Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Stirrings

The Christmas Spirit. The Holiday Cheer. Blah-blah-blah-blah. We stress out and do all this work for one day, and poof! It's over until next November when it all starts up again. (wait-didn't I see Christmas ornaments with the back-to-school stuff in August?) Don't get me wrong - Christmas is an important holiday. Well, observation, if you will. But most of the time it doesn't stir my soul the way it "should." However my soul "should" be stirred. Or at least shaken, if not stirred.

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

Touch the Hem of Holiness

In the Bible, Mark 5:25-34 tells the story of a woman who was afflicted with what seems to be an incurable condition for a significant portion of her adult life. Likely, according to the Law, she's considered "unclean" because of the bleeding, and she desperately wants to be healed for many reasons. Not just physically, but emotionally -- she wants to be accepted again. And she wants to be healed spiritually as well. She so longs for this that for her it is enough just to touch the hem of Jesus' robe. She may have thought, "he won't even need to notice me." But Jesus did notice, and in a way that she didn't expect.

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

Great Physician

“Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” - Matthew 9:12, NLT

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."