Walk in the Light – 1 John 1:5-2:2

One of my earliest childhood memories took place on a sultry Rhode Island summer night. My parents had friends over and all of us, adults and children, had congregated in the backyard. Did we eat outside? Possibly, as I have seen pictures of al fresco meals on other occasions. But in this memory, the sun had set too long ago for pictures.

Trees bordered the back edge of our yard; a short sloping dirt trail led down to railroad tracks. An open field connected our side yard to our neighbor’s so, despite the warning to stay away from the train tracks, we had plenty of open space to roam.

Swatting at the mosquitoes buzzing and biting our tender skin, my friends and I played Hide and Go Seek. How many hundreds of such games must we have played since then? But this one vividly stands out in my memory because, at only three or four years of age, being outside at night, way past bedtime, in the pitch dark, playing with friends while the adults contented themselves with their own conversations, well, this was novel.

We ran, hid, stifled giggles behind our fingers, then shrieked with wild joy and excitement. The unprecedented freedom of playing in the dark thrilled us almost beyond what we could bear. Our sweaty skin shivered despite the humidity.

But we froze when we heard it: “Oooo, watch out, I’m the Bogeyman…!” There…we heard it again: “Oooo, here comes the Bogeyman, oooo…!”

Our giggles grew nervous. I remember saying, first whispered to my friends, then louder: “What’s a Bogeyman?” before we all ran to our parents, who assured us that some teenager was hiding in the bushes, trying to scare the little kids.

The little kids who had felt like such big kids only moments earlier, squashed by someone else’s fun at our expense.

As I reflect on that night, a few things stand out that still ring true today:

Playing in the dark was exciting, precisely because it was dark, and because it wasn’t something we were typically allowed to do. (What kinds of darkness entice us today?)

The darkness hid potential dangers. (What dangers lurk in the tempting darkness?)

Playing in the dark gave us a new sense of freedom and independence, all good until we got scared and needed help. (How does darkness imitate light? And where do we find help when we need it?)

Walk in Love
Week 2: Walk in the Light
1 John 1:5-2:2

Connect
Reflect on a time when you have taken ‘a walk in the dark’ (literally or figuratively). What was it like?

Study
Read aloud 1 John 1:5-2:2
With whose authority does John write this letter, and why does that matter (v5)?
Explain the light/dark metaphor (vv5-7). Look up one or more of the following passages from John’s gospel: 1:4-5, 9; 3:19-21; 8:12; 9:4-5; 12:35-36, 46.
What deceit does John call out (vv6, 8, 10)?
What happens when we confess sin and live rightly (vv7, 9)?
What do we learn about Jesus in this passage, and why is that significant?

Live
Explain the attractions/detractions of light and darkness. In what ways do Christians try to stay in the darkness? Why is this so easy to do?
What makes it difficult to “come into the light” in our relationships with one another?
Is it possible to ever be done for good with sin? Why or why not?
How might fellowship with one another help us avoid sin and maintain fellowship with Him?
If you’re willing, share about a victory over sin that Christ accomplished for you.
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Thank God for His faithfulness to us even when we try to hide from God and others.

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Word of Life – 1 John 1:1-4

What do you believe?

I just started reading a nonfiction book about how to live an authentic life in a world that no longer runs on the (outdated) standard life approaches passed down through generations. It challenges readers to identify the stories we’ve been told and continue to tell ourselves which may or may not be true.

We live out what we believe. In other words, our beliefs—conscious or not—determine our actions.

If we believe human beings are selfish, then we won’t find ourselves inclined to serve others. Why should I give my time (because I’m selfish) to help others who won’t help themselves (because they’re selfish)? We definitely won’t give $5 to the homeless guy on the street corner.

If I believe I’m lazy (perhaps something I heard and internalized from a parent, teacher or coach), then it’s unlikely I will bring to completion even an exciting new project. How can I? I’m lazy.

But people aren’t always selfish, and I don’t have to be lazy. Those things might be true sometimes but they aren’t consistently true. I can reverse the stories and choose to interact differently with the world.

