Month: November 2017

The Lion and the Lamb

I’ve been wanting to share this Bible Study with the guys in max at Santa Clara main jail. They’ve been on lockdown the past two weeks that I’ve been there and finally I shared it tonight — and they went on lockdown halfway through the study.

 

Remember that Paul was in prison when he wrote this:

Ephesians 4:1-5 (NIV)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism;

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Paul, as an inmate, is asking other inmates and those outside the walls to walk with humbleness and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. Do you suppose he meant us to have this attitude just towards other believers, or to everyone?

What if someone is being a real jerk towards you?

Remember that Paul was raised and trained in reading the scriptures, which at that time consisted of the Old Testament. Let’s look at a scripture he would have studied:

Isaiah 11 (NKJV)

11 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

His delight is in the fear of the Lord,
And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,
Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins,
And faithfulness the belt of His waist.

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
Their young ones shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

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Regarding that scripture, in his book The Inner Voice of Love, Henri Nouwen wrote:

“There is within you a lamb and a lion. Spiritual maturity is the ability to let lamb and lion lie down together. Your lion is your adult, aggressive self. It is your initiative-taking and decision-making self. But there is also your fearful, vulnerable lamb, the part of you that needs affection, support, affirmation, and nurturing.

When you heed only your lion, you will find yourself overextended and exhausted. When you take notice only of your lamb you will easily become a victim of your need for other people’s attention. The art of spiritual living is to fully claim both your lion and your lamb. Then you can act assertively without denying your own needs. And you can ask for affection and care without betraying your talent to offer leadership.

Developing your identity as a child of God in no way means giving up your responsibilities. Likewise, claiming your adult self in no way means that you cannot become increasingly a child of God. In fact, the opposite is true. The more you can feel safe as a child of God, the freer you will be to claim your mission in the world as a responsible human being. And the more you claim that you have a unique task to fulfill for God, the more open you will be to letting your deepest need be met.”

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Looking back at the scripture in Ephesians is Paul asking us to deny the lion part of who we are and only let the lamb show through?

Actually, it takes the strength of the lion, the wolf, the leopard, or the bear to do what is being asked in Ephesians.

Humility requires courage and honesty. Christian humility comes from self-knowledge. To face oneself is the most humiliating thing in the world, particularly as we compare ourselves to God’s standards.

So long as we compare ourselves with second bests, we come out of the comparison well. However, when we compare ourselves with perfection we see our failure. A girl may think herself a very fine pianist until she hears one of the world’s outstanding performers. A man may think himself a good golfer until he sees one of the world’s masters in action.

Self-satisfaction depends on the standard with which we compare ourselves. If we compare ourselves with our neighbor, we may well emerge very satisfactorily from the comparison. But the Christian standard is Jesus Christ and the demands of God’s perfection–and against that standard there is no room for pride. We are creatures, and for the creature there can be nothing but humility in the presence of the creator. Christian humility is based on the sight of self, the vision of Christ, and the realization of God. Courage is needed to face this humility.

Gentleness: The man who shows this type of gentleness is the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time. To put that in another way, the man who is gentle is the man who is kindled by indignation at the wrongs and the sufferings of others, but is never moved to anger by the wrongs and the insults he himself has to bear.

In order to do this we have to remind ourselves who we belong to. Does our value come from who God says we are, and our identity in Christ, or does our value come from what other people think of us? If our identity, value, and worth is from God, then other people cannot take that away from us.

I was talking with another chaplain a few weeks ago. He had been talking to the men for several weeks about changing their attitude towards others when someone does something wrong to them or treats them with disrespect.

Recently one of the men was waiting in line to get into the wash room. The guy in front of him farted and then turned to him and said, “Did you like it?”  The man said that, in the past he would have started punching the guy for disrespecting him, but know he was able to set that aside because he wasn’t trying to get his value and self-worth from that other man.

Patience: It describes the spirit which will never give in and which, because it endures to the end, will reap the reward. In their great days the Romans were unconquerable; they might lose a battle, they might even lose a campaign, but they could not conceive of losing a war. In the greatest disaster it never occurred to them to admit defeat. Christian patience is the spirit which never admits defeat, which will not be broken by any misfortune or suffering, by any disappointment or discouragement, but which persists to the end.

Another aspect of patience is used to describe something which has the power to take revenge but never does so. To take a very imperfect analogy–it is often possible to see a puppy and a very large dog together. The puppy yaps at the big dog, worries him, bites him, and all the time the big dog, who could annihilate the puppy with one snap of his teeth, bears the puppy with a forbearing dignity. This type of patience is the spirit which bears insult and injury without bitterness and without complaint. It is the spirit which can suffer unpleasant people with graciousness and fools without irritation.

