Christians, Let Us Remember

glowing-cross

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

It is finally the day after, and we all woke up this morning as Americans. Yet we are Christians first.

Some voted (or did not vote) as an expression of anger or protest. Many more of us used our vote as an instrument of principle. Whatever the outcome, our call in Christ is for reconciliation.

Many factions have sought to divide us, have sought to have us focus on flaws and sin instead of mercy and grace. The enemy has infiltrated our hearts, our thoughts, and our words.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” (Matthew 15:11)

handsqueezingheartWe have several choices today and over the next four years.

We can let our shock and disappointment grow fear in our hearts. We can continue to brood, letting our anger simmer until it boils over into a rage that we can no longer contain. We can continue to cast blame, point fingers, and feed our resentment. Either of these choices will keep the door open for the enemy to squeeze Christ’s living water, grace and love out of our hearts.

 

On the other hand, we can choose to accept the results with grace. We can pray for our new President, for all the members of our new Senate and House of Representatives. We can pray there will be (or already has been) a gracious concession speech without bitterness or rancor. We can pray for a peaceful transition of power. We can pray for progress over politics. We can work wholeheartedly to unite our country.

In January, the hand of the winner of this hard-fought election will be placed on a Bible. The new President will take the Oath of Office. We can choose to put behind us the animosity we have lived with the last 20 months and instead, take up our cross and the mission of reconciliation. We can choose to be the light and the mouth of Christ.

You see, the controlling force in our lives is the love of Christ; Christ’s love guides us. He died for us so that we will all live, not for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. Because of all that God has done, we now have a new perspective; we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence. All of this is a gift from our Creator, who pursued us and brought us into a restored and healthy relationship with Him through Christ.

And He has given us the same mission – the ministry of reconciliation – to bring others back to Him. He reconciled the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And He gave us this wonderful mission of reconciliation. We are Christ’s ambassadors; God makes His appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:14-20)

His Embrace

father-holding-newborn

When we search His call, abide in love,

as we open all to God above

in our praise and prayer, we worship and declare

our God none to compare,

we feel His embrace, feel His embrace.

 

If we see neighbors through Father’s eyes

(neighbors – those heirs who we may despise),

it’s not “them” we see, but seeds of Diety

Who made us family.

We feel His embrace, feel His embrace.

 

And He loves without prerequisite

even though we doubt and won’t commit.

There’s plenty of space to make enough mistakes;

He gives mercy and grace.

We feel His embrace, feel His embrace.

 

His command: we are to love bar none

no matter what our likes, says Savior Son.

We have a choice, yet His will remains unmet;

in this will we regret?

We feel His embrace, feel His embrace.

 

Open hearts and heads to Life and Light;

His lavish grace will spread to all in sight.

As we pass kindness along, we become blessed,

have moved to His likeness.

We feel His embrace, feel His embrace.

 

 Luke 10:25-37

The Rich Young Ruler in Us

‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not bear false witness. You must not defraud anyone. (Mark 10:19)

broken-mirror2

Money and possessions.

They were the stumbling blocks for the rich young ruler. But let’s begin at the beginning.

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)

Jesus told us to ask and we would receive; seek and we would find (Matthew 7:7). But just because we knock and the door is opened doesn’t mean we will step over the threshold. When God gives us answers, it doesn’t mean we will respond to His call, for we may not like what He has to say or think we are capable of doing what He asks.

 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not bear false witness. You must not defraud anyone. Honor your father and mother.’” (Mark 10:18-19)

Acknowledging all humans sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), Jesus goes on to list several commandments the young man must obey. However, notice one of these is not one of the Ten Commandments: “You must not defraud anyone.”

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reminds us that although “You shall not murder” is one of the Ten Commandments, he removes the legalism and expands the commandment to include the heart: “But I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.” (Matthew 5:22)

How many times do we find ourselves angrily calling people names, whether on social media, gossiping to a friend, or just inside our heads?

Here he expands ‘Do not steal’ and ‘Do not lie’ into “You must not defraud anyone.” Could he see into the rich young man’s heart? Can he see into ours?

 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” (Mark 10:20)

How often do we, legalistically speaking, comfort ourselves into believing we have kept all the commandments? If we do a heart check, what is our own prognosis?

  • Have we given anger to someone instead of grace?
  • Have we coveted something we don’t need or someone we shouldn’t desire?
  • Have we taken something that isn’t ours to take? If not a possession, someone’s dignity, innocence or sense of accomplishment?
  • Have we lied instead of owning up to the truth? Have we told a lie out of convenience or pride?
  • Have we defrauded someone simply because we could?
  • Have we honored our parents, even if they were not the parents we wanted?

