Tuesday, December 19, 2006
It's December, and being along the Southern California coast, it's off to the beach I go. I have some time to re-energize before my busy evening tonight. The beach ... that's where I know I can find God's Spirit. "The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." Ruach. No wonder the beach calls to me. And there are so many perfect spots to view the ocean. And I know that God will reveal a profound truth to me at the beach today, as He has done several times before.
"Look to the water's edge," He tells me.
I watch the surf against the rocky shore below the bluffs. But I sense that there's more than peacefulness He wants to convey to me. So, I find another place to watch the waves, but I still feel unfulfilled.
Finally, I am standing on a bench, looking toward the horizon, where the water and the sky meet. Far, far beyond that point, where it is impossible for me to see from this bench, is the deepest part of the ocean. That's where God has buried all of my sins that have been forgiven. Surely, He doesn't want me to go looking for them!
"Look past that point. My love for you reaches beyond the depths of the ocean."
Nothing can separate me from your love, Lord. I know. Not even the powers of hell.
"Not distance or time either. From the time of creation, when I planned you - YOU - I had a plan to touch your heart today. I came to earth in Israel, halfway around the world from where you are, in the form of a baby. You know him as Jesus. I did this so that 2,000 years later you would know him as your friend and be reconciled to me."
Wow! Halfway around the world. Way past the horizon. Over an entire ocean and two more continents from this bench that I am standing on. God came to heaven to be born in a stable, so that centuries later He could say that He wants me - ME - to know HIM, the One who planned me from before the first wave was put into motion! This is the message that you want me to receive this Christmas!
And talk about reconciliation! Before I let Jesus in my life, I was a mess. I still mess up. I'm sorry, God, for the ways that I have hurt you. I am thankful that you made the oceans deep, because there are times that I feel as though my sins could fill them up. Thank you for your forgiveness.
As I stood looking from the east over the Pacific Ocean, I thought of the Three Wise Men, responding to the promises that God made through the prophets. The breeze from the ocean - the Ruach - surrounded me. As I felt the tears roll down my cheeks, I realized that for the first time in a long time, the meaning of Christmas stirred my soul the way that it should.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Yes, her touching the hem healed her. Jesus felt "power had gone out from him" and wanted to acknowledge the one whose life he had just transformed. Imagine this woman who, for the past twelve years, had been outcast, shunned, removed from society, family, and all she loved. Humiliated for over a decade with the label "unclean." No one would dare touch her, yet she longed to touch holiness. And in a moment of bold faith had the courage to cross the boundary of her uncleanness.
Imagine her embarrassment when all eyes were drawn to her. Had she just defiled God's anointed one? She fell at Jesus' feet, trembling in fear, and told him everything.
Jesus said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."
He didn't say much. Yet he said so much.
"Daughter." He called her "daughter." Not woman, not child, but daughter. He gave her acceptance. He gave her value. He gave her belonging. He gave her the Father's great love. No one else had in twelve years.
"Your faith has healed you." Healed. Her faith healed her. She believed in her only hope. In a manner of speaking, this woman bet the family farm on Jesus, all or nothing. And to hear her redeemer say she is healed! Those were the sweetest words she had heard in ages!
"Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." Peace. She is loved now. Maybe not by the community -- at least not yet. But loved by this man that just called her "daughter." She can once again re-enter the community and not live in the emotional chaos of loneliness. Oh, sure, there will be some that just don't get it, that don't believe that she's been healed. There might be some that still call her "unclean." But peace comes from knowing that you can hold your head high and not feel shame, because you now know the Truth. And the Truth has indeed set her free!
Everybody has a need that would take the touch of holiness to make it right again. For some it's physical. Maybe it's emotional. Perhaps financial or job-related. Or maybe relational. Or even just some sin or bad habit you want to walk away from once and for all. Whatever it is, it seems to be holding on with a white-knuckling death grip. You tried and tried to break free, prayed and prayed, but no mater how hard you try--------
You've gotten to the point where you have nothing left to lose. Heck, you even wonder if God even notices that you are hurting, much less bothers to even care.
