No one shall appear before me empty handed

Jesus Christ, Rio Janeiro, Christ, StatueWe follow Jesus at a distance- following too close is costly. For everything that we are and everything that we strive to be still has some meaning in the world, as long as we let it. We can tell ourselves that one or two drinks will be o.k. but then we drink ourselves to excess. One night will not lead anywhere. God will rescue me. But if God is the rowboat, we are the oars, and some of us have forgotten how to paddle.

Jesus is not a lot of talk, he is a lot of silence. He does not babble on and on and write you excuses for what it is you want to do. He is a mystery in this world, completely not of it, and therefore not a partaker in its sin. 

We come empty-handed to God expecting magic tricks. If I pray enough, If I read enough scripture things will surely change for me. But the bible is not a wand and our words to heaven are not hocus pocus. Change from within is a slow process and we have to come with something, something to leave behind and sacrifice on His holy altar.

Nobody thinks much about sacrifice, it is counter-cultural. But Jesus is counter-cultural. If Jesus walks left, we should be walking right. The journey is dirty. It is too much to leave what we have and be with Him. We love our addiction more than we love Him. We are addicted to our own selves and the selfishness that it produces.

You don’t have to leave the world to follow Him, well not in a physical sense anyway. But yes you will have to leave the world. That includes your pride, your drugs, your definitions of what is acceptable behavior, your just this one time, your excuses, your holding onto the world. The drink may go down smooth, but Jesus refused it for you. He felt his pain.

The gospel is harsh. It is not a neat package or clean or money raining down from heaven. It is not undefined. There is no confusion about what it says, the world confuses that. It is bright lines. You don’t like it because it’s not easy. You don’t like it because it is speaking directly to you. You don’t like it because it requires you to sacrifice the very thing that you love, and you love it more than you love him, so you follow Him at a distance.

“the whole world  (which) is in the power of the evil one” makes man’s life a battle.” (Catechism 409, 1 John 5:19).

You’ll never get anywhere if you can’t touch him; if you are sitting down with the servants to see the outcome. (Matthew 26:58). The gospel is not a show in high-definition. 

“Peter was following him at a distance as far as the high priest’s courtyard, and going inside he sat down with the servants to see the outcome.” Matthew 26:58

I will meet you

20160514_070935The challenges of motherhood are many, but it is who I am. I never asked God to make me famous, rich or powerful. I never asked him for a big house or lots of friends. I grew up with a sense of knowing, what I now know is my vocation, motherhood. There was never anything I wanted more than that. But I had a sense from a young age that would be a struggle. The Holy Spirit was present and alive to me ever before I knew who Jesus Christ was, and even though I was not a believer in Christ, I knew God and saw His hand in my life. So when I struggled to have children I found it a curse, cruel, a God that didn’t hear my shouts for mercy, my Hannah prayers, my desperation.

For those that have not grappled with infertility, I am glad for you. Out of all the things I have contended with in my life, this by far was the greatest fight for my soul. I wanted children like I wanted water, it wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity.

After several opinions, I stumbled across a doctor willing to help me. His name was Dr. Christie, I can’t make this stuff up. I was not a believer in Christ at the time but even I as a Jewish girl recognized the name. It was subtle. God doesn’t bulldoze his way through, He glides gently. It was one of a series of small whispers, God’s call to me. Subtle.

Dr. Christie was my third opinion. I came armed and prepared with my research and data. I had by this time diagnosed myself. I had come from a doctor who told me I’d never have children unless I paid him $25,000. The world of infertility is legalized extortion. I told myself that this time around with this doctor, I would put him to the test.

But he wasn’t like the others. He was quiet, kind… unassuming. At the time he was working in a small infertility office. He had been at the job exactly one week.  The specialist that owned the practice brought him on. That specialist was booked up for six months. But not Dr. Christie- he was available right away.

I hesitated to make the appointment. The words “he’s wide open because he’s new” are not usually a good sign. But something drew me in. I knew it was his name.