Some things, however, are consistently true.

Jesus is God, from everlasting to everlasting.
And Jesus took on flesh to show humans the way to the Father.

If I truly believe that Jesus is the eternal God, and if I trust both the witness of those who saw and heard and touched Him in the flesh and my own experience of fellowship with Him, then that will necessarily affect my decisions. John calls Jesus “the Word of life.” Because I believe in Him, I trust this Word to lead me to a fuller, more satisfying life. A life lived in love with the One who gave everything for love of me, and a life lived shoulder-to-shoulder with His beloved people.

It may not be an easier life (it could be much harder!), but I believe it will be a true life.

Walk in Love
Week 1: Word of Life
1 John 1:1-4

Connect
Who’s the most famous person you’ve ever met or seen up close? Describe your experience of them.

Study
Read 1 John 1:1-4 slowly several times through.
How does John describe Jesus (vv1-2)? What strikes you about this description?
Why does it matter that John has seen, heard and touched Jesus (vv1-2)?
What reason does John give for writing this letter (vv3-4)?
What’s the connection between John’s proclamation and the community’s fellowship and joy (vv3-4)?

Live
What difference does it make to you personally that Jesus was “from the beginning”? That real people experienced Him in the flesh? That He is “the Word of life”?
Is it possible to have true fellowship (Greek: koinonia) with people who don’t have a relationship with the Father through His Son, Jesus? Why or why not?
How do you experience Jesus in your daily life?
How do you describe Jesus to people who haven’t experienced Him?
How does shared fellowship with God and others increase your joy?

Pray
Thank God for the Word of life!

 

Create in Me

When I chose the word “recreate” to guide this year, I anticipated it would lead to play, fun, and new expressions of creativity. Instead, I have (re)discovered that to recreate often means ripping things apart, hacking pieces off, grafting in something else, and making a mess, in order to make something new. It can feel more painful than playful. No surprise that my like-minded friend Kelly has been ruminating on that same truth…

re:create recess #16: Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch

I’ve thought a lot about the word re-create as we moved into our new home this summer. I’m still shocked that we were able to buy a home in Northern California. If you’re from this neck of the woods, you know what I mean. And I am beyond thankful. It feels like a miracle, and I am inclined to think that it is. It’s an answered prayer. What felt impossible—like God making a way through parted waters—has happened.

That said, moving into our new home has reminded me that the process of recreating creates other things, too. Things I don’t automatically welcome into my life without some degree of hesitation or outright opposition.

Recreating invites change. It creates disorganization in some spaces and more organization in others. It allows you to re-envision your possessions. Sometimes it makes old things new. Often it means letting go. Recreation creates a mess. Recreating my home helped me recognize that the process of re-creation in any area of life doesn’t come without some measure of loss, chaos, frustration and stress. Negative emotions may be part of the process.

When I first gave my life to Jesus, I was seventeen years old. Full of youthful optimism and ready to help God “change the world,” I went on the mission field to know God more and tell others about Him. During that season, God did amazing things. I experienced euphoric moments when my heart felt so full that Christ’s love oozed onto others. There were also unexpected, confusing, and hard moments.

As a new Christian, I honestly felt like I wanted to scratch out parts of the Bible. I don’t mean that to sound sacrilegious. It’s just that the Bible has some hard things to say about “forgiving others,” “not seeking vengeance,” and going through difficult situations with “pure joy and a thankful heart.” These Scriptures befuddled me. I couldn’t grasp this idea that joy could be found in something I experienced as disappointing, or worse, heartbreaking.

I figured some parts must have been inaccurately translated from Hebrew to Greek. God couldn’t really want us to “rejoice when others persecute us” or “turn the other cheek,” to take more abuse from someone unkind. What God asked me to do in hurtful and difficult situations seemed counterintuitive. There had to be a mistake.

But the more I studied the Scriptures—exploring the cultural context in which they were written and what Greek and Hebrew words originally meant—I realized there was no misprint or misinterpretation of language. God didn’t only tell us what to do; through Christ He showed us how to live in our messy world, too.