"Daughter." "Healed." "Peace."
You don't have to suffer in despair. Reach out in bold faith. Touch the hem of holiness. Risk everything. You have so much to gain.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Jesus clearly cared about healing people during his ministry on earth. Physical healing was (and still is) an outward sign of God's power through Jesus Christ -- a proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God. But more so than the physical healing, Jesus was more passionate about the healing of the eternal body - our souls.
When someone is ill and recognizes a set of symptoms that he cannot control on his own, a physician is consulted for the diagnosis and course of treatment, and (hopefully) ultimately a cure for the disease. In the case of a chronic, long-term affliction, there is more than just the initial consultation. There are follow-up visits where progress is monitored and the course of treatment is adjusted where necessary. Eventually the patient is held accountable for maintenance of his restored health and sees the physician for periodic check-ups.
Several years ago, I was living my normal life, unaware that I had anything wrong that required treatment by a physician. However, people around me noticed various symptoms and wondered - even speculated - things about my well-being. But it wasn't until someone who I trusted and respected came right out and told me that I couldn't fix these symptoms on my own, that I finally sought help, diagnosis, treatment, and am now in regular maintenance mode for a thyroid condition. While the symptoms and the condition are not in and of themselves fatal, if they had been left untreaed, there was the potential for some serious complications.
It's the same with our souls. So many people are living their lives, unaware that there is anything wrong. Or, they may sense that there is something missing, but don't know how to describe the void. Or they believe that the void is supposed to be there, that it's a normal part of life. Some - most - try to fill that hole on their own, even though they know the emptiness will return.
It's only when somehow the picture of their lives is revealed to them that they see that something is missing. And often it takes someone with a more complete picture of life to point them to the Physician who specializes in treating the soul. And that Great Physician is Jesus Christ.
At the initial consultation, the diagnosis is made: You need forgiveness for your sins.
Just as with any other illness, the patient can either accept or reject the diagnosis. If rejected, the patient is free to go elsewhere for a second opinion that may be easier to accept. But the affliction - the need for forgiveness - remains.
If the patient chooses to accept that he is a sinner in need of forgiveness, the treatment, restored well-being, maintenance, and ultimate cure begins. Jesus enters the diseased heart. The power of the Holy Spirit goes to work to produce results: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The patient is prescribed a maintenance regimen: daily Bible study, regular fellowship with other Christians, regular worship, continual prayer. The extent of the healing is seen by how we use the gifts that God has given us to use for the glory of His name.
If he stays with the maintenance program, the void is filled more and more. If he falters and omits a part of the program, little by little, the hole starts to return. Returning to the Physician for treatment, adjustment, or a check-up is as simple as calling out in prayer or by asking a trusted fellow patient in recovery to point you back to the right direction.
And yes, there will be ultimate healing of our diseased souls when we reach heaven, meet our Great Physician face to face, and hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Monday, November 06, 2006
Imagine that you love someone so much that you would do anything to be with that person for all eternity. But you watch that person make decision after decision that draws him away from you. What can you do to show how deep your love is? You give things - events - of extraordinary beauty. You show him ways of how life should be - better than the way his life is now. You even give step-by-step, how-to instruction on what it takes to be with you. But he still doesn't see that you love him so greatly. And he is not making any changes in his life to try to reconcile. You get frustrated. You try tough-love ... consequences for his actions. It hurts you to have to do it, but the separation between the two of you hurts more. In fact, you would rather die than spend your life apart from him.
Then it strikes you - that's exactly the message you need to convey, before it's too late.
"I love you so much that I would rather give my own life away than to face it without you."
He turns his back on you.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Here are some random questions on that topic:
- Is there an "express lane" for Christians to enter heaven?
- What will my mansion be like?
- When we are “clothed in our heavenly dwelling” what will we look like? (Seeds often look nothing like the mature plant ... will our "heavenly dwelling" look anything like our earthly human form?)
