Letter #7


Letter #7

The holiday season makes its appearance every year offering us the opportunity to revisit the direction that our life has been taking. Many of us slip into the festivities of Christmas and New Years without giving any substantive thought to the time that lies ahead. Nor do many of us spend time thinking about our past and what we would change if it were possible to do so. It seems much easier to ignore the obvious given our current situations. For many of us the impact of rejection has brought us to a place in life where we attempt to maintain ourselves in the context of personal pain, avoiding any reminders that bring us into contact with those ugly and searing moments which have shaped our bitterness and isolation from God and others. Rejection provides us with the opportunity to build walls around us to protect ourselves from the intense feelings that these encounters these moments generate in our hearts and minds. The end result is that we are cut off from any real hope and we stand alone. That is the legacy of rejection.

We do not need to dig deeply into our memories to find those painful encounters, including the ultimate rejection, a death sentence by a society that has given up on us as human beings. In that silent encounter with the haunting voices of our past, we try to find some meaning in the lessons of our lives. That is a difficult road to walk alone, since we are often the ones that beat ourselves harder than anyone else. We know all of the failures and defeats of our lives and we know them all too well. In the privacy of our minds it becomes easier to join the many voices around us in agreement that we are hopeless and helpless: Total failures. And so we live out our days trying to hold onto some semblance of life as a meaningful experience. What I have discovered is that for me it is impossible to pull meaningfulness out of a lifetime of disasters and tragedies. By myself I am completely unable to define any true sense of meaning or purpose in my life or my actions. That awareness leaves us feeling totally empty and useless: No hope for the future, just the wreckage of my life and the painful effects I have had on the lives of others.

No wonder we become bitter and self-centered. If I do not pull myself out of the pit I have created then no one else will do that for me. As we grasp at the slippery walls of this self-made pit we come to realize that we are totally incapable of climbing out of that pit by ourselves. That is when many of us give up and silently join in condemning ourselves. We then become as bad as we can possibly be, as if to confirm the opinions of others about our worth and value. We often just give up and abandon ourselves to pursuing wickedness and perversion in our lives. Looking into society’s mirror we see no hope of personal redemption. We cease to be people of hope and faith. We are defeated, awaiting the comfort, the silence and finality of death.

This is the essence of the struggle between good and evil. We have been led down the road to believe that we are worthless, without any hope or value. We see ourselves as unredeemable, helpless in our shame and pain. That is what satan would have us believe about ourselves. It is a lie straight out of hell. And we buy into that lie because we cannot see ourselves as having any worth or value. So we surrender to the belief that we are totally without hope. Please remember that in the Bible, satan is called the father of lies. That is how he lures us into giving up on ourselves: When we agree with his lie than we are giving up on ourselves. God says that we are made in His likeness and image. That is what He says about us. No matter how vile or wicked our deeds have been, He sees us as His precious children, worthy of His love. So who are you going to believe, the father of lies or Your Creator? I believe in your eternal value and worth. That is why I write to you each month. I see you as brothers and sisters. I believe what God has said about all of us in His word, we have all sinned and are therefore unworthy. That simply means that NO MATTER what you have done in the past, He has provided a way back to His love for you. He has loved us so much that He sent His only Son to pay the ultimate penalty to pay the eternal price that His justice demands. What love and what a profound sacrifice for all sinners. Please stop and realize that EVERYONE has sinned and violated the laws of God. Whether it is a politician who lies to the people, a shopkeeper who cheats his customers, a wife who commits adultery, a child who lies or steals or men and women have taken the lives of others. It is all sin and none are worthy of His love and forgiveness by themselves. Sin, all sin is wicked before a loving God. Therefore we are all desperately in need of a Redeemer who has paid the price for our sins.  That Redeemer is Jesus Christ who paid the full price for all of our sins.  Now why would He do that for us? The answer is LOVE: A deep and profound love for each of us. That love is demonstrated visibly for all to see how God values each of us as individuals created in His image and likeness.