I know many Christians feel overjoyed by understanding how God demonstrated His incredible love. That they have a tangible example of what God looks like in human flesh. And truly, it is extraordinary. But honestly, I didn’t share their excitement. Deep down, I knew what that meant…

I’m a pretty self-aware person. I know my heart and the depth of self-centeredness that lives there. Some people seem to be naturally less selfish and more servant-hearted than I am. But if I’m behaving sacrificially in any way, I definitely want something. If I don’t get enough attention or praise for what I deem to be a sacrificial act on my part, I get upset that others didn’t notice or appreciate it. I may not even be aware of what I’m after, but I know myself.

That’s why the way of Christ seemed so disheartening to me: I knew I couldn’t live it. Maybe for a little while every day, maybe on Sunday mornings or in Bible study, but not in the nitty gritty of everyday life. Not when people are downright mean. Not when I perceive injustice. Not when I feel like family, friends, or co-workers are pooping all over me. No way. It’s just not the way I’m made.

That’s how I knew God was going to have to remake me. Recreate my heart. Change the fiber of my being from the inside out. I didn’t need a make-over. I needed to become a new creation.

It’s a humbling and liberating thing to know that you cannot please God in your own strength. His power in you transforms you and makes you new. I’m so grateful that “He died for all so that all who live—having received eternal life from him—might live no longer for themselves, to please themselves, but to spend their lives pleasing Christ who died and rose again for them. When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:15,17)

I write this to encourage you. Until this summer, I had forgotten that re-creation creates other things as well. Frustration. Upheaval. Unintended messes. Unanticipated change. As much as you can, try to give thanks when something in your life feels upside-down, sideways, or discombobulated. Remember that God has made you into a new creation and that creation invites change.

If you’re anything like me, part of you will be deeply uncomfortable with that. Take comfort from Romans 8:27-28: “He knows us far better than we know ourselves… That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good” (Romans 8:27-28, MSG). If we keep that in mind, we actually can do what God says and it won’t seem crazy. “Is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow. So let it grow, and don’t try to squirm out of your problems. For when your patience is finally in full bloom, then you will be ready for anything, strong in character, full and complete” (James 1:2-4, TLB).

Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch lives in Northern California with her sexy husband, three beautifully quirky kids, a dog named Lucy and a cat named Jack. She loves spending time with her family, good friends and good books. She hopes that one day her home will be organized and tidy, but until then finds joy in the messiness of life and love.

Known

Talking with friends last week I mentioned that I’ve taken just about every personality test out there, including the silly ones on Facebook. “Ooh, which Disney princess are you? [beat as Friend examines my face] Never mind, you’re Belle. Definitely Belle.”

Spot on.

I have seen Beauty and the Beast twice this month, three times if you include Crosswalk: The Musical (even if you don’t watch all of it, watch some. It’s silly and hilarious!). Our amazing high school put on the stage play, and yesterday our family saw the live action movie.

I may be prettier than James Corden, though not as breathtaking as Emma Watson, but Belle is my Disney princess doppelganger. Like Belle, I am bookish and odd, with my head in the clouds. Belle is outcast for her unusual priorities. The Beast is feared for his appearance. While Gaston, the handsome doofus, receives the admiration of everyone–women want to be with him, men want to be him–even though he may be the scariest character of all.

One line in the movie version caught my heart: the curse caused everyone who loved someone in the castle to forget they existed. Beyond the castle walls, they were no longer known. So sad!

Every human being wants to know and be known. It sounds simple enough. Yet too often we allow our own priorities and our judgments to obstruct how we perceive others. We get in our own way and miss the beauty and love of others who are not like us.

Yesterday I received a message from a friend I’ve known most of my life. I haven’t seen him in person in years, but we’ve kept up through online conversations that sometimes last days and go surprisingly deep (less surprising if you know either of us personally). He had been reflecting on something flippant he’d said about our friendship, something that reverberated. Which compelled him to share it with me.

