“All My Friends Tell Me So…”

“Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing…” – Luke 23:35

One of my most favorite activities is a Monday morning contemplative prayer group that meets at our church.  It is a time of deep reflection and conversation with God.  I was there this morning and had such an experience that I just had to share it with my brothers and sisters.

Our meditation this morning was on Luke 23:35.  Those unforgettable words of grace that Jesus spoke from the cross, “forgive them…”  Our meditation to begin this Lenten season was the question,

“Lord Jesus, make me aware of anything I have done unknowingly to create a barrier between us.”

A great beginning of conviction, confession and repentance for the season.

I left our prayer chapel and begin walking into the back yard of our church.  I had a special place in mind to go and contemplate the vastness of Christ’s grace.  Almost skipping along, I was praising my Jesus because, as the good Christian I am, I always try to do the right thing.  I would NEVER intentionally sin (right???) But my Savior, Jesus, he has my back.  Even when I, UNKNOWINGLY, make a mistake He is right there to forgive and forget. So all is good and I can go merrily on my way. I serve a great God.

So I prayed my prayer, asking Him to forgive me of my unknown faults and looked forward to sitting out on a bench with Him telling me what great job I was doing.  But something else happened.  As I walked across the back yard, I was strongly re-routed to our prayer trail.  I physically somewhat felt a force saying, “go here.”  So I turned up the hill and encountered something that stopped me in my tracks.  Our trail is lined with scripture signs, all chosen by our church family when the church building was erected nearly 10 years ago.  Each one coming from the heart of God.  This is the sign to which he led me:

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Well that is a bucket of cold water on my good mood!  At first I wanted to protest.  I don’t judge people.  I am a grace-filled Christian that loves everybody.  All my friends tell me so!

But, in my heart, I know that is not true.  In my heart, as I stood there, listening to what my Lord had to say to me, I knew that He was speaking truth.  I am doing my best, yes, but I still have so far to go if I am to be the person He wants me to be.  He calls me to be a grace dispenser in the world; to show every person the love He has for them.  I fear I may never get there.  But I trust in that vast grace to catch me when I fail.

These types conversations with Jesus are not easy, and they are rarely pleasant.  But friends, they are so necessary.  I want to walk with Jesus.  I want to have a real relationship with Him.  But that means getting past the superficial conversations that help me to pretend I’m OK.  That means listening when He tries to point me in the right direction, and not protesting that I am already there.  It means letting go of my pride, and clinging to grace offered me by His divine perfection.  By protesting my innocence, I live a lie.  But I am only lying to myself, because He already knows my heart and my attitudes.  The road to true humility is a hard one friends.

Let’s do ourselves a favor for the next few weeks, beloveds.  Let’s take off the masks.  Let’s approach Jesus in all honesty and humility and just listen to what He has to say.  I believe in doing so, we can be transformed as never before.   Let this be our new beginning…

Lord Jesus,

Your grace is incomprehensible.  I like to think of it as a warm, fuzzy blanket.  But today, in your righteousness, it is more a cold shower of reality.  Speak to my heart, Lord.  And keep speaking until it is changed.  Cloak me in humility, so that I might listen instead of reject you.  I praise You.  For You are the God of second chances.  Thank you for never giving up on me.

In Your holy name I pray,

Amen

 

“But I’m Not The One Who Is Broken!”

” The Eternal spoke with me again.

Eternal One: Go and love a woman who is loved by someone else and is adulterous. Care for her and protect her, just as I love the people of Israel even though they’re unfaithfully turning to other gods and selfishly eating sacred raisin cakes in their honor.

So I paid the bride-price for this woman, less than I would pay to own a slave: six ounces of silver, about ten bushels of barley.

Hosea (to the woman): You’re going to live with me for a long time. I didn’t buy you just for my own pleasure, and I’m not going to cast you aside. But I’m not going to let you commit adultery again—in fact, you’re not going to have sexual relations with anyone, not even me.”

Hosea 3:1-3

So here’s the story.  Hosea was a prophet.  He was married to a woman named Gomer.  Gomer left him (and their children,) and became a prostitute.  She is now up for the highest bidder.

We pick up in chapter 3 and see what God is commanding Hosea to do:  Go get her.  Forgive her.  Love and protect her.  Pay the price to to redeem her.

In this week of contemplating what it means to be “free to receive,” one might think that we would focus on Gomer and her ability to receive this gift from the husband she has disgraced.

However, Hosea’s story resonates more with me.  Here is (from what I can tell,) a godly man; a good man.  His wife has embarrassed him, cheated on him, betrayed their family, pretty much everything you can think that would hurt him.

So who is in need of grace in this situation?  The one who has clearly strayed, or the one being asked to forgive?

In my life, the ability to forgive a wrong is certainly a grace from God.  I don’t forgive easily.  I can’t imagine taking my spouse back after an episode like this, or even more so, loving and caring for him.  But as followers of Christ, we are all called to love, forgive and reconcile.

In this manner, I am not the one who is broken.  And I can justify my feelings and actions all day long.  It is easy to tell myself they don’t deserve forgiveness.  And remember in the story, it wasn’t the wayward wife asking for it, this was a command from God.  So much so, that Hosea had to buy her to get her back into his home.  She probably didn’t even say she was sorry.  Who deserves mercy with that kind of attitude?

The moral of this story, for me, is that God isn’t concerned with my excuses.  He calls me to forgive under all circumstances.  He even knows my heart and provides me the grace that enables me to do it. He knows I don’t have it in me to do it myself.   I just have to be open enough to receive it.  I have to be humble enough to stop pointing fingers and examine my own heart condition, even if I don’t think I am the one who is broken.  To call myself a follower with any integrity at all, I have to be willing to let Christ change me in all circumstances.  That is a lifelong struggle for me.  How about you, friends?

