the ancient overgrown pathway to healing: Romans 14

june to nov. 09 317

We humans need healing in so many ways, for so many things.  So what if someone were to tell you that you could be healed of all your hurts?  What if they said they could help you connect with other people?  What if they said they could help you get in touch with yourself?  What if they said: “come with me.  Fly with me to a thick overgrown jungle.  Hack your way through the underbrush.  And in an ancient ruined city, I will show you a way to total healing”?  Would we book our flights?

We might.  When we humans really want something, we open our wallets.  We endure bumpy bus rides.  We squeeze ourselves into airplanes.   We perch on ripped train seats.  We do that for movies.  We do it for vacations.  We do it for anything that seems worth it.  As one of my favorite books on dating says of finding a man who will treat you properly: “men will fly across the world just to surf a wave.  You want to be that wave.”

So what if instead of searching for a wave (or for a muscled bare chested man riding a wave), our ears perked up when we heard a voice that told us to stand at the crossroads and look, to ask for the ancient paths.  We lean closer.  We like the idea of a journey.  Something in our heart rises up at the thought of finding ancient paths.  We fill our water bottles, pop our malaria pills, tuck our machetes into our belts and walk along the ancient overgrown paths.  We hear a voice telling us when to go right and when to go left.  We listen because we want to get there.

When we reach the ancient ruined city, however, we are annoyed.  We are told that before we can meet the king, we first must perform a task.  We have to wash in the river of life because we’re dirty from our journey.  It’s not the washing that annoys us.  It’s that we have to wash in the SAME river as everyone else.  We look around.  We can see that our fellow travelers are mud-stained and filthy.  But US?  No, we’re good enough to meet the king of the city just as we are.  Why do we need to wash first?  Plus, what if we get a disease from all those other unwashed souls?

And then we look at the river.  It’s warm.  It’s refreshing.  It’s crystal clear and blue as sapphires, and we think, “hmmmm.  Maybe it’s not sooo bad.”  We strip off our dirty clothes and jump in.  And there, we discover we actually enjoy swimming in the same delightfully warm and refreshing river as everyone else.

That’s it.  That’s the secret.  That’s the solution to all our problems.  The answer is to wash ourselves in Jesus’ love.  It’s to accept the river of life that flows from the throne of God.  It’s to be cleansed of all our mistakes by the cross.  Why should we resist grace?  The problem is that grace says that if we want to leap into the river of life in this ancient city, we’re not allowed to judge anyone else.  We stop short, glance at our watches, and wonder if we have time to catch the next flight out.

Why?  Because if someone tells us to do something hard, we roll up our sleeves and give it all we have.  We want to prove ourselves.  But if God tells us to do something so easy anyone can do it, we balk.  See 2 Kings 5 (“Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!”).

So lean into Romans 14 and see what is required for healing.  Paul says that we are not to judge other people.  Paul says we shouldn’t judge people, for instance, whose consciences lead them to be vegetarians.  We are not to judge people who honor the Sabbath on different days than we do.  It says we are responsible for our own consciences. It says we are to keep matters of the conscience like whether we have wine or not “between ourselves and God.”  And it asks: “who are we to condemn another man’s servant?”

Who indeed.  That is the million dollar question.  Who ARE we when we’re not judging other people?  Have we met ourselves as just a human being?  Have we met someone who can’t look down at anyone else?  Have we met fellow servants?

Yes.  Unclothed of judging, we find ourselves as a human who can actually love other people.   We find a human who can set aside old hurts.  We find a human who doesn’t have to try to control anyone else.  We have a human who discovers she can barely even control herself.  We find a person who needs God’s help, just like everyone else.

That’s because when we ask for the ancient paths and try to follow the good way – we discover we can’t.  We do judge others.  We feel an ugly need to think we’re better than other people – at least ONE person.  We discover we withhold ourselves from others, even people we’re married to, because we want to punish them for hurting us.  We put up walls, and they’re rock solid.  We find we’ve become a stranger to our own emotions because we can’t handle our rage, disappointment and hurts.  We’ve become numb.  We’re full of anxiety because we’re afraid of doing the wrong thing.  We’re afraid we will be judged.

God offers a different path.  He has every right to judge us but offers to forgive us instead.  He wants to heal our every wound.  He will forgive all our mistakes.  We don’t have to be numb about our mistakes or in denial any more.  We can remember them without being crushed.  God gives us the most powerful tool of all for enjoying other humans.  He gives us the power to forgive them everything bad they’ve ever done to us.

It’s that simple.  We can be healed if we forgive and are forgiven.  And because the simple is impossible for us flawed humans, God helps us.  He endured all the judging, criticism, condemnation, blame and punishment on the cross so we can be set free.  God knows it’s hard to forgive.  So He helps us forgive others.  The ancient paths are a place where God gives us a new heart.  He helps us assume the best about other people.  It’s a place where God assumes the best about us.  The kingdom at the end of the ancient paths is a place of “goodness, peace and joy.”

