This post by Matt Moore was timely in the wake of Kim Burrell’s statements earlier this week. Matt shares his thoughts on feeling that homosexuality was somehow different than any other sin, and how that mindset can undermine the potential for growth in one’s relationship to Jesus:
Luke chapter 23:32-43
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals—one on His right, the other on His left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up His clothes by casting lots.
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and mocked Him. They offered Him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
There was a written notice above Him, which read: this is the king of the Jews.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Throughout the Spring of this year, and on into Summer, this story has kept coming to mind. Jesus has been nailed to a cross after having been paraded through the town, carrying the spar of His own execution. As He is suffering through the last moments of His life, He is surrounded by jeering voices…
They were the voices of people standing to watch, rulers sneering, soldiers mocking…and even a criminal hanging on a cross alongside Him.
Except this one man – this other criminal. Instead of joining in the sneering, he says the strangest thing…
He confesses to his crime, noting that he and the other criminal there were reaping what they had sown: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.”
But then he confesses that Jesus was different, noting that He was being treated unjustly: “But this man has done nothing wrong.”
There is no record of this criminal meeting Jesus before this time, but he knew enough of Jesus to know that He was blameless, and that He did not belong there alongside of them. And it seems that he had heard, or at least had heard about, the things that Jesus was teaching.
Jesus had taught a great deal about the Kingdom…He had said that the Kingdom is near, and described how life in the Kingdom is different than what people experienced in their current state of Roman rule. He taught about what is required of those who would like to be a part of the Kingdom, and the traits of those who would be left out.*
Now at this point all that talk seemed to be empty words – Jesus was dying, and everything that had been said about Him being a King was literally turned into a joke by almost every person who was there.
Yet this guy – this guilty criminal – looks at the same thing that everyone else who was there saw as a defeat, as the end of Jesus and all the promises of a Messiah – and he sees it differently.
“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”
What? What a crazy thing to say! What Kingdom? Did Jesus look like He was about to come into the headship of a new Kingdom? The criminal saying this was right there, peering across his own outstretched arm at Jesus, who was bleeding from having been whipped and having a crown of thorns placed on His head. He knew pretty much exactly how Jesus felt, at least physically, while he was dying at the same time, in the same way.
“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”
This man has a faith that astounds me. He somehow looks beyond the dying body struggling for breath next to him and finds hope in the perfect, guiltless character of Christ. He believes the sign posted above the head of Jesus is true – that this is the King of the Jews, and decides to put all of his chips in, betting his eternal soul on the man who is about to meet His end. He believes that even there, even then, Jesus has the power to save him, beyond death.
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
We, of course, know the end of the story. We know now that Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end. We know that Jesus did not belong there, but He willingly sacrificed Himself for all those who were mocking and jeering in the crowd on the day of his crucifixion, and for all of us who have lived since that day. We know that we are on the mind of Jesus as He has come into His Kingdom, and we who believe in Him are called to be a part of bringing His Kingdom to reign in the hearts of all who will also follow Jesus.
But the faith of this dying criminal startles me. How could he look at the same scene – being in the very midst of what was going on, yet see it so differently? It is a faith that inspires me, and I’m thankful that we can read this story. We have been given so much more to go on, we know the bigger picture, and we have all the more reason to entrust our very lives to Him.
Another insightful post by Matt Moore, this time on living as a single follower of Christ. It reminded me of several times when the Lord made His love for me and His understanding of me as an individual known as I was living as a single person. (He’s done the same after I’ve been married, actually, in different ways…) God will always meet us where we are, and investing in our relationship with Him always pays off.
Years ago I was on a hiking trip with three other friends (I’ll use their initials to protect their identities, although I don’t think that they would mind me sharing this story), T, S, and V. While T, S and I all were experienced hikers, V was new to this activity. She had quizzed us before the trip with all kinds of questions – what boots to buy, what kind of pack, water bottle, and hiking pole to use, what kind of training she should do to prepare for the trails, how to handle any emergencies, etc.
We were enjoying an 11+ mile day hike on a gorgeous sunny day, and came to a curve that hugged a canyon wall. It was very steep & sheer uphill and downhill of the trail – at some points you could reach your left arm out and touch the side of the mountain. T was in front and I could see across the canyon that there was a mountain goat on the trail ahead of her. I wasn’t worried about the goat attacking her, but I could see that it was using the trail because there wasn’t footing, even for the goat, any other way, and as we came around the curve behind her, T and the goat were in a stand-off, (at a safe distance, I might add!)