- What will be along the streets of gold? Street vendors? Mansions? Will there be cars? Will the streets have gutters?
- Will we need the internet in heaven?
- Will the Book of Life be online, or is it all manually written down?
- After Jesus, who is the first person I would want to see?
- Is fishing allowed in the River of Life? What about skinny-dipping?
- What does an angel really look like?
- What kind of food will be at the feast?
- How many people can be seated at the table?
- Will I have to wait in a line to be with Jesus?
- Will everyone in heaven always get along?
- Will there be people in heaven surprised to see that I was allowed in?
- Who will I be looking for that didn't enter the Kingdom?
- What am I doing today to be sure that my friends and loved ones still on earth will someday meet me in heaven?
Friday, September 15, 2006
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
To many non-believers, that statement makes Christianity smack of exclusivity. "You mean to tell me that I can only get in to Heaven if I believe a certain way, and it has to be your way?"
While there is only one way to gain access to God - through Jesus Christ - there are as many ways to Jesus as there are individuals.
For example, let's say that I invited you to have coffee with me at my home. There's only one way that I'm going to let you into my home, and that's through my front door. But how do you get to my front door? There's more than one way - it all depends on what your starting point is. The way is different for someone who lives in San Pedro than, say, someone who lives in San Bernardino. But both would still have to go through my front door to gain (welcome) access to my home.
God's love for us is so vast that he has provided as many paths to Jesus as there are individuals, and the Gospels and the New Testament are rich in examples of this. In Luke Chapter 7 alone there are five examples:
- The Centurion, a middle-management guy whose servant was ill. "I'm not worghy of your time, Jesus." (But my employees think that I am)
- The widow at Nain, whose son had died. "A prophet is among us. God has come to help His people!" (*side note: Back in the day, to touch a dead body made you "unclean." Somehow, that's a non-issue when you bring somene back to life.)
- The disciples of John the Baptist. "Are you really the Christ?"
- Simon the Pharisee. "Let's have dinner, Jesus. I want to see for myself what you're really like...... SCANDALOUS! He allows a sinful woman to anoint him!"
- The Sinful Woman. "Jesus, you've made such a difference in my life. How can I ever repay you enough?"
And the Bible shows more paths to Jesus:
- Nicodemus: "I don't understand this 'Born Again' thing. Can you explain it to me?"
- The Woman at the Well: "How do you know so much about me?"
- The father of the demon-possessed son: "Jesus, your disciples weree not successful in healing my son, but I still believe."
- The Rich Young Ruler: "Tell me exactly what I have to do -- give me the Heavenly To-Do List." (He got the list, but he didn't do it.)
- The woman with the 12 years of bleeding: "If I could just get close enough to brush my hand against the hem of Jesus' robe ... he doesn't even have to notice me..." (She did. He noticed.)
- The Centurion at the cross: "Surely this man was the Son of God!"
- Saul of Tarsus: "Let's go to Damascus and kill us some Jesus Freaks!" (Thank God that Jesus had given Saul a change of plans!)
Fast-forward 2,000 years, and the encounters with Jesus still happen.
- The person who notices that something is happening: "I believe in God, but does he really care about what happens to me?"
- The skeptic: "I'm going to prove to you that thes Jesus guy is a fraud." (andthe more he tries to prove his point, the more he sees the evidence that Jesus is who he says he is.)
- The disaster observer: "Where was God when all of this took place? How could God let this happen?"
- The Prison Inmate: "I've done some pretty awful things and hurt a lot of people on my way down. Why would Jesus forgive me?"
- The fast-track corporate executive: "I've done some pretty awful things and hurt a lot of people on my way up. Why would Jesus forgive me?"
- The Athelete or The Golden Child: "I'm doing OK on my own." (Take a hard look. Are you really? Who are you kidding?)
Sooner or later, we are all going to have a Jesus encounter, because when it comes right down to it, we all need Jesus. The question is, how will you respond to your Jesus Encounter?