Let’s talk about rejection, the ultimate rejection. There was One who was the object of scorn and rejection even before His birth and after His death. When His mother was pregnant, she was accused of bearing her Child out of wedlock. As a small child King Herod (the King of the Jews) heard about this child’s birth and how ancient scriptures had foretold the story of His birth. He became enraged that a child had been born who might replace him as King of the Jews (Herod had already had his brother-in-law and two sons killed so that they would not replace him as king). Herod ordered that all baby boys two years and younger who had been born in Bethlehem be killed to eliminate the Christ child. So Mary and Joseph took the Child and fled to Egypt until Herod was dead. Even as a small infant He was rejected for the role He would fulfill in transforming the world and redeeming us from the burdens of our sins.

Later in His adulthood, religious leaders accused Him of being illegitimate, as a way of trying to discredit His teachings. During the course of His ministry the words were rejected by those who claimed to be the leaders. In fact His words of truth had such a profound effect upon those who hated Him because they hit home with accuracy. Do you remember the saying….”the truth hurts?”Well the truth cut the religious leaders deeply because His words spoke of the sin in their own lives. That led to more rejection and eventually those very same leaders came to the conclusion that He had to die. So they watched and waited, observing all that He did in His Father’s name. They looked for some way to destroy Him, even though they also witnessed His miracles. Out of their hurt pride, the leaders were determined to kill Him. Now that is rejection when you have done nothing wrong, when you have only told the truth and done good for people and they want to kill you. It became a deep and abiding hatred of Him and everything that He represented. They returned hate for love, even though this was the people who had been called to be God’s chosen people. In rejecting Him, they were also rejecting the Father who had sent Him. But they were blinded by their hatred.

Eventually they chose an opportunity to seize Him and conducted a secret trial at the high priest’s house. The only problem with this set up was that no two witnesses could agree on what it was that He was supposed to have done to offend God’s law. At that trial He confirmed that He was the Son of God and the high counsel immediately accused Him of committing blasphemy against God. They used that as their basic to make a death penalty case against Him. With Jesus bound, they brought Him before Pilate to judge Him in accordance with Jewish law. Pilate was the Roman governor of the province but really he was nothing more than a political appointee, but in reality he was there to make sure that the taxes were collected and that law and order were maintained in this region. Despite having told the leaders and the crowds with them that he found no wrong in Jesus, they continued to demand His death, and being a man without character, Pilate condemned Jesus Christ to death to appease the crowds. He knew that he was condemning an innocent man, but he reasoned that it would keep the people happy and he would keep his job. So Jesus Christ was crucified, the ultimate rejection.

The Jewish leaders rejected His words and after His death on that cross they went back to Pilate telling him that the dead body of Jesus was an offense to them hanging there on the cross that they had demanded. So Pilate ordered that the body be taken down. Then they demanded that the tomb be guarded, so that the followers of Jesus would not come and steal His dead body. So even in death and after burial they were still rejecting Him. From His conception until His ascension into heaven Jesus has stirred the hearts of men and women, because He told the truth and lived out the call to love others as we love ourselves. The end result is that His law of love lives within each of our hearts and we can choose to live out that calling to bless others or we can choose to live for ourselves. To many people unfamiliar with Christianity, it seems illogical to love others first. Too many of those who call themselves Christians profess to love God but actually live out their lives only for themselves. If we really love Him, then our lives are not only redeemed by His sacrifice on the cross, but our lives are also transformed by the grace and influence of the Holy Spirit. I cannot change anything about myself, but the grace and mercy of God actually changes my very nature when I accept His Son Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ knows all about rejection. He knows it on the most intimate basis, from indifference to hatred. He knows what has happened in your life and is the only One who can relate to all of your experiences from an intimate knowledge of you.

Living on death row you know the rejection of society. For many in this situation, this is only the most recent of rejection experiences. Society stands ready to take your life for the crimes of which you have been convicted. On the other hand, Jesus Christ stands with you in that cell and offers you life more abundantly then you have ever known. It is not just the here and now physical life of which He has been speaking, but the life of your spirit which will live eternally. We are all made of Body, Mind and Spirit. The Body and Mind will pass at some point, but your spirit and mine will live on for all eternity. I can spend all of my efforts focused upon the here and now of my current existence, or I can allow my spirit to become transformed by the Holy Spirit. It is not something that I can do by myself, either starting or stopping it. It is totally a gift from outside of ourselves. But God will not push His way into our lives without an invitation. That is because He gave each of us free will to choose.  All it takes is a quiet moment and whispered prayer, Lord I have really blown it all my life. I can’t do anything about my life and all of my sins, but I believe You and take You on your Word. Please help me, I need You.