I sat down with the good doctor. He was visibly nervous. He had just moved his whole life to Florida and he was a true southern boy, accent and all. But his presence was calming to me. We spoke, and he rattled off his diagnosis- the same one I had come up with. I told him he was hired. He told me he couldn’t guarantee me anything, but that I was a good candidate for an alternative to IVF.  He told me with a smile that he had a good feeling.

We started the process, Shlomi and I. It was a perpetual wave of emotions. We started out with pills, then moved on when I told Dr.Christie that I was ready to go for it, full force. He smiled again. He knew why.

More drugs this time in the form of shots. What an emotional time. Your husband injecting you in the hopes for a baby. He was so gentle. I would cry out of sheer emotional pain. It wasn’t the needle that hurt me, it was the reminder of the needle that hurt me. But Shlomi was there encouraging me, telling me, I was going to be a mother, He was sure of it.  Another subtle reminder. Another subtle reminder of Jesus.

Several months, lots of drugs, emotions high and the blood test that changed my life. A call from Dr. Christie. I was on edge. I had been pregnant twice before and lost those within a couple of weeks. I closed my eyes.

I was pregnant, and he had a suspicion that it was multiples.

I felt the sting of the needle, unsure of God, could He be this cruel? It was my birthday, 2008.

7 weeks in I entered the room. There were three. Shlomi, Dr. Christie and me. Dr. Christie had inadvertently become an inextricable part of my journey. I trusted him. And before I looked up to see the ultrasound, to hope for a baby and not an empty sac or no heartbeat, I looked over at Dr. Christie. He told me he had a good feeling.

And there it was. His good feeling on a screen. His instinct. My pain. The needles. My husband’s confidence in God. And my husband was an atheist at best. Two sacs. Two heartbeats. Two babies in my belly. That is when I knew God had not left me. That is the moment I knew that God had not forgotten me, my destiny, to be a mother. And He didn’t stop there. Three months after I delivered my twins I found out I was pregnant with my third. No drugs or doctors or needles. God filled my belly. Why? The first prayer I ever prayed from my heart that I understood, not in Hebrew.

God I want another baby. Please God give me another baby, and He did. 

Although my third was not the result of any intervention, I only trusted Dr. Christie. With my condition, I knew there was a high chance I’d lose this one too. And I couldn’t, I couldn’t lose this one. And he happily agreed to monitor me for Meadow’s first 12 weeks of life. He was there when I heard her heartbeat too. I knew it was a miracle. Only God could do that…

I believe I was destined for the cross, destined for Christ. I believe God chose me before I ever chose Him. I believe God picked my vocation and filled my belly with three babies. I believe in divine providence and its many and numerous gifts. I believe He dresses me in sacred vestments. I believe His altar is wherever He meets you.

Exodus 30:6, “This altar you are to place in front of the veil that hangs before the ark of the covenant where I will meet you.”

Leave the world behind

“Be His people in the world, ” Father Michael

We all want to be something, something more than we already are. But our motives are all certainly different. In the world, it is money and fame and self-absorption. We are propelled by always trying to be something more. The simplicity and teachings of the gospel are just too much for some with its anti-pop cultural message- the things of this world will pass away, but I will never pass away.

It is counter-intuitive to not want to get credit for our work. It doesn’t make sense to the world when believers sell everything and move halfway across the world to serve as missionaries. Many of us who are believers long for adventures like that, long for God to call us to bigger and better things, but alas, we are still in our minds “stuck” in our jobs and in our everyday lives, no “big” calling, no moving halfway across the world. This for many is disappointing. Looking around at our fellow congregants and saying to ourselves, “I wish that was me.”

I believe that so many times, the church ends up mirroring the world. We get caught up in our expectations of what God will do for us, how he will use us. We want to be pastors or deacons, ministry leaders, travel the world. And although these things may be the pathway for some, it is not for all. We are missing what God has for us right before our very eyes.

