Cleaning Up

“I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” – Isaiah 57:15b

Sin is a dirty word. We don’t like to talk about it. We don’t like to acknowledge sin may be a problem in our lives. So we hide it or ignore it. I do that, too, sometimes, but am beginning to see my sin as God does:

  • He hates my sin, but he loves me.
  • He’s not surprised when I sin. He knows my frailties.
  • My sin grieves God, partly because of how it damages me.
  • God is holy and cannot look on sin, so my unconfessed sin is a barrier between me and God, between me and answered prayer, between me and the blessing God wants to give me (see Isaiah 59:1-2).

Maybe we should begin looking at our sin in a whole new way – not as something to hide, but as something to be acknowledged, something from which we can be freed. It’s like working in the garden all day, coming in hot, dusty, and sweaty. We can ignore our condition or we can get in the shower. Which is better?

All God asks is that I recognize my action or attitude as sin, then confess and receive forgiveness and the strength to overcome. The joy of confession is that my relationship with him is fully restored, my prayers are heard, and my life is blessed. Confession is not a bad word. It is cleansing, restorative word – something we should not turn from, but should run toward. It’s like a nice, warm shower!

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” – Jerry Bridges

A nap? Really?

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” – John 13:7

Sometimes we try too hard. We have a problem and think of all kinds of ways we might solve it. But our solutions can be frustrating and unfulfilling, and we often cry out to God asking why he won’t help us.

God has a better way, but sometimes waits for us to get to the end of our own resourcefulness before he acts. In fact, he started that pattern with the very first human.

Here’s how I see it: When God created Adam, he knew he would need a mate, but he waited – waited for Adam to become discontent, to not like being “one-of-a-kind”. Then God paraded the animals in front of Adam, asking Adam to name them, knowing Adam would evaluate each animal as a potential mate. Of course, Adam found none suitable for him and began to get discouraged. That didn’t surprise God! When, finally, Adam despaired of having a partner, God said, in essence, “I have a plan. You take a nap.”

Sometimes we’re not ready to yield to God until we’ve exhausted our own ideas, resources, and energy. When, at last, we quiet down, give up control, and allow God to work, the outcome will, most likely, be something we never could have imagined on our own. Just ask Adam!

So, what is it you have been looking for? A good friend? A new job? Financial security? A way to serve? When you’re ready to give up control, take a nap. Trust God. And wait for him to show you what his plan has been all along. Then do it his way!

“Childlike surrender and trust, I believe, is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship.” – Brennan Manning

#trustingGod

Where’s your prodigal?

” . . . the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining”. – 1 John 2:8b

Has someone you love walked away? Rejected what you believe? Who you are? The way you live? It hurts, doesn’t it? And nothing you do seems to fix the problem.

Then sometimes God steps in. And when he does, we find out he had a plan all along. Onesimus was a slave to Philemon, a 1st-century Christian. One day, Onesimus ran away. Runaway slaves in that time could be put to death. It was a serious crime to break free.

Onesimus headed for Rome, probably thinking he would never be found on the crowded streets. But, God made sure Onesimus met Paul, and Paul introduced him to Jesus. Everything changed for Onesimus at that moment, and Paul apparently told him he had to make things right with Philemon. He had to go back home.

Paul sent him on his way with a letter to Philemon explaining the change in Onesimus now that he was a Jesus follower. He asked Philemon to take Onesimus back, not just as a slave, but as Christian brother. In fact, Paul says that maybe, just maybe, Onesimus’ escape was for an eternal purpose: “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for awhile, that you might have him back forever.” (v. 15)

God knows the bigger picture: He may have a plan for our prodigals that means we can have them back forever. So we stand still and strong, praying and trusting that, at just the right time, he’ll step in to help them find their way back to him and back to us. Keep the light on.

“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” – Anne Lamott

 

 

Mary’s “Yes.”

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” – Mary to angel Gabriel, Luke 1:38

The day started out like any other day in the village of Nazareth years ago. But, for young Mary, everything changed with a surprise visit from an angel who announced she had been chosen to bear the Son of God. Would she do it? Yes. She would be part of God’s plan.

Saying “yes” to God is a good thing, right? If we’re doing his will, he’ll make it easy for us. He’ll show the path, open doors, bring the right people to help us, and generally smooth the way. Not always.

Just ask Mary: finding no suitable place to birth this miracle child, thinking at one time he may have lost his mind, hearing of his embarrassing confrontations with respected religious leaders, and then watching him die a criminal’s death.