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. (Ezekiel 36:26)

Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

The young man went away sick at heart at these words because he was very wealthy and had many possessions. (Mark 10:21-22)

Why did Jesus feel ‘genuine love’ for this man at this point in the story? Because he knew the rich young ruler actually believed he had kept all the commandments. The young man actually believed he wore the clothes of a righteous man. He didn’t know any better. And because Jesus was about to strip him of those clothes with two sentences, the young man would choose to walk away.

How do we feel when God speaks directly to us? What is the feeling we get in the pit of our stomach when we are suddenly made acutely aware of our weaknesses and offenses and are humbled before God? What do we choose to do?

We have three choices:

1) We can become so mortified and feel so unworthy we feel like a failure. We can decide we have fallen from grace and begin to believe we have to work and perform to get back into the good graces of God.

2) We can become confused, grieved or angry at God for pointing out our faults and simply walk away from Him. We can fiercely hang onto our own ideas, convince ourselves that other people are far worse off than we are and begin to point out their weaknesses and transgressions.

3) We can choose to accept we are human and take an honest look into the mirror. We can lean into Him for strength and guidance, knowing we cannot change on our own. We can accept His forgiveness and mercy which are new every day. We can rest assured in our Father’s unconditional love. We can continue to ask him to search our hearts for anything that is faulty. We can abide in the Spirit who leads us onto the path of doing the right thing and being the image of God.

Looking at [his disciples], Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

Back to Basics, Part 4

Continued from Back to Basics, Part 3

(See end note)
(See end note)

Following Jesus is all or nothing. He tells us to follow his commands – all of them, not just the few we feel comfortable following.

“My experience of many Christians is that we have it backwards. We want the power to point out sin; we want the credit and glory for having saved them when it is not up to us.”

In every case I read in the Gospels, Jesus loved first (as he did for us), offered grace first, then gave outcasts and sinners (like us all) the space to recognize and acknowledge their own sins, come to him and allow him to transform their lives. We don’t give people that space; we don’t give them a chance to own their own fallenness. And changing behavior isn’t transformation; it’s a band-aid. Transformation changes hearts and minds.

As I listen in church, as I talk in person to fellow believers, as I read blogs across the Western World, my experience of many Christians is that we have it backwards. We want the power to point out sin to not only to individuals but entire groups of people. We want the credit and glory for having saved them when it is not up to us.

So, how do we follow the tasks to reconcile people to God (2 Corinthians 5:17-19), and how do we make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20)?

Our job, through God’s love, is to open the door for people to reach out to Jesus and for him to hand them the opportunity for His Love and Grace. That is when Transformation occurs. That is when the “Aha” moments happen. That is when the thirst for discipleship transpires.

When we attempt to argue or accuse people into Christ, all we do is cause them to be offended, to turn their backs on God. That isn’t what we want and it certainly isn’t what God wants. If our mission is to reconcile everyone to God and what we’ve been doing isn’t working, we must change our methods.

“The elder son…cannot see the difference between restorative justice and punitive justice. And restorative justice is the Good News.”

In the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus begins with, “A man had two sons.” Even though many of our Bibles call it the Parable of the Lost or Prodigal Son, it is really The Parable of the Lost Sons. This parable is not simply about the younger son who was lost to sin.

It is also about the elder son who stood to inherit twice what his younger brother took as his inheritance. The elder brother was lost to legalism, the son who is so focused on the sin of his brother his anger will not allow him to offer grace or accept the double treasure of his Father’s grace and love which has always been there for him. He cannot see the difference between restorative justice and punitive justice. And restorative justice is the Good News.

As we love unconditionally, it doesn’t mean we condone sin, just as forgiveness doesn’t mean we accept bad behavior. But trying to teach someone about acceptable behavior before you accept and love who they are regardless of their behavior will fall upon deaf ears. It will erect a wall that will never allow them to feel safe enough to let down their guard.

Loving unconditionally means we communicate without disgracing or treating people without dignity. It means we create a safe space for them to discover the love, mercy and grace of God. It means we allow them to choose, through that saving grace, to repent in their own time because God’s love and His Spirit moves them to do so. It means we don’t stand in their way or erect barriers of any kind, otherwise we become stumbling blocks.

The bottom line is this: we can either continue pushing ahead, attempting to teach through condemnation and accusation, or we can build authentic trust and relationships through the wisdom and patience of the Holy Spirit, through the compassion of Jesus, and through the love and grace of our Father.