We don’t write to please others, or  raise our children the way the world tells us. Our marriages are built on the foundation of Christ, not of the world. We are to be servants at our jobs, and forgive, and pray for those that have offended us and spitefully used us. We are to be light in the darkness. 

Jesus did not have a formal ministry. He took the message into the world; He was among the people. God took on flesh to teach us what it was we needed to do. And those things are clear, seek the lost, preach the gospel at all times and live in the way He has called us. We have to stop looking at the way the world does business, stop bringing it into our churches. The call on your life is right where you are. 

I have found that in that acceptance, there is so much freedom. I, like many can get carried away at times with where I think God should have me. But then I remember Mary at the wedding feast at Cana, “Do whatever He tells you.”

So if you are doubting your impact on your children as a stay at home mom, hate your job in the world, or simply are waiting on God to move you somewhere else, remember who you are serving, the seeds you are planting. It only takes one person to change the world. (Rest in heavenly peace Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

The Baptism of Silence

“John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark 1:4

“A happy life is not lived in anger, it is lived in peace and mercy.” 

John

This is definitely a word for someone, I have no idea who, but that is none of my concern. I, like John am simply a messenger, carrying forward words for someone to hear.

John the Baptist, a Jewish prophet, was unpopular amongst the religious elite. He was truthful and  righteous and told it like it was, not how it should be. He wasn’t concerned with people’s reaction to him, he was only concerned with relaying the message that God had given him and fulfilling his role as the one who would prepare the way for the messiah, the one that the Jewish people had been waiting for.

John, like Jesus, was not what the people had expected. He didn’t fit neatly into the culture of the time, actually he didn’t fit in anywhere. He had a clear vision and goal from God, was born for that purpose, and did not concern himself with anything else. We mostly hear about John in the shadows of the Lord, but today I hear his message, renounce your sin and you will be forgiven.

In our culture, we don’t like to talk about the unpopular point of view. You are flat-out wrong if your opinion differs from pop culture’s idea of what is right and what is wrong. If you are not guided by a stable, real truth, what do you rely on? I am not quite sure Vanity Fair, Fox News or twitter qualify as vessels for truth.

In a culture of unforgiveness and pain, people believe it is ok to be angry when you feel like it or not forgive someone when you feel like it or indulge yourself in the next best thing because you feel like it; we are swayed by the world’s promises that you can live your life however you choose. But you were not created by yourself for yourself, and I imagine that indulging yourself in cruelties is not bringing you joy, no not at all. 

The repentance for the forgiveness of sins has a harsh tone to it and is often preached in a harsh and unloving manner. It is associated most times only with Christianity, the religion of hypocrites, and there is no incentive for those that are seeking the truth of happiness and fulfillment to even look to Jesus for an answer. That view is oftentimes troubling to me, as I reflect on my own life and journey as a Jewish person whose ultimate truth-seeking found me in Jesus’s loving arms. He never scolded me for the things I had done wrong. He loved me in the midst of where I was, the last place a saint would be. 

It is a tragedy that so many are looking for ultimate fulfillment in life and cannot find it. It is a tragedy that those who live in truth and peace do not know how to extend a hand to those who are hurting. We are afraid as Christians to offend those who don’t want to hear about Jesus. But I find that it is not so much in the telling then the living that people understand and respond. John made no apologies about the message God placed so deep in his heart. And as believers, we all are aware of our purpose and message that God has placed deep within us.

The humans I encounter day in and day out are in critical condition. I remain silent. I listen and respond when they reach out, and in some cases reach out to them when I know the time is right. I don’t have to preach about Jesus or relate John’s message, I just have to be it by simply reaching out my hand and picking them up off the floor. No words are necessary.

Preach John’s message of repentance by focusing on the forgiveness. In forgiveness there is love and mercy, and repentance is the brother of forgiveness, sure to follow. John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. For the forgiveness of sins. Read Mark 1:4 again, this time with love in your heart.