He didn’t have to share, but he did. Others might have felt too vulnerable. He wrote about me, and the (in his opinion, uncommon) love and gentleness I’ve shared with him. That I am unlike others has been my strength and has had an unlikely effect on him. Though we disagree on core beliefs, my sincere hope and willingness to love him no matter what has allowed him to feel safe to meet me on common ground. He sees in me strength I don’t always feel, and he believes in me.

Reading his words, I felt seen, known. He knows me essentially in a way others with whom I regularly interact don’t. Despite the rejection I sometimes experience, his confidence inspires me to feel newly confident.

This might surprise the crud out of him, but I think God sent my friend at just the right time with just the encouragement I needed to know that God, too, sees me, knows me, and loves me. I don’t have to be afraid. I am not alone.

If I can leave you with a thought: take time to truly see people and acknowledge the best of who they are. Encouragement is a gift you won’t regret.

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Week 4 – Known: John 10

Connect
What sets apart someone you would follow from others you wouldn’t?

Study
Read aloud John 10:1-15.
Describe the difference between the shepherd, thieves and robbers and the hired hand.
What does the shepherd do for the sheep?
Why do the sheep follow the shepherd and not a stranger?
How is the shepherd good?
Retell this scene in a contemporary setting: who would be the shepherd, thief and sheep?Read aloud John 10:28-30.
What does Jesus promise, and how can that be comforting?

Live
How do you get to know the Shepherd?
How do you keep focused on the Shepherd’s voice when there are multiple voices calling for your attention?
Who are the “thieves and robbers” or “wolves” threatening the sheep today?
What can you do differently this week to tune your ear to your Shepherd’s voice?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will continually listen for your Shepherd’s voice.

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A Sheep’s Prayer

Hi, Jesus!

Hmm, guess I don’t have to say “Hi,” do I? The shepherd never leaves the sheep. You’re always with me. Though the sheep sometimes wander off, don’t they? Um, don’t we? (Cough) Don’t I? Even when my feet don’t wander, I take my eyes off you. I forget you’re here. I forget you’re caring for me and directing me to the best life, the one you planned for me before I was born. I have a short attention span.

Maybe I need to say “Hi” to remind myself that you’re here and in charge. So,

Hello, Jesus!

I shall not want because you’re taking care of me—food, drink, shelter, protection, all covered. Except, to be honest, I do want. It’s not like I’m a shopaholic. I’m actually pretty good at avoiding online and brick-and-mortar stores. But I want enough money not to worry. I want fame and fortune, though I truly don’t all that hassle, I do want success. I want to (metaphorically) walk the red carpet, to be recognized for doing what I do well. I want the vacation I saw on my friend’s Facebook feed and, while you’re at it, I want my body to look like my friend’s bikini body. At least sometimes I want more compliant kids, less vim and vigor. I want a husband who anticipates—and meets—my every need before I say a word. I want a stress-free life.

You know stress-free doesn’t just mean me, right? I want peace in my life, but truly I want world peace. I want politicians to step down off their soap boxes and work together in humility. I want freedom and justice for all, no more slavery of any kind. I want food sufficient to feed everyone who is hungry and opportunity for everyone to live a meaningful life. I want an end to cancer.

So there you have it: I definitely want.

Some of those desires are good and come straight from your heart. Help me to know how to live and serve toward a better world. But please, Lord, forgive me for taking for granted all the good things you have already provided. Forgive me for wanting what you know I don’t need, things that would ultimately get in the way of our time together.

Thank you, thank you, for the breath I breathe, this life you made possible. The ability to get out of bed this morning. For the rain that washed new the earth and watered our plants. For the sunshine in the blue sky. For the cozy little home that shelters our family and keeps us warm. For the family under this roof, and the unique way you made each one of us. Thank you for the gifts these people are to me and to the world. Thank you for our menagerie of pets. We are so weird it makes me laugh, but I also know that you have made us different and that’s a gift to the world, too. Help me to appreciate the overwhelming beauty and goodness of these green pastures and still waters.

