Category Archives: Love

The Woman Forgiven For Adultery (Guest Post by Susan Cottrell)

Note from Liz:

I know a lot of people say “the internet” isolates people from real life and real relationships but my experience continues to prove that wrong. I have made so many wonderful connections and friends online and it continues to happen.

I recently connected with Linda Mueller Robertson after I read her heartbreaking and inspirational piece Learning To Truly Love Our Gay Son in The Huffington Post  and she invited me to join a group she started and that is where I connected with Susan Cottrell. 

Susan is a writer and speaker who also blogs at Freed Hearts. Her and I are both passionate about making the world a better, kinder, gentler and more loving place for lgbt people.  We both live in Texas (a few hours apart) and will be meeting in person later this month (I can’t wait).

Here is a piece that Susan wrote and posted on her blog recently in which she challenges us to look closer at the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman.

Drawing by Elaine Clayton

Drawing by Elaine Clayton

Remember the story of “Jesus Scattering Townspeople and Self-Righteous Men in the Name of Mercy and Justice”? Oh right, you may know it as, “The Woman Caught in Adultery.” I love that Jesus instantly knew the hearts of everyone involved. I love how Jesus never falls for any of it. I love that He lets her go!

It seems we rarely marvel at the whole picture of what is going on here. Instead – out of the entire story – many focus on Jesus’ parting words, translated, “Go and sin no more.” It’s also been translated to the softer, “Go and leave your life of sin,” but that doesn’t quite get it either. Instead, the translation I learned as a young Christian captures the heart of the situation and Jesus’ heart for people.

Jesus was not admonishing her to go do better, but inviting her to life, to His life. His message to this woman is, in essence: “You don’t have to live this way.” That is, “I offer you so much more than anything you’ve ever known.” This is true for several reasons.

First, let’s take a look at the setting: this woman had just been caught in adultery – most likely by the men who set it up to entrap Jesus (notice the man involved was not also caught). This is certainly not the first time they put their heads together to concoct a plan to bring Him down.

She is dragged out to the public square as an adulteress. Before Jesus. Before the crowd. Naked. Can you simply imagine the shame? I shudder to think of it. She knew that the consequence was to immediately be stoned to death.

Jesus then does the remarkable. Obviously stuck, obviously backed into a corner by these clever men who have succeeded in entrapping Him, Jesus has absolutely no way out. No way. Until He opens His mouth.

“You who are without sin cast the first stone.” The crowd is stunned. Flummoxed. This is not the way these situations were dealt with… ever. It takes a minute, but slowly the older men and then the younger ones drop their stones and turn away (most likely with guilt of their intended entrapment ringing in their ears, in addition to who-knows-what other skeletons they had hidden away). Only Jesus could have given such a mind-boggling response. Time and again in Scripture, Jesus circumvents their yes-or-no questions and gives an answer they never thought possible.

Then He turns to the woman. “Does no one condemn you?” “No one, Sir.” “Neither do I condemn you.” What?? You don’t? Why not? You have every right to condemn me under the law. Isn’t that what You do? Apparently not. But why not? That is part of the key to the puzzle of His following remark.

If Jesus used “Go and sin no more” as a mandate to go and rid her life of any sinful thought of action, He would have implied some condition, even though it came after her release. Like the policeman who lets you off with a warning might say, “Now, keep your speed down.” (Not that I have personal experience with this one…) The implication is, “I’m going to let you off this time, but don’t push your luck – and get out of here before I change my mind.” (That’s often the feel of, “Go and sin no more.”)

The trouble is, nobody goes and sins no more. Everybody sins and sins and sins. If she had the power to meet her own needs, or rid herself of her own sins, she would not have been tricked into this in the first place. Forget the heart, this interpretation would say. Forget dependence on God and just change your own behavior. But this is a fragmented concept, as if real change comes from the outside in, instead of inside out. Jesus always starts with the inside.

Further, if we think Jesus had to warn the woman in adultery not to do it again, we don’t grasp the situation. I’m pretty sure she got the message right then and there that if by some miracle she did not die on the spot from embarrassment, or from stoning, she would never, ever, no never, get caught in this situation, ever, again. The trouble is not voluntarily choosing to be in that situation again; the question is, how? How do I constantly find myself on the raw end of the deal? Why do I keep letting men like this take advantage of me? Why do I do this over and over again? How in the world do I find a way out from my broken and wounded heart? Anybody so shamed and humiliated would be searching for a way out, vowing never to let this happen again. That was the question Jesus answered! He always answers our real need! For Him to say, “You don’t have to live this way,” was astounding news for this woman! I don’t? She had to ask herself.No, Jesus was telling her, you don’t.