Jesus Paid It All and You Really Don’t Want to Pay Your Own Way

Over the course of the next few weeks, I am going to re run a series I wrote a while ago. It is one of the first things I ever wrote, and remains one of my favorites.

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Jesus paid it all. That is a very simple statement, with very profound implications.  Today begins a multi part series on Jesus’ payment. A good starting point is for us to discuss exactly what Jesus paid for. We will end with a discussion of why we really don’t want to make that payment ourselves.

What did Jesus pay for? Well he paid the necessary payment for our sins, of course. That seems fairly simple, yet the vast majority of the world fails to truly understand exactly what that means. The non believing world, as well as a large part of the “Christian” world totally fails to really understand what the Bible teaches about this issue.  Of course the non believing world simply dismisses the issue completely; and within the “Christian” world there are so many perversions and misunderstandings about this issue that they simply cannot be counted.

This series will be a close examination of some of the truths contained in the simple statement, “Jesus paid it all.”  In this first part, we will simply discuss the nature of both our sin debt and the payment Jesus made on our behalf for that debt.

Let’s talk about sin.  In its simplest meaning, sin is the breaking of God’s law. By God’s Law, we aren’t talking about the Old Testament Law, such as dietary laws and so forth. We are talking about the moral codes of behavior which God has laid out for us to adhere to. God’s law comes out of the aspects of the nature of God. For example, God considers a lie to be a transgression of His law, because God himself cannot lie. God’s Law reflects His character and His Holiness. To not love others transgresses God’s Law, because God is love. God’s Law is not just some arbitrary list of rules, but a reflection of His character, holiness and perfection.

Do we sin? Well of course we do! The Bible teaches that clearly. Romans 3:23 is the most famous scripture verse on this issue, stating that 

Romans 3:23 All have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God

Not only do we all sin, but we were all born into this world as sinners. Because of the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, all mankind has inherited a sin nature. Romans 5:12 teaches us that,

Romans 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

But let’s get more specific. It’s easy to toss out the general idea about how we are all sinners by nature and by choice. But we should actually discuss some particulars of our sin. Most people would agree that the Ten Commandments are a major source of a great number of the specifics of God’s Law. We should give ourselves a test. By the way I fail this test miserably!

Have you ever told a lie? Any lie, small or large. Any lie, whether a little white lie or a big black one? What is a person who tells lies called? A liar of course

Have you ever stolen anything? Big or little. Have you stolen a pencil at work? Run copies on the company printer? Have you cut in line? Then you stole that person’s spot. What do you call someone who steals? A thief of course.

Have you ever used God’s name in vain? This doesn’t even have to be the most obvious one where we actually use His name as a curse word. Have you called Him “the Big Guy?” Any use of the Holy name of God in a flip way is considered blasphemy by God.

Ever looked at a member of the opposite sex with lust? Of course we all have, unless we like the same sex. Jesus taught that to look at a woman with lust is to commit adultery of the heart.

We really have not gotten through all of the Ten Commandments, which are His moral law, and we have established that for the most part we are all lying, stealing, blaspheming adulterers at heart! (Thanks to Ray Comfort for that little test by the way)

So, the only question that remains is: Someday when you stand before God will you be found innocent or guilty? Based on our test, the answer obviously seems guilty is the only possible answer. To really get this, we have to understand and try to look at the issue from God’s perspective. We might look at some of those things and just not consider them to be a big deal; however, God disagrees. The real issue is this: Do we get to rate ourselves, so to speak, against our own human thoughts about right and wrong, or are we subject to the evaluation of a Perfect and Holy God?

Let’s start with something basic. God hates sin. That is an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless. Why does God hate sin? There are many reasons, and we will cover a few of them. First and foremost, God hates sin because He is Holy and sin is unholy. Sin, simply put, is outside the character of God and it offends Him. Like we said before, the Bible teaches that God cannot lie and that God is love. It flows from His character naturally then, that He would hate liars and those who do not love. God hates our sin because it separates us from Him. Before they rebelled and ate the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve walked in the Garden of Eden daily with God, as we learn in  Genesis 3:8. After The Fall, they were physically expelled from the Garden of Eden and the presence of God. The Prophet Isaiah was inspired to write the following:

Isaiah 59:2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

Our sin separates us from God, yet He created us to commune with and worship Him; therefore He hates anything which separates us from Him.