Oh Lord, I blow it all the time. Why can’t I remember that you’re in charge, that you’ve got the right plan? I get distracted by worry, by busyness, by the glitter and glory the world offers. Even though I know it’s all funhouse mirrors and false promises. It’s the first lie, the trick that always works: you will live forever. I can offer you something the Lord can’t… And I fall for it.

Yet you restore my soul. You are so good, Lord! No matter how often, no matter the mess I make or how battered and bruised I get, you are always ready to forgive. You come looking for me when I wander off. You pick me up from the ravine where I’ve fallen. You put me back on your path, with you in front, leading to the right life for me, one that honors you.

Hey, Jesus, sometimes this life gets way too dark and scary. Illness, death, crisis of all sorts, suck the joy out of life. I get so mad when people I love hurt. I flail in the darkness. I cry out. But I don’t lose faith, because I know, even when life is hard—especially then—that you are with me. You love me, and you love those I love more than I ever can. I don’t need to be afraid because you will protect me. Even in those moments when I can’t feel you with me, when evil forces its ugly way in, you’re in charge. You’re ready to beat down the threats, and you’re ready to keep me in line. I trust you.

Back to my list of wants: no death and no bad guys. Why are there enemies? Why do I have enemies? I’m following you, trying to do the right thing, and still there are people who don’t like it, don’t like me. But what a remarkable God you are that you give those very people a front row seat to the good things you’re doing in my life. You mark me with your blessing, your fragrant anointing oil, and you make me sit down to feast as they watch. I guess, Lord, if I’m getting in line with what you want, so long as you’re pouring I should ask that blessings will overflow my cup so that even my enemies will get to sip of your best wine. There’s always room in the flock for a few more.

You go before me in goodness and mercy and goodness and mercy follow me. Mercy and goodness everywhere I look—open my eyes to see! Not one day of life has been untouched by your love. Your everlasting love shelters me now and will shelter me into eternity. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Let it be so.

 

Jesus: Our Shepherd

Connect
Whose hospitality have you enjoyed recently? What made it special?

Study
Read Psalm 23.
What does the Lord do in this Psalm and what does that tell us about Him? What do we do?
Where does the action take place, and why is that significant?
How is “the valley of the shadow of death” like/unlike “my enemies”? Why are both included?
A shepherd cares for a flock but the flock isn’t mentioned. How does that affect the tone?
How does this Psalm assure us of God’s presence and comfort in all circumstances?

Live
Which images from this Psalm most stand out to you and why?
Share examples of God providing for you, leading you, saving you and caring for you.
Does your life’s landscape currently look more like green pastures or dark valleys? Explain.
What threatens to make you afraid? How can God’s presence with you combat those fears?
Where do you sense God leading you currently?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Praise the Lord for His intimate love and care for us throughout life.

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For Cryin’ Out Loud

How many times have I sat with a group of women, Bibles open to Luke 10, as criticism of Martha zings around the room?

Martha’s too busy.
She’s caught up in the wrong thing.
She’s obviously Type A.
Clearly she’s a fussbudget busybody.
She’s overly dramatic.
She’s causing a scene.
Does she think she needs to prepare six courses? Hasn’t she heard of a one-pot meal? How about a sheet pan dinner?

Poor Martha! Every once in a while a woman seated around the circle will eke out a timid comment in her defense: who among us hasn’t acted like Martha at least once? Who truly feels qualified to cast these stones?

Mary gets the honor, while Martha gets vilified. I think we might be missing the point.

I think Martha lost sight of Jesus.

Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She made Him and His traveling entourage feel comfortable. Hospitality was a BIG big deal back then, way more so than these days. Dirt floors and mud walls might have made housecleaning less of an obvious burden (or moreso?), but inviting at least thirteen hungry travelers into your home meant you probably had to slaughter a goat or two. To skin it, clean it, cook it, how long would that take? (asks the vegetarian…) Plus the side dishes: I imagine tabbouleh and unleavened bread, eggs and nuts and fruit, cheese and wine.spice-370114_1920

I’m getting better, but I used to turn into a whirling dervish before hosting a dinner party. Except way less graceful. I have a soft spot for Martha.