Jesus here makes an offer of deep healing. Jesus offers to make us a new creation, to break the bond of sin and death! He would not reduce his earth-shattering offer of life to a silly throwaway line that simply gives her more of the Pharisee’s lifeless medicine. That sounds more like exactly what Jesus criticized the Pharisees for, rather than reflecting the true, heart-focused Jesus.

“You don’t have to live this way” is consistent with Jesus’ offer to the woman at the well, whom He did not tell to stop living with her boyfriend, but instead offered her so much more than the scraps she was receiving. Likewise, He offers the woman caught in adultery freedom from the likes of these men who set up and expected her execution.

Jesus had compassion on the tenderhearted and showed them their need for Him. He never, ever shamed or humiliated people but instead gave them hope! Jesus soundly chastised only one group in His earthly life: the self-righteous religious leaders. This is the mode throughout His interactions.Come to Me for rest and peace and life – I will give you life. Rules don’t give life; rules produce death. To say, “Stop doing this,” would only heap death upon her shame and humiliation. But Jesus never did that! On the contrary, He heals the brokenhearted, He lifts our head, He offers hope and life.

To reduce Jesus’ words to “Go and sin no more” is to reduce the gravity of sin. It reduces Jesus’ work as some kind of moral cleanup instead of life from death! The only way to convince ourselves we’re able to “go and sin no more” is to reduce sin to something manageable. But Jesus said the very thought of sin is sin. He showed us that our sin is so large, so deeply rooted, and so unmanageable, that the only solution is to recognize that we desperately need Him!

The next time this interpretation is thrown at you as evidence of the seriousness of sin, as if you are not taking sin seriously enough because you don’t tell somebody to stop sinning, I entreat you to pause. Ask Jesus what to say. As hard as it is for humans to grasp a free-and-clear pardon, that is what Jesus offers. Don’t set that down and take up self-reform. Instead, let Him shape you personally, from the inside out, so that the sin areas fall away, replaced by the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and other attributes only the Spirit can bring. That is what He does!

 

 

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Little Things

This post is part of the January synchroblog “Serving Others In The New Year” 

I will put a list of all the synchroblog links at the end of this post when they become available.

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A few years ago I began the new tradition of choosing one word as a theme for the upcoming year.  The idea is that instead of making a list of specific New Year’s resolutions you choose one word that will serve as a sort of guide or inspiration for the whole year.

As I began this year I had several words that were floating around in my head but I couldn’t get comfortable choosing any one of them because they all seemed too “little” to be a theme for the whole year. And then it hit me that they were all connected to small acts of kindness that I had the opportunity to do or that had been done for me and “voila” my word for the year became “Kindness”.

I’m a firm believer that one of the best ways to make a big difference is through the little things so I am really excited about my 2013 word!

One thing that I’ve learned in the past few years is that I have to be intentional about my one word or else I end up forgetting about it the same way I often forgot about the list of New Year’s resolutions that I used to make.  For example, in 2011 my word was “Awaken” and I scheduled some specific activities on my calendar throughout the year, such as meditation, gardening, reading poetry, practicing silence etc., to help me stay connected to my one word.

To help me remember to be guided and influenced by the word “Kindness” this year I have made a list of little things that I am putting on my calendar.  I have a list of 24 things and plan to scatter them out so there are a couple of little things for me to do each month.

As always, I hope that this one word will help me become a better me and at the same time have a positive impact on the world I live in.

Here’s my list:

(1) Send a card or letter to someone letting them know how they have positively impacted my life.

(2) Pick a day of running errands and shopping to focus on people I can open doors for, help carry things to and from their car, let them go ahead of me in a waiting line, give them my seat in a waiting area or any other way that I can be kind on the spot to a stranger.

(3) Donate a favorite possession.

(4) Bring a snack to work to share with my co-workers.

(5) Offer someone an unexpected tip.

(6) Invite someone who is alone over for dinner.

(7) Compliment a stranger sincerely.

(8) Listen intently.

(9) Give someone a flower just because.

(10) Donate books to the local library.

(11) Bake something delicious and give it to a neighbor.

(12) Buy some extra groceries and take them to the local food bank.

(13) Leave a favorite book in a public place with a note.

(14) Tell family members what is special about them.

(15) Send an anonymous gift.

(16) Leave an extra big tip for a waitperson.

(17) Return someone’s shopping cart for them.

(18) Pay for the person behind me in a drive thru.