Just as there is only one way into my home, there is only one way to the Father, and that is through Jesus Christ. The Good News is that your path to Jesus does not have to be my path to him. It begins from where you are coming from right here, right now. Encounter Jesus. Ask him into your heart.
"Dear Jesus, I am sorry for my sins. Please forgive me and give me a new heart. Amen."
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Worship is a celebration. Communion is a part of that celebration. It's truly an amazing thing what Jesus did for us in his death and resurrection. The Lamb of God (Jesus) was sacrificed (freely given) as an atonement (payment) for our sins.
We all have sinned and fallen short of the perfection that God had in mind for us when Adam was first created. The penalty for our sins is death ... being cut-off from spiritual life (community) with God. Can you imagine how much that grieves him? Imagine your own child being taken from you, and being held captive with no hope of her being released ... a lifetime of bondage because of her wrongdoing.
But God is merciful ... He provides us with a way to be reunited with him. In the OT days, an unblemished lamb was slaughtered and its blood was poured out as an atonement for our sins against God. At the first Passover, a lamb was killed, and its blood was smeared on the doorposts of the homes of the Israelites, thus sparing their children from death, and later allowing freedom from the bonds of slavery in Egypt.
Centuries later, at that historic Passover supper that we know as The Last Supper, Jesus freely offered himself as the Lamb of God that would be sacrificed for OUR liberation from the bonds of slavery to sin. By believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and smearing the blood of the Lamb of God on the doorposts of our hearts, Jesus saves us from having to pay the penalty of sin (death) ourselves, setting us free to be in community with God once again!
So, why are members so downhearted during communion? For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. And he is coming back...He said so.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Sincere and pure devotion (2Corinthians 11:3)
Wholehearted devotion (2Kings 20:3)
Devotion. Undivided, sincere, pure, wholehearted devotion. A devotion that comes from an unbreakable bond. 100% loyalty and faithfulness. Bringing a work-in-progress to completion.
Looking at those standards, I fall way short. I wonder if I have shown that kind of devotion - ever - in my life. And I wonder if I ever will.
Devotion. The emotional determination to forsake all distractions and stay focused on what drives you. Undivided, sincere, pure, wholehearted devotion. An unbreakable bond. The 100% loyalty and faithfulness it takes to bring a work of completion. The emotion that drives a man to give everything he has to be with his loved ones forever.
Undivided. Singleness of purpose.
Sincere. Beyond any shadow of doubt.
Pure.Without any hidden agenda.
Wholeheartened. Worth giving your all for.
The kind of devotion that would trade places with you.
The kind of devotion that says, "I'd rather die than spend eternity apart from you.
The kind of devotion that it takes to put action behind those words and see the work to completion.
Undivided, sincere, pure, wholehearted devotion.
The kind of devotion that Jesus has for you.
How can you not surrender to a love like that?
Sunday, July 23, 2006
God rested. I read this passage, and wondered, How does God rest? I asked a Really Good Friend this question. They told me, "He sits in his La-Z-Boy recliner with the remote control, and surfs through 1,000 channels and still can't find anything good to watch!"
hmm.... Man is created in the image and likeness of God ... but I was looking for an answer from the deeper end of the Think Tank...
Our lives can be hectic at times. On my job, whenever I finish a task, I take a moment to reflect upon what I did. These fleeting moments of rest are sometimes mini-celebrations. Usually, it's a very brief "Yet, that report is finished!" or "Woo-hoo, I have an empty folder!" And on Friday afternoon when the office door closes behind me, the celebration really starts!
While God was creating the world, he paused at the end of the day to reflect upon the goodness of what he had done. It was a time of to contemplate the satisfaction of a task completed. Then after he finished creating the universe, he made an entire day holy, a day of rest.
Rest is a paradox. It is an activity (a "do-in" thing) in which we stop do-in. When we "do" rest, we can just "be" with God. And God gives us the thing we do -- "rest." Even in resting, we still are doing something. When we rest in God, we are doing what is pleasing to Him. That is when we experience the love, peace, joy, and comfort that comes from being in God's presence.
