One at a Time

“If we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us” – 1 John 4:12b

Everybody wants to be accepted for who they really are, not just for what shows on the surface. So, I really don’t want to judge people by appearance, wealth, religion, nationality, or color. And I don’t want people to judge me that way either.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, we realize Samaritans were not acceptable to Jews. They were seen as people of mixed-pedigree, theologically wrong, and to be avoided.

I have to ask myself who today’s  “Samaritans” are to me? The addicted? The uneducated? The poor? Those of a particular nationality, religion, sexual orientation, or political persuasion?

Then I realize I am a “Samaritan” to some – one who is labelled as “Christian” and understood only by what they think that label means. I don’t want anyone to assume that, because I am a Christian, they know my views on social issues, politics, or science. I am an individual and want to seen as such. I imagine you do, too!

The shock of Jesus’ story was, of all the people passing by, it was the despised Samaritan who stopped to help the wounded Jew. This Samaritan didn’t fit His audience’s preconceived ideas of Samaritans as a group. Some of our present-day “Samaritans” don’t either!

Jesus dealt with people one at a time: The Syro-Phoenician woman, the Jewish leader’s daughter, the rich young ruler, Zaccheus the tax collector, and many others. He listened, touched, and forgave one person at a time, no matter their background. Maybe He expects us to do the same.

“There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love.” – Mother Theresa

Regrets?

“. . . in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself and not counting their trespasses against them.” – 2 Corinthians 5:19a

Do you think about times you rebelled against God’s direction because you thought what He was asking was too hard or unfair? Or times when you knew something you were choosing to do was a violation of God’s standards and you did it anyway? We all have regrets, don’t we? Sometimes the decisions we made then still affect our lives today. Because of our trust in Jesus, when we confess these sins, no matter how old or new they are, He forgives. He gives us a clean slate and invites us to move forward.

But sometimes we have trouble receiving that forgiveness. We still condemn ourselves for wrong turns we made long ago. I was talking to God about that one day and it was as if He was saying this to me (and, I think, to some of you, too):

I want to heal your heart from past pains and perceived obligations so you can be more focused on Me and My world. I deliver you from pain, caused by your sins or those of others. You are free to follow Me without carrying the weight of your past. I have forgiven you, released you, healed you. Freely you have received, freely give. Now it’s all about you and Me. No more regrets. Just the present moment and our never-ending future together.

Once we receive God’s forgiveness, we find it easier to give grace to those who wrong us. So for their sake and ours, let’s face forward –  forgiven and forgiving.

“This might well be the essence of the spiritual journey for all of us- to accept that we’re accepted and to go and live likewise.” – Richard Rohr

Life-Changing Prayers

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“God listens to those who are godly and who do His will.” – John 9:31

Prayer is a mystery to many of us. Why pray if God already knows what we need? Or, if we do pray, why don’t our prayers get answered? There’s no formula for effective praying, but today I will share some insights others have given me that may be helpful to you, too.

Sitting: Prayer is our response to God’s invitation to be with Him. He wants us to come confidently, joyfully, consistently, knowing we will always be welcomed. So let’s not barge into His presence brashly asking for things. First, we just sit for awhile, enjoying the pleasure of His company.

Confessing: We often will find thoughts coming into our minds during this time about things we do that hurt Him. We have to be willing to give up anything that blocks friendship with God. He knows we will never be perfect, but He requires that we acknowledge our sin and commit to being better. When we confess, He always forgives, makes us clean, and gives us strength.

Asking: Now we are ready to tell Him our troubles, pray for others who concern us, and ask Him to answer as He wishes.

Listening: Then we quietly wait for any message He may give. Sometimes it is a direction or an idea. At other times, a sense of peace, contentment, or joy. Listening, though, is the best part of prayer. Let’s not hurry away without hearing what He may have to say.

Now we are ready to face our day:  refreshed, clean, calm, energized, and prepared to serve Him and others. Let the adventure begin!

“God’s presence calms your spirit, gives you restful sleep, and quiets your mind. But you must give yourself completely to Him.” – Francois Fenelon

 

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

 

True or False?

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“Come near to God and He will come near to you.” – James 5:8

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”* How do we see God? If we see Him inaccurately, we may be afraid to approach Him. Let’s look at some things we may believe, but shouldn’t:

If we sin, God can’t allow us to come into His presence.
False. If we are followers of Christ, God sees us as holy because Jesus paid for our sins. God invites us to come to Him boldly as a child would approach a loving Father. Being holy is not our ticket into His presence, but as we spend time there, we find that we actually do become more holy.

God demands perfection of His followers.
Not true! God is perfect, but He knows His kids. We are weak and we fall down a lot. He loves us anyway and asks us to come, mud and all, so He can gently wash us clean. No perfection required, just a willingness to keep returning to our Father.

God can’t use us if we have some big sin in our past.
Again, false. Most often the failures of our past are our best preparation for a useful future. Whatever comes into our lives, good or bad, God will use for His glory if we submit it to Him. Our God-redeemed failures become our greatest assets.

We shouldn’t accept everything we have come to believe. We need to keep going back to the source of Truth: the Bible. There we will find a loving, compassionate, forgiving God who is crazy happy that we want to be with Him.

“Once the heart has been gained by God, everything else will eventually take care of itself.” – Madame Guyon

*A. W. Tozer

 

Frightened by Faith

 

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“Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” – Galatians 3:3

When I was growing up, we measured spirituality by the things a “good Christian” did not do. At some point along the way, I discovered grace: God’s acceptance of me no matter how I was doing with “the list”. God’s forgiveness of anything I have ever done or will do that dishonors Him. I like grace a lot better than rules, don’t you?

So, then why do I sometimes revert to measuring my relationship with God by how “good” I am being? If I am kind and loving during the day, I feel somehow worthy to go into his presence. If I have been irritable or have made a bad decision, I just want to avoid God all together until I can get my act together.

Then I heard something that gave me great insight: People return to the rules when they are frightened by faith. Frightened by faith? Yup. I realized, then, that there is perceived safety in those old rules. I know when I measure up and when I don’t. I can set self-improvement goals so I can feel good about myself.

Walking by faith is not that easy. It is about relationship, about learning to know what pleases God, about getting into His Word to know His will, to listen for His voice before running to the next thing. It’s about living with mystery when we long for clarity. That can be scary, but the better we know Him, the less afraid we are. There’s no better way to live.

“The reason why we so readily accept his (Satan’s) accusations is that we are still hoping to have some righteousness of our own.” – Watchman Nee

Two Ways to Pray

We don’t have to wait until we are better people before we go to God. He invites us to come, dirt and all. In fact, it is our recognition of the failure of all our self-improvement programs that humbles us enough to pray the prayer that God is just waiting to hear. Only then can He forgive, restore, and set us on the path to purity and true freedom.

"It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy." Romans 9:16

“It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Romans 9:16

Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. They both went to the Temple to pray.

The Pharisee stood up and prayed boldly.
The tax collector bowed his head and would not even look up to heaven.

The Pharisee spent his prayer time telling God how good he was.
The tax collector told God how sinful he was.

The Pharisee was looking for God’s approval.
The tax collector was looking for God’s mercy.

Only one of them had his prayer answered.

When it comes to our relationship with God, it is never about our being better or about trying harder. It is always about His mercy. He is just waiting for us to see our need and ask for it.  “Have mercy on me a sinner” is a prayer He always answers.

“Our conscious need for daily mercy is our only real boarding pass for heaven. The ego does not like that very much, but the soul fully understands.” – Richard Rohr