(19) Take the time to let management know how much I appreciate

a specific employee and the way they served me.

(20) Take my already read magazines to a senior center.

(21) Send a care package to someone that is spending a significant time away from home (a military person or a college student for example).

(22) Drop off something delicious at a local fire station.

(23) Pick up trash everywhere I go for one weekend.

(24) Slip a $20 gas card or public-transportation pass into someone’s

shopping bag with a note.

 

Here is a list of the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

 

Advent 2012 – Sometimes Dreams Do Come True

This post is part of the December Synchroblog “Tell Me A Story” in which we are invited to tell an Advent story from our own life.  I will provide a list of the other contributors at the end of this post as they become available. I hope you will check them all out!

“The hard work of Advent reflection and waiting is mingled with the gift of time and space to dream new dreams, to bathe in pools of hope, and to stretch the canvas of our imagination wide enough for God to paint God’s own visions for our lives. Advent is a season for our imagination to run wild as we contemplate a God who becomes human. We are given a wider glimpse of God when we allow Advent to be an invitation to dream beyond our comfort zones of what we think can happen in our lives and what God can do. In Advent we receive four weeks to dwell on what God’s vision might be for us and for those we touch. Four weeks to dwell on how the courage of expanding our imagination might feed into the growing kingdom of God. Four weeks to gather our wits about us for another year; preparing our bodies, minds and spirits to receive the Christ child and take him out into the world for others to see and praise, worship and obey; the Christ with whom we dream big and imagine wildly.” 

Taken from the Preface of Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent  By Enuma Okoro

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Years ago I had a dream that I was a student at an elite dance academy.  In the dream I was “a dancer” and I loved to dance and I loved the dance class. But I wasn’t just a dancer or someone who loved to dance, I was a very good dancer and I knew it and took great pride in the fact.

There was an important upcoming production that all the students were auditioning for and I was quite certain that I would get a part but I didn’t and I was very disappointed.

Next thing I know I am rehearsing with the dancers who were going to be in the show because one of them got sick, had to drop out and I was chosen to take her place. I was very excited and felt that I was just where I should be. The instructor was giving us direction and correcting us as we were rehearsing and then suddenly the rehearsal was over. As we were all walking out, the instructor asked me to stay behind for a moment. After the other dancers left she told me that I wouldn’t be able to be in the show because I just wasn’t good enough. I was crushed and devastated. I began to cry. I realized that I was not only disappointed about not being in the production but I was also very disappointed that the instructor did not think I was good.  How could this be happening to a good dancer like me?  If my good dancing didn’t make the instructor like me what in the world could I do to earn her approval and affection?

Then the scene suddenly changed, the way it does in dreams, and I was in a huge industrial kitchen.  I had no idea what I was doing there or why I was wearing a chef’s coat. I looked around and found a man preparing some food at one of the nearby steel counters. I walked over to him and asked him what was going on. He told me the Executive Chef was looking for a new Sous Chef and wanted to talk to me. I was completely dumbfounded! I knew I wasn’t much of a cook and certainly not capable of being a chef.  Why in the world would he want to talk to me? Where did I even get the chef’s coat I was wearing?  How did I get here? What in the world was going on?

Then suddenly a tall man all decked out in chef’s attire walked towards me with a huge smile on his face.

“Congratulations, Liz,” he said, “you got the job.”

“What job?” I asked.

He went on to explain that I had been awarded the Sous Chef position.

“But I’m not a good cook,” I exclaimed.

He just looked at me with that smile on his face and said, “I know … It’s because I love you.”

And then I woke up.

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Sometimes dreams do come true.

So go ahead this Advent season and dream big and imagine wildly!

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Here are the links to all the December Synchroblog posts:

Carol Kuniholm writing at Words Half Heard

Jeremy Myers tells us about Santa Clausette

Liz Dyer celebrates Dreams Do Come True

Leah Sophia digs in with Planting Hope

Glen Hager reveals a story of Christmas Surgery

Kathy Escobar wrestles with holiday expectations

Wendy McCaig  ponders storytelling in  Once Upon A Time

Quotes Worth Repeating: Teaching Creating Loving

“When you die, only three things will remain of you, since you will abandon all material things on the threshold of the otherworld:

what you have taught to others, what you have created with your hands and how much love you have spread.

So learn more and more in order to teach wise, long-lasting values.

Work more and more to leave the world things of great beauty.

And love, love, love people around you for the light of love heals everything.”