T and I conferred, and went with the option to politely move forward, avoiding eye contact, until the goat found a place where it could step to the side of the trail and allow us to move on past it. There were a few times when the goat seemed to consider mowing all four of us off the mountain, but fortunately it huffed and changed its mind and moved back. Finally it came to an area with a few trees and a boulder on our left, and it hopped right up, it’s hooves at our eye level. T, myself and S hot-footed it past, offering our quiet “thank you’s” and “sorry’s.”
Then I turned around to see V, the tallest of our group, walking in slow motion very stiffly past the goat. The goat was getting impatient and voiced a rather displeased huff, which made me quite nervous.
“V – hurry up!” I said in a hoarse whisper.
With her teeth clenched like a ventriloquist, V replied, “You said not to run in front of the wild animals!”
Sigh, I had said that, and V was following instructions to the letter.
“The omnivores, V, not the herbivores…it’s OK to walk quickly this time…it’s waiting for us to go by.”
She sped up, just a bit, and all turned out well.
Our National Park Service was established in 1916, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” This continent was full of wild country years ago, and as we’ve “paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” in the name of progress, we’ve needed to set aside and protect unpopulated places. These parks allow room for wild things to run free, and these areas have rules and regulations to keep everyone safe.
In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.
~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 317
Jim Burnett was a National Park Ranger for 30 years. He wrote a book entitled, Hey Ranger! True Tales of Humor & Misadventure from America’s National Parks. The following is taken from his introductory chapter:
For many current-day visitors to national parks the “great outdoors” is an alien environment, and most of what they know about dealing with the natural world comes from a TV program or magazine article. The expression, “I know just enough to be dangerous” applies in a big way to some people who decide to try a canoe trip, climb a mountain, spend a night in a campground, or even just take a short hike on a nature trail.
I’ve also concluded that a few park visitors take their goal to “get away from it all” a little too seriously and simply leave their brains at home when they go on vacation. As a result, they end up doing things that they would never dream of attempting in their native habitat, whether that happens to be a big city, suburbia, or a small town. Sometimes this situation is compounded when people try to cram too much fun into too little time, resulting in a trip that might more accurately be called, “wreck-reation” than recreation.
If it wasn’t for guidelines and laws, some people might try to use the parks as their own personal hunting safari range, or mow down rare and beautiful plants and animals with four wheelers, or toss trash into clear mountain streams – things they wouldn’t dream of doing to their neighbor’s property in their own home towns.
I am so thankful for our National Park system, and our country’s Wilderness Areas, and for those who work in these places to keep people and the environment safe. Most of the vacations I’ve taken in my adult life have been trips to hike, bike, and kayak through these parks. On my hikes I’ve come across moose, fox, bear, antelope, badger, prairie dogs, trout, turtle, raccoon, otter, pine martin, woodpecker, trumpeter swans, eagles, hawks, cranes, marmot, pika, elk, deer, buffalo, loon, and heard the cry of wolves. There have been fields of wildflowers filling green valleys so lush you’d think it was Eden, and waterfalls that shine like silver over smoothed out stone. Cooling breezes and warming sunlight fill the day, and countless stars sparkle as I’ve settled down to rest at night.
Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.
~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 235
Getting out past the “front country” nature trails and information kiosks into the woods for days has been a great blessing. To know that this rugged, uncultivated land is there – to look around for miles and only see things that God has put in place – to be pulled by the desire to see what’s coming around the next bend – to have enough space for all of this to exist is such a gift.
No synonym for God is so perfect as Beauty. Whether as seen carving the lines of the mountains with glaciers, or gathering matter into stars, or planning the movements of water, or gardening – still all is Beauty!
~ John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 208
Last week I came across this quote for the first time, and it’s haunted me (in a good way) since:
The more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.
~ G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
We often think of the rules when it comes to Christianity – and sometimes it can seem that is all that Christians are focused on. But to do that is to miss the forest for the trees. Or perhaps, in continuing with the idea of wilderness, we can look at it another way…
A park ranger was once asked by a man leading his family in one of the great western National Parks, “What would you do if you only had 15 minutes to see this place?”