 

The Tree of Life, a nearly 10-foot tall sculpture, was created by four Mozambican artists: Cristovao Canhavato (Kester), Hilario Nhatugueja, Fiel dos Santos and Adelino Serafim Maté. The sculpture was made entirely from weapons that were the remains of the 17-year civil war that killed one million people and only ended when the Soviet Union collapsed and funding ended. This piece was part of the Transforming Arms Into Tools project which employs former child soldiers to dismantle weapons, which has dismantled more than 600,000 weapons in nine years.

Back to Basics, Part 3

“You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears.” (Matthew 13:11-12, The Message)

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This series is deeply personal for me.

After I wrote Sunday Afternoon I needed to be lifted out of the hopelessness I felt after the horrible week of killing and chaos. Who better to lift me than Jesus?

I desperately needed to get back to the basics of our Savior’s sweet and redeeming words – back to why we call ourselves Christians in the first place.

The Gospels and Christ’s words are my shelter, my safe place, my refuge when I am confused, when I lose hope, when the world and the enemy become too much for me. This is the whole basis for this series: Back to Basics. The Gospels ground me solidly in the heart and Spirit of Jesus. It’s where I feel most at home.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” So Matthew got up and followed him. And as Jesus sat at the table in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were eating with Jesus and his disciples.

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

But when Jesus heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a doctor, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the pious, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:9-13)

There was a lengthy discussion in the comments section of Back to Basics, Part 2 about how we as Christians call people to repentance. Sinners, outcasts, outsiders, even believers who wander from righteousness. I also had the same kind of discussion on another blog about how we treat our Christian brothers and sisters who have fallen into temptation.

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

I don’t perceive this statement of Jesus as abandonment. Matthew places this statement right after the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14). Look back at the way Jesus treated pagans, prostitutes and tax collectors. He ate with them, he offered them grace and compassion, he loved them until they were able to feel his heart, able to feel safe enough to be totally vulnerable, able to willingly surrender to him and repent. He didn’t give up on them or ostracize the outcasts; just the opposite. He met them where they were and invited them into his arms where they saw his heart. (Luke 5:29-32, 7:37-39, 15:1, and 19:7)

Eyes to see and ears to hear come from ready hearts – hearts that have been tucked in safely on a bed of unconditional love and grace, of relationship, of knowing the history and hurts of that heart.

“Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is not safe. It says, “Your sin is your face and that is all I see of you or care to know about you.”

“Love the sinner, hate the sin,” is not safe. This phrase to all who hear it says, “I don’t want to know your history or pain. I already presume to know you globally through what I have condemned as your sin. Your sin is your face and that is all I see of you or care to know about you. Until you change, you are not worthy of my time or God’s time.”

Focusing on sin does not preach the Good News. It does not make disciples. Focusing on sin negates our own state of being when our Father adopted us through Christ. It negates everything Jesus lived and died for. It negates Christ’s resurrection.

When we focus on sin, we immediately place expectations on those we accuse. We establish a hierarchical relationship to them, we elevate their sin to a place of prominence instead of focusing on the Good News – God’s Grace (Romans 2:1-4, 3:24). And we forget that sin is a lifetime struggle.

Our job is to worry about our own sin, to whittle down our own logs, to look at the person in the mirror and begin there to make a change.

We have been left with two missions (commissions):

Reconciliation: Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

Make disciples: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

So how do we successfully accomplish these missions?

Continued tomorrow in Back to Basics, Part 4.

Kitchen Table Conversation: Just What? (Justice)

The topic this day in Kitchen Table Conversation is Justice. I was excited when I first found this out about a month ago. I just happen to despise injustice.

So I began to think deeply about justice.  And I thought and I thought and I looked it up and I thought and I thought some more.

Good grief.  Justice is quite the topic.  I mean, it’s so vast yet so single.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I am no great Bible scholar.  I find it much easier to speak from my heart.  So here goes.

Having worked for Law Enforcement and having the opportunity to listen and type out interviews between detectives and suspects, well, justice had slipped into my thoughts often. I would allow thoughts about these people, who weren’t yet convicted, to swirl through my head.  I had to stop that before they entered my heart. I found a way, through prayer, to delete these thoughts so I wouldn’t bring these people home with me.

I realized that I was  just the paper filer, the records keeper and distributer of such documents. That was my place at the PD. I was not a Judge or even a Jury. The Officers were not those roles either.  I felt for the victims. Big Time! I often prayed for Justice.

