What is all this freedom for?

Our country, our world, is full of anger. Groups rise up to strike those they believe have deprived them. Demand rights. Claim freedom from constraints that feel like shackles. Individuals flare up with road rage, domestic abuse, even mass murder. As I hung our American flag today I wondered, what is all this freedom for? American Flag
The people who worked and died to found our country had a vision for a freedom based on sacrifice. When they declared independence and battled to procure it, some lost their lives or the lives of their sons. Many lost homes and property.

How did we gravitate to the point that one man takes another’s life or dignity in the name of freedom? Where the rights of one person negate the lives of thousands? Where freedom is only allowed for “me, myself and I” and those who agree with me?

Today I salute the flag, and am grateful for a country where I can still worship, speak, and write in freedom. (And I pray these freedoms continue, no matter who disagrees with me.) I am indebted to those who fought to maintain freedom here and around the world, as well as those who stand guard today, not knowing where the next suicide bomber will appear.

But I can’t help wondering, with so much hatred, anger and animosity, what is all this freedom for?

Though burdened with the pain and suffering of those close and far, I circle back to the One who guides my life, who said,

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look:

‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere?

Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it.
If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back,
giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it.

And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.
No more tit-for-tat stuff.

Live generously.

You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’

I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies.

Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.

When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.

This is what God does.

He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.

If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that.

If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal?
Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

In a word, what I’m saying is,

Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it.

Live out your God-created identity.

Live generously and graciously toward others,

the way God lives toward you.”

Matt 5 38-48 MSG
photo by Jack H Thompson, Jr, Ft Jefferson, Dry Tortuguas

Have you found that sweet space, even if for a moment, when you know you are working out of your true self, your God-created self?

Is this a Good Friday for you?

cross in dish by EZ
cross in dish by EZ

Isaiah 53:1-6 The Message

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.

But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.

We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.

But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!

He took the punishment, and that made us whole.

Through his bruises we get healed.

We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.

We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.

And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,on him, on him.

crosses in dish by EZ
crosses in dish by EZ

Got Love?

Valentines Day. Card manufacturers, gift shops and florists love it. Probably even the post office loves it. Chocolate confectioners count on this day to keep them in the red, as do purveyors of red roses.

But for all the candy hearts and red balloons, cards and restaurant dinners, I’m willing to guess that only a tiny percentage of people feel loved, a tiny percentage of the time.

Children feeling pushed, criticized or ignored by parents, or worse, abused.

Parents frustrated with the ungrateful child, or mourning the anger or loss of a prodigal, offspring they poured their lives and hearts into, only to be shredded in the offing.

Singles yearning for a mate, a partner on the other side of the table, someone to wake up with and grow old with.

Marrieds yearning for a connection to that partner across the table, fearful of growing old in a frozen wasteland.

Love my brother
Love my brother

Our hearts yearn for love, we seek to love, and yet, even in the best of times, fall short. Sometimes, fall to pieces. Or just fall, hoping we’ll land, or be caught.

Our hearts are shaped for love, created by Love, to love and be loved. And to never be fully satisfied, never enough love.

Until we are home, with the Beloved.

Life is a strange dance we step into, loving, ducking, failing, trusting again, always looking over our shoulder for the big moment, for the love that fills us up, makes us whole, complete.

As a young teen, I expressed my struggle with the vulnerability of love.

Slowly, gradually, I began to look up, right there in the muck, to see the face of love, smiling from the cross, life poured out to love me thoroughly. No matter how long it took, he never gave up loving me, seeking me.

And you.

orchid © Jack H Thompson

God remembered us when we were down,
His love never quits.
Rescued us from the trampling boot,
His love never quits.
Takes care of everyone in time of need.
His love never quits.
Thank God, who did it all! His love never quits!
Psalm 136: 23-26 (MSG)

And now, on the other side of the cross, of the receiving, the filling, I am still learning how to live, to love. What else prepares us for eternity

To learn the yearning of our hearts. To Love.

Lily in a basket
Lily in a basket

But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13 (MSG)

Spoonbill pair © Jack H Thompson
Roseate spoonbill pair

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Ephesians 5:1 (MSG)

family love
family love

We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
1 John 4:19 (MSG)

My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.
I John 4: 7-10 (MSG)

Sandhill crane mates © Jack H Thompson
Sandhill crane mates