In Jeremiah 6:16, we are told "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." Psalm 91 gives us a beautiful picture of what it is like to find rest, or to just "be" with God.
Jesus tells us, ""Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30). The Message translation refers to Jesus' invitation as "learning the unforced rythms of grace." Wow!
But going back to my original question. How does God rest? True, God never stops working in our lives or in the world around us. He never grows tired or weary (Isaiah 40:28), and does not need to stop to be rejuvenated.
Parents find a peaceful and joyful sense of rest when their child comes to them, cuddles in their arms and says "I love you" (without the follow-up question "Can I have ... "). I think in the same way, God rests when we go to him open-armed and empty-handed, with pure love, adoration, and devotion for him, and seek rest in his loving arms.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
In reading these verses, I am reminded times that I've gotten into a jam in my life because of choices that I made and the consequences of those choices. Whether the problem was with finances, relationships, taking care of my body, or anything else, I was convinced that since I, in effect, set the chain of events into motion that got me to that point, it would be up to me to act upon more decisions to get myself out.
But guess what? In the area of life where I made the bad decisions, I was weak. If I weren't weak, I would have used better judgement and not be in such a mess. I was told by someone years ago, 'If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got." Trying to fix my weaknesses on my own would likely result in more poor decisions, and being stuck with no "out" in sight.
If we could do everything perfectly on our own, why would we need God's grace? (oh no....here comes the "S" word again...)
By surrendering our weakness to God and asking for his help and letting God be the awesome God that he truly is, we can then attest to God's power in our lives. We can say to those around us, "I was weak in this area of my life, and couldn't change it on my own. When I allowed Jesus into my life I gave my weakness over to him. It's through His power and grace that this area has changed my life for the better. And it couldn't have happened any other way."
I don't know about you, but I'm actually thankful for my weaknesses. That opens up more opportunities to see God at work in my life!
The study guide said that "For many of us the disciplines of silence and meditation are difficult for us to pursue. We want to complete a task - read through a book of the Bible, or pray through a list of needs. Sometimes, however, God wants us to simply come before him and hear his voice."
It had never occurred to me that silent prayer isn't simply praying without sound, like most people think it is. Rather, silent prayer is when we are silent and still before God. It's when we have poured ourselves out, come to Him as empty vessels, and have surrendered to His will.
We come to our Abba like a child nestled in daddy's lap, and receive rest in His loving arms.
We come to the Living God silent, as a patron of the arts, attending a symphony of grandeur, and leave His presence in awe of the sounds and textures blended to reveal the perfect creation of the composer.
We are silent as we come spiritually hungry, and our emptiness is filled through what Jesus gave on the cross, for we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Silent prayer is also an opportunity to allow the Holy spirit to intercede on our behalf when we do not know what to pray, or when we are so overwhelmed that all we can do is cry out, or when we are all cried out.
If prayer is the means by which we communicate with God, then silent prayer is an opportunity for God to answer us. Silence is golden. There are no words that can adequately describe being in God's presence when in silent prayer.
At my church, the kids have a tradition of making Epiphany stars out of metallic-colored cardboard, painting a different word on each star, and tying a ribbon through it to wear around your neck or hang on a wall. I decided that this year I would make an effort to live out whatever the word is on my star.
On Epiphany Sunday, 9-year-old Tyler proudly hands me a star that he had made himself. The word on it was "peace." Right away I thought, ok, how do I "do" peace?
Fast-forward to May. It seems as though for the past couple of weeks, God has put the word "surrender" on my mind and heart more than any other. It seems as though I've had an "a-ha!" moment, an epiphany, about surrender and peace. When two sides are in conflict, peace can most effectively be brought about when one side surrenders to the will of the other. (In the case where a compromise is agreed upon, both sides gain peace when each surrenders something.)
A-ha! If I am in a state of conflict in my private world, in order for me to have a sense of peace, I need to surrender fears, my conflicts, my self, daily (sometimes more frequently than that) to Jesus, the only one who can give me the peace that my soul craves.