-Francois Bourillion-

A Beautiful Mess

This post is part of the October Synchroblog “Down We Go”.  This month’s theme explores the idea of Jesus calling us to go down into the low and messy places of life–intersecting with the lepers, the lonely, the outcasts, the marginalized – to live a life of humility, love, and interdependence.

There is a lot of talk these days about Christians getting their hands dirty – about how followers of Christ need to be willing to get down into the mess of life.  This kind of talk scares off some people as they begin to try and imagine what that means and what it would require.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t require that people take the drastic measures they usually imagine.

If you want to join in the mess of life just become a part of a community.

Yes, you heard me right.

I know a lot of people think that being involved in a community is one of the easier things that a follower of Christ has to do.

But the reality is that community is hard – community is messy.

Community is messy because people are messy.

Different opinions, different perspectives of right and wrong, different understandings of scripture, different ideas about how to do things, different backgrounds, different histories, different strengths and weaknesses, different personalities, different desires, different passions, different talents, different interests … I could go on but you get the idea.

All of our differences are what makes community so hard and messy.

But it is among the messiness and the challenges and the difficulties that we learn how to be like Christ.

The way to learn how to become like Jesus is to love. The only way we can learn how to love is to practice it in close relationship, and have our lives rub up against each other, including doing so with people who are different from us. Loving people just like us is not that difficult. Loving people who never change, who bug the hell out of us, who aren’t kind or thankful, who don’t pass on grace even though they’ve received heaps of it—that requires much more work. In other words, love is best practiced in the spaces that require it. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus challenges us to—to live into the spaces that only come through a path of descent?”    Kathy Escobar from “Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus”

Someone might wonder why in the world anyone would ever want to be a part of something so horrible as community.

Maybe it is because the sharing of life – the accomplishments, the milestones, the aha moments, the discoveries, the ideas, the experiences are all so much more meaningful and exhilarating and worthwhile when they are shared within a community.  The failures, the difficulties, the losses, the set-backs, the disappointments, the losses, the injustices, the wrongs of life are all so much more bearable when endured within a community.

The thing about community is that it is like washing down a bitter pill with a very sweet and delectable nectar … even though community is hard and messy, it is a beautiful mess.

For more on this idea pick up Kathy Escobar’s book “Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus” and check out the other posts for this month’s synchroblog by following the links listed here:

Quotes Worth Repeating: The longing for love

 

“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy — ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness — that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it, finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined.”

-From the prologue of Bertrand Russell’s autobiography

God Breaking Through Moments

This post is part of the January 2011 Synchroblog  “The Manifestation Of God”.  This month’s synchroblog is inspired by The Season Of Epiphany, which runs from January 6 to the day before Ash Wednesday.  You can find a list of all participants at the end of this post.

An “epiphany” is a sudden realization, a breakthrough discovery, a brilliant idea, a light bulb coming on, one of those “AHA!” moments.

For instance … Archimedes, the Greek Philosopher, who discovered the law of buoyancy (known as The Archimedes Principle) had an epiphany one day when he stepped into his bathtub.

The story goes that the king of the day wanted a new crown made entirely of gold.  After the goldsmith made it, the king was suspicious that the goldsmith had made it of iron or silver and coated it with gold. The king did not want to destroy the crown in case it was gold, so he asked Archimedes to figure out if it was pure gold or not without destroying the crown. Archimedes thought about this day in and day out until one day while getting into his bath he discovered the principle that bears his name. Supposedly, he was so excited and anxious to share his discovery that he jumped out of the bathtub and ran through the streets naked shouting “Eureka!” (which in Greek meant “I found it!”)

We have all had those types of experiences when a solution or a realization seems to pop into our mind out of nowhere, but in reality the idea has come from within ourselves and has been produced from our own ability to think and reason.

And then … there is another kind of “epiphany” – it shares the idea of realization, discovery and light bulbs coming on – but it is different in that it isn’t produced because of our own thinking and reasoning – this epiphany comes to us through a Manifestation of God. It is a revealing, a shining forth, an appearance. God reveals something to us and “Eureka!” we have an epiphany – about God, ourselves, truth, others, love, suffering, life etc. etc. We could not have arrived where these epiphanies take us by our own ability to think and reason – it is not an experience that we can create from within, it requires “God breaking through”. These kinds of experiences – these “God breaking through” moments – always change us.

As D. H. Lawrence said, “people can do anything they want with an idea, but a truly new experience changes everything. Before you can do anything with it, it does something with you.”

