. I have chosen that many times.  But I find nothing on earth as beautiful as a love that lays down its own life.  Maybe that’s why James said, “Count it all joy.”

No More of This  by Ramone Romero

“Those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”
(Matthew 26:52)

“I have not come to destroy sinners, but to save them.
I am calling you to take up the Cross—
I command you to love your enemies,
even those who appear to be My enemies,
just as I loved you while you were My enemies.

“If you do not abide in My love,
you will not know when you hinder Me.
If you do not embrace the Cross,
you will not know when you have become
an enemy of the Cross.

“Put down the sword, My people!
I am warning you for your sake!”

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