I know that you have heard these words at other times and perhaps they never made sense until now. All I need to do is ask for forgiveness and it will be given unto me. With that forgiveness the Holy Spirit starts to change and transform my life. All I need to do is ask and it will be freely given to me and you. Would you let pride, arrogance and a stony heart stand in the way of being loved by the same God who gave you and me life and His Son? We both know what our best thinking got us, most of us have known profound pain and shame, but put up those walls to protect what lays deep in our hearts. We all want and need to be loved for who we are. I can tell you about this with my words, but they are so limited. These words cannot possibly convey the experience of knowing you are loved by God and that your life and times are in His hands.

So why would God love me so much after all the wrong that I have done? That is a good question and it has a simple answer: MERCY. In His infinite wisdom, God knew of my fallen nature and how satan would use my weaknesses to trip me up with sin over and over again. God also knew that though I might wish with all my heart to love Him, it was impossible to do so by myself because my sin separates me from Him. To overcome that great separation He sent His son to die for you and me so that those sins would not keep us out of a relationship with Him. Mercy is not giving me what I really deserve to get. More than most people living in the free world, you are likely to understand the concept of mercy very well. It is something that we all hope for and long for, but usually do not receive. Well the good news is that God is always willing to extend you His mercy, if you will just ask Him. That is a Father’s great love for His children. Love and mercy are very intimate and personal matters between two individuals who have great affections for each other. Do you understand that God looks upon your life with love and affection? You are His precious child: He gave you life. He wants to bless you even now, where you are. Won’t you open the doorway to your heart just a small crack and ask Him about this great love that He has for you? Won’t you let yourself be comforted by His concern for you?

I am not writing to you about something that I have read about or heard from others. I write you these letters out of my experience with His love and His infinite capacity to change even the worst life into something of great value and precious in His sight. I share these things with you because I see your worth and value. If my own soul has infinite value to God, then so does your own soul. Therefore as thoughts of rejection come to mind in the days to come, I invite you to consider the mercy of God as an alternative. In your case and mine, Mercy is the antidote for rejection. After all why would God the Father Almighty send His Son Jesus Christ to die for you and me? If even one of us were beyond His redemption, then this would have been a waste on the cross. Ask Him yourself with a sincere heart and you will find the answer. It is the Holy Spirit’s role to help guide us through life: May you find Him now. Mercy flows like a mighty river through our lives washing away the pain and destruction of rejection. What I have been talking about is relationship, not religion, not rituals, nor issues of doctrine or dogma. I am talking about having a relationship with the Father who sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay the price for all of our sins. One who loves us so much He would die for us so that we could spend eternity with Him. If you have never had this kind of a relationship it is time for a quiet chat between you and Jesus Christ. You will never be the same person again, once you catch a glimpse of His infinite love for you.

A PARABLE OF FORGIVESS:  PERHAPS THE REST OF THE STORY?

Once upon a time a wretched man found himself standing on the edge of eternity; on that cusp between life and death itself. He could offer nothing in mitigation for his offenses. Nor could he plead a case for which mercy might be justified. He stood knowing that in moments his fate would be sealed. With nothing to offer in defense, he moved onto the public platform of justice. It was his first encounter with that look of love.

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Not more than an hour before he had been preparing himself to die for his crimes. Now he stood, apart from the crowd still trying to make sense of what had just happened.  He was trying to understand the dramatic turn of events which took him from confinement by chains in a moment’s time to freedom within the community.  He was aware that he was caught up in the emotions which seemed to sweep over the towns-people. Slowly, almost with reluctance, he had climbed the narrow stone pathway with the others who were excited to witness the free entertainment, another execution.

What troubled his thinking was the sure and certain knowledge that it was him who was to have been executed that day! He looked about him and noted that those who had jeered and yelled the loudest in the crowd before the judgment seat, were now standing sullen and withdrawn, as if they were experiencing disappointment with the quiet scene which they were witnessing. Perhaps for the first time in his life, he was experiencing fear and a strangely personal, inability to understand what was happening.