God hates sin because we will love our sin more than we love Him. God is love, loves us and wants our love. He hates anything which diminishes that love. James covered this in his epistle:

James 4:4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

God hates sin because sin is a sign of our rebellion toward Him.  In the Garden of Eden, God only made one rule for Adam and Eve, and that was that they not eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve succumbed to the temptations presented to her by Satan, and she and Adam ate the fruit anyway. God’s plan was for Adam and Eve to live forever in harmony, in communion and in worship of Him. They chose, however, the things that appealed to them rather than the things that mattered to God. That is what our sin represents to God today. When we sin, we are simply saying to God that we think our way is better than His way.

So, God is the Creator of the Universe and the supreme law giver. He is entitled, by virtue of that position, to make the guidelines by which we live; falling short or refusing to comply with those guidelines offends God’s character and He hates it. Obviously, it seems, any violation of His law makes us guilty of being law breakers. Nonetheless, many come up with various defenses of their actions in attempts to say they really are not guilty. We are going to look at some of those defenses; and we are going to compare what God might think with what any judge in any courtroom in the world would say if these defenses were presented to him or her. That seems fair; we would understand a human judge responding in accordance with the law. It seems we would expect no less of the Supreme Judge of the Universe! For this scenario, just envision being before a human judge, say for the crime of armed robbery and that the penalty for that is imprisonment. This is the law, no exceptions.

Judge, it wasn’t really a big robbery. I didn’t even use a gun! And I only got a little bit of money anyway.” The law says the penalty for armed robbery is imprisonment, no exceptions. Off to jail says the judge. God likewise does not care about the size of our sin. God is perfect and Holy, remember? A small sin makes us just as guilty as a big on in they eyes of a perfect God. James 2:10 teaches us that a man can keep the whole law and yet offends in one point is still guilty of violation the entire law.

Judge, I may have committed that robbery, but I never killed anybody!” The law says the penalty for armed robbery is imprisonment, no exceptions. Off to jail says the judge. God is not going to look at all the things we could have done, but did not do. Once again, a violation of the law is a violation of the law.

Judge, I may have committed that robbery, but did you know I have been working down at the food kitchen helping the homeless for years? What about all the money I gave to charity?” The law says the penalty for armed robbery is imprisonment, no exceptions. Off to jail says the judge.  No matter how many good things we may do, they do not make up for our violation of God’s law. We cannot cover our penaly due by doing anything good.

Judge, look what THAT guy has done!” The law says the penalty for armed robbery is imprisonment, no exceptions. Off to jail says the judge.  God is not comparing us to each other to decide our innocence of guilt. He only compares us the the standard of His perfection and Holiness. It only matters what we have done, not what anyone else has done.

Judge, I’m really, really sorry for committing the armed robbery.” The law says the penalty for armed robbery is imprisonment, no exceptions. Off to jail says the judge.  The idea that we could tell a judge we are sorry and expect to be released is really absurd. The law says what the penalty is, and the penalty must be paid. Why would God be any different?

Let’s get serious for a few moments now. Based on the standard of the law, we are all guilty of breaking it. I am; you are, every single one of us is. Someday we will all stand before God and the only possible verdict is a resounding GUILTY! This however, is not armed robbery, and the penalty is not simply imprisonment. What, then is the penalty? God’s Word tells us the answer to that question:

Romans 6:23 The wages of sin is death………

That’s right, the penalty prescribed in God’s Law for violation of that law is the death penalty. The penalty is not penance, or purgatory, or a monetary fine or any sort of good works to make up for what we have done. The penalty for our sin is death. What does this mean? Well, after the first sin, it meant physical death. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, they would have lived forever in their physical forms, in harmony with God. Their sin brought into the world all the sickness and death as we know it today. Death also means spiritual death.  Even though we all eventually die physically, we are are all eternal in our spirits. Our spirit, or soul will exist for all eternity.  So, again, what is it to spiritually die? Spiritual death is eternal separation from God in a place of torment we call Hell. It’s really that simple. When God says the wages of sin is death, that is the death of which He speaks.