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Love:  If we regard a person with this type of love, it means that nothing that he can do will make us seek anything but his highest good. Though he injures us and insults us, we will never feel anything but kindness towards him. That quite clearly means that this Christian love is not an emotional thing. This love is not only of the emotions, but also of the will. It is the ability to hold onto good will to the unlovable, towards those who do not love us, and even towards those whom we do not like. This love is that quality of mind and heart which compels a Christian never to feel any bitterness, never to feel any desire for revenge, but always to seek the highest good of every person no matter what he may be.

 

When humbleness, gentleness, patience, and love are in place, peace is the natural outcome.

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Re-Entry After 38 Years

There were three men in the Tuesday night Bible study in the maximum-security unit. A new guy had been invited by one of the other men. All of the men have previously served prison time. One will be released in a few months. The others may be looking at substantial time.

We discussed how the patterns of institutional living carry on even after release. Some guys continue the same breakfast schedule even years after their release.

A New York Times article (You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What?) tells about Roby and Carlos.

Roby started reciting the weekly prison menu, to see if he could still do it. When he got to Thursday — peanut butter and jelly, four slices of bread, Kool-Aid — Carlos, without turning to look at him, chimed in with ‘‘sugar-free gum.’’

Roby went on. (Roby tends to do most of the talking.) The trick, he said, is to save those packets of peanut butter and spread it on your pancakes, the next time there are pancakes. It sounds gross, but it’s not. ‘‘The only way I eat my pancakes now is with peanut butter — because that’s the way I ate them in there,’’ Roby explained.

Carlos understood. He still put peanut butter on his pancakes, too. ‘‘It does have a different flavor,’’ he said.

‘‘Yeah! And you can put it in your oatmeal!’’

‘‘Oatmeal is real good with peanut butter,’’ Carlos said.

‘‘I still do that, too!’’ Roby blurted.

He continued with the menu. After Sunday — eggs, ham, hash browns — he looked at Carlos and said, ‘‘You put it all together?’’ to make sure Carlos knew to heap the whole thing between two slices of toast and squeeze jelly over it. Carlos knew. ‘‘That’s a pretty fat sandwich, right?’’ Roby said.

‘‘Yeah,’’ Carlos said emphatically.

Roby still puts jelly on his egg sandwiches, too, he explained. Strawberry, grape — he doesn’t care. ‘‘People look at me like I’m crazy!’’

‘‘People don’t even know,’’ Carlos said. They were laughing at themselves now. Carlos had done almost 11 years; Roby, close to 12. Now they were free men, sitting outside a prison, waxing nostalgic about prison food.

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We then read our passage for the study:

John 5:1-14 (NKJV)

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda,[a] having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.[b] Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”

The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.

And that day was the Sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.”

11 He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’”

12 Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”

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In many ways the men could relate to the story. The sick man was like someone who had served a 38 year sentence. Every time the water was stirred but he missed out, it was like going before the parole board and getting denied, but then watching someone else get released.

They noticed that Jesus didn’t heal the man without his permission.

How do we answer when Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well?”

Do we deny that anything is wrong? Do we consider ourselves doing better than others around us?

The sick man is alone and without resources: I have no man to put me into the pool”

Being alone and without resources is a situation the incarcerated can relate to.

After the man explains his circumstances Jesus does something unusual. He doesn’t tell the man he is healed. Instead Jesus treats him like someone who not only is healed, but is capable as well.

“Rise, take up your bed and walk.”

Even more surprising, the man doesn’t try to argue the point. He owns his new identity.

And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.

Haters Gonna Hate

But the man is hassled in his recovery. Even being healed by Jesus isn’t good enough. After release these men had experienced the pressure to go back to the way they were. It was assumed that they would go back to the same places, the same patterns of using, the same destructive behaviors.

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple

There was some discussion about this. Was the man in the temple when he was being hassled? Was the church a place of criticism and shame? Or was the man at the temple to try and regain his bearings?

The men were quick to notice that Jesus said, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.”

The men understood this to be like when you get a second chance – getting sent to treatment rather than prison – but if you mess that up you may end up with an even harsher sentence.

In recovery “it takes what it takes” for someone to break the cycle of denial about their addiction.  Sometimes the “worse thing” is what is needed to convince a man of his need for healing.

I reminded them that the very first thing that Jesus says when he sees the man again is:

“See, you have been made well.”

Jesus affirms his healing.

After being hassled by the world we need to be reassured of our identity, of who we are, and whose we are.

Sin no more” can only come from our identity in Christ.