Spend some quiet time with God in the days to come and pray this psalm.  Open yourself to His answers and His grace to transform you.  Be blessed by His revelations, not offended by them.  For by these we are led down the paths of righteousness.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

Psalm 139:23-24

“Givers…”

We all like to be givers, especially in the church.  We like to think of our neighbors, to pray for them, to help out in times of need, and to deliver a freshly baked casserole at the first sign of trouble.  It is what we do.

But what we don’t do, so much, is to accept the generous gifts from our neighbors in return.  Why is that?  I will provide a home-cooked meal in a heartbeat to a friend going through a hard time, but rarely will I accept the offer when someone calls me wanting to know “what time should I bring it over?”  My response is always the same, “Oh you are so kind, but we are fine.  Really, no need for you to go to all that trouble.”

I think it is a pride thing.  I certainly don’t want to admit that I need help.  I don’t want to admit that I can’t quite get around to feeding my family today.  And I certainly would never ask anyone to pray for me.  My problems are nowhere as big as some people.  You should save up your prayers for the folks that really need them.  Right??

But I ask all you well-meaning church folks out there to consider something a wise mentor shared with me once.  She said, “When you don’t allow a fellow believer to help you, the you deny them a blessing.”

Think about it.  Especially here in the south, when we show up at a friend’s house during a time of need (with a great meal in tow,) we do feel blessed don’t we?  We feel as if we have helped in some way, and more importantly, that we have communicated our care for them.  It makes us feel good, doesn’t it?

So why would we rob a friend of the same experience?  Are we so self-centered that we are more concerned with our image of being self-sufficient than the feelings of the people who care about us?

And as an addition, consider this.  Most of the time when someone is moved to help us, something is going on with us.  We are probably experiencing some sort of stress that would lead them to take time out of their own busy schedule to offer us a helping hand.  I truly believe that God sends people to help us in our times of need.  We may be praying to Him over our circumstances, asking for help, but then too proud to accept it when it comes.  Never underestimate our God when it comes to answering our needs.  He just sometimes uses the people in our midst instead of divine measures.

So the next time someone offers you a hand, be gracious.  Be filled with gratitude.  Be accepting and be blessed.  It will bring you so much closer to God when you do.

Peace friends.

Good and Perfect Lord,

You know all my needs.  Forgive me when my pride keeps me from expressing them.  Forgive me when I turn away Your divine help in order to protect my self-image.  Create in me a gracious heart.  Create in me a spirit of community and kinship – that I may freely receive as I give.  Help to tear down the walls I have built around myself, so that I might more freely experience all that You have to give me.  And Lord, teach me what it truly means to be a part of Your loving kingdom.

In the name of Christ I pray,

Amen

“Am I Doing Just Fine?”

Our reading comes today from Matthew, chapter 15:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+15&version=NLT

I had a hard time with this passage today.  I couldn’t quite see the message, or the whole story.  It looked fragmented to me.  However, I have meditated on it and let it rest with me for a while, and now maybe I am beginning to see.  I would love to hear your view on this passage, if you are willing to share.

It seems to  me that Jesus is showing us the world of contradiction that we (you and I) are currently living in.  The first half of the chapter deals with the Jews, God’s chosen people.  These were the folks steeped in tradition and following all the rules that good church people do.

The second half of the chapter deals with people (both Jews and Gentiles) that are in deep need of Jesus’ powerful touch.  They need healing and feeding in the worst way, and they come begging and desperate.

This second group, they know they need a savior.  They recognize their needs for healing and restoration.  AND, they are willing to do whatever is necessary to get it.  The woman throws away all her pride and keeps coming back, even after she is insulted by Jesus and sent away.  The crowds show up and wait for up to three days, hungry and desperate, just for a touch of the masters hand.  Because they have probably tried everything else.  

In contrast, the religious authorities, the disciples, the good church folks – they think they are alright.  They are doing everything they are supposed to, right?  Then Jesus begins talking about a “heart condition.”  He keeps emphasizing that it isn’t empty religious practice that gets us right with God, but a holy heart.  He tries to break through those walls that have been built up around the church, to show them that they too are in need of healing, but they don’t understand.

This first group doesn’t even realize they are sick because they aren’t showing any outward signs of illness.  So they have a hard time accepting what Jesus is saying to them.  Compare them to the other group, grasping at every word uttered by the Savior, because they are at the end of their ropes.

I believe that Jesus is saying to me today, that I need to recognize my own brokeness; my own need for healing.  I am always very quick to testify to His healing power for “those out there.”  But today He says to me, “Your heart condition is in need of transformation.”  If I am willing to lay aside my pride and accept this gift, it will be miraculous.  Or, I can keep going about my daily business here at church and lie to myself and you – saying that I am doing just fine.

The choice today is mine.

Heavenly Father,

How I thank You for Your grace and mercy toward me.  How I thank You that You have never left nor forsaken me.  You accept me where I am, but You refuse to leave me here.  Your plan for me is good.  Forgive my prideful resistance to Your work in my life.  Your love sometimes cuts deep into the heart of my life, exposing those things that I would rather keep hidden.  

Cloak me in humility, that I might be accepting of all the transformation You have for me.  Help me to face the truth about myself, that I might be set free by Your healing touch.  And allow me the integrity to testify to the world about the work You are doing with me.

In the name of the Great Healer I pray,

Amen