It’s worth opening not just our wallets, but our hearts for.  It’s worth leaning in to those words.  It’s worth giving it a try.  What do we have to lose?  We’ve tried everything else.  And hey, how did THAT turn out?  Not so good, right?

There is a good way.  Jesus is the way.  He’s the person we’ve looked for in every book, movie, and in the crest of every wave.  He’s the one who made us, who loves us, and who longs to heal our every hurt.  If we walk in the way of grace, we will find the rest we’ve always longed for.  Because God longs for us, too.  He’s hacking His way through the undergrowth to find us, no matter how lost we are.  His voice is calling out.  He calls us each by name.  And that’s why our mistakes are okay.  Because God uses everything – even all our wrong pathways – to lead us straight to His open arms.  All we have to do is let God find us, and we’ll weep for joy at the beautiful way he restores everything ruined.

posted by Caroline Coleman in A Chapter a Day: on healing

seeing in color: Matthew 7

read Matthew 7 (the Message).

I met a woman once who had just had her cataracts removed.  She couldn’t stop talking about it, because she couldn’t believe the change.  “The colors,” she said.  “I didn’t even remember what the colors looked like.”

Jesus begins this chapter with a very clear message about our inability to see.  He says “why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?  How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,” when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.”  Matt. 7:3-5 (NLT).

So how do we get rid of the log in our own eye, when we can’t even see the log? How do we do cataract surgery on ourselves?

Here’s the most eye opening thing I’ve ever read on the subject:

“Realize that whatever we are angry about in someone else is most likely something we need to deal with in our own lives.  That is one of the primary reasons we see the problem in the first place, because it is, first, our problem.  It’s just that it is easier to recognize in someone else.  Easier to point the finger than to face the truth….  It’s been said that when the preacher shouts, it’s because of a personal struggle with the issue at hand.  You get worked up over what you are battling in your own life…  This is why those who judge will be judged.  It comes back like a boomerang…. I’m simply not smart enough to see anything other than what I know…  Identify the things that bother you most about other people and you’ll have a pretty good idea where your own problems lie.” 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee by John Fischer.

This principle explains why we saw the pre-exposure Elliot Spitzer yelling: “we shouldn’t go after the prostitutes!  We should be going after the MEN who are WITH the prostitutes.” The man he was prosecuting was himself.  Start paying attention to what upsets other people, and you’ll recognize that they are condemning things in themselves.  But remember: it’s something they’re not aware of.  We should bear in mind the words of Christ on the cross: “forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do.”  The Bible isn’t primarily about recognizing what’s wrong with other people.  It’s a mirror onto our own souls.

When I first read John Fischer’s paragraph about if we’re yelling, it’s at a problem we share, I put the book down and thought: “that’s not true.”  I had just gotten furious with a child for wanting to go to school in a snowstorm without a coat.  “I’m not like that,” I thought.  But having just read Fischer, I went deeper.  I went past my resistance and asked: why wouldn’t someone wear a coat in the cold?  The answer was simple: vanity.  “But I’m not v…” I started to say, then had to stop.  Hold it.  Didn’t I go out in ridiculously high heels?  Didn’t I wear a paper thin coat in the winter soemtimes?  Wasn’t I a victim of vanity?  Absolutely.  The interesting thing to me was that I hadn’t been aware of just how vain I was, until I was willing to ask the question: am I vain.  The implications were enormous: if this concept was true, did that mean that if I criticized 100 things a day in my heart as I walked around the streets of New York, was I seeing 100 of my own flaws a day?  The answer, I believe, is yes, and it’s one of the most humbling things I have encountered.

So instead of letting the enemy wind you up like a toy, and toss you around in the throes of violent anger and condemnation, use your anger.  Use your condemnation like a mirror: when you feel angry at someone else, when you feel your heart hardening in bitter condemnation, stop and ask God: “why am I angry?  And what of that is in me?”

God will show you flaws you didn’t know you had.  But that’s a good thing.  Because God never shows us our flaws in order to belittle us.  He doesn’t do it to make us wallow in self-hatred.  He puts his arm around our shoulders in love and says, “Let’s have a look at this.”  And in the context of his love, we look at our behavior and say: “ewww.”  That’s pretty much the only way to describe the reaction.  Because we don’t want to be like that.  And God responds:  “I was waiting for you to say that.  Come on.  Let’s work on it together.”

After all, it’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance.  Romans 2:4.  And the bottom line here is that the more we see how kind God is to us, the more he softens our hearts to be kind to others.  “The LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race… He made their hearts, so he understands everything they do.”  Ps. 33:13-15.  God already knows what’s in your heart, and He adores you.  Give him permission to get rid of the bad stuff.  Ask for his help.  He’ll take the forests out of your eyes, and you’ll see the trees clearly for the very first time.  Let him be your surgeon.  If you do, for once, you can look at your neighbor not with condemnation, but in love.  You can view people who get caught – like Elliot Spitzer with his prostitutes –  not as some sick pervert whom we get to condemn – but as a fellow traveller whom God loves.  It’s like seeing in color for the very first time.