So, how do I feel about Justice? Eye for an eye? Throw them away for life or even death…….before they even have a trial? These are thoughts I struggle with every time I listen to the News. But who am I to pass sentence on people?

Recently I was unjustly accused of something that I did not do. I’ll tell you that story. It was small and menial compared to breaking the law and committing an unthinkable crime. But I felt so betrayed. You see, someone I thought was a close friend decided that some things our family faced recently was all due to the fact that I read a series of literature books that, apparently, they did not approve of. Therefore, our family went through a difficult week with “life stuff”. Say what?

This may sound silly compared to the serious subject of Justice, but bear with me. You see, with my relationship with God, I know I had the liberty to ready this particular series. I even ran it by my husband just to see what he thought. I knew he would agree with me. My mistake was not knowing the depth of my friendship with these people. It was shallow and I thought it was deep. Not only did I feel betrayed and judged by them, but they didn’t even tell me, they told my husband. That was probably a good idea though, my husband is much kinder and merciful. He turned it around and they didn’t even see that. I, on the other hand, would have possibly gotten all “Jersey” on them and cried. 😀

I really hate the feeling of being misunderstood and accused of something I didn’t do. I have spent the last week looking into my heart and what I came up with was the fact that I trusted them as friends. That is where it failed. After I got over all the things I felt about them (not pretty) I realized that I should have seen it coming. The hints they dropped about themselves were there. I chose to dive in anyway. Bottom-line, I want to show them love and mercy. They wouldn’t look at me at church, I tried to make eye contact. Our friendship has dropped to another level on the friendship meter. It is sad, but we will try and work it out and most likely agree to disagree – at least I will.

You see, I decided, after I threw the book at them and unjustly attacked them before God, and threw away the proverbial key, that I would let their Father and Friend, Jesus and Holy Spirit speak to their hearts. Their choice to listen to Him or not. My choice? My choice is Mercy. I want to show Mercy every time a misunderstanding comes up. And as humans, we know how often that happens. I would rather err on the side of Mercy than Judgement any day, and let God be our Judge. And in the place of the Law on this earth, the powers that be.

There. I now need a cup of coffee and a piece of pie and a good book to read 😉

Cate B

 

Kitchen Table Conversation: Justice, Crawling, Continuous

“Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”

Luke 18:4-5

Yeah how long must you wait for it?
Yeah how long must you pay for it?
Yeah how long must you wait for it?
Oh for it

– Coldplay

I find that when I come to the end of myself, there He is, waiting. Wading through the brush, and the dirt and the branches, through the people and their ideas and opinions, through the various voices, news stories and religions, past thought aisles and philosophy, until I get to…silence.

At the end of rainbows are struggles and in preparation for the rainbows is testing. And at the end of testing is justice. After persistence and panting, searching, seeking, underneath and up above. Continual crawling and ultimate mercy, the fight to get those who are unloved to the front of the line for some food. The harder I seek the dirtier the road, the further I walk, the further I see the people who need to be seen. There are hungry people who need food. If I am not fed, if I do not struggle, if I do not writhe and beg to set myself free from the world, how then can I find and teach those that are drowning, shouting, hurting, haunted, barely living, barely holding on…

I am not mad that God has not acted, I am mad that I have not. That I have not spoken when I should have, or spoken too much, or not enough. I should’ve begged longer, held on longer, not given up on my prayer for the weary.

Could I not even watch and pray one hour?

I have failed but stand back up. I need to see with the eyes of God. She hurt me, so what? She is hurting, she deserved her own justice, but may have never got it…

Fairness is universal. Evil is the same wherever you go. Beg for the fairness we do not deserve ourselves. Beg for the justified soul that your enemy does not deserve. Twist and turn the hurt into a prayer for your foe’s salvation. Pray continually…

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

I was lawless and corrupt, I was lost, I was searching, I was begging, I didn’t deserve even one drop of the blood that flowed from the veins of my savior. Justice would have been my punishment for what I deserved. But in His mercy, His infinite mercy, my infinite begging, I found Jesus. He laid justice upon me when I deserved demise. He declared me His child when I deserved the gravest of penalties. He gave me His robe, I should have bore His thorns.

When we crawl, when we stretch, when we continually ask to be better than we are, when we never stop failing to reach for Him, we are justified, we are saved, we are made ready to extend our arms to the ones that need it most.

Most humble and eternal God, your justice is radical and eternal. Place within us the widow’s desperate call, asking you to save the lost and lonely and all the sinners like me who don’t deserve it. I will never stop asking you Father for your mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.

Amen