No, I don’t think it’s Martha’s hospitality that got her in trouble. She worked that gift in spades (go, girl!). The key is in her question. Interrupting the party beyond the kitchen, Martha cried:

“Master, don’t you care…?”

Martha forgot who Jesus was. If God = love and Jesus = God, then Jesus = love. Okay, I’m willing to concede that maybe Martha didn’t know Jesus well enough yet. Maybe the if/then hadn’t been made clear.

And yet: I believe Mary’s stillness at Jesus’ feet and Martha’s busyness in the kitchen were separated by only one thing. Mary was attentive to Jesus and Martha was attentive to her preparations.

Can we do whatever we’re doing and still be attentive to Jesus? I sure hope so! I’ve pretty much built my life and faith on paying attention to God while I also do business. In Out of Sorts, Sarah Bessey claims that real, undignified life is the classroom for holiness. “If you can’t find God while you’re changing diapers or serving food or hanging out with your friends, you won’t find God at the worship service or the spiritual retreat or the regimented daily quiet time or the mission field” (p117).

If Martha had taken off her apron and plunked herself down next to Mary, she still might have missed Jesus. She needed to focus her heart, not her hands.

Martha’s cry recalled for me Mark 4, the disciples in the boat when the storm came up. Jesus was sleeping, which might have been a good tip off that God was not going to sink them. But their fisherman training got the best of them. They’d seen storms and this one seemed bad in the worst way.rembrandt_christ_in_the_storm_on_the_lake_of_galilee

They cried: “Teacher, don’t you care…?”

Of course He does. Jesus loved them. Jesus loves us.

Jesus loves us in the boat. In the kitchen. In the green pastures and the dark valleys, wherever He leads us He also loves us. Psalm 31:7 promises, “I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care…”

Thinking about Martha’s cry, the disciples’ cry, brought to mind the phrase, “for cryin’ out loud.” I did an online search and each site that popped up confirmed the same origin for the phrase. While consistently an expression of frustration or exasperation, its origin comes from the phrase, “for Christ’s sake.”

Which made me laugh: crying out to Christ, in frustration and fear, for Christ’s sake? That seems appropriate. We call out to Christ–maybe with the wrong motives, sure, but still–we cry out to Him and He draws us near for His own sake. Because He loves us.

Re:Create • Sanctified Imagination

Pictures of cute kittens and babies aside, one of the more useful benefits of social media is connecting with people you haven’t seen in a while. That’s exactly what happened when, a few years ago, I got a message from a friend I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. He had stumbled across our church website, then found my picture, and reached out. Since then I have been grateful to be back in touch, especially through his posts on Facebook and his blog. Quite a thoughtful writer, I am thrilled to have him share on the blog today. We would all do well to consider how the people in our lives shape the stories we read, tell, and live.

re:create recess #2: Randy Ehle

Re:Create
One of the greatest truths of our humanity is that we are created in God’s image. And being created in the image of the Creator God—the creative God—means we, too, are creative. Creation came into being when God spoke. He has revealed himself for all history through his Word, written. His redeeming Son, Jesus, is called The Word. And so my image-of-God creativity is expressed in words.

Re:New
I grew up in the church, so I knew all the stories, all the books, all the characters. I knew about daring to be a Daniel and being patient like Job (though frankly, Job never seemed all that patient to me once I really read him). I knew the twelve disciples and most of the twelve sons of Jacob. I knew Moses and Joseph, David and Jonathan, Samson and Delilah. I’m sure I had the full set of Little Golden Books, including Jonah’s whale and Jericho’s tumbling walls.

But by the time I’d become a pastor, the stories had become merely that: stories. Even with more translations at my fingertips than Legion’s demons, I could scarcely read my Bible without already knowing what comes next. Familiarity had bred, if not contempt, at least complacency. Then I met Carolyn.