Hours before he had stood on the platform opposite this quiet stranger. No words had passed between them, nor would they have been heard over the roar of the crowd. Unbelievably the crowd was calling out his name. Barabbas! Give Us Barabbas, they yelled with a fury. This scene kept replaying in his mind, still struggling with the reality of being saved from the appointed punishment. He had prepared himself for his impending death, but how could he understand what had just happened? Emotions surged within him, a great flood of relief swept over his tired body. But what of the stranger who had stood nearby: This stranger who was substituted for him, by the cry of the crowd.

They had only exchanged a long glance, but it had a troubling effect upon his thoughts. Barabbas knew that he was guilty of his crimes, but this other man presented no hardness of expression which was so common among the prisoners. Instead His eyes held this strange quality of compassion and sadness, so odd in one just condemned to death. That glance seemed to bring with it a shadow which troubled his spirit. Something had passed between them in that unspoken moment, but Barabbas could not identify the source of his discomfort.

What should have been a time of great joy was overshadowed by the awareness of a new reality. Someone else was going to die for him! His price had been paid, but why? Why was this man condemned, while another was set free? At some deeply personal level, Barabbas was beginning to understand that he had just played a bit part in some remarkable drama which was manifesting around him. His normal boisterous manner was strangely quieted as he searched his environment for a hint of meaning, some way to make sense of these events.

From the highly visible platform of judgment he had made his way to the anonymity of the welcoming crowd. His ability to hide in this surge of humanity had helped quell his fears. Surely Pilate would soon realize that a terrible mistake had been made. Once discovered, the authorities would seek to capture him again and cut him off from the land of the living. It was as if the crowd offered him a strange sense of obscurity, an opportunity to meld in with others, so he surrendered himself to the nameless shadows pressing in and surged forward. For these brief moments he did not have to think or consider his options, he was safe in the press of the crowd, as they swept toward the Via Dolorosa.

Stumbling forward onto the well worn path, he felt himself being shoved toward the nearby wall as others made way for the Roman guards who were forcing a clearing through the crowd. They were escorting their prisoner to His death. In that briefest of moments, their eyes locked together again. How was this possible? In the midst of this mindless crowd, they had again shared a connection across time and space.

He had previously made the decision to dispel his troubled notions about these events. Now he was again thrust into another unwanted meeting with this man, the man with sad eyes.  Barabbas knew that his plans dissipated in the instant of that second random glance. This man was going to die for him, but why? That unsettling knowledge permeated his thoughts. This was a personal matter playing out between them. Why? Suddenly realizing that these were not chance encounters, Barabbas turned his face away in shame which he was unable to explain. This surge of emotions was overpowering and frightening, His mask of indifference was beginning to melt and for the first time he felt tears streaming from his eyes.

The hero of villainy began to experience deep gut wrenching sobs which he was not able to explain. Never before in his memory had he experienced the flow of hot tears on his cheeks. He was at a loss to comprehend the meaning of these events and in a moment of shame, sought to hide his face from the others. He had seen men die before, he had witnessed the barbaric tortures of his times, but he was deeply troubled for a man he did not know; a stranger whose glance had penetrated the awful shield of hatred and callousness which had accumulated over the years.

That look shattered the carefully constructed façade of self-confidence. Once more he experienced the uncertainty of boyhood and he was suddenly shaken by the emotionally destabilizing influence of fear. Barabbas felt overcome by this strange flood of emotion. Hatred he knew. He was comfortable in the familiar presence of hatred, where men did their best to destroy each other in the various arenas of life. Hatred was a comforting place, a resting stop on the weary path of life. Hatred had inspired him to slash his way forward, through anything he deemed to be a challenge to his way of life. Yes, hatred was a welcomed quality to a man who had built his life on violence and selfishness.

Now, when he had arrived at the pinnacle of life, he had evaded the very jaws of death itself by force of personality and reputation. Yet he stood alone, fearful and frightened in the middle of the very crowd that had just saved his life. When he should be at his peak, instead he was reduced to an all encompassing uncertainty about what he actually believed. Here he was the winner of this odd contest between the stranger and himself. But a mere glance had penetrated his inner most defenses. The One, who was dying, seemed to have pity on the one who had evaded death.