The problem with these epiphanies is that when you describe them to others they often sound rather unimpressive. Of course, there are exceptions – a burning bush, a talking donkey, the transfiguration of Jesus – but for most of us it is something we hear or observe or read and when we go to relay the story and our epiphany to someone else they look at us like “how did you get that out of that???” But we know! We know that God has broken through to us because we have realized or discovered something (and in a way) that only God could have expressed or revealed.

Sometimes I have had a “God breaking through” moment about something that I thought I already knew and, in a way I did know it, but only in my head (as they say) – not in my heart – not in the way I needed to know it – not in the way that it formed me.

For instance, years ago I was preparing to speak to a group of Christian women around Valentines Day.  Well, I was preparing to prepare … in other words, I had no idea what I was going to say. I figured that love was a good subject but had no good ideas about what I should say about love. I was becoming pretty anxious about it as the event was only a few days away. I was new in the community and I wanted to be liked and accepted. I wanted to say something worthy, memorable, profound about love – something that would endear me to this new group that I wanted to fit in with. I went to sleep that night asking God to give me “something good” to say and also asking myself why in the world I had accepted the invitation to speak.

At some point during the night I dreamt that I was a student at an elite dancing academy.  I loved it there and I loved my instructor. I was a good student, a good dancer and I had a good relationship with my instructor. I was trying out for an upcoming show and I felt confident that I would be accepted for one of the parts, but when the instructor read off the names of those who made it into the show my name was absent. I was shocked and disappointed. How could she not pick me? I was very good and she liked me. Why?

Next thing I know (you know how dreams jump around) I am rehearsing with the dancers who were going to be in the show because one of them got sick, had to drop out and I was chosen to take her place. I was very excited and felt that I was just where I should be. The instructor was giving us direction and correcting us as we were rehearsing and then suddenly the rehearsal was over. As we were all walking out, the instructor asked me to stay behind for a moment. After the other dancers left she told me that I wouldn’t be able to be in the show because I just wasn’t good enough yet. I was crushed and devastated. I began to cry.

All of a sudden I realize I am standing in a humongous industrial kitchen. I really have no idea what I am doing there or why I am wearing a chef’s coat. I look around and find a man preparing some food at one of the nearby steel counters. I walk over to him and ask him what is going on. He tells me the Executive Chef is looking for a new Sous Chef and wants to talk to me. I’m dumbfounded! I am not much of a cook and much less a chef.  Why in the world would he want to talk to me? Where did I even get this chef’s coat?  How did I get here? What in the world is going on?

Just when I am about to run out of there the Executive Chef walks in.  He walks right up to me, hands me a chef’s hat and says, “Liz, I want you to be my new Sous Chef.”

I stare at him in disbelief and can only manage to ask, “Why?”

He just looks at me and says, “Because I love you.”

At that very moment I woke up.

“Eureka!” I knew in a way that I had never known before that God loved me unconditionally – not because I was good at something – not because I performed well – not because of what I knew or had learned or perfected – he loved me and accepted me – period.

I also had an idea (hope?) that being accepted and loved by my new community wasn’t going to be based on my ability to give a good presentation.

And on top of that I had what I needed to give my presentation.

Sure, I would have told you before that dream that God’s love for me was not based on my performance – but after that dream it was real to me.  I didn’t just know what someone had taught me or what I had read – I knew it in my heart in a way that would change me and change the way I would prepare to speak before a crowd, the way I would approach a new community, the way I would take care of my family, the way I would help others, the way I would be a friend, the way I would think, the way I would live.  I knew it in a way that made me more vulnerable, more transparent, more real, more me.

It was one of those “God Breaking Through” moments and I was forever changed.

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I will post the list of participants here as they become available:

Mike Victorino – What To Do?

Beth Patterson – A Robust Universe Includes The Botched and Bungled

Jeff Goins – Epiphany: The Manifestation Of God

Jeremy Myers – Pagan Prophecies Of Christ

Mark Smith – Manifestation Of God

Minnow – When God Shows Up

Alan Knox – A Day I Saw Jesus

Ellen Haroutunian – Stories of Epiphany

Liz Dyer – God Breaking Through Moments

Kathy Escobar – orphans

Josh Morgan – The Manifestation Of God

Steve Hayes – Theophany: the manifestation of God

Sarah Bessey – In which Annie opens the door of her heart

Christine Sine – Eve of Epiphany – We Have Come, We Have Seen, Now We Must Follow

Tammy Carter – Paralysis In His Presence

Katherine Gunn – Who Is God

Peter Walker – Epiphany Outside Theophany (Outside Christianity)

Annie Bullock – God With Us

Jacob Boelman – Where God Shows Up