The penalty is due; we all owe it, for we have all sinned and transgressed God’s law.  And each and everyone of us can pay that penalty ourselves if we want to. We each owe it, and we can each pay it. I could have payed for my own sin; you can pay for yours if you wish. But that’s the point of this article. We don’t really want to pay our own way; we don’t want to suffer eternal death in a place called Hell.

Although we can certainly pay our own way, we do not have to. The title of this article is Jesus Paid it All, and He did. The Good News of the Gospel is that even though a penalty is was due and payable, it has already been paid! We need to go back to Romans 6:23 and look at the rest of that verse, as we only showed part of it earlier:   

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God has given us a gift. Even though we owed the penalty of death for our sin, He have us His Son, Jesus Christ as a way for that debt to be satisfied. God became flesh, in the form of Jesus Christ and became incarnate on this Earth for that very reason. Jesus Christ was fully human, so He could pay the price humans owed for their sin; He was also fully God, so He could pay the infinite price of the sin of all humanity past, present and future. Despite how He hates sin, God loves us deeply and completely.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

It is a gift, we do not pay a thing for it; Jesus paid it all. We do not deserve it and we do not earn it.  All we have to do is accept it. How do we do this? Let’s look at what the Bible teaches about this:

Romans 10:9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Romans 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

It’s simple really. We have to confess Him. Basically we have to agree with Him that our sin is wrong and understand we should have paid for it. We agree with God that our sin is wrong and turn away from it. We call that repentance. We also need to believe that Jesus paid the price we should have paid ourselves, and to trust Him as our Savior and Lord.  And finally, we do have to call on Him. Romans 10:13 teaches that. The gift is available, and it is free; however God will not force it on anybody. He does require that we call on Him and ask for that gift.

Jesus paid it all. Four words full of meaning.  We all have a choice. We can pay our own way or we can accept that Jesus has already paid our way, if only we repent toward God and believe in Jesus Christ.

Is Grace Really That Amazing?

©telegraph.co.uk.Reuters
©telegraph.co.uk.Reuters

Nearly every Christian I know talks about amazing grace. We discuss it in church. Books have been written about it from Paul Ellis to Max Lucado to Andy Stanley to Lee Strobel to Philip Yancey (just to name a few out of over 100 pages on Amazon.com). Not to mention the number of songs.

It’s interesting to note that in the Gospels, the only grace ever mentioned was about Jesus. Yet the apostle Paul wrote of the gift of grace in nearly every letter.

“We are now saved and set right by His free gift of grace through the redemption available only in Jesus Christ. Roman 3:24

It seems to me, however, many spurn this free gift. Why, then is it talked about it so much? Why do people pretend they value grace when they wear it like a cloak in church on Sunday morning and hang it up when they walk in the door at home Sunday afternoon?

When the gift of grace is put on for show and not welcomed into the mind and heart and soul, it is rejected; it cannot then transform, cannot be understood, cannot be passed along.

Then these very things that have come to me will be poured out as “rivers of living water” all around me (John 7:38). Even love must be transformed by being poured out “to the Lord.” Oswald Chambers

When grace is not allowed to become a part of our DNA, we cannot become the human beings created in God’s image we were meant to be. We must surrender ourselves to a loving God who wants to lift us higher, who wants to show us more than we see right now.

God wants to show us the image of ourselves through His eyes. Our perfect, flawless, beloved selves. And once we can see that – once we grasp the raw amazing beauty of it – we will pour His loving, living water over others so they will see themselves that way, too.

Now that’s amazing grace.