He numbly followed the movement of the crowd and found himself standing by, as the stranger was affixed to the monstrous cross. Lifting him up, the Roman guards grunted under the strain. Those standing about became silent, giving way to the quietness sweeping the crowd. For the third time, he experienced the searing touch of the strangers glance. It was not an empty look of one about to give up His life, but rather it was the gaze of compassion and love one might associate with the expression of a parent love of a child. Barabbas knew that somehow this look was searing in its ability to strip away his mask of ruthlessness.

He was filled with an unquenchable emotional thirst, as he moved forward to hear the words of this stranger. He needed to grasp each word and examine its meaning, lest each be lost like some precious jewels. The thirst was strangely abated as he pondered the stranger’s expression “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He was praying for those who were responsible for His death! What manner of man was this? Tears again formed in Barabbas’s eyes, as he noted that the stranger was paying the price for his crimes. Troubled relief was replaced by overwhelming grief.

Not a word had been exchanged between them, yet Barabbas understood that a relationship existed between the two of them. The stranger had been willing to die in his place. How could this be so? This fact alone, so moved him with a flood of emotions, that he understood he would always be unable to articulate the strange relationship between himself and this stranger. His life had been strangely transfigured by a series of unwanted interactions. He was trapped inside of his own experience with this stranger, unable to explain his journey to anyone.

Some in the crowd pointed toward a small group of women clustered near the foot of the cross. One said that the stranger’s mother was standing nearby. Barabbas was drawn to these mourners, like an insect might be drawn to a light. More than anything, he needed to know this stranger who was dying in his place. Awkwardly he asked those standing on the fringe of the grieving women, “what is His name?” Softly, the name was whispered, “Jesus, He is Jesus of Nazareth. He is Jesus, the Christ.” The response was whispered with a sense of awe and reverence.

His body was fatigued and his countenance was burdened by the unsettling events to which he had been exposed: Life transforming events.  Still caught up in the mystery of these unfolding events, he stood by, watching, watching Jesus on the cross. Knowing that he was a witness to events beyond his comprehension, he stood by resigned to letting the moments wash through his life, as if healing waters were flowing over him. In those somber moments leading up to the death of Jesus, the stranger, Barabbas knew that his life had been transformed by an unknowable truth. This Jesus had died for him, out of an act of personal love.

The afternoon merged with evening as the crowds began to drift away. Barabbas was not a religious man, but he understood the cultural drama being played out in his midst. The stranger’s head had slumped forward in death. The crowds grew weary of watching the macabre spectacle, once they had acknowledged His death. The sky darkened, rolling back any hint of daylight. It was as if the very heavens were crying over the travesty which had just happened.

Barabbas knew that he had witnessed an important event. This was not an event about him, but about life itself. He could not get that look out of his mind: This Jesus who had died in his place without any claim of injustice. The very notion of someone willing to die for him transfixed Barabbas as the winds and rain enveloped him. Unrecognized emotions swept over him as he recognized that a blasphemous trade had just been executed. An innocent man had died in his place.

Even here, suspended in time, reality mandated a return to the demands of Passover:  It was time to take leave of the events of this day. In haste, the broken body had been taken down and removed for burial. Among those who still remained, the activities of life had somehow returned demanding accommodation, even in this place of death. The crowds intuitively drifted away, seemingly satisfied with the drama they had witnessed.

Barabbas moved among the others. His spirit could not acknowledge their presence; he could only consider the hauntingly vivid memory of the events which he had just experienced; a personal encounter with salvation.

PRAYER FOR FAMILIES

Lord, You know everything about my life, my hopes and dreams and my sins and failures. Among the things that I find to be particularly painful are my thoughts about my family members, spouse and children who I offended through my actions. I wish with all my heart that I could change things for them, but I am totally powerless to help them at this time. I bring my loved ones to you and place them in Your care. I know that you love them and will comfort them in the days to come. Please Lord, heal the wounds that I have created and grant them Your Peace and Love. Help me to keep them lifted up in daily prayer and to communicate with them in ways that build up their spirits to carry on. Please Lord, touch the lives of those who have offended me and my family with your forgiveness. Help me to forgive them and heal my wounds. I am a sinful person who can do nothing by myself, but I ask this of You based upon Your promises in Your Holy Bible.  ******

In the future the topic of rejection will be revisited again since there is so much to discuss about this issue and how it shapes us as people and the way we respond to other people. That letter will be called rejection II. Be Blessed.

 

 
 

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