Carolyn volunteered in our church office. Warm, chatty, deeply caring, and ever wanting to learn more about Jesus, Carolyn and I had long conversations about life, the Bible, and whether the God of the Old Testament changed in the New. I learned as much from Carolyn’s questions as she did from any of my seminary-trained insights. I also learned something about disabilities. You see, Carolyn had been in a wheelchair for a quarter century, the result of a freak accident in which her mail jeep overturned, pinning her under a mound of first-class letters, junk mail, and packages.

Carolyn's baptism in the American River

Carolyn’s baptism in the American River

As I got to know Carolyn, I also met anew some men and women I’d been reading about since childhood: the blind men, lepers, and paralytics whose lives intersected with, and were changed by, Jesus. As I heard more of Carolyn’s story—not just the accident, but everyday life with a lower spine injury—I began to wonder about the lives of those biblical men and women.

Re:Write
Though I’ve enjoyed writing since my school days, for most of my life I wrote only for myself. Even when I began writing a blog, I did little to solicit readers. Writing was an outlet for the thoughts and ideas circulating in my head, but I never felt I had much to add to the world’s conversations. Any conversation. Meeting Carolyn began to change that, and led me to think about another paralytic:

His friends created the world’s first skylight, lowered his bed through the hole, and hoped beyond hope they wouldn’t have to lift him out the same way. Waving the swirling dust away from his face, the itinerant healer in the room below spoke … not words of healing, but of conviction!

“Your sins are forgiven.”

We who are familiar readers of the text barely skip a beat here. We rush right on by, scarcely noticing the crowd’s incredulity. We want to get to the good stuff, the miracles, the healing. We know what comes next and love to watch Jesus stick it to the self-righteous religious folks … who, of course, are not we. Because of Carolyn, I read the words with new eyes; like a blind man given new sight, I began to see beyond the words on the page.

The over-crowded room had only packed tighter with the invasion of the horizontal alien from above. The dust and dirt of the impromptu renovation choked throats while the brief cooling from the escaping air was replaced with the heat of the noonday sun now streaming onto their heads.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

What?!? What in the world does that mean?

Neither the hushed crowd nor the prone man could believe what they’d heard. They were equally incredulous, but for vastly different reasons: the crowd, because of the healer’s audacity to think he had the right to forgive sins; the paralytic, because of the audacity to think he—crippled as he was—had even the slightest capacity to sin.

If we were filming in 21st century style, we might pause the action here and focus the camera on the man’s reclined face. He would speak an aside, directly to the audience, revealing his inner thoughts and feelings. Having no such cinematic tools at our disposal, however, we are left to our imaginations – our sanctified imaginations. It’s a term my mom uses often to encourage deep, extra-biblical thinking about feelings, thoughts, and actions the Bible doesn’t tell us. And so I write—or rather, rewrite—from that sanctified imagination.

In recounting the story of the paralytic, the gospel writers are concerned with Jesus’ divine authority. Saying “your sins are forgiven” is easy and shows no visible effect; but causing a known cripple to walk is no cheap trick. In fact, the evangelists tell us, this is more about confirming Jesus’ authority to forgive than about demonstrating mercy.

There’s more to the story; more to the story that’s written, and more to the story that’s not written. Maybe my re:creation—my sanctified imagination—will open others’ eyes to the Creator. Maybe my words will open others’ ears to the Word whose Word is Life. Maybe I have something to add to the conversation, after all.

rehle-bio

 

Randy Ehle is a husband and father, coach and teacher, writer and speaker. He was—and longs again to be—a pastor. He’s lived in Canada, Germany, England, and throughout the United States; and has traveled on four of the seven continents. A self-described “rushed contemplative,” Randy has known life and death, gain and loss, wisdom and foolishness. He uses writing as a creative outlet, spiritual inspiration, and personal challenge for his readers. Find more of Randy’s thoughts at www.randehle.com.