“See that bench over there?” he replied, “I would sit on it and cry.”
The vast majority of visitors to National Parks never venture 1 or 2 miles away from their car. Their experience is going to be vastly different than that of someone backpacking into the wilderness, living in the woods while carrying all their supplies. So too, I believe, are the experiences of those who dabble in having faith in Christ, getting their toes wet from time to time, rather than plunging in with their whole lives.
It’s not the rules of Christianity that hold us back, but rather we often hold ourselves back from the wild goodness that is allowed to run free under His wing. So, for the Christian, here are a few questions to consider…
Are you enjoying the good things running wild in your own life with Christ? Are you following rules and setting order for rules and for order’s sake, or are you digging deeper and walking further down the trail in your faith? Are there times you’ve carved out to spend with Jesus and allow Him to speak to you through His Word, or quiet you with His love, like a pika in it’s den? (Zeph. 3:17) Are you expressing gratitude for all that you’ve been blessed with, like wildflowers in a meadow, whose pedals follow the sun across the sky? Are there moments when worship spontaneously bursts out of you like a waterfall through a crack in the rock?
If not, maybe getting out into a bit of the wild itself might help draw you into a deeper communion with the Creator of all that is good and wild, beautiful and pure, noble and true.
Walk away quietly in any direction and taste the freedom of the mountaineer. Camp out among the grasses and gentians of glacial meadows, in craggy garden nooks full of nature’s darlings. Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.
~ John Muir Our National Parks , 1901, page 56
Secondly, examine your life to see if you are you creating an environment for others to enjoy. Is your life, your home, your friendship giving room for good things to run wild? Is your house &/or are your conversations a haven, a refuge? Are you walled off with tall fences and concrete roofs, or open to the starlight? What are you shaping with your life? Are you inviting chaos with your choices, leaving destruction, ruts, and trash in your wake, or are opening wide landscapes of peace? Is your life drawing people in, wondering what could be around the next corner?
Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.
~ John Muir The Yosemite (1912), page 256
Consider these questions with Jesus, and ask Him how you might move forward to give room for good things to run wild in and through your life.
Keep me safe, my God,
for in You I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from You I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
Lord, You alone are my portion and my cup;
You make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will You let your faithful one see decay.
You will show me the path of life;
in Your presence is fullness of joy;
in Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.
 The Organic Act of 1916 created the National Park Service “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Go to the Limits of Your Longing
– Rainer Maria Rilke
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Selah is a Hebrew word that is difficult to translate – it is most likely a literary or musical term, along the lines of “stop and listen.” I like the way it is translated in Amplified Bible as, “pause, and think of that.”
As we’re switching gears into Scriptural topics, more technical details, if you will, I think it’s important to pause and remember the Author. This Sunday one of the pastors at Calvary Chapel of Chattanooga, where I was visiting, opened up a time of prayer with this verse:
Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!
I John 3:1a KJV
That is something worth pausing and thinking more about. What manner of love – in the NIV this verse reads, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us…”
The other day I saw an advertisement for an “extravagant Christmas gift…” and I thought, “It’s already been done.” How can we get a more extravagant gift that that of the Son of God? How can we do better than all the deepness of the love of Jesus?
Many times as one battles vs. chronic sins, it’s easy to get caught up in the fight and forget that the war has actually already been won. I’m not a proponent of the “name it and claim it” philosophy – where one says that they have already achieved riches or healing, in a type of game in which you’re hoping that by saying and believing the statement it will come true. But spiritually speaking, it does us well to remember that death has been conquered through Jesus, and nothing can separate us from His love.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As Christians, in this culture especially, we spend (and waste) a lot of time fighting the wrong things. We are champion shadow boxers, while a world and a New Kingdom are waiting for us to use our gifts and talents to meet real needs in a real world.
This is true whether we’re demonizing political figures, singers or actors, or fighting against our own sinful behaviors rather than getting at the true root issues underlying them.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
It can be transformative to simply rest in our Lord’s love. To meditate on and memorize the passages that tell of His love for us.
The Lord your God is with you,
He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you;
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
I really appreciated Regeneration Ministries’ article along these lines in their newsletter earlier this year. Here is the link if you’d like to check it out:
As we enter into this holiday season – this Holy Day season – let’s remember the love that has been lavished on us, and to lean on Him and rest in it.