When we say “yes” to God, we know the journey with him will have a glorious end, but we must expect hindrances, challenges, pain along the way. The plan of God includes suffering. Mary knows. Jesus knows. I imagine you know, too.

If you’re suffering, it doesn’t mean God has abandoned you. It doesn’t mean you’re not doing his will. Saying “yes” to God does mean when the suffering comes, he’s there with us. When we choose to follow him, we’re never alone. When we hurt, he hurts with us. When we’re anxious, he gives us peace. When we’re in pain, he comforts.

And, finally, at the end of the suffering, there is joy. Think resurrection. Think eternal kingdom. Joy, inexpressible joy, will come.

“True joy, as it turns out, comes only to those who have devoted their lives to something greater than personal happiness.” – John Ortberg

There’s a better way.

“. . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 10:14

How are you doing on your quest for perfection? Have you overcome that bad habit? Are your praying enough? Are your relationships in order? Are you eating only healthy foods? Do you do enough to help those in need?

Stop! There’s a better way.

Over many years, I’ve learned that, in spite of almost-heroic efforts, I’m not able to perfect myself. That will come as no surprise to those of you who know me! Along the way, though, God reminds me He’s the one who brought me into His family in the first place. He’s the one slowly changing my character to reflect His. Transformation is His work, not mine. My job is to relate to Him: talking, listening, learning, cooperating, submitting. That’s what He expects of you, too. When we do that, His message back to us is something like this:

When I called you, I knew who you would become. I also knew the mistakes you would make along the way – sinfulness, rebellion, bad habits, weaknesses. I never expected you to be perfect, so stop believing you can be. And never forget that My love for you does not depend on you. I love you just because you are Mine – even on your worst days.

God looks on His children with merciful eyes. We are weaker than we want to be. We will fail. When we do, He responds to our cry for forgiveness, cleans us up, and sets us back on the path. He will make us holy, but it’s going to take awhile yet!

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

Me, too.

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“I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love”. – Psalm 17:6-7a

The bleeding woman was healed. She came to Jesus in desperation. She came secretly, pushing through the crowds, bending low to touch the edge of His robe, hoping beyond hope His power would flow through to her and stop the bleeding she had experienced for twelve long, expensive, lonely, and frightening years.

She was immediately and completely healed and, amazed, turned to leave. But Jesus did not let her go unnoticed. Instead He called her to face Him in front of the pressing crowd and He lovingly pronounced her clean saying, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Does anyone else want that? Do you have something in your life from which you want to be released or healed? An old wound? A destructive habit? An illness or condition? A pain-filled relationship? A spiritual frustration?

Me, too, Lord.

Heal me of my past, my pain, all that causes me to bleed.

Free me from my suffering.

May I, too, go in peace.

Me, too, Lord. 

I want to be whole, usable, intimate with You.

“God’s gift was – and is – a visible reminder that He is interested in restoring the lives of those who have been broken, battered, and desperate.” – Jo Kadlecek

 

Broken

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“When there is nothing left that we can do, God can do anything.” – Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

Have you ever made a bad mistake? Or followed a sinful desire? Or been deeply wounded by someone? If so, you will be able to relate to this story told by a professor from California:

“In my office sits a pot. A student made it as an extra credit assignment in a class for me last Spring. She wanted to do something other than a typical research assignment, so we decided she could do a piece of art.

She went to Home Depot, bought the ceramic pot, broke it into pieces, painted each piece, wrote a New Testament passage on each piece that speaks about God restoring and redeeming us, then made a valiant effort to glue it all together again.

When she delivered her finished assignment to me, I asked her what spiritual lessons she had learned from the exercise. She did not hesitate. ‘Two things,’ she said.

‘First, I discovered that the pieces would never fit perfectly back as they once were. Then I realized that no matter what God did in my life, I would never be exactly as I once was.’

‘Second, it took me far longer to reconstruct the pot than I imagined. And I realized that the work of God in my life might take a lot longer than I expect. I should be patient.'”

Broken? It’s OK. God can work with pieces if we consciously, intentionally give them to Him. Then we need to be patient while He works, knowing He has a beautiful result in mind!

“I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” – Psalm 51:17 (MSG)

(Story used by permission from Dr. David Timms, Professor of New Testament at William Jessup University. Go to http://www.davidtimms.wordpress.com if you want to read more from him.)