Project 52 #18: Loving Your Enemies

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… 

If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your tunic as well. 

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what is yours, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 

If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. 

And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them, expecting nothing in return...

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)

I’ve been thinking about this passage from Luke ever since I read it this last week. This goes so against the grain of our culture, and frankly, our human nature. We are so programmed to fight for our rights. But do good and lend, expecting nothing in return? And not only that, but do it for the people who don’t like you or treat you badly? Why? It doesn’t make sense!

But Christ’s kingdom isn’t just one more democracy or republic on Planet Earth, and neither are the laws that govern it commonplace or ordinary. It’s so otherworldly that it literally is upside down to everything we’re used to here. It’s so completely contrary to everything our culture and our flesh tells us, there’s no way to fuse the two together and have the “best of both worlds”. It requires a complete mind shift, a transfer of allegiance from the kingdom of this world to heavenly kingdom of our Father, a transformation from darkness to light. It’s called being heavenly minded instead of earthly minded, being visionary instead of short-sighted, realizing that success and “winning” according to God’s standards has a whole new definition, and recognizing that the rewards of heaven will far, far surpass the fleeting pleasures of this world.

That’s a lot to think about when a bully is making fun of your child, or someone treats you unfairly, or that neighbor wants to borrow something yet again and you’re pretty sure you won’t be getting it back if you agree. But I wonder what would happen if we were all brave enough and radical enough to respond 100% according to God’s ways? I don’t know for sure, but there’s a clue in Luke 6:35:

Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

About the photos: This is a mix of shots from a hike we took up One Duke Trail, and a few from the gardens around our house. The white flower pictured is a new-to-me wildflower called Mountain Marsh Marigold, which I was delighted to discover along the muskeg when we were hiking. The pink flowers are a gorgeous domestic flower that someone planted in the gardens by our house before my time. I don’t know what they’re called, though—can any of you tell me?

P.S. If you’re new here and wondering what “Project 52” is all about, you can go here to read more!

Hoar Frost & Thoughts On Trust

If I’ve learned anything about trusting the Lord in my 35 years of life, it’s that I still have a lot to learn about trusting the Lord.

For some reason, whenever I come out on the backside of a trial, I am naïve enough to think that after having learned to trust God in that circumstance, I will surely have no difficulties with trusting Him in the future. But then along comes a different unexpected circumstance, and too often I am surprised by my lack of faith, as I find myself wildly groping about for all my self-made crutches, brainstorming secular solutions and free falling into anxiety.

Up rises the skeptic of my soul to question God yet again: You were big enough for that last problem I had, but are You really big enough for this one? Just in case You hadn’t noticed, it’s a new problem, Lord. This one’s extra hard and scary. Can You really handle it? Are You sure You don’t need help from me on this one?

It’s a question as old as Eden. Hath God really said? Can He really be believed? Does He really know what’s best? And too often I am swayed by these whispers of doubt, and bite hard into the apple of anxiety.

To recognize the echo of Eve in my soul is humbling.

By definition, trust requires one to let go, and by nature, we humans are tight-fisted. Trusting God means admitting that I don’t have it all together. That I’m not as self-sufficient as I liked to imagine. That I have lost control. That I lack wisdom. That behind the strong, capable exterior I may have projected, I am actually weak and needy.

There is a killing of pride and self that must occur when I make the decision to trust God, and no matter how you look at it, killing always hurts. And in the case of trust, it seems like it often has to happen more than once in a given situation. As Paul said, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31), and as Jesus said, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24).

But there’s an encouraging side to this, too. Though letting go to lean into trust is always hard, it also gets easier. The more times I’ve peeled back the fingers of my white knuckled hold on whatever it is that I’m trying to handle on my own and can’t, the more times I have proven the goodness and mercy of God. The longer the list of times I have chosen to lean hard on Him instead of my self, the harder it is to resist doing it again.

When I look back, I remember…

that time He provided for my unspoken needs,

that time He moved a figurative mountain,

that time He gave grace to accept,

that time He gave a miracle,

that time He brought beauty from ashes,

that time when He transformed fear into anticipation,

that time He took away something that I did not recognize as harmful until after the fact,

that time He had far more beautiful things in store for me than I could ever have imagined.

The overriding truth is that, in each circumstance, no matter what the outcome, He was always faithful, and proved yet again that He was worthy of my trust.

Today, looking back on what has been proven and looking forward to what is yet unknown, I rest on the assurance that He is enough.

“…the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6)

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:3-4)

Bark: Birch

IMG_2524.JPGIMG_2417IMG_2425.JPGIMG_2384.JPGThere are certain elements of the forest that stand out more in the winter than they do in the summer—and the bare branches and trunks of the trees are certainly one of them.

So it was not surprising that this graceful stand of birch caught my attention for the first time yesterday, though I’ve been past it many times before without looking twice.  Suddenly I was seeing color where I never had before, now that there were no brilliant greens of summer to distract my eye.  Intrigued, I ventured off the trail into knee-deep snow just to get a closer look.

Every tree was so unique in it’s coloring, it was hard to stop with photographing just one.  Some were purest white, with soft watercolor-like washes of gray and blush pink.  Others were these magnificent sunset shades of vibrant rose and orange, darkening into the richest shades of sepia and burgundy.  And all of them detailed with the characteristic black eyes and white dashes, dramatic splits, curls and ringlets of their kind.

Is there anything quite so lovely as the bark of a birch tree as it splits and curls beautifully back to make room for the new growth beneath?IMG_2419I think this is such a magnificent picture of the transformation Christ works in our lives.  He gently, but steadily, peels back the layers of sin and selfishness wrapped around our hearts, time after time bringing to light something altogether new, each time a little better than the last, as we grow and stretch and become more and more like Him.

There is no hurry, no impatience, no frustration. Instead, it’s a continual, lifelong process, with the patient, persistent precision of a Master Artist in the midst of a masterpiece.  Taking us where we’re at, but always nudging us forward to what He knows we can be, what He intended us to be.

And just like the birch trees, there’s so much beauty in the process.  No, it doesn’t always feel like it.  Sometimes, all we’re really aware of in the moment is the pain of the breaking and splitting and peeling back of the old self we cling to.  Sometimes it may not be until we look back that we realize how we have been changed for the better.  But it is always  beautiful, if only to those looking on, because we are continually becoming more like Christ.

“…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  (Ephesians 4:22-24)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)